Top 50 Tracks of 2019
From Harry Styles’ ‘Lights Up’ to Anderson .Paak’s ‘Jet Black’ and more
The last year of the 10’s decade saw a number of new voices make a huge dent at radio and on streaming. We also continued to see amazing collaborations and cross-genre, multi-platform hits. Chart-wise, females dominated in a way we’ve not seen for many years and once again superstars continued losing their impact as every artist’s shelf-life was based on their last release. Album sales continued to wane and the number of buzz-singles and one-off singles reached levels we’ve never seen before.
As always, my Top 50 tracks are based on a number of rankers including its musicality, production value, lyrics, performance, cultural impact and often the key benchmark – repeatability. Without further ado, here’s my list for the best of the best for 2019.
50. Sasha Sloan – “Dancing With Your Ghost”
Ever since her haunting vocals helped elevate ODESZA’s “Falls,” I’ve been a fan. While she released a number of singles this year, none so passionately showcased the tenderness of Sloan’s voice as this gem. “Dancing With Your Ghost” beautifully laments losing one’s partner and then trying to find a way to move on beyond the spirits of past loves.
49. Blackbear – “Dead To Me”
Let’s just call this the anthem for mourners while stuck in the anger phase of the five stages of grief. “Dead To Me” would have be seen as harsh a few years back but in the “ghosting” age, the lyrics are spot on and it’s no surprise the single became the smash it was!
48. Mark Ronson ft. King Princess – “Pieces of Us”
Mark Ronson treaded in relatively safe water this year with album. While there were a few mild winners, nothing really struck a chord except “Pieces Of Us” which felt like a slice of pure 80’s pop. The minimal instrumentation proved to be a great showcase for King Princess. It’s always a welcome surprise to find a modern single that can nicely be added to a retro playlist!
47. Kleerup ft. AlunaGeorge – “Lovers Table”
Kleerup made a quiet comeback this year but when featuring AlunaGeorge there was no way their collab “Lovers Table” wasn’t going to be solid. While far more downtempo than his past records, the single still has everything we loved about Kleerup when he worked with Robyn and Lykke Li all those years back.
46. Mahalia ft. Burna Boy – “Simmer”
When you sample “Who Am I” by Beenie Mann, you better be creating a jam! While not as electric as the original, Mahalia brilliantly opts to add sensuality to her “Simmer” and uses the obvious analogies to keep our temperatures from getting too hot – and instructs us to “cool down and simmer.” Burna Boy’s verse adds just the right ingredient needed to make the track steam!
45. Dynoro ft. Ina Wroldsen – “Obsessed”
Every year I’m allowed one song that has nothing particularly unique about it but it still makes me want to bop my head. “Obssesed” is the quintessential dance track where the deejay and vocalist could literally be anyone and I don’t care.
44. Chris Malinchak – “Photograph”
Malinchak has seemingly become a fixture of my yearly chart. I love that he’s able to create his own niche of lite-dance with great usage of obscure samples and the music always has an element of oddity – be it the choice of instruments used or tempo change-ups. “Photograph” is no different and works as well at a dinner party at home or an after-hours club.
43. Lady Antebellum – “What If I Never Get Over You”
It seems every few years, Lady Antebellum creates the perfect crossover country-pop ballad. This time they contemplate about moving on but being unable to be happy even with all the change. “What If I Never Get Over You” is timeless in all the right ways.
42. Jonas Brothers – “Sucker”
I’ll be honest. My knowledge of the discography of the Jonas Brothers is probably one of my weak spots in my pop music knowledge. I find Nick Jonas and Joe Jonas’s DNCE far more interesting so when Kevin joined the two brothers and reunited – I wasn’t holding my breath. But something surprising happened. Jonas Brothers 2.0 is good! Far better than round one, they’ve matured and they used their other projects to perfect more catchy pop.
“Sucker” might have reached at #1 because the brothers reunited but it became such a long-standing hit this year because it’s a great song!
41. M-22 – “White Lies”
Inner City’s “Good Life” is one of those instantly recognizable songs that the minute “White Lies” gets going, if you were a fan of the original, you know you’re in for a treat. M-22 do everything right, late 80’s/early 90’s house never sounded current again.
