The 30 best songs of 2020, ranked

Donslens/Emilio Coochie/Beth Garrabrant/Dave Meyers / Big Hit Labels/YouTube / Callie Ahlgrim/InsiderClockwise from bottom left: Halsey, Megan Thee Stallion, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, and BTS.
  • Insider ranked the 30 best songs of 2020, weighing factors like critical acclaim, cultural impact, and listenability.
  • “August” by Taylor Swift took the top spot.
  • Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage Remix,” Rina Sawayama’s “XS,” Christine and the Queens’ “People, I’ve Been Sad,” and Halsey’s “3am” rounded out the top five.
  • Swift is the only artist with three different songs on our list, while Megan Thee Stallion and Ariana Grande each have two.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Even though albums are still considered to be the peak form of musical artistry, there’s nothing quite like the rush from a concentrated, three-ish-minute package of perfect sounds.

Evaluating and comparing those sounds, however, is no small feat. Great songs can be privately devastating, or versatile enough to sprinkle throughout Spotify playlists, or occasionally both (as is the case with my No. 1 pick for 2020).

And for a year-end ranking such as this, there’s an entire spectrum to consider, from worthy chart-toppers to underrated deep cuts.

To determine the list below, I considered a variety of factors like critical acclaim, cultural impact, lyrical quality, and the number of passionate renditions I attempted in the shower.

Keep reading to see Insider’s 30 best songs of 2020, listed in descending order — and click here to listen to the ranking on Spotify, including 20 honorable mentions.


30. “Mac & Cheese” by REI AMI is as delirious and fun as the name suggests.

REI AMI/YouTube‘Mac & Cheese’ was released as a single on September 25, 2020.

While REI AMI’s singular flavour of humour and verve has glazed her music in the past, “Mac & Cheese” is practically oozing with it.

“Single like Kraft / ‘Cause all these boys, they don’t know how to act / Still I eat ’em up like a midnight snack” might be the best opening lyric of the year. How does one imbue the image of sliced processed cheese with “Maneater” vibes? All hail the queen of double entendre.

But “Mac & Cheese” doesn’t peak early and fall off. REI AMI barrels forth at breakneck speed, tossing out references to Christopher Reeve and Four Loko, employing more scrumptious cheese puns, and poking fun at her own songwriting style in the bridge.

In the wrong hands, the overall effect might feel kitschy. Instead, REI AMI delivers a frantic, fantastical energy that’s proof of her rising star power.

File this under: Songs that feel like a No. 1 hit.


29. Miley Cyrus’ “High” is a towering vocal performance with a bit of grit and country twang.

Apple Music‘High’ is the eighth track on ‘Plastic Hearts,’ released on November 27, 2020.

In our first-listen review, Insider’s music editor Courteney Larocca immediately crowned “High” as the best song on Miley Cyrus’ newest album, “Plastic Hearts.”

“If you only have time for one, make it this one,” she wrote. “Sure, your understanding of the album’s sonic landscape would be completely skewed, but it’d be worth it – this is the project’s fragile heart, masked by all the thunderous ‘I don’t care’ beats around it.”

“It has inflections of ‘Malibu,’ shades of Cyrus’ ‘Hannah Montana’ years, and shards of glass from the wreckage of her real-life heartbreak that deceptively glitter and sparkle as they pierce right into you.”


28. “Aquí Yo Mando” by Kali Uchis, featuring Rico Nasty, is grunge-glam goddess energy.

Kali Uchis/YouTube‘Aquí Yo Mando’ was released as a single on August 7, 2020.

If “Aquí Yo Mando” were a person, she’d be a leather-clad, bilingual Regina George.

The song opens with Kali Uchis purring over a trap beat, “I’m your little mamacita / Haces todo yo que digas,” or, “You do everything I say.” In other words, she strides in and immediately puts her foot on your neck.

Uchis is precise and exacting throughout the song, while Rico Nasty provides a wink of playfulness. The combination isn’t obvious, but it’s highly effective.


