Updated: Oct 19, 2022
Hi guys, welcome back to The Social Tune! And it's finally time to count down the Top 10 Best Hit Songs of 2019!
This is easily the toughest a top 10 list has ever been for me to put together. I have laboured for weeks over the final picks for the list, and changed my mind well over a dozen times about what belongs here, what doesn't, what feels honest, what feels like I'm trolling, and even considering changing the entire format altogether because this year was just that WEIRD! Understand, 2019 is one of the strangest years in Billboard's history, a year where music was swamped with odd choices, hit-or-miss experiments, and occasionally just utter nonsense. It's the year where music felt the most democratic, where it appears everybody had a say in what made the year-end for better and for worse, and where even the big names were either stifled or having their own existential crises.
The result is a list of 100 songs where I'm not precisely indifferent on much, but I certainly like a lot more than I love. It was a year in which this list could have been a top 30 one day, and the next day I would come back to it and hate all but 5 songs here. And to make matters worse, there was a whole bunch of songs which I really enjoyed, but which everybody else seemed to hate, so I did have to question if I really liked them or was just being contrarian for the sake of it. Hence why Without Me and Hey Look Ma, I Made It were cut from this list, as 2 songs I like more than most, but still not enough to put them among the best of the year. In other words, yeah, this was kind of a pain to put together, and as much as I do love the songs that ended up on the list, I need a break from all of them after this!
That all being said, I am now going to take a breath, smile, and enjoy this list of 10 songs which have cost me so much time and effort, but which I do still love at the end of the day. So this is what having kids must be like... Let's do this.
I expected some surprise at Talk by Khalid being on my worst list for 2019... what I didn't expect was for anyone to contradict me. Maybe it's because of just how much I can't stand it, but the thought of anyone defending it as being "good" is just beyond me. I mean, you do know that Khalid released his best song ever in 2019 before Talk ever reared its ugly head, right?!
Better by Khalid
I don't understand Khalid's appeal. It's not that I don't like him, I just think he brings absolutely nothing to every song he's on, neither vocally nor emotionally. Whenever he does come in, I just immediately feel tired and woozy... which is precisely why I think Better works as well as it does. It's a song that's supposed to be a chill vibe, and what better way to calm down that with the sonic equivalent of Quaaludes?
The song is gentle and soothing, a leisurely swirl of colourful synths which eventually bring in a steady beat on the hook and second verse. And Khalid's voice rides it perfectly on the verses, then blends with it beautifully on the chorus, with well-placed multitracking maintaining that calm atmosphere. Heck, the only moment where Khalid tries to get a bit more intense and earnest is on the tail end of bridge, where the beat has been stripped back to its barest components. The song almost could have broken its streak right there, but right as he starts to belt, the mix comes back and envelops him again, as if to say "Woah there buddy, chill, this is a happy place!"
You know a song has great production when I have heard well over 100 times, and yet I still have no real clue what it's about, nor do I particularly care. What I care about is the relaxed, chill effect it has on me, the listener, and whenever it comes on, everything immediately DOES feel better. Even the outro, which took its time growing on me, is now indispensable, with the vocal effect almost making his voice sound like a horn outro! It's a terrific slow burn of a song, and whenever I needed to recover from a Talk session, Better is the perfect remedy. Too bad it plays BEFORE Talk on that album of his... fuck sequencing!
So I'm told that this song is, in fact, NOT pop perfection... eh, who wants to fit in anyway?
I Don't Care by Ed Sheeran (Ft. Justin Bieber)
As I have said before, I've been told I have terrible taste in the best songs off of Ed's album/mixtape thing entitled No.6 Collaborations Project. Well, in keeping with that theme, this is actually my favourite song off the entire project. A song which people either seem to hate or be completely indifferent on... and I simply do not understand why! It's certainly better than their last "collaboration" Love Yourself, or better than anything Bieber did in the following year!
I'm not saying it's incredible, or pushing the envelope, but it's the type of song that works on every level I would expect it to. The hook is super catchy, the production is upbeat and straightforward, and the writing is what you might expect, with Ed and Justin playing the awkward guys at a party who feel out of place. And look, I've seen a few people say they don't buy this look from these 2, as some of the biggest stars in the world... but much like with Shape Of You, I disagree completely. If anything, OF the biggest stars in the world right now, I would absolutely buy that these 2 can get awkward on parties! They both strike me as introverts forced into more popularity than they ever expected to see, and Ed's songwriting compliments that perfectly.
