Top Ten Best Hits of 2019 (5-1)

Alright, part 2 time.

5. Ariana Grande and Social House – “Boyfriend” (#98)
You know, for someone with a slew of collaborations to their name, Ariana Grande rarely shines in hers. They tend to feel a little under-thought, like labels and promoters just throwing names together and hoping that the sheer starpower involved is enough to carry the thing forward (it mostly works on “Bang, Bang,” and mostly doesn’t on, say “Don’t Call Me Angel”). That’s not the case with “boyfriend,” her collaboration with Social House for their debut EP. Social House is a duo who’ve worked with Grande before as beatmakers; they did “goodnight n go” and “pete davidson” from Sweetener,  “NASA,” “7 Rings,” and the title track for thank u, next, and one-off single “Monopoly” and while that rap sheet includes “7 Rings,” everything else she’s done with them has been aces. Grande and Social House have chemistry on “boyfriend” that pairs well with the song’s lyrics about loving whatever the hell your non-relationship with someone is or isn’t, but honestly, I’m mostly here for the melody and the vaguely “lofi hip hop beats to relax/studio to”-core beat. It’s just a good listen, and a good companion piece of thank u, next.

4. Post Malone – “Circles” (#62)
It is with heavy heart that I announce Post Malone has a good song.

Sure, Post has had brushes with greatness before, but they were based on his own inherent goofiness (“White Iverson”) or featured someone else doing the heavy lifting (keep reading, you’ll know). The vast majority of his hits are, in a word, bad, from utterly forgettable (“Congratulations,” “Rockstar”) to barely existent (“Psycho”) to grossly misogynistic (“I Fall Apart”). “Circles,” meanwhile, is just a no-qualifiers great pop song with solid instrumentation, a surprisingly deft melody, and a chorus that’s nothing but hooks. The real stunner here is toward the end of the chorus, where Post just leaps into the line “I dare you to do something” with this burst of confidence and vocal assurance that I haven’t heard from him before. Most of his singles have all the permanence of a puff of Axe bodyspray, but “Circles” is fully realized.

The other thing is that Post does sadboy better than he does braggart; this could be a misread on my part, but I always thought “White Iverson” got its charm from the incredulity and implicit sadness of Post Malone–an oafish looking white dude whose every style choice could be described as “unfortunate”–comparing himself to the man who legitimized black street fashion in the NBA. It was such a reach that it felt like watching Charlie Brown believe he could kick the football. “Circles” is less existential and more “guy and girl can’t make it work, thus sad, “ but it taps that same hangdog vein to great effect. It also seems like it’d be a good song to crush at karaoke. But, even if “Circles” didn’t come out, Post would still be on this list, because…

3. Post Malone and Swae Lee – “Sunflower” (#2)
Look, anyone who’s spent any time with me since December of 2018 should not be surprised by this. I fucking love Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, so much so that I did my first ever cosplay last year as Miles Morales, complete with a sunflower pin that now lives on my everyday jacket. I went with the pin because sunflowers are a recurring item in Spider-verse fanart due to how the song’s used in the movie: after a 2 minute, action-heavy introduction to Peter Parker as Spider-Man, Spider-verse jumps to Miles drawing at his desk without a care in the world. He’s sitting there with his headphones on, singing along badly to “Sunflower” until his dad interrupts him from the other room about packing for school, and listen, Tobey Maguire might have nailed geeky gawky comic book Peter Parker, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone might arguably be the best superhero movie couple ever, and Tom Holland’s every move might be focus grouped for maximum charm, but there’s never a moment with any of them that puts you as wholly and unquestionably on their side as Miles jamming out in his chair and mumbling along to “Sunflower.” 

And none of that works if “Sunflower” isn’t great. As much as I carp about pop’s streaming-driven journey toward the middle, this is what can be great about music that takes a little from everything: you’ve got that hip-hop beat, lush piano, textured synths, and some guitar for flavor, plus an outright dreamy chorus. Swae Lee just radiates warmth throughout, and it’s such a perfect match for the production that you can’t help but hear Post Malone’s limitations when he shows up later (that Swae isn’t the lead credited artist on “Sunflower” is legitimately bonkers to me; this is his song the way that “I Love It” was Charli XCX’s). But still, Post does well enough not to detract from the song, and the duo’s efforts were rewarded: “Sunflower” tied the record for the most weeks a single’s spent in the Hot 100’s top 10. It’s just that good, and that’s not even getting to the Swae Lee-only version. I just love this song through and through; if I wasn’t trying to keep some measure of objectivity, this would be at number one.

