Well, that was certainly a year, wasn’t it? Christ.
I had it in my head for some reason that 2019 was shite for pop music – but actually, although there were fewer great songs to choose from, I feel like the stuff that did cut the mustard was generally a bit better than the last few years. (Albums are a different story; God it’s been SLIM PICKINGS compiling my year-end list of those.)
Anyway of course there is an accompanying Spotify playlist to sit alongside this Top 50 – there’s another link at the bottom if you don’t want the spoilers, or for ease you can just click here.
You can also ‘romp’ back through all my previous ones, if you like: here’s 2018 (led by Janelle Monae), 2017 (led by Little Mix), 2016 (led by Ariana Grande), 2015 (led by Taylor Swift), 2014 (led by Kylie Minogue), 2013 (led by Demi Lovato), 2012 (led by Little Mix again), 2011 (led by Britney Spears), 2010 (led by Katy Perry), 2009 (led by Jordin Sparks) and 2008 (led by Gabriella Cilmi).
Will this finally be the year that a male vocalist is at No1? Don’t be ridiculous!
Anyway, I’ll get to albums, films and TV shows of the year over the next few days; and I’m also still drip-feeding the 100 best songs of the decade just here.
50. Lose You To Love Me – Selena Gomez
Look, we all know by this point that Selena isn’t an Adele in the vocal department – she’s barely even a Cheryl – but what she can do is make you feel the exact emotion a song requires. Lose You To Love Me isn’t as forward-thinking as her best work (Bad Liar, Hands To Myself and Good For You say hi), but on sheer ~sadface merit alone, it’s deserved the success it’s had.
49. Broken and Beautiful – Kelly Clarkson
OK so objectively I appreciate that this is only here because I’m an unrelenting Kelly stan and not because it helped in any way to shape the musical landscape of the last twelve months, BUT! For a song from a cheap kids’ film called UGLYDOLLS(?!)…… it’s a bop!! Marshmello is producing, Pink’s one of the main songwriters, and by the time the finale kicks in (the “BRO! KEN! AND BEAU-TI-FUL!” backing vocals are my favourite), you can consider me sufficiently empowered.
48. Adore You – Jessie Ware
Now one of the country’s best podcast hosts and popstars, Jessie released Adore You as an apparent one-off in time for Valentine’s Day, and the only word I can think of to sum it up is… and it’s a bit weird but I mean it in a good way… gloopy. A proper lights-down, slow-moving, writhe-a-long treat; and whenever a new full album does appear, I will be very excited to hear it.
47. All The Songs – Will Young
Ever at the forefront of British boypop, Will Young finally returned with a new era in 2k19 – complete with this anguished, shimmering semiballad. “Can’t escape from these chains, all the songs remind me of you,” he declares on the pre-chorus; and frankly we’ve all been there.
46. New York City – Kylie Minogue
How many popstars do you think put amazing songs in the bin when the album they’re working on heads in a new direction? That’s exactly what could have happened to disco-camp gem New York City when Golden became more of a country-lite affair, but mercifully it saw the light of day anyway – and it’s a gay bar’s wet dream. Big chorus, strut-a-long production, plenty of Kylie-isms in the vocals… a right treat.
45. Let You – Cheryl
After throwing the kitchen sink at Love Made Me Do It in late 2018 only for it to spend a few short weeks in the charts, Cheryl – for whatever reason – didn’t seem to promote Let You anywhere near as much. It’s a shame: while this may, on first listen, sound like it spends a few minutes warming up before abruptly coming to an end, it’s actually a slick, sleek kiss-off that frankly deserved better.
44. Medellín – Madonna feat. Maluma
A whisper of “1… 2… 1… 2… 1… 2… cha-cha-cha”, and another Madge era is begun: Madame X as an album was a little too patchy for me but this is my favourite lead single of hers since Hung Up. Medellín sounds like it was made for the very early hours of the morning; a slick and sweaty gem with a great hook and box-fresh Latin pop production.
