The 50 Best Songs of 2019

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25. Tegan and Sara: “I’ll Be Back Someday”

Tegan and Sara’s new album, Hey, I’m Just Like You, is an experiment of the past and present. The Quin sisters dug up the first recordings they ever made and decided to treat them like brand new demos for their latest album. Despite the poor audio quality and skeletal nature of the songs, Tegan and Sara saw something special in them, which already possessed the vocal and lyrical sensibilities they still carry today. With a song like “I’ll Be Back Someday,” in particular, it’s amazing that they had such anthemic abilities as teenagers. It’s the kind of pop-punk song that would’ve inspired the formation of countless bands and featured in the opening credits of a high school cult classic from 15 years ago. —Lizzie Manno

24. Rosalía: “Con Altura”

Rosalía proved herself a star and a critical darling on El Mal Querer, her breakthrough sophomore album in which she refracted flamenco through a prism of modern pop aesthetics and heavy literary interpolations. “Con Altura” is a completely different exercise, one that finds her in undeniably urbano pop terrain. “I wanted to do a song that has this classic reggaeton vibe, like Daddy Yankee,” she told the New York Times. But the squelchy, reggaeton undertow suits her completely. Her smoldering vocals propel the song’s airborne dembow rhythm to liftoff. With an assist from Colombian superstar J Balvin, Rosalia’s crafted an anthem for living fast, dying young, all encroached in an entrancing melody and her inimitable, flamenco-tinged vocal performance. It’s such an effortless, star-making turn that felt nearly predestined from the jump. All we can do is admire from down here. —Joshua Bote

23. Jenny Lewis: “Wasted Youth”

Jenny Lewis, like any good songwriter, has a knack for fiction. On “Wasted Youth,” she sings, “I wasted my youth on a poppy,” even though she did no such thing: In the ’80s, Lewis began working as a child actress almost as soon as she could walk. Only later did she discover her mother, a heroin addict throughout Lewis’ childhood who recently passed away, was using her earnings to buy and sell drugs. But on that same song, before chirping a series of “doo doo doos” and offering the dark statement that “the cookie crumbles into dust,” Lewis pitches us her humor: “Why you lyin’?” she teases. “The Bourbon’s gone / Mercury hasn’t been in / Retrograde for that long.” Where in the past she faced sadness head-on, here Lewis views trauma through a wizened, witty lens. —Ellen Johnson

22. Charly Bliss: “Capacity”

At the tail-end of 2019, a series of tweets were lampooned, perhaps rightfully, for routinizing self-care and emotional labor into impersonal, formulaic text messages. There’s a fine line between valuing your time so much as to deem it emotionally billable and sacrificing yourself wholesale to appease others. The confusion is understandable; too often, the line blurs and shifts as friendship gets turned into therapy and vice versa. On “Capacity,” modern-day soothsayers Charly Bliss get the point immediately right: You should try to take care of people, but not be everything to everyone, especially not if you’re over capacity. “I can barely keep myself afloat when I’m not saving you,” singer Eva Hendricks sighs, but it’s not just about that. On “Capacity,” she bemoans keeping herself constantly, perpetually busy, and distracting her needs by focusing on somebody, anybody else but her. The thing is, “Capacity” sounds liberated—an insistent thud borrowed from early-aughts pop-rock, a plinky piano, a guitar-riff, a glorious, chant-along bridge—as if doing nothing and having time to yourself is total euphoria. In our current hellscape, it is. —Joshua Bote

21. Caroline Polachek: “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings”

Being away from your significant other may feel like hell, but former Chairlift member Caroline Polachek takes the concept quite literally. In the video for her ethereal pop jam “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings,” Polachek tracks the days spent in her hell-scape, separated from her beloved, and dances awkwardly against the fiery backdrop as if she’s the fourth member of Haim. The imaginative visuals enhance her equally whimsical musical sensibilities on the track, which include auto-tuned vocals over the hilariously repeated line “Show me your banana.” The song’s title may initially comes across as pretty silly, but it captures that feeling of missing someone so dearly that the reminder of their existence is almost hurtful. “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” is a certifiable bop, and an indication that this next decade is all Polachek’s. —Clare Martin

