The first half of 2020 has posed many questions most of us never thought we’d have to answer in our lifetime, including: “What does pop mean in a world of self-isolation?” If pop music isn’t enjoyed and celebrated the way it was intended — in communal spaces like concert halls, dance clubs, bars and even private parties — can it even really still be called pop music?
The answer, of course, is yes. We’ve found that in times of quarantine and other crises, music is as meaningful as ever, even just as the soundtrack to such menial activities as doing the dishes, taking a walk around the block or just sitting at home and wondering when or if things will feel normal again. As difficult as this period has been, we doubt we could’ve gotten by without these songs — and we look forward to making up for lost time with them at whatever point we’re finally able to celebrate them publicly.
Here are Billboard‘s 50 favorite songs of the year so far, with a Spotify playlist featuring all 50 of them at the bottom.
50. The Rolling Stones, “Living in a Ghost Town”
Nearly 60 years into their career, the Rolling Stones prove they can still capture the angst of the moment with “Living In A Ghost Town,” a reggae-tinged blues rocker in which Mick Jagger declares: “Life was so beautiful/ then we all got locked down.” With Keith Richards’ unmistakable, stabbing riffs and Jagger’s echoing vocals (and blues harp solo), the basic track had been cut last year, after which “s–t the fan; Mick and I decided this one really needed to go to work right now” says Richards. The first original song released by the Stones in eight years is relatable for fans everywhere as Jagger wails: “Please let this be over/ not stuck in a world without end.” — THOM DUFFY
49. Halsey, “You Should Be Sad”
Halsey’s relationship with country music has shown itself more and more over the years, from her 2019 CMA performance with Lady Antebellum to this year’s collaboration with Kelsea Ballerini. But the twangy “You Should Be Sad” — from this year’s Manic — sees the pop star take the country road alone to deliver this searing kiss-off to an ex, with a Shania- and Carrie-quoting video for extra emphasis. — LYNDSEY HAVENS
48. Jessie Reyez feat. 6lack, “Imported”
Jessie Reyez writes like she’s quoting our diaries. On the 6lack-featuring “Imported,” from debut album Before Love Came to Kill Us, Reyez proves how skilled she is in capturing the most familiar young adult experiences — here, dabbling in some toxic behavior while trying to tempt a lovesick new flame (“You’re in love with somebody else/Maybe I could offer some help/Get over them by gettin’ under me”). After listening to the track, you’re left with a sigh, and the been-there, done-that feeling that Jessie elicits so well. — MIA NAZARENO
47. Zebra Katz, “In In In”
Amidst industrial stabs of drama and a warped little yelp that pulsates like a siren call to the dancefloor, rapper Zebra Katz holds court on the mic like he’s emceeing a Harlem ball on “In In In.” Katz is on the prowl as the darkly alluring rhythm races ahead, always knowing the exact moment to flick his tongue from a seductive, honeyed tone to a sharp lashing at doubters and gossip mongers. — JOE LYNCH
46. Sada Baby, “Slide”
Detroit producer Helluva has been quietly building a potent production catalog over the last few years, especially via much of Tee Grizzley’s output, and Sada Baby’s “Slide” might be his most enjoyable yet. Built over a sample of The Gap Band’s 1982 funk hit “You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” Sada unleashes a braggadocious, seemingly stream-of-consciousness nearly two-minute verse that gains steam throughout. By the end, you’re out of breath but craving more. — KEVIN RUTHERFORD
45. Lil Mosey, “Blueberry Faygo”
At this point, it’s hard to dispel Lil Mosey’s hit-making abilities. Adroit at penning lighthearted heaters such as “Noticed” and “Kamikaze,” the ambitious Seattle upstart blasts a grand slam with his latest single “Blueberry Faygo.” After being leaked prematurely by overzealous fans, Mosey released the Johnny Gill sampled-record (“My, My, My”) and watched it morph into a colossal hit on TikTok. Lathered with summery vibes, “Blueberry Faygo” is a sunshiny tune about splurging and being celebrated as the city’s hometown hero. — CARL LAMARRE
44. Natalia Lafourcade, “La Malquerida”
