The 50 Best Songs of 2019

If there’s one unifying theme of the best songs of 2019, it’s a genre-less sense of exploration.

FKA twigs
Photo: Matthew Stone

Where a song comes from, and how it becomes a hit, is more muddled than ever. In 2019, Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” a country-trap novelty built out of a Nine Inch Nails sample by an erstwhile Nicki Minaj stan, became a TikTok meme and then the biggest and most surprising smash of the year.

Or was it so surprising after all? As the world careens in wilder and wilder directions and the music industry’s rules have long since been abandoned, a hip-hop/Nashville crossover No. 1 by a young gay black man in Atlanta boasting about the “Wrangler on my booty” seems somehow natural. And, in its own absurd way, liberating.

Defining what we used to call singles, much less ranking them, doesn’t make much sense now. For the first time ever, Slant has ranked the best songs of the year, from radio darlings and streaming juggernauts to gorgeous deep cuts. So, Lil Nas X and Billie Eilish (the other commercial breakout no one could shut up about) sit comfortably alongside a quieter Taylor Swift, Bat for Lashes’s mind-melting atmospherics, the drifting grief of Nick Cave’s latest work, and the weirdest shit Madonna has ever put out. FKA twigs’s electronic-pop ballads and Lana Del Rey’s revisionist take on ’70s singer-songwriter material, complete with nods to Sublime and Kanye West, are practically programming categories of their own.

If there’s one unifying theme in this set of tracks, it’s a genre-less sense of exploration. These self-possessed artists have decided to push against old formulas in search of something more transparently reflective of who they are and what’s happening inside their brains during a remarkably chaotic time. The masses, or at least fiendish cult audiences, are listening. Paul Schrodt

50. Bat for Lashes, “Peach Sky”

Natasha Khan’s latest album, Lost Girls, conjures an all-woman biker gang riding around some hazy, menacing version of Los Angeles. Although “Peach Sky” isn’t nearly as blood-thirsty as all that, its warm ’80s-style synths evoke the magic of driving through darkness with the volume cranked to 10. Bathed in the glow of passing headlights, Khan’s vocals heave with longing: “Oh, you and I know/I know it ain’t right/So, so I/want a long goodnight.” Anna Richmond

49. DJ Shadow featuring De La Soul, “Rocket Fuel”

The first time I heard “Rocket Fuel,” it sounded so warm and familiar that I assumed it had to be sampling something ubiquitous but anonymous. It turns out that the only well-worn sample was taken from Neil Armstrong’s moon landing speech. DJ Shadow and De La Soul have crafted an instant classic, the type of jam that should be central to every summertime block party from now until the apocalypse. “Rocket Fuel” seems destined for pump-up soundtracks and highlight reels, the kind of song that gets you ready for 12 rounds in the ring. Seth Wilson

48. The National, “I Am Easy to Find”

Seemingly standard-issue songs on the National’s I Am Easy to Find are made more rewarding by the guest singers’ eye-opening interpretations. Best of all, they occasionally empower the band to do something completely new, most notably on the stunningly beautiful title track, with its male-female harmonizing and atypically delicate vocal cadences. It’s one of the most uncharacteristic, and finest, songs the National has recorded to date. Jeremy Winograd

47. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Julien”

Carly Rae Jepsen has a knack for casting the pangs of love in a glamorous light, a far cry from mopey, post-breakup ice cream binging. With “Julien,” she goes a step further, making her reminiscences of a fling she can’t shake off seem enjoyable and exhilarating over a fusion of throwback disco and slick synth-pop. “More than just lovers, I/I’m forever haunted by our time,” she breathily coos over heavy-hitting synths that bleed into sun-soaked guitar. Sophia Ordaz

46. Jenny Hval, “Ashes to Ashes”

It’s not every day that a song about a dream about a song about a burial should compel its listener to dance. On “Ashes to Ashes,” abundant synth strings and a hypnotic bassline cohere with singer-songwriter Jenny Hval’s honey-sweet voice into a kind of beautiful Trojan horse for a meditation on innocence and experience, sex and death. Richmond