20. (Sandy) Alex G: “Gretel”

Alex Giannascoli is a master at evoking deep truths about the human condition from strange sources. On “Gretel,” the lead single from his latest (Sandy) Alex G release, House of Sugar, Giannascoli takes a page from Hansel and Gretel to emphasize our innate tendency towards selfishness. While the original folk tale sees the siblings escape from the evil witch, in Giannascoili’s version Hansel gets eaten and Gretel escapes but feels a burning desire to return and devour more candy. With foreboding sonic gusts, childlike, pitch-shifted backing vocals and sinister lyrics, Giannascoli’s voice is a tender, trustworthy refuge. Lyrically, it’s one of House of Sugar’s best: The chorus refrain (“I don’t wanna go back / Nobody’s gonna put me off track”) is one of his greatest pop moments to date while another line—“Good people gotta fight to exist”—acts as both a bad-faith excuse to crush others and a good-faith motivator for pure-hearted people to overcome their struggles. —Lizzie Manno

19. Vampire Weekend: “Harmony Hall”

It was the riff heard ‘round the world. Before we knew what Vampire Weekend had in store for us with Father of the Bride, we were graced with the addictive “Harmony Hall”—about 115 minutes more of it than we bargained for, actually. A few days before the single’s release, Vampire Weekend shared a mysterious 120-minute recording of literally just the riff. I’ve never been hypnotized, but after listening to about 26 minutes of this—the sonic equivalent of a narcotic—I nearly slipped under. Co-produced by Rostam, this unspeakably catchy song reuses a “Finger Back” lyric, warns of “wicked snakes,” and tracks some schmaltzy jam band keys, but more than anything, “Harmony Hall” is a noodler’s paradise. If you’re reading this, Ezra, know Jerry Garcia would’ve been proud. —Ellen Johnson

18. Charli XCX feat. Christine and the Queens: “Gone”

We already know Charli is one of the best albums of 2019. As for its Christine and the Queens feature, “Gone”? As Charli already knows, it’s the best of the best. Laden with pummeling synths, it’s one of her biggest and brashest tracks, propelled forward by twin forces of rage and confusion and finally exploding into punchy fragments. Charli and Christine’s Héloïse Letissier might be singing about two-faced record executives or enormous, intimidating industry parties, but they speak for anyone feeling anxious and misunderstood in a search for validation. “Am I smoke? Am I the sun? / And who decides?” asks Letissier, wondering who determines her worth. In the end, Charli and Letissier don’t need anyone’s approval: “Gone” overflows with sheer power. —Amanda Gersten

17. Fontaines D.C.: “Too Real”

Irish rock quintet Fontaines D.C. had a breakout year with their Mercury Prize-nominated first album Dogrel, which helped carry the torch for speak-singing social commentary. Residing between classic garage rock and post-punk, the band arguably sounds most fiery on their single “Too Real,” with its guitars that rumble and slide and lyrics both poetic and grim. They paint a picture of a city with “grimy scabs,” “withered leaves” and people scrapping for any chance of social mobility, even if it’s at the expense of the greater society or our storied culture (“Gold harps in the pan”). Frontman Grian Chatten asks as if he’s hanging over you after you’ve stumbled, “Is it too real for ya?,” and that stark, bleak question is one most of us are asking ourselves everyday. —Lizzie Manno

16. Laura Stevenson: “Living Room, NY”

Singer/songwriter Laura Stevenson mentions New York specifically in her stunning song-of-the-year contender “Living Room, NY,” but this quiet scene could take place in any room, in any city, anywhere. It’s about “missing someone on the other side of the world,” Stevenson said in a tweet, and you can feel the longing in her every breath. She was in Australia when she wrote the tune, and we can only assume the other person was in New York, hence this song about missing both a city and a soul. —Ellen Johnson

