The Best Progressive Pop Music of 2022

From Haru Nemuri’s punk-inflected J-pop to Coco & Clair Clair’s spaced-out diss tracks, Ralphie Choo’s computerized flamenco and MUNA’s synth-pop fireworks, here are some standout pop songs and albums from this year.
Grace Ives, Beabadoobee, FKA twigs, Rauw Alejandro, and Sudan Archives. Image by Callum Abbott, photos via Getty Images.

Yeah, 2022 was a big year for stadium-packing pop stars—Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, the Weeknd—with splashy new albums, a frenzy compounded by anxious Spotify reminders notifying users they’ve only listened to 37 percent of Midnights, so would they kindly consider continuing to 100? But beyond this commercial echelon was a bevy of weirder and wilder pop releases from this year: the cheeky collages of Grace Ives; the syncretic, near-devotional anthems of Asake; and the diaphanous “bad bitch” tunes of Shygirl, to name a few. Sorted alphabetically, the following list represents the year’s best in “progressive” pop music, including carry-overs from our main lists as well as additional selections. And while most of our picks fall deliberately outside the mainstream, we made exceptions for a few blockbusters that nonetheless nudged pop into more interesting terrain.

Listen to selections from this list on our Spotify playlist and Apple Music playlist.

Check out all of Pitchfork’s 2022 wrap-up coverage here.

(All releases featured here are independently selected by our editors. When you buy something through our retail links, however, Pitchfork may earn an affiliate commission.)


Asake: Mr. Money With the Vibe

Lagosian singer and rapper Asake has been fine-tuning his fleet-footed vision of Afrobeats for several years now, channeling the languid groove of South African amapiano, the meditative vocals of Nigerian Fuji music, and the communal elation of gospel. Guided by frequent collaborator Magicsticks, his debut album Mr. Money With the Vibe is full of lavish charm, with jubilant, multi-voiced choruses and winking lines that make agile use of Yoruban street slang. From the silky anthem “Terminator” to the superstar team-up of the “Sungba” remix with Burna Boy, it’s impossible to ignore Asake’s eclectic brew. –Marc Hogan

Listen/Buy: Amazon | Apple Music | Spotify | Tidal

Dirty Hit

Beabadoobee: Beatopia

On Beatopia, Beabadoobee is healing from messes made by herself and others, threading bittersweet realizations through the downy sound of early-2000s radio pop. Inspired by the dreamworld she created as a child, the 22-year-old pulls us into a free-floating and eclectic universe, meditating on self-care and relationships across the folk chants of “Beatopia Cultsong,” the bubbly bossa nova of “the perfect pair,” and the smudged pop-rock of “Talk” and “10:36.” Soothing and self-aware, it’s easy to get lost in. –Jane Bua

Listen/Buy: Rough Trade | Amazon | Apple Music | Bandcamp | Spotify | Tidal


Bladee / Ecco2k: Crest

To outsiders, Drain Gang might seem more like a cult than a music collective, with a dense symbology to decipher that feels like hypebeast hieroglyphics. But on Crest, Bladee, Ecco2k, and producer Whitearmor concoct a pure, pop-flavored iteration of their heady cloud rap and tap into a more universal frequency. Crest is a dreamy exercise in vulnerability, a dispatch from the internet trenches that, for once, doesn’t feel wrapped in disengaged cynicism; shining through a ravey, multicolored mist of love and acceptance, it pairs existential Auto-Tune chants with driving 8-bit beats that fizzle like candy. Overlooking Crest’s sparkling electronic wonderland, you might feel like no matter how much time you’ve wasted online, your real friends are out there somewhere waiting for you. –Sam Goldner

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Perpetual Novice

Caroline Polachek: “Billions”

