If not good for literally anything else, 2020 was yet another really quite brilliant year for new music [a bit suss since we nobody was supposed to be doing anything but according to my friend who works at a music studio covid-proofing was all taken very seriously] and we’re starting out January pretty strongly in terms of new releases. If the music you consume is in any way pop-leaning you’ll definitely have heard a couple of the songs I’m about to talk about, but maybe you’ll find something in this month’s Top 20 you might have missed.
Some other things before that:
- sign up for my monthly newsletter – it’s new, but I’ve moved all previous subscribers over
- read my top 40 song-you-probably-heard in 2020
- read my top 60 songs-you-might-have-missed of 2020
- follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook
[I know you probably didn’t do anything on that list, but I have to at least ask don’t I?]
Here’s the Spotify link, and below are the 20 songs and their videos and all the reasons you should be listening to them.
20. letting go by Ziggy Alberts
If you are not having an imaginary love affair with Ziggy Alberts, I suggest you remedy this immediately. There are few better ways to spend your tiny earth minutes than listening to his softened vocals and acoustic stylings and imagining lying in the back of pick up in the middle of the outback looking at the stars and thinking about the mysteries of the universe whilst laying next to a very sturdy Australian man.
19. Itsy Bitsy by Lyn Lapid
Straight from the Ariana 7 Rings school of taking a well known nursery rhyme (Ok, favourite things isn’t *quite* that, but you know what I mean), up-and-comer Lyn Lapid’s Itsy Bitsy turns a beloved (or traumatising depending on whether the idea a flood-resistant spider is comforting to you) tune into bizzaro-but-catchy ditty about drinking your pain away. The ‘itsy-bitsy spider climbed up the water spout/downed all the beer to drown the voices out’ is really quite good – if glaringly problematic, but we were all teenagers once so these things must be understood and forgiven. Shouldn’t rely too much on comparisons to known entities to pre-label those who are on the rise, this just vocally sounds a lot like Billie Eilish to me, which isn’t exactly a bad thing when Lapid has landed it this well. One to watch undoubtedly.
18. Break My Heart by JC Stewart
This absolutely stinks of Shawn Mendes’ career-igniting Stitches and to be honest can you blame Stewart for doing the tried and tested? It’s moody, it’s catchy – it’s a low-key banger. If you’re looking for a new pop boy to break your heart and do it right, then chuck on the JC Stewart Complete playlist on Spotify and let it wash over you.
17. Dancing Alone by King’s Elliot
The first of a few good ballads to grace the year, King Elliot is haunting with her nuanced vocals on Dancing Alone: a spectral piano ballad about – well, I’ve not quite picked up on whether this is a metaphor of some kind or if it’s just about learning to dance, but ‘‘Cause spinning us ‘round/‘til we both hit the ground/Is the only move I know…/But falling together is better than dancing alonе” is breaking my heart a bit. Gorgeous.
16. Momma Always Told Me (feat. Stanaj & Yung Bae) by Mike Posner
It feels a bit embarrassing to be writing about Mike Posner in 2021, or any time at all really, but he’s done it again. Momma Always Told Me is a snappy little chorus over some funk-driven beats which feel a bit more in the get lucky modern-funk era than the future nostalgia but wherever it is, it definitively slaps.
15. Annie Are You Ok by Nick Strand, Mio + LUMIX
It’s self-punishment to be listening to such heavy pop beats that were clearly designed for clubbing when that remains a distant fantasy, but when it batters you over the head with that thumping right from the start how can you stop yourself? A bonified banger if ever I’ve heard one. The melody feels familiar and I reckon it sounds a bit like Anastacia’s epochal Left Outside Alone.
14. Jimmy (feat. Sarcastic Sounds) by Rxseboy
Before writing up my little reviews I make notes and for this one they feel too disconnected to piece together so I’ll just list them instead:
- for fans of death bed (coffee for your head) by powfu +beadbadoobee
- incest? a mrs doubtfire situation where all the noted Jimmys are one person?
- tooth-whistle vocal sounds like Herbert the Pervert from Family Guy
- unofficial Courage the cowardly dog theme song
13. dramatic by Cat & Calmell
The progression of thoughts you’ll probably have listening to this absolute banger of a song: not a bad tune; I like the sounds but feel like I’ve heard it before; Ava Max?; no wait is this not just bad guy by Billie Eilish? I keep expecting for that ‘I like when you get mad’ bit coming at the end; COVER … MOUTH WITH … HANDS!’; need to link this song to someone asap.
12. All You Ever Wanted by Rag’n’Bone Man
Rag AND Bone man? In THIS economy? The bad thing about being a fan of this big tattoo man is having to apologise for it and losing any credibility you might have built up as a music critic, but the good thing is that once you get over that you can just bliss out to his pop-rock bangers. Not what I would’ve predicted to kick off the Bone man’s second album campaign, but it’s a bit like a good song by the Killers and we all enjoy one of those from time to time, don’t we? Excited for more.
11. Anyone by Justin Bieber
Disclaimer: In the last week of January, I had watched Never Say Never, Believe and the docu-series he released last year Seasons so I’m coming into 2021 with a newfound respect for Spotify’s most listened to artist (psa, listen to ETA from his album last year). Boxing video aside, his new Enya-does-RnB song, Anyone, is a moment of unfiltered devotion to his wife Hailey, which if you watch the docu-series you’ll see is wholly genuine. Out of context, it does feel a bit like your teenage cousin writing a song for his girlfriend on their 6 month anniversary and setting it to a video montage of them, but coming from Justin, it’s a total *chef’s kiss* moment.
