Every December I try to do a list of my favorite songs from that year. I like to pretend I’m the type of person with good musical taste others can come to when they need a playlist made.
There was just a tiny problem when it came to making my favorite songs of 2020 list – I didn’t listen to much new music this year.
One reason was because at the beginning of the pandemic I decided it was finally time to finish writing my musical based on the song “Goodbye Earl” by The Chicks. For that reason, I only listened to the band formerly known as the Dixie Chicks for like three months. (I’m in the top 1% of the band’s listeners on Spotify, not to brag.)
(Also, I did finish my musical, and no, you cannot read it unless you can get it in the hands of a member of The Chicks or someone else in Hollywood and/or Broadway.) (Okay, maybe you, a regular person, can also read it if you ask nicely.)
The other reason I didn’t listen to much new music is because right after the Brandy and Monica Verzuz battle in September I listened to only 90s R&B for basically the entire fall. I was so obsessed with the playlist I made Mary Blige was my third most listened to artist this year on Spotify.
Given all of that, though, there were some artists and songs that I loved this year. Here’s my favorites:
Favorite Album: Dua Lipa, “Future Nostalgia”
You know the sign of a perfect pop album? No ballads. Who needs acoustic guitars or pianos or songs that make you cry? Perfect pop albums that are nonstop dance bangers are exactly what we needed in 2020.
Dua Lipa released an album that was top to bottom so good it had no skips, which is the hardest thing to do on an album but is increasingly important in today’s world when it’s so easy to just cherry pick one or two songs and make your own playlist instead of listening to one artist all the way through. “Future Nostalgia” was perfect for a year when so many of our Saturday nights were spent alone in quarantine and all you wanted was music to listen to while you tried on all the clothes in your closet, trying to make as many weird outfits as possible to dance in front of the mirror and pretend you’re in a teen movie mall montage. (You didn’t do that? You should, I highly recommended it.)
“Future Nostalgia” starts with the title track, a futuristic sounding tune about a “female alpha” confident in the music she is making. Lipa sings about how so few people in music sound like her, which is true. All the biggest pop stars who released music this year (Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, and Katy Perry, to name a few) stuck more with slowed down, melancholic sounds that may have fit the theme of 2020, but weren’t nearly as fun.
That confident theme is present throughout “Future Nostalgia.” Lipa’s biggest single on the record, “Don’t Start Now,” is an ode to an old love who will likely return to try to get her back. She sings “Don’t start caring about me now” (an incredible line) over a beat that you’d definitely hear in the same club she talks about seeing that ex in.
The futuristic sounds of 808s and club beats remain prevalent on “Physical” and “Levitating,” two of the singles released on the album, and a really good 1-2 punch in the middle.
Lipa’s songs may seem like cheesy electronic dance hits, but they stand up well stripped down too. She did a version of “Love Again” – which masterfully samples White Town’s “I Could Never Be Your Woman” – on NPR’s Tiny Desk with just two guitars and four backup singers that was incredible.
Also, I won’t write too much about my favorite song on the album, “Good in Bed,” because this is a family blog, but, wow, what a punch line.
I knew “Future Nostalgia” was great, but I learned how great it was when Dua Lipa performed on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon just a few weeks after Fallon started doing at-home shows with virtual musical guests. Lipa’s performance of “Break My Heart” in front of a green screen with dancers in the background was so incredibly charming on top of the insane catchiness of the song. A few days later my brother walked through our kitchen singing the same song. This was a big deal because my brother only listens to the Grateful Dead, Grateful Dead cover bands, and bands that sound vaguely like the Grateful Dead. This was also a big deal because my brother has made fun of every song I’ve loved in the last five years and constantly tells me I have bad taste in music. Who has bad taste now, Reed?
More importantly this proved that Dua Lipa is perfect and everyone can love her music.
Favorite new artist – Benee
I won’t lie, I discovered Benee because I saw Charlie Puth tweet about her. I find Charlie Puth to be a reliable source for new music discovery, and he was not wrong about Benee. I can’t remember the last time I heard a new artist and became so obsessed I had to listen to every single song they’ve ever recorded. It was actually really nice.
If you didn’t live under a rock this year, you for sure heard Benee’s breakout hit “Supalonely,” a collaboration with rapper Gus Dapperton that thrives on its simplicity and beachy sound that makes it seem like it could easily fit in a teen movie about Southern California skateboarders. (Benee is 20 years old and from New Zealand so it makes sense that’s what her music would sound like.)
Maybe that’s why I loved her music so much, because it reminds me of what I loved listening to at that age. Or maybe it was the simplicity of the sound – beat tracks that are reminiscent of a teenager messing around in their bedroom and just spitting out their thoughts in real time.
Benee released a full length album this year, but I suggest listening to her early EPs released last year (“Fire on Marzz” and “Stella & Steve”) first to get a feel for her best stuff.
Bang! – AJR: A fun fact about this song is the voice of the guy who says “Here We Go!” is the same guy who does the announcements on the New York City subway. They said that on the radio the first time I ever heard this song, which made me want to listen to it.
Hole In The Bottle – Kelsea Ballerini: Country music’s favorite current theme is songs about drinking heavily. Kelsea turns that theme on its head here, but also sounds very old country.
