Hear Hear: The Best "Best of 2020" Playlists
Explore what you missed, skipped, or overlooked
This strange, surreal year isn’t quite over yet, but end-of-year list season has already come and gone. And while these lists can be a blast for Twitter junkies and culture nerds, they can be overwhelming if you’re simply looking for great new songs and artists to get into.
So consider this Hear Hear 2020 Finale your chance to do just that — not to debate the album of the year, or to pit Phoebe Bridgers vs. Fiona Apple vs. Run The Jewels, but just the chance to follow a few playlists and discover some sounds outside of your comfort zone. Thanks for listening with me all year long — here’s to more great tunes in 2021.
If you like pop music with a twist: Billie Eilish’s favorite 9 songs of the year. Unsurprisingly, the ubiquitous Eilish has great taste, and she shared her top tracks of the year with Australian radio station Triple J. Forced to pick just one song from The Strokes’ The New Abnormal (“I wish I could put this whole album as my first choice,” she said, “it’s been my favorite album in many years”) she went with “At The Door,” then listed a fun mix of tracks from Dominic Fike, James Blake, Tekno, Cyn, Bruno Major, Jorja Smith, and fellow ubiquitous artists Phoebe Bridgers & Drake.
If you want to hear something completely different: Album lists from Gorilla vs. Bear and Gold Flake Paint. Every year, these influential music blogs highlight a wide range of singular albums, championing artists who create genuinely new sounds and go against the grain. GvB’s list features buzzy, experimental artists like Helena Deland, SAULT, 070 Shake, Westerman and Oneohtrix Point Never. Meanwhile, GFP reliably highlights unsung artists making beautiful folk, like Sea Oleena and Gia Margaret.
If you like quirky indie rock and tender folk: Samia’s playlist of favorite songs. The eclectic singer-songwriter Samia released her own great album this year, but she also made this playlist introducing me to a ton of new emerging artists from her scene and beyond. Standout track: Miloe’s “Change Your Mind,” a perfect blend of sunny Sugar Ray surf-rock and bedroom pop.
If you want to know what tomorrow sounds like: 23 women in rap who left their mark on 2020. Briana Younger compiled this package and playlist for NPR Music, with an all-star cast of writers on 23 songs showing that “2020 was the year female rappers dominated.” Featuring tracks from Noname, CHIKA, Ivy Sole, Rico Nasty and more.
Wright, the director of Baby Driver and Shaun of the Dead, has an ear for spazzy punk and promising new artists. My favorite discoveries from his list: Easy Life (listen if you like Rex Orange County), Peaness (listen if you like The Beths and Beach Bunny) and Disq (listen if you like post-punk).
Shuffling through The Alternative and Pitchfork lists is a great way to hear the landscape of indie rock, emo, punk, and beyond right now — including Hear Hear favorites like Snarls, Trace Mountains, Oceanator, Ratboys, and Walter Etc.
If you want to see the critical consensus: Rob Mitchum’s annual Albums Of The Year spreadsheet. Always a trusty Google Sheet for music nerds, Mitchum creates the ultimate list-of-lists, mashing together all the rankings from different publications and calculating the consensus. The data says: the year’s top three albums are Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher, Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters, and Run the Jewels’ RTJ4.
If you trust individual critics: Writer-specific playlists from NPR, Stereogum, and the NYT. I always appreciate these playlists from each individual music writer at distinct publications, so you get to know the unique taste of different people on the staff. (One particularly great personal list: Sheldon Pearce’s thirty favorite albums of 2020 for the New Yorker. Pearce writes beautifully on a wide range of albums, contextualizing them within the year that was. His list includes many of my favorites — from Bridgers, Perfume Genius, Fleet Foxes, RTJ, Bartees Strange, SAULT — alongside a few surprises.)
If you wanna hear my favorites: My fave 50 songs of the year! You’ll recognize plenty of these songs from past issues, but I’ll give one more shoutout to Born Ruffians, who made not one but TWO capital-G Great albums in 2020 and still don’t get the love they deserve from the music Twitter-sphere.
And finally, your picks! In the last issue, I asked you all to share songs that deserve more attention. Quite a few of you responded to the call, sending back some great tracks across a wide range of genres. No surprise: you’ve got good taste!