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Top 50 Songs of 2019

Tracks that kept us feeling sane and human in an exhausting and chaotic year

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Top 50 Songs of 2019
Top 50 Songs of 2019

    After celebrating the best music, film, and television of the decade in November, we now turn to celebrating 2019. Previously we shared our picks for 2019’s Top Albums; today continue today with our Top 50 Songs of 2019.

    Welcome to 2019, where all the world’s a meme and all the songs are merely players in it.

    Despite this truth, there were a mass of tracks this year that broke through the bullshit, made us feel human, and held us while we dropped our online personas, let our phones slip to their lock screens, and truly vibed out like no one was watching.

    Those moments include Vampire Weekend coming back with “Harmony Hall”, complete with an all-grown-up Ezra Keonig officially vacating tales of a post-collegiate slump and sharing the keen observation that “every time a problem ends, another one begins” over an echoing guitar. Then there were love songs, like Local Natives‘ “Lose You”, that made you not only miss but welcome the pain of falling for someone. We were also beckoned to meditate on tracks like “Almeda”, where Solange revels in the mantra of “Black skin black braids” that can’t be washed away with Florida water. We were also pleasantly “led astray” to a teenage reverie with Sharon Van Etten’s “Seventeen”.

    (Read: Top 50 Albums of 2019)

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    In defense of the meme-able, we should also mention that not all memes are created equal. Billie Eilish’s defiant “duh” might seem like a reply guy’s Twitter response, but in those three letters holds the self-actualization of someone defiantly aware of life on earth, someone who doesn’t mind playing the “bad guy” and making generations before her uncomfortable while doing it.

    And yes, we can blame Lizzo’s “Juice” for the captions of countless Instagram thirst trap photos, which, indeed, may have caused someone’s man to get quote “lost in your DMs,” but it also rang of timeless funk, self-love, and unshakable confidence.

    One of the most meme-able 2019 moments was brought by way of Megan Thee Stallion. As you may recall, the song and phrase “Hot Girl Summer” was not only co-opted by the headlines of every women’s site listicle but also by brands like Wendy’s, Maybelline, and even Forever 21. Thankfully, it was also co-opted by women with strong knees who were labeling themselves hot girls, whether or not society agreed.

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    As the year comes to a close and we venture out into a new decade of territory, it might be worth mentioning that there’s room for us all. So, whether you’re a hot girl, sad boy, defiant person, or anything and everything in between, there’s some life out there for you, and we hope this list is made up of more than enough relatable moments to serve as your soundtrack.

    –Erica Campbell
    Music Editor


    50. Nilüfer Yanya – “In Your Head”

    Nilüfer Yanya - Miss Universe

    Sounds Like: An anxiety attack.

    Key Lyric: “I can think what I want/ I can feel what I feel/ Until you say it out loud/ How will I know if it’s real?”

    Why It Matters: Between the “fake news media”, impeachment hearings, and conducting too many of our social interactions through apps on our phones, life in 2019 feels like a bad episode of Black Mirror. In her breakout track, Nilüfer Yanya’s smoky vocals bend around fuzzy guitar riffs that embody a loosening of reality. What’s real? What’s fake? Does everyone hate me? Are we breaking up? Fuck it, let’s go dancing. –Johanna Gretschel

    Song in a GIF:

    cersei Top 50 Songs of 2019


    49. The Regrettes – “I Dare You”

    The Regrettes - How Do You Love? Album Cover

    Sounds Like: The feel-good montage moment in a struggling teen series.

    Key Lyric: “I never wanted to get too close to you/ But now it looks like I’m getting too close to you”

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    Why It Matters: You can always count on Lydia Night. The thoughtful storyteller behind The Regrettes brings a lived-in soul to each one of the band’s oft-vintage doo-wop jams. “I Dare You” is no exception, a swinging ditty that tears a page or two from the journals of young love. “You’re gonna fall, but I’ll catch you,” she pleads, and you can’t help but sing along. Not because it’s catchy, but because it’s all too easy to relate to the process of accidentally falling for someone — and learning to trust them. –Angie Piccirillo

    Song in a GIF:

    psychos Top 50 Songs of 2019


    48. DaBaby – “Suge”

    dababy baby Top 50 Songs of 2019

    Sounds Like: The most souped-up car in a high school parking lot after school gets out.

