The perfect song has the ability to transport its listener to the destination they desire. It can offer solace in times of remorse, anger in times of unrest, and passion in times of beauty. 2019 has been a year of surprises: new faces already cementing their status in music for the foreseeable future, whilst old names returned to glistening acclaim. More than 150 songs were nominated to be put on our shortlist, before over 1000 people voted for their favourite. Whilst we can’t make a list of every song nominated, we’ve counted down the resulting 25 best songs. Have a listen to those you’ve not heard, or just reminisce on the tracks that have made 2019 special. It’s been a great one, here’s to 2020.
Introduction: Ben Standring
Words: Cameron Chadwick, Lara Gelmetti, Louis Griffin, Tristan Phipps, Ben Standring, Owen White
Normani - 'Motivation'
Despite first auditioning as a solo act for The X Factor USA in 2012, Norman Kordei Hamilton rose to fame with girl group Fifth Harmony before the group disbanded in March 2018. Following collaborations with Khalid, Calvin Harris and Sam Smith and touring life with Ariana Grande, she released her first solo single without a featured artist, Motivation, in August. A sharp, commanding R&B track based on keeping the attention of a lover, the 23-year old’s vocals glisten with the excitement of a relationship still in its honeymoon stage and co-writen with Ariana Grande, who leaves her own impression on the track within Normani’s sultry vocal lines, the track’s trumpet breakdowns manage to draw on Homecoming-era Beyonce, with its swaying groove and brass-fills. Yet despite reaching the Top 40 in both the UK and US, hitting #27 in the UK charts, Motivation’s true strengths lie in its video. A former gymnast and finalist in America’s answer to Strictly Come Dancing, ‘Dancing With the Stars’, Normani powers through a high-octane routine with the style and sass of musical idols Destiny’s Child and Ciara. A glowing statement of intent from one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 to watch in 2020. Ben Standring
FKA twigs - 'Cellophane'
Fragile. Powerful. Delicate. Masterful. FKA Twigs is an artist accustomed to contradiction, and this is never more visible than on Cellophane, the lead single from her album Magdelene. An ode to a flawed relationship, cracking under pressure, she places her vulnerability front and centre. But make no mistake; this is not an act of anything other than intention. Twigs is fully in control of every aspect of this song, turning your attention first this way, then that. She spares no effort when it comes to her art, whether that be learning literal swordfighting for her live show, or learning to produce, and then constructing the entire album herself, almost entirely individually. Twigs is not of this world; let us all just be glad that she’s chosen to grace us with her presence. Louis Griffin
Stella Donnelly - 'Old Man'
The lead single of the Australian singer-songwriter’s staggering debut record, Old Man is a towering yet effortless message of defiance in the current #MeToo climate. Following on from Boys Will Be Boys, Donnelly continues her assault on the patriarch so much so that she eviscerates it with a deft shrug and a sly smile as lines ‘I’ve worked too hard for this chance / To not be biting the hand that feeds the hate’ act as a proverbial middle-finger to continuing gender imbalances. Don’t be fooled by the track’s soothing acoustics and Donnelly’s jovial tone, for her ability to snap an audience into reality is on par with some of the best wordsmiths in the business. Lines like ‘Your personality traits don’t count / If you put your dick in someone’s face’ act as subtly as the vivid imagery that follows, but more importantly, Donnelly’s graceful charm and sharp-witted humour opens the door for conversation and unity. Her past experiences with powerful men and exploitation has been laid bare on a canvas that doesn’t ask, but demands a safer future for vulnerable and impressionable women.