Performed only with ghostly ukulele strumming for accompaniment, Mexican singer/songwriter Natalia Lafourcade’s “La Malquerida” (“the unloved”) is an absolutely stunning ballad of inherited and lived female hardship, more powerful and unnerving with every “Ay, qué dolor” lament. The four-minute edit is plenty arresting, but for full effect, you really have to go for the transfixing eight-and-a-half-minute live video, with Lafourcade flanked by about a dozen young women in white singing their life’s pain over a roaring campfire, the crickets applauding them in the background. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
43. Surfaces, “Sunday Best”
This warm, good-hearted song took off on TikTok and grooved its way into the Hot 100’s top 25. Older listeners may hear arrangement ideas here that echo Spanky and Our Gang, one of the best sunshine pop groups of the 1960s. Younger listeners will just enjoy the good vibes. “Feeling blessed/never stressed.” In a stressful year, that’s a hope we can all hang onto. — PAUL GREIN
42. Drake, “Toosie Slide”
Fresh off the Flip the Switch challenge, Drake concocts his next viral success in quarantine mode with “Toosie Slide.” While the visual’s tour of his Toronto mansion is filled with easter-egg flexes that put him in a self-isolation league of his own, Drake’s perfected hook delivery and the song’s immediately imitable routine can make anyone feel just a few simple steps away from a record-breaking Hot 100 hit — his 209th to be exact. — BRYAN KRESS
41. Arcangel, Sech & Romeo Santos, “Sigues Con El” (Remix)
In December 2019, Arcangel and Sech joined forces for the sensual urban track “Sigues Con El,” singing about an indecisive woman who can’t pick between staying with her partner or finding happiness with someone new. Four months later, Dominican star Romeo Santos jumped on the remix, bringing a touch of bachata and salsa melodies to the table. Backed up by a romantic reggaetón beat, the soothing vocals of all three artists, and flares of tropical rhythms, “Sigues con El (Remix)” is sure to become a summer bop. — JESSICA ROIZ
40. Breland, “My Truck”
One of the best country songs of the year so far comes from 24-year-old Daniel Breland, whose protective ode to his pickup is irresistible not only for its singalong pre-chorus and seamlessly integrated trap influence, but its brilliant one-word-or-fewer hook: “Skrrrr-RRRRR-rrrr-RRRRR-rrr….” Equally inspired is the 2.0 version, blessed by Nashville-via-Atlanta hybrid star Sam Hunt, which deserves to be nearly as big as… well, you know, that other viral hip-hop-meets-country remix. — A.U.
39. Remi Wolf, “Woo!”
“Woo!” sounds straightforward, but offers more than initially meets the ear if you listen a little deeper. The production, Remi Wolf’s vocals, and some of the lyrics depict the “woo!” of losing control and falling in love — but are balanced by meddling family members, distractions, and eternally unanswerable questions. The subtle chaos and anxiety haunting the song are suitable for the rising queen of stoner-funk-pop, punctuated by a psychedelic music video that only heightens the song’s playful sense of young love’s rush. Woo! — ERIC FRANKENBERG
38. Conan Gray, “Maniac”
Bedroom pop artists like Conan Gray have a tendency to dwell on themselves and their own shortcomings. It’s something that the 21-year-old up-and-comer has done throughout his career, singing slightly sad, introspective songs about generational divides, the nature of modern love and more. But with “Maniac,” Gray manages to cleverly flip that perspective outward in this pitch-perfect kiss off, where he eviscerates a manipulative lover. The songwriting on “Maniac” is suddenly sharper and more clever, making not only for a thoroughly fun pop song, but one that will have you marveling at its wordplay. — STEPHEN DAW
37. Chika, “Industry Games”
Rising Alabama singer and rapper CHIKA brushes off the posers and asserts control over her career on the confident, trim title track of her March EP, which marks her Warner Records debut. In just over two minutes, she raps breezily about her artistic vision and dedication to her craft over a metallic, bass-heavy beat, not so much bragging as she is building a strong, smart case for her own come-up. “Think it’s a game?” CHIKA mocks in the chorus; if it were, she’d be winning. — TATIANA CIRISANO
36. James Blake, “You’re Too Precious”
Londoner James Blake continues to evolve his electro/pop/R&B sound while also collaborating with everyone from Bon Iver and Beyoncé to Metro Boomin and Rosalía. On this single that follows 2019 album Assume Form, Blake takes an ethereal, piano-led pop route to relay adoration for his girlfriend. “You’re too precious,” he sings. “I don’t think they deserve you/ I don’t think anyone could.” The shape-shifting black figure featured in the song’s animated video perfectly complements Blake’s high-pitched-to-whispered vocal contortions, on a song that’s both calming and magical. — GAIL MITCHELL
