Back in the middle of February, when the world was a very, very different place to what it is now, I compiled a list of ten of my favourite songs of the year so far. While the current global crisis has meant that artists have been forced to cancel tours and push back their new music releases, there has still been a lot of good stuff coming out. Although, most sadly, there was no Eurovision this year, all 41 songs were released to the world by late March, and two more of those would-be entries have made it into this list. At the end of this list, there is an updated playlist with all 20 of my favourite songs so far, along with a bonus song which didn’t make it into this list! Enjoy!
PVRIS – Dead Weight
I’m going to make a very bold prediction – US synth-rock band PVRIS’ ‘Use Me’, release delayed from a month ago to July 10th, will be the best album to be released in 2020. ‘Dead Weight’ is its punchy lead single, and further demonstrates PVRIS’ leanings towards more electro-infused pop-rock. Lynn Gunn has one of the best voices in the business, and her voice conveys emotions from sadness to frustration as she stands strong. In a press release, she stated: “[It’s] about being a people pleaser, holding others up and never asking for anything back. Quite often that can be taken advantage of and it can be hard to set ‘no’/set boundaries. This feels amplified, especially as a woman. This song is about stepping into my power as a woman, shedding old skin and taking nurturing/caretaker feminine nature and turning it into a super power.” The music video for this track has surreal, graveyard rave energy, and is also worth a look.
Sandro – Running
For the third year running, Cyprus incorporated contemporary house music to create a dance-pop smash to take Eurovision by storm. Following ‘Fuego’ and ‘Replay’, ‘Running’ is a darker sound, performed by Sandro. It talks about trying to break out of a negative mental health cycle, and about his fears of falling back into it. Musically, it it’s obviously inspired by MEDUZA, Goodboys’ and Becky Hill’s track ‘Lose Control’, which was a smash hit across Europe in the later months of 2019. If Eurovision had gone ahead, I doubt that it would have got out of the semi-finals, however it is a worthy listen and would have likely been my winner for the 2020 contest.
Charli XCX – Visions
In quarantine, what have you done? Cleaned the house, learned how to use Zoom and mastered how to ration pasta and toilet roll from the stockpilers? Ok, I’ve done precisely none of those things, but Charli XCX went and recorded and dropped a whole album. And it sounds incredible (https://ryanwrites99.wordpress.com/2020/05/15/album-review-charli-xcx-how-im-feeling-now-2020/). Visions is the closer to ‘how i’m feeling now’ – and for me it slots straight in at the top of her entire discography. The first half of the song feels like typical Charli – layered vocals, ethereal synths, growling bass, emotions, a love song, and very few beats. Then it builds in the second chorus, and it sounds like it’s about to explode into a crazy bridge – but instead it goes full hardstyle rave. This may be a reflection of Charli’s own background, performing at underground raves when she was still at school. We need more 90’s-techno-rave Charli, though, as this is how to finish an album – with a loud fire alarm.
Lady Gaga feat. Blackpink – Sour Candy
It’s a fact – everything that K-pop queens Blackpink touch is gold. Although we have been cruelly starved of music by their label since they burst onto the scene in 2016, they have blasted a new path for Korean artists to tap into their growing base of Western fans. Their collab with Dua Lipa, ‘Kiss and Make Up’, is potentially the most successful such collab, but they’ve done it again with Lady Gaga. Released as the third single from Gaga’s long-awaited sixth studio album – ‘Chromatica’ – it incorporates some of the house beats which dominated late 2010s pop. Indeed, it sounds influenced in part by Katy Perry’s 2017 album ‘Witness’ – the backing melody is similar to ‘Swish Swish’. Regardless, this is a bop in it’s own regard – catchy and fun, it is one of three huge-name collabs on the album. Also look out for ‘Sine From Above’ with Elton John (a bonus on the playlist at the bottom of this post).
