Music by VICE

The 100 Best Songs of 2019

2019 yielded an abundance of slappers beyond just "Old Town Road." Here are our favorites.

by VICE Staff; illustrated by Alex Jenkins
Dec 18 2019, 4:49pm

Did any songs exist in 2019 besides "Old Town Road"? Contrary to what every open car window for the last nine months might suggest, the answer is: yes. And what this year had to offer is a continued expansion of what makes a song, a song.

We saw some of the weirdest collaborations ever (Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X pale in strangeness next to Post Malone and Ozzy Osbourne); covers that weren't quite covers (Tory Lanez's "Luv Ya Gyal // Love Songs"; Kelsey Lu's gender-flipped "I'm Not in Love"); and songs that didn't really have, uh, notes (Sunn O)))'s meditative single-note tracks from Pyroclasts).

Oh, and there were bangers galore, from Megan Thee Stallion's aspirational boasts on "Cash Shit" (and Billie Eilish's sweetly sinister self-proclamations on "bad guy") to Koffee's infectious, understated dancehall hit "Toast." In examining the music from the end of this decade, maybe Lana Del Rey actually said it best: "The culture is lit and if this is it, I had a ball." So did we, babe.


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What the hell were the 2010s? We're still figuring that out. But in the meantime, we have this—a collaboration between: a very good rapper who for some reason is more famous for having a baby with one of Kris Jenner's cursed spawn; a mysteriously charming, heavily face-tattooed white rapper who dresses like a cowboy on acid; and [checks notes] Ozzy Osbourne (please do not forget that pre-The Osbournes, he was best known as both the Prince of Darkness and Godfather of Heavy Metal). There's Auto-Tune, a fat beat, Ozzy's reliably wail-y vocals, and lyrics that include both "I feel you crumble in my arms down to your heart of stone" and "I brought up ten hoes, this coupe only made for two." If contemporary pop culture was a buffet, this would be the weird hodgepodge that ends up on your plate when you go for your third helping. This song is a cultural relic, and we should cherish it as such. —Hilary Pollack

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For the last decade, under a series of projects with drug puns for names, the producer and songwriter Michael Collins has offered a lot of different hazy visions of what psychedelic music can be. He's made foggy ambient work as Run DMT, stoney folk music as Salvia Plath, and blunt R&B ballads as Silk Rhodes, but since he started working as Drugdealer a few years ago his work has come into much clearer focus. "Fools," from this year's Raw Honey, is windswept 70s radio rock, replete with beachy vocal harmonies and a guitar solo that would make Walter Becker and Donald Fagen salivate. As Collins and co. sing about the wistful passage of time and the pleasures of singing a familiar song, it's still lysergic, in its own way, but in the way that a deep trip can bring a psychonaut a little bit of clarity and peace. —Colin Joyce

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During the chorus of "Extendo," Pi'erre Bourne's beat is coated in tape hiss. And if you put your ear to the speaker, it sounds like it’s shifting in the mix, like the sand art for sale in an in-flight magazine. The string noise sounds like it’s melting. There’s a loop of what might be a pitch-shifted voice warbling. And then Young Nudy and Lil Uzi Vert rap over it, according to a logic all their own. Nudy is lovelorn for a few bars, then trots out a barrage of gunfire sound effects. Uzi makes "fishbowl lens" rhyme with "fuck his colon," to say nothing of how he arrived at those images in the first place. This is a wild, wild song. —Ross Scarano

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"Money in the Way" is has all the classic elements of a 2 Chainz song: Boasts about how good he is at rapping ("Psychedelic flow, I'm the dope and the antidote"); incredible turns of phrase ("They say live a bitch, we goin' on a date"); lines about expensive jewelry and money ("I got a pinky ring that cost 'bout 80K); ostensible sports references ("Just tryna string it out like Latimore"); drug references ("Bought a new scale, tryna calibrate"); mentions of scantily clad and/or attractive women ("Long as she naked, I don't see nothin'") and punchlines for days. He packs more wordplay and technical skill into one song than most rappers do across entire projects. Tity Boi has been doing this for a very long time, and while he's not exactly reinventing the wheel here, the song exemplifies what makes him so good. "Every verse I do I need a coroner," he raps. It's the only reasonable response. —Leslie Horn

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Writing a great breakup song is hard, but writing a great song for your best friend after her breakup might be even harder. On "Glad He’s Gone," from Tove Lo's fourth album Sunshine Kitty, the Swedish pop star aces the latter, rushing to her friend’s side after her breakup with a toxic guy. Over a summery, mid-tempo beat, Lo reminds her friend of her worth, teases their debauched nights to come, and gives her ex the ultimate kiss-off: "Never no tears for that sucker / Only one dick, that’s a bummer." After one listen, you’ll wish you had Lo to give you a pep talk after all of your worst breakups. —Avery Stone

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People have always loved rapping about asses. But the only thing more satisfying than the lustful legacy of "Baby's Got Back" and "Back That Azz Up" is hearing a woman as playful as Doja Cat rapping about her own ass. The rapper—famous for her playful breakout "MOO!"—hits a real stride on "Juicy" with a delivery that is as robust as the curves she's praising. "Broke a fingernail and then some / Tryna squeeze into my True Religion denim," she raps. To anyone who has ever had to dance their way into the perfect ass-hugging jeans: Doja Cat sees your struggle. —Kristin Corry

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Once in a blue moon, an artist comes along with a cover of a song that is so powerful that the song becomes their own. It happened when Johnny Cash covered Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt." And it happened when Kelsey Lu staked her claim on 10cc's "I'm Not In Love." Her version, which appeared at the end of Euphoria's memorable second to last episode, flips the script on the original, in which a man casually, playfully asserts that "not in love / so don't forget it," and features a male voice singing the line, "big boys don't cry." "I love taking a song written by a man having to do with love and sexuality and switching the perspective," she told Billboard earlier this year. Her breathy, echoey vocals feel like choral and meditative. It's like the song was meant to sound this way all along. —Leslie Horn

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Louisville’s Knocked Loose may only be months into the release of their second LP, A Different Shade of Blue, but they’re onto something. On “...And I Still Wander South” the Louisville-based band calls on influences ranging from Slayer to Craft to Disembodied, showing a versatility and complexity rarely seen this side of the mosh pit, one that never loses its tough-as-nails approach. Knocked Loose skillfully blends the weaponry of metal and hardcore into a single Molotov cocktail, injecting new life into a genre that was previously a dirty word: metalcore. —Fred Pessaro

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The ache of change is always a painful thing, but Girlpool’s "Pretty" reminds us that we should at least try to embrace that grief of longing and letting go. Through fuzzy guitar riffs and dreamy, doleful lyrics, Avery Tucker and Harmony Tividad mourn past lives and relationships. They sing that they're just "trying to understand what this sadness means" but they're still left feeling "pretty broken." "Pretty" doesn’t feel like a punch in the gut, exactly; it's more tense and more curdled, something like a stomach cramp. —Dessie Jackson

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After releasing their Greta Thunberg-featuring call to arms this year, The 1975 followed up with "People," a scoffing, snarling headbanger. The track is like a higher-stakes, more fluid update on Blur’s "Girls and Boys," channeled through a megaphone and a generational existential crisis: "People like people / They want alive people." Its brawl-inciting guitars make one thing clear: When millennial spokesman Matty Healy tells you to "stop fucking with the kids," it’s probably wise to listen. —Lauren O'Neill

