The 25 best songs of 2020 so far

Clockwise from top left: Megan Thee Stallion (Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images), Gorillaz (Image: Gorillaz), V of BTS (Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images), HAIM (Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
Clockwise from top left: Megan Thee Stallion (Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images), Gorillaz (Image: Gorillaz), V of BTS (Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images), HAIM (Photo: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
Graphic: Natalie Peeples

With concerts reduced to livestreams, curating an entertaining playlist has become an increasingly important in the months since the world shut down. To help populate your playlists with new content, The A.V. Club has waded through the new music offerings of the first half of 2020 to compile 25 of our favorite tracks—many of them speaking, intentionally or not, to our current tribulations.

Before we get to the music, here were the guiding principles for creating our (unranked) list:
1. The track must be featured on an album released in 2020, and/or the track must’ve been formally released as a single in 2020.

2. When deciding between tracks with similar vibes, we opted to highlight the lesser-known artist over a marquee name. (Carly Rae Jepsen, Selena Gomez, and Jessie Ware were all unfortunate victims of their notoriety.)

3. In an effort to spread the attention around, any artist featured on our Best Albums list (also out today) was ineligible to be included on this list. Otherwise, we might have ended up with all Dua Lipa and Perfume Genius tracks.

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“I’m Not Having Any Fun,” Bad Sons

“I’m Not Having Any Fun,” Bad Sons

“I’m Not Having Any Fun,” Bad Sons

Bad Sons’ new single—which preaches that it’s okay to not be okay—was originally intended to be on the indie rock band’s third studio album, 2019’s Mystic Truths, but the band ultimately decided to wait and release it at just “the right time.” Then 2020 came along. This mash-up of dream pop and indie rock features frontman Christo Bowman’s signature doubled-up vocal harmonies as the track weaves through a tumultuous relationship filled with fiery arguments; the song’s lighthearted, cheery style cleverly disguising the cynical lyrics in an up-beat, enthusiastic anthem. [Angelica Cataldo]

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3 / 28

“Woo!,” Remi Wolf

“Woo!,” Remi Wolf

“Woo!,” Remi Wolf

At the age of 17, Remi Wolf almost went down the most cookie-cutter path in the modern music industry: American Idol. But even then, she described herself as “not normal.” Seven years later, she’s living up to that description with “Woo!”, off her second EP, I’m Allergic To Dogs. With lyrics like “And I don’t know what I really wanted / And fuck, I think I lost my wallet,” there’s a smart playfulness to Wolf’s psychedelic track, which has a vibe she defines as “funky soul pop”—though, “I don’t believe in labels like that,” she recently told i-D. “They literally don’t make sense anymore. Everything is soup.” Looks like no more cookie-making for her. [Patrick Gomez]

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“Goliath,” Woodkid

“Goliath,” Woodkid

“Goliath,” Woodkid

Sometimes, you just need a little catharsis. At first listen, “Goliath” sounds as though it will be a brooding, minimalist pulse of a track, asking “how could you be so blind?” of its intended subject. But then, it staggers to a halt, a piano gently overlays the throbbing percussive blasts, the second verse begins to build, and by the end, it’s launched into a churning start-stop swirl of synths and beats, the perfect soundtrack for any dark night of the soul, an edgy accompaniment for those times when you’re not feeling great about any of this—and rightly so. (The video is a hell of a thing, too.) [Alex McLevy]

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“Savage Remix,” Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé

“Savage Remix,” Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé

“Savage Remix,” Megan Thee Stallion feat. Beyoncé

How do you add a little vitality to an already scorching hot track? Just add a healthy dash of Beyoncé. It seemed to work for Megan Thee Stallion when she teamed up with her fellow Houstonian to boost the track beyond its already viral image. The remix blends the best of both powerhouses: Megan’s potent confidence and Bey’s easy pivot from dulcet refrains to laid-back rap. It’s one of the biggest musical collaborations of the year—and to top it all off, it was for charity. [Shannon Miller]

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“Texas Sun,” Khraungbin and Leon Bridges

