The year is almost over, and the lists are abundant. This one is called The Top 40 Pop Songs Of 2019, which is a double entendre, see?
Here is the context you need for understanding what you’re about to see: The list is intended as a culmination of my column The Week In Pop, which appears here every Thursday (and is now going into hibernation until 2020). As conceptualized from the outset, TWIP is hyper-focused on the upper reaches of the charts — particularly the Billboard charts, but also Spotify or YouTube or what have you. It’s a column about music expressly designed to scan as pop, and about music that becomes pop by virtue of ubiquity. I sometimes write about rap, R&B, country, urbano, and other popular genres, but only insofar as they cross over into the mainstream as defined by factors like the Billboard Hot 100 and Top 40 radio. You get it: It’s a list of pop songs to cap off the sixth(!) year of a weekly pop column.
With that focus in mind, I’m not including the likes of Lana Del Rey, FKA twigs, and Haim, all of whom are definitely making pop music of a sort but smell more like “indie” artists to me. It’s subjective, but hey, like the very concept of “pop,” all lists are subjective — especially this one, which was personally selected by me and lives somewhere in the blurry space between best and favorite. (Besides, those three acts in particular all got plenty of well-deserved love in our general lists.)
I am including a couple rap songs that surged to the Hot 100 top 10 and a sprinkling of select K-pop and country and urbano hits. This list is by no means exhaustive where those genres are concerned; their representation here is proportionate to how often I cover them in this space. There are also a handful of tracks here that were released before this year but dominated 2019, and one or two that might have you screaming “BUT YOU SAID NO INDIE!” Mostly it’s a heaping mound of sonic product that sparkled as hard as intended: a few hidden gems, but primarily songs you know and (maybe) love.
40. Halsey – “Nightmare”
Halsey’s nu-metal phase may have only amounted to a one-off single, but it was nice (or rather, nasty) while it lasted.
39. Summer Walker – “Come Thru” (Feat. Usher)
So what if the most infectious song from 2019’s fastest-rising R&B star is a literal retread of the most infectious song from 1997’s fastest-rising R&B star, featuring Mr. 1997 himself?
38. Ava Max – “Sweet But Psycho”
I once described Ava Max as Diet Lady Gaga, but the more time I’ve spent with this song, the more it reminds me of immortal plastic cheese like “Everytime We Touch” and “Better Off Alone” and “Dragostea Din Tei.”
37. Shawn Mendes – “If I Can’t Have You”
If not for “Old Town Road,” this lively sunburst would have been Shawn Mendes’ first #1 hit. Instead, it was the catchy but utterly bland “Señorita.” Fate is cruel and twisted!
36. Kim Petras – “Clarity”
All of Clarity gleams with stylish precision, and its title track — as graceful and seamless a hybrid of trap and pop as you’ll find — may shine brightest of all.
35. Clairo – “Bags”
Humans break up all the time, and we keep finding compelling new ways to express our grief over it. Paired with exoskeleton-reinforced acoustic strums and a wobbling piano sample that seems to disintegrate on impact, the sound of Claire Cottrill’s inner life as her ex packs up and leaves is stunning.
34. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Now That I’ve Found You”
I’ve been told that “No Drug Like Me” or “Want You In My Room” is the one from Dedicated, but only “Now That I’ve Found You” sends my pulse racing every time.
33. Jonas Brothers – “Sucker”
The JoBros reintroduced themselves as grownups with “Feel It Still” vibes and a chorus that simply would not relent.
32. The Weeknd – “Blinding Lights”
The ’80s will truly never die — or, at least, the glamorous neon ’80s of our collective imagination.
31. Hayley Kiyoko – “I Wish”
Lesbian Jesus’ whole three-track I’m Too Sensitive For This Shit EP is rad, and its closing track is the raddest of all. “I Wish” shimmers with swagger, like the Max Martin version of a rippling Mike Will Made-It production. The gear-shift into the chorus is just devastatingly beautiful.
30. Lizzo – “Juice”
In Lizzo’s breakout year, her singles from earlier this decade ultimately came to overshadow her 2019 output, but to me this Bruno-Mars-worthy pastiche is still the best thing she’s done.
29. NCT 127 – “Superhuman”
This is what a boy band song should sound like in our modern era.
28. Tove Lo – “Glad He’s Gone”
Maybe the kindest, prettiest song ever from one of the raunchiest talents in the game.
27. Harry Styles – “Lights Up”
When I reach the part of this sleek, subtly booming soft-rock shapeshifter where everything drops out, a piano loosely twinkles through the silence, and then it all comes surging back replete with gospel choir, I’m like, “OK boomer,” but in a good way.
26. Lil Tecca – “Ran$om”
“Ran$om” is a rap song; its chintzy singsong stylings are the genre’s lingua franca these days. Yet this is self-evidently pop music too, so bright and catchy that it turned a four-eyed high-schooler with braces into a viral star and peaked all the way up at #4 on the Hot 100.