43. Don’t Start Now – Dua Lipa
Took me a while to warm up to this one, ‘tbh’, and it’s not the big ball-bursting disco banger I thought she had been teasing ahead of its release; but Don’t Start Now is a promising start to Dua 2.0. It doesn’t properly show its hand until near the very end (in fact my main gripe after my first listen was “OU EST THE CHORUS?!”) but it really does benefit from repeated listens. I have – eventually! – become a fan.
42. Don’t Leave Me Lonely – Mark Ronson feat. YEBBA
Mark Ronson’s Late Night Feelings album wasn’t the all-out triumph I was expecting, but tracks like this are gorgeous. YEBBA’s vocals are stunning, and we’re in proper teary-eyed-under-the-glitterball territory with the dance-ready beat and melancholy strings.
41. Easier – 5 Seconds of Summer
After mixing up their pop-rock sound a little on the Youngblood era, it seems 5 Seconds of Summer aren’t turning back. Ryan Tedder and Charlie Puth are among the writers on Easier and their fingerprints are all over it: it’s a dark new-wave-y concoction with delicious muted drums, a thumping bass line and angsty multi-octave-spanning vocals. It really suits 5SOS, and I hope its failure to set the charts alight doesn’t prompt a U-turn.
40. Sucker – Jonas Brothers
Jonas Brothers? Releasing a great single in 2019? WHO’D HAVE THOUGHT? Well, anyone with a brain, to be honest: Nick and Joe have both been sporadically putting out decent solo stuff, and they were never realistically going to reunite without some seriously worthwhile material up their sleeves.
39. Too Cool – Emily Burns
After the excellent Cheat in 2018, Emily Burns came out with another slam-dunk in the early stages of this year: Too Cool is about a love interest who’s so chilled-out that it’s verging on the annoying (“You’re so sweet like twelve ice creams, it kinda makes me sick”), but it’s endearing and fun rather than mean and sour. More EmBurns in 2020 and beyond, please.
38. Think Of Me – The Veronicas
A little bit nostalgic, a little bit bitter, a little bit devastating; Think Of Me is a perfectly-formed break-up song. The specificity in the lyrics gives it an extra bite, and the way the production veers from smooth and wistful in the pre-chorus to shuddering and dark in the refrain is a real masterstroke. It’s so good to have these two back.
37. modern anxiety – Josef Salvat
Three years on from the excellent Night Swim album, Josef returned with this frank, toe-tappable song about Just Being Alive in big old 2019. “Last night I was handsome, drunk and young; today I don’t know who I’m trying to be” is maybe my favourite opening lyric of the year.
36. Bounce Back – Little Mix
Bounce Back was a strange Little Mix single: arriving half a year after LM5, and without the fanfare of a lead single from a new record, it felt like it disappeared from the pop radar very swiftly. But that’s a shame, ‘imo’: It’s not as instantly accessible as their biggest hits, perhaps, but with the interpolation of Back To Life by Soul II Soul, some water-tight harmonies and a beat that just keeps giving, it’s an enticing indication of where they might be heading next.
35. Racing Cars – Ruti
I haven’t watched The Voice UK for years but I heard this song – by the winner of the 2018 cycle – soon after its release in April and just couldn’t resist it. Lush vocals, a vibey 3am-in-the-Uber-home chorus, thoughtful go-get-’em lyrics… we finally have our first exciting graduate from that show since the halcyon days of Becky Hill and Leah McFall!
34. A Little Bit Alexis – Annie Murphy
Yes, a song that was intended to be a send-up of 00s pop has gone down as one of the best of the year. How about it. Thing is, it does sound like it was made by people with a genuine affection for the genre (I suspect, anyway, I don’t actually know); and the result is something that is funny, yes, but also fucking slaps. Annie Murphy’s Alexis Rose has become one of the best TV characters of our time.
33. Too Much – Carly Rae Jepsen
With the Dedicated album neither the disaster some made it out to be nor the masterpiece most of us hoped it would be, it’s been easy for the best stuff on it to be forgotten. But there is plenty of Classic Carly on there; not least this excellent single – a sexually-charged bop that sees the cult icon taking the lead in pursuit of a potential conquest. Get that D, Carly!
