Hi guys, welcome back to The Social Tune! And before we move onto summing up my thoughts on 2020, let's take a look back at 2019 and see how it could have been better. These are the top 10 songs that weren't QUITE hits in 2019... but probably should have been!
Now, since I took a bit of time off, I have not yet had the chance to really talk about 2019 before now. I'll go into it in a lot more detail when I eventually get to making my lists for the best and worst hits for that year, but in short, I feel it was... decent... but not particularly remarkable. Sure, there were a couple of acts that stood out and made a big impact (more on that later), but in general it was pretty middle-of-the-road, basically a transition between the shitstorm that was 2018 and the frankly great year that has been 2020. And thus, unlike other lists like this that I've made in the past, there were a LOT more contenders than usual.
So to compensate, I have decided to implement a new ground rule: for a song to qualify for this list, it had to have charted on the Billboard Hot 100 for at least 4 weeks, giving me just enough time to get my hopes up before they got crushed into a fine powder. And just to be clear, these are songs that might have charted for a short time -you may even consider them hits yourself- but they did not make Billboard's year-end Top 100 Songs of 2019, just so there's no confusion as to what I consider to be a hit and what I don't.
And with all of that out of the way, let's kick things off with:
So if nothing else, 2019 was a very important year for country music. Old Town Road dropped, got kicked off the Billboard country charts, and subsequently became the biggest song of all time, half off of its own quality and half out of sheer backlash and protest against Billboard and Nashville. And all I can say is "about fucking time", because it finally made country somewhat more acceptable to listen to! ... Oh, and it also brought a lot of much-needed attention to the double standards for minorities in country, that's cool too I guess...
Now, if you know anything about me, I've been bigging up the genre for years now, and championed many artists who are incredibly talented and deserve a lot more attention, from Jason Isbell to Hurray for the Riff Raff to Lori McKenna. Unfortunately, most of the best ones are still buried deep in the underground... but there are a few exceptions. Including one guy who has made this kind of list multiple times in the past:
Some Of It by Eric Church
So let me preface this by saying, while this song is great, it's certainly not Eric Church's best; this is a far cry from Hippie Radio or Record Year. However, even at his worst, his radio singles tend to be a cut above anything else on the radio, and this was easily the best of them last year.
Church's voice has an incredibly pleasant timbre to it with a natural twang and buckets of charm. So hearing him telling you about what life at middle age has taught him and passing on that wisdom, that's a pretty great fit. Of course, it helps that he doesn't come off as condescending, choosing instead to highlight how some of it comes easy, some of it comes hard, and how not all of it is even all that useful or important to let hang over you in the long run. I LOVE the structure of the verses here around the chorus, it's a really endearing sentiment told in a naturally pleasing way, and turns a song that would have been a 6 in the hands of lesser artists into an easy 8.
In addition, I would be remiss if I didn't highlight the instrumentation and production, which is fucking top-tier! Seriously, the mixing, the positioning of his vocals, the well-placed multitracking and the overlapping guitars all make for a great listening experience. I could just listen to this on repeat for a good hour without fully appreciating the lyrics because of how easily it goes down. Which is notable because the producer, Jay Joyce, has had a bit of a spotty track record over the years. But yeah, it seems he and Eric Church bring out the best in each other, and if we can keep getting songs like this out of it, I certainly don't want them to stop anytime soon! Great track!
Dynamite's a good song... this is miles better though:
Boy With Luv by BTS (Ft. Halsey)
To be perfectly transparent, although I have done my due diligence in listening to all of BTS' albums, I rarely find myself going back to them. Yes, part of the reason is that I don't speak Korean and the language barrier is a bit of an issue for me as someone who tends to prioritise lyrics. But the other part is that it's painfully obvious to me that the pop song machine has its grubby little fingers all over it. Which is why, for me, BTS will likely never be more than a "singles act", built off the strength of individual songs rather than full projects. With that said though... BOY are those stand-out tracks fun!!!
Of the highest-charting BTS songs, this is easily my favourite, and I'll say it, probably should have netted them their first real hit instead of Dynamite. Then again, I also wouldn't want them to neuter this song's appeal with a slew of mediocre remixes, so I guess there's no way for me to win.
I would usually also question Halsey's presence here, as opposed to a better performer who can actually project more of a presence, but in a weird way, the fact that she's barely noticeable here kind of works in the song's favour. And frankly, when you can make her out, she's rarely sounded this good or at home! I'm a sucker for male-female dynamics on songs, and while I can't really say there's much... "dynamic" between them here, I still enjoy the contrast that her voice provides to the rest of theirs.