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There's no shortage of bands that have gotten serious miles out of the work of Tony Iommi, not only as a progenitor of heavy metal writ large, but specifically the stoner-doom format via his direct line of influence as Black Sabbath's songwriting brains and guitar brawn. And while Monolord proudly wears their Sabbath-ian influences on their sleeve, what separates the Swedish trio from the throngs of longhairs in Saint Vitus shirts is their ability to take chances and make off-the-beaten-path choices with their riffs, as seen in the chorus of "The Last Leaf." A highlight of their new record, No Comfort, it goes from somewhat standard blues-stoner doom into something much more unexpected and fresh, including a killer solo that feels straight outta Dark Side of the Moon-era Pink Floyd in the best way possible. Plus, it's downright mean-sounding—especially for the weed-worshipping set. —Fred Pessaro

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Both in their work as Kindness and collaborating with such romantics as Blood Orange, Robyn, and Solange, Adam Bainbridge has had the occasion to work on their share of love songs over the years. But there's something different about the ones that make up Something Like a War, a collective joy and wholesome energy that comes from sharing a record with a cast of collaborators you love. Philadelphia-born singer Jazmine Sullivan lends her talents to "Hard to Believe," an elastic and intimate song that treats romantic longing as a combustible, unstable thing. As she sings about how much love she has to give, the whole track feels tense and tight, ready to catch alight at any moment. Of course, it eventually does, crushing Sullivan's voice in distortion and seasick bass riffs. —Colin Joyce

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The slow build in Whitney’s "Used to be Lonely" would be a cliché if it didn’t work so perfectly. The Chicago-bred band has been doing this since their inception a few years ago. Things start quietly, build a bit, fall back again. Lather, rinse, repeat. The second time through, things grow a bit louder, a bit more cacophonous, without the group ever losing the formula that keeps the work stable. It’s both joyous and somber, a tidy summation of all that Whitney does so fantastically. Julian Ehlrich's falsetto is yearning but brimming with confidence, a more powerful iteration than on the band’s debut. Everything about Whitney is better on Forever Turned Around, and "Used to Be Lonely" is a truly signature moment. —Will Schube

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With a title like that, "Number One Fan" could have easily been a knowing comment on stan culture. But the lead single from MUNA's excellent second album About U is about an even more powerful force than online armies of teens: It's a radical ode to self-care. "I'm coming for everyone and I'm coming on strong—new hair and new shoes," sings the L.A. trio's lead singer Katie Gavin. "Yeah, I get what I like because I do what I want." Wrapped in a crisp synth-pop package, the joys of self-actualization have rarely sounded so good. —Nick Levine

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"Even the groove was filled with sadness," Jenny Hval informs us. As she sings the line, a crashing wave of synthesizer appears from out nowhere, as though to underscore the sheer vastness of that sorrow. It’s not the only moment on "Ashes to Ashes," from 2019’s epic The Practice of Love, that feels meta. Buoyed by pillowy chords and a feathery but propulsive dance beat, it’s a song about a dream she had about writing a song—one that might also be the song we happen to be listening to, which also shares its name with a David Bowie hit. Over time, the dream gets increasingly confusing. Is this some kind of statement about the creative process? Death? (She references a burial.) Sex? (She sings about sticking "two fingers in the earth, into erotic lines, into the honeypot.") But the ambiguity and weirdness don't detract from the fact that this is the closest thing to a pop song the Norwegian experimentalist has produced. Like her more chaotic-sounding work, it just makes the spell even stronger. —Emilie Friedlander

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It's a scientific fact that The-Dream makes every song he's on exponentially better, and Tory Lanez seems to agree. For Chixtape 5, a project heavily inspired by the R&B of the early aughts, Lanez not only samples The-Dream's "I Luv Your Girl" but brings the legendary singer-songwriter along for an updated version of the 2007 classic. Lanez closes the song with his rendition of "Falsetto," a reminder of just how extensive The-Dream's influence is. It's exciting to hear his blueprint fleshed out in fresh and new ways. —Kristin Corry

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Pay attention, zoomers (of both the superbike and generational varieties): Back in the day, it would have taken no more than a mention of My Bloody Valentine and the promise of escaping your feelings by riding really fast on a motorcycle to shut down the college radio charts. Times have changed for hyped new bands, but the formula for songs that launch you into reverie has not. Once those guitars let loose, it's a revelation, like bursting out of a tunnel and seeing the sparkle of city lights below and stars above. Hop on, there's catharsis just up the road. —Kyle Kramer

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A near-mint original copy of Paradise’s 1981 rarity "Sizzlin’ Hot" runs about $1,100 on Discogs, but thankfully Caribou mastermind Dan Snaith picked up the check and even added a tip. On "Sizzling’" he bottles the tune’s horn section inferno, pumps the tempo to a manic 133 bpm, and adds a slamming percussive backbone that still maintains the original’s dizzying disco swing. It makes for highly combustible dance floor material. Handle with care. —Dan Gentile

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The Atlanta artist Tommy Lloyd, aka Shrimp, started out his career rapping, but recently his brooding meditations on pain and love started to take more of a rock bent. On "This Body Means Nothing to Me," Lloyd sounds somewhere between King Krule and Lil Peep, with a Midwestern emo sensibility. He finally sounds at home in this weird middle space.

Over a cloudy guitar line, he sings about "a pistol and a small town," in what seems like both a morbid fantasy of his own mental health crumbling and a consideration of what might cause someone to crack. Near the end of the track Lloyd admits he should probably "see a counselor" because he doesn’t "feel too well." Lloyd doesn’t shy away from the difficult feelings, how it is to exist in a country diseased by gun violence, in a capitalist world that doesn't care for human bodies. But there is hope in his voice, respite in his willingness to share his darkness. Leah Mandel

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"Have Mercy," from the young traditionalist YBN Cordae, is a bar-happy song that bridges the gap between generationally divided rap fans. There’s a twisty flute sample, but this isn’t the fatalistic drug-hell of "Mask Off"—you’ll find Cordae advocating for prayer while explaining that he paints pictures and other MCs just fiddle with crayons. His voice is clear (no Auto-Tune!) and his chest is out. Music to stir you, to take pride in.Ross Scarano

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Pop music has always been obsessed with the age 17, from Joan Jett’s dance partner "by the record machine," to Abba’s "Dancing Queen," to Ladytron complaining that "They only want you when you’re 17 / When you’re 21, you’re no fun." Brooklyn musician Sharon Van Etten’s "Seventeen" also pays homage to this complex, in-between age, capturing exactly how sweet yet uncomfortable and transitional it can be. "I used to be free / I used to be 17," she sings over soaring guitar riffs. Later, her voice lowers: "I see you so uncomfortably alone / I wish I could show you how much you’ve grown." —Daisy Jones

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When I was in middle school, I developed a fascination with a 2000 indie film called Groove centered around the rave scene in San Francisco. Here's the synopsis, per IMDB: "On Friday, a single e-mail blips through the Internet. The word spreads quickly through the city: the party is on. Saturday evening, two hundred people secretly converge at an abandoned San Francisco warehouse. As the sun sets the records start spinning, setting into motion a night that no one will forget."

