Normally this is where a summary of the year would go. No-ho-ho, not this year. tl/dr: year sucked, music didn’t. So I’m just gonna get right into it.
Here you are. The 100 Best Songs of 2020:
| 100 |
MURDER MOST FOUL
Almost sixty years into his career, Bob Dylan still hasn’t reached the bottom of his creative well. This thought-proving nearly 17-minute epic holds up mightily in his vast catalog.
| 099 |
KNOW YOUR WORTH
KHALID AND DISCLOSURE
This electronic act/non-electronic act collaboration format is starting to cloy, but it’s hard to fault the dynamic of Khalid’s engaging smoothness and Disclosure’s bassy laidback beat.
| 098 |
The Killers have spent the last decade and a half proving they can write towering anthems; “Caution” just so happens to be a pretty good one.
| 097 |
WHEREVER YOU GO
THE AVALANCHES FT. JAMIE XX, NENEH CHERRY, AND CYLPSO
Let’s get real, the lineup alone sells the song. Luckily, through its calculated twists and turns, it actually lives up to the expectations set by this dynamic spread of collaborators.
| 096 |
(THE BLESSED MADONNA REMIX)
DUA LIPA FT. MADONNA AND MISSY ELLIOTT
It was beginning to look like Future Nostalgia’s triumphant centerpiece was being crimianally regulated to eternal album-cut status. With The Blessed Madonna’s revelation-of-a-remix – featuring Missy Elliott and the Queen of Pop, herself, Madonna – one could say “Levitating” was actually placed on the highest pedestal of the whole project.
| 095 |
COMME DES GARÇONS (LIKE THE BOYS)
The thought of all the dance floors “Comme Des Garçons” never got to fill this year is devastating. This track is the perfect, uncompromising dance pop experience, of which the masses are inexplicably still depriving themselves.
| 094 |
miley cyrus ft. dua lipa
In a year that will be remembered for an unprecedented abundance of all-female collaborations (and nothing else, right?), Miley and Dua decided to throw in one more at the 11th hour. The contrasting textures of their voices play off each other so effortlessly that it almost distracts from the song, which is actually pretty alright, itself.
| 093 |
wash us in the blood
kanye west ft. travis scott
Sure, “Wash Us In The Blood” gives us all Yeezus-blue balls, but it’d still be hard to argue Kanye doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing.
| 092 |
Jamie xx’s post-In Colour output has been sparse, but it makes a release like standalone single “Idontknow” feel that much more intentional. This could be his most eleborate organized-cacophony to date, and possibly even his most well-executed.
| 091 |
jónsi and robyn
This dream collaboration is hardly dreamy; it’s an abosolute assault. Yet somehow, through all its unrelenting aggression and bellyaching about “Scandanavian pain,” there’s a perfect earworm of a chorus piercing through it like a bullet. Genius.
| 090 |
savage love (laxed – siren beat)
jawsh 685 x jason derulo
You have to give Jason Derulo a little credit for his savvy repurposing of Jawsh 685’s “Laxed – Siren Beat” into one of the year’s most inescapable hits (for better or worse.)
| 089 |
070 Shake’s confident “Guilty Conscience” is a atmosphere bomb that detonates into a glorious chorus – an audible metaphor for her inevitable commerical explosion.
| 088 |
whats poppin (REmix)
jack harlow ft. dababy, tory lanez, and lil wayne
Jack Harlow was undeniably one of the year’s breakout stars, thanks to prominent stamps of approval from the likes of Lil Wayne and DaBaby on the remix to his massive “WHATS POPPIN.”
| 087 |
internet money ft. gunna, don toliver, and nav
“Lemonade” is an enigma of a hit, in the sense that it doesn’t feel particularly tied to anything specific. The fact that it was such a huge hit is simply a testament to the track itself.
| 086 |
i don’t belong
“I Don’t Belong” revives the brooding melancholy of Joy Division without trying to sound like Joy Division; it’s less a full-circle moment for post punk as it is an acknowledgement of its legacy.
| 085 |
laugh now cry later
drake ft. lil durk
Drake has spent his entire career constructing a signature sound, so the fact that he’s still dropping hit after hit while doing so is a testament to said sound.
