noisey's best song of 2020

The 100 Best Songs of 2020

In 2020, we consumed music like late-night pizza: sloppily and alone. Here are the tracks that made the best company.

The painstaking curation of reducing the year's best songs to a list of 100 is never easy, but it's particularly taxing during a year in which our music habits changed completely.

Work-from-home orders meant you probably neglected your morning commute playlist. Music wasn't made for the club. We lived our lives on TikTok, and artists like Sada Baby and Cookiee Kawaii came out victorious with viral hits like "Whole Lotta Choppas" and "Vibe (If I Back It Up)." Collectively, we wondered about a quarantine baby boom, and horny anthems like "Throat Baby" and "WAP" did little to assuage those concerns. Despite not being able to tour, artists kept giving us music to narrate this strange time in our lives. Here are the 100 best songs that came out this year, selected, voted on, and ranked by Noisey writers and editors in the U.S. and the U.K.



In spite of everything, 2020 was still a pretty horny year for music and "Throat Baby" is a worthy companion piece to "WAP's" total domination. "Sexy lil bitch, sexy lil hoe" might be the only lyrics we can quote here, but we urge you to listen to the song for yourself. Following in the footsteps of Akinyele's "Put It In Your Mouth" and Three 6 Mafia's "Slob on My Knob," "Throat Baby" is an ode to fellatio that you'll remember for decades to come. —Kristin Corry


Everything about Little Mix's "Sweet Melody," the group's third single of the year, feels perfectly aligned to create a perfect pop symphony. From the music video, where Perrie, Jesy, Jade, and Leigh-Anne give us the best pop-girlies-ripping-choreography-a-new-one moment of the year, to the Mariah-esque lyric "He would lie, he would cheat / Over syncopated beats," the stars truly align here. Britain's biggest girl group shows why they're still standing six albums in. —Lauren O'Neill


Call Machine Gun Kelly a guilty pleasure if you must, but why have guilt this year when we've barely had pleasure? Unabashedly pivoting to pop punk was the smartest thing that MGK could do, both aesthetically (he has the anarchy symbol tattooed on his solar plexus, after all) and because a good pop punk song is eternally irresistible to the masses. If you're between the ages of 19 and 37, there is a very good chance that at some point you owned Enema of the State on CD and you damn well liked it. MGK knew this, hung out with Travis Barker a ton, some weird tattoo osmosis happened, and now he's made this very well-produced, delightfully bratty record. "Bloody Valentine," driven by Barker's genuinely excellent drumming and a splash of gang vocals, is the perfect powerpop drug for 12-year-olds, cosplayers, Hot Topic shoppers, emo rappers, you, and certainly me, an adult who should know better. But who cares? Give yourself a break and just let yourself enjoy something stupid, at least for this year. —Hilary Pollack


Open Mike Eagle's Anime, Trauma and Divorce addresses multiple crises with both humor and earnestness. This track fits a broader theme of 2020: trying to take care of oneself, but also figuring out what that means. Kelp smoothies? Yoga? Over the course of the track, with crackling vinyl sounds and a calm thumping kick drum, OME sounds like John Mulaney's impression of Ice-T on Law & Order SVU. Instead of repeating heinous crimes, he's supposing different methods for healing. For example, cupping therapy. "That shit works bro," he raps. "Shit fuckin hurt though." —Ashwin Rodrigues


Back in the halcyon days of March when we were baking bread and thinking "all this" would "be over" by the time summer rolled around, Cardi B, ever the voice of reason, went on a rant on Instagram, urging people as only she can, to take this shit seriously. iMarkkeyz, who has a knack for turning memes into bangers, remixed it into a track, complete with coughs as ad-libs. This song will be to coronavirus documentaries what "Fortunate Son" is to movies about the Vietnam War. —Leslie Horn 


Home to 2020's rockin'-est guitars, HAIM's "The Steps" is bare-faced in its Fleetwood Mac fandom, from the simple riff to the sisters' vocal harmonies. A bombastic retaliation to feeling suffocated by a partner, it's a worthy successor to Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham's similar expressions of frustration, and as such, it forms one of the high points of HAIM's 2020 album Women In Music Part III, and of their tenure as global rockstars. —Lauren O'Neill


This is the first song Drakeo dropped after his sudden release from Los Angeles Men's Central Jail on November 4. And he's already caught pneumonia from looking at his wrist...twice. The LA rapper's signature off-kilter delivery allows him to fit "Walking on water, critics say that I'm icy, Saweetie" into a space less than two seconds long. He's paisa dancing after the plug told him the price. It's refreshing to hear the Ruler back on a studio microphone, instead of through a jail phone, like the one he used to record his June album Thank You for Using GTL. —Ashwin Rodrigues


Juice WRLD's Legends Never Die debuted at No. 1, making it the biggest posthumous debut in more than two decades. It's a gripping album, almost hard to listen to when the artist details using the very drugs that killed him less than a week after his 21st birthday. But its bombastic energy, candor, and irreverence are a reminder of why Juice WRLD was such a sensation in the first place. "I got pain in my heart, I told you a hundred times," he sings. In spite of the glossy production, you hear real hurt there, which stings even more a year after his untimely death. —Leslie Horn


On Rough and Rowdy Ways, his first original album in eight years, Bob Dylan rediscovered himself. It's a stellar record, powered by affecting, poetic songwriting and a voice that's finally found its groove: gravelly, emotive, and wholly unique. It's also, at times, just plain badass—and never more so than on "False Prophet," a driving blues number that Dylan snarls through more than he sings. He sounds almost evil as he describes, like some kind of immortal bard, a mountain of swords, graves filled with gold, inhabitants of the underworld—vivid images that are as potent and mystifying as those that populate his strongest early writing. On "False Prophet," Dylan shows us that, at 79 years old, he's still got it. It feels good to have him back. —Drew Schwartz


The touring lifestyle for the vast majority of artists is not glamorous. There are long drives, lots of sitting in green rooms with hummus and veggie trays, and talking to overzealous fans at the merch table. Listening to Trace Mountains' excellent lead single "Lost in the Country," there are also existential crises and panic attacks that come with hitting the road and following your dreams. Bandleader Dave Benton sets the scene: "I used the venue Wi-Fi / I checked my email twice as I sat and cried / The singer from the other band asked if I was / Alright and they sat with me awhile in the cool dark country." While it's a mundane slice of life, Benton's songwriting and the driving arrangement finds a deeper revelation in that dark moment. –Josh Terry


"Cascades" is full of swirling synths and smooth descending vocals, but as with much of her album Modern Dread, isolation lurks at the song's core. Under its deep soulfulness is an edge of anxiety about herself, the structures we live in, and the future. It's a moving indie pop anthem from a British artist who, three albums in, has started to confidently hit her stride. —Hannah Ewens


Everything Damian Marley touches turns to gold. Like "Grown & Sexy" with his brother Stephen and "Beautiful" with Bobby Brown, WizKid's "Blessed" has gotten the same treatment. On the track the two celebrate life: "I might be rough around the edges, maybe yes / I keep it nappy and I do what makes me happy," making "Blessed" the perfect antidote to a stale 2020 spent in lockdown. —Nana Baah


