The 2020 uproxx music critics poll

Welcome to the third annual Uproxx Music Critics Poll. 2020 was certainly a year that most people will be glad to put behind them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take one more opportunity to celebrate the wonderful music that soundtracked it.

We’re proud to see our most participation in the poll yet, with more than 230 critics voting for more than 700 albums and selecting their favorite song of the year. The results for the poll were wide-ranging and wildly eclectic, seeing everyone from Megan Thee Stallion and Bad Bunny to Lady Gaga and Bartees Strange receiving significant support. And it wouldn’t be an Uproxx Music Critics Poll without a selection of new essays covering the trends and albums that defined the year, written by participating critics.

Before we put 2020 in the rearview, we present the 2020 Uproxx Music Critics Poll.

01
Fiona Apple

Fetch The Bolt Cutters

What makes Fetch The Bolt Cutters feel like a new high-water mark for Fiona Apple — is it possible to rank all five of her albums as tied for her best? — is how she has pared her music down to the barest essentials, while also deepening and broadening her lyrics, finding fresh nuances that eschew easy answers or reductions. This is her rawest record, but also her funniest, distinguished by sparse yet eccentrically detailed soundscapes that provide a backdrop for Apple to fully explore every aspect of her (and perhaps your) highly contradictory inner life. She’s furious and forgiving, full of love and hate, and capable of both eviscerating and soothing her subjects. – Steven Hyden

02
Phoebe Bridgers

Punisher

Even during a year in which the music industry was mostly grounded, Phoebe Bridgers still managed to feel like a breakout star. That’s partly due to her deftness at generating social-media excitement out of pretty much anything — even a Goo Goo Dolls cover — but her second album Punisher also delivers where it counts, particularly when it comes to lyrics. Few albums this year were more quotable, whether Bridgers is taking the piss out of Eric Clapton and griping about how noisy it can be living next to a hospital. In the context of the pandemic, Punisher‘s mix of sorrow and gallows humor felt especially necessary. – Steven Hyden

03
Taylor Swift

Folklore

There are many reasons why Folklore deserves to be among the best albums of the year, the most basic of which is that it’s a towering collection of songs by one of the generation’s most important voices, that sits comfortably among the best work she’s ever created. “The Last Great American Dynasty” proves she’s as adept at storytelling as ever, “Exile” offers up Taylor Swift as the ultimate collaborator (both vocally with Bon Iver and in the songwriting sense with Vernon and not-so-secret guest writer Joe Alwyn), and “Betty” reminds that genre walls are made to be burned down, with Swift still able to find as much success in the country world as she does on the Hot 100.

But Folklore also represents something particular about this year. Conceived entirely in quarantine, Swift was experiencing something that many were, with more time to create, learn, and grow. But she didn’t just get really into banana bread like the rest of us, she reached out to some of her favorite musicians and found the acceptance and grace to get firmly out of her comfort zone in unprecedented circumstances, creating something that couldn’t happen in any other time. – Philip Cosores

04
Waxahatchee

Saint Cloud

Some albums just announce themselves as instant classics, and Saint Cloud was that LP for me 2020. From the jump, it seemed like the kind of record you would want to bring on road trips and play at barbecues and wallow in when you needed something to make you feel better during some terrible moment in your life. For Katie Crutchfield, Saint Cloud came out of her own cataclysmic moment, when she felt compelled to take a break from touring in order to get sober. The songs she wrote once she was ready to return to Waxahatchee benefit from that meditation period. There’s a clarity and patience to Saint Cloud that’s missing even from her laudatory back catalogue, expressed against open and unfussy country-rock arrangements guided by producer Brad Cook. In a year of so much chaos and tragedy and idiocy and fear, listening to Saint Cloud felt like hanging out with that friend who always manages to put things in perspective. No matter what happens today, the lilacs keep drinking the water, marking in the slow, slow, slow passing of time. – Steven Hyden

05
Run The Jewels

RTJ4

There was a point during this summer where everything aligned to make it feel like the latest dystopian (or maybe post-apocalyptic) effort from El-P and Killer Mike wasn’t just paranoid fantasy or pessimistic speculation but instead the soundtrack of a movie we were all trapped in like The Final Girls. The police had killed George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, people took to the streets in droves to protest the injustice amid a deadly global pandemic, and a demagogic wannabe dictator was making nihilistic pronouncements from his golf course in Florida. RTJ4 is damn near a history book in audio form, from the defiant “A Few Words For The Firing Squad” to the capitalism burning video for “Ooh La La.” We aren’t out of the woods yet, but shout-out to the Jewels for keeping our spirits high as we fought against what felt like the end of the world. – Aaron Williams

06

With a debut that put them firmly on the indie-pop map and a sophomore album that found some of that acclaim recede, the Los Angeles Haim sisters rolled into their third album with milder expectations from both fans and critics. And maybe that’s part of the reason why Women In Music Pt. III feels so titanic, as it not only eclipses the trio’s previous highs, it shows that we never really knew their potential at all. Some of the classic rock and ’90s pop touchstones that they’ve always cited are still there, but so is a firm identity that exists beyond the scope of their influences. Haim have truly arrived. – Philip Cosores

07
Dua Lipa

Future Nostalgia

With astonishing grace, Dua Lipa makes becoming a top-tier pop star look easy. Some artists fret over a second record, whether it will be well-received, whether it will be as good as their debut, Dua simply buckles down and produces more flawless, disco-flecked pop without worrying about the details. Future Nostalgia is a classic, sleek pop record with bubbly emotion that never overflows, making her a buttoned-up star in a messy era. As if that wasn’t enough, she came floating back in the fall with a reimagined, remixed alternative record that hails the heritage of all the disco and house she called on before. She’s already learned the most important lesson — no one can properly herald the future of pop without nostalgia for the past. – Caitlin White

08
Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist

Alfredo

More than most artists, Freddie Gibbs is a testament to doing you and winning. There’s no confusion about what you’re gonna get from a Gibbs record or project, and his purist fanbase loves him for it. Enter Alfredo, another Alchemist collaboration where Gangsta Gibbs tears through a 10-pack of warm, minimalist tracks geared to let his melodic flow shine on tracks like “God Is Perfect,” and “Scottie Beam” with Rick Ross. – Andre Gee

09
Bob Dylan

Rough And Rowdy Ways

The best active American songwriter turned 79 this year, which means he’s part of the population most at risk during a pandemic. And yet on his 39th studio album, Bob Dylan sounded more fearless and stubbornly alive than artists half or even one-third of his age. For all of the many tangents of Dylan’s long and illustrious career, the highest compliment that can be paid Rough And Rowdy Ways is that’s he never made an album quite like it. Freely commingling bracing insights with unmitigated silliness, Dylan plays both the dour oracle and hilarious prankster on Rough And Rowdy Ways, performing an excruciating autopsy for the American dream in one breath and shouting out Don Henley and Glenn Frey on the next. On “I Contain Multitudes,” he drifts for several minutes without any apparent melody; on “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You,” he floats like Fred Astaire amid one of his loveliest musical confections. Throughout the album, he seems in total command of his craft, and also completely off of his rocker. What more could you possibly hope for from Bob Dylan? – Steven Hyden

10
The Weeknd

After Hours

The road to After Hours began with “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights,” which were released within days of each other in late November 2019. The latter became the biggest hit of The Weeknd’s career; it’s still hovering around the top of the Hot 100 a year after its release. The singles accurately foreshadowed the quality of their parent album, a nighttime pop journey that brings synthwave to the modern age. – Derrick Rossignol

TOP 10
11
Yves Tumor

Heaven To A Tortured Mind

The year’s most hedonistic and thrillingly seedy rock album comes from an unlikely source. On their previous records, Yves Tumor made post-modern noise and experimental music that commented on the conventions of pop at an arms-length distance. Heaven To A Tortured Mind also has a deconstructionist spirit, only this time the inspiration derives from sex and drug-infested early ’70s sleaze classics like Sly Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On and The Rolling Stones’ Goats Head Soup, along with heaping doses of prime-era Prince. But Yves Tumor isn’t as concerned with esoteric sounds this time around — on this album, the vibes are pleasingly blurry and the guitar solos are fantastically skanky. – Steven Hyden

