We’ve said it before, and we’ll probably say it again - the past twelve months have been pretty darn miserable. But what 2020 has lacked in, well, just about everything, it’s more than made up for in incredible songs. And while the world has admittedly been experienced a rather large-scale bout of FOMO over the past year, we’ve certainly had an amazing soundtrack to go with it.
From chart-bothering anthems like Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s ‘Rain On Me’, or Miley Cyrus’ ‘Midnight Sky’, through to raw, self-exploratory gems like Hayley Williams’ ‘Dark Horse’ and Arlo Parks’ ‘Black Dog’ - and, of course, Cardi B’s marmite-on-acid hit ‘WAP’ - there’s been a brilliant selection of songs to accompany our every mood this year.
And what better way to decide the finest than to ask our contributor friends to help Team DIY do the honours? Here are DIY’s 20 favourite tracks from across 2020…
20. Fleet Foxes - Sunblind
This cut from Fleet Foxes’ surprise-released ‘Shore’ is a lesson in juxtaposition: on one hand, there’s the musically lush backing, Robin Pecknold’s vocals on warm form. Lyrically, meanwhile it’s a paean to his late songwriter inspirations: “I’m gonna swim in / Warm American water,” he sings, referencing the Silver Jews album, while elsewhere listing Arthur Russell, Jimi Hendrix, Elliott Smith, Richard Swift and others.
19. LA Priest - What Moves
Not all of Sam Eastgate’s second full-length as LA Priest clicked as much as his stand-out offering ‘What Moves’, but when you’ve got a squelchy bounce of a tune coupled with vocals that veer between slinky soul-pop and the idiosyncrasy of David Byrne, this one was always going to.
18. Daði Freyr - Think About Things
Eurovision is known for whacking out some gems amongst the annual “nul points” madness. ABBA’s 1974-winning banger ‘Waterloo’ is an undisputed classic, while more recently Loreen’s 2012-winning ‘Euphoria’ became a club hit, and even though the 2020 contest didn’t go ahead for ~obvious reasons~, Iceland’s entry has already become a worldwide smash. Unveiling the synth-pop bop ‘Think About Things’ lead by magnetic frontman Daði Freyr, the track has become a huge viral hit, with loads of people replicating its infectious dance-a-long chorus and falling in love with the catchy AF banger. A ridiculously fun track, slightly tongue-in-cheek, and packed with infectious beats, it’s “douze points” from us.
17. PVA - Exhaust / Surroundings
PVA’s single ‘Talks’ might’ve got the big-money Mura Masa treatment - he remixed it back in October - but it’s ‘Exhaust / Surroundings’ that’s the stand-out from the London-based trio’s debut EP, ‘Toner’. An intoxicating mix of the group’s ability to glitch, thrash, hypnotise - and pull it back - right at the perfect moment, if only there’d been dancefloors to hear it loud on. It’ll be worth the wait…
16. Harry Styles - Adore You
Harry Styles didn’t need to create an entirely fictional island complete with holographic fish to push this single from last year’s ‘Fine Line’ - let’s be quite honest, he had most of us at pleading “just let me adore you” - but that he did. And thus perhaps the most straightforward, radio-friendly bop on the songwriter’s second album went on to become one of its biggest.
15. The Cribs - Running Into You
Though much has been said of The Cribs’ defiant victory from the jaws of industry-centric defeat, you’ll not have suspected life was anything but air-punchingly glorious for the Jarmans based on autumn comeback track ‘Running Into You’. Within one drum thwack from sticksman Ross, the single cemented itself in the toppermost echelons of the band’s best tracks - Ryan’s celebratory riffs and Gary’s limit-pushing vocals creating the kind of insatiable, incendiary banger that’s kept them steadfastly in the hearts of indie kids for nearly two decades now.
