Hello and welcome to my 13th, yes thirteenth!!!, year-end singles list – my favourite annual waste of time and energy!
You already know by now that pop has been SO MUCH BETTER this year than in recent years, and although I think that’s actually more apparent in the albums department than with singles, I still struggled more than ever to narrow this down to a Top 50 – and could have quite happily done a Top 100. Honourable mentions in particular go to Halsey, Yorke, Becky Hill, Arlissa, Capulets, Megan x Beyoncé, Emily Burns and The Mamas.
Before we get to my absolute faves of the last 52 godforsaken weeks, here’s a RECAP of my No1 songs from years gone by. My lists from 2008-2014 are on blogs that are long deleted 😢 but there is a Spotify playlist for all of them, even if a couple are missing a few songs because of Spotify deletions and/or me just forgetting what else was on them:
2008: Sweet About Me – Gabriella Cilmi [playlist]
2009: Battlefield – Jordin Sparks [playlist]
2010: Teenage Dream – Katy Perry [playlist]
2011: Till The World Ends – Britney Spears [playlist]
2012: Wings – Little Mix [playlist]
2013: Heart Attack – Demi Lovato [playlist]
2014: Into The Blue – Kylie Minogue [playlist]
2015: Style – Taylor Swift [blog | playlist]
2016: Into You – Ariana Grande [blog | playlist]
2017: Touch – Little Mix [blog | playlist]
2018: Make Me Feel – Janelle Monae [blog | playlist]
2019: Never Really Over – Katy Perry [blog | playlist]
End-of-decade: Teenage Dream – Katy Perry [blogs | playlist]
You can get to the 2020 playlist here if you can’t be arsed to scroll through all of the below.
50. Miss You 2 – Gabrielle Aplin feat. Nina Nesbitt
There was a time at which the very idea of these two collaborating would have sent me into a hundred-year sleep, but I’ve been a huge fan of their more recent output – and this little electro-ballad was a real New Year gem back in January.
49. Take Care Of You – Ella Henderson
The solo comeback song that felt 394 years in the making (2019’s Glorious EP aside), Hendo’s return sounded a bit ~basic to me at first, but over time it’s become a real go-to: playlist-friendly dancepop anchored by a sweet vocal performance that delivers just the right amount of yearning and delicacy. The ad-libs over the final chorus? Ugh!!
48. New Me – Ella Eyre
Back in January I thought this would be Ella’s big moment; her chance to finally earn a genuine smash without being the featured artist on a dance anthem. That… did not happen. New Me still slaps, though; a bit chaotic on first listen, but full of personality (“Ella ain’t here, it’s a new me”) and an insanely addictive “na-na-na-na” bit in the middle.
47. in the afternoon – Josef Salvat
Josef’s Modern Anxiety album was a delight, a DELIGHT goddammit; and this sweethearted little number is one of my very favourites from it. Warm, wistful, wonderful. 💖
46. Daydream – The Aces
For some reason The Aces’ latest album didn’t stick with me like their previous one did (maybe it’s just been too much of a crowded field this year), but Daydream miiiiiight just be my new top song of theirs. It is, as Lorraine would say, a JOY.
45. I’m Ready – Sam Smith feat. Demi Lovato
I feel like The Gays At Large aren’t too keen on this, which makes NO SENSE to me! Initially I felt like it ended before it really got going, but it proved to be a right grower. Both Sam and Demi sound great, the video is excellent, and nine months later it still very much does the job for me. 🤷
44. Boyfriend – Selena Gomez
Witty little lyrics have become Selena’s USP, and “I could phone a friend, use a hotline or something, but that won’t get the job done” is up there with her best.
43. Strike – Call Me Loop
One of two excellent lil’ bops released my Call Me Loop in 2k20 (the other is Downhill From Here), Strike is a great you’re-on-thin-ice-matey warning shot; with a vocal that’s more exasperated than vengeful.
42. Something In Your Eyes – Steps
What The Future Holds didn’t slap me round the face quite like I wanted it to, but a well-executed cover of Jenny Silver’s Something In Your Eyes? Oh this, this reinvigorated my interest in S6 and then some. The candy-coated chorus! The big A*Teens energy! The sight of Lee in a harness!!! The real standout moment of their latest era for me.
41. What’s Your Pleasure? – Jessie Ware
When I first heard it, I was like, “If this becomes a single, it’ll be on my year-end list!!!”. It did, and it is.
40. Bikini Porn – Tove Lo
There was actually a point in Q1 at which it looked like pop wouldn’t deliver the goods this year; and I remember this darkly fun little gem was one of only a handful of songs to cut through. Of course 2020 did end up becoming much more fruitful music-wise, but I haven’t forgotten this January masterpiece.
