The past and the future combined in 2019, a year of satisfying comebacks from veteran artists and exciting breakouts from newer ones. It felt both like the culmination of the decade that was, and also a glimpse of the first two or three years of the next one — as popular music continues moving towards an increasingly genre-less space, where hit singles can come from just about anyone and anywhere (and maybe any time), and can last until their creators run out of new ways to keep them in the headlines.
Here are our staff’s 100 favorite songs of 2019 — songs that either were released or peaked on the Billboard charts this year — a mix of cultural events, personal favorites and everything else that tattooed itself inside our brains in the last 12 months. Read the list below, with a Spotify playlist of all 100 at the bottom.
100. Blanco Brown, “The Git Up”
The dance challenge has been an integral part of pop music’s last decade and a half, but music needed a new bona fide line dance, and in the waning moments of the 2010s, Blanco Brown delivered. But “The Git Up” isn’t just a song to dance to – it’s also hellishly catchy, and its fusion of slide guitar with hip-hop beats made it a song listeners with many different tastes could “git” down to. It’s too early to tell if country rap’s moment will continue into the next decade, but “The Git Up” is a fine benchmark even if it doesn’t. — KEVIN RUTHERFORD
99. Lil Peep & iLoveMakonnen feat. Fall Out Boy, “I’ve Been Waiting”
An unlikely combination of three very different alt-leaning acts, “I’ve Been Waiting” is far more seamless than it has any right to be, finding common ground in the artists’ shared pop sensibilities. As it toggles between vocals from all three, it’s impossible to tell where the verses stop and the chorus starts — it’s all hooks, really, a song where every part feels like That Part. In a more just world, this would’ve been the song to get the late Lil Peep his first Hot 100 top 40 hit. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
98. Sturgill Simpson, “Make Art Not Friends”
Sturgill Simpson told fans to expect something “sleazy,” “steamy” and “psychedelic” on his latest album, Sound & Fury, and while the 10-song LP is indeed a marked departure from his more country-leaning music, it’s also wry as ever. “Make Art Not Friends” starts with a nearly two-minute trippy instrumental before transitioning to a guitar-and-drum groove while everyone’s favorite country anti-establishmentarian looks “out the window at a world on fire.” He’s “tired of the lights,” and there’s only one solution: “Think I’m gonna just stay home/And make art, not friends.” Simpson might have shifted his sound on this one, but the curmudgeonly attitude remains. Now please, get off his lawn. — CHRISTINE WERTHMAN
97. Lady Antebellum, “What If I Never Get Over You”
There are a lot of “what ifs” when a relationship ends, but the title of Lady Antebellum’s latest heart-wrenching hit has to be one of the scariest. The song — which recalls the same yearning tone as the country trio’s breakout single “Need You Now” — perfectly captures that fear of the unknown, thanks to Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley’s hopeless harmonies. We all know the desperate feeling of struggling to move on, and we all should know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel eventually… right? — KATIE ATKINSON
96. Koffee, “Rapture”
Born Mikayla Simpson, Koffee entered 2019 as a buzzing question mark, and is exiting as the most exciting reggae crossover artist in years. “Rapture” opens her EP of the same name, throwing down the most-low key gauntlet possible. Born two months inside the new millennium, the 19-year old Jamaican-born singer-songwriter-rapper delivers a quiet confidence that avoids intimidation and instead feels like an invitation. — ERIC FRANKENBERG
95. Lewis Capaldi, “Someone You Loved”
Warning: Listening to “Someone You Loved” will induce feelings of heartbreak, remind you of your worst breakup and possibly leave you in tears. Nominated for song of the year at the upcoming 2020 Grammys, the 23-year-old Scottish singer-songwriter effortlessly wrenches our guts on the piano ballad from the brutal first line: “I’m going under and this time I fear there’s no one to save me.” The track spent three weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100, while the video shined a light on the importance of organ donation and the charity Live Life Give Life — ensuring that our bleeding heart is beating once again and stronger than before. — DANICA DANIEL
94. Adam Lambert, “Superpower”
Leading off his excellent 2019 EP Velvet: Side A, Adam Lambert’s “Superpower” is one of the pop/rock powerhouse’s most natural fits yet, a sleek electro-rock growler that stuns with both strength and finesse. Not like it really required much of a stretch for a guy currently serving as the frontman for Queen to embrace a 21st-century version of stomping, arena-sized glam rock, but it’s still heartening just to hear how much Lambert seems to have found his musical sweet spot. — A.U.
93. Coldplay, “Orphans”
The lead single off Coldplay’s eighth studio album contains so many of the elements of a classic Coldplay song. It’s got an upbeat and hopeful melody, Chris Martin’s soaring voice on full display, and a shout-along chorus that features a full choir — with lyrics that, on first listen, sound fairly celebratory. So it’s ironic that the song’s upbeat nature masks the seriousness of the song’s lyrics: The song tells the story of a father and daughter; Syrian refugees who survived the Damascus bombing of 2018. — XANDER ZELLNER
92. James Blake feat. Andre 3000, “Where’s the Catch”
English producer and longtime master of atmosphere James Blake creates a dually ominous and alluring mood with “Where’s the Catch,” from fourth LP Assume Form. Blake weaves his eerie falsetto over a production oscillating between shimmeringly complex beats and a spare kick drum, while flexing his hip-hop bonafides not only through the stoney, sexy groove, but through a hypnotic verse from rap legend Andre 3000. Both highly danceable and genuinely cool, “Where’s the Catch” walks the line between electronic music and hip-hop with the calm swagger of the truly lifted, a vibe extended to any listener. — KATIE BAIN
91. Pronoun, “Stay”
If you’re going to use one of the most well-traveled song titles in pop history for your new album’s lead single, you better find something new to add to it. Alyse Vellturo, also known as alt-rocker Pronoun, certainly does that on her blistering, emotionally loaded I’ll Show You Stronger single — unlike most of her “Stay” predecessors, the title isn’t used as a plea but as a proclamation: “If you’re gonna go, I think I’m gonna stay.” A clever twist and a worthy entry to the canon. — A.U.
90. Tove Lo, “Glad He’s Gone”
The Swedish star seemingly hails from a bygone era of pop: She cut her teeth as a songwriter alongside mega-producers Max Martin and Xenomania, then debuted with the kind of lustrous electro-bangers her home country is famous for. But those club anthems don’t quite rule the way they used to, so she switched it up with this pep talk to a brokenhearted BFF. The skittering beat could be a SoundCloud rapper’s plaything and the freaky vocal samples feel like a hat-tip to Billie Eilish, but it’s still 100 percent Tove Lo thanks to the raunchy candor (“Did you go down on his birthday?”) fans have come to expect from the woman whose breakout single spoke of sex clubs and Twinkie binges. — NOLAN FEENEY
89. Young Thug, J. Cole & Travis Scott, “The London”
The radio single Young Thug seemed to have essentially spent his entire career resisting proved worth the stretch, as the delicately booming T-Minus beat and the slow-and-low Travis Scott-sung hook made it irresistible FM fodder, and Thug’s first top five hit as a lead artist on Billboard‘s R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. And just in case it felt too pop for Thug’s cult fanbase, he makes sure to include at least one of his most eye-widening couplets to date: “I could charge ’em like a Dodge Hemi Demon/ Got your broad in the garage eatin’ semen.” — A.U.