12
Fleet Foxes

Shore

Though the album opens with a never-before-heard vocalist, Uwade Akhere, the surprise guest only makes the return of Robin Pecknold’s signature tenor all the more sweet a song later. On “Sunblind,” the strongest song of Fleet Foxes’ storied career, he celebrates and mourns, yearns and rejoices, replete with the harmonies and meticulously constructed melodies that have carried this Seattle band from warm, bedroom folk to songwriting legacies. Shore is a gigantic step forward for Pecknold and his mates, and more proof that the best bands only get better, and more believable, with time. – Caitlin White

13
Bartees Strange

Live Forever

2020’s indie-rock rookie of the year. The Washington D.C.-based Bartees Strange struck out with two fascinating albums — the inventive National covers album Say Goodbye To Pretty Boy and his proper debut, the wonderfully eclectic Live Forever. On tracks like “Mustang” and “Boomer,” Strange demonstrates that he can write relatively straightforward emo-punk jams as well as anybody. But Live Forever truly shines when Strange colors far outside the lines, whether he’s delving into vibe-y electro-pop on “Flagey God,” getting seriously crunked on “Mossblerd,” or pouring his heart out on folk dirges like “Fallen For You.” I can’t wait to hear what he does next. – Steven Hyden

14
Rina Sawayama

SAWAYAMA

If you don’t know the name, you will soon. Rina Sawayama was born in Japan but grew up in London, bringing the best of both worlds into her global pop sound. This year’s self-titled debut Sawayama manages to include a nod to practically every sonic era of pop, with standouts like “Commes Des Garcon” leaning heavy into house. Incorporating commentary on everything from sexism to friendship to chosen family, Rina is on her way up. You can come along or watch her rise, up to you. – Caitlin White

15
Jessie Ware

What’s Your Pleasure?

Jessie Ware has already proved an impeccable study of R&B’s smoothest variants, and on her wonderful fourth album, the British singer-songwriter launches herself into exciting and uncharted territory. What’s Your Pleasure finds Ware diving headfirst into disco’s heady mirrorball environment, resembling the dance subgenre’s classic sounds while sounding fresh and contemporary. Alongside an impressive array of collaborators including disco fiend Morgan Geist and British house producer Midland, Ware achieves a total career reinvention while retaining what made her such a special artist to begin with. – Larry Fitzmaurice

16
Lil Uzi Vert

Eternal Atake

Lil Uzi Vert had the rap world waiting on Eternal Atake for years. When he finally dropped it at the top of 2020, he delivered. The 18-track project is a quintessential exhibition of why people love Uzi, with earworm melodies over vibrant, often-quaking thumping production. Maybe there’s a universe where the genre-bending stargazer isn’t one of the most fun listens in music — but it ain’t this one. – Andre Gee

17
Chloe x Halle

Ungodly Hour

Chloe x Halle really outdid themselves with their debut album Ungodly Hour. Breaking out of their perceived innocence, “Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness,” is how Chloe and Halle Bailey decided to open up their album before diving into fan-favorite “Forgive Me.” The Bailey sisters certainly needed zero permission to give fans and listeners life with their angelic trill. It’s “Do It” that instantly hits a chord of relatability, though. “I beat my face / Moving fast ’cause the Uber on the way,” Chloe pipes. “Taking pictures, make sure you can’t see no lace / That wig secure like the money in a safe / I look like bae.” Accompanied by an easy-to-do TikTok dance, “Do It” was one of the girls’ largest records this year. There’s also “Tipsy” and the title track “Ungodly Hour” that make up the essence of these two incredible musicians. Chloe and Halle bring listeners into their fold while baring their souls throughout Ungodly Hour, showing promise as they continue to enhance their unstoppable and undeniable talent, through proper artists development thanks to Beyonce’s ingenious Parkwood Entertainment. – Cherise Johnson

