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The 100 best songs of 2020
From Phoebe Bridgers’s apocalyptic visions to Bad Bunny’s masterful chaos to Koffee’s uplifting riddims, these were the songs that defined 2020.
The 100 best songs of 2020 Hannah Lo Bello / The FADER

There’s a 42-minute difference between the longest and shortest songs on our year-end list. Even setting aside the anomaly of Phil Elverum’s album-length “Microphones in 2020,” you’re still left with a 14-minute difference between 15-year-old pop songwriter glaive’s “Astrid” and 79-year-old Bob Dylan’s “Murder Most Foul.” The tissue connecting our favorite songs this year was about as thin as that which held together our favorite albums. No mood, structure, or sound took precedence. Some days called for the summery escape of Popcaan’s “Chill,” some for the anthemic pop of Tinashe’s “Save Room For Us,” some for the bliss of Mary Lattimore’s “Til A Mermaid Drags You Under.”

The 100 songs here, then, work as a bizarre playlist. Some of them make better sense tucked into the middle of full-length projects but plenty are standalones that made an immediate impression. That dizziness is reflected in our structure: scroll down the list and the write-ups will get longer, starting with the hooks that got stuck in our heads and spreading out from there.

If you missed our favorite albums of 2020, dig into those now. We’ll be back next year, when, with luck, we can listen to this music together and share the songs we love face to face. — Alex Robert Ross, Editorial Director

Stream a playlist of all 100 songs on Spotify and Apple Music.

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100. SALEM, “Red River”

I would never speak for them, ‘cause I got more respect than that
These snakes get off the ground, wrap around they brother's neck for that.

99. Meet Me @ The Altar, “Garden”

"Spent your days
Glued to your telephone
And hoped that maybe you'd feel less alone."

98. Dijon, “alley-oop”

And I would ride for you, if it’s now or later
I’m your little bloodhound.

97. Eyedress, “Jealous”

You could have anyone you want. Why would you want to be with me?

96. Lomelda, “Hannah Sun”
The 100 best songs of 2020

Glad you held her, glad you held him
Glad you held me too, though I didn’t know how to be closer to you.

95. Loathe, “New Faces in the Dark”

“When faces change you call our names
Freeze second frame it starts again.”

94. Waxahatchee, “Fire”

“If I could love you unconditionally
I could iron out the edges of the darkest sky.”

93. The Strokes, “Bad Decisions”

“Oh, makin' bad decisions
Making bad decisions with you.”

92. Tora, “Vein”

“Didn't spend my youth in the comfort of my own home
Come up with excuse after excuse just to be alone.”

91. Jessy Lanza, “Over and Over”

"I'm hard to please, yeah
Give me what I want.
"

90. Charli XCX, “forever”

“Love suicide
You and I drove for miles.”

89. Whitmer Thomas, “Dumb In Love”

“Who is Wolf Blitzer and why is he old?
If there's global warming then why am I cold?”

88. Yves Tumor, “Gospel For A New Century”

This ain't by design, girl, take it softer
You know I'm out my mind, girl.

87. Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande, “Rain on Me”

“I’d rather be dry but at least I’m alive.”

86. Yung Lean, “Boylife in EU”
The 100 best songs of 2020 Zak Arogundad

Touch me, decompose me, heal me, don’t you want to see the real me?

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85. LA Priest, “What Moves”

What moves when you beat each other down?
What moves when you act the way you are?

84. Destroyer, “It Just Doesn’t Happen”

You're looking good in spite of the light
And the air and the time of the night.

83. Baby Smoove, “Losing My Mind Pt 2”

I know you feel sick, everywhere I'm the topic.

82. Mary Lattimore, “Til A Mermaid Drags You Under”

"[Sound of soul leaving human body]"

81. Madeline Kenny, “Sucker”

"Go on ahead without me.

80. Dutchavelli, “Only If You Knew”

I seen mum cry tears of joy that night
When I told her I don't sell white
(Feds asked me if I'm the man in question)
Of course I lied.

79. Special Interest, “Street Pulse Beat”

Your pleasure is not mine to hold.

78. J Hus, “Repeat (feat. Koffee)”

Money look pon mi, it seh ‘kumbayeh,’ but mi tell him deh pon my way.

77. Chloe x Halle, “Tipsy”

You're strumming on my heartstrings, don't be dumb
If you love your little life, then don't fuck up.
"

76. Mura Masa, “Deal Wiv It”
The 100 best songs of 2020 Darcy Haylor / Sacks & Co

“I woke up, I slept and woke up again (Deal with it)”

75. 100 gecs, “ringtone (remix) feat. Charli XCX, Rico Nasty, Kero Kero Bonito)

“When he calls me, I go crazy
Call me with my friends, it doesn't faze me.”

74. Megan Thee Stallion, “Captain Hook”

"Ay, bitch, I'm a problem nobody solvin'"

73. Planet 1999, “Party”

I wanna party with you!

72. Jessie Ware, “Spotlight”

A dream is just a dream, and I don't wanna sleep tonight…

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71. Mac Miller, “Blue World”

I was in the whip, ridin', me and my bitch
We was listenin' to us, no one else, that's it
That's a flex, just a bit, let me talk my shit.

70. Avalon Emerson, “Long-Forgotten Fairytale”

"You said, 'There's nothing to explain, in every life a little rain'
Et cetera"

69. 21 Savage & Metro Boomin, “Mr. Right Now (feat. Drake)”

Said she wanna fuck to some SZA, wait
'Cause I used to date SZA back in '08
If you cool with it, baby, she can still play.

