Sure 2020 has been a taxing and tiring year, but it has gifted us some truly defining songs. This year has seen three all-woman collaborations top the Billboard Hot 100 (“Say So (Remix),” “Savage (Remix),” and “Rain On Me”), and a record six new #1 singles reached the summit in six consecutive weeks. The Hot 100 has had many records broken and surpassed this year, and the instability at the top spot is reminiscent of the rockiness of our world right now. Here (again, in alphabetical order) are the Best Songs of 2020 So Far:
1. “Akasaka Sad” (Rina Sawayama)
Truthfully, any or all of the songs from SAWAYAMA could have made this list, but there’s something special about “Akasaka Sad.” On the trap-influenced banger, Rina rap-sings her way through the intertwined concepts of physical and emotional displacement. Immigration and cross-cultural differences color a lot of Rina’s lyrical material, and on this song, she expertly tackles how those things tie into feelings of depression and detachment from your family and your new home. She also touches on how such life-altering events are triggers for generational trauma. The “cause I’m a sucker, sucker, so I suffer/Akasaka Sawayama” wordplay is also phenomenal. It’s a lot to tackle in any song, but the fact that she’s able to pack so much depth into a sonically standard pop song is truly impressive. Read my full review of SAWAYAMA here.
2. “Boss Bitch” (Doja Cat)
Doja Cat has had a whirlwind year and we’ve only been through half of 2020. The rapper scored her first #1 hit with the Nicki Minaj remix of “Say So,” got her first Top 10 album with Hot Pink, and had a hate train started against her when rumors about her participation in Tinychat chatrooms got out of hand. Despite all of this, she was still able to put out one of the best songs of the year so far. Released on the Birds of Prey soundtrack at the top of the year, “Boss Bitch” features Doja addressing her haters over a house beat accented by cowbells. Doja’s delivery absolutely makes the song; she’s brash, cavalier, alluring, and more. “Boss Bitch” is a riot in every sense of the word.
3. “Dance Alone” (Tayla Parx)
Tayla Parx has been the brains behind songs from some of the biggest pop stars of the past few years (Ariana Grande, Panic! At the Disco, Tori Kelly, Troye Sivan, Normani, Kesha, Christina Aguilera, etc.) After her stellar debut album, We Need to Talk, Tayla has returned with her latest solo single: “Dance Alone.” The plucky disco-influenced track doubles as a metaphor for literally being alone on the dance floor and dancing alone in quarantine. There’s a somberness to Tayla’s voice in the hook that perfectly plays off of the infectious bassline. Tayla really never misses.
4. “Dear April” (Frank Ocean)
There’s been a lot of debate on social media, as there always is when he disappears for too long, about how good Frank’s music actually is. Regardless of your opinion on his discography, “Dear April” is stunning. A tearjerker about a now-fractured relationship, “Dear April” sees Frank employ organs and vocal filters to tell his story. His voice is earnest and filled with emotion, it’s probably one of his most effective vocal performances yet. Admittedly, Frank’s one-off singles in the past year haven’t been his best work, but if anything can restore faith, it’s “Dear April.”
5. “Favorite Mistake” (Giveon)
Boosted by a show-stealing feature on Drake’s Dark Lane Demo Tapes, Giveon has made a splashy entrance onto the R&B scene. His rich baritone tackles the tricky concept of knowingly cheating on your partner. The sparse and atmospheric track is nice contrast the staccato vocal delivery and slight rasp of his voice. Everyone loves a moody R&B track, and Giveon delivered one of the best ones of the year with “Favorite Mistake.”
6. “Forgive Me” (Chloe x Halle)
Similar to the situation with SAWAYAMA, pretty much any song from Ungodly Hour could have made this list. Nevertheless, there’s something truly special about “Forgive Me.” This is Chloe x Halle like we’ve never heard them before: fiery and unapologetically independent. It’s a career-defining alternative R&B number on which the girls slightly slur their words in a rap/sung cadence over harsh drums and a nifty orchestral arrangement. They croon that their lover should “forgive me ’cause I’m not teary/Best believe I’ll move onto better things” and sound incredible while doing so. Read my full review of Ungodly Hour here.
