The best songs of 2020 are more than just songs—they’re the anthems that got us through an unprecedented year. Whether we turned to them for escape, for inspiration, or for a reflection of the times, there’s no question the songs of 2020 will serve as emblems for pandemic America. Of a year when the dance floor was our bedroom, concerts took place over Zoom, and Taylor Swift still managed to break the internet.
Behold the best songs of 2020.
“WAP,” Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion
“Thank you, Cardi B, for sharing your invaluable Wisdom and Philosophies,” Spotify recently wrote in its 2020 Wrapped year-in-review report, before revealing her single with Megan Thee Stallion had an impressive 439,266,295+ streams. We should all be thanking these women—the hit was a cultural phenomenon this year, sparking endless think-piece debates on the lyrics (the concept of a wet-ass pussy still seems to shock people, I guess), an outcry when it wasn’t nominated for a Grammy (turns out Cardi never submitted it), and the inevitable TikTok dance craze. —Anna Moeslein, senior entertainment editor
I seriously play this song to get myself out of bed in the morning, because female fury is nature’s latte. It’s the most gorgeous, bitter, cold-whiskey-dregs-thrown-in-your-face kind of breakup song. It’s “The Cell Block Tango” from Chicago meets “Before He Cheats” meets a witch’s incantation. Who wears tights on a boat??? I mean, what is that? But thank God someone did, because now we have this song. —Jenny Singer, staff writer
“Bad Friend,” Rina Sawayama
The eighth track off Rina Sawayama’s 2020 album, “Bad Friend” is soulful and catchy as hell, but its April release toward the beginning of quarantine only makes it hit harder. “We ran through the bright Tokyo lights, nothing to lose / Summer of 2012, burnt in my mind,” Sawayama croons in the opening verse. “Hot, crazy, and drunk, five in a room / Singing our hearts out to Carly, sweat in our eyes.” Who doesn’t want to be right there? —Emily Tannenbaum, contributing writer
“Ooh, motherland, motherland, motherland, motherland, drip on me / Eeya, I can’t forget my history is her story,” Beyoncé powerfully sings over an uptempo beat on this track, which earned four Grammy nominations, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year. —Christopher Rosa, entertainment editor
“Hallucinate,” Dua Lipa
Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia album is flaw-free front to back, but a standout is “Hallucinate,” a swirling slice of disco pop that will have you yearning for the dance floor. Any dance floor. —C.R.
BTS was already a massive force when the South Korean boy band released this song in August, so it’s a bit mind-blowing to consider how many records the catchy earworm has broken. In its first week alone it debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, had the best sales since Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do,” and garnered 7.778 million streams on Spotify. Life is dynamite, indeed. —A.M.
“Blinding Lights,” The Weeknd
One of the ubiquitous songs of the year, The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” is neon-soaked ’80s pop with a surprisingly morbid message. “‘Blinding Lights’ [is about] how you want to see someone at night, and you’re intoxicated, and you’re driving to this person and you’re just blinded by streetlights,” The Weeknd told Esquire about the song. “But nothing could stop you from trying to go see that person, because you’re so lonely. I don’t want to ever promote drunk driving, but that’s what the dark undertone is.” Why this was snubbed from the Grammys is beyond me…and, well, The Weeknd. —C.R.
“The Box,” Roddy Ricch
“The Box” absolutely dominated the first half of 2020, selling a whopping 4.7 million units between January and July, according to Rolling Stone. It was everywhere, and the Grammys took notice: Ricch earned a nom for Song of the Year. —C.R.
“Life Is Good,” Future and Drake
Drake and Future’s collab spent eight consecutive weeks at number two on Billboard‘s Hot 100. No song has ever done that. You could say art is imitating life for these guys—especially Future, seeing as how this is his highest-charting track to date. —C.R.