| 084 |
let me love you like a woman
lana del rey
In almost every way, “Let Me Love You Like A Woman” is Lana Del Rey and her Lana Del Rey-iest – but that isn’t a criticism.
| 083 |
how you like that
You could say that K-pop’s reining Queens BLACKPINK completed their international infultration in commanding fashion with their assertive, trap-tinged “How You Like That” – but they still leave the impression the best is yet to come.
| 082 |
the bigger picture
Quite simply, Lil Baby captured a pivitol moment of history in real time. His flow is relentless, non-stop… the way he seemingly never comes up for air is poetic.
| 081 |
Who knows if Noname intented her brief, one-minute J. Cole diss-track to pack as big a punch as it did? It’s compact, but complete.
| 080 |
“Delete Forever” sees Grimes earnestly exploring her tender, almost-restrained side, and it’s absolutely beautiful.
| 079 |
lil uzi vert
Lil Uzi Vert is really feeling himself on the triumphant “Myron,” but he absolutely rises to the occasion with his dynamic flow.
| 078 |
whole new mess
The sparse “Whole New Mess” impeccably captures the beauty of emptiness, sonically speakying.
| 077 |
We’ll leave it to Justin and the Grammys to settle whether or not his Changes project is pop or R&B, but the infectious “Yummy” effortlessly plays to his strengths.
| 076 |
Time will tell if Lil Mosey’s lone hit will remain that way, but with a beat this good and a hook that earwormy, this hit won’t be going anywhere any time soon.
| 075 |
yellow is the color of her eyes
The dreamy 7-plus minute centerpiece of Soccer Mommy’s immaculate Color Theory never feels like it drags on; every beautiful second is worthwhile and adds to the experience.
| 074 |
give me another chance
Empress Of geniusly inverts the expected dynamic between verse and hook, but in a way that’s easy to comprehend. It’s incredible how complete a song under three minutes can truly be.
| 073 |
yo perreo solo
If you’re not paying attention, you’d think there was a lot going on. It’s an absolute testament to Bad Bunny captivating presence, because “Yo Perreo Solo” is as bare bones as it gets – even though it it feels mammoth.
| 072 |
Considering this was the exact moment K-pop officially met the summit of the American pop charts in explosive, record-smashing fashion, “Dynamite” is aptly titled. It was so massive that you couldn’t just say that BTS capitalized on the disco-revival trend, because they borderline re-defined it.
| 071 |
gospel for a new century
For as much as he dares to toy with you, Yves Tumor’s “Gospel For A New Century” is strikingly palatable. The play between laidback grooves and horn-filled vigor is masterful.
| 070 |
On “Fire,” a reflective Katie Crutchfield seems to reconcile laments of “it ain’t enough,” with a willingness to leave a lingering sense of hope. Not to mention, it is melodically stunning.
| 069 |
you should be sad
Halsey seems determined to avoid ever being pigeonholed as artist, and honestly all the power to her. The twangy “You should be sad” gives her the space to do a pop song on her on terms, without creating any expectations.
| 068 |
Remi Wolf’s quirky brand of funky DIY pop is strikingly infectious. Key EP-cut “Photo ID” is easy to get sucked into without being too distracted by her eccentricitie – but accepting them is a significantly better experience.
| 067 |
“Dolerme’s” release felt as understated as the track itself, which ironically made it stand out all that much more. A perfect melody, a perfect vocal – everything else is just there for nuance.
| 066 |
It’s almost as though Kylie’s entire career has been building up to her latest escapist pop anthem. After an over-30 year career exploring and never settling, a track like “Magic” feels like a momentous payoff – and only because the world needed it, not because she’s settled.
| 065 |
Considering Billie Eilish began her year in such historic fashion, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, “my future” comes off more reflective than aspirational.
| 064 |
chloe x halle
Chloe x Halle’s breakthrough hit, “Do It” is a faultless modern-R&B jam that particularly highlights just how fiercely underappreciated the Bailey sisters continue to be.
| 063 |
girls in the hood
megan thee stallion
“Girls in the Hood” exudes the confidence of an artist in complete control. Megan Thee Stallion unapologetically flashes her skills, and it feels like she’s looking you dead in the eyes while doing it.