    Key Lyric: “Use the brain in your head ‘fore you lose it”

    Why It Matters: It’s been an incredible breakout year for DaBaby. The Charlotte-bred rapper was named one of this year’s XXL Freshmen, released two albums just a few months apart, and announced he’ll soon be welcoming his third child — all of which was predicated on the success of his single “Suge”. The song was most people’s introduction to DaBaby just as his career was taking off and has done so well in part because of its bass-heavy production and clever bars that hip-hop heads love. Be sure not to miss the remix with Nicki Minaj. –Chris Malone

    Song in a GIF:

    hustling Top 50 Songs of 2019


    47. Beach Bunny – “Dream Boy”

    Beach Bunny Honeymoon album artwork cover debut

    Sounds Like: The movie John Hughes would have made if his career had started in the ’90s.

    Key Lyric: “Oh, I tend to keep my heart locked water-tight/ All you gotta do is meet me after midnight”

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    Why It Matters: It’s far too easy to get far too cynical about romance. There are certain types of love songs that can only be written effectively at a very specific time in a young person’s life. Beach Bunny are right in the sweet spot for a track like “Dream Boy”, where they can still watch corny ’80s and ’90s rom-coms and think, “I’ll get my shot at that someday.” That innocent longing not yet worsted by one too many heartbreaks. Intimating that simple sentiment in such a charming song is a reminder that, no matter how jaded we get, it’s not always foolish to be optimistic about the heart. –Ben Kaye

    Song in a GIF:

    Beach Bunny Gif


    46. Chromatics – “You’re No Good”

    Chromatics - Closer to Grey

    Sounds Like: Getting your tongue stuck to an ice sculpture of the Pet Shop Boys.

    Key Lyric: “We watch the night fall on the ground and are we all alone?”

    Why It Matters: Ruth Radelet’s trademark frostiness is what makes this song work. Is she fighting her obsession, surrendering to it, or just bored by it? The repeated loops of “that’s all we ever do, ever do, ever do” reinforce the simultaneous captivation and tedium that feed the song. New wave-inspired synths build the song, but they always feel more like reverence than pastiche. –Erin Lyndal Martin

    Song in a GIF:

    black and white


    45. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – “Flat Tummy Tea”

    Freddie Gibbs and Madlib - Bandana

    Sounds Like: The ghost of ’70s funk guitars goes full poltergeist on everybody’s asses.

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    Key Lyric: “Took the sword and knocked white Jesus off of that white horse”

    Why It Matters: Imagine what a stack of ’70s soul records would sound like after they’ve been left in a hot car for too long and you’ve got some idea of what Bandana sounds like. On their latest collab, Freddie Gibbs spits on top of Madlib’s playfully warped take on soul music. “Flat Tummy Tea” is a high point, finding Gibbs’ lyrics widening like a gyre, going from drug talk to Malcolm X, white supremacy to the slave trade, and, of course, the lie that is White Jesus. And he does it on top of one of Madlib’s best beat changes as the producer deftly keeps pace with Gibbs’ expanding POV. –Ashley Naftule

    Song in a GIF:

    explosion Top 50 Songs of 2019


    44. Purple Mountains – “All My Happiness Is Gone”

    berman purple mountains debut new album Top 50 Songs of 2019

    Sounds Like: A final drive into the desert with two “mall margaritas” in the cup holders as the sun sets

    Key Lyric: “Mounting mileage on the dash/ Double darkness falling fast/ I keep stressing, pressing on”