18
Tame Impala

The Slow Rush

Kevin Parker spent a long time laboring over the fourth Tame Impala LP, elongating the promotional cycle to an almost full year. It was bad luck that The Slow Rush dropped right before the world stopped; few albums in 2020 were as well poised to dominate the festival season than this luxurious, bottom-heavy, and frequently ecstatic record. But even in quarantine, the pensive introspection of Parker’s lyrics hit home; the “let’s put off worrying about the future” anthem “One More Year” is about as close as 2020 ever got to hopeful. – Steven Hyden

19

Matty Healy captures the incessant onslaught of content that has become de facto for online engagement. His fourth album with The 1975 flits between art rock, nu metal, folk, jungle, and Brit pop over the course of 22 songs; the only unifier is Healy’s penchant for drama. He excels at combining pastiche, playfulness, and profundity, taking small, specific moments of early romance and self-reflection and spinning them into sugary pop. The album’s lengthy verbosity works because the songs’ stylistic choices are so self-contained and wrought so intricately; piano ballads like “Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied” aren’t just sensitive, they’re backed by dozens of voices singing in a church-esque chorus. Like flipping through TikTok, Notes On A Conditional Form offers a curated cabinet of wonders, each song a manifestation of a wrinkle on Healy’s overstimulated brain. – Arielle Gordon

20
Lil Baby

My Turn

After taking the melodic rap formula first popularized by Future and innovated by Young Thug then putting his own, confessional spin on it, Lil Baby straight up entered the flow state on his sophomore project. When he broke out in 2018 with the Harder Than Ever and Drip Harder mixtapes, it’s fair to say that some tweaks were needed. He had a strong sense of his identity and the things he wanted to do with his flow and lyrics, but he was still solidifying all those components, requiring timely assists from the likes of Drake and Gunna to up the “wow” factor while he tinkered. But on My Turn, he’s the star of the show no matter which guest is rhyming alongside him. He spends the entire album in the zone, from vulnerable revelations like “Emotionally Scarred” to boastful declarations like “Sum 2 Prove.” He even improved on the formula with the deluxe edition, adding “The Bigger Picture” and becoming an inadvertent focal point of the summer’s uprisings against police brutality. – Aaron Williams

21

Sault’s third studio album emerged much like the enigmatic, UK-based collective’s previous efforts: rather mysteriously. However, Untitled (Black Is)’s without-warning Juneteenth drop felt more impactful, especially with several weeks of anti-police brutality protests and calls for stronger social justice initiatives preceding its release. The LP is straight-up Black—no milk or creamer; it offers validation to melanated listeners while waking up non-Black fans with a shot of the community’s expansive emotional gamut. Albeit militant, the 20-track disc still provides sonic palatability, crowning Sault as purveyors of funk, soul, R&B, and spoken-word tunes. Their equally-as-euphoric fourth album Untitled (Rise) was released three months later, further amplifying the group’s dreams of civility in a broken world. Their intentional anonymity makes fostering a personal connection challenging, yet Sault’s pair of exceptional albums prove they’re a lot like us: desperate for change and focused on facilitating brighter days ahead. – J’na Jefferson

22
Dogleg

Melee

Dogleg is a young band that thrives on stage, but even though they haven’t been able to tour behind their debut album, Melee is still clearly some of the best (punk) music 2020 has to offer. It’s an in-your-face album that also takes listeners inside the head of Alex Stoitsiadis, who tackles some personal issues with his full force. – Derrick Rossignol

23
Bad Bunny

YHLQMDLG

It hasn’t taken long for Bad Bunny to become an international superstar. While his ascent has been aided by collaborations with established English-language stars (Cardi B and Drake), he stuck to his roots this time around by working with Spanish-language artists. It paid off, too: YHLQMDLG debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard and was therefore the highest-charting all-Spanish album ever. – Derrick Rossignol