10. Black Hole by Griff
The best way to describe Griff is to call her a believable Ava Max. Her new song Black Hole is all about trying to fill the void left by an ex and it’s going to suck you right in I promise.
09. Fuck Being Sober by Annika Wells
The ‘lets get drunk instead of dealing with shit’ thing is a bit naively angsty, but I think it’s handed really well by Annika on this track, wouldn’t you say? That exasperation of “There always gonna ask what my job is/Probably ’cause I dropped out of college” and “I hate the world, that shit just ain’t for me/9 to 5, that shit is so boring” are thoughts every fed up young (and not so young) person has has at some point or another, and sonically its captured to perfection. Also, it’s not hugely overt here but you can really hear guitar creeping back into pop prominence, and its hitting just right.
08. Little Bit of Love by Tom Grennan
If you like your Lewis Capaldi with a little bit more oomph, then I highly recommend this new banger from Tom Grennan. Sit back, turn up the volume, and get your shouty-men-do-pop bingo cards at the ready to tick off lyrical clichés – ‘swimming in the deep end’, ‘find my way back to you’, ‘counting stars’ ‘stepping on broken glass’ ‘final chance’ ‘path to you’ ‘wounds ain’t healing’ ‘air I’m breathing’.
07. Sex With Me by TRAMP STAMPS
With thanks due to the efforts of Travis Barker, Halsey and MGK, pop punk is back and Christ on a bike if TRAMP STAMPS haven’t absolutely knocked it out of the park with their not-a-Rihanna-cover debut single Sex With Me. Rushing guitar, aggro-vocals, sex-positive men-trashing lyrics like “Maybe if I told them that you cry in bed/You’d have a little respect for the pussy you get” and “Calling me clingy, you say I’m thе worst/But whenever we fuck, you always cum first” and many more where those came from, all I can say is: what a bloody arrival.
06. Deal With it (feat. Kelis) by Ashnikko
Speaking of men trashing lyrics, real life anime girl Ashnikko [who did that really good Halloween song last year] released a a huge alt-pop album called DEMIDEVIL which included the songs Clitoris! The Musical (exactly as you might expect), L8r Boi, a satirical independent-woman reworking of Avril Lavigne’s Sk8r Boi, and the phenomenal Kelis-featuring Deal With It. The latter is purposefully horrifying, boasts perfectly raw vocals, and contains the lyric ‘I don’t need a man I need a rabbit/I need a new to just to cleanse my pallette’. It only gets better with every listen – I know I’ve put this a number six in this little round up but it’s a strong early contender for song of the year.
05. Raw Thoughts by Baby Queen
After spending much of 2020 fawning over Bella Latham’s excellent pop tunes, it’s very exciting to see the stock is still good and the musical momentum she’s bolstered shows no sign of slowing down with Raw Thought: another stratospheric ode to the endless mystery of being young. That fade out of ‘I’m thinking about you and you’re thinking about sex’ is truly spectacular.
04. She Wins, I Lose by Ryan Mack
You know, if you were to tell me that The 1975 had released a new song and put this on I’d have no problem believing you and tell you that this is one of their best songs in ages. Mack has has a gothat defiantly upbeat indie-pop thing that Healey and co do so well and he’s absolutely nailed it.
03. Hate Myself by dodie
Saying I’ve woken up with the the hook of Hate Myself rattling around my poor little brain every morning since I first heard a few weeks ago it would only be a mild exaggeration. It may be light in sound, but dodie will quietly destroy you with her self-conscious relatability, capturing that very specific want for reassurance that you know won’t come in both its lyrical content and its sound. One of the best low-key choruses you’ve heard in ages: “Oh, so illogical/I’m not magical – i can’t read your mind!/But how can you not hear the whole conversation/I have, sitting still with a brain on the fire?” If I for wigs, this would have snatched it.
02. drivers license by Olivia Rodrigo
Star of the brilliant High School Musical: The Musical: The Series Olivia Rodrigo broke every record in the book with drivers license and for good reason: it’s so fucking good. Honestly, if I was Joshua or Sabrina I just wouldn’t have bothered releasing those forgettable clapback songs. drivers license tells an easy to follow story but the vocal from Rodrigo is what really takes it into sing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs cry-your-heart-out territory that makes it the biggest break up song since Adele gave us Someone Like You. She doesn’t waste a single line, but personal highlights are: “You didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me” and the “I still fuckin love you babe” middle-eight. My only personal nit-pick is that for someone who is a self proclaimed Taylor Swift fanatic she really could have turned it up to 11 with a lyrical twist in the final chorus and given us a happy ending or something. Still, a true 10/10 pop ballad. See also: this excellent pop-punk cover from Jxdn.
01. Dance For The Hell Of It by LOVA
There is a very specific tempo that is like gold dust when applied to a well-crafted pop song [see this, this and this], and LOVA has absolutely snorted it all up with Dance For The Hell Of It – a breathless rush of pop-escapism that sweeps you up for 3 minutes and 15 seconds and doesn’t let you off until you’re well past your stop and you end up just staying on until it comes back around. It’s a difficult thing for a song to convince you to do what it says on its tin, but I defy you not to put this on, let loose, and dance for the hell of it.