A bunch of things happened in 2020 but the most consequential (OK, the most consequential FOR ME) is that I started doing pop polls on Twitter. I think I can state at this point that there is nobody better at creating and running track-based Twitter pop polls than me; alas this skill, never broad in its utility, is shortly to be extinct.

The point of the polls wasn’t initially music discovery, but they turned into a surprisingly useful way to deal with one of the big problems of modern music: there’s such a colossal amount of it that you need some kind of framework for exploration. Streaming services offer you their own frameworks, tailored to your listening habits. Even when these work – and if you like smaller artists and eclectic listening you’ll need to put in a lot of legwork to make them useful – they lack the communal, social dimension that’s always been such a part of music fandom.

So a lot of frameworks for music chat and conversation have sprung up around social networks – mostly but not always on Twitter. Listening Parties, Music Challenges, user guides, hashtags, online record clubs, YouTube and Substack influencers… the Peoples Pop Polls took their minor place in this ecosystem. Most of the ’20s entries have featured in them, particularly in the annual end-of-year polls.

First though, it’s 2019!

LIL NAS X – “Old Town Road”: The original, not the remix – Billy Ray Cyrus adds very little and takes away some of the sheer strangeness of this record. Was it a meme? Was it a song? Was it country? Was it hip-hop? Why is it less than 2 minutes long? What the hell is this “TikTok” thing anyway? Later Nas X releases have established who this guy is and what makes him a star, but they don’t have the ‘what?!?’ qualities this does. YES.

MILEY CYRUS – “Slide Away”: Miley’s big move into her current pseudo soft-rock phase, and definitely the most convincing song from it – just a really good, big AOR tune aimed at some doofus who’s wasted her time. The queasy production underlines the exhaustion when it could wreck the song. YES.

POPPY – “I Disagree”: Poppy’s kawaii nu-metal isn’t totally unprecedented (alt-idol groups from Japan like BiS (not that Bis) had been doing similar) but it’s still an extraordinary, disorienting confection of sounds, at its most straightforward here. Really this is one for an albums list though, no one track quite gets the range of what I Disagree is up to. NO.

BUSY SIGNAL – “Balloon”: My introduction to “Balloon” was someone trying to describe it and why it’s great to me on the Christmas pub crawl. A digitised dancehall track about how wonderful it is to see a load of balloons. That’s all, and it’s perfect. YES.

Right – onto 2020

ERIS DREW – “Transcendental Access Point”: Eris Drew and her partner Octo Octa’s house music records and mixes have been a source of absolute joy to me since I discovered them via the latter’s Where Are We Going? LP in 2017. Both remind me of the dance music I first fell in love with back in the late 80s and early 90s, not just on a sonic level but on an idealistic one – they carry the torch for house music as ritual and spiritual practice, a way to imagine a better world. “Transcendental Access Point” has the flickering, sensual keyboards of an early Orb track arranged around a DMT-experience monologue – it was my nomination in our first end-of-year poll. YES.

BOB VYLAN – “We Live Here”: The breakout sensation of that poll was UK punk/rappers Bob Vylan, who went from rolled eyes to dropped jaws in the sub-3-minute time it took to play “We Live Here”, a fusillade of anti-racist fury. YES.

CARDI B & MEGAN THEE STALLION – “WAP”: The gorgeously over-the-top, fluid-drenched video is cover for how starkly minimal this record is – I don’t think any production this raw-sounding hit Number 1 here before. The beat does its job, a prop for two beautifully contrasting MCs to flex their skills. YES.

THE AVALANCHES ft BLOOD ORANGE – “We Will Always Love You“: TikTok and related platforms have been great for encouraging artists to do their idea and get out the way rather than extend a song beyond its useful length. This nugget of depressive inertia uses its sample perfectly, expresses its feeling perfectly, and ends – it’s stuck with me as the record that gets at the essence of that haunted, shut-in year. YES.

JESSIE WARE – “Spotlight”: 2020 was also a strong year for comfort pop which reminded people of happier times – Jessie Ware delivered, her quality control as high as ever: I know exactly what I’m going to get from her and I’m more than happy with that. NO.

GHETTS ft JAYKAE & MOONCHILD SANELLY – “Mozambique”: Ice-veined grime which starts simple then turns into a strange multi-part epic with a star turn from South Africa’s Moonchild Sanelly, who cropped up on seemingly dozens of great early-20s singles. NO.

SHYGIRL – “FREAK”: The cover of “Freak” is a body-horror shot of Shygirl’s features on a stretched out piece of skin, like an old Doctor Who monster. It’s a great image for what her music does, sex raps distored by vocal treatments, as darkly entertaining and urgent as their sonics are fucked-up. YES.

KELLY LEE OWENS – “Melt!”: Kind of a stand-in for a lot of electronic stuff I’ve really enjoyed and listened to dozens of time without ever thinking “yes! this individual tune is one of my favourite records!”. Owens’ spooky “Melt!” and lonesome “Bird” come closer than most. NO.

Next, the final instalment – a handful of contenders each from 2021 and 2022 and even a couple of jams from this year.