24
Lady Gaga

Chromatica

Chromatica did something Gaga fans have been wanting her to do for at least two album cycles — get back to the dancefloor. Overstuffed with poignant house bangers like “911” and glittering anthems like the Ariana Grande-featuring “Rain On Me,” this album reminded fans that even after years of piano ballads and rock/country left turns, Gaga has not forgotten or moved beyond her time as a full-blown pop star. In fact, she’s never been better. – Caitlin White

25
Soccer Mommy

Color Theory

Following the massive success of Soccer Mommy’s debut album Clean, the pressure was on for the 23-year-old to pen a compelling follow-up. Color Theory took on the challenge and then some by honing Soccer Mommy’s moody sound with layered production while using colors as lyrical and sonic inspiration. The album touches on themes of blue depression, yellow illness, and gray mourning through the lens of a 20-something still learning to find herself. – Carolyn Droke

26

As the album title vividly suggests, Mike Hadreas’ latest Perfume Genius album is dramatic in an in-your-face way. That is territory he has navigated successfully throughout his career, but he chases it here perhaps more strongly than he ever has. He previously told Uproxx of the title, “It’s almost like a greediness for fuller feelings.” – Derrick Rossignol

27
Sault

Untitled (Rise)

To tell the truth, it’s hard to know exactly what genre to slot Sault into. Weaving together elements of jazz, soul, R&B, and funk, this mysterious duo offered up two game-changing albums in 2020, without really letting the world know much at all about them. But it’s the kind of music that needs no context besides the world that it’s released into, sounding like the sound of revolution as it appeared on the cusp of happening around us. – Philip Cosores

28
Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit

Reunions

One of America’s best active songwriters has written with common insight about the struggle to overcome addiction and self-destructive behavior. But on his stunning seventh album, Jason Isbell addresses the equally difficult prospect of maintaining a good life you’ve fought for and fear might once again lose. The characters in songs like “Only Children,” “Dreamsicle,” and “St. Peter’s Autograph” take their hits from life’s nonstop barrage of setbacks and disappointments, and resolve to keep pushing forward. Isbell as always is the sensitive narrator, setting his stories to some of his finest melodies. (Fully embracing 1980s-style heartland rock, he’s never been this musically robust.) A true master of craft who somehow managed to get even better. – Steven Hyden

29
Jeff Rosenstock

NO DREAM

While Jeff Rosenstock’s intentions have always been pure, what sets his fourth album apart is how good he has gotten at sweetening his politically charged songs with irresistible pop touches like squealing synths, power-pop guitar jangle, and infectiously danceable rhythms. Rosenstock confirms every suspicion you have about how the system is corrupt and must be destroyed, and then his music reminds you that being alive still deserves to be celebrated. – Steven Hyden

30
Laura Marling

Song For Our Daughter

Laura Marling has spent the past decade unraveling the complexities of being a woman. On her robust and riveting seventh album, Song For Our Daughter, the British nu-folk songwriter takes stock of what she’s learned after three decades of this mortal coil, pushing back on cultural canons to carve out space for a considered female narrative. “Alexandra” reexamines the one-sided storytelling of Leonard Cohen’s “Alexandra Leaving” and finds a fearless mystery muse in its wake. The steadiness in her voice and her steadfast guitar deliver the hard parts easy; no one quite makes a line like “Release me from this unbearable pain” sound so effortless. – Arielle Gordon

31
Bonny Light Horseman

Bonny Light Horseman

Enduring American legends, centuries-old Napoleonic love songs, canonical spiritual ballads: You could do worse for source material than Bonny Light Horseman, the trio of Tony-winning songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, keening Fruit Bats anchor Eric D. Johnson, and multi-instrumental whiz Josh Kaufman. Indeed, their 10-track debut pilfers a few transatlantic troves of traditional songs, borrowing a conceit and chorus here, an incisive verse or rich scene there. But few times this century has that de rigueur folk process resulted in songs that sound so easy and urgent, so classic but present. Their magnetic reappraisal of John Henry, “Mountain Rain,” feels like the modern anthem that organized labor needs; on “The Roving,” Mitchell’s ease with sadness suggests that she’s watching a lover disappear passively, as if by text message. Faint accents, like a sighing saxophone or a refulgent electric guitar, add occasional intrigue. But it most often feels like you’re in the room, peering out from an acoustic guitar’s opening as this subtle supergroup reminds us that some songs, like the emotions they convey, never expire. – Grayson Haver Currin