2. Billie Eilish – “bad guy” (#4)
There’s this little artist who came along in 2019 named Billie Eilish, ever heard of her?

Probably even more than Lil Nas X, 2019 was Billie Eilish’s year. Honestly, I’m still kind of sorting out how I feel about her for the most part: to me, she feels less like an entirely new thing as much as she does the logical endpoint of years of hushy, minimalist pop, pop/rap symbiosis, and a pinch of ‘90s nostalgia (her look reminds me of nothing as much as end-of-‘90s cyber goth meets ‘10s The Fader and her facial expressions in promos call to mine Kurt Cobain’s disaffected stare). You throw Pure Heroine, Born to Die, and Yeezus in a stew together and dye its bangs, and you’ve got most of When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? The album does it’s thing well, but I sometimes feel like its mastery over aesthetic does more than some of the songs (this is something that plagues artists like Lana Del Rey and The Weeknd every now and then, but is also a point in Del Rey, The Weeknd, and Eilish’s favor because aesthetic mastery’s just as necessary as like, good songwriting). Alternatively, it could just be not for me.

All that said, “bad guy” unabashedly knocks. The production values are high, the mix is slick, and man, that bassline’s killer. On top of that, the song just makes a bunch of whipsmart interesting songwriting choices, like Eilish’s vocal layering, the decision to cut the bass at the top of the second verse, the “duh” button, the wordless vocal loop after the chorus, the trap beat switch for the outro, and it’s overall playfulness on what is and isn’t sarcastic. So yeah, Eilish had a slight leg up in the industry starting out, that doesn’t account for how a song that makes this many flat out odd choices tops the charts. Eilish has tapped into several different ideas that were all out there in pop, and she’s expressed them in one hell of a banger. I’m interested to see what she does next.

1. Sam Smith and Normani – “Dancing With a Stranger” (#14)
Party pop started the ‘10s with a bang. If we wind the clock back, the early part of the decade was littered with these speaker destroyers that weren’t just about parties, but these world-ending parties that went all night, never stopped, and demanded everything of you. This reached a fever pitch as club pop gave way to EDM, and after EDM went to gloriously cartoonish heights, something…happened. Our party pop became sad. You can chalk it up to any number of factors–inevitable course correction from “Party Rock Anthem” and “Turn Down For What,” a side effect of pop’s trend toward personal marketing with the rise of Spotify, Adele’s success, Drake’s success, Lorde and “Royals”–but by 2016, you’ve got yahoos like The Chainsmokers making wistful jams and a song like “I Took a Pill in Ibiza,” which is straight up just about how hollow partying can make a person. The ‘10s became the era of “dancing with tears in your eyes” music, the era of the sad banger.

“Dancing With a Stranger” is an incredible sad banger. It has this propulsive dance floor groove, not just a drum but an actual groove, that pairs with those watery, sad-eyed synths and occasional bells. It’s also just a goddamn delight to hear Sam Smith on another dance track after “Latch;” I always get Smith’s impulse to do weepy ballads because their voice has this crumpled ache to it that lends itself well to balladry, but that same quality means they can bring so much more depth and nuance to upbeat numbers. Normani matches that quality in Smith, with both of them sounding forlorn and desperate to find a stranger just as a way to get over the person they’re hung up on. “Dancing With a Stranger” isn’t trying to party just for the sake of getting obliterated or purely to forget, but to find something new with someone else, and I like the symmetry of that. It’s the perfect pop song at the end of the decade, and an R&B dance track by a nonbinary balladeer and a girl group survivor feels like it has both eyes on the future, teary though they may be.

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Top Ten Best Hits of 2019 (10-6)

Welcome to the last leg of Listmas ‘19, here in *checks calendar* late January. Whoops. As you can guess by the title, today’s entry will look at Billboard’s highs for 2019.This list took some doing; I kept getting dinged by my own rule that only songs that peaked in 2019 were up for consideration, which eliminated things like “breathing” and “Youngblood” that were 2018 holdovers (a quick aside that shows how long we can hold onto hits these days: “I Like It” was the consensus pick for 2018’s Song of the Year. It ranked #69 [nice] on the ‘19 year-ender). Similar to how 2019’s overall not great, not terribleness made sussing out the worst hits of the year difficult, nailing down what was truly the best of this year also took some doing, but, rest assured, we made it. Let’s begin.

