The Top 40 Pop Songs Of 2020
This column has reached the end of its seventh(!) year, and the time has come once again to run down the Top 40 pop songs of 2020.
As you might guess from that title, the focus of this list, as with The Week In Pop in general, is music that was and is massively popular — songs that ruled the charts, went viral on TikTok, or otherwise blew up in a big way. But it’s also my personal list, beholden to my personal taste and my arbitrary, constantly shifting definition of “pop.” There’s quite a bit of rap here, a few songs from the “indie” world, and a small smattering of country, urbano, and K-pop. It’s a great time capsule for my experience of pop music in 2020, but it’s also just one person’s list, so don’t get too worked up about it. Just enjoy the jams and offer your own list in the comments.
Roddy Ricch - "The Box"
"The Box" was the first breakthrough hit of 2020 and a clear confirmation of Roddy Ricch's stardom. His sing-rapping hook rides the borderline between catchy and annoying, but when I give myself over to it, I start to understand why radio gave him airtime worthy of a 2020 presidental candidate.
Rosalía & Travis Scott - "TKN"
Good lord, what a beat. That plus Rosalía's boundless charisma are enough to render "TKN" a jam, though to be fair Travis Scott puts in one of his better recent performances here too. As we witnessed on "Sicko Mode," "Love Galore," and elsewhere, the man is best when playing the foil to a more magnetic talent, creeping around the edges of a song and bombing it with ad libs.
Juice WRLD & Marshmello - "Come & Go"
A couple years ago I would not have believed a Juice WRLD x Marshmello collab hybridizing rap, rock, and EDM would be one of my favorite pop songs of the year, but what can I say: That hook? That beat? That slicing, dicing lead guitar? Shit slaps extremely hard. R.I.P.
Morgan Wallen - "More Than My Hometown"
Morgan Wallen is almost as good at writing lovelorn down-home pop-country ballads as he is at flouting COVID protocols. The kid has a bright future.
BTS - "Dynamite"
Is "Dynamite" a bit corny? Of course, but when your pop song is this gleaming, joyous, and laser-focused, resistance is futile. If your wedding DJ isn't blaring this in the post-pandemic future, they're doing something wrong.
Troye Sivan - "Easy"
The new version with Kacey Musgraves and Mark Ronson is fun, but the original "Easy" would hard to improve upon. Immaculate yet blurry, sung with tender elation, it's the kind of openhearted love song we don't hear enough of these days. And few sounds in pop this year provided a jolt on par with the ad-libbed "Woo!" that Sivan unleashes repeatedly here.
Julia Michaels - "Lie Like This"
In between writing hits for other artists, Julia Michaels has been dropping brisk, breathy pop tracks of her own for years now. Rarely have they been as hard-hitting as this Winterfresh club track.
Saweetie - "Tap In"
Over a contagious synth bounce sampled from a Too $hort classic, Saweetie grabbed the Bay Area baton, talking her shit with a snarling swagger worthy of the source material. A few more hits this fun and she'll be worth eight figures in her own right.
Doja Cat - "Say So"
Pop music history is littered with egregious theft and many other kinds of mess. To wit, there are so many reasons one might find Doja Cat problematic, from showing feet in racial chat rooms to working with Dr. Luke to allegedly lifting the music for this song from Skylar Spence's "Fiona Coyne." "My friends and supporters may be able to get over this and that's fine but this shit fucks me to the core," Spence wrote on Twitter in February. Hopefully he gets a big chunk of those "Say So" royalties someday and can begin to enjoy the extremely fun disco track these plunderers built atop his beat.
beabadoobee - "Care"
It pops. It rocks. It makes me dream of Top 40 radio being flooded by post-grunge gems, though first we've got to get this one in rotation.
Lil Nas X - "Holiday"
We all know Lil Nas X understands how to promote a hit, from social media promo to elaborate music videos. Reduced to audio alone, "Holiday" is a reminder that he knows how to write a hit as well. It helps to be blessed with collaborators like Tay Keith and Take A Daytrip, but even when backed by first-rate production, not everyone can summon a hook that will keep listeners humming all day.
Halsey - "You should be sad"
Manic added a whole range of pan-genre maneuvers to Halsey's game, none more effective than a pulsing acoustic ballad brimming with righteous indignation.
Kehlani - "Hate The Club" (Feat. Masego)
A booming, warmly organic lope about going out of your way to run into an old flame and trying to drink up the courage to say hi.