39. Holiday – Little Mix
Holiday didn’t reaaaally click with me at first, maybe because it’s not the obvious earth-shaking summer anthem I expected. But it is a breezy, slick slow-burner with a fabulous double chorus, some excellent vocals from Leigh-Anne in particular, and – as a lovely bonus -an epic MNEK remix.
38. Falling – Harry Styles
For me this was a standout fave from 2019’s Fine Line album anyway, but when it was used over the top of one of my Hollyoaks episodes (clang) and reduced me to a BLUBBERING WRECK, its legendary status was cemented.
37. Do It – Chloe x Halle
Somehow managing to be both a smooth laid-back bop and a get-up-and-go party anthem, Do It was the perfect launchpad for the excellent Ungodly Hour era, and the best thing about it is that it just sounds so effortless. These two have had A YEAR!
36. If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know) – The 1975
As with The Aces, the latest 1975 era didn’t cLiCk with me quite like the last one did, and I wonder if that’s just because I was too busy stanning other stuff. But! If You’re Too Shy is still a magnificent addition to their repertoire; deservedly their highest charting single to date.
35. Hallucinate – Dua Lipa
I feel like you’re either a Levitate kinda person, or a Hallucinate kinda person. I’m the latter.
34. Friends In The Corner – Foxes
“All of my friends in the corner, everybody’s looking like they need someone.” Hashtag 2020, amiright? Foxes took a bloody long time to come back with new material, and when she did… to quote her own seminal 2015 album, it was glorious.
33. Addicted To Blue – Grace Davies
“I don’t wanna lose you, but I don’t wanna get used to you” is just one of many 10/10 lyrics in this stunning midtempo number about being a secret angst junkie. It’s the standout moment from one of the year’s best EPs, and more new material can’t come soon enough.
32. Diamonds – Megan Thee Stallion feat. Normani
Savage and WAP deserved all the fuss they got, but Diamonds? Diamonds should have been up there with them! And as Normani’s only output in 2020(!!!!), we should be SOAKING IT UP.
31. Say Something – Kylie Minogue
I wouldn’t say I was underwhelmed when this came out, but I was… whelmed. As time’s gone by, though, it’s really stuck with me – a lush, wistful song that doesn’t drop-kick you in the balls with killer hooks, but does give you a quiet little lift when you need it most.
30. Crazy – Kelly Rowland
Deliriously addictive, Crazy is my favourite Kelly Rowland track for ages – and one of her absolute best altogether, in my opinion. Between this and Coffee, that fifth album can’t come soon enough!
29. Make U Cry – Torine
I heard this on a PopJustice New Music Friday playlist at the start of the year, and I’ve been a big Torine cheerleader ever since (keep an ear out for Stupid Things if you like this). Make U Cry sounds like something Karmin or Avril would have released in 2013, and it’s extremely my shit.
28. Sleep At Night – The Chicks
I’m a complete newbie to The Chicks, and their Gaslighter era has been exceedingly good – particularly this post-anger, pre-forgiveness smackdown. Like many songs with one foot in country music, the lyrics are veeeery specific (“Remember you brought her to our show at the Hollywood Bowl? She said, ‘I love you, I’m such a fan'”), but the sheer steady-eyed emotion of the delivery means the relatability factor doesn’t suffer one bit.
27. Rare – Selena Gomez
The Selena album feels like it came out a lifetime ago, but it was the first properly great record of 2020 – and its title track cemented her status as a reliable provider of slightly offbeat (not literally offbeat) whisperpop. “Saw us getting older, burning toast on the toaster”… poetry!
26. Head & Heart – Joel Corry feat. MNEK
MNEK scoring one of the biggest hits of the year? LOVE to see it.
25. Lifetime – Romy
I was never a big The xx stan, so I didn’t run to hear Romy’s big solo outing – but whew! A Eurodance-esque anthem for the ages.
24. Married In Vegas – The Vamps
Some of you aren’t ready to have the conversation about how The Vamps have always been great, but that’s okay! I can do enough stanning for all of us! Married In Vegas is their best song since their early pop-rock days; Lostboy’s production and Bradley Simpson’s vocals making one sweet, sweet partnership. It just goes off, I don’t know what else to tell ya!
23. Joan Of Arc On The Dancefloor – Aly & AJ
These two just keep on giving, don’t they? As angstbangers go, this doesn’t tread much new ground lyrically – but the title alone is enough to give it a certain je-ne-sais-quoi, and frankly it’s just a bloody huge tune.
