27 Best Songs From 2020

2020 was a challenging year for most people. COVID still kept many of us housebound, and cabin fever was setting in. Luckily, adversity creates great art, and musicians rose to the challenge. This list looks at some of the best songs of 2020, ranging from rap to country and much in-between.

“Gaslighter” by The Chicks

Song Year: 2020

The Chicks dropped the “Dixie” from their name and entered 2020 rejuvenated. “Gaslighter” is a barn-stomping anthem to cutting toxic influences out.

The upbeat song features The Chicks at their melodic best. While Natalie Maines’ vocals anchor the song, three-part vocal harmonies infuse the infectious chorus. “Gaslighter”s empowering message and catchy tune made it a modest success, charting in six countries.

“America” by Sufjan Stevens

Song Year: 2020

Trust Sujan Stevens to release a twelve-and-a-half-minute song about flailing faith and patriotism the day before Independence Day.

“America” fuses Stevens's signature ambiguous religious imagery with romantic pining and cynicism. The song expresses Stevens's disillusionment with his country and his faith. Lyrically, it’s remorseful but not entirely hopeless.

The song earned Stevens raves from N.M.E., Pitchfork, British GQ, and NPR. It appears on The Ascension, Stevens’s eighth studio album.

“Tonight” by Kesha

Song Year: 2020

Kesha relaunched her career in 2020 with her fourth studio album, The High Road. “Tonight” combined the artist’s established dance-pop sound with a newer, more melodic approach.

Lyrically, “Tonight” explores an all-time classic pop theme-being young, making bad decisions, and having a good time. The song finds Kesha in a celebratory mood, planning a night out with her friends.

While The High Road explores heavier themes than Kesha’s previous output, “Tonight” proves the artist can still party and cut loose with the best of them.

“Be Afraid” by Jason Isbell

Song Year: 2020

A new Jason Isbell release is always a cause for celebration among his fans. The singer-songwriter announced the arrival of his album Reunions with the single “Be Afraid.”

“Be Afraid” is a righteous, angry rock and roll song. While Isbell’s signature southern sound is present, pounding guitars drive the song forward. “Be Afraid” serves several lyrical masters. The tune has political, artistic, and personal resonance.

“I Know the End” by Phoebe Bridgers

Song Year: 2020

2020 was the year of Phoebe Bridgers. While her 2020 album, Punisher, wasn’t her first, the record launched her into the mainstream. No single song better represented the artist’s power and skill than “I Know the End.”

“I Know the End” runs the musical gamut, opening softly. The ballad grows into an upbeat folk song, eventually mutating into a primal scream. Lyrically, “I Know the End” explores themes of hopelessness and depression.

This song established Bridgers as a major talent. Most notably, it inspired raves from publications ranging from Vulture to NPR.

“Bad Decisions” by The Strokes

Song Year: 2020

The Strokes entered the popular consciousness in 1998 and have been releasing New York pop-punk regularly ever since.

“Bad Decisions,” the first single off The Strokes’ sixth album, The New Abnormal, finds the band at their mischievous best. The song borrows elements from Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself” hit.

The song’s lyrics deal with multiple themes. While the surface message focuses on casual, bad romantic decisions, the deeper implications deal with fan expectations. Additionally, “Bad Decisions” explores Julian Casablancas’s fraught relationship with his father.

“Conversion” by Khruangbin and Leon Bridges

Song Year: 2020

Although Leon Bridges wrote “Conversion” in 2012, he didn’t release the song until he teamed up with Khruangbin. The psychedelic-funk trio infuses Bridges' neo-soul style with a darker edge.

“Conversion” is a euphoric song of discovery and hope. Bridges' lyrics are literal. They explore the singer’s awakening to Christianity and his relationship to his faith.

Bridges featured this almost seven-minute-long song on Texas Sun, his four-song E.P. collaboration with Khruangbin.

“Sugar on the Rim” by Hayley Williams

Song Year: 2020

Hayley Williams broke free from her pop-punk band, Paramour, in 2020. Her solo album experimented with style and genre, breaking new ground for the singer. “Sugar on the Rim” tests Williams's boundaries, using drum machines to create a funk beat.

Williams expresses a newfound optimism on the danceable track. The singer alludes to falling in love. She explains that the feeling makes difficult experiences more palatable, the way a sugar rim cuts a cocktail’s bitterness.

“Escape From LA” by The Weeknd

Song Year: 2020

Despite being released on the first day of spring, “Escape From LA” is a moody little number. The six-minute exploration of jealousy and infidelity captures The Weeknd’s love of gritty noir films.

The song’s title is an homage to John Carpenter’s film, Escape From LA, though the narratives have little in common. The Weeknd’s song discusses the complications of maintaining a fraught relationship in Los Angeles.

The song appears on The Weekend’s album, After Hours. It was an international success, landing on multiple charts.

“I Want You to Love Me” by Fiona Apple

Song Year: 2020

Fiona Apple grew up in the spotlight. The singer released her first album when she was a 17-year-old with a 35-year-old’s wisdom and voice. “I Want You to Love Me” is a musical maturation for the wunderkind.

Apple wrote the song in 2013 but held onto it until including it on her 2020 album Fetch the Bolt Cutters. “I Want You to Love Me” is a song about the concept of love and how fleeting it is. The singer states that despite her awareness of mortality, she still longs for love.

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