15. Ariana Grande: “ghostin’”

“ghostin” is a miraculous thing—a song so unvarnished, so unedited, that it’s hard to emphasize just how rare that a song can be borne of highly-public trauma, and come out so heart-rending and profound, tabloids and media attention be damned. It’s a tricky thing to bear witness to, a weightless, guttural plea in the empty hours of the night to the demons that haunt Grande. She’s swept away by the memory of a lover who’s no longer around, and grateful to the partner who is, even if they can’t ail her of her grief. Her surroundings are weightless and hazy, and it’s only grounded by pizzicato strings and Grande’s hushed, devastating vocal turn. If it feels too personal, indeed, it probably is—Grande doesn’t perform it live, and she begged Scooter Braun to exclude it from thank u, next. But it may be the most perfect statement of grief, and its perpetual ghosts recorded on tape, not only haunting you, but the ones that interfere with the life that you try to lead afterward. It’s a blessing that she shared it. —Joshua Bote

14. Faye Webster: “Kingston”

On the celebrated Atlanta Millionaires Club (one of Paste’s top albums of 2019), Faye Webster distills her singular brand of Americana in “Kingston,” a microcosm of her luau-meets-line-dancing sound. Languid lap guitar pulls you into the song like gravity pulling a planet into orbit. Webster effortlessly draws us into the sensual yet sentimental tune with the simple line, “The day that I met you I started dreaming.” There’s melodrama amidst the casual air, from a muted saxophone to her half-spoken delivery of the lyric, “He said ‘Baby,’ that’s what he called me, ‘I love you.’” It’s a song for longing, for lust and for excellent listening. —Clare Martin

13. Carly Rae Jepsen: “Want You In My Room”

Carly Rae Jepsen is the untroubled single woman chasing pleasure on “Want You In My Room,” which seems to span every age of pop from the lush new wave of The Bangles to the slippery dance-pop of ’90s boy bands to Daft Punk’s sophisticated AutoTune before a saxophone solo takes the song out on a strangely satisfying note (hello again, “Run Away With Me”). —Ellen Johnson

12. Jay Som: “Superbike”

“Superbike” is a sweeping dream-pop odyssey that paints from Jay Som’s sonic palette, but does so on an expansive canvas: Stretching past all but one of Everybody Works’ tracks in runtime, the single’s lyrics—which find Duterte moving on, both literally and figuratively (“I pick up the superbike / Going 80 in the night / Said you wanted something else / Something new for show and tell”)—fall away after its midpoint, shifting focus to the single’s mournful strings, ghostly voices and a guitar solo that sounds like the earth shifting beneath your feet. —Scott Russell

11. FKA twigs: “cellophane”

A highlight of FKA twigs’ 2015 M3LL155X EP was titled “Glass & Patron,” so it only makes sense that the pop visionary would reintroduce herself after three years away with the sound of glass scratching glass. When “cellophane,” her second post-M3LL155X single, arrived in April, it came with a music video in which FKA twigs’ glass heels scrape glass floors as she performs an extravagant pole dance routine. The song too is as fragile as glass, with FKA twigs drawing out every word of her heartbroken narrative like a hoarse lounge singer taking her last breath. A midsection that resembles glass shattering into a million pieces briefly interrupts the track’s devastating pianos and muttered clicks, and when these elements return, a heftier drumbeat accompanies them. As FKA twigs pieces the shards of her broken heart back together, she sounds stronger than ever. —Max Freedman

10. Julia Jacklin: “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You”

“Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You,” what Jacklin says is her favorite song on her excellent 2019 album Crushing (even though “that changes everyday”), is a revelation. Studded with bluesy, cathartic guitar solos, it’s a song about being trapped in comfort, about chasing a sun you know is going to set anyways. “Don’t know how to keep loving you,” she sings. “Now that I know you so well.” But, again, as on the rest of the album, Jacklin marches fearlessly ahead, through the pain, the loneliness, “into the darkness, or is it the light?” This is one of those songs that leaves me wondering, “How does she get on stage every night and bear her whole, entire soul?” —Ellen Johnson