45. Sofi Tukker and ZHU, “Mi Rumba”

From the epic “Swing” to the quirky “Purple Hat,” there was no shortage of Sofi Tukker bops to choose from this year. But it’s the New York-based jungle-pop duo’s collaboration with EDM artist ZHU, “Mi Rumba,” that ekes out a spot on our list, thanks to the track’s mix of dark funk and unapologetic sexuality. Trading the group’s usual Brazilian influences for a more Cuban flavor, punctuated by distorted horns and a fleet-footed bassline, the track captures the paradoxical nature of sexual freedom in just one sadomasochistic line: “You can put me in a bind ‘cause I’m already free.” Sal Cinquemani

44. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, “Ghosteen”

By typical pop music standards, “Ghosteen” is a preposterously structured song. It’s 12 minutes long, and 11 of those minutes are Nick Cave murmuring abstract musings on the nature of love over a quiet synthy drone. But compositionally, “Ghosteen” is much more classical than pop, with a three-part structure that tells a story of its own. The first movement is exotic and tense, as it builds to the second—a spectacular, swirling burst of radiant beauty that seems to come out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly. And it seems to take everything out of Cave: The minimalist final movement sounds like the singer retreating into a long, much-needed sleep. Winograd

43. Mark Ronson featuring Miley Cyrus, “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart”

Beneath sweeping strings, a cyclical acoustic guitar line recalls the looping pattern of “Jolene,” but where the object of Dolly Parton’s pain was singular, Miley Cyrus’s is more universal: “This world can hurt you/It cuts you deep and leaves a scar.” This is producer Mark Ronson at his most lushly cinematic, and Cyrus in the best voice she’s been in for years.

42. Broods, “Everytime You Go”

An unassuming deep cut from New Zealand duo Broods’s third album, Don’t Feed the Pop Monster, “Everytime You Go” is a textured synth-pop ballad in the form of a dance song. The track’s 4/4 pulse, electric synth stabs, clattering percussion, and delicate piano flourishes gradually build in service of singer Georgia Josiena Nott’s simmering anxiety. The frenzy in her voice slowly increases as she reaches the bridge, laying out in stark terms the most universal of fears: “Is it good enough to know it’s enough?/’Cause I need to know that you need my love.” Cinquemani

41. Kanye West, “Use This Gospel”

While it’s fair and useful to question Kanye West’s motives in suddenly declaring himself a servant to God, there’s no denying the sincerity of “Use This Gospel,” a maximalist, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy-worthy swirl that incorporates Clipse and a Kenny G sax solo that, if there is a God, will certainly be admitted into heaven. Schrodt

40. (Sandy) Alex G, “Gretel”

(Sandy) Alex G has made a name for himself by dissecting the pathologies and growing pains of human behavior with the directness of Elliott Smith and the off-kilter proclivities of Pavement. A highlight from his stunning eighth album, House of Sugar, “Gretel” eerily diverges from the traditional telling of the Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, laying bare human shortcomings over uneasy lo-fi guitar and haunting pitched-up vocals. Alex G’s Gretel escapes from the witch’s clutches, but her gluttony tempts her to return to the witch’s house of sugar for one more taste. The well-meaning lyrics (“I don’t wanna go back/Nobody’s gonna push me on track”) clash with the track’s restlessness, as the allure of self-indulgence is a covert yet persistent threat. Ordaz

39. Thom Yorke, “I Am a Very Rude Person”

Like the other tracks on Thom Yorke’s mesmerizing Anima, “I Am a Very Rude Person” is fraught with dystopian tension. Assisted by longtime Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, the carefully orchestrated track pulsates with frenetic energy. A glitch-scuffed dance beat threads in and out of a swelling chorus of spectral vocals as Yorke sings, “I have to find some way to escape/I have to walk but I wanna stay,” bringing to mind the Orwellian landscape of the album’s accompanying 15-minute film. Ordaz

38. The Regrettes, “I Dare You”

“My mom tries to catch me/But I know all the back streets” is both a clever slant rhyme and a brilliant, specific image that immediately sets the scene. “I Dare You,” the lead single from the Regrettes’s How Do You Love?, paints a picture of an illicit relationship marked by the tension between being supportive and egging each other on: “You’re gonna fall, but I’ll catch you…C’mon and jump/Well, I dare you!” It’s a sublime three minutes, perfectly capturing the heady rush of young love. Wilson

