Six Albums to Look Forward to This Year

Get ready for more mountie hats; more Ocean, more Yeezy, more Gaga glitter and pouty Lana Del Rey lips; more love songs and country-pop; another helping of Fleet Foxes and watered down Beck-rock. There will be controversy (Lily Allen’s next album, “Sheezus”), there may be blood, but regardless there will be plenty to talk about long after 2014 ends. The following are a few of the sure-to-be interesting releases of the this year.
Pharrell, G I R L, March 
It appears Pharrell and his iconic headwear are here to stay. The star-feature of 2013’s biggest singles, Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” recently signed with Columbia Records for a solo album to follow his 2006 debut “In My Mind.” His single “Happy” was featured in “Despicable Me 2” and broke a world record for the longest music video of all time, at 24 hours long. His face (and his hat) have been practically everywhere since the summer, most recently at the Oscars and covering the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” on their 50th anniversary special.
His rise is no fluke, however, as he’s worked as a featured artist, writer or producer in nearly every major pop/hip-hop record of the last decade. His next album,
“G I R L”, was released March 3, and features Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, Miley Cyrus and Alicia Keys.
Frank Ocean, TBD, Summer
2014 will also see the release of R&B singer Frank Ocean’s second album. After his 2011 mixtape “Nostalgia, Ultra” made online waves in the music world and hinted at the stunning talent to come, Ocean followed in 2012 with his studio debut, the superb “Channel Orange,” which became the year’s best reviewed album (netting an incredible 92 on Metacritic) and was certified gold. Ocean’s excellent performance on the charts and critics’ year-end lists has been as much a discussion as the singer’s sexuality, as after 2012 he revealed in an open letter that he had been in love with another man. Ocean’s successes have continued to further dialogue about acceptance in the traditionally less tolerant hip-hop community, a positive by any measure.
While “Channel Orange” skillfully evoked the classic R&B feel with contemporary appeal, his next effort is rumored to be a ‘60s, beach-inspired work, with contributions from Tame Impala, Danger Mouse, Pharrell and fellow Odd Future member Tyler the Creator.
Lady Gaga & Tony Bennett, “Cheek to Cheek,” March 18
Lady Gaga is no stranger to experimentation, whether in her fashion sense or public image, but critics have often questioned whether that willingness to push the envelope translates to her music, synth-saturated dance pop.
With her next album, “Cheek to Cheek,” Gaga will have the chance to prove them wrong. Gaga will collaborate with veteran jazz singer Tony Bennett on a self described, “big swing album” of jazz standards. While the two singing personalities seem like opposites, both share an admiration for each other’s talent and work ethic. “I consider Lady Gaga the Picasso of the entertainment world,” Bennett said. “She is very intelligent and she is very right and she is a very talented person.” The pair sang a well-received duet of “The Lady is a Tramp” at the 2012 Presidential Inauguration. Soon after, while touring in Australia, Bennett received an unexpected call from Gaga. “She said she wanted to do a jazz album with me. She was very adamant.” The question remains whether Gaga will put an avant-garde interpretation on the classics, or if she’ll take Bennett’s lead and show a different side of her performing abilities.
After nearly three years of wait, in the coming months Adele fans might get the new music they’ve been eagerly waiting for. The English singer-songwriter has reportedly been taking her time with her latest album, rumored to be called “25,” in an effort to make it fully her own: writing, recording, producing and mastering it all herself.
If she keeps in touch with her traditionally autobiographical songwriting, “25” looks to be a glorious triumph of a record. In the past two years she’s battled the dirt-flinging British press and Joan Rivers as well as an ill-timed rupture of a painful, but benign polyp on her vocal chords. During that difficult time she refused to hear her songs on the radio, fearing she may never sing again. Ultimately she prevailed, resuming touring and welcoming into the world her first child with philanthropist Simon Konecki, while returning to recording her latest album.
Taylor Swift, TBD
When Taylor Swift blew up the country music scene in 2006 with singles “Teardrops on my Guitar” and “Tim McGraw,” she was on her way to becoming the instantly divisive figure she is today, within her own genre and all of popular music. The likeable, dorky, somewhat naïve persona of her songs and interviews often overshadowed the fact that, at seventeen, she possessed the maturity of songwriting and ambition of someone a decade older.
Her natural shortcomings as a live singer were thrust awkwardly into the spotlight—at the 2010 Grammys, her off-key performance alongside Stevie Nicks was proof to many skeptics that Taylor was little more than a pretty face. Even though her music would not satisfy country purists, it drove the genre into the mainstream and paved the way for Lady Antebellum and similar border-striding artists to make a significant impact on radio airwaves.
Swift’s rise to fame has shown remarkable staying power, and her maturing artistry the past few years serves as proof that she is continuing to grow. She quietly won the American Music Award for best artist in 2013, and her last album, “Red,” was followed by another performance at the Grammys, this one a knockout. Much of the spotlight, once again, however, was on her naïveté rather than her professionalism. After she mistakenly celebrated at the “Best Album” announcement, hearing “Random Access Memories” win (and confusing it with “Red”) abundant Tumblr gifs and Twitter tweets snarled to the theme of “there she goes again!” How could a pop-country celebrity, they wondered, arguably as talked-about for her boyfriend choice as for her music, expect to win?
Like Pharrell’s hat, her enthusiastic misread became a meme, but the laughs were coming at, rather than with, Swift. Though she’s still derided in some circles as more image than substance, Swift’s improving output proves she takes herself seriously as an artist. Perhaps with her next album more of her most ardent aggressors will, too.
Kanye West, TBD, Summer
As always, Kanye West has been a busy man lately. Somewhere between his epic world tour with Kendrick Lamar and Drake, his soon-to-be fashion line with Adidas and search for fighter jets to perform at his upcoming marriage to Kim Kardashian, he’s found time to hit the studios for his next release this summer. He was too busy, however, to attend the Grammys, where his most recent album, “Yeezus,” was snubbed with only two nominations (and not the coveted “Best Album” title) despite its presence on many critics’ year-end lists. Little has been said about what exactly West is working on, but it could be the rumored Part 2 album from the alleged 20 tracks drafted during the “Yeezus” recording sessions.
This next release could be a follow-up of a different kind—a sequel to his collaborative hip-hop album “Cruel Summer” with fellow G.O.O.D Music labelmates Big Sean and Kid Cudi among others. Whether his next album or fashion line is received well by critics and the public (or he finally gets the recognition he thinks he deserves) the results are likely to be controversial, and as always, worth watching.