Top 25 Pop Songs of 2019
This is the fifth year of this blog. It is the fifth year I’ve been doing lists like this one. This particular one is very special to me, because it’s really the one that started it all- the Top 25 Pop Songs of the Year. It is always the first one to come out, and it’s often the most excruciating to publish just because of the number of entries. But after careful consideration and many edits, I finally feel good about what you’re about to read here.
It’s been a really good year for music this year. Sure, lots of artists we know dropped more material, but we also had a slew of new artists make their way onto the scene this year- as you’ll see in reading.
Much like in years past, pop music production has become more and more complex just as the songwriting has. Happy sounding songs mixed with melancholy lyrics, artists branching out and trying new things with their sounds, and even songs that come from the most unlikely of places- 2019 had it all.
We’ll lead off with some honorable mentions, but there is the best 2019 had to offer in music.
Sara Bareilles’ second track from her newest album “Amidst the Chaos” is a delicate, tender, stripped-down ballad. But the things that would ordinarily make it a Bareilles ballad are sort of stripped away. We don’t hear a constant drum beat, and the piano is featured not in the warm heart of its range, but rather way up in its higher register. The percussion is bare bones: mostly a few bass drums and a snare. What makes this song unique is the use of strings: acoustic guitar is replaced by echoing violins, and perhaps the most unique of all- a harp finds its way into much of the song. The subject matter is pretty standard for Sara- try as she might, she can’t imagine a world without her partner.
"Highwomen," The Highwomen
In 1985, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings formed the supergroup The Highwaymen, and their song “Highwaymen,” reached the top of the country charts. Nearly 40 years later, a new group comprised of Brandi Carlisle, Maren Morris Natalie Hemby and Amanda Shires formed, known as The Highwomen, and their debut studio album features a cover of sorts- a re-written version of the Highwaymen’s 1980s hit.
This song is crucially important, and dare I say that it is infinitely more interesting than its predecessor. The song sung from the point of view of women carry way more weight than the men who sang it in the 80s. Lyrics like “we are the daughters of the silent generations” and “We’ll come back again and again” have far more importance. Pair it with the stripped down instrumentation and the beautiful four part harmony being served by these women, and there is no comparison. Sorry, Johnny.
"I Forgot That You Existed," Taylor Swift
This song is the quintessential Neo-Taylor track- it’s a playful, dismissive, and witty pop song about moving on from a man that (probably) broke her heart. Personally, I love seeing Taylor in f-you mode. That’s exactly what we get here, as she chalks up her sudden realization that this man doesn’t matter to simply “indifference.” The lyrics are simple, but not in a way that makes you think she didn’t try when writing them. They’re refreshingly honest, similar in tone to “Shake It Off,” though probably a bit more on the nose. An excellent opening track to “Lover.” So, yeah.
"Panini," Lil Nas X
Clocking in at just under two minutes, Lil Nas X’s “Panini” gets the point across quickly. Aimed at his fans who then became his haters, the song is less of a diss track, and more of an expression of anger towards those who loved him when he was a small-time rapper, but don’t love him as much now that he’s blown up (thanks to another song I don’t have to name on this list).
For some backstory, Panini is a character from the Cartoon Network show Chowder, who doesn’t want to be anything other than friends, despite having a huge crush on the show’s title character, being overly possessive and wanting to get closer to him. Sounds pretty on the nose, as specific as the reference is.
Also, the music video is hilarious.
The Top 25:
25. "Back to You"
Featured heavily in the promotional material for the second season of Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why,” Selena Gomez’s hit from early 2019 starts with a cool guitar intro that ultimately explodes into a more traditional pop sound during the song’s hook. Maybe the subject material is a bit dicey- going back to the relationship that really hurt you- but hey, it sounds excellent, so who am I to judge?
24. "Carry Me Away"
John Mayer makes another appearance on another of my lists, because, hello, have you met me? With three singles released in the last two years, “Carry Me Away,” the second one this year, is the better of the two (the other being the melancholic “I Guess I Just Feel Like”). Mayer embraces the mood of the song- a chill 90s-esque slow jam, but very much leans into his own maturity (he’s 42 now) with lyrics like “take me out and keep me up all night” and “put some of your tequila in my coffee cup.” Man, some of the images he continues to evoke even in his third decade of writing music are to die for.
23. "All My Friends"
Sometimes, life in your twenties can be hard. Sometimes, it can be the death of you. But if you’re like The Revivalists (and I assume you are), you’ve got your friends to help you out. On this first single from “Take Good Care,” the New Orleans roots artists explain that to us in an explosion of sound that includes a slick horn section that punctuates each line of the chorus.
