10. Clairo, “Bags”
“It felt like people were saying things about me before I knew what I wanted to say about myself.” That’s a quote from Clairo, a reflection on her viral “Pretty Girl” video that was released in 2017. The quote is scrawled across my math notebook, written tightly next to the lyrics of “Bags.” The magic of “Bags” is watching Clairo discover exactly what she wants to say about herself — “Bags” keeps close proximity to the genuine bedroom sound that sent the Internet into awe, while still mobilizing herself towards eloquent territory, with a fully formed and professionally produced sound. She’s making the art she’s always wanted to, and that liberates her to be extremely vulnerable. As such, “Bags” is a humming, earnest and genuine approach to the rollercoaster of romantic yearning and uncertainty.
“Bags” renders itself as completely non-dependent on audience expectations, elevating the dainty, indubitable sweetness of Clairo’s sound during a time when the harsh realities of the Internet had all eyes on her. In “Bags,” Clairo clearly knows who she is, and that kind of authenticity will always be timeless. The scrawling lyrics in my math notebook serve as evidence to the effect she creates on fans everywhere — that they, too, might gain the self-assurance to one day know what they want to say in this world.
— Samantha Cantie, Daily Music Editor
9. Thom Yorke, “Dawn Chorus”
Is it possible a more crushingly beautiful song than “Dawn Chorus” came out in 2019?
I doubt it.
“Dawn Chorus” is perhaps one of Yorke’s best solo tracks (from his best solo album to date, no less), and it definitely has a place among the best tracks he’s ever written. Way back in 2009, even, Yorke was claiming it was his favorite song he has penned. It’s written simply and in familiar terms, and it never over-extends itself. Despite its simplicity, this song is dense. Each line can be unpacked in so many ways. Take this portion of the second verse for example: “Please let me know / When you’ve had enough / It’s the last chance / O.K. Corral / If you could do it all again / This time with style.” Nothing there is particularly complex, but it can be taken in so many directions. That’s how the whole song is. It’s heavy, beautiful melancholy.
— Jim Wilson, Daily Arts Writer
8. Billie Eilish, “Bad Guy”
Upon its release, no one was quite sure what to make of Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy.” While it possesses a satisfying beat and catchy melody, the lyrics left listeners feeling a bit uneasy as the then seventeen-year-old Eilish rambles provocative lines — “Make your mama sad type / Make your girlfriend mad type / Might seduce your dad type.” Looking beyond her lyrical maturity, “Bad Guy” is quite a feat for a young artist like Eilish with its satirical portrayal of the “bad” kids who think they’re rebellious. The song’s mocking lyrics are paired with Eilish’s signature heavy bass and synth riff that almost sounds like an updated version of the opening music from “Twilight Zone.” Despite the humor in the lyrics and the spookiness of the music, “Bad Guy” lacks any dissonance, creating a mysterious blend of reality and surrealness. “Bad Guy” is a true testament to Eilish’s maturity and brilliantly showcases her dark yet playful style.
— Kaitlyn Fox, Daily Arts Writer
7. BROCKHAMPTON, “SUGAR”
Although BROCKHAMPTON’s 2019 release, GINGER, wasn’t exactly a fan-favorite, one song in particular stood out. “SUGAR,” the second song off the album and hands-down the most popular, really struck a chord with the group’s audience. Arguably the most BROCKHAMPTON-esque song of the whole release, “SUGAR” was already the most played song off the album once the whole project was released. It’s true skyrocket to fame was its popularity on Tik Tok (unfortunately), and now it is possibly the group’s most popular song to date.
The song is like a lot of what made BROCKHAMPTON famous back in the days of the SATURATION trilogy. The hook has sweet vocals by Ryan Beatty and ends on the signature mumblings of bearface. The soft rap sound is reminiscent of songs like “BLEACH,” one of BROCKHAMPTON’s most enduring songs. Perhaps BROCKHAMPTON’s best release of the year, “SUGAR” was a monumental release.
— Gigi Ciulla, Daily Arts Writer
6. FKA Twigs, “Cellophane”
FKA Twigs’s Mary Magdalene era is marked by the release of “Cellophane” following a four-year hiatus from music. This break was characterized by devastating news for Twigs, from her breakup with former vampire Robert Pattinson (and its highly publicized nature) to her suffering from fibroid tumors. The result is a shattered interiority that falls apart just as much as it shines across MAGDALENE. Her emotional afflictions are as potent as the physical ones, and this sentiment peaks with “Cellophane.” Twigs aches over a sparse, glitchy beat that synchopates and chugs ever so delicately as she exposes the fragile nature of a failing relationship under the public gaze. She is vulnerable and bare, her voice and emotions palpable and resonant. It feels almost an intrusive listen, as though the listener is reading through someone’s personal diary as she croons, “They’re waiting, they’re watching / They’re watching us, they’re hating / They’re hoping / I’m not enough.” The result is a devastatingly beautiful song that gathers all the turmoil and reflection following the end of a relationship where it felt like the other party wasn’t trying hard enough.
