GLW.20.01: ILANA BERGSTROM
GLW.20.02: Curt Trnka
GLW.20.03: Remko Van Knippenberg
GLW.20.04: Jem Woodward
GLW.20.05: Erik Kristjanson
GLW.20.06: Marisa Plaice
GLW.20.07: Russell Abdo
GLW.20.08: Garrett Bukunt
Favorite Songs of 2020
Pour yourself a strong drink, cut a huge slice of your favorite decadent dessert, get in your comfiest clothes, and settle into your couch … 2020 is almost over. Oh wait, you’ve been doing all of those things every day since mid-March? That’s totally understandable. As one of my favorite TV characters said, and as the least creative people on Twitter like to over-use:
2020 has been devastating to millions of people in countless, unimaginable ways, and I want to make it clear that I’m immensely aware of, and grateful for, my privileges and good health (so far). Does this all go without saying? Should I start talking about music instead? Sure, but please do not underestimate the overwhelming Jewish guilt that is at the core of my psyche at all times.
So unlike last year when Aaron and I went to 20+ concerts, stayed out too late at trashy bars playing the same music videos every night, and danced with all our new Amsterdam friends at festivals and house parties … this year we went to a grand total of two concerts together. My favorite songs of the year do not remind me of late nights, dance parties, or clubs. Rather, they mostly remind me of doing half-assed YouTube workouts in my living room, running laps around Vondelpark, and going to “parties” … on Zoom. Gross.
But hey, that’s alright! I have so much to be thankful for, and I’m especially grateful for the good music that helped us cope, grieve, and sometimes even celebrate during tHeSe cRaZy TiMeS. So here’s my long list of 50 favorite songs from 2020. The songs are not ranked in any particular order this year, but I do have strong feelings about how the playlist needed to start and end.
Lady Gaga - "Chromatica II" & "911"
Let’s just say I’ve found myself surrounded by friends who can be a bit much when it comes to certain pop stars. Freaking out over the height of a particular ponytail, spending large amounts of money on Adidas collaborations, dissecting lyrics in an attempt to create a lesbian love triangle out of nothing, etc etc. So when these friends started to lose their shit over the transition between "Chromatica II" and "911" within minutes (seconds?) of Chromatica’s release, I thought it was highly probable that they were exaggerating the greatness of another musical moment. But this time, this one time, I was wrong. This is pure pop excellence, and there was no other way I’d start this year’s playlist.
Chappell Roan - "Pink Pony Club"
When some friends send me a link to a new song they like, I drop everything to listen to it ASAP. My frequently-unclothed friend Dillon, god bless him, is not one of those friends. But when I finally got around to checking out this song he sent me, I was definitely intrigued. And then when he sent a link to the music video a couple of weeks later, I saw the light and began to truly appreciate Chappell for the budding Queen that she is. Her facial expressions, her costume, her amazing hair, the choreography, the Porkchop and Meatball cameos. My goodness, this is a “Woman Who Gets It.” (RIP Quibi!)
Christine and the Queens - "La vita nuova" (feat. Caroline Polachek) & "Je dispirais dans tes bras"
Pick a language, any language! (Okay maybe just pick English, French, or Italian, but still.) Christine’s ability to write incredible songs in multiple languages without merely translating from one to another just shows that she’s on an entirely different level from her peers. The full La vita nuova EP is unbelievably good and paired with fantastic music videos that you’ll want to listen to and watch over and over.
Jessie Ware - "Soul Control" & "What’s Your Pleasure?"
There was some pretty hot competition for “Best Disco Album of 2020” but my fellow Jewess Jessie takes the cake this year. Smooth and sensual, this album oozes the sort of atmosphere that would have been highly irresponsible during a pandemic, if you know what I mean. Had she given “Soul Control” the “King Kunta Treatment” (i.e. layering heavier and louder beats with each repetition of the chorus) I think it would’ve been my Song of the Year*.
* UPDATE DEC. 2, 2020: Spotify declared that "Soul Control" is, in fact, my Song of the Year.
Georgia - "Running Up That Hill"
While everyone else had evermore tunnel vision, this is the best song that came out on December 11, and I only hope that Kate Bush appreciates this cover as much as I do.
