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Arts & Culture

The Best Music Of 2020: NPR Staff Picks

This week we shared NPR Music's best songs and albums of 2020, lists voted on, politely argued over and presented by our staff, station partners and contributors. Today we're featuring the good stuff from the private reserves. Below you'll find lists of top 10 albums and songs from the members of NPR Music's staff.


Cadenza.
/ Courtesy of The Insanity Group
Cadenza.

Nikki Birch

Producer, Jazz Night In America

My top 10 albums and songs are those that made me smile, laugh, dance or cultivate a sense of peace when I needed it most. This is the music I listened to on repeat in 2020.

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. Thundercat, It Is What It Is
2. Kassav', 40ème anniversaire - Le concert
3. Salaam Remi, Black on Purpose
4. Nick Hakim, WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD
5. KIRBY, Sis.
6. Piano Novel, Lumino Forest (Alternative Takes)
7. Megan Thee Stallion, Good News
8. Kes, We Home
9. yMusic, Ecstatic Science
10. 11:11, The Night Before The Morning After

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. Cadenza, "Walk Out" (feat. Ms Banks, Spice)
2. Jacob Collier, "All I Need" (feat. Mahlia, Ty Dolla $ign)
3. Little Dragon, "New Fiction"
4. Slingbaum, "Morphine"
5. Bilal & HighBreedMusic, "DAY THREE: Voyage to a New World"
6. Jake Sherman, "Dig Deeper"
7. Spitzwell x Boog Brown, "The Unknown"
8. Bob Lanzetti, "Invention No. 13 in A Minor"
9. Brent Birckhead, "4 & 6"
10. Ze Lucy (ዘ ሉሲ) ሴት አይደለሽም እንዴ, "You're Not A Woman"

Listen OnSpotify


Bob Boilen

Host, All Songs Considered

Quietude. More than half of the music I connected with and loved in 2020 fit that description. In past years, many of my nights were spent at clubs, seeing live music — loud, brash, fun, uplifting and thrilling. That all stopped in mid-March, right about the time I'd usually be in the midst of thousands of fans seeing hundreds of musicians at SXSW. Being alone, away from friends, colleagues and clubs, I connected deeply with music that drew me in with subtly, yearning and atmosphere. Thank you to all those musicians who poured their hearts into their instruments in 2020.

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. Ólafur Arnalds, some kind of peace2. Adrianne Lenker, songs3. Sylvan Esso, Free Love4. Phoebe Bridgers, Punisher5. Agnes Obel, Myopia6.Bright Eyes, Down In The Weeds, Where The World Once Was7. Gia Margaret, Mia Gargaret8. SAULT, Untitled (Black Is)9. Roger Eno & Brian Eno, Mixing Colours10. Nils Frahm, Empty

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. Adrianne Lenker, "anything"
2. Sylvan Esso, "Make It Easy"
3. Bob Dylan, "Murder Most Foul"
4. Steady Holiday, "Living Life"
5. Phoebe Bridgers, "I Know The End"
6. Cinder Well, "Our Lady's"
7. lemin., "one brain"
8. Gracie and Rachel, "Ideas"
9. Shamir, "On My Own"
10. Ólafur Arnalds, "Back to the Sky" (feat. JFDR)

Listen OnSpotify


Spillage Village.
Alex "Grizz" Loucas / Courtesy of the artist
Spillage Village.

Rodney Carmichael

Host, Louder Than A Riot

"Atlanta won." Funny ain't it. In the 25th anniversary year of our Lawd and Savior Faire Andre 3K's legendary proclamation that "the South got something to say," the hometown ran up the score yet again. Nearly two million people tuned in to watch Gucci and Jeezy come together to create the most-watched Verzuz, that livestream phenomenon of pandemic proportions. Lil Baby is (in)arguably the best rapper alive. And Morgan Freeman lent his voice to the best mixtape sequel of the year: 21 Savage and Metro Boomin's Savage Mode II. Heavy is the crown, indeed. So in honor of all that damage — and the fact that I couldn't add two extra slots to my shortlist of ranked faves — I'm leaving Savage Mode II and Lil Baby's My Turn (Deluxe) off my top 10 albums below (which still has plenty of A-Town entries). Just know they still reside there in spirit.

