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.

 

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

Angel Marchini/Shutterstock

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

Valerio Berdini/Shutterstock

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

Greg Chow/Shutterstock

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

Robb Cohen/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

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

Christopher Polk/Variety/Shutterstock

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

Chelsea Lauren/Shutterstock

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

Roberto Finizio/Shutterstock

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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