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Top 25 Songs of 2020 (So Far)

on June 23, 2020, 10:00am
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As our Mid-Year Report continues, today we reveal the Top 25 Songs of 2020 (So Far). If you missed it, here are our Top 25 Albums So Far.

I once argued that albums get us through rough patches, and songs help us through difficult days or moments. I’m not sure if all of that’s true or not. In fact, if 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that I know far less about the world than I ever imagined. It’s hard to look towards the future with confidence right now. As I write this introduction, COVID-19 cases are once again on the rise in most states, and police departments are giving us new reasons every day to keep taking to the streets in the movement for justice and reform. And that fella in the White House seems content to watch it all burn and reign as king of the rubble and ashes. In fact, he’s stoking the flames with any hateful fuel he can find.

Given all of this, I need to believe that songs are helping us through. That we’re still seeking out music old and new to remind us that joy, comfort, and understanding exist there, even when it seems absent in the world around us. That we’re tuning in to live music online or clutching our tickets to a concert that’s been postponed until next year because we know that music brings people together and that there’s a powerful bond in that union. That artists are continuing to create the songs that make us cry in our bedrooms, dance involuntarily (even without a dance floor), and march in the streets for a better tomorrow.

I hope there have been songs you’ve clutched and held close to you during the past few months. I hope they’ve made you remember or forget or feel whatever it is you needed to make it through that day and all that you’re facing: the pain of injustice, the loss of a loved one, or even just the despair of looking out the window and not knowing what tomorrow will bring or when it will come. Most of all I hope that there have been songs that have given you hope.

Here are 25 songs that have done that for us so far in 2020.

Thank god.

–Matt Melis
Editorial Director


25. John Prine – “I Remember Everything”

Sounds Like: A wise grandfather figure sitting you down and telling you the secret to life

Key Lyric: “And I remember every night/ Your ocean eyes of blue/ How I miss you in the morning light/ Like roses miss the dew”

Why It Matters: We extol the virtues of music all the time as music writers, citing how it unifies people, consoles those in pain, and somehow understands us when the rest of the world doesn’t seem to. John Prine’s final song might do all three. Sung from the vantage point of a weary traveler looking back, Prine doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that there will be loss and mistakes and pain down the line. However, he also reminds us that there will be comfort, often in memories of things as simple as a shady tree or a warm smile, when looking back at the entire journey. It’s a wise message and a fitting final word on a remarkable life. –Matt Melis

Song in a GIF:

Roses Breeze

 


24. Polo G – “I Know”

Sounds Like: Like a diary entry pouring out from its pages

Key Lyric: “I know life is a bitch and she don’t fight fair/ How the fuck I wake up from a dream to a nightmare?”

Why It Matters: Chicago rapper Polo G admits that he even surprised himself with how honest and vulnerable he gets on deep cut “I Know”. The smooth-flowing track finds Polo exposing his wounds — lost friends, sexual abuse, and a violent past — and how they’ve affected his ability to relate to others, be in a relationship, or even just find peace of mind. Luckily, music has always been there for him, even when others weren’t, and it’s that outlet that allows him to pour his pain into something positive. While rap has made significant strides over the years, a song as candid as “I Know” comes clean and makes the case that mental illness and trauma should be topics that are fair game in hip-hop. –Matt Melis 

Song in a GIF:

Polo G Gif


23. U.S. Girls – “4 American Dollars”

Sounds Like: The glint of light off golden dollars in a ’70s hustler movie

Key Lyric: “You gotta have boots/ If you wanna lift those bootstraps”

Why It Matters: We can always count on Meg Remy to slice up our societal shortcomings with the sharpened edge of her silver tongue. On “4 American Dollars”, her witty dismantling of wealth inequality is draped in a shimmering disco groove that is perhaps U.S. Girls’ most inescapable effort to date. The track’s glitz and glamour put a spell on the listener, just as the quest for the almighty dollar blinds a capitalistic culture from the ingrained inequity of the very system that drives its value. It’s a protest song that wholly reflects its subject, making it far more complex than it is catchy — and it’s damn catchy. –Ben Kaye

