GUEST LIST WEEK
GLW 014: SHAY CORBETT
GLW 015: Ryan Joyce
GLW 016: Drew Ginther
GLW 017: Mike Brand
GLW 018: Carl Anderson
I truly believe that there is no such thing as bad music. Of course, artistry and talent are real and incredibly important. But the inherent “good”ness or “bad”ness of music is, in many ways, an arbitrary way to create an us vs. them. We get it. They don’t. But music exists outside of our cultural or temporal constructs of value. What makes music good is its impact. Music is good if it makes a time of joy that much brighter and vibrant. If it touches someone in pain and soothes their heart. If it finds someone drowning in darkness and provides a spark of light, no matter how small. If it finds someone who feels different and lets them know that they are not alone. Music is more powerful than any value we assign to it. It is processed by the brain in a way so mysterious and almost eternal that we as humans are only beginning to understand the power it possesses. So yes, my argument can be boiled down to this: even Nickelback can make good music.
With that in mind, below is my 2019 list of “good” music.These songs offered me an escape. They gave me moments of pure elation. They dried my tears. They offered a chance to see the world from the eyes of someone different than me. They encouraged me to be and do more. And they set my feet to dancing. I made this list to reflect and be thankful for what music gave me in 2019, but also in the hope that someone would read this and find the same.
1. Tanya Tucker – Wheels of Laredo: Outlaw Country’s original queen, Tanya Tucker is a living legend. Her 2019 album is an instant classic – honestly, please go listen to the whole thing. “Wheels of Laredo” is a microcosm of why. Tanya’s voice, raspy with the passage of time and hard living, finds the perfect companions in Shooter Jennings’s industry-defining production and the unrivaled lyricism of Brandi Carlile. Tanya sings of a winter night in a Texas border town and a beautiful woman just across that imaginary line. Political? Possibly. Emotionally gripping? Absolutely. Tanya’s back – long live the Rebel Queen.
2. Katy Perry – Never Really Over: Oh, what could have been. Katy’s half-assed comeback was confusing and entirely void of promotion. Apparently, suing a bunch of nuns for their house keeps a girl busy. Regardless, this one slapped. Is it a simple breakup tune or a deeply introspective reflection on the nature of celebrity and the careful creation of a public persona that eventually threatens to consume the private person? Who cares? The chorus is both soaring and really fast!
3. Beyoncé – All of Homecoming: Yes, I know including a whole album, even if it is arguably the greatest live album of all time, may be cheating. Oh well. At this point, I’ve run out of time to engage those who question this woman. Bow down.
4. The Highwomen – If She Ever Leaves Me: TLDR: A lesbian love song from a newly formed country supergroup that hits you square in the solar plexus. Written by Highwoman Amanda Shires and her husband (some guy named Jason Isbell? I dunno.), it features some of Brandi Carlile’s most impressive vocals and a harmony on the chorus that stopped me cold in my tracks. Come for the complex discussion of long term relationship dynamics and stay for the takedown of overconfident male bar patrons.
5. Meek Mill feat. Drake – Going Bad: It felt like 2018 was a banner year for hip hop/rap (i.e. “Apeshit”, “Motorsport”, “Chun-Li”, Scorpion) and then… 2019 happened. But we started strong, with Drake and Meek Mill giving us great verses back to back. Why Drake chose to come for the Beatles, I don’t know, but I do know I have been caught dancing to this song in the gym mirror. In broad day.
6. Taylor Swift – Cruel Summer: Does anyone do a bridge better than Taylor Swift and Jack Antonoff? I about lost my damn mind the first time I heard “Out of the Woods” and came just as close hearing this one. The driving beat and trademark phenomenal Swift songwriting make this a special one. That being said, if the bridge were the entirety of the song, it would still be on this list.
7. The Highwomen – Crowded Table: The chorus. The chorus. The chorus. A call to action. A yearning for authentic community. Be still my Southern homosexual heart.
8. Beyoncé – SPIRIT: I didn’t see The Lion King and, Beyhive forgive me, I’m probably not going to. Look, the greatest artist of a generation doesn’t need to be a great actress. The movie made billions and we got a black Little Mermaid. Beyoncé did what she had to do. What she didn’t have to do was give me the agnostic gospel anthem I never knew I needed. God is a woman and her name is Beyoncé.
9. BLACKPINK – Kill This Love: Indulge my flower crown bullshit for just a moment. This K-Pop girl group melted my face at Coachella in April. It was pure pop perfection in a way I haven’t seen since Britney was still Britney. And this track took the cake. I don’t speak a lick of Korean, but there’s just enough English in there to make you ask, “Am I starting to understand these lyrics?” Answer: No, you are not.
