The 40 Songs of 2020 That Defined the Year for Me

Bad news: I’m not making a top best movies of the year list for 2020. Why? Well, given the hellish state that COVID-19 created for the film industry, I haven’t had the opportunity to watch that many new movies this year, let alone had the opportunity to watch that many “great” movies this year. It just doesn’t feel right for me to make a list praising my top 10 or 15 favorite movies of the year when I wouldn’t even love half of them.

However, 2020 did have a decent amount of great music to come out especially during quarantine; obviously this year doesn’t nearly touch the brilliance of 2019 for the artform, but there were enough bangers to certainly devise a best singles list. As a clarification, the songs I’ve included on this list are not ranked and the choices that I’ve made here are mainly based on the songs that I listened to the most throughout the year — that’s why they are the tracks that “defined” 2020 for me. Without further to do…

Lead vocalist of the band “Daughters” unexpectedly released this 2020 solo effort and it floored me. It sounds more rough and forbidden than even some of the tracks off of Alexis and company’s “You Won’t Get What You Want.”
I wasn’t the biggest fan of Angel Olsen’s acoustic remix LP that she dropped this year, but one track on it did stick out like a sore thumb to me and that was “Whole New Mess”: a simple, desperate sounding nightmare of insecurities that has one of my favorite vocal performances from Olsen yet.
Ashnikko came off as quite the unusual artist when her hit song “STUPID” blew up on TikTok. Afterwards, I didn’t really know what to make of all her high-octane, braggadocios music until very recently when she released “Daisy,” which is by far not only her most mature effort yet, but it also has one of the oddest vocal hooks I’ve heard in a while. Anyhow, I dig it!
Devi McCallion’s sinister vocals whisked with this witchcraft-type beat and a piercing rap verse from Backxwash are what make “Spells” SOOO uncommonly delectable. If you know me, I’m a huge sucker for ominous hip-hop music, and this track will now be used as my quick, two minute example of the subgenre.
Swans meets Slint meets King Krule? Whatever it is, I’m f**king obsessed with it. That lingering bass line, the graphic lyrics, the extroverted vocal performance from Isaac Wood, the schizophrenic midway guitar/sax solo, and the monstrous climax of instrumentals… ugh! It’s quite the gut-punching experience from upcoming band Black Country, New Road.
Not only did Charli XCX drop her slickest LP yet, “how i’m feeling now,” this year, but on that LP was my favorite pop track of 2020 as well. “forever” is a hyper-produced song of electronic insanities that additionally happens to be unconventionally pleasing on the ears. Imagine making this, “claws,” “7 years,” “pink diamond,” and “enemy” all in the same year. Quarantine has somehow refined Charli’s artistry.
clipping. has been a powerhouse experimental hip-hop group for almost a decade now, and “Say the Name” happens to just be more proof to add to that claim. It’s also one of their greatest tracks… like… ever. What a climax!
Considering I edited “The Holy” music video for the mysterious artist known as Darkohtrash, I obviously had to listen to the song countless times. It’s now an engraved memory for me during the summer of 2020, so how could I not include it on this list? Also, my reflection is hiding somewhere on the cover artwork!
“DIET_” is 2 whole minutes of FLAMES. In fact, the entire EP that Kenny and Denzel made at the beginning of 2020 was pretty spicy. This partially old-school-styled track, however, just happens to be the highlight of it all.
“The Rite of Spring Monkey” is a song that feels like a long lost “Madvillainy” track that simultaneously happened to be made in Japan. The members of Dos Monos must have pretty good taste in music.
If you had told me a couple years ago that I would somehow end up enjoying Dua Lipa’s work by 2020, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Yet, here we are. The track “Future Nostalgia” is well… 80s rewiring done seamlessly.
I will be bopping to Duma if I ever make it to Hell, guaranteed. Akin to many of their tracks that dropped this year, “Corners in Nihil” has some of the most aggressively unapologetic and zany experimentation I’ve heard… ever. The Kenyan Metal scene is about to explode again with charged inspiration once Duma’s career begins taking off.
I’ll admit, I never finished Eminem’s latest album “Music To Be Murdered By.” It… bored me, and after disliking his other two albums that came before, I just kind of lost hope. However, I did genuinely enjoy his hit track on it, “Godzilla.” Juice WRLD’s feature on here is surprisingly catchy, and I haven’t seen Eminem this creatively out there on a track in nearly a decade. The music video is loads of fun too!
Confession: this is my #1 favorite track of 2020. Even the Atlantic Ocean doesn’t have enough room to contain the amount of eccentricity expressed in “Shameika.”
HAIM’s “The Steps” is their catchiest and most lively hit song since “The Wire” was first released in 2013. “I can’t understand, why you don’t understand me, Baby!”
R.I.P Jordan Groggs. You ended your career off on a high-note with “Hoodwinked.” That saxophone loop is unforgettable!
The IDLES came politically charged this year, and while the lyricism at times sometimes stains as surface-level statements, the sound of “Grounds” is too bombastically head-bopping to ignore; it OVERRULES!
An even better throwback to 80s pop, Jessie Ware’s “Spotlight” would’ve been an A-class, smashing hit if it were released back during that era. Hopefully, if we’re lucky, it’ll blow-up bigtime next year given the success of artists who are also evolving the nostalgic sound such as Dua Lipa or The Weeknd.
