Here I am, last minute Lulu as usual with the end of year lists. It’s a particularly gruelling marathon to complete this shit this year because we are staring down the barrel of a new decade which means its also custom to do a decade retrospective as well as the look back on the last 12 months, and so if you were expecting words from me on the albums of the year (or the decade) think again, because you’re getting the list and nothing more! There are however 3950 odd words for you to plough through on my personal favourite songs of 2019 (and probably double that number when I press go on the 100 best of the past ten years in a couple of days) so I’ve put the work in! If you can’t be arsed with my self-important musings you can go on right ahead and skip straight to the playlist and follow me on Spotify to see what else I’ve been listening to this year. For those of you who are actually interested in what I have to say, grab a cuppa and settle in. Please do @ me with your own opinions, I love to chatter. Albums list coming shortly!
50. SAM SMITH & NORMANI – ‘DANCING WITH A STRANGER’
Former Fifth Harmony member Normani lends her mellow tones to be the perfect compliment to Sam Smith’s blue-eyed soul on this heartbroken mid-tempo about moving on from someone you can’t move on from.
49. HALSEY – ‘GRAVEYARD’
“Oh, it’s funny how // the warning signs can feel like they’re butterflies…” sings Halsey on this rumination on waking up and pulling out of a toxic relationship before you crash and burn. The light, breezy but overshadowed feel to the beat sets the right mood and Halsey continues to be one of the most essential voices in pop music speaking to and for young women.
48. LETHAL BIZZLE – ‘WOAH!’
A luxuriant, laidback stretch more than an outright aggressive flex, but ‘Woah!’ still sees Lethal Bizzle bragging hard over a beat that sounds like a bright orange lilo floating in a bright blue infinity pool.
47. LIL NAS X – ‘OLD TOWN ROAD’
The record-breaking debut from Lil Nas X was the catalyst for one of the most interesting storylines in the pop music soap opera of 2019. ‘Old Town Road’ became the centre of a race-in-country-music debate, collected more features and remixes than you could keep up with (Billy Ray Cyrus, a member of the biggest k-pop boyband in the world and yodelling schoolboy Mason Ramsey to name but a few) and eventually led to a triumphant coming out moment for the young star as the only artist to ever do so while holding a #1 record. Lil Nas X has been one of the most entertaining artists of the year, and ‘Old Town Road’ will be a party playlist staple for the next decade to come.
46. ALPHABEAT – ‘SHADOWS’
A cornerstone band of the “wonky-pop” era, Alphabeat made a surprise and much appreciated comeback this year with ‘Shadows’, an upbeat groove that manages to sound contemporary without compromising on the distinctive Alphabeat charm. Stine Bramsen remains easily top three female vocalists in modern pop – a drastically underrated artist!
45. MILEY CYRUS – ‘MOTHER’S DAUGHTER’
Miley’s pivot from the “urban” music that made her one of the biggest stars of the decade, to a much less commercially successful white, conservative sound and subsequently back to a more hip hop influenced lane, coupled with her over-whelming and messy tabloid presence has led to a bit of a fall from grace, or at the least, a sharp decline in her charting history. The business of “just being Miley” has always been a distraction from the fact that Miley is one of the few mainstream female pop acts we have that commands almost total artistic freedom (Dead Petz!) and has the talent to front it. ‘Mother’s Daughter’ is compelling, defiant and slickly-produced, much like the artist herself.
44. MARK RONSON – ‘LATE NIGHT FEELINGS’ ft. LYKKE LI
Mark Ronson’s absolutely inspired idea to pull together some of the most evocative and melancholy-inducing female vocalists in the business (and Camila Cabello) to sing the shit out of his disco break-up anthems peaked on the title track of the album. Lykke Li is the sad banger performer supreme, wringing out every single desperate emotion without ever being overwrought. Superb.
43. CARDI B – ‘PRESS’
A shouty turn from Cardi B on ‘Press’, but the way those shots fire to punctuate the hook line “POP! UP! GUESS WHO, BITCH!” is fully exhilarating.