7. “Got It On Me” (Pop Smoke)
Very few artists could successfully pull off sampling 50 Cent’s “Many Men.” A giant of rap music, and New York rap music specifically, 50 Cent’s “Many Men,” which tackles his near-death experiences and sees him asking for forgiveness, is a classic in every sense of the word. It makes sense that Pop Smoke, New York’s brightest rising star, would sample the seminal track for the final full-length song on his posthumous album Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon. On “Got It On Me,” Pop interpolates the melody and lyrics of 50’s sung hook in between verses that share the same themes as the original. It’s an eerily beautiful song given Pop’s untimely passing and the similarities his burgeoning career had with Fiddy’s.
8. “Hallucinate” (Dua Lipa)
Among fans, the battle for Dua Lipa’s next Future Nostalgia single was squarely between “Levitating” and “Hallucinate.” Recently, the “Don’t Start Now” chanteuse announced that “Hallucinate” would act as the album’s next official single — and it sounds like the right choice. The song thrives on its mixture of house and disco influences and that beat drop before the chorus kicks into high gear. On her sophomore album, Dua nailed the art of crafting a perfect pop song, and “Hallucinate” is one of the crown jewels. Read my full review of Future Nostalgia here.
9. “I Hope (feat. Charlie Puth)” (Gabby Barrett)
There’s nothing like a good old country duet. With an explosive storytelling chorus and lyrics that tell a sly story of revenge, Gabby Barrett’s breakout single is a home run. The Charlie Puth remix, however, offers an opportunity for the male perspective to be heard on the song. Charlie’s soft falsetto balances well with Gabby’s powerful belts, and Charlie brings that bit of pop shine to this powerhouse of a country song.
10. “Julianna Calm Down” (The Chicks)
The Chicks, formally known as The Dixie Chicks, have been releasing great track after great track in the lead up to their Gaslighter album. The strongest of the three tracks so far is “Julianna Calm Down,” a smart anthem about performing as much as it is about gathering the courage and wherewithal to leave a toxic situation. The plucky “put on, put on, put on your best shoes/and strut the fuck around like you got nothing to lose” refrain is maybe the best-constructed hook of the year. This is effectively an anti-country song; the classic Jack Antonoff drums play off well against the acoustic guitars that reach maximum effect in the second chorus. The Chicks make intelligent and powerful music, this is just another entry in their impressive oeuvre.
11. “Jobs” (City Girls)
On your way to work every morning, even if it’s virtual, this should be the only song you play. City Girls love a hot beat and a hotter hook, and “Jobs” is exactly that. The song functions as a victory lap as the girls boast about their new lifestyles that their rap success has gotten them. With the anthemic refrain “I don’t work jobs, bitch I am job,” you can’t help but bop along to this infectious song. The concept of the song plays well with City Girls and their relation with the OnlyFans boom and how the Quarantine Era has redefined what a “job” is. Read my full review of City On Lock here.
12. “Light of Love” (Florence + the Machine)
You really can’t go wrong with Florence + the Machine. They always deliver the most poignant and moving songs, and “Light of Love,” released as a charity single in the face of COVID-19, is yet another one of those great tracks. From the enchanting hook to the stomping melody, “Light of Love” is just gorgeous. Florence & Co. enlist a boatload of strings and brass and wind arrangements for a fuller sound. This isn’t necessarily a protest song, but it’s a song of shimmering hope and optimism which is always welcome.