Rina Sawayama - "Comme Des Garçons (Like The Boys)," "Who’s Gonna Save U Now?" & "XS"
RINA! RINA! RINA! RINA!
Where do I even begin with the absolute force that is Rina Sawayama? The confidence, the self-awareness, the keen sense of humor, the way she idolizes Britney and TRL-era pop music … there’s just so much to love. If you aren’t familiar with Rina already, I guarantee she’ll lure you in with the very first sensual “Ooooooh” in “Comme Des Garçons.”
Power-anthem “Who’s Gonna Save U Now?” starts off with an invisible crowd chanting her name, transporting the listener to a packed arena full of maniacal fans and pyrotechnic drama. (Hey, remember live music???) This is absolutely my kind of pop maximalism; why work your way up to the climax of an amazing song when you can just start the song at its very best and keep it up for three and a half minutes? By the time you hear the guitar solo and think she’s given you everything, Rina hits you with the most extra key-change of the year (deal with it, Swifities!) just to make sure you adequately worship her.
And with “XS,” we get the kind of song that only succeeds with the right performer. The same lyrics sung by Kim Petras, Ariana, or Mariah would ring shallow and too literal, but Rina makes it clear that she’s not that kind of pop star. "'XS' is a song that mocks capitalism in a sinking world," Sawayama wrote in the press release that accompanied the song’s debut, just to eviscerate any residual doubt.
CL - "+HWA+"
If you can look past the “Na na na na-na na-na”s and less-than-inspiring lyrics in the first verse, CL rewards you with a banging bassline and one of my favorite choruses of the year. This is a good song to listen to when you’re dressed in running clothes but it’s really cold out and you’re just standing in your kitchen procrastinating because you really don’t want to run but you know you need to get out there.
Dua Lipa - "Physical," "Love Again," "Hallucinate" & "Break My Heart"
If there’s one album that will always stick out in my memory as the OG Quarantine Album, it’s Future Nostalgia. When she released “Don’t Start Now” at the end of 2019 we didn’t know how many more great songs she had lined up for us in 2020, but sadly we also didn't know what the world would look like when the album dropped. I was supposed to hear these live, in bars, in workout classes, but I mostly heard them while doing embarrassing YouTube workouts in my living room.
But it’s not all bad! “Break My Heart” will always remind me of Audrey Snow’s hilarious drag performance during my SF friends’ Zoom talent show that I tuned into at 4am. The White Town sample in “Love Again” brings me back to 1997, the scientifically proven and indisputably best year of music in my lifetime. “Hallucinate” is just a fun ride from start to finish and “Physical” mostly makes me think of how many comments I got on this Instagram story I posted when we were in South Africa.
070 Shake - "Guilty Conscience"
Credit goes to Lukas Brooks for taking a break from listening to Kim Petras on repeat to send me this song. I especially love the nod to “Stand By Me.”
Beyoncé - "BLACK PARADE"
When I woke up and saw that Beyoncé dropped a song called “BLACK PARADE” I admittedly hoped it was a cover of My Chemical Romance’s “Welcome to the Black Parade.” Once the initial disappointment wore off, I learned to like this song, too. (Wasn’t hard to do.)
BLACKSTARKIDS - "LOVE, STARGIRL" & "SOUNDS LIKE FUN"
When you see an album called SURF you wouldn’t immediately think it was created by three Black kids from Kansas City, but BLACKSTARKIDS is full of fun surprises. Here the credit goes to my favorite music supervisor, Rob Lowry, for introducing me to the joy that is this group. Although musically my favorite songs are “LOVE, STARGIRL” and “SOUNDS LIKE FUN”, their best song titles are “TOO DEPRESSED 4 SEX” and “BRITNEY BITCH.”
Shamir - "On My Own"
More songs should start with drums and a solo gasp.
Perfume Genius - "On the Floor"
This is my favorite song from Set My Heart on Fire Immediately, a solid album all the way through. For no particular reason it reminds me of “Electric Love” by BØRNS, which makes me think of #chrisandgarfreewifi.