42. ARIANA GRANDE & SOCIAL HOUSE – ‘BOYFRIEND’
Ariana Grande proves she’s willing to go the extra mile to put her friends on in this business, inviting frequent collaborators (and Sweetener World Tour opening act) Social House to guest on this undeniably hooky R&B/pop number about a non-exclusive exclusive couple who are fully committed to resisting labelling their relationship. We’re leaving that energy in this decade, ladies and gays! But this song can stay.
41. DADDY YANKEE & KATY PERRY – ‘CON CALMA’ ft. SNOW REMIX
Not quite the same exceptional end to the decade as the way she began it (more on that another time…) but Katy Perry is still very enjoyable on this latin refix of 90s reggae hit ‘Informer’. Fresh and flirty, with just a dash of camp.
40. MADONNA & MALUMA – ‘MEDELLÍN’
It is a thankless task being Madonna, the Queen of Pop, in big 2019. And yet it is also par for the course considering people have been retreading the same tiresome criticisms of her for 30+ years. My stance, as someone who admittedly didn’t come to true Madonna fandom until her (second? third?) resurgence during the inarguably brilliant Confessions… era, is that an artist who has given so much, so excellently, for so long, is allowed to wind it in a little. Do what they want more. Is it fair to compare Madonna not to the now, but to her own “back then”? Even her average is still 20x more exciting than most of the girls at their best. Taken in the context of 2019, rather than the 1980s end of the Madonna discography, ‘Medellín’ is a gloriously sexy and summery single – on trend, but not derivative. It also introduced many of us to Maluma, a man so rawly attractive, it feels kind of oppressive. For that alone it deserves to be respected.
39. YIZZY – ‘BACK IT’ ft. DIZZEE RASCAL
Yizzy, torchbearer for “traditional” grime is joined on this track by Dizzee Rascal, a master and pioneer of the genre, for a showcase of lyrical dexterity, speed, and technical prowess over an industrial sounding beat. A harder, more aggressive sound than most grime music at the moment, and just what the doctor ordered for anyone who is suffering fatigue induced by the mellow, low-energy state of mainstream music in general.
38. NIALL HORAN – ‘NICE TO MEET YA’
Niall Horan’s “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Arctic Monkeys” introduction to his second album era displays a little of the swagger that presumably contributed to One Direction’s darkest horse being linked to not one, but two high profile love triangles over the last decade. Consistently very listenable.
37. ANNA OF THE NORTH – ‘LEANING ON MYSELF’
A delicate midtempo that at first glance is perhaps sad and lonesome, but is on repeated listens a deceptively potent anthem for inner strength and resilience. Empowerment doesn’t have to be brash and loud and certain, sometimes it can be gentle, quiet and unsure.
36. WILL YOUNG – ‘ALL THE SONGS’
I have a soft spot for songs about missing people and being reminded of them and this melancholic Will Young number hits all the right notes for me. Verses of measured sadness build into a euphoric-under-any-other-circumstance chorus. A top tier sad banger.
35. BILLIE EILISH – ‘BURY A FRIEND’
2019 is The Year Of Billie Eilish, a weird, menacing ASMR teenager who makes music exclusively with her older brother. Who could have predicted? ‘bury a friend’ is prowling and sinister, delivered in Billie’s signature overly-intimate tone, like a whisper in your ear. The genius is in the fact that the song manages to be wholly disorientating and still pop af. Not the pop star we were expecting, but the one that we need.
34. JOAN – ‘DRIVE ALL NIGHT’
Honestly, every single joan track makes me think of two very specific promo images – one from the series premiere of Riverdale where Archie, Betty and Veronica are sat in a neon-drenched booth in Pop’s and the other is the pink and blue bar sign from Black Mirror’s San Junipero – which is to say, this band is extremely incredibly 80s and I can’t get enough of it. ‘drive all night’ has a more headlamps shining on a dark, winding road vibe than their usual output which is distinctly pastel toned slow dance at a John Hughes prom material, but they’re all the better for it really. ‘drive all night’ has a momentum and urgency that is irresistible.
