It’s been a fascinating mix of the past, present and future on the top of the Billboard charts so far in 2019. Stars of ten years ago, like the Jonas Brothers and Lady Gaga, have been rubbing elbows not only with modern-day marquee names like Ariana Grande and Post Malone, but with breakout artists like Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X, who may end up setting the pace for pop’s next decade.
And of course, that’s all just at the mainstream’s highest level — things are even wilder below, including several instantly unforgettable viral rap smashes, a couple of K-pop’s biggest crossovers yet, and some DIY favorites expanding pop, rock and hip-hop in unexpected new directions. It’s all combined to make this final year of the 2010s one of the least-predictable pre-summer seasons we’ve had in a long time. Check out our 50 favorites from 2019 so far below.
50. BLACKPINK, “Kill This Love”
The members of K-pop’s reigning girl group don’t just transcend language barriers with their highest-charting U.S. hit, they obliterate them. Over a maximalist marching-band beat, the Billboard cover stars jump back and forth between English and Korean with such whiplash frequency that you might just mistake one language for the other — proof that there’s truly no excuse for English-speaking holdouts to steer clear of their undeniable charisma. When “Kill This Love” arrived ahead of the quartet’s historic Coachella performance in April, some Blinks (as their devotees call themselves) observed the absence of a traditional chorus. But when a song comes out with this many guns blazing — literally, their choreography involves a move that resembles a bazooka firing — how could they take the energy any higher? — NOLAN FEENEY
49. The Black Keys, “Lo/Hi”
The debut single off the band’s upcoming ninth album “Let’s Rock” became the unavoidable anthem of this year’s March Madness, as well as first song to top all four of Billboard‘s rock airplay charts simultaneously — and with good reason. With its searing guitar, menacing synths and immediately memorizable chorus, “Lo/Hi” is the perfect driving jam that we all need in our lives each summer. – DENISE WARNER
48. Daddy Yankee & Katy Perry feat. Snow, “Con Calma” (Remix)
Daddy Yankee’s “Con Calma” surprised everyone, including the artist himself. “We were about to record another song but [producers Play-N-Skillz] pulled “Con Calma,'” Yankee previously told Billboard of the song’s origins from three years back. “I remember I stopped everything and said, ‘Change of plans.'” Paying tribute to Snow’s reggae-flavored 1993 Hot 100-topper “Informer,” the crowd-pleasing jam went to No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Latin Songs chart, reigning for five weeks. And when the Katy Perry-assisted remix came along in April, it gave the song extra crossover juice, helping to raise it to a No. 22 peak to date on the Hot 100. — SUZETTE FERNANDEZ
47. Koffee, “Rapture”
After grabbing our ears with last year’s groovy “Toast,” Koffee showed us what she’s lyrically capable of with the masterful title track from her debut EP. She may be a rising reggae star, but the 19-year-old performs with a fervor that even some veterans would be jealous of. When she confidently spits, “Been ah you from mi was a child, mi ready/ Di God weh mi serve, mi seh him timely you see,” you have no choice but to believe she was destined for this. — BIANCA GRACIE
46. KH, “Only Human”
The fourth and final round of the chorus of Nelly Furtado’s 2006 Loose opener “Afraid” is sung by a group of adolescent-sounding voices, who end the song by collapsing into laughter. “You’re so afraid of what people might say, but that’s OK ’cause you’re only human,” they sing. “You’ll soon get strong enough.” Kieran Hebdan (a.k.a. KH, a.k.a. British electronic musician Four Tet) took those 17 seconds of chorus, sped them up slightly, added a U.K. garage pulse and looped it to fill the arresting bulk of his 7:56-long single “Only Human.” It’s a real dancefloor driver of a track, whose lyrical repetition hammers home the simple yet powerful message of the original: hang in there. — CHRISTINE WERTHMAN
45. Taylor Swift feat. Brendon Urie, “ME!”
It’s poppy, it’s pink, it’s frothy. And if it’s anything like her other fakeout lead singles of late, it tells us nothing about the direction that her next album will take. Regardless, Swift’s joy and Urie’s game presence infuse a playful excitement not seen in a Taylor single since “Shake It Off.” (Plus, if you watched the recent Scripps National Spelling Bee — turns out, she was right: spelling IS fun.) — D.W.