40. Florrie – “Borderline”
Florrie started the decade with such promise. Under the Midas touch of uber-producer Xenomania – she seemed destined to follow in Robyn or at least Roisin Murphy’s path. She fell somewhere in the middle of the two. That doesn’t deny her voice, her production and her should be hit count hasn’t significantly moved up over the years. “Borderline” is the most recent example of a great single that just didn’t make the impact it deserved.
39. Charli XCX ft. Lizzo – “Blame It On Your Love”
There’s very little Charli can do wrong. Then when you add one of the biggest new voices on the feature, you’re guaranteed a blast. “Blame It On Your Love” is instantly catchy, immediately winning and the Charli/Lizzo match up strangely works really well together!
Something tells me that this might get re-released to take advantage of Lizzo’s ever-growing popularity.
38. Harry Styles – “Lights Up”
I’ll admit. I wasn’t as impressed as everyone else when Styles released his debut record. I thought it was good and definitely the strongest work post One Direction by any of the boys but the next David Bowie? Come on. Having said that, “Lights Up” works because it carries the melodic pop of Styles’s boy band days but adults a mature twang that makes me better understand his evolution and frankly this is far more joyous and layered without any feeling of caricaturing.
37. Ariana Grande – “Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored”
“Thank u, Next” and then “7 rings” came were back to back blockbusters. Sadly the third try for me was actually the one with the longest legs. Maybe because there wasn’t a novelty and it was a damn catch song and had that mini Mariah vibe to it that Ariana does so well. “Break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored” paled in terms of cleverness to the first two hits but it’s unfortunate, this one actually feels the most relevant.
36. Tainy, Jessie Reyez, Tory Lanez – “Feel It Too”
Some songs just are so smooth that they make you want to instantly start moving. “Feel It Too” is one of those songs that nicely fits into playlist and no one will object to hearing it there no matter what time day or night. Tainy, Jessie Reyez and Tory Larenz create just the right vibe for this jam.
35. Lil Nas X ft. Billy Ray Cyrus – “Old Town Road”
Sometimes a song becomes so inescapable that you can’t tell if you love it or hate it or it doesn’t matter, it’s just a part of our cultural moment. Not since Nelly and Tim McGraw have we had such a hybrid crossover hit. Is it country? Hip-hop? It didn’t matter – from TikTok to YouTube – this was a single that showed the power of social media and for once it seemed that people came together to ride that old town road. On a side note, personally was amazing to see how a song could literally revitalize a brand (Wrangler) and to see the impact music can have on fashion and sales too!
34. Calum Scott – “No Matter What” (Fred Falke Mix)
If you made me distinguish between Lewis Capaldi, James Arthur and Calum Scott, I probably couldn’t. Scott’s claim to fame had been YouTube star-making turn on Britain’s Got Talent covering Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” (incidentally the #1 song of the decade for me). “No Matter What” is a phrase that I use emphatically throughout my life. When I came across this song, and this mix, the lyrics felt less emotional and more poignant. Rather than feeling sadness in the beautiful moment, it feels far more celebratory and ultimately acceptance is always worth dancing about…no matter what.
33. Dua Lipa – “Don’t Start Now”
Boy did she escape the sophomore slump! Riding high off her Best New Artist Grammy earlier in the year, Lipa gave us a sneak peak of her second album with this retro-laced classic “Don’t Stop Now” is catchy, throwback and the future altogether. That her voice has never sounded more confident makes it certain we’re in for a great 2020 with the young singer.
32. Billie Eilish, Justin Bieber – “Bad Guy”
Okay…the original already had made its impact then came this mix and literally THE bad guy Justin Bieber featured to make this slightly ridiculous song into an all too real and way more perfect oddity. Catchy to begin with, Bieber’s add does something a feature rarely does, it just makes all the insanity and quirks of the song sound tailor-made for him.
31. Brittany Howard – “Stay High”
Away from Alabama Shakes, Howard shines in way Darius Rucker did without the Blowfish. “Stay High” is a timeless hit that could have fit as easily in Al Green’s repertoire from the Seventies as it does today. Howard’s voice is all kinds of incredible and the freedom her voice is permitted with this single – it’s just pure joy.