I think one of the reasons for the backlash may be the volatile nature of music in 2019. In a year as off-kilter and weird as this one, a more conventional pop song wasn't really what we were looking for. But honestly, it's precisely for that reason that I returned to it so much that year, as the one thing that made sense in an utterly bizarre musical landscape. And there's also the personal side of it... I've definitely been to parties where I only know one person there and kinda want to leave, but sometimes that one person makes the whole evening worth it, and you may even have a great time! It's like Here by Alessia Cara, silently judging everybody ese at this party from the corner. but the focus is more on the other person helping you through it, which just makes me connect to this a lot more strongly.
And again, with such a fantastic hook, the relatable content, and Ed and Justin to lead you through it all, I can't help but love this. Nothing spectacular, but damn solid in its foundations. But hey, if you want some less conventionally safe pop music...
I know this was overplayed to Hell and back... but if I didn't give it its dues, I would be doing everyone a disservice.
bad guy by Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish is a goddamn treasure! It may have taken me till 2019 to realise that fact, but she got me through a lot that year, with when we all fall asleep, where do we go turning out to be one of the best albums of that year. And while this isn't the best song on the album, it is the opening track, and it honestly serves as a perfect introduction to her music!
That said, I'm a little shocked just HOW big this got. It was the 4th biggest hit of the year, reaching number 1 in 17 countries, and pretty much launched her career to an entire wider audience, deservingly so! And that's all pretty surprising, because it's still a defiantly WEIRD song, taking the dead-eyed, sullen, murky pop stylings that have been so popular these past few years... and then giving them a fucking bassline! Paired with the half-whispered, breathy vocals that pretty much spend the entire time antagonizing the audience, not to mention the clicks and breathy accents, this should not work! And yet somehow it's still REALLY catchy, with one of the most iconic hooks in pop music in recent memory!
Say what you will about that "duh", but it's certainly memorable, especially when it's followed up by that melodic keyboard drop. And Billie's delivery here is key, fully playing up the monster threatening your pristinely put-together life, and outright taunting you by threatening to make your mom sad, your girlfriend "mad tight" and seduce your dad. And yet even then, I can't help but like her here, because it's clearly an over-the-top act meant to antagonise alpha-males with their chests puffed out. I mean what are they going to do, beat up a mean 17-year-old girl for making them feel uncomfortable? I know that some critics have said the fact that this is all being sung by someone underage at thee time is off-putting and creepy, and you bet your ass Billie was fully-aware of that when she made this!
I know a lot of people are sick of this, but I hardly ever skip it when it comes on. Only time I do is when I know an even better Billie Eilish song is round the corner (which we will get to), because to me, this song is still awesome! However:
Here's the thing about bad guy: at the end of the day, it's a caricature. Billie intended it as an over-the-top middle finger to pearl-clutching pop traditionalists, which means you can ultimately identify with her and better slot yourself in her position as a rebellious teenager. Yes, it's done well, but it's also not a huge risk coming from her. No, if you want a portrayal of a real "bad guy" in 2019...
break up with your girlfriend, i'm bored by Ariana Grande
... Oh I am dead serious. 2019 was the year that Ariana Grande's career got a massive second wind, one that I've likened to Mariah Carey's in 2005. Whether you hated 7 rings or loved breathin', no one can deny just how huge she was during this year, off of the heels of one of the biggest albums of the entire year. And between breathin', boyfriend and multiple cuts from that album, it's pretty clear that she absolutely ruled 2019! And while breathin' BARELY didn't make this top 10... yeah, this slipped through.
Look, I'm well-aware many people hate this song. It's been called minimalist, unpleasant, lazy, and wildly out of character for Ari. And... I'm not so sure about that. She used to be a very bland if talented pop star, but ever since the Manchester Arena bombing in May of 2017, it's been clear she has been deeply traumatised. Not to mention the passing of her ex Mac Miller, her cancelled engagement to Pete Davidson, and all the while being scrutinised and criticised more than ever before, basically villainised by the general public. And while that reaction personally infuriates me, as I don't think any of that has been remotely fair to her, I will say it had an interesting affect on her music, basically causing her to become much more introspective and honest in her music... you know, after the brief identity crisis that was Sweetener.