— Diana Yassin, Daily Arts Writer
5. 100 Gecs, “money machine”
The first time I played “money machine” for my dad, he said, “If you told me this was a comedy sketch parodying modern pop music, I would believe you.” Except “money machine” is no joke and 100 gecs has thousands of fans playing their post-ironic pop masterpiece. This song is shaking up the game with hilariously goofy yet absurdly catchy lyrics. When 100 gecs was asked about their songwriting process in a Reddit AMA, Laura Les explained how her iconic intro to “money machine” came about: “I just came up with it on the spot.” It’s unconventionally noisey and over — processed brilliance. And if you think this song is some sort of blasphemous taint on all that Good Music™ stands for, then all I have to say to you is: “Hey you lil’ piss baby, you think you’re so fucking cool?”
— Dylan Yono, Daily Arts Writer
4. Lana Del Ray, “The Greatest”
“The culture is lit and if this is it, I had a ball,” croons Lana Del Rey in her song “The Greatest” from her album Norman Fucking Rockwell!. While a tad pessimistic, the line is fitting for the end of one decade and the start of a new one. As 2020 slowly gets rolling, “The Greatest” becomes increasingly –– worryingly –– prophetic, “Hawaii just missed that fireball / L.A. is in flames, it’s getting hot,” and as the climate crisis drives the flames hotter, “The Greatest” feels like the conclusion of something equally terrible and great. Del Rey’s somber, melancholy track is on our list for how well it encapsulates the rapidly changing times.
There is a tangible sense of frustration, distress and loss that rang through 2019 –– but there is also a sense of undeniable optimism for the coming year. Del Rey sings that “I want shit to feel just like it used to,” and while certainly it can be difficult not to long for days gone by, rose-tinted through our iPhone screens, change is unique in its ability to be positive or negative. 2019 may not have ended on the foot we wanted, but time is on our side to change direction to a grander future. “Don’t leave, I just need a wake-up call.” Think instead that the greatest is yet to come.
— Madeleine Virginia Gannon, Daily Arts Writer
3. Lil Nas X, “Old Town Road”
You couldn’t go through 2019 without hearing “Old Town Road.” Gen Z’s #YeehawChallenge was every boomer’s go-to barbecuing anthem. And Lil Nas X produced it with 30 bucks and a steady online personality. The song transcends our expectations for genres and popular music: a confident, effortless and blithe blend of trap and country that samples Nine Inch Nails. Lyrically about riding a horse, the track became Lil Nas X’s breakthrough rags-to-riches story when he lived on his sister’s couch. And he took its rise to ubiquity all in stride. When Billboard deemed it not country enough to place on the country charts, the infamous Billy Ray Cyrus remix was released to really play up the country energies Lil Nas X was certain of. This only furthered his song’s starhood, it eventually making history for topping the Hot 100 for 19 consecutive weeks. This eventually spun the track off to various other remixes that pervaded popular culture and furthered its reach — but that’s not the point. “Old Town Road” defines 2019 in its effortless ability to adapt to and navigate our social spheres in a digital age that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
— Diana Yassin, Daily Arts Writer
2. Charli XCX and Christine and the Queens, “Gone”
“Gone” is muscular. Its fireworks of grandeur, pop-futurism and expert execution make it a driving, catchy force that reflects Charli XCX’s gradual ascent into her truest form. “Gone” glows neon in my mind; it’s the song I consistently place on repeat to start my morning routine. It’s this fierceness of pushing forward and a reflection of the generational lifestyle both her and her audience are experiencing, as she states in her NOWNESS interview: “I’m not super sentimental about much of my stuff. I just like to kind of go, and as long as I have friends with me — that’s my main thing.” There’s an unmatched authenticity that Charli brings to the future of pop — she completely backs up her persona with her actions, during a time when following through with the image you create is more important than ever.
“Gone” is a wonderful contradiction in its reflection of both the hustle and strength of being on the move (surrounded by friends, partying, going going gone) while still questioning why we’re always so quick to move along. Charli XCX writes anthems for the uncontrollable emotions of this generation. She’s speeding 100 miles per hour down a highway of confidence, sex, and body positivity. “Gone” is the apex of that mentality.
— Samantha Cantie, Daily Music Editor
1. Tyler The Creator, “EARFQUAKE”
For real this time.
Imagine being told four years ago that Tyler, the Creator would release the best track of 2019 and that it would be a bittersweet soul song featuring Playboi Carti. It’s remarkable how much Tyler has grown in the last few years, and “EARFQUAKE” is a powerful exhibition of his newfound songwriting strength.
“EARFQUAKE” is the thesis statement of Tyler’s latest album IGOR. It establishes a few key themes right out of the gate: an insecurity as to whether his partner reciprocates his feelings, a fear of abandonment and intense internal turmoil that can’t be entirely expressed. Most remarkable is how he manages to communicate these essential and resonant themes through such few words, a testament to the power of brevity. “Don’t leave / it’s my fault”: A desperate plea, almost choked out, simple and earnest, this expression of weakness is paradoxically linked to the pounding drums that accompany its delivery.
Harmonically speaking, the song is composed entirely of major and minor seventh chords, ones which do not clearly resolve in any direction, creating a sort of rootless feeling. The rhetorical effect of this compositional choice is a sense of liminality and impending change. The desperate frustration of the lyrics combined with the unclear harmonic backdrop creates dramatic tension: How will his partner respond to his plea?
“EARFQUAKE” is a deft piece of craftsmanship, particularly in its ability to evoke and intensify the tension of the situation Tyler finds himself in through the symbiotic relationship between harmony and lyrics. It’s catchy, emotionally saturated and profoundly human. It’s lightning in a bottle.
— Jonah Mendelson, Senior Arts Editor