68. Lady Gaga, “Babylon”

We are climbing up to Heaven, speak in languages in a BloodPop® moonlight.

67. Machel Montano, “Slow Wine (feat. Afro B)”

Gyal, I wonder where you get that formula.

66. Flo Milli, “Weak”
The 100 best songs of 2020 Shamaal Bloodman / RCA

Dennis be on my mind but that nigga don't like to listen
Maleek too fuckin' borin', he always up in his feelings.

65. Kelly Lee Owens, “Corner of My Sky (feat. John Cale)”

The rain, the rain, the rain. Thank God, the rain.

64. Axel Boman, “Eyes Of My Mind”

20/20 vision and walkin’ round time.

63. Kllo, “Still Here”

Do you notice I’m not going anywhere?

62. Victoria Monet, “Moment”

Fuck a fantasy, this your motherfuckin' moment.

61. Marie Davidson & L’Œil Nu, “Renegade Breakdown”

"By the way, there are no money-makers on this record
This time, I’m exploring the loser’s point of view."

60. Drug Store Romeos, “Frame Of Reference”

"I'm the best course, eat me last."

59. Jim-E Stack, “Note To Self (feat. Empress Of)”

"Sometimes we just have to fall down
Dim the lights and mute the sound."

58. Amaarae, “Fancy”

“Macarena to the money after show.”

57. Christine and the Queens, “People, I’ve been sad”

Prise au piège de quelque chose de fort.
Je n'ai décroché pour personne.

56. Kero Kero Bonito, “It’s Bugsnax!”
The 100 best songs of 2020 Tracey Ng / Grandstand

A tasty quest to fill the hole that many feel inside their souls.

55. Tame Impala, “Breathe Deeper”

“If you think I couldn't hold my own, believe me, I can
If it ain’t so awful and we’re all together, I can.”

54. Bad Bunny, “Yo Perro Sola”

“Te llama si te necesita
Pero por ahora está solita
Ella perrea sola.”

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53. Yendry, “Nena”

Te me libren de los malos ojos
Son las estrellas las que te aconsejan.

52. Lildeath, “moment”

Are you falling in love?
I have the feeling you are.

51. Caribou, “Never Come Back”

You and I were together, even though we both knew better.

50. King Von feat. Polo G, “The Code”

Before his tragic death this year in Atlanta, the Chicago-born rapper King Von was emerging as one of drill’s brightest stars. “The Code” is a showcase of the brutal street tales he spun, and features Polo G, another Chicago artist, whose route from drill to pop success Von would have likely followed. Over a beat led by an elegiac piano, both artists are in their element: “Rob who, take what? You tweakin,” Von spits at the top of the track like the thought itself is poison. Polo’s verse, pure and exquisite lyrical battery, hints at unending trauma (“He played it foul and we gave him a pass, that don't mean we won't get on your ass in the future.”) The song is difficult to sit with in the wake of Von’s violent death, but his passing doesn’t make “The Code” any less of an essential slice of life. — Jordan Darville, News Editor

49. 100 gecs, “hand crushed by a mallet (remix) (feat. Fall Out Boy, Craig Owens, and Nicole Dollanganger)”

Less can be more, sure. But sometimes, more is more. 100 gecs have been praised and excoriated for their pop maximalism, and their kitchen-sink approach to songwriting is already inspiring a new generation. The remix of “hand crushed by a mallet” doesn’t dial anything back: while the original took inspiration from Tiesto raves and debuted the distorted trap that would become central to hyperpop in 2020, the remix of “mallet” dismantles pop-punk and hardcore with the help of Fall Out Boy and Chiodos lead singer Craig Owens. It’s not relentless, though: Nicole Dollanganger coos on a quiet interlude that serves to underscore the blistering frenzy of the finale. So much of 100 gecs’ output leaves you confounded, and “mallet” remix is no exception. Only now, gecs have pushed that feeling to invigorating new highs. — JD

48. Oneohtrix Point Never, “No Nightmares (feat. The Weeknd)”

Daniel Lopatin’s latest Oneohtrix Point Never album Magic Oneohtrix Point Never was a tribute to FM radio, and what would such a project be in 2020 without an appearance from The Weeknd? Pop giant (and co-executive producer of Magic OPN) Abel Tesfaye doesn’t bring much of his chart-conquering sensibility to the track; his role in the duet with Lopatin’s signature vocal cybernetics is to bring a complementary, more immediately human sound to the mix, and he’s just one element in a song built from Art Of Noise-esque experimental balladry and the plush vaporwave synth magic Lopatin spearheaded. Sweet dreams truly are made of these. — JD

47. Midwife, “S.W.I.M.”

Written in the wake of the death of a close friend, Madeline Johnston’s sophomore album Forever filters her grief through heavenly metal gauze. She trudges through the heaviness on “S.W.I.M.,” despite unspeakable exhaustion. “You know I can’t swim forever,” she signals through layers of reverb, “I don’t want to fight the tide.” Still, there’s a glimmering sort of transcendence she achieves through the repetition. In the context of a year that felt ceaseless in its cruelty and darkness, “S.W.I.M.” is as resolute as a constellation in the night sky. — Salvatore Maicki, Contributing Writer