26. The titular track of The Weeknd’s newest album, “After Hours,” is also its sprawling, riveting centrepiece.

The Weeknd/YouTube‘After Hours’ was released as a promotional single on February 19, 2020.

“After Hours” is equal parts lyrics, production, and performance, like a very sad musical. The 14-song tracklist is designed to be experienced as a complete body of work.

Most of its songs, then, lose power when you isolate them. There are a few exceptions, including the shrewdly chosen lead singles, “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights” (both released in 2019).

But it’s the titular track that truly captures the immersive, sinister charm of this album.

The Weeknd is at his best when he’s breaking the rules, or ignoring them completely – so a six-minute odyssey with a glitchy structure is just the right concoction. You get lost inside of it.

The song’s production is immediately reminiscent of “Trilogy,” The Weeknd’s shadowy roots and – for many fans, including me – his greatest work to date. “After Hours” gleams like his best pop, but never feels overthought or overproduced.


26. “Party 4 U” shows a softer, gentler side of Charli XCX — without sacrificing her knack for extraterrestrial electro-pop.

Courtesy of Charli XCX/Huxley‘Party 4 U’ is the ninth track on ‘How I’m Feeling Now,’ released on May 15, 2020.

In our first-listen review of “How I’m Feeling Now,” Larocca proclaimed (with “near-complete certainty”) that “Party 4 U” is Charli XCX’s “greatest song of all time.”

“You know when you’re at a dying house party around 4 a.m.,” she wrote, “when most everyone’s either left or asleep on the floor, and you’re either mindlessly braiding your best friend’s hair or snuggling into your partner in the corner? This is the song that’s playing.”

I agreed, writing: “I don’t know exactly how to justify this metaphor, but it’s the image that kept coming to my mind, so here it is: She sounds like an alien at a chill house party, unbothered and draped in silk.”


25. “Can’t Wait to Be Dead” by FINNEAS is a timeless song about modern problems.

FINNEAS/YouTube‘Can’t Wait to Be Dead’ was released as a single on October 21, 2020.

For a song about his relationship with the internet, Finneas O’Connell went old school, channeling the spacious rock of noughties bands like The Airborne Toxic Event and Death Cab for Cutie.

“Can’t Wait to Be Dead” would have been a radio hit in 2005. But the ultimate charm of rock-pop is that it rarely feels unstylish.

With its big, open chords and scream-along hook, “Can’t Wait to Be Dead” absolutely has the juice to be a hit today.

This is especially true given the song’s clever, veiled references to modernity, like Uber (“Somebody’s driving you home, but they don’t know who you are”), FOMO (“I need to be where you are, for no reason at all”), and doom-scrolling (“Somebody’s wasting my time / F— your Confederate flag, you’ve got no reason to brag”).

The song’s only flaw? It can’t be true that nobody knows any better anyway, given that O’Connell has emerged as a thoughtful, necessary voice amidst the noise.


24. “Breathe Deeper” sums up the cathartic power of Tame Impala’s newest album.

Tame Impala/YouTube‘Breathe Deeper’ is the fifth track on ‘The Slow Rush,’ released on February 14, 2020.

Listening to “Breathe Deeper” feels like you’re swaying with your best friend at a party in the ’70s, surrounded by glittering lights and well-dressed strangers.

“If you think I couldn’t hold my own, believe me, I can,” Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker declares over a gleaming piano line. “If you need someone to carry on, believe me, I can. If you think no one is feeling what you’re feeling, I am.”

“Breathe Deeper” is a pure moment of complete confidence on “The Slow Rush” and an instantly classic Tame Impala song – which is to say, a spotless product of funky musical wizardry.


23. Every line of “Moon Song” by Phoebe Bridgers is as dazzling and withering as the next.

Olof Grind‘Moon Song’ is the seventh song on ‘Punisher,’ released on June 18, 2020.

As you float along the current of Phoebe Bridgers’ excellent “Punisher,” this song pulls you like a riptide. It demands to be perceived.