“Forever,” Charli XCX
Charli XCX’s entire quarantine album, How I’m Feeling Now, is excellent, but this song was released at the height of my pandemic loneliness, and it’s stayed with me since April. It was even my top song on Spotify this year, probably because I listened to it 100 times the day it was released while crying about how much I missed my friends. Emotions aside, it’s a lovely song and a more understated side of Charli XCX I hope to see more of. —Bella Cacciatore, beauty associate
“Sadder Badder Cooler,” Tove Lo
Cool, crisp Auto-Tune thinly veils Tove Lo’s voice on this stomping track, on which she indulges in her dramatic side after a breakup. Haven’t we all been there? —C.R.
“No Time to Die,” Billie Eilish
We may have to wait until 2021 to see the James Bond film No Time to Die, but its haunting theme song has been on our rotations for months now. Eilish’s vocals are beautiful and raw on this ballad, which features a piano instrumental that’ll send shivers down your spine. —C.R.
“Savage” (remix), Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé
Megan Thee Stallion was unstoppable this year, from “WAP” to her debut album to her remix of “Savage” featuring Beyoncé that had all of radio, streaming, and TikTok under her spell. —C.R.
“Hit Different,” SZA and Ty Dolla $ign
I won’t lie, the first time I heard this song I had no idea what SZA was saying, but because of the beat and Ty Dolla $ign, I was sold. The video is stunning and SZA’s voice sounds like heaven. It’s definitely a “burn some candles and glide across the room” song. I love that for me. —Khaliha Hawkins, web producer
“Nasty,” Ariana Grande
The first 10 seconds of this song had me hooked, I had to pause and check the credits and I just knew this song would be my favorite. Ariana wrote this is collaboration with Victoria Monét, Leon Thomas III, and a few others. Monét just has the magic touch when it comes to songs, and when she collabs with Grande, it’s heaven. This song is definitely in my top five from the album, but number one when it comes to the memes it’s made me laugh at. —K.H.
“Body,” Megan Thee Stallion
Like I said, Megan was unstoppable in 2020. And “Body,” the third single from her acclaimed debut album, packed both a sonic and social punch. We saw this on display at the 2020 American Music Awards, when she gave a short voice-over speech before performing the song. “I love my body,” she said. “Every curve. Every inch. Every mark. Every dimple. It’s decoration on my temple. My body is mine, and nobody owns it but me. And who I choose to let in is so lucky. You may not think my body is perfect, and it probably never will be. But when I look in the mirror, I love what I see. So are you ready?” —C.R.
“Holy,” Justin Bieber and Chance the Rapper
“Yummy” may have earned Bieber the most Grammy nominations, but “Holy” is without a doubt his standout work of the year. He sounds great on the song, of course, but it’s the surprisingly tender, direct lyrics that bring everything home: “The way you hold me makes feels so holy.” Are you listening, Hailey? —C.R.
“Dakiti,” Bad Bunny and Jhay Cortez
A pulsating party anthem, “Dakiti” stampeded charts worldwide, reaching the top 20 in more than 16 countries. It’s no wonder Bad Bunny was the most streamed artist on Spotify in 2020. —C.R.
“Heavy,” Orla Gartland
With “Heavy,” Gartland paints a picture of the moments following the end of a relationship and the specific pain of losing not only a romantic partner but your closest friend along the way. Her lyrics are poignant and universal yet achingly mundane: “I wish your mom and I could be friends,” she sings in one verse. “I think about her now and then, how we drove up to her house—I’ll never see that dog again.” And when she abandons the song’s structure and chorus to put the ball in her ex-lover’s court with that outro? Gutting. —E.T.
“What’s Poppin,” Jack Harlow featuring DaBaby, Tory Lanez, and Lil Wayne
“What’s Poppin” was originally released in January 2020 but found new life this summer thanks to a remix featuring rap heavy hitters DaBaby, Tory Lanez, and Lil Wayne. That helped skyrocket it to the top of the charts, reaching its peak position at number two. —C.R.
