50 Best Songs of 2019 - Rolling Stone
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The 50 Best Songs of 2019

From “Old Town Road” to “Harmony Hall” and beyond, these are the tracks that defined the year

Read our countdown of the 50 best songs of 2019, from Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" to Vampire Weekend's "Harmony Hall" and beyond.

Images in Illustration from Shutterstock

The artists behind the year’s best songs were teenage pop superstars who came out of nowhere (Billie Eilish, Lil Nas X), established names looking at life and music from the cusp of their thirties (Vampire Weekend, Taylor Swift), and fan favorites making major career and personal breakthroughs (Lizzo, Ariana Grande). Meanwhile, Latin pop, indie rock, country, and hip-hop kept evolving like crazy and producing exciting new voices, from rising Atlanta titan Da Baby to Aussie truth-sayer Stella Donnelly. These are the tracks that defined 2019.

 

Daddy Yankee performs on stageiHeartRadio Fiesta Latina, Show, American Airlines Arena, Miami, Florida, USA - 02 Nov 2019

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23

Daddy Yankee feat. Snow, “Con Calma”

From “Gasolina” to “Despacito,” Daddy Yankee has made many a hit in his lifetime. But when writing this year’s Latin smash, he dialed it back to 1992, and rang up reggae’s very first Number One hitmaker: Canadian rapper Snow. Together, the two rewrote Snow’s most memorable song, “Informer,” and came up with the ridiculously viral English-Spanish reggaeton track “Con Calma.” It’s a collaboration nobody asked for — except for maybe a teenage Daddy Yankee — but it worked. In less than a year, the video has racked up more than a billion YouTube views and inspired hundreds of dance challenges; even Katy Perry couldn’t help but jump on the bandwagon and supply her own remix. “I wanted to pay tribute to the classic,” Daddy Yankee told Rolling Stone, “and the best way to do that was to bring the man who made it.”

Billie EilishLife Is Beautiful festival, Day 1, Las Vegas, USA - 20 Sep 2019

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22

Billie Eilish, “Bury a Friend”

At 17, Eilish professed that she still jumps a few feet into bed, as if there’s a monster lurking underneath. And in her mall-goth noir gem “Bury a Friend,” the monster becomes her. Over a sinister, jump-rope-snapping pulse, Eilish casts her voice through a warping prism as she ponders stapling tongues and selling her soul. “Anything could be the monster,” she told Rolling Stone in February. “It could be someone you love so much that it’s taking over your life. I think love and terror and hatred are all the same thing.” Never has a teen pop star gone so dark — she’s Gen Z’s answer to Marilyn Manson circa Antichrist Superstar.

MarshmelloiHeartRadio Music Festival, Day 2, Show, Las Vegas, USA - 21 Sep 2019

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21

Marshmello and Roddy Ricch, “Project Dreams”

Marshmello — yes, the EDM DJ who wears a giant marshmallow head for a living — made one of the hardest rap records of 2019. Nothing about “Project Dreams” made sense as a concept. Roddy Ricch was an upcoming Compton rapper, gaining momentum for bleak and nihilistic street ballads about death and poverty (“Die Young,” “Down Below”). The saccharine and intergalactic  beat for “Project Dreams” seemed more up the alley of a pop princess than a dreary West Coast melodist. But then Roddy contributed a chorus dripping with so much excess and inspiration that the vision immediately snapped into focus. Every boast — Roddy flying in a jet, riding in a Phantom, or telling his expensive watch to calm down — was underlined with a sense of foreboding tension and swift release. The duo’s first collaboration wasn’t a monument to extreme wealth, but instead an ode to what it feels like to survive for so long and finally achieve some semblance of joy on the other side.