"LesAlpx" gives me the same feeling as wide-eyed viewings of Groove, wherein I tried to understand how electronic music could be so glitchy, repetitive, and simple, yet so profoundly emotional. It would have made great interstitial music as the ravers rush to find the warehouse where their night will transform into a Bacchanal of ecstasy, crop tops, and make-outs, or during the film's climax, when the tripping masses throb with joy as they dance to the breaking dawn. "LesAlpx" starts out with muffled, heartbeat-like thumps, then overlays them with glimmering synth lines that are part Hackers, part The Knife. It's surreal and sexy, but grounded in viscerality. If robots start doing ecstasy, this is what they're going to listen to while they peak. —Hilary Pollack

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Whether you realized it or not, this Puerto Rican songwriter has been in your ear for a minute, having helped write Cardi B’s “I Like It” and the Natti Natasha x Ozuna team-up "Criminal.” A runaway reggaetón hit in a year packed full of urban Latin successes, “No Me Conoce” gave Jhay Cortez the top-billing he so clearly deserves. Taken from his remarkable full-length debut Famouz, the remix draws in two artists who’ve benefited from his pen previously. J Balvin and Bad Bunny repay their proverbial debt with interest, dropping significant verses and pop-savvy takes on its chorus. —Gary Suarez

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Steeped in pain and regret, Raveena's "Stronger" finds the singer hitting rock bottom. The track's production pulsates like a heartbeat, almost as if reminding the singer that, despite enduring an abusive relationship, she's alive. On the song, Raveena exists in two extremes: She hurts people because she was hurt, but she's still able to understand her worth is as holy as a sunrise. "I was so naive / To think a man could be stronger than me," she sings. "Stronger" cautions you to remember that strength can only come from within. —Kristin Corry

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Justin Vernon has spent over a decade expanding Bon Iver's sound from sparse man-in-the-woods folk to a full-fledged and genre-blurring band. On his fourth album i,i, Vernon goes all in on grand, heavily textured arrangements. "Faith" is perhaps the biggest and most ecstatic he's ever sounded. The entire track feels like a life-affirming burst of energy with Vernon practically yelping, "Fold your hands into mine / I did my believing / Seeing every time" over a choir of pitch-shifted backing vocals. It's the culmination of his unexpected artistic evolution. —Josh Terry

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As Wilco cross the quarter-century mark as a band, the Chicago rockers are still making vital records. On Ode To Joy, their best album this decade, they give in to cautious optimism on single “Love Is Everywhere (Beware).” Written after Jeff Tweedy attended the first Women’s March, the track captures both the catharsis of trying to do the right thing and panic that it won’t matter. He sings, “Right now, I’m frightened how / Love is here, beware.” It’s ultimately hopeful, but not too hopeful, which means it’s the right anthem for our time. —Josh Terry

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It's surely only a matter of time before Hayley Kiyoko, the dreamy pop queen dubbed "Lesbian Jesus" by her fans, scores a long overdue crossover hit. "Demons," from a new project due in 2020, hasn't taken off like that yet, but it should. The song shows the L.A. native's ability to write about complicated issues—in this case, mental health struggles—in a way that's bright and direct but never reductive. When she sings "please forgive me, I've got demons in my head," over creepy, R&B-flecked beats, the effect is both dark and danceable—in other words, modern queer-pop heaven. —Nick Levine

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Kehlani's plea for patience in a relationship ruled by distance is a relatable one. She conjures up the courage to leave, but is still hopeful her partner will follow her. Their foundation isn't built on picturesque green pastures—it's muddy and can be erased at a moment's notice. "We'd both end up drowning, it would hit the ground / And then the path would wash away," she sings. The problem with having your head in the clouds means, as Kehlani discovers, you were never standing on solid ground to begin with. —Kristin Corry

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"Hungry Child" is a fantastic case study in beat progression. From its soft synth beginning to its bass-driven end, this song is a journey, and one of the best pop tracks of the year. It’s not rocket science; it's just Hot Chip doing what they do best: making fun songs you can dance to. What more could you ask for? —Trey Smith

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The coke rap kingpin himself sprinkles a little white out her for a queen hustler. Over a cold and minimalist Daytona-esque Kanye West beat, Pusha-T spits the praises of an independent woman successfully scamming and scheming her way to the top. When Kash Doll interrupts the tribute to shout "DON’T YOU SEE THESE FUCKIN' DEALER PLATES, FOOL," the drama intensifies. She luxuriates rhetorically over her haters like some sort of couture supervillain before dipping to collect that next stack. —Gary Suarez

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Considering all manner of fake beef and promotional narratives that artists play up on social media, one could be forgiven for having doubted the Instagram-documented romance between these two música urbana acts. But as the seasons change with the two still seemingly connected at the hip, the playfully candid and admirably un-staged intimacy of their "Secreto" music video stays meaningful as a genuine display of their young love. Above all, the track itself hits differently than most contemporary romantic reggaetòn does, with Anuel and Karol’s interplay giving hope for us all. —Gary Suarez

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Praise Jesus, God, and my wife, this is better than anything Chance put out this year. —Leslie Horn

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"American Darkness" is the second single from what could be Chelsea Wolfe’s greatest effort yet, The Birth of Violence. Time will certainly look upon the new LP very favorably, but it's not hyperbolic to say that "American Darkness" is one of her most hauntingly beautiful tracks of all time. Despite its name, the track is less about modern political angst and more about the discomfort of trudging through it when your heart's already weighed down with pain. Singing "All my old ways have started kickin' in / And my bad days are comin' round again," Wolfe trades in bombast for true vulnerability, stripping down to her folk-adjacent roots and centering her ghostly vocals. —Fred Pessaro

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Every once in a while, A$AP Ferg comes through with a monumental hit that moves through the streets and charts with ease. In 2017, it was "Plain Jane"; in 2014, it was "Dope Walk," which leveraged a Cara Delevingne video cameo to boost a street anthem into another stratosphere. Ferg struck gold again with "Floor Seats," a more traditional New York banger, although interrupted by a whacked out chorus in which Ferg goes crazy with the effects and gives the track an edge that is extravagant without being over the top. With A$AP Rocky's wild success, it's easy to downplay how far Ferg's come. With great duos, we often forget simple facts. After all, Scottie Pippen is a Hall of Famer, too. —Will Schube

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Benjamin John Power's music as Blanck Mass has long been an exploration of apocalypse. His tracks are brutalist and bleating, terrifying dance tracks formed out of a soup of primordial noise. They're as terrifying as the world outside. "House vs. House" is something different though. At first you hear the same scabrous sounds, but the clipped vocal samples and pounding kick drums take on a different spirit as the track goes on. An anthemic synth passage joins in the chorus—there are melodies meant for uplift, rather than just destruction. At the end of the world, you don't have to give in; you can always rage. —Colin Joyce

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If self-righteousness was enough to beat the bad guys, we'd have this whole problem wrapped up with just a few more Twitter threads. But the actual solution calls for more of a long game: If we want a garden, we're gonna have to sow the seeds. So, here's an instant standard for the great American songbook, a reminder that a better world begins with gathering around the dinner table, with spreading the love we want to see, with giving our friends and family a place to come home to even when they wander astray. "Yeah," we're encouraged, "everyone belongs." —Kyle Kramer

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Existential angst is at the heart of Loving's "Nihilist Kite Flyer," a woozy anthem for the directionless and confused. The western Canada trio draws from an earthy palette of folk-inflected indie rock with grounded, psychedelic, and mesmerizing arrangements. Here, the band dives in with searching lines from singer Jesse Henderson like "Am I just blind / By the need to be defined / Caught in between / Who I am and who I will be." It's understated melancholy that's still incredibly potent and direct. —Josh Terry

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If you ask British rapper slowthai to spit in your mouth, he’ll do it. He spits on record, too—about the state of Britain and how shite everything is. "I said there's nothing great about the place we live in / Nothing great about Britain," he raps on the title track of his 2019 album. Somewhere along the way, hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised British teens have agreed with him, making the Northampton MC one of 2019’s young icons. Not quite punk, not quite rap—slowthai isn’t trying to be anything but himself. —Ryan Bassil

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Many thanks to Dorian Electra—the Texan alt-pop artist with the blue hair and the pencil mustache—for releasing this bright, fizzy, sugar-rush of a track. "Flamboyant" has a lot going on: effervescent piano lines, whip sounds, genderless Auto-Tune, and lyrics like "I’m a very flaming flammable guy." But instead of being too much, each maximalist slice of glossy pop fits together like a perfectly constructed robot. Like any sweet treat, it will make you spike, crash, then crave it again afterwards. —Daisy Jones

