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Top Songs of 2019: ArtsQuest Staff Picks

January 28, 2020 | Written by ArtsQuest Staff

None of the ArtsQuest staff would work here if they didn’t live for music and the arts. To share our passion, we put together a list of top song choices from 2019. We hope you’ll enjoy our eclectic mix of musical tastes and discover some great new tunes!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since he’s in charge of booking our major acts throughout the year, we let Patrick pick his Top 5 and gave him top billing. The rest of our staff picked their favorite song and they’re listed in order of when the pick was submitted (slackers are at the bottom).

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Patrick Brogan – Chief Programming Officer & Manager of the ArtsQuest Center

Although my number one spot goes to Ezra Koenig with a phenomenal new Vampire Weekend album, 2019, to me, was dominated by great new music from strong female artists. In addition to the four below I also loved FKA Twigs album (Cellophane delivering both a great song and video) as well as the pop entries from superstars Taylor Swift (the beauty of Lover, the simplicity of I Forgot That You Existed, and my favorite Cornelia Street), Selena Gomez (Lose You To Love Me took several plays to catch on but then I couldn’t let go of its haunting beauty), and Ariana Grande (thank you, next; break up with your girlfriend; and 7 rings all catchy and fun) among others. All the female voices didn’t leave the room for The Black Keys (lo/hi), The Avett Brothers (High Stepper), or some pop males with great music (Shawn Mendes, Drake, and Sam Smith among them). Here are my top 5 of 2019:

5. Lizzo – “Juice”

No 2019 year in music would be complete without including the (finally!) breakout year for the Minneapolis-based Lizzo. She walked onto a stage at SXSW in 2017 and in seconds (after picking my jaw up) had me and everyone in the venue up and dancing, phones out, desperate to share this force of a performance with the entire world. With the arrival of Cuz I Love You it is safe to say this was the year/summer of Lizzo in mainstream. While Truth Hurts is the bigger single and Good As Hell is my favorite song of hers in general, Juice encapsulates everything that is fun and powerful in her r&b meets pop music.

4. Billie Eilish – “bad guy”

While I wanted to be cerebral and include her single bury a friend, bad guy is the song I have listened to more this year and with broader pop appeal is what I’ll remember as her entrance to the music scene in 2019. The underground night club feel of the rhythm, the uncomfortable start-and-stop nature of the lyrics not to mention the intensity of the lyrics themselves make this a top choice of this year’s new music.

3. Maggie Rogers – “Light On”

I heard her single Alaska a year or two and wanted more and her label debut this year of Heard It In A Past Life shows the depth and excellence of her abilities as a contemporary songwriter. Light On is such a positive message encouraging hanging in there for someone else despite life’s challenges both internal & external. And though it is a fairly subtle easy song you can sense the urgent undertone of finding that path to the destination and the thankfulness of the “light on”. The sense of urgency she creates underneath a gentle song exists throughout the album such as on Burning and Falling Water as well. I’ve listened to all these songs both on a gentle car ride and on the treadmill at the gym so they work on multiple levels. She’s up for Best New Artist at the GRAMMYs.

2. Tones And I – “Dance Monkey”

Talk about a way to make a US Debut – I was mesmerized by how beautifully Toni Watson sat at the piano and hauntingly played the opening to Dance Monkey and then pop up and sing the energized lyrics over tracks in the second half of the song. This song was an instant party anthem on my playlist and while I’m including her live performance of it to, the official video is a senior citizen dance party on a golf course and also worth a watch.

1. Vampire Weekend – “Harmony Hall”

I’ve loved Vampire Weekend since I first heard the opening to Mansard Roof and with their 2019 Father of the Bride release they have added even more favorites to my regular playlist including This Life, Unbearably White, Flower Moon, and Bambina. I’m so glad to see them get the more crossover recognition they deserved more of over the years with a number of GRAMMY nominations for this album. Harmony Hall is the standout single on this album and every bit a real contender for Best Rock Song at the GRAMMYs. It’s catchy sing-song refrain is set to a light pop rhythm and the song builds in momentum from start to finish. Easily the most played song for me in 2019 on the most played album, marking it as my number one choice.

