As GQ's staff assembled to round up the best songs of the year, we realized that 2019 signaled a death, musically; this year marked the end of a tight grip a small group of superstars had on the charts, and instead ushered in a new wave of long-simmering young acts who finally snatched the spotlight. This year's crop of best songs includes names you've started to hear only recently, names you've never heard before, and yes, some familiar favorites, though only a few. Settle in to the GQ staff's favorite songs of 2019.
Rosalía and J Balvin feat. El Guincho, "Con Altura"
Few musicians have had a hotter streak in 2019 than Rosalía, the Spanish singer-songwriter-dancer-auteur-icon-in-the-making who dominated this year with her genre-blurring hits and videos. "Con Altura" was the first of the bunch, a bulletproof stinger of a song that signaled that a new reign was upon us. Rosalía's voice is equal measures sweet and sharp, the sort of mind-easing sound that lulls listeners into a trance so quickly that it's easy to forget she's only been on the scene for a few years now. Balanced by J Balvin's smooth delivery, "Con Altura" is the rare song that dares to do something new. —Brennan Carley, associate editor
Thom Yorke, "Dawn Chorus"
The Radiohead extended universe is as vast as its fans are dedicated. It’s no shock, then, that “Dawn Chorus”—a song that’s haunted Radiohead lore for over a decade—made such a splash when Thom Yorke released it on his solo record, Anima. The surprise, though, is how good it is. Humming electric polyrhythms swell to an emotional crescendo as Yorke sings about how things might go differently if he were given a chance to do them again. “Dawn Chorus” is the greatest song of Yorke’s solo career and stands with the best of Radiohead’s music to boot. It was completely worth the wait.—Colin Groundwater, assistant to the editor in chief
Peggy Gou, "Starry Night"
Peggy Gou's dizzying “Starry Night” unfolds more like a vortex than a song, gradually layering muted whirs, claps, and syncopated piano chords onto a beat that sucks you in further with each new addition. The finishing touch is Gou’s voice itself: Her verses, sung as if to induce a trance, are punctuated by mantra-like strings of English words—commands to a cult of dance-happy listeners.—Danielle Cohen, editorial business assistant
Steve Lacy, "Lay Me Down"
As I wrote earlier this year, there aren't a whole lot of lyrics on "Lay Me Down"—64 words in all—but Steve Lacy doesn't need to do much talking or singing to get his message across. This is pure grown-folk music, which is even more impressive considering Lacy is only 21. Oh, and that guitar solo at the end is magnifique.—Alex Shultz, editorial assistant
FKA twigs, "Cellophane"
Behind the experimental production that has characterized so much of her music, FKA twigs has always been one of the best working writers of love songs. She captures the way love is both personally immediate but deeply alien to us, something visceral but hard to understand. That’s more apparent than ever on “Cellophane." The way she sings “Why don’t I do it for you?” makes you listen on repeat, ready to have your heart broken over and over again.—C.G.
Billie Eilish, "bury a friend"
It’s since been eclipsed by a billion "bad guy" Spotify streams—playful finger snaps, Grammy nominations, and all—so it’s easy to forget that when "bury a friend" dropped in January, it signaled the arrival of a completely new sound. Not only did it establish Eilish as the monster murmuring under pop’s bed, but it also swerved the genre further away from bombast and gloss to the subtle, the sinister, and the strange. It’s a massive middle finger to the old “more is more!” method of making a smash, and a warning to the indistinguishable focus-grouped jingles of the world that Billie Eilish is here, teeth sharpened, ready to pounce.—Joel Pavelski, director of audience development
Tierra Whack, "Only Child"
Tierra Whack rode the wave of Whack World into 2019 by kicking off the year with Whack History Month, a five-week streak that saw her drop a new single every seven days. The first and best of those singles validated my totally scientific and not at all anecdotal conviction that only children are terrible. Personal grudges aside, the track is a masterful patchwork of sick burns that Whack delivers with glib swagger—lines like “Used to arch my back for you but now you’re my arch-nemesis” roll bitingly off her tongue. It’s a giant “fuck you” to sibling-less assholes everywhere, with a set of impeccable bars to boot. What more could we ask for?—D.C.
Maybe you’ve noticed that we throw superhuman superlatives the Knowles sisters’ way quite a bit. Still, “Binz,” more than any other track Solange or Beyoncé (sorry, Hive) has released, is the sonic synthesis of their celestial powers. The ahs are angelic, the oohs heavenly. Despite a minuscule (1:51) length, Solange takes things slow and easy, luxuriating in the thick beat and Sister Nancy–esque melody: “I just wanna wake up to the suns in Saint Laurent / Hundred thousand dollars on the fronts, hella blunts.” Yeah, that’s about right.—Max Cea, contributing writer
HAIM, "Summer Girl"
Our favorite sister act came back in a big way this year and blew us all away with this breezy number. HAIM took Lou Reed’s iconic “Walk on the Wild Side” and infused it with a Californian strain of melancholy. The result is a funky and infectious testament to the power of love in hard times.—C.G.