44. Lady Antebellum, “What If I Never Get Over You”
“What If I Never Get Over You” marks a welcome return to Lady Antebellum’s roots. Their first single release since signing with BMLG Records in 2018, the track is a poignant duet between Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott about love lost. Long known for their striking three-part harmonies, “What If I Never Get Over You” showcases the trio’s vocal power, and recalls the emotion displayed in their massive 2009 crossover hit “Need You Now.” — ANNIE REUTER
43. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Now That I Found You”
More than any other scribe of the 2010s, Carly Rae Jepsen has mastered the alchemy of turning the giddy, fizzy endorphins of a new romance into a punchy, adrenaline-pumping three-minute musical burst — and “Now That I Found You” is the most corpse-reviving jolt on new album Dedication. The hesitant synths of the verse seem to be sending out some sort of coy message in Morse code, but when the chorus hits, it’s a breathless, caution-free charge into the throes of ’80s pop passion. — JOE LYNCH
42. Mabel, “Don’t Call Me Up”
Casually sprinkled into the verses of this addictive Hot 100 breakthrough single from Mabel, the song’s title line sounds like just a sweet suggestion from an ex. But “don’t call me up” takes on a whole new weight when the chorus hits, and Mabel sings in her all-business alto: no, seriously, do not even think about drunk dialing. She’s moved on and she’s up in the club — hopefully dancing to a song as good as this one. — KATIE ATKINSON
41. Toro y Moi, “Baby Drive It Down”
The highlight of Toro y Moi’s inscrutably infectious Outer Peace, “Baby Drive It Down” comes off halfway between a dancefloor command and a genuine favor request, sexy but highly practical. The xylophones echo in serene skeletal tandem over an unimposing thump, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts via Rüfüs du Sol, while Toro auteur Chaz Bear insists “You know I want you right now, now, on this” like a bcc’d memo. Strip-club music for the shared workspace, both calming and electric. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
40. Mustard & Migos, “Pure Water”
After a releasing a deluge of music throughout 2018, the members of Migos reconvened to open 2019 with a single, undeniable smash. Teamed with one of the most reliable producers of 2010s radio rap, Quavo, Offset, and Takeoff come out swinging, trading lines about Master P and varying states of H2O over a Mustard beat that’ll have you subconsciously queuing “Turn Down For What” up next. — CHRIS PAYNE
39. Ozuna, Daddy Yankee, J Balvin, Farruko & Anuel AA, “Baila Baila Baila” (Remix)
Ozuna’s blistering “Baila, Baila, Baila” remix with Daddy Yankee, J Balvin, Farruko and Anuel AA was released just in time for summer. The song, which was premiered at the 2019 Billboard Latin Music Awards, features lyrics with the All-Star cast inviting their special girl to dance until the song is over — and given how irresistible the song’s beat and refrain are, chances are pretty good she actually will. The first official single of Ozuna’s forthcoming album Nibiru, expected to be released later this year, “Baila” has thusfar peaked at No. 69 on the Hot 100. — SUZETTE FERNANDEZ
38. Zara Larsson, “Ruin My Life”
“Ruin My Life” starts sweetly, with Larsson drawing out the phrase “I miss you.” But as the drums build, so too do the layers of her crystaline voice, culminating in a rushed admission about a toxic relationship: I want you in my life, pain be damned, because the alternative is worse. As Larsson has explained, “I don’t want to promote [violence], but I still want to be able to tell my story and tell something that I’ve been through.” It’s one of the Swedish pop star’s darker songs, but that honest vulnerability is magnetic. — GAB GINSBERG
37. Maxo Kream, “Meet Again”
Songs are getting shorter and hip-hop is as voracious as ever when it comes to borrowing from other genres and sounds, but Maxo Kream’s “Meet Again” is 5+ minutes of classic storytelling rap. Recalling Nas’s “One Love,” the Teej-produced track is a series of poignant missives to a locked-up friend, which the Houston MC is forced to write to because he can’t visit. Clear-headed and hard-nosed, “Meet Again” accomplishes what so many have asked of hip-hop: to artfully tell the stories of black Americans who are systemically silenced and kept out of sight. — ROSS SCARANO
36. Adam Lambert, “New Eyes”
If you still haven’t gotten over how goddamn good Niall Horan’s “Slow Hands” sounded on radio and everywhere else a couple years back, here comes Adam Lambert to do that song’s blues-pop strut one better. Lambert’s voice is such a force of nature that you could be forgiven for never even really considering what it might sound like when it’s restrained to a sleazy rasp-sigh and a don’t-break-the-mood falsetto, but surprise surprise: He sounds pretty great at that too, particularly while writhing over patiently dribbling bass and stadium-clapping snare. Never quite goes for the KO, but that’s fine: Even the current frontman of Queen has to occasionally leave ’em wanting more. — A.U.
