PAPER's Top 50 Songs of 2019

PAPER's Top 50 Songs of 2019

We'd like to forget about 2019, to be honest. It's been the kind of cursed year where everything was so incessantly absurd and dismal, that it's hard to pick discrete chunks out of the debris of the last 12 months. But we've been saying things like that for a while now ("2018, thank you, next," "2017 was a dumpster fire").

No matter how bad shit seems to get, the musicians we love keep rising to the occasion to offer escape, comfort, provocation, visions of a different world or simply a mirror for the one we're in.

The songs on this list stewarded us through long commutes and messy break-ups, terrifying news and uncomfortable transformations, personal and global. They captured how it feels to be endlessly online, and reminded us to get the fuck off. They delivered us out of ruts, and to that increasingly rare sensation of awe.

We could never forget about 2019, because it sounds like Christine and the Queens yelping, "I feel so unstable/ Fucking hate these people/ How they're making me feel lately." Like the battle-march horns of BLACKPINK's "Kill This Love." Like Rosalía's claps, Megan Thee Stallion's bars and 100 gecs' squeak. And cheers to that.

50. "We Are in Hell When We Hurt Each Other" by PAT feat. Patrick Belaga

49. "Freelance" by Toro y Moi 

48. "Adoption" by Joey LaBeija

47. "Honeypie" by Johnny Utah 

46. "Enjoy Your Life" by MARINA

45. "boys r dumb! duh!" by Silver Sphere

44. "Chattanooga" by Briston Maroney 

43. "BB" by Shy Girl

42. "Song 32" by Noname

41. "House Vs. House" by Blanck Mass 

40. "Bag" by Lil' Kim 

39. "Mine Right Now" by Sigrid

38. "NYC Baby" by Maluca

37. "ME" by Kitten

36. "Evening Prayer aka Justice" by Ezra Furman

35. "Worthy" by Palehound

34. "Eternal" by Holly Herndon 

33. "Only Child" by Tierra Whack 

32. "Young Enough" by Charly Bliss 

31. "Air On Line" by Anamanaguchi

30. "Money Diamonds Roses" by Lolo Zouai 

29. "Work It - Soulwax Remix" by Marie Davidson

28. "Tia Tamera" by Doja Cat feat. Rico Nasty

27. "Do Me" by Kim Petras

26. "Suge" by DaBaby 

Only Poppy could make the lyrics, "Bury me six feet deep/ Cover me in concrete, please/ Turn me into a street," sound positively sweet and anthemic — like something a group of teens could sing together, swaying in unison. But when the world is rapidly burning and being blanketed by capitalism and greed, why not twist our impending doom into a hopeful plea? On "Concrete," the mysterious YouTube sensation-turned-pop star juxtaposes these happy melodies against furious metal guitars and demonic shrills that sludge with the weight of a wrecking ball. Poppy might always be blank-faced, but this single reveals something darker churning beneath the surface of her avatar-like persona. — Justin Moran

It can't be easy to be Miley Cyrus' baby sister or Billy Ray's daughter, the heir to a country-pop throne with everything to prove. Lucky for Noah Cyrus, the 19-year-old's got talent and a personality. Using these assets, Noah made one of the saddest, sweetest songs of the year with "July" — one I returned to again and again just to feel the line: "'Cause you remind me every day/ I'm not enough/ But I still stay," kick me in the chest. The line's so simple, it's almost bland. But not the way Noah sings it (she has the family voice: sweet, husky, penetrating), with fury and longing cracking the surface of sadness. A hard swerve for the middle-fingers-up Instagram cool girl, whose dipped her toes into all manner of radio-friendly sounds, "July" is a classic country road song, except the traveler can't get out the door. When Noah begs for rejection because she can't leave a bad relationship on her own, the painful story and self-awareness it took to tell it will make you see the young celebrity differently, and wonder what else she's capable of. — Jael Goldfine

Thank god Justin Bieber rejected this song. Tyler, The Creator's "EARFQUAKE" is perhaps the best song to sum up the artist's '80s-sounding lovesick "don't leave it's my fault" woozy synth masterwork IGOR. The song is emotional maturity you can dance to and proves that Tyler is getting older, but not old. With chant-like lyrics, "I don't want want no confrontation/ You don't want my conversation," juxtaposed against an unfortunate shout out to Woah Vicky, for which Playboi Carti is responsible not Tyler, "EARFQUAKE" is proof that Tyler knows what love is (or was). It has the same cascading rhythm as a drunk voicemail from your ex sent two days into the breakup — and whoever broke this man's heart: fuck you and thank you. It broke all the way to the top of the charts. — Taylor Roberts

