Year-End Top 100: 2020 – 40 to 21

40 – Sometimes by H.E.R.

As I entered my 30s, I get through life’s downs with less erratic behaviour and more control over the actions I take. And H.E.R. caught me at a good time during the pandemic. It’s one of the tracks I was often listening to while I was doing my daily walk during Singapore’s most intense quarantine period. And she’s right. Sometimes things just don’t go your way. And to have the same demeanor as H.E.R. helps.

39 – cowboy in LA by LANY

If I acted in the way I thought he would appreciate, then maybe I would finally earn his affection. And I clung onto that mindset for decades. But if I cannot control what he thinks, then what is the point of adjusting to it? And if beauty is inherent and not earned, then maybe there’s merit in holding on to your roots. I may have exaggerated LANY’s refusal to adjust in the big city. But the sentiment sticks and has a place in my heart.

38 – Say So by Doja Cat

“Say So” is one of the most inescapable tracks of 2020. Who wouldn’t be enamoured with a voice that can go from angelic to fiery, and confirms your inner desires. She concludes that had you asked, it would’ve been a yes. Similar to “Freak”, this employs a classic that we all have heard but are too unmindful to notice – “Good Times.” My discomfort remains – this effectively means Dr Luke (Kesha’s alleged abusive producer) is back.

37 – cardigan by Taylor Swift

This has to be my favourite lead single from a Taylor Swift studio album since “Shake It Off.” I was relieved when I first heard the track. It’s the kind of song you won’t instantly be passionate about. But it isn’t divisive that it scares you off. People who’ve visited my place know that I put this track on repeat. And that’s because it’s topnotch songwriting (maybe besides the reference to a cardigan?) and her best vocal in years.

36 – Laugh Now Cry Later by Drake featuring Lil Durk

If you miss the Drake of the past (early 2010s), then “Laugh Now Cry Later” is going to be your jam. There is no intended gimmick that gets this track viral. It’s just plain melodic rap that plays behind a horn loop that I swear is a sample of some old tune but I don’t know what. The lead singles from the Canadian rapper used to be designed for the club. But this one is different. Even he’s toned down given Covid-19 and I still stan him.

35 – Save Your Tears by the Weeknd

The only downside of “Blinding Lights” being everywhere was that all his subsequent singles got little to no attention. “Save Your Tears” is one that deserved more airtime. In the entirety of 2020, it is the only song I’ve recommended to people AND I have yet to receive a negative feedback. Give it a try and I’m sure you’ll feel the same. If the entirety of After Hours felt dark, this is the hidden light on the record.

34 – Boyfriend by Selena Gomez

From the clapping sound, to the heavy synthesisers, to wanting to turn on your bass speakers on blast, “Boyfriend” is the sequel to her masterpiece “Bad Liar.” The track makes you want to lose your inhibitions and gives you the confidence that no sexy lingerie can provide. Not to mention, she has my biggest desire laid out in the most obvious way possible.

33 – Spotlight by Jessie Ware

Jessie Ware begun with a dramatic and almost operatic verse. And that leads the listener to a false sense of what to expect for the remainder of the track. She then bursts into a disco beat that rivals the best of the 80s and 90s. If mature adults find it embarrassing to groove, then even this would make them move. Not that any demographic owns any sound. But there is a sophistication and class to “Spotlight” that makes it universal.

32 – Is It True by Tame Impala

I don’t listen to a lot of psychedelic music. And most of what I know come from Kevin Parker. While I can listen to the genre for introspection and to put myself in a trance, some good upbeat vibes are appreciated once in a while. Many prefer “Lost in Yesterday” or “Breathe Deeper.” But “Is It True” is my bet. It just never fails to lift my mood.

31 – Mistakes by Jonas Blue featuring Paloma Faith

We always proclaim that we should write off the people who broke our hearts as mistakes. And it is our belief that we can always do better. DJs know this and exploit this insight on their playlists! I’m sure if the pandemic didn’t hit hard, I would’ve probably gone crazy over hearing this in a club. Jonas Blue still has the formula to please a crowd. “Mistakes” is on the same level as “Perfect Strangers” or “Mama.”