35. Karol G & Nicki Minaj, “Tusa”
Karol G’s collab with Nicki Minaj is many firsts: Minaj’s first time performing in Spanish, Karol G’s first time topping Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart, and the first collaboration between a member of the new generation of female Latin urban stars and a major female hip hop star. “Tusa,” which is Colombian slang for that mix of heartache and spite we’ve all felt when someone dumps us, begins with Minaj speaking in Spanish. Then Karol G comes in, with catchy verses set over strings and a reggaetón beat (courtesy of producer Ovy On the Drums). The track also entered the Billboard Hot 100, marking Minaj’s 106th entry on the chart. — LEILA COBO
34. The 1975, “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”
“I see her online/ All the time” feels a little too real in 2020, but that’s how The 1975 opens their accidental quarantine anthem “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know).” The Notes On A Conditional Form single finds frontman Matty Healy singing about a romance who might like him better if he strips down on their FaceTime calls. The thumping alt-dance song blends ’80s pop elements (who could forget that wild saxophone solo?), helping it become the group’s highest-charting song in the U.K. upon its release, debuting at No. 14. It also poses the question many may be asking themselves now: Is it possible to have an intimate relationship strictly through screens? Maybe it’s time to put the phone down for a minute. – XANDER ZELLNER
33. RMR, “Dealer”
After breaking through on the blogs with “Rascal,” an inventive re-working of Rascal Flatts’ “Bless The Broken Road,” RMR (pronounced “Rumor”) returned with a brooding R&B-trap cut that snaps and snarls around a string riff, an eerie groove that proves absolutely unshakeable. “Dealer” received a remix featuring star guests Future and Lil Baby, and RMR stands alongside them capably, suggesting a higher rise on the horizon. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
32. Justin Bieber feat. Quavo, “Intentions”
Despite the at-times corny lyrics (“picture perfect you don’t need no filter”), the bouncy beat and dare-we-say intention of this track carry it through. As the second single off Bieber’s long-awaited February album Changes, “Intentions” is the anthem Bieber needed to solidify his new and improved public self, proving that after a few tumultuous years, he’s not only back and better than ever — but this time he’s sharing the wealth, figuratively and literally. — L.H.
31. Mallrat, “Charlie”
Mallrat, moniker of Australian singer-songwriter and Triple J fav Grace Shaw, showcased her full potential with the slow-building “Charlie” — which begat her debut Billboard chart appearance earlier this year, hitting No. 37 on Alternative Songs. “Charlie” is named for Shaw’s golden retriever (“All you gotta do is wait for me to get home/ Like Charlie in the rain outside,” but the dreamy alt-pop number discusses the affection for which she’s searching in a relationship — laying out her wants and needs over a steadily budding concoction of guitar, bass and percussion. — K.R.
30. Gorillaz feat. Peter Hook & Georgia, “Aries”
Gorillaz offer a tonal shift to the usual thrills of their progressive electro-pop-rock with “Aries,” a song of strident guitars and heavy synths. The third cut off the band’s animated audiovisual series Song Machine, which teams up with a roster of collaborators, features Joy Division/ New Order’s bassist Peter Hook, who brings his signature zeal to the animated tune, as well as U.K. dance-pop singer and producer Georgia on drums. While Damon Albarn’s creamy vocals give a breezy tone to the collaborative effort, Jamie Hewlett’s visual journal pairs up 2-D and Murdoc against Noodles and Russel on a semi-competitive ride across town. — PAMELA BUSTIOS
29. DaBaby feat. Roddy Ricch, “ROCKSTAR”
Though DaBaby’s frenetic delivery and affection for club bangers netted him a seat at the winner’s table in 2019, his candor was the real engine behind his success. The guitar-driven “ROCKSTAR” lives up to its name, as Baby’s adjustment to fame has proven more triggering than rewarding. From wrestling with cold sweats from PTSD to reliving his self-defense shooting at WalMart, Baby’s celebrity has been both a gift and a curse. Plus, Roddy Ricch’s inclusion on the track gives “ROCKSTAR” the extra edge needed to storm past the competition. — C.L.
