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2019 gave us some major smash hits across almost every genre, some ultra-memorable hooks, bops, and viral videos, and some instant classic musical memes that we’ll be able to tell our kids, “I was there!” one day when they ask about them. Okay, but we’re not here to talk about the internet. We’re here to talk about good old-fashioned songwriting — specifically the magic of the hook.
Here’s our list of the best darn choruses we’ve heard all year, and why we love them so much. Are you ready? Let’s do it! (Our list uses the Grammy calendar; one song dates to late Q4 2018.)
10. “Beer Never Broke My Heart”
While country #1s tend to live in their own bubble, both geographically and musically, this 2019 smash by Charlotte-born superstar, Luke Combs, is obliged to be included on this here list. A pulse-pounding drum beat and swampy, detuned guitars lay the groundwork for one of the hottest choruses in country this side of January.
Long-neck ice-cold beer never broke my heart
Like diamond rings and football teams have torn this boy apart
Like a neon dream, it just dawned on me, that bars and this guitar
And long-neck ice-cold beer never broke my heart.
Combs’ powerful baritone belts this ode to many-a-person’s favorite de-stress tools, a long-neck ice-cold beer. The lyricism is creative, but direct, honest and tongue in cheek. The familiar southern stereotypes are present, with some glittery nouns like neon dreams and diamond rings that give the song a shimmery lift and drives home the point. Carried by a strong melody and ABBA lyrical structure, “Beer Never Broke My Heart” will continue to roll out Music Row bar rafters for years to come.
9. “I Really Wish I Hated You”
Blink 182 (yes, you read that right…) made a tremendous and long-awaited return this year with a brand new album and this hot single. While the band’s fanbase remains divided on the band’s reimagined sound,“I Really Wish I Hated You” is a well-written song with a great melody and clever wordplay no matter which way you slice it.
I don’t really like myself without you
Every song I sing is still about you
Save me from myself the way you used to
‘Cause I don’t really like myself without you
I really wish I hated you.
“I Really Wish I Hated You” features another ubiquitous rhyme scheme that rhymes you with you with you with you (don’t forget the “to!”). The phrasing on each line emphasizes the last two syllables, which creates a cheeky double rhyme on the penultimate word in lines 1 and 2 (without and about). Lyrically, the song is another example of an intelligent turn on an old cliché, and gives new life to a common story trope about codependency and the simultaneous yearning and resentment one feels toward an old friend or lover.
8. “Mother’s Daughter”
A repeat offender on this list, this bop off of Miley Cyrus’s new EP is upbeat, anthemic, and infectious. The song was written by Cyrus, Andrew Wyatt, Alma Miettinen, and produced by Wyatt, a frequent collaborator of hers.
Don’t f*** with my freedom
I came back to get me some
I’m nasty, I’m evil
Must be something in the water or that I’m my mother’s daughter.
Lyrically a song about female empowerment, Cyrus plays it brash, direct, cool. The coy use of the preposition “or” engages the listener’s imagination on the final line, one can infer that she is referring to an old lover, someone who previously exerted power over her and who is now going to pay the price, the feeling of urgency supported by Cyrus’s rapid-fire final word rolling over the beat. The hook is supported by an especially catchy post-chorus that keeps the party going.
7. “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart”
I heard this song for the first time sitting around a campfire on the lakeshore in Cincinnati. I was convinced it was the greatest song I’d ever heard. A pulsing house beat produced by English hit-maker Mark Ronson lays the framework for Miley Cyrus’s strong-willed lyricism and deeply emotional top-line. It’s a lyrical masterpiece for sure.
This world can hurt you
It cuts you deep and leaves a scar
Things fall apart, but nothing breaks like a heart
And nothing breaks like a heart.
The ability to turn a common phrase or cliché into a powerful tool is among the most difficult artistic achievements. “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart” just exactly that, and features a clever double rhyme in the third line, a tool commonly employed by rappers to add flow and subdivision to otherwise monotonous phrases.
To quote my good friend Neil Sanderson, “you either wrote it or you didn’t.”
Shawn Mendes’s seventh single, which features the wonderful Cabilla Cabello, captured the hearts and ears of teenagers all around the globe this year. If you haven’t heard it… you definitely have… A positive smash written by a whole mess of writers including Mendes, Cabello, Andrew Wotman, Benjamin Levin, Ali Tamposi, Charlotte Emma Aitchison, Jack Patterson, and Magnus August Høiberg (exhale), “Señorita” is dreamy love song blending the acoustic sounds of Cabello’s Cuban heritage with modern electro-pop and Mendes’s syrupy mezzo-soprano.
I love it when you call me señorita
I wish I could pretend I didn’t need ya
But every touch is ooh la la la
It’s true, la la la
Ooh, I should be running
Ooh, you keep me coming for you.
