Usually I start the top 50 songs list with a preamble about what I generally thought of the year in music, but I’ve cut most of it due to time constraints (that’s also why only the top 10 will have a detailed discussion). Still, 2019 was, all around, a pretty great year for music. I base this on little but my own subjectivity, but this list was certainly fun to put together, and maybe slightly less hip-hop dominated than usual.
Or it’s the revenge of R&B. Either or.
Feel free to let me know what your favourite songs of the year were; after all, the best thing about song lists are the new songs you discover.
Rules and disclaimers:
No more than five songs per artist, and no more than two songs from the same album/EP. Features count as a song for each named artist.
Songs are linked in their title.
For songs fifty through eleven there will be a short quip; the top ten will have a more detailed discussion.
This list is subjective.
Personal by Emotional Oranges was going to be number four on this list, until I realised it actually came out in 2018.
I will be attempting to list genre after the song title, by using Wikipedia. I assure you, some of the genres do not make sense.
Some songs (and their videos) contain explicit lyrics and imagery.
The Top 50
Some grimy, street rap.
The melody on this chorus has some definite 2000’s vibes, and I’m very okay with it.
Melody that flows. That’s it.
In case you are ever unsure about what the word smooth means.
Rosalía’s vocals are gorgeous on this track.
A vivid exhibition of story-telling by slowthai.
Stormzy’s clear command of the mic fits perfectly over an excellent beat courtesy of Sir Spyro.
I think I had ‘Sunset’s’ chorus stuck in my head for a good month.
‘Dumebi’ has perfect summer vibes.
A track jammed full of different vocal deliveries and catchy flows.
Freddie Gibbs straight up murders his verse.
Well, this is the smoothest chorus about masturbation released this year.
Best kick pattern of the year.
Hardest song of the year.
There’s a lot that works on this track, but the random quotable lines are the clear highlight for me.
The flow and internal rhymes never stop.
Young Thug delivers one of the catchiest choruses of the year.
One of my favourite ‘oh shit’ moments of the year was the first time I heard Nyck Caution start his verse.
Quality, intense delivery by two rappers at the top of their games.
Palpable anger, brilliant melodies and what may be the best pre-chorus of the year.
The insanely catchy chorus is a clear highlight, and the way it slides out into Ella Mai’s verse is exquisite.
Pusha T paints a picture of his significant other in a way that only Pusha T can.
Braggadocios Weeknd over a Metro Boomin beat? That’s just cheating.
Sinead Harnett’s vocals on the first pre-chorus still floor me.
Dave manages to sit in the pocket of this beat for two and a half minutes and just spits.
Best 808s of the year? Probably, but who cares? Pop Smoke’s voice is crazy deep, and the song is incredibly infectious.
Look, I screwed up, ‘Malamente‘ should have been on my list last year. But, God damn, if ROSALÍA isn’t a straight up genius than I don’t know who is. The rhythm and melody on this song are crazy, and if I’d heard it before December it would have been even higher on this list.
When the first three kicks drop, and Jacquees comes in with a fluid, 2000s style melody, you know the song is going to be a good time. One of the catchiest verses of the year.
‘Julien’ has to be the song that grew on me the most this year, and the post chorus groove always makes me want to move.
A song that perfectly embodies its title.
I know I talk a lot about catchy choruses, but, seriously, I cannot get this thing out of my head. Sprinkle some sharp observations about street life on top of that, and you have one of the biggest surprises of the year.
“Don’t know that I’m tea-bagging your favourite mug” is the best shit-talking to start a song all year.
Stormzy says ‘audacity’ in the best possible way, and then the beat drops.
Slick, 80’s style pop, that combines religious imagery with desire.
This track is all about Tierra Whack’s delivery, where she comfortably flaunts her ability to slur rap better than most on the chorus, while also throwing a catchy, deep voiced pre-chorus in the mix.
The beat drop into the second verse, where Dave nails the flow, is so fantastically hype.
T-Minus creates the perfect platform for J. Cole to remind the rap world of his presence.
Sex song of the year.
The interplay between Ari Lennox and the rhythm of this track are gorgeous. Listen to the album, it deserves more recognition.
How does Carly Rae Jepsen manage to so consistently make music this euphoric? It could have something to do with her impeccable taste in instrumentation. The synth base line is incredibly infectious. It could be her penchant for extensive vocal layering on the chorus. Or, in the case of ‘Now That I’ve Found You’, it could be the ridiculous synth line on the post chorus drop. Well, that or those insane ‘mmm’s’ Jepsen sings.
You know; one or the other.
Charli XCX has an unnerving ability to accurately capture emotion. On Silver Cross, she conveys an almost pathological amount of care for her friend, although it is just as applicable to a lover. It’s got the bursting energy of someone trying to fight off sadness, and the honesty of the close intimacy that is required in such a situation. I love the lead synthesizer, and its constant melody, which affirms Charli XCX’s claim that she will “never let [her friend] go”. Truly, an excellent pop song.