All that brings us to this song, where the title kinda says it all. If anything, it's almost too obvious, like it's not trying to hide its intentions... and that's exactly the point. You see, unlike other songs about stealing other people's partners, this one is remarkably blunt and upfront about it, and most importantly, it doesn't even TRY to get you to sympathise with the protagonist! Seriously, think of every other song in this genre! Lips Of An Angel or Unfaithful try to get you to feel bad for the singers. Girlfriend or Want You Back try to play it off comedically. Meanwhile Ariana's reason is that she's just... bored. That should be even worse... and yet I never could get angry at this song. In fact I kinda love it.
I think the main reason why this works for me is that Ariana's resigned delivery sounds more sullen than bored. This was the closing track on an album where she laid herself bare, acknowledging her own flaws and insecurities, until she ultimately decides to play into the role of the villain that people keep painting her into, tired of being held to a gold standard that simply isn't her. It's a tragic ending from a dramatic perspective, but one that does feel real and weirdly triumphant in reality.
Plus, I just love the way it sounds. People have called this "minimalist" and they are insane, there is SO much going on in this beat! Max Martin really outdid himself, giving the mix a tightness he rarely nails properly, perfectly balancing the bass, the bells, the sharp snaps, and the fuzzy synth that comes in perfectly on the pre-chorus, which cuts out for a brief millisecond before the beat comes back for the main hook! And Ari rides it all beautifully, playing the part assigned to her perfectly! She doesn't care if you think she's crazy or if it's right, she doesn't even care that she just met you and that it likely won't last; right now she wants you, and she's not about to apologise for feeling this way at this moment. No frills, no excuses, just a pure villain taking what she wants. Because if she plays the villain, at least all the shit she gets will finally feel earned!
Depressing? Yep! And fucking spectacular!
Something strange happened in 2019... I finally got Post Malone.
Goodbyes by Post Malone (Ft. Young Thug)
Believe it or not, it wasn't Sunflower that won me over on Post Malone. In fact it was Wow, the odd, off-kilter, yet incredibly catchy song which many overlooked in the wake of his later singles. And while I absolutely love that song to this day... Goodbyes just hit me like a freight train and I still haven't recovered.
First, the production... my God, it is rare for a song to remind me of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in terms of sounding so grandly cinematic! The strings, the organ, echoing backing choir, the subtle pitching on Post's vocals, the warbling beat that comes in to support him on the first hook, and then it just continues, element after element! This song just keeps growing constantly, and Post's wailing over the whole thing matches that energy, steadily becoming more aggressive and forceful! Seriously, that second verse where he sings about "looking over the e-e-edge, don't fuck with me tonight" might just be my favourite moment on any hit song in 2019, it's SO visceral! It's a careening energy, as the song feels like it's rushing towards the abyss... and then comes Young Thug!
I haven't felt this good about a Young Thug feature since Havana! During the song Post is clearly singing about a relationship collapsing, and lashing out at her to just leave him the fuck alone, because he knows he's not strong enough to actually say goodbye to her. But when Thugga shows up, with his own brand of wailing drowning out all around him, forcing the instrumentation to a halt and then dragging it back up to meet him, making it his own! In an odd way, it kinda kills the song's momentum... but in a good way.
Because after that, Post Malone comes back in, and it's almost like Young Thug showing up surprised him just as much as the listener! He's been snapped out of his blind rage, and as the song closes out, the emotions he's been bottling up spill forth, as if he can finally say what he's been wanting to say all along: goodbye.
Whew, that last song was a journey, wasn't it? Post Malone's masterpiece... well, for now. But it wasn't the only gorgeously produced pop song which took a simple story and turned it into something so much bigger.
Dancing With A Stranger by Sam Smith & Normani
It actually took a while for me to warm up to a lot of the singles that dropped in early 2019. Many of them confused me or left me feeling a bit cold at first, and I was waiting for a new hit to truly blow me away... and there's no better way to do that than a duet between 2 people of opposite sexes, y'all should know this about me by now.