Song in a GIF:

Puppets Money

 


22. 070 Shake – “Guilty Conscience”

Sounds Like: Trying to turn off your mind when it’s racing a million thoughts per second

Key Lyric: “Why you so close, but you feel so far?/ You look like the moon in the mornin’/ Jaded, faded, almost gone”

Why It Matters: Cheatin’ songs are as old as the craft of songwriting itself, but rarely do we find both parties hiding illicit trysts from one another. More interesting, though, is that, like Polo G above, 070 Shake takes an old idea — infidelity — and goes someplace new with it. Sung from the perspective of a young man, Shake explores the fragility of masculinity and how, beneath a rough exterior, men have to wrestle with their emotions, including guilt and hurt, just as much as anyone. That turmoil feels all the more tangible as Shake shifts between flexing her voice (rising on choruses and grooving old-school between) and rap-singing, like a tortured mind trying to free itself from agonizing over every detail of a betrayal. –Matt Melis

Song in a GIF:

070 Shake Gif


21. Soccer Mommy – “Circle the Drain”

Sounds Like: The opening song to a ‘90s high school rom-com

Key Lyric: “I’m trying to seem strong for my love/ For my family and friends/ But I’m so tired of faking/ ‘Cause I’m chained to my bed when they’re gone/ Watching TV alone/ ‘Til my body starts aching”

Why It Matters: Soccer Mommy (aka Sophie Allison) sings candidly in “circle the drain” about depression, what it’s like to struggle when nothing seems wrong. Musically, the track does a great job of what it feels like to be depressed, laying listlessly, wanting to be fine but not being able to find that peace. The “circle the drain” analogy has been used in songs before, but Soccer Mommy makes it literal here, with bubbles draining down a sink at the end of the track. –Annie Black

Song in a GIF:

Soccer Mommy


20. Little Simz – “might bang, might not”

Sounds Like: A rapid-fire typhoon of a dating profile that tells 99.9% of us not to bother

Key Lyric: “Fuck that, I crashed the party/ Fuck that, I am the party/ Don’t get me started/ I am a one-woman army”

Why It Matters: Little Simz knows it’s hard to get respect in the rap game, especially for women. Now, after 10 years of breaking down doors, she finds herself on the inside looking out. While relishing the fact that she made it through her own blood, sweat, and tears, she acknowledges that having something to lose and a burning desire to stay on top can make it really difficult to take part in normal, everyday things like relationships. One day things might change, but for now, it’s career first, and if she does let someone into her life, they best not fuck it up and waste her precious time. –Matt Melis

Song in a GIF:

TLC No Scrubs GIF


19. Gorillaz – “Aries” (ft. Peter Hook and Georgia)

Sounds Like: The beach between Joy Division and New Order

Key Lyric: “I can’t play a happy tune on my own, so stay by my side”

Why It Matters: Sometimes pop culture is just fated to work. Case in point: “Aries”. The song dropped weeks into a worldwide quarantine, a time when reality began to truly set in for everyone — that the things we love, the things we cherish, and the things we take for granted will be at our fingertips (or, rather, six feet away) until further noticed. So, hearing Gorllaz’s Damon Albarn hum, “‘Cause I feel so isolated without you,” hit harder than it would have any other time. But, we can connect through song, and Albarn does exactly that on “Aries” as he reunites with his UK brethren. Peter Hook, it’s been a while. –Michael Roffman

Song in a GIF:

t2 Top 25 Songs of 2020 (So Far)


18. Waxahatchee – “Can’t Do Much”

Sounds Like: A profession of love where you think she might also be kicking you to the curb

Key Lyric: “We will coalesce our heaven and hell/ My eyes roll around like dice on the felt/ My mind turns to something useless and trite/ My uneasiness, materialized”