35. FKA Twigs, “Cellophane”
After three years of near-total musical silence, FKA Twigs returned in April with “Cellophane,” both a haunting plea for a love on its last legs, and a spellbinding physical and visual feat of a music video. Asking eight versions of the same question, Twigs wrestles with a public romance and the one-sided effort to contain and preserve the relationship. All wrapped in cellophane, she yearns for reciprocation from her partner and relief from opinionated onlookers. The song pushes her voice into rare full-throated territory, as we watch the plastic wrap stretch beyond repair. — ERIC FRANKENBERG
34. Luke Combs, “Beer Never Broke My Heart”
Luke Combs’ record-setting streak of Country Airplay No. 1s to kick off a career seems unlikely to come to a halt with the (relative) newcomer’s muscular, stomp-along new single, which checks off a whole lot of boxes as far as country hits go these days — most of all its sentiment. It’s true, after all: An ice-cold beer ain’t generally out here ruining anyone’s life. Perfectly timed, too; as warmer weather approaches, this one’s gonna be blaring out of rolled-down car windows all summer. — KEVIN RUTHERFORD
33. Tierra Whack, “Only Child”
To begin the one-single-a-week Whack History Month, Philadelphia-native Tierra Whack shared “Only Child,” her first release since last year’s audio-visual instant-classic Whack World. Whack handled the transition from minute-long cuts to a four-minute pop song with all the grace and humor you’d expect, invoking the concise storytelling of “Cable Guy” and the effortlessly calm shade of “Fuck Off.” “Only Child” (and the four consecutive singles that followed) further asserts the budding superstar’s creative sophistication and helps to build breathless anticipation for her next full-length release, whatever form it may take. — E.F.
32. James Blake feat. Travis Scott and Metro Boomin, “Mile High”
The second track off James Blake’s feature-heavy Assume Form hits you like a tranquilizer. As thick and sticky as syrup, “Mile High” layers Travis Scott’s half-sung verses over a woozy beat provided by Metro Boomin, gentle enough that even lines like “fell in love overseas/ ass fatter than a peach” make only the softest dent. Meanwhile, feathery vocals from Blake lend the song a holy sheen. Big-name collaborations continue to be all the rage in 2019, but while some team-ups seem cold-calculated to combine star power, “Mile High” exemplifies a collab at the art form’s best — surprising, innovative and delightful. — T.C.
31. Better Oblivion Community Center, “Dylan Thomas”
Two masters of emotionally heavy songwriting — one veteran, one newer — Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers teamed up for this January’s surprise tandem project, Better Oblivion Community Center. The superduo’s self-titled set takes a surprising turn with the upbeat-but-despairing “Dylan Thomas,” named for the Welsh poet who notoriously drank himself to death at age 39. The track’s hopelessness lies in Trumpism and our current political landscape, and while Thomas’ own personal sentiment drove him to death, Oberst and Bridgers change up their narrative: In the fourth verse, the guitars stop, the tambourines freeze and Bridgers sings, “There’s flowers in the rubble, the weeds are gonna tumble/ I’m lucid but I still can’t think.” It’s a realization of hope and a muscle flex urging its listeners to hang on, this is only temporary. — XANDER ZELLNER
30. girl in red, “i need to be alone.”