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    Why It Matters: What would’ve been viewed as a triumphant comeback album for David Berman now spins as a strange and tragic testament to the pain he must have been going through — and the attitude he maintained towards it. The jovial melodies of songs like opener “That’s Just the Way That I Feel” belie the desperation of lines like “When I try to drown my thoughts in gin/ I find my worst ideas know how to swim” and “The end of all wanting/ Is all I’ve been wanting.” Berman’s talent for wordplay and penchant for dark humor and ironies suggest an artist in control and a man hanging in there better than he actually was. To feel the chug and glow of a song like “All My Happiness Is Gone” now leaves us in this emotional no man’s land of wanting to dance and cry at the same time. A great talent lost. –Matt Melis 

    Song in a GIF:

    Sunset Top 50 Songs of 2019


    43. Megan Thee Stallion – “Hot Girl Summer”

    Megan Thee Stallion Nicki Minaj Ty Dolla $ign Hot Girl Summer stream single artwork

    Sounds Like: Summer heat, sand, a new swimsuit, three alcohols, zero fucks, and whole squad of bad bitches.

    Key Lyric: “Handle me? Who gon’ handle me?/ Thinkin’ he’s a player, he’s a member on the team”

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    Why It Matters: A siren call to all those who see themselves as bad bitches, many of us are still balming our knees from failed attempts at twerking this past summer, not wanting to let Megan Thee Stallion down. “Hot Girl Summer” sparked a million tweets and countless memes, but more importantly the scorching bop was an anthem for those embracing their bodies despite the gaze of those who wish to police them. In her own words, via Twitter, Megan Thee Stallion explained, “Being a Hot Girl is about being unapologetically YOU, having fun, being confident, living YOUR truth, being the life of the party etc.” See? Real hot girl shit. –Erica Campbell

    Song in a GIF:

    megan Top 50 Songs of 2019


    42. FKA twigs – “Cellophane”

    FKA twigs Magdalene Artwork

    Sounds Like: Watching a car crash in slow motion

    Key Lyric: “Why won’t you do it for me when all I do is for you?”

    Why It Matters: Imagine writing such a heartbreaking song about a dying relationship. Then imagine being so tied to the visual idea that accompanied the writing process that you learn and perfect the art of pole dancing in order to capture it just right. For good measure, tack on the fact that FKA twigs spent the time before this release going through a major health crisis. By comparison, this track feels so simple. There’s nothing flashy standing in the way of her raw emotions. She lays it all out there, taking you with her on her descent from pursuing excellence to crashing back down to earth. –Paige Williams

    Song in a GIF:

    fka Top 50 Songs of 2019


    41. The National – “Light Years”

    The National - I Am Easy to Find

    Sounds Like: Love echoing in the insurmountable distance between two people

    Key Lyric: “Everyone was lighting up in the shadows alone/ You could’ve been right there next to me, and I’d have never known”

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    Why It Matters: The National can break a heart like nobody’s business. As soon as Aaron Dessner’s fingers tumble over the keys on this closing track to I Am Easy to Find, the cracks start to form. Then in comes Matt Berninger, his voice an even more restrained hush than usual, and it’s like the organ just falls apart in your chest. There’s something so simple about the phrase “I will always be light years away from you” that almost feels like it’s not cerebral enough for a National cut, but it’s composed with such grace that it will make you cry like the best of their repertoire. –Ben Kaye

    Song in a GIF:

    Calvin and Hobbes


    40. Stella Donnelly – “Old Man”

    stella donnelly new debut album beware of the dogs

    Sounds Like: Skipping through an open field after getting creepy men fired from their jobs

    Key Lyric: “Your personality traits don’t count/ If you put your dick in someone’s face”

    Why It Matters: Stella Donnelly’s way of bringing attention to sexual assault is absolutely compelling — from the sonically catchy, playful atmosphere to the lyrical storytelling of a successful man who “grabbed [her] with an open hand.” Though it’s just a tale about one man, every line works on a universal scale. Donnelly’s fearless approach is inspiring, especially when she repeats, “Oh, are you scared of me, old man?/ Or are you scared of what I’ll do?” She is confident and unafraid when she concludes: “The world is grabbin’ back at you.” –Danielle Chelosky

    Song in a GIF:

    stella Top 50 Songs of 2019


    39. Tame Impala – “Patience”

    tame impala patience Top 50 Songs of 2019

    Sounds Like: A sunny day spent reflecting on your significance in time and purpose.