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Odes to Miami typically show up as a loose interpretation of the city's jook music. But on "Trina," Smino doesn't sacrifice his St. Louis-by-way-of-Chicago stylings to pay homage to the 305 and its heroes. The hook immortalizes Slip-N-Slide luminaries, affectionately remembering the ass that made him want to "Pull Over," and the gold-fronted teeth that gleam in Trick's mouth. Fans of Smino are particularly keen on his penchant for wordplay, which he illustrates with a wonderfully X-rated Spongebob reference: "Threw me cheeks on the beach, she sandy." —Kristin Corry

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Even though Aaron Maine didn't release a Porches album this year, he put out one of his most rewarding and beguiling offerings yet in the standalone "rangerover." Clocking in at just over two minutes, the single packs in a lot of depth for its short runtime. It finds Maine subtly pitch-shifting his voice up like Frank Ocean or (Sandy) Alex G over a dreamy bassline. Backed by his frequent collaborator Blood Orange's Dev Hynes, the song is hazy and lovely. When he sings the "I wanna live, I wanna live, I wanna live" refrain, it's wholly enveloping and resonant. —Josh Terry

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The acerbic jabs of Mannequin Pussy’s "Drunk II" may be what land initially ("I still love you, you stupid fuck," vocalist Marisa Dabice spits). But "Drunk II" is so searing because it bends the standard breakup template into something somehow even more wounded. "Everyone says to me, ‘Missy you’re so strong,’" she howls during the chorus, "But what if I don’t wanna be?" "Drunk II" has no interest in looking back wistfully on the relationship, and isn’t ready to look ahead to what comes next, either; it just needs to wallow in the pain for now, inebriated and angry and broken. —Alex Swhear

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"Down Bad" was recorded during an overstuffed Dreamville writer's camp that allowed artists like JID, Bas, J. Cole, Johnny Venus of EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy to all nestle together snugly on one track, emerging one behind the other like a clown car. No two rappers verses feel the same on the posse cut, but JID's hook is able to thread all the chaotic energy together: "I was just fucked up / I was just down, down bad." —Kristin Corry

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With her last two albums Pop 2 and Charli, Charli XCX has established herself as the bright future of pop. But on "Gone," featuring French artist Christine and the Queens (Héloïse Letissier), Charli sheds any semblance of a too-cool persona. Instead, she and Letissier confront feelings of isolation head-on: "I feel so unstable / Fucking hate these people," they spit out before barreling into a triumphant chorus over a tinsel-shiny techno beat. Charli could easily go her whole career releasing club anthems that just flex, but "Gone" is her best yet because it doesn’t. By acknowledging and celebrating her own anxiety, Charli shows us that our vulnerabilities can truly set us free. —Avery Stone

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Indiana's Kevin Krauter makes gentle, soft-spoken, folk- and R&B-tinged indie rock with a 90s alt edge, embodying the earnestness of the era without making it painful. On "Pretty Boy," he gazes downward but not too far inward, celebrating loneliness as a form of freedom instead of a plague. "Same old shit, same old solitude," he mumbles, but then picks up his feet, saying he "won’t be too alone if I bring my horses / And ride my freedom all the way back home." The song may be melancholy, but the message is surprisingly sunny. —Hilary Pollack

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The Chicago duo HIDE have always made sickening music, full of grinding electronic experiments and unearthly screams, but "Chainsaw" is particularly nauseating, even by their standards. The lyrics—a series of ugly insults and threatening catcalls like "BITCH / You're too ugly for me anyway"—aren't poetry, they're taken from real life "verbal assaults they have received repeatedly on the street." Vocalist Heather Gabel delivers them with special larynx-shredding malice, as the instrumental grinds underneath her, revving at least as menacingly as the heavy machinery that gives the track its name. It ends with the sound of someone puking and spitting, which is the only appropriate reaction. —Colin Joyce

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Erika de Casier's debut album is intentionally a throwback. Wispy and otherworldly, the record feels like a history lesson on 90s R&B told only through VHS rips of old MTV broadcasts, and it's called Essentials, a nod to the dying art of the greatest hits compilation. The record's standout track "Good Time," however, is focused on contemporary concerns. She sings—her voice full of intimacy and loss—of the way that technology can impede real connection. The central sample, a voice intoning "I had a really good time," is mechanical, disembodied, and a direct taunt to her "always online" lover. You can only have so much fun with your nose forever buried in your phone. —Colin Joyce

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Bringing together two-thirds of the trio from Cardi B’s 2018 smash "I Like It," the mini-album Oasis satisfied those hungry for a communal feast from Bad Bunny and J Balvin. Arguably the surprise release’s high point, "La Canción" sways like summertime on the beach at dusk, its breezy jazz-adjacent musical motif evoking all manner of sunset feels. Produced by Nicael Arroyo, the track took its sweet time to ascend the Billboard charts. But laden with heavy emotion and retrospective thoughtfulness from the two música urbana giants, it's a patient song, so that success was well worth the wait. —Gary Suarez

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There is a ghostly sadness to much of the music that the LA-based songwriter Dijon has made over the last few years. It's R&B that's full of loss and absence, and little reminders of the people that should be there but aren't. Even in that context, "Drunk" is especially heavy. For three minutes, a wasted narrator has a knock-down, drag-out fight with himself. He yearns desperately for an unnamed other, but it's not so much about the other person. He's "paralyzed" and "terrified of being alone." He hates himself for what he's done, or what he hasn't. He's lost, and now he's burning the candle at both ends, crying into a bottle. Even if you haven't been there yourself, you can empathize because of the strain and desperation in his voice, and how it sounds like it's just about to fall apart. —Colin Joyce

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From the mutant ooze of New York's noise underground come Deli Girls, a duo who's spent the last few years scouring basement venues with curdled beat work and pained screaming. Their second album I Don't Know How to Be Happy is one of the finest documents of righteous anger in a troubled age, but few tracks pick as worthy a target as "Officer," which sets its sights squarely on the long arm of the state. After opening with an automated call from the New York justice system, vocalist Danny Orlowski spends the rest of the track loudly taunting a profoundly prejudiced institution. "You caught me," they scream. "You scared?" Maybe we shouldn't be, if there are people as loud as Deli Girls on our side. —Colin Joyce

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Future is undoubtedly one of the decade’s biggest success stories, but even in the last year alone, the Atlanta superstar has proven that he’s still a force to be reckoned with in a genre often dominated by teenagers. His Save Me EP offered a focused portrait of the rapper’s softer side, with seven songs that cut to the heart of Future’s moody, emo-adjacent appeal.

Where the early single "Love Thy Enemies" introduced bluesy guitar chords and hazy production, opener "XanaX Damage" paired this newfound interest in textural guitar lines with a stunning, melodic hook. At just 1:44 in length, it’s certainly the shortest track on the EP, with hardly more than a pair of skeletal choruses to set the tone for the entire release. Yet even at his most structurally simplistic, the track is measured and studied in a way that few Future singles ever are, honing a career's worth of experimentation into a single punch of carefully crafted bliss. "XanaX Damage" shows that he’s still a pop craftsman through and through. —Rob Arcand

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Vocal house music is always a good source of self-affirmation, and few tracks this year provided as consistent a pick-me-up as the Vancouver producer Jayda G's "Sunshine in the Valley." Frequent collaborator Alexa Dash provides the sparse vocal here, offering an ecstatic explication of the positive affirmations you can receive in the midst of a loving relationship. "All the days that I can't see all that I am," she sings in one verse. "You're there to remind me." This relentless positivity is echoed in the instrumental, which is built around a bassline that springs around your headphones like a tennis ball in a concrete room. Every year needs songs to brighten life when things get dark, but rarely does one do the trick as well as this. —Colin Joyce