“Moon Song” contains some of Bridgers’ most haunting, evocative lyrics to date (“We hate ‘Tears in Heaven’ / But it’s sad that his baby died”). It’s the kind of song that you’ll restart before it’s over, just to make sure you were fully absorbing every word.

Throughout the song, Bridgers infuses her airy voice with more and more venom.

“You are sick and you’re married / And you might be dying,” she snarls in the outro, just before delivering the fatal emotional blow: “But you’re holding me like water in your hands.” Even with all her power and poison, she still just wants to be savoured.


22. Baby Queen’s “Buzzkill” is a stark portrait of a generation in crisis, ingeniously disguised as a banger.

Baby Queen/YouTube‘Buzzkill’ was released as a single on July 8, 2020.

“Buzzkill” is one of those rare, lightning-in-a-bottle generational anthems. It manages to capture modern fears and teenage angst without feeling recycled or corny, like “Royals” with a Gen-Z spin.

Baby Queen, aka Londoner Bella Latham, isn’t triumphantly counting her dollars on the train to the party; she never wanted to go in the first place. She’s exhausted by social media, pissed about politics, but too disillusioned to do anything about it. And she very explicitly doesn’t crave a different kind of buzz.

“I don’t wanna be a buzzkill but I’m sad as f—,” she declares, almost gleefully, in the year’s most rousing bridge. “Help! When I wake up it’s bad as f— / Help me! No, you don’t give a damn / So I point a gun at your buzz / Bang bang!”

Latham’s captivating vocal performance, paired with the song’s erratic production, saves “Buzzkill” from being a huge bummer. The verses simmer with the depressive chill of Billie Eilish, while the hook erupts with arena-sized guitar riffs.


21. “On the Floor” by Perfume Genius is a fizzy, ’80s-infused frolic with quietly piercing lyrics.

Perfume Genius/YouTube‘On the Floor’ was released as a single on March 16, 2020.

This might be the poppiest Perfume Genius song to date, but the singer’s calling cards – yearning, anxiety-ridden desire, and “the spectre of shame,” as The Guardian’s Alim Kheraj describes – still churn and swirl like dust in a spotlight.

“Closeted queer desire becomes a ‘constant buzzing all through the night,'” Kheraj writes, “which feels like a ‘violent current of energy’ that needs to be erased: ‘I pray to change. I cross out his name on the page. How long ’til this washes away?'”

Indeed, the title of “On the Floor” is slyly two-pronged. It sounds like a vintage party song, fit for the DJ at your trendiest local club – but could just as easily leave you at home, crumpled and weeping on the carpet. As one YouTube comment shrewdly noted, it’s like “Call Your Girlfriend” for “sad gays.”


20. “The 1” is among the most relatable and stirring songs that Taylor Swift has ever released.

Taylor Swift/YouTube‘The 1’ is the first track on ‘Folklore,’ released on July 24, 2020.

In terms of relatability, Taylor Swift has set a very high bar for herself; she built her career upon songs about unrequited crushes, high school jealousy, and Shakespearean daydreams.

Of course, Swift is no longer a teenager writing songs in her parents’ house – and you probably wouldn’t expect to see yourself in the musings of a 30-year-old multi-millionaire.

But as it turns out, Swift has spent quarantine pouring through old journals, reminiscing about lost loves, and pining for simpler times just like the rest of us.

As somebody who constantly worries that I feel things more intensely than an average person, who berates myself for dwelling on every rupture and mistake, “The 1” speaks to the deepest caverns of my soul.

It’s not an example of elaborate, textured lyricism, but the song’s power resides in those one-liners that feel so simple and so true: tender moments of insecurity like, “It’s another day waking up alone,” and “But we were something, don’t you think so?”

Here’s hoping Swift never quits digging up the grave another time.


19. “You’ll Miss Me When I’m Not Around” is peak Grimes.

Grimes/YouTube‘You’ll Miss Me When I’m Not Around’ is the eighth track on ‘Miss Anthropocene,’ released on March 19, 2019.