22. "Bury a Friend"
This song from “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” Is told from the perspective of the monster under Billie Eilish’s bed. That is, until we discover that the monster is actually Billie herself. It’s got all the good twists and creeps of a scary movie, while also infiltrating our minds with cool vocal lines thrown through a Prismizer, used to get some cool harmonies, as well as witty lyrics thrown in for good measure. Fans have speculated that “Bury a Friend” was inspired by an episode of sleep paralysis, but it’s entirely possible that the mind of everyone’s favorite teenage nightmare is just at it again with another intelligent song.
21. "Hit the Back"
King Princess teased this song on Twitter as “the anthem for bottoms everywhere” before it was released back in October. Featuring a cool ascending piano intro before evolving into a pulsating bop, we get some sly suggestive lyrics about being… well, a bottom. It’s a slick fifth single off King Princess’ debut album, “Cheap Queen.” Pair it with an appearance on SNL, and it seems that we’ve got ourselves a star in the making. More, daddy!
“Amidst the Chaos,” at least the first few tracks, is all about how creative Sara Bareilles can get with her music production and instrumentation, and nowhere is that more evident than on the first track, “Fire,” where she sings about a relationship that may have existed, but was never going to result in anything different than boring normalcy. Fun percussion and hardly any piano, combined with an INCREDIBLE vocal harmony line on the song’s title make this song hot. With an opener like this, Sara attempts to differentiate herself from the hits that established her, and in the years between “The Blessed Unrest” and “Amidst the Chaos,” it’s clear that external issues have had a major influence on her music. The album deals with the feminist struggle in today’s world, and this more rugged take on a failing relationship is the first notch in what could be a career-defining record for Bareilles.
From the repeated single guitar note right on through the song, you know you’re in for something special with the first single from Johnnyswim’s “Moonlight” album which dropped in April (although the single dropped in the first week of January). “Moonlight” saw a definite crossover into pop and perhaps even R&B for Abner and Amanda, and that’s on display in “Bridges,” as we hear the synthesizers so prevalent in the rest of the album, working to excellent effect in the record’s opening track. It’s a more direct approach than we’re used to from Team Swim in regards to the “we’re in this together” song, and though it may be a simpler approach as far as composition is concerned, it is an A+ folk/pop banger.
The long-anticipated return of the Jonas Brothers was finally met with this sexy single, “Sucker.” Since it’s been over a decade since the three played music together, we are met with some cheeky, suggestive, mature subject matter. For anyone who loved the JoBros as a kid, it’s almost like they’ve grown with you- and it’s clear that they haven’t fallen out of practice or musical sync. I guess that one Vine was right. The Jonas Brothers can’t break up, they’re brothers! You’ll be whistling right along with Nick, Kevin and Joe on this one every step of the way.
This is a love song unlike anything we’ve ever heard from Taylor Swift. It’s steep in simplicity, rife with plain, unadulterated love for the man she’s singing about. “Lover,” like “Blank Space” before it, is another notch of maturity from Taylor, as she’s not singing about men she’s lost or men who have ruined her life, but it’s about someone that she’s actually found a comfortable relationship with. And then there’s the SOUND of the song which makes it even more unlike anything T-Swift has done before- the stripped down, echoey production lends itself to that of a wedding dance, an atmosphere we’ve not experienced before. In my opinion, this is one of Taylor’s best. Although, leaving the Christmas lights up until January isn’t exactly daring, which means that Swift hasn’t completely lost her "edge" when it comes to writing lyrics... Which is good, I guess.
16. "Blind Leading the Blind"
Mumford & Sons
Originally meant to be part of “Delta” but released as a standalone single, “Blind Leading the Blind” works incredibly well on its own. There are so many production elements that could lend the song to both “Delta” and “Wilder Mind,” from the heavy percussion that explodes during the core of the song, to the infusion of banjo that was a delight to have heard on the band’s latest effort, to even the old Mumford harmonies during the chorus. It has the ability to be both wildly intense and tender at the same time, so we get the best of both worlds from the ever evolving Gentlemen of the Road.