    Key Lyric: “I’m just growin’ up in stages”

    Why the Song Matters: While Tame Impala enjoyed riding the wave of the success of Currents, we patiently (*wink*) waited for the band’s triumphant return after the four-year break. The result? This laidback single swirling with a blend of synths, strings, and piano atop a steady, sway-inducing beat. Kevin Parker presents an ethereal gleam to the tune, thanks to breathy vocals and that signature psychedelic groove that fans and fellow artists alike have grown to appreciate. Also, anyone who can answer their own pressing life question (“So what you doin’ with your luck?”) with a self-assured, easygoing response (“Livin’ life in phases”) warrants our stanship. –Gabrielle Pharms

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    Song in a GIF:

    tame Top 50 Songs of 2019


    38. Local Natives – “When Am I Gonna Lose You”

    Local Natives, Album Cover, 2019, Violet Street

    Sounds Like: Getting home after a perfect night and somewhere between sliding off your boots and slipping into bed you realize, Oh fuck, I really like them.

    Key Lyric: “And I knew that I wanted you”

    Why the Song Matters: The best songs come with the best stories, and this one’s got everything: ill-fated love, cutting off 14 inches of hair, the scenic backdrop of Big Sur, and (thankfully) a happy ending. When Taylor Rice was writing the lyrics behind one of the year’s biggest alt-rock love songs, he was convinced that his hairdresser who he was falling head over hills for, was just too good to be true. One wedding and baby on the way later, that proved false, but you can still hear the longing, worry, and ethereal nature of new love in every single word. –Erica Campbell

    Song in a GIF:

    love Top 50 Songs of 2019


    37. Beyoncé – “Before I Let Go”

    Homecoming The Live Album

    Sounds Like: A neighborhood summer cookout

    Key Lyric: “I pull up to Coachella/ In boots with the goose feathers”

    Why the Song Matters: Beyoncé’s HΘMΣCΘMING album gifted us with powerful renditions of the superstar’s beloved classics, but it was a new bonus track that played during the credits of the accompanying Netflix documentary that stole the show. “Before I Let Go” is a Beyoncified re-imagination of Frankie Beverly and Maze’s 1981 single of the same name, and maintains the spirit of the original while unsurprisingly making it impossible to resist getting up and dancing. Even in a year when Beyoncé managed to curate and release a whole other album, “Before I Let Go” was the song that stole the hearts of fans everywhere. –Chris Malone

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    Song in a GIF:

    beyonce Top 50 Songs of 2019


    36. Sego – “Neon Me Out”

    sego sucks album cover artwork

    Sounds Like: If Beck had time traveled to 2019 after releasing “Loser” in 1993 and shared his take on social media culture

    Key Lyric: “Your pictures are a crutch, your opinions are a crutch/ Your love, your hate, your sex, your drugs … oh, the drugs.”

    Why It Matters: For the opening bass riff alone! Shortly after the release of their 2016 debut, Once Was Lost Now Just Hanging Around, Sego moved from Utah to California, and they provide us a glimpse into that LA life on “Neon Me Out”. While songs navigating our current media culture often come across as condescending, Sego nail the vibe by balancing judgement and apathy. And no matter how you feel about the lyrics … damn, that bass riff. –Paige Williams

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    Song in a GIF:

    sego Top 50 Songs of 2019


    35. Brittany Howard – “Stay High”

    Brittany Howard Jaime Artwork

    Sounds Like: Sharing the heartiest belly laugh with your favorite person

    Key Lyric: “Everything is everything and everything is beautiful”