The importance of a voice like Donnelly’s is priceless today, her integrity and honest personality acting more vitriolic and passionate than if the same lyrics were yelled across the medium of punk. She addresses the prevalent issues, offers her own experiences and demands for change, all carried out in a calm assuredness that highlights that women don’t need to be loud to be heard, they just need to be given the platform they deserve. Ben Standring
Caribou - 'Home'
A warm slice of some of the most optimistic dance you’ll hear all year, Dan Snaith’s first release in 4 years under his Caribou moniker, Home, returns to his sample-based roots while also retaining the organic-feeling electronica he’s known for. This is music practically made of joy, one consumed with the idea of play. Playing with structure, texture, sampling; it could quite easily be an Avalanches outtake. As ever with Caribou though, dig a little deeper and you discover that, in presenting something that seems so simplistic, Snaith has actually carved out a very tightly put together work; take the instrumental outro for example, with its curling production and sudden string sample. Make no mistake, this is the work of a perfectionist- just because he’s chosen to appear playful does not mean he is careless. Louis Griffin
The Murder Capital - ‘Don’t Cling To Life’
Over the course of ten tracks on their debut record, The Murder Capital managed to provide a sound that warps the electricity and danger of the streets of Dublin with the intense, literarily-captivated mind of frontman James McGovern. An album of acceptance, asking its listeners to hold fear, hate and isolation within the same bracket as comfort, love and excess, When I Have Fears offers its share of poignance, but not before barraging its audience with vein-bulging alarm, and perhaps the highlight of the record, the five-piece channel the passionate lamenting of grief into a propulsive blend of post-punk. The dark grooves and tragic beauty of Don’t Cling To Live captures The Cure at their chart-topping peak, yet the single acts as the band’s bravest orchestration. Recorded in-between the funeral of one member’s mother, the track accentuates a more poetic McGovern, deep in thought and reflection, as lyrics ‘The world collapses around my room’ rain down a new apocalypse. Discomforting and relentless, the propulsive guitars of Damien Tuit and Cathal Roper spark the Irish flame within listeners’ minds, honing in on the genre’s brutalist tendencies and shifting them into the modern era, combing the a capacity for arming swaths of disparate people with the tools to strike back at both the establishment and their inner demons. A quiet but violent contemplation is bolstered by a cleaner production than apparent on the rest of the record. Due partly to the jangling guitar orchestration, the band channel the rawness and emptiness of death on a track more befitting to dance to. Whilst the struggle through love, loneliness and grief has sat weightless upon their five shoulders, The Murder Capital are now dancing out into the cold light of day, their tenacity and alarming ripostes not so much putting their foot in the door of the scene, as much as blowing it off its hinges completely. Ben Standring
Peggy Gou - 'Starry Night'
A bold offering from the South Korean born, German-based superstar DJ, Starry Night highlights Gou’s infectious ability to create feel-good house music that branches from European club experience to LA-pool party. Despite having a fashion label, running a festival, jetting across the world to play at the most sought-after nightclubs, the DJ has risen to become one of dance music’s biggest names, despite still only being 29-years old. Propelled by the same sense of throwback good-fortune that was prevalent in tropical disco-house hit It Makes You Forget (Itgehane), Starry Night is Gou’s 2019 masterpiece. A staccato bassline provides much-needed rigidity, whilst hi-hats and machine claps match the emboldened piano chords bookended by trademark Korean verses. A spoken-word refrain delivers further awe in a genre that gets its share of criticism for being too predictable. In her native language, she sings about how popularity and changes taste, before switching to English and chanting words that are destined to be screamed straight back to her by adoring ravers as a warm piano returns almost as invitingly as her current lifestyle seems to look. For on a starry night, there is only one superstar DJ in the hearts and minds of house enthusiasts and music eclectics everywhere. If 2019 was a sparkling aperitif, 2020 is set to be an explosion of colour. Ben Standring
Clairo - 'Bags'