Precious song-title stylization has never been more popular than it is in the late-’10s, but Norwegian indie sensation girl in red earns her lowercase and periods, dammit, with songs as unassuming as they are stark, and yet still aesthetically pleasing. “i need to be alone.” is the finest of her gauzy transmissions to date, DIY in both the Bandcamp and SoundCloud senses, but with pop instincts to get her to the top of New Music Friday: Rare is the singer-songwriter both talented and wise enough to come up with a chorus hook as good as “I need to be alone or I’m gonna lose my shit,” and to just let the backing cheerleader handclaps and gently weeping guitars fill in the gaps from there. — A.U.
29. DaBaby, “Suge”
At SXSW 2017, a rapper walked up and down 6th Street, naked save for an adult diaper. Two years later, that same man has a top-ten smash; perhaps the most ferocious rap hit of 2019. “You disrespect me and I’ll beat your ass up/ All in front of your partners and children” is a line delivered with total command and authenticity. The beating would feel bad even if the man delivering the blows wore an adult diaper. North Carolina’s DaBaby has worked hard for years, brushing up his skills and pulling the occasional stunt only to arrive here, with “Suge.” Good. — R.S.
28. Tame Impala, “Patience”
Psychedelic synth rock trendsetter Kevin Parker adds another weapon to his dynamic musical tool belt and it’s… bongos? On “Patience,” the Tame Impala mastermind gives himself — and perhaps his growing, festival-packing legion of fans — a reminder to embrace the wait and take things in groovy stride. Despite the parting refrain that dishes out morbid-but-true anti-motivational slogans like “Time takes from everyone,” Parker proves he hasn’t lost a step. — BRYAN KRESS
27. Khalid, “Talk”
Khalid’s sweet falsetto is perfectly deployed in the chorus of “Talk,” the lilting smash single from sophomore LP Free Spirit, with the El Paso singer/songwriter hoping to sit down for a simple conversation to figure out where his uncertain new relationship is heading. Khalid’s unclear status is matched by Disclosure’s fuzzy production, with the distorted intro setting listeners up for the all-important DTR discussion. — K.A.
26. Lizzo, “Juice”
From Beyoncé’s hashtaggable hooks to Ariana Grande’s lowercase kiss-offs to just about anything Cardi B says, music’s mightiest stars have the power to shape our daily vocab — or at least our Instagram captions. And if the endless stream of catchphrases and quotable lyrics Lizzo serves up on “Juice” is any indication, the rapper-singer-floutist-actress will join the ranks of those other divas soon enough. It’s more than natural charm that’s getting her there, though: on “Juice,” Lizzo glides through a cocktail of funk, new wave and old-school hip-hop with an effortless proficiency she can’t help but boast about mid-song: “I was born like this, don’t even gotta try.” — N.F.
25. Lil Peep & iLoveMakonnen feat. Fall Out Boy, “I’ve Been Waiting”
iLoveMakonnen had been waiting for a second pervasive pop hit since 2014’s “Tuesday.” Then Fall Out Boy came calling, offering condolences to Makonnen friend and collaborator Lil Peep, who died of an accidental overdose in late 2017, quite possibly on the brink of stardom. The resulting Peep tribute is a veritable emo-rap summit: three artists gifted in moody melodics trading hooks like they’re out to prove their musical worlds were never really that far apart. — C.P.
24. Sam Smith & Normani, “Dancing With a Stranger”
“Dancing With a Stranger” has the light, fluttery sound of some of Barry Gibb’s best productions of the late ’70s and early ’80s. It was the top 10 hit Sam Smith needed — a change from the heavy, serious tone of such classic ballad hits as “Stay with Me” and “Too Good at Goodbyes.” Smith and his long-time songwriting partner Jimmy Napes co-wrote the song with Smith’s duet partner Normani, and the members of the Norwegian songwriting/production duo Stargate, proving that sometimes bringing in new blood and switching up the formula pays off. — PAUL GREIN
23. Maren Morris, “GIRL”
Maren Morris launched her sophomore album GIRL with its anthemic, LP-opening title track. Released in January, “GIRL” has Morris reassuring herself, and listeners, that “everything is going to be OK.” A song about the struggles of the comparison game and the importance of rising above, Morris ably gets her point across, with resounding guitar stabs and attention-grabbing drum hits giving her reassuring vocals all the backup needed. — A.R.