Dagny - "Come Over"
Little Mix - "Holiday" & "Confetti"
2020 hardly had a summer, let alone a Song of the Summer. And it’s hard to explain why, but “Holiday” feels like the perfect little bop for a year like this. Understated and bouncy, the ladies of Little Mix remind us that there’s fun to be had without a normal summer. With “Confetti,” you’ve got to ignore the silly lyrics about being VIPs in da club and just shamelessly enjoy it when the beat drops.
The Pussycat Dolls - "React"
For a song I don’t even like that much, I have a lot to say about it. Both the song and the video came out in early February while I was in South Africa, and without checking them out I could tell from social media that all the boys were excited about a PCD comeback. I still hadn’t listened to the song until someone played the music video at a brunch party when I was back in Amsterdam, and let me just say that if there’s a woman who can get a dozen gay men to shut up and watch her chair-dance in a couple inches of water, that woman is Nicole Scherzinger in PVC. 42-years-old and hotter than ever, she and the rest of the crew will mesmerize you regardless of your sexual orientation for three and a half minutes. But if you choose to listen to the song without the visuals, it’s about two minutes too long and you can stop after the perfect “losing my breath” interpolation.
Katy Perry - "Cry About It Later"
“Daisies” is probably my least favorite pop song of the year (wait, is it still considered a “song” if it’s mostly just screeching??”), so I’m just surprised as you are that another Katy Perry song made my list. It’s that propulsive Weeknd-style beat that gets me every time.
The 1975 - "The Birthday Party" & "If You’re Too Shy Let Me Know"
Another album from The 1975 full of good songs, but my favorite part is when “the girls” sing “Do you wanna come and get fucked up?” which, according to Song Exploder, was originally just a muppet-y sounding placeholder that they decided to keep in the final cut of the song after all. Why do I like muppet-y sounding songs? I don’t know, but I did compile a shortlist of the best ones in the “Disco Tits” music video section of my 2017 write-up. And the horns in "IYTSLMK" remind me of Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” which I made Aaron listen to in at least six different languages one boring night at home earlier this summer. (Sorry, Aaron!)
Pale Waves - "Change" & Grimes - "Delete Forever"
Taking a break from their regularly scheduled Manchester indie-pop program, the kids in Pale Waves took their best shot at Michelle Branch x Tswift drag for the first song off their upcoming 2021 album, and I’m not complaining! The verses, though, remind me of “Delete Forever” by Grimes which is why I’m intentionally listing them back-to-back.
Annie - "The Streets Where I Belong"
Norwegian pop perfection. Put your cozies on, light some candles, and get into Annie this winter.
The Foxies - "Anti Socialite"
Great song, although I don’t know anyone who hates Capri-Sun! She is out of her mind, out of her mind, out of her mind, out of her ...
Hayley Kiyoko - "She"
Lesbian Jesus does it again with another under-appreciated pop song. My only complaint is that it’s a little too PG for my liking. Like, really, the only way this girl knows how to numb the pain is by driving down the PCH? Bitch, you’re in LA! I think you can do better than that.
L Devine - "Boring People"
And speaking of lesbian pop stars, meet L Devine! Some fun facts about her: she was born in 1997, which is, say it with me, the scientifically proven and indisputably best year of music in my lifetime. Her first name is Olivia, but there’s an “Olivia Devine” porn star so L decided to change her stage name. And finally, her first band, The Safety Pinz, was influenced by The Sex Pistols and The Clash. She was seven years old. Seven.
Banoffee - "Count on You"
Ugh, those guitars. So good.
HAIM - "The Steps"
The talented sisters from LA with great hair do it again.
Bad Moves - "Cape Henlopen"
Well, I just looked up the lyrics to this song after listening to it and singing along in my head for six months, and now I’m laughing about how wrong I was about almost all of it. Anyway, this tenderpunk song starts off with a great bass line, and then gets better and better and even attempts a Third Eye Blind-style “Jumper” breakdown two minutes in. Come tour Europe as soon as it’s possible, Bad Moves!
