Ashlee Simpson
2004, Geffen

Forget everything you know about the Ashlee Simpson of today. In 2004 she was just another plucky blonde with bit parts in WB shows; her claim to fame was being Jessica’s sister. And then she decided she wanted to put out a record (of course), so she dyed her hair black (of course), and everyone was skeptical (of course), except for MTV, who gave her a reality show to document the making of her debut album. And whereas Jessica was a real sorta Southern lady, Ashlee was spunky-and punky in that Avril Lavigne mall-punk way that we know and love. I of all people was not prepared to fall in love with her like I did—I was in college, dating the snobbiest of music snobs and accidentally asking “Who is this band we are listening to?” when it was just the motor of a car barely hanging on for dear life. But before I became one of THOSE kids, I had an unbridled love for No Doubt and Garbage, and that is precisely where this record picks up. It is filled with a tidy version of the chaos that is the brain of a teenage girl entering adulthood, especially when dealing with boys (what else?). But since Ashlee was the sibling of a very famous person, she also wrote songs about figuring out who you are when everyone’s watching you, and while you’re living in someone else’s shadow. Pretty much every single song on this record is totally rocking and perfect for happy or angry or whatever sing-a-longs. Other than the semi-scandalous “La-La: (OK, it’s about sex, it’s fine, we can all handle that information), all the other tracks are pure pop awesomeness. Her romantic songs are still charming and kinda fucked-up in the way that regular people are, singing about spilling coffee on her boy’s shirt and being bummed about having to wear her own on “Pieces of Me,” or imploring a dude to just give in to her because her “sunshine’s all around” in “Surrender,” which I swear ALWAYS makes me feel like it’s sunny outside, even in the darkest winter. On “Nothing New,” probably one of my favorite songs on the album, she is so over this relationship in which nothing she does is ever good enough, and she’s like, “Don’t let me get in your way; let it out like you always do,” which is so REAL. ALL OF THE EMOTIONS ON THIS RECORD ARE SO REAL (so much so that I can’t listen to the ballads; they are too earnest for me). When, in the middle of “Love Me for Me,” she sings, “Here I am, perfect as I’m ever gonna be. You’ll see—love me for me,” she does her li’l rock & roll yelp and it sounds totally awkward but honest, I know that it’s true, and that for this specific moment, I do love her for her. This record is everything it was supposed to be, and then a million times more. —Laia

Justin Bieber
2012, Island Records

If you do anything tonight, go sit in your room, close your eyes, and listen to Justin Bieber’s “Take You.” You will immediately be transported to the shotgun seat in some souped-up car, with Bieber driving. He’s being a turd, like always (“I’m just tryna make a little conversation—why the hesitation?”), but his voice is rocking your world. You will die inside, because this is the sexiest song of all time. No competition. All right, maybe Beyoncé’s “1+1” is hotter, but she is a goddess and her songs are in a different league entirely. The rest of Believe is solid. A lot of the songs have a mild dubstep influence, but not so much that it will drive you crazy if you’re like me and hate dubstep. Basically, the album is really stupid and fun, and the whole Justin Bieber phenomenon is kind of funny. You basically can’t go wrong. —Katherine

Peach Kelli Pop
Peach Kelli Pop
2011, Burger Records

This is the stuff girl crushes are made of. Lo-fi, pint-size songs with adorable titles such as “Guy 4 Me” and “Bunny Luv” will charm your knee-highs right off and stick in your brain like bubblegum to the soles of your penny loafers. “Do the Eggroll” rattles off a multitude of creative new ideas for your boogyin’ self: “Do the boogaloo / Do the hot dog / Do the corkscrew / I wanna dance with you.” Do the hot dog? That is my kind of dance. I give this album 5 out of 5 YAYs and an extra WHOOPEE! because of how often I listen to it to validate my own girliness. Peach Kelli Pop is simple, happy, girltime fun, and I am so down. —Dylan

Hannah Montana 2: Meet Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus (and Miley Cyrus as Hannah Montana)
2007, Walt Disney

The title of this two-disc album was an invitation—a VIP pass to get to finally meet…Miley Cyrus. We were about to discover who this beautiful creature hiding under Hannah Montana’s platinum wig really was. The first disc (Hannah Montana 2) is familiar Disney territory, with such inspiring lyrics as “Nobody’s perfect” and “They say that good things take time…but really great things happen in the blink of an eye” and “Life’s what you make it, so let’s make it rock.” Disc two (Meet Miley Cyrus) takes us down a one-way street to Mileyville. And let me tell you, it’s an edgy place. “G.N.O. (Girl’s Night Out)” starts out with Miley’s (Hannah’s?) familiar sweet and sMiley voice…but when we roll over the bridge shit gets bad (the good kind of bad). Miley whispers over a vaguely clubby beat, “Hey, boy, don’t you wish you could’ve been a good boy? Try to find another girl like me, boy. Cuz I am fine.” There’s just the right amount of seduction here, and a few heartfelt ballads, to make this second disc relatable. We may admire Hannah Montana for her amazing success and her cool country dad and for being able to kiss movie stars, but we relate to Miley here, because she is one of our own. I will end this recommendation with some of my favorite Miley lyrics. They are not just simple pieces of advice, like Hannah’s, they are real ~*teen*~ emotions, because Miley Cyrus really knew what middle school was like. From “Good and Broken”: “Are you overloaded, candy coated, your life’s imploding now? There’s a risk worth taking, a pain worth aching on this hollow ground. We can let go. Don’t let go onto all of life’s hardest parts. When we think of stopping, just keep on rocking to the rhythm of our hearts.” —Olivia