22. Tyler the Creator, “I Think”
Tyler the Creator’s entire decade-long (!) career may have been leading to “I Think,” the third track on his most experimental album to date, Igor. Tyler’s evolution from the violently juvenile introvert of Odd Future to the introspective, open-hearted introvert of “See You Again” was well documented upon the 2017 release of Flower Boy. But on “I Think,” he pushes one step further, downright giddy as he tracks his progress, allowing himself to fall fully in love. Featuring backing vocals by Solange, another reference to Call Me By Your Name and a magnificent instrumental bridge, “I Think” shows Tyler the Creator at his most fully-realized (so far), both personally and artistically. — E.F.
21. Jenny Lewis, “Red Bull & Hennessy”
Headed by bluesy guitar riffs melded with harmonious piano, the lead single from Jenny Lewis’ On the Line sounds like a delicacy from the rock age of yesteryear. Each lyric feels like it’s pulled out of the mouth of Lewis, all urgency and lust, with elements of confidence and self-doubt rivaling one another — as can be the case after a few mixed drinks. But beware of the hangover: For all of its rebellious nature, the song’s final seconds sputter out, sending our protagonist spiraling back toward earth, with an inevitable headache to battle. — JOSH GLICKSMAN
20. BTS feat. Halsey, “Boy With Luv”
It’s hard to beat a marquee in 2019 with BTS at the top, but add chart-smashing supernova Halsey and you’re looking at an unstoppable crossover-pop force. Over a delectable beat, the group trades endearing lines on their ever-expanding global adoration, while fan-turned-collaborator Halsey proves to be more than capable of sharing the track (and a couch) with the septet, thanks to an irrepressible hook that ultimately boosted the boy band to their highest Hot 100 chart spot yet. The lyrics are steeped in BTS lore, as the group grows from boys “in” love to those “with,” but the song gives less-versed listeners an irresistible chance to admire what makes them K-pop’s biggest catch. — B.K.
19. Ed Sheeran feat. Justin Bieber, “I Don’t Care”
Another collaboration between Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber is in the books, and it’s guaranteed to have you summer-ready. The bouncy beat, velvety vocals, catchy melody and major star power behind “I Don’t Care” led the duo straight to a No. 2 debut on the Hot 100. Not to mention, the hilarious music video — complete with tons of green screen work and an array of costumes, ranging from ice cream cones to panda bears — shows off Sheeran and Bieber’s goofy side, making an already winning song that much more likeable. — ALEXA BIANCHI
18. Maggie Rogers, “Burning”
“Burning” stands out among the rest of debuting album Heard It in a Past Life as one of the breakout singer-songwriter’s best-crafted songs yet. Fitted with some hazy synths, ricocheting beats and Rogers’ voice skipping up and down octaves, “Burning” sees Rogers at her most experimental — and her happiest, the Maryland native exclaiming, “I’m in love, I’m alive, oh I’m burning” on the rapturous chorus. — STEPHEN DAW
17. Fletcher, “Undrunk”
Three years after Fletcher established a following with her empowering 2016 anthem “War Paint,” the New Jersey native got vulnerable after a breakup, and it resulted in one of the catchiest pop breakouts in 2019. Fletcher’s whispering vocals and hyper-evocative lyrics make the track particularly heart-wrenching, but with a clever backwards twist: “Wish I could get a little un-drunk so I could un-call you/ At five in the morning, I would un-fuck you,” she sings at the start of the chorus. It’s a relatable tale whether you’re finding it hard to let go of an ex or had a night of one-too-many drinks (or both), and with wavy production to boot, “Undrunk” is the tipsy tune pop fans didn’t know they needed. — TAYLOR WEATHERBY
16. Ariana Grande, “Ghostin”
The eighth track from Thank U, Next dives headfirst into heavy lyricism that at least seemingly discusses the late Mac Miller and her subsequent coping methods during her whirlwind relationship with comedian Pete Davidson. Led by dreamy synths that many have speculated are a nod to Miller’s “2009,” the song is unquestionably the emotional peak of its parent album: Though no official confirmation has been given about its subjects, it ultimately doesn’t matter. “Ghostin” is an opportunity for listeners to become privy to the most vulnerable thoughts of the biggest pop star on the planet, and they’re beautifully devastating. — J.G.
