Luke Haines is always going to earn a place on this list. Aside from his near legendary cantankerousness these days best evidenced through his Twitter account now that he doesn’t sell anyway near enough records for any journalist to want to bother talking to, but he might actually be one of the most influential and important British music artists of the last 30 years without anyone really noticing or caring (least of all Haines himself). Unfortunately, a lot of that influence and importance isn’t really valued in 2020, like Haines has spent a large part of his career building up a collection of several billion Yugoslav Dinar. His previous band, The Auteurs, didn’t just release the greatest album of 1996, but are widely considered to have been the first Britpop band and their 1993 debut ‘New Wave‘ is considered the first album and perhaps the ultimate example of the genre. Unfortunately, crowing about an artist’s importance to Britpop in 2020 is like raving about one of the most important engineers ever because of their revolutionary idea to build houses using asbestos. People are unlikely to share your enthusiasm, and will likely debate whether it should be considered a ‘good thing’. Regardless of the nonsense that Britpop quickly descended into though, it still can’t be denied that Haines played a central part in solidifying the importance and artistic/financial viability of British guitar music at the beginning of the 90s, and without him we may never of had… erm… what British guitar band are they nowadays? Royal Blood. Without Luke Haines we may never have had Royal Blood. Can you even imagine? But, yeah, he doesn’t care, he’s happy enough by ow (all relative, of course) releasing extremely decent but lower scale and borderline comedy solo albums.
Something weird happened though. Luke Haines paints a lot of Lou Reed pictures, and why wouldn’t you? He once made the completely understandable decision to paint 72 pictures of Lou Reed, in reference to the 72 times he says Lou Reed’s name in the song Lou Reed Lou Reed. Former REM guitarist Peter Buck ended up buying one of Haines’s painted portraits, which eventually lead to the two sharing song ideas, them sending over song parts to each other across the Atlantic and then, eventually, this unbelievably fantastic album recorded in, according to Buck, each others basements and not costing a penny. This thankfully doesn’t lead to a clandestine REM-ifying of the sound, but instead Buck contributes crashing riffs and breathtaking musical motifs to Haines’s sound, the likes of which he could probably be last found adding to REM songs back when The Auteurs were still a going concern. A collaboration that might have sounded on paper like it would potentially dampen down Haines’s sound has actually beefed it up to lead to his most crucial sounding record in years.
In a weird way, I don’t really get why critics love Denzel Curry so much. I mean, I love him as well, but I know why it is that I do- thrillingly furious delivery, amazing beat choices, knows his way around a banger- and yet so many of these elements were missing from his last album ‘ZUU’ and the reviews for that were no less effussive. Meh, whatever, he is absolutely back on it with ‘UNLOCKED’, which may only be 18 minutes long but only proves how tight and exhilarating he can be when he cuts off absolutely all of the chaff. In Kenny Beats, he finds a perfect companion to unleash absolute chaos that still manages to be unbelievably controlled.
OK, first we’re going to get this out the way. You’re thinking it, you’re gagging for it, you demand it, so let’s just get it over with. Here is Necessary Evil 2020 HOTTEST Entries!!
Into apothecary, so could probably, like, do all sorts of spells on your junk.
4. Devi McCallion
Been on this list twice already, which is smoking hot! Plus, she’s had a bit of a shitty year, so could do with the boost. Yeah, I know, we’ve all had a bit of a shitty year, maybe we all deserve a bit of a boost??
Oooooff! Ammi right? Ammi right?? Am. I. Right? Look at all that hair! I can actually smell this picture, can’t you? Fuck, I am dripping wet right now…
Alright, so I’ve decided that having two entries on the list is so smoking hot that you qualify for this list. Guess that means that Sufjan is on it too. Bloody unions…
1 Luke Haines
Yeah, I know, sorry for not being more creative, but there was only ever going to be one winner, wasn’t there? Smoking! Oh Luke, pummel my larynx with your big hands then complain about my weeping. Dress me up as Brett Anderson and spank me while you vilify my music taste.
Yeah, no space for Dua Lipa, but it was a tough year, she shouldn’t feel bad.
I will admit though, I would have once simply considered Ms Lipa as a (spectacularly) pretty face used to deliver middling commercial club hits made by fat, sweaty Norwegians. Astonishingly sexist, I know, but as fun as her smash hit New Rules was, everything about it- from the arresting video to the cute but gimmicky conceit of the lyrics- screamed ‘one hit wonder sound of the summer’. I nodded my head and shrugged my shoulders. Fine. I guessed some 48 year old Danish megaproducer called Pace-3 (real name: Arthur Hansen-Pansen) wanted a (ridiculously) good looking face to deliver his banger to the masses. After all, ‘fronting club banger’ is one of only three viable career choices left for women in pop music.