25. Lewis Capaldi – “Someone You Loved”
If you live for Adele’s powerhouse sentimental schlock, you may turn into a puddle upon hearing Lewis Capaldi roar, “I was getting kinda used to being someone you loved.”
24. King Princess – “Cheap Queen”
I will never get tired of the way Mikaela Straus’ voice curlicues and harmonizes atop this track’s constantly morphing bed of comfortable sonic linens. (By the way, in the music video below, that’s a different, also good King Princess song playing until “Cheap Queen” starts 55 seconds in.)
23. Bad Bunny – “200 MPH” (Feat. Diplo)
There are seemingly infinite Bad Bunny songs to honor this year — truly, who can keep track — but I kept coming back to the one where he unleashed his melancholy baritone sponge-howl over Diplo production that sounds like a hologram Tokyo drifting.
22. Mark Ronson – “Find U Again” (Feat. Camila Cabello)
Camila Cabello’s album about falling in love was decent, but she was at her best this year slinging heartbreak alongside Mark Ronson.
21. Maren Morris – “The Bones”
After properly crossing over to Top 40 radio with “The Middle,” Maren Morris climbed the Hot 100 this year with some actual country songs that still showed off her pop mastery. Other tracks from GIRL were weightier and more timely — “GIRL” and “Common” included — but the one I couldn’t stop listening to was about a love so sturdy it can weather anything.
20. MUNA – “Number One Fan”
My biggest regret about The Week In Pop this year was not devoting a column to MUNA’s Save The World. This is its best song. Katie Gavin delivers the opening lines with a droll confidence: “So I heard the bad news/ Nobody likes me and I’m gonna die alone/ In my bedroom/ Looking at strangers on my telephone.” The musical accompaniment is just as good, a powerfully understated take on that sparkling E•MO•TION sound.
19. Ariana Grande – “NASA”
Would’ve ranked even higher if Ari pronounced “NASA” correctly.
18. Rosalía – “Milionària”
Rosalía made her name on a dazzling update of flamenco, infusing it with forward-thinking R&B and electronic pop. Although she spent much of 2019 venturing out into the wider urbano universe, her return to traditional Spanish music proved it could translate not just into dark, high-drama maneuvers like her 2018 masterpiece El Mal Querer but also rainbow-splattered jubilance like this. Say it with me now: “Fuckin’ money, man!”
17. Katy Perry – “Never Really Over”
With this and “Small Talk,” Katy Perry spent 2019 becoming the queen of wistful breakup laments disguised as uptempo MOR jams.
16. Billie Eilish – “bury a friend”
Turns out Yeezus would have been received as pop music if Kanye had just whispered everything?
15. Caroline Polachek – “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings”
In keeping with its subject matter, this song fucking sizzles. [Extremely Caroline Polachek voice] Can’t deal!
14. Mark Ronson – “Pieces Of Us” (Feat. King Princess)
There were more-hyped songs on Mark Ronson’s Late Night Feelings, and more-hyped King Princess songs, but this popping, snapping, effervescent ’80s-vintage breakup lament was the Actual Best Thing either one of them released in 2019 (and both had extremely fruitful years).
13. Mura Masa & Clairo – “I Don’t Think I Can Do This Again”
More festival-ready Spotify-core tracks should just randomly transform into “Where’s Your Head At.”
12. Taylor Swift – “Cruel Summer”
I like to imagine a world where this shimmering, surging, St. Vincent-assisted synth-pop anthem was Lover’s lead single. She may have achieved Peak Taylor Swift when the bridge reached its screaming climax: “I LOVE YOU AIN’T THAT THE WORST THING YOU’VE EVER HEARD!”
11. Charli XCX – “Gone” (Feat. Christine And The Queens)
Charli XCX has spent much of her career locating an extremely mechanical yet deeply human sweet spot. This song nails it.
10. Normani – “Motivation”
Don’t let the video’s basketball theatrics distract you from the fact that “Motivation” is an astounding musical achievement. It executes that Bush-era R&B-pop sound so well it deserves mention alongside Amerie’s “1 Thing,” a bumper crop of early Beyoncé hits, and other classics from the era.
9. DaBaby – “Suge”
DaBaby began the year an almost completely anonymous street rapper, and he ended it doing Broadway choreography on SNL. The winsomely snarling “Suge,” a #7 hit on the Hot 100, was a big reason why. The zest he brought to everything he rapped on in 2019 was out in full force here.
8. Post Malone & Swae Lee – “Sunflower”
“Sunflower” was released 14 months ago but hit #1 in January and continued to linger in the top 10 for months. And for good reason: It’s such a perfect showcase for these sing-rappers’ miasmic melodic expertise that it’s no wonder the kid from Into The Spider-Verse played it in his headphones so much.
7. Ariana Grande – “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored”
The title track seemed like such a perfect conclusion for thank u, next that I was initially annoyed that Ariana Grande tacked one more song on the end. Not anymore.