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. Goodie Mob, Survival Kit
2. Nick Hakim, WILL THIS MAKE ME GOOD
3. Homeboy Sandman, Don't Feed The Monster
4. Deante' Hitchcock, BETTER
5. Spillage Village, Spilligion
6. Kassa Overall,I THINK I'M GOOD
7. Westside Gunn, Pray For Paris
8. Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist, Alfredo
9. Drakeo the Ruler, Thank You For Using GTL
10. Open Mike Eagle, Anime, Trauma & Divorce


The Alchemist and Freddie Gibbs.
Nick Walker / Courtesy of the artist
The Alchemist and Freddie Gibbs.

Bobby Carter

Producer, Tiny Desk

This is my soundtrack for survival.

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. SAULT, Untitled (Black Is)2. Freddie Gibbs / The Alchemist, Alfredo3. Victoria Monét, Jaguar4. Xavier Omär, if You Feel5. Khruangbin, Mordechai6. Tame Impala, The Slow Rush7. Big Sean, Detroit 28. Gabriel Garzon-Montano, Agüita9. 21 Savage / Metro Boomin, Savage Mode II10. Spillage Village, Spilligion

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. Childish Gambino, "47.48"
2. India Shawn, "Movin' On" (feat. Anderson .Paak)
3. Lil Baby, "The Bigger Picture"
4. Men I Trust, "Lucky Sue"
5. Nick Hakim, "QADIR"
6. Yebba, "Distance"
7. Anderson .Paak, "Lockdown (Remix)" (feat. JID, Noname , Jay Rock)
8. Brandy, "Lucid Dreams"
9. Thundercat, "Dragonball Durag"
10. Rae Khalil, "FATHER" (feat. C.S. Armstrong)

Listen OnSpotify


Ambrose Akinmusire.
Ogata / Courtesy of the artist
Ambrose Akinmusire.

Nate Chinen

Director of Editorial Content,

In a year that dirged and dragged in so many ways, jazz and improvised music kept uplifting, transcending, astonishing. There was almost too much excellence to process in 2020, but the albums I found myself returning to were those that balance head and heart, yielding something new every time. (I decided to leave out historical discoveries, though this was a stellar year for those, too.) The songs list is where you'll find some nods to my extracurricular listening, as well as standout pieces from more great jazz albums that barely missed the cutoff for a Top 10.

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. Ambrose Akinmusire, on the tender spot of every calloused moment
2. Maria Schneider Orchestra, Data Lords
3. Keith Jarrett, Budapest Concert
4. Jyoti, Mama, You Can Bet!
5. Immanuel Wilkins, Omega
6. Jeff Parker, Suite For Max Brown
7. Dan Weiss' Starebaby, Natural Selection
8. Micah Thomas, Tide
9. Mary Halvorson's Code Girl, Artlessly Falling
10. Nels Cline Singers, Share the Wealth

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. Fiona Apple, "Heavy Balloon"
2. Run the Jewels, "A Few Words for the Firing Squad"
3. Rosalía, "Juro Que"
4. Nduduzo Makhathini, "Umlotha"
5. Dua Lipa, "Don't Start Now" (2019)
6. Nubya Garcia, "Source (Makaya McCraven Remix)"
7. Shabaka and the Ancestors, "Go My Heart, Go to Heaven"
8. Joel Ross, "Home"
9. Willie Nelson, "Our Song"
10. Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride, Brian Blade, "Right Back Round Again"

Listen OnSpotify


X Alfonso.
Titina/Vistar / Courtesy of the Artist
X Alfonso.

Felix Contreras

Host, Alt.Latino

In a year full of unexpected twists and turns for the world, and for me personally, I was like so many other people around the globe who relied on music to get me through. And the music that came in from the far corners of the Latin music world was rich in variety, as it is every year. But this time it felt different: There seemed to be an undercurrent of musicians challenging the current world order by simply being defiantly creative. Almost as if they were laughing in the face of death (from the virus or at the hands of abusive police officers) by going deep within themselves for the inspiration to create as a means of survival. And we, in turn, turned within, to try to understand what their work meant to us in this moment. These end-of-year lists are by nature non inclusive, and for that I apologize to so many others who created music that was very important to me. But the spirit of the music that is listed has helped me, and may help you, face what 2020 has thrown at us and whatever lies in 2021. Be safe, wear a mask and thanks for listening.