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You know when it’s 80 degrees outside on the first day of a three-day weekend, and you just found money in the pockets of some pants you haven’t worn in a while, so you call your weed guy and he meets you in like 10-15 min? That’s what this song feels like. Peewee and Money Man and Kamiyah are three of the most criminally underrated rappers out, and "Still Hustlin'" showcases their strengths in one place. Although they're about as Atlanta as you could be, Peewee and Money Man do some of their best work over Cali-inspired beats that showcase their versatility. —Trey Smith

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Titanic Rising, Natalie Mering’s fourth album as Weyes Blood, was also her best, and nowhere was that more apparent on its lead single "Andromeda." A velvety ode to letting love in despite past disappointments, the song sees Mering’s rich alto soar over full-bodied bass and wistful acoustic guitar, resulting in the perfect conditions for those drinking-a-good-red-wine-and-looking-out-the-window-as-if-you’re-in-a-film hours. —Lauren O'Neill

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The video for "Location" opens with a tweet: "Picture the scenes. You're drunk in Ibiza. It's Merky festival and you've had a couple cocktails, Hus is free, 'Location' is playing. Girls are smiling at you. What a 2019." The U.K. rapper has had quite a year, releasing his Mercury Award-winning debut album Melodrama. And "Location," featuring Nigerian artist Burna Boy, is arguably the best song on the project. As Dave’s tweet suggests, it’s a mood. This is celebration music—Burna Boy singing about lighting a spliff music, flying in the clouds music, grounded in the solemnity Dave does best.—Ryan Bassil

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Gatecreeper seem to be firm believers that metal should be mean, and damn straight they're going to be Regina fucking George. On "Boiled Over," the Arizona death metal band wields the opening riff as a battering ram, charging into the biggest, baddest death metal song of the year with fury so potent you can practically see the flamethrowers spewing on the stage of your mind's eye. As with most fodder of this genre, the lyrics are largely unintelligible—and to be clear, that's fine—but if you can make them out, they're a rallying cry to "free yourself from apathy" as your body boils and melts away. Well, if you insist. —Hilary Pollack

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Gerry Read’s original version of "It'll All Be Over" is a beautiful mess of guitar samples. Pampa labelhead and loop hypnotist DJ Koze reins in the Avalanches-style pastiche in, trading the stomping rock riff for a stereo tornado of guitar slices and an AOR organ vamp. Like in Read’s version, the gospel vocal sample still does the heavy lifting, until the track disintegrates into a cowbell dub freakout that’s pure Koze. —Dan Gentile

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Like a lot of promising young artists with face tattoos who sign to major labels off the back of a handful of SoundCloud demos, Dominic Fike has a lot riding on him. And it’s not hard to see why: The South Florida artist nails the eternal appeal of the beach bum/mall rat aesthetic, but gives it a modern twist, like Jack Johnson produced by Kenny Beats. With its acoustic guitar licks, its reclined beat, and a slapstick music video (in which he robs Halsey’s house?) that looks like something a 00s pop-punk band would have done, "Phone Numbers" is a satisfying jam about getting famous and cutting people out. It’s also the perfect soundtrack for getting high, sunburnt, and a skateboard-related injury all at once. —Emma Garland

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Phil Elverum has spent his career singing about grief and heartbreak with astounding grace. "Love Without Possession," the highlight from his new collaborative album with Canadian singer-songwriter Julie Doiron, Lost Wisdom Pt. 2, sounds a bit more hopeful. Doiron opens the track singing, "What would be the use in becoming / A symbol of walking desolation?" Towards the end of the song, Elverum muses, "Even if I never get to see you again / I'll know that when we collided / We both broke each other open." It has a kindness that feels necessary. —Josh Terry

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If this Maxo Kream and Megan Thee Stallion collab is any indication, going with your partner to the strip club can be a blast. "She Live" is partly a song about that—"We hit Follies, we hit Onyx," Maxo raps on the chorus—but it’s also a slow-rolling showcase for two Houston rappers displaying their gifts casually, like the open trunk of an H-town slab displaying a slogan like "UR DREAMS MY REALITY." Maxo Kream and Megan Thee Stallion are here to make dreams come true. —Ross Scarano

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Spencer Radcliffe is a lyricist who finds dark truths, humor, and beauty in the mundane. On the Ohio-born songwriter's third album Hot Spring, there's a song ostensibly about flossing that actually tackles the existential crush of trying to do the right thing. But the most resonant moment on the LP comes with "Here Comes The Snow," a song that discusses winter-induced melancholia. He plainly sings, "And there’s a different darkness, one that I’ve seen for sure." At the end, he doesn't let seasonal depression take hold: "Gonna try and find that new kind of light, that different glow." It's hopeful and simple and doesn't need to be more than that. —Josh Terry

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After Gary, Indiana's finest rapper and Oxnard, California’s greatest beatsmith gifted hip-hop with Piñata five years ago, the possibility of their reunion remained something to pray on. "Half Manne Half Cocaine" is the brightest moment of their return—it clatters like some of Madlib’s best work while Freddie Gibbs packs in the references. The music video, a dystopian Trumpland satire featuring Adult Swim misfit Eric Andre exhibiting questionable bedside manner, doesn’t even begin to match the madness of his bars, a melange of drug talk and street realness. —Gary Suarez

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Julia Jacklin's stunning sophomore LP is called Crushing for a reason. It's a devastating breakup album full of clarity and generosity, even in its bleakest moments. Tucked into the middle of the record is the heart-wrenching "Don't Know How to Keep Loving You," which grapples with the realization that a relationship has to end. "Who will I be / Now that you're no longer next to me?" she wonders. "What do I do now? / There's nothing left to say." There are no easy answers in love, but she pinpoints the questions its loss causes us to ask ourselves with alarming precision. —Josh Terry

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Usher's "You Make Me Wanna" is already a masterpiece, but Summer Walker's overhaul of the song provides a necessary update to the 90s classic. Walker isn't afraid of violating the cardinal sin of casual dating: dismantling your roster to focus on your favorite person. The 23-year-old's rendition is slightly less scandalous until Usher himself shows up. "Yeah you got somebody / I been in this predicament / Don't trip, creep discrete / That's just what we dealin' with," he sings. It's been more than 20 years and some things never change. —Kristin Corry

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With “All Mirrors,” Angel Olsen forgoes her traditional indie folk-rock roots for a fresh approach, tagging New Romantic synth grandiosity for an ethereal take on goth-tinged pop. Opening with sparse instrumentation, Olsen builds drama with heavy synth textures, deep basslines, and restrained but booming drum hits, leading into an orchestral section and coming in stronger than ever for the final act. It's grandiose, heartbreaking, darkly beautiful, and perfect for Olsen’s voice—which reminds you that no matter how you dress up an Angel Olsen track, the focus will always be on her. —Fred Pessaro

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Flamenco singer Rosalía's entry into the Spanish-language mainstream raises questions—about cultural appropriation, which reggaeton artists get recognized over others (typically white artists), and what it means to be Latinx (while she speaks Spanish, she’s from Spain). While these conversations are necessary to an understanding of Latinx identity and culture, there’s no denying that the music itself slaps. And "Con Altura," her reggaeton club jam with superstars J Balvin and El Guincho, certainly goes hard, with buckets of swagger and the kind of beat that makes you instinctively swing your hips. It's not enough to make us stop questioning the singer's place in the industry, but it’ll definitely get the party going. —Alex Zaragoza

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Some pop stars blaze through their orbit with energy so fiery it excites all who witnesses its ascent. Normani's solo career is shaking out similarly so far. Produced by frequent Ariana Grande collaborator ILYA, her breakthrough single, "Motivation," is as sweet and sticky as chewing gum, and it leaves the aftertaste of R&B on your lips. Laced with innuendos, Normani flirts effortlessly before leaving breadcrumbs signaling the type of legacy she plans on leaving: "Ain't regular, that ain't regular." —Kristin Corry