Grimes’ latest album “Miss Anthropocene” is a lot of chaotic doom-worship, but “You’ll Miss Me When I’m Not Around” sheds the noise for an understated, silken warning.

Much like Grimes’ magnum opus, 2012’s “Oblivion,” it marries celestial mumbles, grungy guitar patterns, and fatalistic lyrics. It’s a song for the end of the world, and 2020 is its perfect stage.

As Rolling Stone’s Claire Shaffer described so gracefully, “You’ll Miss Me When I’m Not Around” sounds like “goth Kacey Musgraves,” which I can only imagine was intended as a tremendous compliment.


18. “Pressure in My Palms” by Aminé combines sharp lyricism and heady production flourishes.

Aminé/YouTube‘Pressure in My Palms’ is the eighth track on ‘Limbo,’ released on August 7, 2020.

“Pressure in My Palms” is heavier and grungier than you may expect from ever-grinning, banana-lovingPortland rapper Aminé.

Indeed, the production allows for a touch of gravity. But Aminé’s cheekiness and quick wit is very much still present, strongly recalling “Late Registration”-era Kanye West.

He flits between pop culture references – Britney Spears shaving her head, Ashton Kutcher’s MTV show “Punk’d,” Steve Harvey’s infamous Miss Universe mix-up, Winona Ryder’s shoplifting scandal – and, as Pitchfork’s Sheldon Pearce notes, he relishes the absurdity of each one.

Sharing a song with gritty British rapper Slowthai and “Norf Norf” icon Vince Staples certainly raised the stakes, but all three artists deliver bars that burst with energy, attitude, and personality.

With “Limbo” as a whole, but especially with “Pressure in My Palms,” Aminé illustrates a sort of garnished, high-spirited style that’s not just fun, but vitalizing.


17. “Therefore I Am” is one of Billie Eilish’s best and most charismatic songs yet.

Billie Eilish/YouTube‘Therefore I Am’ was released as a single on November 12, 2020.

When “Bury a Friend” was released, Finneas O’Connell remembers telling his sister, “I think we just get to do whatever we want now.”

“Therefore I Am” is exactly what happens when two of the world’s most talented hitmakers are doing whatever they want.

Billie Eilish snickers and eye-rolls her way through this song, yet never cedes vocal control – even when she halts the beat and smirks, “What the hell are you talking about?” You just know she recorded that line, like, 34 times to achieve the optimal balance of tart and honeyed.

And just when you think you’ve got a handle on this implausible bop – when you’re head-banging to a philosophical concept from 1637, no less – you fall into the second verse.

As Eilish swiftly transitions into a staccato delivery, O’Connell strips the song of its decor. Just the fuzzy beat and a couple snarky laundry lists remain (“Articles, articles, articles / Rather you remain unremarkable / Interviews, interviews, interviews / When they say your name, I just act confused”).

And when the chorus comes crashing back, you realise how much you missed it.

Every moment of this song pulses with personality and power. On top of being structurally and sonically masterful, it’s so incredibly amusing, and certainly one of Eilish’s best yet.


16. “WAP” by Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion

Cardi B/YouTube‘WAP’ was released as a single on August 7, 2020.

The worldly events of 2020 were horrific and distressing, to be sure – but the year was also defined by day-to-day monotony. Most people spent its warmest months tucked away, only venturing outside to take a walk, or appraise the top half of friends’ faces from a cautious distance.

Then, on August 7, “WAP” crash-landed like a bawdy meteor. And for a moment, the earth blazed and trembled.

The filth, flair, and sheer outlandishness of “WAP” proved to be the perfect balm for this mind-numbing year. Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion managed to unite their country more than its own administration. For weeks on end, “WAP” blared from passing cars and open windows.

And it never seemed to get old, the way most hit singles tend to do.

Despite its late arrival and various prudish controversies, “WAP” became the definitive song of the summer.


15. “Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)” is the clear standout on The 1975’s newest album.

Jordan Hughes‘Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)’ is the 14th track on ‘Notes on a Conditional Form,’ released on May 22, 2020.