32. About Work The Dancefloor – Georgia
Inspired by the sheer restorative power of a dancefloor, Georgia’s Twenty Quid Prize-winning banger beautifully mixes dark synths with gliding vocals and a nice-and-easy chorus. The soaring “moment for you” bits towards the end are especially gorgeous.
31. Don’t Worry Bout Me – Zara Larsson
You know those songs in which someone’s singing about how they’re over something and how so-and-so means nothing anymore, and you’re listening to the lyrics and you’re like “…hun, this is clearly still very fresh”? Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me is not one of those songs. Zara is totally and utterly DONE with whichever fucker inspired this: the vocal delivery is steady, the production understated… and honestly, I pity whoever this is about.
30. SICK – CXLOE feat. gnash
Conventional romance won’t cut it on this hornbanger: CXLOE just wants a messy, sexy, complicated affair with someone who agrees that “love that’s shiny, that’s a lie”. CXLOE has been an excellent maker of good pop in 2019 and this, as far as I’m concerned, is her best track yet. Next stop: chart stardom?
29. i’m so tired… – Lauv feat. Troye Sivan
Noted sadboys Lauv and Troye came through way back in January with the most relatable song title of 2019. These two are a bit too low-energy for some, and I get it, but I really like this: their voices complement each-other nicely, they both sound suitably exhausted by life and love, and there are some nice backing vocal ad-libby-things over the end. Job done.
28. Glad He’s Gone – Tove Lo
With consistently smart output over the last few years, Tove Lo has easily become one of my favourite popstars of the decade; and even though Sunshine Kitty isn’t my favourite album of hers, I really like this lead single. And the video? Best of the year, and really deserved its Grammy nomination.
27. Old Town Road (Remix) – Lil’ Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus
26. Now I’m In It – HAIM
It felt at first like HAIM were on the verge of becoming a huge band. You know when Florence teamed up with Calvin Harris a couple of times, or when Ellie Goulding collaborated with Ryan Tedder on Burn, it seemed like they levelled-up a bit? Something like that. Now, though, for this lot it feels like the potential for that moment has passed, which is a shame – but it doesn’t mean the stuff they are doing isn’t brilliant. Summer Girl was a miss for me but Now I’m In It is amazing, especially in how it morphs towards the end from a juddering, layered electro song to something much… smoother. Love it.
25. Dancing With A Stranger – Sam Smith with Normani
The gays’ disdain of Sam Smith has always felt a little over-the-top, ‘imo’. Even if they have said some extremely stupid things in the past and, y’know, made pretty boring songs, the vitriol has occasionally been a bit uncomfortable to see. But! It feels like something’s changed in 2019: Sam’s really come into their own a bit more, and The Masses, in turn, seem to be more on board. Dancing With A Stranger is my fave songs of theirs to date; a mid-tempo disco-lite jam with a much-appreciated dose of Normani.
24. Last Night Every Night – Hannah Jane Lewis
I just love how giddy this song is. Two years on from the excellent Raincheck, HJL is still quietly putting out some excellent, gloriously simple pop with great hooks, great vocals and great replay value. I listened to this a LOT in the first few months of the year.
23. Trainwreck – KELLA
By the looks of Spotify, this was KELLA’s debut single, and… what a start, tbh. Understated but instantly catchy, Trainwreck is another great song about the irresistibility (is that a word?) of a romance that’s highly likely to end in tears (“This could all end bad, and we know it”). I can’t remember how I first came across this song but I’m so glad I did.
22. Please Don’t Touch – RAYE
The newest song of the bunch, Please Don’t Touch came out earlier this month on A) my birthday, and B) the aftermath of that shitshow of an election. Excellent time for RAW EMOTION. Honestly RAYE is continuing to put out some truly fantastic work, and I very much hope she starts to see the chart positions she deserves in 2020.
21. 7 rings – Ariana Grande
Almost as meme-ready as its predecessor thank u, next; 7 rings is another slam-dunk for Imperial Phase Ariana. Confident, catchy, cool and all about the CASH, this song – which I can only assume is a homage to Big Brovaz – seemed to get a bit of a mixed reaction at the time of its release, but to me it’s still a big win.