“Texas Sun,” Khraungbin and Leon Bridges

“Texas Sun,” Khraungbin and Leon Bridges

Khruangbin and Leon Bridges spent the bulk of 2018 touring North America together, and the fruit of their labor is their new joint EP, Texas Sun—particularly its woozy, romantic title track. “Texas Sun” finds the musicians in perfect harmony, wedding the neo-soul of Bridges and Khruangbin’s worldly psychedelic rock for a warm, folksy love song that feels both comfortably familiar and enticingly new. An unabashed ode to their shared home state, the track is a reminder of Texas’ beauty and diversity, a soft rebuke of the notion that it’s populated squarely with gun-slinging conservatives. From the opening chords of the Spanish guitar to its slow fadeout with steel pedals and accordions, “Texas Sun” is Khruangbin, Leon Bridges, and the Lone Star State at its brightest and best. [Cameron Scheetz]

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7 / 28

“Lonely Hearts Club,” Winona Oak

“Lonely Hearts Club,” Winona Oak

“Lonely Hearts Club,” Winona Oak

Previously best known as a featured artist on The Chainsmokers’ “Hope” and What So Not’s “Beautiful,” Winona Oak stepped out on her own with her first EP, Closure, earlier this year. Ethereal yet certain, the Swedish singer-songwriter’s vocal talents are a perfect fit for Closure’s second single, “Lonely Hearts Club.” Unlike the Marina And The Diamonds’ defiant dance track of the same name from 2012, Oak’s “Club” is a melancholy party of one. “Picking up the pieces / Wishing it was easy / Trying to hold on to what’s already gone,” Oak practically whispers at the start, evoking the feeling that she—and the track—are simply floating through existence in the wake of a breakup. Even when the easy track crescendos (relatively) at the chorus with Oak’s layered vocals singing “We’re the lonely hearts club,” it’s clear the “we’re” is, at best, her reflection. It’s heartbreaking, yet cathartic to sway along to after month of our own isolation. [Patrick Gomez]

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“4 American Dollars,” U.S. Girls

“4 American Dollars,” U.S. Girls

“4 American Dollars,” U.S. Girls

With its disco groove, slinking synth strings, and chugging hand drums, “4 American Dollars” could neatly join the soundtracks of films like Jackie Brown or that 9 To 5 sequel, if it gets picked up again—any world where people are struggling to make ends meet but they’re making it look good. As on 2018’s phenomenal In A Poem Unlimited, here Meg Remy pushes her political concerns to the fore, and backs them with the most danceable of beats and instrumentation, reworking the words of Martin Luther King Jr. to give Heavy Light’s opening track its anti-capitalist hook: “You’ve gotta have boots if you wanna lift those bootstraps.” [Laura Adamczyk]

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“Dying To Believe,” The Beths

“Dying To Believe,” The Beths

“Dying To Believe,” The Beths

Right now, The Beths do that infectious poppy indie-rock thing better than just about anyone, as their 2019 debut attested. So while we just yesterday got to dig into the entirety of their latest album, Jump Rope Gazers, we’ve already had weeks for the lead single, “Dying To Believe,” to get lodged in our head. With its energetic riffing, sunny harmonies, and Superchunk-esque bridge of “I’m still trying” flowing from singer Elizabeth Stokes’ sweetly pitched vocals, it’s a near-perfect encapsulation of everything the band can offer: a jam for blasting in your car with the windows down. [Alex McLevy]

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“On My Own,” Shamir

“On My Own,” Shamir

“On My Own,” Shamir

Though “On My Own” has been heralded as Shamir’s “return to pop,” the track is more like the latest evolution in the singer-songwriter’s galvanizing DIY career. The single is certainly the artist’s most danceable output since his 2015 debut album, Ratchet. But, written after a breakup, “On My Own” is a defiant kiss-off song for the ages, evoking the kind of elemental, limb-flailing dancing that’s born out of a moment of pure catharsis. Shamir feels unburdened here, and magnetically self-possessed, singing, “I feel it in my bones / Inside myself is where I belong.” With its striking, power-pop guitar chords and walloping bass drum beat, Shamir’s latest is a loner anthem pitched to the rafters. [Cameron Scheetz]

