The age-old concept of Difficult Second Album Syndrome is one that still haunts many artists today: how on earth do you follow up a great first record?
There are a wealth of artists, though, who have managed to return with career-defining second albums that have twisted their artistry and influence into bigger and bolder shapes. A handful of these follow-up efforts even changed the world of music forever: Mariah Carey’s ‘Emotions’ inspired an essential conversation about the trappings of the industry, while the chart-storming success of Katy Perry’s ‘Teenage Dream’ is yet to be matched.
Here are 15 of the best second albums of all time.
1Katy Perry – ‘Teenage Dream’ (2010)
‘Teenage Dream’ became the second album in history to produce five number-one singles – following in the footsteps of Michael Jackson’s 1987 album ‘Bad’. It was maximalist, hyperactive, and sugar-laden, but above all else, totally inimitable.
Best track: ‘California Gurls’
2Dua Lipa – ‘Future Nostalgia’ (2020)
With her second LP, Dua Lipa reinvented herself as a dancefloor mainstay by sharpening her hooks and bringing slick, plush disco-pop bangers of love, heartbreak, and hedonism rightfully back to the upper echelons of the charts.
Best track: ‘Levitating’
3Lorde – ‘Melodrama’ (2017)
A concept album that traversed the extreme euphoria hits of a house party, the Grammy Award-nominated ‘Melodrama’ saw Lorde spurn the glamour and demands of her teenage fame in favour of deeply cathartic and intimate pop.
Best track: ‘Green Light’
4Paramore – ‘Riot!’ (2007)
‘Riot!’ basked in its own self-determination. With knockout hits such as ‘Misery Business’ and ‘That’s What You Get’, the album saw Paramore transcend from underground favourites to a central tour-de-force of the late noughties’ emo-sphere.
Best track: ‘That’s What You Get’
5Adele – ’21’ (2011)
On the fourth best-selling album of all time, Adele’s growing confidence as a pop-soul auteur translated to a collection of widescreen songs of breathtaking emotional candour. This album’s masterful balladry will forever feel enriching.
Best track: ‘Rolling In The Deep’
6Mariah Carey – ‘Emotions’ (1991)
Mariah Carey’s protracted battle for greater creative control of her artistry ultimately defined ‘Emotions’, an album that saw the pop-R&B legend embrace her newfound freedom and transpose that joyous thrill of a feeling into empowerment.
Best track: ‘Emotions’
7FKA Twigs – ‘Magdalene’ (2019)
Made up of devastating ruminations on tabloid intrusion, sexuality, and the dissolution of a relationship, ‘Magdalene’ was a heartbreakingly brilliant album. There was a nakedness to everything: from the industrial-laced production to the pain in FKA twigs‘ voice.
Best track: ‘Cellophane’
8Taylor Swift – ‘Fearless’ (2009)
Fun fact: ‘Fearless’ is the most awarded album in the history of country music. It was a crossover hit that reflected the youthful vim of Taylor Swift herself, who at the time was on her way to becoming a generation-defining popstar.
Best track: ‘Love Story’
9Frank Ocean – ‘Blonde’ (2016)
Named after the enigmatic vocalist’s racing car company, Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde’ was a subtle masterpiece that shrugged off its grandeur: it sustained a mood of intense emotion, and offered meticulous studies of identity and adolescence.
Best track: ‘Ivy’
10M.I.A – ‘Kala’ (2007)
On ‘Kala’, M.I.A presented her most jaw-droppingly bold and brave material to date. The lyrics are so vivid and wonderfully messy that this LP sounds like the equivalent of scribbled thoughts in a notebook.
Best track: ‘Paper Planes’
11Wolf Alice – ‘Visions Of A Life’ (2017)
Indie-rock heroes Wolf Alice’s second full-length effort was a real triumph. It perfectly captured the anxious, aching years of early adulthood – and found clarity and relief in examining such a tumultuous period for so many.
Best track: ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’
12Amy Winehouse – ‘Back To Black’(2007)
The final album from the late Amy Winehouse is utterly timeless. Her sweetly dark, yet doomed, voice shared tales of grief and infidelity wrapped up in swelling baroque-pop arrangements, and projected her incomparable talent to the world.
Best track: ‘Tears Dry On Their Own’
13A Tribe Called Quest – ‘The Low End Theory’ (1991)
This definitive hip-hop epic was unafraid to subvert all expectations of what the genre could stand for. It was so generous with its grooves, as striking jazz samples bounced off Daisy Age rhythms and funky bass samples.
Best track: ‘Check The Rhime’
14Rosalía – ‘El Mal Querer’ (2018)
The powerful and often melodramatic arrangements on ‘El Mal Querer’ were seemingly from a dream. Flitting from hypnotic electronic pop to flamenco atmospherics, Rosalía’s second LP lifted her pristine vocals to astronomical heights.
Best track: ‘Que No Salga La Luna’
15TLC – ‘CrazySexyCool’ (1994)
TLC’s star-making ‘CrazySexyCool’ contained not only one of the 90s’ defining R&B moments (mega-hit ‘Waterfalls’, which spent seven weeks at #1 in the US), but it also beautifully displayed the breadth of the trio’s collective genius.
Best track: ‘Waterfalls’
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