28. Yves Tumor, “Gospel For a New Century”
The elusive Knoxville-raised (and reportedly now Berlin-based) experimental electronic artist Yves Tumor delivered some heavy swagger via “Gospel For a New Century”, the lead single from his fourth LP, Heaven To a Tortured Mind. An amalgam of brass and beats, the track about a complicated romance possesses the grandiosity of a David Axelrod composition and the raw cool of peak TV On the Radio, a thumping tour de force that transcends its themes — and, in a surreal moment in history, lives up to its namesake. — KATIE BAIN
27. Doja Cat, “Boss B–ch”
Yes, “Say So” is having its time in the sun, but might we convince you to turn your attention to the woefully underrated “Boss B–ch?” Recorded for the Birds of Prey film soundtrack, the track is the most fiery of I-do-what-I-want anthems: “I’m the whole d–n cake and the cherry on top/ Shook up the bottle, made a good girl pop.” Warning — this 2:14 delight may cause whiplash, but there’s always the “replay” option in order to hear everything you missed. Also, don’t miss the berserk music video, where Doja struts around in a series of eye-popping outfits and fights her enemies with various large weapons. — GAB GINSBERG
26. Hinds, “Good Bad Times”
“Good Bad Times” feels like the summer we all wish we were able to have this year. It’s the Hinds you love, now with 80% more keyboards — in fact, pay close attention to that sing-song-y pre-chorus (“And every time you talk to me/ I’m hearing you scared of losing me/ And every time you talk to me/ You’ve got it all wrong”), because it indicated that Hinds might just be going close to full pop on their just-released album, The Prettiest Curse. The Madrid quartet has never sounded so tight as they do here, so we’re all for it regardless. — G.G.
25. Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande, “Rain on Me”
Chromatica lead single “Stupid Love” hinted at Lady Gaga’s return to the breakneck electro-pop that made her a household name… and then follow-up “Rain On Me,” a maximalist dance workout with Ariana Grande, confirmed pop fans’ greatest hopes. Two of the most powerful pop vocalists of the past decade linking up for an uptempo stunner built around the line “I’d rather be dry, but at least I’m alive,” proved to be as life-affirming as intended. — J. Lipshutz
24. Soccer Mommy, “Circle the Drain”
Sophie Allison (the artist behind the Soccer Mommy persona) has always had a knack for writing songs that cut deep. But perhaps no song in her catalogue has cut as deeply, or as catchily, as “Circle the Drain,” the pop-twinged standout strummer on her Color Theory album. While the ebb and flow of the song’s dreamy production certainly lends to its success, “Circle the Drain’s” songwriting is some of Allison’s best to date, as she sings about the downward pull of depressive episodes. The emotion she portrays with words as simple as “I’ve been falling apart these days/ Split open, watching my heart go/ ‘Round and around,” is nothing short of a revelation. — S.D.
23. Lil Baby, “Emotionally Scarred”
Lil Baby has emerged as one of the most consistently engaging rappers of the past several years, specifically because of songs like My Turn‘s “Emotionally Scarred” — where the 25-year-old star can rap soberly about all he’s achieved and accumulated, while acknowledging the trauma and losses that he’s endured along the way. It’s what sets him apart from many of his contemporaries, providing a different element and a secondary appeal to his music, a deeper emotion that binds his listeners to his story. Who can’t relate to a line like, “I ain’t got nothing against you, we human, we all got issues/ But I’m tired of being tired of being tired”? — DAN RYS
22. Billie Eilish, “No Time to Die”
In yet one more sign of the astounding speed with which Billie Eilish, 18, has commandeered pop culture, less than a year after the release of her Grammys-sweeping debut album, she has joined an elite group of stars (Adele, Paul McCartney, Madonna) in recording a James Bond film theme — becoming the youngest artist ever to do so. On “No Time to Die,” a tension-laden opening piano line introduces Eilish’s whispery, wavering vocals. “Was it obvious to everybody else/ That I’d fallen for a lie?” she sings, as an electric guitar rises in the mix, then drums, then full orchestration. An aural epic befitting the Bond franchise, “No Time To Die” displays Eilish taking on a dramatic new vocal challenge and killing it. — T.D.