    Why It Matters: Thanks to Alabama Shakes’ stellar catalog, we’re already very familiar with the strength and punch of Brittany Howard’s pipes. But there’s a certain quiet beauty and gorgeous simplicity to be found on “Stay High”, one of the standout singles on solo debut Jaime. The song is a dedication to her father, but Howard never once tries to do too much or get flashy. Instead, acoustic strings are paired with quaint piano that trickles in the background, while the musician revels in golden memories so purely informed by joy you can’t help but smile along with her. –Lake Schatz

    Song in a GIF:

    Brittany Howard


    34. Lucy Dacus – “Fool’s Gold”

    lucy dacus 2019 Top 50 Songs of 2019

    Sounds Like: The song playing as you stumble home drunk from a holiday work party — where you had a little too much spiked eggnog — smoking a cigarette and reflecting on how exactly you got to this point

    Key Lyric: “I can’t tell how big my heart is/ Let’s open the door, see how many fit”

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    Why It Matters: You know that pressure you feel around the holidays, but especially on New Year’s Eve? We aren’t even talking about the pressure to be at some elaborate party wearing the most sparkling outfit you can find, surrounded by people you hardly know or really even like; we’re more so talking about the quiet reflection that comes with the impending year’s end. “Fool’s Gold” serves as an ode to that New Year’s Eve feeling. The power lies in Lucy Dacus’ poignant lyricism, which is led by her keen knack for observation, as she sings: “I threw the party so I could stay put/ You brought the bottle like a promise I forgot/ A new year begins/ It ushers us in/ The knot in my gut is coming with.” Dacus said, “I started writing ‘Fool’s Gold’ the moment after the last person left a New Year’s Eve party I hosted in 2018. I did what I said — drank the last of the champagne alone, felt anxious, and locked the door behind everyone.” –Samantha Lopez

    Song in a GIF:

    Audrey Top 50 Songs of 2019


    33. BTS – “Boy with Luv”

    BTS Map of the Soul Persona artwork

    Sounds Like: Looking at your phone and seeing that person texted you

    Key Lyric: “I want something stronger/ Than a moment, than a moment, love”

    Why It Matters: Despite the years of success BTS had already seen the world over, “Boy with Luv” was their breakthrough crossover hit for many. With Halsey at their side, the track is able to translate all that makes K-pop great in a bubbly package of summer twilight hues. The dizzyingly smooth transitions from English to Korean, the impeccable swings from singing to rapping — it’s nearly flawless songwriting. Even if you only understand a third of the lyrics, the endearingly schmaltzy feelings translate easily, and that’s the mark of a truly perfect pop song. –Ben Kaye

    Song in a GIF:

    BTS Top 50 Songs of 2019


    32. Julia Jacklin – “Pressure to Party”

    Julia Jacklin Crushing Artwork Pressure To Party New Music

    Sounds Like: Being young and heartbroken

    Key Lyric: “Pressure to not let the inside of my mind/ Spill onto the floor for our friends to find it”

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    Why It Matters: Julia Jacklin has a knack for conveying the painful consequences that follow a breakup, and this track in particular perfectly describes the dichotomy between the societal expectations of a newly single individual and the more depressing reality. The song bounces with a jangly and upbeat ambiance much like a party, but Jacklin’s wistful words bring us back to the doleful place of her mind: “Nothing good can come from me drinking/ I would run, shoes off, straight back to you/ I know where you live, I used to live there too.” –Danielle Chelosky

    Song in a GIF:

    Julia jacklin


    31. Noname – “Song 31”

    Noname 22Song 3122 Top 50 Songs of 2019

    Sounds Like: A cartoon dream sequence gone awry

    Key Lyric: “I sell pain for profit, and I feel prophet watchin’”

    Why It Matters: Noname recently declared that she’s sick of performing and that her upcoming album, Factory Baby, will be her last, so fans should be savoring every release from the Chicago native while they can. “Song 31” was just one of the unique tracks that Noname released this year, and her signature style of “lullaby rap” is on full display as she teams up with local producer-turned-rapper Phoelix. –Chris Malone

