This year featured the most #1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 out of any year this decade. Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus broke Mariah’s iconic record, Ariana held #1, #2, and #3 at the same time, old faves made comebacks, and new artists broke new ground. Here are the 19 best songs of 2019:
19. “Lose You to Love Me” (Selena Gomez)
After what seemed like eons, Selena Gomez finally began the official campaign for Rare, her first studio album since 2015’s Revival. “Lose You to Love Me,” her comeback single, is an emotional ballad about self-growth and self-love. Selena has never been a powerful vocalist, but she uses her soft voice to her advantage on this song. The production swells until that victorious final chorus; Selena is overcome with emotion, and the audience is as well. It really feels like a breakthrough. Read further analysis of this track here.
Tens of hundreds of collaborations were released in the past year, but in terms of pop songs, Normani and Sam Smith had the best collaboration of the year. Normani‘s flirty tone was the perfect complement to Sam’s fluttery falsetto. After delivering a gorgeous album of ballads with The Thrill of It All, Sam pivoted to this muted uptempo dance track. It’s club music with a dark and emotional undertone, and the two stars do a fantastic job on the song.
17. “Cyber Sex” (Doja Cat)
Doja Cat seems to be just one song away from truly exploding, and “Cyber Sex” could be that song. The track slides between an aggressive Kendrick-esque flow and the catchiest sing-songy hooks. Doja exudes raw talent and energy throughout the track. She switches from rapid fire delivery to soft singing without a second thought and somehow the song still holds itself together. In an era where sex and the Internet have been a hotbed for controversies, Doja’s anthem of control and pleasure will be with us well into the next decade.
16. “Boy With Luv (feat. Halsey)” (BTS)
BTS and Halsey’s record-breaking collaboration is more than just its numbers. The synth-laden sugary pop track is a funky ode to the glory days of euphoric pop anthems. 2019 was a pretty crazy year in terms of politics and social issues, but those joyous and bouncy chords on “Boy with Luv” cast all those worries away for about three minutes. Halsey adapts to BTS’ high-energy vibe and the language barrier doesn’t exist because the feeling of the track is so infectious. Check out my full review of Map of the Soul: PERSONA.
15. “My Type” (Saweetie)
Saweetie’s ICY EP was nothing to write home about, but “My Type” was the anthem of the year. From the rowdy hook (“Das my type, n****a, das my TYPE!”) to the catchy verses, Saweetie delivered one of the most infectious rap tracks of the year. Without the “Freek-A-Leek” sample, however, “My Type” wouldn’t be nearly as fun. You don’t have to be the best rapper to make a fun track, but if you can seize a moment or feeling and run, you’re sure to make a hit track.
14. “Fun Girl” (Summer Walker)
This song is kind of like the little sibling of Summer’s “Riot” from her CLEAR EP. The fuzzy acoustic number is really more like a demo than a full song, but the unmixed roughness of the track simply adds to its charm. Summer’s emotional lyrical takedown of relationship double standards and her melancholic edge to the “party girl” trope is really just great. Furthermore, her vocal performance is dripping with hurt and sadness, it’s one of the most effective performances of the year.
13. “xanny” (Billie Eilish)
The music that currently defines Gen Z is clouded with weed smoke and doused in lean, but that doesn’t mean that’s all there is to us. Billie’s “xanny,” and slyly-written ode to the overglorification of party and drug culture, is a different kind of anti-partying anthem. Billie still attends the party, but she’s more concerned with the hours after: who’s the designated driver? who’s taking care of the people that went too hard? This is one of the best tracks of Billie’s young career and proof that she and her brother are songwriting geniuses.
12. “In My Room” (Frank Ocean)
“DHL” was disappointing and the club music experimentation on “Cayendo” was interesting, but Frank always delivers at some point. That delivery was “In My Room,” a stream-of-consciousness rap-sung track with a simple, but effective, hook. Lyrically, Frank is materialistic and braggadocious, but he delivers the lines with a deadpan emptiness that gives the song more depth than you many initially give it credit for.
11. “You Know Wassup” (Kehlani)
This unmixed and unmastered surprise drop is Kehlani’s best song of 2019. She released a stellar mixtape at the top of the year with While We Wait, but this emotional response to cheating allegations is better than all of those songs. Despite the song being about her boyfriend’s infidelity, the track isn’t self-pitying; Kehlani is still fully aware of her worth (“I deserve roses/I deserve bigger”) and she makes sure that he knows that as well.
10. “Cash S**t (feat. DaBaby)” (Megan Thee Stallion)
Megan and DaBaby were the breakout rappers of 2019, so it’s only fitting that their anthemic collaboration get a spot on this list. With two fire verses from Megan and show-stealing, and endlessly quotable, guest verse from DaBaby, these two crafted a banger like no other. Sure, the subject matter (money, duh!), is derivative, but the way these two attack the beat… they could rap the phonebook and it would still hit!