32
Megan Thee Stallion

Good News

Nothing can stop Megan Thee Stallion’s reign. Not a pandemic, not a bullet. Her debut album Good News is proof of her triumph, which landed at No. 2 on the Billboard 200. Hot Girl Meg offered her fans an assortment of sounds to dig into on this project including TikTok’s favorite “Body” and the pop-leaning track “Don’t Rock Me To Sleep.” Megan is showing everyone that she can make more than music to make that ass shake. She can make feel-good songs made for sunny trips to the beach, too. “Freaky Girls” featuring SZA, which samples Adina Howard’s ’90s hit “Freak Like Me,” is one of the Good News standouts produced by Juicy J and is one of many tracks on the album that samples music from the nostalgic ’90s and ’00s eras. Good News is Megan Thee Stallion’s victorious collection of songs that offer a variety of positive vibes, despite the tragedy she went through this year. – Cherise Johnson

33
Mac Miller

Circles

Circles, which was completed by Jon Brion after Mac’s tragic death, showed the Pittsburgh artist scrutinizing his discontent over a soundscape that fused rap, funk, and emo. The raw despair of thematic predecessor Swimming had lessened with songs like ”Blue World” and “Complicated,” where he eerily vocalizes “Some people say they want to live forever / That’s way too long, I’ll just get through today.” Through Circles, he lives forever. – Andre Gee

34
Hayley Williams

Petals For Armor

Hayley Williams has spent over half her life fronting Paramore. It’s a job that carries enormous pressure, especially when a dissolving marriage, a deep depression, and the unpredictable realities of adulthood are sprinkled throughout. On her debut solo album, Petals For Armor, Williams turns a private therapy assignment meant to help her address those past traumas into a musical kaleidoscope through which she finds a deeper sense of self. “I’m not lonely, baby, I am free,” she sings on “Cinnamon” like a lightbulb just went off above her head. Throughout the album, Williams’ songs ping-pong across the experimental alt-rock of Radiohead, the vocal acrobatics of Björk, and the stadium pop R&B of Janet Jackson, but it’s always with one goal in mind: forgiving the wilted weeds of her past so that her modern-day self can finally blossom. – Nina Corcoran

35
Hum

Inlet

If you were a beloved indie band that hadn’t put out an album — or simply a good album — in a long while, 2020 likely was a good year for you. Fiona Apple, The Strokes, The Killers, and Bright Eyes all had worthy comebacks. But nobody revived themselves quite like the ’90s era Midwestern sludge-pop institution Hum, who roared back with surprising, startling vitality on Inlet, their first album since 1998’s landmark Downward Is Heavenward. While Inlet sounds like it could have come out during the Clinton administration, Hum made it clear that they are no nostalgia act. – Steven Hyden

36
Deftones

Ohms

If Chino Moreno can admit it, the rest of us should too: it’s been 20 years since Deftones have been truly able to function at full capacity. Over the past decade, they’ve put out strong albums that validate their status as the most influential band in modern rock, but nothing that made a serious bid to knock White Pony and Around The Fur off their pedestal. Maybe it’s Stephen Carpenter adding a ninth string to his guitar, maybe it’s the return of Terry Date on production, maybe it’s the urgency of living in 2020 – more likely, it’s Deftones’ decision to jam out together in one spot in Sacramento. Either way, Ohms achieved the seemingly impossible, a counterintuitive album that banged like it was 1997 and mostly did just that, never answering the impulse to compensate with the ballads and trip-hop experiments that critics used to elevate them over their nu-metal peers. In any given year, there’s guaranteed to be a bunch of good Deftones-y records and in 2020, order was restored as the best one came from Deftones themselves. – Ian Cohen

