40) Ungodly Hour – Chloe X Halle
Chloe X Halle delivered this year and it was the VMA performance of the title track of their album that made me realise just how talented they were. Soulful and powerful, the duo sound incredible on this.
39) Dynamite – BTS
I realise that the idea of having to ‘ignore the lyrics’ of a song I’m saying is one of the best of the year seems ridiculous, but not a single person who has heard Dynamite can say it’s anything but a catchy pop gem. BTS knew exactly what they wanted to do with Dynamite and K-Pop finally has THE global hit it has been waiting for.Best of 2020: Top 40 Singles
38) Pretty Great – Fickle Friends
Fickle Friends have released more than enough banging pop songs since their debut album back in 2018 to make up an entire second album, but it’s still isn’t here. Pretty Great was by far my favourite of these, especially the way the chorus flies back around for a second hook. Pop magic from a band who really should be everywhere.
It’s hard to think of an artist who has ruled 2020 like Dua Lipa has (Spoiler, she might appear further up this) and Levitating was so many people’s fave moment. It’s easy to see why, Levitating sounds like being in a bar full of people singing along to ‘that’ song that we all love. It’s full of depth as it builds to the banging hook, the ‘yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah’ pure genius. I especially love the lyric ‘feeling so electric, dance my arse off’.
36) Experience – Victoria Monét, Khalid & SG Lewis
For a year where nobody could dance together, either there were more songs than ever before that made me want to do nothing but that, or I just craved music to move to in 2020. Either way, Experience is effortlessly danceable like a Quincy Jones MJ co-write zoomed in out of nowhere to get us all bopping away. Khalid and Victoria’s voices on this song are so stacked with sexual energy I genuinely have no other way to describe it. Neither has sounded as good, or as hot and bothered as they do on this breakup bop.
35) TKN – Rosalía & Travis Scott
Between this and Rosalía’s star turn on a remix to Travis Scott’s incredible Highest In The Room I’m wondering how long it will be before we get a full length Rosalía/Travis album. TKN isn’t that complicated, it’s simply two of music’s most dynamic stars trading bars in both English and Spanish for 2 minutes. The ‘doof doof doof doof’ moment on the hook is insanely satisfying.
Diamonds is both the most free Sam Smith has ever sounded and also the furthest thing from their style possible. The rollout of album Love Goes has been as messy as 2020 itself, single after single to lead to a completely different album altogether before that was scrapped. I assumed this meant they would pivot back to focusing on the ballads again, but Diamonds is anything but. Funky and heartfelt it’s literally a George Michael song which might be the reason I loved it so much.
33) This Love Isn’t Crazy – Carly Rae Jepsen
One of the few actual live music moments I was able to experience in 2020 was finally being able to witness Carly Rae Jepsen performing 10/10 pop songs for well over an hour. Dedicated Side B might actually be my least favourite ‘album’ she has released since Kiss, but lead single This Love Isn’t Crazy is as brilliant as it is predictable. It sits perfectly next to all of those incredible songs she’s released before, literally nobody is as consistently great in pop as CRJ.
This song should have been huge. Agnes sounds like she’s descended from the heavens to deliver a string led pop mega-banger to rival her own Release Me, it was the sort of release that I had zero expectations for and was just astounded by the confidence on display. Scandi-Pop had a hell of a year, bloody massive pop records like this being exactly what I needed.
31) Impact – SG Lewis, Robyn & Channel Tres
Speaking of Scandi-pop is it at all surprising that Robyn has made one of my end of year lists yet again? Impact is thumping. Full of bass that throbs as her voice soars above as it builds and builds. I love the way that Channel Tres just speaks the lyrics, not an aggressive rap performance just guiding the listener through. The layered production is yet another triumph for SG Lewis in 2020 as well.
30) Me & You Together Song – The 1975
This sounds like a Busted song from 2002 and I 100% mean that as a compliment.
29) No Time To Die – Billie Eilish
I’ve spent so much time enjoying No Time To Die as a Bond Theme without actually getting to see the film itself that it’s place among those previous soundtrack hits is in a weird spot. As a Billie Eilish song this works so well, I had been saying she would be a perfect fit for the franchise after the equally brilliant and ‘Bond-ish’ idon’twannabeyouanymore. Billie and Finneas have written a beautiful track here and it’s another vocal performance from 2020 that’s really pushed her and shown her growth as a singer as well as an artist. Seriously though I just need to see the intro sequence for the film now please…
28) Till There’s Nothing Left – Cam
I’ve seen some country fans pick out this track from Cam’s brilliant second album as a reason why she should stay out of the pop space and stick to country. I wholeheartedly disagree and hearing her sing this way back in March of 2019 at C2C made me so excited to hear the final studio version. I wasn’t disappointed and everything about this song oozes class. The songwriting, the harmonies, the ad-libs as the song comes to its climax; it’s effortlessly classy.