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. X Alfonso, Inside
2. Maria Jose Llergo, Sanación
3. Lido Pimienta, Miss Colombia
4. Rita Indiana, Mandinga Times
5. The Mavericks, En Español
6. Gina Chavez, La Que Manda
7. Natalia Lafourcade, Un Canto Por Mexico Vol. 1
8. Okan, Espiral
9. Orquesta Failde, Failde Con Tumbao
10. Ghetto Kumbé, Ghetto Kumbé

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. Mireya Ramos, "Angelitos Negros"
2. Ana Tijoux, "Antifa Dance"
3. Carlos Vives, "Cumbiana"
4. Mon Laferte, "Biutiful"
5. Salt Cathedral, "Mueveló"
6. La Marisoul, "Angelitos Negros"
7. Buscabulla, "Mio"
8. Nancy Sanchez, "Gran Civilización" (feat. Olmeca)
9. Angelica Garcia, "Jicama" (2019)
10. LADAMA, "Nobreza"

Listen OnSpotify


Tim Heidecker.
Cara Robbins / Courtesy of the artist
Tim Heidecker.

Raina Douris

Host, World Cafe

As I was putting together my list, I noticed certain themes emerge. These were the albums and songs that helped me get through a year of anxiety, anger and fear. It's music that made me feel less alone, helped me find moments of joy and fun, and often articulated the complicated emotions that came with so much unrest — both personal and in the world at large.

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. Run The Jewels, RTJ4
2. Tim Heidecker, Fear of Death
3. Perfume Genius, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
4. Jason Isbell, Reunions
5. Kathleen Edwards, Total Freedom
6. Stephen Malkmus, Traditional Techniques
7. U.S. Girls, Heavy Light
8. Soccer Mommy, color theory
9. Nap Eyes, Snapshot of a Beginner
10. Dehd, Flower of Devotion

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. Tim Heidecker, "Fear of Death"
2. Run The Jewels, "Walking in the Snow"
3. The Weather Station, "Robber"
4. EOB, "Shangri-La"
5. Perfume Genius, "Your Body Changes Everything"
6. Cardi B, "WAP" (feat. Megan Thee Stallion)
7. Best Coast, "Everything Has Changed"
8. Christine and the Queens, "People, I've been sad"
9. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, "Honey"
10. Lido Pimienta, "Nada"

Listen OnSpotify


Lido Pimienta.
Daniella Murillo / Courtesy of the Artist
Lido Pimienta.

Stefanie Fernández

Contributor, Alt.Latino

In 2020 I loved a lot of new music that sounded like old music, and like a lot of people coping with this year, I turned to old comforts: pop punk, old-school reggaetón, traditional Latin American folk genres, protest songs. As a teenager, I used to order pizza and watch music documentaries on Saturday nights. Somewhere in between these ranks sits the final minute-and-a-half of Bad Bunny's "Hablamos Mañana," my half-song of the year, and its glorious emo-trap-to-nu-metal breakdown, a moment out of time that, like all my favorite music this year, feels like the whole pizza and the house to myself.

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. Lido Pimienta, Miss Colombia2. Bad Bunny, YHLQMDLG3. Rita Indiana, Mandinga Times4. Sexores, Salamanca5. Bartees Strange, Live Forever6. Rina Sawayama, SAWAYAMA7. Jean Dawson, Pixel Bath8. María José Llergo, Sanación9. Angelica Garcia, Cha Cha Palace10. Buscabulla, Regresa

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. Bad Bunny, "Safaera," (feat. Jowell & Randy and Ñengo Flow)
2. Meet Me @ the Altar, "Garden"
3. Orishas, Beatriz Luengo & Ara Malikian, "Ámame Como Soy Yo"
4. Lido Pimienta, "Eso Que Tu Haces"
5. La Doña, "Quién Me La Paga"
6. Ana Tijoux, "Antifa Dance"
7. Bartees Strange, "Mustang"
8. Angelica Garcia, "Agua de Rosa"
9. Noname, "Song 33"
10. Chucky73 & Fetti031, "Dili"

Listen OnSpotify


Protomartyr.
/ Courtesy of the artist
Protomartyr.

