If you look closely, you can see 2019’s musical narrative taking shape. Through the emergence of artists new and old, the explosion of unforgettable smash hits, and the everlasting drama that comes tied into any piece of modern media, there’s been one common theme: the formula for success is slowly changing. While the music world used to be focused on building artists and bands into icons of perfection, 2019 has shown us that congenial imperfections sell. It’s no longer about proving your chops in front of adoring fans, it’s about building an individualistic brand long before a single amp touches the stage. From Lil Nas X to Taylor Swift to Billie Eilish to Lizzo, nearly every notable, charting artist has a unique biography that fans and haters know inside and out. Very few artists are rewarded for just making good music – they must have a unique story tied to everything they do.
For those looking to redefine their personal brand, take notes: the past three months were filled with artists fundamentally changing the way the world sees them and/or the space they play in. Of Monsters and Men were a prime example, taking their old folk brand and violently hurling it into the wind. Their edgy new alt-rock single “Alligator” is remarkably strong and surprisingly tenacious, especially considering the Icelandic group is traditionally known for their happy-go-lucky sing-along ballads. But while some artists were trying to break out of their restrictive molds, Anderson .Paak was trying to fit back into the jazzy hip-hop frame that made him a household name. After a sharp left turn on his vastly experimental 2018 album Oxnard, .Paak’s new album Ventura represents a natural return to his bubbly, amiable self.
Then of course there’s Lil Nas X, who completely redefined a genre and made the world question what constraints categorically define country music. That being said, quit asking if “Old Town Road” is a fad – after almost 3 months perched atop Billboard’s Hot 100 list, it’s safe to say the country-rap sensation is an objective marvel. Speaking of which, let’s not forget that Lil Nas X made Billy Ray Cyrus relevant for the first time since being cast as Miley Cyrus’s real/fictional father in Hannah Montana. Billy Ray isn’t alone in his journey of revived prominence. Acts like Vampire Weekend, Kindness, and Carly Rae Jepsen took a little too long making their way back into our lives, but their awaited returns were welcomed with open arms and significant critical acclaim.
Considering most artists’ constantly struggle to establish a reputable, unique image, a few iconoclasts deserve serious praise for their consistent authenticity and tactful progression through the new year. Chance The Rapper is the posterboy for authenticity and personal brand, setting an obvious precedent when it comes to being dependably endearing. Not only did he release a great collaboration with YBN Cordae on their new single “Bad Idea”, but he uploaded his old mixtapes to streaming platforms and replaced his song “Juice” with a 30 second clip about how the streaming proceeds will go directly to help social workers. Similarly, Courtney Barnett deserves recognition for her invariably lovable self. Her surprise Record Store Day release of “Everybody Here Hates You” take the increasingly more important topic of self-doubt and wraps it in a thick layer of head-banging, hair-thrashing rock-n-roll. It’s conceptually demoralizing but not outwardly dispiriting, shedding light on a challenging topic in a way that will keep listeners receptive, engaged, and enthusiastic as they yell away their apprehension.
No matter what narratives have crossed your path so far this year, there are probably a lot more great artists and stories that you’ve yet to encounter. That’s where the following playlist comes in. It contains 30 of my favorite songs released over the past three months, all of which are in no particular order with a restriction of only one song per artist. See what jumps out at you and hopefully you’ll have a few awesome new songs in your back pocket as you approach the upcoming holiday week.
This year’s musical story would be incomplete without the catalytic music released during the first quarter. Revisit Q1’s top songs here: FeenyFaves – Best Songs of 2019: Q1 (January – March)
Flashback one year ago and some hidden gems we know and love today were fighting for the opportunity to be noticed. Take a trip down memory lane with the best songs released during Q2 of 2018: FeenyFaves – Best Songs of 2018: Q2 (April – June)