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Some unfortunate, confused soul on YouTube commented on Sunn O)))'s "Frost (C)" with the following question: "Anyone else think Sunn would be a lot cooler with drums and vocals? Without any percussion it doesn't have any rhythm and without a vocal melody it just sounds like noise." Pull up a chair, Ethan N. The answer is no, Sunn O))) would not be a lot cooler if they sounded like every other metal band on the planet. "Without any percussion it doesn't have any rhythm and without a vocal melody it just sounds like noise." Yes, Ethan, that's the point. It is noise. In fact, it's literally a single chord fed through an unfathomably heavy wall of distortion and meditated upon for 11 straight minutes. But it's very good noise. In fact, it's perfect. —Hilary Pollack

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Between the title and the artwork—featuring Baltimore rapper/producer Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks being cute by some curtains, inside a picture of Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks being seductive by some curtains—we're off to a good start before even smashing play. Coming in at just over two-and-a-half minutes, "Jesus Forgive Me, I Am a Thot" manages to make having six tabs open at once sound amazing. Chopping between full-bodied keys, triplet flow, Auto-Tuned boyband crooning, and distorted barbs, it's a carefully reassembled broken mirror, with Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Throbbing Gristle, and The Backstreet Boys used for glue. —Emma Garland

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There are solo sopranos who can bring even the hardest hearts to tears, but something special happens when multiple human voices join together in unison. In the lead up to her third studio album, Holly Herndon mused on this on Twitter, noting the curious fact that a lot of listeners heard traces of Bulgarian choral music in one of her singles, "Frontier," when she'd actually been trying to evoke the New England tradition of Sacred Harp music. She quoted the musicologist Jordan Jordania, who theorized that early humans could have used dissonance in their singing as a way to "obtain collective identity in order to fight together, as a unit, for their common survival."

"Frontier" seems to have similar aims: Its rhythms are martial and its prickly melodies anthemic and otherworldly, the sound of a group of people rising up together. Maybe it's just the latest example in an ancient tradition of humans banding together in defiance of a cold, unfeeling world, but never has it been more needed than now, when civilization sits precariously at the precipice of its own existence. —Colin Joyce

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(Sandy) Alex G spent years carving out his reputation as the boldest experimentalist in indie rock, and despite his recent forays into country and roots music, Alex Giannascoli has remained a committed eccentric first and foremost. House of Sugar, his third studio album with Domino Records, expanded on a certain thread of downtempo acoustic production established on 2017’s Rocket, with songs like "Bad Man" and "Gretel" pushing his bizarre narratives and outlandish sound design into newly exaggerated terrain.

The album’s third single, "Southern Sky" combines Giannascoli’s affinity for strange sounds and images with the kind of heartfelt songwriting present in country music for generations. Over warm strings and a steady acoustic strum, the Philadelphia native meditates on lucid images of the sheep and devils of his unconscious. "It's okay, we don’t cry / we love the southern sky," frequent collaborator Emily Yacina sings in the hook. It’s a glimmer of pop on an album otherwise dominated by experimentalism, but it’s more than enough to remind you what made the project so memorable to begin with. —Rob Arcand

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Like that godawful empathy template shared on Twitter earlier this year, Charly Bliss's "Capacity" is about being emotionally "at capacity." Unlike that template, "Capacity" is humane, genuine and heartfelt, an appeal to humanity rather than a rejection of it. Making perfect use of Charly Bliss’s newfound 80s shine, guitarist and vocalist Eva Hendricks turns her own habit of destructive self-sacrifice into a searing, soaring song about how to recover after that self-sacrifice leaves you with nothing left to give. Far from being narcissistic, "Capacity" is a rousing call-to-arms for overachievers and over-helpers to, even if for a moment, take a break. There’s irony here, of course: Hendricks’ song about letting go of overachieving might just be the best one she’s ever written. —Shaad D'Souza

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"She A Winner" is not the type of song you want to come on when you're in the car with your mom. It's raunchy, filthy, and completely NSFW—just how we like it. The Atlanta rapper reworks "Choppa Style," the New Orleans bounce staple, with the help of City Girls' Yung Miami. There aren't many lines we can quote from it without making you blush, but the duo complement each other's mission. Trouble is looking to spend money, and Miami wants to cash in. —Kristin Corry

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Thom Yorke’s "Dawn Chorus" shuffles by in a haze of numb regret. It's the knockout moment of his third solo album, ANIMA, a record obsessed with sleep and dreams. "Dawn Chorus" (over which the death of Rachel Owen, Yorke’s former partner, looms) stares down the hypotheticals—what if that relationship hadn’t ended? What if I had never worn that ponytail?—that you can’t shake from your dreams. The alternative presents itself with startling clarity, bearing all the contours of the reality you know, but then you wake up and it’s revealed to be an illusion, fading away forever. —Alex Swhear

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Twitchy, anxious, and devilish, "bad guy" made it clear that Billie Eilish was ready for global domination—with the music to back up the hype. Every clap, sensual noise, and whisper works to support her ASMR vocals, which have the space here to take center stage. When the genre-fluid pop star insists she’s the "bad guy…duh!," she means it and she doesn’t. She may be the coolest teenager on the planet in 2019, but this feels like a knowing wink at the pop world's love of bad girls, or better yet good girls gone bad. But why attribute meaning when there may be none? This is nasty and dorky, and it slaps. —Hannah Ewens

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On "Sanguine Paradise," Lil Uzi Vert undergoes a metamorphosis from mere mortal rapper to a money-counting Byron or Shelley for the SoundCloud age, turning our fears and insecurities into tomes that revolve around stacking money and standing atop it. Lyrically, there are an astounding number of perfect lines: "We been throwing money in a spiral"; "She got a skinny thong like a tightrope"; "She ridin’ me like a BMX."

Verse one includes an all-timer: "I just made 100K, it was quicker than a Vine." It’s not a perfect line. It’s the perfect line, coming from the perfect rapper. Lil Uzi Vert is the icon we don’t deserve, and "Sanguine Paradise" is the heavenly reward for those that are good. —Will Schube

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Whether they're oddball house tracks, deep disco obscurities, or full on dancefloor burners, the tracks the the Tokyo-based DJ Powder shares in her sets and mixes often inhabit the same kind of glow. But few of the tracks she selected for her Powder in Space mix earlier this year were as bright or beautiful as "Gift," a rare original that she snuck into the set. Like many of the tracks she favors, it too is luminous and otherworldly, but there's something special about it, even considering the context. Over a playful percussion section, digital marimba-like sounds twinkle weightlessly and weightless synth pads ooze in a wonderfully gaseous way. It's like a rave track for a club nestled amidst a distant nebula. —Colin Joyce

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A lot of people will tell you they "don't get" 100 Gecs. But Laura Les and Dylan Brady's freaky future-pop project isn't meant to be understood. The collaboration, which sounds like everything and nothing else, is simply meant to be enjoyed. For a shining example of Gecs' boundless joy and DGAF vibe, look no further than "Money Machine," perhaps the most accessible track on the 10-song record. Still don't get it? To that I say, "Hey ya lil pissbaby, you think you're so fucking cool, huh? You think you're so fucking tough? You talk a lot of BIG GAME FOR SOMEONE WITH SUCH A SMALL TRUCK!" —Leslie Horn