14. Jockstrap - Acid
Across this year’s ‘Wicked City’ EP, South London innovators Jockstrap came good on their early promise as experimental, idiosyncratic minds. But there were also undeniably pretty moments to be found - namely in the dreamy, heavenly ‘Acid’. Full of string flourishes and singer Georgia Ellery’s pure, wide-eyed vocal, the track still twinkled with moments of underlying surprise, but the overall feeling was of being thrown back 80 years to a world of old Hollywood and sweeping romance. Nothing else this year sounded quite like it.
13. Fontaines DC - A Hero’s Death
Like any good mantra, the more you listened to Grian Chatten’s repeated declaration of “Life ain’t always empty”, the more the line seemed to morph. But, in a year where life was anything but full, the opening of ‘A Hero’s Death’’s title track, with its urgent rattle and propulsive tempo, felt like Fontaines DC’s call to arms: an insatiable highlight of their hugely-anticipated second album, and one that, between the record’s more reflective, maudlin moments, looked the future in the eye and chose to stand strong.
12. Grimes - 4AEM
With February’s ‘Miss Anthropocene’ almost overshadowed by the glut of tabloid headlines surrounding the singer’s personal life, ‘4AEM’ was a timely reminder to the gossip-mongers that Grimes’ main gift to the cultural landscape isn’t a bizarrely-named child but an unrivalled knack for fantastical electronic pop. You might barely be able to understand a word across the track’s four-and-a-half minutes but, switching from ethereal coos to a club-ready tempo change like it’s the most natural thing in the world, Claire Boucher conjures up a magical, futuristic sonic neverland as only she knows how.
11. Fiona Apple - Shameika
While we all probably possess our fair share of hazy childhood memories, very few - it must be said - go on to define and shape stand-out moments in our lives, let alone entire songs. That’s not the case with Fiona Apple’s ‘Shameika’ though; the clattering piano track, imbued with a little jazz, which comes from her astonishing album ‘Fetch The Bolt Cutters’. Based around Fiona’s memory of a school bullying incident - in which the titular Shameika intervened, and uttered that now-infamous phrase - the eclectic track’s a lesson in power and poignancy, and reminds us just how important words of encouragement can be.
10. Hayley Williams - Dead Horse
To pretend that ‘Dead Horse’ is anything but Hayley Williams at her most visceral and raw would be to do this synth-tastic track a major disservice. Epitomising the essence of her solo record ‘Petals For Armor’ - in both its lyrical frankness and sparkling musicianship - it’s a track which sees Hayley tread the incredibly fine line between vulnerability and power in a way like never before. Cathartic to the the last drop - and dripping in the kind of self-assured wit only afforded after real hardship - its chorus is a glorious kiss-off to her previous relationship (“Now you get another song”), which doubles as a liberating move to reclaim her own narrative.
9. Miley Cyrus - Midnight Sky
Ushering in her new era, Miley Cyrus marked her triumphant return with the equally triumphant track ‘Midnight Sky’, a glistening glam-pop bop exploring her personal evolution. Taking influence from the likes of Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett and Debbie Harry, the track is a glossy 80s-indebted number, that hinted at her soon-to-be full transition into her ‘Plastic Hearts’ glam-rock era with its synth-swagger and huge vocals from Miley. The first introduction to the new MC, it’s an absolute banger, and was only the first glimpse at more wonders that she’d got in store.
8. Rina Sawayama - XS
The undoubted stand-out from her April debut ‘SAWAYAMA’, Rina Sawayama’s ‘XS’ is a 2000s R&B-tinged pop smasher. With nu-metal guitar thrashes giving the track an extra boost throughout, Rina previously explained how the banger “mocks capitalism in a sinking world”. Complete with a fab video that sees her transformed into a robotic Stepford Wife on an infomercial, the track shows Rina’s expert ability at poking fun at society whilst penning an insanely good pop tune. What’s not to love, eh?
7. Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande - Rain On Me
What do you get when you take two of modern pop’s biggest names, and put them together on the same track, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic? Well, the short answer is ‘Rain On Me’, one of 2020’s most euphoric hits. Taken from Lady Gaga’s incendiary sixth album ‘Chromatica’, her collaboration with Ariana Grande was everything we expected and more from the two titans. Channelling true ‘look on the bright side’ spirit with its iconic chorus (“I’d rather be dry, but at least I’m alive”), was there a better track to dance around your kitchen to this year? Probs not.
6. Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion - WAP
When we look back on the music that defined 2020, few hit the spot as much as undisputed smash ‘WAP’. Pissing off the prudes with its unfiltered lyricism, rapping heavyweights Cardi B Megan Thee Stallion joined forces for the no-holds-barred track all about getting off. Catchy as fuck and with every single line a standout (notable zingers coming in the form of “I want you to touch that lil’ dangly thing that swing in the back of my throat” and “Put him on his knees, give him something to believe in”) it’s become a huge female pleasure anthem that sees the duo exchanging dirty bars with their ferocious and cutting delivery. Whatever the female equivalent of “big dick energy” is, this song has got all of it.
5. Perfume Genius - On The Floor
The sparkling, effervescent pop moment on an album packed full of diverse peaks, ‘On The Floor’ shimmied its way into Perfy G’s superlative ‘Set My Heart on Fire Immediately’ in a flurry of ‘80s nods and almost Stevie Wonder-esque keys. In the hands of a lesser artist, the eyelash-fluttering nervousness of its chorus (“I pace, I run my mouth, I pray and wait/ I cross out his name on the page”) could seem twee; helmed by the infinite magnetism of Mike Hadreas, it lands as a relatable, sugary moment of doe-eyed vulnerability, surrounded by pop hooks and shimmering charm.
4. The 1975 - If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)
Ahhh, February 2020. Back when lockdowns were far-flung concepts we didn’t quite understand, life felt vaguely normal, and The 1975 were yet to release their mammoth record ‘Notes on a Conditional Form’. But before the release of their 22-song beast of a fifth album, they gave us a sneaky preview while touring the UK in the form of ‘If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)’, and it took all of about 30 seconds for us to realise what a gem it was. Blending together 80s synths, a good dose of saxophone and some rather saucy lyrics, ‘If You’re Too Shy’ turned out to be quite the insatiable jam.
3. Dua Lipa - Hallucinate
Taking us straight to Studio 2054 with a glam disco-pop bop, Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’ cut ‘Hallucinate’ should have us all heading straight onto the dance floor (once we can see dance floors again, sob). From the pulsating club-ready beat, soaring synths, and the effortlessly catchy chorus line of “I-i-i-i hallucinate when you call my name”, it’s non-stop adrenaline-filled fun from start to finish. Soaked with a nostalgic quality that gives flashbacks to 90s and early 00s bangers, ‘Hallucinate’s disco-house leaning sound is destined to be stomped and strutted to, and in the (hopefully not too-distant) future when it’s dropped at a festival, it’s gonna go all the way off.
2. Arlo Parks - Black Dog
If a survey so niche as ‘what song stopped you in your tracks in 2020’ were to be conducted, odds are this would be the song to come out top. Musically unassuming, Arlo Parks’ impeccable ability to weave a(n often relatable) tale, tug at heartstrings and soothe all at once - in this case, the starkness of dealing with a loved ones’ mental health - is exactly why she’s been 2020’s breakthrough star.
1. Phoebe Bridgers - Kyoto
On an album like Phoebe Bridgers’ ‘Punisher’ you’d admittedly be hard-pressed to pick out its stand-out moment, but ‘Kyoto’ - a scuzzy rumination on imposter syndrome and a rather poignant visit to Japan - gets pretty damn close. A perfect demonstration of Phoebe’s talent for pairing razor sharp wit (“Day off in Kyoto, got bored at the temple / Looked around at the 7-11”) with devastating blows (“I don’t forgive you / But please don’t hold me to it”), it’s a track which manages to feel feather light and intense all at the same time. Thanks to its bright brass sections and soaring choruses - juxtaposed with her deft but dark lyricism - it’s made all the bolder; a track that cuts deep in the best way possible.