Polo G - Taurus Tremani Bartlett'Day N Vegas' music festival, Day 3, Las Vegas, USA - 03 Nov 2019

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20

Polo G and Lil Tjay, “Pop Out”

Polo G and Lil Tjay needed “Pop Out.” The Chicago and New York rappers, respectively, entered 2019 with the momentum that comes with being part of hip-hop’s latest rookie class, but each had to score a singular hit to announce his arrival to the mainstream. Produced by JD on the Track and Iceberg, “Pop Out” paradoxically sounds hyper-regional and universal, a mixture of the Midwest and East Coast’s sonic present. Over menacing keys, Polo G builds a depressing and violent chorus that still managed to shoot up the charts (“I’m a killer, girl, I’m sorry, but I can’t change/We ain’t aimin’ for your body, shots hit your brain”). But Lil Tjay’s verse is the song’s devastating emotional climax. In an Auto-Tuned chirp, he laments, “If I showed you all my charges, you won’t look at me the same/Made some choices in my life I wish I never had to make,” during a song that’s meant to be a banger. In the world of Polo G and Lil Tjay, pain is never far away.

Miranda LambertCMA Fest, Nashville, USA - 09 Jun 2019

Miranda Lambert CMA Fest, Nashville, USA - 09 Jun 2019

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19

Miranda Lambert, “Mess With My Head”

“You treat my mind like a hotel room,” Lambert sings in “Mess With My Head.” Over an angular guitar riff and producer Jay Joyce’s atmospheric studio effects, Lambert describes the experience of letting down her guard and embracing the rush of pleasure, even if it was at the expense of her psyche. Lambert has frequently incorporated rock flourishes since the beginning of her career, but this was something entirely different — like a pairing of grunge’s loud-soft dynamics and the intense self-examination of Pink’s best work. “It was a little stretch for me,” Lambert told Rolling Stone when the song came out. “I wrote it and I loved it, but I wasn’t necessarily positive — could I pull it off and would it sound like me?” Thankfully, she had the confidence to take the risk.

WASHINGTON, DC - November 25th, 2019 - Laura Les and Dylan Brady of 100 Gecs perform at The Anthem in Washington, D.C. The band is opening for Brockhampton and Slowthai on the Heaven Belongs To You tour. (Photo by Kyle Gustafson / For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Kyle Gustafson / For The Washington Post/Getty Images

18

100 Gecs, “Money Machine”

“Money Machine” is the sound of cross-country duo 100 Gecs kicking in the door to your house with manic grins plastered to their faces. The vanguard song from the internet sensation 1000 gecs is experimental — in a “what would happen if we poured gravel in the washing machine?” sense — and joyously blunt, an overloaded successor to the PC Music scene of a half-decade ago, but with less to prove. “Money Machine” is designed to make first-time listeners ask what, exactly, they’re listening to. It’s going to change what you listen to, too, by sheer force of will.

Jenny LewisJenny Lewis in concert, Toronto, Canada - 31 Oct 2019

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17

Jenny Lewis, “Hollywood Lawn”

During the past 20 years, Lewis has mastered the art of disguising her darkly depressive narratives in cheery SoCal-stoner melodies. But she’s never deployed that juxtaposition quite like she did on “Hollywood Lawn,” a downtempo highlight from On the Line. The first two verses are vivid scene-setting, with Lewis chugging French wine over a hazy organ riff and pondering chemtrail conspiracies as she daydreams in the sun. But by the end of the song, the narrator’s California dreaming has caught up with her: “Your demons got reason to fight,” Lewis repeats, her sunshine vocal growing more urgent as the song’s simmering subtext — her heartbroken past — comes to the fore.

The Highwomen - Amanda Shires, Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile and Natalie Hemby67th Annual BMI Country Awards, Show, Nashville, USA - 12 Nov 2019

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16

The Highwomen, “If She Ever Leaves Me”

Billed as the first gay country song (it’s not), the Highwomen’s “If She Ever Leaves Me” was certainly a high-profile example of one when it appeared on the supergroup’s self-titled debut. Amanda Shires penned the song with her husband, Jason Isbell, and “Before He Cheats” co-writer Chris Tompkins, but put fellow Highwoman Brandi Carlile in the lead role. “I thought about this project and went, ‘What if Brandi sang it?’” Isbell told Rolling Stone before the album came out. “And I started going, ‘Gay country song! Gay country song!’ ” The end result was a waltz-time weeper in which Carlile, an out queer woman, gives a dose of reality to a cowboy who has an eye on her significant other. “It takes more than whiskey to make that flower bloom/By the third drink you’ll find out she’s mine,” sang Carlile, before matter-of-factly dropping the hammer: “If she ever leaves me, it won’t be for you.”