Taylor Swift's written about loving bad boys before. She acknowledges this on "Cruel Summer:" a story about desperate, reckless romance so archetypal, the "angels roll their eyes." But thanks to Jack Antonoff and St. Vincent, who engineered the song's shimmering, frantic pulse, the stakes have never sounded so high. The song (rumored to be about summer '16, when Swift was "cancelled," then met Joe Alwyn while still entangled with Calvin Harris and Tom Hiddleston) takes place in a lawless "breakable heaven" of a love that Swift sings about like it's war. She captures all the pleasure and pain of bad-idea relationships when she howls, "I love you/ ain't that the worst thing you ever heard?" However, the song is far more about pleasure than pain (of course: she and Alwyn ended up together). "Cruel Summer" sounds like the pop star twirling around with a coy smile on her face and a dramatic hand to her brow. Swiftian cinema at its finest. — Jael Goldfine

One of the undoubtedly best albums of the year — hell, the past five years, let's be real — and of Lana Del Rey's career, will of course be remembered for the fact that "Venice Bitch," "Mariners Apartment Complex," and "Hope Is a Dangerous Thing..." all exist on the same project. But remember when Lana drove around the Pacific Coast Highway and posted grainy late-night clips from her car while blasting this psychedelic, synth-driven jam session about loving a prescription pill addict? The blown-out sound spawned plenty of "where's the album sis" memes, building anticipation for something other thanNorman Fucking Rockwell's hazier cousins — something equal parts Laurel Canyon Neil Young-referencing and Born to Die hood Lolita outlier. A "Cinnamon Girl" is the chaotic queen who can do both: walk on the wild side and gaze longingly into a Joshua Tree sunrise, not unlike the multitudinous Lana herself. — Michael Love Michael

When Normani dropped "Motivation," it felt like the internet paused for a second. Everything, everywhere, was suddenly about her — and it felt so right. For her solo debut, Normani settled on pure pop bliss supplemented by glittering Y2K pop star aesthetics. While the song brings something inexplicably bubbly to the decade-end pop landscape, "Motivation" was almost destined to be a hit before its release. From the extensive mythology around Fifth Harmony's split to the four seconds-long clp Normani teased prior to the track's drop, it was always going to be received well in the end, but now, it will go down in history. — Brendan Wetmore

Slayyyter's run of singles this year leading up to her debut self-titled mixtape steadily built both her audience and distinct recognition of her made-online sound. But it's "Cha-Ching" that gives listeners something completely new to chew on. An admitted student/stan of pop starlets like Britney Spears and masters of pop songwriting like Taylor Swift, Slayyyter fits countless bratty, but undeniably clever phrases ("Get my cell phone and call Naomi") into a song that disavows the pretenses of wannabes, VIP bottle service, and Insta-fame. In a world where Slayyyter as a project and a pop star feels increasingly like an avatar, "Cha-Ching" is almost startlingly real. — Michael Love Michael

A frenetic vocal sample hails the coming of Bree Runway's "2ON," the lead single from the British artist's debut EP, Be Runway. As if that's not enough chaotic energy — it isn't — the beat explodes into double-time club beats that could only suit a woman as aware of her ferocity as Bree. She knows it's too much ("Super trilly but you know I'm 2ON/ Ya girlfriend, she don't like me/ But she fuck with my sooooong"), but as a dark-skinned Black woman deftly navigating mainstream pop's avant-garde edges of dancehall, house and fashion, why would she ever tone it down? Why should she? Michael Love Michael

Listening to "Daddi" is like watching a horror movie scene, where you'd do anything to make the people on-screen turn back. Clem Creevy's hypnotic incantation over an arpeggiated guitar riff conjures a terrible image of female subservience: "Where should I go daddy?/ What should I say?/ Where should I go?/ Is it okay with you?/ Who should I fuck daddy? Is it you?" It makes you want to pull your earbuds out. Why keep them in? Because her madwoman's lament is as terrifying as the reality of gendered abjection. The song isn't just performance art, but a scathing feminist satire, which recalls the female rock tradition of performed self-abasement utilized by Blondie and the riot grrrls before her. When Creevy wakes from the nightmare, protesting over a wall of noise ("Don't hold my hand/ Don't be my man"), you feel the power of her refusal in your bones. Jael Goldfine

