The 25 Best Dance Songs of 2020: Staff Picks

For dance and electronic music, the year's primary existential questions were about context. What is this music for -- and where does it best exist -- during a time when festivals are cancelled, desert raves are policed, club kids can't go to the club and house parties are potentially lethal?

There was no great answer. While a lot of the dance music released in 2020 got major play on radio, in headphones and via computer speakers during livestreams, "I can't wait for this to be over" was the leading consensus among the global dance music community -- particularly as COVID dealt blow after blow to the worldwide nightlife industry.

But while circumstances were grim, the dance music released during 2020 was anything but. Blasting into our living rooms, fueling our workouts and getting heads bobbing intermittently throughout the workday, dance music pepped us up, raised our heart rates, created nostalgia for all those good times and longing for that moment when the festival gates reopen. Thus fundamentally, the role of dance music this year was to just help us all keep going as we army crawled towards the finish line of 2020. In all of its beating, pulsing, shimmery glory, it did exactly that.

Here are our picks for the 25 best dance songs of the year.

25. The Knocks Feat. MUNA, “Bodies”

“Bodies” would have been the song of the summer, if this summer wasn’t totally whack and had actually felt like summer at all. The Knocks teamed up with queer pop-rock trio MUNA to pay homage to something we didn’t realize we’d miss so much until it was taken away -- dancing on top of strangers in crowded, sweaty basements. Bearing uplifting builds, sunny synths and a steady kick drum for good measure, “Bodies” is the feel-good bop we needed in 2020. Maybe one day soon, we’ll get to live out its message. — MEGAN VENZIN

24. Griz & Jauz, "No Doubt" 

Indeed, there were a lot of existential issues to ponder this year. So many so, that in fact in certain moments it felt better to just kind of turn off our brains entirely. How, you ask? Bass music. The genre has always been particularly physical, and so it went with "No Doubt," the October collab from Griz and Jauz. Hitting like a Mack Truck to your solar plexus and nasty in all the right ways, the song was a pummeling headbanger for all of the moments when we just needed to get out of our heads.  — KATIE BAIN

23. 박혜진 Park Hye Jin, “Like This”

After breaking through in late 2018, 박혜진 Park Hye Jin leveled up in 2020 by signing her How Can I EP to Ninja Tune. It’s a genre-hopping display of her musical repertoire, yet lead single “Like This” calls back to the dreamy, lowkey-rap-meets-deep-house sound for which she’s known. The song, with its airy synths and gentle wind chimes, would float away were it not anchored by a shuffling beat, and PHJ’s ASMR-like vocals are especially soothing. Conveniently well-suited to home listening, “Like This” finds a plushy middle ground between the club and the couch. — KRYSTAL RODRIGUEZ

22. Cookie Kawaii feat. Tyga, "Vibe (If I Back It Up)"

Cookiee Kawaii’s “Vibe (If I Back It Up)” -- an ode to posterior power set to the thump of 160bpm and laced with Kawaii’s soft serve vocal -- started the year as a meteoric TikTok trend. But when 15 seconds of booty-shaking stretch to a full-length track, the vibe, if you will, doesn’t always endure. Enter Tyga, who’s wise not to overshadow Kawaii’s and producer Alteriek “TrillzAl” Williams’s musical gluteal bounce, allowing this tune to serve as an invitation to more from a promising young artist.ZEL MCCARTHY

21. Kelly Lee Owens, "Jeanette"

Welsh producer Kelly Lee Owens delivered a sophisticated slice of cerebral IDM with "Jeanette," from her August sophomore LP, Inner Song. The song, like the rest of the album, is the product of a challenging few years in which Owens experienced a breakup, the passing of her grandfather and the generalized anxieties of the time. With its punchy, powerful kick drums and  sparkling synths in the driver’s seat, "Jeanette" thus packs an emotional punch while dually serving as a sort of catharsis. — VALERIE LEE

20. TroyBoi, “Mother Africa”

All hail mother Africa, the place from which all human life began. For TroyBoi, the connection is a little more direct. The British producer paid homage to his Nigerian roots with this slinky, smooth, funkadelic grinder, basing the beat around a traditional vocal sample that his friend tipped him off to after a trip to Kenya. It's an intoxicating blend of culture and style, with proceeds from the song going to Save the Children Africa in their fight against hunger, disease and child trafficking. — KAT BEIN

19. Joel Corry x MNEK, "Head and Heart" 

The genius of Joel Corry and MNEK’s “Head & Heart” is that the melody of the chorus and verse are the same. The success of the track, however, is that the dangerously infectious chorus of non-lexical vocables (“ba-ba-ba-dum ba-ba-dum ba-ba-dum”) opens the record in a cappella, and recurs with increasing frequency in less than three minutes, but somehow doesn’t get annoying. Dance-pop rarely gets as effortlessly anthemic as this. — Z.M.

18. Kylie Minogue, "Magic"

While the synth-pop-informed “Say Something” announced Kylie Minogue's new era, the Wurlitzer-esque chords that open “Magic” make it clear: the diva has arrived at the disco. Re-teaming with frequent collaborators Peter Wallevik and Daniel Davidsen (and for the first time with Teemu Brunila and Michelle Buzz) for the first single off her Disco album, Minogue delivers harmonies and vocal range that would make the Bee Gees proud without sounding overly retro. “Do you believe in magic?” she sings in the chorus, and after listening, you’ll surely answer yes. — Z.M.

17. Tensnake feat. Fiora, "Automatic"

After spending a few years meandering in midtempo soundscapes, Tensnake announced his return to the club by barging into this year with frequent collaborator Fiora for the synth pop banger “Automatic.” In lesser hands, this tune’s bassline could have been a mere gimmick, but the way these two play with major and minor key shifts, it’s like a jumper cable to the solar-plexus -- while Fiora’s mezzo becomes a purr keeping this motor running on automatic. — Z.M.

16. Inner City, "We All Move Together"

“This is techno love,” growls actor and erstwhile DJ Idris Elba in the spoken word intro to the title track of Inner City’s first album in 30 years. Elba’s performance and the throbbing beat that follows it is so arresting, any doubts that the Detroit icons only enlisted the actor for his starpower are halted. To be clear, this feature isn’t necessary; the trio of Kevin Saunderson, his son Dantiez Saunderson, and vocalist Steffanie Christi’an is formidable on their own. Still, the electricity of this track is undeniable as both a proclamation of techno’s glory and the return of one of its architects to the fore. Z.M.

15. Aluna & Kaytranada feat. Rema, “The Recipe”

If house parties were officially back, Aluna and Kaytranada’s supremely fresh collaboration “The Recipe” would be bumpin’ at all of them. Having previously linked on “Together” from Kaytranada’s 2016 debut album 99.9%, this time Aluna plays host on her own debut LP Renaissance, punctuating her transition from AlunaGeorge frontwoman to solo star. “The Recipe” highlights both artists’ individual strengths and collective cohesiveness as Francis’ sugar-coated vocals sashay over Kaytranada’s distinctively suave production. It’s a Friday-night-into-Saturday-sunrise vibe made extra luxurious by an Elizabethan-inspired music video. — K.R.

14. TSHA, “Change”

There's a story behind every track on TSHA's Flowers EP, like how “Sister” was inspired by the sudden discovery of a sister the U.K. producer didn't even know existed. But “Change” remains the brightest and most infectious of the bunch. It's poppier than her usual output, with sultry vocals from Gabrielle Aplin, echoing '80s drums and a delicious amount of 303. It's summer throwback vibes were exactly what quarantine called for, and we're still putting it on repeat all winter long. -- K. Bein

13. Louie Vega & The Martinez Brothers feat. Marc E. Bassy, “Let It Go”

When Louie Vega and The Martinez Brothers get together, it’s practically a family reunion. The house legend and new-school duo, respectively -- all Nuyorican music prodigies from the Bronx -- created a summertime-in-the-city anthem in “Let It Go,” their soulful, breezy love letter to NYC. First featured on The Brothers’ Fabric Presents mix and then released on their Cuttin’ Headz imprint, “Let It Go” was such a hit that Defected Records re-released it in July alongside remixes from Dom Dolla and Honey Dijon. — K.R.