Andrew Flanagan

Editor, NPR Music

Top 9 Albums Of 2020

1. Haus of Altr, HOA11
2. Duma, Duma
3. Lido Pimienta, Miss Colombia4. Freddy Gibbs / The Alchemist, Alfredo5. Pablo R. Ruiz, Estados Criminales6. Discovery Zone, Remote Control7. Black Taffy, Opal Wand8. Protomartyr, Ultimate Success Today9. Anunaku, Stargate EP

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. Radio Slave, "Stay Out All Night"
2. Chynna, "attention" (2019)
3. Chucky73 & Fetti031, "Dili"
4. El Shirota, "No Sé Todo"
5. WaqWaq Kingdom, "Positive Sound"
6. Soccer Mommy, "circle the drain"
7. Sorry, "Right Round the Clock" (2019)
8. Black Grapefruit, "Inside"
9. Ana Tijoux, "Antifa Dance"
10. Les Amazones d'Afrique, "Love"

Listen OnSpotify


Dua Lipa.
Hugo Comte / Courtesy of the artist
Dua Lipa.

Jacob Ganz

Senior Editor, NPR Music

I craved proficiency, calm, earned confidence, self-knowledge. I could have filled a dozen more spots with great songs — apologies to Rod Wave's "Ribbon In The Sky," Sam Hunt's "Hard to Forget," Lil Durk's "The Voice," Rico Nasty's "IPHONE," Ultraista's "Tin King," Men I Trust's "Lucky Sue," Yves Tumor's "Gospel for a New Century," Tyler Childers's "Long Violent History" and basically every song off Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia. Yes, this is technically cheating. Fair play for a year that cheated us out of plenty.

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. Jeff Parker, Suite for Max Brown2. Angelica Garcia, Cha Cha Palace3. Lil Uzi Vert, Eternal Atake4. The Microphones, Microphones in 20205. Dua Lipa, Future Nostalgia6. Víkingur Ólafsson, DebussyRameau7. Tara Clerkin Trio, Tara Clerkin Trio8. Spillage Village, Spilligion9. Perfume Genius, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately10. Katie Pruitt, Expectations

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. Christine and the Queens, "People, I've been sad"
2. RMR, "Rascal"
3. Lomelda, "Hannah Sun"
4. Taylor Swift, "invisible string"
5. Dreamville, "BUSSIT" (with Ari Lennox)
6. The 1975, "If You're Too Shy (Let Me Know)"
7. Bad Bunny, "Dakiti" (feat. Jhay Cortez)
8. Carla Morrison, "Ansiedad"
9. J Hus, "Repeat" (feat. Koffee)
10. Cardi B, "WAP" (feat. Megan Thee Stallion)

Listen OnSpotify


Phil Elverum of The Microphones.
/ Courtesy of the artist
Phil Elverum of The Microphones.

Lars Gotrich

Viking, NPR Music

In 2020, Phil Elverum encapsulated his lifetime of music with a single lyric: "fog imbued with light and emptiness." In seeking out a "deeper peace" — one complicated, enlightened and obscured by this year — I tried to do the same.

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. Charli XCX, How I'm Feeling Now
2. Backxwash, God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It
3. Sweeping Promises, Hunger for a Way Out
4. The Microphones, Microphones in 2020
5. Code Orange, Underneath
6. Pink Siifu, NEGRO
7. Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus, Songs of Yearning / Nocturnes
8. Duma, Duma
9. Meurtrières, Meurtrières
10. Chris Forsyth with Garcia Peoples, Peoples Motel Band

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. Hayley Williams, "Why We Ever"
2. Soul Glo, "(Quietly) Do the Right Thing"
3. Carly Rae Jepsen, "This is What They Say"
4. Jackie Lynn, "Dream St."
5. Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou, "Ancestral Recall"
6. Chara + Yuki, "楽しい蹴伸び (Tanoshii Kenobi)"
7. Jayda G, "Both of Us"
8. Moor Jewelry, "Look Alive"
9. Sad13, "Take Care"
10. Стереополина, "Последнее свидание"

Listen OnSpotify


Junglepussy.
Caity Arthur / Courtesy of the artist
Junglepussy.

LaTesha Harris

Intern, NPR Music

It wasn't hard to find music to distract myself this year. An abundance of great releases offered reprieves from being angry about death, corruption, respectability politics, misogynoir, etc., etc.. The thing is, distracting music can't land anywhere. Records you fall into and recover with can. My list isn't the "best" music of the year. It's my favorite sonic embraces, worlds to be transported into, euphoria to share. Here are the healing spaces I kept returning to in 2020.

