HeadStuff Picks | Best Debut Albums of the Decade

The debut album is a statement of artistic creativity, intended to launch a musician’s career proper. Not all hit the ground running, however. Even the most important bands in history don’t always deliver great debuts. The Beatles debut Please Please Me (1963) soared up the charts in the UK, but included six covers. Likewise, The Rolling Stones self-titled debut (1964) featured nine cover songs. Although both examples were popular releases, they lacked the songwriting and delivery of later efforts.

On the other hand, there are debuts which arrive fully formed, like The Velvet Undergound & Nico. Though it sold very little on release, it influenced a wide variety of musicians and continues to do so fifty-two years later. In the last thirty years there have been some remarkable debuts. The Stone Roses, Suede, Primal Scream, Arctic Monkeys, Florence & The Machine, and many more, all brought first offerings of greatness that have ventured into “classic” territory.

In the last decade, the surge in music has become more intense. Now, artists give it all on a debut outing, hoping to break through in the streaming era. This fight for recognition means they must be on top of their game from the outset. Taking it year-on-year, here are some of the best debut albums of the past decade.

2010 | Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid

In 2010 Janelle Monáe burst onto the music scene with an epic, adventurous debut. The ArchAndroid is a sci-fi concept album, with an incredible amount of creative invention alongside some clever, catchy songwriting. All, of course, aided by chart hits ‘Tightrope’ and ‘Cold War’. Since this release, Janelle has continued to deliver impressive work.

2011 | The Vaccines – What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?

English indie-rockers The Vaccines blend old-school surf music with a harder garage-rock foundation. Their debut, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?, is a thriller from start to finish, spawning six singles in total. A product of the post-punk revival, their sound became a dominating factor across the airwaves in 2011.

2012 | Jack White – Blunderbuss

Yes it’s true, while Jack White has been a figure in music for the past twenty years with outfits like The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and The Dead Weather, his first solo record didn’t arrive until 2012. Blunderbuss is a collision of styles, including blues and folk, with White playing guitar, bass, drums and every other instrument he could find. It was never going to disappoint, and it was nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards in 2013, losing out to Mumford & Sons record Babel.

2013 | Lorde – Pure Heroine

New Zealand’s Lorde (Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor) released an eclectic mix of dream pop and electro pop, and one of the most interesting albums of the last decade. At the age of sixteen she scored a US number one with ‘Royals’, the youngest artist since Tiffany (1987) to achieve that feat. When Pure Heroine hit the streets the world was waiting and hungry for the sound she had promised.

2014 | Hozier – Hozier

Bray man Andrew Byrne, aka Hozier, became a household name in 2014 with his self-titled debut—not just in Ireland, but also in the United States. Reaching a high of number two in both the US and Canada, his thought-provoking lyrics, with a powerful social message, hit home in most parts of the globe. The lead single, Grammy-nominated ‘Take Me To Church’, fuelled his breakout success.

2015 | Jess Glynne – I Cry When I Laugh

English songwriter Jess Glynne broke new ground with the release of her debut I Cry When I Laugh. An album which received mixed reviews upon release but still managed to top the charts in the UK. With a total of six singles lifted from the release, the three years spent writing and recording I Cry When I Laugh paid off, proving that the public wanted this album even if it was initially deemed substandard.

2016 | Christine & The Queens – Chaleur Humaine

French singer-songwriter Héloïse Adelaïde Letissie is Christine & The Queens, often mistaken for a full band. Her debut came out in France in 2014, before being re-recorded and released in English in 2016. It hit the number one spot in Ireland and number two in the UK. Though her follow-up Chris (2018) proved she was no one-hit wonder, garnering further acclaim.

2017 | Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer

Michael Ebenazer Kwadjo Omari Owuo Jr., aka Stormzy, released the first grime album to clinch the number one spot in the UK and Ireland, grabbing a Brit Award for Best Album too. He capped the album cycle with a scintillating performance headlining the Pyramid Stage at this year’s Glastonbury Festival.

2018 | Snail Mail – Lush

American singer-songwriter Lindsey Jordan is Snail Mail and, at the age of nineteen, she hit the big time with her debut Lush. A figure similar in scope to Polly Jean Harvey or Liz Phair, keeping with the emotionally drenched themes, and loud distorted guitars.

2019 | Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

There was some solid competition this year, with Sigrid, Fontaines D.C., and Sam Fender, but the most talked-about teen since Britney Spears clinched it. One of the best debut albums of the decade, this is a statement on society, from the perspective of a teenage mind.


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