India Jordan has spent the last decade DJing the hell out of the U.K./Europe circuit with a high-energy brand of dance music that harkens back to the glory days of 90s clubbing. In their recent singles, the artist has captured those warm, optimistic-sounding beats in the sweetest way possible, with nu-disco paying homage to the golden age of house music and the ecstatic energy of drum 'n' bass. On "For You," Jordan captures queer joy, self-love, and most of all, sheer jubilation, something we've had a troubling shortage of this long, strange year. With each pulsing "you," it feels more and more like this giddy dance track is truly meant for, well, you, and best of all, that you deserve it. —Hilary Pollack


Gang, a full-length collaboration with multi-hyphenate musician Fred Again.., may have been the real indicator of Headie One's mainstream potential this year. The album's title track is sparse in instrumentation but dense in introspection, with Headie detailing what it took for him to become the man he is today. "They didn't lie when they say you're out of sight, out of mind / Told myself I'll make sure they can't forget me next time" He seems to be doing a good job at that last part. —Trey Smith


The word-of-mouth award of the year goes to Northern California hardcore band Gulch, who came out of Santa Cruz, Calif.—home of both a beach boardwalk and a high crime rate—and blew away the scene with the ferocity of their first LP, Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress. Much of the album was recorded live, with many songs in just a single take, capturing the raw energy of being crammed into a sweaty show with stagedivers leaping around you. The title track—also the first of the album—opens with a bang, and Elliott Morrow's bestial vocals go straight for the jugular, pulling heavy elements equally from grindcore and metal as from NYHC and DIY punk. There's a good reason why just one full album in, their merch is fetching hundreds of dollars on the resale market: They rip. —Hilary Pollack


Paranoia, indecision, and self-doubt echo in anxious loops on this breakout song from the teenaged songwriter and producer osquinn (who also appears on streaming services as p4rkr). An uneasy drum and bass break and a stomach-churning synth line that'd be fitting in either Blade Runner film only magnify the bad vibes, which culminate in the mantra-esque repetition of the hopeless line: "I don't know what the fuck to do." It's relatable for anyone who gets stuck in these sorts of headspaces, worrying about the future, dreading the past—which was probably just about everyone in 2020. —Colin Joyce


Father John Misty often inflects his forlorn folk music with dark humor and a knowing wink. But on his single "To S.," that self-deprecation is nowhere to be found. Instead, we get FJM at his most vulnerable, reaching out to a depressed friend through his guitar and piano, with soaring strings that make you feel "sure you'd float away," as he sings. "'I had a dream and you were in it' / is all you had to say," he murmurs, refraining the go-to line for letting a lost friend or crush know you're thinking about them from afar. The cover of the single shows a faceless figure being tenderly hugged by a skeleton; in this year of widespread loneliness, it means more than words. —Hilary Pollack 


The U.K. producer Iglooghost has always had an eye for the fantastical. He says his debut album told the story of a pair of giant disembodied eyeballs crashing into a mythical planet, though you might not hear it just in listening to the hyper-detailed drill 'n' bass and footwork-indebted electronic compositions on the record. On "Amu," however, Iglooghost enlists a children's choir to bring his mythos fully into his music. The song is slower, more careful than much of what he's released so far, using a slowly swaying instrumental as the canvas for a ghostly story about the titular entity, who levitates and "tries to talk to invisible gods," while its enemy, the speedy "Yemmo," tries to steal from it. It's a garbled, surreal fairy tale, a welcome escape to another world. —Colin Joyce


Teen rapper SL has been a name on the lips of tastemakers since he popped up with his debut single "Gentleman" and fruity follow up "Tropical" in 2017 and 2018 respectively. The tracks were viral smashes, but also felt fairly mellow, as if SL had smoked out on some London pound cake before stepping into the booth. "Felt Tips"taken from his 2020 tape Different Dude—ramps up the energy and sets its sights firmly on the pop chart. The 19 year old sounds all the more confident for itcoming after collabs with Pa Salieu and Kenny Beats, it's his best yet. —Ryan Bassil  


Earlier this year, Congolese Belgian musician Marie-Pierra Kakoma AKA Lous and the Yakuza released her debut album, Gore, which explores her upbringing and acts as a kind of biography. Produced by El Guincho, who also produced Rosalia's "Malamente," it's no surprise that the body of work is instantly hypnotic. On "Bon acteur," a track that features Kakoma rapping about a difficult relationship in her signature sultry tones, it's easy to relate, even as a non-French speaker. —Nana Baah


Chicago's V.V. Lightbody makes gorgeous and ornate indie rock, peppering in flutes and lilting strings to color in her majestic arrangements. On her excellent 2020 album Make a Shrine or Burn It, single "If It's Not Me" stands clear above the rest. It's a track that subverts the expectations of a breakup song, trading jealousy for kindness and acceptance. She sings, "I  never wanna hate another woman / Just because she accidentally saw you on the street / It happened to me." It's bittersweet and the meticulously contracted guitars, strings, and songwriting makes the emotional resonance a gut punch. —Josh Terry


East Tampa's Tae Bae Bae provides a two-minute respite from 2020 with "Ova East," a track with buoyant bass, clattering drums, stuttery guitar jabs, and a Miami bass vibe. Tae Bae Bae's verse, which is more of a boastful celebration than a story, finishes within the minute, and he rides out the beat for the same amount of time. It's a trip to a warmer climate that ends way too soon. —Ashwin Rodrigues


The biggest boy band on Earth, BTS, released a colossal amount of music this year, making history and setting new records, only to break them again. The group's November album BE was home to some of the biggest BTS hits of the year—"Dynamite" was the most-viewed video within the first 24 hours of its release in YouTube history and it was the biggest Spotify debut of 2020. Metrics aside, though, the group's February album Map of the Soul: 7 is a 74-minute voyage through some of the most complex and beautiful K-Pop songs of the year. An anthemic chorus and ethereal falsettos move "On" through highs and lows as its lyrics embrace the symbiosis of failure and triumph; the track embodies the infectious pull of BTS' music in subtle ways. —Jaime Silano


Searching for truth in the towering shadow of his ancestors and his friends who have already passed on, Navy Blue gazes into both past and future on this standout track from Àdá Irin. A ghostly, uncanny soul sample underpins tearful reflections and hesitant optimism about the path ahead. He prays for peace and protection, knowing that both are hard to come by. But he trudges onward, despite the loss and loneliness that cloud the track, because you have to. Time stops for no man. —Colin Joyce


The Slow Rush's roomier psychedelics are a departure from the Motown bounce of earlier Tame Impala records. Still, Kevin Parker peaks on the dance floor. The core sentiment of "Breathe Deeper"—remember to exhale—normally represents therapeutic advice. But sometimes self-care is thrilling. The effervescent synths and that grooving bass line—which somehow sounds both nostalgic and in the moment—buoys Parker's floating presence. "So we can be as one" is a cliche sort of dance lyric, but on "Breathe Deeper," the earnestness is infectious. —Brian Josephs


Jean Dawson, the genre-agnostic up-and-comer, can still remember watching A$AP Rocky's "Peso" music video in high school, thinking it was the "coolest shit ever." Now the two are friends, and the A$AP mob member is featured on Dawson's studio album debut. Rocky joins Dawson on "Triple Double" for an instant hit of nostalgia, and Dawson provides another tip to what he just might be: "Black Bowie with a lil Kobe." It's an easy listen that recalls a time when sneaking out at night was a thrill, and not a requirement because your dog has diarrhea. —Ashwin Rodrigues