27) Love I’m Given – Ellie Goulding
Some of my favourite moments on Ellie Goulding albums are when songs are full of drama. My Blood, Animal, Anything Could Happen, Love Me Like You Do; subtlety is way out of the picture on some of her best songs. It always makes a stark contrast to the smaller moments and Love I’m Given is no exception. This song is so over the top, the closing minute full of stomping hand claps and a choir and ridiculous adlibs, but it just works. It was the first time since LMLYD that I heard Ellie Goulding the megastar again and it quickly became one of my favourite songs of her career.
26) Break Up Song – Little Mix
Britain’s best ever girl band (YES I SAID IT) deliver another 5* pop song. Well done everyone involved.
25) Who You Thought I Was – Brandy Clark
In a year where just about every song I seemed to love was a pop mega-banger, I obviously had to find some time to relax into some country too. Brandy Clark released the best country music of the year and this song is probably my favourite from album Your Life Is A Record. The tiny details make this such a gorgeous songs, the quirky bounce that comes in when she says ‘I used to wanna join the circus’ or the switch up of the lyrics once you realise Brandy is admitting to being in the wrong it’s such a refreshingly honest country song. ‘I wanna be at least almost close to worth your love’ is one of my lyrics of the year and for such a simple song the lyrical depth here is outstanding.
Oh look Sam’s talking about Laura Bloody Marling again. Well the moment I stop talking about Laura Marling is the moment she stops releasing some of the best music of the year. Spoiler: that’s not gonna happen any time soon. It’s the harmonies here that I absolutely love, almost mirroring the was she layers her chords when playing alone.
My favourite thing about Spotlight is how delicate Jessie Ware’s vocal performance is. I know Jessie could belt out every note here with her eyes closed, but the way she keeps everything super low key minute after minute as the strings around her swell and the bass-line builds and the drum machine joins the party soon after; building and building but she never starts belting it out. The ‘can’t keep the sun from rising’ ad libs creep in, and still you feel lost in the steady build. And it never ‘goes off’, but bloody hell does it not need to. The first taste we got of What’s Your Pleasure and for lifelong Jessie War stans like me it felt like the first moment when everyone else finally caught up.
I want to take the time when talking about Sweet Melody, which was the final Little Mix single released while she was in the band to quickly talk about Jesy Nelson. I mainly just want to thank her for giving us 9 years of sheer joy as fans of an absolute star on stage and on record. What a song to go out on, I imagine her performance of the ‘doo doo doo’ hook will remain whenever Jade, Perrie and Leigh-Anne perform this in future. Perhaps their all time greatest video as well.
21) Better Off Without You (Feat. Shift K3y) – Becky Hill
If I don’t get to absolutely lose it to Better Off Without You after downing a few vodka and lemonades at a Becky Hill gig in Manchester next year then I will be fuming. One of these monster dance bangers every year please Becky.
My favourite Billie Eilish track from this year is the one that managed to sound everything like and nothing like all of her previous work. My Future eases you in with another stark and performance before emerging the other side as a rolling and oddly euphoric pop tune. ‘I’m supposed to be unhappy without someone, but aren’t I someone?’ is the sort of self reflecting lyric it’s still shocking to hear from someone so young. Even on what feels like a strangely short song you hear that next step of her journey as an artist and I for one am very excited for what she will do next.
I’m still amazed by how MASSIVE Physical sounds. ‘Who needs to go to sleep when I’ve got you next to me’ then EVERYTHING KICKS OFF. Don’t Start Now felt like a moment where Dua Lipa had finally honed the worldwide star power that she was on the verge of finding, and Physical just dials it all up to 11. Every ‘Let’s get physical’ is more aggressive than the last, which means by the time you reach the triumphant middle 8 it’s a no holds barred journey to an explosive ending. Not a fade out in sight here.
18) Savage Remix (Feat. Beyoncé) – Megan Thee Stallion
Megan Thee Stallion has been so close to becoming THE name in Rap and it felt like in 2020 alongside Da Baby, Lil Baby and Roddy Ricch the world was finally ready for her with WAP and this monster hit. How dare Beyoncé deliver what might be her all time greatest rap verses on a remix like this. ‘If you don’t jump to put jeans on, you don’t feel my pain’ or ‘Hips Tik Tok when I dance, on that Demon Time she might start and OnlyFans’ Bey is on top form every second of this song while Megan proves she’s more than capable of keeping up with the Queen. Savage is exhausting for all the right reasons.
