Billie Eilish: Dog Eat Dog World by Crooks
If I go to play music on my phone, the only thing that doesn’t get old is this album: Dog Eat Dog World. I don’t know why, but whenever I see that album cover, I’m like, “That’s my home base.” It’s perfectly done. I found Crooks through my [Instagram] comments, then he kept tagging me in pictures of him and each one had a caption like, “Where’s Billie at?” Over and over and over. I was like, “Who the fuck is this kid?” Dude, it was so goofy. He was super funny and I thought he was kind of cute, so I followed him. He has become one of my best friends.
I feel like a big part of [what sets him apart] is the way his voice sounds. It hits you in a different way. He’s from London; he’s got this deep, low British voice. That’s what drew me into him, his voice. It makes you turn your head and look. It’s just really true. He’s just got it. I feel like I’m about to watch this kid blow up, you know?
There’s a song called “Woof!” that I just cannot… That song is so dope, bro, like, what the fuck. I love the way the production is super minimal and low, creeping-up-on-you-type shit — the kind of thing that might creep you out if you were alone in a dark room. Remember when Kanye [West] did “Black Skinhead” on Saturday Night Live before it was even out? [It was] the sickest performance: The screams were dope, and he had the dogs barking and everything. It reminds me a little bit of that because it’s intimidating. It almost makes you anxious because it’s so hard.
And then there’s another song called “Dreams,” which Crooks sent me a couple of months before it came out. I was just sitting in a dark room alone and I listened to it and it took over my whole body — it was crazy. The first line is “I can’t live with myself,” and even though that’s super simple and anyone can say that, having that be the first line of the song with this beautiful production, and then having the beat come in, it hits you in a different way.
— As told to Lyndsey Havens
Japanese Breakfast: Sweetener by Ariana Grande
I’ve heard Ariana Grande’s hits on the radio, but I feel like this was the year that she became a real human to me, you know? That’s when I begin to connect with her music in a serious way. Ariana’s story is particularly moving, and so much of her record really speaks to her last few years in the public eye. Watching her do interviews about this insanely traumatic thing that happened to her [the bombing outside her May 2017 tour stop in Manchester, England]. I thought she was so brave — it’s a really serious thing to have to go through at such a young age. The way she approached [the aftermath] was so full of grace and beauty.
So much of Japanese Breakfast stems from a really traumatic time in my life where I watched my mother’s health deteriorate, and people ask me, “How do you write songs that sound so upbeat and perform them, but they come from such a sad place?” And I think that’s what’s so great about Sweetener — it’s a pop jammer, this beacon of positivity for other people. Kind of like, “If I fake this sort of positivity and strength for other people, eventually I will feel it.” That’s how I read into it. I listened to it when it came out and just had this really intense feeling after I played the whole thing. Also, it’s so sick that we have a pop star that’s into Imogen Heap.
The sort of pop-polished record, with the every-song-could-be-a-single vibe, is really changing, so you have these really long albums with a lot of wacky, experimental-sounding stuff. She does that in her own way with “Pete Davidson” — it’s really short but also really moving. I get so sad when I hear that song, and she has that kind of meditation on “I’m going to be happy.” She says that over and over again, “and there’s going to be no crying.” It’s like she’s trying to force herself to believe the thing that she maybe knows is not entirely true. The strings at the end and that repeating line are so moving to me. It feels so raw and emotional.
— Michelle Zauner, as told to Christine Werthman
Jimmie Allen: Wolves by Kyle Cook
Kyle Cook, lead guitarist from Matchbox 20, is one of the most underrated songwriters and singers. Wolves is his first full-length solo album; he has been teasing it for years. There’s a song called “Love Me Like It’s Over” — a ballad with moving piano, guitar sparks and swelling cymbals — that’s one of my faves. It’s got a line that says, “Give me something more than what you take.” Like, you’re just so worn down from people taking and taking emotionally and not replenishing you, and you’re left empty.
He has a great way of talking directly to you without talking to you. Another [highlight] is “Better This Way”: It’s uptempo with an Elton John piano-led production. And “Ghost Town” starts off like a straight throwback Luther Vandross song with Motown-like production.
[The album overall is] completely different from Matchbox 20, but you can hear Kyle’s influence on the group’s sound. Of course he’s got rock songs on Wolves, but most of the time it’s pretty melodic. He has done a great job of not giving people what they expected.
— As told to Taylor Weatherby
Anderson .Paak?: Daytona by Pusha T
I’m thinking about all the hours we played [this album on] the road — it was one of my favorites. The beats and the artists fit perfectly. One producer, short and sweet. That’s where it worked — a lot of short albums didn’t work, but this one did. He was ready to deliver that album, and it was at his best. I love all the beats; they are so funky. “Games We Play” is like, “What?” I like “Come Back Baby” too. Damn, it’s tough to pick just one album. But [Kanye West] was spazzed this year, production-wise.
— As told to Carl Lamarre