46. Chloe x Halle, “Forgive Me”
The 100 best songs of 2020 Robin Harper

When Gen Z isn’t mercilessly dragging millennials for filth on social media, they’re making the perfect music to grow up to. “Don’t ever ask for permission, ask for forgiveness,” Chloe Bailey says over the opening notes of “Forgive Me,” an impeccable mantra of newfound maturity if I’ve ever heard one. The sisterly duo’s harmonies flutter over the song’s dark, warbling production, firmly warning: “You must got me fucked up / I think I had enough.” — Sajae Elder, Contributing Writer

45. Anderson .Paak, “Lockdown”

All music is a time capsule, but 20 years from now, there may not be a better picture of 2020 than Anderson .Paak’s funky, visceral “Lockdown.” Songs about civil unrest and revolution are nothing new, but the buzzing of a society reckoning with calls for racial justice set against the background of a global pandemic —“Little tear gas cleared the whole place out/I’ll be back with the Hazmat for the next round” — is a detail .Paak won’t be letting anyone forget anytime soon. — SE

44. Doja Cat, “Say So”

Doja Cat enjoyed one of 2020’s biggest pop hits with a song seemingly lifted wholesale from a world of glistening mirrorballs and ‘70s platform shoes. Using funk guitars and a steamy rap to channel the innate romance and escapism of the dancefloor, Doja created a slinky ode to seizing romance in the moment. — David Renshaw, Contributing Writer

43. Tinashe, “Save Room For Us (Remix) (feat. MAKJ)”

The thing about desperation is that it nearly always pulsates with hope. It’s that persistent ‘What if?’ that pushes this remix of Tinashe’s 2019 collaboration with MAKJ into overdrive, the inner voice saying that the dreams weren’t just dreams. “These nights don’t get easier when I see you with her,” Tinashe cries out, and while that may be so, the name of the game is surviving the night, and the “Save Room For Us” remix is built for that. It’s the kind of dance floor anthem Tinashe was born to make, and frankly, the hit she deserves. — SM

42. food house, “thos moser”

You have to be at a pretty heightened level of dumbass brain-brokenness to really enjoy “thos moser,” so no hard feelings to anyone who heard the first 30 seconds, hit stop, and just kept scrolling. This song is the sound of synapses irreparably bludgeoned out of shape by years spent in the worst corners of Tumblr, Twitter, and Reddit. In-lyric references include Caroline Polachek, 3OH!3, the 100 gecs show at NYU where tiles fell off the roof, and pissing on Zedd. It’s one long, weird in-joke for Gupi and Fraxiom, the producer and vocalist who comprise food house. But in a year more psychotic and demented than most, there was comfort to be found in such aural shitposting. — Shaad D’Souza, Contributing Writer

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41. Spillage Village, “Baptize (feat. Ant Clemons)”

“Barack Obama lookin at me. Sup?” Was there a better flex in 2020? Johnny Venus, one member of the sprawling rap collective Spillage Village, opens “Baptize” by broadcasting from the stage he knows his group deserves. “Baby, I'm a king, I'm a god, a thug,” Venus raps. “My verses will live if I die from slugs.” But Venus, along with co-rappers Doctur Dot and J.I.D., are less beatific and more prophetic on the rest of the song, looking at the domain of God from angles alternately humorous, sincere, poetic, and direct. “Baptize” encourages an empathy both revolutionary and older than our most pervasive evils: “Everybody know Jesus hang with the hoes, killers and the criminals,” Dot spits. “Gon 'head, tilt your head back, hold your breath for the ritual.” Written in quarantine, “Baptize” urges the listener to find their inner light to put our mundane and tragic present into a hopeful and healing context. — JD

40. Erika de Casier, “No Butterflies, No Nothing”

Erika de Casier understands how to interlace real emotional stakes into her pillowy-soft R&B. It’s an innate sensibility that shaped her effortlessly cool 2019 debut Essentials into something addictive and effective. So what happens when the feelings run dry? It’s a barren emotional landscape she surveys on “No Butterflies, No Nothing,” her debut single on 4AD. “Won’t make the same mistake again, try to force myself but I can’t pretend,” she resolves, peering over a bassline that plunges into cavernous depths. Even when she feels nothing at all, you feel it in your gut. — SM

39. Phoebe Bridgers, “I Know The End”

It takes a certain audacity to declare the end of the world, but Phoebe Bridgers has well and truly proven that she’s got it. “I Know The End” is a sinkhole into which all the all-consuming dread of her sophomore album Punisher funnels into, leaving an uncharacteristic cavalcade of shrieking trumpets in its wake. Even more compelling than The End itself, though, is Bridgers’ insistence upon chasing it, on locking her eyes on the storm and driving headfirst as “some America first rap-country song” blares on the radio. Somewhere just past the point of no return and with doom on the horizon, there’s genuine deliverance. — SM

38. Liv.e, “SirLadyMakemFall”

Experimental R&B artist Liv.e’s debut album Couldn’t Wait To Tell You is filled with dreamy sketches that flit between musical worlds. “SirLadyMakemFall'' uses a Madlib-type beat, one that feels like it’s been spinning for a lifetime, to rhapsodize about making money and new love. Every play pulls you further into a groove that feels restorative. — DR

