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If you remember, I made a blog post about what I was looking forward to doing in 2020 and, as you may have guessed, the pandemic put a stop to those plans. For months, we were all stuck at home and isolated from friends and family. During this time, I listened to A LOT of music which is why I wanted to write a feature on my favourite songs of the year! The past year has no doubt been a tumultuous one but the soundtrack was great. Similar to my older top tens, I have added a runner up section which features songs that also deserved recognition but missed out on the top ten. The same rule applies in that there is only one song per artist to make sure that there would be a mix of different genres and artists on the list. Enjoy!
Dragonball Durag – Thundercat
It’s tempting to write this song off as a joke. I mean, what other song this year has had lyrics as ridiculous as “I may be covered in cat hair but I still smell good” but I think that’s the point. While no doubt being quite instrumentally and vocally well-constructed, Thundercat’s aim is not to take himself too seriously. While he legitimately pines for his love interest in some moments, he frequently injects quirky anecdotal questions and pleas which actually elevate the song beyond a traditional love ballad. He almost seems to undermine the traditional “flexes” different artists use to try to appeal to their love interests by both mentioning his “new whip”, “ice”, “video games”, and “comic books”. Plus, that instrumental is just so dang groovy you can’t help but be swept away. At the end of the day, only Thundercat’s unique vision could produce as equally addictive and ridiculous a song as “Dragonball Durag”.
Hold On (feat. Sheryl Crow, Brandi Carlile, & Natalie Hemby) – Yola & The Highwomen
As you can probably tell from the list of collaborators and features, this track is a demonstration of country music at its very best. Yola’s southern-bluesy, growly vocals compliment the background harmonies from the other artists so perfectly that it is truly something to behold. The sentiment of the track is also quite special since it’s a comforting, reactionary anthem released in the aftermath of the unjust murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor this past summer. The track reminds listeners to hold on the beautiful things in their life and never let go of their passion to push for a better future. Well said, Yola and friends, well said.
Weird Fishes – Lianne La Havas
Okay, it is my time to confess something: I usually detest cover songs. To me, if something was already perfect or close to, it is better to leave it be. I am now happy to say that Lianne La Havas blew my mind this year with the true possibilities of covering another artist’s work. It pained me not to include this song in my top ten because it truly is something special, so consider this placement actually like a 10.5 in my top ten list. It is seriously that good. Lianne’s arrangement gets under your skin and is infectiously silky. Her vocal performance soars over the sparse production before the soaring finale which honestly rivals the original (which, again, I hate to say because Radiohead are also quite special to me !). Lianne is truly one of the most interesting songwriters in music today but this shows she is just as great even when she’s not singing her own material.
10. The Steps – HAIM
From the jangly guitars that kick off the song, you know you are in for a ride. The Haim sisters cooked up quite a special record this year and I think this song perfectly encapsulates the magic they were able to create. It is sassy, yet, personal, showy, and somehow reserved. The sentiment of fighting for what you want and trying to no avail are also extremely relatable even to the best of us. It especially speaks to the wider frustrations of, as their album title suggests, being women in music. On “The Steps”, HAIM show that they’re able to have a lot of fun while also empowering their female counterparts and creating an infectiously catchy tune that packs a punch.
9. forever – Charli XCX
I cannot think of a song that better encapsulates the COVID-era (if we can address it as such). The hook “I’ll love your forever even when we’re not together”, despite being written before quarantine, became the rallying cry for many this year who were experiencing isolation apart from their loved ones. The experimental and gritty production also further expand on Charli’s capabilities in the PC music realm. The auto-tune on her voice in combination with the aforementioned production also create this sweet-and-sour dynamic that resolves in the chorus in such a beautiful way. I think “forever’ proves that we should never refer to Charli as “the boom clap singer” again. She has effectively shown that she is capable of intimately expressing the longings of an entire culture while still being the pop innovator we know and love.
8. BLACK PARADE – Beyoncé
She has gone by many names over the years, including the well-known and deserved “Queen Bey”. On Juneteenth, she proved to us once again why she holds that title. Filled with many empowering quotable lines like “I can’t forget my history is her story”, “Put your fist up in the air, show black love”, and “Rubber bullets bouncin’ off me/Made a picket sign off your picket fence”, Beyoncé effectively empowered black people all over the world while also addressing the injustices, and subsequent protests, of the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor at the hands of racist police officers and citizens.
A further investigative look into the lyrics of the song also reveal the rich African history that Beyoncé has woven into, not only the song, but the related Black is King Disney+ film. This is all in an effort to begin reclaiming the ancestral heritage stolen from black people during the era of colonization and slavery which she first spoke about on her seminal 2016 visual album Lemonade. Beyoncé has once again shown that she is in a league of her own amongst her contemporaries but she will not let this diminish her ability to connect and empower those at the edges of society and reclaim what is hers.
