The 50 Best Songs of 2019

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The 50 Best Songs of 2019

Ranking albums is one thing—there are only so many LPs to choose from. But songs? The options are truly limitless. Who’s to say that these are really the 50 best songs of 2019? Maybe the actual golden herd is hidden in some dark corner of Bandcamp, still unheard by those of us who are often caught up in the frenzy of album cycles and press releases and Spotify recommendations. But as there’s no possible way to hear every single original song created by humans in a year, we’re left with the task of sorting through the ones that did catch our ears. Many of the tunes you’ll find here appear in albums on our companion best of the year list; many do not. And that’s the beauty of singles. Some of these songs will eventually find a home within a forthcoming LP, while many are destined to remain orphans forever. But we love them all the same. In yet another stressful year where we felt constantly strained and controlled by content coming at us from all directions at all times of the day and night, these are the 50 songs that stuck out from the noise, as voted by the Paste staff. May they bring you some peace, comfort, laughter or whatever it is you need going into the next decade.

Listen to our Best Songs of 2019 playlist on Spotify right here.

50. Vagabon: “Water Me Down”

“Water Me Down” is another percussion-heavy, largely electronic track, in which Vagabon, aka Laetitia Tamko, merges the dense and the airy in service of a song about the weight of other people’s expectations. “Never meant for all of this / Never meant for you to love / Never meant for you to trust,” Tamko intones, pairing her rich vocals with feathery keyboards. “Water Me Down” is about freeing yourself from someone who wants too much and waters you down in the process, and in the new visual Tamko fittingly shows us a totally unforeseen side of herself. “I wanted to flex a muscle I haven’t shared yet,” she says in a statement: “dancing.” —Amanda Gersten

49. William Tyler: “Fail Safe”

The intricately woven, guitar-based instrumental on “Fail Safe” feels like a journey, with an acoustic standing as star of the show. The strings layer, growing through the track’s end and simultaneously giving it a sense of restlessness and excitement, of choosing not to stay stagnant but also embracing the change. Whatever cons moving cross-country to sunny California may have, the impact on William Tyler’s music certainly isn’t one. —Emma Korstanje

48. Hand Habits: “placeholder”

Meg Duffy’s sophomore album, placeholder, is a practice in deconstructing relationships, and Duffy explores their rarely-highlighted intricacies. The former Kevin Morby guitarist is an adept singer/songwriter, and their recent title track might be their greatest work yet. Duffy’s world revolves around their inner circle, and there’s a sense of contemplative compassion even when they sense they’re being used. What begins as a leisurely, melancholy stroll turns into a minefield of shrieking guitars—the perfect depiction of a messy relationship arc and of the needs and desires between two people that don’t always mesh. —Lizzie Manno

47. Stella Donnelly: “Old Man”

On “Old Man,” the album opener off Beware of the Dogs, Stella Donnelly serves up more of her characteristically biting critique with extra helpings of humor and ballsiness. “Oh are you scared of me old man, or are you scared of what I’ll do?,” she sings, almost teasing, but meaning business. Another timely lyric follows: “You grabbed me with an open hand. The world is grabbing back at you.” Donnelly sings sweetly, but the men in her songs—ranging from a mean boss in “Mechanical Bull” to the powerful desk-dwellers in “Old Man”—are anything but. —Ellen Johnson

46. Brittany Howard: “Stay High”

“Stay High” is as gentle and stripped-back as what you imagined Howard’s solo work would sound like. Easy acoustic strumming, warm, unembellished percussion and what truly sounds like a toy piano put Howard’s stunning bluesy vocals at the forefront. There’s no big chorus or blaring, thundering instrumentals à la Sound & Color; “Stay High” is smooth and bright—another easy entry point into the rest of the musician’s solo project. —Savannah Sicurella

45. Better Oblivion Community Center: “Dylan Thomas”

At the beginning of this year, Better Oblivion Community Center was a mysterious bus bench ad and an automated phone number with a recorded message on top of an acoustic guitar riff. But even when it was announced that an act by that name was playing The Late Show on Jan. 23, we still weren’t sure who—or what—it was until Colbert announced, “Tonight, my guests Phoebe Briders and Conor Oberst are here to announce their new band.” Their album was immediately uploaded to streaming services and the rest is history. But shrouded in that initial hype (and VCR static throughout the Colbert performance) was one of the best songs either songwriter had ever written, “Dylan Thomas.” It sounds like a Summerteeth-era Wilco B-side you could’ve sworn you’d heard before. “Dylan Thomas” is four-chord alt-country bliss, complete with a guitar solo and a singalong chorus that was surely screamed back at the super-duo if you were lucky enough to catch them on tour this year. Songs—and albums—like this don’t come around all too often these days, making this one feel all the more special. —Steven Edelstone

