Carly Rae Jepsen – The Loneliest Time (pop)
Taylor Swift was surely the odds-on favourite going into today's pop-princess showdown. However, the smart money may well have been on Carly Rae Jepsen. While Swift has garnered a reputation as a "serious" artist by doing away with much of the pop sensibilities that made her such a sensation in the first place, Jepsen has transitioned from ironic appreciation to genuine pop icon status by simply relesing a slew of near-perfect pop albums with B-side collections to match. While Swift has sought to distance herself from the "pop" label on her more recent material, Jepsen fully leans into it on The Loneliest Time and comes out on top because of it.
The Lorde-lite vibes of lead single "Beach House" and theatrical Rufus Wainwright title-track duet had me worried, but I needn't have feared. both tracks fit neatly into the album's progression and The Loneliest Time is otherwise crammed with upbeat pop bangers that blend the funk-forward '70s disco influence of Dedicated (2019) with the powerhouse '80s synth-pop of modern masterpiece Emotion (2015). What gives The Loneliest Time the edge over both Swift's and Jepsen's own recent offerings is the sense of fun it emanates throughout. I've had a tough time with pop music this year, for personal reasons, but, whether it's because I'm in a better place now, or simply because of of it's innate quality, The Loneliest Time is the feel-good pop album I've been waiting all of 2022 for.
Taylor Swift – Midnights (synth pop, indie pop)
Jepsen may have had a decisive victory, but it was a closer match than I was expecting. I've fallen out of love with the once untouchable Taylor over her past few releases and have been particularly skeptical about her newfound credibility as a "serious" artist, which meat for the first time in history I wasn't really that excited about the prospect of a new Taylor Swift record. Maybe it's lowered expectations, but Midnights might have me back on board the Taylor train.
Midnights continues the minimalist aesthetic of 2020's Folklore and Evermore, but this time it without throwing out the proverbial infant along with its bathing residue. The electronic throb of opener "Lavender Haze" is immediately reassuring and the continued presence of bassy electronics throughout the record makes it a far more dynamic and engaging record than her last two records. There's a lot to take in here (including a jarring lyric about everyone being a "sexy baby"), and I've just discovered that the "3am" version of the album adds an extra seven tracks that I haven't had a chance to dive into yet, but my gut tells me Midnights is likely Swift's best album since 1989 (2014) and may well win out in the end.