It’s hard to overstate what a purge the release of Lorde’s Royals instigated back in 2013. I mean, it’s 2020 and this is the second time I’ve mentioned it on this year’s list, if you need further evidence of how big a deal it was. The Western way of doing pop in the 90s and early 00s- inject everything with dayglo amphetamines, snort coke off of Kate Moss’s labia in a $6 billion video directed by Hype Williams, blow everything up. All the time- had already taken an understandable blow after the 2008 recession made people all prissy about offering Selena Gomez $12 billion to launch her new album with a massive press event on one of Jupiter’s moons. The Western pop market struggled to find a proper direction for a few years, trying on Ke$ha’s brand of “Hey, I’m so wasted I can’t even change my tampon, fancy a fuck? Don’t worry, society is still a few years away from properly accepting that having sex with blackout drunk people is actually rape” pop, and Katy Perry’s “He’s got a heart as big as my booooooooobs!”, rocket launchers firing out of nipples, straddling an especially phallic spaceship brand of pop was/is always present, but Western pop in general struggled to find what it’s identity should be.
Then, Lorde released Royals, and the entire industry stopped, pointed its collective finger and said “Yes. That’s what we do now”
The song from some frizzy haired 14 year old Kiwi suddenly rewrote the rule book for female commercial pop. That video and song’s central architecture- solemn but smart lyrics, brutally honest about failed relationships, not sugar coating how unglamorous and occasionally dispiriting her life is, the young singer has just got out of bed, she’s in a vest and pants rather than a Lady Gaga dress made out of flashing Toyota headlights she commissioned from Alexander McQueen, there’ll be shots of messed up sheets and empty beer cans, she’ll be wearing ‘no makeup’, no pretension, no barrier, this is all so unbelievably freaking authentic!!- became the building blocks which almost all major pop stars would be constructed with. Already on this year’s list, we’ve seen entries from Banoffee and Halsey, with the latter being especially influenced by Lorde/Royals‘ hypergenuine minimalism, and the influence is obvious in other artists such as Billie Eilish, Banks and Tove Lo. Even previously maximalist artists like Ke$ha were convinced to drop the dollar sign from their names and revert to making more songs that involve them crying in an untidy bedroom. The era of mega popstars seemed to be over (outside of Korea, of course) and the only other choice was to perhaps become a Carly Rae Jepsen blank void of charisma who occasionally fronts astonishingly good pop songs. I would have thought this was Dua Lipa’s most likely option going forward- if New Rules wasn’t a one hit wonder, then she might come out with an equally good song every couple of years that we’d all dance around to then completely forgot who sang it.
It was a star making performance for me. Lipa doesn’t just have the stage presence, magnetism and subtle crowd control to be able to stand next to as brilliant a performer as St Vincent, but she practically blows her off the stage. I realised that she wasn’t just some genetically fortuitous stage schooler who happened to run into an adequate music producer while gap yearing in Crete- holy shit, this woman is a star! Of course, it was a shame that the music was mostly pants (the song she medleyed with Ms Vincent- One Kiss– is so bland that it might be considered traditional English cuisine- but it’d be nice if the material matched the star quality at some point.
‘Futue Nostalgia’ is that point. An astonishingly consistent and adventurous pure pop album, which might be very aware of its 80s influences and forbearers, but is not a mindless paean to nostalgia for an era the vast majority of the target audience won’t remember. Dua Lipa always manages to press her personality onto the tracks, that of an essentially English take on the modern popstar- it’s ever so cool, ever so booksmart (“Like modern architecture, John Lautner coming your way“), but also a little awkward, a little shy and occasionally very vulnerable. It’s difficult to think of a more perfectly constructed shot into the majorl eagues.
Firstly, and I know it’s a low bar, but Psalm One might have won 2020, just ahead of that Sky News reporter’s son asking for a couple of biscuits. She not only released some of the greatest singles of the year as a solo artist, but she was 50% responsible (along with her SO, Angel Davenport) for two of the most accomplished, most exciting, most embracing and most damn good albums of the year in any genre. In fact… maybe… the best…hip-hop albums… of 2020…?
Big $ilky is the band formed out of the unfortunate ashes of the previous four piece Rapperchicks, and manage to bounce back from the loss of two members (including the sad passing of Henny B) with an unbelievably potent mix of hooks, bangers and beats. I had planned to use this space to air my utter bemusement at why Big $ilky, aren’t a far bigger deal than they are, as both these records contain numerous tracks and anthems that are ripe for a crossover. Unfortunately, when I looked into it a bit, things got… icky… Rhymesayers Entertainment is one of the largest and most important independent rap labels in the US, and Psalm One was at one point the only female artist the label had signed in more than two decades of business. Her treatment at Rhymesayers and the general attitudes of a label that already had a handful of sexual abuse cases amongst its roster, led to her speaking out, calling for the label to be boycotted and as a result, of course, ended up being blacklisted by the label. God, this world stinks, don’t it?
‘Big $ilky vo.1/2’ do not stink, however, nor are they bitter and purse lipped moans about the general stinkiness of life. They’re inspiring, they’re uplifting and they’re exhilarating examples of hip-hop of the absolutely finest craft