Best Songs From 2020

2020 was a challenging year for most people. COVID still kept many of us housebound, and cabin fever was setting in. Luckily, adversity creates great art, and musicians rose to the challenge. This list looks at some of the best songs of 2020, ranging from rap to country and much in-between.

“Gaslighter” by The Chicks

Song Year: 2020

The Chicks dropped the “Dixie” from their name and entered 2020 rejuvenated. “Gaslighter” is a barn-stomping anthem to cutting toxic influences out.

The upbeat song features The Chicks at their melodic best. While Natalie Maines’ vocals anchor the song, three-part vocal harmonies infuse the infectious chorus. “Gaslighter”s empowering message and catchy tune made it a modest success, charting in six countries.

“America” by Sufjan Stevens

Song Year: 2020

Trust Sujan Stevens to release a twelve-and-a-half-minute song about flailing faith and patriotism the day before Independence Day.

“America” fuses Stevens’s signature ambiguous religious imagery with romantic pining and cynicism. The song expresses Stevens’s disillusionment with his country and his faith. Lyrically, it’s remorseful but not entirely hopeless.

The song earned Stevens raves from N.M.E., Pitchfork, British GQ, and NPR. It appears on The Ascension, Stevens’s eighth studio album.

“Tonight” by Kesha

Song Year: 2020

Kesha relaunched her career in 2020 with her fourth studio album, The High Road. “Tonight” combined the artist’s established dance-pop sound with a newer, more melodic approach.

Lyrically, “Tonight” explores an all-time classic pop theme-being young, making bad decisions, and having a good time. The song finds Kesha in a celebratory mood, planning a night out with her friends.

While The High Road explores heavier themes than Kesha’s previous output, “Tonight” proves the artist can still party and cut loose with the best of them.

“Be Afraid” by Jason Isbell

Song Year: 2020

A new Jason Isbell release is always a cause for celebration among his fans. The singer-songwriter announced the arrival of his album Reunions with the single “Be Afraid.”

“Be Afraid” is a righteous, angry rock and roll song. While Isbell’s signature southern sound is present, pounding guitars drive the song forward. “Be Afraid” serves several lyrical masters. The tune has political, artistic, and personal resonance.

“I Know the End” by Phoebe Bridgers

Song Year: 2020

2020 was the year of Phoebe Bridgers. While her 2020 album, Punisher, wasn’t her first, the record launched her into the mainstream. No single song better represented the artist’s power and skill than “I Know the End.”

“I Know the End” runs the musical gamut, opening softly. The ballad grows into an upbeat folk song, eventually mutating into a primal scream. Lyrically, “I Know the End” explores themes of hopelessness and depression.

This song established Bridgers as a major talent. Most notably, it inspired raves from publications ranging from Vulture to NPR.

“Bad Decisions” by The Strokes

Song Year: 2020

The Strokes entered the popular consciousness in 1998 and have been releasing New York pop-punk regularly ever since.

“Bad Decisions,” the first single off The Strokes’ sixth album, The New Abnormal, finds the band at their mischievous best. The song borrows elements from Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself” hit.

The song’s lyrics deal with multiple themes. While the surface message focuses on casual, bad romantic decisions, the deeper implications deal with fan expectations. Additionally, “Bad Decisions” explores Julian Casablancas’s fraught relationship with his father.

“Conversion” by Khruangbin and Leon Bridges

Song Year: 2020

Although Leon Bridges wrote “Conversion” in 2012, he didn’t release the song until he teamed up with Khruangbin. The psychedelic-funk trio infuses Bridges’ neo-soul style with a darker edge.

“Conversion” is a euphoric song of discovery and hope. Bridges’ lyrics are literal. They explore the singer’s awakening to Christianity and his relationship to his faith.

Bridges featured this almost seven-minute-long song on Texas Sun, his four-song E.P. collaboration with Khruangbin.

“Sugar on the Rim” by Hayley Williams

Song Year: 2020

Hayley Williams broke free from her pop-punk band, Paramour, in 2020. Her solo album experimented with style and genre, breaking new ground for the singer. “Sugar on the Rim” tests Williams’s boundaries, using drum machines to create a funk beat.

Williams expresses a newfound optimism on the danceable track. The singer alludes to falling in love. She explains that the feeling makes difficult experiences more palatable, the way a sugar rim cuts a cocktail’s bitterness.

“Escape From LA” by The Weeknd

Song Year: 2020

Despite being released on the first day of spring, “Escape From LA” is a moody little number. The six-minute exploration of jealousy and infidelity captures The Weeknd’s love of gritty noir films.

The song’s title is an homage to John Carpenter’s film, Escape From LA, though the narratives have little in common. The Weeknd’s song discusses the complications of maintaining a fraught relationship in Los Angeles.