I'll admit I haven't looked up the translation for these lyrics, and no, I have no intention of doing so. I really enjoy this song and I'd rather not jeopardise that by overanalysing what is, in all honesty, a pretty fantastic and happy pop song. On that note, can I just say how happy I am that pop music is finally HAPPY again?! After years of misery and dead-eyed gruel from pop music, it's nice to finally see people taking a more positive outlook again! Like I've said before, we need positive, happy-go-lucky pop music, now more than ever.!
But hey, if you disagree...
SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK by Joji
There, you happy now?! You wanted sad music, you wanted misery and existential dread, well here ya go!!! ... Ahem, anyway, for the uninitiated, George Kusunoki Miller (aka ジョージ・楠木・ミラー, aka Jōji Kusunoki Mirā, born 18 September 1992), better known by his stage name Joji and formerly by his online aliases Filthy Frank and Pink Guy, is a Japanese singer-songwriter, record producer, author, and former Internet personality (thank you Wikipedia). And let me tell you, for a guy who I'm told specialised in comedy back on YouTube, he sure does know how to create a miserable mood!
You see, for some reason, I just kind of assumed Filthy Frank's music was going to be... more comedic? I'm a Game Grumps fan, and Danny's band Ninja Sex Party is exactly what I would expect based on his other videos, it just fits, it makes sense... This, on the other hand? Lo-fi, down-tempo, mournful sirens and cascading piano flourishes, with vocals that remind me more of James Blake than anything else? Nope, was not expecting that!
He sounds so... sad... He also sounds a-ma-zing; in fact I don't think it's an exaggeration to call Joji one of the best radio-adjacent singers working today, at least in terms of emoting. And all joking aside, this synthpop-R&B thing he's got going REALLY works for me.
Reportedly, Joji stated this is about dancing with someone who is not interested in you and how that doesn't really feel all that great. Or in his words "“It's that point of self-hatred that you don't mind,” ... You good there buddy? Well, the good news is that his new album Nectar seems a little happier... I think. And sidenote, y'all had better take the time to check that project out! Because this is gorgeous, it's atmospheric, but I'd honestly say it's still not up there with his best songs. I mean imagine if we got Run to be a real hit? Or Daylight? Or Gimme Love? Or Sactuary? I can dream!
This is the kind of song that I can simply define as "a mood", it cultivates a vibe like very few songs are able to evoke this effortlessly. And in 2019, when a lot of songs felt like they were pretty skeletal and lacking in real depth, this put most of them to shame! Give this man the career he deserves, I know how often I've said I'm sick of sad music on the radio, but not when it sounds like this!
Whew, so glad I finally got to talk about Joji, especially in such a positive light... but he wasn't my favourite breakout artist of 2019:
all the good girls go to hell by Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish is a fucking superstar! From the moment I heard her, I knew she was an exceptional performer, but turns out she's also immensely talented as a singer and a songwriter. And in 2019, she went from the girl scraping the bottom of the Hot 100 with the occasional stray single, to topping the charts with bad guy, a song so big I constantly forget it WASN'T the biggest hit of 2019!
However, despite loving all the hits off of that album, I was still disappointed that 1 or 2 singles didn't quite rise to the same height of popularity. And while I would describe a lot of Billie's material as avant-garde or alienating or straight-up weird, I've rarely found a song of hers I found so immediately FUN!
A title like "all the good girls go to hell" is a pretty loaded one, and if it were made by a guy, would likely set up a painful anthem to rejection like we sadly have heard quite a lot over the past few years. However, in the hands of an artist like Billie Eilish, I was hoping for something dark and macabre... and I'll admit that's not quite what we got here. If you want that, bury a friend should MORE than fit the bill, but this is a lot more vaudeville and intentionally camp, with a buzzing synth line and "ominous" string plucks setting up a spooooooky vibe. In other words, it's the perfect Halloween song: not actually all that creepy, but relishing in the imagery and atmosphere to just have fun! I mean Billie is usually a bit more subtle with her writing than with lines like "my lucifer is lonely".
To me, this is a song that is clearly meant to troll and scare off people who would be easily offended or terrified of this supposed demon girl who might seduce your dad. It's a similar style of provocation as bad guy, but honestly, I prefer this by far, because it trades in that song's minimalism for cheesy excess. And at least for me, as a prototypical theatre kid, it's just so much more naturally appealing! Although honestly, still not even close to her best... but we'll get to that. Before that:
Intro by DaBaby
This is DaBaby. I know you're all aware of that, but since this guy blew up last year, I haven't yet had the chance to talk about him. In short, he's a rapper from North Carolina who's been active since around 2014, who then blew up shortly after his inclusion in XXL's 2019 Freshman Cypher, with massive hits like Suge. This particular gem is actually the intro track from his second album from that year Kirk, and... well damn.