88. Sir Babygirl, “Everyone Is a Bad Friend”
Occupying the space between idiosyncratic art-pop and almost-too-cute C86, Sir Babygirl’s “Everyone Is a Bad Friend” segues from sing-song humble brags (“Everyone I meet takes me on a date”) to similarly phrased freakouts (“Everyone I meet I think is gonna die”) to invigorating banshee wails at the close. In three minutes, it’s the perfect encapsulation of the frenetic unpredictability missing from the lion’s share of today’s indie rock and alt-pop. — JOE LYNCH
87. Ozuna, Daddy Yankee, J Balvin, Farruko & Anuel AA, “Baila Baila Baila” (Remix)
Are five reggaetón stars better than one? In the “Baila, Baila, Baila” remix, Ozuna’s original uptempo but slightly melancholy track about a girl who dances to forget morphs into a showcase for multiple voices and styles. With Ozuna’s distinctive voice singing the chorus as the unifying thread, “Baila Baila Baila” serves as a kind of canvas for the kings of reggaetón to improvise on. — LEILA COBO
86. Kehlani feat. Ty Dolla $ign, “Nights Like This”
A year after teaming up with Kyle on a bouncy song about a love interest playing games (“Playinwitme”), Kehlani presented a more vulnerable approach to the feeling of being strung along by a lover with “Nights Like This.” The echoing mid-tempo track sees Kehlani struggling between missing that person and reminding herself that they’ll only let her down if she lets them back in, with Ty Dolla $ign sharing the same painfully relatable sentiment in his verse. “Nights Like This” reminded fans of Kehlani’s ability to match raw lyrics with a catchy melody, and served as the perfect lead-in to her latest mixtape, While We Wait. — TAYLOR WEATHERBY
85. Mura Masa feat. Clairo, “I Don’t Think I Can Do This Again”
Indie-pop darling Clairo has a penchant for tender, hyper-specific lyrics, and British producer Mura Masa is known for his futuristic, grungy beats. The two make a mismatched but perfect pair on this clever snapshot of an on-again, off-again relationship, where intentional sonic discord echoes emotional turmoil. “Was it really that long ago?” Clairo considers about her last fight with an ex, wondering if “I should let go” to the tune of wistful guitar strums. But just as you begin to agree, the sweet melody warps into a pummeling, dark electro-pop jam, like a wave of bad memories flooding back. At least it’s a struggle you can dance to. — TATIANA CIRISANO
84. Maxo Kream, “Meet Again”
Accompanied by a wave of funky synths, Maxo Kream’s dependably strong storytelling chops hit a peak in this Brandon Banks standout. The Houston native bounces his way through a wave of anecdotes that depict the harsh reality of growing up surrounded by gang violence and a broken criminal justice system, with the 29-year-old getting particularly poignant as he provides life updates to incarcerated friends: “Let me tell you ‘bout your daughter, yesterday, she tried to walk… You can’t be there like a father and it’s f–king with you mentally.” — JOSH GLICKSMAN
83. Saweetie, “My Type”
It’s important to establish expectations before jumping into any commitment, and Bay Area rapper Saweetie has no problem setting the bar high. With a flip on Petey Pablo’s “Freek-a-Leek” helmed by London on da Track, the ICY queen puts a fresh spin on the philandery 2004 club banger — while also bringing together elite guests like City Girls, Jhene Aiko, Becky G, French Montana, Wale & Tiwa Savage for a string of new takes on the song through the summer. Throw in appearances by fellow Bay Area favorites Kehlani and Kamaiyah in the song’s visual (perhaps most famous for the leading lady’s instantly iconic, logic-defying basketball hoop twerk) along with a No. 21 Hot 100 peak, and it becomes obvious that what works for her clearly works for everyone else. — BRYAN KRESS
82. Dan + Shay feat. Justin Bieber, “10,000 Hours”
On its face, “10,000 Hours” seems like a typical “I love my wife” ballad. But it’s elevated by Dan + Shay’s harmonies and Justin Bieber’s vocals, walking the fine balance between pop and country, fit for first dances at weddings in the best possible way. Bieber has spent the past few years making guest appearances across genres, and although “10,000 Hours” didn’t achieve the Hot 100-topping level of success that “Despacito” and “I’m the One” did, the song proves he’d be right at home in Nashville, too. — DENISE WARNER
81. Burna Boy, “Anybody”
Joyful and infectious, Burna Boy’s “Anybody” is danceable almost to the point of imperative. Smooth, punchy horns accent the delivery: “Anybody, wey no want to soji/ Anybody, wey no dey carry body/ Nack am something, ahh/ Nack am something.” The message is clear: start working, pulling your weight, or risk getting smacked. Burna clearly means what he says — he didn’t hit anyone, but he did actually reprimand a “boring” fan who refused to dance at one of his shows in Atlanta. If “Anybody” was playing, you could argue the guy deserved it. — WILLIAM GOTTSEGEN
80. Camila Cabello, “Liar”
Oh no, there she goes, making another catchy, Cuban-inspired bop. Cabello picks up where she left off with her breakthrough solo smash “Havana” on Romance lead single “Liar,” realizing she’s lying to her likely lover (and to herself) about her true feelings, all set to the strains of a punchy Latin horn section. It’s a little bit flamenco, a little bit reggae, and a lot addictive, especially that final 30-second instrumental section that puts you right inside a Miami lounge. — K.A.
79. 5 Seconds of Summer, “Easier”
In the year of the Reznorssance, maybe the secretly most surprising NIN-quoting hit was 5 Seconds of Summer’s “Easier,” which swiped the hissing drum thump (and even some of the S&M-inspired imagery) from the group’s iconic “Closer.” The lift gives the Charlie Puth co-write a nervy edge not often heard on Top 40 radio, and perfectly complements the anxiety and emotional claustrophobia of the lyrics — delivered by Luke Hemmings in a falsetto’d wail that indeed sounds like he could use some help getting away from himself. — A.U.
78. Ambjaay, “Uno”
True to its name, “Uno” seems like it’s approximately one minute long (close-ish; add 49 more seconds), fading out as abruptly as it came in. Ambjaay has impressive time management skills, though, fitting in a Rihanna shoutout and four different reprises of the chorus, which includes a rhyming of “zapatos” and “nachos,” along the way. No need to think about this one too much; the rudimentary Spanish complements the song’s playful, unsophisticated beat. — K.R.
77. Mabel, “Don’t Call Me Up”
Mabel’s family tree is rooted in the industry (she was born to Swedish singer Neneh Cherry and British producer Cameron McVey), and it was only a matter of time before the dance-pop singer-songwriter made a name for herself. “Don’t Call Me Up” was just what she needed: Peaking at No. 3 on the UK Singles Chart and at No. 66 on the Hot 100, the “New Rules”-esque kiss-off was one of the winter’s most pleasantly unexpected bops. Some artists wither under the “big in the U.K.” label, but we get the feeling Mabel’s only getting started over here. — GAB GINSBERG
76. Bad Bunny & Tainy, “Callaita”
After releasing debut LP X 100pre at the end of 2018, Bad Bunny teamed up with Puerto Rican producer Tainy in Spring 2019 to drop “Callaita,” a song about an introverted girl who likes to party hard and live life to the fullest. The enchanting reggaetón track beautifully melds the sounds of crashing ocean waves and seagulls, bringing Tainy’s stellar production to the forefront. “I worked on ‘Callaita’ with the vision I wanted to push forward,” Tainy previously told Billboard. “It’s the first track off of my upcoming project and it has a different sound that I would like to see more in the industry.” — JESSICA ROIZ
75. Megan Thee Stallion, Nicki Minaj & Ty Dolla $ign, “Hot Girl Summer”
After rebranding an entire season, Megan Thee Stallion delivered what everyone was clamoring for: an undeniable anthem for what we’ve all come to know as Hot Girl Summer. And she didn’t do it alone: With assistance from pal Nicki Minaj and features king Ty Dolla $ign, this track is repeat worthy no matter how much the temperature drops in the coming months. — LYNDSEY HAVENS
74. Charlie Puth, “Mother”
Charlie Puth originally claimed that this narrative about being a wolf-in-boy-next-door clothing was based on a teenage fantasy, then teased a mysterious truth to its inspiration, which he later (sort of) revealed to be a toxic relationship of his youth. Whatever the real story about the song’s origins, though, it’s not nearly as compelling as the song’s driving groove, which splits the difference between “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” or its falsetto’d chorus, which summarizes the entire song in one sly, scummy lyric: “If your mother knew, she’d keep me so far from you.” — A.U.