30. Normani – “Motivation”
My mind will always wonder if this single would have been a bigger hit if Ariana Grande recorded it (she’s one of the songwriters). I only ask this because this girl literally kills it in the music video, vocally and in just about everything she does yet in that Kelly Rowland kind of way, I can’t help but wonder if her amazingness isn’t reaching the masses because of what Ciara explains “melanin”.
29. Kesha ft. Big Freedia – “Raising Hell”
Hallelujah first for Kesha finally removing that stupid $ from her name. Beyond that, “Raising Hell” is simply the perfect breed single of the OG Ke$ha and the “Rainbow” Kesha. The dichotomy musically and lyrically might be a bit much for many but it works to showcase the artist ten years into a career that’s seen a whole mini-series worth of moments. “Raising Hell” feels like Kesha’s own version of “Like A Prayer” and that’s saying something.
28. Bülow – “Get Stupid”
Ever hear a song and keep listening to it and then you totally forget when you started playing it and how is it that you know it so well. “Get Stupid” is one of those songs that just crept in and made its way on repeat over and over again without me wondering much about it other than enjoying hopping along each time it played! I guess like the song, sometimes even I want to “get stupid.”
27. Sam Martin – “Sugar Is Sweet”
Songwriter Sam Martin came into his own this year with the most saccharine single as lead singer. After featuring on numerous hit dance singles, this was his ever-sweet and most melodic piece of pop perfection and while it didn’t become as big a hit as many of the songs he’s written of the years (including Maroon 5’s “Daylight” and Jason DeRulo’s “Want You To Want Me”), the song surely made a lasting impact and makes one excited for his future solo singles.
26. Bea Miller – “feel something”
Ever since she wowed us on the American “X-Factor” show several years back, Bea Miller has been cranking out singles, EPs and collaborations like no other. In a fair world, she’d be a far bigger pop star but no worries, we can feel respite knowing she’s making some fine music including the hypnotic “feel something.” When we stutters “I just wanna feel,” we feel her and believe her rightly so.
25. Taylor Swift ft. Dixie Chicks – “Soon You’ll Get Better”
Call it my sentimental song of the year. Swift wrote this loving ode to her mother as she fought her cancer battle. All too often we hear singles about loss but rarely is there an inspirational ode that one can recover and “get better.” Accompanying her on the harmonies are the Dixie Chicks who help to make the song feel more than just a personal note but rather a comforting choir of voices assuring you that they’ll be there, always.
24. FKA twigs ft. Future – “Holy Terrain”
A kind of odd collaboration I wasn’t sure how it would work but then when remembering Future’s collabs with Rihanna, it was no surprise that “Holy Terrain” became a standout this year. With twigs signature vocals and Future’s all-too-familiar style, the song creates a mood that feels haunting, sexy and kind of tribal all at the same time.
23. Karen O and Danger Mouse – “Turn The Light”
Speaking of odd collaborations, Karen O and Danger Mouse was another one I was least expecting, especially when it came to this epic disco record. “Turn The Light” feels like lite-fm meets indie-rock. It’s a catchy record that feels timeless and at the same time current. A welcome departure for both – creating a sum that definitely feels heightened to the parts.
22. Madonna, Swae Lee – “Crave”
Madonna rightfully detailed a few years back about radio’s complete departure from playing her music and it’s a shame. While she’s had numerous missteps and her music doesn’t have the groundbreaking edge nor her videos the same panache or must-see feel, “Crave” was a safe but great record. Literally any other female artist under 40 could have recorded this song and it would have been a giant hit. It’s unfortunate that one of pop’s biggest stars no longer even exists in the conversation of being part of Top 40 playlists. It’s our collective loss.
21. Tame Impala – “Borderline”
The irony of appearing after Madonna and with a title that appears twice in the Top 50, both original songs, Tame Impala’s “Borderline” is a different from Madonna’s or Florrie’s as one could expect. It’s a groovy, extremely catchy more chilly single from the Aussies but it again works on any playlist and by the end of the tune, you want to hear it one more time.
