This year was cruel for many reasons, obviously, but I think the most cruel act of injustice caused in 2020 was the fact that there were multiple certified SLAPPERS of songs and singles that released this year and they didn’t let me gather to dance with 150 other sweaty drunk people to them? I mean what’s worse than that?
…what’s that? Oh millions are unemployed? Millions are being evicted? Hundreds of thousands are dead?
…Alright well it’s at least in the top 10…maybe 20 of worst things about 2020.
But my top songs of the year aren’t just the aforementioned bangers, there are some devastating ballads in here as well. I think I gravitated towards 2 ends of the musical spectrum this year. On one side, I was distracting myself from the depressing world we live in by listening to super positive funky fun nonsense to boost my serotonin, and on the other side, I listened to painful heart-wrenching songs to wallow in my melancholiness. Let’s start off with some honorable mentions before getting into the real list.
Honorable Mentions for Top Songs of the Year
The Difference – Toro y Moi and Flume
My Own Soul’s Warning – The Killers
August – Taylor Swift
So.Incredible.pkg- Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats
Deleter – Grouplove
Hapi – Spillage Village
Betty – Taylor Swift
Rainbow Bap – Jaden
Hallucinate – Dua Lipa
B.Q.E. – Kota the Friend (feat. Joey BadA$$ & Bas)
Leaning On You – HAIM
Endless Summer – Jaden (feat. Raury)
Rain On Me – Ariana Grande & Lady Gaga
Garden Song – Phoebe Bridgers
Mr. Right Now – 21 Savage feat. Drake
Summerhouse – Kota the Friend
Nothing Revealed/Everything Denied – The 1975
Blue World – Mac Miller
Supalonely – BENEE (feat. Gus Dapperton)
Top 15 Songs of the Year
15. “Going-to-the-Sun Road” – Fleet Foxes
Fleet Foxes’ new album was perfect for tossing on when trying to calm down, reduce anxiety or even just go to sleep, and this was always the first track I put on when trying to do just that. The smooth guitar, beautiful use of horns, and wonderfully soothing vocals and lyrics were seriously therapeutic this year. Especially in towards the end of the song when they strip back the instrumental, give the horns some space to riff, and bring in a female singer…I legitimately have teared up to it. Just gorgeous. I hadn’t listened to any Fleet Foxes before this year but this song made me dive into their discography and I’m glad it did because it was perfect comforting indie tunes, which I needed more than ever this year.
14. “Ghost of Soulja Slim” – Jay Electronica
This is maybe the hardest rap beat I’ve heard in several years. It goes SO HARD. Makes you have to do the stank face and bob your head unbelievably hard every time it comes on. The production (like most of the songs on Jay Elec’s A Written Testimony) is just so damn good and really not like anyone else’s beats this year. You get some of the best bars Jay-Z has spit in years and of course you get Jay Electronica’s unique flow and creative lyrics drawing parallels to Islam and religion in general. Between the flows, beat, and bars, this is easily one of the best rap songs of the year.
13. “So We Won’t Forget” – Khruangbin
I didn’t know who Khruangbin was before this year but I guess there’s a good amount of people who ADORE them and I can see why. They have a really cool unique sound that’s pretty incomparable to any other artist right now. This was the song that introduced me to them and I threw it on almost every day after a friend recommended it to me. The production is just so calming. It puts you at ease. The far-away vocals, funky bass line, and guitar-picking all make for a great song to throw on and just vibe out to. Highly recommend checking them out if you’re like me and hadn’t until this year.
12. “34 + 35” – Ariana Grande
I probably played this song 56 times in the 24 hours after it came out. It’s just so damn catchy. Ariana obviously delivers a playful light song with great vocals and the kind of lines you can’t get out of your head no matter what. I found myself just randomly singing “I been drinkin’ coffee! And I been eatin’ healthy!” all the time, despite me actually only doing one of those things (hint, it’s the drinking coffee part). Another hit from Ariana that I won’t mind hearing everywhere.
11. “Cycles” – RAP Ferreirra
This definitely falls under the “wallow in my own sadness” category of favorite songs this year. Existentialism and trying to find any sort of meaning in life was a constant in 2020, and this song’s dreamy-sad beat along with some really interesting parallels and story-telling made you question what we’re doing on Earth even more. He raps about why we waste so much of our lives doing jobs we hate and trying to do good things when it seems like the bad keeps prevailing. I think there’s a message of hope that creativity and perseverance can overcome the dreariness of everyday life though, and that little glimmer in this song was welcomed for sure. Acknowledging the horrible situation were in and how hard it is just to be alive sometimes, but that there is always the possibility to create works of art that will change things for the better.
Top 10 Songs of the Year
10. “Dragonball Durag (Remix)” – Thundercat feat. Smino & Guapdad 4000
Starting off our top 10 we’ve got the best remix to come out of 2020 (which is saying a lot since every popular song gets a remix with a rapper these days). The original song was absolute flames already, with an infectious beat, bass line, and chorus/vocals from T-Cat. But then, he tosses 2 of the most exciting newer rappers on it with Smino and Guapdad 4000? Say less. Not only do both the rappers match the humorous tone Thundercat sets on the track, but their flows and cadence also works perfectly over the beat. Some hilarious bars, obviously a great instrumental, and the chemistry between all these artists makes for an automatic head-bobber perfect for playing in the background while shredding virtual half-pipes in Tony Hawk Pro Skater (I know from experience).