Ben Youngerman – Marketing Manager

Slipknot – “Solway Firth”

This was a tough contest in a year that featured new music from heavy music heavyweights Korn, Rammstein, Tool, Ozzy Osbourne, Ghost, Killswitch Engage, etc. However, Slipknot edges out the rest by putting forth their most diabolical album since 2001’s Iowa (my favorite record ever). On the top of my repeated tracks list from We Are Not Your Kind is the chaotic headbanger “Solway Firth,” which showed that the ‘knot is still as unique and dangerous as they were 20 years ago. \m/ (*>*) \m/

Linda Colonna – Accounts Payable Specialist

Phantogram – “In A Spiral”

I don’t think Phantogram has ever released a song I haven’t played on repeat at one point or another. I love this duo, so my pick this year is one of their latest singles. I hope you like their eccentric sound as much as I do.

Cory Stevens – Volunteer & Internship Coordinator

Hozier – “Almost (Sweet Music)”

I love Hozier. I listened to his first album on repeat back when it came out in 2014, and I’ve waited quite awhile for his next batch of work. When Wasteland, Baby! released it proved to be worth the wait, and “Almost (Sweet Music)” was the one track that I would play again as soon as it finished. It has an undeniable rhythm and showcases what Hozier does best—write poetic lyrics about something sad and give it a beat that people can dance to. For me, this is a song for those who always feel something missing, even when things are going great. But never fear—the narrator’s progression proves that in time those missing parts of us can always heal. In a “meta” sense, Hozier is namedropping the songs and artists he turns to when he needs help feeling like himself again, which is exactly what many folks (myself included) do with Hozier’s own music as well.

Lisa Harms – Senior Director of Visual Arts and Education

Lizzo – “Good As Hell”

This song is the anthem that we didn’t know we needed. It’s a song that fires you up and forces you to know your worth. I challenge anyone to listen to this song and not immediately feel like a million bucks.

Jon Lunger – Director of Marketing

The Interrupters – “Bad Guy” (Billie Eilish cover)

The Interrupters rule. Billie Eilish rules. This Billie Eilish cover by The Interrupters rules.

Ryan Hill – Programming Director

Lana Del Rey – “California”

The confidence of this song is what truly gets me; the way the pre-chorus builds to what becomes an absolute earworm of a chorus – which in itself kicks into a higher gear – is so sonically stunning that it’s made me unafraid to use such a blasé term as ‘sonically stunning’. I actually wasn’t a huge LDR fan before this album, but I’ve now listened to it front to back countless times and list it among my favorite of the decade.

Alyssa Ascher – Visual Arts Coordinator

Bon Iver – “Faith”

Bon Iver has always had a unique artistry to their music that I haven’t been able to find from any other artists. Their most recent album, i,i provides a powerful emotional journey questioning many aspects of life like mental health, politics, religion, nature, healing, and even death. It was nearly impossible picking one song as my favorite from this album, but “Faith”, has been one that I’ve connected to and even leaned on to get me through some of my toughest times.

Shayna Super – Performing Arts Specialist

Vampire Weekend – “This Life”

Off of what is one of the best albums of the year in my opinion, Vampire Weekend’s 2019 “Father of the Bride” album is stacked with hits. I picked “This Life” off the album. It has a familiar and nostalgic vibe of other Vampire Weekend songs with clever word play and real life issues softened by a light, summer melody. I can’t get enough of the song, the album and Ezra Koenig (who recently had a child with one of my favorite actresses – Rashida Jones. That will be one talented kid.)

Anne Sturm – Senior Talent Buyer & Executive Director of Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks

Oliver Tree – “Hurt”

Oliver Tree is one my most listened-to artists this year. He is so outlandish and uncanny and undefinable – most of all I am drawn to his upbeat songs and raw lyrics… and his live performance is a great time. Oliver Tree was born and raised in Santa Cruz, CA, and is a vocalist, producer, comedian and filmmaker…. Looking forward to hearing more from Oliver Tree.

Amanda Celestina – Operations Specialist

Baroness – “Tourniquet”

Among their spectrum of albums, Baroness’ Gold & Grey, is one of my favorites. Continuing to adore the lead singers fantastic album covers, the addition of new guitarist/backup vocalist, Gina Gleason, has elevated my appreciation for the band. They are studio quality live and high energy performers. Open your ears and enjoy one of my favorite tracks.

Juliann Masenheimer – Lead Creative

Lizzo – “Juice”

Coming out of the gate early in January 2019 is Lizzo’s “Juice”! I feel like this song was the beginning of our love for her. “Juice” has a “shiny“ retro feel that can put you in a good mood on a rainy day. The sound is as instantly likeable as Lizzo is herself.