13. “Louder Than Bombs” (BTS)
Troye Sivan delivered an excellent pop song himself this year with “Take Yourself Home,” but he also contributed his skills to craft “Louder Than Bombs,” one of the standout tracks on Map of the Soul: 7. The song’s sermon of the power of love and music rings especially true in light of the dark turn that 2020 has taken. The falsetto vocal harmonies are the best part of the track, but the trap inflections keep the ballad from being too sappy or droning. Pain and success are both louder than bombs; the trials of 2020 and the wins that are to come are louder than bombs. BTS is making some of the best pop songs right now, regardless of genre. Read my full review of Map of the Soul: 7 here.
14. “Moment” (Victoria Monét)
Like Tayla Parx, Victoria Monét has crafted hit songs and deep cuts for Ariana Grande, Fifth Harmony, Chloe x Halle, and more. As she leads up to the release of her Jaguar album, Victoria has been dropping some of the most well-crafted R&B music of the year so far. The slinky string arrangements, downright dirty lyrics, and sultry vocal performance lift “Moment” to incredible heights. D’Mile’s production provides the perfect soundscape for Victoria’s fluttery voice to float over. This is a track that’ll stick around on playlists for…. multiple occasions.
15. “No Time To Die” (Billie Eilish)
Back when this song dropped, it seemed that Billie had already secured the 2021 Oscar for Best Original Song. The new Bond theme, “No Time To Die” is a chilling cinematic ballad anchored by beautiful strings and Billie’s best vocal performance yet. The song’s general focus on love, loss, and violence make it a classic Bond theme while still fitting nicely in the grand scheme of Billie’s discography. “No Time To Die” also updates the Bond theme, and franchise for that matter, for a younger audience in a way that hasn’t been seen since Adele’s “Skyfall” back in 2012.
16. “Nothing Without You” (Tanerélle)
Insecure‘s latest season was phenomenal. As usual, the music played a pivotal role in telling the story of the show’s characters. “Nothing Without You,” in particular, was the most moving song featured in the show. A hazy ballad by indie artist Tanerélle, “Nothing Without You” underscored one of the tensest moments between Issa (Issa Rae) and Molly (Yvonne Orji) as their friendship begins to crumble. Tanerélle’s yearning vocal performance fits nicely with the cloudy production and that gorgeous outro. You may find yourself crying to this song.
17. “One Of My” (Future)
Future’s High Off Life was another solid addition to his sprawling discography, and “One of My” was an instant standout. Future details how his inner circle is as dangerous and toxic as he is. He raps “One of my niggas got rich off hoes/One of my niggas got rich off coke/One of my niggas be kickin’ in doors/One of my niggas ain’t got no soul.” This is the beauty of Future, he’s very much aware of the darkness that he continues to surround himself with, and he’s okay with it until that darkness starts to cast shadows over his own mental health and relationships. Yes, he’s toxic, but he’s also damaged and caught in a cycle of trauma. Read my full review of High Off Life here.
18. “Savage (Remix) [feat. Beyoncé]” (Megan Thee Stallion)
Megan has been on a roll this year. Her Suga EP has produced hit after hit and she just notched her ninth Hot 100 entry with “Girls in the Hood.” Despite all of the music she has dropped in 2020 so far, nothing compares to the Beyoncé-assisted remix of “Savage.” The original version became a TikTok trend, but the Beyoncé remix helped the song rocket to #1. With her trademark rap-singing, four verses of a sick flow, and references to “Demon Time” and “OnlyFans,” this remix is absolutely infectious. Megan also delivers new verses for the remix, and her chemistry with her fellow Houston Hot Girl is perfect. Read my full review of the song here.
19. “Take Yourself Home” (Troye Sivan)
Calling artists “underrated” has become pretty much devoid of meaning recently, but Troye Sivan is actually underrated. His Bloom album deserved more love, and his most recent single, “Take Yourself Home,” is one of the best pop songs of the year so far. As Troye adds more backing vocals and harmonies to support the luscious lead vocal performance, the song evolves from gentle guitar chords to a Charli XCX-esque PC/dance breakdown. The song functions as an unintentional quarantine anthem; it ultimately builds into this sweaty release of all the anxiety and impatience that comes from being locked in a situation you put yourself in. Read my full review of the song here.
20. “TKN” (ROSALÍA & Travis Scott)
Friends are family. Your inner circle can be as tight as a mob in the way that trust and loyalty are valued. On “TKN,” inspired by Tekken the Japanese game and word for “Iron Fist,” ROSALÍA and Travis Scott trade verses over an aggressive trap-inflected beat. The duo’s only other collaboration is on the “HIGHEST IN THE ROOM” remix, and they definitely meet the bar that they set with that track. It’s a change of pace from the balladry of “Dolerme,” and ROSALÍA’s best shot at another summer anthem.
21. “The Man Who Loves You The Most” (Zac Brown Band)
Country music has been having a great year so far with their newer acts, but some of the older guys are still delivering excellent songs. After an odd foray into pop music, Zac Brown Band returned with this near-flawless modern Father’s Day anthem. In typical country music fashion, earthy guitar, picturesque lyricism, and earnest vocals combine to create this gorgeous track.
22. “The Stranger” (Ingrid Andress)
Ingrid Andress could definitely be a spoiler for the 2021 Grammy for Best New Artist. “The Stranger” is a driving piano ballad that tackles that sticky situation of falling in and out of love when you don’t put in the work to keep the relationship alive. Big country singles often float between fiery breakup records and schmaltzy love songs, so it’s nice to have something that settles somewhere in the middle by a vocalist who is uniquely aware of that precarious position.
23. “Tryna Smoke (feat. MicahFoneCheck)” (Jhené Aiko)
Jhené stuffed a lot of songs on Chilombo, but there truly are some gems underneath the filler. “Tryna Smoke,” is Jhené working at height of her cloud R&B powers. She basically dedicates the song to the magic of lighting a blunt, relaxing, and letting your soul rest and rejuvenate. Jhené has a nice knack for mixing these traditionally “dirty” topics with the atmospheric production that just floats through the speakers. Read my full review of Chilombo here.
24. “Under The Table” (Fiona Apple)
“Kick me under the table all you want, I won’t shut up. I won’t shut up.” What else is there to say? “Under the Table” functions as a smart bridge between the personal and political threads of Fetch The Bolt Cutters. Over beautifully bright piano chords, Fiona sings about refusing to be silent or pushed “under the table.” It is the brilliant bridge (“I would beg to disagree/But begging disagrees with me”), however, that really makes the track shine. Once again, Apple’s use of repetition comes into play, but on “Under the Table” they function as battle cries more than they do as traditional hooks or choruses.
25. “You Should Be Sad” (Halsey)
Halsey has ruled the pop sphere with enormous singles like “Closer” and “Without Me,” but “You Should Be Sad” is maybe the best example of the quirk of Halsey’s songwriting. With her Manic album, it’s been interesting seeing Halsey shift from colorful metaphors to more gritty personal revelations. “You Should Be Sad,” a country-influenced tune with a perfect chorus, is a prime example of how Halsey can bend the vastness of pop music into the most chilling stories. She sings “And you can’t fill the hole inside of you with money, drugs, and cars/I’m so glad I never ever had a baby with you/’Cause you can’t love nothing unless there’s something in it for you.” If that doesn’t cut deep, I don’t know what does.
Honorable Mentions: Wasted On You (Evanescence), 39.28 (Childish Gambino), Dolerme (ROSALÍA), U Move, I Move (feat. Jhené Aiko) (John Legend), Made It (Teyana Taylor), Morado (J Balvin), Girlfriend (Charlie Puth), Chicago Freestyle (feat. Giveon) (Drake), Scared To Live (The Weeknd), After Party (Don Toliver), Lo Mein (Lil Uzi Vert), Know My Rights (feat. Lil Baby) (6LACK), Grieving (feat. James Blake) (Kehlani), Through The Years (Rascal Flatts)