15. Shawn Mendes, “If I Can’t Have You”
It only takes one listen to get this earworm chorus — which brilliantly kicks off Shawn Mendes’ latest single — lodged in your brain for hours. The driving beat and percussive chorus, combined with Mendes’ pleading vocals, prove just how desperate he is to win back the object of his affection. It’s no surprise that this electrifying stand-alone single burst onto the Hot 100 at No. 2 — instantly becoming the singer/songwriter’s biggest-ever hit on the chart. — K.A.
14. Kehlani feat. Ty Dolla $ign, “Nights Like This”
Kehlani is one of the most self-assured artists of her generation. But truth be told, she’s at her best when she’s completely vulnerable. On “Nights Like This,” her first single from February’s While We Wait, the Bay Area star taps into her emotions as she questions why her female lover is becoming distant. The addition of Ty Dolla $ign adds an extra dose of sultriness, which almost makes you forget the pair are supposed to be heartbroken in the first place. — B.G.
13. Billie Eilish, “Bury a Friend”
In any other year, hearing the words “step on the glass, staple your tongue” on mainstream pop radio might have been cause for alarm. But when they emerged from the mouth of Billie Eilish, it all made sense: This spooky single off Eilish’s exceptional debut album stands as a perfect example of the singer-songwriter’s strangest and smartest tendencies. With a sticky melody, inspired production elements (courtesy of Eilish’s brother/producer FINNEAS) and expertly restrained vocals, “Bury a Friend” announced the arrival of Billie Eilish as music’s newest star. — S.D.
12. 21 Savage, “A Lot”
Few would’ve expected the most soulful hit single of 2019’s first half to come from rap’s preeminent You Made It Weird line-stepper, but… well, a lot of what’s comprised 21 Savage’s 2019 so far has been pretty unexpected. In any event, the slow-burn confessionals of “A Lot” were out of character not just for Savage but for much of mainstream hip-hop, with its expertly deployed ’70s R&B sample and gut-punch lyrics of betrayal and lost innocence giving it a resonance that almost felt too real for RapCaviar. If ever there was a track for J. Cole to hop on to preach about fake rappers and their fraudulent Spotify spin totals, it was this one — though even he takes it to places unexpected, putting his arm around a couple wayward NBA point guards and truly earning his spot as patron saint of 2019’s All-Star Weekend. — A.U.
11. Swae Lee & Post Malone, “Sunflower (Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse)”
Post and Swae’s smash collaboration about a rocky relationship, created for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, doesn’t really have anything to do with sunflowers. No matter: The track is two-and-a-half minutes of pure, sweet sunshine, matching Swae’s soulful vocals with a balmy melody, while Malone’s signature howl adds just the right dose of edge. “Crash at my place, baby, you’re a wreck,” Swae sings in the intro, with an aww-shucks tone that carries a warm glow through the whole record. The single managed to top the Hot 100, marking Malone’s third No. 1 on the chart and Swae’s first outside of Rae Sremmurd — proving that even in today’s boundary-pushing music sphere, simple is often just right. — T.C.