There's only one man in the world who can convey the lovelorn comedown of a post-club night out and the adrenaline-fueled blues of reconnecting with a former fling: Mark Ronson. No stranger to hit-making, Ronson set out to make modern love come to some retro life on his newest album, Late Night Feelings. The title track accomplishes this mission, and then some; Lykke Li sighs out the second verse with as much fervor as someone with a broken heart can muster, "Write you erotic, and I know you wait/ Before you answer just to make me go insane." It's a tale as new as the ghosting age, brought to life by the lustful instrumentation of a disco gone wild. Brendan Wetmore

The standout single off Caroline Polachek's debut solo album Pang, "Ocean of Tears" is piercing. Like a siren call echoing across fog-covered waters, it's melancholic, chilling, and oh so alluring. Crashing in a series of pummeling waves, "Ocean of Tears" is sweepingly beautiful in a haunting way, much like the ocean she sings about. Opening with the line "This is gonna be torture/ Before it's sublime," feelings of yearning and unrequited love spill out from Polachek. She collaborated with PC Music producers Danny L Harle and A. G. Cook to deliver powerful pipes pushed to ear-splitting extremes as gauzy synths and blown-out bass hits churn things up below. — Matt Moen

Immunity's closing track is about a period when Claire Cottril's rheumatoid arthritis was so debilitating, that her boyfriend had to carry her up and down stairs, and drive her to class. To express the helplessness she felt, she has a children's choir sings the central refrain: "I wouldn't ask you, to take care of me." The 7-minute track is the most complex and ambitious song the 21-year-old's ever made, broken into two chapters. The first three minutes are a testimony of shame, self-loathing, feeling corrupted and untouchable, mumbled over glowing piano plunks. When the song shifts to honeyed R&B, it morphs into Claire's fantasy of what could be if she weren't sick, voice-pitched to codify a disconnect to reality: "Be your tinkerbell bitch/ you can make me your queen." It's a unique way to make a song about a hyper-specific scenario. But Cottrill's words belong to anyone who's found themselves in the unfathomable position of being both broken and loved. Jael Goldfine

Who would have thought that ska would be relevant again in 2019? Yet, here we are. On paper there is nothing about "Stupid Horse" that should work: pop punk-ish vocals, shitposty lyrics and an over-caffeinated ska riff that tumbles into an anthemic festival trap chorus. The song's main refrain, "Stupid horse, I just fell out of the Porsche/ Lost the money in my bank account," sounds like it was written by a neural network and inserted between auto-tuned "Woos." But somehow 100 gecs pulls it off, and deftly at that. There is an inexplicable feeling of wanting to dive head first into a mosh pit and then pour a Monster energy drink in your bowl of Lucky Charms. Dylan Brady and Laura Les' brand of TikTok-core post-pop is the most left-field thing we heard this year, and probably the best indication of where music is headed in the next decade. — Matt Moen

After a dembow and reggaetón-steeped collab with Colombian superstar J. Balvin early in 2019, months later, Rosalía dropped "Aute Cuture," a trumpet-laced, pop-minded track that, while borrowing from urbano, was also something of a return, subtly reincorporating the translations of flamenco that originally captivated listeners on her conceptual 2018 debut, El Mal Querer. Making empowerment of ostentatious metrics of success, lyrically "Aute Cuture" attributes strength to over-the-top, gifted designer fits and meticulously crafted nails that double as weapons — metaphorically and, if necessary, we imagine, also literally. While her cultural borrowing has raised conversations of appropriation, it's hard to deny Rosalía brings a unique voice and distinct blend to her music. As much as "Aute Cuture" culls, however, the track is undeniably distinctive; in today's pop crop, it's a singular sound. — Jhoni Jackson

At first glance, "Bad Guy" is a sexy pop song about being naughty: tip-toeing around, seducing dads, making girlfriends sad, getting bruises on your knees. Stuff Britney Spears would have sung about over abrasive robotic beats in the aughts or Lana Del Rey, amidst mournful strings during the 2010s. When it dropped, nobody knew what was going on. Why is this homeschooled 17-year-old who dresses like a lacrosse player and lives at home moaning about making mommas sad? Tweets like "billie eilish singing about 'I'm the might seduce your dad type' girl shut up lmao take your ass to AP Gov" went viral. Some decided we were overdue for a moral panic about teenage girls' sexuality. However, Eilish, who loves to see people squirm, was baiting us. When you stop filtering her through an outdated mold, it's easy to hear Eilish mocking the entire enterprise of trying to seem cool. Particularly, men: in the video, we got to watch Eilish degrade and humiliate a buffet of large, important-looking dudes. Hearing Eilish flick male ego off her sleeve like lint — as she did with an industry that no doubt told her her ASMR whisper-pop wouldn't sell — just felt right. — Jael Goldfine