37. Charly Bliss, “Blown to Bits”

The most explosive, thrilling song on Brooklyn power poppers Charly Bliss’s sophomore album, Young Enough, is a lesson in the power of simplicity. Comprising singer Eva Hendricks’s ruminations on the joys of the little things in life, “Blown to Bits” barely even has a chorus, or a third chord. It’s so propulsive and infectious that the gradual build to the climax hits with the grandeur of a symphony. Winograd

36. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Real Love”

Carly Rae Jepsen’s best songs are rarely the hits, of which there are fewer and fewer these days. “Real Love” bolsters the singer’s reputation as an indie-pop savant, with icy synths and a sneakily funky chorus to match her yearn for the simplest warmth in the most confusing of times. Schrodt

35. The Raconteurs, “Bored and Razed”

As Jack White and Brendan Benson trade vocals on Help Us Stranger’s savage opening track, “Bored and Razed,” with White’s spitfire verses building into Benson’s soaring choruses, their twin lead guitars batter away at each other like feral animals. Add Patrick Keeler’s thunderous drumming, and the Raconteurs enter a dimension of pure rock power they’ve only ever succeeded in accessing together. Winograd

34. Kelsey Lu, “Poor Fake”

Raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, Kelsey Lu ran away from her home in North Carolina at 18, finding solace and community as a musician in California. Where her first EP, Church, was intimate in the extreme, her debut album, Blood, draws from a significantly broadened palette. On “Poor Fake,” expectant strings gather like clouds, seeming to herald a track akin to Lu’s earlier, more melancholic work. Just at the last moment, the winds change and the clouds part, and through them shines the kind of disco bassline and charismatic vocal performance that would have set Studio 54 alight. Richmond

33. Beyoncé, “Brown Skin Girl”

Undoubtedly the song possessing the most staying power from Beyoncé’s The Gift, “Brown Skin Girl” is as uplifting as it is subversive. The Afrobeat ode to dark-skinned black women belongs to a rich creative lineage celebrating black beauty, typified by Kwame Brathwaite’s Afrocentric fashion photography; Wadsworth Jarrell’s “Revolutionary (Angela Davis),” an emblematic portrait of the civil rights activist; and the hashtag #blackgirlmagic. Beyoncé’s seven-year-old daughter, Blue Ivy, sweetly opens the track with the refrain: “Brown skin girl/Your skin just like pearls/The best thing in the world/Never trade you for anybody else.” Assisted by the melodious singing of Nigeria’s Wizkid, Beyoncé tenderly frames her message of self-love within a maternal context, name-checking dark-skinned celebrities like Naomi Campbell and Lupita Nyong’o and praising her daughter’s natural hair. Ordaz

32. The Raconteurs, “Somedays (I Don’t Feel Like Trying)”

The swooning country-soul of “Somedays (I Don’t Feel Like Trying)” ranks among Brendan Benson’s very best work to date, with Jack White’s multi-textured, ever-inventive guitar riffs and the rock solid rhythm section elevating Benson’s usual sad-sack routine toward true pathos. Help Us Stranger reaches its emotional apex during the song’s honey-sweet outro: “I’m here right now, not dead yet,” Benson repeats, leaping registers as the band slowly works up to a fevered pitch behind him. Corny as it sounds, he might as well be singing about rock ‘n’ roll itself. Few other bands out there are such compelling proof of its enduring viability. Winograd

31. Holly Herndon, “Eternal”

Holly Herndon’s musical process is so deeply rooted in the digital world that the singer-songwriter once described the laptop as “the most personal instrument that the world has ever seen.” And yet, the human cries that usher in her song “Eternal” feel profoundly primal. Herndon sings—her voice heavily processed—from the perspective of a mother looking upon her creation for the first time. She wills an AI baby named Spawn to “breathe, belong, please breathe,” blurring the boundaries between human and inhuman beings, and human and inhuman sounds. Richmond

30. Chromatics, “Touch Red”

Chromatics producer Johnny Jewel’s reputation as a wunderkind of building atmospheric sonic landscapes would be annoying if it weren’t so obviously deserved. “Touch Red,” from the group’s surprise-released Closer to Grey, plays on the Chromatics’s strengths, proving that less really is more if you know how to make less sound epic. A sleek, skittering trip-hop beat backgrounds singer Ruth Radelet’s deadpan vocals calling for color, which find exactly what they seek in a euphoric distorted guitar solo. Schrodt