Why It Matters: Katie Crutchfield (aka Waxahatchee) knows that there’s no better feeling than those first days of falling in love, but she also knows all the frustration and pain that 99.9% of relationships eventually bring. On “Can’t Do Much”, Crutchfield blends that initial euphoria with the inevitable realities ahead, ultimately concluding that there’s no getting out of going down that road. It feels like the perfect love song for 2020 — a time when all of us have our guards up even as good things come along — and Crutchfield continues to show her hard-fought growth as a songwriter, pushing her vocals and arrangements to new, irresistable places. –Matt Melis 

Song in a GIF:

Breakfast Club - Gif


17. Yves Tumor – “Gospel for a New Century”

Sounds Like: A demon’s love song played through the horn of the devil

Key Lyric: “This ain’t by design, girl/ Take it softer/ You know I’m out my mind, girl”

Why It Matters: Love is chaotic, a push-pull between past desires and learned lessons guiding future decisions. It’s so rarely the flowery, elegant fairy tale of sweet piano ballads. Yves Tumor acknowledges that lack of simplicity with “Gospel for a New Century”, both in their twisted, torn lyrics and the frenzied composition. Horns bashing against a rhythm that’s half-arena rock, half-grindhouse score create an organized cacophony trumpeting straight from Hell. Some might call it terrifying — particularly if heard alongside the music video from director Isamaya Ffrench — but that’s exactly what romance is, especially when it falls apart. –Ben Kaye

Song in a GIF:

Yves Tumor


16. Charli XCX – “claws”

Sounds Like: A roller coaster in a glitchy computer video game

Key Lyric: “I’m not shy, make you sigh/ Slip and slide up my thighs/ Juicy just like clementines”

Why It Matters: Charli XCX’s quarantine-recorded album, How I’m Feeling Right Now, captures the futurist pop star in the very specific present moment of the pandemic, a time when emotions are plentiful and span the entire spectrum of feeling. There are lows, obviously, but also intense highs, magnified by the vacuum in which we currently live. For the UK artist, spending lockdown with a loved one has led to something of a “rebirth” of their relationship. Remember what that’s like? A surge so thrilling you’re giddy, speechless, and can only muster up the word “like” to convey your adoration? 100 gecs member Dylan Brady matches Charli’s energy here with equally frenzied, excitable production that’s fractured and glitchy until pieced back together during a euphoric build-up flurried with hope — an especially coveted feeling during these very strange times. –Lake Schatz

Song in a GIF:

Charli xcx



15. BTS – “Black Swan”

Sounds Like: The father’s advice in Cat Stevens’ (now Yusuf) “Father and Son”: “For you will still be here tomorrow/ But your dreams may not”

Key Lyric: “이게 나를 더 못 울린다면/ 내 가슴을 더 떨리게 못 한다면/ 어쩜 이렇게 한 번 죽겠지 아마” (loose translation: If this can no longer resonate/ No longer make my heart vibrate/ Then this may be how I die my first death”)

Why It Matters: On “Black Swan”, the group question what it means to be an artist. According to a press release, “Black Swan” was inspired by the Martha Graham quote: “A dancer dies twice — once when they stop dancing, and this first death is the more painful.” The idea of a first death is directly referenced in the lyrics, in which BTS grapple with the potential that their passion for music and performing could one day disappear. The song itself is a beautiful blend of trap drumbeats and strings, rap and vocals, that creates an atmosphere of anxiety before you even read the lyrics. –Hannah Zwick

Song in a GIF:

BTS Black Swan


14. Frank Ocean – “Cayendo (Side A – Acoustic)”

Sounds Like: A sunrise after a rainstorm

Key Lyric: “Si puedo soportar lo que siento/ ¿Por qué me estoy cayendo?” (loose translation: “If I can bear what I feel, why am I falling?”)