The Linda Lindas - "Claudia Kishi"
There were few things during the pandemic that brought me as much joy as Netflix’s brilliant adaptation of The Baby-Sitters Club. I’m not going to write an entire essay about the series here, but you need to watch it if you haven’t already. Afterwards, watch the adorable short documentary The Claudia Kishi Club that interviews adult fans about what the iconic Japanese-American teen character meant to them. As the documentary credits rolled, I noticed a cute punk song about Claudia playing in the background. Was this an old song? How did I not know about it? After some quick internet sleuthing, I found the answers. The song is brand new, specifically made for the documentary, and it was written and performed by -- prepare yourselves -- four girls aged 10, 12, 13, and 16. I cannot express how happy all of this made me.
Pinkshift - "i’m gonna tell my therapist on you"
I’m not ranking my 50 favorite songs in order this year, but if I were, this one would be hovering in the top five. Another great example of pop maximalism, this song doesn’t make you wait to get to the “good part.” It immediately riles you up with a Kaiser Chiefs-style four-second intro then you’re off to the races.
Miley Cyrus (feat. Stevie Nicks) - "Edge of Midnight" (Midnight Sky Remix)
I had “Midnight Sky” on my Favorite Songs of 2020 list until the moment I heard this objectively superior collaboration/remix and I never looked back.
Margo Price - "Stone Me"
We didn’t get another Jenny Lewis album this year, but Margo’s giving me everything I need in that absence in this beautiful song.
Taylor Swift - "exile" (feat. Bon Iver), "mirrorball," "august," "betty"
The best part about Taylor Swift is her songs. Period. I’ve never wanted to see her in concert, I don’t follow her on social media, and I really don’t care for most of her music videos, or interviews, or documentaries. But her songs are so solid, and what I admire so much about folklore is that it was a surprise drop** without the excessive fanfare.
It’s hard to choose a favorite song from such a strong album so I settled on four. “exile,” the Taylor x the “white man” Bon Iver collaboration, is a powerful duet that none of us saw coming. For fans of both “mirrorball” and “august” I highly suggest you stop making comparisons to Sixpence None The Richer and start listening to the Sugar & Spice EP by Aussie musician Hatchie. And waaaaay too much has already been written and rumored about “betty” so I’m not going to get into that here besides saying that the sapphic love triangle talk equally bores and exhausts me. Maybe, just maybe, not everything is as gay as her fans want it to be? So that aside, I absolutely love the signature key change, the “Sweet Jane” outro, even the harmonica. Okay, maybe I do have a folklore favorite after all.
** UPDATE DEC. 11, 2020: This stunt queen did it twice!! evermore is a nice “sister album” to folklore (were “sister albums” even a thing before this?), but everyone knows that older sisters are better ;) I’ve put some evermore songs on my Less-Favorite Songs of 2020 playlist.
Soccer Mommy - "circle the drain"
I <3 the 90s.
Fiona Apple - "Cosmonauts"
Again, I <3 the 90s, which means that Fiona is a musical goddess among mortals. If you didn’t feel that way prior to listening to Fetch The Bolt Cutters then you might be confused why this album scored an elusive perfect 10 from Pitchfork, but I do encourage you to read their review as well as Emily Nussbaum’s brilliant New Yorker article for more context. “Cosmonauts” is probably the most traditionally melodic song on the album, which is my cop-out way of saying that maybe I didn’t love the album as much as Pitchfork did, but man do I respect it.
Phoebe Bridgers - "ICU" & "I Know The End"
I’m in love with nearly everything Phoebe Bridgers does, and I’m even including her Christmas songs. (Yes, Christmas songs. Me. I know.) I can’t include her cover of Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December” on this list though because it makes me too sad about not knowing when I’ll be able to visit California again, but it’s gorgeous and you have to give it a listen.
Instead, I’m including two other sad songs; my favorites from Punisher, a solid album all the way through. On its face “ICU” sounds like a sad breakup song, but if you know what her relationship with ex-boyfriend/current-drummer Marshall Vore is like now, it’s less devastating than it appears. Despite the romantic relationship not working out, Phoebe and Marshall still work together and love each other very much, so I choose to hear this song through more optimistic ears. Partners, friends, and family members may go through tough times or “rough patches,” but it doesn’t mean they won’t be able to have a different kind of meaningful relationship later on. There’s still hope for something different.
And for “I Know The End,” I simply refer you to Ilana’s Rule of Culture #12787: All 2020 playlists must end with this song.
Scream along with me, 2020 is almost over.