    Song in a GIF:

    kelly Top 50 Songs of 2019


    30. Flying Lotus and Anderson .Paak – “More”

    flying lotus flamagra artwork album Top 50 Songs of 2019

    Sounds Like: Bossa nova crashes a gospel rap battle

    Key Lyric: “But like a sample loop, around and ’round I move”

    Why It Matters: When a habitual embellisher like Flying Lotus announces a 27-track album (featuring David Lynch, George Clinton, and Solange, among others), there’s reason to feel apprehensive. But the space actually permits Steven Ellison to distill his concepts to greater potency. With the less-cluttered arrangements, the melody of Anderson .Paak’s rapping on “More” shines against all the best of FlyLo’s trademark funk-jazz. –Erin Lyndal Martin

    Song in a GIF:

    neon Top 50 Songs of 2019


    29. Little Simz – “Selfish”

    little simz grey new album Top 50 Songs of 2019

    Sounds Like: Cashing a check you know your ass earned

    Key Lyric: “No validation, no applause/ You don’t have to prove you got it when you know it’s yours”

    Why It Matters: Hip-hop has always gone hand-in-hand with the idea of escaping harsh circumstances. Those who overcome adversity and make it to the top of the game, in theory, earn respect. However, female British rapper Little Simz finds herself facing a double-standard on her hit track “Selfish”. After pulling herself up from a humble upbringing, she catches flack rather than praise for the new lifestyle she’s earned. Coupled with a gorgeous pop chorus by Cleo Sol, Simz reminds herself that haters are going to hate and that nobody has the right to question what she’s earned through her own sweat and creativity. If that’s being “selfish,” fuck ’em. –Matt Melis

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    Song in a GIF:

    Little Simz


    28. Briston Maroney – “Caroline”

    briston maroney indiana artwork

    Sounds Like: Counting down the days until graduation from your small-town high school

    Key Lyric: “But your name belongs in lights with all the constellations/ Change is hard/ But it’s gonna take you far”

    Why It Matters: Singer-songwriter Briston Maroney has lived a lot of life in 21 years, from a brief stint on American Idol to one in rehab. “Caroline” is an ode to the kid he was all those years ago with a pure love for creating music, and the song’s nostalgic lyrics and sparse folk-rock production makes its message relatable to anyone wondering what happened to their childhood dream. –Johanna Gretschel

    Song in a GIF:

    briston maroney


    27. Faye Webster – “Kingston”

    atlanta millionaires club album cover artwork faye webster

    Sounds Like: A sigh while floating down a lazy river with your daydreams being projected on the clouds

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    Key Lyric: “The day that I met you I started dreaming”

    Why It Matters: Do you love pedal steel guitar? Of course you do, and Faye Webster knows that. On “Kingston”, the pedal steel reverberations massage your spinal nerve into a space of bliss, like you’re being warmed up by the sun again after the clouds hid it away. And when the saxophone hits? Oh, boy, you’re done for. Webster’s gentle and melodic vocals encircle that pedal steel to recreate the aching hunger for someone who loves you when you love them, too. She makes you feel like you’re taking a peek into her diary — or like you’re pouring your heart out into yours. –Caitlin Malcuit

    Song in a GIF:

    Faye Webster


    26. Cardi B – “Press”

    cardi b cancel indiana concert security

    Cardi B, photo by Natalie Somekh

    Sounds Like: The schoolyard bully who’s all bark and no bite

    Key Lyric: “Ding dong/ Must be that whip that I ordered”

    Why It Matters: Artists taking aim at the media isn’t anything new (remember Britney Spears’ “Piece of Me”?), and every time it happens, both journalists and fans are able to see the truth behind some of the artists’ emotions and actions. Cardi B’s braggadocious Bronx attitude is front and center on “Press,” making the song as intimidating as it is infectious, and it reiterates her status as someone you don’t want to F— with. Cardi clearly had a connection with the song, too, as she opted to choreograph the video and subsequent BET Awards performance herself. –Chris Malone

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    Song in a GIF:

