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The 50 Best Songs of 2020

Highlights from a hard year — featuring a disco revival, K-pop kings and queens, new hip-hop rockstars, and some country wisdom

Photographs used in Illustrstion by Getty Images; Youtube; Ryan McGinley for Rolling Stone

2020 saw rising artists fully come into their own, most notably Megan Thee Stallion, who tops our Best Songs list alongside Cardi B for the world-owning raunch of “WAP” and then appears again alongside Beyoncé. BTS and Bad Bunny got bigger than ever without any crossover compromise, and Harry Styles kept adding texture to his vintage-rock vision. It was also a great year for inspired reinventions, from Taylor Swift’s acoustic dream pop to Miley Cyrus’ glam karaoke and the Weeknd’s synth-pop splurge, as well as truth-telling country and indie rock, gritty rap realism and house music all night long — even if you were dancing on your own.

From Rolling Stone US

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Miley Cyrus, ‘Midnight Sky’

At just 28 years old, Cyrus has gone through a career worth of reinventions. With the release of Plastic Hearts, her latest bad-self may be her best. “Midnight Sky” basks in an Eighties stadium-pop glory the singer is more than at home in, paying loving homage to Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” as she sings about being born to run and not belonging to anyone, making that vintage glitz her own. And Nicks honored Cyrus’ debt when she hopped on the excellent remix “Edge of Midnight.” —J.D.

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The Chicks, ‘Gaslighter’

The Chicks blasted back this year with the best jerk-torching anthem they’ve given us since the glory days of “Goodbye Earl,” back in the late-Nineties. The target this time around was at once scathingly personal and vividly universal, as Natlie Maines turned the wreckage of her  D-I-V-O-R-C-E into the launchpad for a glorious evisceration of gaslighting fools everywhere — including the one who just got booted out of the White House. —J.D.

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Harry Styles, ‘Adore You’

Harry Styles released his wildly imaginative Fine Line in the last couple weeks of 2019 — yet it became one of this year’s defining pop blockbusters, giving up hit after hit. “Adore You” became a long-running radio soundtrack — it stayed on the charts for every week of 2020. (The only other hit to manage that feat: the Weekend’s “Blinding Lights.”) “Adore You” is a sleek sliver of psychedelic soul, where Styles dreams up a “strawberry lipstick state of mind,” and then offers you an irresistible invitation to join him there. —R.S.

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Fiona Apple


Fiona Apple, ‘Ladies’

Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters was a career triumph in many ways, and nowhere is that more apparent than on “Ladies,” an imaginary love letter to an ex’s “revolving door” of new girlfriends. It’s a heart-to-heart that is as sincere as it is wryly funny: Apple has never sounded more sure of herself than when she lists off all the leftover baggage, literally and figuratively, that she’s left behind for her old flame’s new love. —C.S.

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BTS, ‘Dynamite’

The Bulletproof Boy Scouts make a little more history with their first U.S. Number One — a new milestone for K-pop — as well as their first English-language hit. Yet it’s unmistakably the sound of BTS, tapping into the spirit of Eighties disco. They zoom through the stars in “Dynamite.” All seven of them show off, though Jungkook takes the spotlight when he yells, “Cup of milk, let’s rock and roll/King Kong, kick the drum/Rolling on like a Rolling Stone!” —R.S.

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Dua Lipa, ‘Don’t Start Now’

It’s not the first sound you hear, but the impossibly plump and agile bass on “Don’t Start Now” is the one that sticks around longest. Crashing Studio 54 into 2020, “Don’t Stop Now” encapsulates the sonic and metaphysical essence of Future Nostalgia — pure, uncut timelessness. It’s perfect for any era, even this one: A song that yearns to be bumped in a packed club, that still boasts a hook that actually made for a perfect Covid quarantine meme: “Don’t show up/Don’t come out.” —J. Blistein

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Beth Garrabrant*


Taylor Swift, ‘August’

It’s hard to pick the greatest lines from this Folklore highlight: “August sipped away/Like a bottle of wine” or “Cancel plans just in case you’d call/And say, ‘Meet me behind the mall.’” Either way, “August” depicts a beachy summer fling gone wrong. It’s part of the teenage love triangle trilogy at the heart of Folklore that includes “Betty” and “Cardigan,” each told from different perspectives, sort of like St. Elmo’s Fire without the cheesy saxophone. Swift’s lithely vocals soar across string instrumentation as she tells the story from the side of the “other” woman. One thing is for certain: Don’t trust Inez. —A.M.

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The Weeknd, ‘Blinding Lights’

With its fuzzy synths and hopscotching drum-machine line, “Blinding Lights” is the best New Wave song this side of Duran Duran. In just three minutes, the Weeknd checks off any number of Eighties pop-song signposts — unanswered phone calls, driving fast just to feel something, lights representing loneliness — but the real magic is how his voice and the song’s chiming keyboard line lingers in your head well after he injects new life into the greatest Eighties-steeped lyrical cliché of them all: “I can’t sleep until I feel your touch.” —K.G.

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Christine and the Queens, ‘People, I’ve Been Sad’

Between lockdowns and mandatory quarantines, 2020 has been a year of unprecedented loneliness, and “People, I’ve Been Sad” is its anthem. With sparse synths and a voice on the verge of tears, Christine and the Queens captured the universal moment with words in English and French about missing out, disappearing, and falling apart. But when Chris sings, “You know the feeling,” she brilliantly breaks the fourth wall. Indeed, we all know the feeling, and we can all feel lonely and sad together — and maybe a little better, too, with a song this good to help pull us through. —K.G.

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William Claxton*


Bob Dylan, ‘Key West (Philosopher Pirate)’

A brand-new classic Dylan ballad — not the only one on Rough and Rowdy Ways, but the one that casts the deepest, darkest spell. In the nine-minute “Key West (Philosophical Pirate),” he’s adrift in Florida, murmuring the Sunshine State blues over a ghostly accordion, as he growls, “Key West is the place to be if you’re looking for immortality.” But even in this palm-tree paradise, he’s got Desolation Row in his heart, and this outlaw still keeps his eye out, looking for the next chance to make his getaway. —R.S.

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Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion, ‘WAP’

In the darkest depths of Covid lockdown — at a moment in history when leaving your house could literally get you killed — Cardi B and Megan delivered the perfect instructions on how to beat the quarantine blues: “Gobble me, swallow me, drip down the side of me/Quick, jump out ‘fore you let it get inside of me.” “WAP” was just the escapist raunch America needed in 2020, the sound of two of the strongest women in music defiantly putting the pleasure principle front and center in a moment when fun and joy seemed dead. Its NSFW video was brilliant since most people weren’t at work anyway (or at least weren’t in a traditional, buttoned-up office environment), and Cardi’s Bronx fire mixed with Megan’s bodacious flow to make for one of rap’s greatest mic-passing buddy comedies of all time. The result was a hot-girl summit for the ages. —J.D.