As our Mid-Year Report continues, today we reveal the Top 25 Songs of 2020 (So Far). If you missed it, here are our Top 25 Albums So Far.
I once argued that albums get us through rough patches, and songs help us through difficult days or moments. I’m not sure if all of that’s true or not. In fact, if 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that I know far less about the world than I ever imagined. It’s hard to look towards the future with confidence right now. As I write this introduction, COVID-19 cases are once again on the rise in most states, and police departments are giving us new reasons every day to keep taking to the streets in the movement for justice and reform. And that fella in the White House seems content to watch it all burn and reign as king of the rubble and ashes. In fact, he’s stoking the flames with any hateful fuel he can find.
Given all of this, I need to believe that songs are helping us through. That we’re still seeking out music old and new to remind us that joy, comfort, and understanding exist there, even when it seems absent in the world around us. That we’re tuning in to live music online or clutching our tickets to a concert that’s been postponed until next year because we know that music brings people together and that there’s a powerful bond in that union. That artists are continuing to create the songs that make us cry in our bedrooms, dance involuntarily (even without a dance floor), and march in the streets for a better tomorrow.
I hope there have been songs you’ve clutched and held close to you during the past few months. I hope they’ve made you remember or forget or feel whatever it is you needed to make it through that day and all that you’re facing: the pain of injustice, the loss of a loved one, or even just the despair of looking out the window and not knowing what tomorrow will bring or when it will come. Most of all I hope that there have been songs that have given you hope.
Here are 25 songs that have done that for us so far in 2020.
25. John Prine – “I Remember Everything”
Sounds Like: A wise grandfather figure sitting you down and telling you the secret to life
Key Lyric: “And I remember every night/ Your ocean eyes of blue/ How I miss you in the morning light/ Like roses miss the dew”
Why It Matters: We extol the virtues of music all the time as music writers, citing how it unifies people, consoles those in pain, and somehow understands us when the rest of the world doesn’t seem to. John Prine’s final song might do all three. Sung from the vantage point of a weary traveler looking back, Prine doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that there will be loss and mistakes and pain down the line. However, he also reminds us that there will be comfort, often in memories of things as simple as a shady tree or a warm smile, when looking back at the entire journey. It’s a wise message and a fitting final word on a remarkable life. –Matt Melis
Song in a GIF:
24. Polo G – “I Know”
Sounds Like: Like a diary entry pouring out from its pages
Key Lyric: “I know life is a bitch and she don’t fight fair/ How the fuck I wake up from a dream to a nightmare?”
Why It Matters: Chicago rapper Polo G admits that he even surprised himself with how honest and vulnerable he gets on deep cut “I Know”. The smooth-flowing track finds Polo exposing his wounds — lost friends, sexual abuse, and a violent past — and how they’ve affected his ability to relate to others, be in a relationship, or even just find peace of mind. Luckily, music has always been there for him, even when others weren’t, and it’s that outlet that allows him to pour his pain into something positive. While rap has made significant strides over the years, a song as candid as “I Know” comes clean and makes the case that mental illness and trauma should be topics that are fair game in hip-hop. –Matt Melis
Song in a GIF:
23. U.S. Girls – “4 American Dollars”
Sounds Like: The glint of light off golden dollars in a ’70s hustler movie
Key Lyric: “You gotta have boots/ If you wanna lift those bootstraps”
Why It Matters: We can always count on Meg Remy to slice up our societal shortcomings with the sharpened edge of her silver tongue. On “4 American Dollars”, her witty dismantling of wealth inequality is draped in a shimmering disco groove that is perhaps U.S. Girls’ most inescapable effort to date. The track’s glitz and glamour put a spell on the listener, just as the quest for the almighty dollar blinds a capitalistic culture from the ingrained inequity of the very system that drives its value. It’s a protest song that wholly reflects its subject, making it far more complex than it is catchy — and it’s damn catchy. –Ben Kaye
Song in a GIF:
22. 070 Shake – “Guilty Conscience”
Sounds Like: Trying to turn off your mind when it’s racing a million thoughts per second
Key Lyric: “Why you so close, but you feel so far?/ You look like the moon in the mornin’/ Jaded, faded, almost gone”
Why It Matters: Cheatin’ songs are as old as the craft of songwriting itself, but rarely do we find both parties hiding illicit trysts from one another. More interesting, though, is that, like Polo G above, 070 Shake takes an old idea — infidelity — and goes someplace new with it. Sung from the perspective of a young man, Shake explores the fragility of masculinity and how, beneath a rough exterior, men have to wrestle with their emotions, including guilt and hurt, just as much as anyone. That turmoil feels all the more tangible as Shake shifts between flexing her voice (rising on choruses and grooving old-school between) and rap-singing, like a tortured mind trying to free itself from agonizing over every detail of a betrayal. –Matt Melis
Song in a GIF:
21. Soccer Mommy – “Circle the Drain”
Sounds Like: The opening song to a ‘90s high school rom-com
Key Lyric: “I’m trying to seem strong for my love/ For my family and friends/ But I’m so tired of faking/ ‘Cause I’m chained to my bed when they’re gone/ Watching TV alone/ ‘Til my body starts aching”
Why It Matters: Soccer Mommy (aka Sophie Allison) sings candidly in “circle the drain” about depression, what it’s like to struggle when nothing seems wrong. Musically, the track does a great job of what it feels like to be depressed, laying listlessly, wanting to be fine but not being able to find that peace. The “circle the drain” analogy has been used in songs before, but Soccer Mommy makes it literal here, with bubbles draining down a sink at the end of the track. –Annie Black
Song in a GIF: