I may decide at some point soonish to do a ranking of the top 100 songs of the 2020 Billboard YE chart list or make some kind of worst list as I have in previous years, but as the chart has just been released, as someone who spends a fair amount of time talking about and speculating about such matters, it is worth noting at least a few of the trends and patterns of the 2020YE chart that are worth thinking about and that suggest some changes in the way that music is listened to or consumed in the United States. For those who are from other countries with your own different music chart systems, this is not going to be particularly relevant–although some YE charts (like Canada) are quite of interest and have music that suits my own tastes more than the American YE chart does because of demographic patterns and so on.
We all know that 2020 has not been a very good year for many people, although I must admit for myself that this year does not even rank in my own bottom 5 or ten list of personal years in my life, which probably demonstrates something about the way my own life has gone. In fact, speaking for myself personally, 2020 is about an average year in the course of my life, somewhere in the C/C- range and that is taking into account my annoyance and irritation at what has been going on around me. And my thoughts of the music of this year are similar in the fact that the music of 2020 is by no means even close to the worst music of the decade, although it is by no means anywhere close to what I consider the best years of music ever (the 80’s have a lot of what I consider to be the best year-ends in my opinion, with several years within that decade having upwards of 80 songs that I consider very good to all-time best from the Year End. Given the larger societal trends with music tastes in comparison with my own, it seems unlikely that any years to come will approach those levels.
At any rate, there are definitely some trends that are easy enough to note overall. For one, the longevity of songs has been getting a lot higher of late, which has allowed for the first ever song to be on the charts for more than 60 weeks in the superrecurrency era (which require such songs to remain in the top 25 after 52 weeks) in Post Malone’s “Circles,” the #2 song of the year. The #1 song, “Blinding Lights,” remains on the charts after a full year and seems very likely to pass that threshold as well, and even a lesser song like “I Hope” has a chance to be in that conversation as well thanks to its remarkable longevity. We have reached a point where songs which achieve lasting radio popularity can regularly approach to exceed a year on the charts, and that is the continuation of a trend that we have already been seeing over recent years, brought to a very high level.
Within the list itself, there are other trends worth noticing. One of them is that the decrease in streaming, the continued weakness of sales (with exceptions for hyped first-week releases that regularly debuted at #1 and then often crashed afterward), and lowering of streaming from its peak, in part based on the Covid-19 problem, meant that songs that were holdovers from 2019 or released early in the year had a strong advantage over other songs. This effect was so pronounced that Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” managed to hit #67 on the charts, and Luke Combs’ “Even Though I’m Leaving,” which some people considered to be a toss-up as to whether it would even make the Year-End chart, managed to hit #85 on the YE chart despite losing nearly 20 weeks to 2019’s chart year, when it narrowly missed the YE then. Combs, who ended up with 3 songs on this year’s Year-End, was part of a continuing trend of success coming from country acts and artists making the Year End, including such names as Blake Shelton, Sam Hunt, Dan & Shay, Gabby Barrett, Maren Morris, Morgan Wallen, Kane Brown, Miranda Lambert, Luke Bryan, Carly Pearce & Lee Bryce, Jason Aldean, Old Dominion, and Maddie & Tay, all of whom had at least one (and several multiple) entries on the Year-End chart, making this the best Year-End for country music in quite some time as far as popular mass appeal. It does appear at least that country labels are mastering the promotional strategies it takes to get their songs to last on the charts long enough to have a strong chance at making the Year-End, which has not always been the case in years past. It is worthwhile to give credit where it is due.
It is also worthwhile to note another trend that has been continued and intensified from previous years, and that is the absence of many songs from the charts that had high peaks due to first-week streaming but which tanked rapidly because they could not get radio play and thus missed the Year-End chart. This happened for a wide variety of artists in 2020, which had multiple songs hit #1 that did not and do not look to make any Year End for the first time since Fantasia’s “I Believe” in the heady days of American Idol. Those who were afflicted with this status ranged from established stars like Taylor Swift (“Cardigan”) whose streak of 13 straight Year End charts ended this year as she whiffed on both “Lover” (caught between years, as it narrowly missed last year as well) and “Cardigan,” a #1 hit that simply did not gain radio traction. This was also a major factor in the collapse of the worst #1 hit of all time, by a considerable margin, in chart points and longevity, Trollz, a collaboration between recently released snitch 6ix9ine and Nicki Minaj (who also saw her chart streak end as she was not credited for her remix of Doja Cat’s “Say So,” her only other substantial hit). And it seams likely that we will add songs like “Franchise” from Travis Scott and perhaps “Life Goes On” from BTS to that growing list of #1 hits without enough staying power to make the Year-End chart, in stark contrast to songs that make the Year-End chart despite very modest peaks, like the performance turned in by songs like “P***y Fairy (OTW)” and Slide, which still scraped on to the Year End chart despite peaking at #40 or below, by no means an easy feat, although not an unheard of one as well.
Of course, if country did well and rap/R&B did well and pop did somewhat well on the Year End Hot 100, there are clearly genres that did not do as well as they had in the past, with rock (aside from quirky one-hit wonder fluke indie acts) not doing particularly well at all, and adult contemporary not doing particularly well either, aside from those songs which had massive crossover appeal in pop as well (like songs by Lewis Capaldi, Maroon 5, and others). One group of artists that did remarkably well on the Year End charts was made up of dead artists, as posthumous releases by acts like Pop Smoke and Juice WRLD scored multiple entries on the Year-End chart. In a year where so much of the focus in the larger society was on death and dying, and where the infrastructure of touring was completely gutted by public health concerns, it makes sense that no longer being alive to promote one’s music was not so much of a handicap as it usually is. Whether or not any of these trends will continue is, of course, something that remains to be seen.