Top 89 of 2019: Cecilia Johnson, digital producer


Top 89 of 2019
Top 89 of 2019 (MPR Graphic)

As I look back on the music I've loved this year, I'm struck by its relative sameness, especially in terms of genre. As always, I've been enjoying weird pop with female vocals and eccentric samples (Ariana Grande; Billie Eilish; Charli XCX). But aside from the Spider-Verse soundtrack, I've haven't spent much time with rap. I've listened to quite a bit of indie rock but didn't hear a ton that changed my world.

I imagine this uniformity reflects a nosedive into more localized stories as I focused on Minnesota music history podcast The Current Rewind (rather than free-form exploration). I don't imagine "the algorithm" helped things much. Also, having just celebrated my 25th birthday, I'd say I've officially departed my taste-forming young adulthood. For better or worse, I'm more preoccupied with rent and a good night's sleep than being two steps ahead on the Next Big Artist.

A lot of my picks this year boil down to power. Beyoncé annexing Coachella with an HBCU-centric reimagining of her catalog; Ariana seizing her "thank u, next" moment and spinning the song into a hit album; Lizzo using her talent and fortuitous sync licenses to become the star she always wanted to be.

Of course, all these picks have moral implications. Yes, the founder of Coachella has repeatedly donated to anti-LGBTQ+/pro-gun organizations and politicians, and the Carters can STFU about their billionaire status. Yes, Ariana's appropriation of black culture ("7 rings"...) has disappointed me over and over. Yes, Lizzo has leveraged her newfound fame against music journalists and poor Tiffany W. Trying to enjoy all these artists' products feels very The Good Place.

THAT SAID, I guess I should be less of a bummer and get to the music. I really do love this year's releases. I just wish I could stan with a clear conscience.

Top 10 Songs of 2019

Beyoncé – "Before I Let Go"

Listen, Homecoming is my favorite Beyoncé album ever. And this — although it faces some stiff competition — is my favorite Beyoncé song. The Queen mixes Cameo's "Candy" and Maze & Frankie Beverly's original into a bouncing, euphoric credits song.

Bon Iver – "Hey, Ma"

One of the best songs on i,i and the Come Through collaboration with TU Dance and Bon Iver. The melody alone gets me.

Caroline Polachek – "So Hot You're Hurting My Feelings"

I heard about this song from our very own Mac Wilson! He mentioned that Caroline Polachek's Pang is the album he wished Carly Rae Jepsen would've made instead of Dedicated. I hadn't expected that take but had to agree after hearing the album. This song is Pang's easy-breezy crowd-pleaser.

Charli XCX – "Gone (feat. Christine & the Queens)"

I don't even know how to describe this titan of a song. It's part hyperpop, part confessional. Once I've hit play, I feel strapped in to every second.

Ariana Grande – "bad idea"

Look, I could've picked almost any of Ari's thank u, next tracks for this list. But this one comes out on top for me thanks to two moments: the ultra-high "baaaad idea" vocals after the bridge and the cool-as-hell chopped-and-screwed outro.

Jenny Lewis – "Red Bull & Hennessy"

I love that a track named after Red Bull and cognac spills over with so much oomph (see: Jenny Lewis's personality-plus vocals, a surprisingly dancy drumbeat, and that spastic side-to-side guitar solo). I'm not sure Lewis and her superband (Beck, Ringo Starr, etc.) could've done anything better.

Lizzo – "Juice"

I know the world is stuck on "Truth Hurts," but this zesty single has become my main squeeze. It's perfect for a house party; a wedding dance floor; a car ride. And that bridge is irresistible.

MUNA – "Stayaway"

"No one ever told me leaving was the easy part," Katie Gavin belts in "Stayaway." I love the way she uses plain language to describe post-break-up turmoil; the lyrics snuck up on me the first time I heard this song. By the bridge, I found myself holding my breath.

Reik – "Indeciso (feat. J Balvin & Lalo Ebratt)"

Pure fun. I've lost count of the times I've tried and failed not to shake it through the skyways while listening through my headphones.

Rosalía – "Aute Cuture"

"Bájale," said NO ONE. I adore Rosalía, the flamenco/pop star who broke big with El Mal Querer last year. "Aute Cuture," a two-and-a-half-minute ode to power, is my favorite of her follow-up singles and collaborations. I'll pause to note her privilege as a gorgeous European woman (despite the fact that she sings in Spanish, this catalana is not a "Latin" pop star). But that's a thinkpiece for another writer and occasion. For now, I'm delighted to focus on "Aute Cuture" as a mirador, an opportunity to survey Rosalía's rise to power and the promise of more to come.

Honorable Mention

Big Thief – "Not"
Chance The Rapper – "Eternal (feat. Smino)"
Dorian Electra – "Man To Man"
Dua Saleh – "pretty kitten"
Sharon Van Etten – "Comeback Kid"

Top 10 Albums of 2019

Ariana Grande – thank u, next
Bat for Lashes – Lost Girls
Beyoncé – Homecoming: The Live Album
Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Charli XCX – Charli
Dua Saleh – Nur
Dizzy Fae – NO GMO
Lady Midnight – Death Before Mourning
Sleater-Kinney – The Center Won't Hold
Various Artists – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (Soundtrack From & Inspired by the Motion Picture)

Vote now: Top 89 of 2019

The Current Staff's Top 89 of 2019

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