9. “The Steps” – HAIM
HAIM really captured something on their 2020 album Women In Music Part III. The album is filled with summery rock songs that draw from the greats like Fleetwood Mac and this song I think is a great representation of that. This guitar riff is so beautifully old school, the drums go so hard, the vocals rule, and of course the lyrics are awesome. Danielle Haim was heavily featured on my favorite album last year, Vampire Weekend’s Father of the Bride, and her voice along with production from Rostam (ex-member of VW and producer of so many great indie songs) made this song an easy top 10 of the year. It’s nominated for Best Rock Performance and I really hope they get it, this song is a great 2020 interpretation of what fans of rock loved about the 70’s.
8. “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” – The 1975
A very popular trend in music right now is to copy music of the 80’s. The Weeknd, Doja Cat, Dua Lipa, and more have all dipped their toes into this bucket, but I think The 1975 had a really unique take on it with IYTSLMK and delivered one of the most fun songs of 2020. First of all, you gotta listen to the album version with this crazy build up, it really adds to the gravity of the song. Once you get past that beautiful intro, you get a fun sexy chorus with some super poppy production that sounds like a nostalgic summer fling anthem from a 80’s rom-com soundtrack. I had so many times this year where I was just miserable and feeling trapped inside my house, and I would get in my car, drop the windows and belt this at the top of my lungs while seat-dancing on a backroad in the suburbs. This was the medicine we needed during these hard times. Like a lot of songs on this list, this is one I really would’ve like to enjoy jamming out to with a bunch of friends, and one I will definitely be playing post-vaccination.
7. “Think About Things” – Daði Freyr
This song won “Eurovision” and if the competition were called “Earthvision” instead it would win that too. What an amazing time this song is, and the video makes it 1000x better. If you read this blog ever you know that I am a sucker for that funky-disco-EDM combo and this does that to a tee. The vocals are incredibly unique and fun, the synths go dumb hard, the lyrics are super simple in the best way, the KEY CHANGE at the end keeps the song interesting…I mean this was just so much fun to put on and jam out to this year. I was introduced to this song by my buddy Sam and every other person I’ve shown it to since then has fallen in love with it to. If this is your first time listening please share with a friend, this song should be everywhere.
6. “Laugh Now, Cry Later” – Drake (feat. Lil Durk)
This is very easily Drake’s best song since “Nice For What” and I will not hear any debate about it. I’ve said it before but Scorpion left me super disappointed after 2 absolute heaters of singles with God’s Plan and NFW. Since then he’s released a “collab” with Future that was basically just an unfinished song of his mashed with an unfinished song of Future’s, he released the shamelessly desperate tik-tok money-grab of “Toosie Slide” and 2 songs that are clearly copying other artists flows and styles with his collaborations with annoying wash-up DJ Khaled (although I’ll admit, I started liking Popstar after the vid with Bieber). So when I heard he was dropping this new single, I wasn’t hopeful, but I was blown away when I gave it a listen.
This beat was like taking a time machine back to 2016-7 More Life Drake. The horns on this song are so authentic to him, the bars aren’t throwaway repetitive “instagram captions”, and the chorus is catchy as hell. Not to mention a great little feature from up-and-comer Lil Durk. What Drake does best is make songs that everyone can enjoy and this song was easily my go-to on the aux for months. Between the high-quallity song and the high-concept video, this to me showed that Drake isn’t phoning it in any more. He’s back on his own flow, with his own production-style, and is taking his time. Album-mode. This gets me really excited for Certified Lover Boy (expected VERY soon), and I really hope it doesn’t let me down like Scorpion did.
5. “35.31” – Childish Gambino
Gambino had a number of really really cool songs in his album you probably forgot he released this year, 3.15.20. The song I think that most excited me about Gambino’s trajectory was 35.31 though. This song has such a unique vibe that I don’t really know what else to compare it to. We get a welcomed repetitive, nonsense, and catchy song with some crazy clapping and guitar riffs for a beat and BOOM. It’s a Gambino chant that I can’t get out of my head. I know the word “vibes” is tossed around lazily but this truly has the best vibes and the ones I needed in 2020. This song just reminds me of being on a beach a couple drinks deep with good friends and dancing along to music. The end part where he strips back some of the production and draws out the “ooooo’s”…perfection. I think what I liked most about it though is that it takes Donald Glover’s new direction (more experimental and sing-songy) and mashes it up perfectly with something you could play at a party and have everyone enjoy. I really hope that he takes this sound that he’s honed in on in 3.15.20 and sticks with it for a new project that has better promotion and song names…because as good as it is, “35.31” is a tough track name to really gain traction.