Young Thug feat. Gunna, “Hot”
The range on Young Thug is audacious. He’s released grimy trap hits, Bright Eyes–adjacent crooners, and impossibly fun party rap songs (shout out to "Lifestyle," I miss you Rich Homie Quan 😔). “Hot” is an evolution of the Atlanta style banger. It’s all loud-ass horns, muddy bass hits, and woodwind accents as Young Thug and Gunna mumble and squawk all over the track. On paper, it shouldn’t work, but in execution it’s so, so hot.—Gabe Conte, digital producer
Megan Thee Stallion feat. DaBaby, "Cash Shit"
Two thousand nineteen marked the arrival of two of the most exciting new voices in rap, in Megan Thee Stallion and DaBaby. And when the duo linked up for a single on Megan’s mixtape, Fever, they blessed the world with “Cash Shit,” the best hip-hop pairing of the year. Megan’s brash flows combined with DaBaby’s goofy thirst perfectly, complimenting each other over the extremely bounce-able beat. Never has a song made me long for a car to bump it in more than this masterpiece.—Luke Leifeste, senior social manager
Kim Petras, "Sweet Spot"
It sounds like a Teenage Dream era Katy Perry smash mixed with Daft Punk's finest Human After All production, and it's courtesy of Kim Petras, whose hit to miss ratio is so strong you wouldn't be wrong for thinking she's the smartest pop star working today. "Sweet Spot" recaptures that feeling you had as a teenager, the one when you fell so deep with someone that you thought you'd never fall that hard again. Most songs that try to do that stumble, and hard—the line between corny and sentimental is razor thin. Petras straddles that line like a seasoned professional. When the end of the world comes, follow her. She knows the way.—B.C.
Lana Del Rey, "The greatest"
Lana Del Rey can do the stripped-down, Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter thing as well as anyone. For most of “The greatest,” she’s desperately nostalgic (“I miss dancing with you the most of all / I miss the bar where the Beach Boys would go”). Her voice flutters, and then blissfully crescendoes in the present tense (“And I'm wasted / Don't leave‚ I just need a wake-up call”). But then there’s that wink—“The culture is lit and I had a ball”—and Lana makes it a little bit schlocky, yes, but also a perfect, hilarious modern anthem.—M.C.
Grimes & i_o, "Violence"
Last year, we called Grimes’s single “We Appreciate Power,” a nu-metal jam about AI, one of the best songs of the year. She’s back on our list in 2019 with a song that’s equally dark but more in line with the synth pop of her earlier albums. “Violence” finds dangerous fun in a grim masochism primed for the end of the world. It’s Grimes’s dystopia, and we’re just dancing in it.—C.G.
Dua Lipa, "Don't Start Now"
So often, expectations derail a promising pop star's second album. It's easy to succumb to the hype, you don't change enough, you change too much, you're replicating your original success, you've lost the narrative, you sputter out and make a folk album when what made people fall in love with you was your four-on-the-floor, chart-topping hits. Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia lead single spits in the face of all of that talk. It is quite possibly the strongest level up a pop star's made in years from project to project, a seamless, slick, sensual disco song that throws the whole kitchen sing—cowbell and all—into every corner of its three-minute runtime. "Don't Start Now" is the blueprint; Dua Lipa is the architect. Everyone else is just trying to catch up.—B.C.
Carly Rae Jepsen, "Real Love"
This Dedicated deep cut wasn't a single. It didn't get a video. Hell, Carly Rae Jepsen didn't even perform it for the first few weeks of her most recent tour. But, as they do in 2019, fans demanded she dust off the song and play it live, and god bless her for complying. "Real Love" is the closest a song could come to capturing how infatuation unfolds in real time, suddenly and all at once, before you even realize it's happened. That's a testament to Jepsen herself, who's become pop's finest emotional translator. Want to know what a feeling sounds like? Listen to the shimmering, lush, intoxicating "Real Love" and report back.—B.C.
James Blake feat. ROSALÍA, "Barefoot in the Park"
Love is a feeling, not a contest. But on an album (Blake’s Assume Form) that’s chock full of beautiful love songs, ROSALÍA clearly wins. Her voice is mystical, verging on ghostly. It helixes around Blake’s, like the wisp of a warm memory. Who needs balance? I’ll play this song every day.—M.C.
100 gecs, “money machine”
100 gecs are an incredibly special band, and you know it from the second "money machine" starts. “Hey, you lil' piss baby / You think you're so fucking cool? Huh? / You think you're so fucking tough? You talk a lotta big game for someone with such a small truck,” Laura Les spits over an overwhelming amount of distortion. If there’s a single song that can explain gecs (there isn’t, but hey, let’s pretend) it’s this one—a loud and hard-hitting track that careens wildly between early '10s club rap, bubblegum, and harsh noise. Every time the bass hits, it'll make your bones rattle (a good thing, we promise).—G.C.
Saweetie, "My Type"
Saweetie’s "My Type" is one of the most ubiquitous hip-hop songs of 2019, and rightfully so. A light-hearted banger that samples a Petey Pablo hit, "My Type" is practically built to wedge itself in your head. America’s Saweetheart (I’m sorry) is quickly commandeering a lane for herself in a very crowded genre; all we can do is drift behind her.—L.L.
There’s absolutely no subtlety to the way DaBaby raps. Every bar from him feels breathless, like he’s rapping as hard as he can 10,000% of the time. It’s not for a sense of urgency or anything, though; no, "BOP" is the sound of someone fully confident that they are the best in the game right now.—G.C.
In an era when streaming is king, it's hard to know which albums are worth your time. We've got you covered.
Originally Appeared on GQ