Lizzo - Melissa Viviane JeffersonLizzo in concert at O2 Academy Brixton in London, UK - 06 Nov 2019

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15

Lizzo, “Juice”

Lizzo staked her claim on 2019 in the first days of January when she dropped the retro funk bomb “Juice” as a preview of her new album, Cuz I Love You. In a tidy three minutes and 15 seconds, the Minneapolis singer-rapper seamlessly combined New Wave guitars à la Flock of Seagulls with enough swagger to make Bruno Mars look modest, offering a resonant message of self-love that helped her become one of the year’s biggest breakthrough artists. “Mirror, mirror on the wall — don’t say it ’cause I know I’m cute,” she sang at the top, rattling off an entire Twitter feed’s worth of clever, meme-worthy couplets from “I’m like chardonnay, get better all the time” to “No, I’m not a snack at all, look baby, I’m the whole damn meal.” Sure, “Truth Hurts” ended up being the bigger hit, but “Juice” was the inspiring, self-fulfilling prophecy: Lizzo sincerely believed she was the baddest, and by the end of 2019, so did everyone else.

Australian musician Stella Donnelly performs at Paredes de Coura music festival, in Paredes de Coura, northern Portugal, 15 August 2019. The festival runs until 17 August.Paredes de Coura music festival, Portugal - 15 Aug 2019

JOSE COELHO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

14

Stella Donnelly, “Old Man”

Stella Donnelly’s acerbic wit and indie-pop charm can be heard all over her debut LP, Beware of the Dogs, but nothing is as striking as the takedown of male toxicity in opening track “Old Man.” “Your personality traits don’t count/If you put your dick in someone’s face,” she bluntly says over blissful guitar chords. “We sat there silently while you kept your job/And your place and your six-figure wage.” “I have no other way of being able to write now than to be real,” the Welsh-Australian songwriter told Rolling Stone in April. “Everything else just feels too contrived.”

Lana Del ReyThe Ally Coalition's 5th Annual Talent Show, New York, USA - 05 Dec 2018The Ally Coalition takes action for LGBTQ equality. Jack Antonoff and Rachel Antonoff founded The Ally Coalition to end discrimination against LGBTQ people by highlighting systemic inequality and LGBTQ-serving organizations and creating opportunities for fans and entertainers to advocate for equality.

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13

Lana Del Rey, “The Greatest”

On the apocalyptic centerpiece to Norman Fucking Rockwell!, Lana Del Rey’s voice sounds like it’s transmitted from the Santa Monica Pier at sunset on mankind’s last day on earth. And what better way to go into 2019 than to shrug and declare, “The culture is lit, and if this is it, I had a ball”? “The Greatest” is a sad girl update to that “tears in the rain” speech from Blade Runner (a film that takes place in the dystopian future of…2019), with an outro taken straight from someone’s Twitter feed on Judgment Day, all sung by a pop star who doesn’t bat an eye at wearing a department-store clearance-sale outfit onstage at a headlining gig. The culture is lit, indeed.

Ariana GrandeBillboard's 13th Annual Women in Music, Show, Pier 36, New York, USA - 06 Dec 2018

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12

Ariana Grande, “NASA”

On Thank U, Next, Ariana Grande realized she has the ability to turn just about any subject matter into an anthem. “NASA” was a deeply empathetic (and devastatingly catchy) ode to wanting to be alone, and letting absence make hearts grow fonder. The beat, courtesy of producers Tommy Brown and Charles Anderson, is the standout on an album with stiff competition, based around a whistling, underwater-sounding synth. The writing, which took place in a marathon New York recording run, is some of Grande’s sharpest to date. And on top of all that, the song’s basic thesis is correct: If you haven’t listened to it in a while, throw it on right now. You’ll like it even more than you used to.

Luke CombsFarm Aid Festival, Alpine Valley Music Theatre, East Troy, Wisconsin, USA - 21 Sep 2019

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11

Luke Combs, “Even Though I’m Leaving”

Combs is synonymous with rowdy beer-drinking songs — there’s even a “Beer Never Broke My Heart” charm affixed to his line of signature Crocs slippers — but the guy has quietly become Nashville’s new king of ballads too. With his dare-you-not-to-cry single “Even Though I’m Leaving,” the North Carolina songwriter has made grown men emotional as he charts the circle of life between a father and son. Monsters under the bed, military service, and ultimately a final goodbye all figure in, but this song isn’t a tired old cliché. “Trying to write the best song we can is still a huge rush for me,” Combs says. “Going, ‘Could this be the best song I’ve ever written?'” He and co-writers Ray Fulcher and Wyatt Durrette come damn close to that goal here.