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“March March,” The Chicks

“March March,” The Chicks

“March March,” The Chicks

A protest song about defiantly “marching to my own drum” would have been on brand at any time for Natalie “ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas” Maines, but it’s hard to imagine a more pertinent time to release an impelling call to action. The Chicks dropped this second single off their upcoming album, Gaslighter (July 17), on the same day Maines and bandmates Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire dropped “Dixie” from their name. “March March” manages to namecheck gun-control activist Emma Gonzalez, nod to the fight for reproductive rights, call out climate-change deniers, and question what happened at the 2018 Trump-Russia meeting in Helsinki—all in about 2 minutes and fifteen seconds. But the track, produced by Jack Antonoff, never feels weighed down by its politics. Instead, it is an impressive amalgamation of genres that mainly relies on Maines’ spirituous twang over a simple drum beat, making the momentary flourishes of the band’s signature tight harmonies all the more thrilling. Further driving home the timeliness of the song, Maguire’s powerful fiddle scores the second half of the “March March” video as the names of dozens of Black Americans killed by police—including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor—flash onscreen for almost two minutes. It ends with a scrolling list of social justice organizations and a signed message from The Chicks: “Use your voice. Use your vote.” And please do. [Patrick Gomez]

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“New Mood,” LPX

“New Mood,” LPX

“New Mood,” LPX

One of our favorite 21st-century popstars in waiting, LPX has followed up the unimpeachable 2019 EP Junk Of The Heart with a steady progression of singles, but the most LPX of those exuberant fusions of rock and pop might be “New Mood.” The song is almost compulsively listenable, her lyrical logorrhea spilling one word over the next in a shout-speak progression of confessionals (“I wish that I could just move forward / instead of being an emotional hoarder”) as though trying to outrun the music, a more punk rock expression of frustration and desire than most actual punk rock. It’s pop music for people who need something rawer and truer. [Alex McLevy]

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“Fuck Up The Friendship,” Leah Kate

“Fuck Up The Friendship,” Leah Kate

“Fuck Up The Friendship,” Leah Kate

This year’s pop offerings come with an almost painful bit of irony: During a period when partying the night away in a crowded club isn’t exactly an option, we’ve still received some of the most irresistible dance records in recent years. Soloist Leah Kate’s latest jam “Fuck Up The Friendship” is a hip-swinging ode to intoxicating, boundary-shifting love that benefits from production that is both sexy and smart. The arrangement is a fitting tribute to the track’s circumstances: Kate’s breathy, delicate refrains work well with the hook’s baseline to replicate the heady feeling of newfound intimacy while soaring strings underscore the rush of taking such a risk. “Fuck Up The Friendship” is another entry in the current wave of disco-leaning electro-pop, an effort bolstered by Dua Lipa’s LP Future Nostalgia. In fact, it makes for a perfect complement to Lipa’s hit March release, matching the addictive groove and brazen lyrics almost pound-for-pound. [Shannon Miller, excerpted from the June 19 A-Sides]

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“Pink Elephant,” Chicano Batman

“Pink Elephant,” Chicano Batman

“Pink Elephant,” Chicano Batman

The tropicalia-funk-soul fusion of Chicano Batman gets a bit of a redirection from Shawn Everett and producer Leon Michels on “Pink Elephant,” which is the second single from Invisible People and really sits in Eduardo Arenas’ bass groove, summoning staccato bursts from Gabriel Villa’s snares. Lead singer Bardo Martinez shows off a slinky, Anthony Kiedis-like energy in the video of the live session recorded at the storied Barefoot Studios in Hollywood. “Pink Elephant” is the kind of thumping track you throw on once your party is in full swing. They’re both rays of sunshine, though—and, if we’re ever riding around in our cars with the windows down again, the perfect musical accompaniment for summer cruising. [Danette Chavez, excerpted from the April 3 A-Sides]

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“Circle The Drain,” Soccer Mommy

“Circle The Drain,” Soccer Mommy

“Circle The Drain,” Soccer Mommy

Few songs are as frank about melancholia as “Circle The Drain,” the gorgeous lead single from Soccer Mommy’s sophomore album, Color Theory. Though depression is often stigmatized as a lingering sadness, singer-songwriter Sophie Allison’s illuminating lyrics paint a heartbreaking portrait of what it’s really like to live with the disorder, the way some days can “Thin [you] out / Or just burn [you] straight through.” But it’s a testament to Soccer Mommy’s songcraft that “Circle The Drain” is no mournful dirge; instead it breezes gently over fuzzy, nostalgic guitar chords, powered by Allison’s breathy yet confident vocals that recall The Cranberries’ Dolores O’Riordan. The track is sweet in its way, and strikingly sincere—perfectly encapsulating the malaise of being alive in 2020. [Cameron Scheetz]