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. Fiona Apple, Fetch The Bolt Cutters2. Flo Milli, Ho, why is you here?3. Junglepussy, Jp44. Chloe x Halle, Ungodly Hour5. Dorian Electra, My Agenda6. LOONA, [12:00] 7. Shygirl, ALIAS8. Burna Boy, Twice As Tall9. Hayley Williams, Petals For Armor10. Phoebe Bridgers, Punisher

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. Róisín Murphy, "Murphy's Law - Extended Mix"
2. Tierra Whack, "Peppers and Onions"
3. Noname, "Song 33"
4. City Girls, "Broke N*****" ft. Yo Gotti
5. BRS Kash, "Throat Baby (Go Baby)"
6. Victoria Monét, "Jaguar"
7. Busta Rhymes, "Look Over Your Shoulder" (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
8. Ariana Grande, "34+35"
9. The Chicks, "My Best Friend's Weddings"
10. The Strokes, "Eternal Summer"

Listen OnSpotify


Sam Sweeney.
/ Courtesy of the artist
Sam Sweeney.

Otis Hart

Senior Manager, NPR Music

This list could change as I make my way through all the albums I intended to hear in 2020. The truth is, I had near-zero interest in new music during the first six months of the pandemic. Listening felt like a trivial exercise compared to the mortal dangers — both bat- and man-made — running amok across the country and around the world. I snapped out of my funk just in time to spend the last two months gorging on random records. I had never heard of British fiddle virtuoso Sam Sweeney until I decided to press play on the unassuming image in my Bandcamp feed, which was overflowing with neglected records I bought during Bandcamp Fridays throughout the year. Little did I know at the moment that I was listening to my favorite song of the year for the first time. Here's hoping we all experience a little more serendipity in 2021.

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. SAULT, Untitled (Black Is)
2. Clarice Jensen, The experience of repetition as death
3. Sam Sweeney, Unearth Repeat
4. SAULT, Untitled (Rise)
5. Siti Muharam, Siti of Unguja (Romance Revolution on Zanzibar)
6. Jessie Ware, What's Your Pleasure?
7. Jyoti, Mama, You Can Bet!
8. DJ Python, Mas Amable
9. Six Organs of Admittance, Companion Rises
10. Naked Roommate, Do The Duvet

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. Sam Sweeney, "Steppy Downs Road (Unearth Repeat)"
2. Dua Lipa, "Break My Heart"
3. Romy, "Lifetime"
4. Kllo, "Still Here"
5. Megan Thee Stallion, "Savage Remix" (feat. Beyoncé)
6. Lil Baby, "The Bigger Picture"
7. Christine and the Queens, "People, I've been sad"
8. Sam Hunt, "Breaking Up Was Easy In The 90's" [sic]
9. SAULT, "Wildfires"
10. Rina Sawayama, "Comme Des Garçons (Like The Boys)"

Listen OnSpotify


Son Lux.
/ Courtesy of the artist
Son Lux.

Robin Hilton

Host, All Songs Considered

I chew through a staggering amount of music to prep for New Music Friday – as many as 100 or more albums in a single week. Honestly, it can all blur together at times and it's hard for any one or five or 10 albums and songs to rise to the top and stay there. My favorite music of the year was whatever I was listening to at any given moment. That said, the 10 records and tracks here, for me, will stand the test of time.

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. Fiona Apple, Fetch the Bolt Cutters
2. Sault, Untitled (Black Is)
3. Phoebe Bridgers, Punisher
4. Common, A Beautiful Revolution (Pt 1)
5. Run The Jewels, RTJ4
6. Protomartyr, Ultimate Success Today
7. Porridge Radio, Every Bad
8. Adrianne Lenker, songs
9. Max Richter, Voices
10. Keaton Henson, Monument

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. Bad Moves, "Local Radio"
2. Christian Lee Hutson, "Atheist"
3. Anjimile, "To Meet You There"
4. Becca Mancari, "First Time"
5. Bill Fay, "Time's Going Somewhere"
6. Rafiq Bhatia, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"
7. Son Lux, "Plans We Made"
8. Anna von Hausswolff, "Sacro Bosco"
9. Hilary Woods, "Through the Dark, Love"
10. THICK, "Mansplain"

Listen OnSpotify


Sarah Kirkland Snider.
/ Courtesy of the artist
Sarah Kirkland Snider.