Much of rising alternative singer/songwriter Clario’s music is charming and relaxed, filled with the kind of candid thoughts, open sentiments and mundane feelings you would find in the iPhone notes page of any woman experiencing either the lust of a new romance, or the agony of a past one. The explosion of her first viral track Pretty Girl led to the release of her recent EP Immunity. A huge proportion of the EP’s success is thanks to the sound of Clario’s strongest song to date, Bags. With this track, Clario steps up the game significantly. Her stunning lyricism delivers a story about a deteriorating relationship in a continuous flow, her chilling vocals sounding dispassionate and catatonic in a way that contradicts with the poignancy of the lyrics, such as 'Can you see me using everything to hold back?' and 'Pardon my emotions, I should probably keep it all to myself'. The track’s instrumentals paint a different picture. Bags features a combination of soft drums, chugging electric guitar, repetitive synth and keyboard work that sounds as though a young child has bashed on some keys. Whilst the thought of this sounds more like noise than poetry the amalgamation of sounds is perfectly executed, producing a new kind of vibrant energy and rightfully gaining the track its place on the list for The Mic's song of the year. Lara Gelmetti
Sharon Van Etten - 'Seventeen'
When Sharon Van Etten croons 'cause you’re just seventeen' towards the end of Seventeen it’s difficult to gauge exactly what feeling is concealed behind the simple observation but what is immediately clear is the empathy and absence of judgement in her words. Written in address to her younger self, the rollicking piece of piano-rock barrels towards a cathartic conclusion without ever once bothering to stop and bother the listener with the question of who’s right or wrong, instead she simply exposes the emotional backbones of her older and younger selves and allows us ourselves to choose perspective is more valid. A driving bassline grounds the track allowing Etten to flaunt with melodrama in a way few songwriters ever get to while remaining authentic. Every time the song builds to its stunning hook Etten really let’s herself ham it up in a way she never really has before in a previously rather pious and self-serious body of work. She savours each syllable and imbues every sound with attitude as she half-growl-half-slurs 'now you’re a hotshot hanging on my block' with enough charisma and overblown theatrics to leave Born To Run-era Springsteen quaking in his patent leather boots. The chorus itself is a gorgeous twinning of one of the most arena-sized radio friendly hook’s Etten has ever written with enough small-town pathos and nostalgic self-reflection to fill several great American novels. The rest of the song is built out with fantastically fuzzy synths that gradually swell and fill the empty space of the song which gives it’s vintage-Americana flavour a fresh and otherworldly feeling. With its show-stopping vocal take, personal subject matter and undeniably lovely instrumental pallet this is Etten once again proving when push comes to shove, she remains one of the most effect singer songwriters working today. Owen White
The National - 'Rylan'
One of the highlights of from eighth studio record I Am Easy To Find, Rylan was first debuted in a live session for Q Magazine and was intended to make the track listing for 2013’s critically acclaimed Trouble Will Find Me. Now in its finished form, the track ebbs and flows with a natural beauty that represents the slow, easy-going nature of its very own writing process, lifting from darkened soliloquy to triumphant optimism. Whilst processed drums create a thunderous backdrop for the spirited single to flourish, lyrics of nature and protection of a childlike state remind listeners to take care of themselves. With guest vocals from Kate Staples [This Is The Kit] acting in a call-and-response manner with Matt Berninger, Rylan has already become a fan favourite on a live platform, its emotive vocals resonating amongst fans new and old alike, connecting the band’s pre-High Violet and post-High Violet discographies. Ben Standring
Dave - 'Black'