Why It Matters: Hell is love by your lonesome. There are few things in life as torturous as being head over heels in love with someone who has either moved on … or never felt the same way. It’s hard to imagine anyone not loving Frank Ocean, but his conviction on “Cayendo” says otherwise. And by emoting in Spanish, Ocean creatively stresses how his feelings may be lost in translation, particularly when he asks: “Si puedo soportar lo que siento, ¿por qué me estoy cayendo?” It’s a question that’s left to interpretation: Does he admit defeat, or do his feelings grow stronger? For most, it’s all too often both. –Michael Roffman

Song in a GIF:

harrington Top 25 Songs of 2020 (So Far)


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

Sounds Like: Slow-dancing in the era of self-isolation

Key Lyric: “Adolescence contrariée par un millier de remords/ Maintenant quand je ressens quelque chose, tout est bien plus fort.” (Roughly translated from French: “Vexed adolescence because of a thousand remorses/ Now when I feel something, everything is even more intense.”)

Why It Matters: Few in pop do vulnerability better than Héloïse “Chris” Letissier; never has the entire populace of the world felt as vulnerable as it does right now. So, for Christine and the Queens to deliver such a stirring ballad as “People, I’ve been sad” at this moment is a beautiful gift. Whether or not this song was intended as a soundtrack for our shared solitude is irrelevant. It has become a perfectly somber anthem for 2020, comforting in the acknowledgment that “If you fall apart, then I’m falling behind you.” You know the feeling. –Ben Kaye

Song in a GIF:

Christine Top 25 Songs of 2020 (So Far)


12. Michael Stipe and Big Red Machine – “No Time for Love Like Now”

Sounds Like: The first R.E.M. song we’ve heard in nearly a decade

Key Lyric: “Whatever waiting means in this new place/ I am waiting for you”

Why It Matters: Depending on your fandom, a voice can be as strong as a friend. So it is with Michael Stipe, the longtime orator of R.E.M. and alternative music, whose vacancy throughout the 2010s was felt each and every year after 2011’s Collapse into Now. “No Time for Love Like Now” isn’t the first time we’ve heard the great bard, but it felt like the first time nonetheless. Blame it on Justin Vernon’s string-like guitars or the Dessners’ arrangements — actually, yes, you can credit all of that — but it also boils down to the sentiment. As so many are locked away, stewing in rage, Stipe’s call for love has never felt more timely. –Michael Roffman

Song in a GIF:

vanilla sky Top 25 Songs of 2020 (So Far)


11. Phoebe Bridgers – “Kyoto”

Sounds Like: The type of song to listen to on a long drive with the windows down

Key Lyric: “I wanted to see the world/ Then I flew over the ocean, and I changed my mind”

Why It Matters: “Kyoto” is a song that makes you feel just the way it sounds, breezy and nostalgic, despite being about some potentially heavy subjects, like reflecting on someone who maybe brought you trauma. Off of Phoebe Bridgers’ second album, Punisher, “Kyoto” is a driving track that starts with a trip to Japan with her band and ends with her back home in America, full of dramatic skies and simple, purposeful imagery. The best part about “Kyoto” might be the instrumental bridge connecting the two settings with a jaunty trumpet, a bright spot within a complicated song. –Annie Black

Song in a GIF:

Phoebe Bridgers


10. Frances Quinlan – “Rare Thing”

Sounds Like: The elation, however temporary, of knowing in absolute that there is goodness in this world

Key Lyric: “I know there is love that doesn’t have to do with taking something from somebody”

Why It Matters: Although Good should not be rare, lived experience has clearly dictated that it is. So, when we do see pure, unadulterated wholesomeness, it fills us with the swirling warmth that validates existence. That’s what Frances Quinlan experiences as she watches her young niece grow, a feeling she charmingly captures in “Rare Thing”. It may be a cliché to find the best of humanity in the unguarded earnestness of a child, but that doesn’t make it false. When you’re young, you naturally embrace moments like this. When we get older, we gratefully have music like Quinlan’s to remind us they exist. –Ben Kaye