| 062 |
On “betty,” Taylor Swift demonstrates her unique story-telling abilities – and, most impressively, not just confined to the song, but as a piece of a larger narrative.
| 061 |
if you’re too shy (let me know)
The eclectic 1975 have proven their knack for updating classic, or sometimes dated, sounds and giving them new life in a new context. There are quite a few teen romance films from the ’80s that wish this song had been written before their release.
| 060 |
run the jewels ft. pharrell williams and zack de la rocha
Run The Jewels’ timely RTJ4 will go down as one of the (maybe the) unofficial soundtracks of 2020. Single “JU$T” brings on Pharrell and Zack de la Rocha for one of record’s punchiest, but memorable moments.
| 059 |
deep sea diver
You can hear on the tight, but invigorated “Lights Out” that Deep Sea Diver are on the verge of exploding. And they’re ready.
| 058 |
gorillaz ft. peter hook and georgia
Damon Albarn’s always used his Gorillaz as a no-rules kind of endeavor, so his collaborating with ex-New Order/Joy Division bassist Peter Hook feels like fan-fiction, while still making perfect sense.
| 057 |
can’t cool me down
car seat headrest
Car Seat Headrest’s flirtation with electronic music on Making a Door Less Open was strikingly seamless. Lead single “Can’t Cool Me Down” is a prime example that altering instrumentation doesn’t always mean altering your perspective.
| 056 |
24kgoldn ft. iann dior
Inarguably one of the year’s most inescapable earworms, “Mood” not only put relative newcomers 24kGoldn and iann dior on the map in a big way, this bite-sized hit is a definitive example of popular music today.
| 055 |
oOh la la
Disco had a massive comeback this year, and Jessie Ware was one of the most successful at being authentic from a modern vantage. If someone claimed “Ooh La La” began as a long-lost Prince demo for Vanity 6, there’d be grounds to believe it.
| 054 |
pu$$y fairy (otw)
Jhené Aiko’s provacative slow jam (somehow) manages to come off more sensual than it does pornographic – even though she really goes for it, the beat and melody are as seductive as the lyrics.
| 053 |
Kim Petras should be a chart-topping pop superstar by now, a fact proven all the more devastating when you consider “Malibu.” This flawlessly euphoric juggernaut – with more than a couple musical nods to Quincy-era MJ – had all the makings of a Song of the Summer contender.
| 052 |
Electronic duo Sylvan Esso are abundantly capable of crafting easy-to-consume pop hit, yet beautifully incapable of allowing themselves to. “Ferris Wheel” is catchy, it’s concise, it’s exciting, it’s danceable… but true to form, it’s actually too good for radio.
| 051 |
Sufjan Stevens makes every second of his 12-and-a-half-minute epic “America” purposeful. You can almost feel the weight he’s carrying as he inches towards a climax, slumbling before reaching it, and building it up again.
| 050 |
“Were there clues I didn’t see?” – it’s a quintessential-T. Swift kind of line… but as her restrained voice delicately utters the words though the sweet melody, it’s hard not to get a few chills. It’s one of her all-time best tracks.
| 049 |
On her first official solo single, Hayley Williams takes us somewhere we’ve never been, at least with her. “Simmer” has that punchy-hazy-darkness so definitive of ’90s alternative rock, but through her lens it feels like a revelation.
| 048 |
this love isn’t crazy
carly rae jepsen
It needs to be said that Carly Rae Jepsen is the most under-appreciated pop act in the world today. “This Love Isn’t Crazy,” of course, rises the blissful heights she’s become renowned for, and we’re nowhere near sick of it.
| 047 |
The late Juice WRLD undeniably had an incredible career in front of him. His posthumous hit “Wishing Well” is both haunting and hopeful.
| 046 |
chromatica ii into 911
Has there ever been a more iconic transition on an album than Chromatica’s crown jewel, “Chromatica II” into “911?” (Don’t answer that.) Yet underneath the crescendoing strings and assaulting synthesizers, there exists a truly devestating song – as only Gaga could deliver.