Natalia Gordienko – Prison
Another song so cruelly robbed of its chance of Eurovision glory, Moldova’s 2020 entry is a melancholic ballad about trying to leave behind a former relationship. The choruses take inspiration from dark electronic music, but the song maintains an ethnic sound throughout which sets it apart. Managing to sound sad, uplifting, classy and a backing track for a Veet commercial, this is one of my favourite ESC tracks for many years.
You Me At Six – Our House (The Mess We Made)
January’s big news story was the devastating Australian bushfires, which destroyed a huge amount of habitat for wildlife, including koalas. ‘Our House’ is a track about the urgency of the climate emergency which Earth faces, and although it has since been overtaken by another, very different crisis, this is a problem which isn’t going away. You Me At Six released this charity single to provide assistance to the forces fighting the wildfires – and although ‘Our House is on fire’ might sound a bit cliched, it’s pretty accurate. Making references to youth movements inspired by Greta Thunberg, challenging arguments made by climate change deniers and actually also being a damn good song, this is a deep and meaningful track which really makes you think. And it also doesn’t just sound like an attempt to make headlines and publicity (looking at The 1975 here).
The Pretty Reckless – Death By Rock and Roll
Taylor Momsen announced that her band were recording their fourth studio album back in November, and that ‘Death By Rock and Roll’ was the title of the album. They signed with a new label, ‘Fearless Records’, just days before putting out the lead and title track from TPR4. This sounds unmistakeably like The Pretty Reckless, with a very American R&R vibe, accompanied by Taylor’s gruff vocals. It unites the heavy sound of their first two albums with the country-influenced sound of ‘Take Me Down’, and although it is not a trailblazing track, it is better than much of the rock around at the moment and I’m excited to hear the rest of the album, coming out later this year.
Dua Lipa – Hallucinate
Dua Lipa’s second album was met with critical acclaim from critics and fans alike (including myself – https://ryanwrites99.wordpress.com/2020/03/27/album-review-dua-lipa-future-nostalgia-2020/), all crediting it’s retro-synth seek pop vibes, and its glamorous visuals and production. While ‘Physical’ is definitely in the running for song of the year, ‘Hallucinate’ is my favourite of the non-singles. Self-described by Dua herself as being a festival-worthy track, it’s about falling in love so deeply that it changes your perception of the world. Every time I press play I want to dance, sing, and I feel like I’m in the clouds. This song is the pick-me-up that 2020 so desperately needs. Pure pop escapism.
Mitski – Cop Car
After a short spell out of the public eye, Mitski returned to music in January with ‘Cop Car’, a contribution to the soundtrack of ‘The Turning’. I believe that this song was previously unreleased and was one of her earlier tracks too. A fitting addition to any horror movie, it is dark and intense, and with clear inspiration from grunge music. Topped up with Mitski’s own haunting lyrics – “I will never die, I will never die” – ‘Cop Car’ could not fail to ramp up the intensity of any movie scene. One of the best tracks she has released in a while, I hope she continues her track record of releasing an album every two years – 2020 needs the sixth Mitski album.
Rina Sawayama – Dynasty
Despite having seen Rina open for Charli XCX back in October, I’ve (regrettably) neglected to listen to her universally acclaimed debut full-length album, which came out in April and still retains an 89 on Metacritic. ‘Dynasty’ arrived to me on song radio for Danny L Harle – and it isn’t going to leave me any time soon. Combining ethereal vocals with epic guitar riffs, catchy lyrics and opening with a haunting organ, it manages to combine the casual grandness of Mitski with a throwback 00s pop-punk melody to create a brand new, unique SAWAYAMA sound. It’s a combination of genres which you wouldn’t expect, but it’s one of the best songs I’ve heard in ages.
Playlist featuring the 20 songs from parts 1 & 2, along with ‘Sine From Above’: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5QMkkdzk63cjw0nPFg5FQM?si=C7VXHponRRebmAmBijLv7g
The best songs of 2020: part 1 can be found here: https://ryanwrites99.wordpress.com/2020/02/16/the-best-tracks-of-2020-so-far-featuring-playlist/