30 – Holy by Justin Bieber featuring Chance the Rapper

It’s a good thing you can divorce the artist and his/her personal life. Because Chance the Rapper supporting Kanye’s presidential bid just makes me want to puke and Justin Bieber’s personal antics are ones made by an a**hole. But back to “Holy”. If anyone can infuse gospel into a pop hit, Chance is my bet. The choir backing and the piano instrumental at the start are just Coloring Book material all over again. I’m not complaining!

29 – Deleter by Grouplove

Our generation should always welcome songs that challenge our broken institutions. Whether it’s Greta Thunberg contributing a monologue at the start of the 1975’s latest album, or Beyonce creating another “Formation,” the world can never have enough. And Grouplove’s punk sound, filled with colour and energy, is just the booster we didn’t ask for but needed. Our leaders can be s*** and we need to tell (or sing) them that!

28 – Love Again by Dua Lipa

I thought “Love Again” sampled “Your Woman.” And in the 90s, I was crazy over the latter. As it turns out, it’s from an even older piece from the 30s. While this wasn’t released as a single, the experimentation between the string instruments, disco sound, and classic music is just the kind of innovation dance music is in desperate need of. Short plug – check out Netflix’s Song Exploder where this track was featured.

27 – 21 by Gracie Abrams

So I am 30 years old now. And while it’s an odd choice to select a song that talks about young love, the heart still has a soft spot for it. Maybe it’s the production of Joel Little (behind Lorde’s Melodrama, Taylor Swift’s Lover, etc) that creates nostalgia. Or I’m just a sucker for drama and I watched too many romance movies. Or the sound of a music box playing on loop hypnotises me. Whatever it is, I’m hooked.

26 – Shameika by Fiona Apple

“Shameika” sounds like all the demons in my head having a great time, messing with my thoughts, and pulling all its triggers. And that’s how crazy and over the top Fiona Apple put together this song – the piano arrangement, vocal choices, and childhood references are just insane. To top it all off, the song demonstrates how much of an impact all of us can make on each other, regardless of how big or small a role we play.

25 – Safaera by Bad Bunny, Jowell & Randy and Nengo Flow

While “Safaera” is not a megamix, it definitely feels like one. If there was going to be a hit in the clubs that would just evolve into something bigger as each minute progresses, and that can transcend multiple genres, and get people stepping up their dance moves as time passed by, this track would be it. The power of “Safaera” is how relevant and discussed its become despite the fact that none of us are out partying.

24 – 34+35 by Ariana Grande

While Ariana Grande has fully embraced her sexuality in her latest album, none of it feels tacky. And a big reason for it is how clever she has been in her songwriting, how most of her vocals are understated, and how she can project without revealing too much. The epitome of her brilliantly subtle yet seductive style is best embodied by 34+35. I wish this was the first single. But hopefully “positions” didn’t do too much damage.

23 – To Be So Lonely by Harry Styles

When Harry Styles released his first album, I knew he had a gift. I heard Bryan Adams and David Bowie. And people will kill me over these references but I don’t care. “To Be So Lonely” is one of the greats. It’s heartbreaking but at the same time relaxing. It’s explicit without being lazy. And just the mood of the entire song captivates you and makes you sympathise with this arrogant son of a b**** (his words, not mine.)

22 – Fire by Waxahatchee

“Fire” is tragically beautiful. Just the vocal on this track is to die for. And her love song to herself is the anthem we all need in our lives. She’s had to struggle with sobriety. The progress she has to show for it is most often questioned by herself as well. And this is where we all face a setback in our journey to happiness. Just listening to her pour her heart out makes me a little less guarded and a lot more human.

21 – august by Taylor Swift

If there’s anything I continue learning, it’s that all of us are in some journey and we can be a little less cruel and a lot kinder to each other. And Taylor Swift humanises the third person in this love triangle. Just how much we are willing to offer when love presents itself. Sometimes, it means compromising our own identity. Who hasn’t lived for the hope of it all? Or canceled plans in case he’d call? Finally, that bridge is just a killer!



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