10. Ariana Grande – bad idea: Confession: I saw Ariana Grande live three separate times this year. And I regret NOTHING. As long as she is giving me 90 minutes of flawless alt melodies, take my coins, mom. bad idea is almost like an 80s pop music fever dream. She knows this shit isn’t going to work but the D is good. And, the chopped n’ screwed outro stands alone as one of the best moments on one of the year’s best albums.
11. Orville Peck – Dead of Night: A gay cowboy with tattoos and a fringed Lone Ranger mask? Hi ho, husband! Daddy-ness aside, Orville Peck really showed these girls how to do it this year with his debut album and “Dead of Night” is the perfect vehicle for the seductiveness of his ethereal bass vocals. I said Daddy-ness aside didn’t I? I tried.
12. Maren Morris feat. Brothers Osborne – All My Favorite People: Oh look, another Highwoman. Maren is Country Radio Star Highwoman. (Well, as much as any woman is a star on country radio these days. Honestly assholes, get it together and play women.) This knee-slapper toes the line of cliché but keeps it together, giving you a few minutes of pop country bliss and a perfect John Prine reference. And call it pandering, but I still get hype for a “love is love”-style lyric in a mainstream country song. Gay rights!
13. Kim Petras – Got My Number: This song was released on a Friday morning while I was visiting NYC. At 2pm that same day, the gay beside me in a Soho store selling bejeweled NASCAR t-shirts (get into it) knew every word. Secure the bag, sis.
14. Normani – Motivation: To any straight people reading this post, please know I still think you deserve rights, but it’s your fault this song wasn’t a massive hit. The gay world nearly imploded when this song and video dropped. How many homosexuals were injured trying to twerk on a chain link fence? And for what? Allies, we need you. Stream “Motivation.”
15. Taylor Swift – Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince: Plenty of earnest white people wrote lengthy thought pieces about Tay’s newfound political activism this year. Regardless of whether you think employing her immense stardom to motivate young people to vote and fight for equality is a good thing, she remains one of the indisputably best pop songwriters alive. On first listen to Lover, I knew this one would stick with me. It has. Social commentary but make it melodically near-perfect.
16. Beyoncé – MOOD 4 EVA: My favorite Bey is the unapologetic, fuck you Bey. (see: “Diva”) “Why would you try me? Why would you bother? I am Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter.” Any fucking questions?
17. ROSALÍA – Millionària: 2019 fue el año de Rosalía. It was an unceasing onslaught of Flamenco-tinged hip-pop and I was more than happy to try and drink from the firehose. This one really did me in. With a brilliant full page ad in El Pais to accompany it, this release put the world on notice. Fuckin’ money man.
18. Ciara – Thinkin’ Bout You: Perennially underappreciated, Ciara knew we didn’t deserve this and did it anyway. Carly Rae Jepsen literally murdered someone when she heard this.
19. Miley Cyrus – Mother’s Daughter: She’s problematic. She’s talented. She’s confusing as hell. But “Mother’s Daughter” was that song this summer, and her performance of the song at Glastonbury was a pop-rock showcase. It came out of nowhere and got next to no attention. But it was Miley at her best. Non-appropriative. Vocally on point. And unwilling to deal with anyone’s bullshit.
20. Taylor Swift – Afterglow: Is there anything more excruciating than realizing you’re slowly sabotaging true love? Ahh yes, having to verbalize it and apologize. Taylor is so accomplished at capturing the minutiae of relationships and making them at once specific to her own experience and broadly relatable that it’s almost easy to forget how rare that talent is. Well, here’s your reminder.
21. Charli XCX + Christine and the Queens – Gone: This track is everything all on its own, but I highly recommend watching the video for a masterclass in whatever the lesbian version of Big Dick Energy is. You know what? Fuck it. These two are the definition of Big Dick Energy.
22. Galantis + Dolly Parton – Faith: Is this the song of the year? No. But Dolly got her first dance chart #1 and I will always stan her.
Honorable (not quite 2019) Mention: Maggie Rogers – Tim McGraw: Maggie Rogers really just owned so much of 2019 in my household. I loved the album, but generally left the tracks to my partner to include on his list because my affection for Maggie came in so many ways from seeing the joy she brought him this year. This one, however, was a Spotify Singles one-off from December 2018 and it hit me for two reasons. One, Maggie is able to rework a song so many people know and make it sound unmistakably a Maggie Rogers song. This was even more apparent when it was an absolute highlight of her concert in Amsterdam. Second, it is a testament to the magnitude of Taylor Swift’s songwriting ability that, thirteen years after she released this single (AT AGE SIXTEEN), it can still sound like an absolute hit. Two badass women with massive amounts of talent