9. Billie Eilish: “bad guy”

What do we do with Billie Eilish? For some, the overt sexuality of “bad guy,” the goth teen queen’s lead single from When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is kinky liberation, a provocative track from a young woman with bruises on her knees (but only when she wants them). She plays with these expectations in the track’s music video; the camera angle deceives you into thinking she’s giving head, when in fact Eilish is bobbing up and down on the back of a muscular male lackey as he does pushups. For others, the track is too much from a minor, who’s self-proclaimed status as a “might-seduce-your-dad type” is in all-too-close proximity to a track featuring Eilish popping out her Invisaslign. Either way, Eilish’s intelligence is clear. The discomfort she elicits is born out of sheer creative control and forces us to think about the hypersexualization of young women in the music industry—at least for Billie, it’s on her own terms. —Katie Cameron

8. Lil Nas X: “Old Town Road”

Sure, the original version of “Old Town Road” was released last December, but thanks to the remix with the Achy Breaky man himself, it was the most popular song of the summer. It beat the record for the most weeks spent atop the Billboard Top 100 chart, a worthy title. The lyrics, upon actual inspection, are definitely not anything to write home about, but something about the hokey, joke-y nature of the words on top of a simple, memorable (and cheap!) beat catapulted this song into TikTok meme-dom. If anything shows the power of teens on the internet in 2019, it’s “Old Town Road.” Yeehaw. —Annie Black

7. Big Thief: “Not”

Big Thief’s delicate folk-rock has been captivating audiences since their cockily titled 2016 debut, Masterpiece. “Not” is something of a throwback to the harder textures of that first album, in contrast to the wispy sound of their first album of 2019, U.F.O.F. Over insistent electric guitar strums and a whistling, metallic flute, frontwoman Adrianne Lenker struggles to articulate something, and works her way around that tip-of-the-tongue feeling by negation: ”[It’s] not a rouse / not heat / not the fire lapping up the creek.” But before Lenker can answer her own riddle, the song dissolves into three minutes of discordant guitar solos, and then ten seconds of static-filled silence. —Substitute Thapliyal

6. Mannequin Pussy: “Drunk II”

I know what you’re thinking—ugh, another breakup song about getting drunk and forgetting your troubles, but hear me out on this one. Mannequin Pussy’s “Drunk II” from their second album Patience isn’t just one of the best breakup songs of 2019, it’s one of the best songs of 2019, full stop. This Philly indie-punk outfit crystallizes the extreme highs of a night out and plunging lows of heartbreak with wailing guitar licks, a cutting bassline and vocals that span the emotional gamut. Lead singer Marisa Dabice dishes out headstrong lyrics with both vigor and vulnerability, never quite settling on one or the other, which further underscores the emotional restlessness of a relationship’s end. It’s in this paradox of strong-willed proclamations and cries for help that Dabice draws her power, particularly via the piercing outro and this shouted line of rock ‘n’ roll perfection: “I still love you, you stupid fuck!” —Lizzie Manno

5. Weyes Blood: “Movies”
“Movies,” one of a few singles from Weyes Blood’s album Titanic Rising, is accompanied by a self-directed music video, capturing Natalie Mering somersaulting about in swathes of rippling ivory before zooming out to reveal the audience watching her underwater dance with a trance-like gaze. The audience studies her, transfixed, before being swept along into Mering’s cinematic submersion. “Our generation is the most cinematically saturated of all time,” Mering says of the song’s message. “Videotapes, DVD’s, streaming … Spielberg … all of it has thrust us into an endless loop of consumption … I wanted to take a look into the emotionally manipulative powers of Movies—how have Movies succeeded in telling the myths of our time? How have they failed (miserably)? What is the consequent effect on a society of beings looking for themselves in the myths on the screen? It’s safe to say that they have failed us, but I can’t help it … I love Movies.” —Lindsay Thomaston

