Best and Worst of 2020
What we loved, and what we hated this year
Best Cover: Poppy – “All The Things She Said” (t.A.T.u. Cover)
Leave it to one of the original YouTuber stars Poppy to crank out the best cover of the year. The American artist looked back to the early 00’s when t.A.T.u. seemingly came out of nowhere to score this massive global hit. Updated for 2020 thanks to the signature Poppy sound of heavy guitars and drums, the song is surprisingly true to the original but we don’t mind because the song doesn’t need reinterpretation, it just needs more love from the next generation.
Honorable Mention: Purity Ring – “Better Off Alone” (Alice Deejay Cover)
Worst Cover: Sam Smith – “I Feel Love” (Donna Summer Cover)
I already spoke about my disdain for this summer in the Top 100 Songs of 2020 where Smith is featured for his single “My Oasis”. This one-off single was purely atrocious in every possible manner. Taking such an iconic song and reworking it with Smith’s voice is just brutal. All the sexiness and sensuality that Summer’s classic exuded is turned into a falsetto earsore that makes you simply want to tell him to shut the fuck up. It will irk me for years to come that a contingency of young persons will now know this song and have heard his version first. Complete travesty.
Honorable Mention: Nothing beats this Sam Smith cover
Best K-Pop Song: BTS – “Dynamite”
So BTS had an incredible year and perhaps the 1-2 cherries on top have to be that their first English-only single “Dynamite” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and that the single also ended up landing them their first ever Grammy nomination. It’s warranted because the song does just the right job of keeping the boys true to their style and image but the melody and the song’s composition is pure genius pop.
Honorable Mention: GFriend – “Mago”
Best K-Pop video: BLACKPINK & Selena Gomez – “Ice Cream”
There were a lot of videos to choose from but “Ice Cream” by BLACKPINK & Selena Gomez felt like a true crossover moment not just for the young ladies but for the global music scene. Here we didn’t just have a pop star collaborating but co-headlining a track that was meant to generate the greatest impact possible – and boy it did. Despite being on separate continents, the women and Gomez manage to create a seamless video that was bright, cheerful and very much a sweet treat to folks everywhere.
Honorable Mention: Apink – “Dumhdurum”
Best Tik Tok hit: 24kGoldn Featuring Iann Dior – “Mood”
Now here’s the true Tik Tok hit story of 2020. “Mood” was the perfect jam to get everyone to dance and participate in the “Mood” challenge. The challenge worked as well as it did because the song was actually a banger. The lyrics, the beat and the unique cross-genre appeal made the song stand out and it’s no surprise then that the single hit Number 1 across the globe and in the US not only did it hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 but also #1 on the Hot Rock, Alternative and Rap Songs charts – an incredible feat for this clever song.
Honorable Mention: Fleetwood Mac – “Dreams” (why not!)
Worst Tik Tok hit: Jawsh 685 & Jason Derulo – “Savage Love” (Laxed – Siren Beat)
So, I actually can tolerate the original “Savage Love”, an instrumental by New Zealand producer Jawsh 685. But the gimmicky redo that developed featuring a struggling to still be relevant Jason Derulo was just embarrassing. The fact that Derulo originally teased the song without even having legit permission to sample the song should tell you that he was more passionate about getting a guaranteed hit rather than creating anything actually memorable. This seemed to even be the case once the song failed to land him his second number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The remix of the redo featuring BTS and a whole new verse in Korean helped to push the song to #1 in the US. Upon achieving that success, Derulo still failed to acknowledge and credit the boy band for their help to push the song to greater heights. While TikTok is here to stay, here’s hoping Derulo goes back to creating some original work rather than just riding the coattails of already popular trends.
Honorable Mention: Lots of runner-ups but honestly nothing matches in nonsense to this.
Best Pandemic Album To Chill: Taylor Swift – “Folklore”
A surprise to say the least and just as we all compiled our year-end lists, Swift just released a second surprise album “evermore” which almost feels like the deeper cuts from “folklore”. Undeniably Swift’s most passioned and compassionate album to date, the artist evolved this year from trying to satisfy her legions of fans across genres and sticking to simplicity. The result worked incredibly well thanks to some fine lyrics and raw but well-crafted production and oh yeah, a pandemic which allow the listeners to also feel like they were a part of her story.
Honorable Mention: Fiona Apple – “Fetch The Bolt Cutters”
Best Pandemic Album to Dance to : Jessie Ware – “What’s Your Pleasure?”
Ware can frankly do no wrong. While many critics haven’t liked her evolution, I for one love her ability to craft songs that resonate regardless of the style or production. Her voice and lyrics always seem to transcend genres. But luckily this year, Ware went back to her roots and here we have not just a disco tribute but an album that just embodies all aspects of 70’s funk, rock and soul. The album while immersed in that era is so slyly produced that it sounds modern and even futuristic at times. While Dua Lipa’s album (listed below as my honorable mention) “Future Nostalgia” tried to do the same and also succeeded, here it’s Ware’s age and maturity that makes the music just feel a bit more groovy and you know no matter who else is there, they’ll also just start dancing.
Honorable Mention: Dua Lipa – “Future Nostalgia”
Worst Single To Never Go Away: Maroon 5 – “Memories”
This late 2019 track just refused to go away. You have to hand it to Adam Levine and company that they know how to manufacture a schmaltzy hit like no else. “Memories” is basically 1st grade level lyrics with a sentimentality attached so on the nose that you wonder if this is a cover of a song that’s been around forever. Trust me, after a first listen, you’re already sick of it. While some might think that’s the mark of a classic, I actually think it’s just boring. The worst part? For at least the next few years I’m going to have to hear this song be used in countless videos and ads where they think the audience doesn’t have the brain cells to imagine things and they need their music and lyrics literally spelled out.