37
Thundercat

It Is What It Is

On his 2017 breakout album Drunk, LA jazz panjandrum Thundercat held back little, exposing all the goofy, gross, and horny thoughts on his mind. I hesitate to say he grew up on It Is What It Is, but the concerns are a little more farsighted and forward-looking. They’re also a little sad; in the years since Drunk, ‘Cat’s gotten a little older, he’s seen his close friend Mac Miller overdose, he’s gone through the same insane downward news spiral we all have and he’s emerged more or less intact, but not unchanged. He can still be a little silly — “Dragonball Durag” is a damn delight — but songs like “Black Qualls” show the cracks just under the surface. There’s a smile in his eyes but tears building in the corners — held back only by his acceptance of the hand he’s been dealt which, dammit, he’s going to play. – Aaron Williams

38
Khruangbin

Mordechai

Khruangbin tried something different this year by linking up with Leon Bridges for the collaborative Texas Sun EP, but they had another project that was more in their traditional wheelhouse. Their wheelhouse isn’t exactly traditional, though, as they continued to develop their increasingly successful incorporation of exotic rock influences. – Derrick Rossignol

39
Sufjan Stevens

The Ascension

Like many of us, Sufjan Stevens spent the year horny and terrified. His latest album The Ascension finds him pulling his hair out as democracy crumbles and the world burns, insisting on “America” that, no, he’s not acting hysterical and things really are that bad, and attacking late capitalism’s drive to strip meaning from everything on “Video Games.” But as David Cronenberg or any sex therapist would tell you, nothing turns us on like fear. This might explain why Stevens, who has previously cut a chaste public profile, has counterprogrammed his anxiety ballads with playful, throbbing electronic bangers (in all senses of the term) “Death Star” and “Tell Me You Love Me.” Mixing the whirring empty space of Björk’s Vespertine era with a bit of an R&B bounce, Stevens searches for relief, or at least distraction, by trying to make any sort of connection, even of the most fleeting or base nature. – Michael Tedder

40

It never occurred to me that the doomy romanticism of Roy Orbison could be linked with the goth-y introspection of The Cure until I heard the Chicago band Dehd. For this dreamy trio, there is no emotional heartache that can’t be cured with soaring vocals, jangly guitars, and extremely generous amounts of reverb. On their third album Flower Of Devotion, their songwriting catches up with their arresting sound, with one gorgeous melody after another complementing their gloriously depressive splendor. – Steven Hyden

41
Adrianne Lenker

Songs

It’s no secret that Big Thief vocalist Adrianne Lenker is an incredibly prolific artist but the past year has confirmed the notion. After the lockdown put the band’s two-album tour plans on hold, Lenker retreated to an isolated cabin in western Massachusetts. Her time in quarantine resulted in the tender album Songs, which showcases Lenker’s poetic songwriting while bringing her wooded surroundings to life through samples of babbling creeks and chirping birds. – Carolyn Droke

42

The posthumous debut album from burgeoning Brooklyn rap star Pop Smoke greeted fans in the midst of grief. On February 19, 2020, the artist’s ascent to acclaim and pending superstardom was swiftly upended roughly a year after the release of his breakout street-anthem-turned-hit “Welcome To The Party.” Becoming the global face of Brooklyn drill proved a feat he faced with cool certainty and charisma in every song. Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon features a cornucopia of collaborations— during his short run, Pop won the hearts of hip-hop heavyweights, international popstars, fans, and critics alike. The hefty features— from 50 Cent to Karol G, Lil Baby, Burna Boy, and Jamie Foxx— genre-crossing, and sonic experimentation were a testament to an undiscriminating talent; one that could shine amongst the brightest of stars and lend to any sound. Pop Smoke was spearheading both a Brooklyn movement and a borderless sound with ease, and during his last days, showcasing his potential. He was just getting started. – Ivie Ani

43
The Strokes

The New Abnormal

When they first came on the scene, The Strokes were celebrated for their youthful beauty and effortless cool. But they might be more endearing in their bruised and battered middle age. The power of The New Abnormal is how it leans away from nostalgia, implicitly acknowledging that leather jackets and proudly insouciant rock anthems might not be enough once life has kicked you around. “Gone now are the old times,” Julian Casablancas wails on “Ode To The Mets,” but he doesn’t come off as defeated. He sounds like a survivor. – Steven Hyden