| 045 |
what’ve i done to help
jason isbell & the 400 unit
Ex-Drive By Trucker Jason Isbell’s brand of Americana is both authentic and progressive, as exemplified on the vigorous, epic “What’ve I Done To Help,” one of his best efforts to date.
| 044 |
Jury’s out as far as pickup techniques go, but Thundercat’s quirky “Dragonball Durag” is a masterclass in the cliché “less is more.” He doesn’t skimp on the funky bass, but it’s not supported by much; it’s little touches and nuances that allow it feel so complete.
| 043 |
disclosure ft. aMiNÉ and slowthai
Electronic duo Disclosure have proven themselves to be chameleon-like collaborators, but until this year, they had yet to work with rappers. However, on “My High,” alongside Aminé and the formidable slowthai, the Lawrence brothers effortlessly delivered one of their best tracks to date.
| 042 |
There is no questioning that Ariana Grande is a top-tier in the world of popular music, both critically and commercially. “Positions,” lead single and title track from her 6th studio album, doesn’t feel quite as earth-shattering as her last 2 projects, but it solidifies the vitality of Ari in today’s otherwise-uncertain musical landscape.
| 041 |
As Justin Vernon’s unrecognizably distorted voice croons, “And it’s up to me if I don’t wear a mask,” it becomes instantly clear that he is the right troubadour to guide us through these intense times. Distinguishable backing vocals from the likes of Jenny Lewis and Bruce Springsteen give creedence to this very idea.
| 040 |
Singer-songwriter Conan Gray’s desperate, breathy vocals prevents his green-eyed “Heather” from becoming sing-songy, and in turn, a parody of itself. Instead, the story comes off as strikingly relatable without feeling contrived – and the gender-dynamics are refreshing.
| 039 |
It’s nearly impossible to single out highlights from Fiona Apple’s flawless Fetch the Bolt Cutters, but “Shameika” does the work for us on that one. Woven in between chaotic piano-clunking, “Shameika says I have potential” – the closest thing to a hook she allows herself – reverberates in our minds long after the song is over, mirroring like the encouraging words of her former classmate after all these years.
| 038 |
break my heart
On “Break My Heart,” Dua Lipa refurbishes one of the most iconic riffs of the 1980s (INXS’ “Need You Tonight”) so sucessfully, it’s possible you didn’t even notice. It’s one of the mightiest flexes in pop music this year.
| 037 |
julianna calm down
The Chicks delivered a comeback and a reinvention all at once, and, honestly, they are not getting the attention they deserve for pulling it off so flawlessly. On “Julianna Calm Down,” Natalie Maines offers poignant, but wise advice to her fellow-scorned – it highlights the lessons learned from her not only from her personal experiences, but also from doing this for over twenty years.
| 036 |
Doja Cat’s commercial breakthrough was inevitable, and “Boss Bitch” is an absolute mic-drop moment that practically boils over with attitude; it’s as if she’d been saving up for this moment. It desereved to be enjoyed by large groups of people en mass all summer long (Sigh.)
| 035 |
The sparse, understated “Garden Song” highlights Phoebe Bridgers’ brilliance; she really left herself nowhere to hide. Because she keps the melody loose and fluid as to not distract from the words, and with some wit and humor, she’s able to tell a story without narrating.
| 034 |
This is the best song …literally every pop act from the early 2000s wishes they could have recorded. Of course, Rina Sawayam was (gulp) some 20 years too late with “XS,” but damn does it slap. The entire presentation is genius.
| 033 |
on the floor
Perfume Genius’ spacy, doo-woppy ode to unrequited love is as addictive as any great pop song would be, but not because of tired tricks or unchallanging melodies. “On The Floor” is simple, but the right kind of simple. Bedazzled simple.
| 032 |
“Rooftop Dancing” is stunningly beautiful, seemingly handcrafted specifically for these times, even if it wasn’t. You can hear how Sylvan Esso scrutinized this track down to every, little intricate detail and left nothing unneccesary in the mix.
| 031 |
therefore i am
The comparisons are obvious, but inevitable… “Therefore I Am” is not a copy, nor a sequel to “bad guy,” but it certainly proves that the Billie Eilish/Finneas version of “bonafide bop” wasn’t a one-time fluke.
