The jig is up for 2020 and when I finally decided to finish this while my procrastination showed its face, MF DOOM died. It caused me to hold off on this for a bit so here we are, about two weeks later. I’ll cut to the chase. These are my favorite songs of last year in the order I want them to be in but if things change, I’ll switch it around in future years.
25. “Freeway” — Briston Maroney
This was such a late pick but it came on at the perfect moment. I was about to drop off Christmas gifts to my family members and this cut came on during a ride down I-90. The writing on this is crisp, the chorus is super catchy and it’s super smart. The video feels like a slice of 2020, too, portraying a man living life on his own. It’s sweet and feels incredibly free.
24. “Desole” (feat. Fatoumata Diawara) — Gorillaz
This might be one of The Gorillaz’ best songs. Some six-minute tracks feel like such overkill but Albarn gets wild with the production toward the end of this song. It’s all fused with Fatoumata’s crooning, a feature that is just absolutely beautiful. I love the lyrics here and the smooth, synthy progression performs better on the extended version. I’m so happy this Gorillaz album — the best since Plastic Beach — has this song as one of the closing tracks.
23. “IPHONE” — Rico Nasty
I hated 100 Gecs like a pretentious jerk before this past year. I’m still a pretentious jerk, but now I like 100 Gecs. This song pushed me into their fandom with lines like “Smoking so much gas, I forgot to put my mask on.” The magical feel to the intro transitioning into a straight glitch, hyperpop bop combines dynamic production alongside Rico Nasty’s signature energetic style.
22. “Intentions” (feat. Quavo) — Justin Bieber
Brenton likes JB more than me so pardon me, his brother, for choosing a single as my favorite Bieber song of the year. And before I get into this, I have to express my dislike for Quavo for jumping on everything, especially Bieber tracks. Can this man not find other artists to work with? Now, about the song. The ringtone-like synth is delectable even if it should be cheesy and plain. But just like most of everything JB touches, it turns to gold. After all, who else can rhyme equity/asset with bread?
21. “XS” — Rina Sawayama
When I heard “Where U Are” a few years ago, I knew Rina was “it.” She seems to pay a significant amount of attention more to her tracks than others in the alt. pop universe. The title of this song is a play on the word excess so this cut oozes an anti-capitalism, anti-consumerism theme alongside an incredibly lovely 90s pop aura. The GRAMMYs robbed her, but all the homies don’t care about the GRAMMYs.
20. “Photo ID” — Remi Wolf
I read somewhere Remi Wolf wanted to make this video in the same breath of absurdist visuals seen in the “Spy Kids” movies/“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” oompa-loompas. She’s employing fun, silly lyrics amid wonky electric effects and a disco pop beat. It’s an overwhelmingly groovy rendezvous that I feel defines everything Remi Wolf is about.
19. “Murphy’s Law” (Extended Mix) — Roisin Murphy
The keyboard riff on this song and the ’80s vibe it emanates is a sort of funkiness that’s hard to emulate. Like many albums that came out this year and didn’t get the chance to see the club circuit, this one has a very quarantine feel to it (with lyrics like “ever since we broke up, I’ve been afraid to go out. But I won’t be a prisoner, locked up in this house.”) Music like this kept me afloat this year.
18. “Ooh La La” — Jessie Ware
This synthy record Jessie Ware managed to squeeze out of this miserable year is such a jam. It has a bit of a run-of-the-mill hook but the effects taking off in the background of the track — alongside a ridiculous bassline — helps make this song bounce.
17. “So We Won’t Forget” — Khruangbin
I seem to have an affinity for road trip playlists and this track certainly calmed me down when I reached a stressful period somewhere around my 25th birthday. It’s mood music so I tend to put this on in the background because of the airy, psychedelic nature of the beat and its ability to drown out much of the vocals. It’s an undeniably sick record, especially the guitars.
16. “Roll Dice” — Roddy Ricch
2020 marked an absence of any memorable stand-alone trap projects (didn’t like any of the Uzi projects, sorry not sorry). Roddy Rich was an exception. This is a lovely use of trap with a country twang-ish approach to vocals. The claps sprinkled throughout this beat, the use of voice as instrumental, the changes in pitch, the variety of melodies along with the soft adlibs throughout make this irresistible.
15. “After Hours” — The Weeknd
Behold! Another person robbed of a Grammy! “After Hours” appears to grab a lot from The Weeknd’s earlier career thanks to its grainy, atmospheric effects. But it doesn’t lose sight of him as the Daft Punk collaborator more recent fans have come to know him as. The structure of this is all over the place yet it shows Abel at his best.
14. “Dying to Believe” — The Beths
This is a blast to listen to. It’s not necessarily punk, per se, but it’s littered with an appropriate amount of guitar riffs and a catchy chorus that made this a fun track to jam out in your car, too. The instrumental here is pure joy and the guitar licks are dope as heck.
13. “People, I’ve been sad …” — Christine and the Queens
Chris crafts a beautiful mix of French and English lyrics. Despite a relatively simple foundation for the beat, her heavy singing, and the engineering on this cut makes for a beautiful number. The lonely, emotional atmosphere she’s bringing to the surface makes it a masterful selection.