There seems to always be a song on my end of year like Come Over, last year it was Sigrid with Mine Right Now, before that it was Final Song by MØ, unapologetic euphoric pop songs full of ‘Hey’s and stomping drums. The bit where Dagny continues her note on ‘get lost in you’ and then adds ‘baby when I think about you I come alive’ underneath hits right to the core of my being.
16) I disappear in your arms – Christine and the Queens
I could genuinely have included all 6 songs from La Vita Nouva on this list, which is potentially my favourite set of songs Christine and the Queens has ever released, but it’s this, the English version of a French song that sits within the main track list that I kept coming back to. I love the vocals in the background, which give everything such a frantic and dramatic feel, the drum machine loop sounding just off kilter enough to sound like Chris is just pushing the tempo slightly as she dances. Another smash from one of our greatest pop artists.
I was obsessed with the song from the moment I heard it. Every minute brings another moment so incessantly polished and irritatingly catchy that I couldn’t escape this. Looking back on 2020, it’s so strange to me that literally nobody else has had this lodged in their head for most of the year. That bit at the start of the second verse where it drops out to sound like it’s coming from a tinny radio before crashing back in was a point of no return. Daydream was there to stay.
14) You should be sad – Halsey
Probably the first great song of the year, You should be sad was a complete surprise for someone who has not been checking for Halsey up till now. Closer was irritating as it was everywhere, Without Me was good but took far too long to grow on me, but this song completely exceeded my expectations. ‘I’m so glad I never ever had a baby with you, cause you can’t love someone unless there’s something in it for you’ is so direct as a lyric. Equal parts Carrie Underwood to Juice WRLD I love the unique blend of acoustic production and venomous spoken sung verses.
13) If You Think This is Real Life – Blossoms
It’s an outrage that we didn’t get to have a festival season where Blossoms got the best reaction of the day to this unashamedly infectious indie pop bop. You can basically hear them listening to Heart of Glass in the background as they wrote this, the almost campy background vocals and in your face keyboards. This song is an absolute joy and sounds like it was a riot to write.
12) Sleep at Night – The Chicks
‘My husbands girlfriend’s husband just called me up, how messed up is that, It’s so insane that I have to laugh, but then I think about our two boys trying to become men, here’s nothing funny about that’ I don’t think any verse in 2020 had the impact on me that that had. Sleep at Night builds and builds each verse more cutting and direct than the last, with the emotion rising and rising as Natalie Maines’ vocals soar and the product swells to the closing moments. It’s a terrific song and one that I would have missed out on entirely had my preconceptions of how much I enjoyed The Chicks’ music had stopped me from giving it a go. A triumphant and heartbreaking record.
I have been a fan of Jessie Ware since the very beginning. Back when she was delivering verses on SBTRKT records and Running became a massive dance hit. I love her ballads, I think some of her mid tempo tracks are her all time best, but there’s something magic that happens when she performs a dance record like Save a Kiss. The way she moves her voice around the thudding bass and rising drum line is rooted in all of the best dance music of the 90s, but somehow Jessie elevates it to a new level when her personality shines through in her vocals. The final ‘Save a little bit of your love’ echoing across this expansive emptiness before the bass smashes back in achieves what all great dance music aims to, sheer euphoria.
10) Wildflower – 5 Seconds of Summer
Are we all now past the point of being surprised at how good the music that 5 Seconds of Summer are delivering? Youngblood last year knocked me for six and was one of my favourite songs of the decade and in 2020 Wildflower pretty much does the same. ‘You’re the only one who makes me’ THUD ‘every time we’ THUD; it’s the sort of hook that pop bands wait careers to write and here’s 5SOS nailing it two years on the run as if its nothing.
9) Bittersweet – Lianne La Havas
There’s so much beauty in the ease of the instrumentation on Bittersweet. Like you are peeking into a quiet jazz bar just before hearing Lianne’s powerful vocal knock you off your feet. It’s probably my favourite track from her to date, the way her voice just about goes up to those notes as she sings ‘oh my sun’s going down’ sounds like she’s giving the performance of her life. A outstanding performance from one of the artists of the year.
Lifetime sounds like a song that has lived within Romy for her entire career just waiting for the right moment to emerge. There were many songs (lots on this list) that pulled from 90s house as an inspiration, but none of them were as successful in capturing the electricity of that era like Lifetime. The danciest of dance tracks in 2020, there’s freedom in every lyric and life in every explosive roll of drums before the beat kicks back in. One of the voices of last decade enters this one with a bang.
Perhaps XS is the defining song of my music habits in 2020. I wanted more. More hooks. More danceable bangers. More songs that sent me back to my youth. More explosive debuts from exciting popstars. Rina did all of that and more on XS, which sounds like the best Britney Spears record in well over 10 years performed by Amy Lee of Evanescence; meant entirely as a compliment of the highest order. I will always need more of this please Rina.
