In release order, here are some pop songs released or promoted in 2020 I think deserved a little more love:
demons - Hayley Kiyoko (I’m Too Sensitive For This Shit - EP)
On this eery and manic track, Kiyoko expresses the struggle of her mental demons diminishing her self control and confidence. The song is produced somewhat like a late 2000s dance hit, mixed with a spooky element to it. The chorus finds Kiyoko begging for forgiveness in a hauntingly EDM style, with the backing vocals almost seeming like they’ve got Chucky and Annabelle filling in for the background vocalists. What follows is an insanely catchy flute that gives the song almost a “Halloween” and Britney Spears vibe to it that I love. Somehow turning anxiety into a dark pop-dance track is extremely fitting and enjoyable to listen to.
Tonight - Kesha (High Road - album)
Kesha’s latest studio release High Road found a bit of an underwhelming rollout of success, despite its great singles like Raising Hell and Resentment. However, following a small snippet of the track circulating Twitter, Kesha released Tonight, which to date could be one of her best singles ever released. On the track, Kesha somehow finds a way to blend her most popular sounds, creating a powerful party anthem that features both her impressive vocal range and the talk-singing style of her Animal + Cannibal era. The song opens to a gentle piano where the singer gorgeously belts that the night is “the best night of your life” and it’s time to go out. Then the track switches into a gobsmacking trap-pop beat where Kesha unleashes her “tongue-in-cheek” style rapping, referencing getting stoned and partying without a care in the world. The song combines all of the best elements of some of her most popular tracks into one explosive yet still corky anthem.
Sway With Me - Saweetie & GALXARA (Birds of Prey: The Album - soundtrack)
I’ll admit I did not see the Birds of Prey movie but following the soundtrack’s promotion with Diamonds by Megan thee Stallion & Normani, as well as Experiment on Me by Halsey, I was curious to check out the album. It’s an impressive mix of bold sounds ranging from hip-hop to rock, but Sway With Me really stood out for its interesting club-jazzy-latin-rap combination type beat. Sampling ¿Quién será?, the popular mambo from 1954, a fluid and complimentary collaboration between Saweetie and GALXARA provides a great mix of vocals and rapping to a bold and hyping track.
Comme Des Garçons (Like the Boys) - Rina Sawayama (SAWAYAMA - album)
Rina Sawayama released her debut album SAWAYAMA this year, and the alternative-pop album found impressive footing amongst club and pop listeners. Blending genres of funk, house, and disco, the song finds the Japanese-British singer confidently singing about her confidence and fashion. The track’s title is meant to be a double entendre of how she is feeling powerful the way men are made to feel more often in society, whilst also referencing the vibrant French fashion label. Sawayama brags of her extravagance and feeling en vogue, with sultry, breathy vocals over the disco-synth. The song’s Euro-dance and vogue inspirations make it a standout track, and the perfect lip sync track for RuPaul’s Drag Race (hopefully!).
jupiter (live at the troubadour) - Wrabel (piano - live album)
LA based singer-songwriter Wrabel has written tracks for many major artists like Louis Tomlinson and The Backstreet Boys, as well as collaborated with P!nk and Kesha. This year, he quietly released a live album of simply him, an audience, and a piano, where he showcases his powerful and gorgeous voice. On the track jupiter, Wrabel beautifully portrays a love that is unattainable yet so desirable, as he belts out how their love will never work in their world. Still, Wrabel professes his yearning for wanting the love to work, even if they would have to be in an entirely different world (or in this case planet). This track is the perfect heartbreak song, as it moves you with its lyrical picture over a simple piano.
Mama Told Me - Alex Newell (single)
Former Glee star and Broadway regular Alex Newell has an incredible voice. His vocal range has been largely applauded in his Broadway performances, but not enough people seem to be aware of the incredible dance-pop tracks he releases. Released on mother’s Day in 2020, Newell dedicates an anthem to his mother, thanking her for raising him and teaching him his morality. The song is a feel good and positive track, with outstanding dance production reminiscent of disco and R&B. What makes the song a standout though is Newell’s vocal performance, with a range that rivals Whitney Houston, and the song’s final whistle tone gives you the ‘Ariana Grande-type shivers’.
Sugar Daddy - Qveen Herby (EP 8 - EP)
“If it’s my right to taste the riches of the earth, these bitches better let me work,” really speaks for itself to opening this pop-rap ode to making money off rich men. Qveen Herby raps over an audacious trap beat, bragging about her new found riches from her sugar daddy. The track is quite theatrical, and transports you into a luxurious mansion where you’re dancing around throwing money because, well, you can. Herby celebrates her income, not caring about the “bitches who wanna judge her” for making money off this old dude. I’d assume Herby herself doesn’t actually need a sugar daddy (with her career she should be fine), however the song has a beat that makes you just wanna dance to and maybe just for a second ponder the life of a sugar baby.
STUD - Troye Sivan (In A Dream - EP)
Troye Sivan started off quarantine by experimenting with dance production and having a fully digital promotion and release of his work. The 6 song EP was edgy and beautiful, but STUD stood out especially for its ventures into house EDM, as well as its eerily sensual approach. Lyrically, Sivan is attempting to seduce while simultaneously expressing his insecurities with the idea of hooking up with someone so attractive. The song impressively produces a feeling of “building up” to an experience that is bold and encapsulating. The song verses build to a bridge where it seems as though Sivan is taking you along on the journey as he feels sparks with his “stud”. It’s sultry, vulnerable, and mastered into a perfect pop-house track.
Champagne Problems - Katy Perry (Smile - album)
Katy Perry’s 2020 was a little lackluster in comparison to her past pop eras (re: Teenage Dream, Prism). Despite the success of Never Really Over, Perry’s album Smile failed to gain much traction and most of the album lacked any finesse or flare to it. However, Champagne Problems is a fun, carefree track I would compare to Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia album and Perry’s own Prism. With influence from disco and 80s synth-pop, the song has that ability to make you want to put your arms up, as the optimistic track paints a world free of problems beyond needing to pour another drink. It gives that escapism that has been largely lacking from pop in recent times and is one of Perry’s best releases.
Hood Living - RILEY & BJ the Chicago Kid (RILEY - EP)
Another former Glee star Amber Riley makes an appearance on this list with the fifth track from her debut commercial release as a soloist rather than ensemble. Over dreamy, R&B production, RILEY gets honest about her upbringings, with raw lyrics depicting the violence and struggles she saw and experienced. Lyrically, she reflects on how her lifestyle made her the person she is today and takes comfort in the growth she experienced. She humbly shows love to the place that raised her as BJ the Chicago Kid takes the second verse to do the same, as his vocal production fits perfectly over the simple trap beat. The track is both nostalgic and warm in a way that makes you feel like you’re getting to know RILEY as a friend.