When it comes to any feelings of alienation from, and slightly outside of, real life, Phoebe Bridgers almost definitely has a song for that. The Punisher single "Kyoto," is a wonderful addition to her collection, and to the general "touring musician exploring the sense of being a lonely fish out of water abroad" canon, benefitting from the punchier production on her second album as a whole, and a rockier, more upbeat style that the internet's favorite sad girl should embrace more in her solo material. —Lauren O'Neill


In late November, J Hus dropped "Must Be", as the long-awaited first single from his second album Big Conspiracy. He raps about his opps and those who still associate with them, accompanied by a bouncy saxophone, which made "Must Be" the perfect song for listening to on empty lockdown streets over the summer. "Must Be" is the song you play with all of the windows down, so loud it makes your rearview mirror vibrate. —Nana Baah


Just about everything about Origin of the Alimonies, the fifth full-length from New York experimental-black-metal-meets-everything project Liturgy, is huge. Per frontwoman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, who has been releasing a series of lectures on YouTube just to explain it, it's an album, but also an opera, but also a film, starring Hunt-Hendrix herself. Set to a score that includes an eight-piece chamber orchestra, its narrative of a tragic love affair between two divine beings is meant to be a parable for the origin of all things, but also a metaphor for the philosopher-musician's System of Transcendental Qabala, and an illustration of her long-gestating concept of Total Art. Of course, you don't need to know all that to get the wind knocked out of you by lead single and "aria" "Lonely OIOION," which plays out like a multi-part epic unto itself, threading bits of organ, strobing power electronics, and flute into an undulating cyclone of Hollywood-ready strings and guitar squall. But you can tell that she's dreaming big, and the music makes that idea alone feel like an act of bravery. —Emilie Friedlander


Some people can't help but talk shit, and Playboi Carti's has a message for them in the title of his first post-Die Lit single: "@ MEH." Carti's delivery is not as disaffected as the title suggests, he just doesn't feel the need to show off. To wit, the bleeps and bloops on the beat sound like they were hammered out on someone's laptop in less than an hour. The casual nature of the song is part of its charm, though, and if "@ MEH" is Carti not showing off, we hope he does more of that on his upcoming album, Whole Lotta Red, which is expected next year. —Leslie Horn


When Canada's Jon McKiel bought a used reel-to-reel tape recorder, the tapes a previous owner tracked were included in the purchase. What McKiel found were otherworldly and ethereal samples that he used as a basis for his earthy, textured, and inspired LP Bobby Joe Hope. Opener "Mourning Dove" sets the strong tone for his one-sided collaboration with an elegant and earthy jam. Over a rustic, plucky acoustic guitar loop and the spectral found-sound tape noises, McKiel sings, "I want to hear you speak, I want to only believe / How maybe we're so free but tell me what you mean, tell me what you seek." Like the lost music that came with his reel-to-reel, this track is an anthem of discovery. —Josh Terry


It is impossible to reach the end of this track—packed with quotable lines like "If my bitch say, 'Bless you,' when you sneeze, you can have her," and "Tell my brother if he catch a body, then I'm tellin' mommy"—and not be absolutely sure that Carole Baskins murdered her husband. —Trey Smith


In an extraordinarily prodigious year for this rising star of the regional Mexican music scene, one Junior H song rises above the rest. Taken from Atrapado En Un Sueño, "Mente Positiva" sways and swings amid its braggadocio and danger. Like the narcotized and intoxicated emo rappers of his generation, he sings from his soul behind a veil of substances and hedonism. Cars, liquor bottles, and women swirl around him, but at the song's somber center is a young man determined to hold it all together with a positive mental attitude. —Gary Suarez


“Nobody wants to die / So everybody wash your hands, Corona-Vi / Everybody wash your hands.” No truer words were sung in 2020. —Trey Smith


"I Spy" is a soft serenade from one of Jamaica's fastest rising artists, Lila Iké. She infuses contemporary reggae with refreshing elements of soul, hip-hop, and dancehall to craft songs that summon inner strength and solitude in equal measure. "I Spy" was produced by Izybeats, who earned a Grammy for his contribution to Koffee's "Toast" last year. The track perfectly expresses the timeless confidence and magnetism Iké taps effortlessly in all her music. —Jaime Silano


One of pop's preeminent purveyors of stories of conflicted love returned with one of his best documents of the pain of connection. It's a song about the hurt and discontentedness that often lingers under the surface of a relationship, unspoken, but the instrumental is bright and misty, full of bouncy synthwork that recalls buoyant 80s prog-pop like Peter Gabriel, of all things. That disconnect is interesting; the Weeknd's music has often been about stewing in the pain, lingering in the murk and mire, but this time he dances through it—with the aid of a Kenny G sax solo. —Colin Joyce


Bartees Strange's Live Forever is largely about the weight of Black mobility. But for three minutes, Bartees makes the very idea of it sound like paradise. Inspired by his time in Brooklyn, every vibrant genre trapping he throws into "Boomer" expresses that joy of long-awaited self-discovery. —Brian Josephs


Houston's rich hip-hop tradition has long included Latinx artists, mainly Mexican American ones. Yet as the corridos sound kept brushing up against the rap game, it really was only a matter of time before someone like Bo Bundy came along to make an anthem that defined this moment. Over a syrupy slow beat, he raps almost conversationally in line with the leisurely tempo. Rooted in the culture, he pays homage to regional notables Chalino Sanchez and Tito Torbellino in one breath and guzzles Buchanan's whisky in the next. —Gary Suarez


London rapper and singer Bree Runway's 2020 mixtape 2000and4eva is the definition of an all-killer-no-filler affair, and it includes features from the likes of Missy Elliot, Rico Nasty and Malibu Miitch. One of its many high points is the Yung Baby Tate-assisted "Damn Daniel," a kiss off with a twist—Runway and Tate cosplay two girls dating the same guy, who raises their suspicions by refusing to post either of them on the 'gram. After separate verses, they come together for an ecstatic chorus, as the infectious hook ("If you fuck with him / He'll fuck all your friends") luxuriates against rainbow-bright synths. —Lauren O'Neill


While Dehd's 2019 effort Water was raw, cathartic, and electric indie rock, the Chicago trio truly settled into a groove on their follow-up, this year's Flowers of Devotion. It's easy to imagine the lead single "Loner," which was written last year, as a de facto quarantine anthem. Co-lead singer Emily Kempf yelps, "[I] Want nothing more than to be a loner" over jangly guitars and 60s girl group style backing vocal harmonies from Jason Balla. The track grapples with what it means to be without attachments and alone but it's not a downer. Instead, it's a declaration of freedom and self-reliance. While there's value in relationships and community, Dehd reminds us that taking care of ourselves has been more important than ever. —Josh Terry


For Black college alums, homecoming season is as anticipated as Christmas. COVID canceled this year's editions, but at least we got "Money Maker." The single samples Southern University's marching band to create a strip club ballad that sounds like halftime at an HBCU football game. 2 Chainz comes with his typical humor ("She say I killed the pussy, I seen the affidavit") and even known bad opinion haver Lil Wayne puts in a decent shift. We may have to wait until next year—or longer—to visit our alma maters, but we have this to keep us warm until then. —Trey Smith


Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand she's off. The first track from Little Simz's 2020 EP Drop 6 has the pace of an Olympic athlete on the 100m sprint. Scientists have yet to say how quickly the track begins after you press play, but it's fast. It's cool too. "Feeling myself / yeah I might be, bitch…" says the Brit rapper, calmly and meticulously dashing back and forth over the kind of beat that should push you to do stuff. Play this one in the morning when you need to shake yesterday's shit away. —Ryan Bassil


Magic Oneohtrix Point Never felt new in more ways than one. While much of the album embodied Oneohtrix Point Never's typical forays into experimental effects and pleasing glitchiness, he got closer than ever to a radio-friendly indie rock single with "I Don't Love Me Anymore," a fact that Daniel Lopatin, the man behind the alias, seems aware of, considering that he released a karaoke version of the song on YouTube. Ever thought you'd see OPN looking like a regular old rock band on Fallon? Neither did we, but we're cool with it. —Hilary Pollack


Newly renamed, The Chicks came out swinging with their first new album in 14 years, Gaslighter. The title track is easily the best song of the year about getting a divorce, as Natalie Maines' vocals—crisp and soaring as it ever was—circle around roomy production, and rub up against the tight harmonies that have always made The Chicks irresistible, whether you're a country fan or not. —Lauren O'Neill


Special Interest singer Alli Logout shared some prophetic words in a 2019 interview: "We are on the brink of a major collapse of everything," she told artist and writer Jane Pain. "I think what we are doing speaks to that. I want complete, total destruction of everything." That necessary destruction happened all around us this year, and when listening to "Street Pulse Beat," off the lo-fi NOLA art punks' album The Passion Of, we get a grimey and glam soundtrack to the downfall, sung ferociously by a powerhouse on the mic. The pulsating, industrial drumming and synth echo a starkness that's only driven into sensual and fierce territory by Logout's sneering, soulful vocals. The song rips, this band rips, and now I want to rip off my leather pants. —Alex Zaragoza


When we first met the Bailey sisters, they were Beyoncé's bright-eyed proteges with major Disney appeal. Now, "Do It" and their Grammy-nominated album Ungodly Hour, is the coronation of Chloe x Halle's entrance into womanhood. Produced by Scott Storch and co-written by Victoria Monét, "Do It" is the song you need to hear before a drama-free night out. The girls are looking for a night of effortless fun. They're arriving on time, they've swapped their heels for sneakers, and are avoiding baby mama drama at all cost. As intoxicating as a signature cocktail, the song is as bubbly as it is strong and leaving it on repeat is bound to give you more confidence than you came with. —Kristin Corry


Over the past few years Future has made a point to collaborate on projects with some of his younger colleagues, but none have had the magic of his efforts with Lil Uzi Vert. The two of them are so complementary in style that you'd be inclined to believe they really are father and son. On "That's It" they go back and forth on a Wheezy beat whose luxe guitar sounds fit perfectly with the rockstar lifestyle they describe throughout. —Trey Smith


Bay Area death metal outfit Necrot have been serving macabre riffs for nearly a decade, but those seen on "Stench of Decay" are some of their very best. With its manic speed and stadium-worthy solo, the track signifies that Necrot is heading in a bigger and badder direction. As bassist and vocalist Luca Indrio told Brooklyn Vegan, "'Stench Of Decay' is the smell of our world falling under the greed and senseless pride of men. It is the stench you smell in the morning when you realize that outside your door is nothing but ugly humans ready to deceive, steal, or even kill for a little more power or money." The vile nature of capitalism has never made us want to headbang so bad. —Hilary Pollack


Did Christine and the Queens know something we all didn't when she penned this song, released in February?: "It's true that people, I've been sad (People, I've been sad) / It's true that people, I've been gone (People, I've been gone) / It's true that people, I've been missing out (I've been missing out) / Missing out for way too long (People, I've been gone)." One moved comma, one mishearing that she's saying "people have been" and it becomes an anthem for a year full of sorrow. Midway through, it becomes a prayer: "If you (You) / Fall apart, then I'm (I) / You know the feeling (You know the feeling)" she repeats over and over again at the end, and yes—yes we do. —Kate Dries


If Nick Jr. made beats, they would sound like this track, produced by Teo Halm and Frank Dukes. Two years after the Philadelphia rapper's debut, Whack World, Tierra Whack provides a status update on this track, as she enjoys luxuries like exotic vehicles, designer bedsheets, and waterfront property.Her opening demands can be applied to anyone: "I like nice things. Give me compliments. Please have common sense."  In 2020, nothing feels as sweet as this song sounds, and the contrast makes the experience that much more surreal. —Ashwin Rodrigues


The third song on Japanese-British singer Rina Sawayama's explosive album SAWAYAMA shapeshifts from candy-painted nu-metal reminiscent of early 2000s Korn and Limp Bizkit to playful bubblegum pop. "Have you ever thought about taping your big mouth shut? 'Cause I have, many times, many times" Sawayama sings over a shredding guitar riff and taunting whispers. "STFU!" starts with a sense of balance, but it eventually flies off into chaos. —Jaime Silano


"Don't Check the Score" is arguably the best song Hamilton Leithauser has released during his solo career, which the former Walkmen lead singer embarked on after the band broke up in 2013. His voice—towering, crystal clear—pierces through the song's ramshackle arrangement. He conjures up a vision of a windy winter day, the reappearance of an old friend, and a city sunrise, all rendered in novelistic detail. Leithauser alternately hollers, mutters, croons, and shouts in "Don't Check the Score," seemingly putting every emotion that inspired the song inside of it. You feel the catharsis, acceptance, and resolve Leithauser sings about because he sings about it so forcefully. "Don't Check the Score" is a masterwork from a musician with nearly two decades of great music under his belt, who seems determined to continue to make more of it. —Drew Schwartz


There are so many songs about being horny, but no one can distill that slick, sweaty,  intoxicating kind of sex into a song quite like Shygirl. "SLIME" is oozing with it. Over a thunderous beat laced with growls, Shygirl doesn't mince words and gets straight to the point, at one point saying: "She came to fuck."—Nana Baah


Tongue forever planted firmly in cheek, and deeply aware of all eyes always on her, Ariana's having more fun on this song than it seems like she's had in years (and given much fun she has, even in heartbreak, that's a lot). Strings behind her, guitar plucking along, she neatly dances across the words, one brief mention of the failures of her past relationships stuffed in as she reminds that she's down for whatever will make her new one stick, winking all the way. —Kate Dries 


Lomelda's Hannah Read wrote in a press statement of her song "Hannah Sun" that it was "written for three maybe four listeners to hear." But after playing it in a Paste YouTube session, the cat was out of the bag, and it ended up on Hannah, her revelatory 2020 album. Thank god it did because even without knowing the backstory, the song is so intimate and unguarded it feels like a secret. The song shines with plaintive synths and Read's fragile and emotive voice. Later in the track, Read sings, "Glad you held her, glad you held him / Glad you held me too, though I didn't know how / To be closer to you." It's a heartrending and evocative lyric, one that Read makes seem like a life-or-death realization. —Josh Terry