15. "The Greatest"
Lana Del Rey
This is my first Lana Del Rey entry on any of these lists I’ve done, but “The Greatest” really spoke to me. Lana’s voice is peak Southern California millennial experiencing the end of the world, although “The Greatest” is the epicenter of her newest album, “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” It’s delightfully tender, almost in the peaceful type of end of the world where the sun’s going down for the final time. Her lyric “the culture is lit, but I had a ball,” is a sort of resignation to the end of the world, while recognizing that it’s been a hell of a ride for the young people inhabiting the world today. It’s the song’s best lyric.
Starting with a lazy guitar chord progression, “Circles” is a lot deeper than it appears on the surface. Post Malone serves us some real feels with his crooning vocals, some unique instrumentation, and a relatable story that will break your heart. As he tries to preserve this relationship he sings about, he makes you really feel what’s he’s going through, the tracing, circular effect that couples do when the relationship isn’t working. I am continually impressed by Post’s vocal prowess, and “Circles” is a perfect example of why he’s one of the best musical artists working today.
13. "Lose You to Love Me"
Selena’s second song on this list is about Justin Bieber, apparently. Who knew? Not me. The clearly emotional piano intro sets the tone for the rest of the song, as Selena sings a painstakingly heartbreaking but ultimately empowering song about the freedom from a relationship and how being without someone lends itself to soul searching and ultimately a greater truth about oneself. Sometimes (and by sometimes, I mean usually) self love is better than love from another person. I hope that whatever Selena is looking for, she finds eventually. As evidence by this song, she deserves it.
12. "Cruel Summer"
“Cruel Summer” is the best song from “Lover” that never got released as a single, and it’s a crime that it never did. It’s a shamelessly Swift-y song that fits right at home in the “pop Taylor” catalogue. It might not be as revolutionary or as jarring a change of pace as “Lover,” but “Cruel Summer” is still a very clear sign that T-Swift is maturing through her music. She’s had enough, as evidence by the exasperated bridge about “crying like a baby coming home from the bar,” and her almost primal growls toward the end of the song. It is a fast, sharp, explosion of feelings with a capital F. Another quintessential Taylor Swift banger that deserves your respect, dammit.
11. "Harmony Hall"
I am new to Vampire Weekend, I will admit. But “Harmony Hall” is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It is reminiscent of both Phish and The Rolling Stones, and its lyrics are layered and complex. The song has a jam-band feel to it, infusing percussion like bongos with piano and a choir. I can hear a little of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” in it. But then when you delve into the meaning of the song, it takes on a whole new light. Frontman Ezra Koenig discusses his changing world, particularly seeing hate groups arise in upscale universities, like Columbia University, where the band attended and graduated. The song has blatant references to Charlottesville and the corruption in the Catholic Church. Lyrics like “Wicked snakes in a place you thought was dignified” thrown against the backdrop of what appears to be a celebratory song is just a testament to the complexity and maturity of the music Vampire Weekend brings to the table. “Harmony Hall” is truly one of the more unique entries on the list this year, and for good reason.
Lizzo is the best human. She’s the best. That’s it. 2019 has been her year since her music has gone unappreciated for almost three years, and she’s finally in the spotlight with her studio album “Cuz I Love You.” With “Juice,” she throws us off the deep end into the funky positive world the song introduces us to. The confidence of the lyrics could be compared to a Bruno Mars song like “Uptown Funk,” but Lizzo extends the badassery to everyone listening to the song, and how we all have our own “Juice” that makes us all awesome. Also, the line “somebody come get this man, I think he got lost in my DMs” is LEGENDARY.
9. "Lights Up"
Harry Styles has returned and it is glorious. He continues to take his music forward, but via a different route, and nowhere is that more true than in “Lights Up,” as evident by brilliant instrumentation and some unusually melodic vocal lines that leave phrases hanging in the air- and by proxy, make us want him so much more. That chorus too, though. Melancholy as the lyrics might be, it’s that harmonious chorus that makes us swoon.
“Cool” was the second single dropped by the Jonas Brothers in their triumphant return to the mainstream music scene, after “Sucker.” They got it right with this one. The chord progression is just more aesthetically pleasing, the hook is catchy, and the way the song builds and builds into this wall of sound is fantastic. With references to Post Malone, Game of Thrones, Jane Fonda and James Dean, the JoBros straight up let loose and let you have everything you’ve been waiting for for the last decade with this banger of a song.
7. "7 Rings"
Who thought “My Favorite Things” could be cool again? Ariana, apparently. “Thank U, Next” is all about embracing single, and nowhere is that on display better than “7 Rings.” All it takes is one phrase to understand the meaning- “I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it.” There’s nothing wrong with a little retail therapy to really feel yourself- I just can’t relate to having enough money to buy an entire house just for the closet. For me, I see it, I want it, I take it, I put it back because I can’t afford it. But live your life, Ari.
