Fuck 2020. Let’s get right to it. Songs are only eligible if they were first released in 2020.
Cursed By Calendar
Dua Lipa: “Don’t Star Now”
Though “Don’t Start Now” was released in late 2019, its quality became more evident than ever alongside the rest of the still-otherwise-excellent Future Nostalgia. “Don’t Start Now” is pop perfection, with producer Ian Kirkpatrick getting every moment just right.
10. Taylor Swift: “marjorie”
It’s certainly no surprise that Taylor Swift can make a tearjerker about one of the women in her family, but “The Best Day” was so heartrending because it was small and fragile and made you appreciate that the relationship was still in motion. But “marjorie” is no small, fragile song, it’s her biggest epic since “All Too Well,” at first a glorious tribute to her grandmother until the bridge takes it deeper: “I should have asked you questions/I should have asked you how to be.” The perfect song for a year when all our grandparents became more vulnerable than ever. Not everyone made it.
9. Jessie Ware: “Save A Kiss”
Jessie Ware’s best ever song takes a mundane moment in her domestic arrangement and turns it into everything.
8. Megan Thee Stallion (ft. Beyoncé): “Savage Remix”
It’s wild to think that Megan Thee Stallion is already threatening to conquer the world, finding herself in this year’s two bonafide event songs, and though “WAP” is wonderful, “Savage Remix” is the greater statement of that new power, complete with Queen Bey showing up to flex the rapping she developed on EVERYTHING IS LOVE.
7. Phoebe Bridgers: “Kyoto”
The Phoebe Bridgers song that’s least like the rest, “Kyoto” is a hazy romp through Phoebe’s insecurities about her own success and her rage towards her father. Yeah, that Copycat Killer version is pretty awesome, but I prefer the way the original is presented triumphantly, better encapsulating the contradicting feelings of the content.
6. The Chicks: “Gaslighter”
Not as important as “Goodbye Earl” or “Not Ready To Make Nice,” sure, but “Gaslighter” is the reborn Chicks’ tightest pop construction, and even at 50% the rage of “Goodbye Earl,” Natalie Maines’ ire is still inspirational.
5. The 1975: “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”
Despite Matt always overindulging his stranger ideas on the verses and threatening his songs’ universality, The 1975 can do the hell out of a chorus, and “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)” is their greatest ever, the horns elevating the naughtiness to capture things far less specific than Facetiming.
4. Fiona Apple: “Shameika”
Yes, the key point is the power in small moments of solidarity among young women, but what sends “Shameika” over and above is that Fiona is wrong: she did see her again, “Shameika” unleashing an observer effect upon itself. The evolving story of “Shameika” resonates in a year where so many people focused inwards and took the time to look backwards
3. Will Butler: “Not Gonna Die”
The greatest Arcade Fire song in a decade is a little ill-timed. Outraged at the furor drummed up after the 2015 Paris Attacks, “Not Gonna Die” radically rejects any suspicion that your neighbor is going to kill you. Of course, the year is 2021, and for entirely different reasons your neighbor just might.
2. Emperor X: “The Ballad of HPAE Local 5058”
After a Super Tuesday that felt like the Red Wedding, this song about a New Jersey chapter of Health Professionals & Allied Employees was just about the only convincingly hopeful thing I heard all spring, the sort of hyperspecific song about political perseverance we honestly hear too few of.
1. Bree Runway (ft. Yung Baby Tate): “DAMN DANIEL”
The best song of 2020 ends up having little to do with this fucked to death year. For its first two minutes and fourteen seconds, it might actually sound more at home in the early 2000s (an album track or one of the lesser singles from some Missy Elliott album). Characters Keisha and Felicia each get their kicks with Danny before their worst suspicions about their lack of presence on his Instagram materialize.
Then 2:14 hits. Missy couldn’t do this.
They find power in their shared knowledge and spread the word to their community: If you fuck with him, he’ll fuck all your friends. Don’t trust the man!
They’re not sad for getting played. They’re finding enough joy in what revenge can be had.
Just a note on the Spotify playlist, my #2 song is not on the service, so make sure you listen to that separately.