The 20 best pop songs right now

August’s best pop songs, including tracks by Taylor Swift, The 1975, BROCKHAMPTON, Clairo and more.

August 30, 2019
The 20 best pop songs right now

Every month The FADER brings you the best pop songs in the world. Subscribe to the updating playlist on Apple Music.

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1

Taylor Swift — "Lover"

After only a few weeks of release, this song already feels like a classic. Taylor Swift has written a lot about marriage over the course of her career, but her romantic vignettes have never felt as real or as intimate as they do on “Lover.”

2

Jorja Smith and Burna Boy — "Be Honest"

Jorja Smith’s debut showcased her affinity for sleek soul; her Preditah collab “On My Mind” proved she could sing atop bangers, too. “Be Honest,” her recently-released Burna Boy collab, has her drawing from both worlds. Smith’s best release to date, “Be Honest” is flirty and addictive, the perfect end-of-summer tribute to delirious, fraught romantic encounters.

3

Elizabeth — "Parties"

“Parties” is a dark, dank reverie that has seemed more and more heartbreaking since its release. The combination of Elizabeth’s anguished, vaporous vocal and the song’s shoegaze-adjacent production creates an atmosphere not unlike if Max Martin produced a Beach House record: gauzy, emotionally direct, and catastrophically sad.

4

Lana Del Rey — "Norman fucking Rockwell"

It’s fitting that Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Lana Del Rey’s most introspective record by a mile, would open with a song so deeply empathetic. The characters on Del Rey’s early records were, by design, ciphers; they didn’t need personalities or quirks in order for them to serve the purposes of the songs. On NFR’s opening title track, though, Del Rey sings softly to a deadbeat lover, dissecting his flaws and sweetly reminiscing on his good traits in equal measure. It’s touching and nuanced and, most excitingly, entirely new ground for Del Rey.

5

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Clairo — "Softly"

While she broke out with the deadpan fuck-you track “Pretty Girl,” Clairo’s debut album Immunity showcases her knack for writing love songs with vivid detail and complexity. “Softly,” Immunity’s sun-kissed centrepiece, is the best love song on the record; warm and hooky but tinted with uncertainty, it glows with the excitement of new romance.

6

Normani — Motivation

The star power Normani radiates in “Motivation” could power entire countries; while it’s not technically her debut, the new single from the former Fifth Harmony star feels like an arrival. So much of pop music right now hinges on being ‘minimal’, but “Motivation” is filled with bells and whistles and adornments, a welcome change of pace. But I suspect that even an acapella version of this track would fucking slap — Normani’s presence is magnetic enough.

7

HTRK — New Year's Eve

Venus In Leo, HTRK’s first album in five years, is experimental and unabashedly emotional, with a newfound emphasis on lyricism and vocals giving the record a poppier tint than previous works. “New Year’s Eve,” the album’s closing track, is a dazed, romantic daydream that finds vocalist Jonnine Standish reliving a youthful NYE experience over Nigel Yang’s delicate, refracting production. It feels like the kind of slow ballad you might dance to at a high school prom, innocent and clarifying in its outlook. It is, plainly, one of the most beautiful songs HTRK have ever made — simple, affecting, and undoubtedly worth the wait.

8

The 1975 — "People"

To be a political popstar nowadays generally requires embracing and amplifying identity traits. That’s a wonderful thing — it’s beautiful and thrilling that we have openly queer popstars and artists who amplify their heritage, and so on. But sometimes, I hanker for the kind of scandalising, controversial political pop that defined the 80s and 90s. Thankfully, though, The 1975 have decided that their new role in the landscape is to scream in our faces about how fucked we all are. And honestly, thank god for that.

9

Ariana Grande and Social House — "Boyfriend"

It is admirable and refreshing that Ariana Grande has begun collaborating with her co-writers, rather than keeping them shrouded away behind her as many pop stars do. Her latest track, “Boyfriend,” is a collaboration with Social House, who co-wrote much of thank u, next. And like most of thank u, next, this song fucking slaps.

10

Aya Gloomy — "vs Reality"

Japanese pop singer and producer Aya Gloomy has followed up last year’s excellent RIKU NO KOTO with KANJIRU, an EP even more focussed and distinctive than her last. The highlight is “vs Reality,” an industrial thrill ride that scans like the work of a roided-up Marie Davidson.

11

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Taylor Swift — "Cruel Summer"

“Cruel Summer” might be the most perfect pure pop song on Taylor Swift’s latest record; it’s four minutes of escapism, and the dramatic tension of the song is undercut by Swift’s unusually carefree lyrics. It may have been released a little too late to be a song of the summer contender, but there’s a good chance it could be song of the summer for many years to come.

12

Mura Masa and Clairo — "I Don't Think I Can Do This Again"

The downright nasty synth line that cuts through the middle of “I Don’t Think I Can Do This Again” makes this song worth multiple listens, but Clairo’s tender lyrics are what give it lasting impact.

13

Miley Cyrus — "Slide Away"

It’s easy to forget that, at her best, Miley Cyrus has one of the most emotive, arresting voices in pop music. “Slide Away” joins “Adore You” and “My Darlin’” as confrontingly wounded highlights of her catalogue.

14

Tove Lo and ALMA — "Bad As The Boys"

“Bad As The Boys” is the platonic ideal of a bisexual anthem — rather than being about ‘loving yourself’ or ‘loving everyone’ or ‘being free’ (common and boring themes of lesser bisexual anthems,) this is a track about how people of all genders can fuck you over. Relatable!

15

Nasty Cherry — "Live Forever"

Nasty Cherry’s third single is the best so far, a dead-eyed paean to hating everyone and everything except, well, partying. It’s a classic pop trope, but Nasty Cherry sell it exceptionally well.

16

Katy Perry — "Small Talk"

While the excellent “Never Really Over” didn’t spark the Katy Perry renaissance that I hoped it would, it seems like Perry is still committed to releasing great songs again. “Small Talk,” co-written with Charlie Puth, is as good as anything Perry released during her bulletproof Teenage Dream era.

17

HAIM — "Summer Girl"

HAIM’s best songs have always leaned right into the fact that the LA-based three-piece have a much better sense of rhythm and dynamics than pretty much any pop writers around. So for “Summer Girl” to eschew that military-grade timing for something breezier and much more abstract is a confusing prospect. Luckily, “Summer Girl” is a winner.

18

BROCKHAMPTON — "NO HALO"

BROCKHAMPTON’s Ginger is the rap boyband’s most stylistically interesting album yet. The Timbaland-adjacent production on “NO HALO” is a highlight, as is Deb Never’s slippery hook.

19

Taylor Swift — "The Man"

When mainstream pop stars write feminist anthems, they’re generally about self-acceptance (see: Meghan Trainor.) That’s probably because many commercially viable stars would (fairly) assume that expressing outright anger or distaste could alienate an audience. Not Taylor Swift, whose Lover track “The Man” is heated, pissed off, and fun as hell. Those dismissing the song as simplistic are probably missing the point. When was the last time you heard the most famous musician in the world sing something as gutsy as the line “If I was out flashing my dollars, I’d be a bitch, not a baller”?

20

Joy Postell — "Back And Forth"

This simmering R&B track is smartly understated, leaving room for Baltimore musician Joy Postell to talk her shit. When she sings “Fear’s my only rival,” you can’t help but believe her.

The 20 best pop songs right now