It's weird to think back to 2014, when Sam Smith first burst onto the global scene. At the time, I wasn't a huge fan of them, only really connecting with Latch with Disclosure. Since then though, they have managed to surprise me now and again, with surprise gems like Too Good At Goodbyes, and I may be the only critic in the world who really likes Writing's on the Wall. But this hit me pretty immediately, for all the same reasons as I Don't Care, only with miles more chemistry and sheer beauty! The production is simply gorgeous, gently swelling around our 2 performers and creating a wonderful, serene and melancholy atmosphere. I don't care that it rips off breathin' by Ariana wholesale, they improve on it so much by adding a ton of character and subtle vocal flourishes all across it... and yes, this IS basically just breathin', I can't be the only one who hears this.
Fitting in with the poised, sombre atmosphere, this is about 2 people, each one dancing with a stranger because they need to move past a lover they're clearly not over. Maybe they're dancing with each other, maybe they're both playing the other's ex or maybe their stories are entirely disconnected. It's never clarified, and it doesn't matter; if anything the mystique only adds to the song. It's a terrific balance, their vocals complimenting each other perfectly, creating a song whose ethereal beauty never ceases to amaze me.
I was initially tempted to put this song lower, maybe even as an honourable mention at one point, but every time I listened to it, it would immediately vault back into my top 5, it's just stunning! Who knew Normani and Sam Smith would have such great chemistry? Either way, this is damn close to the best thing either of them have done, and I couldn't be happier to have it here.
As much as I love In-Your-Face Billie or Vulnerable Billie... gotta admit, Scary Billie might be my favourite.
bury a friend by Billie Eilish
You know, of the songs from when we all fall asleep, where do we go, this is an oddly accessible one in my opinion, so much so that it doesn't give me a ton to say. Yes, it's weird to hear a song this awesomely ominous on the charts, but it's also VERY catchy, with an incredibly strong hook, fantastically balanced vocal effects and a KILLER bassline!
It's a song that manages to stay melodic in spite of its darker tone, grounded by that pulsing beat, the occasional horror movie screeches timed like record scratches, and all centered around one of Billie Eilish's best ever vocal performances. Many have given her credit for her more emotional performances on certain songs, but this is almost more impressive to me, as she sounds downright terrifying across this song, creating knots in her listeners' stomachs and building up the tension throughout the entire song, never quite releasing it!
It's a song about the monster under her bed being terrified of HER, and way more so than bad guy, I fully buy it! It's a song on the razor's edge of cutting loose and leaping right out of your speakers to attack you... but it prefers to hold you in suspense. And it does so beautifully.
Right from the start, my top 3 songs on this list were set in stone. This list went through many MANY changes until its final conception, but these 3 have always ruled absolutely supreme, as 3 songs that stand among not just the best of the year, but the entire decade! So might as well start with an obvious one... and my God, how can I STILL be so in love with this?!
Circles by Post Malone
Goodbyes is terrific and awe-inspiring, and forced me to finally take Post Malone seriously as an artist... but it's not his best song. No, that distinction has to go to the unstoppable juggernaut that is Circles, one of the biggest songs of all time, and deservingly so!
Where to even begin? The production, with the pulsing drum and guitar combo driving through the entire song? The way the instruments peel back for just a second for that sharp snare before the hook? The chorus, which is genuinely poetic in its prose? Even Post's Malone's reverb-soaked wailing across it works really well, as his more mournful tone is a tad more restrained than usual, even in his belting, underlining the real hurt behind the lyrics.
It's a simple enough song to get: a love that went cold, trying desperately to escape their problems, but always ending up right where they started. Doomed from the beginning to be apart, and yet both unwilling to be the one to end it, begging the other to do it instead. And maybe it's just because of how often I've heard it, but the opening lines of that hook have become ingrained in my head as utterly iconic at this point! "Seasons change and our love went cold, Feed the flame 'cause we can't let it go." Seriously, when did Post Malone get this good?!
