Ah, the freedom of having no more drama and a No. 1 single in your back pocket. Gomez banked her first Hot 100-topper in late 2019 with the breakup exorcism "Lose You to Love Me," and you can feel the weight subsequently lifted from the rest of Rare, an album of such unencumbered joy that it's the, yes, rare release from a 2020 pop star that could be accurately described as casual. "It feels so good to dance again," insists one track, and the drop that follows isn't one of explosive club-floor catharsis, but more of a grinning, dance-like-nobody's-watching shuffle. It's been a long few years in the spotlight for Selena, but mmm mmm mmmm, look at her now. - A.U.
Shawn Mendes, Wonder
You don't have to wonder what it's like to be loved by Shawn Mendes any longer; his fourth studio album spells it out, with a romantic through-line running from the one-minute "Intro" through the intimate conclusion of "Can't Imagine.” The 14 tracks cover all facets of a relationship, whether it's the euphoria of a new love ("Higher"), the insecurity of worrying your partner might stray ("Piece of You"), the tenderness of intimacy ("Teach Me How to Love") or even buying a home together ("24 Hours"). But the true emotional highlight is realizing lead single "Wonder" and "Always Been You" are two sides of the same coin, with Mendes first dreaming of a potential relationship with the object of his affection and then making that dream a reality. There are a couple of outliers -- the Justin Bieber duet "Monster" and "Call My Friends" wrestle with the rocky sides of fame more than romance -- but the bulk of this joyful project is all about Shawn being in love with being in love, and it shows. - KATIE ATKINSON
Taylor Swift, Folklore
What more can be said about Folklore, which spent eight weeks on top of the Billboard 200, earned five Grammy nominations and seeped its way into our hearts so thoroughly that it had us wanting to move to a cabin in the woods to stare forlornly into a cozy fire? An atypical release for Taylor Swift led to her most brave, personal work -- even if she admits that now she doesn't feel like she has to rip the headlines straight from her life to write songs anymore. Folklore is Swift creating music for music's sake -- sure, August slipped away in a moment of time, but this album will always be ours. - DENISE WARNER