It’s My Birthday! A List of Twenty Terrific Albums That Made Me Who I Am to Celebrate My Terrific Twenties!

I just turned 20 - mind blowing. 

Last Sunday, I celebrated my 20th birthday, and there’s no better way that I can think of to welcome me into my second decade by taking a walk down memory lane to see how far I’ve grown since my last decade. It’s crazy to believe how much I’ve matured in these last coming years, but nothing can present as much solid evidence that I’m growing up more than my evolution of music taste can. 

So here I am today, to share with everybody twenty of my top albums that made me who I am. Throughout the last years or so, my taste and my appreciation for music has changed tremendously. Music has taken me through so many different phases and if you look at my music taste over the past years, it’s a pretty good reflection of the person I was at that given time in my life. When I look back at these 20 albums, I see a different stage of my life, and each of these albums are a nostalgic look back into the past. Twenty years gives me a whole lot of time to listen to many albums, so let’s get started on sharing a couple of my favorite ones over the last couple of years. 

 

Hold on! In my book, there’s only one way to listen to albums.

Just a pro-tip: Listen to an album in order, from first to last track. To me, an album is a compilation of different songs that come together to create a full picture, and each song on an album is synonymous to a chapter in a book. I believe there is value to listening to a complete album, from start to finish, in comparison to shuffling. I’m not saying the shuffle button is completely useless, but I refuse to shuffle when I'm listening to an album for the first time. Listening to albums in their entirety lets you indulge in the full experience, as the artist intended. If it’s a good album, the order of the tracks aren’t random. The artist put the order that way for a reason - listen to albums the way the artist intended to get the whole experience.

 

So, let’s begin to break it down - twenty albums to celebrate my 20th in 2020. Let’s go!  

 

#1: Like a Prayer - Madonna (1989)

I was probably around the age of 7 when I was first introduced to this album. When I listen to Like a Prayer, I’m immediately taken back to all the times my mom and I jammed out to Madonna’s incredible vocals in the car rides home from school. There was no other American artist that my mom listened to more than she did Madonna, but there was something so addicting about her efervescent sound that just drew my mom and I in. 

Like a Prayer is considered a timeless and revolutionary masterpiece with powerhouse songs like “Express Yourself” and “Like a Prayer” that defined the generation of its time - and quite literally all music after. Her other less known songs in the album show a different, more vulnerable side of her. I have especially fond memories of the song “Dear Jessie”, Madonna’s pop lullaby for children about “candy kisses and sunny days”. No matter what song, Madonna’s sound is bright, funky and girly. It’s no wonder that Madonna holds a spot as the “Queen of Pop” and one of the greatest artists of our time, and it’s definitely this album that cemented her place. 

 

Best Tracks: "Like a Prayer", "Dear Jessie", "Pray for Spanish Eyes"

 

#2: ...Baby One More Time - Britney Spears (1999)

The first CD album I ever owned was this bubblegum pop album...Baby One More Time from the Princess of Pop herself, Britney Spears. The CD itself was an extra copy my aunt had lying around, and when she gave it to me, I had never been so excited. Looking back, I remember all the times I sat on my bed and listened to this album on constant repeat from my old CD player. Her songs are catchy and upbeat, which is what made this album so appealing to my pre-teen self.

Released in 1999, this album by a 17-year old Britney Spears had a great impact on the culture of the 2000s. Most of these songs are about teen love and heartbreak. This album contains modern day classics like “...Baby One More Time”, but also ballads like “Sometimes” and “From the Bottom of My Broken Heart” that are cheesy, yet so catchy. No matter what you say, this album absolutely defined the generation that followed.

 

Best tracks: "...Baby One More Time", "You Drive Me Crazy", "Sometimes", "From the Bottom of My Broken Heart"

 

#3: Hannah Montana 2 / Meet Miley Cyrus - Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus (2007)

Ladies and gentlemen, we have arrived at our first mildly embarrassing album pick of the evening - Hannah Montana! Ever since I was 7, I was the biggest Hannah Montana fan and I wasn’t afraid to show it. I lived and breathed for Hannah Montana. I’m so embarrassed by this, but I was literally the kid who showed up to school wearing a head-to-toe Hannah Montana licensed outfit. Honestly, I blame my parents for indulging me in my obsession by always spoiling me with Hannah Montana merchandise.