Honorable Mention: Polo G ft. Lil Tjay – “Pop Out” (#45)
The year-end Hot 100 is rife with “three minutes or less” Rap Caviar hits built on AutoTuned bars and preset trap snares/bass, but “Pop Out” stands above the rest. Polo G and Lil Tjay rap with a sense of urgency and loss that you don’t see in most of their contemporaries: they spin tales of their crime-riddled pasts, and it feels like bloodletting, even as Polo boasts about having nothing but $100s and diamonds. There’s a mournful triumph to the song’s slash and burn guitar and piano production, too, that echoes Polo and Tjay’s sentiment; everyone’s just in the pocket here. “Pop Out” is catchy and hooky, but haunted at the same time, packing a lot into a brief runtime, and for that it gets the HM.

10. 21 Savage ft. J.Cole – “a lot” (#42)
I did not think 21 Savage had this in him.

Granted, okay, I didn’t think 21 had much to him, and that’s on me. I never really got into his EP with Metro Boomin, and I essentially wrote him off when he steered into the “issa knife” meme early on. Between that and a lack of compelling guest spots, I just never paid him much attention (“Bank Account” excluded). But “a lot” is genuinely great. 21’s been around long enough now that this contemplative, “look how far I’ve come” rap fits him, plus “a lot” balances that with the idea that even for all his success, 21 still goes through a lot. His verses here are solid, and the call and response hook works better than you’d think. Plus, the choice to match 21 Savage, whose blunt instrument of a voice resists expression, with a beat this lush is downright inspired. J.Cole’s new rappity-rap elder statesman turn is a solid look, and he acts as a foil for 21 with a nimble verse that includes a prayer for Tekashi 6ix9ine (not great!) and one for Markelle Fultz (great, and, given his resurgence in Orlando, prescient!). “A lot” as a hit in 2019 feels almost counterintuitive: it’s a long song at nearly 5 minutes, and its beat is comparatively maximialist, but it’s just a good enough song that it got people to pay attention, regardless. Never again will I think of 21 as the “issa knife” guy.

9. Lil Nas X ft. Young Thug, Billy Ray Cyrus, and Mason Ramsey – “Old Town Road” (#1)
There are going to be lots of people who try, in some form or another, to emulate the success of “Old Town Road,” and they’re going to fail, because no one can replicate the exact circumstances that lead to this song’s rise, all of which, to me, come through in this remix. In the middle of everything is Lil Nas X, the kid who bought a beat that unknowingly sampled a hilariously obscure Nine Inch Nails track and rode “Old Town Road” to hitherto unknown heights from TikTok to a label deal as the year’s breakout star. You have Young Thug ,whose years-long genre elasticity, country dabblings, and overall rap weirdness laid the groundwork for “Old Town Road”’s eventual success. You have Billy Ray Cyrus, here to grant country industry legitimacy to a song that was initially rebuffed from Billboard’s country charts because it did “not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version” (the backlash to Billboard pulling “OTR” from its country charts is what broke the song through to wider audiences; “What if Billboard had just let ‘Old Town Road’ chart without fuss?” is already a great pop music “What If?”). You have Mason Ramsey here to show just how fast and how potent virality can be if it’s unexpected. And just on a technical level, that everyone here gets a chance to shine and the track’s still brief is a testament to structure and ability. Look, maybe you don’t like “Old Town Road,” that’s fine. But there’s nothing else like it.

8. Shawn Mendes – “If I Can’t Have You” (#29)
One of the many songs that “Old Town Road” stiff-armed from the number one spot was Shawn Mendes’ (making his second Best Hits appearance after being a Worst Hits mainstay) “If I Can’t Have You,” and while “IICHY” did well for itself, it didn’t rebound to top the chart like Mendes and Camila Cabella’s “Senorita” eventually did, despite being a much better song. “IICHY” borrows from Mendes’ white guy singer-songwriter brother-in-arms Charlie Puth’s bag of tricks by seamlessly blending styles together for one pop hit: there’s a little bit of soul, some trop-pop, a touch of dance, and the final chorus even features a breakdown, and these elements all breeze by so easily that you don’t even notice their disparate nature. If you’ve ever wondered what late day Maroon 5 would sound like if it was good, I feel like “If I Can’t Have You” is the answer: it’s slick, it’s unabashedly pop, but the difference is that there’s a beating heart at the center of this one. Mendes really sells the longing here without overdoing things, and his falsetto toward the end is a deft touch that makes “If I Can’t Have You” feel real. I get that “Senorita” has the name and brand appeal, but dammit, this one’s better.