| 030 |
There’s a reason LA’s own HAIM are often compared to Buckingham-Nicks era Fleetwood Mac, and “The Steps” does nothing to disprove that. The track is one crafted out of immense talent, savvy songwriting, and the kind of unfiltered earnesty that drives it all that much deeper.
| 029 |
can i believe you
Robin Pecknold howls out his opening line in “Can I Believe You” with urgency, almost as if he had worked his way up to the peak of a musical phrase. Yet through all of the paranoia, there’s a palpable catharsis that floods out; you almost don’t remember the song just started.
| 028 |
lost in yesterday
It’s obvious the funky, psychedelic “Lost In Yesterday” belongs to Tame Impala even before Kevin Parker’s trademark pseduo-falsetto kicks in, and yet it feels like an absolute revelation.
| 027 |
ty dolla $ign ft. kanye west, fka twigs, and skrillex
For Ty Dolla $ign and Kanye West, “Ego Death” picks up right where “Fade” left off, but they were smart enough to bring in fresh perspectives from FKA twigs and Skrillex. What could have been a re-hash ends up being an evolution.
| 026 |
Miley Cyrus has always been a bit of a musical gypsy – never really satisfied, always ready to move onto the next thing – but the ’80s synth-rock inspired “Midnight Sky” feels like the place she was meant to end up. Her voice feels absolutely at home.
| 025 |
people, i’ve been sad
christine AND the queens
There’s an inherent intimacy in “People, I’ve been sad” that really underscores a universal experience that laregely involved feeling, well, sad. Chris Her voice reverberates over the rumbling synths and heightening strings so profoundly, it’s as if she were seated at a piano in an empty concert hall emptying her emotional guts out with beautiful song.
| 024 |
chloe x halle
The Disclosure-produced title track to Chloe x Halle’s sophomore studio album, Ungodly Hour, is a stunning example of just what the Bailey sisters can do. The back and forth of their vocal dynamic isn’t so much a ping-pong match as it is synchronized swimming. Throw in the fact that they write such great melodies, and you can’t help but get excited to see where they’ll go next.
| 023 |
machine gun kelly
MGK’s suicide leap into pop punk actually went …really well. The hook-heavy “bloody valentine,” with Travis Barker’s stamp of approval pulsing throughout, is an absolute herald. It’s not ironic and it’s not a parody; the track is strikingly authentic while still being his. Kudos.
| 022 |
You could feed a nation with all the food-themed euphemisms that came before it, but Harry Styles’ lush “Watermelon Sugar” gets the ultimate pass. This is the ultimate summer anthem equipped with the ultimate summer earworm. Although he began his career in a pop group, this is an very different kind of artist – and he’s making some of the best music out there today.
| 021 |
united girls rock’n’roll club
chai and hinds
“UNITED GIRLS ROCK’N’ROLL CLUB” is the product of an extremely excting international summit of rock groups, CHAI and Hinds. Uniquely alternating between lyrics in English, Japanese, and Spanish, the song feels as much like a call-to-arms as it does an invitation. In a year with so many notable all-female collaborations, you’d have to call this track the official anthem.
| 020 |
“BLACK PARADE” felt like the perfect coda to Beyoncé’s Lion King-centric projects, which of course climaxed with the brilliant Black is King film. Although the track was never likely intended to be anything but just that, it ended up colliding with history. Amidst a nationwide reckoning on race relations following the murder of George Floyd, Beyoncé, who has been amplifying the themes of the Black Lives Matter movement for years, felt like the right one to capture the moment – Her message was one of pride and empowerment.
| 019 |
roses (imanbek remix)
SAINt JHN’s “Roses” began its life some four years go, was given a second one thanks to the Imanbek Remix released late last year, but it ultimately had it’s moment in 2020. Featuring distorted vocals and a deep, pulsing beat, this new version became a viral hit, and it even received the “features” treatment (with the likes of Future and J Balvin) to continue to boost its success. You could say this was a sleeper hit if you want, but this felt like a matter of great timing; the track is undeniably a fixture of this year.