“I’ve never seen a hero like me in a sci-fi”. FKA twigs is not wrong. There is nothing like her album, or this song. The spoken, distorted verses, dealing with her own pain, and the uncertainty of whether she can be there for someone she loves, when she’s not sure she’s even looking after herself. It’s painfully real and fragile, a fragility emphasized by that beautiful, first line of the chorus. Twigs slips into her stunning upper registry and heartrendingly sings: “I didn’t know that you were lonely”. But she would go home, if she knew. Despite the pain in her own life. Yet, the moment is gone, so FKA Twigs pleads into a cello filled void: “I’d have told you I was lonely too”. It’s heartbreaking. It’s beautiful.
This is the first time an Australia rapper has made this list, and boy does Tkay Maidza deserve it. Over a frenetic beat, Tkay delivers one of the best flows of the year. It’s catchy, punchy, and fits in every little nook of the beat. JPEGMAFIA gets tagged in for a feature, and brings his own aggressive flow to the mix, complementing Tkay Maidza perfectly. His lines are instantly quotable, including my personal favourite: “I’m making snuff films, bitch, I got the clip out”. ‘Awake’ is the sort of song that I can easily see becoming a late night classic; the sort you throw on when, just like Tkay Maidza, you’re “probably awake”.
This is the flexing song of the year. The hype song you put on when you want to feel like you’re awesome, even though you’re probably not (I’m sorry). Every single person who heard Drake say “I mean where. The Fuck. Should I. Really even start.” knew what was going to happen. Catchy, braggadocios flows. Absurd lines (“I used to save hoes with a mask and a cape” anyone?), a smooth Rick Ross feature, and the aggressively perfect “grave” lyric. This songs not going to win any awards for being thoughtful, or witty, but for raw, guttural fun? Yeah, it’ll do alright.
On ‘Peach Dream’ LUCKI mastered his aesthetic. It is hazy, drug fuelled, mumbled, and uncompromisingly bleak. It is what every lean song is trying to be. LUCKI raps:
“got my momma googling lean, keep sendin’ me kidney stuff,
how you know I’m dead? why you hit me up?
Fuck that bitch, I’m bout to be rich, that’s why she hit me up”
There is no clearer depiction of the cost of LUCKI’s addiction and desire. He has abandoned trust, and the only freedom that can be found is in the bottom of the cup or the need for a dollar. Yet, these lines aren’t the ones that stick with you the most. No, instead, it’s the line LUCKI himself comes back to: “You too good to be true, you like Actavis”. Because, of course, the feeling is too good to be true, as is any hope. All that’s left is the buzz.
At a time when it feels like we are bombarded with more and more negative news, PUP’s ‘Kids’ is a little too real.
Honestly, I could probably leave it there. This song perfectly captures the helplessly pissed off nature of being an individual who feels disconnected from an increasingly toxic reality. Yet, there is still some humanity left, in the one other person who feels the same way as vocalist Stefan Babcock. So, naturally, they are all that matters; after all, what else is left for this individual?
The best rap song of 2019. ’18 Wheeler’ is two and a half minutes of straight bars over some of the cleanest rap production of the year, courtesy of DJ Shay. Benny the Butcher lets fly with coke line after coke line, and then does the only logical thing and passes it over to Pusha T to do the same. ’18 Wheeler’ is a track jammed full of quotable lines, including my personal favourite: “I’m nothin’ like you new gangsters, pointin’ guns at the camera, I bet you n****s practice in the mirror”. The song is pure rap excellence, capped off with a scratch filled outro.
When FKA twigs made her return this year, with this very track, it stunned me. The vocal performance is beautiful, superbly controlled and deserving of far more superlatives than I could ever give it. As with ‘home with you’, it’s the fragility and vulnerability that makes ‘Cellophane’ stand out. The song embodies the see-through, crinkled, crackling film of its title. It is a delicate track, the likes of which would often be lost in the blustering whirlwind of our world. But, for a moment, FKA twigs drew all our attention to it. How lucky we are to have heard it.
‘Bare Hands’ is the sort of emotional ride you get when you mix general anxiety with the end of a relationship and the creeping need for companionship. It’s guttural and real, sitting in your throat and holding it shut until you just start shouting.
That’s what this song is. A pissed off shout, aimed at a pissed off world, for the fucked-up fragility of human need. The guitar riffs are catchy, loud and abrasive. The lyrics are vivid and honest. And the chorus… The chorus is massive. It’s the sort of chorus that Taylor Swift should write, except, performed by a punk band with unholy amounts of energy. It’s a musical moment that wouldn’t have been topped this year, if lead singer Stefan Babcock hadn’t added in the pleading “good lord, I’m worn out, and I’m always tired” in the second verse. Sandwiched between two shouted “bare hands holding on to the wire”, it was a moment of breaking in an already broken song. A display of weak vulnerability that showed just where all the anger in the song was coming from. The rawness of that lyric, of this song, is why ‘Bare Hands’ is my top song of 2019.