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“Aries (feat. Peter Hook and Georgia),” Gorillaz

“Aries (feat. Peter Hook and Georgia),” Gorillaz

“Aries (feat. Peter Hook and Georgia),” Gorillaz

Gorillaz trade their signature psychedelic ’70s bliss for some ’80s synthesizer sounds on the latest release in a string of Song Machine Episode EPs, which the band is releasing sporadically throughout the year. At times evoking the best of Depeche Mode, “Aries” is perfect for a mellow, Sunday morning solo dance party. Even the lyrics, sweet and melancholy, speak to our current public-health crisis: “I’m standing on a beach in the distance / And even though you’re far away / Can you see my red light? / It’s waiting to turn green / ’Cause I feel so isolated without you / I can’t play a happy tune on my own / So stay by my side / High or low tide.” [Patrick Gomez, excerpted from the April 17 A-Sides]

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“No Time For Love Like Now,” Michael Stipe & Big Red Machine

“No Time For Love Like Now,” Michael Stipe & Big Red Machine

“No Time For Love Like Now,” Michael Stipe & Big Red Machine

Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner have turned side project Big Red Machine into a true vehicle for slow, stirring electronic-infused folk rock. It may have started as a lark, but the music they’re making now can stand toe-to-toe with the more famous day jobs they both have. To wit: “No Time For Love Like Now,” a dreamy, synthetic groove driven by vocals from R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, who turns his earnest, tremulous baritone to excellent use with this exhortation to stop letting current events dictate our emotional state. Easier said than done, but the song makes it sound easy. [Alex McLevy]

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“The Steps,” HAIM

“The Steps,” HAIM

“The Steps,” HAIM

There’s a defiance pulsing through HAIM’s Women In Music Part III, a refusal to be pigeonholed, to be condescended to, to back down. And when everything but the drums drop out of the mix near the end of “The Steps,” that defiance rings out, like a thunderclap, in two swift thwacks to the snare drum. “The Steps” is like that on the whole, pulling its bluesy licks and percussive shuffle from the brawnier end of WIMPIII’s kitchen-sink production. It’s a track that makes its sharpest points through subtraction: The lyrics’ souring relationship gets a sweetening counterpoint from Danielle and Alana Haim’s vocal harmonies, but Danielle is left alone to throw a little vinegar on the end of the chorus. You’ll have to work pretty hard to find a more stinging use of “baby” in a 2020 recording. [Erik Adams]

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“Bali,” Rich Brian feat. Guap 4000

“Bali,” Rich Brian feat. Guap 4000

“Bali,” Rich Brian feat. Guap 4000

With just a hint of island flair and some good old-fashioned braggadocio, rappers Rich Brian and Guap 4000 dropped one of the most blissfully melodic summer jams of the year. “Bali” is a smooth, carefree respite that introduces a breezier side to the Indonesian artist and boasts of one of the catchiest hooks of 2020. During a year when we are in desperate need of fun, Rich Brian delivered a sunny balm that reigns as the life of any party. [Shannon Miller]

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“I Am America,” Shea Diamond

“I Am America,” Shea Diamond

“I Am America,” Shea Diamond

What and who is “American” has been a subject of disappointingly great debate as of late, but Black trans activist Shea Diamond wants to set the record straight: “Baby, I am America / I’m a stranger just like you.” On “I Am America,” Diamond’s earthy rasp commands over a brass band and driving snare. It is such funk-pop perfection that the relative newcomer’s single was adopted as the theme song to HBO’s recent docuseries hit We’re Here, which features RuPaul’s Drag Race alums Shangela Laquifa Wadley, Bob The Drag Queen, and Eureka O’Hara mentoring LGBTQ people and allies in the freeing art of drag. “Truth is I love you, even when you get offended,” Diamond states with the confidence of someone who has faced a lot of hate for being who she is, which she has. “Truth is I love you,” she continues. “So come on and split the difference.” [Patrick Gomez]

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“People, I’ve Been Sad,” Christine And The Queens

“People, I’ve Been Sad,” Christine And The Queens

“People, I’ve Been Sad,” Christine And The Queens

Since her 2014 breakout album, Chaleur Humaine, the music of Héloïse Letissier has explored the fluid nature of, well, everything: feelings, language, gender—there’s limitless opportunity to express it all. That sentiment remains at the heart of Christine And The Queens’ latest, the introspective La Vita Nuova. The EP’s accompanying visuals cast Letissier within the (literal) theater of classical high art, and her stunning opening act is the plaintive, synth-y slow jam “People, I’ve Been Sad.” In its call-and-response verses, Letissier evokes her own internal dialogue as she grapples with loneliness, admitting, “It’s true that people / I’ve been missing out.” As with all things, there’s more to loneliness than pain, and the track strikes a subtle balance between sadness and hope, making it the perfect song for our current self-isolated world. [Cameron Scheetz]

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22 / 28

“Bury Us”, The Naked And Famous!

