Top Love Songs of 2019

The tunes that brought us closer in a year full of division

2019 has been an out of control, raging bin fire of a year, both politically and environmentally. As it staggers to a close, it seems like the first time many of us are actively worried about what the next year holds. But in the wake of all this wanton and catastrophic destruction of our democracies, our planet and our belief that Tarantino still makes good films, comes a glimmer of hope.

Music has not been this good for years. Freed of significant industry debt, creatively buoyed by new formats and unpredictable release schedules, 2019 proved to be the year that art reacted to the world around it in the best possible way. In 12 months that have given us so much to lament, music brought us an almost unparalleled joy. There was a lot to love about what we heard this year, so rather than rank songs in order of 50 to 1 or wrap the decade into a bar graph, I thought I’d focus on that sensation for a hot minute. Lord knows we’ll all need more love to make it through 2020.

Here then, are the top songs about it from 2019.

Manchester-born, Brooklyn-based new queer icon, Shura, found love in a hopeless place this year — 10,000 ft above sea level. Although chronically fearful of flying, Shura overcame this to initiate a long distance relationship that provided the intellectual basis for her excellent record, forevher.

‘religion’ is one of the best songs about love and sex in a year crowded with them. It flips faith-based tropes into gleeful explorations of desire and laces it with an undeniable synth groove and falsetto chorus that recalls the heyday of British pop. Everyone I know that has heard this song loves it. It is a cherry bomb of delight.

Anyone who has been at any show Lizzo has played in 2019 will tell you that it’s arguably been a fabulous year for her. After years of bubbling just below mainstream level, Lizzo’s Aretha Franklin pipes and devil-may-self-care attitude coalesced for a potent mix that took the pop world by storm.

‘Cuz I Love You’, which comes strapped with bazooka level vocals and a guitar lick that seems to have been gifted from Aerosmith is one of the greatest tracks of Lizzo’s decorated career. Over a bombastic 6/8 stomp that melts haters, she belts out a melody that almost defies physics, with a killer refrain that’s the ultimate happy-sad mix of elation and anticipation. It’s such a wonderful love song I wanted it for my wedding. But then I realised I’d need to find a wedding singer that sang like Lizzo.

It’s been pointless trying to predict what Tyler Okonoma does next for almost a decade, so it’s good to know in 2019 he still had the power to subvert expectations. IGOR, his long-overdue first #1 record saw the Odd Future’s former Parents’ Worst Nightmare pen pretty much an entire album of R&B ballads, buoyed by Neptunes-esque production. Tyler’s latest alter-ego came with the ultimate millennial twist, with an artist previously banned from the UK and NZ for homophobia essentially gliding out of the closet.

‘I THINK’ shimmies through limber bass lines, soaking in longing and looks to love for redemption. Buoyed by an uncredited topline from Solange, it also features some solid gold lines from Tyler, including ‘I’m your puppet you are Jim Henson’ and ‘Feelings, that’s what I’m pouring.’ But he’s best when playing it straight — something he’s never done lyrically before- with an entire chorus that simply reads ‘I think I’ve fallen in love/This time I think it’s for real.’

London’s Jessie Ware is no stranger to love songs; she’s written critically acclaimed albums full of them. But Ware is a club girl at heart and after years of belting torch ballads, a slew of singles in 2019 saw her returning to her first love. ‘Adore You’, which seems to flutter in atop butterfly wings, is magnificent.

Written and produced by Joseph Mount of Metronomy, it’s a sprawling, glittering love letter to her beloved, soundtracked by the slow bass and shimmering synths. More Robyn and less Ed Sheeran, it’s got a kicker second act that pulls you even deeper into its orbit. Adulation has never sounded so sweet.

Film soundtracks have provided brilliant outlets for new talent this year, even those for remakes of Disney movies that nobody actually saw. To wit, Queen and Slim, the racially-charged update of Thelma & Louise that yielded ‘Collide.’ A classic duet that recalls Motown greats like Marvin and Tammi, it’s a stunning song that has (deservedly) broken free of the soundtrack and had its own success.