73. Aldous Harding, “The Barrel”
The lyrics of Aldous Harding’s “The Barrel” represent something of a Möbius strip, twisting around different actions — showing “the ferret to the egg,” beginning “the braiding,” seeing “a hand arch out of the barrel” — and ultimately defying meaning. Yet the New Zealand singer-songwriter creates an atmosphere both gentle and exploratory, her honeyed voice weaving through piano flourishes and not-quite-harmonies, so that the thematic ambiguity serves as the center of a hypnotic overall listen. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
72. Charli XCX feat. Christine and the Queens, “Gone”
Songs about feeling like an outsider — at a party, in a relationship, in the music business — have been as constant as any throughout the history of the rock era. But it’s a struggle to find a more direct pop lyric about the subject than “I feel so unstable/ F–king hate these people” from Charli XCX and Christine and the Queens’ “Gone.” Aided by A.G. Cook’s nimble production, the lyric boils down the paranoia and isolation that can make any social situation feel claustrophobic, before busting apart with one of the year’s best outros, building the song’s chorus up until it explodes from the pressure. — E.F.
71. Future, “Crushed Up”
Unleashed in the frigid days of early January, “Crushed Up” wasted no time in proclaiming Future’s new year agenda: stay prolific, stay on top of what’s working, stay icy. The Atlanta rapper’s mightiest 2019 single is two and a half minutes of effortless, jewel-encrusted precision. The beat is an ominous winter wonderland with all its distorted bells, squeals, and sirens, while Future Hendrix assures his woozy “diamonds in the face” refrain is lodged in the listener’s mind instantly. It was hardly a reinvention from what made Future an undisputed A-lister over the second half of the 2010s, but in this case, no reinvention was necessary. — CHRIS PAYNE
70. Sech feat. Darell, Nicky Jam, Ozuna & Anuel AA, “Otro Trago” (Remix)
Panamanian artist Sech took the music world by storm with his soothing vocals and sensual urban fusion melodies when he released “Otro Trago,” which translates to “Another Drink,” from his debut studio album, Sueños. The song, which features Puerto Rican artist Darell’s raspy urban voice, as well as star guests Ozuna, Anuel AA, and Nicky Jam on the fiery remix, narrates the story of a girl drinking and dancing her sorrows away at the club — totally relatable to those going through heartbreak in 2019. With its infectious R&B-meets-reggaetón beat, the song quickly became a hit, nabbing Sech his first No. 1 on the Hot Latin Songs chart, and pushing the Panamanian music scene back onto the map in 2019. — J.R.
69. Jenny Lewis, “Red Bull & Hennessy”
Like the ingredients in its title, Lewis’ “Red Bull & Hennessy” is a high-test musical cocktail made from ingredients that evoke two eras: The music, a retro blast of sweet, sweet ‘70s L.A. rock seduces with Zevon-esque piano, the rhythm-section to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” (with Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner on drums), and a guitar sound that recalls John Stewart’s summery “Gold.” But the lyrics are charged with Lewis’ deliciously sly and very contemporary candor — “I’m about to get wicked/ You got me lyin’ on my back/ Hallelu,” she sings — while the ecstatic guitar solo closes out the song begins intermittently dropping out, and ends abruptly in what could be interpreted as a heart-stopping moment. The suggestion: What Jenny wants, Jenny gets. — FRANK DIGIACOMO
68. Beyoncé feat. Blue Ivy, SAINt JHN & Wizkid, “Brown Skin Girl”
The second single from Beyoncé’s self-curated The Lion King: The Gift further bolsters the artist’s crusade for cultural pride and female empowerment. With featured guests SAINt JHN, Wizkid and daughter Blue Ivy, Beyoncé tackles the colorism faced by darker-complexioned women. The track’s spare, syncopated African rhythms give added focus to compelling lyrics (“Brown skin girl / ya skin just like pearls / Your back against the world”) amid shout-outs to pioneering brown girls such as Naomi Campbell, Lupita Nyong’o, and of course, Kelly Rowland. — GAIL MITCHELL
67. Tierra Whack, “Only Child”
After releasing 15 one-minute songs on her imaginative 2018 debut album, Whack World, rapper Tierra Whack returned this year with a handful of full-size tracks, the first of which was the cutely condescending “Only Child.” “You ain’t really think about nobody but yourself,” Whack sings to a playful, water-droplet melody, kicking off her armchair analysis of a man’s selfish behavior: “You must be the only child because you’re so stingy.” Whack sings for most of the song but switches to rapping for the takedown of the second verse. “Spiteful and malicious, hope that other chick got syphilis,” she says. “Money over d–k!” No matter how many minutes she’s working with, Whack knows how to keep them all interesting. — C.W.
66. BLACKPINK, “Kill This Love”
If there were doors remaining for BLACKPINK to bust through, they were evaporated by the first horn blasts of “Kill This Love,” a song that sounds practically biblical in its sonic might. The bilingual breakup banger brought the group to the top half of the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time, and set new standards for pre-empting any potential objections from a soon-to-be-ex: when the group screams “LET’S KILL THIS LOVE!” at you on the chorus, your only possible response is to back away slowly and quietly. — A.U.
65. Maren Morris, “GIRL”
Maren Morris made the modern country empowerment anthem her calling card the second “My Church,” her breakout solo hit, started winning over fans in 2015. The title track off GIRL, her sophomore album, is the stuff of arena-packing dreams in this tradition. The clear-eyed, full-hearted lyrics of the single serve several motivational mantras for any struggling gal: “Baby girl, don’t you hang your head low/ Don’t you lose your halo/ Everyone’s gonna be okay.” Even the toughest girls need comforting reminders that they’ll get through the drama, and Morris offers that wisdom in a message even the most cynical want to sing along to. — HILARY HUGHES
64. Tame Impala, “Patience”
After a four-year stretch between albums — “Has it been even that long?” Tame Impala mastermind Kevin Parker sings in the opening line — the Aussie psych-rock outfit’s comeback single cries out with a bigger, more evolved sound from 2015’s Currents. Blending thick piano chords, synch strings, congas and Tame’s characteristic whooshing phaser, the track makes you long for a groovy poolside house party. And Parker’s message is all about seasonal change, growing up “in stages,” and “living life in phases.” — ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO
63. Rosalía, “Aute Cuture”
After wowing the world with her debut album El Mal Querer the year prior, Rosalía briefly stepped outside her flamenco-trap foundation to get wild in the pop realm. The result? “Aute Cuture,” a cheeky take on the French phrase for “high fashion,” it’s a buzzing whirlwind of warm handclaps, electronic blips and call-outs to the high life, filled with designer ‘fits and sangria. Clocking in at just over two minutes, the song will have your head spinning by the time it’s over. — BIANCA GRACIE
62. Tegan & Sara, “I’ll Be Back Someday”
“I’ll Be Back Someday” launched Canadian indie duo Tegan and Sara’s Hey, I’m Just Like You album cycle with its deceptively delightful melody. Despite being about the emotional roller coaster of late-night phone calls that was teen love in the 1990s, the lead single showcased the audible joy the sisters had reworking songs they wrote in high school. As the twins resurrected material from their childhood for both an album and a memoir, the prophetic title serves as a cheeky reminder that they’ve been producing pop gems for more than two decades. — TAYLOR MIMS
61. Sam Smith, “How Do You Sleep”
The year 2019 was one of transformation for pop star Sam Smith, who officially came out as non-binary and changed their pronouns, letting everyone know that they were done defining themselves by the terms that others set for them. “How Do You Sleep?” serves as the anthem for Smith’s year, as they shifted to a brighter, dance-infused pop sound and embraced themself. Gone were the heartbroken lyrics that defined so much of Smith’s early career, now replaced by a confidence and a presence becoming of a person ready to be reintroduced to the world. — STEPHEN DAW
60. Kygo & Whitney Houston, “Higher Love”
When Whitney Houston starred in the 1996 remake of The Preacher’s Wife, co-star Denzel Washington called her voice the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” But while some of those wonders have turned to dust, with the summer drop of “Higher Love,” Houston’s voice lives on today to inspire a new generation of listeners. With a vocal originally recorded in 1990, the late legend soars on the Kygo-produced Steve Winwood remake, which topped Billboard’s Dance Club Songs chart in August. With the poignancy felt as Houston belts, “Things look so bad everywhere/ In this whole world, what is fair?” it’s hard to imagine this song wasn’t recorded just yesterday — but more importantly, it will definitely still be here tomorrow. — D.D.