You know how artists tend to get very introspective about all the fame and how it clashes with their personal lives? Generally this takes them a couple of years, after they see a massive boost in popularity and success (Father John Misty's God's Favorite Customer springs to mind as the obvious example for me). It is RARE for this move to occur within the very same year though! Some would chalk this up to his age or the speed at which his career took off... except that he's actually 28 and the content of this track is devastating!
Intro isn't usually the type of song to really leave an impact on me; I mean it's a fucking intro! Normally these should ease you into an album to set the mood, whereas this hits you with way too much way too fast. And before to lose your shit, I don't mean that as a detractor, this song was just really unexpected! Because it's a song in which DaBaby highlights his rise to success coinciding with the death of his father... which is messed up, and he is completely candid about just how hard it was to deal with.
He raps about being at the funeral and having people come up to talk to him while he's just trying to cope. About getting the news of his dad's death the same day his album went to number 1. About going on tour right after the funeral and pretending to be happy for all his fans. Oh and don't forget his mother's cancer, his worries about his own girlfriend and kids and the future, I mean, again, DAMN!!! And the fact he even references his difficult relationship with his brother, who shot himself just over a week ago today... yeah, that adds yet another layer of tragedy to this track; rest in peace Glen Johnson.
This is not the type of song you normally see charting and certainly not as high as it did. And yet it dropped off fast enough that I guess it got caught between years, which sucks.
Luckily DaBaby seems to be sticking around, and while he's been pretty overexposed in 2020, I'm still not sick of him! This guy has charisma for days and I'm so grateful to have him around. Having a fun guy like him around is always great. But when you've seen vulnerability from that guy, you connect with him on a deeper level, and I've personally been repping for him since the day I heard this!
Okay, here's where I would normally go into some long-winded rant about how every year there's that one song everyone agrees should have been a hit, but wasn't... but seriously, in this day and age where we have more power than ever over what becomes a hit with platforms like TikTok, how did we let this slip away???
Juice by Lizzo
I feel like everybody who knows Lizzo knows this song. Which is not something I can say for her actual hits Truth Hurts and Good As Hell by the way! I mean, maybe I'm just projecting because I never hear those songs played over here to the same degree this one was, but I do think it's more than that!
See, I honestly don't know if Lizzo is going to have much success after 2019. I'm more than happy to be wrong about that, but I certainly haven't heard from her much since the beginning of 2020 and frankly, she's... a lot, energy-wise. Please don't hate me, but at least to me, Cuz I Love You felt like a galumphing, overproduced mess for the majority of its tracks and outside of this, I have not gone back to it at all. Lizzo's a great singer, but she's not exactly a subtle or balanced performer, and when her production doesn't do the balancing for her, it can cause a lot of her songs to grate on me FAST. But hey, all this to say that, of her songs that I expect to stick around for years to come, Juice is the clear winner!
I don't think there's much I can say about the song beyond the fact that it's a classic retro throwback that sounds absolutely phenomenal, combining all the best aspects of Lizzo with a sound that is glossy, gorgeous and a natural fit for her. And I'll say this for Lizzo, she's a powerful enough presence that it doesn't feel generic or anonymous! A lot of great performers do retro throwbacks and end up getting lost in the production to end up sounding pretty anonymous, but Juice is a Lizzo song through and through and I absolutely adore how it complements her usual energy!
This song isn't complex or deep, it's just a ton of fun! And if for some reason you haven't heard it, fix that! But on a very different note:
... Don't do drugs, kids.
xanny by Billie Eilish
So apparently this is a controversial opinion, but this is actually my favourite song off of when we all fall asleep, where do we go. Yes, when the party's over is more deep and layered, but I just like how to-the-point this song is, while maintaining a very sombre atmosphere.
See, most drug PSAs are tone-deaf, and either way too serious or way to upbeat. Here, Billie splits the difference by speaking from the point of view of a teenager going to those parties with friends who are doing drugs, the designated driver for a bunch of kids who are too scared not to get inebriated and high, which leads them to being too intoxicated to be scared in the first place. And unlike her contemporaries who have made similar cautionary tales like Lorde and Alessia Cara, she strikes me more as someone who might get invited to those parties and would actually have the conviction to say no to doing those "xannies" being offered to her. And yeah, as someone who spent a good few years being the guy drinking canned coke at quite a few parties, I connected with this one instantly. Again, I'd struggle to call this all that layered or complicated, there's not much to really say about it, but it does feel real and self-assured, with production that runs the delicate balance between glitchy and melodic. Again, not much more I can say about it, except that Billie Eilish has continually been impressing me for a good while now, and I can't wait to hear what she does next!