“Bury Us”, The Naked And Famous!

“Bury Us”, The Naked And Famous!

After recently shedding a few members, The Naked And Famous! is now a duo, one with a fresh, bubbly summer sound. On their latest—“Bury Us,” the second single off upcoming fourth studio album, Recover—Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers blur the lines between the Naked And Famous’ familiar electronic rock sound and their newly developed synth-pop melodies. Though the song touches on the challenges of love, Xayalith’s soothing vocals radiate a kind of optimism even accidentally killing your boyfriend can’t stifle. (Watch the video and that will make sense.) [Angelica Cataldo]

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“Bad Friend,” Rina Sawayama

“Bad Friend,” Rina Sawayama

“Bad Friend,” Rina Sawayama

Rina Sawayama’s impossibly cool debut, SAWAYAMA, seamlessly threads together the trademarks of early 2000s pop, R&B, and nu-metal into one of the year’s most electrifying albums. Its crowning jewel, “Bad Friend,” is a bracingly honest midtempo ballad, the rare pop song mourning the dissolution of friendship. Rina Sawayama’s confessional lyrics feel intimate and uniquely queer, lamenting the glory days when she and her pals would be “singing our hearts out to Carly” (referring, of course, to Carly Rae Jepsen, patron saint of gay heartache). As the track builds to its final chorus, a gospel choir chants, “put your hands up if you’re not good at this stuff.” Heartfelt, catchy, and anthemic pop of the highest order, there’s a reason Sir Elton John called “Bad Friend” a song that “Madonna would die for.” [Cameron Scheetz]

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“Love In Mine,” Big Thief

“Love In Mine,” Big Thief

“Love In Mine,” Big Thief

It was already a couple months into quarantine when Big Thief released “Love In Mine,” just about the time when the initial cabin fever of isolation was hitting its pinnacle. The group’s gentle ode to love was the perfect antidote: With its understated, swaying rhythm, simple and affecting lyrics (“When I ramble on / And I often do / Remind me to travel on to you”), and mellow Americana vibe, it felt like a soothing balm to the tension and anxiety of the times. And it still does. [Alex McLevy]

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“DEALER,” RMR

“DEALER,” RMR

“DEALER,” RMR

There’s a lot that’s unconventional about RMR—least of all the balaclava he wears to maintain his anonymity. The Atlanta native (whose name is pronounced “Rumor”) became a YouTube sensation in February when he independently released his first single, “Rascal,” which drew comparisons to the genre-defying rap-country hybrid “Old Town Road.” But unlike Lil Nas X, who has yet to top his initial viral success, RMR has only grown since his debut. After signing with Warner Records and Cmnty Rcrds in April, he released an even catchier followup, “DEALER,” which features an irresistible sitar hook at the top before settling into an easy groove that camouflages seemingly innocuous lyrics like “Can’t seem to find my face,” which only become more clever the more you think about them. RMR released a remix of “DEALER” featuring Future and Lil Baby; its music video is fancier, but the track works just fine with RMR solo. [Patrick Gomez]

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“ON,” BTS

“ON,” BTS

“ON,” BTS

Anthemic and battle-ready, “ON” is not only an unrepentant bop, but a serious energy boost courtesy of one of the hardest-working groups in the industry. Prior to its official video, the South Korean septet released the “Kinetic Manifesto Film,” a short that backed the group’s natural vigor with the Blue Devils Marching Band. “Kinetic” is an apt description for this explosive track: Persistent snare drums, soaring brass, and powerful lyrics inspire nothing but movement. Much like BTS, “ON” possesses the spirit of an absolute fighter. [Shannon Miller]

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The playlist

The playlist

The playlist

And if your favorites weren’t mentioned here, check out our Best Albums list for 26 more artists we thought deserved attention.

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