44
Charli XCX

How I’m Feeling Now

At the onset of the pandemic, Charli XCX set out to do something unheard of — writing, recording, and producing an entire album in just two months. To make her vision into a reality, the singer leaned on social media as a crowdsourcing tool for collaboration. Fans were able to help Charli select beats, lyrics, and even single art for her music. The result, How I’m Feeling Now, offers a unique snapshot of how we were all truly feeling in quarantine, coated with Charli’s signature beat drops and mechanical samples. – Carolyn Droke

45
Moses Sumney

Grae

Moses Sumney’s sophomore effort Grae finds the native North Carolinian stepping out of his lonesome comfort zone, a hallmark of his ethereal debut Aromanticism. The limitless two-part project features atmospheric elements of pop, rock, and folk, resulting in a musically avant-garde journey of expression and identity. Throughout 20 songs, Sumney tackles life’s complex, uncharted gray territories by letting his guard down and maximizing his personal freedom in more ways than one. Grae puts self-actualization on full display, ending with Sumney’s acceptance as a being containing multitudes. This realization implores others to search for and sit in the boundlessness within themselves. – J’na Jefferson

46
Grimes

Miss Anthropocene

Whether she’s surviving on spaghetti for two years, unsuccessfully naming her first child X Æ A-12, or creating a sleep lullaby app, Grimes consistently proves she’s in a lane of her own. Her fifth studio album Miss Anthropocene reflects the same newfangled approach to pop by bridging dark synths with brooding lyrics and AI futurism while taking some surprisingly personal turns. – Carolyn Droke

47
U.S. Girls

Heavy Light

Meg Remy’s boundless vision continues to manifest itself in amazing and unpredictable ways and on Heavy Light, the 7th U.S. Girls album. Remy brings together 20 musicians for her latest performance art masterpiece. When the world around her reeks of a cesspool, this is Remy’s evocation of what it’s done to the woman and plebeian in her and how you need your wits when the chips are stacked against you. Tracks like “Overtime” and “4 American Dollars” juxtapose the free-spending citizen with the majority who struggle, set to equal parts disco panache, rousing horns, deliberately menacing drums, and multi-faceted harmonies. It’s a shame that we were largely robbed of a U.S. Girls 2020 tour because the songs on Heavy Light are tailor-built for shows from one of the best live bands on the planet. But if you close your eyes when you listen, you can still feel Remy moving like she was on stage. – Adrian Spinelli

48
21 Savage & Metro Boomin

SAVAGE MODE II

21 Savage was missed from the hip-hop game for nearly two years, dating back to the rapper’s 2018 album I Am > I Was. The Atlanta native made his return in 2020 with the same man that helped introduce him to the world: Metro Boomin. The two reunited for Savage Mode II in what was a cinematic affair that showed 21’s raw and unfiltered world in such a thrilling manner thanks to the booming narration from none other than Morgan Freeman. – Wongo Okon

49
Westside Gunn

Pray For Paris

When Jay-Z “said goodbye” to rap in 2005, he made a farewell album. Westside Gunn has made three and counting. Pray For Paris stands out because it’s his best reflection of Westside at his best: danger and designer over stick-to-your-ribs soul samples. From top-to-bottom, Pray For Paris’ soundscape makes his buoyant boasts all the more captivating, showing that he’ll still be an impactful presence in rap as an A&R. – Andre Gee

50
Jay Electronica

A Written Testimony

In 2020, the sheer abundance of surprising news desensitized us to surprising news. Still, the release of A Written Testimony is a shocker. Jay promised it several times over the 2010s, and finally delivered — with Jay-Z. Fans could anticipate moments like “Ezekiel’s Wheel” and “The Neverending Story,” but the invigorating “Flux Capacitor” and “The Blinding” indicated that he had the versatility to be a one of a kind presence all along — if he wanted to be. – Andre Gee

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Top 5 songs of 2020

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Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.