Tom Huizenga

Classical Critic, NPR Music

This year kept me guessing at every stress-filled twist in the road. It began normally, so I reveled in the flamboyance of Thomas Adès' extraordinary piano concerto. But after that late February release, as pandemic statistics mounted and protests grew louder, I self-medicated by clinging to music even tighter. I was drawn to tranquil and cathartic albums by Víkingur Ólafsson and Anna Clyne, and music that shouted for justice from SAULT and William Dawson. Still, there was room for discovery, and perhaps the greatest gift has been a rich trove of beautiful, soulful songs reissued by the nearly forgotten Beverly Glenn-Copeland.

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. Víkingur Ólafsson, DebussyRameau
2. Thomas Adès, Adès Conducts Adès
3. ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, William Dawson: Negro Folk Symphony
4. SAULT, Untitled (Black Is)
5. Sarah Kirkland Snider, Mass for the Endangered
6. Inbal Segev, Anna Clyne: Cello Concertos
7. Clarice Jensen, The experience of repetition as death
8. Beverly Glenn-Copeland, Transmissions: The Music of Beverly Glenn-Copeland
9. David Greilsammer, Labyrinth
10. The Mavericks, En Español

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. Víkingur Ólafsson, "The Arts and the Hours"
2. Inbal Segev: Anna Clyne, "DANCE: I. when you're broken open"
3. Clarice Jensen, "Holy Mother"
4. Rolf Lislevand, "Tombeau pour Mesdemoiselles De Visée"
5. Roomful of Teeth, "Just Constellations No. 1, The Opening Constellation (Summer)"
6. Deep Sea Diver, "Stop Pretending"
7. Caylee Hammack, "Small Town Hypocrite"
8. Chris Stapleton, "Starting Over"
9. Megan Thee Stallion "Savage Remix" (feat. Beyoncé)
10. Jacaszek, "November Early"

Listen OnSpotify


Frances Quinlan.
Julia Khoroshilov / Courtesy of the artist
Frances Quinlan.

Marissa Lorusso

Editor, NPR Music

I experienced much of 2020 as an anxious blur, which made me especially grateful for music that grabbed me and entirely refocused my attention. In many different ways, that's what these albums and songs did.

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. Frances Quinlan, Likewise
2. Perfume Genius, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
3. Fiona Apple, Fetch The Bolt Cutters
4. Waxahatchee, Saint Cloud
5. Lomelda, Hannah
6. Wendy Eisenberg, Auto
7. Bartees Strange, Live Forever
8. Backxwash, God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It
9. Special Interest, The Passion Of
10. Dua Lipa, Future Nostalgia

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. Perfume Genius, "On The Floor"
2. Adrianne Lenker, "anything"
3. Frances Quinlan, "Went To LA"
4. Kathleen Edwards, "Options Open"
5. Waxahatchee, "Fire"
6. Cardi B, "WAP" (feat. Megan Thee Stallion)
7. Christine and the Queens, "People, I've been sad"
8. Flo Milli, "May I"
9. TORRES, "Good Grief"
10. Dogleg, "Kawasaki Backflip"

Listen OnSpotify


Pop Smoke.
Tracy Awino / Courtesy of the artist
Pop Smoke.

Sidney Madden

Host, Louder Than A Riot

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. Odunsi (The Engine), EVERYTHING YOU HEARD IS TRUE2. Pop Smoke, Shoot For The Stars Aim For The Moon3. Orion Sun, Hold Space For Me4. keiyaA, Forever, Ya Girl5. Kenny Mason, Angelic Hoodrat6. Flo Milli, Ho, why is you here?7. Polo G, The GOAT8. Victoria Monet, Jaguar9. Tame Impala, The Slow Rush10. WizKid, Made In Lagos

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. Johnniqua Charles, iMarkkeyz, DJ Suede The Remix God, "Lose Yo Job"
2. Jazmine Sullivan, "Lost One"
3. SZA "Hit Different" (feat. Ty Dolla $ign)
4. The Weeknd, "Heartless"
5. Jhene Aiko, "P*$$y Fairy (OTW)"
6. Serena Isioma, "Sensitive"
7. Jai'Len Josey, "Death of A Black Girl"
8. Fana Hues, "Icarus"
9. Brent Faiyaz, "F*** The World"
10. Moneybagg Yo "Said Sum" (feat. City Girls and DaBaby)

Listen OnSpotify


Taylor Swift.
/ Courtesy of the artist
Taylor Swift.