Honorable Mention: 6ix9ine Featuring Nicki Minaj – “Trollz” (ick!)
Worst Album to Have Legs: Justin Bieber – “Changes”
Bieber legitimately put out an R&B album this year. He was so infuriated that his album wasn’t classified in that genre by the Grammys that he actually spoke up about it. While I am in agreement that the album is far more R&B than pop, I would have to disagree with the Academy and sadly many fans of the star who think this album is actually good. Minus “Intentions”, the album is pure filler. Bieber sings, does runs and tries his best to safely show off his urban side. It doesn’t work, not because he’s not black but because the music is so low quality and lacking any inspiration.
Honorable Mention: Ariana Grande – “positions” (disappointing!)
About Time! Breakout Producer: SG Lewis
Lewis has been around for a while now and while I’m excited for his official first album to drop in the first quarter of 2021, he’s had a stellar year as an artist, featured artist and producer. In fact, four of his tracks are featured in my Top 100 for 2020. Working with the likes of Victoria Monet, Rhye and Sinead Harnett – Lewis has managed to incorporate his style in hitmaking turns for other artists. His style is retro fresh and I’m sure we’re going to see a slew of big-time heavy hitters reaching out to him even more as he himself finally hits it big.
About Time! Breakout Artist: Elderbrook
From his Grammy-nominated “Cola” with CamelPhat to his collaboration with Rudimental, Elderbrook aka Alexander Kotz is someone we’ve seen emerge over the past couple of years. With the release of his debut album “Why Do We Shake In The Cold?”, we saw the talented musician not just showcase his ambition but also his cross-genre appeal. Electronic may be his home but at heart, he’s a singer-songwriter emoting through every ounce of his body. The future is very bright for the artist and can’t wait to see him become the big star he deserves to be.
Most Interesting Collaboration: Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande – “Rain on Me”
Let’s be honest, female collaborations are mostly dull ballads. Sure there’s the occasional “Lady Marmalade” or “Bang Bang” but most times unless there’s a female MC featured, the results are just meh. But Gaga and Grande coming together created something special, something unexpected and yes, something instantly campy. “Rain On Me” may not be the most memorable song, but we will remember it because two of women who defined the 10’s for Top 40 came together and made a hit record that went against everything we would have expected to come out of them, and it worked!
Most Infuriating Collaboration: Justin Bieber & Ariana Grande – “Stuck With You”
While “Rain On Me” was mostly a triumph, “Stuck With You” was truly one of the dullest collaborations ever. Sure it was written during and for the pandemic but the song literally goes nowhere. Bieber and Grande actually seem to undersell the vocals almost as if intentionally trying to elicit a melancholic mood. That would work if the song actually was catchy and better produced. It may have hit #1 because the two are huge stars but this is no “Endless Love” or even “Senorita” – this is sentimental garbage, the 3-minute equivalent of a 15 second Tik Tok clip that you have no interest in ever seeing/hearing again.
Least Deserved Grammy nomination: Pop Vocal Performance: Justin Bieber (“Yummy”)
Really? “Yummy”. I can’t write anything more here. Stupid song, weak vocals, and let me not start a list of the countless singers that should have taken this spot from him.
Most Overlooked Grammy snub: Record of The Year – “Lose You To Love Me” (Selena Gomez) and “Blinding Lights” (The Weeknd)
So, these two should have been shoo-ins for Song and Pop Vocal Performance (sorry Justin) but even those two categories I can forgive. The one that just doesn’t make any sense is either track not making a place in the Record Of The Year category. “Blinding Lights” was THE record of the year and even if it didn’t win, it deserved a nod. “Lose You To Love Me” on the other hand was a moment and Gomez delivered a homerun to both critics and fans and there was absolutely no excuse from the Grammy’s side to justify ignoring her yet again. I’ve written over decades now about the same issues still plaguing the Grammys. For every small bit of progress, there are two steps back. Not sure where we go from here but I guess it will continue to be controversial hence interesting.
Artist Trying Way Too Hard: (tie) Demi Lovato and Katy Perry
I respect both women. They’ve both had amazing careers and managed to bounce back after duds. But the problem is similar I feel for both of them now. They’re simply trying too hard to continue what they once did and they’ve not evolved in a way that feels organic to the audience. It doesn’t mean they are faking it, it just means for some reason, we’ve developed a disconnect from them despite our continued interest in them. “Commander In Chief” by Lovato should have been a massive #1 hit and been so controversial but it barely made a whimper. Perry’s “Smile” album wasn’t the best but the videos were tacky and the songs seemed stuck in early 2010’s productions which just didn’t match the moment. I really hope both women find their lane again because they are both incredibly talented. We just need better music and less noise.
Artist That Makes It Look Easy: Taylor Swift
Two albums, re-recording her first six albums and all the while staying low-key. This year, a different Taylor Swift emerged and we like it. She’s not trying to prove anything to anyone and she’s doing whatever the hell she wants…no matter what. While she might be working her ass off, she makes it look easy because she’s passionate about it. In a year when so much changed for everyone, it was nice to see front and center one artist embrace the change and shine. I’ve not been the biggest Swift fan over the years and much like Beyonce, I’ve actually consistently believed for them to be extremely overrated and over showered with awards and praise prematurely in their careers. But much like “Lemonade” was actually B’s moment, I feel like “folklore” and “evermore” are just that for Swift. If the album wins for Album Of The Year, she’ll collect her third one. By my account, it will be the first one actually meriting the win.