Last year, Pop Smoke's infectious Brooklyn anthem "Welcome to the Party" landed at number three on our best of 2019 list, and its success was a clear indication that Pop, who was an amalgamation of the rap he grew up on like 50 Cent and DMX, was poised to be a leader of New York's burgeoning drill scene. In February, rap fans mourned his death, grappling with the fact that a promising star's career could be over before it ever really began. We could not imagine that Shoot for the Stars Aim For the Moon would be a posthumous debut album, or that his work with his idol 50 Cent (who executive produced the album), would come as a result of his death. "The Woo" is an alternate universe of what the Brooklyn rapper could have become—a bridge between the rap of yesterday and the sound of tomorrow. Pop Smoke's legacy is forever, although his time here was short and we should all Woo Walk in his honor. —Kristin Corry


Arlo Parks released a string of stunning singles in 2020, of which "Black Dog" is the standout—a desperate, invested, empathetic song about being terrified for someone you love. "Let's go to the corner store and buy some fruit / I would do anything to get you out your room" she sings. "It's so cruel what your mind can do for no reason." Parks released "Black Dog" alongside the track "Eugene," making for a pair of songs focused on deep love and friendship and their role in survival.—Jaime Silano


"Look at you, now look at me." BLACKPINK's lyrics are dripping with the earned confidence of global superstars, and with good reason: The South Korean girl group has become an undeniable force in pop music. "How You Like That?," the first song off 2020’s THE ALBUM is a turbulent electro-pop track full of sticky vocals, in which BLACKPINK is radiantly celebrating their talent, success, and the fact that global pop charts are finally ready for K-Pop. —Jaime Silano


In a year where corridos tumbados became the prevailing format in música Mexicana, the year's best song in that style is a collaboration with a Cuban-born singer. A standalone single from the pairing of homegrown genre leader Natanael Cano with unlikely upstart Ovi, "Pacas Verdes" best represents the merger of regional and trap as it boasts of moving serious weight and reaping the lucrative rewards. Though the acoustic tune couldn't sound further from the 808 bumps favored by Atlanta and Memphis producers, it feels far more authentic than the bulk of what comes from those city's studios. —Gary Suarez


Hunched over a keyboard in the live setting, the Alabama-born musician and visual artist Lonnie Holley will take a line like "I went picking up in my memory" and repeat it over and over again, leaning into the words until they gesture at something larger than themselves. Although his meandering vocal melodies and piano lines are largely improvised, they appear to spill out of his mind fully formed. With its taut blues structure and driving bass line, though, "Like Hell Broke Away" sounds different—so different so that you might be tempted to make sure that he isn't covering a lost 1950s rhythm & blues cut from an artist like Screaming Jay Hawkins, ecstatic shrieks and ad-libbed exhortations and all. As it turns out, the sturdier sonic framework makes his gravelly, bleating voice sound all the more explosive and heartbreaking—especially when he sings about something "slipping away," and when we remember that National Freedom, the EP on which the song appears, is a tribute to the late Richard Swift, the producer he recorded it with. —Emilie Friedlander


The first song off Josiah Wise's three-song EP, Apparition, is built around the lines "Life has gotta get easier / can't carry a heavy heart into another year." Wise's vocal presence is so deliberate and connected to his center that listening to it has a grounding effect. Warm, sweeping choral vocals command the solitude of a cathedral as Wise sings of a sweeter future protected by karma, and producer Wynne Bennett strings delicate piano melodies over sounds of ticking clocks and beating hearts. "A Comma" is a comforting, sedative prayer for punctuation and peace in scary times. —Jaime Silano


On "iPhone," Rico Nasty's vocals come in like a car crashing into the side of a building, and your heart rate only rises from there. A dizzying blend of hyperpop and emo rap ("I'm in love with a nightmare," Rico sings, over a skittish drumbeat), "iPhone" features typically bombastic production from her frequent collaborator, 100 gecs' Dylan Brady, and includes an ad-lib that sounds like the noise the Crash Bandicoot game makes when you get eaten by a killer plant. Everything you need, really. —Lauren O'Neill


"Stuttering Stanley" is a standout on Narrow Head's new record, 12th House Rock. Singer Jacob Duarte insists, "Don't think too hard / There's nowhere to go," like you're stoned on the couch together, and you've got nothing to worry about but hanging with your friends on a warm summer night. With its heaving riffs and kaleidoscopic tones, it's a solid, sing-songy earworm and a post-hardcore anthem to numbing out. —Hilary Pollack


Breland's extension of Lil Nas X's reach is proof that hip-hop is the great equalizer; it goes well with any genre. "My Truck" continues the conversation "Old Town Road" began, questioning the gatekeepers keeping country music predominantly white and male. In Billy Ray Cyrus fashion, Sam Hunt's verse showed that the genre does have the capacity to deviate from the standard. It doesn't hurt that Hunt, who has often been considered the Drake of country, hopped on the song with a tenacity that we didn't expect: "Pull up on you at the red light, homie / Throw some Bone Thugs on and make your loose change jump." He definitely had that bar sitting in his Notes app for a while. —Kristin Corry


"Fuck this year." No one in a lockdown environment has been immune to this thought. Pop trio Avenue Beat used R&B-tinged vocals to express that sentiment literally over an almost morose guitar loop to create an everyday pandemic anthem, which blew up on TikTok, where it amassed 5 million views almost overnight after it dropped in July. The song was made in someone's bedroom in an hour, and it sounds like it in the best way—they recreated the isolation, boredom, and elliptical thought processes of being grateful for what you have, but still considering the many reasons why this year can go fuck itself. —Hannah Ewens 


There are so many songs that took on a different aspect after quarantines were enforced all over the world earlier this year, and Shamir's "On My Own" is one of them. As we shut ourselves in, this lyrically perfect break-up song with a superlative, Prince-channelling riff became a support mechanism for those isolating alone. Totally at peace with itself, "On My Own" is one to play loud on your speakers and air guitar along to when you're the only person home, and especially if you're always the only person home. —Lauren O'Neill


Jazmine Sullivan is your favorite singer's favorite singer. She connects notes with ease and could stack harmonies so strategically that it's hard to believe she's the only one on the track, and "Lost One" does all of this and more. Her church-reared, angelic voice is enough to get you to repent your sins, although she spends a full three minutes confessing her own. "You go out and fuck different people to cope and ignore all precautions / You drink and you drink and get faded, you feel like that's your only option," she sings, recalling the ways she's tried to mend her broken heart. On the track, she's a self-professed "selfish bitch" and "nothing short of a disaster," but with a voice like hers, there's little she could do to get us to call her anything short of a genius. —Kristin Corry


After earning favor with the barbz for her Nicki Minaj duet "Tusa," the Colombian star limited her 2020 to a handful of solo and collaborative singles, including one with her fiancé and frequent musical partner Anuel AA. Of these, "Bichota" comes closest to the final-boss energy of "Tusa," and not merely because both tracks were produced by Ovy On The Drums. Here, Karol weaponizes her pum-pum power with well-deserved confidence and a defiant sense of control. —Gary Suarez


"feel away," the first official single since his decade-defining debut album Nothing Great About Britain, marks a kind of rebirth for slowthai. An uncharacteristically personal song dedicated to his little brother who died when he was eight years old, "feel away" sees slowthai meditate on past relationships over a gentle, melodic loop before yielding the floor to James Blake and Mount Kimbie. After a rocky start to the year, it's a significant about-turn for an artist who initially made a name for himself as the loudest and most topless person in any given room. —Emma Garland 