The opener off MUNA's sophomore album, Saves the World, "Number One Fan" was instantly iconic. A song about silencing your own inner saboteur and learning to stan yourself, "Number One Fan" is fun, flirty and effortlessly badass. As far as 2019 summer anthems go, "Number One Fan" is the kid skipping class to go smoke cigarettes in the teachers parking lot. If John Hughes was making movies today, "Number One Fan" would definitely be the song that plays while the protagonist sings into a hairbrush, giddily jumping up and down on their bed. — Matt Moen

Lizzo has accomplished plenty over the past 12 months, but I'll bet dropping a track with her idol and label mate Missy Elliott felt even better than all those number ones. Featuring a purring verse from the veteran rapper, "Tempo" is a sexy throwback to the hip-hop club banger golden age that bumps up nicely against the aughts nostalgia instilled by Hustlers (which Lizzo memorably cameoed in) and Elliott's MTV Video Vanguard Award. Capping off a year of unlikely chart triumphs, the union of these two talented musical weirdos was as heartwarming as it was catchy. — Katherine Gillespie

Jhené Aiko's sultry threat in the first verse of Saweetie's "My Type" remix is just as sex-slicked as the original: "You ain't never had a bitch from Slauson," she says. Taking the already promiscuous anthem to new lustful heights, Aiko and the City Girls' Yung Miami join Saweetie on the summer club anthem for more than a few lines about ass pops and dick riding. Together, the three make their type especially clear: if you're not packing eight inches or more, you might as well fall back. Don't embarrass yourself, and leave the real hitmaking to the dolls. — Brendan Wetmore

Leave it to Dorian Electra to queer Christianity and make it absolutely bang. Flipping the historically homophobic phrase on its head and rewriting the classic creation story into one that's more inclusive, "Adam & Steve" eschews original themes of temptation and sin into a pop epic of unconditional love and acceptance. Vacillating between angelic verses and demonic snarls, Electra's performance on the song is one of their most dynamic to date. If Dorian's fanbase is The Holy Church of Electra, "Adam & Steve" is their gospel. — Matt Moen

The opening of "Cash Shit" is enough of a warning for other artists to delay their release dates until Megan Thee Stallion's hits finally cool off the charts: "Real hot girl shit/ Yeah, I'm in my bag, but I'm in his too." The earsplitting kicks that creep up in the chorus, combined with the glitching effects in the background of her verses, are thunderous reminders of her newfound power in the music industry. She growls through each line, taking no time with each bump and grind to dwell on any single rhyme, all while inviting other self-proclaimed "Hot Girls" to join in on the fun. And if you don't throw it back to DaBaby's verse like your TikTok following depends on it, you're not doing it right. — Brendan Wetmore

The culmination of experimentation made in pop alongside producer A. G. Cook, "Gone" rests atop the tracklist of Charli XCX's new album as its crown jewel. Full of glossy synths, deep bouncy bass stabs and titanic drums, the Christine and the Queens duet is grounded in familiar pop structures but ups the intensity tenfold. The emotional swells feel more cathartic than ever; each verse is intricately detailed with vocal quirks and ad libs, and all of it ends with a dance break that sounds like the song is being disassembled by a line of glitchy robots. As shown by the shibari-themed video, Charli and Christine have undeniable chemistry. They effortlessly weave in and out of each other as they trade lyrics about social anxiety and loneliness. The line "I feel so unstable/ fucking hate these people" alone feels like the perfect rally cry for an exhausted, digitally isolated generation. There is no doubt that pop historians and future devotees of the genre will talk about how perfect "Gone" is for years to come. Matt Moen

Rosalía and J Balvin have established ravenous fanbases for their respective takes on global music (Rosalía's fusion of pop and hip-hop into Catalan flamenco and Balvin's melodic take on reggaeton), but 2019's "Con Altura" joins their powers in a song that's literally about altitude. The uber-catchy, crossover banger features intertwined verses from the two, and dives into a fantasy about lifestyles of the rich and famous. For as high as these two fly, they still remain grounded. Rosalía sings about flowers and carats before things turn dark: "Y si es mentira que me maten," meaning, "They can kill me if I'm lying." They do this for their people. The duet is also the first to chart globally for both stars, which only emphasizes their staying power, and puts them in great spots to dominate 2020. Michael Love Michael