Lyndsey McKenna

Editor, NPR Music

An incomplete list of thanks: For the reassurance that The Chicks' return offered. For the world that Bartees Strange built on Live Forever. For the comfort of Saint Cloud. For "Letting You Go," which brought me to tears time and time again. For the chorus of "Hard to Forget" and the bridge of "Till There's Nothing Left." And finally, for folklore, a surprise that, even months later, still feels like something from a dream.

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. HAIM, Women in Music Pt. III
2. Waxahatchee, Saint Cloud
3. Taylor Swift, folklore
4. Bartees Strange, Live Forever
5. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Reunions
6. Sam Hunt, SOUTHSIDE
7. Dua Lipa, Future Nostalgia
8. The Chicks, Gaslighter
9. Jessie Ware, What's Your Pleasure?
10. Ruston Kelly, Shape & Destroy

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. Sam Hunt, "Hard to Forget"
2. Taylor Swift, "mirrorball"
3. Cam, "Till There's Nothing Left"
4. Romy, "Lifetime"
5. Soccer Mommy, "circle the drain"
6. Mickey Guyton, "Black Like Me"
7. Dogleg, "Kawasaki Backflip"
8. Hailey Whitters, "Dream, Girl"
9. Christine and the Queens, "People, I've been sad"
10. Phoebe Bridgers, "I Know the End"

Listen OnSpotify


Beverly Glenn-Copeland.
/ Courtesy of the artist
Beverly Glenn-Copeland.

Suraya Mohamed

Senior Producer, NPR Music

In 2020 there are segments of our population that are still marginalized, still discriminated against and still oppressed. As such, I thought it only fitting to feature women and trans people of color to remind us of the excellent music they create. Their voices are so important and often go unrecognized. Ranked in reverse by release date, I felt it necessary to include Terri Lyne Carrington's Waiting Game, a powerful project that came out in November 2019 and didn't get proper recognition last year. It is my hope that you will enjoy all of this music as much as I do.

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. Beverly Glenn-Copeland, Transmissions: The Music of Beverly Glenn-Copeland
2. Anjimile, Giver Taker
3. Jyoti, Mama, You Can Bet!
4. Nubya Garcia, SOURCE
5. Zara McFarlane, Songs of an Unknown Tongue
6. Lianne La Havas, Lianne La Havas
7. Lido Pimienta, Miss Colombia
8. keiyaA, Forever, Ya Girl
9. María José Llergo, Sanación
10. Terri Lyne Carrington, Waiting Game (2019)

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. Victoria Monét, "Touch Me"
2. Janelle Monae, "Turntables"
3. Adia Victoria, "South Gotta Change"
4. Noname, "Song 33"
5. Mickey Guyton, "Black Like Me"
6. Dua Saleh, "body cast"
7. Little Simz, "might bang, might not"
8. Mavis Staples, "All In It Together"
9. Sunny War, "She Just Don't Care"
10. Megan Thee Stallion, "Savage Remix" (feat. Beyoncé)

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Nubya Garcia.
/ Courtesy of the artist
Nubya Garcia.

Lauren Onkey

Senior Director, NPR Music

My listening was deeply contradictory this year. I was drawn to music that challenged my place in the world and demanded that I back up my ideals with action. And, in the same hour and on the same playlists, music that wrapped me in a security blanket. I was heartened by elders still at work and the archivists pulling out older music we've never heard. I can't explain why I listened to so much Beatles music this year, but it meant I caught beautiful new remixes of solo tracks from Lennon and Harrison that captured the moment, and a gorgeous gem from McCartney, "Somedays," that offered the right melody for isolation.