Colombian reggaeton singer, J BalvinJ Balvin in concert, Toronto, ScotiaBank Arena, Canada - 21 Sep 2019

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10

J Balvin, Bad Bunny, and Mr Eazi, “Como Un Bebe”

“I feel like this is the first time there is pure Afro­beats from Nigeria in the pop scene,” Nigerian singer Mr Eazi said of “Como Un Bebe,” his killer transatlantic collaboration with Bad Bunny and J Balvin. The instrumental was made by Legendury Beatz, a pair of Nigerian producers based in London, who grafted a breezy beat to an insistent bass line. The groove was fierce enough that Mr Eazi “thought it was too intense for people that are not from Nigeria.” But Balvin heard it and flipped, excited by the opportunity to “merge worlds.” The final product features all three stars sharing the spotlight and throwing a simple command — “Baila pa mi,” or “Dance for me.” Club-goers around the world obeyed.

Sharon Van EttenSharon Van Etten in concert at the Junction, Cambridge, UK - 02 Jul 2019

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9

Sharon Van Etten, “Seventeen”

This breathless post-punk gem sums up the awesome reformation of an artist who previously spoke her truth in near-whispers with a guitar, instead of hollering it over snarling synths. The new direction may have something to do with her touring with Nick Cave, or with the changes of age and motherhood. Either way it’s thrilling, never more so than during the screamed bridge of “Seventeen,” where she grabs someone else’s eyes and channels the future through them. “I have a lot more perspective,” she told Rolling Stone just before the song’s release. That’s unmistakable.

8

Hope Tala, “Lovestained”

Hope Tala’s “Lovestained” effortlessly bridges regions and eras: The guitar suggests Brazil in 1965, the steel drums add a springy touch of the Caribbean, and the bass seems plucked from an irresistible hit on American rap radio circa 1998. “That’s what the vision is: bringing together bossa-nova influences and R&B all into one,” explained the London singer-songwriter, who tagged the record as RnBossa on SoundCloud. “There’s an amazing synthesis that can occur between those genres.” She wrote “Lovestained” in a 30-minute flurry of creativity, and that ease translates directly to the listener.

Puerto Rican singer Bad Bunny performs during the last day of the Sonar Festival 2019, in Barcelona, Spain, 20 July 2019.Sonar Festival 2019, Barcelona, Spain - 20 Jul 2019

Alejandro García/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

7

Bad Bunny feat. El Alfa, “La Romana”

Bad Bunny made his breakthrough with X 100pre, and on the single “La Romana,” the Puerto Rican trap king also introduced his new fan base to a rising star from a neighboring island: the Dominican dembow ambassador El Alfa. Chasing a piping-hot combo of bachata and trap, El Alfa picks up the pace midtrack with a swift dembow riddim and chants for “Fuego, fuego, fiyah, fiyah!” His verses cut like sparks, igniting an international summer jam.

Vampire Weekend - Brian Robert Jones, Chris Tomson, Ezra Koenig, Chris BaioVampire Weekend in concert at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, USA - 01 Oct 2019

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6

Vampire Weekend, “Harmony Hall”

The lead single from Father of the Bride felt transitional in the best way. With one foot in VW’s old sound — departed co-founder Rostam Batmanglij gets a co-production credit — it steps into a brave new jam-band–y world, opening on a gorgeous guitar tapestry (with Dirty Projectors’ Dave Longstreth in the mix) and segueing into a proudly ecstatic noodle-dance groove. “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die,” declares Ezra Koenig, as his cryptic lyrics evoke the sad state of the nation. It’s followed by a baroque piano breakdown and electric-guitar ascent, suggesting nothing so much as Jerry Garcia’s interplay with Bruce Hornsby at the Grateful Dead’s nine-show 1991 run at Madison Square Garden, a room Vampire Weekend themselves packed in September. It made for the year’s giddiest pop flashback, and the most refreshing.