Harmonizing with PartyNextDoor and singing the hook on "Believe It" is about the only glimpse of new music we've gotten from Rihanna in the past couple of years, but that's perfectly fine. Because on this anthem to fidelity, the duo gives you a song that's endlessly repeatable: "Bae, best make me believe it / believe you won't deceive me," Rihanna sings as a complement to Party's reassurances. You may not believe his promises to stay faithful, but that's what makes his music so irresistible.  —Leslie Horn


Being into Dragonball Z has never sounded as sexy as it does on "Dragonball Durag." It's the second track that was teased from Thundercat's fourth album, It is What It Is. Over a smooth, soulful 70s inspired track, Thundercrat croons about fucking in his durag, his jewelry, and quite clearly, an unrequited romance: "I may be covered in cat hair, but I still smell good." —Nana Baah


Opening with what sounds like an emergency siren from 400 years in the future, "Grasshopper" comes swinging out of leftfield halfway through Tkay Maidza's already versatile mixtape, Last Year Was Weird, Vol 2. With abrasive production and apocalyptic energy, it squats in the middle of a Venn diagram between U.K. drill, experimental rap, and songs that would accompany a dramatic moment on Euphoria. The lyrics center on fire and rebirth, symbolizing Tkay's evolution since becoming a breakout star in her home of Australia in 2016. Grasshoppers molt several times before reaching their final form, so look alive, and underestimate no one. —Emma Garland


NNAMDÏ's Brat is an album about being at a crossroads in life. "Wasted," one of the many standout singles on the LP, is full of yearning and vulnerability, as he sings, "I love to hear you speak / Judgment free / Just be real / I want you to feel safe, no / Need you to be safe" over a cloudy and moody beat. Speaking to Fader, NNAMDÏ explained, "that whole song is just about being open to receiving information. I think a lot of us want people to be open, but aren't ready to receive whatever the other person says." Brat makes the case for letting connection happen and taking the next uncertain step forward. —Josh Terry


Benny the Butcher and Freddie Gibbs, both of whom released excellent albums this year, meet on "One Way Flight," a warm soul loop assembled by Hit-Boy that samples a 1974 song by Barry White signee, Gloria White, and includes some expensive-sounding drums. As the two rap about their current successes, the Griselda representative points to the outfield on his at-bat, stating, "This year three in the beginning of a 10-year run." But Gibbs, noted Lakers fan, made the biggest wave on this track when he raps, "Hoes get fucked and sent home early just like the Clippers." —Ashwin Rodrigues


This year Beabadoobee, the poster girl for Gen Z's embrace of everything 90s and early aughts, released Fake It Flowers, a zingy collection of alt rock tunes in the lineage of Lush and The Smashing Pumpkins. The album's standout is "Worth It," an ode to a dreamy but flaky rebound who just won't pick up the damn phone, which froths and fizzes like a Mentos-and-Diet-Coke concoction, and announces Beabadoobee as one of indie pop's best new songwriters. —Lauren O'Neill


Philadelphia's Nothing have never been shy about their eclectic influences from 90s indie and alt-rock. But on their new album The Great Dismal, the typically grungy Philadelphia band takes a surprisingly upbeat, even radio-friendly turn. On "Say Less," which opens with a sample from the traditional German children's song "The Happy Wanderer," we find the spacewalking metal-gazers paying homage to Oasis (the lyrics reference "a mourning glory story") and Madchester-era bands like The Stone Roses. It's an exciting preview of Nothing's ambitious future, one that revisits an era when alternative rock was made to rule the airwaves. —Hilary Pollack


In a year where hoeing took a devastating hit, Flo Milli walked in the footsteps of her predecessors (a salute to Nicki Minaj, Megan Thee Stallion, City Girls, and the many that begat them) and refused to let her power be taken. And what we got was an energy-packed, sample-savvy declaration on securing the bag and embracing the hoe life that gives so abundantly. The Alabama rapper, who was just 20 when her mixtape Ho, why is you here? dropped, gave us nothing but anthems, filling each track of her tape with the youthful exuberance of a brazen bitch who won't be trifled with. While it's hard to choose a favorite, "May I" stands as if it was wearing seven-inch stilettos, interpolating Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre's "Gin and Juice," taking its hook and name from Snoop's original flow and turning it into a banger on owning your pussy, your power, and your paychecks. It's Flo Milli shit. —Alex Zaragoza


"It's the worst that it's been since the last time it happened / It's happening again right in front of our eyes," sings Tyler Childers on the first lines of his song "Long Violent History." Released over the summer months after the police murder of George Floyd, Childers explicitly condemns police brutality and the history of violence in the United States. As a country singer from Kentucky, Childers knows how Appalachia has been taken for granted and experienced its own many injustices but he notes, "It's called me belligеrent, it's took me for ignorant / But it ain't never once made me scared just to be." He released this track, a lucid and scathing indictment on our nation as the closer of his album of the same name and explained his moral reasoning in an eloquent video. It's a bold and necessary step for an artist in a genre that's reckoning with its past and future. —Josh Terry


Thanks to TikTok, "Savage" made adjusting to a new quarantine a little bit easier, but Beyoncé's feature took the Suga single from 8-counts to icon status. It's always a pleasure to hear Beyoncé rapping with the best of them, and her ultra-specific namedrops of popular internet culture let us know one thing: Bey is lurking on her finsta just like the rest of us. But the best part is a line reserved for the women who take a little extra time getting ready: "If you don't jump to put jeans on, baby, you don't feel my pain." What else do you expect from the woman responsible for making "Bootylicious" a part of the English language and trailblazing an era of body positivity for other women to own their curves. —Kristin Corry


Disjointed and disorienting, this track from the duo now known as Food House is the sort of prankish pop energy that an overwhelming year deserves. With references in the lyrics to the brash mid-2000s duo 3OH!3 and to breaking their backs in a mosh pit at a 100 Gecs concert, Gupi and Fraxiom telegraph their approach: they crash through the annals of trash-pop, knocking over all the shelves, stealing all the Pixy Stix that spill on the floor. They offer up Auto-Tuned raps about AirDropping memes and threatening to, uh, "piss on" the puppy-eyed EDM producer Zedd, a non-sequitur so jarring that you have to believe he's given them a good reason to do so. It's 2020's catchiest shitpost, a pop song bold enough to reflect the dizzy madness of the year. —Colin Joyce


Fleet Foxes have a solid record when it comes to tribute songs: Crack-Up's "Third of May / Ōdaigahara," which honors bandmates Robin Pecknold and Skyler Skjelset's friendship, is probably the first time bro-ing down can be described as wondrous. "Sunblind" remembers the deceased who inspired them to make those kinds of opuses to begin with: Elliott Smith and David Berman, among others. Packed with Fleet Foxes' signatures—humane guitar compositions, Pecknold's yearning howls—"Sunblind" is a reminder that these idylls are as much theirs as they are those who came before. —Brian Josephs


Bad Boy Chiller Crew put the spotlight back on bassline in the U.K. with this high octane belter about breaking the law and living large. Synthesizing the lineage of 2-step, speed garage, and grime into a rave-ready banger, "450" stands confidently among the classics in terms of production and MC skills—but it's the collective's self-reflexive humor that really resonates, particularly in the current climate of working-class demonization. When all's said and done, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more unifying summary of the British nightlife experience than: "Two white lines and a bank card, I be in the club tryna kick it like Lampard." —Emma Garland