37. Chromatics, “Famous Monsters”

Like many people, I dream of a more glamorous life, one in which I wear exotic fabrics and take town cars to gleaming, neon-lit restaurants and drink cocktails all night with my shiny-haired friends and then pick up the tab without having to transfer money first. That life will, most likely, be a dream forever, but at least I still have “Famous Monsters.” Chromatics’ best song in years, this is chic fantasy music, a glassy, 2 a.m. disco track over which Ruth Radelet, in her sleek deadpan, invokes the trappings of L.A. noir: “Full Moon... Palm Tree... Cigarette... Marble Mansion... Private Party... We Love Dancing... And Violence… Silhouette... Cigarette….” It’s the kind of transportative mood music Johnny Jewel’s band first became famous for: ludicrous, camp, and completely thrilling. — SD

36. Kacey Johansing, “I Try”
The 100 best songs of 2020 Group Effort

No want itches and niggles quite like the desire to be free from desire entirely; to want and need is a curse. On “I Try,” the rich, sun-kissed highlight of her fourth record No Better Time, Los Angeles-based musician Kacey Johansing grapples with that ultimate, deep-seated yearning. A spiritual sibling to Joanna Newsom’s “Good Intentions Paving Company” — another driving, Laurel Canyon folk song that grappled with all-consuming desire nearly exactly a decade ago — “I Try” rarely breaks a sweat, despite the existential worries of its lyrics. Instead, it luxuriates in the little things: a steady beat, a perfect harmony, some shaker, a smile-inducing lick. As the song crests, Johansing finally breaks: “What does it feel like when you’ve found true love? Will I know before I lose it all?” “I Try” doesn’t have the answer, but that’s no problem when the searching feels this good. — SD

35. Bad Bunny, “Safaera (feat. Jowell & Randy and Ñengo Flow)"

Bad Bunny’s “Safaera” is an exhausting song, five minutes of relentless beat changes and callbacks, a series of stitched-together skits that seem counterintuitively to pick up power as they hurry to their conclusions. Halfway through the track, immediately after the beat from Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On” has been scratched out, producers Tainy and DJ Orma drop in the Jaws theme, lifted itself from Alexis Y Fido’s gargantuan 2005 single “El Tiburón.” It’s reverential and more than a little rooted in nostalgia, but it’s cocky as well — they’re powersliding at full-speed. Bad Bunny shares the mic with Jowell & Randy and Ñengo Flow, voices appearing without warning, all adding to a sense of glorious chaos that only sounds satisfying because experts are really in control. — ARR

34. Soccer Mommy, “Circle The Drain”

“Circle The Drain” vividly depicts the feeling of presenting as calm when all around you is crumbling. Over grungy guitars Sophie Allison sings about depressive episodes in front of the TV that leave her feeling like “there’s a mold in my brain,” offsetting her own downward spiral with disarmingly bright harmonies. — DR

33. Romy, “Lifetime”

While The xx have used pop hooks and dancefloor textures in their music more often than their gloomy reputation might suggest, never have they embraced the sense of joy found in “Lifetime.” Lead singer Romy Madley-Croft takes her first steps in technicolor and the brightness suits her. “Lifetime” is an effervescent disco bop custom-built for euphoric dancefloor exultations. — DR

32. Tion Wayne, “I Dunno (feat. Stormzy and Dutchavelli)”

“I Dunno” catches three U.K. rappers and distinctly different points in their career: Stormzy is the superstar, Tion Wayne is a certified hitmaker, and Dutchavelli the hotly-tipped newcomer. Each of them has something on the line here and “I Dunno” bristles with a sense of one-upmanship that results in a track perfect for blasting out from behind tinted windows or your laptop. — DR

31. Bartees Strange, “Mustang”

“Is anybody really up for this one? If I don’t hold nothing back?” Bartees Strange asks rhetorically as he sprints headfirst into the blockbuster chorus of “Mustang.” It’s a calling card for Strange’s cathartic brand of indie rock and an anthem for anyone who has decided to embrace any element of life with all the energy they can muster. Strange has made the choice to forge forward in life. “Mustang” urges you to do the same.

30. Porter Robinson, “Mirror”

As an EDM artist, Porter Robinson was heralded for his ability to generate sweeping, Miyazaki-level emotion in a genre primarily concerned with the next big drop. That skill remained as Robinson re-emerged this year as an electronic singer-songwriter in one of the great musical transformations of 2020. On “Mirror,” textures as glistening and jagged as crystal merge with Robinson’s ethereal vocal processings to make a musical panacea for all kinds of relationship toxicity, whether with yourself, or someone else. — JD

29. Pa Salieu and Backroad Gee, “My Family”

Pa Salieu and Backroad Gee show that blood is thicker than water on this unforgivingly tough road anthem. Neither MC holds back, spurring one another one with every thorny line as sirens blare and 808s blow up around them. Unfiltered menace. — DR

28. Off The Meds, “Karlaplan”

Somewhere between the propulsive churn of Kraftwerk, the glowing balearic pop of Sincerely Yours, and the rambling of a tedious yet infuriatingly cool musical svengali lies “Karlaplan.” It doesn’t make sense on paper, and that’s one of the great joys of the song; its elements are inseparable, pinks and purples of a sunrise melting into one beam that illuminates the last stragglers of an all-night beachfront rave. That promise of a transportative experience is written all over “Karlaplan,” a hypnotic strain of almost-ambient club music. — JD