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For those of us who struggle with mental health, it can often be tough to feel even a sliver of satisfaction or pride. This is why PUP are so important; they know what that's like. Much of Morbid Stuff, the Toronto punks' third and best record, is about growing tired of depression and self-loathing, wondering why anyone still cares. "Full-Blown Meltdown," the record’s most audibly pissed-off track (an outlier on an album full of earworm-y hooks), directly addresses Stefan Babcock’s songwriting: "How long will self-destruction be alluring?" he yells through pummeling, thrashy guitar. "I'll be sure to write it down / When I hit rock bottom / For all the people who love to fetishize problems." PUP’s yowls are especially welcome because of Babcock’s grim sense of humor, and because of how PUP make it clear their sadness isn’t the only sadness, the way they present emotions with a grain of salt. "It’s just music after all," they say. But, guys, give yourselves a break this one time, please. It’s this kind of music—hyper-honest, nakedly self-critical, fiercely cathartic—that makes people like me feel so much less alone. —Leah Mandel

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Solange knows how to start a morning. "I just want to wake up to the suns and Saint Laurent / Hundred thousand dollars on the fronts, and the blunts," she sings in an intonation reminiscent of Sister Nancy's "Bam Bam." If A Seat at the Table made you want to withdraw from ways life can beat you down, this When I Get Home cut makes you want to find the sun's warmth and dance in it. Solange does what she wants on "Binz," whether that's leaving the man she woke up with when the sun comes up, or stealing the linen from the presidential suite. "Binz" captures the joy of doing whatever makes you happy at that moment. —Kristin Corry

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Brooklyn’s Big Thief released two of the year’s best rock records: U.F.O.F. felt amorphous and existential; Two Hands, as its title suggests, felt like the more tangible of the two, with more traditional song structures and arrangements. "Not" feels like the best of both worlds, with production that is earthy and grounded and lyrics that are wide-lensed and creation-spanning. “It's not the energy reeling / Nor the lines in your face / Nor the clouds on the ceiling / Nor the clouds in space,” sings frontwoman Adrianne Lenker, skipping from the existential to the personal and then back again. They’re lyrics that could just as easily be describing the elusive quality that makes Big Thief’s music so addictive. —Lauren O'Neill

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As a relatively junior artist entering a field still dominated by Latin legacy acts and a tight cabal of relative newcomers, few saw a big moment coming for the Afro-Panamanian reggaetonero Sech at the start of 2019. Yet as his single "Otro Trago" conspicuously crept up the streaming charts—first in Latin America and then in the U.S.—he became someone you had no choice but to stan. A boozy dancefloor paean for single ladies everywhere, the track felt like the flipside of the prior year’s embittered kiss-off "Te Boté," featuring that smash hit’s raw-throated rapper Darell to boot. —Gary Suarez

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It's tragic to think that up until this year, in the entire history of music, there had never been a song that included the line "runnin' through the house with a pickle in my mouth." "Misbehavin'," from HBO's excellent evangelical-skewering series The Righteous Gemstones, went there. Sure, it's a song from a TV show. Sure, it's sung by a clogging religious duo, one half of whom is named "Uncle Baby Billy," but that is exactly what makes it great. —Leslie Horn

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Uganda-based label Nyege Nyege Tapes has been firing out missives from the East African dance community for several years now, but on "Tatizo Pesa," they managed to pair the outrageously fast singeli sound with an MC truly capable of matching the music’s unrelenting pace. Fourteen-year-old vocalist Dogo Janja shoots the track into overdrive right out the gate, playing rough-and-tumble with Jay Mitta’s pounding marimba beat with a flow that never loses momentum even for a second. It’s hyperspeed rave music at its zaniest and most unhinged; just try listening to this without dancing around your living room like an absolute maniac. —Sam Goldner

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The club has always been a place for marginalized people—a space where they're free to be themselves and let loose without the burdens and power structures of the outside world. The New York producer AceMo and Detroit musician John FM celebrate that legacy on "Where They At???," a lengthy house cut on which they shout out all the misfits and malcontents who've found a home at the rave. It's sort of a "Mambo No. 5" for the club kids, if only Monica, Erica, Rita, Tina, Sandra, Mary, and Jessica were into taking LSD and burning flags. That its minimal bassline echoes the immortal strains of Robin S.'s 90s dancefloor banger "Show Me Love" is just a bonus. —Colin Joyce

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Let’s break it down: There’s the satisfying whirr, click, and slide of the production, some of it courtesy of PC Music’s Danny L Harle. There’s the sweet tone of Caroline Polachek’s voice, which glides over the track like maple syrup on pancakes. There’s the lyrics, which fold in on themselves like origami and say a lot without saying very much at all: "You open the door / To another door, to another door / To another door, to another door." The sum of these parts make "Door" a standout track on the ex-Chairlift member's solo debut, Pang, which was a more-than-standout album of this year. —Daisy Jones

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Opening with a glitzy description of criminal excess ("I went from stickin' pennies in a jar to offshore bank accounts"), "Speedboat" appears to be a celebration of a gangster lifestyle. But like all great gangster chronicles, it's really about anxiety and loss. Miami-based producer Rugah Rahj provides a piano loop that sounds more like walking a tightrope than mashing the throttle on the open ocean, and Denzel Curry caps off his last verse with the image of young sons "lost in the river of blood in these streets." He may be racing forward, but he can't stop checking his mirrors to see what’s chasing him. —Ross Scarano

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Three seconds in, and you find yourself in the middle of the most despairing moment of heartbreak—a first night without a lover, the second you feel the edges of "forever." "Cellophane" is the lead single and stand-out track from FKA twigs’ break-up magnum opus—and it’s as delicate, opaque, and suffocating as its name suggests. In the video, as she reveals her magnificent pole-dancing, her breathy beg of "Didn’t I do it for you?" hurts all the more. It’s a song that reveals new levels of emotional depth from the auteurist British artist, but it also sounds like it could have existed for centuries—a melody our bodies recognize, released from an ancient casket of feminine pain. —Hannah Ewens

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Though he wears a mask and uses a pseudonym, Canadian country crooner Orville Peck makes music that's unvarnished and sincere. "Turn To Hate," from his debut album, Pony, puts his charisma on full display. Like a warbling Roy Orbison filtered through austere post-punk, Peck's booming and full-throated voice is lonesome, twangy, and magnetic as he sings, "Don't leave, don't cry / You're just another boy caught in the rye." It's not obviously country or obviously indie rock, but it somehow cements this outsider artist as one of the most obvious talents in both genres. —Josh Terry

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"Bags," the highlight of Clairo’s Immunity, is a new kind of unrequited love song. Written about a fledgling romance with someone of the same gender, "Bags" is simultaneously romantic and frenetic, its twinkling piano and pounding drums perfectly invoking the feeling of trying to turn a friendship into something more. Produced by Rostam, it feels like an early linchpin of a canon that’s still being written: that of the queer crush song that’s less "Are you into me?" and more "Could you ever be into me?" Like the Vampire Weekend song "Diplomat’s Son," Rostam's own entry into that canon, "Bags" is empathic, finely drawn, and already a classic. —Shaad D'Souza

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Flute-rap has almost definitely reached its saturation point, but DaBaby is far too talented to concern himself with fickle trends. Since breaking through with his Interscope debut Baby on Baby earlier this year, the Charlotte rapper has established himself as a foremost expert of craft, rapping circles around the few figures that could reasonably be considered his peers. On "Bop," the third track from his latest album KIRK, DaBaby make good on the song's namesake, slowing his mile-a-minute flow to a steady, polysyllabic stutter made with the club in mind. Packed with the kind of off-the-cuff bravado that dominated even his earliest releases, the rapper presents even the most mundane observations as novel insights couched in clever wordplay and rhythmic cadence. It's the perfect point of entry into an otherwise hermetic album and if it's not DaBaby’s best single so far, it's at least a strong contender. —Rob Arcand

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Country music is a funny genre. It has this air of exclusivity, steeped in the myth that you can't make real country music unless you’re a certain type of person (white, Southern, macho, working class)—even though some of country's biggest stars are actually ex-pats (ahem, Keith Urban), and the genre's ethos is supposed to be about the everyman. So when a black queer memelord rumored to run a Nicki Minaj stan account burst of nowhere with a viral, Nine Inch Nails-sampling hit on TikTok, the establishment freaked and ripped it from country radio. Pretty silly, considering most of country radio has more in common with the pop-trap sound of "Old Town Road" than it does with the genre’s origins.