I love this song for all the same reasons as Harry Styles' Adore You from last year, where the simple premise is pushed to new heights by genuine effort in the songwriting and production and it's just magical! And full disclosure, if it hadn't been a hit in 2019 first, Circles would have likely topped my list for the best hit songs of 2020, I fucking love it! However, in 2019, not quite... but this is still incredible, and should and will be remembered as a modern classic!
The thing about Circles is that it's really impressive from Post Malone, but at the end of the day, anyone could have made that song. Meanwhile my top 2 are completely reliant on the artists delivering them. And while we'll get to what have possibly been better in a bit... let's give Billie Eilish one more round of props.
when the party's over by Billie Eilish
I mean what to say about this that hasn't already been said by practically every critic out there? It's a tour-de-force of a performance, just as tense as bury a friend, but also loaded with a metric TON of vulnerability. The writing is utterly devastating at the production is stripped back to its barest elements so as not to get in the way. Just as heartbreaking lyrically as everything i wanted, but here everything else is set up to compliment them, and none more so than Billie herself!
Seriously, she's made some incredible songs in her time, but this was the moment that fully convinced me of her brilliance, beyond a shadow of a doubt. I still remember that morning in 2018 when my friend from work sent me this and thinking "God, another Billie Eilish song, fine!" and then just sitting in complete and utter awe. This is the song that made me pay attention to Billie, convinced me to give all of her songs a second listen, and ultimately made me a fan. And it's not hard to see why, because this is truly unique.
While many have highlighted the cracks in her upper range that pull at your heartstrings, many seem to miss the quiver in her lower range, where you really get the impression she's directly addressing someone who is breaking her heart, a gentle tremor of anger towards a person she has given way too much of her time to, which very quickly turns to tired and near-desperate misery. If it were almost any other performer of her age, this could come across as melodramatic, and from anyone older it may seem immature. Instead, Billie walks the tightrope frighteningly well, finally ending on what may almost be a note of hope, as she finally says, out loud, that she needs to let this person go. It's quiet, it's pensive, it's quite possibly her best song... so what beat it? Well, before we get to my answer, some honourable mentions for your consideration:
Sucker by Jonas Brothers
Yes, it's a shameless ripoff of Feel It Still by Portugal the Man, but every time it comes on I just light up.
Money by Cardi B
If 2019 taught me anything, it's that I am officially a Cardi fan... no turning back now.
Suge by DaBaby
Or maybe I just like MCs with boundless charisma. Goofy DaBaby is the best and this song kicks ass.
God's Country by Blake Shelton
As a country fan, I desperately wanted this to make this list, but it JUST got edged out. Sure, it's a little derivative of other, better country songs before it, but I can't not love something with this kind of firepower; kickass!
Wow by Post Malone
Another song that was a VERY painful cut, but Post just went on to make better songs, that's all. Still, this song's off-kilter weirdness, insane hook and random Fall Out Boy reference will always hold a place in my heart.
Con Calma by Daddy Yankee & Snow
This shouldn't work as well as it does... The original Informer is a song I find mid-tier at best, and referring to a girl's ass as her "poom-poom" is one of the dumbest things I've heard in a while. However, I can't exactly call it off-brand for Daddy Yankee, and his usual energy works here just as well as ever! Also, getting Snow for this re-imagining was inspired and serves for a really nice bridge to break things up a bit.
breathin by Ariana Grande
No, it didn't make the list, but... I mean, I have ears!!! Definitely the sleeper cut off of Sweetener that everyone now seems to love, and I'm not about to contradict that.
a lot by 21 Savage (Ft. J.Cole)
The original was the one that made the year-end, so I'm kinda cheating with this one, but I really love Cole's verse on this. The production is fantastic, the lyrics are miserable and self-reflective from both rappers, and if it weren't for reminding me that 6ix9ine exists, this would have certainly made the list.
Old Town Road by Lil Nas X (Ft. Billy Rae Cyrus)
Iconic, but also clearly not meant to be taken seriously. No, if you want the real star-maker:
Panini by Lil Nas X
Old Town Road may have been Lil Nas X's first hit, but this was the song that solidified him in my mind as a superstar! The fact that he managed to make such a great song out of such a dumb title is nuts to me... and yes, this IS a great song, with phenomenal production, a fantastic hook and even lyrics that kinda hit home.