10. Ava Max, “Sweet But Psycho”
So nice of Ava Max to let pop be catchy again. With Top 40 and Spotify playlists dominated by mid-tempo minor key melancholia, Max’s breakthrough channels the dopamine rush of late-’00s dancefloor glam we’ve scarcely seen since the early days of Katy Perry, Kesha, and Lady Gaga. Po-po-po-poker face or ma-ma-ma out my mind, Max proved there’s still an eager appetite for this stuff: “Sweet But Pyscho” has been a thing since late 2018, but its placings on Pop Songs (No. 3) and the Hot 100 (No. 10) last week were its highest yet. — C.P.
9. Megan Thee Stallion, “Big Ole Freak”
Megan Thee Stallion’s “Big Ole Freak” was buried seven songs into her Pimp C-referencing 2018 project, Tina Snow. But in 2019, the Houston rapper dropped it as a single with an accompanying video, putting much-needed attention on the slowed-down (but charged-up) track. “Freak” centers around a stretched-out sample of Immature’s 1992 ballad “Is It Love This Time,” but producer LilJuMadeDaBeat adds in a ratatat rhythm on the high end and some trunk-rattling bass notes on the low, turning it into something you could dance to. And then there’s Megan herself, effortlessly rapping about her sexual prowess in a super-smooth voice and measured cadence: “Come in the room and I’m giving commands/ I am the captain and he the lieutenant,” she says, as if there were any question about who’s in charge around here. — C.W.
8. Rosalía feat. J Balvin & El Guincho, “Con Altura”
The flamenco-infused urban melodies found in “Malamente” put Rosalía on the radar in 2018, but it was “Con Altura,” released on March 28, that really put the Spanish singer on the international map. In collaboration with J Balvin and El Guincho, “Con Altura” broke many urban stereotypes, spotlighting Rosalía’s ability to fuse traditional styles with reggaeton. “Con Altura” represents Rosalía’s admiration and respect for the latter genre, paying tribute to a more classic urban sound dubbed as reggaeton playero. But by incorporating traditional flamenco elements into the beat, she managed to create a sound all her own — and one accessible enough for it to become her first top 20 hit on Billboard‘s Latin Airplay chart. — JESSICA ROIZ
7. Halsey, “Nightmare”
Looking back over the last five years of her career, it almost seems like everything Halsey’s done has been leading up to “Nightmare.” This powerful, pissed-off anthem is undoubtedly one of the singer’s best songs to date, as Halsey leans into her pop-punk upbringing to let the men surrounding her know that she has had more than enough of their mistreatment. Calling “Nightmare” a “timely” song feels reductive — Halsey taps into our current state of chaos to harness a collective rage felt by women the world over, while also reclaiming her own identity from a patriarchal society that devalues it. If the star’s upcoming album is anything like her latest single, then it should easily be her best yet. — S.D.
6. Blueface, “Thotiana”
Listening to “Thotiana” barely a half year after Blueface became a national concern, it already feels ridiculous that his off-beat rapping style was ever a matter of considerable public debate. Partly that’s because of the well-established history of venerated MCs not adhering to traditional rhythmic structure, but mostly it’s because you only need to get three words into the refrain of “Thotiana” to realize his stardom was predetermined. It’s a hook, a catchphrase and an expansion of the lexicon all in one, and over hissing cymbals and soft-shoeing piano plinks, it’s the most itch-scratching West Coast chorus since DJ Mustard and Ty Dolla $ign first hit the club together. Rest is dope too, but Blueface could’ve spent the verses complaining about Cali’s plastic bag legislation in Rodney Dangerfield cadence and it still would’ve been a wrap. — A.U.
5. Ariana Grande, “7 Rings”
From J. Lo’s Latin-flavored “Dinero” to Cardi B’s pounding “Money,” last year saw its fair share of female stars flexing on their wealth. But who would have thought that Ariana Grande’s cash-flow anthem, arriving late to that party in January, would go the hardest? Released as the second single from the ponytailed pop queen’s then-just-announced thank u, next, “7 Rings” finds Grande bragging about “lashes and diamonds, ATM machines” over a polished, tip-toeing beat with all the swagger of a seasoned rapper, and gifting listeners the instantly iconic one-liner: “You like my hair? Gee thanks, just bought it.” The song ruled the Hot 100 for eight weeks (Grande’s personal best) and has since become the stuff of legend — though ironically for a song about celebrating wealth, a striking 90 percent of the songwriting royalties are controlled by the writers of Sound of Music favorite “My Favorite Things,” which “7 Rings” borrows its melody from. Thankfully for Grande, the gamble was worth it: “7 Rings” all but cemented her status as pop royalty. — T.C.