Ostensibly to legitimize Lil Nas X's country chops, Billy Ray Cyrus hopped on the remix with a surprisingly welcome verse, and the track spent 19 weeks at number one, the longest record since the Billboard charts became a thing back in 1958. (Lil Nas bought Cyrus a car to thank him, though it probably should've been the other way around.) Lil Nas is also enviably stylish and ridiculously funny, and just look at the joy he and his song brought to this gym full of Ohio elementary schoolers. It’s for everyone, which makes it the best kind of country song. —Leah Mandel

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It's hard to pick just one standout track off Norman Fucking Rockwell!; there's the twinkling, Leonard Cohen-esque anthem "Mariners Apartment Complex," the hazy seaside hymn "Venice Bitch," the oddly captivating Sublime cover "Doin' Time." But no song on Lana Del Rey's phenomenal record conveys her artful blending of classic American songwriting with postmodern cynicism better than "The greatest." We've already understood Lana's nostalgia for the 50s, the 60s, the 70s—in her smokin'-a-pack-a-day croon, her lounge-singer swagger, her miniskirts and heavy eyelashes. But in "The greatest," we get a eulogy for what culture has gained—and more so, what it's lost—this very decade. Of course we remember the old classics, like the Beach Boys and "Kokomo," to which she fondly alludes, but we also remember the new classics: Kanye West's bad haircuts, all of our bad haircuts, great weed, Four Loko, ugly MySpace pages, the hope we once had that climate change wouldn't end humanity, and through it all, the gift of fantasy. "The greatest" is her "Life on Mars," an ode to the claustrophobia of pop culture. She almost sold her soul for rock 'n' roll, but maybe it gets one last hurrah. "The culture is lit, and if this is it‚ I had a ball," she sings with a weary smile, like she's the last one up at the New Year's party. Cheers to the apocalypse; we earned it. —Hilary Pollack

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It's funny that a genre called "new wave"—and once thought of as such—now reads as so charmingly, unabashedly retro. New wave's greatest quality was always its synergy of alternative sensibilities and incredible pop songwriting, a sweet spot between light and dark, tragedy and comedy. Drab Majesty is one of those rare contemporary bands that does real justice to the massive, synth-driven sounds of that era. "Ellipsis" possesses the same special something that makes "Just Like Heaven" as appealing to the combat-boots crowd as to your rom-com-loving older sister. Lyrically, it's firmly 2019, touching on the incessant frustrations of romance in the DM-sliding era with lines such as "Would you answer a call when the hours are dark? / Knowing it was time to deliver a message? / I can't tell from the signs we're giving in our lines." Booty calls, Tinder speak, and a deliciously fatty structure of synths and guitars: This one's for the fun goths! —Hilary Pollack

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It's been a process of trial and error, but by the time Aalegra arrived with -Ugh, those feels again, she'd mastered her personal love language. While other love songs require ornate portrayals of romance, Aalegra's definition is pretty simple. All she desires is quality time and Stevie Wonder's 1973 Innervisions on repeat. She carries around her relationship like a collector's item, afraid to taint it with fingerprints. "I don't wanna kiss you yet, I just wanna feel you," she sings. Sometimes, it's not about who you want to talk to all day, but who you'd rather sit in silence with. —Kristin Corry

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The opening line to Koffee's "Rapture" is arguably the most infectious hook of the year. The 19-year-old Jamaican prodigy sings, "Koffee come in like a rapture / And everybody get capture." Her flow is sticky and dynamic, easily commanding the Ace Harris-produced beat. This is future-forward and melody-first reggae that's youthful, positive, and endlessly danceable. While her breakout single "Toast" was a worldwide introduction, "Rapture" proves that she's here to stay. —Josh Terry

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The opener to the first proper Charli XCX album since 2014’s Sucker—and subsequent evolution into the artist we know today—"Next Level Charli" is a crash course in the last five years of her career. With an instrumental built around an unreleased song by PC Music artists A.G. Cook and Life Sim, lyrical references to her own back catalog and a vocal melody that follows the first two verses of Mz. Bratt’s 2010 jungle single "Selecta," "Next Level Charli" repositions Charli outside her former domain of Top 40 pop and deep in the heart of British club culture. It’s just about the only song on Charli where she doesn’t reference herself, instead putting herself in the shoes of her fans, encapsulating the energy of the pre-game in one eternal line: "Turn the volume up in your Prius / Windows down and just vibe." —Emma Garland

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New Yorkers aren't known for their hospitality, but Pop Smoke is the region's most congenial drill rapper. There are few greetings that feel as intoxicating as the slow snarl of the Brooklyn rapper's infectious opening line, "Baby, welcome to the party." His party is as mischievous as the thrill of a summer night with his low, guttural voice spewing drunken warning shots like, "Bitch, I'm a thot / Get me lit." Pop Smoke is the new purveyor of Brooklyn's drill scene with a hook that romanticizes the militant armor he's needed to maneuver through his Canarsie neighborhood and the world. Much of Pop Smoke's approach is reminiscent of the rambunctious energy we fell in love with five years ago with Bobby Shmurda's "Hot Nigga," and "Welcome to the Party," like its predecessor, captures the city's rambunctious energy. The globalization of hip-hop has often meant that regionalism has since disappeared. In the era of everyone sounding the same Pop Smoke is a guy from New York, rapping like a guy from New York. —Kristin Corry

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Listening to "Flash," the monster post-punk jam from Chicago's The Hecks, is an almost overwhelming experience. There's so much going on across its near-five minute runtime from the violently pogo-ing guitars, the rigid rhythm section, and singer Andy Mosiman's droning vocals but it all seamlessly fits into place. Sounding like DEVO and Television processed through a garbage disposal, the track builds up to a scorching instrumental breakdown that's one of the most hypnotic moments of the year. No other band brought indie rock to more surprising places in 2019. —Josh Terry

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When Megan Thee Stallion tells you to do something, you do it. So when she coined the term "hot girl summer," empowering women to do whatever the hell they wanted, her fans followed suit. The season divided hot girls and boys into the tug-of-war followed by the year's most confident rappers. With the summer in our rearview, Megan Thee Stallion and DaBaby's "Cash Shit" is a timestamp of the friendly competition marked by the heat of Fever. The two fit together on the Lil Ju-produced beat, like yin and yang, complementing the best parts of each other. The parallels go beyond their respective slick Southern deliveries, with both rappers losing their parents in the midst of their meteoric rise. The result is "Cash Shit," which parades a chemistry between two people so organic that you can barely tell when the bravado of one ends and the other begins

"Yeah, I'm in my bag but I'm in his too," middles somewhere between the philosophy of Destiny's Child and City Girls, setting the tone for the type of overindulgence Megan is expecting from a suitor. But instead of playing to a man's ego, she's purposely bruising it, likening her admirer to an obedient dog simply because she can. By the time DaBaby joins her, he not only matches her nonchalance but elevates it with a playbook of sex acts that sound like wrestler moves. When Megan regains control, she's stunningly conniving and steps ahead of her courter. "I don't be trusting these tricks 'cause they tricky / Send him a pic of somebody else titties," she raps. Neither Megan or DaBaby outshine the other on "Cash Shit," which is a ripe playground for the collaboration of the year. The standout Fever track shows the world as Megan sees it, with hot girls and boys living without judgment. —Kristin Corry