22. One Touch – Julie Bergan
I still can’t quite figure out if this counts as an official single or not (her Wikipedia discography doesn’t list it, but it had a video and got the big push from the EP so SURELY IT’S CANON?!). In any case, One Touch is an absolute belter; with an adrenaline rush of a chorus that’s all layered vocals and eardrum-splitting instrumentation. Check out her Seeb collaboration Don’t You Wanna Play? as well.
21. No Shame – 5 Seconds of Summer
A song that earnestly tries to take aim at the attention-seeking nature of social media frankly sounds like my idea of hell; but No Shame manages to win me over by virtue of just being a fucking brilliant earworm. The lyrics are great too, avoiding preachiness and on-the-nose clichés with lines like: “I only light up when cameras are flashing, never enough and no satisfaction”. Je suis seen!
20. BLACK PARADE – Beyoncé
A surprise Juneteenth release, the Queen Of Everything delivered a track that was not only timely and superbly written lyrics-wise, it was also fantastically performed: no-one can pull off a call-to-action quite like Beyoncé, and all things considered, Black Parade felt like a real Moment.
19. Easy – Troye Sivan; with or without Kacey Musgraves and Mark Ronson
There are, of course, two versions of this – and to be honest, either of them would be this high on the list in their own right. The original is a quietly brilliant work of boppy devastation; the Musgraves/Ronson-ified remix achieving the same emotional impact with slightly more sparkly-yet-melancholy production.
18. Natalie Don’t – Raye
Raye does not know how to release bad songs. She just doesn’t! Natalie Don’t is an excellently dramatic, Jolene-referencing track that – like everything else she’s put out recently – should have been enormous. Let us all form a prayer circle and hope she gets a megastar moment ASA-fucking-P.
17. Black Dog – Arlo Parks
Arlo will have been a teenager – a TEENAGER! – when she wrote this breathtakingly gorgeous depression-themed lifeline of a song. To think, when I was that age I could barely string together a MySpace bulletin!
16. Love Me Land – Zara Larsson
After her last few singles struggled to catch on, Zara took a bold swing with Love Me Land – and though commercially it absolutely did not pay off (at least not outside of her homeland), it’s another fantastic track to add to her collection. I really hope bigger things are coming her way in 2021.
15. Fingers Crossed – Agnes
A lot of people have already said that this sounds like the sort of thing ABBA would make if they were coming through in 2020, and if I may be so bold as to join them: this sounds like the sort of thing ABBA would make if they were coming through in 2020.
14. Somebody – Dagny
Dagny has had a fucking great year, releasing straight-up God-tier (sorry, Tier 4) pop music. Come Over narrowly missed a place on this list, and Strangers/Lovers is one of my fave albums of 2020. Somebody is a joyful, heartwarming diamond of a love song that secures her place as one of the genre’s most engaging talents.
13. Save A Kiss – Jessie Ware
Jessie’s managed to hit new personal bests with her music in 2020; and for me, Save A Kiss was the real crowning moment. I want a dancefloor, I want strobes, I want to be surrounded by sweating gays!!
12. React – The Pussycat Dolls
Is React really that good? Or was it just an exciting pop culture moment right before everything properly turned to shit? I think it’s a bit of both: while I do think this song would benefit from Going Off a bit more in the final chorus, it’s one of those tracks that you don’t realise you’re enjoying that much until you’ve had it on repeat for three weeks and you’re going “AH! AH! AH-AH-AH-AH-AH-AH!” in your sleep. And the CHOREOGRAPHY!
11. Wildflower – 5 Seconds of Summer
A lot of 5SOS’s most popular output over recent years has been on the dark and moody side, but Wildflower is a burst of light; a stadium-sized chorus wrapped in bright, euphoric production. In substituting cheeky words in the chorus with pointed blank spaces, it takes on a nice playful energy, too.
10. Midnight Sky – Miley Cyrus
It’s not that Miley hasn’t been making good stuff over the last few years (I loved Slide Away!), but 2020 saw her biggest commercial flourish since the all-out chaos of 2013’s Bangerz era; Midnight Sky propelling her back onto the A-list with melodic synths, a massive chorus and a vocal performance full of pure drive. There are many who’ll never be won over by her, no matter what sound she opts for – but this is a masterfully executed, career-redefining moment from one of our most complicated popstars.
9. I’m Coming – Tove Lo
An English language cover of the Swedish Jag kommer by Veronica Maggio, this is just further proof – if further proof were needed! – that Tove Lo is one of the greatest popstars of her generation; and that reputation-amongst-the-gays-wise, she should be right up there with Carly Rae. This was only cobbled together as part of Spotify’s Studio It’s Hits (?) project, but it’s utterly glorious – and perfect for the last kilometre or so of any run.