27. India Jordan, “For You”

British producer India Jordan uses a sample of Change’s 1984 R&B song “You Are My Melody” to write a love letter to the clubs where we seize the moment and redefine ourselves in the dark. Written and released pre-pandemic, Jordan unknowingly landed on a track that would help directionless ravers through a tough time. It’ll be a dancefloor favorite once the doors reopen. — DR

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26. The Weeknd, “Blinding Lights”
The 100 best songs of 2020 Pari Dukovic / Rogers & Cowan

As if the summer of 2020 wasn’t anxiety-inducing enough in New York City, there were also mysterious fireworks. Like, everywhere. Always. Whether or not Abel Tesfaye had any prior intel on this maddening phenomenon, the carnivalesque pyrotechnics of his VMAs performance — in which he towered above the half-empty skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan — felt like a hard-earned punctuation mark on the strangest summer in recent memory, an assurance that good things can still prevail. By that point, “Blinding Lights” was already bombastic enough to get most American families off their asses in the throes of lockdown to learn the TikTok choreography, omnipresent enough to hear it in your bodega or on your Uber driver’s radio at any given moment. But watching Tesfaye lord over the city bloody nose and battalion synths in tow consecrated the song into something impossibly bigger — and proved that champions don’t need Grammys. — SM

25. Eartheater, “Below The Clavicle”

Alexandra Drewchin spends much of her fourth album as Eartheater, Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin, digging deep into the subterranean, fiending for primal satisfaction. But not all can be easily excavated: “Below The Clavicle” fixates on what’s bubbling beneath the surface, an uncomfortable truth that isn’t ready to reveal itself yet. “Let’s just get physical, I don’t wanna talk,” she shrugs as a spindly orchestra whisks around her, threatening to hack up her lyrics at one point. What is she avoiding? What are any of us avoiding? Unearthing true reckoning is exhausting work, and there’s redemption in knowing that, like a diamond in bedrock, finding it can’t be easy. — SM

24. Charli XCX, “anthems”

Everyone wanted to be productive during quarantine. In reality, most peoples’ lockdowns probably went exactly how Charli XCX says hers did on “anthems”: eat some cereal, go for a half-hearted walk, binge-watch TV, go online shopping. In a year when pandemic content resoundingly failed to meet the moment (“Imagine” video, anyone?) “anthems” felt like a salve. It’s hard to overstate just how good it felt across the course of the year to hear someone else scream about how bored they were, how much they not only wanted to see their friends, but feel them too. This kind of clattering, industrial pop is often described as inhuman, but few songs this year felt more immediate and hot-blooded than “anthems.” “Finally,” Charli howls at the end of the song’s chorus, “when it’s over, we might be even closer.” We’ll have a new anthem, too. — SD

23. Mustafa, “Stay Alive”

If we learned anything over the past few months, it’s that our very existence can be revolutionary. The grip of violence and loss can sometimes feel stifling and inevitable, but on “Stay Alive,” Mustafa uses his raspy falsetto to shield those he loves. “I’ll be your empire / Just stay alive,” he sings tenderly over acoustic guitar, speaking a new paradigm into reality in the process. — SE

22. Grimes, “Delete Forever”

Grimes eloquently speaks to the pain of losing loved ones to drugs on a song haunted by loss. Unusually clean for an artist who tends to favor harshness over minimalism, Grimes turns to jangly acoustic guitars and emo melodies for her foray into some of her most painful memories. Casting aside any temptation to offer moral grandstanding or solipsism, “Delete Forever” is a personal story which also acts as a nuanced dedication to a generation scarred by addiction. — DR

21. Róisín Murphy, “Murphy’s Law — Extended Edit”

The lead single from Róisín Murphy’s Róisín Machine adds an invisible addendum to an old adage: Whatever can go wrong will go wrong, but who gives a fuck? This is arrogant, glamorous disco with a death drive, the soundtrack to any number of future drunk dials and ill-fated DM slides. In the hands of someone else, the song’s narrative — that of a woman who feels she’s done with her small-town romance, only to slip back into old habits — could be depressing. But for Murphy, a woman for whom “If it all goes up in flames, I will only have myself to blame” constitutes an empowering hook, mess is part of the fun. If you look good and, more importantly, feel good, a little backsliding is no problem. Make your own happy ending. — SD

20. Popcaan, “Chill”

On “Chill” Popcaan paints a picture of where most of us would have rather been this past summer: worry-free on a Jamaican beach. FIXTAPE’s opening track is fun and airy, its xylophone clinks offering up the perfect backdrop for the dancehall star to find a groove, foreground his laidback delivery, and unleash one of the album’s catchiest hooks. “Nah do no work / Nuh inna work mood today,” he intones. Same. — SE

19. Mac Miller, “Circles”

“Circles,” taken from the posthumous album of the same name, finds Mac Miller in an contemplative mood as he analyzes self-destructive behavioral patterns over pillow-soft guitars and percussion. It’s bittersweet to hear someone we lost so young be so self-aware, but Miller’s inherent humanity shines through — as does his desire to grow artistically. — DR

18. Tems, “Damages”

Putting an overdue end to a shitty relationship is tricky, but Nigerian singer Tems puts her best foot down over bouncy Afropop production on “Damages.” With her pattering delivery, she self-assuredly reminds her ex what he’ll be missing out on (“Can you be wise / cos I’m a prize bebe,”) before taking on the track’s soaring hook — perfect for singing along at the top of your lungs when you’re over it, too. — SE