Anyways, a reason why I was so drawn to this fictional pop star was because her music was actually so good! What I loved about this album is that it introduced us to the two sides of Hannah/Miley! Side A of the album was by Hannah Montana, the pop princess. Any fan of Hannah Montana would remember the memorable and classic songs from the Disney Channel show like “Nobody’s Perfect” and “Life’s What You Make It”. Side B, however, introduced the world to the sound of Miley Cyrus, the girl who couldn’t be more opposite of Hannah, with a spunky attitude and rebellious sound. Hannah’s alter ego, Miley, sounded more tough and mature. “See You Again” and “Start All Over” are songs from this album that show Miley at the start of her revolutionary music career. I’ve listened to all these tracks since I was a kid, and even though I am now a 20 year old adult, I can still testify that they are all indeed still bops. 

 

Best Tracks (Hannah): "One in a Million", "Life’s What You Make It", "True Friend"

Best Tracks (Miley): "See You Again", "As I Am", "Start All Over"

 

#4: Contra - Vampire Weekend (2010)

It was hard for me to narrow down my favorite Vampire Weekend album, but after careful deliberation, I think my choice for best Vampire Weekend album has got to go to Contra for being undeniably intoxicating and enjoyable to listen to. What makes Contra stand out as an album are the tracks that help to define Vampire Weekend’s sound. If you’ve never listened to Vampire Weekend before, their sound can be characterized by a blend of unique lyrics and quirky tunes. “Holiday” and “Giving Up the Gun” are two of Vampire Weekend’s more well known songs. “Horchata” and “Diplomat’s Son” showcases Vampire Weekend’s talent and ability to play music to sound fun and unconventional. “Taxi Cab” is less up-beat, and more reserved, and gives the album a different perspective. Contra is Vampire Weekend’s second bright, fun, and peppy studio album, and is also the album that solidified Vampire Weekend as a powerhouse artist in the genre of Indie Rock. 

 

Best Tracks: "Diplomat’s Son", "Taxi Cab", "Giving Up the Gun"

 

#5: Speak Now - Taylor Swift (2012)

First of all, I absolutely adore Taylor Swift. I’ve been a fan of Taylor for almost 10 years now, but who isn’t? She’s gorgeous, charming, an amazing songwriter, and an incredible person. Tracks from Speak Now are timeless and have followed me as I've aged. “Mean” showed me as a 10 year old to not let bullies get under my skin. “Sparks Fly” was a song I would joyfully sing and dance to as I thought about my middle school crushes. And “Never Grow Up” was my simp anthem during the summer after high school graduation, realizing I was about to leave home for college. Whenever I relisten to Speak Now, I’m reminded of Taylor and how her music has always been there with me as I’ve grown up. 

Speak Now is Taylor’s 3rd record album, but undoubtedly the most memorable. Each song tells a story of one of Taylor Swift's relationships, which is what makes what her lyrics sound so real and deep. “Back To December” remains my favorite Taylor song of all time just because of the raw songwriting and emotional lyrics (hilariously written about Taylor Lautner) that give me goosebumps each time I listen. Another one of Taylor’s infamous relationships - when she dated John Mayer - led her to writing “Dear John”, a 7 minute track about her relationship with a man 12 years her senior, that John Mayer later called ‘really humiliating’. In Speak Now, Taylor Swift is shameless in being open and letting the world know her true self and her relationships. 

 

Best Tracks: "Speak Now", "Sparks Fly", "Back to December", "Last Kiss", "Long Live" 

 

#6: Take Me Home: Yearbook Edition - One Direction (2012)

I'm not ashamed to admit my Directioner past. Like so many other pre-teen girls, I had an unhealthy obsession with UK boy band phenomenon One Direction. 1D may just seem like any other boyband to you, but to me, they were the group that introduced me to listening to music in a cult-like perspective - from a lens of appreciation and gratification. Funny enough, the way that I felt from listening to One Direction albums as a teenage fangirl introduced me to how to listen to music from other bands and other genres. 

Take Me Home marks the peak of One Direction, and is an album that transcends among all tween girls alike. Like many other boy bands, One Direction knows exactly how to make catchy, feel-good, and upbeat songs. “Heart Attack” and “Kiss You” are tracks from this album that can testify to One Direction’s sound as essential boyband pop. “Little Things” and “They Don’t Know About Us” are slower, deeply emotional songs that portray a more vulnerable side of the boy band. On the other hand, their songs like “Live While You’re Young” and “Rock Me” are viewed as controversial because of the lyrics that are arguably a little too raunchy for their young listeners. Overall, Take Me Home is a solid album that, at one stage in my life, I viewed as the best album ever. Now looking back, after listening to a lot more music, I might take that statement back - but this album still holds as one of the greatest boy band albums of all time. 