44. Sudan Archives: “Confessions”

“‘Confessions,’ a female flip on classic rap music videos—resilient women surviving in a world that seems to be falling apart & ends with its alter ego Black Vivaldi, an ode to duality,” explains Sudan Archives, aka Brittney Parks. “It’s about being the seduced and the seductress, it’s about God & the Devil, Yin & Yang, & about the possibility that we might have it all wrong about the two.” The duality Sudan Archives refers to is well-represented in “Confessions” itself: Parks’ violin is downtempo to the point of being mournful in the song’s opening moments, but as soon as the thumping beat kicks in, her playing transforms, staccato and upbeat. “I fell down / and started / back up then seal the feeling / I’m too unique to kneel,” Parks sings, confessing to her troubles and her triumphs in the same breath—“Confessions” is nothing if not a triumph, with Sudan Archives weaving together strings and synths to serve as her platform from which to demand, “Watch me frolic through the fields, bitch.” —Scott Russell

43. Hatchie: “Stay With Me”

The lead track from Hatchie’s record Keepsake, “Without A Blush,” saw the usually effervescent dream-pop artist cross over into slightly darker territory. On “Stay With Me,” though, Hatchie dives head-first into melancholy dance-pop, sounding like a slightly more despondent Robyn as she laments, “I’ve come undone.” The music video, directed by Joe Agius, even feels like it could easily be slotted into the one for Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” as Hatchie dances under neon lights among strangers at a club. The yearning chorus of “Stay With Me,” punctuated with ethereal stabs of ’90s synth, is delicious in its desperation and incredibly catchy. —Clare Martin

42. Thom Yorke: “Dawn Chorus”

Thom Yorke’s biggest fault—if there is one—on ANIMA, his first proper solo album since 2014’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, is his inclusion of “Dawn Chorus,” a song so devastatingly gorgeous it threatens to overshadow the eight other tracks’ ingenious advances in glitchy electronica. “Dawn Chorus” is so mind-numbingly beautiful it doesn’t just distract from the rest of the album—it places the listener in a different world entirely, one seemingly hundreds of miles away from the late-night dancefloor occupied by tracks like “Not the News” and “Traffic.” —Steven Edelstone

41. Empath: “Hanging Out of Cars”

Philadelphia noise-pop outfit Empath are the type of band you need to listen to with headphones and closed eyes. Their violent dreaminess and lyrics that make the most sense when your emotions are heightened create a subliminal connection that’s much easier to feel than articulate. After releasing their 2018 cassette Liberating Guilt and Fear, the quartet dropped their debut album After Listening: Night on Earth earlier this year on Get Better Records before its eventual Fat Possum reissue. Their avant-garde pop may appear too abstract or complex at first, especially with their unusual line breaks, but their lyrics are often filled with powerful, evocative mantras from commonplace language (“I know it won’t be long,” “An empty space is the most I’ve ever felt”). On “Hanging Out of Cars,” singer/guitarist Catherine Elicson transforms familiar imagery (“Water beating onto your face,” “Hanging out of cars on the freeway”) into explosions of the senses. —Lizzie Manno

40. Orville Peck: “Dead of Night”

Who could have guessed that 2019 needed “Dead of Night,” a song from a masked, pseudonymous, queer Canadian cowboy combining all the best elements of Roy Orbison, ’50s teenage-delinquent movies and trebly, quavering guitar? Orville Peck, that’s who guessed. Naturally, stepping up with such an intriguing persona has prompted speculation about who is behind that fringed mask, but let’s be honest: that’s a minor detail compared to the song. “Dead of Night” opens Pony, Peck’s debut LP. It’s majestic and moody, stitching fragmentary images into a gripping story about a romance as impetuous as it is doomed. Peck delivers the verses with measured, stately intonation soaked in reverb and backed by shudders of guitar, then sends his voice skyward on the chorus into a ringing falsetto that’s startlingly confident. It’s kind of country, more than a little noirish and fully exhilarating. —Eric R. Danton

39. Bon Iver: “Hey, Ma”

Music is one of our few avenues for time travel, and few do it better than Bon Iver. Justin Vernon’s output has been utterly transporting since the beginning, from 2008’s For Emma, Forever Ago to his newest effort, i,i. “Hey, Ma,” one of its lead singles, is no exception. World-weary and hopeful, cynical and naive, it slides between past and present with impressionistic allusions to childhood bath-time and digs at greedy coal executives—all in a shimmer of electronics that merges the muted melancholy of his earliest work, the lushness of Bon Iver and the intricacies of 22, A Million. “Hey, Ma” is rife with the stream-of-consciousness imagery, just slightly unfamiliar phrasing (“Tall time to call your ma”) and sticks-in-your-mind diction—just try to get the way he sings the word “sugar” out of your head—that make Bon Iver so entrancing. At its core, it’s a reminder to hold on to what’s most important: family, the natural world. The “light” of love is always there inside of us, if only we pay attention. —Amanda Gersten

38. Kim Gordon: “Air BnB”

It’s not clear whether Kim Gordon is offering a place for rent on “Air BnB,” or staying in one, but the amenities sound nice: flat-screen TV, a daybed, bottled water, Andy Warhol prints on the wall. Oh, there’s just one thing: it also includes a bundle of bristling guitars that grind and judder like someone dropped a big handful of deck screws into the garbage disposal, while your host (or renter, maybe) snarls, “Air BnB / Gonna set me free.” The song is a centerpiece on Gordon’s first-ever solo album, No Home Record, and the Sonic Youth co-founder sounds as fierce and enigmatic as she ever has. Word of advice for this particular Air BnB: check the cancellation policy up front. —Eric R. Danton

37. Tierra Whack: “Unemployed”

Tierra Whack’s versatility is on full display in “Unemployed.” Compared with some of the campier tracks off 2018’s mile-a-minute, genre-straddling Whack World, “Unemployed” hits hard, references to Grover and ABC primetime included. For anyone who doubted Whack’s ability to rap, she brushes them off on “Unemployed,” swaggering her way through witty and rapid-fire rhymes that prove she can outpace the pack. Riffing off the song’s themes of hard work, Whack personifies the album cover’s couch potato in the terrifying, surrealist music video for the track—if its earworm hook doesn’t haunt you, she’ll make sure you’ll never look at french fries the same way again. —Katie Cameron

36. black midi: “953”

“953” features one of the hardest hitting lead guitar riffs in recent memory, an opening salvo that makes you want to drop everything and go run a mile—something I actually did, resulting in my fastest time ever. Within mere seconds of hitting play on their debut album, Geordie Greep and Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin of black midi make their case as two of our most inventive contemporary guitarists, all while you try your hardest to keep time with a beat that will still elude you after 10 listens. —Steven Edelstone

35. DaBaby: “INTRO”

Good lord, does DaBaby even come up for air? The Charlotte rapper bursts onto “INTRO,” the opening track from the high-octane KIRK, from 0:01. DaBaby packs in mouthfuls of lyrics, practically interrupting himself, and he’s so relentless in his flow that when he makes space for any kind of break, the impact of the quiet resonates to moving effect. And it’d be one thing if he were rapping sheer bravado, but “INTRO” shows a fresh facet of DaBaby as he mulls over reconciling his new superstardom with the sudden death of his father, musings set to a soft-spoken, almost mournful, gospel choir. It’s a welcome change of pace, and DaBaby wears it well. —Katie Cameron

34. Jessica Pratt: “This Time Around”

“This Time Around” feels like an anchor, even though Quiet Signs itself definitely feels more out-at-sea than harbored. It’s the most simple song on the album instrumentally, but Jessica Pratt sings the line “too hard, too hard” like a series of “oohs” and “ahhs” that add some beautiful complexity to the space-out. “Hallowed be thy name, had you come to claim it?” she sings, sounding like a witchier Joni Mitchell. —Ellen Johnson

33. Cate Le Bon: “Daylight Matters”

“Daylight Matters” suggests infinite possibilities. As Welsh auteur Cate Le Bon tones down her longtime jagged art-pop theatrics, she heralds a new dawn, with deep saxophones and jovial half-note pianos emphasizing her sparkling guitar lines and bellowed intonations. The song, a highlight of her fifth album Reward, is among the prettiest in her catalog, but it’s also one of her most explicitly heartbroken tunes to date. The couplet “I love you but you’re not here / I love you but you’ve gone” is as clear a breakup indicator as they come (especially for Le Bon, known for her vague and surreal lyrics), even though this gorgeous ditty isn’t stormy in the least. This contrast dominates Reward, and with every “Come on” Le Bon coos during the serene bridge of “Daylight Matters,” she invites listeners to join her on the album’s seemingly limitless journey. It’s impossible not to say yes. —Max Freedman

32. Denzel Curry: “RICKY”

Denzel Curry’s “RICKY” joins Sharon Van Etten’s “Seventeen” as one of two incredible origin stories on this list. The song is named after Curry’s father and features a direct quote from the old man himself: “My daddy said, ‘Trust no man but your brothers / And never leave your day ones in the gutter,’” Curry raps over a wonky yet perfectly timed beat. “RICKY” sits at the top of the South Florida’s rapper’s catalogue, a catchy case for the rap song of the year. It’s personal without getting too sentimental, a refreshing track from a year when rap very often felt impersonal. Curry’s big-bodied rhythms have left their mark on a class of budding Floridian rappers, and this song, from Curry’s excellent ZUU, proves the master is here to stay. —Ellen Johnson

31. Nilüfer Yanya: “Heavyweight Champion of the Year”

British singer/songwriter Nilüfer Yanya skillfully married the gritty and soulful on her 2019 debut album Miss Universe. Standout single “Heavyweight Champion of the Year” captures this paradox along with common twentysomething pitfalls—emotionally unavailable partners, dreams spilling into daytime due to a lack of sleep and coping mechanisms that may have overstayed their welcome. Between bare guitar stabs and gurgling keyboards, Yanya is simultaneously exhausted and empowered by her self-imposed limits, and her fluctuating vocals dance around the turmoil. —Lizzie Manno

30. Priests: “Jesus’ Son”

The first whisper of satire on The Seduction of Kansas takes shape in the provocative opener “Jesus’ Son.” A nod to The Velvet Underground, the track is as memorable a rock song you’ll hear in 2019. Though the band disclosed in a press release it is “an apocalyptic sci-fi tale of epic proportions,” it’s also a heated takedown of male entitlement. “Jesus’ Son” imagines the apocalypse not as the Second Coming—Christ descending unto Earth, bathed in heavenly light—but as some kind of warped dystopia where the Messiah appears as an entitled scumbag, no better than a pouty Brett Kavanaugh demanding he be throned on the highest court in the land. Vocalist Katie Alice Greer convincingly plays the part of the “young,” “dumb” antichrist wreaking havoc on a crumbling society. ”I am Jesus’ son,” she sings (or more like warbles). “I think I wanna hurt someone / I’m young and dumb and full of cum.” —Ellen Johnson

29. HAIM: “Summer Girl”

“I wanted to be this light that shined on him when he was feeling very dark. I wanted to be his hope when he was feeling hopeless,” Danielle Haim wrote on Twitter the day before her band’s single “Summer Girl” dropped on the last day of July. “[S]o I kept singing these lines – I’m your sunny girl/ I’m your fuzzy girl/ I’m your summer girl,” she added, detailing the period a year or two earlier when her partner, famed producer Ariel Rechtshaid (Vampire Weekend, Carly Rae Jepsen, Sky Ferreira), was diagnosed with cancer. Now that he’s in remission, the Rechtshaid and Rostam-produced single is a bona fide song-of-the-summer classic, a modern update on Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” complete with “doo doos” and a stunning saxophone solo. Accompanied by a clothes-off romp around Los Angeles directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, “Summer Girl” is catchy as hell, the sort of song that you won’t complain about when it gets stuck in your head for days at a time. Immediately one of HAIM’s best songs to date, the single—along with the two songs released since, “Now I’m In it” and “Hallelujah”—have our mouths watering for the sister group’s likely-forthcoming record, hopefully out in the new year. —Steven Edelstone

28. Lucy Dacus: “Fool’s Gold”

“Fool’s Gold” is Lucy Dacus’ ode to the New Year and a high point of her 2019 mini-album. After a little glimmering piano, she comes in on warm, thrumming guitar, slowly peeling back the gilded layer covering up one of the most hollow holidays. No matter what year it is at the stroke of midnight, “He’ll blame the alcohol / And you’ll blame the full moon,” she reminds us, before declaring, “You say that it’s all the same, all glittering fool’s gold.” —Clare Martin

27. Solange: “Stay Flo”

If Solange’s 2016 masterpiece A Seat at the Table was elegant and restrained in its explicit ruminations on black women’s lives, then follow-up When I Get Home is mostly the opposite: Trunk-rattling and deeply rooted in hip-hop bombast (though just as indebted to jazz) while more abstractly portraying Solange’s Houston upbringing. The pretty but thumping “Stay Flo” ranks as a prime example: The slightly screwed “Hold up!” that introduces the track reappears regularly and distantly, morphing into different ad-libs as Solange rattles off short lines about Houston life while keys prattle gently and drum machines strike gruffly. In her Houston, the average day comprises men getting faded, taking shots, playing games, throwing stones, and getting in their feelings, all while girls get down. Is it a specific picture? Not in the least, but the song’s warbled heft fills in the gaps. —Max Freedman

26. Kevin Morby: “No Halo”

This schmalzy psalm from Kevin Morby’s non-religious religious album Oh My God is as mysterious as the out-of-reach consecrated communion wafers and as fantastical as the Creation myth itself. The lyrics read more like a morse code rendering than a decipherable parable, but there’s a semblance of childhood nostalgia as Morby sings, “When I was a boy / no rooftop on my joy.” Maybe there’s a ceiling on Morby’s optimism now, but there’s still the hope of that youthful wonder. The song itself is miraculous to behold, tingling with claps and organ. You could take this tune’s meaning in any direction, but no matter where it leads you, it’s a clear stroke of Morby’s ever-sprawling genius. —Ellen Johnson

25. Tegan and Sara: “I’ll Be Back Someday”

Tegan and Sara’s new album, Hey, I’m Just Like You, is an experiment of the past and present. The Quin sisters dug up the first recordings they ever made and decided to treat them like brand new demos for their latest album. Despite the poor audio quality and skeletal nature of the songs, Tegan and Sara saw something special in them, which already possessed the vocal and lyrical sensibilities they still carry today. With a song like “I’ll Be Back Someday,” in particular, it’s amazing that they had such anthemic abilities as teenagers. It’s the kind of pop-punk song that would’ve inspired the formation of countless bands and featured in the opening credits of a high school cult classic from 15 years ago. —Lizzie Manno

24. Rosalía: “Con Altura”

Rosalía proved herself a star and a critical darling on El Mal Querer, her breakthrough sophomore album in which she refracted flamenco through a prism of modern pop aesthetics and heavy literary interpolations. “Con Altura” is a completely different exercise, one that finds her in undeniably urbano pop terrain. “I wanted to do a song that has this classic reggaeton vibe, like Daddy Yankee,” she told the New York Times. But the squelchy, reggaeton undertow suits her completely. Her smoldering vocals propel the song’s airborne dembow rhythm to liftoff. With an assist from Colombian superstar J Balvin, Rosalia’s crafted an anthem for living fast, dying young, all encroached in an entrancing melody and her inimitable, flamenco-tinged vocal performance. It’s such an effortless, star-making turn that felt nearly predestined from the jump. All we can do is admire from down here. —Joshua Bote

23. Jenny Lewis: “Wasted Youth”

Jenny Lewis, like any good songwriter, has a knack for fiction. On “Wasted Youth,” she sings, “I wasted my youth on a poppy,” even though she did no such thing: In the ’80s, Lewis began working as a child actress almost as soon as she could walk. Only later did she discover her mother, a heroin addict throughout Lewis’ childhood who recently passed away, was using her earnings to buy and sell drugs. But on that same song, before chirping a series of “doo doo doos” and offering the dark statement that “the cookie crumbles into dust,” Lewis pitches us her humor: “Why you lyin’?” she teases. “The Bourbon’s gone / Mercury hasn’t been in / Retrograde for that long.” Where in the past she faced sadness head-on, here Lewis views trauma through a wizened, witty lens. —Ellen Johnson

22. Charly Bliss: “Capacity”

At the tail-end of 2019, a series of tweets were lampooned, perhaps rightfully, for routinizing self-care and emotional labor into impersonal, formulaic text messages. There’s a fine line between valuing your time so much as to deem it emotionally billable and sacrificing yourself wholesale to appease others. The confusion is understandable; too often, the line blurs and shifts as friendship gets turned into therapy and vice versa. On “Capacity,” modern-day soothsayers Charly Bliss get the point immediately right: You should try to take care of people, but not be everything to everyone, especially not if you’re over capacity. “I can barely keep myself afloat when I’m not saving you,” singer Eva Hendricks sighs, but it’s not just about that. On “Capacity,” she bemoans keeping herself constantly, perpetually busy, and distracting her needs by focusing on somebody, anybody else but her. The thing is, “Capacity” sounds liberated—an insistent thud borrowed from early-aughts pop-rock, a plinky piano, a guitar-riff, a glorious, chant-along bridge—as if doing nothing and having time to yourself is total euphoria. In our current hellscape, it is. —Joshua Bote

21. Caroline Polachek: “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings”

Being away from your significant other may feel like hell, but former Chairlift member Caroline Polachek takes the concept quite literally. In the video for her ethereal pop jam “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings,” Polachek tracks the days spent in her hell-scape, separated from her beloved, and dances awkwardly against the fiery backdrop as if she’s the fourth member of Haim. The imaginative visuals enhance her equally whimsical musical sensibilities on the track, which include auto-tuned vocals over the hilariously repeated line “Show me your banana.” The song’s title may initially comes across as pretty silly, but it captures that feeling of missing someone so dearly that the reminder of their existence is almost hurtful. “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings” is a certifiable bop, and an indication that this next decade is all Polachek’s. —Clare Martin

20. (Sandy) Alex G: “Gretel”

Alex Giannascoli is a master at evoking deep truths about the human condition from strange sources. On “Gretel,” the lead single from his latest (Sandy) Alex G release, House of Sugar, Giannascoli takes a page from Hansel and Gretel to emphasize our innate tendency towards selfishness. While the original folk tale sees the siblings escape from the evil witch, in Giannascoili’s version Hansel gets eaten and Gretel escapes but feels a burning desire to return and devour more candy. With foreboding sonic gusts, childlike, pitch-shifted backing vocals and sinister lyrics, Giannascoli’s voice is a tender, trustworthy refuge. Lyrically, it’s one of House of Sugar’s best: The chorus refrain (“I don’t wanna go back / Nobody’s gonna put me off track”) is one of his greatest pop moments to date while another line—“Good people gotta fight to exist”—acts as both a bad-faith excuse to crush others and a good-faith motivator for pure-hearted people to overcome their struggles. —Lizzie Manno

19. Vampire Weekend: “Harmony Hall”

It was the riff heard ‘round the world. Before we knew what Vampire Weekend had in store for us with Father of the Bride, we were graced with the addictive “Harmony Hall”—about 115 minutes more of it than we bargained for, actually. A few days before the single’s release, Vampire Weekend shared a mysterious 120-minute recording of literally just the riff. I’ve never been hypnotized, but after listening to about 26 minutes of this—the sonic equivalent of a narcotic—I nearly slipped under. Co-produced by Rostam, this unspeakably catchy song reuses a “Finger Back” lyric, warns of “wicked snakes,” and tracks some schmaltzy jam band keys, but more than anything, “Harmony Hall” is a noodler’s paradise. If you’re reading this, Ezra, know Jerry Garcia would’ve been proud. —Ellen Johnson

18. Charli XCX feat. Christine and the Queens: “Gone”

We already know Charli is one of the best albums of 2019. As for its Christine and the Queens feature, “Gone”? As Charli already knows, it’s the best of the best. Laden with pummeling synths, it’s one of her biggest and brashest tracks, propelled forward by twin forces of rage and confusion and finally exploding into punchy fragments. Charli and Christine’s Héloïse Letissier might be singing about two-faced record executives or enormous, intimidating industry parties, but they speak for anyone feeling anxious and misunderstood in a search for validation. “Am I smoke? Am I the sun? / And who decides?” asks Letissier, wondering who determines her worth. In the end, Charli and Letissier don’t need anyone’s approval: “Gone” overflows with sheer power. —Amanda Gersten

17. Fontaines D.C.: “Too Real”

Irish rock quintet Fontaines D.C. had a breakout year with their Mercury Prize-nominated first album Dogrel, which helped carry the torch for speak-singing social commentary. Residing between classic garage rock and post-punk, the band arguably sounds most fiery on their single “Too Real,” with its guitars that rumble and slide and lyrics both poetic and grim. They paint a picture of a city with “grimy scabs,” “withered leaves” and people scrapping for any chance of social mobility, even if it’s at the expense of the greater society or our storied culture (“Gold harps in the pan”). Frontman Grian Chatten asks as if he’s hanging over you after you’ve stumbled, “Is it too real for ya?,” and that stark, bleak question is one most of us are asking ourselves everyday. —Lizzie Manno

16. Laura Stevenson: “Living Room, NY”

Singer/songwriter Laura Stevenson mentions New York specifically in her stunning song-of-the-year contender “Living Room, NY,” but this quiet scene could take place in any room, in any city, anywhere. It’s about “missing someone on the other side of the world,” Stevenson said in a tweet, and you can feel the longing in her every breath. She was in Australia when she wrote the tune, and we can only assume the other person was in New York, hence this song about missing both a city and a soul. —Ellen Johnson

15. Ariana Grande: “ghostin’”

“ghostin” is a miraculous thing—a song so unvarnished, so unedited, that it’s hard to emphasize just how rare that a song can be borne of highly-public trauma, and come out so heart-rending and profound, tabloids and media attention be damned. It’s a tricky thing to bear witness to, a weightless, guttural plea in the empty hours of the night to the demons that haunt Grande. She’s swept away by the memory of a lover who’s no longer around, and grateful to the partner who is, even if they can’t ail her of her grief. Her surroundings are weightless and hazy, and it’s only grounded by pizzicato strings and Grande’s hushed, devastating vocal turn. If it feels too personal, indeed, it probably is—Grande doesn’t perform it live, and she begged Scooter Braun to exclude it from thank u, next. But it may be the most perfect statement of grief, and its perpetual ghosts recorded on tape, not only haunting you, but the ones that interfere with the life that you try to lead afterward. It’s a blessing that she shared it. —Joshua Bote

14. Faye Webster: “Kingston”

On the celebrated Atlanta Millionaires Club (one of Paste’s top albums of 2019), Faye Webster distills her singular brand of Americana in “Kingston,” a microcosm of her luau-meets-line-dancing sound. Languid lap guitar pulls you into the song like gravity pulling a planet into orbit. Webster effortlessly draws us into the sensual yet sentimental tune with the simple line, “The day that I met you I started dreaming.” There’s melodrama amidst the casual air, from a muted saxophone to her half-spoken delivery of the lyric, “He said ‘Baby,’ that’s what he called me, ‘I love you.’” It’s a song for longing, for lust and for excellent listening. —Clare Martin

13. Carly Rae Jepsen: “Want You In My Room”

Carly Rae Jepsen is the untroubled single woman chasing pleasure on “Want You In My Room,” which seems to span every age of pop from the lush new wave of The Bangles to the slippery dance-pop of ’90s boy bands to Daft Punk’s sophisticated AutoTune before a saxophone solo takes the song out on a strangely satisfying note (hello again, “Run Away With Me”). —Ellen Johnson

12. Jay Som: “Superbike”

“Superbike” is a sweeping dream-pop odyssey that paints from Jay Som’s sonic palette, but does so on an expansive canvas: Stretching past all but one of Everybody Works’ tracks in runtime, the single’s lyrics—which find Duterte moving on, both literally and figuratively (“I pick up the superbike / Going 80 in the night / Said you wanted something else / Something new for show and tell”)—fall away after its midpoint, shifting focus to the single’s mournful strings, ghostly voices and a guitar solo that sounds like the earth shifting beneath your feet. —Scott Russell

11. FKA twigs: “cellophane”

A highlight of FKA twigs’ 2015 M3LL155X EP was titled “Glass & Patron,” so it only makes sense that the pop visionary would reintroduce herself after three years away with the sound of glass scratching glass. When “cellophane,” her second post-M3LL155X single, arrived in April, it came with a music video in which FKA twigs’ glass heels scrape glass floors as she performs an extravagant pole dance routine. The song too is as fragile as glass, with FKA twigs drawing out every word of her heartbroken narrative like a hoarse lounge singer taking her last breath. A midsection that resembles glass shattering into a million pieces briefly interrupts the track’s devastating pianos and muttered clicks, and when these elements return, a heftier drumbeat accompanies them. As FKA twigs pieces the shards of her broken heart back together, she sounds stronger than ever. —Max Freedman

10. Julia Jacklin: “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You”

“Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You,” what Jacklin says is her favorite song on her excellent 2019 album Crushing (even though “that changes everyday”), is a revelation. Studded with bluesy, cathartic guitar solos, it’s a song about being trapped in comfort, about chasing a sun you know is going to set anyways. “Don’t know how to keep loving you,” she sings. “Now that I know you so well.” But, again, as on the rest of the album, Jacklin marches fearlessly ahead, through the pain, the loneliness, “into the darkness, or is it the light?” This is one of those songs that leaves me wondering, “How does she get on stage every night and bear her whole, entire soul?” —Ellen Johnson

9. Billie Eilish: “bad guy”

What do we do with Billie Eilish? For some, the overt sexuality of “bad guy,” the goth teen queen’s lead single from When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? is kinky liberation, a provocative track from a young woman with bruises on her knees (but only when she wants them). She plays with these expectations in the track’s music video; the camera angle deceives you into thinking she’s giving head, when in fact Eilish is bobbing up and down on the back of a muscular male lackey as he does pushups. For others, the track is too much from a minor, who’s self-proclaimed status as a “might-seduce-your-dad type” is in all-too-close proximity to a track featuring Eilish popping out her Invisaslign. Either way, Eilish’s intelligence is clear. The discomfort she elicits is born out of sheer creative control and forces us to think about the hypersexualization of young women in the music industry—at least for Billie, it’s on her own terms. —Katie Cameron

8. Lil Nas X: “Old Town Road”

Sure, the original version of “Old Town Road” was released last December, but thanks to the remix with the Achy Breaky man himself, it was the most popular song of the summer. It beat the record for the most weeks spent atop the Billboard Top 100 chart, a worthy title. The lyrics, upon actual inspection, are definitely not anything to write home about, but something about the hokey, joke-y nature of the words on top of a simple, memorable (and cheap!) beat catapulted this song into TikTok meme-dom. If anything shows the power of teens on the internet in 2019, it’s “Old Town Road.” Yeehaw. —Annie Black

7. Big Thief: “Not”

Big Thief’s delicate folk-rock has been captivating audiences since their cockily titled 2016 debut, Masterpiece. “Not” is something of a throwback to the harder textures of that first album, in contrast to the wispy sound of their first album of 2019, U.F.O.F. Over insistent electric guitar strums and a whistling, metallic flute, frontwoman Adrianne Lenker struggles to articulate something, and works her way around that tip-of-the-tongue feeling by negation: ”[It’s] not a rouse / not heat / not the fire lapping up the creek.” But before Lenker can answer her own riddle, the song dissolves into three minutes of discordant guitar solos, and then ten seconds of static-filled silence. —Substitute Thapliyal

6. Mannequin Pussy: “Drunk II”

I know what you’re thinking—ugh, another breakup song about getting drunk and forgetting your troubles, but hear me out on this one. Mannequin Pussy’s “Drunk II” from their second album Patience isn’t just one of the best breakup songs of 2019, it’s one of the best songs of 2019, full stop. This Philly indie-punk outfit crystallizes the extreme highs of a night out and plunging lows of heartbreak with wailing guitar licks, a cutting bassline and vocals that span the emotional gamut. Lead singer Marisa Dabice dishes out headstrong lyrics with both vigor and vulnerability, never quite settling on one or the other, which further underscores the emotional restlessness of a relationship’s end. It’s in this paradox of strong-willed proclamations and cries for help that Dabice draws her power, particularly via the piercing outro and this shouted line of rock ‘n’ roll perfection: “I still love you, you stupid fuck!” —Lizzie Manno

5. Weyes Blood: “Movies”

“Movies,” one of a few singles from Weyes Blood’s album Titanic Rising, is accompanied by a self-directed music video, capturing Natalie Mering somersaulting about in swathes of rippling ivory before zooming out to reveal the audience watching her underwater dance with a trance-like gaze. The audience studies her, transfixed, before being swept along into Mering’s cinematic submersion. “Our generation is the most cinematically saturated of all time,” Mering says of the song’s message. “Videotapes, DVD’s, streaming … Spielberg … all of it has thrust us into an endless loop of consumption … I wanted to take a look into the emotionally manipulative powers of Movies—how have Movies succeeded in telling the myths of our time? How have they failed (miserably)? What is the consequent effect on a society of beings looking for themselves in the myths on the screen? It’s safe to say that they have failed us, but I can’t help it … I love Movies.” —Lindsay Thomaston

4. Clairo: “Bags”

Claire Cottrill, the 21-year-old behind Clairo, didn’t have to prove anything to anyone besides herself when she released her debut album Immunity earlier this year. However, anyone who dismissed her early, trendy lo-fi offerings probably would’ve found it difficult to hold their nose when they heard “Bags.” Internet users have practically already christened it a modern indie-pop classic, and it wasn’t just the “indie gays”—it’s sincerely the most wistful song of 2019 and a perfect encapsulation of romantic tension and cautious vulnerability. The dizzying synths and percussive guitar line allows the song to flicker between bubbly dreamscapes and unfiltered consciousness, and Cottrill’s silky, double-tracked vocals are like the angel on your shoulder, convincing you that telling someone how you really feel is always worth it. —Lizzie Manno

3. Angel Olsen: “Lark”

“Lark” is stunning in its dynamism, opening in the broken-hearted calm before a cathartic storm of overwhelming strings, thundering drums and Angel Olsen’s ever-emotive voice. The singer-songwriter weaves in and out of numerous distinct phases across the song’s six minutes and change, each of them mesmerizing—she looks back on a painful end while bound for a new beginning, singing, “Hiding out inside my head, it’s me again, it’s no surprise I’m on my own now / Every time I turn to you, I see the past, it’s all that lasts and all I know how.” —Scott Russell

2. Lizzo: “Juice”

“Juice” sounds like tequila shots with your best friends, or finding an outfit that makes you feel indestructible, or that moment when your favorite song (which may as well be “Juice”) comes on at the party. Lizzo has enjoyed one hell of a year, between weeks of topping the charts and a bevy of Grammy nominations, and “Juice” encapsulates her 2019 success. Both cocky and infectiously effervescent, the song has risen as the self-confidence anthem of a year that has put us all through the ringer. It certainly helps that the ’80s-inspired pop jam has an equally entertaining video, featuring parodies of old fitness routines (complete with star wipes), the QVC channel and ASMR. “Juice” also closed out the iconic 2010s show Broad City—which featured the pop star’s music before her meteoric rise over the past 18 months—cementing itself in television history. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to go get lost in Lizzo’s DMs. —Clare Martin

1. Sharon Van Etten: “Seventeen”

“Seventeen” is an origin story in the Springsteen vein. In the video, a grown Sharon Van Etten walks with her younger self through old NYC stomping grounds—Union Pool, Baby’s All Right, the Marcy Street JM subway stop. The lyrics paint a picture of a bygone New York City, one where up-and-coming rock musicians like Van Etten ran wild. “Downtown harks back / halfway up the street,” she sings, “I used to be free / I used to be seventeen.” Since then, she’s achieved some of those dreams she was chasing around Manhattan and Brooklyn, but she has also since relocated to L.A. (and that might be the biggest pill to swallow). She fulfills the prophecy before the final chorus, eventually shouting to her “shadow” with all her might, “I know what you’re gonna be”—easily one of the most memorable moments in music this year. “Seventeen,” which finds Van Etten chasing a driving, dark strand of synth-infused rock ‘n’ roll, was the first truly great song to be released in 2019, on Jan. 8, to be exact, and it just so happens that no single song has been able to top it. It was an instant classic with a video to match, and we didn’t hesitate for a single moment when adding it to our best songs of the decade list. And how sweet it is that “Seventeen” is the work of one our most talented songwriters who has been hustling for the better part of two decades now. It’s proof that even when we’re flooded with (necessary) songs featuring social commentary and political outbursts, sometimes the most earnest, most true, most believable art is just a personal story from the past. —Ellen Johnson

Listen to our Best Songs of 2019 playlist on Spotify right here.