How do you embrace music in the midst of a crisis, when you can’t go to live concerts or dance out on the town with friends? One idea: crank up the volume and listen.
As stay-at-home orders sweep the United States, it can be easy to feel cooped up -- and tired of hearing the same hits over and over. So why not add some spice to your playlist?
Whether you’re looking for tunes to soundtrack your WFH situation, virtual dinner party, or personal dance party, Billboard has just the thing.
Without further ado, here’s a playlist of 20 excellent pop tracks you may not know about. We recommend enjoying them while social distancing. (Scroll to the end for a Spotify playlist.
Holly Humberstone, “Falling Asleep At The Wheel”
In a little over three minutes, British singer-songwriter Holly Humberstone essentially runs through her entire list of why you should be paying attention to her: she handles the vulnerability of failed love in ethereal quiet, then over racing alt-pop, then in front of a crackling dance rhythm, and finally bringing the song to a somber conclusion. Her voice never wavers, and her talent does not stop impressing.
Isaac Dunbar, “Makeup Drawer”
"I shattered mirrors to cope/ You made me hate what I saw," Isaac Dunbar sings on “Makeup Drawer,” which finds the teenage pop artist conquering societal doubt and embracing his inner self. The song is not only a fizzy delight, but hints at Dunbar’s playfulness in the studio -- catch those hints of Auto-Tune tucked inside the verses.
Surf Mesa feat. Emilee, “Ily”
In these trying times, who doesn’t want to hear a charming dance reworking of Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”? Nineteen-year-old producer Surf Mesa has tapped singer-songwriter Emilee to lull you into a dreamy sway, her syllables chopped up before re-forming into that familiar phrase, “I love you, baby, and if it’s quite alright...”
Public feat. Danielle Bradbery, “Make You Mine”
Cincinnati trio Public are the latest beneficiaries of an unexpected TikTok revival -- their happy-go-lucky single “Make You Mine,” which recalls recent work by Walk The Moon and Lovelytheband, dates back to 2014, but has become a streaming hit in recent months. Public has released several different versions of the song, but this newer edition featuring The Voice winner Danielle Bradbery is worth a listen.
Kiesza, “All of the Feelings”
For those of us still holding stock in Kiesza from her “Hideaway” days, “All of the Feelings” makes for a welcome reminder of her pop prowess. Anyone searching for some delirious, ‘80s-inspired synth-pop should be twirling around their room to this one immediately.
Ea Kaya, “Kitchen Table”
There’s a masterful juxtaposition between the verses and chorus of Danish songwriter Ea Kaya’s latest single, “Kitchen Table”: while the percussion of the verses are kept to a minimum as Kaya confides in her partner over gentle finger-picking, the hook features drum crashes, boiled-over emotion and a righteous exclamation: “I know what I want, I see where I'm heading / If you ride along, boy, I hope you're ready / Oh!”
Noah Cyrus, “I Got So High That I Saw Jesus”
The title says it all, huh? Noah Cyrus’ latest opus could be dismissed as a stoner lark, but look closer and you’ll find a tender country-pop reflection on modern society that yearns to be a Gen-Z anthem, and is immediate enough to succeed. Cyrus’ talent should be obvious by now, and this track may be her best stuck-in-your-head melody since “Make Me (Cry).”
Liar Liar, “Better Off”
“Better Off” sounds like a lot of the stronger indie-pop tracks floating around the blogosphere in the early 2010s -- certainly not a bad thing, especially when this rising quartet provides a shimmery chorus perfect for any uptempo playlist.
“I know we’re going through maddening and worrisome times,” Def Jam singer-songwriter Alissa wrote about “Healing” in a press statement. “But it’s these periods in life where we love more and are present for the people who need us.” “Healing” is not specifically about any universal problem, but the track captures the instinctive need for peace, with string effects residing next to Arlissa’s outward search.
Perfume Genius, “On The Floor”
After Mika Hadreas brought back his Perfume Genius project earlier this year with a genuine curveball -- the noisy, viscous rocker “Describe” -- he turned in an even more surprising direction with “On The Floor,” a sneaky groove full of funk guitar strands and light harmonies. Few artists are taking more daring risks than Hadreas, and “On The Floor” is the rare one from him that you can dance to.
Betcha, “If That’s Alright”
Nashville-based Betcha are about to be your new favorite alt-rockers thanks to their summery choruses. The uber-catchy “If That’s Alright” will have you dreaming of sunnier days.
Faouzia, “Tears of Gold”
Faouzia, one of the most powerful new voices you’ll hear this year, is quickly carving a space for herself among the Arianas and Adeles with tracks like “Tears of Gold.” At nineteen years old, the Canadian-Moroccan force is just getting started.
Mxmtoon, “Fever Dream”
Another 19-year-old you need to know: Mxmtoon, aka Maia, who’s winning hearts and ears with her soothing ukulele and clear vocals. On "Fever Dream," she sings about "wanting something more” than boring, restless days. If that’s not relatable right now...
Rei Ami, “Snowcone”
Seoul-by-way-of-Maryland artist Rei Ami is what you get when you combine the swagger of Billie Eilish with Doja Cat's flow and a TikTok-ready sense of humor. Of the five songs the singer-rapper has released so far, “Snowcone” is the recommended first taste, and oh, is it sweet.
Remi Wolf, “Shawty”
While a stint on American Idol in 2014 ended shortly after auditions for Remi Wolf, she has since found her place as a pop-funk singer-songwriter. Wolf has described "Shawty" as an "honest song about being a queer artist and having duplicity in what it meant to write music about a casual, yet fun relationship with a woman." It’s also a plain ol’ earworm.
Sorry, “Right Round The Clock”
North London’s Sorry will drop their debut album this Friday (March 27), but first, take a listen to this piano and sax-tinged highlight. "I'm feeling kinda crazy, I'm feeling kinda mad," bandmates Asha Lorenz and Louis O'Bryen admit on the chorus, in a nod to Tears For Fears' "Mad World.” While they weren’t yet talking about quarantine in the time of crisis, it’s safe to say the sentiment endures.
Sister duo CocoRosie (Sierra and Bianca Casady) have dabbled in just about every genre for over a decade, from hip-hop to opera and folk, but "Restless" is decidedly pop, and you’ll find yourself humming the chorus long after the Broadway-like piano riffs have ceased.
Little Hurt, “Better Drugs”
Colin Dieden -- who formerly fronted The Mowgli's -- fully comes into his own as Little Hurt on “Better Drugs,” the equally undeniable follow-up to “Good As It Gets.”
Nothing But Thieves, “Is Everybody Going Crazy?”
Short answer: Yes. "Is Everybody Going Crazy?" is as melodic as it is gritty, and the English band’s first new music since 2018 is exactly what you need right now.
Banoffee, “Count on You”
Aussie musician Banoffee is making smart, slightly wonky pop. For this one, she “counted” on Sophie and Yves Rothman to co-produce, and the result is a single that you can wiggle to, even from the couch.