The Hit Songs of September 2020

This was a better than expected month for chart debuts. Don’t get me wrong, there was still some bad, but less than normal and the bad all have the same thing in common: they’re boring as hell.

15. Internet Money ft. Don Tolliver, Gunna and Nav – Lemonade
Have you heard a hip hop song before? Are you familiar with all the clichés about all the riches that these rappers that you’ve never heard of brag about on their songs? Good, you’ve got the content of this one covered. They mention drugs a lot too, which makes sense because the track sounds like someone fed Ableton all the Quaaludes then told it to spit out an acoustic guitar backed beat. There’s seriously not much to this song and even less when you factor in how damn boring the beat is.

14. Avenue Beat – F2020
The death of TikTok has been greatly exaggerated, allowing it to continue to spawn hits, like this. Did you ever wonder it would sound like if the Facebook posts of the most overly dramatic friend you have were set to the lo-fi beat that comes with the trial version of Pro Tools? Then this is the song for you. The lyrics are just that, an angsty Facebook post that you’ve seen 80 million of since March, all ending with #SeriouslyLetsSkipTo2021. The production is meh at best and just screams of so little effort. Let us all take some advice from a cinematic milestone, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle: just because you’re hung like moose doesn’t mean you gotta do porn. Just because everyone and their aunt are posting “fuck 2020” doesn’t mean you gotta make a pop single about it.

13. YoungBoy Never Broke Again ft. Lil Wayne – My Window
If Future were pitched up a little bit and rolled like half his R’s, you’d get YoungBoy Never Broke Again. The perfect rap name for a guy who’s destined to have a song or two and prove himself wrong in like 4 years. There’s a sparse trap beat here, which is fine. It fits right in with the rest of the genre. But this guy’s voice is just so unpleasant to listen to. Plus, he interrupts his own flow on several occasions. Lil Wayne brings some welcome energy with his guest spot, but it’s not enough to save this from mediocrity. I keep reading that there is far better out there from YoungBoy, so I’m hoping I get the chance to be proved wrong because this ain’t it.

12. Chris Brown & Young Thug – Go Crazy
When Prince sings “let’s go crazy, let’s get nuts”, there is no doubt what we’re meant to do. The song itself leads us on to the proper way to go nuts. It’s upbeat, it’s fun, it’s easily dancible. This is not any of those things. There is nothing that says go crazy, get nuts or have fun here. It’s Chris Brown being Chris Brown at mid-tempo. That’s the whole thing .If you’ve heard a Chris Brown song, you’ve heard “Go Crazy”. Young Thug is an afterthought with his verse. If you call your song “Go Crazy”, the last thing you want your listeners to feel is bored and yet here we are.

11. Lewis Capaldi – Before You Go
I am of two minds on this song. First, it covers a very heavy and complex subject. Capaldi wrote about a suicide in his family that happened when he was very young. He writes from the perspective of those family members left behind, looking for answers and caught agonizing over what they could have done. If the song was words only, it’s one of the best songs I’ve heard in awhile. It’s poingient and touches one’s soul in a way that a top 40 song almost never does. And then we get to the musical part of the song and I feel like a prick for crapping on something so personal and deep to Capaldi. The fact of the matter is, the kid can’t sing. When he goes low, words just become mush and meld into each other. When he tries to put some power down, it sounds like he’s pushing too hard. He never feels comfortable outside of a narrow range of about 5 notes. This had the potential to be an utterly beautiful song, if given to another vocalist. And yes, yes I do feel like a terrible person for writing this.

10. Calvin Harris & The Weeknd – Over Now
There is nothing here that says Calvin Harris had anything to do with this track. Gone are his signature dance beats and in their place is an R&B slow jam that’s the signature of The Weeknd. Is that a bad thing? I’m not sure. We get exactly what we’d expect from The Weeknd: smooth vocals with plenty of falsetto and emoting. While it’s a decently written break up song, it feels like it’s meant to represent that time right after a relationship ends and there’s some uncertainty about what to do next. Lyrically, it gets repetitive after the first verse. Musically, the track never does anything interesting. It just kinda sits in one narrow range and never rises or falls. The whole thing just leaves me feeling stagnant.

9. DJ Khaled ft. Drake – POPSTAR
I guess would be an appropriate “song of the summer” for 2020, as it sounds like it’s a banger on Xanax. Drake is full-on flex mode and he’s good at that. He’s pretty good here. His flow matches the track perfectly and he manages to charge the song with some energy while the beat behind him is relatively lifeless. It feels like this should be a banger, but for some reason, something holds it back. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad track. Just pretty average for both Drake and DJ Khalid and in the end, not very memorable.