“Acid” is 2020’s finest example of blending the old with the new. The sound editing here is just PHENOMENAL! I can’t wait to see where this new, experimental duo goes given how exotically enigmatic this track and the EP it appears on was.
This just in: Filthy Frank is gone for good and Joji is fully ALIVE.
Among the many great tracks that JPEGMAFIA spontaneously decided to drop this year, “COVERED IN MONEY!” is by far the best. This man can do no wrong.
Kelly Lee Owens is someone I’m looking foreword to seeing more of in the future. If you’re a fan of house music, “Re-Wild” and the rest of her LP is a must listen.
I added this song to my “currently listening to” playlist at the beginning of this year and it hasn’t been removed since. “Stoned Again” is an ugly, horrorshow track from Archie that perfectly encapsulates a downward spiral in a brief amount of time.
Sure, I could’ve put down the many cover tracks Lingua Ignota released this year, but I felt as if her one original song she released earlier this year crushed in comparison. “O Ruthless Great Divine Director” sees Ignota continuing her distinct sound with even more expression in her vocals.
Ah, yes; Liturgy never seems to disappoint in, at least, their piano compositions, huh? It’s difficult imagining the avant-garde metal group not making a song that’s at least sonically extravagant, whether it works or not. Luckily, “SIHEYMN’s Lament” lies on the winning side. Being the second act and scene of Liturgy’s latest album “Origins of Alimonies,” the piece boldly uses a peculiar sound of deviating elegancy to enhance its speaker’s glorification on pain.
Undoubtedly a particularly emotional experience for fans of Mac Miller, “Good News” is a thought-provoking career send off, as the song nearly encapsulates the psychological state of its singer before his tragic death.
“Conveyor” wasn’t initially my first choice for which Moses Sumney track to choose for this list. I was actually thinking of picking either something as complex as “Cut Me,” or as grandiose as “Bless Me,” or even as strictly angelic as “Polly.” But… I don’t know; if you can turn a coughing noise into one of the most eternally haunting rhythms I’ve heard all year, then you’ve won the game of art. So cheers to Sumney for, haha, “that” and many of the other abnormal assets that make “Conveyor” a noteworthy musical milestone.
“Daiitoku-Myoo no Odaiko” is a LOT to take in. What a BEAST of a song, incorporating so much instrumental texture with an epic scale of cinematic vibrancy. It’s continuously investing throughout its lengthy 6-minute runtime.
Perfume Genius has a holy falsetto, and “Jason” is a show-off of this attribute like no other. Describing a one-night stand with a man, this track uses a standout harpsichord inclusion, controlled bassline, orchestra, and some bouncy verses to deliver one of the most beautiful sounding songs of 2020.
Arguably my favorite closer to an album this year, “I Know the End” to my knowledge is by far Phoebe Bridgers at the height of her career. It’s a progressively inclining balance of existential dread and optimism that unleashes its hidden aggression towards the climax of the song with some of the keenest production I’ve heard in my entire life — period. IT’S OUGHT TO BE THE SECOND BEST SONG OF THE YEAR.
Poppy, Poppy, Poppy. Just when you thought she couldn’t outdo her last single, she does it. Specifically though, with my favorite track on her latest record, “Anything Like Me.”
Rina Sawayama has become one of the most versatile pop artists of our generation. It’s tough not including more of her work off of her insanely detail-oriented produced album “SAWAYAMA.” Nonetheless, “XS” ended up being my pick for the list. The amount of hooking moments and tasteful textures on this song is absolutely bonkers compared to the average pop/alt track.
“yankee and the brave” is one of the grimiest produced Run the Jewels songs I’ve heard thus far and a near perfect opener to a solid LP.
Umm… words… can’t uhh… explainexplainexplain… I think I’m going to malfunction because of how industrially badass this track is from innovative artist Sevdaliza. Her new LP “Shabrang” really proved that she hasn’t stopped trying her hardest even with the rough COVID-19 circumstances standing in our way as an obstacle.
Slauson Malone certainly appears to have a hands-on talent for musical production. His work here feels so passively raw yet flexible. “Smile #6” almost sounds like two separate songs aimed at the same subject matter, and I’ve come to appreciate its ambitious yet spiritual totality.
The Strokes are back, baby! After a long hiatus from the music scene, the band doesn’t disappoint with their return. “The Adults Are Talking” sees the group exploring new territory with more modern instrumental sounds while also managing to preserve their distinct style all throughout the track.
Easily my favorite song to come from the response to the tragic murder of George Floyd, “Pig Feet” is Terrace Martin working at the top of his game.
Tkay Maidza is the NEXT BIG THING. The multi-talented singer/rapper/writer does little wrong on her EP “Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2” and it shows especially in the groovy closing track “Don’t Call Me Again.”
The standout duo name “WARGASM” should give you just enough information on what to expect from this aggressively sparkling rock banger. “IT’S SO DIS–SGUSTING!”
Yves Tumor, in a sense, kind of gave me what I wanted out of Tame Impala’s latest record. He admittedly weighs past influences heavily on his shoulders, yet he’s able to use this combination of guidance as a gateway to create something only he himself could craft. “Dream Palette” is my favorite track off of “Heaven To a Tortured Mind” for its interesting use of sound effects, busy instrumentation, and imperial vocal design.

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