The 2010s close with one of the strongest years for music. When it came to compiling my favourite songs of the year, I struggled to get it down to just ten. Every week there seemed to be something exciting coming out and at times, it was hard to keep up. The fact I’ve not been able to find room for anything from Lana Del Rey‘s incredible NFR! (my pick would have been ‘The Greatest’), Katy Perry’s ‘Never Really Over‘, Carly Rae Jepsen’s ‘Too Much‘, Nilüfer Yanya‘s ‘In Your Head’, either of those awesome Róisín Murphy singles, Stella Donnely’s ‘Old Man‘ or Dua Lipa’s ‘Don’t Start Now‘ shows how competitive it has been. And then there are other album of the year contenders from Weyes Blood, Angel Olsen, Solange, Emily King, Raphael Saadiq and Marika Hackman that are not represented. A tough year.
Here is what I came up with for now:
10. Lizzo – Juice
Lizzo started the year in a very different position to the one she ended up in. Her breakthrough year began with the irresistible funk of, ‘Juice’. Even though it took previous singles, ‘Truth Hurts‘ and ‘Good As Hell‘ for Lizzo to get proper hit singles (‘Juice‘ managed a measly one week in the top 40 at number 38) and become a huge star, ‘Juice‘ remains her most triumphant and joyful moments. The message of body positivity and the effortless groove makes it easy to see why 2019 has been Lizzo’s year.
9. Jamila Woods – Zora
Jamila Woods’ second album, Legacy! Legacy! was a big step up from her already impressive debut, HEAVN. The way she uses neo soul, R&B, jazz and psychedelic rock at times makes her close in spirit to the genius of Erykah Badu. Second single, ‘Zora‘ is one of many highlights from the album with its shuffling rhythm and swirling synths. Woods repeats, “you will never know everything, everything, I will never know everything, everything” with such command. It’s a performance that makes Woods one of the most compelling artists out there.
8. Shura – BKLYNLDN
Amazingly, Shura‘s followed her incredible debut, Nothing’s Real with an album on the same level. Forevher is a beautiful document of Shura finding love with a woman she met in New York (which is where Shura now lives). ‘BKLYNLDN’ is a gorgeous slow jam about the early stages of that blossoming relationship. The mood is romantic and warm before Shura flips the song on its head in the unexpected coda. You can hear her happiness and giddiness as she sings, “I think you’re awesome and I don’t want to get out of bed, but there’s a whole world out there that I want to see with you”. She pinpoints how the heart flutters at the potential of a new love interest on one of year’s most endearing singles.
7. Charly Bliss – Chatroom
Charly Bliss are another act who had the tough job of following a near perfect debut album. On Young Enough, the band changed their sonic pallet, relying more on synths and dialing back the dizzying guitars of Guppy. Eva Hendricks’ lyrics go even deeper as she details a toxic relationship she’s now freed from. On the brilliant, ‘Chatroom’, she addresses an incident of sexual assault with a controlled anger. As the song opens up in the second half, the bridge suddenly sounds defiant as she sings, “I’m not gonna take you home, I’m not gonna save you no”. Taking a serious subject matter and making it both deeply moving and catchy shows how special Charly Bliss are.
6. Billie Eilish – Everything I Wanted
Billie Eilish is one of 2019’s breakout stars thanks to her addictive first album, When We Fall Asleep Where Do We Go and in particular her well deserved hit single, ‘Bad Guy’. She ends the year with the release of a brand new single, ‘Everything I Wanted’ — perhaps her best song to date. The gentle beat and piano back her delicate vocal as she sings about the pressure of her new found success — “cause everybody wants something from me now, and I don’t wanna let ’em down”. This honesty gives her a vulnerability that coupled with the soothing backing vocals is quite spellbinding. It’s crazy to think that Eilish is just getting started and what she’s capable of next.
5. Hatchie – Stay With Me
Brisbane-born Hatchie’s first album, Keepsake lived up to the promise of her early singles and EP. On standout, ‘Stay With Me’ she expands her sound as she surrounds herself with clouds of synths and a dance-beat. Once the beat kicks in and the flickering synths appear, her voice swells and it’s poignant and catchy. It’s her attempt at writing a “crying-in-the-club track”. She pulls it off effortlessly, and the song’s title becomes a passionate plea to keep a relationship together. Nobody has mixed Cocteau Twins and New Order together this perfectly, since the greatly missed School Of Seven Bells.
4. Caroline Polachek – Door
After the split of the very underrated, Chairlift, Caroline Polachek released her first album under her own name. She started the campaign with the release of the otherworldly, ‘Door‘. It’s a masterclass in production as this stunning ballad is brimming with tiny details (the muffled voices, the endless layers of backing vocals, splashings of synths and the spinning Fleetwood Mac styled guitar solo). As her heavenly voice and the synth-lazers bring the song to an emotive close, it feels like witnessing the birth of the next great singer-songwriter. Someone who is finally not afraid to sing directly about love and relationships, whilst pushing themselves to make some of the most daring off-kilter pop out there. It was accompanied by the year’s best visuals too.
3. Jessie Ware – Adore You
Jessie Ware’s last album Glassheart was a lovely record, but one that found her stepping away from her electronic beginnings and focusing more on mid-tempo ballads. On her last three singles, Ware positions herself back on the dancefloor with some of her most captivating material. ‘Adore You’ was a timely release as it came out on Valentine’s Day. The sultry and understated atmosphere encapsulates everything that makes Ware so wonderful. Her voice is tender as she repeats the title with the gorgeous synths bubbling and hypnotising rhythm playing underneath. These recent releases recall the spirit of her 2013 single, ‘Imagine It Was Us’ — a direction some of us have wished she’d explore more for years. Her next album is shaping up to be something very special.
2. Ariana Grande – Ghostin’
‘Ghostin’ is the emotional center-piece to Ariana Grande’s latest and best album, Thank U Next. Grande sings of her heartache over losing her ex and good friend, Mac Miller and the repercussions on her relatively new relationship with Pete Davidson. She’s comforted by the gorgeous drifting synths as she sings lines as painful as, “I know that it breaks your heart when I cry again over him”. The rawness and honestly stands with some of the most crushing songs that encompass the pain of losing a loved one, (‘Being Boring’ by Pet Shop Boys, ‘I Prefer Your Love’ by St. Vincent and ‘Open Your Eyes’ by School Of Seven Bells). The swelling strings that build and eventually disappear into the air are absolutely breathtaking. Grande herself has admitted she didn’t want it included due to the heartbreaking associations. It’s understandable, but I’m glad she did. Ghostin’ is overwhelmingly beautiful.
1. Charli XCX Featuring. Christine & The Queens
Charli XCX’s latest album, Charli felt like a victory lap for the decade’s best pop star. On the album’s third single, she teamed up with the increasingly excellent, Christine & The Queens. The production on ‘Gone’ is futuristic with its stabs of shiny synths and industrial bass-line. It also contains an insanely great chorus that swells with a startling intensity. The Janet Jackson-esque breakdown in the outro is an electrifying payoff . ‘Gone’ hits even harder thanks to the empowering video as the two women support each other as they escape from their tied up positions on top of an abandoned car. Through pouring rain, their chemistry is undeniable as they dance (endearingly breaking character at one point) and play off each other. Charli and Chris form a powerful allegiance where they detail their feelings of social anxiety whilst trying to stay grounded in an exhausting music industry– “I try real hard, but I’m caught up by my insecurities, pour me one more, watch the ice melt in my fist”. Everything about ‘Gone’ is perfectly executed on 2019’s most exhilarating song.