The song appears on The Weekend’s album, After Hours. It was an international success, landing on multiple charts.

“I Want You to Love Me” by Fiona Apple

Song Year: 2020

Fiona Apple grew up in the spotlight. The singer released her first album when she was a 17-year-old with a 35-year-old’s wisdom and voice. “I Want You to Love Me” is a musical maturation for the wunderkind.

Apple wrote the song in 2013 but held onto it until including it on her 2020 album Fetch the Bolt Cutters. “I Want You to Love Me” is a song about the concept of love and how fleeting it is. The singer states that despite her awareness of mortality, she still longs for love.

“21st Century U.S.A.” by The Drive-By Truckers

Song Year: 2020

The Drive-By Truckers were the loudest band on earth between 1999 and 2005. Though the outlaw country pioneers have turned the volume down a bit, they remain as sharp as ever on “21st Century U.S.A.”.

Patterson Hood’s acerbic lyrics skewer the brutality of capitalism in small-town America. He details the numerous chain stores and products that make millions while poorly paying their workers.

“21st Century U.S.A.” captures the mood and essence of The Unraveling, the Truckers’ twelfth studio recording.

“34+35” by Ariana Grande

Song Year: 2020

Ariana Grande has never shied away from explicit subject matter, and “34+35” may be her filthiest song to date. While the song is undeniably adult, it approaches its content with a wink and a nudge.

Ari spends “34+35” propositioning her partner in a variety of ways. Some of her come-ons are extremely direct, while others rely on puns and plays on words—the r&b track slinks along pleasantly over synth orchestration.

“Levitating” by Dua Lipa

Song Year: 2020

“Levitating” is a bright, disco confection of a song. Dua Lipa composed the song for her second album Future Nostalgia.

“Levitating,” a retro dance song about the joy of falling in love, broke records with its infectious beat. Lipa’s hit spent 77 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, making it the longest charting song by a female artist.

The tune inspired a notable remix featuring Madonna and Missy Elliott. “Levitating” earned Lipa raves and landed her on multiple best-of-year-end lists.

“Damage” by H.E.R.

“Damage” by H.E.R.

Song Year: 2020

H.E.R., the stage name of multi-hyphenate Gabriella Wilson, has a generation-defining voice. She set the music world ablaze with her pure vocals in 2020 with her debut album, Back of My Mind.

She released “Damage” as the second single off the album. The delicate r&b anthem explores the singer’s caution and fear in entering a new relationship. The lyrics dive into her concerns and the risks of being vulnerable.

The song earned H.E.R. two Grammy nominations and nods from several other awards. It performed modestly well on the charts, landing on four lists.

“Faith Healer” by Julien Baker

Song Year:  2020

Julien Baker followed in the footsteps of her bandmate, Phoebe Bridgers, by breaking through to the mainstream in 2020. Aided by the single “Faith Healer,” Baker’s album Little Oblivions earned the singer critical recognition and a larger fanbase.

Baker maintains her signature erudite melancholy on “Faith Healer.” The song expresses a desire for a mystical solution to impossible problems.

It was the first single off Little Oblivions. The song reached number 14 on the Billboard Adult Alternative Airplay chart.

“Girls in the Hood” by Megan Thee Stallion

Song Year: 2020

Megan Thee Stallion dominated our hearts and minds in 2020. With her cool-girl swagger and limitless confidence, Megan was a cross-genre success.

The lyrics celebrate knowing your worth. Megan’s self-assured rapping expresses her comfort with her hotness and certainty of her value. The driving beat and playful bars established “Girls in the Hood” as a serious contender for the song of the summer.

The song helped launch Megan’s debut album, Good News, to worldwide acclaim. It was a bonafide hit, charting globally.

“Here Comes the End” by Gerard Way

Song Year: 2020

Gerard Way’s glam rock influences always bubbled below the surface of My Chemical Romance’s discography. With “Here Comes the End,” the singer-songwriter fully indulged in his Bowie impulses.

Way wrote the song for the second season of The Umbrella Academy. The rollicking number sings joyously about armageddon. Whether the apocalypse is personal or global is open to interpretation. Despite the heavy subject matter, “Here Comes the End” has a bright, fun sound, elevated by Judith Hill’s backing vocals.

“Midnight Sky” by Miley Cyrus

Song Year: 2020

Few child stars have charted more interesting courses into adulthood than Miley Cyrus. The singer-songwriter transitioned from a young pop starlet into an experimental musician, dabbling in dance, folk, and new-wave sounds.

“Midnight Sky” is a declaration of independence. The singer asserts her confidence and solo status over a synth beat.

Miley released the song as the first single off her album Plastic Hearts. Critics and listeners alike loved the song, which landed on charts in multiple countries.