Marshmello feat. Bastille
Where did Bastille go? Here with Marshmallow on this smooth collab, apparently. “Happier” has an amazing hook reminiscent of the ear worms of The Chainsmokers… though probably with better quality lyrics. Speaking of lyrics, this one’s actually really depressing when you listen closely- “Happier” is about a failing relationship, but ultimately wishing the best for your lover… even if it means the best means letting them go, or allowing yourself to see them be with someone else. The bridge, a very simple, repeated “I’ll go,” is utterly heartbreaking. It’s still a bop, though.
Post Malone & Swae Lee
I listen to this song a lot, so perhaps there’s a bit of personal preference here for me with “Sunflower.” This song was featured on the soundtrack to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and eventually reached enough success to make it all the way to the top of the Billboard charts in mid-January. Both Post Malone’s and Swae Lee’s vocals are on display here in the pleasant melody and high-flying hook to the song. It’s bursting with good feelings, some really cool percussion, and a hook that even though you might not know the lyrics to, you’ll know that all the ends of the lines rhyme with “sunflower,” and that will be enough for you. This one straight up just makes me really happy.
4. "Break Up With Your Girlfriend, I'm Bored"
Well, shit, Ariana. Be a little more blunt, why don’t you? “Thank U, Next,” is all about Ariana getting to do whatever the hell she wants, which includes telling us to break up with our girlfriends simply because she knows (and knows we know it too) that she’s a better option… who cares if it’s really because she’s bored? This song is straight up hot as fuck. Not sure if you’re trying to listen to it in the bedroom though. Does anyone think it might kill the mood?
3. "Bad Guy"
Where do I begin with “Bad Guy”? It has probably the most famous bass line this year. It’s deliciously evil in the most playful, taunting, witty way possible, as Billie flaunts her own toughness while mocking her partner’s (likely) less-than-aggressive nature. With lines like “‘make your mama sad’ type, ‘make your girlfriend mad’ type, ‘might seduce your dad’ type,” we see that Billie Eilish is unapologetically unafraid of… well, everything. With her meandering vocal lines and seemingly lazy, but always sharp tone, we see that she really is all of us to a certain extent: a living nightmare just waiting to be unleashed. “Bad Guy” is the song of a generation, very similar to a “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” as we feel her standing bloody-nosed and bruise-kneed. If only we could only be so bold as Billie is. We all strive to be her, because she’s the bad guy. Duh.
2. "Truth Hurts"
“I just took a DNA test- turns out, I’m 100% that bitch.” Talk about an opening statement. “Truth Hurts” came out in 2017, but for some reason went unnoticed until this year, blowing up to reach number one on the Billboard charts toward the end of the summer. This song is full of cutting lines, where Lizzo describes getting rid of her man via a hair wash, having a new man that plays for the Minnesota Vikings, and putting the “sing” in “single.” It’s a jab-per-minute banger that has taken Lizzo to the upper echelon of pop stardom. Lizzo is a model of positivity and individuality, and I would be shocked if “Cuz I Love You” is the last we hear from her.
1. "Old Town Road"
Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus
Raise your hand if you had a country-trap song featuring Billy Ray Cyrus on your radar for this year in music. Didn’t think so. It began when a small-town rapper from Georgia bought a Nine Inch Nails sample from a Dutch guy he’d never met online and sang a lonely cowboy song. The song became popular on TikTok, but then it earned so much merit Billy Ray Cyrus did a remix of it. And then the world exploded. “Old Town Road” redefines the country song, having controversially “defeated” the country charts after it was taken off the list. It is an absolute banger of a song that has the rare quality of both being catchy and also having “everyone-friendly” lyrics. Billy Ray Cyrus, who everyone thought was dead, honestly, has a verse that is FIRE. “Old Town Road” has spawned about a million remixes, some going so far as to include Mason Ramsey (the yodeling kid from Wal-Mart) and Korean pop group BTS. Hell, even Dolly Parton has said she wants in on the action. Let me just put it this way: you will be remembering “Old Town Road” as long as you live.
What was your favorite song from this past year? Which songs did I leave out? Leave a comment down below.
Top 10 "Schoolhouse Rock!" Songs
“As your body grows bigger, your mind must flower!/
It’s great to learn, ‘cuz knowledge is power!”