12. “Girls in the Hood” — Megan Thee Stallion
One of my favorite memories of this past summer was blasting “Suga” in a New Jersey rest plaza, all the windows down and families cowering in fear, supposedly because of Megan’s lyrical choices. I like to think they were cowering because they knew Megan was dominant in her craft. A lot of her success seemed to be founded in proving herself amid covers or tributes to rap songs’ past. This cut was the standout choice and it has some of the most memorable bars of the year (“put them legs on his head now he loves tall women”). This is one of those rare cases where a cover stacks up to the original.
11. “JEWELZ” — Anderson. Paak
By all means, this is not the best .Paak song. But the dance he came up with his son — along with the fruitful, catchy funkiness of this instrumental — makes this a solid jam for him in-between album cycles.
10. “Fkn Around” (feat. Megan Thee Stallion) — Phony Ppl
I knew when I heard the synths combined with the claps this would be a bop. Then the lead singer comes out with a Theophilus London-esque delivery over this modern disco number. And while Phony Ppl makes cheating sound fun (something I hate), Megan drops a verse in tune with the rest of her fire hot year. It’s easy to be hooked by this.
9. “Dragonball Durag” — Thundercat
I love Thundercat and this weirdo, jazzy R&B cut is a tremendously comedic groove. The video makes it 110% better, too. His falsetto is lovely and “I may be covered in cat hair but I still smell good” is one of my favorite lines of the year. We love to see a soulful song about being genuine even if it’s lame as heck.
8. “Sum Bout U (feat. FKA Twigs)” — 645AR
Mickey Mouse went off and thanks to the high-pitched, artistic crooning of Twigs, this is a case of both artists complimenting each other so damn well. Besides the smart music video concept, it’s years ahead of its time. For two artists of seemingly two different styles to create such a fluid dialogue is a feat on its own, even if the two styles sound like a conversation between “Animal Crossing” villagers.
7. “RASCAL” — RMR
Country trap isn’t a joke. This song and its accompanying video is a strange sight for many rap fans to see, something that might cause a lot of mainstream fans to write this off immediately as a meme. RMR understands this and doesn’t seem to care. He makes a classic Rascal Flatts song his own, much like Megan on the song I discussed earlier. is what makes this a gem. RMR introduces himself as a beautiful singer straight out of the gate, even if the mask conceals his true identity.
6. “SAY SO” — Doja Cat
Technically, this came out last year. Technically, this is my list and I make the rules. This song dominated the first half of last year. This was everywhere even if it didn’t hit the party/club circuit. It was another new wave of pop disco to come out of this past year and displays Doja at her finest as a singer and energetic rapper.
5. “Shake The Room” (feat. Quavo) — Pop Smoke
Pop Smoke could create a banger, even if it — sadly — has to feature Quavo (please bench this man on popular rap songs in 2021, smh). Pop has an intense, grizzly voice that’s hard to shake off. That said, you can’t listen to this song passively. It’s a pure gritty, hard-hitting trap cut that’s uniquely his. RIP.
4. “Don’t Start Now (Zach Witness Remix)” — Dua Lipa
Last year, if there was not a pandemic, would’ve been marked by hearing Dua Lipa every time you went out. We didn’t get that, sadly. The first version of this song (released in 2019) feels so empty but this remix (by some guy I don’t care to look up at all) fills the voids left by the original production. It’s electric and I highly recommend cranking this to max volume.
3. “Desires” (feat. Future) — Drake
This is a very problematic song, as noted by my friend Nathaniel Wilson. “I should have put you somewhere where no one could find you. Mansion out in the sticks with nothin’ around you.” Yeah, no thanks. But are we to expect anything less from Future and Drake? Not at all. Drake knows how to suck you into a hook. He reiterates a line and knows how to make it stick in your head (on this song, he repeats “I know” to his heart’s content). This is right up there amongst cuts from the duo’s full-length effort “What A Time To Be Alive.” This song proves the two rappers haven’t lost their chemistry one bit.
2. “Gospel For A New Century” — Yves Tumor
This sounds like something you’d hear in a car commercial. It’s lively in its presentation but there’s an energy to every word Yves Tumor releases. The horns slap and the songwriting packs a punch, too, all while maintaining an ill, funky, psychedelic chorus. It’s dynamic and, as great as this album is overall, it’s unmatched in its thoroughness both on the vocal end of the spectrum and on the production end.
- “circle the drain” — Soccer Mommy
I love the imagery she crafts with her words. There’s a motion to every line throughout which gives this record — no pun intended — shape. If you haven’t heard the song, it’s about falling into a cycle of depression. Yet her very bright, fun approach to the topic makes this worth returning to again and again. Sophia’s voice leans into an angsty-ness I usually despise but the song is far from something you want to turn off. Everything about last year wasn’t easy to swallow so if I had to pick one song from 2020, this super sad song disguised as a happy one is a perfect start to its soundtrack.