“Notes on a Conditional Form” has many bright spots, but could’ve used some pruning; conversely, there isn’t one single thing I would change about this song.

“Tonight (I Wish I Was Your Boy)” is truly delightful from start to finish, from the pitched-up Temptations sample to the jumbled jazzy outro.

The 1975 frontman Matty Healy called “Tonight” the “anomaly” on the album, largely because it resulted from him “f—ing around.” But that may be the very source of its strength. The song doesn’t feel forced or overcooked, like some of the band’s more high-concept music.

It’s a reflection of late ’90s flavours and retro production flourishes, freed from Healy’s well-worn concern that he doesn’t dabble in “anything pastiche-y.”

Naturally, Healy’s incisive lyricism is still here (“Sunday’s nearly over, so I’ll just lie awake” is the best, most concise description of ambient dread that I’ve ever heard), so the song still cuts you a bit. But what is a song by The 1975 if it doesn’t steep you in existentialism?

The beauty of “Tonight” – much like many of the band’s best songs, including “The Sound” and “Love It If We Made It” – is that you can dance while you panic.


14. “POV” may be the best ballad in Ariana Grande’s entire catalogue.

Dave Meyers‘POV’ is the 14th track on ‘Positions,’ released on October 30, 2020.

“POV,” the final song on Ariana Grande’s sixth album “Positions,” is musical dessert. Placed ingeniously at the end of the tracklist, it leaves you with a sweet taste and rosy-cheeked emotional fullness.

Unsurprisingly, Grande’s vocals are transcendent, particularly in the final verse. But this song also boasts some of her most intimate, impressive lyrics to date.

This song is sentimental and expressive without feeling pretentious (“How you touch my soul from the outside? / Permeate my ego and my pride”); conversational and yet poetic (“I’d love to see me from your point of view”). Grande nudges you to remember her past trauma and pain, but remains radiantly hopeful, like a slowly blooming flower.


13. “Do It” by Chloe x Halle is at once sultry and electric and ethereal.

Chloe x Halle/YouTube‘Do It’ was released as the lead single from ‘Ungodly Hour’ on May 14, 2020.

Aided by the songwriting prowess of Victoria Monét, Grande’s most frequent cowriter, and Scott Storch, who produced some of Beyoncé’s earliest gems, Chloe x Halle managed to deliver their most irresistible, body-friendly song yet.

It’s simply impossible to listen to “Do It” without bobbing your head or waving your hips – and it’s tough to imagine any other singers being able to bottle this precise energy. When Chloe trills, “Yeah, I beat my face / Movin’ fast ’cause the Uber on the way,” she sounds more like the ageless patron saint of Going Out than a 22-year-old using youthful jargon on Twitter.

Ideally, we’d all be dancing to this song during a sweaty night on the town, melting into the crowd at a barely-lit bar. We’ll have to wait to live the kind of evening that the Bailey sisters describe, guiding us like guardian angels.

But that time will come. “Do It” has the juice to stand the test of time, and it will certainly soundtrack many magical and debaucherous memories for many years to come.


12. In addition to being a whole bop, Bad Bunny’s “Yo Perreo Sola” is a glorious blow against toxic masculinity.

Bad Bunny/YouTube‘Yo Perreo Sola’ is the fifth track on ‘YHLQMDLG,’ released on February 29, 2020.

The entirety of “YHLQMDLG” is sharp and joyful, but “Yo Perreo Sola” is the album’s greatest triumph. It embodies Bad Bunny’s ability to incorporate meaningful, relevant themes into music that’s too fun to turn off – and therefore forces you to pay attention.

“Yo Perreo Sola,” which loosely translates to “I Twerk Alone,” addresses sexual harassment, largely from the perspective of an empowered woman on the dance floor.

Bad Bunny himself also chimes in, chastising his less evolved peers: “She’ll call you if she needs you,” he sings. “But for now, she’s alone.”

The performance illustrates how men can show up, how to gracefully step aside and give female perspectives a platform – as well as the uselessness of that very binary we often cling to.