20. Kaytranada, Shay Lia – “Chances”
Kaytranada’s style has now become its own sound and “Chances” was yet another feather in an ever-growing impressive cap of singles and collaboration with talented singers to take listeners on a neo-soul groovin’ journey day or night, chilled back, relaxed and most definitely with a mild constant foot tapping all the time.
19. Lizzo – “Juice”
That she’s getting her due has been one of the best stories of the year. How “Juice” didn’t become bigger, well, I’m just not sure. Hands down, Lizzo beat Bruno Mars at his own game with this single and the music video, well, it doesn’t get cheesier or better!
18. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Julien”
Can this woman do anything wrong? One of the most underrated artists had another underrated and undercelebrated album this year and of all the wonderful tracks on the album, “Julien” for me was the standout. Unabashedly Eighties retro, the single is the perfect reminder that pop music at its best can change your mood within a short 3 minute period and make you feel alive, happy and yes, even ready to carry on…no matter what.
17. Emeli Sande – “Extraordinary Being”
I’m still quite not sure why Sande’s career hasn’t shaped up the way it should have after “Our Version Of Events,” her stellar debut album but she’s hardly making missteps musically. “Extraordinary Being” is inspirational, theatrical, and damn catchy! The single has a Bond-esque vibe to it and Sande’s signature killer vocals. Personally, the song became another anthem I know many near and dear to me championed thanks to its incredibly empowering message.
16. Mabel – “OK (Anxiety Anthem)”
Very few young artists feel comfortable enough to open up about themselves and their mental health struggles. But as time goes by, it’s becoming more acceptable and the music is mirroring the needs of society. Mabel’s (still can’t get over she’s Neneh Cherry’s daughter!) hit “OK (Anxiety Anthem)” is the kind of single we’d once have mocked only to now see a growing trend of sincerity in message-driven singles especially when the artists themselves are willing to share and not just hide behind the lyrics.
15. Robyn – “Ever Again”
Is it cheating that this released last year? I’m going on a technicality that this single was re-edited for 2019 and the single mix did something I feel the album version was lacking – immediacy. While this single was already a choice single from Robyn’s underrated album “Honey,” this mix offered her at her primal best – singing about longing, needing, wanting and her vocals with the enhanced production create an emotional journey that helps for us to understand the singer’s desperation and ours.
14. Cards & Sita – “Shouldn’t Be Sorry”
With the aid of singer Sita, LA-based producer and songwriter Mike O. aka CARDS created an indie-pop ditty like no other this year. “Shouldn’t Be Sorry” is a smooth as it gets, with its breezy jazzy vibe and the silky, retro harmonies, the single sounds timeless like any era could and should deserve to have this song. Really looking forward to hearing more from him in any of his monikers.
13. Gryffin, Gorgon City, AlunaGeorge – “Baggage”
“You left all your baggage in my head” – poignant, bitter and bittersweet. With of course Gryffin and Gorgon City behind the production sonically, this isn’t going to be a completely somber affair. Of course AlunaGeorge (only vocalist this year to feature twice) is known for her layered but often very somber style. “Baggage” was lyrically heft and musically a banger – a treat for those who want to not just dance, but feel.
12. Sonny Alven – “On My Mind”
Alven is one of the low-key producer/DJ’s we’ve had over the past few years and his remix of Alesso’s “Cool” is personally one of my favorites this past decade. So with him venturing into original productions, “On My Mind” carried all the right Alven-y bells and whistles which made “Cool” so cool. It’s a great track to play any time of the day and a welcome introduction to a name I’m sure we’re going to hear a lot more from in the coming year and decade ahead.
11. Selena Gomez – “Lose You To Love Me”
Very few comebacks arrive so suddenly and move people as quickly as this very Julia Michaels-esque (hint, she’s one of the songwriters) ballad. But between her health and very public relationships, Gomez was absolutely the right person with the right message for the right time to an audience ready to understand, empathize and heal with the singer. The words literally narrate Gomez’s life and so many related not just to her experience but to their own in the process as well.
