Pop music in 2020 doesn’t hold the same connotation it did in decades past. As genre definitions and parameters continue to bend out of frame and spill out of antiquated boxes, pop has taken a delightful turn into much weirder, less confined, and more fun spaces. From the incredibly blunt, folksy style of Okay Kaya to the clean-cut, dance-ready tracks of French pop royalty Christine and the Queens, here’s the best of what pop music has to offer in the first year of the new decade.
“People, I’ve Been Sad” by Christine and the Queens
Aside from a pair of Charli XCX songs, Christine and the Queens remained fairly quiet since her 2018 album, Chris. But just as one might emerge from a bout of depression to return the texts they had previously neglected, Christine poked her head back out in early February to offer a blunt confessional. “People, I’ve Been Sad” leans in to the seemingly dramatic melancholy of relationships and recovery, as Christine fluctuates between colloquialisms and poetic prose to unravel her history, from both recent memory and childhood’s past.
“Physical” by Dua Lipa
Over the course of the last half year or so, Dua Lipa has seemed to sharpen her pop princess prowess. She’s upped her choreography, fine-tuned her aesthetic, and become more consistent, dropping a handful of solid singles in a row. One of the recent drops is “Physical,” her high-powered callback to Olivia Newton-John’s original sweat-fueled single.
“Penny in My Back Pocket” by Angelica Garcia
“Penny in My Back Pocket” is a thumping mix of dubbed synth noises and cut-up vocals that combine to make a satisfyingly hard-controlled chaos. Following a cosign from none other than President Barack Obama himself, Latinx singer Angelica Garcia continues to merge experimental influences with Latinx rock to make a sound that’s unique yet un-alienating in its commercial viability.
“Never Even Know” by ilham
With a distinct focus on Black and Brown women, ilham’s video for “Never Even Know” is a sparkling and heartwarming ode to warmer days in New York. Underlined by her own dazzling vocals and sticky-sweet cadence, the Queensbridge up-and-comer effortlessly undercuts the song’s surface-level sound to make harsher points on unrequited and untold love.
“Stupid Love” by Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga makes a tangible ode to her past self and sound on “Stupid Love,” embracing the bulletproof pop that originally led her to household-name status in the early 2000s. Though Gaga has remained firmly centered in pop culture’s lens—most recently with her crossover starring role in A Star Is Born—there is still something decidedly refreshing about hearing an instant classic Gaga cut in 2020.
“Black Qualls” by Thundercat featuring Steve Lacy and Steve Arrington
Thundercat pulls together The Internet’s Steve Lacy and funk veteran Steve Arrington to pull off a shining example of how funk, soul, and pop can exist, and intersect, in 2020. “I’m just doin’ what I like, how I like / I don’t need your cosign,” Arrington mutters on its bridge, hardly discernible through oozing distortions layered against tripped-out harmonies. And the song carries that laissez-faire yet decidedly defiant attitude as it swerves in and out of Thundercat’s inimitable bass playing and Lacey’s undeniably brilliant pop vocals to make for something that is as clean as it is chaotic, a satisfying mess of brilliance.
“Baby Little Tween” by Okay Kaya
“Baby Little Tween” opens with Okay Kaya’s signature wilting vocals, as a pulsating synth hints at something more unhinged on the way. That’s when the disco kicks in at the chorus, and Kaya unfurls the blunt truth about the vague numbness of depression and the asexual-like side effects its corresponding pick-me-up pills can cause. “Baby Little Tween” is a gorgeous plea that somehow feels fun and grounded, despite its intensity.
“Wastin’ Time” by OWO
Nigerian-American artist OWO gracefully utilizes the djembe, kashishi, and guitar to elevate what was an already-foolproof pop cut into something much more powerful on “Wastin’ Time.” With a pulsating drum line and vocals underlined by urgent echoing whispers, OWO creates a dance track that calls for attention via its thoughtful mood swings and masterful layering.
“Headaches” by Raveena
Raveena’s “Headaches” sounds the way a sugar-coma bellyache feels: a woozy, uncomfortably sweet mess of blissed-out happiness and crushing discomfort. Calling on psych-rock influences, Raveena lays out the dangers of the honeymoon phase, where things move quickly and uncontrollably.
Watch this space for updates throughout the year. In the meantime, listen to all the picks in the playlist below and follow Harper's BAZAAR on Spotify.
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