20. Slide Away – Miley Cyrus
After the slapdash Younger Now era, it was great to have Miley Cyrus back on strong form in 2019. Mother’s Daughter was great (it very nearly made this list too) but I just love Slide Away. Obviously inspired by her split from Liam Hemsworth, it’s a mournful but assured ballad that nails heartbroken sorrow without ever sounding over-wrought. Sure, very few of us can relate to the specifics of some of the lyrics (“I want my house in the hills” – omg same), but Miley’s delivery ensures we still feel every note.
19. Raising Hell – Kesha feat. Big Frieda
The Rainbow era was fucking magnificent for Kesha, but it’s so great to hear her back on fun territory on Raising Hell; a song that takes her iconic party-starting hitmaking and plonks it firmly in 2019. “I don’t wanna go to heaven without raising hell” is an excellent lyric, and Big Frieda’s guest appearance suits it to perfection.
18. I Wish – Hayley Kiyoko
I really enjoyed Hayley’s Expectations era last year, and she’s continued delivering the goods in 2019 too, albeit to a bit less fanfare (from what I’ve seen, anyway). I Wish is brilliant, and has one of my favourite middle-8s of any song on this list. It feels like she’s still getting better and better.
17. If Looks Could Kill – Lauren Aquilina
Every bit as good as last year’s Psycho, If Looks Could Kill is another ace song in which Lauren takes aim at an absolute dickhead and somehow makes it sound like enormous fun. My favourite thing about If Looks Could Kill is that the harmonies on the chorus actually remind me of a Disney showtune. Imagine!!
16. Church – Aly & AJ
I wasn’t, for my sins, especially familiar with Aly & AJ before this year, but Church hit me riiiight in the feelings. Direct hit. A beautifully sad song about being at rock bottom (“For all the times I can’t reverse, for all the places where it hurts, I need a little church”), it makes endless self-indulgence sound incredibly traumatic. SOMEONE HUG THEM!
15. Adore You – Harry Styles
I think it was PopJustice who said Harry’s solo music has jumped up a notch since he’s started sounding more like The 1975, and I agree 100%. Adore You is top-to-bottom perfection; allowing Harry to sound like one of those ~cool ~musicians he loves so much whilst also, yaknow, being fun and Not Boring. I’m hooked on this at the moment.
14. So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings – Caroline Polachek
Best song title of the year? It’s definitely a contender. So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings is one of the boppier bops on the new Caroline Polachek album, and it’s excellent: cool and goofy, self-assured and self-effacing. One of many, many songs on this Top 50 that should have been a big commercial hit.
13. Gone – Charli XCX feat. Christine and the Queens
I have never really ~connected with Charli XCX like I know loads of other pop stans have, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know a fucking great song when it slaps me square in the face. She and Chris are a fantastic double-act; Gone a big, angsty, dramatic slice of pop excellence. Potentially my new favourite song ever from either artist.
12. Love Me Again – RAYE
God, everything about this is just so great, isn’t it? Despair you can dance to, Love Me Again wisely takes a ‘less is more’ approach to emotional devastation: from the production to RAYE’s vocal, it’s steady and just-about-together on the surface, with the tears simmering underneath. Wonderful.
11. Ritual – Tiesto, Jonas Blue & Rita Ora
Despite being inescapable on TV and the radio for a few months, and despite taking up residence at the top end of the iTunes rankings for fucking ages, this song never made it higher than No24 – but that’s The Charts Nowadays for you, eh? Ritual is a massive, massive banger with a chorus the size of a tank and a great star vocal from Rita. It is, for want of a more meaningful platitude, A TUNE.
10. Thinkin Bout You – Ciara
Ciara’s Beauty Marks album era felt a little bit blink-and-you-miss-it in comparison to, say, the Ciara and Jackie campaigns; but this excellent track is – I think! – one of her best ever. It’s just so fun and uplifting and lovely, and if the global hellscape of the year 2019 ain’t the time for tracks like that, I do not know when is. Give me this over a Can’t Stop The Feeling any day of the week.