Da Baby Rece performs during the Hot 107.9 Birthday Bash 2019 at State Farm Arena, in AtlantaHot 107.9 Birthday Bash 2019 - , Atlanta, USA - 15 Jun 2019

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5

DaBaby, “Suge”

At a time when tuneful warblers rule the hip-hip charts, along comes DaBaby, who raps like he never heard a Drake track before and emphasizes his love for bygone hip-hop values by invoking Death Row Records impresario Suge Knight. The “Suge” beat, produced by Jetsonmade and Pooh Beatz, is a minimal jackhammer, a long string of hi-hats punctuated by eruptions of bass. DaBaby squeezes syllables together in tightly wound patterns and sprays boasts that always seem to double as threats: “I’m the type to let a nigga think that I’m broke until I pop out with a million/Take 20K and put that on your head and make one of your partners come kill you.”

Taylor SwiftMTV Video Music Awards, Show, Prudential Center, New Jersey, USA - 26 Aug 2019

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4

Taylor Swift, “Cruel Summer”

Like so many songs in the Taylor Swift pantheon, “Cruel Summer” sprints on the knife-edge of a crush, reckless, anticipating the wreck, but compelled and consumed by capital-F “feeling.” There’s an acknowledgement that we’ve been here before (“Angels roll their eyes”), and even Swift seems exasperated, crying out in the bridge, “I love you, ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?” But then the music cuts out, and from the dark comes a sound unlike anything Swift’s ever recorded — a raw, back-of-the-throat howl. It’s vintage Swift, a burst of mischief and desire, messy drama with a wink, yet it hits at fresh power, the thrill of hearing one of pop’s most underestimated chameleons daring you to wonder what she can’t do.

Lil Nas XiHeartRadio Music Festival, Day 1, Show, Las Vegas, USA - 20 Sep 2019

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3

Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus, “Old Town Road”

A trap-country song featuring a prominent Nine Inch Nails sample and a rap verse from Billy Ray Cyrus probably wasn’t on your 2019 bingo card when the year started, but it’s hard to imagine what 2019 would’ve felt like without it. When Lil Nas X, born Montero Hill, recorded “Old Town Road,” he was a college dropout living on his sister’s floor and praying for the perfect viral moment to bring him success. He bought the NIN-sampling beat online from a Dutch producer he’d never met and added a spare yet unforgettable lonely-cowboy tale. After the song went viral on video app TikTok, earning a remix from Cyrus, Lil Nas X became a bona fide pop star, and debates sparked about what “country” is. More important, it’ll be stuck in your head for years to come.

Lizzo performs on stage at The Anthem, in WashingtonLizzo in Concert - , D.C., Washington, USA - 25 Sep 2019

Brent N Clarke/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

2

Lizzo, “Truth Hurts”

Yes, “Truth Hurts” came out in 2017, but there’s no denying the song’s effect on not just Lizzo’s career but the entire year in culture. After being featured in Netflix rom-com Someone Great, the single saw a resurgence in popularity, spurred on by Lizzo’s increasing fame and the success of her major-label debut, Cuz I Love You. “Truth Hurts” became an unstoppable breakup anthem over the summer for an army of new and old fans who have found empowerment in lines like “Yeah, I got boy problems, that’s the human in me/Bling, bling, then I solve ’em, that’s the goddess in me.” In the song, Lizzo exhibits the ultimate form of self-care: letting yourself be a little petty and self-satisfied after a relationship with an undeserving partner comes to an end.

Billie EilishLowlands Music Festival, Biddinghuizen, Netherlands - 17 Aug 2019

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1

Billie Eilish, “Bad Guy”

Smells like teen spirit. Billie Eilish rose out of the all-American teenage wasteland this year to turn into everybody’s favorite pop nightmare. With “Bad Guy,” she gives her generation the anthem it deserves, hitting Number One three years after she became a SoundCloud cult figure with “Ocean Eyes.” It’s the sound of a home-schooled 17-year-old weirdo turning her diaries into macabre bedroom trap pop, as she whispers, “Make your mama sad type/Make your girlfriend mad type/Might seduce your dad type.” Eilish stands her ground with a bloody nose, bruised knees, and a punk-rock heart. She’s the bad guy. Duh.

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