59. MUNA, “Number One Fan”
You won’t find a better opening to a 2019 song than this: “So I heard the bad news/ Nobody likes me and I’m gonna die alone in my bedroom.” But the members of MUNA don’t wallow for long — how could they, with a galloping neon bassline that turns wherever you’re standing into your own personal discotheque? Instead, the trio skips the would-be pity party and confronts their inner saboteurs, using the lingo of pop fan armies to cheer themselves on and remind themselves (and the world) of one big glittery truth: You might be your worst critic, but you’re also your own secret weapon. — N.F.
58. Blake Shelton, “God’s Country”
Shelton returned to country airwaves in a massive way with the attention-grabbing, Southern rock-inflected “God’s Country.” From the song’s opening riff, Shelton immediately captivates. His powerful vocal delivery only adds to the memorable ode to the South alongside hand-clapped rhythms and dusty guitars. The biggest streaming hit of Shelton’s career, “God’s Country” also hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart and went on to garner the singer a CMA Award for single of the year — his first CMA trophy in five years — as well as a Grammy nomination. — A.R.
57. Daddy Yankee & Katy Perry feat. Snow, “Con Calma” (Remix)
Part of the success of the original “Con Calma” — in which Daddy Yankee invites ’90s reggae fusion artist Snow to reprise a version of his once pop-conquering “Informer” hook — was that addictive video. Featuring the now-famous Daddy Yankee meme, the clip showcased choreography performed by diverse groups of dancers representing every shape and stripe. But the Katy Perry version, which helped propel the song to No. 1 on Hot Latin Songs, only expands on the inclusiveness from the opening verse: “I know we don’t speak the same language, but I’m going to let my body talk for me.” After all, isn’t that what reggaetón is all about? — L.C.
56. Big Thief, “Not”
Though it’s loud, cracked, and epic in scope, “Not” is as intimate as anything Big Thief singer/songwriter Adrienne Lenker has ever written. The lyrics are typically naturalistic — clouds reel, planets spin, and fire laps up the creek — but it’s close to the body, too. Lenker sings about hair, about blood, “the meat of your thigh” and “your spine tattoo.” The guitar is ragged and raw, the kick drum a beating heart. Burning through that three-minute solo, Lenker draws strength from the experience of nearness, both to others and to the earth. — W.G.
55. Lil Tecca, “Ransom”
Who knew a braces-wearing teenager was capable of piledriving the rap game before his 18th birthday? Lil Tecca’s summer reign not only consisted of him usurping the throne as the premier SoundCloud king, but netting a top five hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Ransom.” The buzzy record finds Tecca stiff-arming thirsty fans creeping in his DMs, while pledging to wipe out the competition with his “twin glocks.” The Internet Money-produced track even received the remix treatment from the late Juice WRLD, who injected his flavorful croon to the saucy tune, making it the ultimate “started from the bottom” anthem for late-’10s teenagers. — CARL LAMARRE
54. Miley Cyrus, “Slide Away”
The tender-but-rueful breakup ballad “Slide Away” so perfectly captures a specific moment in time, much like what Ariana Grande did first on Sweetener and later on Thank U, Next. It has all the makings of a headline-inspired hit; commentary on a (very!) recently ended marriage, an explanation of wants and even some slight dissing of said former partner that in turn, resulted in even more headlines. In a time where everything is public, Cyrus controlled the narrative in the best way she knew how. — L.H.
53. Sharon Van Etten, “Seventeen”
“’Seventeen’ just feels like my New York song,” Sharon Van Etten told Billboard back in January. “This is talking about living somewhere long enough to see the changes that I have.” Van Etten’s immediate earworm embraces Springsteenian progressions and vintage synths, and manages to tap into youthful euphoria and bittersweet nostalgia one bold major chord change at a time. It’s fitting, as she’s more or less singing to the version of herself that cut her teeth in a scene of New York clubs and bars that are no longer around. When she sang the song for NPR Music’s Tiny Desk in October, she roared her love letter to her younger self, and her disappearing city, through tears: it’s one of her rawest performances caught on film, and a perfect snapshot of the song’s power in action. — H.H.
52. Frank Ocean, “In My Room”
There is hesitation in calling “In My Room” (and fellow one-off release “DHL,” which preceded it by a week) a proper comeback for Frank Ocean, an artist who has been simultaneously elusive, enigmatic, and prolific across the 2010s. The track is low-key in terms of lyrical content and literal volume, but if you’re paying attention, he still provides some of the cryptic clues into his personal life that bubbled over throughout Blonde and Endless. Alternating between material flexes, rejection of the music industry proper, and questioning the intentions of those around him over a gorgeous bed of glowing synths and clicking drums, Ocean’s quiet songwriting remains a constant as his life continues to swirl. — E.F.
51. Shaed, “Trampoline”
Shaed’s been having dreams, and in 2019, many of them came true. The trio’s breakout hit “Trampoline,” a lush alt-pop head-nodder with a snapping beat and an inspired whistle break, initially gained traction thanks to an Apple ad, and eventually received a remix from Zayn. Topping the Alternative Songs chart and peaking at No. 13 on the Hot 100, “Trampoline” bound Shaed up to new heights they still haven’t come down from. — G.G.
50. Ariana Grande, “Ghostin”
“Ghostin” is a song that you kinda feel guilty for listening to. It’d be hard enough to stomach its brutal narrative of a new relationship haunted (almost literally) by a past love if we didn’t know her IRL story well enough to make an educated guess at putting names to its pronouns. But with that real-life verisimilitude, the gorgeous-but-queasy ballad becomes practically overwhelming, an emotional swell as head-swimming as its woozy synths and weeping strings. You won’t find many songs on albums by indie singer-songwriters this decade that feel this raw, this confessional, this private — let alone on one of the year’s biggest pop blockbusters. — A.U.
49. Doja Cat feat. Tyga, “Juicy”
Doja Cat’s hypnotic, raunchy hit initially appeared in March on the deluxe version of her 2018 album Amala, but got its legs in August when it added Tyga and served as the lead single for her November full-length, Hot Pink. She doesn’t waste time lingering on any single bar unless she’s hanging on to the end of it, bouncing its final syllable around just long enough to leave the listener reaching for it as it dissipates. But such is the allure: even on the Tyga remix, Doja is in full control. — J.G.
48. Clairo, “Bags”
Clairo’s excellent debut album Immunity riffs on pop and R&B tropes with a streaming-age sensibility, but “Bags,” an indie-rock synthesis that’s more accomplished than most modern Pitchfork-approved bands, has unwittingly become a career highlight — and, natch, drew huge cheers when Clairo played it at the Pitchfork Music Festival in July. The tender interpretation of romantic dissolution juxtaposes the fragility of Clairo’s scenes (“Walking out the door with your bags,” she murmurs again and again) with the steady, inevitable guitar chug. — J. Lipshutz
47. Ed Sheeran feat. Justin Bieber, “I Don’t Care”
With two years passed since Ed Sheeran’s Divide and nearly four since Justin Bieber’s Purpose, both Sheerios and Beliebers were highly eager for new music from both stars earlier this year. So the two decided to appease both fan bases in one track, and of course, it’s a ridiculously catchy smash. “I Don’t Care” is a tune about that one person who makes everything better (in this case, a lousy party), and combines Bieber’s dance-derived Purpose production with Sheeran’s cleverly romantic lyricism. The song’s snappy beat and the guys’ lighthearted delivery make “I Don’t Care” a blast, and judging by its wacky green screen-driven video, Bieber and Sheeran had perhaps the most fun of anyone. — T.W.