Song in a GIF:

Flowers Top 25 Songs of 2020 (So Far)


09. Dixie Chicks – “Gaslighter”

Sounds Like: A triumphant return in the nick of time

Key Lyric: “You think it’s justifiable, I think it’s pretty cruel/ And you know you lie best when you lie to you”

Why It Matters: Not only is “Gaslighter” a kick-ass track, but it’s also the first single off of what will be the Dixie Chicks’ first record in 14 years, and what a triumphant comeback “Gaslighter” is. Produced by Jack Antonoff, in pure Dixie Chicks fashion the vocals are perfectly harmonized and the lyrics are biting. While the song is technically about band member Natalie Haines’ divorce, the chorus could be about any man, which for many us can be supremely relatable. “Gaslighter” is a reminder that the Dixie Chicks still reign supreme, despite being away for more than a decade. –Annie Black

Song in a GIF:

Dixie Chicks


08. Megan Thee Stallion – “Savage Remix” (ft. Beyoncé)

Sounds Like: Strutting in your best outfit, owning the patriarchy

Key Lyric: “I’m a boss, I’m a leader/ I pull up in my two-seater/ And my mama was a savage, ni**a, got this shit from Tina [Knowles]”

Why It Matters: When Megan Thee Stallion released the original “Savage” on her Suga EP earlier this year, it instantly became a TikTok hit. It had all the makings of an IRL global anthem rallying for female empowerment and self-love, but its full potential wasn’t truly unlocked until Beyoncé, the Queen, dropped in with two additional verses and background vocals. Better yet, all proceeds from the remix benefited COVID-19 relief efforts in the two artists’ hometown of Houston. –Lake Schatz

Song in a GIF:

Megan Thee Stallion


07. Dua Lipa – “Don’t Start Now”

Sounds Like: A rebirth while wearing bell-bottoms

Key Lyric: “So moved on, it’s scary/ I’m not where you left me at all”

Why It Matters: As the lead single for Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia album, it quickly sets the stage for what’s to come — and that’s a whole lot of sexy, unabashedly confident pop that honors the dance music of the past (house, disco) while also sounding decidedly 2020. Besides, who could resist such an empowering shrug-off of an ex and those chunky, Daft Punk-esque baselines? –Lake Schatz

Song in a GIF:

Dua Lipa


06. Fiona Apple – “Under the Table”

Sounds Like: What it feels like to be a woman on a daily basis in a still male-dominated world

Key Lyric: “I would beg to disagree/ But begging disagrees with me”

Why It Matters: “Under the Table” is, sure, at face value, about going to a dinner party that you don’t want to go to and having to be polite and quiet throughout, but as a woman it’s so much more. In society, we’re taught to let things happen no matter what we want or feel, and thankfully, to quote the movement spurred at the 2018 Academy Awards, time’s up on that. We don’t have to sit there and smile when we’re uncomfortable or uneasy, and we’re not going to. Fiona Apple truly understands and speaks for women everywhere throughout “Under the Table”. –Annie Black

Song in a GIF:

Fiona Apple


05. Pearl Jam – “Superblood Wolfmoon”

Sounds Like: Pearl Jam found their mojo again

Key Lyric: “I don’t know anything/ I question everything/ This life I love is goin’ way too fast”

Why It Matters: Pearl Jam are makers of moments. They do it every night on stage. It’s part of their calling. Yet, that energy isn’t always easy to capture in the studio, and all too often, their songs on record pale in comparison to how they explode on stage. There are immediate exceptions, though, and “Superblood Wolfmoon” is one of them. Not since “The Fixer” in 2009 have the Seattle rockers delivered a single with such immediacy and youthful cadence. Eddie Vedder is in top form at the mic, surfing over a bed of crunchy power pop that would make Robin Zander blush. “She was a stunner and I am stunned,” he screams, and, well, the feeling’s mutual pal. –Michael Roffman