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. Nubya Garcia, SOURCE
2. SAULT, Untitled (Black Is)
3. Dedicated Men of Zion, Can't Turn Me Around
4. Roberta Flack, First Take 50th Anniversary
5. Bruce Springsteen, Letter to You
6. Jyoti, Mama, You Can Bet!
7. Steve Arrington, Down to the Lowest Terms: The Soul Sessions
8. Butcher Brown, #KingButch
9. Don Bryant, You Make Me Feel
10. V/A - Soul Love Now: The Black Fire Records Story, 1975-1993

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. SAULT, "Wildfires"
2. Dinner Party, "Sleepless Nights"
3. Thundercat, "Black Qualls"
4. Anderson .Paak, "Lockdown"
5. John Legend, "Ooh Laa"
6. Bob Dylan, "I Contain Multitudes"
7. Xavier Omär, "All Our Time"
8. Paul McCartney, "Somedays" (Home Recording, Flaming Pie Box Set)
9. John Lennon, "#9 Dream" (Ultimate Mix, Gimme Some Truth)
10. George Harrison, "All Things Must Pass," (2020 Mix)

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Gabriel Garzon-Montano.
Jack McKain / Courtesy of the artist
Gabriel Garzon-Montano.

Ann Powers

Pop Critic, NPR Music

Phoebe, Fiona and Megan don't need me to tell the world that they made great music this year. Check out NPR Music's primary best of 2020 lists — I appreciate those consensus picks, too. Here, I'm sharing truly personal favorites. There's not too much music of the commons; this music is more internal, reflecting tight communities or building worlds. This selection represents just a sliver of the great music released in this year of supposed excess downtime. Musicians are still giving us so much. What are we giving back? Ask yourself that as you explore these strong stories and alluring personalities, these sonic realizations of emotional risk.

10 Albums From 2020

1. Zara McFarlane, Songs of an Unknown Tongue
2. John Craigie, Asterisk the Universe
3. Gabriel Garzon-Montano, Agüita
4. Jess Cornelius, Distance
5. Immanuel Wilkins, Omega
6. Kelly Lee Owens, Inner Song
7. Luke James, To Feel Love
8. Bonny Light Horseman, Bonny Light Horseman
9. Kassa Overall, I THINK I'M GOOD
10. Jehnny Beth, To Love Is To Live

10 Songs From 2020

1. Jess Williamson, "Pictures of Flowers" (feat. Hand Habits)
2. Moses Sumney, "Two Dogs"
3. Bill Callahan, "The Mackenzies"
4. Alanis Morissette, "Ablaze"
5. Apollo Brown & Che Noir, "Daddy's Girl"
6. Christone "Kingfish" Ingram, "Rock & Roll"
7. Drive-By Truckers, "Watching the Orange Clouds"
8. Isaac Dunbar, "Makeup Drawer"
9. Elizabeth Cook, "Mary, the Submissing Years"
10. Tobe Ngwiwe, "I NEED YOU TO (BREONNA TAYLOR)"

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Phoebe Bridgers.
Olof Grind / Courtesy of the artist
Phoebe Bridgers.

Stephen Thompson

Host, Pop Culture Happy Hour

It's been a rough year for, well, everything. But the music has been sublime, starting with Fiona Apple's brilliant career highlight (among many), Phoebe Bridgers' slow-burning star vehicle and Vistas' stormily joyous Scottish power-pop. From there, the year doled out sweet synth-pop (Yumi Zouma), brightly rendered genre-exploders (Lido Pimienta), a jaw-droppingly consistent creative left turn (Taylor Swift), soothing but philosophically expansive folk music (Clem Snide), darkly vulnerable R&B (Jonah Mutono), celebratory but emotionally rich dance-pop (Sylvan Esso) and profound, purposeful jazz (Ambrose Akinmusire). Now, if we could just see it all played live...

Top 10 Albums Of 2020

1. Fiona Apple, Fetch The Bolt Cutters
2. Phoebe Bridgers, Punisher
3. Vistas, Everything Changes In The End
4. Yumi Zouma, Truth Or Consequences
5. Lido Pimienta, Miss Colombia
6. Taylor Swift, folklore
7. Clem Snide, Forever Just Beyond
8. Jonah Mutono, GERG
9. Sylvan Esso, Free Love
10. Ambrose Akinmusire, on the tender spot of every calloused moment

Top 10 Songs Of 2020

1. Chris Stapleton, "Starting Over"
2. Tierra Whack, "Peppers & Onions"
3. The Chicks, "Gaslighter"
4. BTS, "Dynamite"
5. Brandy Clark, "Pawn Shop"
6. Katie Malco, "Creatures"
7. The Microphones, "Microphones In 2020"
8. Bad Moves, "Local Radio"
9. Ashley McBryde, "Hang In There, Girl"
10. Theo Alexander, "re; Waiting"

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