| 018 |
say so (remix)
doja cat ft. nicki minaj
Nicki Minaj’s presence on “Say So” doesn’t move the marker on its quality one way or the other, but it does feel like an endorsement. Doja Cat has been building to this moment for years now, and with disco (albeit with a modern facelift) making a massive comeback, this particular moment felt cosmic. Just taking the song at face value – not ignoring, but certainly not acknowledging Dr. Luke’s involvement – it’s easy to see why it became so massive, and undeniably one of the year’s defining hits.
| 017 |
bad bunny ft. jowell & randy and Ñengo flow
Reggaeton’s growing prominence in the American mainstream is incredibly exciting, and Bad Bunny is undeniably leading the charge. On “Safaera,” he, along with guests Jowell & Randy and Ñengo Flow, showcase the creative depths still left to explore – almost like a challange. The snubs any exceptation of structure, and instead straps us in for one hell of a roller coaster ride equipped with tempo changes and a twisted, menacing “Get Ur Freak On” sample. The entire experience is thrilling.
| 016 |
Even with a remarkably not annoying screechy vocal sample running throughout, Roddy Ricch’s biggest achievement on mega-hit “The Box” is undeniably its hook. Not only is it infectious, it’s dynamic – conspicuously free of gimmick – and that’s what makes the track a classic that will endure.
| 015 |
The lead single from Taylor Swift’s brilliantly unexpected folklore, was released with similar lack of build up; in fact, the only reason (aside from the accompanying video and being sent to radio) we knew it was the single was because she told us it was. It’s easy to see why, even through a collection of pretty much perfection, “cardigan” got the honors . For an artist who’s catalog has read like a diary since she was a teenager, stepping into a narrative role makes an otherwise understated line like, “When you are young, they assume you know nothing” feel like a (justified) giant middle-finger to all the haters.
| 014 |
circle the drain
Sophia Allison’s, better known as Soccer Mommy, “circle the drain” is a demonstation of melancholy’s underappreciated range. If you didn’t pay attention to the lyrics, the track feels like a summery indie rock anthem – but you can’t help but pay attention to the lyrics. Unlike countless examples of pop songs that are lyrically-heavy, but musically saccharine, “circle the drain” actually finds a delicate balance that feels more masterful it does illusory.
| 013 |
rosalía ft. travis scott
The musical chemistry between ROSALÍA and Travis Scott “TKN” is superb. On the compact “TKN,” the two artists find themselves singing together in unison, allowing the contrast of their voices to create an almost luxurious texture. And the beat is simple, yet club-ready; it would have been completely hynotic if it weren’t for genius sporadic thundering beats that snap you out of it.
| 012 |
i know alone
Aside from the obvious poetic concurance of a track entitled “I Know Alone” dropping mid-lockdown, this feels like a creative milestone for the Haim sisters. Not only does the song accurately capture the immesity of loneliness, it’s a production marvel. The band indulge their electronic musings here, further hinting at the vastness of their musical influence and the boundlessness of their excellence. There are so many intricacies that take this to genius level – from the textured buzz of synth bass, to the incredibly dynamic vocal harmonies, and especially to a climax so tactfully explosive because it’s actually restrained. This may just be their finest moment to date.
| 011 |
Look, the truth is by the time 2020 is officially over, there were be countless year end lists, and every single cut from Fetch The Bolt Cutters is probably to make at least a list, and probably towards the top. It’s a testament to the objective perfection of the album, but the subjective interpretations of each song. “I spread like strawberrys, I climb like peas and beans;” depression described as only Fiona Apple could – Yeah, I’m going to have to go with “Heavy Balloon.” The way her vocals goes from almost-spiritual to completely possessed at the flip of a switch is astounding.
| 010 |
DABABY ft. Roddy Ricch
DaBaby and Roddy Ricch are two of 2020’s defining artists, thanks in large part to one the year’s most monumental hits, “ROCKSTAR.” Even with the guitar-tinged beat and incredible hook, it’s how the track becomes poignantly reflective that makes it feel so authentic. Late in the first verse DaBaby laments, “PTSD, I’m always waking up in cold sweats like I got the flu” – instantly, his boasting becomes confiding, and the context subtly, but profoundly, changes.