Break My Heart isn’t the most unexpected single from Future Nostalgia, Levitating surely; it’s not the biggest banger, that’s Physical; and it wasn’t the biggest hit, undoubtedly Don’t Start Now. But for me this was the 3rd in a row ‘Dua is about to release the pop album of the year’ moment that everything aligned. I haven’t looked back since, the ‘unintentional’ INXS interpolation works perfectly, the song is dripping in soulful vocals and funky bass and every moment it falls out the bottom of the track it leaves you breathless waiting for it to come back around again. The way she says ‘Oh No!’ on the chorus? Amazing.
The Steps is probably the only song on this list that doesn’t sound like it’s from 2020. It’s like a song from the 70s that someone has found buried among Fleetwood Mac and Joni Mitchell LPs recorded in such a dynamic and warmly analogue way that it sticks out so much in a year of massive pop hits. Danielle sounds fuming on this record. She is tired of the bullshit and it comes through in her vocals as strongly as in the lyrics. ‘Do you understand? You don’t understand me, baby’ is just another incredible moment of music I wish I could have experienced screaming along to during festival season. The Steps is an instant classic song and might just go down as the band’s biggest triumph.
4) Rain On Me – Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande
My most listened to song of the year. Lady Gaga’s best song in a decade. Ariana owns every moment she’s on here. It seems ridiculous to have to explain why this song speaks to so many of us like it does. ‘I’d rather by dry, but at least I’m alive’ is yet another heartbreaking and honest hook in a mega-banger dance record this year and as a duet this works effortlessly. Possibly my favourite moment is when Ariana takes the low part in the harmony on the hook, Gaga singing falsetto like never before and melding their performances together. You get the best of both Gaga and Ariana, the sort of intersection of immense star power we rarely get to witness.
Rain. On. Me.
3) In Your Eyes – The Weeknd
My first time through After Hours I was amazed by the steady build up through the album to the crowning moment of Blinding Lights (The biggest hit of 2020, but released in 2019 so it’s not in this list) that feels like the best pay off possible. Then In Your Eyes starts and I was dumbfounded that an even better song had followed straight after. In Your Eyes is THE definitive The Weeknd song, smooth and just on the right side of seedy, catchy as hell and impossibly uncool too. Abel has always managed to make sounding like ‘a throwback’ seem exactly the point, but never more so on the ridiculous and incredible sax solo that kicks in as the song reaches its climax. The artist of the year’s best new song of 2020.
2) If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know) – The 1975
Much like most fans of The 1975, the first time I heard what could possibly be the best song of their career so far was a YouTube clip someone had done of the band performing it for the first time. This was weeks before I was due to see them perform and in the end months before the final song would be released, but even in that clip the idea that this was ‘The most 1975 song ever’ was blatantly obvious. By the time I actually saw them, I knew every lyric along with pretty much everyone else in the arena. The best reaction of a 2 hour gig from Britain’s biggest group was for an unreleased song and genuinely that’s the one memory from the handful of live gigs that has gotten me through the rest of this shitty year. If you can’t stand Matty Healy, you’ll hate this. If you think The 1975 make shit music, you’ll absolutely hate this. But for me and anyone who has ever enjoyed The Sound or Love Me or Give Yourself a Try or Girls or It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You) then this song was a gift in 2020.
1) Midnight Sky – Miley Cyrus/Edge of Midnight – Miley Cyrus (Feat. Stevie Nicks)
If you’ve made it this far, 2020 was surely the year of massive pop songs. Dua, Gaga, Jessie, Romy, 5SOS, The Weeknd, The 1975 pop had a hell of a year. One song stands as the greatest of the year and it just had to be Midnight Sky. The 1975 have been at the top of this list for nearly the whole year and it was only since the release of album Plastic Hearts that I finally gave in and went with Miley instead. Midnight Sky is the first song of Miley’s career that captures her talent as a performer, her place as one of the best of her generation surely solidified this year. Her vocals and control of the impact she makes on the chorus is such a thrill to hear, the way she delivers that opening line with such composure and pointedness before escaping into the dreamy and powerful hook. Miley’s savvy enough to know that as soon as she saw people saying she was inspired by Stevie Nicks’ Edge of Seventeen she could respond not by saying it was accidental but completely owning it and releasing a mashup of the two that’s as good as the original. Hearing Stevie sing Miley’s lyrics and vice versa only adds to the appeal for me, like a legend handing the torch to a younger artist who’s finally made the song of their career. Midnight Sky is an outstanding pop record that made my year.