7. My Future – Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish has surprised many in her relatively short career. Whether it be her horror-inspired imagery and lyricism or her left-field production choices, she never fails to shock. However, I found the understated “My Future” to be her most surprising release yet. Instead of relying innovative soundscapes (which are still great), Billie took a jazz-inspired direction for this single which was the perfect showcase for her often overlooked vocals and harmonies. The switch from the soft instrumental at the midway of the track is also just as shocking as it morphs into something completely different in the most beautiful way. Her declaration of excitement for a future that is wholly her own was also unprecedented and some welcome optimism in the chaotic year that was 2020.
6. Sweeter (feat. Terrance Martin) – Leon Bridges
Leon Bridges’ “Sweeter” was a heart-wrenching reaction to the senseless killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, and vocalized the subsequent feeling shared by black people all over the world whenever these tragedies occur. His hope for a better future while seemingly stuck in a cycle of violent tragedy because of his skin is truly felt in every infliction of his voice and the passionate yet minimal instrumental. The horn that joins him on the final chorus just accentuates the already somber tone and is utterly tear-inducing. Leon Bridges has always been an exceptional songwriter, but he only surpasses his past achievements on the much-needed “Sweeter”.
5. After Hours – The Weekend
“After Hours” is the centerpiece of the record with the same name. The 6-minute epic has a similar structure to “House of Ballons / Glass Table Girls” where the song’s production drastically changes halfway through the track which I think is purposeful. After Hours is the fulfillment of all of the desires that Abel dove headfirst into on his debut which have now left him unsatisfied and broken. Nowhere is this clearer than on this track. Abel’s passionate “Where are you now when I need you most?” is nothing short of heartbreaking and the droning synths that accentuate this section of the song create this uneasy soundscape which is impossible to escape. It’s addictive and dramatic, making it the best fusion of everything Abel has done up until this moment in time.
4. Restored (feat. 1K Phew, Wande & Hulvey) – Lecrae
I guess it is now time for my second confession of this article: I usually detest deluxe edition tracks. If you had have told me a year ago that I would include a song from a deluxe edition in my top 5 of the next year I would have audibly laughed. And yet, here we are. As much as any of the songs from Lecrae’s Restoration could have filled this spot, “Restored” is a collaboration of epic proportions. It is like the “Forever” of Christian rap and I have not stopped listening to it since it came out. Over the four minutes and change run time, Lecrae and co. reel with personal struggles and addictions, financial issues, God’s providence and grace, and their experience of being restored. It’s timely, deeply personal, and features career best verses from Lecrae and his 116 affiliates (See “Said you had fake faith, you’re starting to race bait”, “I see new dimensions like I’m Rick and Morty”, “Haven’t you noticed when we at our lowest is when our prayer life be having some focus?” and “Honda Civic I know God steerin’, in the Lamborghini I know God steerin’”).
3. Bad Friend – Rina Sawayama
Rina Sawayama has had an unbelievable year. I remember when she premiered “Bad Friend” on BBC Radio 1 weeks before the release of her debut album. The song was an honest confessional and, yet, instantly one of the catchy pop tunes of year. This was already after she had released “XS” and “Comme Des Garçons (Like the Boys)” which both could have been in this place on this list. Instead, Rina’s heart-breaking and lush “Bad Friend” became the magnum opus of the album. The song seemed to take on additional meaning this year with lyrics like “so don’t ask me where I’ve been/Been avoiding everything because I’m a bad friend”. Who hasn’t tried to escape the online world and all the awful events this year and ended up neglecting personal relationships while in quarantine? Even if the song did not obtain a special status because of COVID, it is still a testament to Rina’s ability to dominate the pop genre while curating a beautifully, innovative soundscape.
2. Kyoto – Phoebe Bridgers
This was Phoebe’s year and “Kyoto” could have easily taken the top spot on this list. The airy instrumental with the taut drums and gorgeous horns allow Phoebe’s vocals to dominate every part of this track. The instrumental blend of the song actually feels like a perfect summation of all of her previous musical experiences on her first record, the boygenius EP with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, and the Better Oblivion Community Complex project with Conor Oberst.
Over the course of the song, Phoebe comments on being bored on tour and her subsequent FOMO which evolve into grand reflections on her complicated relationship with her father, watching the sunsets in the suburbs, and other memories from her childhood. It perfectly captures one’s stream of consciousness where the simplest things can trigger a flood of disjointed memories. Overall, the song just reflects Phoebe’s uncanny ear for subtle melody and one-of-a-kind songwriting which somehow feels deeply personal, nostalgic, urgent, and flippant all at once.
1. Me & You Together Song – The 1975
Yes, “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” could have also occupied this spot. Yes, I know it was the favourite among fans and critics alike from their last album. Personally, I think “Me & You Together” actually captures the true spirit of what makes the 1975 so great. It feels truly nostalgic in a way that only the 1975 can capture. The anecdotal lines about crappy carnivals, changing diapers, and rejected offerings of love are at once comedic and picturesque. It feels like a lived experience that I have never had but fondly remember.
No, this song does not encapsulate the crazy year that has been 2020. It was nice to actually have some space that was untainted by the pandemic. It is cautiously optimistic while not being overly complicated. It’s the 1975 knowing exactly who they are and sticking to what makes them one of the most interesting bands in music right now.
Thanks for reading!