“Midnight Sky,” Miley Cyrus
Rock music made a triumphant return in 2020, and we have women to thank for it. All the 2021 Grammy nominations for Best Rock Performance are female artists, and Miley Cyrus—a chameleon in her own right—released a record in November that would make Joan Jett proud. (And that’s not just because the legend is featured on it.) The lead single off said album, “Midnight Sky,” masterfully blends glossy disco pop and punk panache in a way only she knows how. A dance party in studded leather. —C.R.
“Rain on Me,” Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande
Lady Gaga isn’t just dancing on her sixth studio album, Chromatica. She’s healing—channeling all her rage, sorrow, and, regrets into a church of electro-pop confessions. That’s perhaps best encapsulated on “Rain on Me,” a dizzying house collab with Ariana Grande, in which they exclaim, “I’d rather be dry, but at least I’m alive. Rain on me!” It’s a metaphor for embracing life’s hardships and not letting them define you. If there were ever a year to hear that message, it’s 2020. And if there were ever a time to dance through our pain, it’s now. The fact we can’t cry in actual clubs to this song is tragic—but when we can, it will be glorious. —C.R.
“Vulnerable,” Selena Gomez
Emotion is the primary ingredient on Selena Gomez’s third studio album, Rare, and you hear that clearly on one of its standout tracks, “Vulnerable.” Draped in icy electronic production yet inexplicably soulful, the song sees Gomez questioning the intentions of a lover. Heart-on-sleeve lyrics like “If I gave you every piece of me, I know that you could drop it” make Rare Gomez’s brightest, boldest work to date—sonic proof that honesty really is the best policy. —C.R.
“Kyoto,” Phoebe Bridgers
“Kyoto” is definitely the most commercial song off Punisher, but that by no means takes away from the song’s lyrical power. In fact, the contrast between the upbeat tempo and Bridger’s angst regarding touring and her strained relationship with her father only highlights the singer’s complicated, mixed feelings about both. Genius. —E.T.
“Dead Horse,” Hayley Williams
It’s no secret that William’s first full-length solo album, Petals for Armor, was a masterpiece deserving of all the Grammys it should have been nominated for. To pick just one song for this list is difficult, but “Dead Horse” is the perfect rage track that doubles as a dance anthem, and it cannot be ignored.
“My angst and rage has been a protective layer for the softer sadness and shame that I feel,” Wililams told NME. “‘Dead Horse’ came just after ripping off that last Band-Aid. It was about finding this bubbling lava underneath a hard stone.” That’s exactly the level of catharsis I feel while listening to this song. —E.T.
“Ashley” layers knife-cut lyrics like “It’s getting harder every day somehow / I’m bursting out of myself” over spacey, bubbly production. The result? An introspective piece of electronica that consumes you—and opens your eyes to the corners of life you try to ignore. —C.R.
“Good News,” Mac Miller
The late Miller’s sixth studio album, Circles, was released posthumously in January to critical acclaim: three-and-a-half stars out of five from Rolling Stone, 7.4/10 from Pitchfork, and a well-deserved perfect score from The Independent. The record’s first single, “Good News,” almost serves as its thesis, blending sadness and optimism in a way that moves you. —C.R.
“Exile,” Taylor Swift and Bon Iver
It’s impossible for me to choose only one favorite off Taylor Swift’s (first!) surprise album of 2020, but if you forced me, I’d say “Exile,” the raw, gritty breakup anthem I know I would have been crying to in college. It’s such a departure from some of my other Tay favorites (“Look What You Made Me Do,” “Out of the Woods”), but that’s what makes it all the more special. “Exile” is by far the most emblematic of her new folky, indie sound on the album, in great part to Bon Iver’s haunting vocals. Every time I listen I can’t help but sing-scream the lyrical argument “You never gave a warning sign” / “I gave so many signs.” It’s song that puts you in your feels. —Lindsay Schallon, senior beauty editor
“Evermore,” Taylor Swift and Bon Iver
They say “lightning never strikes the same place twice”—not true if you’re Taylor Swift and Bon Iver. The duo teamed up again for the title track of Swift’s Evermore album and brought out emotions I thought I’d long since buried. —A.M.