A song vehemently defended by Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac, Black acts as a visceral reminder that the issue of race will rightfully not be swept under the carpet. Whilst the single acts as a representation of the rapper’s struggles, it showcases a longevity of racial stigma, speaking of severed heritage, the loss of family trees, slavery and parenthood. As an education into the current life of a person of black origin, Black is a vital message to those believing that the struggles of one black person are the same as another. Speaking out about the issue of black criminals being targeted by the media, Dave states ‘A kid dies, the blacker the killer, the sweeter the news / And if he’s white you give him a chance, he’s ill and confused / If he’s black he’s probably armed, you see him and shoot.’ From the offset, the track is clear in establishing itself as a voice for those previously unheard, as lyrics ‘Black is pain, black is joy, black is evident / It’s working twice as hard as the people you know you’re better than’ showcase current inequality within British society. Whilst much of the track’s core lyrics tackle pertinent racial problems, Dave allows room to manoeuvre, offering celebrations of black culture with lines like ‘Black is growing up around your family and making it,’ and with a though-provoking video engraving Dave’s message into the modern British psyche, his voice will now sweep across the nation as a defiant call for change, bolstered by the Mercury Prize he received earlier this year. Ben Standring
BROCKHAMPON - 'SUGAR'
GINGER might’ve stood as Brockhampton’s most contemplative and melancholy record to date, acting as a final exorcism for the demons that have haunted the band post-removal of founding member Ameer Vann, but standout single SUGAR is anything but (mostly). Opening with a sticky sweet hook from regular group collaborator Ryan Beatty that’s adorned with angelic pitched up vocal harmonies, chirping synth bells and acoustic guitar arpeggios worthy of the finest 90’s R&B groups, it’s a fantastic example of the group at their most direct and pop-centric. From this point on the song stands as a showcase of the group’s emotional versatility and individual strengths. It features a cathartic autotuned diatribe from the groups resident sage poet (who’s increasingly become the groups exposed nerve emotional lynchpin), a subdued but nuanced and wistful verse from Matt Champion reminiscing on past glories before the show is finally stolen by the stunningly emotionally direct coda of group leader Kevin Abstract buoyed by one of the groups most achingly beautiful melodies to date. Bearface doesn’t sound half bad on the cut either. Owen White
Thom Yorke - 'Dawn Chorus'
There’s a moment in Thom Yorke’s one-reeler collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson, ANIMA, where the furious choreography that dominates the film for its first half ceases, and there is silence. Paper fragments flutter around Thom Yorke, face down on the pavement, and then a delicate synth slowly approaches. Dawn Chorus is a song that has been over a decade in the making, the name floating around in Radiohead ephemera for some time now. But the eventual form Dawn Chorus has taken is flooringly beautiful; a treatment of pain, love, loss and longing. Thom repeats ‘If you could do it all again’ over and over, as if saying it will change the past. The emotional heft of the track is most evident in its final stanza, spoken aloud by Yorke over swelling electronica:
In the middle of the vortex / The wind picked up
Shook up the soot / From the chimney pot
Into spiral patterns / Of you, my love.
The song is almost too harrowing for me to listen to on any regular basis; it is quite frankly a masterpiece, and evidence that Yorke is still one of the most necessary voices working in alternative today. Louis Griffin
slowthai Feat. Mura Masa - 'Doorman'
2019 has been the ultimate year for Northampton rapper Tyler Frampton, aka slowthai. Rising on a bed of gritty instrumentals, Frampton’s debut record Nothing Great About Britain saw the 25-year old spit vehement lyrics orchestrated around and against Brexit and Theresa May’s Britain. His highlight release of the year, Doorman, a vitriolic riposte against ‘high society,’ written after seeing a collection of multi-million dollar paintings on a wall after a night out in London. Exposed to the wealth disparity, Frampton’s rambling chronicle of a night out offers subtle chin-wagging wit mixed with an integral punk message drenched in spite for Britain’s upper classes. With the help of electronic rising-star Mura Masa, aka Alex Crossan, it was thought Frampton would be adding a subtler groove to his already chastising catalogue of hits, yet gnarly guitars, distorted vocals, a bopping electronic drum beat, manages to make slowthai’s sound an even greater class critique for the mosh pits, a homage to punk rather than an embracement of electronic. Ben Standring
Sports Team - 'M5'