09. All The Time – Zara Larsson
Zara’s last three ~main singles – Ruin My Life, Don’t Worry Bout Me and this – have all been absolute perfection. All The Time is a bright, uplifting, good old-fashioned pop song about falling in love(/lust), with a properly buoyant chorus and the sort of playful energy that so much contemporary pop is sorely lacking. This could easily be the subject of one of those “remember when X tried to save pop?” memes in a few years’ time.
08. Stretch – Louise
Louise? Returning to music after years of Generally Just Being A Celeb with one of the best bops of the year? OKAY THEN!! So many artists return after years and years away with an independent record that’s all MOR guitar-y fluff, but not Louise, no ma’am! Stretch is confident, smart, sexy and impossible to sit still to. An excellent power move from a veteran hitmaker many had written off.
07. Lover – Taylor Swift
The Shawn Mendes remix is unnecessary, but Lover really is Taylor’s finest love song to date – and after the disappointment of Me! and You Need To Calm Down, a single like this was just what we needed. Of course she’s firmly parking her tanks on Thinking Out Loud’s lawn here, but the echo-y vocals, the simple chorus and a return to the heartfelt, endearingly specific lyrics of Vintage Taylor make it a true gem in its own right. And the fact it’s inspired by what is ostensibly her most secure, comfortable and (in the best way possible) ‘unremarkable’ relationship to date really shows.
06. break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored – Ariana Grande
Avril Lavigne’s Girlfriend, but make it 2019! The best song from – spoiler – the best album of the year, BUWYGIB gave Ari her fifth UK number one (and her third in the space of a few months), and deservedly so: she’s at the height of her powers here, riding the trap-pop wave but keeping it fun and exciting. Her voice is so well suited to this; from the layered backing vocals (“yuh yuh” fans are well catered for) to the silky smooth ad-libs over the finale. Video’s ace, too.
05. Juice – Lizzo
‘Old’ songs Truth Hurts and Good As Hell have had some much-deserved success this year, but the actual new stuff Lizzo’s released in 2019 has also been stellar. Juice, in an alternate universe, should have at least matched the sales and cultural omnipresence of Uptown Funk. But who knows – evidently that could happen in, like, 2023?! KEEP FAITH!
04. Rainbow – Kacey Musgraves
A highlight from last year’s Golden Hour album but only serviced as a single in February of this year, Rainbow is… *The Vivienne voice* stunning. A extremely straightforward piano-and-vocal recording, it’s a very easy song to hook personal significance on to: anyone who’s been going through a tough time of it, anyone who knows anyone who’s been going through a tough time of it, anyone queer (hello, the title!!!)… ugh, the TEARS!
03. Number One Fan – MUNA
Best Band In The World MUNA returned with their second album this year, led by this 10/10 song about self-sabotage and self-love; taking dark inner thoughts like “nobody likes me and I’m gonna die alone” and trying extremely hard to overpower them. This lot do Matters Of The Brain extremely well, and this is one of their best-ever tracks. “So iconic, like big, like stan, like.”
02. Motivation – Normani
After establishing her huge potential in Fifth Harmony and laying strong solo foundations with featured appearances for Khalid and Sam Smith (see above), Normani was finally ready to blast off on her own on Motivation. A huge pop moment from this summer, it’s one of the best HELLO HERE I AM!!! singles I can remember for a very long time; with everything from the video to the single artwork screaming “megastar”. It’s fun, catchy, vibrant and energetic; and I can’t wait to hear more from this icon-in-waiting next year.
01. Never Really Over – Katy Perry
Honestly, I thought Katy’s single-of-the-year days were long gone – but this Dagny-inspired, Zedd-produced enormobop is her best since Teenage Dream.
That slightly frantic chorus (or is it the post-chorus?) might take a couple of listens to get used to, but WHEW once it gets you, there’s no going back. After all these years, her vocals are weirdly comforting, aren’t they – especially when she’s giving us The Feelings during moments like the pre-chorus and the middle-8, and the points at which she flips (as only Katy Perry can) in and out of her ‘head voice’.
This song is great for shouting along to in the car, for howling along to whilst hanging up the laundry, for wheezing along to whilst running… Spotify says it’s my most-played of the year, and it’s also my favourite. Thought my Katy stan-dom was done… but… *slow look to camera* I guess it’s never really over.