Sixty-nine seconds was all it took for Noname to undo J. Cole's attempt at gaslighting Black women on "Snow on tha Bluff." "Song 33" isn't an elaborate diss record that fires at the rapper aimlessly. Instead, Noname carefully uses each bar to underscore how toxic patriarchy and misogynoir can be—and how dangerous, and even fatal, it is when Black women are in the crosshairs. We may never know if "Snow on Tha Bluff" was actually intended for Noname, but after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Oluwatoyin Salau, there was a major call to protect Black women, and J. Cole's message felt incredibly tone-deaf. The song asks that women be more patient with men, as if extending patience wasn't already costing them their lives. To that, Noname sums it up pretty poignantly: "He really 'bout to write about me when the world is in smoke? When it's people in trees? When George was begging for his mother, saying he couldn't breathe / You thought to write about me?" Well said. —Kristin Corry


Since starting out with a career on YouTube, Ivorian Doll became the subject of rumors about her sex life. "Oh shit, I heard a rumor IVD is a thot / They said I'm leaking from the STDs that I got," she raps on "Rumours." Here, IVD hits back with playful bars: "No way, no evidence in that case / No forensics, there was no trace / Had that bally up on my face. " Amassing millions of views on her second-ever release, IVD has successfully crossed over from YouTuber to "queen of drill." —Nana Baah


Among the bold choices Bad Bunny made in 2020, dropping an entire album devoted to the sound of reggaetón past and present may have been his shrewdest. By far the biggest Latin music album of the year, the Leap Day release of his second proper full-length YHLQMDLG would've been even more impactful were we allowed to indulge in perreo intenso at the nightclub or hookah bar of our choice. Those who did manage to squeeze a few dancefloor sessions in prior to lockdown ran the risk of throwing their back out to "Safaera," a frenetic medley of throwback beat switches and raw lyricism courtesy of El Conejo Malo and his reggaetonero forebears Jowell & Randy and Ñengo Flow. —Gary Suarez


The beauty in dijon's songs is tenuous. The memories that the LA singer/songwriter has spilled out over the last few are too raw for it to be any other way. For every pillowy harmony, every moment of stillness, there's often a corresponding bit of ugliness—his voice twists and stretches into a rageful groan or a phlegmy sob, overcome by the moment. But "jesse," the closing track on his 2020 EP How Do You Feel About Getting Married is different. He whispers his way through a story of a loved one who can't help but hurt him, coming home late, drunk, and an emotional wreck. And yet, his voice remains still, the song stays placid, welcoming, a safe embrace for the person who he can't help but smile at when he sees, no matter how much pain he causes. Midway through the song, dijon drifts into an ambient reverie, letting his voice and his simple guitar line trail off into a haze of reverb and static—allowing himself a fantasy of a world where things were a little more simple. —Colin Joyce


Birmingham spitter M1llionz brought fresh flavor to U.K. drill in 2020. Being a brummie means his accent stands apart from the drillers in places like London or Brooklyn, helping contribute to his stand-out flow, where words rolllllllll around his tongue. He put out a few big tracks this year—including "B1llionz" and "Year Of The Real," with Pa Salieu, Meekz, and Tweeway— but "Y Pree" was one of his best. It's a sparse yet bright take on drill, and his cadence sparkles like a car dashboard at night. M1llionz struck the right balance with "Y Pree": It's innovative enough that it stands out, but also familiar, helping push the UK drill sound into fresh new territory. —Ryan Bassil 


If Cookiee Kawaii's TikTok smash is any indication of how Jersey Club music is reinventing itself, then it's sure to soon Sexy Walk beyond the Garden State. "Vibe (If I Back It Up)" is barely a minute and a half, but it's jam-packed with enough fun that you can play it on a loop without getting tired of it.

At first, her voice channels the effortless cool of Ghost Town DJ's "My Boo"; she's even got the demure lyrics down, too. It seems like Kawaii is leaving the ball in her suitor's court—so much so that you might even confuse what she's saying for a tinge of insecurity at times. "If I back it up, is it fat enough?" she raps. "Baby, when I throw it back, is it fast enough?" But when she says "My ass too fat," it's clear that Kawaii knew she was that girl the whole time, and we were all just drinking up the coy storyline she was unraveling. "Vibe" is the internal dialogue that women have been having in front of the mirror for years; Cookiee Kawaii just came along and exposed all of our secrets. —Kristin Corry


With pulsing synths reminiscent of Tears For Fears, saxophone flourishes straight out of the Bruce Springsteen playbook, and lyrics that pine for a girl online like a post-Instagram "Ayo Technology," this song sums up everything The 1975 excel at. On the surface, "If You're Too Shy" provides a rush of nostalgia that wouldn't feel out of place in a John Hughes film. But, as with its 80s touchstones, there's a dark undercurrent throughout. The too-big sentimentality of the instrumentals makes Matty Healy's observations feel like rose-tinted memories no matter how abject the material (in this case: the tensions between desire, intimacy, and emotion—or the lack thereof). You won't find any answers here, but "If You're Too Shy" is a perfect example of The 1975's ability to convey the ambient dread of modern life, then cast it aside in favor of a party. —Emma Garland


When Eurovision 2020 got canceled due to the pandemic, Daði Freyr (it's pronounced Dathi) lost his chance to represent his native Iceland and perform his breakout single, "Think About Things," on a global stage. But it didn't matter, because the song became one of the year's most instantly likable pop songs—soundtracking dozens of quarantine TikToks, Spotify playlists, and the few good vibes people got in 2020. There's a striking ebullience to the funky bass, the timeless chorus, and Freyr's bassy and silky croon—one that's made even more charming by the fact that he wrote the song for his newborn daughter. Thankfully, Freyr will be able to take the track back to Eurovision 2021—and there aren't many songs that could overtake his undeniable hit. —Josh Terry


100 gecs got Craig Owens, Nicole Dollanganger, and Fall Out Boy on a remix together for one of the favorites from last year's 1000 gecs. I have no idea what other information you would need to know that this song obviously rocks ass. —Trey Smith


They may be named for the fictional brand of hair grease from the 1988 Eddie Murphy flick Coming to America, but Philadelphia hardcore band Soul Glo make music that bears no resemblance to the pomade's memorable jingle. Instead, they use their fast, pissed noise to comment on the experience of being Black in America (and in a historically white-male-dominated scene), channeling rage into clever, eclectic punk in the spirit of Reagan-era SST Records. 

On their latest EP, Songs to Yeet at the Sun, the band blasts through five songs in just 12 minutes, barely pausing to take a breath. The second track, "29," goes off like a bomb, sneaking in jangly keys amid all the chaos. Begging for a moshpit to form anywhere and everywhere it's heard, it's a pure expression of frustration and absurdity, one about needing SSRIs to survive in an unjust world where you may have to choose between going to college or paying your grandmother's medical bills. —Hilary Pollack


Listening to SZA's music can feel like eavesdropping on her most private moments—the ones that people reserve for late at night or scribble on pages no one is meant to find. "I was into you from the beginning, even if you wasn't mine," she sings, as if this is the first time she's admitting it to herself aloud. Each line tells us more than the one before, and by the end of the first verse, we know enough to know that arguing has become their love language. When she says, "Mirrors inside me / They recognize you," she's admitting that there are parts of herself that are just as flawed as his. —Kristin Corry


To fully appreciate and understand the greatness of Atlanta artist RMR's "Rascal," you need to see the video. In fact, just watch it. 

Fuck the boys in bluuuueee. RMR is the troubadour we needed in a year where hundreds of thousands of people took to the street to scream "Fuck 12." In a song that heavily samples Rascal Flatts' "Bless the Broken Road," we get a soulful, country-fied snapshot of a life spent securing the plug and scamming hoes that broke your heart. In a way, "Rascal" reclaims a Black identity and sound not embraced by the country community, turns that genre on its head, and makes it far more remarkable. —Alex Zaragoza


Released two days into 2020 and launching British-Gambian rapper Pa Salieu to viral and mainstream success, “Frontline” is one of the strongest entrances U.K. rap has ever seen. While it lurches between dancehall, Afroswing, U.K. drill, and American rap, there’s an undercurrent to Pa’s sound—a menace and paranoia—that recalls Thatcher-era chart groups like Japan (whom he samples on “Bang Out”) and The Specials (from his hometown of Coventry). That vibe is especially palpable here, crystallized by Pa’s agile bars about the blood, sweat, and tears of the English Midlands. Even without all that, though, “Frontline” has a beat so cold it just might cause all the pipes in your flat to burst. —Emma Garland 


Back in February, a video went viral of Johnniqua Charles being detained by a security guard as she breaks out into an impromptu song. "You about to lose yo' job (Get this dance!) / You about to lose yo' job / 'cause you are detaining me / for nothing," she croons. As protests against police brutality and systematic racism against Black people took the nation by storm following the death of George Floyd, "Lose Yo Job" became more than just an online sensation: It became an anthem.  

The power of Johnniqua's words was not lost on iMarkkeyz and DJ Suede The Remix God, and their edit of the song soon became ubiquitous on the web and in the streets. After strangers started asking where they could donate money to support Charles, her sister, Amanda, created a GoFundMe page, and the internet raised over $50,000 to help her and her son. "Other people keep telling me I helped them so much, but they don't understand—nobody understands—how much this video going viral like this is helping me, because it's giving me the breakthrough I so badly needed for so long," Charles told Buzzfeed News. Thank you, Johnniqua, for giving us one of the best, most organic songs of the year. You can keep up with her on Instagram.Dessie Jackson


Two years ago, Sada Baby's "Bloxk Party" showed us that he was more than a grizzled Detroit rapper; he had an undeniable charisma that lent itself to the internet. "Bloxk Party" foreshadowed the TikTok appeal of "Whole Lotta Choppas," which bristled with the culture clash of a Midwest rapper hopping on a Miami bass sample (Tag Team's 1993 hit "Whoomp (There It Is)"). This time around, Sada Baby wasn't the one dancing center stage—we were. Still, Sada knows that rap fans long to see him in his element. "They wanna see me do my dance / In these thousand-dollar pants," he raps on the hook. Just when we thought "Whole Lotta Choppas" couldn't get any bigger, a nine-month pregnant Nicki Minaj breathed new life into the song for a remix that was just as catchy as the original. —Kristin Corry


Bored in a small North Carolina town toward the start of the pandemic, Ash Gutierrez did what a lot of kids his age have done in isolation: He started experimenting with recording software and making music. Inspired by underground emo rappers in the vein of Lil Peep and Lil Tracy, the lanky 15-year-old started using his songs as a way of expressing his pent-up emotions, which were as complicated, explosive, and rough around the edges as you might expect from a kid his age.

It only took a couple of months before he was making songs like "Astrid," a two-minute burst of adolescent angst, fluttering flirtations, and colorful character studies of various lost youths, trying to find their way in a world that feels more confusing by the day. Built around a complicated guitar line that sparkles and shimmers like the best riffs by the Kinsella brothers, the song packs in glittering electronics, a hopscotching kick drum that almost sounds like a footwork track, and pitch-warped melodies fitting of his community of friends who have been saddled with the hyperpop label. It's a restless track that demonstrates the vibrant creativity that Gutierrez has been able to channel at a time when such drive is hard to come by. It's no wonder people have already started bootlegging his songs and setting them to moody clips from popular animes on YouTube; music this infectious and affecting deserves such an honor.—Colin Joyce


In 2015, Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" became the unofficial anthem for a country that needed to channel its frustration. The deaths of Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, and the nine parishioners at Emanuel AME Church were a direct reflection of white supremacy, both actualized and internalized. When Lamar's protest music became mainstream, it felt like our cries about the truth about race in this country might finally be heard on a larger scale. 

Five years later, not much has changed. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd reactivated old wounds, but this time, the outpouring of pain didn't just end with a hashtag. Black Lives Matter hit critical mass, forcing the country to analyze crooked systems. And the soundtrack for this new iteration of the movement came from an unlikely contender: Lil Baby.

In June, Baby released "The Bigger Picture" after attending protests in Georgia in response to Floyd's death. "I find it crazy the police will shoot you and know that you dead, but still tell you to freeze," he raps, conjuring up all sorts of grainy bodycam footage images. The truth about "The Bigger Picture" is that none of it is hyperbole; the paranoia of Baby's words are just a glimpse of how Black people have learned to navigate this country. It's a constant battle of fight-or-flight and a life of looking over your shoulder—especially at those who are supposed to protect you. 

Probably the best part of the song is how he calls out the messaging in his lyrics, which critics might hold against him. Yes, he's perpetuating street culture, but he's also stirring up an awareness in his fanbase. "I can't lie like I don't rap about killing and dope, but I'm telling my youngins to vote," he says. "The Bigger Picture" cemented Baby as a leader of his class—not just the voice of Atlanta, but a global force. Not bad for a rapper who introduced himself by saying, "Wah, wah, wah / Bitch, I'm Lil Baby." —Kristin Corry


Society has a strange obsession with policing women's behavior, and that fixation becomes even more prominent when race and gender collide. For centuries, it's been easier to cast Black women as purveyors of promiscuity instead of interrogating that objectification's very real roots (Hint: It's slavery). The beauty of hip-hop is that there is no topic too big to be cross-examined, and Black women like Lil Kim, Foxy Brown, and Trina have never been shy about correcting the misconceptions about their sexuality.

Like their predecessors, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion are here to remind the world that sex isn't only to be enjoyed by men. "WAP" doesn't just debunk people's perceptions; it challenges entire systems, like traditional radio play. There are no pretty euphemisms here to describe their lady parts; instead, the hook repeats "wet ass pussy"—to be sure you heard Cardi correctly the first two times. Radio didn't care. They played the song—which meditates on women's pleasure as a form of dominance, over a backdrop of a slow creeping bass and Frank Ski's 1993 Baltimore club classic "Whores in This House"—11.6 million times in its first week alone

Living most of 2020 in quarantine meant that "WAP" wasn't going to be enjoyed in the club. We screamed about that "lil dangly thing that swing in the back of [our] throats" at the grocery store and while practically living at the park. The song didn't just live in the shadows of culture; it was culture, and two Black women screaming confidently about their pussies made people very uncomfortable. "WAP" is about celebrating the sticky goodness that makes us human. Wet ass pussy is a badge of honor. —Kristin Corry