Song in a GIF:

werewolf Top 25 Songs of 2020 (So Far)


04. Run the Jewels – “ooh la la” (ft. Greg Nice & DJ Premier)

 

Sounds Like: A poppin’ Brooklyn block party pre-Corona

Key Lyric: “Fuck a king or queen and all of they loyal subjects/ I pull my penis out and I piss on they shoes in public/ People, we the pirates, the pride of this great republic”

Why It Matters: Although the stellar RTJ4 was written before the pandemic (and Trump’s fatal mishandling of it), plenty of songs such as this one grandiosely flip off and stand up to incompetent, oppressive authority figures. And here Run the Jewels do so all while cooly laughing and reveling in boom-bap fun, accompanied by Greg Nice from Nice & Smooth, veteran producer DJ Premier, and a well-timed sample of Gang Starr’s “DWYCK”. –Lake Schatz

Song in a GIF:

Run the Jewels


03. Lady Gaga – “Stupid Love”

Sounds Like: Exactly what we’ve wanted from Lady Gaga for a long, long time

Key Lyric: “I don’t need a reason, oh/ Not sorry, I want your stupid love”

Why It Matters: “Stupid Love” is the song you want to hear on the dance floor at your friend’s wedding, the song you blast with the windows down on the drive home from work, the song that you listen to at the gym while powering through whatever horrible exercise you’re doing. It’s a perfect pop song that, in a normal world, we might be sick of hearing by now from radio overplay, but in quarantine, it’s just a figment of something we’re all hoping for: dancing together with friends. –Annie Black

Song in a GIF:

Lady Gaga


02. Hayley Williams – “Simmer”

Sounds Like: Choking down the glowing embers of your own rage

Key Lyric: “There’s so many ways to give in/ Eyes closed/ Another way to make it to ten/ Oh, how to draw the line between wrath and mercy?”

Why It Matters: Hayley Williams made sure to deliver a statement with “Simmer”, her debut solo single. Though themes of anxiety and anger have been well-covered in Paramore’s oeuvre, the track’s smoldering groove is far removed from the tropical new wave of After Laughter. That gives it a different level of exposure for Williams, whose struggles are no longer couched in fun pop rock. It’s like we’re witnessing her emotional battles in closer quarters than ever before, marked by the guttural gasps layered throughout. It doesn’t hurt that “Simmer” is entrancingly composed, desperation crawling through every percussive pop, glottal stop, and atmospheric guitar note. You can hear the risk Williams put into “Simmer”, and the power she found there only becomes more evident with each listen. –Ben Kaye

Song in a GIF:

Blossom Top 25 Songs of 2020 (So Far)


01. The Weeknd – “Blinding Lights”

Sounds Like: A montage scene in Stranger Things 4

Key Lyric: “I’m blinded by the lights/ No, I can’t sleep until I feel your touch”

Why It Matters:  A great hook is one you know you’ll remember forever and one you hate to see end. Think back to the moment you stumbled upon MGMT’s “Kids”, M83’s “Midnight City”, or, hell, the opening bars of Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own”. When the hook works, it takes hold of you, it embalms you, and connects with you on a level that’s basically sexual. “Blinding Lights” does that. No stranger to a melody, The Weeknd waxes romantic over a blockbuster riff that probably belonged to Harold Faltermeyer in another life. This is gooey modern pop in the stickiest sense, loaded with sugar and glazed in whatever DayGlo food coloring gets our pheromones cooking when it’s half past midnight. It’s instantaneous, too, demanding to be replayed, which is probably why it’s already about to eclipse his 2016 single “Starboy” in Spotify streams … in a matter of months. –Michael Roffman

Song in a GIF:

uncut gems Top 25 Songs of 2020 (So Far)

Click ahead for an exclusive Spotify playlist of our Top 25 Songs (So Far) in 2020…


Top 25 Songs (So Far) Playlist

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