| 009 |
Phoebe Bridgers doesn’t have much rock in her catalog, certainly nothing quite as peppy as “Kyoto.” But the track doesn’t feel uncomfortably out of character or anything; if anything, her distrinctive ability to narrate makes it feel so uniquely hers’. Although the ballad-treatment would have been a beautiful take, the soaring chorus really does deserve to be paired with this kind of exuberant production. This track kind of feels like a moment.
| 008 |
The bouyantly incinerating “Gaslighter” was released in a very different world than the one we’re living in now. At the time, the title felt like a passive-agressive slight to recently-impeached Donald Trump (remember when THAT was the biggest story of the year?) … at the time they were The Dixie Chicks. Of course, a global pandemenic, a massive social movement, and a name change later, the track remains an absolute herald. First of all, that bastard. Whatever he did on ‘[Natalie Maines’] boat’ certainly warranted this verbal ass-kicking, and this punchy Jack Antonoff-produced anthem will forever immortalize his jackassery.
| 007 |
megan thee stallion ft. beyoncÉ
“It’s Thee Stallion and the B,” (I get chills just reading it) it’s Beyoncé signing off on the remix of the track she hijacked from Megan Thee Stallion with breathy swag. Everything that was already great about “Savage,” a highlight from Megan’s SUGA EP, is still great in “Savage Remix,” but …Beyoncé really did something on this. Look, there’s no denying how impressive Bey’s dynamic performance is, Tina name-check and all, but Megan holds focus for herself. This is a complete classic, and for all the right reasons.
| 006 |
Released so late into 2019 to even count, his seminal Fine Line album will continue to be remembered fondly as it ages, probably even more so. Hit single “Adore You” feels like a big bang moment for an aritst fearlessly re-establishing their place in pop music; he ends up going beyond that. The track is a little funky, super groovy, and infectious. As popular as he is, Harry Styles now needs to be talked about in a much broader context than he currently is. We’d be sleeping on him otherwise.
| 005 |
taylor swift ft. bon iver
Arguably one of the only positive side-effects of the events of this year came in the form of Taylor Swift’s folklore. Stepping out of the radio-friendly pop that made her the biggest juggernaut on the planet, she enlisted the likes of The National’s Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon (as Bon Iver) for a folksy, indie record – and still proved she’s the biggest juggernaut on the planet. On “exile,” a gorgeous gut-punch of a ballad which prominently features Vernon, Taylor demonstrates all of the same melodic intuition we’ve come to expect; she’s just using a different color palate this time. The two artists have strikingly contrasting voices, but they they play off each other so magnificently that they build layers of them for height, brilliantly side-stepping what would have been most’s inclination to use massive instrumentation to do so. This isn’t the most bombastic record in either artists’ catalog, but it’s easily one of the most significant.
| 004 |
cardi b ft. megan thee stallion
2020 needed “WAP.” Cardi and Megan, two of hip hop’s most prominent acts in the world today, laugh in the face of any notion that hip hop is a boy’s game; they absolutely do not hold back. For as explicit and graphic as it is, make no mistake, this is not about seduction – this is a feminist anthem, and a massive flex for these two artists. And it’s not great because of shock value, this is a phenomenal song. The verses they trade off are relentless, the beat is hypnotic, and the hook is an earwork, it’s easy to see why it was such a commercial tour-de-force even despite its content. “WAP” is a legendary hit that will be remembered for years. It’s destined to be rediscovered at large by the young generation who have only ever heard “Wet and Gushy.”
| 003 |
don’t start now
Encapsulating the theme of its parent album, the faultless Future Nostalgia, “Don’t Stop Now” features a timelessness pop acts usually only dream of, all the while sounding effortlessly modern. With a a throbbing bass line and bridge more robust than the chorus it leads to, the composition is undeniably remarkable, but it’s Dua Lipa’s unique brand of cold charisma that holds focus. It’s almost as if to exemplify that, even if she’s borrowing from sounds of the past, “Don’t Stop Now” is her song. This landmark track is why pop music matters so much, and it will undoubtedly be recognized as one of the finest moments of this generation. Most importantly, Dua Lipa – who has been building to this very moment – is now a pop superstar on a different level.