Marianne Kitzmiller – Senior Manager of Accounting

Taylor Swift – “The Man”

Love her or hate her, Taylor hit it out of the park for women everywhere with this one. It speaks to what virtually every woman in the world has more than likely experienced at least once. Being a lyrics person, I especially love the chorus, “I’m so sick of running As fast as I can, Wondering if I’d get there quicker if I was a man, And I’m so sick of them Coming at me again, ’cause if I was a man, then I’d be the man”, but my personal favorite line has to be “I’d be a fearless leader
I’d be an alpha type, When everyone believes ya, What’s that like?” Interesting that even a bajillionaire like Taylor Swift faces the same judgments as working women everywhere since the beginning of time.

Jason Merola – Manager of Experiential Programming

Anderson .Paak – “Jet Black”

Upon looking at “Your Top Songs 2019” on my Spotify and seeing that Anderson .Paak’s most recent album, Ventura, had every song from it occupying the top of my list it made the choice pretty obvious. He has been on a rampage making music since coming on the scene, coming out with an album almost every year, and appearing on what feels like every popular hip-hop/R&B single. His music is so captivating because he combines so many genres including hip hop, soul, R&B, and Funk. He truly is a jack of all trades whether he’s rapping, singing, or playing the variety of different instruments he is skilled in. For those new to his music I highly suggest going to YouTube and looking up his “NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert” to get a great first look at how talented he is.

Hillary Harper – Director of Visual Arts

Brittany Howard – “Stay High”

Love everything this musician is involved with. This song is just a chill and pretty ditty, and the music video with Terry Crews is a piece of gold.

Nicole Dotta – Senior Director of Corporate Partnerships

Kelsea Ballerini – “homecoming queen?”

Kelsea Ballerini’s single “homecoming queen?” is an incredibly raw and vulnerable song about a homecoming queen who can’t show her true self. In a day and age when there is so much pressure on young women to look a certain way and to filter who they really are, Kelsea shares that it is okay to not be okay. We all have bad days, moments we don’t feel good enough and surely have had the words of others hurt us. While the song is instrumentally very simple, the power of the Kelsea’s vocals and sheer emotion has made this song a hit and my favorite song of 2019.

Kimberly Koehler – Partnership Activation Specialist

Khalid – “Talk”

This year was jam-packed of great songs so trying to pick a top song was pretty tough but something about “Talk” by Khalid just spoke to me. Khalid was my top played artist of the year and his album Free Spirit is the reason why. This album absolutely fantastic from the midtempo grooves and smooth synthesizers complemented by an inescapable & lovely voice to relatable and memorable lyrics. “Talk” begins with a very catchy hook which follows into soft and sweet lyrics that allows for several replays. This 17 track album has so many amazing songs and I would highly recommend giving Free Spirits a listen. Also, I did want to give a shout out to my 2019 runner up “Only Human” by Jonas Brothers because #JONASBROTHERSAVED2019

Jacob Rivera – IT Assistant

Lil Nas X Feat. Billy Ray Cyrus – “Old Town Road Remix”

This song is truly lit fam! Like Straight Fuego! And it has Billy Ray Cyrus!! That guy’s a legend!! On a serious note, the song itself is pure genius. It fuses Hip-Hop Trap music and Country music beautifully. It also sparked up some controversy when it was removed from the Billboard’s Hot Country chart. If this song doesn’t make you head nod, tap your cowboy boot or shake your rump, then I’m convinced that your laugh-box is the same size as Squidward’s.

Coryna Barberis – Volunteer Programs Assistant

AJR – “100 Bad Days”

For the second year in a row I chose a song from the brothers, Adam, Jack and Ryan better known as AJR. Honestly any song on their 3rd album Neotheater could be a favorite for me but this song was the song that got me through most of 2019. Just a reminder that even some crappy stuff happens for a good reason. Extremely upbeat and fun, you can’t help smile when you hear this song. BONUS: I got to see AJR live in Philly with my family and they put on one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Connecting to music with my teenagers is no easy feat but AJR brings us together.

Alli Poczak – Performing Arts Assistant

Tennis – “Runner”

“Runner” is the first single off Tennis’s upcoming 2020 album Swimmer. This song is mystical and groovy and puts their 70s influence on display. Aliana’s vocals flow in and out of the melody and this coupled with the smooth rhythm guitar makes the song easy to love. Anytime I hear Runner (or any song by Tennis) I feel like I’m on a mini-vacation from the world around me. Do yourself a favor and take a listen.

BONUS PLAYLIST!

Listen to all of these 2019 tunes in one awesome playlist…

Previous end-of-year staff picks:

2018
2017
2016
2015

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