33. LITTLE MIX – ‘BOUNCE BACK’
Admittedly the Soul II Soul sample didn’t bang quite as hard as it maybe should have, but there’s something about this ‘Back To Life’ interpolating jam that sticks like grits. It sits in along nicely with Drake’s ‘Nice For What’ and N.E.R.D.’s Rihanna featuring ‘Lemon’ but failed to light the chart up in the way we have come to expect from Little Mix. Perhaps a little too Americanised for a British girl group?
32. STORMZY – ‘VOSSI BOP’
“Fuck the government and fuck Boris!”
31. KYGO & WHITNEY HOUSTON – ‘HIGHER LOVE’
The more ethical corner of my brain is uneasy with the ghoulish refusal to let Whitney’s soul rest, but the part that is wired for sound can’t help but love this reimagining of her Steve Winwood cover. Kygo throws in that syllabic vocal chop thing he does, but it’s melodically pretty faithful and the production is so fun that it’s difficult to be mad about it.
30. THE 1975 – ‘FRAIL STATE OF MIND’
This garage-influenced, through-the-looking-glass flip on previous album’s “throwaway” trop-pop tune ‘TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME’ is a dark and disjointed skitter through an anxious psyche. “I’m sorry but I always get this way sometimes” will be a sentiment to anyone familiar with the feeling of being an annoying, waste of space, burden on ones friends. The track also more specifically seems to address Matty Healy’s ongoing sobriety – the tightrope walk between staying clear of temptation without bringing the vibe down. As always with The 1975, there’s clarity in the distortion, if you care to listen hard enough.
29. BROCKHAMPTON – ‘NO HALO’
BROCKHAMPTON’s sixth(!!!) studio album was a banger-free zone, occupying a more downbeat and contemplative space. Opening track ‘NO HALO’ was the jewel in the crown for me, featured vocalist Deb Never’s plaintively optimistic hook anchoring acoustic guitar verses that see the members of the band explore their individual shortcomings. When Merlyn Wood said “do I matter? I’m ecstatic, I’m depressed…” I felt that.
28. KESHA – ‘RAISING HELL’ ft. BIG FREEDIA
Kesha began the decade as a rip roaring party girl and she’s ending it the same way. ‘Raising Hell’ takes all the chaos of her Animal era, mixes it up with the more organic sounds of the Rainbow album, adds a twist of holy roller fervour and invites bounce music icon Big Freedia to help serve it up. Can I get an amen?
27. J HUS – ‘MUST BE’
‘Must Be’ finds J Hus in completely different territory to his incredible afrobeat debut Common Sense. Warning that you are judged by the company you keep over a sexy, jazz beat, Hus makes a strong case for being considered one of the best talents this country has to offer.
26. MEGAN THEE STALLION – ‘HOT GIRL SUMMER’ ft. TY DOLLA $IGN & NICKI MINAJ
The song that launched a thousand cringey social marketing campaigns, this City Girls-sampling banger, featuring the always reliable Ty Dolla $ign and Nicki Minaj in rare form, truly deserved better than to be appropriated by the Beckys instagramming for Pretty Little Thing. Megan Thee Stallion is up there with Lil Nas X in terms of their complete monopoly of online culture this year and I, for one, welcome our new King and Queen.
25. CHARLOTTE LAWRENCE – ‘WHY DO YOU LOVE ME’
Streaming gets a bad rap when without it, people seem to forget, a whole class of (mostly) female pop artists who will never achieve A-list status and would ordinarily be dropped after three singles, can exist indefinitely without “breaking through”. And so it is that Charlotte Lawrence is appearing on the radar in 2019 (now signed to Atlantic) despite having been around for a good few years already. Thank god for streaming for leading us here, I say! This Charlie Puth produced dark-pop banger does for ‘Happy Together’ what the movie Us did for ‘I Got 5 On It’. It’s so weird how you can’t stop hearing the sinister overtones in something once someone points them out to you.
