[img id="77124" align="alignleft"] 1. Robyn — Robyn
While most artists rely on their A&R executives to mold their sound, lyrics, and image based on the current tastes of the market, Swedish pop-singer Robyn relied on herself and the formation of Konichiwa Records to redefine all of the above. She also created a self-titled album that represents the musical evolution (check out “With Every Heartbeat”) of a once sweet-voiced ’90s hybrid of P!nk and Total to an emotionally dynamic individual. As her epic lyrical introduction justly claims, she’s “known by men and women of all origin and faith for her wisdom, compassion, and relentless determination in the quest to get paid” and boasts a sound that’ll “make you say yum-yum.”
2. Kanye West — 808s & Heartbreak
Money. Cars. Hos. Those three words sum up the majority of the lyrics of today’s popular hip-hop/rap releases, with cheap production to match. After the death of his mother and more relationship trouble than Jennifer Lopez, Kanye West decided to go beyond the superficial and trade rapping for singing. With auto-tune as his much-needed guide on this musical maiden voyage, West created 11 heartfelt tracks about… well, 808s & Heartbreak.
3. Lady GaGa — The Fame
Inspiring a new era of music, RedOne, Akon, and Lady GaGa redefined the sound of mainstream music with the release of electro-pop singles “Just Dance” and “Poker Face.” The rest of debut album The Fame reiterates these Kylie Minogue-esque dance tracks, establishing GaGa’s musical world as a nouveau high-fashion way of life that even pop prodigy Christina Aguilera, in all her shameful attempts (“Keeps Getting Better” and “Dynamite”), can’t imitate.
4. Coldplay — Viva la Vida
Sometimes it seems like Coldplay is the reincarnation of U2, even while U2 is still alive and kicking, because of the band’s inability to release anything but musical ingenuity in the form of an impeccable brand of alternative/progressive rock. The somber war-like atmosphere of “Violet Hill,” rather than rallying the troops, sounds as if singer Chris Martin is walking towards his impending death, white flag and all, with lyrics, “If you love me, won’t you let me know.” A stunning string arrangement spearheads “Viva La Vida” and allows the track to travel through history and back to the future. On the strength of this song alone, Viva La Vida is one of the best albums of 2008.
5. Keyshia Cole — A Different Me
If Mary J. Blige can claim to be “Just Fine” after producing over a decade of songs that were about as uplifting as Marilyn Manson singing gospel music, why can’t her protégée Keyshia Cole do the same? Aside from asking the question of whether or not 2Pac is really dead and imagining a dinner on an island with Osama bin Laden, the lead single “Playa Cardz Right” plays like a b-side to her previous album, Just Like You. However, what makes this track as well as the rest of A Different Me so “different” from past attempts is the unquestionable confidence in Cole’s vocals, as well as the maturity of the production in the hands of veteran A&R executive Ron Fair. Maybe it’s Maybelline—or maybe this makeover really works.