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Best 2020s Songs: 20 Tracks That Define The Decade We Live In
List & Guides

Best 2020s Songs: 20 Tracks That Define The Decade We Live In

From nostalgic pop bangers to timeless R&B balladry, the best 2020s songs have united, healed and inspired us in an ever-changing world.


The 2020s have been challenging, to say the least, with a series of significant historical events testing our resolve. From battling Zoom fatigue (and, of course, worse) during the COVID-19 pandemic to navigating increasingly hardline political divisions and watching global conflicts escalate, it’s evident that these are trying times. However, amid the turmoil, the musical landscape of the decade has been nothing short of extraordinary, with the best 2020s songs offering comfort and escapism, even in the darkest of times.

From chart-topping pop anthems to soul-stirring R&B ballads, the decade has so far gifted us a diverse selection of music that will undoubtedly come to define an entire generation. Whether you’re a fan of Ed Sheeran’s infectious Bad Habits or are thrilling to the empowering dose of optimism administered by Lizzo’s About Damn Time, the best 2020s songs are the anthems of our time…

Listen to our Pop playlist here, and check out the best 2020s songs, below.

20: Gorillaz: Cracker Island (2022)

As the title track for Gorillaz’s Cracker Island, a concept album tackling the modern era of fake news and digital echo chambers, this synth-funk pop gem makes a mighty splash on our list of the best 2020s songs. “The song is based on the idea that there are different islands in the future where cults are created,” Gorillaz songwriter Damon Albarn said in an interview with StuBru. “There everyone hears exactly what they want to hear without noise from other points of view. No interruption.” Thundercat’s sinuous bass work is the perfect foil for Albarn’s fantastical lyrics, painting a picture of a world of blissful ignorance that capture the stark realities of 21st-century life.

19: Russ Millions and Tion Wayne: Body (Remix) (2021)

The first drill song to reach No.1 in the UK, and winning Song Of The Year at the 2021 MOBO Awards, Russ Millions and Tion Wayne’s Body was a watershed moment in the history of British hip-hop. Even more so, the music video accompanying its remix, featuring Arrdee, 3x3E1 & ZT, Bugzy Malone, Fivio Foreign, Darkoo and Buni, made the track a cultural phenomenon among the best 2020s songs, with sportively streetwise lyrics giving fans a bottle-sized shakedown (“English girl named Fiona/Big batty girl named Abiola/Body-ody shaped like Cola”). Speaking to Viper magazine, Russ Millions marvelled at how fans have connected with the song. “I get to see how people act to it live, it’s crazy, it’s overwhelming,” he said. “Sometimes I don’t even have to sing the chorus, they sing it for me. It’s immense.”

18: David Kushner: Daylight (2023)

Revealing how some of the best 2020s songs owe their success to the viral power of TikTok, David Kushner’s gothic folk-pop ballad Daylight is a dark and poetic rumination on the light and shade of human nature. “I would say it’s the most meaningful and personal song I’ve made to date,” Kushner told the UK’s Official Charts Company. “It has a lot of biblical references, which I like to incorporate lyrically. It’s the most important thing to me, my faith.” Musically inspired by Hozier, Bon Iver and Lana Del Rey, the song peaked at No.2 in the UK and No.33 in the US, with Kushner drawing from Paul the Apostle’s teachings to offer a uniquely spiritual insight that is rarely explored so evocatively in pop music.

17: Paramore: This Is Why (2022)

After everyday life was put on hold in the early 2020s, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the wry social commentary Paramore songwriter Hayley Williams offered on This Is Why provided a much-needed tonic. “When I was writing the lyrics, I was like, this social experiment – the internet – has been going wrong since day one,” Williams told The Guardian. “It exposes and exploits the general population’s blatant disregard for nuance.” Depicting its creator as a hyper-anxious agoraphobe wary of social interaction, This Is Why ranks among the best 2020s songs for the snarky way Williams delivers her tongue-in-cheek observations, capturing how everyone felt wallowing in their stay-at-home bubbles, doomscrolling on their phone (“This is why I don’t leave the house/You say the coast is clear/But you won’t catch me out”).

16: Ed Sheeran: Bad Habits (2021)

With its pulsing beats and catchy 80s-inspired synth hooks, Ed Sheeran’s Bad Habits was one of the best songs of 2021, delivering an irresistible blend of dance-pop as Sheeran delved into the dark side of fame and his battles with sobriety. Peaking at No.1 in the UK and No.2 in the US, the song’s clubby vibes mask a relatable narrative that has proved intoxicating enough to rack up over 1.5 billion streams on Spotify to date. Proving Sheeran’s worth as a gifted musician and storyteller, Bad Habits is as addictive as it gets among the best 2020s songs.