“Pussy Fairy (OTW),” Jhené Aiko
Aiko’s album Chilombo earned her three Grammy nominations, including Album of the Year. Its third single, “Pussy Fairy (OTW),” is a pillowy R&B dream, gliding hypnotically at a midtempo pace. Let yourself get lost. —C.R.
“In Your Eyes,” The Weeknd
The Weeknd pushes the ’80s power-pop sound of “Blinding Lights” further on “In Your Eyes” with a bouncy, twinkly hook you can’t help but groove to. —C.R.
“Physical,” Dua Lipa
Playing off the Olivia Newton-John classic, Lipa’s “Physical” is nothing short of adrenaline-pumping. Dripping with nighttime energy, the track reaches a desperate fever pitch during the bridge, when Lipa literally tells listeners to “hold on!” And you had better listen. —C.R.
“Heather,” Conan Gray
”Heather” by Conan Gray is arguably one of the best songs to come out of this year’s viral TikTok hit machine. The soft indie ballad by Conan Gray detailing his envy of the seemingly perfect “Heather” who captured the heart of his high school crush was not only stuck in app user’s collective heads for a good portion of 2020, but took on a complete life of its own. Beyond the track, “Heather” has officially become a common phrase used by Gen Z to describe the effortless and kind “cool girl” we all aspire to be. —E.T.
“Joan of Arc on the Dance Floor,” Aly & AJ
Another song that begs to be heard in a basement rave at 3 a.m. “Joan of Arc on the Dance Floor” is relentless—with Aly & AJ actually telling their listeners they won’t stop “until mascara’s on the dance floor.” In a post-vaccine world, I’m holding them to that promise. —C.R.
“Anyone,” Demi Lovato
“Anyone” was the first song Lovato released following her 2018 overdose, and she described it to Apple Music earlier this year as a “cry for help.” “At the time when I was recording it, I almost listened back and hear these lyrics as a cry for help,” she said. “And you kind of listen back to it and you kind of think, How did nobody listen to this song and think, Let’s help this girl?” —C.R.
“For Her,” Fiona Apple
“For Her” starts upbeat, hopeful, like the young woman at the beginning of her career who is being described—Apple has said that she based this song in part on a story a woman told her about working as an intern for a film company. We travel through a series of images—crisp couture, a race car, a red carpet, a man doing coke off a movie star’s breast, a woman kneeling on the cold ground. Then the singer’s voice turns haggard as she belts out, “YOU RAPED ME IN THE SAME BED YOUR DAUGHTER WAS BORN IN.” Apple wrote the song in the wake of the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearing, which concluded with Kavanaugh’s lifetime appointment to the court despite Christine Blasey Ford alleging that he tried to rape her when they were teenagers. The song is a rebuke to any men who would hide a history of rape behind their public love of their wives and daughters. To me it feels like one of the most important art works from the #MeToo movement. —J.S.
“The Gate” (extended mix), Caroline Polachek
Caroline Polachek’s Pang was one of the best albums of 2019, and this year she graciously treated us to an extended mix of the opening track. It’s a really beautiful, meditative song that feels like an escape to another world thanks to the layers of synths and strings. And her voice sounds downright angelic. —B.C.
“XS,” Rina Sawayama
One part banger, two parts tongue-in-cheek commentary on lavish capitalism, “XS” solidified Rina Sawayama’s place as one of pop’s most adventurous artists. Late-2000s Lady Gaga would be proud. —C.R.
“Do It,” Chloe x Halle
Most people had a shitty 2020—but not Chloe and Halle Bailey. You couldn’t swipe through TikTok this summer more than five seconds without coming across the sisters’ honeyed voices crooning, “That’s just how we do it, do it, do it.” The song’s laid-back party vibe connected with a generation of Gen Z’ers (and this try-hard millennial) looking for an escape from the humdrum energy of lockdown. —A.M.
“I’ve Been Down,” Haim
“I’ve Been Down” is the kind of sun-drenched rock staple ideal for lazy weekend drives with the windows down. It’s a sound Haim perfects on their third studio album, Women in Music Pt. III, which earned them a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year. —C.R.
“No Body, No Crime,” Taylor Swift and Haim
Speaking of Haim, they showed up on Taylor Swift’s second surprise album of 2020—Evermore—for the country-ish “No Body, No Crime.” On otherwise feelings-heavy album, the song is a spot of pure fun. —A.M.
“Prisoner,” Miley Cyrus and Dua Lipa
At this point, I will stan literally anything Dua Lipa puts out there, but this is truly what I want from pop music in 2020. It’s fresh, it’s fun, and it’s a little edgy. There’s really no other way to describe it than cool. Lipa’s and Cyrus’s voices sound incredible together, and I want them to form a band—and hire me as the third. —B.C.
“Save a Kiss,” Jessie Ware
Rock music wasn’t the only genre that saw a resurgence this year: Dance music came back in all its glorious ecstasy. You hear it in its purest form on Jessie Ware’s album What’s Your Pleasure?—particularly on “Save a Kiss,” a breathy disco ball of a song that shimmers beautifully under strobe lights. —C.R.
“Gaslighter,” The Chicks
A gaslighter, according to the definition shared by The Chicks, is “a psychological manipulator who seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a group, making them question their own memory, perception, or sanity.” This song is the rallying cry to everyone who is trying to set herself free from a cycle of abuse. —J.S.
“Betty,” Taylor Swift
I love how Taylor Swift creates fantasies and narratives in her writing, and the Betty-James-Inez teenage love triangle is one of her most lyrically brilliant. The way she weaves their stories together, showing all three perspectives, viscerally brings you into this world of hormones and heartbreak. “Betty” stands out though, since it’s from James’s point-of-view. It feels like the answers I never got from cheating ex-boyfriends. I’m over a decade out of high school, and it brings me right back. —L.S.
“Tucked,” Katy Perry
Perry’s Smile album was, in some respects, a return to the candy-coated pop that made her a star. And the sugariest anthem of the bunch is “Tucked,” with a plucky, singsongy chorus that’ll instantly lodge itself into your head. Sorry, you have no control over it. —C.R.
“POV,” Ariana Grande
I’m always here for an Ari ballad, and “POV” is such a gorgeous ending to Positions. When she says, “I’d love to see you from my point of view,” she’s challenging the listener to see themself through the eyes of a lover, focusing on their own innate beauty and value. Spoiler: It’s not always an easy thing to do. —Erin Parker, commerce writer
Rapper Shygirl has created a genre all her own: an addictive combination of rapid-fire hip-hop and glitchy hyper-pop, a subset of club music you’ll hear only at gay bars in deep Brooklyn. Characterized by lightning-fast tempos and excessive Auto-Tune, it’s easy for artists to get lost in the production—but Shygirl’s verses demand your attention. On “Freak,” she’s up-front and unapologetic about her sexual desires, and the acid-trip beat she’s chosen only augments the fantasy. It’s a high you can’t come down from. —C.R.
“Naked,” Ava Max
Ava Max’s Heaven & Hell album is an exploration of maximalist mega pop: the kind made popular in the 2010s by Katy Perry and Kesha but now lives on music’s fringes. But Max is determined to bring it back, and she has the goods. Exhibit A: “Naked,” a breezy earworm cowritten by “Teenage Dream” songwriter Bonnie McKee and coproduced by “Wrecking Ball” maestro Cirkut. So, in other words, it’s your new favorite song. —C.R.
“Alone Again,” The Weeknd
“Alone Again” is the perfect opener for The Weeknd’s After Hours album: eerie and atmospheric with lyrics about the isolating nature of fame. But you can apply them to your own life. “I don’t want to be alone again,” The Weeknd bemoans, his vocals coated in syrupy techno effects. After this year, I don’t want to be, either. —C.R.