Taylor Swift
2008, Big Machine

The beginning of “Love Story” sounds like whispers in the woods, the “Fifteen” intro sounds like nervous, hormone-infused (romantic) inhaling and exhaling and expectations and being let down, and when we play “Hey Stephen” in the car, my dad says stuff like “Oh please, call me Steve!” out loud to the radio. (His name is Steven.) FOR THAT LAST REASON ALONE, this album is excellent. It is the perfect slightly-poppier-but-not-too-far-from-her-roots follow-up to her self-titled debut. A little less mention of pick-up trucks and God, but the same sort of fairytale/high school hybrid that makes high school way less scary to me. “White Horse” might be my favorite, and I especially love it in contrast to a song like “Love Story”—in the former, she sort of questions her own princess/just-a-small-town-girl fantasy, and the end makes me feel like EFF YOU, I DON’T NEED YOU! whether I have anyone to be mad at or not. (My dad and I might both have a problem grasping reality.) Also, there’s a piano version of “Forever & Always” on the platinum version, and it’s totally heartbreaking. I could go on FOREVER AND ALWAYS, but I’ll stop here. —Tavi

Up All Night
One Direction
2011, Syco

The first time I listened to this album, I giggled out loud. Something about the bleepy-bloopy sound effects combined with my love for Harry Styles makes me deliriously happy. Also, you know that thing where boy bands like ’N Sync and the Backstreet Boys would have all of these really great party songs, but really boring and cheesy slow songs? That totally doesn’t happen with 1D. Ballads like “More Than This” and “I Wish” are just as solid as “What Makes You Beautiful” and “Everything About You.” Their harmonies are tight, their album is awesome, and Harry Styles is an adorable human being. —Katherine

Hilary Duff
Hilary Duff
(2004, Hollywood Records)

I once heard somebody hypothesize that a person’s favorite Saturday Night Live is whichever one was on when that person was in middle school. The same could be said for Disney stars. Hilary was the reigning tween queen in my post-Britney, pre-Miley world, forming one third of the Duff/Lohan/Symoné trifecta. Her sophomore album came out when I was 14, and it was the ultimate in catchy, candy-coated sentiment. Try not to feel anything as Hilary Auto-Tunes “It’s like you see the sadness in my eyes / You read the blue between the lines / You could be the one to hold me when I wanna cry” in “Underneath This Smile.” Or how about the song simply called “Haters,” in which she concludes that they are “traitors to the human race.” YOU CAN ROLL YOUR EYES, BUT YOU KNOW SHE’S RIGHT. If your favorite strawberry-banana Lip Smacker from eighth grade could have a soundtrack, this would be it. —Anna

Electra Heart
Marina + the Diamonds
2012, Atlantic, 679

On Electra Heart, Marina sings pop songs that are pretty and fun on the surface but which have a hidden depth. Her voice can be really comforting, and the combination of confidence and vulnerability in her songs is inspiring. This album is definitely PINK and sometimes prim, but it will also have you bouncing around your room. It’s simultaneously danceable and sulk-able (which is just as fun). The last song, “Fear and Loathing,” is a great one for staring into space and reconsidering your whole entire life. —Naomi

Doo Wop Halloween Is a Scream
Various Artists
2004, Wanda Records

Twenty-seven Halloween-themed songs from the golden age of doo-wop, complete with tricks, treats, and old-school monsters. Is “Monster Mash” included, you might be wondering? Is it ever! There’s a cover by Frankie & the Newports and a Billy Lee Riley track called “The Nightmare Mash,” which is pretty much the same song, but that’s OK (can anybody really get sick of “Monster Mash”?). My favorite track is Pete & the Bloodsuckers’ “My Baby Likes Scary Movies,” which my roommate is probably sick of hearing blasting from my room several times a week each October, with me loudly singing along. But really, how else are you supposed to know it’s Halloween? —Anna

Good One
Tig Notaro
2001, Secretly Canadian

Nothing makes me laugh harder than when a person is really funny and also super deadpan, so that the more I laugh the more they just look at me all serious, which makes me laugh even harder, until I am snorting and sweating and crying and embarrassing myself. Tig Notaro is aces at making me laugh like this. I just re-listened to this album this morning on my iPod while I was running errands, which was embarrassing because I was walking around laughing to myself like a loon. (OTOH it was a nice departure from my usual bitchface.) Tig is always totally in control; she uses long pauses, total silence, stillness, and repetition better than probably any other comedian in the world. The first time I saw her live, she was opening for Sarah Silverman at a super-touristy, macho comedy club, and at one point she gazed into the distance and mused, “What if you were all ghosts?” Then she just stood there—for what felt like five minutes but was probably 15-20 seconds—staring silently at the audience, imagining us that way. I got a stomachache from laughing. She doesn’t do that on this album (though how punk-rock would it be to have a 20 seconds of totally unexplained silence in the middle of a comedy album?), but I don’t want to spoil any of the bits that are on it for you. Listen on the subway or the street if you want to get extra-weird looks from people. —Anaheed

King Tuff
King Tuff
2012, Sup-Pop

If this album smelled like anything, it would be your parents’ house after you threw a giant keg/pizza party. It’s party-time heaven. Songs like “Bad Thing” and “Alone & Stoned” are so catchy you might die, and others, like “Stranger” and “Baby Just Break,” are from rock & roll heaven. King Tuff is being a perfect brat on this record, and his songs are perfect. If that doesn’t win you over, there’s a fairy demon bat thing on the cover! Cool! —Katherine

2009, Marriage Records, 4AD

I love this album for so many reasons, one of the biggest being its proliferation of wild, screaming, joyful chanting and rollicking, crazy instrumentation. For good examples of both, check out “Hatari,” which will make you want to howl at the moon. The rest of the album is similarly reckless and beautiful-sounding. —Amy Rose

On Mars
Mean Jeans
2012, Dirtnap Records

I’m pretty sure Mean Jeans come from Mars, but a slimed-out version of Mars full of pizza and Jaeger bombs. Their latest, On Mars, chronicles tales of space inhabitation and heavy good times, beamed down to Earth for our partying pleasure. Mean Jeans are twisted and goofy, and you would have to be really boring not to fall prey to your inner party animal (lol at myself) listening to anthems such as “Ready 2 Rip,” “Don’t Stop Partying,” “and “Come Toobin.” Fair warning: seeing these dudes live is always a reminder why I can’t have nice things, because I consistently end up bruised, beer drenched, sweaty, and convinced that this is the most fun band in existence – not only on Earth, but like, the whole universe. —Dylan

Dye It Blonde
Smith Westerns
2011, Fat Possum Records

Every time I hear the lyric “Are you glamor-amorous?” from the song “Still New,” I’m always like, “Duuuuhhhhhhh.” And even though I’m 0% glamorous and 100% in need of a shower, I believe it because of the power of Smith Western’s music. Their songs remind me of staying up late, goofing around with my friends, and doing a lot of stupid, pointless shit. They sing about weekend shenanigans, falling in love, and being young. Each song is memorable and kind of feels nostalgic. The songs themselves aren’t nostalgic, they just kind of put a glamorous lens on everything, past included. On “Smile,” when they sing, “Yeah, it’s a waste of time, but the sun still shines, and it shines for you,” I’m always like, “Thank you for the sentiment and your beautiful music.” —Katherine

Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit Are the Very Best
The Very Best
2008, independent

FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO LOVE AMAZING REMIXES, AND MAYBE EVEN ALSO THOSE WHO DON’T: You need this mixtape! The Very Best is made up of two British producers who collectively go by Radioclit and a Malawian vocalist named Esau Mwamwaya who sings in both Chichewa and English. This mixtape is are bouncy and exploratory and makes me want to take over the world so I can mandate that everyone listen to them and PARTY. Also, it’s free, so you have no excuse not to try it out. My favorite is their remix of the Vampire Weekend song “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.” —Amy Rose

Teenage Dream
Katy Perry
2011, Capitol

God bless the empty movie theater, the two-liter Coke, and one of my best friends, all of which came together not long ago at a 10:30 PM screening of Katy Perry: Part of Me 3D! Those elements conspired to provide me with a life-altering, transcendentally happy movie-going experience. As Katy Perry changed costumes every three minutes and bubbles flew at us in 3D, my friend and I screamed along to all the songs, vibrating from overcaffeination. I rushed home to obtain Katy’s entire discography; I had become a believer. Teenage Dream is a real pop-star masterpiece. “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F)” is, and I’m serious, one of the best songs I have ever heard. It reaches into the soul of all humanity, and pulls out of it the WILL and ENERGY to get off of your couch and into the party zone. We need more songs like this in our disappointing world. The title track instantly connects with anyone who has been a teenager—that feeling of being young, having a dream and a level of passion that is once in a lifetime, is universal and electrifying. This album contains so many brilliant pop songs that I can forgive its few missteps (sorry, “Peacock”?—come on). This album, and the “documentary” concert movie, have me drooling over Katy’s candy-themed costumes and relating to her weirdness. For those reasons, Teenage Dream has my heart. —Dylan ♦