“Husavik” by Molly Sanden and Will Ferrell

Song Year: 2020

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a sweet, silly movie with an astounding soundtrack. “Husavik” is about being content where you are, which is the beating heart of said soundtrack.

The lyrics delve into love and being appreciative of your roots. “Husavik”s impact wasn’t limited to the film; the powerful anthem earned an Academy Award nomination for “Best Original Song.”

“Slow Dancing” by Aly & A.J.

Song Year: 2020

Ay & A.J. have been making music for most of their lives. The sisters began their careers as Disney channel starlets, but their greater musical ambitions always shone through. Though the pair haven’t received the widespread recognition of some of their peers, they’ve been quietly releasing some of the most interesting pop music on the scene for years.

“Slow Dancing” is a mature, grounded song about comfortable love. The lyrics express a desire for simple happiness. The pair harmonize over an alternative country melody.

“To Hell & Back” by Maren Morris

Song Year:  2020

Marren Morris is one of the great country-crossover success stories. The singer-songwriter crafts tunes that appeal to the pop mainstream without betraying her country roots.

“To Hell & Back” is Morris’s tribute to warts and all love. The lyrics express gratitude towards a partner who embraces the singer’s flaws.

Morris released this song as the third single off her second album, Girl. It was moderately successful, charing in America and Canada.

“Serpentine Prison” by Matt Berninger

Song Year: 2020

Matt Berninger’s been writing great music for sad dads with his band, The National, since 1999. In 2020, the gravel-voiced singer-songwriter set out on his own, releasing his first solo album.

“Serpentine Prison” is a difficult song to parse. Berninger sings stream-of-consciousness lyrics over a lush, aching melody. Berninger’s lyrics are erudite and highly open to interpretation.

“No Time To Die” by Billie Eilish

Song Year: 2020

The Bond theme song is as central to the success of a Bond film as the Bond girl or the Bond villain. No film franchise puts greater effort into attracting talent to compose dynamic tunes. Bond pulled off a coup in 2020 by snagging Billie Eilish.

She “No Time To Die” in the vein of other Bond classics. The lyrics detail a fraught relationship, one riddled with betrayal and intrigue. Eilish layers her signature ghostly vocals over r&b orchestration.

The song won multiple awards, including a Grammy and an Oscar. Moreover, it was an international success, charting globally.  

“Rain on Me” by Lady Gaga

Song Year: 2020

“Rain on Me” paired two generations of pop powerhouses on one monster hit. Lady Gaga enlisted the help of Ariana Grande for the anthem to empowerment and resilience.

“Rain on Me” is a dance track with a big heart. The lyrics, performed over a driving beat, explore surviving difficult circumstances and growing stronger through adversity.

The song was an unqualified success, delighting listeners and critics. “Rain on Me” earned spots on myriad “Best of 2020” lists, including Slate and Vulture. The tune won multiple awards, including a Grammy. “Rain on Me” dominated the international charts.

“The Birthday Party” by The 1975

Song Year: 2020

The 1975’s unique fusion of multiple genres has earned the band a slew of fans. The band’s delicate country-indie song, “The Birthday Party,” borrows from folk, country, and indie-pop.

The song’s lyrics unravel like a Raymond Carver short story. The narrator attempts to stay sober at a house party. He stumbles through a series of bring interactions with party guests, each of which tests him in some capacity.

Critics were mixed in their reactions to the track, released as the fourth single off The 1975’s album Notes on a Conditional Form. Fans reacted positively, however, landing the song on several charts.

“W.A.P.” by Cardi B

Song Year: 2020

“W.A.P.” is undoubtedly the song with the hardest R rating on this list. The song was controversial due to its frank approach to female sexuality.

The song paired Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, two rap powerhouses, for a catchy collaboration that became ubiquitous during the summer of 2020.

Various publications, including Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, named “W.A.P.” one of the best songs of 2020. The single earned multiple awards and charted across the globe.

“Are We Alright Again” by The Eels

Song Year: 2020

The Eels zig when you expect most bands to zag. While 2020 was full of songs lamenting isolation and loneliness, “Are We Alright Again” found indie rock royalty, The Eels, singing hopefully about circumstances improving.

It’s a jangly pop song with cautiously optimistic lyrics. The singer suspects good things are around the corner. The Eels even managed to wrangle an alley-oop from a super fan and noted Mad Man, Jon Hamm, for the song’s video.

Top Songs From 2020, Final Thoughts

2020 may have been a difficult year for world events, but it was a great year for music. Every genre contributed hits for every mood. Whether life had you hopeful, despondent, or mischievous, 2020 had a song for you.

What are your top songs from 2020? We’d love to hear in the comments.

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