Earthgang, often seen as the successors to Outkast, are an eclectic duo from Atalanta, while Tiana is barely a teenager from East London who is going to have a huge 2020. Both boast killer tone. A wonderful metaphor, a stunning pairing and a truly wonderful baby-making jam for 2019.

Melbourne-via-New Zealand duo, Fortunes, have been putting out incredible white boy soul for years while their super-hyped label waits patiently for the world to pay attention. Take a shortcut with ‘Donuts’, a gorgeous ode that’s equal parts JMSN and Prince and uses the idea of burning out tyres as motivation to call over a late night lover.

Fortunes have a unique aesthetic that I’ve been unable to find anywhere else. Their melodies are incredible and production remarkably understated given what they’re clearly capable of. But they also know how to do songs about lust and love as well as some of the big guns. ‘Donuts’ wasn’t even released a single, which is insane to me. Smiles on dials, naked and warm, let’s all stay in bed a bit longer. Next year isn’t shaping up to be one worth waking up for.

Not strictly a love song but more of a love lost song, this underrated deep cut from 2019 enfant terrible deserves inclusion if only because it showcases her phenomenal understanding of harmony and form at such a young age. Flanked by nothing more than her brother’s guitar (in stark opposition to the rest of her smash hit album), Billie uses her close-mic approach to build an intricate, heart-punching ballad that shows just how elastic a phrase ‘i love you’ can be.

Eilish admonishes herself for even saying the words, perhaps the truest indicator of what romance looks like for a generation raised on quick-fire apps and global disappointment. But for a song so steeped in sadness, there’s something lovingly beautiful about it at the same time. If love can inspire such imagination, truly it’s worth holding into as we stumble blindly into 2020.

Leicester’s teenage superstar took years of development to release her first album, but it was well worth the wait. Known for her sass and UK R&B jams that slam wastemen, slack exes and other nefarious lovers, this gem nestled into the back half of Mahalia’s debut is a rare number that celebrates going steady.

‘Consistency’, which borrows influence from UK garage and trumpets from neo-soul, is buoyed by Mahalia’s characterful voice and intonation. It’s the sort of song made for Saturday mornings, and you can hear the palpable joy in her expression. A bedroom bumper for the dancefloor? Yes please.

The first time I heard this was at a friend’s wedding. It seemed a strange song to choose for a first dance; James Blake is someone typically associated with late-night solo session (though he’s the first to tell you he loathes that association.) But this song, from his latest record, is different. A dedication to his partner, whom he followed from England to America when she moved for a killer acting job, it’s a lovely paean to commitment in the face of fear, of ensuring long-distance relationships become that much shorter.

‘If it’s the last thing I do, I’m in that kind of mood,’ Blake sings over a classically ambient collection of synths that gives way to a Massive Attack-esque groove ‘I’ll throw my hat in the ring, I’ve got nothing to lose, with you.’ Come to think of it, that is pretty romantic.

For a while there, it seemed Wilco were incapable of writing a bad song. Certainly, they’ve survived three of four eras of music and come out sounding just as vital as ever. This period must particularly fruitful for them as individuals, for ‘Love Is Everywhere’ manages the trick of being a great love song and a relatively unassuming political statement at once.

Apparently written for Trump, informing him that division and hatred would never succeed in America, this song works just as well on its top level in which Jeff Tweedy unhurriedly describes the blossoming of a long-gestating love over jangling guitars. That’s probably how music supervisors will use it in TV shows in 2020, too.

Beyonce created an entire additional Lion King soundtrack this year and didn’t manage a single song that came near to the staying power of the original. Her expensive bluster should have served as a warning for what not to do when rehashing much-loved animated flicks — keep the songs the same, stupid. Evidently, nobody told Janelle Monae, which is great for all of us because she just happens to have casually thrown a firecracker into the Disney Canon.

Monae, who was always more comfortable slipping into jazz (my God, have you seen her tapdance?) than any of her contemporaies, knocks it out of the park with ‘That’s Enough’. It’s so lovely and bang-on that it sounds like it belongs on the original Lady & The Tramp. It’s got the same sentiment, too; let’s get up to some trouble together, all we ever need is each other.

Jonno Seidler has been writing about the music he loves for over a decade at One A Day.

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