The Very Best (and Worst) Music of 2020
I just read through my Spotify ‘2020 Wrapped’ unveiling this week and honestly… it reminded both that I have (a) an incredibly basic music taste for the most part but (b) discovered some unbelievably good artists and projects throughout the year (you can see my list on my Instagram). So I thought it would be a good idea to get on my soapbox and dissect 2020’s music from top to bottom! Of course, I haven’t listened to every release, because that is much too strenuous and outrageous for me (I have a short attention span) — so this will be more of a “what have I enjoyed, and what should have stayed in the studio?”. So, I think I’m going to choose ten “highlights” and five “lowlights”. And yes, they should be in order, which will be difficult for me to do. Let’s get into it!
5. Blame it on Baby — DaBaby (album)
4. Heaven and Hell — Ava Max (album)
3. Diplo Presents Thomas Wesley Chapter 1: Snake Oil — Diplo (album)
2. Anything released by 6ix9ine. Just… anything.
- Changes — Justin Bieber (album) → I need to discuss this choice real quick. This is such a sorry excuse for a record I’ve ever seen. I truly don’t understand how such a strong artist who made Journals only a few years back could make an album full of actual recycled trap beats and ringtone sounds. Bieber barely has any rhythmic timing, and anything (from Yummy or Intentions) being nominated for the Grammy’s is insane. Good-bye.
Runner-ups: TREAT MYSELF (Meghan Trainor), High Road (Kesha), Stuck With U (Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande), The Box (Roddy Rich), Wonder (Shawn Mendes)
Overall, I feel like these misses just were plain generic. I didn’t connect with DaBaby or Ava Max, for example, because their records felt overdone and quite unnecessary in the year 2020. I appreciate the effort on all artists’ parts, but the studio could have been utilized better. Sorry. I need male artists to pick up the pace, too. The ante has been far, far too low.
2020 HIGHLIGHTS (with explanations):
Also, real quick, I just want to mention that I am basing these off of taste but also what I think is the most influential and significant releases of the year. So maybe one album I listen to more than the other, but I view the other to be more impressive. Also cohesiveness and collective sound. Does that make sense? Okay.
10. 3.15.20 — Childish Gambino
- Childish Gambino is such an incredible male artist, and to me that’s a rare feat in the year 2020, only because much of the male-made music lately seems regressive and uninspired. Anyway, 3.15.20 struck me because it felt fresh, unique, awfully loud, and in your face. I love it. Like, Algorhythm goes hard as hell to this day! Also love 47.48, 12.38, and 19.10. This is solid piece of work, and I put it in my top 10 because it’s clearly one of the most cohesive and functional projects of the year, but it’s also interesting and creatively sound.
9. Good News — Megan Thee Stallion
- I’m so happy we got this album within the past month, because watching Megan all year at various award shows and events (like SNL) really made me love her both as a performer and a musician/rapper even more than I did before. I won’t lie, I never was the biggest fan of Savage (the remix made it a little better), so I had to try harder than most people to get into her. Regardless, Good News has grown on me so much and I regularly stream songs from the record daily. The album itself is cohesive (maybe minus one song) and effective. Megan sounds great and her rapping is impeccable. I just love her and can’t wait to see where she goes in 2021 and beyond (especially when we can go to concerts again). Best songs on this album include Circles, Shots Fired, and Outside, in my opinion.
8. Circles — Mac Miller
- All I can say is what we all are probably thinking — I miss this man so much. I wouldn’t say I’m even relatively close to being a big fan of Mac Miller overall, but damn it would be a lie if I said I didn’t appreciate and respect his impact and talent as a musician. Circles, as bittersweet as its release was, is such a testament to Miller’s legacy and his understanding of himself and his sound. Would I say he [was] the most impressive or flashy performers? No. I do think he connected with his fans though and left an impression. My favorite songs off this album are Hand Me Downs, the title track, and Good News. Maybe I’m mainstream, but I’m happy I’ve had people around me who love his music, as it has helped me expand my reach. RIP.