46. Lizzo, “Juice”
Comfortably riding atop a funk wave that seems to reverberate across the solar system, Lizzo sing-spits a joyous ode to braggadocious self-love on “Juice.” As soon as it broke big, so did the questions: Is it pop or hip-hop? Is she an outsider making mainstream inroads, or an underground talent tweaking their sound to fit in on Top 40? Is the juice she speaks of orange, or apple?! Ultimately, when the result is as irresistibly immediate and durably relistenable as this, who cares about any of that? — J. Lynch
45. Jay Som, “Superbike”
A fierce, fuzzy highlight from do-everything indie rocker Jay Som’s excellent sophomore album Anak Ko, “Superbike” is among the year’s most immediately imagistic songs. It’s sunset and warm wind, closure and catharsis. It’s “going 80 in the night” without worrying about the destination. The singer-songwriter born Melina Duterte flexes her production chops in heady waves of guitar and percussion, beautifully entangled, like constellations streaming by. A perfect dream of the open road. — W.G.
44. Harry Styles, “Watermelon Sugar”
Fans are desperate to dissect the meaning behind this sticky-sweet song — Styles has neither confirmed nor denied that it’s, well, carnally charged — but why read too far into what is just a simple pleasure to listen to? The song lyrically and sonically paints a picture of a perfect summer evening, and it makes total sense that Styles decided to debut it on Saturday Night Live, as the live horns drive home its easy charm. — K.A.
43. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Now That I Found You”
No one can compete with Carly Rae Jepsen when it comes to making upbeat music about stuff that makes you feel good. For the skeptic reader, we present “Now That I Found You”: a perfect pop song about the early honeymoon period of a relationship, and the intense optimism you feel when it’s just starting out. Like the title suggests, Jepsen croons about all the thoughts swirling around her mind as she begins a steady fling: “I think I’m coming alive with you.” It’s the kind of high-energy song that deserves to only be played at full volume. — X.Z.
42. Lana Del Rey, “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing For a Woman Like Me to Have – But I Have It”
Few artists in pop history have gone through as wild a first-decade career arc as Lana Del Rey, from blog buzz to backlash to pop stardom to cult fandom to, at the very end of it all, critical acclaim. “Hope” seems like the showstopping closing number to Lana’s first act, featuring her not just harder and wiser, but funnier and more self-aware than ever (“Calling from beyond the grave, I just wanna say, ‘Hi, Dad'”). At the end of it all, she doesn’t declare victory, but does find a kind of triumph in survival — “”Don’t ask if I’m happy, you know that I’m not/ But at best, I can say I’m not sad” — and you can’t help but share her gratitude that she’s stuck around this long. — A.U.
41. Dua Lipa, “Don’t Start Now”
Dua (wisely) reunited with the team behind her breakout single “New Rules” to introduce her new Future Nostalgia era, and they made another danceable kiss-off — but this time, instead of teaching listeners how to leave their booty calls behind, she’s directly addressing the ex who can’t seem to leave her behind. There are a lot of snappy lines in here to match the crisp nu-disco beat, and one of the best (and most straightforward) has to be “Walk away, you know how.” Ouch. — K.A.
40. Jonas Brothers, “Only Human”
The JoBros’ comeback hit “Sucker” endures, yes, but in the meantime, a slinkier jam has slid into the zeitgeist: “Only Human.” The single’s sunny reggae-flavored beat is just delightful, and its recent No. 18 peak on the Hot 100 indicates that we’ll probably be “drunk to an ’80s groove” way past the New Year. Meanwhile, the Jonas Brothers will probably continue to perform it at every awards show until the end of time — not that we mind one bit. Dance, dance, dance, dance! — G.G.
39. Summer Walker feat. Drake, “Girls Need Love” (Remix)
Summer Walker boastfully broke into the R&B sphere last summer with a singular line — “I just need some d–k” — with none of the fluffy metaphors or prettily laced vocals typically expected from female crooners in sight. Walker’s raw pleas ignited the inner savage of women everywhere, as “Girls Need Love” captioned countless Instagram photos and tweets. It wasn’t long until Drake, pop and hip-hop’s ultimate Emo Boy, hopped on the remix in February. His added dose of passion helped the track peak at No. 37 on the Hot 100, giving Walker her well-deserved chart breakthrough. — B.G.
38. Sam Smith & Normani, “Dancing With a Stranger”
Smith and Normani teamed up for one of the biggest pop songs of the year with “Dancing With a Stranger.” The sexy earworm includes a standout vocal delivery by the pair, with Smith’s seductive falsetto accompanied by Normani’s smoky counterpart. In addition to stunning harmonies, the infectious dance-pop beat mesmerizes. A major hit for the two on the FM airwaves, “Dancing With a Stranger” ranked No. 5 for the year on both the Radio Songs and Pop Songs airplay charts. — A.R.
37. BTS feat. Halsey, “Boy With Luv”
This sleek, shimmering boy-band gem is one of BTS’ purest pop confections yet, though two hip-hop interludes also give the song a harder, more contemporary edge. Halsey is along for the ride, but even with her considerable U.S. pop stardom, she’s happy to play an obviously supporting role here. The song put BTS in the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time, but doubtless not the last, as millions of American kids are now completely smitten with the group from half a world away. — PAUL GREIN
36. The Highwomen, “Redesigning Women”
The Highwomen’s first single “Redesigning Women” celebrates the selfless female spirit of “Full-time living on a half-time schedule” while “always tryna make everybody feel special.” Tackling the competing inner dialogues of self-care and self-doubt, the track is sung in tandem by the supergroup’s Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires, with a cheerful mood and resilient lyrics reminiscent of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” — but modernized for a maturing millennial audience closing in on motherhood. Drawing inspiration from the sleeves-up, “We Can Do It” attitude of Rosie the Riveter, “Redesigning Women” pays homage to the never-ending balancing act of family, ambition and “Working hard to look good ’til we die.” — DAVE BROOKS
35. Polo G feat. Lil Tjay, “Pop Out”
Like almost everything on Polo G’s debut full-length, Die a Legend, “Pop Out” is uncommonly reflective. “We come from poverty, man, we ain’t have a thing,” sings Polo over piano-forward production. His gift for simple melodies and cutting, emotional lyrics is on full display here, even as the drums keep things upbeat, and along with the singalong chorus, makes it club-ready. Galvanized by his past, Polo strides confidently into the future. — W.G.
34. Ava Max, “Sweet But Psycho”
The deliciously sticky chorus on Ava Max’s breakout hit took a bit longer to tempt the sweet tooth of stateside listeners — the August 2018 release notched a No. 1 slot in well over a dozen countries before really catching in the U.S. — but once it did, American was hooked, sending the pop confection to the Hot 100’s top 10. With its pulsing electro pop beat, glitzy synths and stretchy ma-ma-ma’s, it’s hard for Max to dodge early Lady Gaga comparisons, but given the obvious reverence on display — and the fact that the latter scored two No. 1 hits with that general formula a decade earlier — the former likely isn’t too upset about the reference point. — J.G.
33. J Balvin & Bad Bunny, “Cuidao por Ahí”
If Bad Bunny is the “bad guy” in Oasis, the collaborative album between Bunny and J Balvin. “Cuidao por Ahí” is a role reversal. Here, Balvin takes on the opening lines, chanting and singing in a register far lower than usual before Bad Bunny picks up in a higher voice. It’s a musical switch whose success underscores how seamlessly these two work together. Set solely over a menacing, sometimes disturbing beat, “Cuidao por Ahí” is as addictive as it is unsettling. — L.C.