21. SAINt JHN, “Roses (Imanbek Remix)”
Originally released in 2016 by Guyanese-American rapper SAINt JHN, “Roses” became a global hit when it was remixed by 19-year-old Kazakh part-time producer and railway worker Imanbek. The producer had not only never before had a hit, but who didn’t even initially have official rights on the original because SAINt JHN never responded to his DMs. He eventually got clearance, with both artists entering the global spotlight via the song’s earworm melody and Imanbek’s slinky future house treatment — which made the single a TikTok senesation, and eventually a ten-week No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart. — K.B.
20. Bob Dylan, “Murder Most Foul”
A brilliantly meandering blues-folk odyssey from Bob Dylan whose runtime breaks into the double digits? Nothing surprising there, until you see the release date: wait, 2020?! Yes, somehow at age 79 and after three (three!) confounding covers albums of songs mostly popularized by Sinatra, Dylan has delivered a spiritually gutting meditation on lost innocence in America, from JFK’s assassination to Altamont, that arguably is among his 50 best songs ever. Given the peerless quality of his six-decade catalog, that’s no light achievement. — JOE LYNCH
19. Future feat. Drake, “Life Is Good”
It’s almost a paradox how well Future and Drake work together on a song, considering their sounds and styles are completely different and on the surface don’t seem to gel at all. On “Life Is Good,” they don’t even bother trying, essentially splitting the track into two separate songs, one with Drake’s smooth confidence and the other with Future’s pulsating opulence, that nonetheless still feels coherent in an unconventional way. Helps, of course, that the song was accompanied by an early contender for video of the year. — D.R.
18. Tame Impala, “Breathe Deeper”
Much of Tame Impala’s fourth album The Slow Rush is a nonstop, gasping confrontation with the dreaded force of time, which makes the refreshingly brisk and fittingly named “Breathe Deeper” a welcome respite. It’s an undeniably enticing lite banger that affirms Kevin Parker’s burgeoning pop sensibilities within the set’s resurgent psychedelia — and proves so durable that he can’t resist running it back as a bumper on the next track “Tomorrow’s Dust” to create its own two-song mini-loop. — B.K.
17. Maren Morris, “The Bones”
Between the record-breaking cross-format chart success that “The Bones” achieved — including reaching No. 1 on both Country Airplay and Adult Pop Songs — and an extremely satisfying remake with Hozier, it’s almost easy to overlook the charms of Morris’s deceptively simple love song. Anchored by a hypnotic acoustic guitar riff, the gently swaying, finger-snapping melody and Morris’s laid-back delivery, the metaphor of comparing a love’s enduring strength to the sturdy reliability of a house’s foundation (i.e., The Bones) brought the Girl highlight home. — MELINDA NEWMAN
16. Perfume Genius, “On the Floor”
Perfume Genius said that “On the Floor,” the second single from Set My Heart on Fire Immediately, is about a crush and the way it can grow into an obsession or fantasy that has little to do with reality. That dream-like quality rolls through the track’s 5:04 runtime, from the bounce of its early verses to the up-and-down vocal spiral that serves as the song’s bridge. Obsessions and fantasies can be disorienting but “On the Floor” is warm and happy enough to calm the nerves and kickstart some butterflies. — E.F.
15. Bad Bunny, “Yo Perreo Sola”
Bad Bunny’s version of a female empowerment song is devastatingly simple. At less than three minutes long, “Yo Perreo Sola” (I Twerk Alone) goes straight to the point. “Ante’ tú me pichaba/ Ahora yo picheo/ Antes tú no quería/ Ahora yo no quiero” (“Before you would ignore me/ Now I ignore you/ Before you wouldn’t want to/ Now, I don’t want to”) begins a female voice (Puerto Rican artist Genesis Rios, known as Nesi), singing over a sparse drum machine. Those tightly-held reins then get passed on to Bad Bunny, who finishes delivering the message with little added accompaniment: This girl dances alone, parties alone, and embraced being single “before it was fashionable.” Most importantly, she doesn’t twerk for any man: she twerks alone. — L.C.
14. Fiona Apple, “Ladies”
Apple’s sprawling, incisive Fetch the Bolt Cutters album is peppered with thoughtful musings on her relationships with other women. She cuts the deepest on the twangy, soulful “Ladies,” a funny and heartbreaking tune about the ways manipulative men pit women against each other, which Apple dedicates to the women “I won’t get through” to as a result. In between recounting her impressions of various mistresses and ex-lovers, she sings, drawls and belts out the song’s title close to 50 times, her tone shifting from droll sarcasm to something like solidarity. — TATIANA CIRISANO
13. Mac Miller, “Good News”
There’s a bittersweet feeling when the first posthumous release from an artist as beloved as late Pittsburgh rapper-producer Mac Miller is titled “Good News.” While new material from the notably prolific artist was a welcome development, its unfinished nature and unavoidable recontextualization would inevitably reopen the wounds of his loss. Luckily, the stunning debut single from Circles provides him the chance to share, albeit indirectly, the knowing reassurance that “There’s a whole lot more for me waiting on the other side.” — B.K.
12. Selena Gomez, “Rare”
The title track and mission statement for Selena Gomez’s most personal album to date, the failing-relationship lament “Rare” is full of the production and lyrical detail that has set the last four years of the pop star’s work apart. “Saw us getting older/ Burning toast in the toaster/ My ambitions were too high,” Gomez moans over subtly swinging bass and layered percussion, finding the stability and self-confidence to say what she needs. “I don’t have it all/ I”m not claiming to/ But I know that I’m special,” she proclaims, a hard-earned self-affirmation that feels like the culmination of something important for both Gomez and her long-devoted fans. — A.U.
11. BENEE feat. Gus Dapperton, “Supalonely”
BENEE had already found success in her home country of New Zealand with her first EP of 2019, Fire on Marzz — but it was follow-up Stella & Steve, and its happy-sad song “Supalonely,” featuring Gus Dapperton, that would send her skyrocketing internationally. Thanks to a TikTok dance challenge in March, the song entered the Hot 100 in 2020 and brought the 20-year-old’s bouncy tune to millions. Though inspired by a breakup and an isolating month spent recording in L.A., lines like “I know I f–ked up, I’m just a loser” don’t sound so morose when matched with the sunny melody, a “la la la la” series, the punctuating “I’ve been lonely, mm, ah, yeah!” — and of course those high kicks in the video. — CHRISTINE WERTHMAN
10. Dixie Chicks, “Gaslighter”
With “Gaslighter,” the Dixie Chicks came roaring back from a 14-year hiatus. The song channels the anger of a woman scorned by her husband — lead singer Natalie Maines seemingly draws from her real life relationship with ex Adrian Pasdar — and perhaps fits best as the spiritual prequel to “Goodbye Earl.” (They haven’t poisoned his black-eyed-peas just yet.) Weaponizing their gorgeous vocal harmonies against the man who did wrong, “Gaslighter” provides a foot-stomping, burn-it-all-to-the-ground good time. The Chicks are still not ready to make nice, and that’s perfectly fine with us. — DENISE WARNER
9. Grimes, “Delete Forever”
“Wonderwall” at the end of the world; an acoustic campfire singalong for when the entire planet is burning. “Delete Forever” resonates more and more the further we get into the most unprecedented year of many of our lifetimes, not just for its lyrics of extreme anxiety (“Lying so awake, things I can’t escape”) and disillusionment (“Innocence was fleeting like a season”) but for its overall feeling of surrender to oblivion’s inevitability. “I see everything,” Grimes laments — an imperfect oracle to be sure, but one whose visions we can’t help but keep returning to. — A.U.
8. Dua Lipa, “Physical”
The second single from Future Nostalgia opens with a 13-second instrumental, and for that, we should all be grateful. It’s just enough time to summon everyone within earshot to the dance floor and to mentally prepare yourself to give everything you’ve got for the next three minutes. After that, all bets are off — thumping bass, well-timed claps and a bursting chorus combine to make a frenetic ‘80s-influenced jam that pays dutiful homage to the Olivia Newton-John jazzercise effort that helped inspire it. “Physical” is nothing short of an adrenaline-filled powerhouse that will rejuvenate any party for years to come. Don’t you agree? — J.G.