4. Clairo: “Bags”

Claire Cottrill, the 21-year-old behind Clairo, didn’t have to prove anything to anyone besides herself when she released her debut album Immunity earlier this year. However, anyone who dismissed her early, trendy lo-fi offerings probably would’ve found it difficult to hold their nose when they heard “Bags.” Internet users have practically already christened it a modern indie-pop classic, and it wasn’t just the “indie gays”—it’s sincerely the most wistful song of 2019 and a perfect encapsulation of romantic tension and cautious vulnerability. The dizzying synths and percussive guitar line allows the song to flicker between bubbly dreamscapes and unfiltered consciousness, and Cottrill’s silky, double-tracked vocals are like the angel on your shoulder, convincing you that telling someone how you really feel is always worth it. —Lizzie Manno

3. Angel Olsen: “Lark”

“Lark” is stunning in its dynamism, opening in the broken-hearted calm before a cathartic storm of overwhelming strings, thundering drums and Angel Olsen’s ever-emotive voice. The singer-songwriter weaves in and out of numerous distinct phases across the song’s six minutes and change, each of them mesmerizing—she looks back on a painful end while bound for a new beginning, singing, “Hiding out inside my head, it’s me again, it’s no surprise I’m on my own now / Every time I turn to you, I see the past, it’s all that lasts and all I know how.” —Scott Russell

2. Lizzo: “Juice”

“Juice” sounds like tequila shots with your best friends, or finding an outfit that makes you feel indestructible, or that moment when your favorite song (which may as well be “Juice”) comes on at the party. Lizzo has enjoyed one hell of a year, between weeks of topping the charts and a bevy of Grammy nominations, and “Juice” encapsulates her 2019 success. Both cocky and infectiously effervescent, the song has risen as the self-confidence anthem of a year that has put us all through the ringer. It certainly helps that the ’80s-inspired pop jam has an equally entertaining video, featuring parodies of old fitness routines (complete with star wipes), the QVC channel and ASMR. “Juice” also closed out the iconic 2010s show Broad City—which featured the pop star’s music before her meteoric rise over the past 18 months—cementing itself in television history. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to go get lost in Lizzo’s DMs. —Clare Martin

1. Sharon Van Etten: “Seventeen”

“Seventeen” is an origin story in the Springsteen vein. In the video, a grown Sharon Van Etten walks with her younger self through old NYC stomping grounds—Union Pool, Baby’s All Right, the Marcy Street JM subway stop. The lyrics paint a picture of a bygone New York City, one where up-and-coming rock musicians like Van Etten ran wild. “Downtown harks back / halfway up the street,” she sings, “I used to be free / I used to be seventeen.” Since then, she’s achieved some of those dreams she was chasing around Manhattan and Brooklyn, but she has also since relocated to L.A. (and that might be the biggest pill to swallow). She fulfills the prophecy before the final chorus, eventually shouting to her “shadow” with all her might, “I know what you’re gonna be”—easily one of the most memorable moments in music this year. “Seventeen,” which finds Van Etten chasing a driving, dark strand of synth-infused rock ‘n’ roll, was the first truly great song to be released in 2019, on Jan. 8, to be exact, and it just so happens that no single song has been able to top it. It was an instant classic with a video to match, and we didn’t hesitate for a single moment when adding it to our best songs of the decade list. And how sweet it is that “Seventeen” is the work of one our most talented songwriters who has been hustling for the better part of two decades now. It’s proof that even when we’re flooded with (necessary) songs featuring social commentary and political outbursts, sometimes the most earnest, most true, most believable art is just a personal story from the past. —Ellen Johnson

Listen to our Best Songs of 2019 playlist on Spotify right here.

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