32. FKA twigs, “Cellophane”
FKA twigs describes the suffocating effects of public scrutiny, alluding to her called-off engagement to Robert Pattinson, on the quietly devastating “cellophane,” which became her first single in three years when it arrived in April. A sparse backdrop of burbling keys and a beat-boxed rhythm leaves her strained, impossible vocal range on full display, each lyric as clear and sharp as a shard of glass. “When you’re gone, I have no one to tell,” she near-whispers in one particularly harrowing verse, while the very image of cellophane conveys something delicate to be packaged, preserved and protected. — T.C.
31. Ariana Grande, “7 Rings”
Last year’s Sweetener gave us the playful track “Successful,” a taste of Ariana Grande, the flexer. Then in 2019 came along its bolder and badder big sis, “7 Rings,” on which the pop star casually states that if she wants it, she’s sure getting it. Except, perhaps, full songwriting credit: Rodgers & Hammerstein — who originally wrote “My Favorite Things,” which Grande’s track interpolates — control 90% of the track’s songwriting royalties. Likely worth it for Grande, though: “7 Rings” became her second Hot 100 No. 1 (coming in shortly after she topped the chart for the first time with “Thank U, Next”) and longest ruling to date. — L.H.
30. Megan Thee Stallion feat. DaBaby, “Cash S–t”
A wonderful thing happens in the opening minute of Megan Thee Stallion’s “Cash S–t”: On two separate occasions in the Houston rapper’s opening verse, she interrupts herself and jumps back a few bars to repeat her punchlines — and make sure the listener understands the potency of her words. “Cash S–t” fires on all cylinders: as a coming-out party for both Megan and her macho man co-star DaBaby, as a sonic boom of a beat from LilJuMadeDaBeat, as a presentation of the two MC’s top-notch ad-libs. But that pitch-perfect rewind at the top of the song sets the confident tone, and really burns itself into your brain. — J. Lipshutz
29. Khalid, “Talk”
After leaning into being “Young, Dumb and Broke” on debut album American Teen, midtempo relationship lament “Talk” demonstrated that sophomore LP Free Spirit would showcase a more grown-sounding Khalid. Aided by the electro-pop stylings of dance duo Disclosure, the No. 3-peaking Hot 100 hit is smooth and slow, and makes you want to wrap yourself in the one you love to assure yourself that everything is okay. The blending of Disclosure’s sparkling synths with Khalid’s velvety voice makes for a compelling combination, and even after several spins, it leaves you wanting more. — D.W.
28. Ashley O, “On a Roll”
Who knew Miley Cyrus-as-Ashley O would be one of the best pop treats of 2019? “Hey, yeah, whoa-ho, I’m on a roll” took over Twitter — and club dance floors — after the subversive reimagination of Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like a Hole” was first heard in the Black Mirror episode “Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too,” leaving Hannah Montana shaking in her glitter boots. (In all seriousness, shout-out to Cyrus, who’s made excellent pop music under her own name plus two alter egos in the span of a mere decade.) All together now: I’m such a huge fan. — G.G.
27. Normani, “Motivation”
Britney and Rihanna have been quiet, Beyoncé has been experimenting, and Gaga has shapeshifted beyond the confines of the outré-pop that defined her turn-of-the-decade coming out party. So it’s been a while since a new, fully formed pop star delivered a perfectly choreographed, hook-laden, danceable banger as well-executed as Normani did with her first sans-feature solo single, “Motivation.” The track throws back to rhythmic pop of the early 2000s — as does its quickly viral music video — but never gets too far away from Normani’s charisma and control, bringing the kind of precise, catchy pop music that defined the earlier years of the 21st century right to the center of 2019. — E.F.
26. Blueface, “Thotiana”
Since Blueface first broke through into the hip-hop world, much has been made about his tendency to rap off beat, with “Thotiana” often used as the main example of his offense. But to the song’s supporters, it’s not a flaw so much as an endearing quirk for the L.A. MC, whose breakout hit dominated much of the hip-hop conversation in early 2019. The fact is, on-beat or not, “Thotiana” was easily one of the catchiest songs of the year, and its irresistible hook was worthy of shaking things up in a genre that has always celebrated those who break the rules, anyway. — DAN RYS
25. Katy Perry, “Never Really Over”
Anyone who claimed that Katy Perry had lost it got to eat their words in 2019, when the star unleashed “Never Really Over.” The sugar-sweet pop jam sounded like a long-lost cut off of the 2012 Complete Confection edition of her Teenage Dream album, complete with clean synths, a snare beat worthy of a marching band, and a relentless chorus that actively burrowed its way into the deepest recesses of your brain. When it comes to comebacks, Perry proved once and for all that justbecauseitsoverdoesntmeanitsreallyover. — S.D.
24. Luke Combs, “Beer Never Broke My Heart”
Life can be a quagmire of broken-down cars, bad bosses, heartbreaking playoff losses, and plain old heartbreak. Luke Combs knows this all to well, and lucky for us, the affable bar stool bard distilled it all down to a country-rock rager about the one thing that never let him down. Would Combs make a great beer pong partner? Probably, but when you’re out late and life suddenly gets stuck in your craw, the second best pick-me-up has got to be this Country Airplay chart-topper booming from the party speakers. — C.P.
23. Selena Gomez, “Lose You to Love Me”
When life gives you lemons, turn them into a No. 1 song. That’s what Selena Gomez did when she and her dream team of co-writers, including Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, chronicled what even casual spectators deduced was a reflection on the demise of her years-long, on-off relationship with Justin Bieber, in the heart-rending ballad “Lose You To Love Me.” Simple and sparse, the song starts with Gomez delicately singing, “You promised the world and I fell for it/ I put you first and you adored it,” over bare piano chords. The song swells — with strings and layered vocals — but never goes for the cheap pop explosion, and then it closes as quietly as it began, making it a bold first taste of Gomez’s upcoming album, SG2. — C.W.
22. Swae Lee & Post Malone, “Sunflower (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse)”
Post Malone’s triumphant run in 2019 began in late 2018 when he fleshed out the summery bop “Sunflower,” alongside Rae Sremmurd breakout star Swae Lee. The sunkissed single beamed with warmth and buoyancy, as Posty and Swae proved to be resilient romantics: Though their lovers are “scared of the unknown,” both men provide ample security to be safety nets in their relationships. The Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse soundtrack hit went No. 1 on the Hot 100 in January this year, and in November, was nominated for record of the year and best pop/duo performance for the upcoming Grammys. — C.L.
21. Taylor Swift, “Lover”
On the title track for her seventh album, Taylor Swift charms with a simple, unabashedly romantic song about the timeless love of a committed relationship, asking the object of her affection, “Have I known you twenty seconds or twenty years?” With its timeless theme and dreamy tempo, “Lover” encapsulates the endearing memories of one’s last first kiss, and speaks loudest in its whispers and lyrical mastery. At its heart, “Lover” is an unabashedly idealistic ballad, revealing vulnerabilities of the heart while celebrating the inside jokes and mundane moments that make up relationships — once again demonstrating that when its comes to creating art from life’s experiences, Taylor Swift is in a class of her own. — D.B.
20. Mustard & Migos, “Pure Water”
Hit producer and 10 Summers label head Mustard scored his first major hit as a lead artist this year with the first single from his third album, Perfect Ten. The track marked Mustard’s solo return after three years, and his first collaboration with the trio, resulting in a fun, melodic West-meets-South club romp that innovatively melds Mustard’s minimalist, self-described “ratchet music” style with Migos’ signature trap/triplet rhyming skills. The tongue-in-cheek ode to fame, wealth and the women those trappings attract resulted in a double-Platinum-certified hip-hop smash. — G.M.