7. The Slow Rush — Tame Impala
- I can’t help but love Tame Impala. Literally every song to me just feels like “a vibe”, and the best part of their projects’ is that they are just a collective, cohesive sound throughout. I can put this album on when I’m studying, falling asleep, on a walk through town, drawing, etc. To me, that’s important. Sometimes you need a hour or so of just, yes, “vibes”. Another thing I appreciated is that this project felt comfortable yet creatively expansive. Personally, I’m sure many people wouldn’t equate me to a Tame Impala fan, but I have always liked their psychedelic rock (as I have come to understand it) discography. The best songs off this record are Instant Destiny, One More Hour, and On Track. Go stream it! I guess I should rationalize this positioning as opposed to the previous three. To me this album flows so smoothly and I literally get lost in the music. Definitely a good vibe in 2020 when the world is ending around us. Just kidding. Kind of.
6. Chromatica — Lady Gaga
- Okay, I did need to include this album because yes I’m a Lady Gaga fan and yes I’ve been asking for her return to pop music for a long, long, long time. I can’t help myself. I do want to point out that this album is far from, well, perfect. I have become increasingly frustrated with the post-release timeline of this record and feel that its potential far outweighs its reality. Besides that, though, I do feel this may be Gaga’s most cohesive project since The Fame Monster EP. The story musically makes sense, and this idea of a distant planet feels (initially) exciting. Because this list is about the music, #6 is a perfect spot because Chromatica sounds cohesive, exhilarating, and chaotic in the best way possible. Again, I do think much more could have been done with the production and with performances in the COVID-age (which relates to #5). Hopefully things look up, but my favorite songs are Sine From Above, Replay, and Alice (with the proper introduction of Chromatica I).
5. Ungodly Hour — Chloe x Halle
- Here we go, top 5! It gets interesting from here, y’all, and it was not easy. So appreciate the effort. Ungodly Hour by Chloe x Halle was such a pleasant surprise for me. I know I clearly have a tendency towards female artists, but I had never heard their music prior to this release. Not extensively, at least. I can’t remember what made me stream it in the first place, maybe a Twitter follower of mine, but when I did I was shocked at how 1. FLAWLESS the vocals from both Chloe and Halle were and how 2. fantastic the album sounded as a whole. I’m no R&B expert, but this record definitely feels like some sort of genre excellence. The sound was unique and refreshing. The visuals were (and still are) stunning. I will say there are one or two songs that I don’t listen to (*cough* Catch Up), but to me that’s not a huge issue because the best songs outweigh the “worst”. My favorite songs are Tipsy, Forgive Me, Don’t Make It Harder On Me, and the title track. I mean… seriously, this is such a good album. I’m so happy these girls are getting the respect and visibility they deserve. I’d say it’s above Chromatica because the production outdoes anything by Bloodpop, and to me the album feels way more complete.
4. Plastic Hearts — Miley Cyrus
- My sisters and I have loved Miley Cyrus for a long time — I think my love has stretched further into her more modern image, so I was stoked to listen to her new album Plastic Hearts. I did review this, so go read that on this page, but I will say it just keeps growing on me day by day. Miley’s voice is so captivating, and I think she actually understands her place as an artist and doesn’t do anything distracting or unnecessary in order to please others. She has had some blunders (Younger Now… anyway), but I do think she has a firm handle on her sound and her image. She loves to create chaos, and why the hell not? This album does not necessarily go as far into pure rock as I know I and many others were anticipating, but I do appreciate the (less heard of) rock and pop fusion in 2020, especially when many people have delved into the past for musical references. I love faster-paced music also, so this is right up my alley. I’m surprised myself how high up this is given how recently it just came out. My favorite tracks are the title track, Night Crawling ft. Billy Idol, Midnight Sky, and Never Be Me (though this was hard). I just find Miley unforgettable and intelligent, so call me biased. Oops. To be fair, I don’t love a lot of her music, but I just find her great. Cheers.
3. Sawayama — Rina Sawayama
- Top 3, top 3, top 3! I don’t know how people will take these. I still am going back and forth, but this is how I feel right now and who cares? I think the BIGGEST surprise of the year was the absolutely insane BOP of an album by Rina Sawayama, a Japanese-British artist who I had never heard of. I heard the album was crazy, so I thought I’d give it a listen and see what all the (Twitter) hype was about. I don’t want to exaggerate, but I will say this — if you haven’t listened yet, strap in because the record is a wild ride. Rina has a bold voice, image, and confidence, which is really important if you want to make a huge debut over in the US. The record is a packed mix of pop, screamo-rock, ballads, operatic influences… and needless to say it oddly yet effectively flows incredibly well. I also appreciate how culturally aware and personal this record feels. Rina’s own psyche literally bleeds for listeners and it’s such a non-American (and refreshing) narrative — something that Sawayama benefits from. She’s been snubbed left and right, and her not being nominated for AOTY at The Grammy’s seals the deal for me. My favorite songs are Bad Friend, Snakeskin, Akasaka Sad, and XS, though the whole album is great. I really think the top 3 choices could all be #1, but I needed to think internally and truly settle some decisions. Rina’s also just released an extended mix/version of the album so go check that out. Go support her!