9. “Hot (feat. Gunna)” (Young Thug)
Yes, “The London” got the Grammy nomination, but “Hot” just may be the better song. It lacks a fire Cole verse, but it makes up for that with those joyous horns and the fun whisper vocals that, in their own way, function as a hook. Young Thug and Gunna aren’t from the same generation of rappers, technically, so this collaboration feels like a crowning moment for Gunna and a proud moment for Young Thug. The two are having a grand time on this song, and you just can’t help but to vibe along.
8. “Slide Away” (Miley Cyrus)
This was robbed of a Grammy nomination. Easily Miley’s best song of the year, and her most well-written track of the decade, arguably, “Slide Away” is a melancholic triumph. The personal ballad about the dissolution of her and Liam Hemsworth’s marriage is anchored by simple, yet biting songwriting and a powerful vocal performance. Miley is on the cusp of belting, but pulls back for a more nuanced vocal take that is way more effective.
7. “Don’t Start Now” (Dua Lipa)
Dua Lipa took some time off from her record-breaking debut, but the “One Kiss” songstress returned with forward-looking disco jam in “Don’t Start Now.” For most of the song, Dua stays in the lower part of her range, but she sings with so much emotion and the production is so intricate that the smokier tone feels like a more natural fit. From the ding of the cowbell to the bounce of the bass, “Don’t Start Now” is authentic update to the classic disco sound.
6. “Down Bad” (Dreamville)
Posse cuts are always hip-hop highlights, and when every artist is spitting their most hard-hitting verse and they sound geeked to even touch the beat, you know you’re in for a treat. Every verse is just as energetic and passionate than the last. Cole, Bas, JID, and Johnny Venus deliver lyrically dense tracks that aren’t bogged down by the weight of the punchlines and metaphors. This is a classic rap track in a year where melodic trap had a tighter grip on the mainstream than ever before.
5. “Lover” (Taylor Swift)
Taylor Swift had a career-defining year, but this heartfelt and lovestruck ballad was her best song of the year. On the track, Taylor crafts a detailed image of a picturesque love story. It’s more mature and less idealistic than the love stories of her teenage years, but every bit as satisfying and heart-warming. If you’re looking for a more current wedding song, this is it.
4. “ghostin” (Ariana Grande)
This ballad from Ariana Grande’s thank u, next album is a real tearjerker. This spacey track offers a break from the sparkly trap sounds of the album. The song trades in the bass for soft strings as Ariana sings about the grief that contributed to the end of her engagement. The subject matter is heavy and personal, and Ariana’s subdued vocal performance accentuates just how delicate this song is. Gone are the big belts and snappy one liners, “ghostin” is all about allowing yourself the space to acknowledge and live in guilt and grief. Simply beautiful.
3. “JT First Day Out” (City Girls)
City Girls owned the summer with “Act Up,” but “JT First Day Out,” the group’s first new musical release since JT’s release from prison, was their best offering this year. There are no hooks here, just aggressive verses filled with passion and an underlying sense of freedom and joy. Does JT handle the beat a bit recklessly at times? Yes, but let’s chalk that up to the sheer glee of getting back in the studio and her hunger to prove to the world that she’s back and better than ever before.
2. “Gone” (Charli XCX & Christine and the Queens)
Charli XCX’s Charli wasn’t all that she and her fans hyped it up to be, but “Gone” is easily one of her best songs ever. This is a musical moment of catharsis for anyone who’s dealt with with social anxiety. PC music can often fell inaccessible and confusing, but Charli slightly softens the genre’s edge and delivers one of her most vulnerable vocal performance to date on this track. You can’t really go wrong with uptempo emotional songs and Charli proves this with “Gone.”
1. “BROWN SKIN GIRL” (Beyoncé, Wizkid, SAINt JHN & Blue Ivy)
“Spirit” was the big vocal moment, but “Brown Skin Girl” was something special. A few weeks ago someone tweeted that “Brown Skin Girl” had a “trash” melody. Everything a musician does is with intention, especially a musician who produced two of the ten best albums of the decade. “Brown Skin Girl” has a melody that’s akin to nursery rhymes so it’s easy for young black girls to latch on and sing along to. The final chorus features beautiful ad-libs and runs and Blue Ivy’s intro and outro are some of the most adorable music moments this decade. The simple melody is colored by fun lyrics that uplift iconic darkskinned women (Kelly Rowland, Lupita Nyong’o, Naomi Campbell) and are filled with bits of motivation for anyone who has been told that their skin tone was ugly or undesirable. What Beyoncé, SAINt JHN, and Wizkid did with “Brown Skin Girl” is bigger than any chart record. This is what music is supposed to do: bring joy to people and make them feel proud and confident in their skin no matter what society tries to tell them.