17. Dogleg, “Kawasaki Backflip”

Much of what you need to know about Michigan punks Dogleg can be found in the video for “Kawasaki Backflip,” which is set in a garage and mostly features the band smashing shit up with baseball bats. Watch it on mute and you’ll probably still get some sense of guitarist and lead singer Alex Stoitsiadis’s voice, the way he bears his teeth as he hunches into his lyrics suggesting that there’s something purgative about his delivery. With the sound all the way up, though, you’ll understand why Dogleg were one of the year’s most captivating rock bands. They hurry through riffs and fills in a way that belies the doubts that Stoitsiadis so clearly carries in his lyrics. “We can destroy this together / But you don't talk to me!” he screams before the chorus kicks. Fifteen seconds later, he can be seen beating a skateboard into splinters with a mallet, quite happy to destroy things on his own. — ARR

16. Winston C.W., “Good Guess”

Every immaculately rendered image on Winston Cook-Wilson’s “Good Guess” — "They're building that building with that tiny crane / From phony stone and plastic panes” — leads to a hopeless misapprehension: “Good guess, lover, try again.” The Brooklyn-based songwriter has always been reverential of the past, but, as he realizes that he’s stuck with nothing but photos and memories and regrets, that reverence melts away, his piano chords decomposing and breaking apart, leaving upright bassist Carmen Rothwell and electric guitarist Ryan Beckley to solo and improvise in their wake. With this pared down band, Cook-Wilson is confident enough to take real risks with his structure and delivery. On “Good Guess,” those risks pay off to heartbreaking effect. — ARR

15. Taylor Swift, “dorothea”

Although her surprise summer record folklore might have put the skill front-and-centre, rich, realist storytelling has been a significant part of Taylor Swift’s oeuvre since her earliest records. “dorothea,” the classic-in-waiting at the centre of Swift’s ninth album evermore, like Red’s “The Lucky One,” takes the form of a letter written to a young star. The Dorothea of the song’s title is “a queen sellin' dreams, sellin' makeup and magazines” who, years before, was beguiling the song’s unnamed narrator with those same charms. Over a bed of amiable piano and acoustic guitar that owes more than a little to The Replacements’ “Androgynous,” the song’s narrator can’t help but wonder if Dorothea was better off before she hit it big. “The stars in your eyes shined brighter in Tupelo / And if you're ever tired of bеing known for who you know / You know you'll always know me, Dorothea,” Swift sings, the lilting, run-on melody undoubtedly evermore’s most beautiful. Where the narrator of “The Lucky One” spoke with wisdom, the person addressing “dorothea” can’t help but come off as foolhardy — Tupelo “is the same as it ever was,” and Dorothea is satisfied, grown-up, in the big city. It’s a satisfying twist on a theme that Swift has been drawn to her whole career and, although far from autobiographical, is a neat vision of where she is now: empathetic, comfortable in her fame, and, as a storyteller, more vivid and generous than ever. — SD

14. osquinn, “OK I’m Cool (feat. Blackwinterwells)”

On the pop charts, teenage angst is often represented by rap that’s overmedicated, overproduced, or both. osquinn’s “OK I’m Cool” takes a more homespun approach — a cloudy, filtered beat, vocals that seem transmitted from the loneliest corner of a party — to create an anxiety dream with a white-knuckled pace. “I got eyes on the back of my head, I can see shit, I know when to dodge, when you stab me in the back, bitch” she raps on the chorus of a song that spans paranoia and self-loathing. osquinn’s chief pursuit, however, is the desperate pursuit of an even keel: “I hate when I'm not textin' you, I hate when you're not textin' me,” she raps, “Feel like there's a barricade because I can't say anything.” The whole song thrums with the deep pain of getting a one-word response to a paragraph-long message. — JD

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13. The Microphones, “Microphones In 2020”

“I remember my life as if it's just some dreams that I don't trust.” Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, is the unreliable narrator of his own musical journey on “Microphones in 2020,” a 44-minute epic poem revisiting the Microphones alias that made him a star of independent music. The moniker is just a device to probe the deeper creation of ‘Phil Elverum,’ specifically the key music and events of his life: a lonely viewing of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, seeing Stereolab and Bonny “Prince” Billy perform live, living in a “punk house” and recording songs after doing the dishes. Was he 23? 17? He can’t remember. Elverum’s vivid, flawed remembrances are especially poignant in a song that directly rejects the trappings of nostalgia. Instead, Elverum surrenders himself to currents, to the fact that some things are totally out of his control. “I will never stop singing this song,” he coos, “it goes on forever.” — JD

12. Perfume Genius, “Jason”

The story of a straight man hooking up with a gay man is usually told with pity, revulsion, or a smirk. Not so in Perfume Genius’ version: “Jason,” the highlight of Mike Hadreas’s fifth record Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, is a sweet and strange vignette that’s equally revealing of, and empathetic towards, each party involved, channelling both the titular character’s anxiety and the narrator’s mixture of pride and curiosity without condescending or moralising. Rich with detail both in its lyrics (“We were 23, Breeders on CD,” goes one line, perhaps my favorite of the year) and its instrumentation (harpsichord by Hadreas’ husband and bandmate Alan Wyffels gives this the redolence of a folktale) “Jason” draws rich narrative from the kind of moment that’s usually treated as footnote. — SD