Bad Bunny & Jhay Cortez - "Dákiti"
"Dákiti" became the biggest hit of Bad Bunny's wildly entertaining 2020. His deep bellow sounded great all year whether paired with pure reggaeton beats, rock en Español hybrids, or bizarrely morphing hip-hop a la "Safaera," but never was he catchier than alongside rising star Jhay Cortez over this track's minor-key electronic pulse.
Lil Baby - "The Bigger Picture"
When America erupted this summer, the biggest rapper in America seized his moment with a thoughtful, moody, deeply catchy dispatch from the front lines of the protests.
Billie Eilish - "my future"
By age 18, Billie Eilish had already won over teens, parents, artists, and critics alike, hit #1 on the album and singles charts, and swept the Grammys. The casually masterful "my future" suggests we need to consider the possibility that she's only going to get better from here. "I'm in love with my future," she sings on this jazzy, crystalline swoon. "Can't wait to meet her." Same.
Annie - "The Streets Where I Belong"
Annie was once hailed by critics as the future of pop, but one of her finest songs to date is this shot of pure nostalgia: a song from 2020 about the 1990s and 2000s that sounds like the 1980s as imagined by the 2010s.
Beyoncé - "Black Parade"
Maybe it's because opportunities for public gathering were so limited this year, or maybe it's because society has started to take Beyoncé for granted, but I don't think this paean to Black excellence — which really did sound like a parade — was properly appreciated. It would have killed at her Coachella performance with the marching band.
Miley Cyrus - "Plastic Hearts"
After years in the wilderness, it is so good to hear Miley Cyrus turned loose in her element. May she keep cranking out '80s pop-rock pastiches like this for years to come.
24kGoldn - "Mood" (Feat. Iann Dior)
Massive hook + titanic groove + gargantuan style = big "Mood." Such is the state of popular music today that a pair of ostensible rappers could rule pop and rock radio with the same song.
The Chicks - "Gaslighter"
On the other hand, "Gaslighter" didn't really make an impact at pop or country radio despite this burner of a chorus. If the Chicks are too liberal for Nashville and not cool enough for TikTok, they still know their way around a biting harmony and a scathing diss.
Christine And The Queens - "People, I've been sad"
Real 2020 hours.
Charli XCX - "Forever"
A nearly perfect convergence of Charli's mainstream instincts and her experimental impulses. How wild that the mundane experience of being stuck at home with your partner could yield art as revelatory as this.
BENEE - "Supalonely" (Feat. Gus Dapperton)
I am not convinced any song goes viral on TikTok organically, but I'm glad Republic Records or whoever pushed "Supalonely" to ubiquity. Benee's breakout song boasts the best bellow in pop this year, and maybe the best bass too.
Maren Morris - "To Hell & Back"
One of many things I love about Maren Morris is that rather than shy away from mainstream country's fixation on clever metaphors and wordplay, she schools the whole city on how to pull off such lyrics without descending into cheese or sounding a little too proud of herself.
Grimes - "Delete Forever"
Who knew Grimes conjuring melancholy weather over "Wonderwall" chords could be so enthralling?
Ava Max - "Kings & Queens"
What a sledgehammer of a chorus.
Rico Nasty - "IPHONE"
"IPHONE" successfully makes the case that hyperpop is at its best when it's actually just SoundCloud rap turned up to 111.
Rina Sawayama - "STFU!"
Bring on pop's nu-metal renaissance!
Ariana Grande - "Positions"
She got London On Da Track! Atlanta's finest plus orchestral strings added up to one of the most understatedly beautiful R&B tracks in recent memory.
The Weeknd - "In Your Eyes"
To be clear, "Blinding Lights" was on last year's list, which disqualifies it from this one. Its fellow glitzy '80s fever dream is plenty eligible, though, and more than deserving. Against a backdrop of synths, drum machines, percussive guitar, and blaring brass that sounds retro but also state-of-the-art, Abel Tesfaye's voice hits like a beam of light.
BLACKPINK - "Ice Cream" (Feat. Selena Gomez)
More songs should be this fun.
Jack Harlow - "Whats Poppin"
LosTheProducer, jetsonmade, and Pooh Beatz gave Jack Harlow the best rap beat of the year, and the kid didn't waste it.
Megan Thee Stallion - "Savage (Remix)" (Feat. Beyoncé)
I wish we were blessed with more Beyoncé rap verses. I am grateful we are blessed with Megan Thee Stallion rap verses all the time.