Caroline Polachek dives headfirst into the twists and turns of a mutually obliterative infatuation. She breathily gasps about “sexting sonnets” and “working the angles,” before plunging down an octave to seethe “headless angel / body upgraded / but it's dead on arrival.” And then a sharp turn: She hands off the final chorus to a British children's choir, whose voices sound so weightless they could be simulated. “I never felt so close to you,” they sing, modeling what all the best pop music does: taking a specific situation between a particular I and a particular you and inviting everyone else in the world to fill it with their own dreams and nightmares. –Sasha Geffen

Listen: Caroline Polachek, “Billions”


Charli XCX: Crash

Crash chronicles not just one but three Charli XCX breakups: with her romantic partner, her longtime label, and the jagged brutalism of her earlier experimental music. In spite of its ambition, her fifth album is still laser-focused and impossibly cool. It’s also deeply referential—like the gleefully on-the-nose Robin S. interpolation that powers “Used to Know Me”—but never beholden to its influences. It’s the only album this year that featured new-jack-hyperpop, a thotty New Order tribute, and a gooey ode to infidelity. If early hits like “I Love It” and “Fancy” made Charli a star, and Pop 2 turned her into an avant-garde hero, Crash just may be the reason why, decades from now, dead-eyed girls and demon gays will still be screaming three words loud enough to reach Satan himself: “It’s Charli, baby.” –Shaad D’Souza

Listen/Buy: Rough Trade | Amazon | Apple Music | Spotify | Tidal


Charlotte Adigéry / Bolis Pupul: Topical Dancer

At a recent New York show, when Charlotte Adigéry performed “It Hit Me,” her wryly funny, devastatingly naive recollection of being sexually harassed in public at age 13, I witnessed all the men in the room—and only the men in the room—suddenly freeze. That’s the subversive sociological impact of Topical Dancer, in which Adigéry and her musical partner Bolis Pupul mint teen-mag dating advice, racist microaggressions, and dance-music clichés into absurdist Sprechgesang disco with a wickedly political sense of humor. The Belgian duo’s minimalist grooves will keep you rocking until you’re too uncomfortable to move. –Anna Gaca

Listen/Buy: Rough Trade | Amazon | Apple Music | Bandcamp | Spotify | Tidal


Coco & Clair Clair: Sexy

Tween girls go to the chintzy mall jewelry store Claire’s to get their ears pierced and browse for fruit-scented lip gloss, but proponents of a niche meme will joke that you can get your brain’s frontal lobes removed there, too. If “I got my lobotomy at Claire’s” T-shirts were actually true, there’d be no more perfect soundtrack than the spacey, charm-bracelet pop of Coco & Clair Clair. The cloud-rap production on their debut Sexy feels like floating without a thought in your head, but the Atlanta BFFs have wit to spare: “He wanna sync up with my period/Meanwhile he saved in my phone as ‘Idiot,’” Coco raps, one of the album’s many hilarious girls-rule-boys-drool disses. With its pop culture references and fantasies of living large, Sexy is a time machine to the weird, imaginative fun of girlhood. What Coco & Clair Clair have is way rarer than a limited-edition Squishmallow. –Cat Zhang

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The Capricorns in our lives have an emotional sense of direction, as if life’s compass were affixed to both their brains and their hearts. FKA twigs uses that intuition to shape her astrology-themed mixtape CAPRISONGS around the idea of resilience as a liberating force. Songs like “oh my love” and the Jorja Smith collab “darjeeling” are equally tough and lithe, while others dabble in mischief. This is twigs quietly marveling at her own beauty and strength, like a NASA image revealing the gorgeous interiority of space hiding in plain sight. –Clover Hope

Listen/Buy: Rough Trade | Amazon | Apple Music | Spotify | Tidal

True Panther / Harvest

Grace Ives: Janky Star

Grace Ives’ aptly titled second album is a junk drawer stuffed with offbeat gems. Though the palette is pop, the color combinations she devises atop that base are endless. “Shelly” passes a power-pop love note across the counter of the Twin Peaks diner. “On the Ground” time-warps the introspective, millennial Ives into the Danceteria ’80s. And it’s in risky, high-concept songwriting gambits, like her deployment of the noxious white-collar euphemism “circle back” on the winsome “Angel of Business,” that Ives spins raw quirk into gold thread, tying up all of the album’s disparate ideas into a single shiny package. –Judy Berman