 

Best tracks: "Live While We’re Young", "Little Things", "Last First Kiss", "Nobody Compares"

 

#7: Gracetown - San Cisco (2012)

When I was 13, I discovered new music all the time through playlists I would find online. 8tracks, a site that lets users share curated playlists, allowed me to listen to a variety playlists from different genres and ultimately introduced me to the genre of indie music. This was around the age that I was first drawn to Indie Pop, including artists like San Cisco, because Indie Pop was honestly unlike anything I had ever heard before. 

This album is full of upbeat and summer-y sounding tracks like “Too Much Time Together” and “Magic”. “Snow” shows the band’s versatility also sound more sophisticated and edgy. In general, San Cisco is a talented group that is able to produce some of the happiest songs, and Gracetown is an album that captures their sound blended with gentle and sweet vocals. 

 

Best Tracks: "Run", "Magic", "Too Much Time Together", "About You" 

 

#8: Pure Heroine - Lorde (September 2013)

What. An. Album. Lorde’s debut album holds a special place in my heart for being LITERALLY THE BEST ALBUM EVER. If you told me that I could only listen to one album for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose Pure Heroine by Lorde because this album is just genuinely a masterpiece. 

Released in 2013, when Lorde was only 16, Pure Heroine is incredibly thoughtful and innovative for not only her age, but also the music industry as a whole. Lorde’s voice is unique, provoking, and hauntingly beautiful. As expected for my favorite album, there is genuinely no song on this album that I dislike. Even as overplayed as some may argue “Royals” was, this song was undeniably the song of 2013 and is still considered one of the greatest pop songs ever produced. Other amazing tracks from the album include “400 Lux” and “Ribs”. With the combination of blissfully produced sounds and poetic lyrics, Pure Heroine is ahead of its time with so much depth, and so many layers to unpack. 

 

Best Tracks: "400 Lux", "Ribs", "Buzzcut Season", "White Teeth Teens", "The Love Club"

 

#9: Channel Orange - Frank Ocean (2012)

Frank Ocean is an artist I have always admired for creating some of the most innovative, fresh, and complex music I have ever heard. His first studio album, Channel Orange, is just straight-up good music. Everything about this album is perfect  - the production, the vocals, and the lyrics all blend perfectly to create a masterful album that I consider one of the best R&B albums ever made. Frank Ocean is also one of few R&B artists unafraid to use his music for commentary regarding social issues. “Super Rich Kids” is a track that makes a comment on the matters of money and social classes. “Pilot Jones” and “Crack Rock” discuss the dynamics of drug addiction. Tracks like "Thinkin Bout You" and "Lost" are songs that you will never get tired of, no matter how many times you listen to them. Channel Orange is one of those rare albums that makes you appreciate music on another level.

 

Best Tracks: "Thinkin Bout You", "Lost", "Super Rich Kids", "Sierra Leone"

 

#10: The 1975 - The 1975 (2013)

Everybody knows The 1975 for being one of the greatest bands in British alternative/indie rock. When I think of The 1975, I am immediately reminded of my cringy pre-teen phase where I embodied the soft grunge side of Tumblr. Maybe it was something about The 1975’s dark and brooding aesthetic that made me feel so badass whenever I listened to this album. Or it was the sound of lead singer Matt Healy’s incredible voice that had me hooked. Whatever it was, The 1975’s first, self-titled album is shockingly impressive. This album is filled with upbeat tracks like “Sex”, “Chocoloate”, and “Girls”, but also softer and more reserved tracks like “Robbers” and “Pressure”. Prepare to have this album on repeat because it is a gem! 

 

Best Tracks: “Chocolate”, “Heart Out”, “Settle Down”, “Robbers” 

 

#11: AM - Arctic Monkeys (2013)

This album is definitely another pick from my soft grunge phase. I wouldn’t say I was the edgiest 13 year old ever, but listening to Arctic Monkeys sure made me feel like it. AM is definitely Arctic Monkeys at their best. There are so many amazing songs on this album, so it’s kind of hard for me to narrow them down to pick my favorites. Songs from the album that particularly stand out to me include “One for the Road”, “Arabella”, “No. 1 Party Anthem”, and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High”. (This is not an inclusive list - I am obsessed with most songs on this album, but I won’t list all of them here.) This album is definitely one that you learn to love. With each and every listen, you will fall deeper in love with each track. If you’re someone who’s interested in Indie Rock, Arctic Monkeys’ AM will be an album you will absolutely love. 