11. Bullion, “We Had A Good Time”

Any conversation on the great 2-for-2s of 2020 would be remiss to leave out Lisbon-via-West London producer Nathan Jenkins, who delivered ample end-of-the-world yacht pop across a pair of fantastic EPs, We Had A Good Time and Heaven Is Over. The title track of the former is cinematic to the degree that it feels destined for an end credits sequence, minus any of the schlock associated with that. It swells with gratitude — even if Jenkins wasn’t singing on the track, his production would be enough to convince anyone that it really is better to have loved and lost, like the proverb always told us. But more than just a post-breakup balm, “We Had A Good Time” went down like a daiquiri in the typhoon of bad news that was this year. There were once good times, and good times will be had once again. — SM

10. Koffee, “Pressure (feat. Buju Banton)”

If Koffee does one thing particularly well, it’s capturing moments of gratitude even in our darkest days. “Pressure” sees the wise-beyond-her-years Jamaican star leaning into the basslines of traditional reggae to combat the chaos of the world around her with a healthy dose of hope. “Mi ah send up a prayer fi betta living /I cya bawl so a betta mi sing.” And sing she does. Elevated in remix form through the addition of new vocals from reggae legend Buju Banton, “Pressure” feels powerful enough to inspire a redemption story in each of us. — SE

9. RMR, “Rascal”

The fact that there were few better years than 2020 for a song featuring the hook “Fuck the boys in blue” aside, RMR’s “Rascal” was the viral hit the internet didn’t know it needed. From its tender piano interpolation of "Bless The Broken Road" by Rascal Flatts to the emotional delivery of the song’s mysterious star, “Rascal” has all the hallmarks of a timeless classic, albeit one featuring lyrics about life in the trap, scammers, and finding a plug.

The song’s visuals — full of ski masks, bulletproof vests, and lots of weapons — only add to its non-sequitur charms. “Rascal”’s confounding juxtaposition took over Twitter in no time back in February, much more for its surprising sincerity than its satire. RMR doesn’t necessarily fit the usual stereotype of a mysterious cowboy riding in to save the day but, then again, who needs a horse when you have a Wraith? — SE

8. Skullcrusher, “Places/Plans”

Helen Ballentine wrote “Places/Plans” shortly after quitting a cool-sounding but ultimately unsatisfying job at an art gallery in Los Angeles. She was spending time at home, wondering about her future, afraid that she’d be worth less in the eyes of her peers if she didn’t have a career in the arts to pin herself to. “Do you think that I’m going places?” she asks here, doubt creeping into her delivery. “Does it matter if I'm a really good friend? / That I'm there when you call and when your shows end?” By the time Ballantine released her self-titled debut EP with this as the opening track, with the world on pause and human connections all but cut off, those questions obviously resonated more deeply. But it’s not just uncanny timing that sets “Places/Plans” apart. As delicate as a spider’s web and just as carefully constructed, it introduces Ballantine as a deeply thoughtful singer-songwriter. — ARR

7. Bob Dylan, “Murder Most Foul”

It’s not clear exactly when in the last decade Bob Dylan wrote or recorded “Murder Most Foul,” the long, free-associative ballad he released by surprise in late March. In fact, across these 16 minutes, as Fiona Apple’s piano yawns and Dylan growls through American history from the Kennedy assassination on, very little makes easy sense: the detours through the Great American Songbook, the Shakespeare allusions ‘round every corner, the constant flashbacks to Dealey Plaza. So take it as an allegory or a text to be decoded if you have nothing better to do — you won’t be alone. But it’s more rewarding to hear this for what it is: a playful song rooted in disaster, one of late-era Dylan’s most beautiful and confounding pieces. — ARR

6. Glaive, “Astrid”

This was the first song that many people heard from Ash Gutierrez, the 15-year-old small-town North Carolinian better known as glaive, and it serves as a perfect introduction to the work he uploads to SoundCloud between Zoom classes and gaming sessions. “Astrid” burns like a sparkler, its twinkly guitar riff hurrying into a thudding, minimal chorus, looping back around, and abruptly fizzing out. The whole thing lasts 100 seconds. It also has one of the best opening lines of any song this year, though it’s easy enough to miss between Gutierrez’s slurred delivery and the sudden burst of energy from the programmed drums: “Yeah, you look so pretty in that dress, but I'd look better.” — ARR

5. Bladee and Ecco2k, “Girls just want to have fun”

If Spotify advertising Bladee’s three-album run this year means anything, it’s that Drain Gang vaulted wildly close to pop’s upper echelon in 2020. In an alternate timeline where touring was feasible this year, and Ecco2k had been able to open for Yves Tumor as some righteous deity originally intended, they honestly might have gotten there. It sure feels like they’ve already arrived on “Girls just want to have fun,” a euphoric collaboration between the Swedish comrades and trusted producer Whitearmor. It’s a heart-pounding mad dash toward everlasting bloom, and whether that is or isn’t out of reach is irrelevant. Their desire is ephemeral though, and as soon as they really get going, they’re already switching gears: “Let me go, you can’t hold onto ghosts / Fold in on myself, I fold so so close,” Ecco cries, piercing the clouds with his falsetto. By the time you’ve latched onto what they’re throwing down, they’re already kilometers ahead. It’s untouchable brilliance. — SM

4. U.S. Girls, “4 American Dollars”

Since the release of her debut album Introducing over a decade ago, U.S. Girls’ Meg Remy has proven herself a shrewd and ruthless critic of late capitalism, one with the ability to concisely take to task not just the symptoms of a sick society, but the cause, too. “4 American Dollars,” the funky, irresistible opening track of her seventh (and best) album Heavy Light,, perfects that form, scrutinizing the rotting wreckage of American society circa 2020 with wit and economy.