Listen/Buy: Rough Trade | Amazon | Apple Music | Spotify | Tidal


Haru Nemuri: Shunka Ryougen

Haru Nemuri defines pop music by its “capacity to let others inside”; on Shunka Ryougen, the Japanese maverick opens the floodgates, ushering into her expansive musical vision the melodrama of emo, the splendor of classical, the combustion of noise rock, and the bubbliness of classic J-pop. As she sings, raps, and screams her way across 21 songs, she imbues them with equal urgency; hear her raging on the giddy “Never Let You Go” and issuing a call to arms on “Déconstruction.” Nemuri is a pop rebel with a punk spirit, and Shunka Ryougen is an open invitation to spit with her at the microphone. –Nina Corcoran

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Hikaru Utada: BADモード

Hikaru Utada’s BADモード plods through the toil of self-growth with a gentle and generative purpose. With assistance from Floating Points, Skrillex, and A. G. Cook, the album’s delicate disco-meets-ambient production breaks down the overwhelming task of self-improvement into manageable loops and gradations. Beginning from a place of romantic obsession, Utada shifts between two impulses: the desire to swaddle oneself in the comforts of another and the necessity to find love and strength on your own. They reconcile these two drives on the burbling and softly oscillating closer “Somewhere Near Marseilles”: “Let’s go fast, then go slow/Not too far, not too close,” they sing, intoning a mantra of compromise. –Emma Madden

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Zelig / Columbia

King Princess: Hold On Baby

Like an adorable “Hang in there!” kitten above a heap of crumpled takeout containers, Hold On Baby makes a winsome admission of defeat: Even at its most charmed, young adulthood is rarely angst-free. “I don’t want to live like that and I know it’s my track,” King Princess’ Mikaela Straus gripes on “I Hate Myself, I Want to Party,” the opening declaration of a wonky grunge-pop album with a droll sense of humor and a big, soft heart. Working with co-producers including Mark Ronson and Aaron Dessner, Straus spikes acoustic orchestration with playful shocks of electronic sound for an effect as colorful and conflicted as her permanent main character. Between the lines, though, her wisdom is timeless: Keep those old friends close, cherish the mess, and definitely learn to laugh at yourself. –Anna Gaca

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Salsa Fegol

Mediopicky: “Aji Titi” [ft. Diego Raposo]

On his song titled after a small pepper, Dominican producer Mediopicky plays a cartoon casanova making heart eyes at a party girl who’s got the spice. “Aji Titi” is bold, waggish dembow guided by guffaw-inducing come-ons—“Esa azúcar que tú tienes me pone diabético” (“That sugar that you have makes me diabetic”)—and hiccuped background vocals that sound like he’s scalded his mouth. The man’s got jokes, but those not fluent in Dominican Spanish can still get down with the hip-rocking beat, or Mediopicky’s onomatopoeic delivery that’s infectious like a baby’s giggle (“ti ti ti” sounds like “hee hee hee”). Either way, “Aji Titi” packs the heat. –Cat Zhang

Listen: Mediopicky, “Aji Titi” [ft. Diego Raposo]

Saddest Factory / Dead Oceans


MUNA may have gone from a major label to an indie, but their pop ambitions have never seemed bigger. Their self-titled third album explodes like a burst of stardust, replete with queer statements of purpose (the pro-shots, pro-leather party anthem “What I Want”) and crushing breakup ballads (the dainty, longing “Loose Garment”). The album’s few moodier moments don’t detract from the overall euphoria. All the Los Angeles trio wants is fun, companionship, and unmistakable chemistry, coated in sweet optimism. –Clover Hope