... Yeah, this one may cause 1 or 2 disagreements...
needy by Ariana Grande
Some of you may remember my long and in-depth review of Ariana Grande's album thank u, next back in 2019. For the record, I am still very proud of that review, so if you're interested, it's still on YouTube. Either way, I can sum it up by saying it's easily my favourite of her albums, by getting very personal and messy in a way that isn't always flattering, but which did paint Ari in a much more human light to me.
Compare this to anything off of her newest album positions. It's true that her new album is more consistent, glossier, and probably better produced as a whole. However, in terms of stand-out songs, or an emotional album arc, or songs that are lyrically interesting or even deep? Yeah, for me at least, I'm way more likely to go back to the more obviously flawed but quietly brilliant album that is taking chances, over the one that sounds effortless and easily pretty. It's just the unfortunate case of drama being more interesting than contentment, which, for the record, is exactly why needy hits me so hard.
See, with the spare beat, strings and subtle backing vocals, it places Ariana front and center in the mix, and you have no choice but to listen to her confessional lyrics. And maaaaan, this is not a light that many songwriters would dare to paint themselves in! Much like a song like Anchor by Wade Bowen, it just makes me kind of awestruck for the guts it took, and the fact that the performance makes it feel so real, that only adds to the experience.
As the title would suggest, this is a song about being the needy one in the relationship, feeling insecure when your partner isn't around, "obsessive and loving too hard", overthinking, and generally doubting your ability to maintain a relationship. And yet, despite all that insecurity, the hook has her admitting to all of it, owning it and giving no fucks about how passionate she will inevitably get! Even if you don't identify with the entire conceit of the song, there's an element here for practically anyone to connect to. Personally the part that always gets to me is the second verse, where she says "Sorry if I'm up and down a lot, sorry that I think I'm not enough, and sorry if I say sorry way too much"... oh that hurts my soul! But she also immediately follows it up by pointing out that this is just the way she is based off of past experiences and that she hopes you can accept that this is just what she needs. And if you remember the terrible couple of years she went through leading up to making this album... yeah, sadly that all makes sense.
Guess I'll close this segment off by saying this: I adore this song, it's gorgeous and layered... and the only reason bloodline didn't make this list is because it didn't have enough weeks to qualify. Make of that what you will.
Yeah, 2 songs from this artist on this list feels weird... better make it a nice round 3.
Ocean Eyes by Billie Eilish
The first time I heard this song, I was genuinely speechless. Up until 2018, I had associated Billie Eilish with try-hard horrorcore and over-the-top videos sent to me by my friends who were obsessed with her. Then one day I was sent this and that all changed. This is a tone and a mood that Billie wouldn't cultivate this effectively again until when the party's over, and I would argue she STILL hasn't given a vocal performance quite as gorgeous as this one.
As a reminder, this song was first uploaded to SoundCloud in November of 2015, which would have made Billie 13. This video was released in March of 2016, which puts her at 14. ... She sounded like THIS at 14!!! I mean, putting aside how obviously amazing she sounds pitch- and tone-wise, the amount of emotion and genuine atmosphere that she conjures up through her performance here is downright stunning! This is a sound that I wasn't expecting her to try and she immediately did it 10 times better than many artists who's entire careers revolve around it!
Even content-wise, this is very different for Billie, a sad love song where she's scared about how hard she's fallen for this person. It reminds me of i love you from her last album, but the production and mixing on this track just elevates it so much for me, with the angelic cooing backing vocals and the very blunt language that's used. It feels real... which is weird, because Billie didn't write this song. This was actually a song her brother Finneas wrote for his band, but eventually decided to give to his sister for a dance project she had on. They put it together with extremely basic sound equipment and well, the rest is history.
I genuinely adore this song. I'm not quite sure if it's my absolute favourite Billie Eilish song, but it's definitely one of the ones I go back to the most! A beautiful song from a source that keeps on giving; keep it up Billie, I hope you never cease to surprise me!
And now, before the number 1, some honourable mentions:
imagine by Ariana Grande
Wow, imagine a world in which dreams and happiness were actually possible, wouldn't that be nice? Also, many people have criticised those incredibly high whistle-like notes she hits at the end, but I just find them unbelievable; how can she possibly do that with her voice???
