By Nick Mattar
Founder and CEO
I’ve been assembling my own personal “top 20 songs of the year” list now for 20 years, selecting my favorite songs each year and arranging them so I could look back and reflect, similar to VH1 or MTV back in the day. And while my inspiration was rooted in the weekly countdowns on both music networks, I also considered myself some sort of young music critic. I would burn cassette tapes and CDs instead of the hit-or-miss radio, which was growing increasingly busy with commercials.
Looking back on 20 years of music has been interesting, not as much due to how my music taste evolved, but rather how the listening format has changed. My very first top 20 list was a CD that I had my neighbor burn for me because I didn’t have the tools to do it myself… and I was 11 years old. CDs dominated the first seven years of my favorites list, and then when I was in college I created iTunes playlists and copied them to my iPod. As I finished undergrad I added YouTube playlists as they offered a visual opportunity to share my lists with my Facebook and Twitter networks.
Since the mid-2010s, Spotify has been my dominant form of listening, allowing me to find all the music I could want so I could assemble them into playlists and share with my networks. Spotify even started building my favorite lists for me, offering me a completely objective take on my favorite songs of the year. And, to be honest, I give Spotify the deciding vote when I can’t decide on a subjective order.
However, 2020 presented a new challenge: kids music! I never saw this coming, but since Alexa is tied to my Spotify account, Cocomelon and the Disney Junior cast has dominated my “listening.” Thus, Spotify’s list of my favorite music is losing credibility, sending me back to my roots of purely subjective listening and ranking.
I really should have added this preamble last year when I ranked my favorite 50 songs of the decade. Alas, this will have to do. I may also go back and rank my favorite 10 songs of the past 20 years, but that is for another time. Maybe for the 25th year…
Some notes on my favorites lists, before I dig in to the ranking:
- I usually prefer upbeat music to slower tunes, so you will rarely find any slow music on this list.
- My tastes have steadily evolved from pop to emo to hip hop to alternative. There will always be some variety, but if you do not have a taste for alternative music, you probably will not enjoy this list.
- I try to stay on top of new music each year, but there are always a few songs on my list that actually premiered the prior year. Whatever.
Without further ado, my top 20 songs of 2020:
20. Almost Monday – Broken People
This is one of several songs which appear on the countdown thanks to Spotify’s Discover Weekly algorithm. I love a steady crescendo that culminates with a fun ending.
19. RDGLDGRN – Tradition
I don’t understand why so many bands have removed the vowels from their names or changes other vowels to consonants. The first I saw of this phenomenon was my 2007 #1 song Thnks Fr Th Mmrs by Fall Out Boy. Anyway, this is a fun song that can be classified as… pop rap?
18. The Weeknd – Blinding Lights
I’m a big fan of 80s music and this song has 80s vibes written all over it. It’s also one of the few songs on my list that also appeared on the top 40 lists across the country.
17. Billy Talent – Reckless Paradise
I was a huge Billy Talent fan back in the mid-2000s when 89x played them on the radio every single day. With 89x going out of business this year, this song pays homage to my favorite radio station as a teenager.
16. USS – Odd Times
I don’t usually put songs on the list that I just hear for the first time in November, but this one was too good to pass up. Unfortunately, this is one of the few songs without an actual music video, so the lyric video will have to work if you want to listen.
15. All Time Low – Monsters (feat. blackbear)
Another top-40 song, I was really surprised to see this one transcend Alt Nation and Hits 1 on Sirius/XM. Fun fact, the song name “Monster(s)” is the most common name for a song on my list, appearing now three times in the last 20 years.
14. Mike Shinoda – Open Door
Two things about this song: 1. it’s the only one on his new album with lyrics (at least from what I heard), and 2. he crowdsourced the secondary voice via social media. Since Chester Bennington’s death in 2017, Shinoda has kept the Linkin Park vibe on the countdown, now appearing twice in the last three years.
13. Bring Me the Horizon – Teardrops
After appearing in my top five the last two years, Bring Me the Horizon falls out of the top 10. Teardrops is still a really good song and is the heaviest on this list. If you don’t know who this band is, brace yourself before listening.
12. I DON’T KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME – Leave Me Alone
What’s more obnoxious than a band name that removes their vowels? How about a band that is in all caps and an entire sentence? This song follows in the trend of 80s sounds, showing off that new wave feel pioneered by Depeche Mode and the like.
11. Martin Garrix – Summer Days (feat. Macklemore and Patrick Stump)
It took a beastly beat from Martin Garrix for Macklemore to become relevant again. Plus, the Fall Out Boy chorus makes you want to sing it aloud.
10. Twenty One Pilots – Level of Concern
Quarantine-inspired music was big this year, with Twenty One Pilots, Chromeo, and others writing lyrics (or an entire album, in Chromeo’s case) about how quarantine can lead to relationship questions. Another top-40 song that was much more predictable than All Time Low.
9. HOKO – OKOK
I’ll have you know that I found this song before it was used on ESPN as fade-out music during sports broadcasts! Thanks, Spotify Discover Weekly.
8. The Wrecks – Out of Style
Looking for a workout song that you can listen to while sprinting on the treadmill? You’ve come to the right song. This song is epic for any sort of physical activity, assuming you are doing more than a steady walk.
7. Wiz Khalifa – Speed Me Up (feat. Ty Dolla $ign, Lil’ Yachty, and Sueco)
The same principle from The Wrecks applies here. Sonic the Hedgehog as a move sucked but this song is fire. The only true hip-hop song on the countdown, this may have been my favorite workout song of the year.
6. The 5:55 – Want More of It
I know nothing about this band, there is no video, and they have very few plays on Spotify. However, this song has been in rotation since I found it in January.
5. Eminem – Godzilla (feat. Juice WRLD)
RIP Juice WRLD, who makes this song as fantastic as it is. Eminem’s new album was really good but none of them are bangers like this one.
4. Fake Shark – Superstitious Thing
I’m going to guess nobody here has heard this song. But you should give a shot. It’s a funky earworm that sticks in your head.
3. Dua Lipa – Levitating (feat. DaBaby)
This one is currently climbing the top-40 charts and will likely be huge for the first few months of 2021. Had they released this in the spring, I truly believe it would have been the song of the summer. An absolute monster of a song, this would’ve ranked higher had it been around longer.
2. The Shelters – You’re Different
This could’ve been number 1, as this song is an alternative anthem for 2020. A tremendous hit that didn’t make it far on the radio, this song was vastly underrated and deserves a listen.
1. Winnetka Bowling League – Kombucha
Good old Midwestern alternative tops the 2020 list, with Hilary Duff’s husband on the vocals. It is hard to describe exactly what makes this song so catchy and top the countdown, but it’s a great song that moves back and forth between slow verses and fast-paced choruses. The lyrics are hilarious, too, reflecting on the hipster lifestyle.