“Real Groove,” Kylie Minogue
Kylie Minogue, queen of happy pop, delivered her most serotonin-boosting album in years with Disco. True to its title, the 12-track record takes listeners to the glittery core of Studio 54, with sticky hooks and bombastic lyrics. “Real Groove” is perhaps the best of the bunch, with a Daft Punk–meets–Donna Summer sound that melts all your problems away. —C.R.
“911,” Lady Gaga
“911” is about Gaga’s relationship with antipsychotic medication; its lyrics are heavy, its beat club-ready. But this paradox is pervasive on Chromatica and is perhaps Gaga’s way of illustrating that dance music can be cathartic. The best kind usually is. —C.R.
“Therefore I Am,” Billie Eilish
“Therefore I Am” is Eilish’s playful kiss-off to a hater. Wink-wink lyrics are placed over gleefully dark production to create the best “FU” anthem since Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.” —C.R.
“Rockstar,” DaBaby and Roddy Ricch
“Rockstar” is nominated for Record of the Year at the 2021 Grammys, but it’s already won it in my eyes. You’d be hard-pressed to find a song more everywhere this year than this one. You don’t spend seven consecutive weeks at number one on Billboard‘s Hot 100 and not become a 2020 highlight. —C.R.
“Happiness,” Little Mix
Little Mix’s latest album is called Confetti, and that word describes just about every song on it—especially “Happiness,” a summery pop treat that gets sweeter with every listen. —C.R.
“People, I’ve Been Sad,” Christine and the Queens
Christine and the Queens released “People, I’ve Been Sad” in February 2020, a full month before the reality of the pandemic set in. Little did the singer know just how much lyrics like “It’s true that people, I’ve been gone” and “It’s true that people, I’ve been missing out” would resonate. Given all the intentional quarantine songs released this year, it’s funny that the best one happened by accident. —C.R.
“Long Road Home,” Oneohtrix Point Never
You may recognize Oneohtrix Point Never as the artist behind the scores of Uncut Gems and Good Times. I love the contrast on this song between the twinkling and electric synths with the swirling strings and otherworldly vocals. It could easily veer into super-experimental territory, but keeps me hooked. I love a song that feels cinematic. —B.C.
“Only Time Makes It Human,” King Princess
I’m loving the more disco-y direction pop music has taken in 2020, and this is a less obvious interpretation that slaps so hard. I can’t wait to dance to it once we’re out of this mess. —B.C.
“Don’t Say Goodbye,” Alok, Ilkay Sencan, and Tove Lo
Tove Lo’s voice is stirring on this zipping EDM thrill ride, equipped with a head-banging chorus and a theme pop knows very well: The night’s over, the club’s closed, but you don’t want your lover to leave. Given the state of the world, though, this concept is almost abstract. Maybe that’s why it’s so potent here. —C.R.
“Detonate,” Charli XCX
I love infectious pop songs that are secretly really vulnerable—a crying-in-the-club situation, if you will—and the contrast of the lyrics about relationship insecurities and sparkling synths really does it for me. —B.C.
“You Broke Me First,” Tate McRae
TikTok is what made this 17-year-old singer’s April release soar, a definite sign of the times. But it’s a good thing this song is actually superb: mellow and emotional with muted trap-pop beat. —C.R.
“Believe It,” PartyNextDoor and Rihanna
Well, another year has passed without a new Rihanna album—but at least we got a tiny dose with this bop I’ve had on rotation since March. —E.P.
“F2020,” by Avenue Beat
“I don’t know about everybody else / But I think that I am kinda done / Can we just get to 2021?” Does any lyric better capture our feelings about this year? (Answer: No, they do not.) Avenue Beat became a TikTok sensation with their catchy and deliciously on-the-nose hit. I can’t wait to see what they come up with in 2021. —A.M.
Christopher Rosa is the entertainment editor at Glamour.