“I wrote it from the perspective of a woman. I wanted a woman’s voice to sing it – ‘yo perreo sola’ – because it doesn’t mean the same thing when a man sings it,” he explained to Rolling Stone. “But I do feel like that woman sometimes.”


11. Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” is the shiniest gem in a brilliant tracklist.

Hugo Comte‘Levitating’ is the fifth track on ‘Future Nostalgia,’ released on March 27, 2020.

Truthfully, I did not fully appreciate the genius of “Levitating” when I first listened to Dua Lipa’s sophomore album “Future Nostalgia.”

But as time went by – and I continued to listen to “Future Nostalgia” every single day – the song, uh, levitated to the top of my tracklist ranking.

Aside from “Don’t Start Now,” which I previously listed as one of 2019’s best songs, “Levitating” is easily the album’s most enchanting moment.

It seems impossible to make a song so candied, so upbeat, so unabashed with the use of the pet name “sugar-boo,” that doesn’t grow annoying over time – and actually gets better and better with every listen. But Lipa pulled it off and made it look easy.


10. Ashe’s “Save Myself” is an exquisite fusion of intimate songwriting, agile vocals, and grandiose production.

Ashe/YouTube‘Save Myself’ was released as a single on July 22, 2020.

Back in May, Ashe allowed just one hint about her then-forthcoming single: “My ex-husband probably won’t like the song. Let’s just say that.”

Indeed, thanks to her breakout hit “Moral of the Story,” Ashe has been lauded for maturity and level-headedness in the face of heartbreak. But on “Save Myself,” she snarls, “Over being so mature / If only I was never yours.”

“Save Myself” is a captivating piece of storytelling. Ashe details her refusal to recognise red flags; fumes that she squandered her youth for an unworthy man. Contrasted with her fairylike voice, the effect is thrilling. She even lets out a primal howl in the bridge, noises crashing around her like a palace that lost its foundation.

Even though I’ve never been divorced, this song gets me riled up.

Maybe it’s our country’s unfathomably bad state of affairs, but I’ll be damned if “One day, I’ll be good / Right now, I’m just mad” isn’t the most infuriatingly perfect couplet I’ve heard all year.

It could also be that Ashe is a born songwriter and a compulsive truth-teller – a lethal combination, especially when you have something to say. Ashe has a lot to say, and I’m thankful that she isn’t holding back.


9. Swift’s “Tolerate It” has already entered the pantheon of immortal heartbreak anthems.

Beth Garrabrant‘Tolerate It’ is the fifth track on ‘Evermore,’ released on December 11, 2020.

“Tolerate It” is ostensibly about a crumbling marriage. The narrator toils away in the kitchen, setting the table and washing dishes, while her husband responds with cold indifference. She notices. In fact, all she does is notice.

This is one of multiple songs on “Evermore” that excavates Swift’s fascination with long-term commitment, and its various pitfalls.

But goddamn, “Tolerate It” takes me right back to being a teenager, desperate for my boyfriend’s affection, waking up every day and resolving to deserve the love I craved – and being met with persistent, crippling disappointment.

Swift stages this emotion all too realistically. Whether she envisioned the song’s characters to be 17 or 70, the story speaks to the greater human experience.

I don’t think that feeling tolerated, rather than cherished, ever gets easier to deal with – especially by an “older and wiser” partner, who may or may not have conditioned you to feel grateful for scraps (ehem, John).

Breakup songs have always been Swift’s specialty. Perhaps that’s because, even four years deep into a happy relationship, she can conjure pain and past suffering by brushing her hand across a piano like she’s casting a spell.

Perhaps she has lived many lives, had many reincarnations, and the poetry gods forgot to erase her emotional memory this time around.

Though if they did “forget,” it might’ve been strategic. After all, our collective musical history is much richer for it.


8. “Heavy Balloon” is one of the most powerful, purgative moments on Fiona Apple’s best album.

Fiona Apple/YouTube‘Heavy Balloon’ is the ninth track on ‘Fetch the Bolt Cutters,’ released on April 17, 2020.

Fiona Apple’s magnum opus, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” is an album that demands your attention. As such, it’s not packaged to be picked apart, nor is it designed to make you comfortable.

It’s difficult (and often even painful) to sing along with Apple’s lyrics, which indict the patriarchy and all of its symptoms: female-specific trauma, abuse, double standards, oppressive perfectionism, rape.

But if there’s one song that can be isolated – added to a playlist, perhaps, without feeling like Apple interrupted your momentum to punch you in the face – it’s “Heavy Balloon.”

The song is about depression, yes, but it’s also about defying depression. Apple doesn’t scratch and claw her way out; she swells and erupts. She clamors for her own salvation. It’s anti-graceful by design.

And while you bellow along with her triumphant chorus – “I spread like strawberries! I climb like peas and beans! I’ve been sucking it in so long that I’m busting at the seams!” – it feels like you’re punching your own demons in the face instead, almost like an exorcism.


7. Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s collaboration “Rain On Me” is utter pop excellence.

Lady Gaga/Interscope Records via YouTube‘Rain On Me’ was released as a single on May 22, 2020.

Predictably, “Rain On Me” – a collaboration between two of the world’s most talented pop stars – has all the makings of a smash hit. The vocals are pristine, the ’90s house beat is colossal, and the hook is begging for a mosh pit under a strobe light.

But this song isn’t just a banger. It’s not just about crying in the club, either. At its core, “Rain On Me” is an ode to sisterhood, a celebration of mutual understanding and support.

Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande are two women who have been through a lot. They can handle a bit of rain. But they have also described making “Rain On Me” as a bonding, healing experience.

The song is distinctly unselfish, with each artist and her prodigious voice gleefully making space for the other. The harmonies seem to relish their shared resilience.

The best part of the song is the second post-chorus, after Grande’s entrance. Her bright soprano surges from behind, echoing Gaga’s solemn battle cry – that is, until the final word, when both women join forces in glorious unity. “Rain (rain) / On (on) / Me.


6. “Dynamite” may have been BTS’ biggest hit this year, but “Black Swan” was their greatest artistic triumph.

Big Hit Labels/YouTube‘Black Swan’ was released as a single on January 17, 2020.

“Black Swan” is a lush, theatrical song that grapples with self-doubt and fear – specifically, the BTS members’ fear of dissonance. What happens when the biggest, most beloved band in the world doesn’t feel creatively fulfilled by music anymore?

It’s a truly fascinating choice as a single. “Black Swan” doesn’t stomp and strut like “On,” or blush and beam like “Boy With Luv.” Rather, it broods and burns.

The song’s shadowy production is anchored by a deliberate trap beat and the septet’s sharp, unparalleled finesse; each line is delivered with a ferocious intensity.

The contrast is stunning. “Black Swan” sounds like anxiety and panic, even without understanding the Korean lyrics – but it feels like the focus and defiance that shines through that emotional fog, like a lighthouse beacon.


5. “3am” is the bratty, punkish pop-rock song that Halsey was born to make.

@donslens/Instagram / Courtesy of Peter Don‘3am’ is the eighth track on ‘Manic,’ released on January 17, 2020.

Much like its tender younger sister, “Clementine” – another of Halsey’s best-ever songs – “3am” succeeds because it doesn’t shy away from her perceived blemishes. In fact, she almost delights in spooling them out, wrapping the tendrils around herself like a protective scarf.

“3am” is an exhilarating adrenaline rush of pride, regret, petulance, and grandeur.

The production, complementarily, is equal parts glitchy and pristine: It simultaneously sounds like late ’90s kitsch rock, mid-’00s pop, and modern grit.

Listening to this song feels like being drunkenly crumpled on your bedroom floor, craving attention, your nerves on fire, all while you know you should be asleep. Anyone who’s had that experience, even once, will feel Halsey’s burst of energy on “3am” crash straight through their chest.


4. “People, I’ve Been Sad” by Christine and the Queens

COLOURS/YouTube‘People, I’ve Been Sad’ was released as a single on February 5, 2020.

Héloïse Letissier couldn’t have known the pandemic was coming, but “People, I’ve Been Sad” sure sounds like prophecy.

Released during a past life back in February, it somehow captures the vegetated madness of quarantine better than any lone song this year.

Letissier, known professionally as Christine and the Queens, covers the entire spectrum of loss and loneliness in just a few simple stanzas. Sad, gone, and missing out – “you know the feeling,” she sings, asking us to sympathise. But she doesn’t have to ask.

Despite its sparse, airy production, the emotional sincerity of “People, I’ve Been Sad” acts as a centre of gravity. It’s somehow both listenable and impossibly heavy. Letissier’s pain – and, by extension, ours – is transformed into a shimmering vision of acceptance and solidarity.


3. “XS” by Rina Sawayama is an anti-capitalism pop-rock masterpiece.

Rina Sawayama/YouTube‘XS’ was released as a single on March 2, 2020.

As I wrote when I named “Sawayama” one of the year’s most essential albums, “XS” is its brightest highlight – a protest song that glimmers and glares.

The single is a flawless blend of Britney Spears at her peak, “Buddha’s Delight” from “Music and Lyrics,” the pop maximalism of Kim Petras, the electric guitar riffs of Evanescence, the garish allure of Paris Hilton in “The Bling Ring,” the nerve of “Fight the Power,” and the shrewd half-sincerity of Lorde’s “Royals.”

The irresistible production reflects the ingenious lyrics. Both indict the listener for buying in.

As Sawayama sings sarcastically about consumption, chaos, and the immeasurable cost of apathy, you’ll find yourself tapping your foot.


2. Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage Remix,” featuring Beyoncé, is a blinding display of chemistry and star power.

Megan Thee Stallion/YouTube‘Savage Remix’ was released as a single on April 29, 2020.

Megan Thee Stallion didn’t need Beyoncé to make “Savage” a hit. But this is one of those rare times that an excellent song was remixed and actually improved.

In fact, “Savage Remix” works so incredibly well because neither woman is trying to out-rap or out-sing her counterpart (“I’m a bad bitch, she’s a savage, no comparison here,” Beyoncé purrs).

Instead, they create a smoothie of energies that goes down like a shot of absinthe. Their teamwork feels both natural and intoxicating.

“Together, the pair are an unstoppable force of Houston bravado and empowerment that will boost your serotonin levels just enough to have hope for a world beyond this pandemic,” Brittany Spanos wrote for Rolling Stone.

“Unlike most pop remixes of the past couple years, Beyoncé goes above and beyond to make this one powerful: She serves up three total verses along with a wealth of angelic, whisper-y runs that feel like diva ASMR,” she continues.

“As overpowering as Beyoncé’s presence can be, though, this remix doesn’t lose a single ounce of Megan’s spark. That’s the true mark of a real-deal savage.”


1. Swift’s “August” is simply perfect.

@taylorswift/Instagram‘August’ is the eighth track on ‘Folklore,’ released on July 24, 2020.

Among many other musical talents, Swift has two primary strengths that set her apart from her peers: lyrics that feel like emotional knives and bridges that bring their songs to another level.

Not only does she deliver both with “August,” but she circles back to twist the blade.

The vast majority of Swift’s songs follow one reliable architecture: verse/chorus/second verse/chorus/bridge/chorus. And make no mistake: Both verses, the chorus, and the bridge in “August” are all spectacular.

But the song’s outro is what truly elevates “August” to god-tier status. Swift weaves recurring images and lyrics into the crescendo, mirroring the song’s themes of reminiscence and nostalgia. When the drum beats drop out, only to surge back moments later, Swift creates a perfect sonic metaphor for nostalgic waves of regret and cyclical games of “what if.”

“August” is poetic genius – not to mention a pure joy to listen to. In terms of production, it’s fittingly warm, lush, and dreamy. This song epitomizes why Swift’s foray into alternative folk-pop was so very welcome.

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