This is year 12 for my annual countdown of favorite pop hits. Here are the rules. I only considered songs that hit the Billboard Top 10 at any point in 2020. There were 80 Top 10 Hits this year. Six of the 80 songs were Christmas hits re-charting, and I did not consider those. I also eliminate any song that was in my top 10 in 2019. That eliminates “Circles” by Post Malone, “Good As Hell” by Lizzo and “Someone You Loved” by Lewis Capaldi. That leaves only 69 songs from which to choose.
1. Blinding Lights, The Weeknd, XO/Republic
I remember hearing this for the first time on my car radio. It was around February and while the song sounded very 1980s, the voice was clearly recognizable as The Weeknd. I thought, hmm, that’s different. It turned out to dominate the year. Billboard ranked it as the most successful single of 2020. It spent four weeks at #1 beginning in March, and on the R&B chart, it was #1 for a record-breaking 39 weeks. He is scheduled to perform at the Super Bowl halftime in 2021. And for all that, not a single Grammy nomination, despite widespread critical acclaim for the song and the After Hours album. The snub is quite outrageous. Variety described it as, “in our many collective decades of Grammy watching, we have never witnessed an omission on the level of the one that the Recording Academy committees who decide the nominees have given to The Weeknd this year.”
Official video: YouTube link
Rosalia remix: YouTube link
From “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” December 2019: YouTube link
TikTok “experience” with Major Laser, August 2020: YouTube link
Pentatonix cover: YouTube link
2. Say So, Doja Cat, Kemosabe/RCA
There’s a lot to like here. “Say So” is a great disco-oriented track with some rap in it and for a while, I expected to list this at #1 for the year. One song eclipsed it in my mind, but why the hesitation on my part? I recently discovered that Dr. Luke produced it and had a hand in writing it. Given his alleged abuse of Kesha, this makes me uneasy. “Say So” began a 16-week run in the top 10 in early April, and peaked at #1 in mid-May, boosted by the release of a remix featuring Nicki Minaj. The remix was the A-side for two weeks, but the credit did give Minaj her first #1 hit. It’s Grammy-nominated for both Song of the Year and Record of the Year at the Grammys, and given Dr. Luke’s songwriting credit, I can only hope it wins Record but loses Song.
Official video: YouTube link
Remix with Nicki Minaj: YouTube link
From The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, February 2020: YouTube link
Korean cover by Luna: YouTube link
Japanese cover by Rainych: YouTube link
3. Dance Monkey, Tones and I, Bad Batch/Elektra/EMG
I probably should have included “Dance Monkey” on my 2019 list but it still qualifies in 2020 so here it is. It did spend 10 weeks in the top 10 this year compared to only one a year ago, so it’s all good. Internationally, it was a 2019 hit—11 weeks at number one in the U.K. and five weeks at #1 in Canada. Tones and I is the stage name of Australian singer Toni Watson. I presume that name is a nod to the spelling of Toni with an I? In any case, she wrote and recorded “Dance Monkey,” and after its May 2019 release, it hit #1 in 30 countries. She said that the lyrics refer to her days as a street performer, and that the repeated “dance for me” lines referred to people asking her to “sing for me.” The vocal style is unique and striking. Here’s a kind of sad stat. When “Dance Monkey” hit the top five in the United States, it became the first song written solely by a woman to hit the top five since March 2012, when “I Will Always Love You,” written by Dolly Parton, re-charted after Whitney Houston’s passing.
4. Don’t Start Now, Dua Lipa, Warner
Dua Lipa won the Grammy for Best New Artist of 2018 but she really hit it big with her 2020 album, Future Nostalgia. The lead single was released prior to the album in October 2019. “Don’t Start Now” is song that would not be out of place at a 1970s disco party—and it has cowbell! It hit the Billboard top 10 in February 2020 and stayed there for 20 weeks. It peaked at #2 behind the Roddy Ricch smash, “The Box.” It also hit number two in the U.K., behind “Dance Monkey,” by Tones and I. It did hit #1 in seven countries and the accolades are beginning to pile up. “Don’t Start Now” has already won the American Music Award for favorite pop song and it’s up for Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Pop Solo Performance Grammys. Lipa performed both Don’t Start Now” and her current hit, “Levitating” on Saturday Night Live in December. Billboard ranked it the fourth most successful single of 2020.
Official video: YouTube link
Purple Disco Machine Remix: YouTube link
First televised performance, “Graham Norton Show:” YouTube link
“Saturday Night Live” performance: YouTube link
Keith Urban acoustic cover: YouTube link
5. Holy, Justin Bieber featuring Chance the Rapper, Raymond Braun/Def Jam
Justin Bieber’s Changes album was the long-awaited follow-up to his excellent Purpose album released in 2015. Sadly, it was nowhere near as good as Purpose. The lead single, “Yummy,” is a candidate for this year’s worst pop song. The second single, “Intentions,” was better, but not special. The third single failed to crack the top 20. Going back to the drawing board quickly, Bieber released “Holy,” a non-album collaboration with Chance the Rapper. Singer/songwriter rapper Jon Bellion is the primary songwriter on this Gospel-tinged track and he had originally planned to release it himself. He gave it to Bieber to reach a wider audience. Released in September 2020, it has been in the top 10 for seven weeks and is performing strong heading into 2021. For me, the melody, vocals and overall sound outshine the lyrics, which are a bit corny.