2. After Hours — The Weeknd
- Yup we are grieving the loss of taste on behalf of the Recording Academy with this one. Clearly their corrupt ways blind them from reserving the most impactful artists a well-deserved spot in nominations. I’m so sick of this across most award shows, but I digress. Let’s settle this — The Weeknd is the most exciting and hard-working male (pop) musician of our time, mark my words. Harry Styles or Frank Ocean come close (this is GENRE based, y’all), but The Weeknd just goes above and beyond for his craft. It’s insane. After Hours is such a good album. I mean, good is a terrible word, but this record is just… stellar. The flow, the production, and the vocals all contribute to this bombastic, nostalgic rollercoaster that really reinforced the surge of the 1980’s vibe in 2020 (along with others). Abel really has a firm grasp on his artistic vision, and this record has been so consistent and effective in its storyline. I know I’ve been saying that over and over again. After Hours just has that “umph” to it, you know? Favorite songs include Escape to LA, In Your Eyes, Blinding Lights, and Heartless. In my opinion, the best way to listen to this album is to wait until late at night, turn off all your lights in your room/apartment, maybe have some colored lights on for ambience, and blast that shit so loud (in proper headphones). The journey is so hypnotic, and the songs flow quite well into each other (which is the best way to compose an album, FYI). This was obviously the biggest snub of snubs at The Grammy’s, and it’s important to note that music should not be only validated by award shows and whatnot. His talent and production is more impressive than any committee deciding proper nominations. I implore you all to stream this — it’s definitely (and probably the for many) a contender for top album of 2020, just wasn’t MY #1 for overall impact.
And the “winner” is…
- Future Nostalgia — Dua Lipa
- My top album of 2020 is here, and let me just say again I had little to no suspicion that it would be by none other than Dua Lipa… like, I enjoyed New Rules for a minute, but her debut was pretty bland to me. If anyone told me she’d completely revitalize her image and sound and produce/release such a strong sophomore record, I’d be shocked. But, here we are. I think Future Nostalgia is my favorite is because I honestly do not skip any song on this record. At first I did not enjoy songs like Good in Bed or Boys Will Be Boys, but as the year has gone on, I’ve recognized how incomplete the holistic sound is without them. Similarly to the 80’s vibe of After Hours, Dua delves more into the late 70's/early 80’s sound to give 2020 the dancefloor it missed out on. The (no pun intended) nostalgic synths, cowbells, drums, and overall production give this record such replay-worthy music. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve listened to Don’t Start Now since it first came out — like Blinding Lights, it is that song of the year (there can be multiple, in my opinion). What I also love about this album is how, again, connected each track feels to the other. It’s unique in that no transition is jarring or random — it all makes sense. Maybe I’m hyping it up too much. Oh well. I just party in my mind every time I listen to this album, and isn’t that the fun of music? My favorite tracks are Levitating, Don’t Start Now, Love Again, and Cool (though Physical and Hallucinate are alternates). THESE are the songs to listen to if y’all try any. Great job, Dua. Again, any of these three could’ve been my #1, but Future Nostalgia is an earworm that has definitely elevated Lipa’s status.
So, there we have it! My top albums of 2020! Honestly I’m shocked how fantastic it’s been musically. There are singles that I absolutely adore too (like WAP, Boss Bitch, Adore You), but the above is my complete mosaic. It’s all subjective, though, so I’d love to hear what other people view as their top 10. I hope we continue to get more exciting videos, performances, and content from all of these artists within the next 1–6 months, but until then I think every musician should be proud of what they have done in the absolute worst year for social gatherings. Even those who had terrible music. It’s all good! Let’s boycott The Grammy’s, hm?