One of the most exciting new British bands around, Sports Team have built a cult following across the country over the past eighteen months, largely thanks to their blisteringly and unabashedly unique blend of indie-rock. Already famed for their high-octane, gripping live shows, the release of M5 confirmed the six-piece as crowned princes in waiting. Possessing the most eye-wateringly catchy chorus to date, M5’s status as a gleaming ode to the motorways matches Alex Rice’s smirking, pithy statements such as ‘I wanna buy you a flip-screen Motorola,’ harness the same quintessential English inherent in the likes of Damon Albarn and Ray Davis. From beginning to end, with its carefree ‘oooo-oooo-oo-oo’ singalongs, the band’s propulsive statement of intent moves the band from promising upstarts and into the fast lane as they look towards 2020 with hope and pride. Ben Standring
Do Nothing - 'Gangs'
Named The Mic’s 2020 Artist to Watch, Gangs has pinned the Nottingham four-piece firmly in the hearts and minds of critics and music lovers across the country, its infectious accentuated drum beat and guitar progression lying underneath tipsy social commentary. The apparent isolated, abstract assertions from frontman Chris Bailey begin to weave themselves together into a coherent diatribe on rejection, rebellion, and growing up on post-modern Britain and despite the track’s spontaneous delivery, its lyrics are meticulously planned out, dominated by Bailey’s consistent resistance to complacency, spinning layered musings and escalating instrumentals underneath. A landmark single for the band, that sparked airplay of Jack Saunders’ Radio 1 Indie show, the rip-roaring yet cryptical expressions of youth, defiance and societal expectation launched Do Nothing into a stratospheric slot supporting Interpol before a host of festival dates and a headline show at Rescue Rooms. Cameron Chadwick
Tyler, The Creator - 'Earfquake'
'You make my earthquake.' This is the line Tyler, The Creator chooses to open Earfquake with, the first and only single from this year’s excellent IGOR. Its meaning is so ambiguous and abstract that it’s applicability could span across a range of emotions, relationships and viewpoints; however, it still manages to remain undeniably effective from the get-go. This is owed largely to the near telepathic sense Tyler seems to have developed through the years for expressing concepts that would take lesser writers’ verses to communicate using only their most skeletal components. There’s something disarming about the way the phrase mangles together classic romantic/novelty gift cliché 'you rock my world' with one of the most deadly, unpredictable and unknowably powerful forces in nature that should read as pompous metaphor but surprisingly, it doesn’t. It reads as honesty. IGOR is a breakup record of raw loss and open wounds tempered with unbelievable warmth and empathy and Earfquake in particular is rising tide of authentic emotions and clashing perspectives captured perfectly in audio form. A painful, deeply intimate moment experienced by two people, caught in amber and perfectly preserved for we the listening audience to gawk at. In that I think you can find the strength of the whole song, Tyler invites us to derive lessons and revelations from he and this significant other’s pain as they experience it, and when there are no more lessons to learn, perhaps simply to take solace. Any romance has the ability to feel all-consuming and leave the afflicted feeling utterly expose but you’re not alone. Everybody has someone who makes their earthquake. Owen White
Foals - 'The Runner'
With Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 1 released into the world and proving quite the success among fans and critics alike, Oxford trio Foals had quite the task ahead of them to produce a 'Part 2' equally as exciting as its predecessor, yet something more than just a continuation. ‘Part 1’ took clear inspiration from Foals humble beginnings as a “Math Rock” band with dancefloor tastes: tricky guitar lines interspersed with momentous club-friendly beats - In Degrees being the perfect exhibition of their exciting progression. Fans weren’t left in limbo for long, as come Autumn, Foals had released exciting track The Runner, a rousing mixture of snarling guitar lines and atmospheric choruses in what will no doubt become a staple for the live shows. Fitting for a band renowned for their live energy, The Runner alongside Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost Part 2 fit perfectly in the “Foals” mould in a way that may not earn them too many new admirers, but will certainly keep the fans happy for the meantime. Tristan Phipps
Vampire Weekend - 'Harmony Hall'