8. BLACKPINK with Selena Gomez – Ice Cream
First thing I noticed is that this doesn’t sound like a K-pop song at all. This is a pop hip hop track through and through. The beat is simplistic, the rhymes are sing-songy and there’s an attempt at a drop though it doesn’t hit hard. Given the title and attempted metaphors, it’s trying to be a song of the summer but it really doesn’t differentiate itself from a number of other singles. It sounds like the rest of American pop and that’s to its detriment. It’s here and its fine, but unlike their fellow countrymen BTS, there’s not enough of the K-pop sound in the single to make it stand out. I’m sure the follow up will be closer to the rest of their catalogue but this track is just… well, it’s there.

7. BTS – Dynamite
I know I must write this with care because the BTS Army will seek and destroy any and all criticism of their chosen idols. Trust me. Luckily for me, it’s actually pretty enjoyable. There’s a disco Uptown Funk vibe to it, while still being light enough to fit right into the song of the summer conversation. This is exactly what bubblegum pop looks like in 2020, and that’s not a bad thing. Is this the beginning of the K-pop moment? Could be, we shall have to see. But this is a solid, catchy pop song and that’s all it’s trying to be.

6. Marshmellow & Demi Lovato – OK Not To Be OK
One of a surprising number of message songs on the charts right now, “OK Not To Be OK” is something we probably all need to hear right now. Lovato’s lyrics try to break through the stigma that’s long been associated with mental issues, instead reassuring us that there’s nothing wrong with feeling these emotions and asking for help. She sounds good here. The surprising thing here is Marshmellow’s production. It is restrained compared to the rest of his catalogue and most importantly, sounds different from all of his other collaborations. Released on R U OK Day earlier this month, this track is the perfect song for National Suicide Prevention Month and a better attempt at this message than Logic’s track from three years ago.

5. Zoe Wess – Control 
The young newcomer taps into her personal struggles to show us all how a piano-powered ballad should be done. Are you listening, Lewis Capaldi? Wess’ breakout single is about her battle with rolandic childhood epilepsy and all of the difficulties it led to growing up for her and those around her. Listening to this track, you never get the impression that you’re hearing a 17-year-old’s debut single, but rather a deep cut from a highly-regarded lyricist. A song that has finally cracked the charts and radio playlist, it’s hopefully a great sign of things to come from Wess.

4. SZA ft. Ty Dolla Sign – Hit Different
This song burns on a couple of levels. It sounds like a old school slow bedroom jam with production by the Neptunes. Then, you actually listen to the lyrics and it is not a sex jam but something so much deeper. It dives into post-breakup feelings, juxtaposing the production with irregular delivery in the verses to express all the varied emotions that come right after a relationship ends. Ty Dolla Sign’s hook comes in just at the right time to tie all of this together. There’s a lot happening in this song, only continuing all the momentum SZA garnered from her solo debut three years ago.

3. Zedd & Jasmine Thompson – Funny
Cue the ticking clock! Seriously though, even after coming to grips with the fact that I actually like most of the Zedd that I’ve heard, I am still baffled by his use of the ticking clock as his signature sound. This is our second relationship closure song to hit the charts this month, “Funny” focuses on that part where the one who left tries to desperately get back into the life of the one they left. Jasmine Thompson doesn’t have time for that shit. The clock actually works well in the first verse, pushing along the piano line into the more upbeat chorus. Everything combines in the chorus to give the track a positive, almost smug vibe. You don’t know who the guy is that’s texting Thompson “u up?”, but you feel the sense of emotional empowerment that comes with hitting ignore on those messages. This song quickly goes from the sound of emotional dread that has ruled pop for the last year or so and turns it around to an uplifting track. If there’s a thing to nitpick, it’s the choice of vocal distortion on the chorus. It’s a few too many clicks of the dial and just becomes an audio mush.

2. Ava Max – Kings and Queens
This is a song driven by its chorus. The song opens with it, a la “You Give Love A Bad Name”, and one you get a taste of that hook that will be what you want to hear. The verses are very early Gaga like, in rhythm and tone, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. An uplifting anthem, presenting a world where the world is ruled by queens and not kings, it is a really catchy dare I say feel-good song that will be a karaoke anthem when we’re finally allowed to do that again.

  1. Ashe ft. Niall Horen – Moral of the Story
    Upcoming singer-songwriter Ashe has found a way to distill a failed marriage into a 3 minute pop song with a solid hook. The track starts out staccato and disjointed, cramming too many words into the beat with a slightly dissonant piano line. It’s the audio equivalent of dealing with a relationship’s end. The music and lyrics both develop more clarity as they head to the chorus where Ashe realizes that a relationship’s end is an opportunity to learn and move on. The version with Niall Horen is what hit the chart and that’s too bad. His presence is really kinda useless. He takes the verse that is supposed to be from the perspective of Ashe’s mother and outside of that, he really only contributes some harmonies on the chorus. With or without Horen, this is just a great piece of songwriting.

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