    Cardi B


    25. King Princess – “Prophet”

    king princess cheap queen single artwork

    Sounds Like: Unhealthy but addictive lusting

    Key Lyric: “Oh, no apologies, twisting your word and your prophecy/ Oh, and honestly, it’s the price of the prodigy you wanna be”

    Why It Matters: Even on her first-ever EP, last year’s Make My Bed, King Princess already flexed a cheeky sense of self-awareness. Her debut album, Cheap Queen, contains multiple examples of this kind of insight, but the pop wunderkind makes it sound especially savory on “Prophet”, which is said to be one of her favorites. King Princess sensually swaggers across a dusty R&B beat and electric guitar while lusting after both “prophets” and “profits” and reflecting on the price and consequences of fame. –Lake Schatz

    Song in a GIF:

    King Princess


    24. Big Thief – “Not”

    Big Thief - Two Hands

    Sounds Like: An emotional vortex pulling us down the drain of an old, wooden bathtub

    Key Lyric: “It’s not the open weaving/ Nor the furnace glow/ Nor the blood of you bleeding/ As you try to let go”

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    Why It Matters: Each year there’s a “little indie band that could” that takes us all by surprise. And while we certainly knew about Big Thief going into this year from their promising 2017 effort, Capacity, none of us could have expected singer-songwriter Adrianne Lenker and band to take us through two unique full-length tours de force. For many, “Not”, with Lenker’s urgent twang, the cyclonic cataloging of her lyrics, and the gradual emotional build leading to a dire full-band breakdown and catharsis summarize so much of what there was to love about Big Thief this year while not sounding quite like anything else. These six minutes pass in a blink and stick with you long after the song ends. –Regan Bexler

    Song in a GIF:

    Simpsons Top 50 Songs of 2019


    23. J. Cole – “Middle Child”

    Dreamville and J Cole - Revenge of Dreamers III

    Sounds Like: A heart-to-heart from one generation to the next

    Key Lyric: “What good is first class if my n*ggas can’t sit?”

    Why It Matters: A true collaboration between J. Cole and producer T-Minus+, “Middle Child” focuses on the difficulties of coming of age between hip-hop movements. The track makes use of a horn sample (from ’70s trio First Choice) with added reverb for ambience as drumbeats whiz by like bullets and hi-hats anticipate the beat dropping. All this makes for a hell of a podium for Cole’s tongue-twister litany of perils, caveats, and hopes for those about to rap. –Erin Lyndal Martin

    Song in a GIF:

    J Cole


    22. ROSALIA – “Aute Cuture”

    Rosalía - El Mal Querer

    Sounds Like: Owning the runway

    Key Lyric: “Esto está encendido, na, na, na, na.” (“This is fire, na, na, na, na.”)

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    Why Song Matters: Energy should be able to defy language barriers, and the power behind ROSALIÁ on her worst days could demolish any wall. “Aute Cuture” is a celebration of confidence built on the strength of acceptance, strutting into the room like it would be empty without the presence of this sound. Yet, it’s also playful in that assertiveness, beckoning you to take the dance floor instead of pressuring you to stand back. ROSALIÁ has burst onto the international scene with that same aura, making this track something of a personal anthem even as it inspires the listener. –Ben Kaye

    Song in a GIF:

    teyana taylor


    21. Leonard Cohen – “Happens to the Heart”

    Album stream Thanks for the Dance by Leonard Cohen

    Sounds Like: A content man leaving the dance floor as the band plays on into the night

    Key Lyric: “I was always working steady/ But I never called it art”

    Why It Matters: Any reticence about Leonard Cohen not living long enough to supervise the album’s completion quickly fades away when we hear a somber guitar plucking joined by the master’s unmistakable voice on opening track “Happens to the Heart”. Poetic meditations like “There’s a mist of summer kisses where I tried to double park” remind us of how effortlessly Cohen could combine nature and concrete, sentiment and calculation, the sacred and the profane. To hear Cohen in such fine form suggests that while he may have been done dancing, he surely wanted the band to play on. –Matt Melis  

    Song in a GIF:

    leonard cohen


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