 

Best Tracks: “No. 1 Party Anthem”, “Arabella”, “Knee Socks”, “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High”

 

#12: Phantom Pop - Wild Party (2014)

When I was a freshman in high school, I randomly stumbled across the band Wild Partyon an 8tracks playlist.  I think the first track I remember listening to was “When I get Older”. I am so thankful that I discovered them because I immediately fell in love with their sound. For a couple of months, Wild Party’s album Phantom Pop was like a drug to me. I legitimately could not go a couple hours or so without listening to tracks from this album. 

I’m so blown away that Wild Party aren’t as popular of a band as they should be. If you want a quick overview of Wild Party as a band, I would say their sound is the definition of Indie Pop. Phantom Pop is full of songs that are fun, energetic and catchy. Even though all tracks from this albums are individually incredible, “OutRight” and “Life’s Too Short” stand out the most with fun tunes that are full of energy and happy vibes. Phantom Pop is overall an amazing album that is very easy to listen to. 

 

Best Tracks: “When I Get Older”, “OutRight”,  “Chasin’ Honey”, “Nicely Done” 

 

#13: ZABA - Glass Animals (2014)

Anyone who knows me at all will know how big of a Glass Animals fan I am. The amount in which I love this album is almost unmeasurable. If you’re someone who’s into indie or alternative music at all, you are probably aware of the force of creativity in music that is Glass Animals. I swear to you now that no band can be compared to the genius that is them. 

My review of this album will not do it any justice - the only way you will understand how great of an album ZABA really is is by listening. I promise you Glass Animals is a band that produces music unlike anything you have ever heard before. Their songs have an entrancing and psychedelic energy about them. Some songs I cannot go without from this album include “Gooey”, “Walla Walla” and “Black Mambo”. Go ahead and give Glass Animals a listen, because they are bound to be your new favorite band. 

 

Best Tracks: “Gooey”, “Black Mambo”, “Flip”, “Hazey” 

 

#14: Talking is Hard - Walk the Moon (2014)

People know Walk the Moon best for their most known song “Shut Up and Dance”, which can be classified as the song of Summer 2014. What people often aren't aware of is the fact that Walk the Moon has so much other amazing music. Talking is Hard is Walk the Moon’s second studio album that is fun, catchy, and reminiscent of 80s pop sound. From start to finish, this album is an entire experience. Each song on the track has a unique energy and sound that is unlike the one before it. “Different Colors”, “Sidekick”, and “Shut Up and Dance” open the album off on an upbeat and high-energy note. Nearing the end of the album, “Come Under the Covers” and “Aquaman” are slower and wrap up the journey of the album. 

 

Best Songs: “Sidekick”, “Spend Your $$$”, “Avalanche”, “Portugal” 

 

#15: Because the Internet - Childish Gambino (2014) 

Being a major fan of Community, an old sitcom on NBC, was what first introduced me to the genius that is Donald Glover, and his musical alter ego that is Childish Gambino. If you know anything behind the genius that is Childish Gambino and Donald Glover, you will also know that he was a star in NBC’s hit TV show Community. There is absolutely nothing that Donald Glover can’t do, including being an amazing actor and comedian. But arguagly, there is nothing Donald Glover can do better than making incredible music. 

The artistry in Because the Internet is absoultely insane, and I have a good feeling that this album will almost always be viewed as a classic. Because the Internet shows exactly how much range Childish Gambino can present as an artist. On one hand, tracks like “3005” and “The Worst Guys” show his talent as a rapper and R&B artist.  On the other, “Flight of the Navigator” shows Glover's softer side as slow ballad that is unlike anything else on the album. The entire concept of the album speaks so profoundly to this generation of music, and is definitely worth the listen from start to finish. 

 

Best Tracks: “I. The Worst Guys”, “III. Telegraph Ave. (“Oakland” by Lloyd), “IV. Sweatpants”, “I. Flight of the Navigator” 

 

#16: Glitterbug - The Wombats (2015) 

It’s 2015, and 15 year old me will do nothing to stop listening to this album. Glitterbug was exactly the type of album 15 year old me obsessed over - alternative, edgy, catchy, and energetic. If I were to describe the music from The Wombats, I would say their music is like a combination of The 1975 and Arctic Monkeys. The Wombats have many tracks that are catchy and peppy (such as “Emoticons” and “Headspace”) like The 1975, but they have tracks that have similar energy to Arctic Monkeys (like “The English Summer” and “Flowerball”). It’s not everyday an album comes along and captivates my heart, but Glitterbug is definitely an album that did. 

