CBC Music's top 100 Canadian songs of 2020

Charlotte Cardin, William Prince, Kaytranada, Jayda G and more soundtracked this year.

Charlotte Cardin, William Prince, Kaytranada, Jayda G and more soundtracked this year

We rank the 100 best Canadian songs this year had to offer. (Courtesy of artist, Frazer Harrison/Getty Images, Yuuki Harada; design by CBC Music)

Picking your favourite anything is a tough go sometimes. Some folks don't like to commit, while others are offended when their favourite is not also your favourite. Sometimes your favourites are so far apart, that you don't know how to be in the same room with your best friend anymore. (Or maybe you're better with conflict, who knows.)

Thankfully, while 2020 was a terrible year for most things, it was an excellent year for music, which made picking the 100 best Canadian songs of the year a little easier. Taking radio play, streaming and cultural impact into account, these 100 songs from 2020 have either turned heads, drummed up a lot of buzz or will be important to Canada's musical landscape for decades to come — or all things at once.

Small caveat: some of these songs were officially released in 2019, but they took 2020 by such force that we couldn't possibly leave them off. (Hello, "Blinding Lights.") 

Keep reading for the 100 best Canadian songs this year had to offer — the songs that CBC Music producers and hosts feel have soundtracked 2020. And press play on the playlist below to hear all the songs in one place.

Plus! Join host Grant Lawrence on New Year's Day for a radio special, titled The Top 100 Songs of 2020, counting down all these songs. Tune in at 3 p.m. ET on CBC Music, or via CBC Listen.

100. "The Social," DJ Shub featuring Phoenix Pagliacci
99. "Lavender," Ashleigh Ball
98. "Bliyé sa," Waahli Yussef
97. "Just a Dream," Hawksley Workman
96. "If I had Wings," Le Ren
95. "Arctic Hallows," PIQSIQ
94. "How it Breaks," Rich Aucoin
93. "Les choses invisibles," Alfa Rococo
92. "Mountain Baby," Austra
91. "Oh my God," Boniface
90. "No Truck Song," Tim Hicks
89. "The Real Moon," Jennah Barry
88. "Inuit Nunangat," Terry Uyarak
87. "Look me in the Eyes," the Darcys
86. "I Feel Alive," Tops
85. "Supernovas," k-os
84. "Braids," Anachnid
83. "House on Fire," Plants and Animals
82. "Fall Apart," Ellis
81. "Choose You," Bobby Bazini
80. "She Waits for me to Come Back Down," Donovan Woods featuring Katie Pruitt
79. "Truth," David Strickland featuring Leonard Sumner, Maestro, Que Rock, Soufy
78. "100 mètres haies," Louis-Jean Cormier
77. "Bliss Pt. II," T. Thomason featuring Sarah McLachlan
76. "Disclosure," Jazz Cartier
75. "The Benefits of Being Alone," Rose Cousins
74. "Lost in Nostalgia," Tasha Angela
73. "Vibrant Colours," Zoon
72. "Make It" Junia-T featuring Faiza
71. "T'es belle,' Cœur de pirate
70. "Moments," Jon Vinyl
69. "Outsah," the OBGMs
68. "Building a Wall," Shawnee
67. "New Low," Sarah Harmer
66. "Dream," Clairmont the Second
65. "Land Back," A Tribe Called Red
64. "Lemongrass," Aquakultre and Uncle Fester
63. "That Emotion," Hannah Georgas
62. "Survivors," Tim Baker
61. "Rot," Pup
60. "End of the Road," Crown Lands
59. "Irrational," Shay Lia
58. "Comeback," Carly Rae Jepsen
57. "Own Alone," Bahamas
56. "Musa," Witch Prophet
55. "Homies," Savannah Ré
54. "Sentiment," Pierre Kwenders and Clément Bazin
53. "Snakehold," Sebastian Gaskin
52. "Diamond Flake," Doubleheader featuring Dominique Fils-Aimé
51. "Popstar," DJ Khaled featuring Drake
50. "Hiccup," Valley
49. "Real Deadly," Snotty Nose Rez Kids
48. "Robber," the Weather Station
47. "Years in the Making," Arkells
46. "Governess Shadow," July Talk
45. "Deleters," Holy F--k
44. "Options Open," Kathleen Edwards
43. "Susie Save Your Love," Allie X featuring Mitski
42. "Out of Love," Busty and the Bass featuring Macy Gray
41. "Lonely," Justin Bieber and Benny Blanco
40. "Jungle," Dillanponders and Ruby Waters
39. "Golf on TV,' Lennon Stella featuring JP Saxe
38. "Dollas and Cents," Tobi and Juls
37. "A Muse," dvsn
36. "Through This Night," Wolf Saga
35. "Espiral," Okan
34. "Delete Forever," Grimes
33. "So Blue," Joël
32. "Wonder," Shawn Mendes
31. "Ciel," Fouki featuring Alicia Moffett
30. "Vultures," Boslen
29. "Helpless," Rhye
28. "Black Woman," Emanuel
27. "In Code," Loony
26. "In Your Eyes," the Weeknd
25. "VVV (They Lie)," Pantayo
24. "Legends Never Die," Orville Peck and Shania Twain
23. "Secret," nêhiyawak
22. "4 American Dollars," U.S. Girls
21. "Home," Caribou
20. "Quantum Physics," Ruby Waters
19. "Citrus," Sylo Nozra
18. "Believe It," PartyNextDoor and Rihanna
17. "Both of Us," Jayda G
16. "Come as you Are," Tenille Townes
15. "This Love Isn't Crazy," Carly Rae Jepsen
14. "Laugh Now Cry Later," Drake
13. "Death Bed (Coffee for Your Head)," Powfu featuring beabadoobee
12. "Stay Alive," Mustafa
11. "God has Nothing to do With This Leave Him out of It," Backxwash

10. 'The Spark,' William Prince

As music evolves, so does the definition and sound of a great love song. It can be a jubilant electronic anthem, a luscious R&B duet, a neoclassical solo without words. Whatever the format, there is something to be said for a love song that, from the first notes — and certainly the first word uttered — feels classic and immediately timeless, without much understanding why. William Prince's deep and undecorated baritone achieved that with "The Spark," carrying the fiery, love-lit torch throughout this standout single off the first of his two 2020 albums, Reliever. Over guitar, strings and galloping percussion, Prince gives his lover a promise as old as love songs, but one that doesn't feel tired here: things will undoubtedly get rough, but I'm not going anywhere. While the whole song is poetry, there's something brutally romantic about the Springsteen-style bridge, which sounds like vows, or that moment in a film when love is on the line. It's urgent and certain all at once, the musical equivalent of someone taking your hand and not letting go. — Jess Huddleston

9. 'Stunnin',' Curtis Waters feat. Harm Franklin

Curtis Waters is one of the best success stories of 2020. He was born Abhinav Bastakoti in Kathmandu in 1999. When he was 10, he and his family moved to Calgary. In his teenage years, he started dealing with serious mental health issues. To cope, he turned to his interests in illustration and music. He developed a comic book character named Curtis Waters, inspired by his two favourite musicians: Frank Ocean and Joy Division's Ian Curtis. Then he started to make music to soundtrack his character's adventures. 

At the beginning of 2020, Bastakoti was studying at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro and working part-time in a smoothie shop. When the pandemic and lockdown hit, he shifted his focus to his creative pursuits. He uploaded "Stunnin'"  one of his Curtis Waters songs  to TikTok and it racked up 200,000 views overnight before becoming one of the biggest hits of the year. Major record labels came knocking and he turned them all away. Through his art, he took control of his life and now he says he sees no reason to give that control away. — Rich Terfry

8. 'If the World was Ending,' JP Saxe and Julia Michaels

With climate change tightening its grip on our collective consciousness and a global pandemic's second wave threatening everyday life as we know it, it's only natural that musicians have turned their attention to worst-case scenarios. In this sentimental doomsday duet, which JP Saxe and Julia Michaels wrote and recorded in a single day of creative inspiration, two former lovers react to breaking news of an impending catastrophe. "If the world was ending, you'd come over, right?/ The sky'd be falling and I'd hold you tight," goes the chorus, with Saxe and Michael's unison voices brimming with emotion, the urgency of the situation stripping away all petty differences to reunite them. — Robert Rowat

7. 'Eso que tu Haces,' Lido Pimienta

"Eso que tu haces/ no es amor" translates from Spanish to English as "That thing you do/ is not love" and there's a whole universe of truth in that declaration. Lido Pimienta's voice in and of itself possesses a peerless clarity. It shines out of her, a bright wave of light, and a shimmer of beats and synths flood in, a synthesized tidal wave of sound cresting and retreating into a staccato of woodwinds and orchestral arrangements. Stars and Earth, a universe unto Lido Pimienta. — Andrea Warner