7. DaBaby – “Suge” (#24)
One of the best things a song can do is just let its artist go, and that’s what happens with DaBaby on “Suge.” A top-down analysis of “Suge” doesn’t reveal anything special: it’s a hook-verse-hook-verse-hook shit-talker whose beat’s only defining feature is the (rightly kickass) gravity bomb bass on the hook. But it’s in the vein of “A Milli” or more recently “Bodak Yellow” where the point is just hearing a rapper sound twelve feet tall for a few minutes while just throwing bars. DaBaby raps with an “I can do this all day” confidence, and listening to “Suge,” you believe him.

6. Lizzo – “Truth Hurts” (#13)
So, at the top of this week, I went to a drag show with an amateur competition piece. The first contestant did “Nasty” (a very smart pick), and then the next did “Criminal” (a good song, if terminally long and slow for drag [not that I know anything, but c’mon, “Get the Party Started” and “Cut to the Feeling” are right there]). As the applause died down after contestant number three’s introduction and she took the stage, the opening piano notes of “Truth Hurts” erupted from the speakers, and the place went off like a bomb. I remember far less about the routine than I do the crowd’s reaction to “Truth Hurts:” the cheers, the dancing in seats, the fan clacks from the queens in the audience, and everyone singing along.

That’s the kind of power that “Truth Hurts” and Lizzo have amassed in under a year, the sort of thing that makes a song instantly iconic once it catches on. It’s a song where every part of it is memorable, yes, but it’s also magnetic and inviting; I can’t imagine hearing “Truth Hurts” and not reacting to it even a little. The musical bedroom is solid with that now signature piano intro, a wailing synth, and a concussive bassline, and Lizzo’s singing is emotive in all the right ways, and the lyrics are infinitely quotable from the first line on. Much has been made of the oddity that “Truth Hurts,” a song from 2017, blowing up the same year that Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You was released with its own promotional hype, but I kinda get it. “Truth Hurts” is affirming and cathartic in a way that’s singular, and it’s so easy for those traits to be reduced to sloganeering or hollow positivity. And people understood that and flocked to it. Now, let’s get “Juice” on the charts.

(As for the “Truth Hurts” contestant, she tied with the one who did “Nasty” for fourth. My friends in the competition took second and third.)

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The Gibby Fifty 2019: My Favorite Songs of the Year

On the eve of a new year, I wanted to share my favorite songs of 2019 in the annual Gibby Fifty. There are a lot of singles in the bunch, but there are also plenty of deep cuts, too. This one’s pretty straight forward: it had to come out this year to make this alphabetical list, and if it’s here, it’s not on the forthcoming best pop songs of the year list. Just an aside, if you want a window into what my listening for a year looks like, this entry always has the clearest view. I’ll leave you with tunes for now (playlist at the bottom) and see you in the new year!

Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties – “Just Sign the Papers”
American Football feat. Hayley Williams – “Uncomfortably Numb” The emo band tapping Hayley Williams feels like some kind of affirmation of Paramore.
American Pleasure Club – “What Kind of Love?” The sound of utter oblivion.
Anderson .Paak feat Andre 3000 – “Come Home”
Angel Olsen – “Chance”
Arcade Fire – “Baby Mine” From Dumbo, which I legit forgot came out this year.
Ariana Grande – “ghostin”
Carly Rae Jepsen – “No Drug Like Me” I love that this song has a groove.
Charli XCX and Christine and the Queens – “Gone”
Charly Bliss – “Young Enough”
Chris Farren – “Love Theme from ‘Born Hot'”
Dogleg – “Fox” Dogleg’s new album from next year is one I probably won’t shut up about.
Doja Cat – “Bottom Bitch”
Ellen Alien – “Bowie in Harmony” Things I found out this year: I kinda dig Euro electronia!
Empath – “Roses That Cry”
fka Twigs – “fallen alien” Both this and the Empath track are insane and I love them both.
Florence + the Machine – “Moderation”
Frank Ocean – “DHL”
Free Nationals feat. Mac Miller and Kali Uchis – “Time”
Future – “Love Thy Enemies”
glass beach – “glass beach” (…or “bedroom community” or “neon glow” or “yoshi’s island” or “orchid” or “cold weather or)
I Love Your Lifestyle – “Dreamy Dreams”
Jaden feat. Tyler, the Creator – “Noize” A great song on a way too long album. Killer Tyler verse.
Jay Som – “Superbike” Anah Ko gets my annual “watch me love this in like 4 months” award.
Kim Gordon – “Air BnB” It really shouldn’t be surprising that Kim Gordon’s the member of Sonic Youth who’s sounded the most creatively vital after the split, right?
Kitty – “Mami”
Lana Del Rey – “How to disappear”
Leggy – “Prom”
Lizzo – “Juice” Can’t wait to see this top the charts in 2022.
Mannequin Pussy – “In Love Again” In which Mannequin Pussy experience joy and it is incredible.
Oso Oso – “The View”
Proper. – “Lime Green Jheri Curl”
PUP – “Sibling Rivalry” If we’re going by pure listens, this was probably my song of the year. Feels like a continuation of “If this Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will.”
Sharon Van Etten – “Seventeen” Me and a pair of friends of mine saw SVE debut this at a show while opening for The National last year in Colorado. We were underdressed and miserable in the cold and sleet and snow, but hearing “Seventeen” for the first time left me gobsmacked.
Solange – “My Skin My Logo”
Tame Impala – “Patience”
Taylor Swift – “Cornelia Street” You could also put “I Think He Knows” or “Cruel Summer here.
The 1975 – “Frail State of Mind”
The Menzingers – “Anna”
The National – “Rylan” Fun fact: The National played this at that show where Sharon Van Etten opened for them.
The Pom-Poms – “200 Grams”
The Raconteurs – “Don’t Bother Me” A rollicking number despite it being about how much Jack White hates phones.
The Twilight Sad – “VTr”
The Weeknd – “Blinding Lights”
Turnover – “Number on the Gate” Altogether didn’t do much for me that Good Natured hadn’t already, but this is still a jam.
The World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – “Smoke + Felt”
Tyler, the Creator – “I THINK”
White Reaper – “Real Long Time” See above on Turnover.
Willow – “Overthinking IT” I was on the fence on Willow on a first listen until the second half of this one.
Young Thug – “Light It Up” Thug’s So Much Fun might be the album kneecapped hardest by rap’s compulsion to make 13 track albums into 19 track ones.

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The Worst Hits of 2019 (5-1)

Introductions are for part 1’s, let’s begin.

5. Chris Brown (somehow) feat. Drake – “No Guidance” (#21)
The point of this list is to find the worst hits of the year, not the most dunk-onable ones. I mention that here because I never want to give off the impression that like, Maroon 5 and Chris Brown are an automatic in every time they’re eligible just because it’s easy pickings; they are truly, perennially this bad.

Let’s get this out of the way: “No Guidance” is a Drake song. “No Guidance” is a Drake song the same way “Sunflower” is a Swae Lee one. This frigid, slow-synth beat could act as the umpteenth track on any Drake album since If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late as the song that gets called out in reviews for being filler another artist would’ve cut in favor of a bearable runtime, and maybe Drake’s even over this sound, because he is sleepwalking here. But an autopilot Aubrey is preferable to Brown, whose entire bright, oversinging thing is just a total mismatch for this beat. There’s a reason that the overwhelming majority of Brown’s output is either shiny, uptempo pop or sneering rap: he has no deftness, no ear for what a song needs, so when he shows up treating “No Guidance” like it’s “Don’t Wake Me Up” or “Yeah x3,” the effect is akin to pouring Four Loko into an old fashioned.

The major downer about “No Guidance” is that for a while there, I thought we were almost done with Chris Brown. He still had a career following his 2009 assault on Rihanna, but he spent the ’10s trending downward, bottoming out last year when his only success came from working with a joke like Lil Dicky on a novelty song. Teaming up with Drake this year for a bonafide hit feels more like acceptance (although it’s somewhat telling that their collab came the same year that Drake’s faced scrutiny for his behavior toward underage girls), and I hope it’s not a sign of things to come.

4. Luke Combs – “Beautiful Crazy” (#46)
This song’s so full of shit. The other 4 entries in the top 5 here are–spoiler warning–all fairly well-known for being bad, and I kept wondering if I was overrating “Beautiful Crazy,” but I don’t think I am. Musically, it’s a Cracker Barrel scented candle shrug of a country song, and Combs’ voice is no sin against nature.