 

Best Tracks: “Emoticons”, “Your Body is a Weapon”, “Pink Lemonade”, “Sex and Question Marks” 

 

#17: How to Be A Human Being - Glass Animals (2016)

I feel like I’m almost breaking a rule by adding a second album by Glass Animals to my list, but my list honestly wouldn’t be complete without both of them. (Also, my article, my rules.) Glass Animals are back and better than ever in their second studio album How to Be a Human Being. A genius element of this album is that each song is a glimpse into the lives of a different person. (Each track on the song can be identified as a person on the album cover.) 

Glass Animals have come a long way since their first studio album ZABA. In this album, they have matured to sound more wavy, funky, and wonderful. “Season 2 Episode 3” expertly combines techno video game vibes with quirky and poetic lyrics to create a song that is so addicting and fun. "Pork Soda" is addictingly catchy, random, and genius. “Agnes” is a slower song that is emotional and raw. Put on some headphones and let your entire soul drift away as you listen and immerse yourself in the amazing talent that is Glass Animals.

 

Best Tracks: “Season 2 Episode 3”, “Youth”, "Pork Soda", “The Other Side of Paradise” 

#18: How Will You Know If You Never Try - COIN (2017)

I’m still dumbfounded that COIN was at UW earlier this year for Fall Fling, and whenever I listen to COIN, I am always reminded of the experience of being able to see them live with my best friends. But it wasn’t COIN coming to UW that first introduced me to the band. In fact, I’d been a fan of COIN for a long time, and How Will You Know If You Never Try is absolutely some of their best work. 

How Will You Know If You Never Try, like many other albums on my list, is an indie pop album that’s upbeat, fun, and catchy. Ironically, “I Don’t Want to Dance” and “Talk to Much” are the album’s catchiest and grooviest songs to dance to. My favorite song on the album by far is “Malibu 1992”, a slow chill song that is unlike any others on the album. How Will You Know If You Never Try is the perfect album that is for anyone looking to venture into the genre of Alternative Pop. Listening to song from this album will always brings me back to memories of me dancing away with my best friends. 

 

Best Tracks: “Talk Too Much”, “Are We Alone”,  “Malibu 1992” 

 

#19: Gone Now - Bleachers (2017)

If you’ve never heard of the name Jack Antanoff, you might as well be living under a rock. Jack Antanoff is the man behind Bleachers, but you may also know him as a big name songwriter and producer, or as a member of Fun, a band that grew in popularity with songs like “Some Nights” and “We Are Young”. 

Bleachers is Jack Antanoff’s solo project and is a testimony to his musical genius. Gone Now is specifically Bleacher’s second studio album, and oh my has he done it again. This album is emotional, with tracks that mix sadness and happiness in a way that pulls on your heartstrings. Tracks like “Don’t Take The Money” and “Hate That You Know Me” are infectiously catchy. Other tracks like “Goodmorning” and  “All My Heroes” are more soulful and expressive. Gone Now is an amazing album from a genius musician with a lot of talent. 

 

Best Tracks: “Goodmorning”, “Don’t Take The Money”, “All My Heroes”, “I Miss Those Days” 

 

#20: Isolation - Kali Uchis (2018)

Oh my God this album is so sexy. Kali Uchis perfectly delivers tracks that are a combination of her melodic vocals, and groovy beats, and passionate production. Isolation is an album that literally lacks nothing - it’s perfect from start to finish. 

The collaborations in this album are also out of this world. Kali Uchis worked with Tyler, The Creator and Bootsy Collins to produce “After The Storm”, a track that is funky, groovy, and seductive. “Just a Stranger” featuring Steve Lacy is another collaboration on the album that is unique, and enormously creative. Isolation from Kali Uchis is definitely an exhilarating album that everyone will find distinct and enjoyable.

Best Tracks: “Miami”, “Just a Stranger”, “Flight 22”, “In My Dreams”, “After the Storm”, “Feel Like a Fool” 

 

you are what you listen to Unsplash

That’s all 20!

Thanks so much for taking the time to look through some of the albums that made me me. Hopefully, if you’re in the mood to discover new music, you will give some of my suggestions a listen. I pride myself in having a good taste in music, so I’m very honored to be able to share some of my favorite albums today.

Also, creating this list really took me on a trip down memory lane, and I’m so happy to have a complete list of all the albums that made me who I am today. It’s crazy to look back and listen to all the songs you liked in the past, to see how much you and your music tastes have changed. If you have some free time, might I suggest you too compile a list of your Top 20 Albums from your lifetime. 

 

If you want to find me on Spotify, you can do so here