19. Kacey Musgraves, “Rainbow”
Listen, sometimes life is hard. And sad. And confusing. And sometimes you just need someone special to tell you everything is going to be okay. This year Kacey Musgraves offered the world this metaphorical hug with “Rainbow,” a sweetly affirmative lullaby about how you too are good and strong and worthy, even when you feel like digging a hole in the ground and going to live there forever. The closing track to her 2018 LP Golden Hour, “Rainbow” was released as a single in 2019, hitting the Hot 100 in February, aiding Musgrave’s position as a country radio contender, and helping turn frowns upside down. — K.B.
18. Camila Cabello & Shawn Mendes, “Señorita”
Arguably the year’s steamiest song, the second collaboration by the young pop star duo is a fantasy romp that conjures up a sweaty and memorable encounter in South Beach. The mid-tempo Latin track is lightweight but a grown-up evolution for both Mendes, a former Vine star, and Cabello, the former Fifth Harmony belter. With eight writers sharing credit, it would seem like it should be a few too many cooks, but they still conjure a spicy dish: Who can forget lines like Cabello’s, “You say we’re just friends, but friends don’t know the way you taste”? — A.B.
17. Halsey, “Nightmare”
Halsey has threaded messages of female empowerment in her music since her debut, but “Nightmare” found the singer teetering on the edge of sanity as she grew more frustrated with society’s injustices. Ever an unapologetic open book (she’s previously discussed bouts with endometriosis, miscarriage and assault), she dug deep into her emo roots and transformed that rage into her most biting tune to date. The video added even more fuel, with Halsey angrily spitting into the camera, throwing herself into mosh pits and baring her bloodied teeth. To top it off, feminist rock icon Debbie Harry makes an appearance, supporting Halsey’s middle finger to the patriarchy. — B.G.
16. Billie Eilish, “Bury a Friend”
“Step on the glass, staple your tongue, AAAAaahhh.” These lyrics should not make sense within the context of a pop song that nearly crashed the top 10 of the Hot 100 chart, but Billie Eilish spent 2019 refashioning pop into something dark and defiant, and sells the line along with the rest of the twitchy, macabre “Bury a Friend.” A precursor to the radio crossover that was “Bad Guy,” “Bury a Friend” laid the blueprint for When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? ahead of its release — daring perspective, deep bass, traditional song structures with some twisted flourishes, and Eilish’s voice, rising and falling with a mix of vulnerability and conviction that made her vision so unshakable all year. “Bury a Friend” was a warning shot to everyone who wasn’t yet paying attention to Eilish, and it still pierces through. — J. Lipshutz
15. HAIM, “Summer Girl”
The HAIM sisters pour out anxieties and fears in the most spontaneous way in “Summer Girl,” a song that was written while the siblings were on tour and vocalist Danielle’s partner (and HAIM producer) Ariel Rechtshaid was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Carried by a melody that moves through subtle bass chords, an airy saxophone and a casual drum beat, the song warmly evokes Lou Reed’s ’70s solo classic “Walk on the Wild Side.” Co-produced by former Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij (also on sax) and Rechtshaid, the somber setting is painted in pictures of optimism and discarded cold-weather clothing layers in the Paul Thomas Anderson-directed video, while the lyrics confront despair with comfort: “You walk beside me, not behind me. Feel my unconditional love…” — PAMELA BUSTIOS
14. Tyler, the Creator, “EARFQUAKE”
Love has truly shaken something loose in Tyler, The Creator. As an artist of many hats and personas, the shapeshifting producer and vocalist reintroduces himself in the IGOR era with the bright, pop-leaning first single “EARFQUAKE” that positions him closer to the likes of Justin Bieber and Rihanna — who both notably passed on an early cut of the song — as he pushes further into the mainstream with his highest-charting Hot 100 entry yet. Tyler fully commits to the lead singer role, while relinquishing rap duties to an equally left-field feature from Playboi Carti, but the most welcome surprise is the sympathetic and sincere vulnerability that Tyler typically hides within his deep cuts. — B.K.
13. Maggie Rogers, “Light On”
This song has been described by Maggie Rogers herself as a love letter to her fans, and the mega-hook’s plea (“If you leave the light on/ Then I’ll leave the light on”) certainly conveys that message. But the song’s two verses are where the emotional weight of this song packs the biggest punch, for their universality more than their specificity. Taken together, they tell the story of a person whose life has changed overnight, who isn’t sure they’re ready for what is about to come next, who is nearly drowning in self-doubt just as their family and friends are patting them on the back (“With everyone around me saying/ ‘You should be so happy now’”) before powering through with the help of their support system. It’s a vivid description of one of those edge-of-a-cliff moments, those times when people begin to understand where the phrase “my heart is in my throat” really comes from. It’s brilliant. — D.R.
12. DaBaby, “Suge”
As a career-making hit, “Suge” is fairly unassuming: A beat that’s not much more than ticking drums and croaking synth-bass, and a chorus whose idea of a big hook is a “yeah, yeah” interjection. But that’s what separates the true stars in the pop galaxy: They can take such rudimentary ingredients and whip them into something spectacular, without even seeming like they’re really trying. Such is the planet-sized charisma of DaBaby, and “Suge” is the perfect illustration of his strengths: He rides a beat like he’s on permanent cruise control, he ad libs like his subconscious is his own very excited hype man, he raps faster than most other rappers and still sounds calmer than all of them, and when he says “I go where I want,” you take his word for it. — A.U.
11. Lana Del Rey, “The Greatest”
Nothing’s hitting the same these days, even for Lana Del Rey. The pioneer of the personal brand trades her pop fantasies for classic rock nostalgia and mundane everyday routines on this guitar-backed slow-burner. With the song’s velvety chords and sweeping choruses, it’s only the cultural references (and words like “lit”!) that snap the song firmly in the now: “The Greatest” isn’t so much the best song of 2019 as it just is 2019. Lana concludes with an unnerving verse that references, in order, Hawaii’s recent brush with a meteor, the California wildfires, Kanye West, David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” and social media livestreams. The whole thing feels and sounds like a dream, but it’s only as surreal as the world we’re living in. — T.C.
10. Taylor Swift, “Cruel Summer”
Did Taylor Swift have Kanye West in mind when she decided to call the song that documents the messiness that was her 2016 summer after his 2012 GOOD Music compilation album?! Unclear — but what’s clear is that Swift had more than that going on at that time anyway, specifically a blossoming romance with her now-boyfriend, Joe Alwyn, the suspected “bad, bad boy” of the song. Swift wrote this Lover highlight with producer Jack Antonoff and Annie Clark (a.k.a. St. Vincent), and that braintrust managed to elevate the synth-pop of 1989 into something quirkier and with more depth, with a variety of synthesizers that squiggle and sparkle and wash the whole thing in a dreamy warmth. The words unspool an ecstatic, desperate celebration of a bad decision that might end up being a good one, and the drama is expectedly high: “And I scream, ‘For whatever it’s worth/ I love you, ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?’” If you say you’re not excited to scream, “He looks up, grinning like a devil,” along with Swift when she sings this live, check your pulse. — C.W.
9. Ariana Grande, “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored”
A skittering, minimalist track about ennui-induced hookups, “Break Up With Your Girlfriend” exemplifies the genius of Ariana Grande’s lyrical approach as of late. While less-savvy divas are still painting cheating in broad strokes — it’s either cartoonishly seductive or Anna Karenina-level high drama — Grande puts it alongside everything else in our lives: Within the never-ending smartphone scroll. Her motivation for inducing infidelity (boredom) is as half-hearted as her tone; like a late-night “u up?” text, you don’t get the sense Ari cares much how this turns out. What matters is the low-key thrill you get from the illicit ask, and the chance that just maybe, this will be the rare digital olive branch that bears fruit. And if not, well, there’s always “thank u next” memes to revisit. — J. Lynch
8. Vampire Weekend, “Harmony Hall”
It’s a testament to the talent of VW’s Ezra Koenig that he can write a political song about anti-Semitism in the Trump era — possibly the vandalizing of a Jewish professor’s office door with swastikas at Koenig’s alma mater, Columbia University –that’s sunny enough to be the soundtrack to a Hotels.com commercial. The song’s acoustic guitar arpeggios, ‘70s disco piano and breezy “ooh-ooh-ooh, ooh, oohs” make it very easy to overlook lyrics like, “Anybody with a worried mind could never forgive the sight/ Of wicked snakes inside a place you thought was dignified.” You could say the same for Creedence’s “Fortunate Son,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” — transcendent songs that endure and inspire long after the administrations that provoked them have faded. — F.D.