"I got the horses in the back," followed by a thunderous drum kit, is music's most defining moment in 2019. For being so brief, earwormy and almost satirical, it's had an incredible impact. The lasting legacy of Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" can't be measured from behind a screen, even if that's how it all began. The track is the first song to really go viral on TikTok, but it's also had a massive cultural effect on the way we view country and trap music, inclusively. The genres, once separated socially and sonically, now exist in a narrative being pioneered entirely by a Black gay man. In an intro video for a ceremony at the 2020 Miss Rodeo America pageant — a competition steeped in traditional western culture — "Old Town Road" was featured prominently and even set the stage for an all-contestant dance routine. The embrace of Lil Nas X's breakout by trap and country music listeners alike is evident, even if the charts were initially hesitant to reflect this truth. Brendan Wetmore

FKA Twigs wrote one of the best ballads of the decade, full stop. "Cellophane" was the public's musical re-introduction to a singular multi-hyphenate entertainer in her own artistic realm. And MAGDALENE, the album announced by "Cellophane," is a feat all its own. Consider the song's devastating sources: Twigs underwent the dissolution of a very public relationship with Robert Pattinson, then her body failed her, as she had six fibroid tumors removed from her uterus, which affected her ability to move, let alone create. Imagine the challenges this would pose for an artist whose most prominent statements are rooted in graceful, ethereal and athletic movement. Which is why "Cellophane," as a musical statement, is so powerful: "Didn't I do it for you?" Twigs pleas, echoed with mounting intensity against spare piano chords. Twigs has never sounded so vulnerable as a singer, yet so totally in command of her voice. And then, to see an accompanying triumphant visual of Twigs scaling a pole's heights with renewed vigor like a rising phoenix is a win for us all. Michael Love Michael

With a fanbase and impact as large and as international in scale as BLACKPINK's, it's easy to forget the K-pop foursome made their debut a little more than three years ago. SQUARE ONE, their first singles album released in 2016, only contained two tracks, but they were heavy-hitters: the melodic drum 'n' bass hit "Whistle," which topped the Korean charts, and the razor-sharp dance banger "Boombayah," which earned the group their first Billboard World Digital Songs chart No. 1. The release was a promise of sensational things to come, like the band's history-making 2019 Coachella set, during which they became the first K-pop girl group to perform at the event. Also making history this past year? The girls' record-shattering single "Kill This Love," which became the biggest-ever music video debut on YouTube at the time, earning 56.7 million views in its first 24 hours (and beating out Ariana Grande's iconic "thank u, next" video in the process). It also earned the group a nomination at the MTV Video Music Awards, landed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart — as well as the Billboard Digital World Songs chart, where it crowned at No. 1 — and racked up a staggering 253 million streams on Spotify since its April 4 release.

Beyond the numbers though, BLACKPINK's booming 2019 single is a perfect sonic synthesis of members Jisoo, Jennie, Lisa and Rosé's fiery brand of global girl power, and effortlessly captures what makes them so special — their palpable chemistry and kinetic energy — while simultaneously delivering one of the most addictive hooks of the year. It also packs a message we could all stand to learn from: burn those toxic relationships to the ground and don't look back. (That grody fuckboi who won't return your texts after you hooked up? "Kill this love." That admittedly delicious restaurant chain you found out doesn't offer its employees fair wages or overtime? "Kill this love." That charismatic political candidate you were going to vote for 'til you found out they blocked pro-clean energy legislature in the past? "KILL THIS LOVE!")

The song is also an explosive culmination of the musical styles that ruled the last decade, incorporating the maximalist, neon-hued electro-pop of the early 2010s; the skittering trap beats and slick rap verses of the latter part of the decade; a swaggering vocal delivery that commands attention; and the kind of big, floor-shaking beat drops that have flooded clubs in recent years. It's an air horn blast of a pop track: unapologetically loud and impossible to ignore. Even its music video is an unrelenting onslaught of audio-visual stimulation, clobbering viewers with glossy digital effects (like a giant bear trap that, at one point, threatens to snap around the girls as they dance), eye-popping fashion and mesmerizing whiplash choreography. That thunderous horn that kicks off the track isn't just an intro — it's a warning. "BLACKPINK in your area," indeed, and we hope they stay awhile. — Erica Russell

To stream all 50 songs on Spotify, click here.

As chosen by Justin Moran, Michael Love Michael, Jael Goldfine, Matt Moen, and Brendan Wetmore.