Smarter’s Favorite Songs of 2019

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2019 was one for the record books. New acts like King Princess, Billie Eilish and Lil Nas X hit the airwaves and dominated the cultural zeitgeist. It’s almost bizarre to remember how many other zeitgeisty artists like Drake, Madonna and The Raconteurs released albums this year.

We could’ve sworn Tool had a reunion. And Vampire Weekend got back together, too. But all we can remember about the last few months is that we couldn’t escape “Old Town Road” and Lizzo is in charge of everything now. Before another year comes to a close, let’s look back at the best music to come out of 2019.

Channel Tres – “Sexy Black Timberlake”

Channel Tres is quickly evolving into one of the most prolific names in dance music. After steadily releasing songs with syrupy vocals and hip-house beats for two years, “Sexy Black Timberlake” is his best tease for what’s still to come.

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“Sexy Black Timberlake” is the first single from Black Moses, his latest EP. While fans await his debut album, early adopters can still catch him on tour in smaller venues before he starts selling out stadiums. Trust us on this one — Channel Tres’ SoCal sensuality and Barry-White-on-Xanax vocals are going to please many a dance floor in 2020.

Rosalía & J Balvin featuring El Guincho – “Con Altura”

Sorry, Lil Nas X, but the Song of the Summer wasn’t your chart-topping “Old Town Road.” No summer jam gave us ’90s reggaeton throwback vibes at a 30,000-foot altitude quite like “Con Altura.” We’re in a post-“Despacito” world, and Latin and Spanish music have finally found a much larger fanbase. El Guincho has been making incredible dance music since 2007’s Alegranza, so it’s all the more exciting to see these three take over the world after all this time.

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You only have to check out the video’s 1.1 billion views on YouTube to recognize how much of a following these three have thanks to their massive hit. El Guincho, Rosalía and J Balvin have earned their way into heavy rotation at every beach party’s playlist for years to come.

FKA Twigs – “Cellophane”

It was only April, but FKA Twigs released the best ballad of the year with “Cellophane,” the first single from her second studio album Magdalene. It’s heavy on the melodrama, and you can hear her guttural pain with each crescendo, but there’s a hint of irony wrapped up in the song.

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The song appears to be about her relationship with Twilight heartthrob Robert Pattinson. Carrying the emotional weight of the relationship while battling the public’s far-from-positive approval of their love appears to have soured what could have been. But we wouldn’t worry about FKA Twigs —she’ll find something else to store in plastic wrap soon enough.

Lizzo featuring Missy Elliott – “Tempo”

Lizzo has had an explosive year, to say the least. The pop star made a major splash in 2019 with the release of her debut album Cuz I Love You. Out of all of her releases to hit it big on the radio, no song gets the dance floor moving like “Tempo,” her collaboration with Missy Elliott.

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It gives Lizzo the chance to spit playful bars to her next conquest, but if they weren’t sold yet, she offers a flute solo at the end to seal the deal. And let’s be real — if an elevator released music and said it was “featuring Missy Elliott,” we’d be in that elevator allllll day.

Perfume Genius – “Eye in the Wall”

Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas sings several songs about his relationship with his body. On 2017’s No Shape, he gorgeously examined his gender confusion and challenges living with Crohn’s disease. “Eye in the Wall,” his collaboration with Seattle-based choreographer Kate Wallich, sees Hadreas giving in to his body’s desire to move.

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The nine-minute psychedelic rush takes him outside of the confines of his body and brings all of us with him onto a cosmic dance floor eons away. It’s a beautiful, trippy opus that begs you to explore your own internal rhythms.

Tyler, the Creator – “What’s Good”

Tyler, the Creator has a very clear message for his enemies on “What’s Good” — bring it. His latest album Igor was a creative blend of rap and R&B that claimed the top spot on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart. “What’s Good” is his most aggressive and dizzying diss track that quickly jumps from buzzing beats to synthesized and smooth R&B.

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As each verse gets more intense, relaxing ’70s synths are used as a distraction to cool you down before hitting you with another verse. After comparing himself to a god, a vampire and a crocodile with an eye for Steve Irwin, we’re left speechless, which makes the soft piano outro feel all the more unsettling.

James Blake – “Assume Form”

The title track from Blake’s fourth studio album is a delicate commitment to keep himself from giving in to depression. In the last year, the musician publicly acknowledged he sought treatment for having suicidal thoughts.

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It was a powerful confession from the musician who wanted to use his story to help remove the stigma surrounding mental illness. “Assume Form” is a beautiful piano-and-string-fueled breakthrough moment for Blake and a gentle reminder for all of us to live more in the moment.

Lana Del Rey – “The greatest”

“The greatest” is like the last item you pack in the car before driving off into the sunset. It’s also a cry to escape from times when an entire generation wasn’t completely burned out. Or when Los Angeles wasn’t literally up in flames. Together with producer Jack Antonoff, Lana Del Rey created the perfect song for the existential crisis all of us had at some point in 2019.

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She calls for simpler times, like 1970s L.A.’s Laurel Canyon when it was frequented by bands like The Doors and The Mamas and The Papas. Hell, she’d even settle to go back to the rock resurgence of the late 2000s in New York City. Like the cover art for her 2019 album Norman F—— Rockwell!, “The greatest” reaches out for our hand so we can watch the end of the world together.