4. “Funny Thing” – Thundercat
I mean, come on. This song is gonna be around forever. The only thing wrong with this song is that it’s less than 2 minutes. If they just looped this one more time it’d probably be in the #1 spot. It is SO MUCH FUN. I’ve compared this song a lot to Doses and Mimosas, not that they sound similar but they are both songs people can go crazy to at a party despite not really having any aspects of what normally is considered “popular music”. It’s got a wild bass-line, kinda distorted production, super high falsetto vocals, and yet, if this comes on, I am GROOVING. I am out of my seat, hands in the air, doing a jig. You can not sit when this banger comes on. In this crazy year, there have been multiple times where I’ve cranked this up to 10 and just absolutely lost my mind dancing in order to shake out the bad vibes. It’s awesome that this took off on Tik Tok too (along with other Thundercat songs) because he is truly one of the most underrated artists of our time and deserves the spotlight as much as possible. Once the pandemic ends this is going to be one of my go-to dance party songs.
3. “Kyoto” -Phoebe Bridgers
The horns on this song alone warrants it to win the Grammy for Song of the Year (even though it’s not nominated). My friend Abby told me about Phoebe a few weeks before Punisher came out and this was the first song I checked out and of course, I was hooked. What a beautiful track that completely incapsulates what everyone is falling in love with when it comes to Phoebe Bridgers. The guitar, drums, bass, and horns come together to form a sound that is completely unique to her, and on top of that she uses her gorgeously haunting voice to sing some honestly brutal lyrics that are laced with a dark-humor you wouldn’t expect on a grammy-nominated record. It’s extremely personal to her relationship with presumably her father, but I think it really strikes a chord with anyone who has a complicated relationship with a family member or loved (which is more relevant this year than ever).
I threw this on so many times this year, it’s both depressing and hopeful? In both the verses and the actual sound? It’s unlike anything else that’s come out this year and has so many lines I can’t get out of my head. Like,
Sunset’s been a freak show on the weekend
So I’ve been driving out to the suburbs
To park at the Goodwill and stare at the chem trails
With my little brother
Just a wild couple of lines that are weirdly relatable to anyone who grew up in the suburbs with nothing to do? I mean I drove around with my sister out of quarantine boredom in the suburbs listening to this song multiple times. It’s a song unlike any other this year and although it’s been hyped up on pretty much every music publication or “indie” blog/twitter account, it lives up to the hype.
2. “Levitating” – Dua Lipa
Some songs on this list, like Kyoto, I credit for their beauty, composition, and innovativeness, others, like this one from Dua Lipa, I put on just because they make me feel so damn good. What a BANGER. If you’ve kept up with these lists the past few years you know that there’s always at least 2-3 futuristic funk disco songs that don’t mean much but just take the joy of 70s disco and revamps it for 2020, this song did that perfectly.
Dua worked with hit-makers who are avidly familiar with creating disco-heaters on her latest album and this song is the perfect example of how well it was done. Chorus is unbelievably catchy with non-generic words (like Sugar Boo) that just make it impossible not to sing and dance to when it comes on. Then she got Dababy to toss a verse on there, she performed it on every TV network that would let her, she promoted it on every social media, and created a song that 1000% would’ve taken over the world if the world wasn’t in lockdown due to covid. So many times this year I would close my eyes, put this song on, and imagine what life could be like in a year from now. Vaccinated. On a dancefloor. A redbull vodka, 2 tequila shots, and 4 beers deep just loving my life surrounded by friends and dancing to a feel-good hit we’ve all wanted to get loose to since March 2020. That moment will hopefully come soon and that “light at the end of the tunnel” that this song provided gave me hope for a better future…one with dancing, drinks, and Dua.
1. “I Know The End” – Phoebe Bridgers
Chills. Every time I hear this song. That doesn’t happen often.
What better to take the #1 song of the year than a song literally about the apocalypse and impending doom called “I Know The End”? This song would be a masterpiece in any other year, but releasing it in 2020 just made it that much more thought-provoking.
The song starts off somber, quiet and sad with some lyrics you only Phoebe could imagine. That part alone is already good…but then around the 2 minute mark an unbelievably smooth transition takes the song to a new place with some faster guitar strumming, as if “the End” is getting closer and closer. This is where the song really just becomes a whole other tier of great. It’s on another plane of great’s existence. The next 2 minutes have some of my favorite lines in any song ever maybe.
Windows down, scream along
To some America first rap, country song
A slaughterhouse, an outlet mall
Slot machines, fear of God
Windows down, heater on
Big bolts of lightning hanging low
Over the coast, everyone’s convinced
It’s a government drone or an alien spaceship
I mean, come on!!! The bleakness! The imagery! The existentialism! It’s POWERFUL. And at the end of these verses more horns get brought in, the drums start going crazy, the background singers are going off, and Phoebe just starts screaming the way we’ve all wanted to since mid-March. It’s just an absolutely beautiful and heart-breaking ballad about existence and genuinely made me think and feel more than any song in a long, long, time. And I have a feeling this will be just one of many ground-breaking songs from this artist in our lifetime.
Welp, that sums it up folks. I asked you what your favorite songs of the year were this week on Instagram and got a ton of great answers, find them below.
Any songs I missed? Any that should’ve been higher or lower? Want to yell at me for only having 2 Taylor Swift songs in the honorable mentions? Let me know!