10. Lana Del Rey – “Norman F***ing Rockwell”
I’ve actually listed Del Rey’s cover of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time” as my best cover record of the year because I didn’t want to include two records by the same artist in my Top 50 (but this year, she definitely would have been there!). In arguably her finest album to date, the singer/songwriter perfected her sound, style and this time linked it together with a theme that astutely created a work of wonder. “Norman F**king Rockwell” is the best Fiona Apple record she never did but thankfully Del Rey has done.
9. ROSALIA – “Aute Cuture”
How quickly young artists achieve success to levels other artists often strive their entire careers to achieve. But ROSALIA is no fluke. She’s talented, quirky, inventive and has just about turned the Spanish speaking and listening audience on their creative heads. At the moment, she’s simply unstoppable.
8. Sinead Harnett ft. Gallant – “Pulling Away”
Unlike any other time in music history, one of the biggest pluses of record labels shutting down and basically the industry now being a handful of record labels is the freedom artists now have to collaborate with other artists. One of the U.K. R&B’s most underrated vocalists came together with US R&B singer Gallant for this very throwback but very modern slice of pop/soul.
7. Julia Michaels – “Hurt Again”
One of the most sought-after songwriters today, Julia Michaels has made her own mark as an artist too after her “Issues” breakthrough. While that single was a revelation, “Hurt Again” is trademark Michaels – a simple concept masterfully worded. Michaels has perfected what One Republic‘s Ryan Tedder has done – creating a sound that regardless of the artist performing, you know Michaels was involved.
6. Will Young – “Faithless Love”
The original “Pop Idol” has come and come out a long way. At the start of the decade, his transformation from balladeer to electronic pop (again courtesy of Richard X) was most fluid. His last album, “Lexicon” though struggling on the charts included some of his finest work including this gem. “Always had our flaws, now our faithless love is lost” is a line that marries his sentimentality with a sentiment many can relate to. Underrated.
5. Jessie Ware – “Adore You”
Her voice, the retro Donna Summer disco-esque vibe made this instant favorite of mine this year. In my opinion, there’s very little Ware can do wrong but returning to her dance/house roots with those sexy breathy vocals made this track simply irresistible. In a fair world, she’d be a far bigger star and this would have been a massive hit. But even without that, it’s one of the best most timeless singles of the year.
4. Alesso ft. TINI – “Sad Song” (Alesso Remix)
The original “Sad Song” was almost exhausting itself on my playlist when Alesso decided to remix his own single “Sad Song (Alesso Remix)”. The result is that he perfected an already stellar track. While I enjoyed the original for its lyrical content and style, the remix helped to elevate the song to a club anthem like no other. As I’ve previously expressed my affinity for sad dance/pop, no songs did it better than creating an orchestral stream of tears than “Sad Song” this year.
3. Shawn Mendes, Camila Cabello – “Señorita”
What male/female star pair have dueted more than once and on their second time scored not just better but hit a grand slam out of the park? After a schmaltzy duet a few years ago in “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” the maturing Mendes and a bonafide solo star now Cabello came together to get all the romantics out of hibernation to create one of the decade’s most memorable pop duets and guaranteed staple for karaoke bars for the next decade.
2. Tove Lo ft. Kylie Minogue – “Really don’t like u”
Tove Lo and Kylie Minogue are as diametrically on opposite ends of the pop sensibility map as possible but then stylistically, artistically and oddly enough even vocally, well, it’s a duet I never thought would sound so right. “Really don’t like u” is understated, it bounces back and forth between both singers in such a chill way, you wonder if both team’s managers were okay with such an ambient-pop collab. It works probably as well as it does because of this, hands down the best no-hype collaboration this decade.
1. Anderson .Paak ft. Brandy – “Jet Black”
Why not promote this stellar track as a single? One of 2019’s best songs by one of the brightest hip hop artists we have right now in Anderson .Paak featuring the original smoother than smooth vocalist Brandy – this was a track you just couldn’t hear and not want to dance. After .Paak and Mac Miller created perfection with “Dang!,” he did it again this time bringing back a voice I didn’t realize I missed as much as I did! “Jet Black” is going to be playing on repeat for many years to come.