I Hope – Gabby Barrett: The first time I heard this I thought for sure it was Miley Cyrus. I think the highest praise you could give this song comes from Charlie Puth, who released his own remixed version during the summer. Puth has said he only adds his vocals to songs he wishes he would have written. I’m sure there are a lot of artists out there who wish they could write something this good.
Ice Cream – BLACKPINK feat. Selena Gomez: There was one day this fall I listened to this song for like an hour straight while dancing in my bedroom.
Lovin’ On You – Luke Combs: I’m so embarrassed because I will periodically rail on what I call “bro country” and how none of the men in country music make anything as good as the women, but at the same time this was my most played song this year on Spotify. This song follows a common theme in country, but admittedly it’s still very fun.
July – Noah Cyrus feat. Leon Bridges: I love Leon Bridges. I think there are very few artists out there doing what he does. But as great as Leon Bridges is, some of his best work is his collaborations. The only downside to this song is isn’t long enough and ends abruptly, which is probably by design because it leaves me wanting more and I always play it a second or third time.
Let’s Fall In Love For the Night – FINNEAS: FINNEAS is for sure best known as Billie Eillish’s brother and the guy who produced her megahit album that won them both about a hundred Grammy’s last year. But FINNEAS also released a very good solo EP at the end of 2019, of which “Let’s Fall In Love” was the best song. It sounds nothing like anything Billie would ever release.
All About You – The Knocks feat. Foster the People: Whenever you see “The Knocks feat. Foster the People” it’s going to be great. I mentioned earlier I don’t remember the last time I was truly obsessed with an artist, but I know now it was in 2018 when the two groups collaborated on “Ride or Die” and I loved it so much I only listened to The Knocks for an entire summer. I seriously considered moving to California because I loved the sound so much. (Yes, they’re from New York but they sound like California.) “All About You” has the same earworm quality and has me wanting to chase that California sound again.
Champagne Night – Lady A: This song was chosen by Lady A on the show “Songland,” which I cannot recommend enough. It’s an incredibly interesting look at the process of writing and producing songs, and gives a real appreciation for the talent producers have.
Rain On Me – Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande: Of course a song with two of the biggest pop stars in the world is going to be one you need to listen to over and over.
Fooled Around and Fell In Love – Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris, Elle King, Ashley McBryde, Tenille Townes, Caylee Hammack: Yes, this was released in 2019, but it won the Academy of Country Music Award in September 2020, so I’m counting it, mostly because it is incredible and every single person sounds great on it and also because Miranda Lambert may not have technically released any new music in 2020, but I need to put her on the list because I love her and she’s amazing and if we’re being honest is a big part of my music listening every year.
I Love Me – Demi Lovato: I’ve never related to a line in a song more than I relate to “I’m a black belt when I’m beating up on myself, but I’m an expert at giving love to somebody else.” I cried my eyes out the first time I heard this song.
Everywhere I’m Goin’ – Maddie & Tae: It was so good Maddie & Tae finally released their second album this year, even though a number of the songs had been previously released on other EPs. “Everywhere I’m Goin” was overshadowed a bit by the (deserved) success of M&T’s biggest hit “Die From a Broken Heart” but I prefer the upbeat love story they describe here better.
Girlfriend – Charlie Puth: Charlie Puth is the thirstiest guy on Instagram, but he is also a music genius and can write a pop hook better than just about any other guy doing it right now.
Love You For a Long Time – Maggie Rogers: I know this song will be used as the first dance in 5 million weddings, but until then I’m going to enjoy it.
Happy Anywhere – Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani: Listen, no one understands Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani. Just, like, how? That being said, they’ve released some very sweet country songs and it’s nice to see Gwen doing something a bit different and so happy.
Diamonds – Sam Smith: Sam Smith makes the kind of music that has to be played loud and makes you want to drive around at night and let the song fill up every inch of the car while you look at city lights. I love them for that.
Golden – Harry Styles: Harry Styles is perfect and I love him and anyone who says a bad thing about him can never speak to me again.
Bad Decisions – The Strokes: Listening to The Strokes is always a good decision. One of my favorite things in 2020 was when John Mulaney hosted Saturday Night Live and The Strokes were the musical guest and Mulaney was absolutely GIDDY about it. He looked like a kid who knows he’s getting a bike for Christmas in every promo. It was the best.
Purple Hat – Sofi Tukker: The first time I heard this song I knew it was the kind of song that would be very cool until some TV network used it for commercials with clips of sitcom actors dancing over it. And then ABC did just that, but I still like the song.
Sunday Best – Surfaces: A perfect song for when you need a pick-me-up when 2020 gets you down.
Level of Concern – Twenty One Pilots: This song sounds nothing like anything Twenty One Pilots has released before, which is a huge compliment.
God Whispered Your Name – Keith Urban: I chuckle a little bit every time I hear Keith Urban do a love song and remember he’s singing about Nicole Kidman.
7 Summers – Morgan Wallen: I refused to listen to Morgan Wallen for the longest time. Again, I don’t like “bro country.” But Maddie & Tae posted this song on their Instagram stories so I thought that was a pretty good endorsement and, oh my gosh. I listened to this song so much I dreamed about it. That’s not an exaggeration. I literally had dreams where this song just played on a loop. Then I woke up and it was in my head again which was great because I loved it that much. I’m willing to admit when I’m wrong and I was very wrong about Morgan Wallen.