Again, the chorus turns a familiar cliché into memorable prose with the use of “la la la” as a rhyming and melodic tool. Simplicity gives way to a chorus with a lot of breath and space, allowing the talent expounding from this duo to shine brightly.
A brilliant, fun composition and lyricism by Lizzo and her writing team (Eric Frederic, Theron Thomas, Sam Sumser, and Sean Small), this song basically stopped everyone in their tracks in 2019 and changed everything. Seventh chord harmony gives this funk-infused ’80s bop a wholly fresh attitude. Driven by Lizzo’s trademark swagger and cheeky allusions, “Juice” is one of the best hooks we’ve streamed all year.
It ain’t my fault that I’m out here gettin’ loose
Gotta blame it on the Goose
Gotta blame it on my juice, baby
It ain’t my fault that I’m out here makin’ news
I’m the pudding in the proof
Gotta blame it on my juice
Ya-ya-ee, ya-ya-ee, ya-ya-ee, ya-ya-ee
Lizzo finds a sly way to “blame it on the al al al al al alcohol baby,” with (more) proper nouns, a turn on the old adage “proof is in the pudding” and more onomatopoeia, a formula that seems to be coming through in spades for her as an artist.
4. “Truth Hurts”
Lizzo came in strong with her debut album ‘Cuz I Love You, this year, producing several successful singles including this and the last tune on our list. Hey, don’t hate on us, we’re just giving props where props are due out here! In truth, the song was released as a single in 2017, but was a sleeper hit, after getting meme-a-fied and going viral on Tik Tok earlier this year, the song was re-released on the deluxe edition of her record.
Driven by a warm electronic beat and piano loop, the hook is brimming with creative songcraft and wordplay.
Why men great ’til they gotta be great?
Don’t text me, tell it straight to my face
Best friend sat me down in the salon chair
Shampoo press, get you out of my hair
Fresh photos with the bomb lighting
New man on the Minnesota Vikings
Truth hurts, needed something more exciting
Bom bom bi dom bi dum bum bay.
This chorus is long, and wordy, and features onomatopoeia and a proper noun. The repetitive descending melody buries itself in your brain and doesn’t leave. Supported by truly inventive lyrics, “Shampoo press, get you out of my hair,” “Truth Hurts” is one of the most pernicious and delicious refrains we’ve heard in 2019.
3. “Old Town Road”
Lil Nas X took the world by storm with his viral, chart topping smash “Old Town Road” this year. Bolstered by an anachronous remix/feature from “Achy Breaky Heart” singer Billy Ray-Cyrus, “Old Town Road” became a positive earworm and set the record for the longest charting #1 song in history.
“OTR” is listed on Wikipedia as “Country-Trap,” which is dutifully accurate. It is at its core, a country song, about the pining to make a fresh start and leave the past behind, concealed by warm 808s and hip-hop vocal production.
Yeah, I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road
I’m gonna ride ’til I can’t no more.
The song blurs the lines between genres and tells a story that people can relate to from the urban centers of Southeast Asia to the prairie towns of the American heartland. Get up and go.
2. “bad guy”
If you haven’t heard of Billie Eilish yet, you must be a martian. The 17-year-old singer from Los Angeles, alongside her producer brother Finneas, has taken the world by storm with a string of propitious alt-pop singles and a massively successful debut album in When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
So you’re a tough guy
Like it really rough guy
Just can’t get enough guy
Chest always so puffed guy
I’m that bad type
Make your mama sad type
Make your girlfriend mad tight
Might seduce your dad type
I’m the bad guy, duh.
Eilish takes no prisoners with a ubiquitous rhyming scheme, which rhymes “guy” with “guy” and “type” with “type.” Instead of an allude to laziness, this technique is a punctuation mark, in a dauntless display of swag and savage one-liners, totally sold by Eilish’s signature laissez-faire murmur. It’s dark, somewhat sinister, but it’s still playful, the final “duh” becoming a propulsive trigger for the post-chorus drop we’ve been singing all summer.
1. “thank u, next”
Ariana Grande’s 2019 single “thank u, next” might just be the breakup song of the decade. A contagious track that heralds Grande’s transition from her earlier European pop-style production to new school neo-soul/R&B, “thank u, next” takes advantage of artful simplicity and stark honesty.
Thank you, next (next)
Thank you, next (next)
Thank you, next
I’m so f*****’ grateful for my ex.
You know you have a smash when you can rock what is practically a single line chorus, vamped out to eternity. And this does just that, offset by a joyfully gratuitous F-bomb that assists in expressing that incredible sensation of learning from, then subsequently moving on from a past relationship. Grande’s whimsical top-line and friskily lazy delivery exudes apathy and empowerment in equal parts, making it highly relatable, contagious, and free of the sordid melodrama of your grandma’s breakup song.
Never overlook the power of simplicity and great delivery.
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