8. I Love You’s – Hailee Steinfeld
I’ve loved a lot of what Hailee has put out over the last few years, but in my view this is the closest she’s ever come to matching the absolute perfection of 2015’s Love Myself. Making great use of that iconic Annie Lennox hook, it’s the exact territory Hailee flourishes in: midtempo heartfelt ~feelings. (Fun fact: Jess Agombar of early-2010s girlband Parade is a co-writer!).
7. Crave – Kiesza
Have you ever belted Crave at the top of your lungs while driving up the M11? No?!?! Then you haven’t LIVED! Favourite bits include the soft “gimme your loooove”s underneath the massive “GIMME YOUR LOVE!!!!”s; that utterly euphoric middle-8; and the ad-lib she does in the final 10 seconds, where it’s all “GIMME GIMME YOUR LOVE! BABY GIMME YOUR LOVE!!” Yes reader, I love.
6. Experience – Victoria Monét feat. Khalid and SG Lewis
That this wasn’t a colossal star-making behemoth is a national – NAY, INTERNATIONAL! – disgrace. Monét has given us countless phenomenal moments as a songwriter (she’s basically Ariana Grande’s most trusted co-writer), and her bid for success as a performer on the excellent Jaguar EP was never more impressive than on this pulsating, glistening, disco-infused piece of bittersweet delight.
5. XS – Rina Sawayama
When did you first hitch your cart to the Rinawagon? Were you one of the clever ones who was well aware of her genius pre-2020? I… was not. She first came onto my radar properly with the slick Commes Des Garçons, but it wasn’t until XS came along a short while later that I was like, “oh…. OH!!!”. An anti-capitalism banger with production that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early-2000s Britney album, it’s EVEN BETTER in its Bree Runway-ified remixed form. All things considered, this song is the big shining moment from one of the defining artists of the year.
4. Break Up Song – Little Mix
I keep talking about this song like it flew under the radar, which obviously isn’t true: it debuted and peaked in the UK Top 10, hung around the Top 20 for nine weeks, and had plenty of mainstream radio play. But! In a better timeline, this – as a lead single from the country’s biggest girlband – would have had way more bells-and-whistles fanfare. Choreo-heavy TV performances! International promo! A music video that didn’t have to be made with felt! The chorus is huge, the production is glorious, and on my Spotify Wrapped this was comfortably my most listened-to track of 2020. A happysad masterstroke!
3. Rain On Me – Lady Gaga feat. Ariana Grande
How wonderful that Lady Gaga, twelve years after her breakthrough, is still able to provide one of the biggest hits of the year?! Rain On Me, with a magical guest turn from Ari, came along in truly The Darkest Days, reminding us to dance through the angst and keep our “hands up to the sky”. “I’d rather be dry, but at least I’m alive” is a corker of a lyric; and BloodPop and Burns’ production is magnificent. I’d go for my government-sanctioned daily runs with this on repeat.
2. Sweet Melody – Little Mix
The group’s final single as a quartet (I’m saying No Time For Tears doesn’t count!), and WHAT a BANGER with which to close the Jesy Chapter!!! Landing somewhere between Touch and DNA, Sweet Melody demands pyro, it demands hair flipping, it demands Choreography with a capital C… and the video provides all of the above. The beat is huge and the vocals are perfection, but its the lyrics (sorry, the Golden Bop Award-winning lyrics!!) that are its real trump card: a delicious, playful narrative that chucks a couple of conversational “anyways” into the opening verses, before reaching that instantly iconic couplet: “He would lie, he would cheat, over syncopated beats.” Almost ten years in, and still providing big blockbusters like this? The history books must recognise Little Mix among the girlband greats; they MUST!!!
1. Physical – Dua Lipa
Yes, the best song of 2020 came out before January had even finished. It was the smart and cool Don’t Start Now that got the attention of the critics and the Serious Music lovers, but it’s Physical – almighty, unconquerable Physical – that delivered big on excitement, euphoria and bursts of sweet, sweet serotonin; an energetic power-pop workout as subtle and delicate as a herd of bison thundering across the plain.
That rollerdisco-ready chant-a-long chorus is the perfect pay-off after those tantalising verses; but it’s the middle-8 that sends you up to a big, gay cloud in the sky. Dua’s guttural roars of “BABY KEEP ON DANCING!” land like commands you’ll obey as if your life depends on it, and I’m just thankful we had at least a couple of months of nightlife with this utter beast of a homobanger before everything shut down. A classic!!