12. Bronson, “Heart Attack”

What’s a year of dance music without the unveiling of a highly-anticipated super group? Enter Bronson, the brainchild of live electronic duo Odesza and Australian bass house producer, Golden Features. The lead single from their debut self-titled album, “Heart Attack” has a deep house groove featuring an emotional vocal performance from lau.ra. But its most enchanting characteristic is its thumping bassline, which mimics the erratic qualities of a heart on the fritz. — M.V.

11. Baauer, “Reachupdontstop”

Everybody reach, reach to the top and give a big round of applause to Baauer. The producer was nominated for his first Grammy this year, a well-deserved nod after about a decade of grade-A productions. His sophomore album, Planet's Mad, is a wild rush conceptual piece that explores the '00s-era big beat and French touch sounds the producer born Harry Rodriguez favored in youth. “Reachupdontstop” is a perfect rave pleaser that smells like smoke machines and tastes like sweat. Do check out the music video, which features aliens partying with humans after planets collide. — K. Bein

10. Dua Lipa and The Blessed Madonna, “Break My Heart” (Moodymann Remix)

By the time Dua Lipa and The Blessed Madonna’s mix album, Club Future Nostalgia, reaches its final stretch, you’d be forgiven for feeling all danced out. The set keeps the energy buzzing throughout, with songs from Lipa’s Future Nostalgia album remixed by the likes of Mark Ronson, Masters At Work, Paul Woolford and Mr Fingers. (Not to mention the drop-ins from pop royalty including Madonna, Missy Elliott and Gwen Stefani.) After all that exuberance, Lipa and The Blessed Madonna saved a real gem for last: Moodymann’s remix of "Break My Heart." The combination of a Detroit underground hero with a global pop superstar is curious on paper and joyous in execution. Moodymann can get esoteric with his remixes, but here he meets the moment with an upfront house anthem that puts Lipa’s vocals in sharp focus. Every DJ set needs a closer this strong. — JACK TREGONING

9. Jamie xx, “Idontknow”

For fans of Jamie xx, it’s been a long five years since the Londoner’s debut solo album, In Colour. That tracklist oscillated between intimate ballads with The xx vocalists Romy and Oliver Sims, percussive instrumentals and jump-up party tunes like "Gosh" and "I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)." In April of this year, the producer returned with "Idontknow," a comeback single that stands apart from In Colour. In a move reminiscent of his friend and collaborator Four Tet, Jamie xx decided to shake up his reputation for tasteful, pared-back productions. "Idontknow" is instead dense, layered and zippy, with abrupt tempo shifts and splintered vocals that conjure a peak summer London rave-up. With it, the Jamie xx color palette is bolder than ever. — J.T.

8. Deadmau5 & Kiesza, "Bridged By a Lightwave"

In a year where many of us blotted out reality with the fuzzy comfort of nostalgia, Deadmau5 and Kiesza brought us back to the late 2000s -- a somewhat more innocent time when Deadmau5 was establishing himself and his sound with now classic tracks like "I Remember" and "Faxing Berlin." The Canadian producer's first collaboration with Kiesza, "Bridged By a Lightwave" escorts us down the same darkly alluring sonic wormhole of those earlier hits and reminds us why we fell for Deadmau5 in the first place. — K. Bain

7. Mat Zo, "Love Songs"

Mat Zo has a knack for elevating the borrowed and making it new. “Love Songs” finds its foundation in a '70s-era Eddie Holman R&B ballad of a similar name. The lifted and chopped vocal sample takes on a fresh vibe that’s bright, flashy and classic Zo -- reminiscent of the "Easy" years and wrapped up in enough euphoric chords and swells to send a sea of kandi-crusted hands waving through the air. We can’t wait to hear this one amplified, but for now, computer audio and Zo’s own Minecraft Festivals will have to do. — M.V.