6. 'Intentions,' Justin Bieber feat. Quavo

"Intentions" was the third and final track to drop ahead of the big drumroll that greeted Justin Bieber's Changes on Feb. 14. It ended up being the album's biggest song, partly due to its familiar "Heart and Soul"-style harmonies and the bubbly strains of '80s techno-pop that underscores such uxorious lines as, "When I create, you're my muse/ the kind of smile that makes the news." Quavo's appearance is brief but concise, his rap verse melodically executed, after which Bieber flips the refrain "only intentions" up an octave with his hair-raising falsetto, putting those impeccable pop instincts on display. The pair made headlines when the song's video announced an "Intentions" fund in support of Alexandria House, a homeless shelter in Los Angeles.  — RR

5. 'Passive Aggressive,' Charlotte Cardin

"Hallelujah baby, we're no longer together" is an excellent opening line, and Charlotte Cardin uses it to gently send out her first new single in two years — though those soft synths and sneaky bass line will deliver one hell of a stronger mood by song's end. "Passive Aggressive" took the fall by windstorm, bopping along for upwards of three million streams in just the past handful of months. The Montreal singer spent most of 2019 co-writing with Cult Nation's Jason Brando, and "Passive Aggressive" is the first release from that collection, letting Cardin's stunning voice loose over that kiss-off beat. But singing those lyrics doesn't always make them true, and Cardin exorcises that bad love throughout an intensely cathartic video, ending in a bloody drum (pad?) rage. — Holly Gordon

4. '24 (Toronto remix),' Tobi, Haviah Mighty, Shad, Jazz Cartier

When Tobi decided to remix his 2019 track "24" for Still+, the deluxe one-year anniversary release of his debut album, Still, he had a mission: "I wanted to create a moment," he told CBC Music earlier this year. And what a moment: featuring new verses from Haviah Mighty, Shad and Jazz Cartier, "24 (Toronto Remix)" is a thunderbolt, built on a track that Tobi says was originally written to "counter negative stereotypes and tropes that have been put on Black men" and focusing on the power that he and his collaborators bring to the table. The addition of Ejji Smith's guitar work — and a fresh, fiery verse from Tobi — adds new bite, giving us an update to an ever relevant track that was always a banger. — HG

3. '10%,' Kaytranada feat. Kali Uchis

When Kaytranada dropped Bubba at the tail end of 2019, the tracks on the Montreal producer's sophomore album were bound to find their way to the nightclubs of 2020. Of course, months into this year, clubs basically became extinct. But "10%," one of the highlights off that record, reunited Kaytranada with frequent collaborator Kali Uchis and continued to be a reminder of that energy we craved all year. The stacks of beats and swinging rhythms clash together like bodies grinding up against each other, a fleeting sensation that we kept clinging onto with every repeat listen. Expect us to keep listening to this song and album until we can once again rejoice communally. — Melody Lau 

2. 'Love in the Dark,' Jessie Reyez

Jessie Reyez often sports a tough demeanour and that tenacity is a constant in her music; even her more downtempo moments often have a bite to them. But "Love in the Dark," from her debut album, Before Love Came to Kill Us, is pure vulnerability. Backed by sweeping strings and piano, Reyez sings about boundless love: "Unconditional you put up with so much/ I could never repay the way you love." Whereas Reyez's songs often feel grounded in real, visceral emotions, "Love in the Dark" is celestial. It tears the sky open and reveals the glimmer of stars above — flickering grains of hope and love that surround us all, reminding us that we're never alone. — ML

1. 'Blinding Lights,' the Weeknd

Sometimes the right song comes along just at the right moment. In a way, it makes sense that a song about feeling alone and spiralling out of control as you long for the touch of a loved one would become the soundtrack to 2020. These are themes the Weekend has explored in depth over the past decade, but this year, with "Blinding Lights," it hit differently. "The city's cold and empty," Abel Tesfaye sings, "no one's around to judge me/I can't see clearly when you're gone."

It was put out as a single months ahead of the March release of his album, After Hours, but "Blinding Lights" didn't reach number 1 on the Billboard charts until March 30, just as the pandemic was really starting to take hold in North America. As we all were adjusting to lockdown, "Blinding Lights'' was turning into an unstoppable force, going on to break chart records and become the biggest song of the year. With Max Martin as producer, the song balances between dark and danceable perfectly, its haunting, minor synth chords leading to a triumphant chorus that makes us forget where we are. "Ooh, I'm blinded by the lights/ no, I can't sleep until I feel your touch," Tesfaye sings, his voice swelling as he expresses a feeling of being lost, alone and yet, somehow, hopeful. Clearly it was something we could all relate to this year. — Jesse Kinos-Goodin


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