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Abel Tesfaye, as The Weeknd, first entered public consciousness almost a decade ago with an enigmatic trilogy of acclaimed EPs; he seemed destined to be at the forefront of an exciting, albeit underground, renaissance of indie R&B. Instead, just a few short years later, and with critics firmly in his corner, he became a chart-topping, bonafide superstar – HUH named “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills,” both US #1 singles, THE best and 10th best songs of 2015, respectively. What followed was more hits, more acclaim, and some high profile collabs, all but cementing his place in the upper echelon of pop stardom. I can’t imagine anyone who’s even been half-aware of The Weeknd’s ascencion didn’t call for a cement truck the second they heard what is now his biggest hit, “Blinding Lights.”
It wasn’t even the first single, let alone first #1 hit from his After Hours LP, but when this synthpop herald was unleashed, it felt like a meteor smashing into the world of popular music. “Blinding Lights” follows a similar recipe to its forefather, “Can’t Feel My Face,” by filtering proven timeless grooves and sounds through Tesfaye’s distinct perspective, allowing him to Trojan-horse actual lyrical substance. With critics, fans, teens, and moms alike defenseless against its irresistible hooks and infectious melody, the track easily became one of the year’s most enduring hits. Its immense success leaves little doubt that The Weeknd is a generation-defining artist, and an outright living legend.
PS – It needs to be said that this track and its parent album being completely snubbed from the Grammys is a stain on the Academy.
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Rain on me
lady gaga and ariana grande
At the time they were recording “Rain On Me,” reigning Pop Queens Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande certainly had no idea the world they’d ultimately be releasing it into would be… this. It’s almost difficult to conceive how this track was always going to be a big deal because of its star power, and a pop classic because of its quality – and that’s largely because it feels so tailor made for this moment. No matter how terribly this year ran you through the ringer, you made it! Of course, no one’s problems will just evaporate at midnight on January 1st, but who could conceive a better sentiment than, “I’d rather be dry, but at least I’m alive” at the symbolic culmination of the year from hell? The very idea of considering mere survival a W may feel like a testament to just how low the bar is these days… until you take off your “2020 vision.”
Unless Gaga and Ari are, in fact, Pop Prophets (which I’m not outright dismissing), “Rain On Me” speaks to a very different experience than the shared commiseration of an historically awful year. It’s an experience that has gotten overshadowed in a time when “struggle” feels a little more universal than usual, and this track acts as a reminder that the uphill battles faced by many existed prior to the specific woes of this year, and they will still exist after said woes dissipate. “At least I showed up,” for many, actually is a victory – and this track isn’t just an acknowledgement of that, it’s an exuberant celebration.
So, “Rain On Me” is the best song of the year for a few reasons. First and foremost, stripped entirely of context, this is a great pop song. It’s somehow relentlessly catchy, despite basically having a non-chorus; it’s vocally flawless; there’s two powerhouses, but no power struggle; all that good stuff. But in this particular case, the context is everything. Right off the bat, you’d be completely remiss not to consider the magnitude of these two artists collaborating, especially at this moment. We’ve got Lady Gaga making her much-hyped return to dance pop, fresh off the massive success of “Shallow,” and Ariana Grande, who basically can’t release anything without it debuting at number one; it’s practically a fairytale.
One would think that simply having a great song, by two great artists, done at the perfect moment in their careers would be enough to dub something “best of the year, right? For as important as it is to keep in mind the broader functions and purpose of the track, the timing of its release simply cannot be ignored. At this climactic moment in history, where a global pandemic was wreaking havoc and a massive cultural shift was occuring in real time, “Rain On Me” was urgently injected into public consciousness like an antivenom. Sure, Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande were intent on creating a moment, just not this moment… but it doesn’t change the fact that they did. And now here, at the end of 2020, its sentiments only feel that much more heightened.
On some level “Rain On Me” will always be a snapshot in our memories of a brief escape amidst pure chaos, but that won’t be its only legacy. The track will certainly be remembered as a fantastic pop song crafted by two legendary icons at the top of their games. Undoubtedly, once dance floors become a thing again, this song will be filling them for years to come, and it will get its proper due. But most importantly, it will continue to be an anthem for those who need to (and deserve to) celebrate “[showing] up.”