Listen to “4 American Dollars” on repeat, and you’re likely to hear a new line of commentary in Remy’s vocals, now more reminiscent of Kylie Minogue than they’ve ever been, each time. Across the song’s blistering six minutes, Remy interpolates Martin Luther King, Jr. (“You’ve gotta have boots if you wanna lift those bootstraps”) and skewers the myth of the American Dream, invokes the dollars taken liberally from workers, and alludes to the increasing indie label/major label royalty gap created by the streaming economy. (Nobody comes out of “4 American Dollars” unscathed — the track’s wry hook of “You can do a lot with 4 American dollars!” obliquely tipping the hat to its label, 4AD.) The lyrics are universal for a reason: these injustices, and thousands more, are intertwined, and can only be stopped at the root. In Remy’s world, there’s only one universal experience: “No matter how much you get to have / You will still die, and that’s the only thing.”

The song’s rich but hyper-familiar palette — a compelling melange of cocaine funk, girl-group harmonies, and the aforementioned Kylie vocals, set to a disco beat — serves, like much of Remy’s music, as sublime metaphor for a cultural climate with no ‘new’ left to mine, historical pop signifiers ricocheting off each other without context or grounding. If that sounds a little heady, don’t worry — “4 American Dollars” might be a perfect portrait of a rotten system but, with its undeniable beat and unforgettable hook, it’s a perfect escape from it, too. — SD

3. Megan The Stallion feat Beyoncé, “Savage”

There are very few coups left in music, but a Beyoncé feature is definitely one of them. So it was a flex when Megan Thee Stallion revealed a remix of her already viral "Savage" with a fellow Houston icon on board. "Savage'' gives Bey the opportunity to reaffirm what we already knew — that she is one of the better major league rappers out there. She goes bar for bar with Megan, firing off lines about OnlyFans and unforgiving jeans with a bespoke wit and confidence. Meg's original verse, meanwhile, remains a masterclass in self-preservation and braggadocio. In a year when feeling cognizant of which day of the week it was — never mind being "classy," "bougie," or "ratchet" — "Savage" was a break-in-case-of-emergency pick-me-up from two artists whose connection feels completely natural. — DR

2. Thundercat, “Dragonball Durag”

“Dragonball Durag” didn’t inspire some great revelation in me about the previous year. It is not remotely representative of 2020’s tumult and devastation. It is a silly song about an unapologetic nerd trying to get laid. Other songs on Thundercat’s fantastic It Is What It Is reveal less-goofy contours of the funk-fusion musician’s heart, from grief to love to whatever lies beyond the mortal coil. But “Dragonball Durag” is honest, too, in its sheer goofiness: Thundercat repeatedly asks the object of his affection “How do I look in my durag?” in between flexing (“Do you like my new whip? Watch me go zoom zoom” is a highlight) and admitting “I may be covered in cat hair, but I still smell good.” Thundercat delivers these lines like he was recording them naked on a bearskin rug, his bouncing bassline giving off the warmth of a roaring hearth. More than once this year, I felt like I was losing myself, but “Dragonball Durag” was always there to remind me of the power in embracing every facet of our individuality. — JD

1. HAIM, “The Steps”

Seven years ago, HAIM wrote the perfect commitment-phobic love song. “The Wire,” Danielle, Este, and Alana’s first great single, was a sweeping epic about freaking out at the final moment, letting something slip by because you can’t handle the pressure. Animated by a glam-rock stomp and squeaky-clean radio-rock licks, it cleanly distilled HAIM’s vision, a stadium-ready rock song about the strange, murky in-betweens of romance, not the highs or lows. The song’s tumbling hook was an alarmingly casual kiss-off: “Well, I know, I know, I know, I know, that you’re gonna be okay anyway.”

On “The Steps,” the anthemic centrepiece of the band’s third album Women In Music Pt. III, HAIM are back in the same position they were in on “The Wire,” contemplating what might be the final moments of a relationship. This time, though, a lack of commitment isn’t the problem. “The Steps” is Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson’s punch-the-wall fight from Marriage Story, Albert Brooks and Julie Hagerty having it out at the Hoover Dam in Lost In America, the kind of knock-down drag-out that only happens when there’s too much love in the room. Achieving independence is the holy grail of breakup songs, the ultimate goal, but Danielle wields her own potential aloneness like a threat here, a false alarm to jolt some life into a despondent partner: “Every day I wake up and I make money for myself / And though we share a bed, you know that I don't need your help / Do you understand?”

Frustrated though she sounds, “The Steps” transcends the emotional muck of 7am screaming matches and thinly-veiled threats. There’s a fine grit to the production of this song, the meat-and-potatoes rock of “The Wire” stripped raw, its imperfections and nicks plain to see. Danielle, Este and Alana are singing higher than usual here, which gives their vocals an urgent, pleading, addictive quality. (It reminds me of Japandroids’ “The House That Heaven Built,” another ludicrously propulsive rock song with a melody nearly out of its singer’s reach.) That cathartic, clenched-fist rage sets “The Steps” apart as the ultimate anti-anthem: a rallying cry for anyone who has ever screamed for understanding and received nothing in return. — SD

The 100 best songs of 2020