24. ARIANA GRANDE & VICTORIA MONÉT – ‘MONOPOLY’
Packed with immediate hashtags and instagram caption ready lyrics (#BadVibesGetOffOfMe) ‘Monopoly’ is the sound of two besties in the middle of an imperial phase having a good ass time and it’s impossible to not vibe with that.
23. YOUNG T & BUGSEY – ‘STRIKE A POSE’ ft. AITCH
I’ve been tipping Young T & Bugsey for success ever since I got super obsessed with ‘Greenlight’ at the beginning of last year. They have an absolute knack for radio friendly hooks and dancefloor ready beats. ‘Strike A Pose’ features man-of-the-moment Aitch and went top 10 earlier in the year. More than deserved.
22. LAUV – ‘FUCK, I’M LONELY’ ft. ANNE-MARIE
The Lauv wave has, for the most part, passed me by, though I am aware he’s like… HUGE. This is the first song of his that really got into my chest and stuck there though. Like a music box playing through a distortion filter, the production makes such great use of space – every element gets to breathe – creating this big empty, echoing resonance where Lauv and the criminally underrated Anne-Marie shout into the void at each other. It’s sad and pretty and immaculately crafted.
21. L DEVINE & INDIIA – ‘NAKED ALONE’
L Devine is Horny On Main and it sounds funky, sleek and amazing. Boomers keep lamenting the lack of “political” music but a young female artist explicitly stating “all I really need is some sex, you feel me?” without being even slightly coy about it is radical af actually.
20. HALSEY – ‘NIGHTMARE’
As we move into a “genreless” musical future, one of the melds I have enjoyed the most is the cultural exchange that started around the time Paramore discovered pastels and is now tracking back in the other direction with artists like Halsey embracing a sort of thrashy, goth darkness. I know I’m mixing sub-cultures a little here, but you see what I’m driving at. The emo influence is all over pop music and it’s fucking great. ‘Nightmare’ is a frustrated shout of a song, the sound of every woman snapping. Again, if you think there’s no politics happening in pop right now, perhaps it is your own perceptions that are the problem.
19. KHALID – ‘TALK’
This relaxed, sun-drenched Disclosure production brought the absolute best out of Khalid – sacrificing none of his languid swagger but infusing it with just a little pep and a lot of cool. A new summer playlist essential.
18. ZEDD & KEHLANI – ‘GOOD THING’
Kehlani really does have a good fucking thing going on in as much as she has absolutely no problem existing in both a credible, authentic hip hop/R&B space (collabs with Teyana Taylor, Cardi B, 6lack in the past couple of years, her own excellent While We Wait mixtape) and in commercial, heavyweight pop territory (Zayn, Calvin Harris and Charlie Puth) and never seeming out of place in either. I have said it before but it bears repeating: Kehlani is always, without fail, the best part of any song that she has a hand in. Her vocals are flawless and unassailable. This is the greatest song about being single since Natasha Bedingfield released ‘Single’. Give Kehlani The World 2020.
17. SELENA GOMEZ – ‘LOOK AT HER NOW’
What is it about this song that makes it so sticky? Is it the instantaneously hummable “mmm mmm” breakdown? The way the beat skitters around and never settles down? Why is it that so much as thinking about this track has me repeating “wow… look at her now” all day like a pull string doll with only one catchphrase? Answers on a postcard.
16. KATY PERRY – ‘NEVER REALLY OVER’
‘Never Really Over’, and its genius usage of the word “over” in all its many contexts, showed that Katy Perry could still be the pop tour de force she was 10 years ago. The verses sprawl, while the chorus bunches up, packing in words with a density that should really have given way to a TikTok challenge. It’s shiny and euphoric and proves there’s still space for straight down the line pure pop moments when they’re done right.