Sam Hunt - "Hard To Forget"
The storytelling, the production, the arrangement, the delivery: "Hard To Forget" nails every detail in extremely charming fashion. Like so many of the best Sam Hunt songs, it's a radio single that plays like a rom-com in a fleshed-out world.
Dua Lipa - "Physical"
No joke, one of my favorite memories of the early quarantine era involves at-home workouts soundtracked by Future Nostalgia. If you can't sweat to "Physical" on the dancefloor, I recommend letting its urgent tempo guide you through interval training.
Drake - "Laugh Now, Cry Later" (Feat. Lil Durk)
Taylor Swift - "Betty"
Folklore was never better than when Swift returned to the high-school drama of her early career with the wisdom of an adult and the skill of a seasoned pro.
Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion - "WAP"
The outrageous, infectious, endlessly quotable buddy comedy (body comedy?) we needed this year.
Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande - "Rain On Me"
Justice for Chromatica! I tried to spread the love here and limit my picks to one song per project, but Lady Gaga's grand dancefloor return could have easily landed several songs on this list. What a bummer that her triumphant return to over-the-top pop grandeur arrived into a year where arena shows disappeared and dance clubs retreated deep underground. If Chromatica's rollout was disrupted by the pandemic, at least it sent a deserving song to the top of the charts.
"Rain On Me" is one of those epic dance tracks that finds euphoria in resilience. Over a mammoth '90s-vintage house beat that never fails to sweep me away, Gaga and her younger peer Ariana Grande channeled every ounce of their diva power, not quite erasing their trauma and struggle but vanquishing it for three minutes at a time. It all culminated in a refrain that works as a mantra for everyone who survived 2020: "I'd rather be dry, but at least I'm alive."
Stream this playlist at Spotify.
For the second year in a row, Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” has ascended to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 just in time for the holiday. Is this going to happen every year now? Do not be surprised if it happens every year. The 26-year-old track has now spent four weeks atop the chart in total.
Per Billboard, it’s one of a record-tying five Christmas songs in the top 10, joined by Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” (#3), Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock” (#5), Andy Williams’ “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” (#6), and Jose Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad,” reaching a new #10 peak just in time for its 50th anniversary. Non-Christmas songs in the top 10 this week include 24kGoldn and Iann Dior’s “Mood” (#2), Ariana Grande’s “Positions” (#4), the Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” (#7), Drake and Lil Durk’s “Laugh Now, Cry Later” (#8), and Justin Bieber and Chance The Rapper’s “Holy” (#9).
Over on the Billboard 200, Shawn Mendes has his fourth straight #1 album with Wonder. Per Billboard, Wonder tallied 89,000 equivalent album units and 54,000 in sales. The rest of the top 10 includes releases from Bad Bunny, Ariana Grande, Pop Smoke, and Megan Thee Stallion plus Christmas albums from Michael Bublé, Carrie Underwood, Nat King Cole, Pentatonix, and Mariah Carey.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Kelly Clarkson says her estranged husband, who acted as her manager, defauded her out of millions of dollars. [TMZ]
- Offset responded to Snoop Dogg’s criticism of “WAP.” [TMZ]
- Cardi B will face a jury trial for using a man’s back tattoo on the cover of her first album. [THR]
- Speaking of tattoos, Madonna got her first one. [Instagram]
- Diplo was granted a restraining order that required a woman to stop sharing sexually explicity images of him. [TMZ]
- Ariana Grande announced a Sweetener concert film, excuse me, i love you, coming to Netflix 12/21. [Instagram]
- Miley Cyrus competed with a superfan in Miley trivia on Kimmel. [YouTube]
- The Weeknd has a new collab with BAPE on patent leather sneakers. [The Weeknd]
- Finneas did his new holiday song “Another Year” on Fallon. [YouTube]
- Jesy Nelson is leaving Little Mix. [BBC]
- Like Taylor Swift’s folklore earlier this year, signed copies of Shawn Mendes’ new CD have appeared at independent record stores without warning. [JSO]
- Meanwhile Mendes apologized for misgendering Sam Smith at the Jingle Ball. [Twitter]
- Demi Lovato, Dua Lipa, and J Balvin will perform on YouTube Originals’ New Year’s Eve Special. [Deadline]
- Days after his Columbus concert violated COVID-19 protocols, Trey Songz hosted something called The Lockdown Awards. [Billboard]