Where “Beautiful Crazy” goes rotten is in the lyrics, which are the phoniest damn thing. The song’s entire conceit is essentially a basic het couple’s Instagram caption: “ugh, she’s so crazy but what would I do without her?” which, okay, sure. But then you dig into the verses, and see that she does unfathomable things like *checks notes* drinks coffee in the morning and has a glass of wine at night, takes too long getting ready, and bails on plans to go out in favor of watching TV at home and falling asleep on the couch. There’s no fucking way. Combs and I are the same age, and these are such basicass behaviors that every single person I know does them. Like, with respect to the complexity of human existence, none of this would register as crazy to the tamest person you know, but Combs treats this shit like it’s a mystical thing only she does. If you want to write a song about loving someone, that’s fine, but don’t try and pass off “being a person” as “oh boy, she’s a handful.” Was there a verse about how much she loves shopping at Target and watching The Office, too?

3. Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber – “I Don’t Care” (#16)
A pair of streaming giants (Ed Sheeran is the most streamed artist ever on Spotify; Justin Bieber is the third) team up for a song with a tropical pop rhythm (“Shape of You” and “One Dance” are both trop-pop and the most streamed songs of all time), hand claps, and a wordless hook that’s about not wanting to be at a party (we don’t have songs about partying now, we have songs about not partying) and doubles as a love song from the leading heartthrob of the day and Ed Sheeran that features a sing-songy hook you’ll forget as soon as its over (Post Malone, who specializes in songs whose hook you can only kind of remember, is the fourth most-streamed Spotify artist)  and throws in tasteful features like a programmed rap drum and plinking piano so that it’s not just a trop-pop song, but features a little bit of everything (gotta hit as many playlists as possible).

“I Don’t Care” wasn’t written by algorithms, but it was certainly made for them.

2. Thomas Rhett – “Look What God Gave Her” (#85)
Like the clutch of rap songs I mentioned in part 1 with “Murder On My Mind,” the year-end Hot 100 makes room every year or two for a fistful of country songs. This year’s offerings range from “Whiskey Glasses” to “God’s Country” to “Beer Never Broke My Heart” to “Beautiful Crazy” mentioned above, and while bar’s never high for these (so many missed this list just barely), they at least register as country.

The same can’t be said for “Look What God Gave Her.” If you replace that twerpy little beer commercial guitar lead with a synth without changing anything else, “Look What God Gave Her” would reveal itself as the late-day Maroon 5 knockoff it is, with all the musical beigeness that implies. There’s no sense of dynamic or even variety; that rhythm part just chugs away like a preset nobody turned off. In this list’s introduction, I said that bad songs in 2019 putz along while sounding chintzy, and that’s absolutely the case here from the music to the lack of any kind of melodic invention or fun to the “look, we’re rhyming!” delivery. The lyrics, which have the horny chastity of a youth minister singing about his fiancé, are a series of bricks, including rhyming “gave her” with “Made her” and “Corona” with “Daytona,” and there’s also a line where I think Rhett refers to his wife’s vagina as heaven? Somehow more baffling than that, and what elevates “Look What God Gave Her” to second place for this year, is full wife guy line“I know she’s got haters, but it ain’t her fault.” Dude, 1. your wife doesn’t have haters, 2. I don’t care who it is, any song that mentions haters takes a fifty point penalty.

1. Lewis Capaldi – “Someone You Loved” (#27)
I have this theory I can’t prove that we were so hard up for one honest to God piano ballad this year that as soon as Capaldi came along with this dreck, everyone decided “Fuck it, close enough.”

And “close enough” is “Someone You Loved” to a tee. Capaldi’s said he wanted to keep “Someone You Loved” broad so it would fit any scenario, but it’s so broad that any meaning beyond “the sads” falls out. It’s a song of poetic flourishes about going under and the night falling while gesturing vaguely toward a person-shaped absence in your life, but it doesn’t have any specificity or anything to latch onto. If anything, it’s just banking on your ability to remember “Someone Like You,” the pop tearjerker of the ’10s, and a song “Someone You Loved” is trying to mimic from the arpeggiated piano part to the quiet verse to belted chorus all the way down to the fucking title. But “Someone You Loved” isn’t interested in doing the work that makes “Someone Like You” so effective: it’s rushed (notice how there’s not a moment to breathe in this thing?), it throws away its own titular lyric, and Lewis tries to navigate any songwriting deficiencies by just singing as hard as possible. I know I said that most of our pop didn’t fail loudly this year, but “Someone You Loved,” despite being a piano ballad, is actively grating to listen to when Lewis screeches on the chorus and especially on the bridge. It’s the loudest pop was all year and it was also the worst.

There’s nothing behind “Someone You Loved.” It’s just musical wallpaper pretending to be authentic, but it disappears as soon as you take a look at it. It’s emblematic of the year’s worst traits, and the flatout worst hit song of the year.

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