29. Labrinth, “Miracle”

Labrinth, ne Timothy Lee McKenzie, has had a breakthrough year, releasing a collaborative album with Sia and Diplo, scoring the HBO series Euphoria, and dropping his solo sophomore effort, Imagination & the Misfit Kid, featuring the standout single “Miracle.” A symphonic tribute to faith in the darkest of hours, the expansive track skillfully blends soul, electronic music, and even big band, juxtaposing swirling strings with skittering electro drops as it builds to a climactic exaltation complete with a gospel choir. Cinquemani

28. The New Pornographers, “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile”

Like A.C. Newman’s best songs with the New Pornographers, the hooks on “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile” never stop coming, one stacked on top of another. However, the track doesn’t proceed at the same breakneck fashion as their past efforts. Instead, Newman takes the time to introduce each earworm at a deliberate pace, starting from the sonic bottom with John Collins’s wobbly bassline, so that when the band’s ecstatic harmonies finally build to their peak, the effect is that much sweeter. A sly allusion to the Pixies’s “Tame”—“uh huh uh, uh huh uh”—is icing on the cake. Winograd

27. Weyes Blood, “Movies”

In “Movies,” Weyes Blood, née Natalie Mering, deconstructs the cultural mythologies propagated by cinema and how they’ve come to inhabit our collective consciousness. Layered vocals and droning synths edify the song’s eerie first movement, evoking the underwater, poster-laden bedroom on the cover of Titanic Rising. Electrifying violin and percussion pierce the spacey backing track just as Mering decides to reject the inevitable shortcomings that lie in the disparities between life and film. “I wanna be in my own movie,” she cries over a climbing string crescendo, fruitlessly longing for the guilelessness of a world in which art largely imitates life, not the other way around. Ordaz

26. The Chemical Brothers, “Got to Keep On”

“Got to Keep On” could describe loyal fans of the Chemical Brothers, the formerly ubiquitous electronic act that has undergone various permutations over the years with diminishing returns. Here, however, the innovative DJs have landed on something that lives up to their sonic-collage glories while still sounding fresh. If you insist on continuing to make the people high, “Star Guitar”-like claps, bell dings, and an apocalyptic sonic breakdown will do the trick. Schrodt

25. Alicia Keys, “Time Machine”

Swooping in at the very end of the decade seems apt for a song titled “Time Machine.” This Funkadelic-inspired track from Alicia Keys’s forthcoming seventh album is simultaneously retro and futuristic, alternately sexy and darkly atmospheric, mixing a heavy, midtempo beat and deep bass with cautionary lyrics that warn of the ephemerality of life: “It’s the dream that we weren’t chasing/Come back to haunt us eventually.” Cinquemani

24. Clairo, “Bags”

With “Bags,” Clairo navigates the line between friend and lover with a crush who could be straight. Her approach pinpoints ephemeral moments with a wide-eyed recollection: the sensation of fingertips on her back, a mane of hair blowing in the wind of an open car window, a love interest standing in a doorway. You get the feeling that the experiences she recounts are firsts for her, so vivid and formative are her memories. Ordaz

23. Destroyer, “Crimson Tide”

Dan Bejar made his most popular music as Destroyer in the 2010s, partially by embracing a certain economy of lyrics and phrasing, at least in contrast to the knotty, absurdly wordy epics he made during the 2000s. So he’s kicking off the 2020s with something of a throwback. Although “Crimson Tide,” the first single off the forthcoming Have We Met, due in January, shares a synthy, danceable arrangement and debonair vibe with albums like 2011’s Kaputt and 2017’s ken, the lyrics—reams of them, recited over the course of six winding minutes—are pure old-school Bejar. This is the wild jackal who chants weird shit like “When lightning strikes twice the funeral goes completely insane” as a matter of course. It’s good to have him back. Winograd