And after highlighting that modern classic, let's finish this:
... I very much doubt anybody will agree with me on this. In fact, at many points, even I wondered if I was wrong, because how could this possibly be better than Circles or when the party's over? Well, the thing is: context. See, almost the same week this song came out, I went through a break-up. I had a lot of anger and resentment that I didn't know what to do with, everyone was giving me 10 different pieces of advice, and I felt incredibly lonely and isolated. And then the answer came to me in just 3 simple words:
thank u, next by Ariana Grande
I have said for years that Ariana Grande is a terrific singer. She has a range that is practically unearthly, and she was steadily becoming better at annunciating, an issue which plagued her early work in particular. However, I had one issue with her: she was essentially a personality vacuum. Not in real life, mind you, but absolutely none of it came through in her music, which is why she was generally marketed as a sex symbol for the first few years of her career. That's why her 2019 album worked so well for me, as an album that finally took her real-life baggage and made music out of it, unapologetically miserable and insecure in order to vent about her troubled state of mind. But even before all that, there was this song, which is arguably (and I WILL argue) the best thing she has ever done!
I have heard some opinions about this song I disagree with... primarily when it comes to the production, which just like break up with your girlfriend, i'm bored has been called minimalist and lazy. I disagree completely, I actually this this sounds gorgeous, with vague trap elements buoying some of the glossiest synths I've heard on a hit song in years! However primarily, I think a lot of people fundamentally miss what this song is about.
See, Ariana has been in the spotlight for many years at this point, and has had her entire personal life dissected and explained to her dozens of time by people online. Imagine if you were in a relationship and every little part of it was picked apart by millions of random strangers, or God forbid, you break up and they hurl their unwanted opinions at you. We all know to a some degree what it's like, but the sheer scale of it is far too much to comprehend, especially as we so often lose our compassion when it comes to celebrities. So after years of turning the other cheek and ignoring them, thank u, next is her finally addressing these people directly and sharply!
The opening lines are directed at her past boyfriends, no doubt about that. But I get the impression she's genuinely acknowledging each of them in that first verse, as she's learned something from all of them that she will carry on into the future. That's actually a really healthy way of processing a break-up and honesty feels like something that more songs should address. The chorus, on the other hand, feels very much directed at those fucking idiots online who judge every little thing she says and does, as she then drops the dreaded "I'm so fucking grateful for my ex" that the public lost their minds over, not realising that swear was directed right at them!
What she's basically saying on that hook is "There, I said thank you for something that has nothing to do with you, I'm so fucking grateful, you happy now? Now let me move the FUCK on with my own life!" Because a) again, her love life is not the public's business, and b) while she will of course remember her past lovers and she appreciates the lessons she's learned from their time together, at the end of the day, the person who she needs to worry about the most isn't the ghosts of her past, but herself. That's why the rest of the song is so focused on loving and getting to know herself, which is another great message to pass on! Sometimes you come out of a relationship and you need to redefine a lot of things about yourself, or maybe the relationship ended precisely because you need to get to know yourself better first before committing yourself to someone else.
Look, I just connect with this song so deeply. It has several excellent life lessons, it's bluntly dismissive of those who would judge her (again, the f-bomb on the hook is meant for YOU out there), and she's grateful for her past experiences while also knowing that she needs to turn inwards to improve in future. Maybe I'm reading too deeply into it, but the album's narrative backs it up, and especially after an entire project so full of insecurity, laying bare her pain of the past couple of years... yeah, this feels right.
It's telling that on I've returned so much to her follow-up album positions. It's a return to selling sex, but for the first time Ariana's personality still shines through across it, feeling much more confident now that she's vented a lot of her baggage. That's an honesty that is only possible because of this song, the one that started it all. thank u, next by Ariana Grande is my favourite hit song of 2019, and a seriously underrated gem that I absolutely adore.
So yeah, those were the best hits of 2019! Bit late I know, and I'm sure you all have some disagreements, so please leave a comment and a like on the post, it'll bring you good luck! Oh, and make sure you subscribe to the blog and follow me on Twitter so you never miss a post, that'd be a crying shame! And hey, until the next time, I'm Fionn and this is The Social Tune signing off.