R&B continued to exist in a fragile state in 2019. Labels are signing R&B artists again, which is a potential sign of commercial health. But few labels have figured out how to break an R&B act, because the genre still doesn’t stream like rap or get airplay like pop. This forced some R&B singers to rely on a repetitive formula — building new tracks around painfully obvious samples of an old hit — to reach a wide pool of listeners.
R&B may also be facing a new threat in the form of TikTok. The music industry is fixated on cashing in on songs that perform well on the video app — think of “LaLaLa” or “Gordon Ramsay” — and those songs tend to feature a single explosive moment that can fit into a 15-second clip. But R&B has never put much value in the quick release. Much of the genre’s vitality comes from pacing and endurance, long vocal climbs and even longer climaxes. It’s a challenge to compress that into quick-hit viral clips.
Despite these obstacles, R&B still enjoyed some high points in 2019. Summer Walker’s Over It was an emphatic commercial success, proving that listeners can hit replay on an R&B album in the same way they do for a hip-hop release. R&B in Spanish is becoming increasingly popular, potentially introducing the genre to a new group of listeners. And R&B singers still managed to make great songs, even during a tough time. Here are the 10 best R&B songs of the year, in no particular order.