22. Ariana Grande, “Imagine”

Released late last year in support of Ariana Grande’s fifth album, Thank U, Next, “Imagine” is a dreamy, sensual midtempo ballad, with the singer pining for an Instagram-perfect romance that comprises sexy baths, “creepy” secrets, and sharing pad thai. The track takes a sudden turn in its final third, as it builds to a hypnotic climax filled with cinematic orchestral swells and Grande’s euphoric, Ripperton-esque whistle notes. Cinquemani

21. Rosalía and J Balvin featuring El Guincho, “Con Altura”

Setting the tone early with its mesmeric vocal loop and down-and-dirty dembow drum pattern, “Con Altura” (literally translated as “with altitude”) sees Spanish singer Rosalía in characteristically bold form. Cross-pollinating her Catalonian influence and R&B posturing with the raspy delivery of J Balvin and reggaeton sensibilities of producer Pablo Díaz-Reixa Díaz (a.k.a. El Guincho), the result is a track that transcends boundaries of country, genre, and language. Richmond

20. Lizzo, “Juice”

Unfortunately, the bulk of the pop music establishment seems to have swallowed enough benzodiazepines to put a musk ox down. The antidote is Lizzo, who’s one of the very few pop stars having a good time these days. “Juice” captures in four minutes the party-to-go vibe that some artists spend their entire careers trying to cultivate. And there simply wasn’t a better line to crow along with this year than “Blame it on the goose!” Wilson

19. Taylor Swift, “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince”

“American stories burning before me/I’m feeling helpless, the damsels are depressed/Boys will be boys, then where are the wise men?” a newly politically outspoken Taylor Swift ponders on “Miss Americana & the Heartbreak Prince,” a richly painted narrative—punctuated by cool synth washes and pep-rally chants—from her seventh album, Lover. In this case politics is a metaphor for heartbreak, which is, of course, her stock in trade. Cinquemani

18. Angel Olsen, “Lark”

That All Mirrors is Angel Olsen’s loudest, densest album to date seems to speak to the liberation that comes with solitude. On “Lark,” strings gather like clouds, only to burst in time with Olsen’s voice as her delivery shifts from low and restrained to loud and confrontational. “Dream On,” she howls over and over, the full force of her band and string section swelling, before she asks, “What about my dreams?” There’s a kind of ecstasy in the enormity of moments like this, reflecting the scope of the place Olsen is seeking. Richmond

17. Purple Mountains, “That’s Just the Way that I Feel”

Purple Mountains is as funny, incisive, and vital as anything in David Berman’s catalog, suggesting a phone call out of the blue from a friend you haven’t heard from in years. “That’s Just the Way that I Feel” is part barstool rant about failure and rotten luck, and part mission statement for the album. But this isn’t tear-in-my-beer mopery. With Woods as his rollicking backing band, Berman gleefully lays out the myriad disasters of the last decade and highlights the philosophical themes he’s getting ready to tackle: dying love, loneliness, and the crushing impermanence of life. If that sounds weighty, the song is bouncy enough to avoid being maudlin. The song showcases Berman’s unmatchable wordplay: “I’ve been forced to watch my foes enjoy ceaseless feasts of schadenfreude” is a head-spinner, and the line about a Des Moines anthill is the kind of earth-shatteringly funny nugget that only Berman could concoct. “That’s Just the Way that I Feel” is the musical equivalent of finding a faded Polaroid of yourself with a friend gone too soon. Wilson

16. Lana Del Rey, “The Greatest”

At her best, as on “The Greatest,” Lana Del Rey pushes her self-conscious referentiality into new, urgent meaning that’s distinctly her own. Only under the surface of the rollicking, Neil Young-aping guitar licks do you get to the singer’s eulogy for a certain kind of ignorant American innocence that was never so innocent. “The culture is lit, and if this is it, I had a ball,” she coos amid nods to the Beach Boys, a forgotten New York rock scene, and a “blond and gone” Kanye West. “I guess that I’m burned out after all.” It’s hard to disagree. Schrodt

15. Charli XCX featuring Christine and the Queens, “Gone”

Charli XCX undermines the party-girl persona she’s been cultivating over the past few years on the muscular “Gone.” The track, which features Christine and the Queens, could be as much about coping with social anxiety as it is about navigating an industry that wants artists to be something they aren’t: “I feel so unstable, fucking hate these people/How they’re making me feel lately.” Richmond

14. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, “Bright Horses”

“Bright Horses” is classic, prototypical Nick Cave in many respects: strange, striking, literary imagery; religious allegory; sad, tolling piano chords. And even within Cave’s large and illustrious catalog of beautiful balladry, this song’s stark, wordless vocal hook, delivered in uncharacteristic falsetto, is remarkable—angelic, sweet, and heartbreaking. Winograd

13. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib featuring Pusha T and Killer Mike, “Palmolive”

“Palmolive” contains head-spinning appearances from three of today’s most distinctive MCs: Freddie Gibbs, Pusha T, and Killer Mike. True to form, producer Madlib hews top-shelf soul-infused hip-hop out of a vocal loop lifted from the Sylvers’s 1973 single “Cry of a Dreamer.” Gibbs’s flow is primed and measured, judiciously pausing to create room for tension as he recalls his drug-dealing days, criticizes the U.S.’s “reality star” president, and dubiously condemns vaccines. Pusha T, whose characteristically snarled delivery engagingly contrasts with Madlib’s lush beatscape, offers up the song’s most unforgettable one-liner: “Obama opened his doors knowing I was a criminal.” Ordaz

12. Madonna, “God Control”

Madonna has a reputation for being a trendsetter, but her true talent lies in bending those trends to her will, twisting them around until they’re barely recognizable. Madame X’s pièce de résistance, at least in that regard, is the six-minute “God Control,” which begins with the queen of pop conjuring the spirit and disaffected monotone of Kurt Cobain—“I think I understand why people get a gun/I think I understand why we all give up,” she sings through clenched teeth—before the whole thing implodes into a euphoric, densely layered samba-disco-gospel mash-up. Madonna’s vocals alternate between Auto-Tuned belting, urgent whispers, and Tom Tom Club-style rapping as she takes on the gaslight industrial complex and so-called political reformers. On paper, it might sound like the ingredients for a musical Hindenburg, but—somewhere around the midpoint, when she declares, “It’s a con, it’s a hustle, it’s a weird kind of energy!”—it all coheres into the most exhilaratingly batshit thing she’s done in years. Cinquemani

11. Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road”

For a song that launched 1,000 remixes and at least half as many think pieces, “Old Town Road” is surprisingly slight. In under two minutes, this earworm ignited a nationwide conversation about what constitutes country music. With all due respect to Steve Goodman, “Old Town Road” has everything a country song needs: the open road, a cowboy hat, drunken melancholy, and a horse. Lil Nas X is talking about a man clearing his head of his self-inflicted troubles by hopping on a horse and lighting out for greener pastures. It’s got the ethos of a George Jones track, and nobody really needs Billy Ray Cyrus to make it stick. Saddle up. Wilson

10. Solange featuring Playboi Carti, “Almeda”

An homage to her hometown of Houston, as well as a testament to black perseverance, Solange’s “Almeda” is a joyful, chopped-n’-screwed victory lap that’s both celebratory and unrushed. In his most memorable feature of the year, Playboi Carti delivers a riveting verse, but the song’s standout lyrics are Solange’s enumeration of black features and cultural creations over the track’s hypnotic synth passages. “These are black-owned things,” she declares, defying the mainstream’s relentless, uncredited appropriation of black culture and reclaiming rightful ownership over it. Ordaz

9. Vampire Weekend, “Harmony Hall”

The resplendent “Harmony Hall” is Vampire Weekend firing on all cylinders. Its sparkling guitar arpeggios, sun-drenched chorus, and baroque piano break are all entirely familiar elements within the band’s oeuvre, but they’ve never coalesced so irresistibly before. Winograd

8. Purple Mountains, “All My Happiness Is Gone”

Imagine a song called “All My Happiness Is Gone,” featuring lines like “Feels like something really wrong has happened/And I confess I’m barely hanging on.” What does it sound like? Propulsive drums? A sing-songy chorus that’ll be stuck in your head for days? Doubtful, but that’s how David Berman decided to grapple with the depression that would ultimately drive him to suicide. Many great songs embrace this extreme level of musical and lyrical contrast (or contradiction). Call it the “Born in the U.S.A.” formula. “All My Happiness Is Gone” is the latest to join that canon, and it’s possibly one of the best. Winograd