ABC graced us with Schoolhouse Rock! back in the 1970s: a series of three-minute songs dedicated to educating the youths on math, history, language, science, and much more. It was a staple of Saturday morning cartoons, distributed intermittently between longer programming.
The show has come a long way from Saturday morning cartoons, though. The Schoolhouse Rock! team has had songs come out in five different decades over six different topics. The series has even spawned a stage show.
As it pertains to me on a personal level, I had the Multiplication and America Rock! sets on VHS when I was a kid. Without them, I wouldn’t have a lot of the knowledge I had as a kid. Thanks to Schoolhouse Rock!, I learned valuable lessons like multiplying by 5s, or what adverbs were, or how the government works.
If you're familiar with the show, hopefully you'll enjoy this list. If you're not familiar, maybe you still have that spark of little kid joy in you and you'll enjoy the songs when you hear them for the first time.
And so, for no other reason than wanting to pay some homage to a highly influential kids program, here are my picks for the top 10 songs from Schoolhouse Rock!.
This New Orleans-inspired celebration tells the story of the signing of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress. “Fireworks” is one of three songs in the entire series to feature the vocals of Grady Tate (“I Got Six” and “Naughty Number Nine” are the other two), whose silky-smooth voice may not have the same bravado or range as someone like Jack Sheldon, but is able to ground this particular song in contrast to the horns and background vocals that fly above it. Favorite moments included the listing of the signers of the document (“Benjamin Franklin, Philip Livingston/John Adams, Roger Sherman, Thomas Jefferson”), and the rhyming of “Declaration of Independence” with “Seventeen Hundred Seventy-Six.” Those two don’t rhyme, but I’ll be damned if “Fireworks” isn’t one of the catchiest, most underrated songs in all of Schoolhouse Rock.
"Dollars and Sense"
Suppose you’re a country singer. Suppose you’re a musician of any kind. You’ll probably need to make money because the arts are among the least lucrative professions and have hardly any job security. This is where “Dollars and Sense” comes in, as Bob Dorough and Val Hawk teach us how banks calculate interest on deposits and how loans are given out. A word of common “sense,” though. If you’re going to buy an electric guitar, just make sure your farm has electricity. Or buy an acoustic guitar. Country singers play those, right? Just a thought.
"A Noun is a Person, Place, or Thing"
Lynn Ahrens is the best, isn’t she? She made Ragtime, Once on This Island, Anastasia, and a host of others, but Schoolhouse Rock is where Ahrens got her start in 1973. The study of nouns is a simple premise but can be complex to explain, and Ahrens constructs melodic phrasing that is easy to follow, so she can take you on a journey to meet many people (like a bandit, Mrs. Jones, a sea captain, or the Beatles), see many places (like Hudson Street, Liberty Island, or her neighborhood corner store), and many things (like Mrs. Jones’ dog, the Statue of Liberty, or a jukebox). I’ve always wanted to direct a version of Schoolhouse Rock Live!, just so I could open it with this song.
"Elementary, My Dear"
I respected “Elementary, My Dear” for going farther in its multiplication tables than most of the other songs on Multiplication Rock!. All the way up to 20? As in 2 x 20? That’s some intense action right there, as most of the other songs multiply only up to 12. I love that as the song continues, and each simple math question is answered and followed by an “elementary,” we get a cute little “clap-clap” to go along with it. As we count the animals on Noah’s Ark, we learn that every time you multiply by 2, you get an even number- something I sometimes find interesting even though I learned my twos tables many many years ago. Number are cool, aren’t they?
This one is in the same vein as “Conjunction Junction,” but I can see how its constant “Electricity, Electricity” after every line can get inside your head. It doesn’t want you to forget what this portion of Science Rock! is discussing, and that’s all well and good. The song makes some good points that I, who was not great with science in school, will hold onto forever, such as how electric generators have magnets and magnetic fields inside, and how currents transfer electricity to vessels to use it in a variety of ways (like in lightbulbs!).
FINE! (see what I did there) I added this one right at the very last minute. The refrain is obviously inspired by Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” a fitting set of interjections for this track from Grammar Rock! “Interjections show excitement or emotion. They’re generally set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point, or by a comma when the feeling’s not as strong.” That is an ACTUAL line from the song. I also love how much they toned down interjections at sporting events. “Aw! You threw the wrong way!” and “Darn! You just lost the game!” are tame compared to what we hear as adults. Shoutout to the guy who has the best part of the song: that one poor dude who meekly (but proudly) shouts “Hooray! I’m for the other team!”
The Top 10: