2020 has seen some incredible songs released, which has been made more interesting – and challenging – by the Covid-19 pandemic. But artists have not let this phase them, in fact, some have enjoyed having the time to work on music, and many have found new ways to write and record remotely, and even play live.
Of the most popular songs this year, a significant number are collaborations, which has brought new sounds to the limelight. Some have been from breakthrough acts, and all are reflections of the various events of 2020. Here are our top ten songs of 2020.
10. Contagion – Napalm Death
Arguably the highest peak in Napalm Death’s sixteenth record Thores of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism (Century Media, 2020), ‘Contagion’ is the ruthless manifestation of Napalm Death’s forty-year long crusade against ignorance and social injustice. In a milestone album with influences ranging from signature grindcore to old-school industrial, the track is a straightforward brutal tirade against greed and corruption.
With music and lyrics by bassist Shane Embury and produced by Russ Russell (At The Gates, Dimmu Burgir, Exploited), ‘Contagion’ captures the rage and defiance of the whole record. The song is a fast and precise blend of grind and death metal, with doom feel and hardcore attitude. It is moody and angry, but above all, it is pure Napalm Death and one to remember 2020 with.
- Viktor Balchikliev
9. Strange Girl – Laura Marling
Strange Girl was written by Laura Marling and comes from her seventh studio album ‘Song for Our Daughter’ which was released in April of 2020. ‘Song for Our Daughter’ was co-produced by Laura Marling and long-time collaborator Ethan Johns. The album is a collection of messages Laura wants to convey to her future daughter.
The song addresses this fictional daughter as someone quite like Marling and has given up financial stability to pursue her art. The song is the perfect dance around the kitchen song, it follows the classic folk song style of and undeniable beat with a beautiful message, told through passionate lyrics. ‘Song For Our Daughter’ was shortlisted for the 2020 Mercury Awards and was also nominated for Best Folk Album in the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards.
- Susan Owens
8. Heat Waves – Glass Animals
Written by Glass Animals frontman Dave Bayley and produced by Paul Epworth (Adele, Rihanna, Florence and the Machine), has been pivotal in the band’s career – and this year for fans, gaining over 64 million streams. ‘Heat Waves’ is blends genres in the way that Glass Animals so often do; despite featuring hip-hop beats and influences from trap music, there is ultimately an electro-pop sound running throughout.
This was one of many singles to be shared from the band’s latest album ‘Dreamland’, premiering in June, with the album following in August. Lyrically, the song focuses on combatting the judgement of other people and staying true to one’s own path. Bayley wrote on Instagram, “It’s about realising you can’t make everyone happy. And realising it’s ok to be defeated by something,” going on to say, “being vulnerable should be a positive thing.”
7. Head &Heart – Joel Corry ft. MNEK
Head & Heart by Joel Corry, featuring the widely popular MNEK on vocals, was the UK’s favourite dance-track of the summer after its massive release in July. The single had the added benefit of being mixed by the acclaimed Kevin Grainger who has worked on iconic dance records, including with the late Avicii. Head & Heart was the fun and optimistic club-banger that was sorely needed in a time of isolation and therefore rocketed to the top of the charts in its first week.
Corry is a relatively new artist, only breaking onto the London DJ scene in 2019, so his success with this track has been unprecedented as it sat at the number 1 spot on the UK Single Charts for 6 weeks straight. Corry has come a long way from his reality television days on Geordie Shore as Head & Heart has made him one of London’s most successful DJ’s and producers of the year. It would be fitting to say that Head & Heart makes 2020’s heart go ‘boom boom bah doom!’
- Shana Briddock
6. Ain’t It Different – Headie One ft. Stormzy and AJ Tracey
‘Ain’t It Different’ was written by 13 writers (including AJ Tracey) and produced by Fred (Ed Sheehan, Rita Ora, Major Lazer, Ellie Goulding) and Toddla T (Major Lazer, Sean Paul). The song sees the three rappers trade straight-talking bars about how different their lives are now.
It’s an important message depicting how different their lives have changed since their younger days, which uses samples from M-Dubs’ Bump and Grind and Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Pretty Little Dirty. Sitting at over 60 million streams and peaking at number 2 in the UK charts, these rap and R’n’B legends have hit out with a powerful and immersive song.
- Rory Aitken
5. Obey – Bring Me The Horizon and Yungblud
‘Obey’ is a collaboration between two pop-punk giants; Yungblud and Bring Me The Horizon. Full of battering guitars, hard-hitting drum beats and electric vocals, the song pulls from multiple genres nu metal, electronic dance music and rave music.
Throughout, the song carries a riotous energy, focusing on the oppression and suffering many face due to government control; “Obey, We’re gonna show you how to behave, Obey It’s nicer when you can’t see the chains.” The track has received universal acclaim from fans and critics alike, being voted Annie Mac’s Hottest Record of the Year for 2020.
- Lily Blakeney-Edwards
4. Rain – Aitch, AJ Tracey and Tay Keith
Two of the biggest names in UK rap, Aitch and AJ Tracey, released their track ‘Rain’ this year on the 5th of May 2020. The track was produced by Tay Keith, who also featured on the hit single which was premiered on BBC Radio 1 and 1XTRA as Annie Mac’s Hottest Record In The World and DJ Target’s ‘Targo Embargo’.
The LA Filmed video was produced by Arrad. NME says it “sees Aitch and AJ making it rain – both literally and metaphorically – as they hold onto stacks of dollar bills and rock various pieces of iced- out jewellery.” The 3 rap artists roll out their lyrics effortlessly over a heavy piano beat produced by Tay Keith. The highly anticipated track was a brilliant collaboration and it’s therefore no surprise it was a huge hit this year.
- Ashleigh K
3. All I Need – Jacob Collier ft. Mahalia and Ty Dolla $ign
Penned by our very own Jacob Collier, the ‘Clarity’ artist offers a soulful, R&B infused standout single. A creative collision between Jacobs, American rapper Ty Dolla $ign and singer- songwriter Mahalia (formally known as Mahalia Burkmar), All I Need draws upon the three artists’ eclectic and equally strong vocal prowesses.
‘All I Need’ is taken from Collier’s fourth studio album, ‘Djesse Vol. 3′. Released back in August, ‘All I Need’ is a genre-blending, foot-tapping bop, filled to the brim with sounds of both neo-soul and synth pop. Lyrically, the track hones in on the all too relatable feeling of infatuation. Collier sings: “I love the way that I feel when you put your arms over me/(There must be something I could say to make you stay baby)”. He said of the track’s meaning: “In the gorgeous, naive space that exists when one falls in love with somebody, it can really feel like they are exactly everything you need in that moment.”
- Sadie Willis-Falkiner
2. Don’t Start Now – Dua Lipa
Released as a single ahead of her successful ‘Future Nostalgia,’ album late last year, Dua Lipa’s ‘Don’t Start Now,’ made a splash which has led to it to becoming one of the biggest hits of 2020. The tune charted at number 2 on the official charts, only narrowly behind her two biggest hits, the UK number ones ‘New Rules,’ and ‘One Kiss,’ and it remained on the charts for a whopping 52 weeks.
Like the rest of ‘Future Nostalgia,’ don’t start now has a retro 80s disco vibe with a great bassline and neat guitar work, the lyrics are in some ways typical of Dua Lipa’s songwriting, dealing with everyday themes like relationships and heartbreak with simple, yet effective delivery. As we head into 2021 ‘Don’t Start Now,’ is still one of the hottest tracks in a hear of British music which has undoubtably been owned by Dua Lipa.
- Felix Leif
1. Black Dog – Arlo Parks
2020 was a breakthrough year for Arlo Parks, and in ‘Black Dog’ the Londoner produced a timely and powerful reflection on mental health which captured the frustrated, longing mood of a nation in lockdown. Parks’ lyrics fuse the mundanity of everyday life stuck indoors (“Let’s go to the corner store and buy some fruit/ I would do anything to get you out your room”) with a dark sensuality, particularly that superb opening line, “I’d like the grief right off your lips/ You do your eyes like Robert Smith”.
It’s a curious and winning combination which has gained over 10 million streams. Sonically, ‘Black Dog’ is sweetly melodic and quietly intense: an indie ballad which blends in folk and R&B influences to stirring effect.
2021 looks set to be another big year for Parks – her debut LP ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’ is due for release next month – and you wouldn’t bet against this prodigious young talent scaling new heights in the very near future.
- Daniel Parker