Vampire Weekend have forged a truly strange career for themselves as indie’s most agreeable provocateurs. Over the years their sometimes subtle and sometimes glaring contrarianism towards both the expectations listeners put on them and the expectations the indie scene puts on its most buzzy acts has been the one consistent theme through the groups musical output. First rising to renowned acclaim through the brief, breezy, world-music inspired indie pop of their self-titled debut (who’s notoriety was buoyed by irresistible singles such as now signature tune A-Punk) you’d assume the band would continue in this lowkey, meat and potatoes fashion to attempt to recapture this success. You’d be wrong, follow-up Contra upped the ante in every conceivable way from song lengths which now stretched up and over the five-minute mark to instrumental pallet which they broadened to incorporate any elements they could scavenge from world music, indie music and much more. This only brought them more success. Harmony Hall, the lead single from 2019’s Father of the Bride is yet another example of the band subverting listener’s expectations in the subtlest and strangest of ways. A sprawling jam-centric piece of folk-y indie pop, the song really makes an effort not to capitalize on any of the successful threads of the previous albums increasingly experimental and baroque song-writing, landing on something far more loveable and easy-going instead in the process. The song opens with a gorgeous dual-tracked acoustic guitar line that seems to ebb and flow like water, sloshing from one side of your speaker to the other then builds up with some lovely driving piano, angelic harmonies and quirky percussion. None of these individual elements are new for Vampire Weekend but really where Harmony Hall’s most appealing subversion lies, it’s a maturation and a distillation rather than an entirely new sound. If this songs gorgeous lead melody and breath-taking lyrical take on the anxiety of modern living are anything to go off then Vampire Weekend returning to refine old ideas in new ways might not be such a bad thing for a band who’ve spent their entire career wilfully and passionately refusing to look back. Owen White
Lil Nas X Feat. Billy Ray Cyrus - 'Old Town Road (Remix)'
By combining easy-going country music tones with classic American hip-hop, Lil Nas X proved to be the ultimate breakthrough star of 2019. After Old Town Road went viral online in the space of a few days, it was evident that this was a track to take seriously. By summer Old Town Road had become a number one single across the globe, as well as earning the prestigious ‘multi-platinum’ label. Alongside country icon Billy Ray Cyrus, Lil Nas X craftily used his immense social media presence to carry the tune to a whole new audience; his cheeky, humorous personality no doubt helping the track resonate with the millions of TikTok users which gave the track it’s leg up in the first place. Blending banjo with booming basslines is certainly a novel way to achieve your first number one: proof that music fans love a catchy track that defies genre – as did the rest of the world.
Lana Del Rey - 'The Greatest'
A kaleidoscopic transmission of high-calibre yearning, set with a classic-rock background yet seen through a hushed, psychedelic lens, The Greatest is Lana Del Rey’s attempt to dance through the tears of environmental and societal decay, taken as a single from her equally impressive sixth studio record Norman Fucking Rockwell. In the past, Del Rey’s ability to make her material sound like it is set for a lonely journey towards the end of the world, with the occasional seaside view, has made her a delightful if dreary superstar. Yet, on The Greatest she opens the lonely road up for everyone to see, quivering at the dwindling of resources, hope and ultimately humanity. ‘If the is it’ she croaks, ‘I’ve had a ball.’ More importantly however, there’s a sense of urgency lying beneath The Greatest, fuzzy guitar solos and a poignant celebration of youth all soaked in nostalgia and sweeping vintage Americana, whilst her distinctive ability to inject smirking codas into a song about global destruction only highlight the individuality of an artist still honing her capabilities as a wordsmith. ‘The culture is lit and I’ve had a ball’ are sung in a tone that flickers from sincerity to eye-rolling sarcasm, whilst ‘LA’s in flames, it’s getting hot / Kanye West is blonde and gone / “Life on Mars” ain’t just a song / Oh, the live stream’s almost on’ are equal-part playful and helpless, drawing the curtain on one of Del Rey’s greatest tracks she’s ever written. Ben Standring
Bon Iver - 'Hey, Ma'
Despite the maze of verses and structural complexity inherently woven within 2016’s pioneering 22, A Million, Justin Vernon surprised everyone in 2019 with his contentless to hark back to the sentimentality of his first two records, with the release of Hey, Ma, a single steeped in nostalgia and emblematic of the band’s fourth record i.i. Wrapping sentimental imagery of Ve