6. Madeon, “The Prince”

Bathed in heavy electro beats, “The Prince” plays back like a dark B-side to Madeon’s Grammy Nominated 2019 LP, Good Faith. Despite the lyrics being nearly indiscernible, there’s a melancholy tone that breaks through the filters with force. This cut is deep and desperate and tugs at the soul, which for obvious reasons, hits just right during these drab days. — M.V.

5. SG Lewis feat. Lucky Daye, “Feed the Fire”

If 2020 has imparted any life lessons, it’s to cherish the present. Though we can’t yet participate in the escapist euphoria of communal dancing, SG Lewis conjures it in his latest single, “Feed the Fire” featuring New Orleans vocalist Lucky Daye. Between the irresistibly groovy bassline and brain-tickling arpeggios, the pair paints a picture of desire under the disco ball; the breath-hitching, cosmic thrill of connecting with someone you may have only just met. It’s a night to live over and over again, just by pressing repeat. — K.R.

4. Jayda G, “Both of Us”

The arrival of Jayda G’s “Both of Us” in May was both thrilling and bittersweet. In a normal year, the house jam would’ve had a very busy summer, emerging any time a festival or club dancefloor needed a shot of sunshine. With 2020 being what it is, we had to just imagine the darkened room full of strangers. Luckily, “Both of Us” is built for transcendence. Over six minutes, Jayda G deploys the time-honored combination of warm pads and piano, weaving the melody around her own breathy vocals. The track peaks, mellows, then peaks again, before an inspired home stretch where everything slows and builds to an ecstatic final crescendo. While "Both Of Us" didn’t get the summer it deserved, at least Jayda G rounds out the year as a much-deserved Grammy nominee. — J.T.

3. Jessie Ware, "Soul Control"

Disco fanatics know dance music and electronic music aren’t always synonymous. Four tracks into the resplendent What’s Your Pleasure? we find Jessie Ware playing a musical push and pull with producers, princes of nu-disco James Ford (Simian Mobile Disco) and Morgan Geist (Metro Area, Storm Queen) on the mostly non-electronic “Soul Control.” Ware’s staccato chorus is the hook here, as Ford and Geist keep the track’s layers as loose as they are live, centering the power of the chanteuse’s vocals -- but more importantly, its soul. — Z.M.

2. Disclosure, "My High"

The Lawrence brothers outfit an undeniable slice of U.K. garage with serious swagger, via crisp vocals from Oregon hip-hop artist Aminé and a rapid-fire feature from British rapper slowthai. The lead single from Disclosure's 2020 album Energy, "My High" layers lyrics pleading simply "B--ch, don't f--k up my high" over an endurance-test-level BPM and singalong chorus that we dreamed of shouting en masse on a sweaty dancefloor -- but which instead was just heard in heavy rotation on our exercise playlists. The duo has never had a problem with ebulliently sophisticated house music. With "My High" they delivered something tougher, but no less joyful. K.Bain

1. Bicep, "Apricots"

In an often haunting year, Bicep released a song that was commensurately eerie -- and no less compelling for it. Colliding cultures via samples of traditional Malawian singing and a 1950s performance by The Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir, "Apricots" is spare and urgent, building into near cacophony before releasing into warmth. The lead single from the London-based duo's forthcoming album, Isles, "Apricots" sounds like a transmission from deep space that nonetheless hits a deeply human and very primal part inside us. More than any party anthem, that's what we needed from electronic music this year.  K.Bain