15: Lewis Capaldi: Someone You Loved (2020)

Widely gaining recognition as Gen Z’s favourite balladeer, Scottish singer-songwriter and loveable prankster Lewis Capaldi scored one of the 2020s’ biggest chart success stories with his heartbroken piano ballad Someone You Loved. “There’s a lot of music out there that has a lot of production on it. There’s something to be said for just a song with just piano and vocals,” Capaldi told NME. Peaking at No.1 in the UK and the US, and racking up over three billion plays on Spotify to become the UK’s most-streamed song of all time, Someone You Loved earns its place among the best 2020s songs for its emotional resonance and universal appeal.

14: Joji: Glimpse Of Us (2022)

Thanks to Joji’s soulful and heartfelt delivery, the masterful piano ballad Glimpse Of Us takes listeners on an intimate and introspective journey they’ll never forget. Peaking at No.8 on the US Hot 100, Joji’s poignant narrative weaves a tale of love, loss and longing, while the song’s stripped-down production aches with vulnerability and authenticity. Easily one of the best 2020s songs, it leaves Joji holding his head high as a unique and compelling voice in the music business.

13: Billie Eilish: Happier Than Ever (2021)

Showcasing Billie Eilish’s artistic growth and emotional depth, Happier Than Ever saw the homespun maverick serve up a dark and introspective masterpiece that builds into a pop-punk tsunami of emotional catharsis. Released in July 2021 and peaking at No.4 in the UK and No.11 in the US, it’s a hauntingly beautiful song that explores themes of heartbreak and vulnerability. With Eilish gliding effortlessly from Billie Holiday-esque vocal inflections to a gutsy emo-indebted scream that Paramore’s Hayley Williams would be proud of, Happier Than Ever left us in little doubt over her status as one of the most captivating and thought-provoking artists of her generation.

12: Masked Wolf: Astronaut In The Ocean (2021)

Inspiring myriad TikTok dance-offs, Masked Wolf’s viral hit, Astronaut In The Ocean, saw the Australian rapper wade into the treacherous waters of psychological distress. “Astronaut In The Ocean touches on mental depression, how I was stuck in a place of anxiety and feeling low,” Masked Wolf said in an interview with Tone Deaf. Perfectly chiming with a generation’s preoccupation with mindfulness apps and wellbeing retreats, Astronaut In The Ocean struck a deep chord with music fans, accruing over 1.1 billion Spotify streams to date and charting at No.6 on the US Hot 100 and No.12 in the UK. Injecting a dose of conscious rap into the algorithm, Astronaut In The Ocean earns a spot among the best 2020s songs for connecting with millions who can relate to its message of overcoming mental-health struggles.

11: SZA: Kill Bill (2023)

Taking lyrical inspiration from Quentin Tarantino’s kung-fu revenge saga of the same name, Kill Bill sees SZA assume the persona of a spurned lover who dreams of visiting violence upon her ex-boyfriend (“I might kill my ex, not the best idea/His new girlfriend’s next, how’d I get here?”). “Her lyric and melody was written from top to bottom in no more than an hour, right there on the spot,” the song’s co-producer Rob Bisel told Variety magazine. “It just kind of fell out of the sky.” With its beguiling boom-bap-inspired beat and eerie flute sounds helping it stand out among the best 2020s songs, Kill Bill peaked at No.1 in the US and spent more than 50 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.

10: PinkPantheress (Featuring Ice Spice): Boy’s A Liar, Pt.2 (2023)

In February 2023, the dynamic duo of UK songwriter PinkPantheress and US rapper Ice Spice gave dance-pop a shot of adrenaline. Climbing its way to No.3 on the Billboard Hot 100, Boy’s A Liar, Pt.2 marked a significant milestone: one of the best songs of 2023, it became PinkPantheress’ first single to make waves in the US, seamlessly fusing her hyperpop style with Ice Spice’s drill-indebted bars, which in turn are perfectly complemented by Mura Masa’s energetic Jersey-club groove. Easily one of the most unexpected and yet game-changing entries among the best 2020s songs, Boy’s A Liar, Pt. 2 is likely to influence the next generation of pop mavericks.

9: Cardi B: WAP (2020)

An empowering celebration of female agency, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s WAP[] pushed boundaries and challenged societal norms in the summer of 2020. With its fierceness and charisma, the song peaked at No.1 in the UK and the US and got tongues wagging with a provocative statement about women owning their desires and confidently expressing their sexuality. While WAP has sparked debates and controversies, there’s no denying the impact its unapologetic defence of female pleasure has made among the best 2020s songs.

8: Adele: Easy On Me (2021)

A deeply introspective work of self-therapy designed to help Adele move on from her divorce, the piano-led ballad Easy On Me sees the London-born singer-songwriter directly address her son, Angelo, making a plea for understanding (“I had no time to choose what I chose to do/So go easy on me”). Released as the lead single from Adele’s fourth studio album, 30, the song was a flawless comeback for the pop titan, peaking at No.1 in both the UK and the US, and perfectly showcasing Adele’s soulful and voice. “It’s got this soaring chorus which, you know, everyone’s going to hear now,” the singer said an interview with Zoe Ball, for BBC Radio 2. “It just felt like a ‘me’ song. And after being away for so long, it felt like that was probably the biggest part of my songs that people were waiting for.”