7. Billie Eilish, “Bad Guy”

Over a synth hook that could soundtrack a safe-cracking montage or a prison break, Billie Eilish threatens to seduce your dad. The singer’s delivery is incredibly self-assured, and by the time she gets to the voice-modded breakdown she’s more than staked her claim as 2019’s breakout pop star. Who gives a shit if she’s never heard of Van Halen? Wilson

6. Taylor Swift, “The Archer”

“The Archer” is quintessential Taylor Swift: wistful, minimalist dream pop that displays her willingness to acknowledge and dismantle her flaws, triggers, and neuroses. “I say I don’t want [combat], but what if I do?” she muses before proceeding to carpet-bomb listeners with the kind of pithy confessionals—“All of my heroes die all alone,” “All of enemies started out friends”—fit more for a therapy session than your average pop song. Cinquemani

5. FKA twigs, “Sad Day”

Throughout her second album, Magdalene, FKA twigs calls upon religious references to subvert ideas of her own power. A lyric like “I lie naked and pure with intentions to cleanse you and take you,” from the transcendent “Sad Day,” suggests both submission and dominance; the act of cleansing recalls Mary Magdalene washing Jesus’s feet, yet the phrase “take you” suggests that the object of her affections has no choice but to submit to her. Another often misrepresented biblical figure, Eve, comes to mind when twigs invites her lover to “taste the fruit of me” on the same song, but it’s not an act of temptation, it’s a plea. Richmond

4. Alex Cameron, “Miami Memory”

Alex Cameron has moved away from the character work that marked his previous efforts, but he’s no less a provocateur. Witness “Miami Memory,” a song whose anthemic, shout-along chorus is about squirt-inducing analingus. Beneath that glib exterior, however, beats the warmest of hearts. Cameron references the havoc that climate change is going to wreak on Miami, but he wants to stay. “I can’t believe they think about it, leaving here for somewhere new,” he sings, packing as much romance as a Harlequin novel into a line after the most graphic sexual reference imaginable. When the waters rise, the only thing that will matter is to have someone you love close to you. That’s the animating idea of “Miami Memory,” and also why it’s the perfect song for this moment. Wilson

3. Lana Del Rey, “Fuck It I Love You”

Lana Del Rey’s “Fuck It I Love You” starts with muted acoustic accompaniment before the track explodes with multi-tracked half-rapped vocals and a yelping synth reminiscent of vintage Dr. Dre tracks. The combustion mirrors the singer’s state of mind as she takes stock of her life’s misdirections. “So I moved to California‚ but it’s just a state of mind/It  turns out everywhere you go‚ you take yourself‚ that’s not a lie,” the queen of ennui informs us, presumably while contemplating the void on the beach. Schrodt

2. Lana Del Rey, “Doin’ Time”

The most satisfying cover songs are often those that completely transform or subvert their source material (think Tori Amos’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah”). Occasionally, however, a song is so perfectly suited for another artist that few modifications are necessary. Lana Del Rey’s lush cover of Sublime’s 1997 single “Doin’ Time” is one such example—equally faithful to both the singer-songwriter’s downbeat, sadcore-meets-surf-rock aesthetic and the SoCal band’s own musical legacy, to which Del Rey’s sound is clearly indebted. Cinquemani

1. FKA twigs, “Cellophane”

It’s no mean feat for an artist to create something that requires enormous strength and yet, to their audience, seems so fragile that it could shatter at any moment. On “Cellophane,” the lead single from her sophomore effort, Magdalene, FKA twigs achieves precisely that. “Didn’t I do it for you?” she asks softly over a sparse piano line, seeming to teeter on an emotional knife’s edge. When she jumps an octave, the effect is heightened even further; her voice is still pure and plaintive, but there’s defiance there too. It’s this tension between pain and power that makes the song’s accompanying video so arresting, and so devastating. As twigs performs a pole dance with near-divine grace, the immense physicality required to master the art becomes invisible, leaving behind only soft lines and fluid movement. Against the backdrop of a woman so clearly self-possessed in her power, the question “Didn’t I do it for you” suddenly seems all the more pointed. As if from spider silk, she spins her pain into a method of healing. Richmond

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