Love You Too Late by Cole Swindell
Cole Swindell has made better songs, but this is one infectious hook! So weird to think I once hated this guy.
Love Wins by Carrie Underwood
Did you know this woman just released a Christmas album? Someone demanded it I guess. I love Christmas. This is a good song.
Cross Me by Ed Sheeran (Ft. Chance The Rapper & PnB Rock)
I'm told I have terrible taste in the singles from this album. I have no idea what you mean.
South of the Border by Ed Sheeran (Ft. Camila Cabello & Cardi B)
For the record, no, Antisocial did not make this list. Hate on me all you want, but you guys wouldn't give me Take Me Back To London and I'm bitter about it!
Triggered (freestyle) by Jhené Aiko
I had completely forgotten that this dropped last year and had a pretty respectable chart run! Well, as one of my personal favourites from Chilombo, I'm more than happy to give it a platform here!
Homicide by Logic (Ft. Eminem)
ISIS by Logic and Joyner Lucas would have actually made the top 10, but this isn't a bad consolation prize. Also this is the only reason Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind is even worth listening to and in short, it's only barely worth the effort. All the best to Logic in his new career though.
Twerk by City Girls (Ft. Cardi B)
This seems like a good moment to mention that Tyler The Creator's EARFQUAKE could have made this list and got cut... just sayin... Anyways, this song is awesome and I refuse to hear otherwise.
Love Someone by Brett Eldredge
This was the very last cut from this list and in any other year, it would have certainly made it! Such a fun and upbeat song, go give this man and his new album some love!
Never Really Over by Katy Perry
Ok, HER 2020 album wasn't quite as good, but I'd still say check it out regardless, at least it's better than Witness! Also this song serves as a great closing single to her career, which is fitting as this may be the final success she sees on the charts. I enjoyed our time while it lasted Katy!
But on that note...
Katy has had a long, respectable career that had a handful of hits that I truly love... However, do you know who's been around just about as long and also made one of the best overall songs of her discography last year? Hint: she did it by teaming up with the guy who's worked with everyone from Amy Winehouse to Ghostface Killah to Adele to Bruno Mars to Lady Gaga to Father John Misty- I mean seriously what the fuck???
Nothing Breaks Like a Heart by Mark Ronson (Ft. Miley Cyrus)
I said in a recent livestream that Miley's best hit is Wrecking Ball, and I honestly do stand by that. However, in terms of her potential hits... holy shit, this is incredible! I don't think it's an exaggeration to call this Miley's best song... but I'm a fan of hyperbole, so I'll say it, this may be Mark Ronson's best work too! And yes, I am very much including that one massive hit of his that I never shut up about in that equation!
Thematically, this song isn't groundbreaking or anything, a simple case of a song where 2 lovers are falling apart for a multitude of reasons. But it makes up for it in detail and presentation. The lyrics are colourful and rich, describing the silence between them as "thunder crashing in the dark", and evoking the imagery of broken records and arid desert winds to describe just how stale and unsalvageable this relationship is, the song has quotes for days! And paired with with the rollicking guitar line and those strings, the song makes you feel like a lone ranger riding off into the desert to move on to better things.
As for why it's number 1 though... well sadly, this isn't a case of me suddenly pulling back the veil and revealing a groundbreaking viewpoint some of you may have never considered. The most I can point out is just what an amazing job everyone did on the track in ways that you may not immediately realise. The reason I say this may well be Mark Ronson's best work is because of the mixing and balancing of this track is completely stunning, with each separate element coming in at just the right time in order to stand out on its own, while not interrupting the galloping flow the track has going.
More to the point, Miley has never sounded better, as she makes excellent use of her voice, emphasising her strengths and honestly projecting a TON of charisma! You get the feeling this relationship was important to her, but that it's certainly not the first, nor the last time her heart and another's are going to be broken in this way. She could have made this heartbroken or over-the-top in other ways, but the almost resigned and disaffected way she sings here, while keeping up with the energy of the instrumentation, it just makes her sound like a total badass, she completely embodies the troubadour role the instrumentation evokes for me! It's not triumphant, nor wallowing, just accepting that heartbreak sucks, but you gotta move on.
And for me, when it dropped back in November of 2018... yeah, I needed that. And it's been special to me ever since. Nothing Breaks Like A Heart by Mark Ronson & Miley Cyrus, the best song that could have made 2019 a whole lot more interesting!
So thank you all for reading this, I really appreciate. The next month or so is about to get real busy as we break down the past year in music, so stay tuned and maybe like and subscribe, every little helps. See you all again soon, and until the next time, I'm Fionn and this is The Social Tune signing off.