Listen/Buy: Rough Trade | Amazon | Apple Music | Bandcamp | Spotify | Tidal


Nia Archives: Forbidden Feelingz EP

Listening to Nia Archives’ Forbidden Feelingz is like flipping through an old scrapbook. There’s never just a danceable breakbeat, or a seamless sample chop, or a vaporous melodic flourish; each bit is a window into who she is. In between pillowy, lilting vocals on the title track, there’s a vocal clip ripped from Columbo meant as an homage to the detective shows Nia watched with her grandmother; “18 & Over” has a pulsating drum’n’bass bounce shaped around a sample of the reggae hit “Young Lover,” a nod to both her Jamaican and British heritage. On the brisk and intimate EP, Nia Archives isn’t dancing away the memories but pulling you into them. –Alphonse Pierre

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Universal / Virgin

Pongo: “Goolo”

The Angolan-Portuguese singer Pongo discovered kuduro—a style of Angolese dance music influenced by hip-hop, techno, and soca—after encountering dancers at a train station on her way to physiotherapy appointments as a tween. Years later, she arrives with Sakidila, a towering debut of transatlantic scorchers. On the closer “Goolo,” she charges forward with full-bodied chants that could shake stadiums, her exultant yelps matched by the raspy proclamations of Ivorian rapper Mosty. Although “Goolo” is technically slower than a typical kuduro track, producer Saszy Afroshii’s beat fires on all cylinders: A jaw harp pogos loudly and cartoonishly, met in the air by a searing whistle. It’s one of the year’s most spirited anthems. –Joshua Minsoo Kim

Listen: Pongo, “Goolo”

Rusia IDK

Ralphie Choo: “Bulerías de un Caballo Malo”

Sun-kissed and rococo, the flamenco-inspired music of Madrid-based songwriter and producer Ralphie Choo is an alchemical blend that folds glitchy pop, R&B, and hip-hop into its classically beautiful scenery. On “Bulerías de un Caballo Malo,” Choo rewires a bracing flamenco rhythm with chattering vocals, looped strings, and chirping synths. Filtering his voice into various guises, he describes a woman dressing up to go out, but a shadow lingers in the background: “Guardame” (“Save me”), he repeats, as the song swivels into a downtempo moment of reflection. With each turn, Choo opens up the jagged depths below the music’s glimmering surface. –Eric Torres

Listen: Ralphie Choo, “Bulerías de un caballo malo”

Duars Entertainment / Sony Music Latin

Rauw Alejandro: Saturno

Since landing a global smash with the disco-themed “Todo de Ti” a year ago, Rauw Alejandro switched mirror balls for crystal balls to dream up the splashy futurism of Saturno. The Puerto Rican star’s latest album may come packaged in space-age aesthetics, but its most future-forward aspect is how it scrambles the standard Latin pop formula, mixing up reggaeton's mechanized mischief with Miami bass, freestyle, and after-hours synthwave for an off-the cuff, block-party-style romp. Throughout Saturno, Alejandro feigns courtship, only to set his hedonistic intuitions loose at each knock of a rattling dembow beat; he hat-tips to reggaeton's Boricua icons on songs like the boisterous “De Carolina” with DJ Playero. Saturno offers a peek at Alejandro’s ultimate certainty: that he can score a pop hit on his own terms. –Luis Minvielle

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Raveena: “Rush”

On “Rush,” we meet Asha, the titular space princess of Raveena’s Asha’s Awakening, as a mystic beauty cultivating psychedelic powers from deep within a jungle. “Heard she’s made of music,” the New York singer-songwriter coos, “ready for your ruin/American fantasy.” It’s a gentle satire of romantic tropes about South Asian women that also functions as a declaration of artistic prowess. Envisioning an early 2000s Indian pop princess existing alongside J.Lo and Gwen Stefani, Raveena blends classically Indian elements into aqueous synth-pop with a hummingbird-light touch and introduces a hint of Blue Man Group-style ’90s psychedelia to vibrant choreography inspired by Bollywood musicals. “Listen to her calling,” she chirps in her head voice, luring you into the reverie. –Anna Gaca