6. Savage Love (Laxed – Siren Beat), Jawsh 685 & Jason Derulo, Columbia
This track started out as an instrumental called “Laxed – Siren Beat” by record producer Jawsh 685 from New Zealand. That instrumental took off on TikTok as a dance challenge. Jason Derulo added lyrics in April 2020 and the two of them came together to release the song with the hybrid title and co-billing. The collaboration reached the top 10 in early August after a June release. The collaboration reached number one in the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Sweden and Switzerland. It took a little help to reach the top spot in the United States. A remix featuring K-Pop superstars BTS was released on October 2, with new lyrics in Korean. That remix outsold the original version for exactly one week. The remix, credited to Jawsh 685, Jason Derulo and BTS, topped the charts for the week ending October 17. The following week, the credit reverted to Jawsh 685 and Derulo.
7. Therefore I Am, Billie Eilish, Darkroom/Interscope
Billie Eilish released “Therefore I Am” on November 12, 2020 and two weeks later it was #2 on the pop chart. As of now, it’s not on an album, but it may well wind up on a new LP release in 2021. As usual, Eilish co-wrote the song with her brother Phinneas O’Connell, who also produced the track. The title and lyrics are a nod to Rene Descartes, and the song is really about her doing her own thing. The video was reportedly shot on an iPhone in an empty mall. It’s highly likely to re-enter the top 10 in 2021 after the Christmas songs fall off the chart. It could rival “Bad Guy” as her most successful single.
8. I Hope, Gabby Barrett featuring Charlie Puth, Warner Music Nashville/WAR
I had never heard of Gabby Barrett before this song, but the young singer does have a bit of a brief history. She finished third on “American Idol” at the age of 18 and a year later, she returned to the show to sing “I Hope,” which would go on to become her breakout hit. It would take a while, though. Barrett, who co-wrote it with Ross Copperman and Zachary Kale, self-released it and eventually, she signed with Warner Nashville, who released it on the label in July 2019. It caught on, but slowly. The song about a woman wishing crushing heartbreak on her ex entered the hot 100 in January 2020. By April, she had hit the top of the country streaming and airplay charts, but it was a much slower climb on the pop chart. “I Hope” cracked the top 20 in the final week of May and it popped in and out of the top 20 most of the summer. Enter Charlie Puth, who liked the song so much that he contacted her on Instagram asking to do a duet remix. That remixed version got some airplay and it helped push “I Hope” into the top 10 in mid-August. In early October the remix outsold the original and it became listed as Barrett featuring Puth. On the week of November 21, it shot up to #3 and broke the record for the slowest climb into the top five at 45 weeks. It ends the year in the top 20 and likely goes back into the top 10 once the Christmas songs disappear from the chart. Billboard ranked it the 12th biggest hit of 2020.
9. Before You Go, Lewis Capaldi, Vertigo/Capitol
Lewis Capaldi’s first hit, “Someone You Loved” was an international smash in 2019 that stayed in the top 10 into March 2020. “Before You Go” was his next single that peaked at #9 in late September after being in and out of the top 10 for several weeks. It did hit #1 in the U.K. Ireland and Czechia early in 2020. Like his first hit, “Before You Go” is an emotional tune, this one inspired by the suicide of his aunt. Capaldi placed two songs on the Billboard Year-End Chart for 2020. “Someone You Loved” from last year was strong enough to come in at #10 for this year, while “Before You Go” placed 21st. It was #6 for the year on both the Adult Top 40 and Mainstream Top 40 charts.
10. Mood, 24kGoldn featuring Iann Dior, Records/Columbia
“Mood” reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 shortly before 24kGoldn turned 20 on November 13. His birth name is Golden Landis Von Jones. His collaboration with Puerto Rican rapper Iann Dior really crossed genres. It is the only song ever to have been #1 on the pop, rock & alternative, alternative and rap charts in the same week. In a likely sign of the times, it first became popular on TikTok after a July release. The song, which essentially is about telling off a partner, quickly got the attention of radio, and broke Ed Sheeran’s record for mainstream radio airplay in a single week. It has hit #1 in the U.S.. the U.K, Australia, Austria, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland. “Mood” shot back into the top 10 for the final week of 2020, buoyed by remixes that feature Justin Bieber and J Balvin. Billboard ranked it the 47th most successful song for the year 2020, and it is highly likely to make the 2021 list as well.