6. Taylor Swift – “The Archer”
In a year when Chromatics finally released a new album, Taylor Swift somehow released the best Chromatics song. It also happened to be the year’s best Taylor Swift song, imbued with the romantic spirit, relational politics, and piercing melody that have long been her specialty.
5. Sigrid – “Don’t Feel Like Crying”
Sigrid’s Sucker Punch is full of contagiously buoyant, casually impeccable songs like this one.
4. Dua Lipa – “Don’t Start Now”
Classic in style and modern in execution, every note, texture, and nuance of “Don’t Start Now” is perfect. Disco bangers don’t get much more immaculate than this.
3. Lil Nas X & Billy Ray Cyrus – “Old Town Road (Remix)”
What is left to be said about the absurdly charming country-rap lark that took 2019 by storm and rewrote Billboard’s record books in the process? And if you still haven’t succumbed to it, why do you hate fun so much?
2. Rosalía & J Balvin – “Con Altura” (Feat. El Guincho)
Rosalía’s pivot to Latin-American urbano stylings this year was controversial. Some saw it as a European imperialist engaging in cultural appropriation; others simply missed the flamenco-infused future-pop of El Mal Querer. (For what it’s worth, El Mal Querer attracted similar critiques from Andalusia’s Roma population.) We can debate about whether this Catalonian pop star belongs on a reggaeton song, but “Con Altura” is proof positive she knows what to do once she’s there. Alongside urbano superstar J Balvin and production partner El Guincho, Rosalía delivered one of 2019’s most vibrant musical offerings, a track that soared as high as its title implied even while tethered to the earth by its resounding low-end thump.
1. Billie Eilish – “bad guy”
Enjoy a playlist of all 40 tracks at Spotify.
The Weeknd has his fourth #1 single this week. “Heartless,” which debuted at #32 last week after just two days of streaming stats, rises to the top of the Hot 100 in its first full frame of tracking. It follows previous chart-toppers “Can’t Feel My Face,” “The Hills,” and “Starboy.” It’s his ninth top-10 hit, and according to Billboard it surpasses Kanye West’s track of the same name to become the highest-charting single titled “Heartless.” “Blinding Lights,” released two days later, debuts at #11 and will be promoted to Top 40 radio, so don’t be surprised if that one climbs to the top eventually too.
As for albums: I figured the Frozen 2 soundtrack would rise to #1 sometime over the holidays, when major releases slow down but children continue to ask their parents to stream Disney music incessantly. (Or is that just my children?) But I didn’t anticipate it happening so soon. In its third week, the album has risen to the top of the Billboard 200 with, per Billboard, 80,000 equivalent album units and 37,000 in sales. Frankly, better than most of the albums to hit #1 this year. It’s only the third soundtrack album to hit #1 this year following A Star Is Born and Kanye West’s Jesus Is King, which is technically the soundtrack to the film of the same name.
The only debut in the top 10 belongs to Fabolous and Pentatonix. The former enters at #7 with 44,000 units for Summertime Shootout 3: Coldest Summer Ever. Also, the yearly influx of Christmas music extends to the album chart: Michael Bublé’s Christmas and Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas are back up to #6 and #9, respectively, while Pentatonix’s The Best Of Pentatonix Christmas reaches a new #8 peak. Also in the top 10: Post Malone, Trippie Redd, Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, and Summer Walker.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Selena Gomez announced her new album Rare is out 1/10 with a trailer featuring tracks from the album. [YouTube]
- An ad from Republic Records in the LA Times tells Grammy voters to vote for “Lover” by Taylor Swift “because this decade’s most prolific songwriter has never won Grammy’s song of the year.” [Twitter]
- Swift sang “Christmas Tree Farm” live for the first time at Capital FM’s Jingle Bell Ball. [YouTube]
- One more Taylor Swift item: She shared her favorite British slang in a British Vogue video. [YouTube]
- Lizzo clapped back at people who criticized her for twerking in a thong on the Lakers jumbotron. [CNN]
- Justin Bieber got another neck tattoo. [Instagram]
- Eminem is feuding with Nick Cannon. [CNN]
- Kacey Musgraves sang Christmas songs with James Corden. [YouTube]
- Maroon 5, DJ Khaled, DaBaby, and Guns N’ Roses will perform at Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest during Super Bowl week in Miami. [ABC]
- Someone shot and killed Luke Bryan’s red stag from the road near his property outside of Nashville. [Tennesseean]
- Charlie Puth was a guest on The Tonight Show. [YouTube]
- The 1975 are postponing their European tour in order to finish Notes On A Conditional Form. [Instagram]
- Ariana Grande announced a live album. [Twitter]
- Meghan Trainor has a new single called “Evil Twin” out tomorrow. [Twitter]
- Alec Benjamin released a new song, “Mind Is A Prison.” [Facebook]