7. Post Malone, “Circles”
To call “Circles” the song that Post Malone’s entire career has been leading to would probably be short-sighted, considering the things he’s already accomplished with prior hits. Still, it feels like the culmination of something: his slow evolution from rap star to pop star, perhaps, or maybe more just his shedding of the trappings of any specific genre or era in favor of undeniable songwriting that could work, with a couple tweaks, in just about any format at any time. That’s “Circles,” certainly: With its bouncy, melancholy melody, its gentle acoustic groove and its compulsory singalong chorus, it reminds of about eight different pop/rock moments at once, and yet doesn’t really have all that much in common with any one of ’em. It’s a scary time to not be a Post Malone fan: He’s already conquered the rap and pop charts, and now he’s coming for rock, adult contemporary and even dance — country’s about all that’s left, and you can bet that’s on the way. Good news is: Thanks to songs like “Circles,” the ranks of Post Malone haters are dwindling by the day. — A.U.
6. 21 Savage feat. J. Cole, “A Lot”
Leading off his second solo album I Am > I Was — boldly released at the tail-end of 2018 — Atlanta rapper 21 Savage uses “A Lot” to cap one year and set the stage for the next, with an all-encompassing vision that operates like a Hip-Hop State of the Union address. While Savage measures just how much he’s endured and how far he’s come, the unbeatable guest verse ringer J. Cole speaks directly on the dubious machinations of the music industry, the justice system, media spin and his own place in the larger narrative. The soul-sampled slow-burner isn’t usually primed to make a run up the charts, and yet the No. 12 peak for “A Lot” on the Hot 100 proved that there was a thirst for the heady, honest lyricism that gives the song its timeless appeal.
The song found new meaning in February when the visual dropped with an additional verse, which included the line “Been through some things, but I couldn’t imagine my kids stuck at the border.” It was a passing shot at the controversial immigration policy that suspiciously preceded Savage’s own arrest and detainment for living in the US on an expired British visa. Now a galvanizing anthem that elicits an unblinking resolve against opposing circumstances, “A Lot” may very well endure as 21 Savage’s defining moment. — B.K.
5. Rosalía feat. J Balvin & El Guincho, “Con Altura”
In late March, Spanish singer Rosalía dropped the impossibly catchy “Con Altura” in collaboration with J Balvin and El Guincho. The fresh single, released after her breakthrough 2018 set El Mal Querer, pays tribute to old-school reggaetón, fusing modern flamenco and Middle Eastern sounds. Adding her own contemporary twist and fierce flamenco-pop dance moves, Rosalía demonstrates her admiration and respect for the Latin urban genre. “Con Altura” peaked at No. 12 on the Hot Latin Songs chart in June, and its fabulous-party-in-a private-jet music video, filmed by Director X, entered YouTube’s Billion View Club in October — putting the spotlight on the global appeal of “Con Altura” in 2019. — J.R.
4. Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus, “Old Town Road” (Remix)
The original version of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” certainly didn’t stumble out of the gates, even topping the Hot 100 in its solo incarnation. But man, did it gallop past the competition a plot-thickening Billy Ray Cyrus remix later. Few songs in recent memory have achieved such cultural ubiquity — or inspired as many highly-anticipated remixes — as the country trap, Nine Inch Nails-sampling powerhouse. Major festivals and student assemblies alike became pure pandemonium upon surprise Lil Nas X arrivals. The accolades came pouring in, too: in addition to breaking the all-time record for weeks atop the Hot 100, he picked up six Grammy nominations, including a nod for record of the year. In a year full of genre-bending hits and breakout stars, Lil Nas X may be the leader of the pack for both. — J.G.
3. Jonas Brothers, “Sucker”
After more than a six-year hiatus, there were questions if the Jonas Brothers would ever actually reunite again. The superstar trio took a long break to get a taste of solo fame (Nick), explore funky new genres (Joe’s spunky pop group DNCE) and tackle fatherhood (Kevin). But a longing for their stage dynamic and a need to repair their bond sparked a pseudo-Destiny Fulfilled moment, where the three members all took the individual strengths they’ve learned over the half-decade to come back even stronger. And boy did they return with a bang.
Dotted with yummy falsettos and that brilliant staccato pre-chorus, “Sucker” is a dangerously catchy ode from the Brothers to their beloved leading ladies. Once the single landed, it didn’t take long for the JoBros to stumble out of bars and onto the Hot 100 for their first-ever No. 1 smash — while simultaneously becoming the first boy band to secure that position since B2K in 2003, albeit now in a much more adult mode. “They’ve had celebrity,” Monte Lipman, founder/CEO of Republic Records, previously told Billboard. “But what’s happening in this chapter of their career is the credibility in the music space.” — B.G.
2. Lizzo, “Truth Hurts”
At a time when female artists are more outspoken than ever, Lizzo finally got her time to shine after speaking her mind for years — and “Truth Hurts” is the epitome of that. Though it was released in 2017, the track fit perfectly into today’s landscape, as its clever, empowered lyrics also allowed for some of the most meme-able lines of 2019, particularly its bold first verse: “I just took a DNA test, turns out I’m 100% that b–ch” was used in a popular meme on TikTok in April, and that was the tipping point for the world to realize that “Truth Hurts” was a phenomenon waiting to happen.
But the song quickly became so much more than a 30-second viral clip, serving as a belt-along anthem for anyone who’s had relationship issues — or, who simply wants to feel like a “bad b–ch.” Lizzo’s hyper-confident (and infectious) personality both in the song and in real life helped carry “Truth Hurts” to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks, solidifying her place as one of music’s brightest new stars. And the industry agrees: Not only did “Truth Hurts” receive song and record of the year nominations for the 2020 Grammys, Lizzo is next year’s most-nominated artist. — T.W.
1. Billie Eilish, “Bad Guy”
In 2019, Billie Eilish grew from hotly hyped alt-radio weirdo to pop’s ultimate tastemaker. She released her debut album, pretty much broke Coachella, unseated the longest-running No. 1 in Hot 100 history, earned Grammy noms in each of the Big Four categories, then saw her album top the year-end Billboard 200. A week from today, Billie Eilish turns 18.
Major label marketing and a savvy management team were instrumental, but the home-schooled Los Angeleno wouldn’t have assumed her undisputed King of the Teens status without an uncanny connection to young people. The proliferation of her baggy, adrogynous ensembles and sk8er swag (girl or boi, who cares) speak for that, but even the song that launched her to superstardom this year was birthed from ordinary teenage time passing. Eilish first composed “Bad Guy” — namely the interlude that would become its ghostly 40-second outro — two years ago while tinkering alone in her bedroom, speakers balanced precariously on some open shelf space.
Even the final version is hardly Top 40-friendly: the beat is skeletal and spooky, the lyrics are half-whispered, and Eilish and her co-writer/producer brother Finneas didn’t even bother to put vocals on the catchiest part of the song. When she does sing, she tip-toes around the admittedly taboo “bad guy” persona; “It’s a weird thing to hear coming out of a girl’s mouth she told Billboard. “In any movie or children’s book, there’s always a bad guy. Even if it’s a girl, the title is the bad guy. I wanna be that.”
In summing up the appeal of “Bad Guy,” no one puts it better than Eilish’s muse, Michael Scott: “Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy. Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.” — C.P.
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