4. Vampire Weekend, “Harmony Hall”
On a January day in 2019, the coolest uncool rock band in indie made their comeback with a pair of songs — including “Harmony Hall,” an undeniably summery lead single. That’s because Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig can see the future, and his prophecy probably involved us all cranking down the windows and yelling the bittersweet lyrics to “Harmony Hall” on a hot June evening. Now that we’re here at the outset of the warm-weather months, go on — give it a spin. Listen to that delicate guitar melody, followed by Koenig’s arcane-yet-universal lyrics, elevated by a heavenly house piano line. Here comes a feeling you thought you’d forgotten. — G.G.
3. Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus, “Old Town Road” (Remix)
Who would’ve thought a little controversy would give way to one of the most viral songs of the past decade? Originally taking off on Tik Tok, Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” encapsulated all the best parts of the Yeehaw agenda. It thrives on its silliness (“Wrangler on my booty”), tosses in a random Nine Inch Nails sample and seamlessly blends country elements with trap. The rapper quickly fed off his growing hype with a brilliant chess move: adding none other than Billy Ray Cyrus to the remix. The unexpected collaboration, which gifted us with the hardest Cyrus verse to date, gave Lil Nas X the extra push to officially eclipse any remaining naysayers. We’ll see if he’ll ever command this level of attention again — his upcoming EP should be a strong first indicator one way or the other — but boy did he know how to lasso us in. — B.G.
2. Billie Eilish, “Bad Guy”
Taylor Swift has seemingly moved on from threading trap and electro-pop into radio catnip, but 17-year-old pop prodigy Billie Eilish is ready to pick up Swift’s discarded Hot Topic mascara and lead the charge with “Bad Guy,” easily the biggest Hot 100 hit of her still-budding career. Whether Young William Eyelash really wants to wear your boyfriend’s cologne and seduce your dad or is just clowning on us — the smirking “duh” that caps the chorus is probably an important clue — doesn’t change the fact that when the cartoonishly villainous synths kick in after that deliciously eerie vocal flutter, it’s nearly impossible to resist the Dark Side. And why even bother? In the hands of Billie, it sounds an awful lot like the future. — J.L.
1. Jonas Brothers, “Sucker”
In an era where haunting melodies and lyrical transparency rule and genre lines have been blurred more than ever, the Jonas Brothers made their triumphant return with “Sucker” — and ultimately proved that feel-good pop-rock isn’t totally dead on top 40. While there were plenty of fans around the world eagerly awaiting a JoBros reunion, the snare-snapping beat and whistling hook of “Sucker” made it an undeniable hit to anyone who listened, regardless of its year of release. But with a No. 1 debut on the Hot 100 and a multi-week reign on the Pop Songs chart — both firsts for the sibling trio — the song also shows that the 2019 Jonas Brothers era may be even bigger than their late-2000s heyday, something that not even the trio themselves saw coming.
“Sucker” may not include any cursing or R-rated anecdotes, but its racing melody and sultry falsetto present a matured version of the Jonas Brothers’ infectious pop, particularly thanks to the way Nick and Joe deliver flirty lyrics like “I’ve been dancing on top of cars and stumbling out of bars/ I follow you through the dark, can’t get enough.” And though they’ve each traded purity rings for wedding bands, the brothers made their love stories part of the “Sucker” odyssey, recruiting their real-life wives for the extravagant (but gratifying) video. The song was the match to the flame that is the Jonas Brothers’ comeback, and now they’re just about everywhere you look: magazine covers, Saturday Night Live, Amazon Prime, and soon enough, all around North America on their Happiness Begins Tour. But if they keep dishing out pop hooks this unforgettable it doesn’t seem anyone will mind: the Jonas Brothers have officially made America suckers for them once again. — T.W.