15. THE 1975 – ‘PEOPLE’
The 1975’s quest to conquer every single genre of music continued with ‘People’, the lead single from their upcoming album Notes On A Conditional Form. An unexpected jack knife into punk rock, ‘People’ is abrasive, noisy and initially difficult. Once you get past the surprise, however, underneath is their hookiest release yet – the song is essentially three choruses chained together – and climbs further up my favourites list the more I listen to it. The tabloid press took a distinctly negative interest in the most exciting band in the world this year, in case you needed anymore proof that they’re doing something very right.
14. TERROR JR – ‘TERRIFIED’
Terror Jr have been reliable suppliers of interesting, meaningful, and above all, catchy pop tunes for two years now, but this single from their debut album is their best yet. All the Terror Jr ingredients are here: razor sharp commentary on the millennial/gen-Z psyche, sparse, percussive beats and an earworm chorus and they have been cooked to absolute perfection. It’s self-deprecating, ironic and just a little bit heartbreaking. Obsessed.
13. KEHLANI – ‘NIGHTS LIKE THIS’ ft. TY DOLLA $IGN
Sonically reminiscent of Halsey’s ‘New Americana’, Kehlani is “reminiscin’, sippin’, missin’…” an ex-lover on this contemplative nu-R&B vibe. The twist is in the post-chorus midway through the song, where the mood shifts from reproachful at the dishonesty and mixed signals that led to separation to a wistful yearning. “You gon’ get my hopes high, girl”, delivered in that pitch perfect tone? The saddest lyric of the year, luv.
12. LIZZO – ‘JUICE’
What a year it has been for Lizzo! And what a year it has been for pop culture as it reckons with what a year it has been for Lizzo! For my part, the only Lizzo discourse I am willing to entertain is how this infallible funk-pop song failed to come even close to the top of any chart in any country. Is everyone insane? ‘Juice’ is the song Bruno Mars has been trying to write his whole life, a bright, fiery Prince-esque explosion of sass and sexy. With Lizzo’s track record, this song should be #1 by 2021, but it’s outrageous that we have to wait that long.
11. NORMANI – ‘MOTIVATION’
The most talented and least racist member of Fifth Harmony finally (finally!) landed a fully solo release this year and it was everything I had hoped for. Insanely infectious, a little bit flirty, a whole lot fun and a visual spectacular we don’t usually see outside of k-pop, ‘Motivation’ landed just a little too late in the year to be the summer banger it deserved, though it still slaps right here in the cold ass months of winter. Normani oozes star power in buckets, but resist the lazy dismissal of her as a Beyoncé wannabe. Just as Britney Spears wore her Janet Jackson influences on her sleeves, so too is Normani being direct about where she sees herself in the music pantheon. We are so lucky to have witnessed the arrival of a new pop princess.
10. HARRY STYLES – ‘ADORE YOU’
There aren’t words strong enough to convey how much I love this sweetly, fervently romantic song so I will end this sentence here.
9. GOLDLINK – ‘U SAY’ ft. TYLER, THE CREATOR
‘U Say’ features the fullest rap verse we got from Tyler, The Creator this year and hidden gem Jay Prince on the chorus. Easily GoldLink’s best single, afrobeats and dancehall jumble together nicely, creating something new and smooth sounding.
8. TIËSTO, JONAS BLUE & RITA ORA – ‘RITUAL’
The unstoppable Rita Ora wins again on this absolute monster of a tune that references Madonna and somehow makes you want to listen to it more even after you’ve played it on repeat for an hour and a half (I have tested this, scientifically). Regular readers will know I am a sucker for handclaps in music and if I had to make one small criticism of ‘Ritual’ it would be that the ones that are present on this song aren’t made enough of.
