Thank god it’s almost over. 2020 has been a year of anxiety, loss and hardship. Many of the industries we care about, including the creative ones, have been affected massively by the pandemic and the periods of isolation that came with it. Some of us might have been fighting for toilet paper in shops, drinking in front of the TV, shouting at Boris during 5 o’clock briefings, reconnecting with old friends from school… Moving on from Boris, this year sucked in many ways but didn’t fail to provide us with some great music. Yeah, sure, there have been some eyebrow-raising moments (Bieber’s Yummy, Meghan Trainor etc.) but for most of it – our favourite artists managed just fine. I usually don’t to lists that go in any particular order but fuck it – this is my TOP 20 for 2020.
20. HAIM – Leaning On You
This has been a good year for the Haim sisters. Their newest album Women In Music Pt. III received five stars from the most important publications, including The Guardian, The Independent and NME. It was also nominated for Album of the Year by the GRAMMYs! While most bloggers include songs such as The Steps or Don’t Wanna on their end-of-year lists, I prefer this deep cut from the number nine of the tracklist. Sometimes it really takes all you’ve got not to fuck something up.
19. Kesha – Honey
Most critics would shoot me if someone told them I put this track as one of my favourite ones this entire year. The truth is, what I love the most about Kesha is her funny, sassy, often self-shading songwriting. Honey is all I ever asked for in terms of Kesha’s music – a catchy guitar loop, powerful vocals from… lots… of people, including the star herself and her hilarious lyrics. Brings me back to 2010 and her song Backstabber, which shocked the 14-year-old me at the time of its release.
18. The 1975 – Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America
This gorgeous folky ballad shows The 1975’s Matty Healy at his most vulnerable and delicate. The song, which features guest vocals from Phoebe Bridgers, won me over with its beautiful, simple lyrics and effective production. I spent many nights just listening to this, staring at the ceiling like I play the lead in some Disney+ TV series for VSCO girls.
17. Ariana Grande – love language
I didn’t particularly enjoy Ariana Grande’s new album. Just like most, I thought it couldn’t compare with the likes of Sweetener or Thank U Next. During my first listen, I had a feeling of listening to a bonus album of outtakes, which is never good. This track however, with its groovy, retro production and Motown-like vibe stole my heart instantly. The bridge is definitely my favourite part of the song, with its soft strings and sweet, delicate vocals.
16. RAYE – Natalie Don’t
With its hypnotic beat and addictive chorus, Natalie Don’t by a British pop singer RAYE managed to get stuck in my head for days. The track was written as “the modern day Jolene” and does the job perfectly, even if some of the hardcore music fans wouldn’t put this electro-pop radio banger anywhere close the iconic country gem. For me, Natalie Don’t is a perfect example of how fun pure pop music can be.
15. Troye Sivan – Rager teenager!
If there is anything that Troye Sivan does particularly well, it’s describing the confusion of young people trying to find themselves in the fucked-up world of relationships and doing the right thing. This simple song is the quintessence of bedroom pop and one of Sivan’s best tracks ever, despite the simple, quite cute lyricism and sometimes messy instrumental.
14. Lady Gaga – 911
I would lie if I said I was happy with Chromatica when it first came out. For me, the songs on the album sounded good together but very weak on their own. Tracks such as Free Woman or Fun Tonight would never stand a chance next to older, also non-single songs from Gaga’s previous albums. 911 is my favourite part of the record. The viral transition from Chromatica II (interlude) is probably more powerful than some other singers’ entire careers. The robotic verses and the chorus filled with straight-forward vulnerability make it one of the best track Gaga released in recent years.
13. Miley Cyrus – Midnight Sky
Oh, Miley. You’re one of the most inconsistent mainstream recording artists in history, probably. From pop-rock to hip-hop infused pop, from that into psychedelia, then into country, now – 80s power-pop. All of that because your life is happening too quickly and you constantly grow, leaving the critics and audiences unsure of what is it you actually want. I love Miley and all of the versions of her musical persona listed above. Midnight Sky is one of this year’s bestest songs. Everyone agrees. Just stick to it. And even if you don’t, give your older catalogue a chance. Stop cutting your old stuff off after each album. I’m done.
12. Jessie Ware – Remember Where You Are
Jessie Ware material just screams underrated. Her latest album What’s Your Pleasure? is the first one of her career to receive the top marks from everyone across the music press spectrum. Jessie’s effortless and super fun romance with disco turned out fantastically for her, with songs such as Soul Control and Ooh La La already mentioned in numerous end-of-year lists. My favourite track of this album is the closing number Remember Where You Are. I love songs that sound cinematic, tunes that make you imagine an ending scene of a high budget film when you listen to them. This song is definitely one of the best in Ware’s discography.
11. The Weeknd – Alone Again
I was outraged when I found out that The Weeknd’s latest record After Hours wasn’t nominated for any Grammys. Even Blinding Lights, one of the biggest, if not the biggest song of 2020 didn’t receive a single nomination. After Hours is definitely my favourite The Weeknd album. I’m glad someone has finally looked at the “after hours” of the night in search for inspiration, touching on topics such as drunk driving, wealth, loneliness, self-destruction and mental health in the context of the time when nobody’s watching. The opening track Alone Again is one of the strongest. It sets the mood for what’s to come, it’s like a hook that makes you keep reading. The emotional honesty is impressive, vocal performance is second to none.
10. Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion – WAP
There is an elephant in the room and it’s time to address it. Are you a certified freak, seven days a week? If the answer is yes, there’s a chance you might have been binge-listening to this viral hit from Cardi and Megan a lot this year. I would love to live in a world where rapping about women’s sexuality isn’t a reason to go viral. Congratulations to the girls for making a super catchy, brilliantly written piece of popular music.
9. Dua Lipa – Levitating [The Blessed Madonna Remix feat. Madonna and Missy Elliott]
At this point, Dua Lipa has more versions of Levitating than I have friends. When I watched Dua perform her record-breaking hit single New Rules at the BRIT Awards a few years ago, I would have never imagined that one day, the same girl would record a track with The Blessed Madonna, the actual Madonna and Missy Elliott! Both lyrically and sonically, Levitating is a tribute to the disco era of mirrorballs and farfetched, science-fiction dreams of the baby boomers. The remix is a different story. The tempo is up, Madonna slays from behind her autotune and Missy delivers a kick in the crotch of a verse. I’m in!
8. Charli XCX – forever
X-X-X-XCX, it’s Charli, baby! The queen of glitch-pop and her long-term collaborator A.G. Cook teamed up again to deliver a “quarantine album” back in May. Created in less than a month(!), this homemade masterpiece was released to a critical acclaim, getting a five star rating from The Daily Telegraph’s Neil McCormick and a nomination for the 2020 Mercury Prize. Forever is the first single off the album. I remember listening to it for the first time on the Annie Mac BBC show and just knowing the rest of the album would fuckin’ slap. Sonically, it’s classic Charli – glitchy and noisy yet incredibly melodic and delicate at times.
7. Tame Impala – Breathe Deeper
At this point, Kevin Parker could autotune the recording of him snoring and I’d still be able to find an excuse to put it on the list of best tracks. Breathe Deeper is the fifth single from the new Tame Impala album The Slow Rush. This enjoyable, polished and beautifully produced funky rollercoaster is exactly what we need from Tame Impala in these dark and uncertain times.
6. MARINA – Man’s World
She’s back! Putting the baddies in their place, spreading love and promoting girl power more than ever before! MARINA (formerly Marina And The Diamonds) released Man’s World just a couple weeks ago. The track’s release marks the beginning of a new era for her. MARINA’s last album Love + Fear changed the way Welsh-Greek singer performs, as she got rid of the band in favour of more pop and fun approach – set changes, choreography etc. The music itself was… good. Some of the production wasn’t suitable for the subject matter and the whole release seemed a bit messy, despite her biggest efforts. Man’s World is a step in a completely different direction. The brave lyricist is back, this time with some gentle guitar riffs and serious-sounding drums!
5. Taylor Swift – The Last Great American Dynasty
This has been Taylor Swift’s year. Period. After the heavily-electronic reputation and a little bit overproduced Lover, Swift surprised her fans with her 8th studio album folklore. This year, the singer abandoned the bubblegum-pop collaborations and songs about driving on a scooter with Idris Elba for the sake of indie-pop, acoustic ballads. Together with The National’s Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver, she created a body of work so cohesive and poetic, it might be hard to beat it anytime soon. This song is what The Guardian’s Laura Snapes said might be Taylor’s best track ever. It tells the story of Rebekah Harkness, an American socialite and one of the richest women in American history. Oh, yeah, one more small detail – Swift now owns the house where Harkness resided before she died.
4. Dua Lipa – Physical
The dark, addictive vibe of this track makes it one of the best in Dua Lipa’s career. The instrumental is just overwhelming – dynamic, very 80s, with an exceptional vocal performance in the bridge. The lyrics are engaging from the start – “Common love isn’t for us, we created something phenomenal, don’t you agree?” I don’t know about the others, but I do agree! This track is going to be an absolute banger when played in front of a packed arena. 2021, please, hurry up!
3. Christine And The Queens feat. Caroline Polachek – La Vita Nuova
OH! MY! GOD! One of the greatest living performers, one of the few who managed to break into the English-speaking mainstream by singing in their native language – it’s Christine And The Queens, dear ladies, gents and theys. After creating one of the most beautiful french-pop albums of all time, here she is; singing in Italian on a track that sounds like Michael Jackson in his prime mixed with the most sophisticated dance-pop. And then, there’s Caroline Polachek – one of America’s finest art-pop singers – casually joining her after the first chorus? In Italian? I think I need to call NHS 24.
2. Rina Sawayama – XS
The British-Japanese singer Rina Sawayama, one of Anthony Fantano’s favourites, has managed to achieve something so simple, yet never done to such extent by anyone else before. She combined the early 2000s bombastic arena-pop(Britney Spears) with nu-metal(Korn). In XS, which is a modern anthem about consumerism, Rina mentions Calabasas, Tesla and Cartier as current-day happiness tokens. She wants more, she wants to feel like the Kardashians as she sings the 2001-era Britney-sounding verses in between the heavy, guitar riffs. Should have been Grammy nominated.
1. Taylor Swift – August
“Salt air and the rust on your door, I never needed anything more,” sings Taylor in the opening of her track August, my absolute favourite. There is no way this isn’t my most played song this year! This stunner of a track sounds like hope. Hope and a picnic in the summer? And a sunset by the lakes. Do you get what I mean? N-no….? Oh.