7: Sam Fender: Seventeen Going Under (2021)

Capturing his troubled journey into adulthood, Sam Fender’s coming-of-age indie rock-anthem Seventeen Going Under ranks highly among the best 2020s songs for poignantly navigating the maze of growing up. “17 is when all the challenges begin,” Fender wrote on Tumblr, in “A Letter To My 17 Year old Self”. “You’re not a baby, but you’re definitely not an adult (turns out that bit takes a lot longer than you think).” With all the blue-collar relatability of Bruce Springsteen at his best, the Newcastle-born singer-songwriter dredges up memories of his teenage years in North Shields, vividly conveying the anger and despair he felt as the child of an unemployed parent (“I see my mother/The DWP see a number/She cries on the floor encumbered”). Peaking at No.3 in the UK, Seventeen Going Under is one of the decade’s most impactful and emotionally charged rock songs, transforming the social deprivation of Fender’s upbringing into universally affecting songwriting.

6: Miley Cyrus: Flowers (2023)

Breaking the record for the most-streamed song in a single week on Spotify and peaking at No.1 in the UK and the US, Flowers, by Miley Cyrus, is a fiery pop-rock ballad that finds the rebellious icon reclaiming her independence following her break-up with actor Liam Hemsworth. In penning autobiographical lyrics that reference the Californian wildfire that destroyed her home, Cyrus emerges from her personal ordeals stronger than ever, brandishing one of the best breakup songs of the modern era and sharing words of optimism and empowerment to turn the page on a new chapter of her life (“No remorse, no regret/I forgive every word you said”). Inspiring and euphoric, Flowers will be remembered as a triumphant ode to inner strength and the promise of renewal.

5: Lizzo: About Damn Time (2022)

With its upbeat and infectious melody, About Damn Time wowed listeners upon its release. One of the best songs of 2022, its undeniable sense of joy and confidence encouraged fans to embrace their true selves and celebrate their individuality, Lizzo’s powerful vocals and heartfelt lyrics delivering a message of self-acceptance and body positivity that scored her a US No.1 hit. Flying in the face of doom-scrollers with a blast of optimism and self-empowerment, Lizzo is nothing short of exceptional.

4: Harry Styles: As It Was (2022)

Drawing inspiration from 80s art-rock legends such as a-ha and Peter Gabriel, Harry Styles masterfully carved his own distinct path on As It Was. The song’s earworm melody and sun-kissed indie-pop hooks make it one of the most unforgettable and uplifting entries among the best 2020s songs, though beneath the surface it harbours poignant lyrics that reflect on nostalgia and loneliness. Soaring to the top spot on both the UK and US charts, As It Was became a monumental crossover sensation that remains hard to beat.

3: Dua Lipa: Don’t Start Now (2020)

Possessing an irresistible sense of disco-indebted euphoria that had listeners dancing along from the first note, Don’t Start Now, from Dua Lipa’s 2020 album, Future Nostalgia, peaked at No.2 in both the UK and US, and saw the UK pop singer take charge of her heartbreak. Confidently declaring her independence and newfound strength, Lipa is aided by retro-pop production that is as catchy as it is commending, helping the track become an anthem for empowerment and moving on. Widely regarded as one of the best Dua Lipa songs, it marked the moment the singer became a truly global pop superstar.

2: The Weeknd: Blinding Lights (2020)

A nostalgic synth-pop masterpiece that cruises through an 80s-inspired soundscape, Blinding Lights, which appeared on The Weeknd’s 2020 album, After Hours, is neon-saturated futurism by way of Knight Rider and TRON. Immersing listeners in a tale of late-night adventures and reckless love, the song took its cues from a-ha’s Take On Me to create a 21st-century dancefloor anthem that evokes escapism and euphoria in equal measure. An instant classic which went to No.1 on both sides of the Atlantic, Blinding Lights is dazzling to behold.

1: Silk Sonic: Leave The Door Open (2021)

Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak teamed up as Silk Sonic for Leave the Door Open, a sensuous and soulful R&B ballad that pays homage to 70s soul music while injecting a modern flair. Oozing with charm and charisma, Silk Sonic’s smooth and velvety vocals, lush instrumentation, groovy basslines, soulful guitar riffs and nostalgic organ chords helped the song peak at No.1 on the US Hot 100, making listeners swoon thanks to its seductive and flirtatious narrative. As they invite their love interest to open the door and let sparks fly, Mars and .Paak’s immense talent and chemistry makes it incredibly hard to say no – and that’s why it tops our list of the best 2020s songs.

Check out the best 2020s albums.

Original article: 31 October 2023

Updated: 14 January 2024

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