7. KEVIN ABSTRACT – ‘BABY BOY’
My sweet baby boy and the leader of the boyband BROCKHAMPTON somehow found time to put out a solo record of his own at the beginning of this year, but that is perhaps unsurprising given BROCKHAMPTON’s abundant creativity. Co-produced with his regular BROCKHAMPTON collaborators and Jack Antonoff, ‘Baby Boy’ is the most bittersweet cut, the Ryan Beatty chorus is a snippet called ‘Let’s Get Married’ salvaged from scrapped BROCKHAMPTON album Puppy and Kevin builds a story of feeling bereft and confused in the aftermath of a break up around its heart-rending confession. It hurts so good to listen to.
6. TYLER, THE CREATOR – ‘EARFQUAKE’
My other sweet baby boy Tyler put out his best work yet on IGOR (a deserved Grammy-nominated #1 album) and I finally got to see him live and in person on stage in Brixton over the summer after his ban on travelling to the UK was lifted. ‘EARFQUAKE’, with all its hooks and refrains, also became his highest ever charting single. Tyler – pitched up – sings instead of raps his way through a lament over the end of a relationship he blames himself for ruining. It’s gorgeous and sad and a testament to Tyler’s talent that he started the decade as a shock jockey rapper and ended as a self-reflective multi-hyphenate.
5. JONAS BROTHERS – ‘SUCKER’
The Jonas Brothers have never shied away from being bold, or camp or outright pop, which is why their return this year earned them their well deserved first ever #1 single. Resisting the urge to “mature” into something more Coldplay or Imagine Dragons or – God forbid – Mumford & Sons, ‘Sucker’ is a pop confection, an unabashed love song that steers just the right side of corny, the most potent advert for married life I’ve ever heard.
4. GLOWIE – ‘I’M GOOD’
Rare for a brand new artist to end up so high in the rankings but ‘I’m Good’ by Glowie is more than worthy of top five placement. The track thuds, growls, peaks and troughs – it’s so exciting to hear a pop song be so “on trend” and yet still so dynamic. Glowie is the best thing to come out of Iceland since Björk and my main pop “one to watch” recommendation for next year.
3. ZARA LARSSON – ‘ALL THE TIME’
The way the drums kick up and the guitars shudder into action on the chorus of this song sends a shiver up my spine every time I hear it. ‘All The Time’ is a surge and rush of nostalgic energy, it sounds exactly like the feeling when you tip over the first drop on a high-roller coaster, bright and scary. It’s sad but it revels in it. It’s shiny and sparkling and desperate and it deserved to be the biggest song of the summer. Justice for Zara Larsson.
2. MUNA – ‘NUMBER ONE FAN’
“So I heard the bad news // nobody likes me and I’m gonna die alone // in my bedroom” is a serious contender for best opening line of the decade, no? The lead single from MUNA’s second album is proof that sophomore slump is for amateurs – ‘Number One Fan’ absolutely dazzles with synth-rock driven hype(wo)man energy. This is a brand of self-love for people who might find self-love a little too cheesy, but still need reminding they’re worthy and valid, just like everyone else. So buoyant, so joyful.
1. ARIANA GRANDE – ‘BREAK UP WITH YOUR GIRLFRIEND, I’M BORED’
I haven’t been in love with a song they way I’m in love with ‘break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored’ for a long time. Everything about it rubs up against the pleasure centre area of my brain and trips an overdose of gratification that gets me high af. I love the brazen audacity of it. The explicit mean girl energy and the tossed off “i’m bored” that implies two equally diabolical meanings – I mean, it’s just super villain shit. Who’s doing that in music right now? Everyone is so bothered about being relatable and “good vibes only” and all that twee bollocks. When was the last time a female artist dared to be really unapologetically cunty about behaviour almost everyone would agree is some fucked up shit? Ariana redeems herself in the melody and production, interpolating *NSYNC’s ‘It Makes Me Ill’, huffing and eye-rolling over a trap beat and drawing out the syllables on “girlfriend” to sound like an exasperated whine. It’s a next level performance – theatrical, a character piece. While I cannot condone the motivation, I can’t praise the song enough. My most listened and most loved track of the year.