Listen: Raveena, “Rush”


Rosalía: Motomami

“Bro, I’m the first to the studio and the last to leave,” Catalan pop phenom Rosalía recently bragged. It was the post-bout interview, but her latest album MOTOMAMI is the knockout punch. MOTOMAMI is all about contrast, and to craft it, Rosalía painstakingly spliced techniques from bachata, bolero, dembow, and flamenco into one of the year’s most exhilarating records. On opening banger “SAOKO,” she interrupts a buzzing reggaeton synth with free jazz piano. She pierces through gossamer ballad “HENTAI” with rapid-fire drum machine and hypersexual lyrics. And while some artists lean on Auto-Tune to polish subpar vocals, Rosalía, an accomplished cantaora, sneaks it into the more traditional “BULERÍAS” like an alien texture. MOTOMAMI is the sound of Rosalía being intimate in the public eye, restraining soft flesh with rigid leather, and scrawling new verses across ancient texts. –Madison Bloom

Listen/Buy: Rough Trade | Amazon | Apple Music | Spotify | Tidal

Because Music

Shygirl: Nymph

On Nymph, Shygirl takes the prurient, playful tendencies of “bad bitch” music—you know, pump-up anthems for applying fake lashes and contouring before a night out—and ventures to softer places. Instead of selling an illusory vision of confidence, she shows how tenderness and strength can co-exist. Over a seesawing beat on the breathy opener “Woe,” she contemplates her delicious booty and how she’s never satisfied, even as she seems to have it all; on the cosmic ecstasy of “Heaven,” she longs for a fickle lover. Here, Shygirl moves between gentleness and fortitude, reminding us that vulnerability and power go arm in arm. Baddies can have feelings too. –Isabelia Herrera

Listen/Buy: Rough Trade | Amazon | Apple Music | Bandcamp | Spotify | Tidal

Stones Throw

Sudan Archives: Natural Brown Prom Queen

“I’m not average,” Brittney Parks chants on the title track to Natural Brown Prom Queen, a bright, transformative love letter to herself written in a kaleidoscopic blend of house, R&B, pop, and hip-hop. The L.A. artist has foregrounded her violin before, but Natural Brown Prom Queen’s collagist approach allows Parks’ skillful playing to more elaborately embroider her sharp, often funny lyrics. Themes of self-reliance, family, and heartache emerge in songs that range from no-frills rapping to delicate singsong. With each head-spinning beat change and violin loop, Natural Brown Prom Queen’s musical daredevilry and lyrical honesty guarantee that no one will ever call Parks “average” again. –Eric Torres

Listen/Buy: Rough Trade | Amazon | Apple Music | Bandcamp | Spotify | Tidal


yeule: Glitch Princess

As a teenager in Singapore, Nat Ćmiel built digital personae in online communities on Tumblr and in MMORPGs, subsuming a piece of their physical self to the virtual. The music they make as yeule reflects that bionic reality: On Glitch Princess, they’re as broken as a “404” and imagine their memory being wiped like a hard drive. But even self-proclaimed cyborgs get the blues. The fundamental mammalian urge to kiss, hold, and fuck chips away at yeule’s hardened chromatic shell and terminally online nihilism; they are tormented by conflicting desires to be loved and to disappear completely. Familiar sounds of piano and acoustic guitar echo amid shuddering vocal glitches and icy synths; yeule’s Auto-Tuned voice retains its rough edges as they struggle to express their humanity in a body they’re dying to escape. –Arielle Gordon

Listen/Buy: Rough Trade | Amazon | Apple Music | Bandcamp | Spotify | Tidal