7. Christine & The Queens, “People, I’ve Been Sad”
The French singer has long been a master of the depressionbanger — those transcendent pop anthems that are equal parts muscle and melancholy — yet her simple declarations of solitude here nail the feeling of watching days slip by better than anything in her catalog. The chorus also offers a fitting snapshot of quarantine life: By pitching down her vocals and putting herself in conversation with her own voice, she’s apart but not totally alone. And right now, you definitely know the feeling. — NOLAN FEENEY
6. Lady Gaga, “Stupid Love”
Gaga’s smart enough to know that after leaving the dancefloor for a spell, you don’t just come barreling back in at 11, and her return to Mother Monster territory on “Stupid Love” is a wonder of build-and-release ecstasy. Opening with a quivering electro-pop rhythm, Gaga matches the nervous energy of the Moroder-esque synth with a tentative, sweet croon, gradually working her way back up to the full-bore rapture of her early days. When she retakes the throne on the throbbing, shout-it-to-the-heavens chorus, it’s clear she’s truly at home: The Academy Awards might be a nice place to visit, and the widescreen ranches of Joanne have charm, but for species Gaga, Club Chromatica is the natural habitat. — J. Lynch
5. Roddy Ricch, “The Box”
Roddy Ricch got an early bid on claiming one of 2020’s most popular songs when “The Box” snared the Hot 100’s top rung in January, and stayed there 11 weeks. Between the track’s hypnotic uptempo beat, brain-sticking hook (“I won’t never sell my soul”), Ricch’s vocal fervor and squeaky “eee err” ad-lib — which launched countless memes and TikTok videos — “The Box” was the Compton, Calif. rapper’s mainstream breakthrough. As Ricch told Billboard, “It just bangs. The 808s hit so hard.” — G.M.
4. Doja Cat, “Say So”
Even in a year where top 40 has been absolutely swarming with disco retro, there’s an ease to the throwback elements of Doja Cat’s “Say So” that makes it feel the least consciously backwards-looking of the year’s best floor-fillers. The singer-rapper born Amalaratna Zandile Dlamini glides on the beat like she’s doing a lap around the roller rink, her airy coo and over-caffeinated spitting both matching the sublime guitar-chop funk as naturally as Diana Ross jamming with Nile Rodgers 40 years earlier. Of course, it’s not Rodgers but Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald — the writer/producer accused by Kesha of sexual assault and other abuse — who Doja’s sharing the floor with on “Say So,” an uncomfortable fact that shouldn’t be ignored, even when celebrating what’s clearly one of the most irresistible pop songs of 2020. — A.U.
3. Harry Styles, “Adore You”
Though released in December 2019, Harry Styles’ Fine Line grew roots in 2020 thanks to undeniably catchy singles “Adore You” and “Watermelon Sugar.” And while lead single “Lights Up” officially ushered in Styles’ second album, it’s the Top 40-friendlier “Adore You” that best marks his place in pop today — and scored him his first No. 1 on Billboard’s Pop Songs radio airplay chart. After all, in addition to a gorgeously crafted hit, there are few things better than having someone plea through pitch-perfect vocals to “just let me adore you.” Only a fool would turn down an offer like that. — L.H.
2. Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé, “Savage (Remix)”
Houston, we got a problem! When the city’s noblest daughters in Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé joined forces on the “Savage” remix, some considered it an anointment, crowning Meg as the premier female rapper in hip-hop. With Beyoncé riding shotgun, Megan’s dynamic single received an extra jolt of rawness when Queen Bey gave her stamp of approval for OnlyFans enthusiasts, Demon Time warriors, and more. While Bey surfed through the J. White Did It beat with calm precision, Megan’s husky hook (“I’m a Savage/ Classy, bougie, ratchet”) remained the backbone for the swaggering track. Ultimately, the Houston connection proved to be timely, as Megan landed her first Hot 100 No. 1 last month with the record. — C.L.
1. The Weeknd, “Blinding Lights”
Sometimes the best songs are ones you think you’ve heard before — but from a different artist and a different time. “Blinding Lights” is like that. The opening drumbeat is a DeLorean back to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” The amphetamine synth conjures fond memories of leopard-print-era Rod Stewart’s “Young Turks” — or maybe that other guy with the avian hairdo, Mike Score from A Flock of Seagulls? And isn’t that spooky B-movie organ from Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me”? Whoah, stop thinking so much, dude, and let Abel Tesfaye’s Drambuie-drenched vocals bathe you in euphoria as you bop around your home in an M-95 mask, punching your fist to the “Hey!-Hey!-Hey!”’s, and giving thanks to Max Martin and The Weeknd for making a magical and much-needed tonic for troubled times. — FRANK DIGIACOMO