A look back at the best music of 2020

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My end-of-year coverage starts next week. Bookmark my site or follow me on Facebook if you’re interested in that.

Before we count down the best synthpop songs and albums of the year, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at the best synthpop music of 2020, a very difficult and confusing year. The coronavirus pandemic upended everything, especially the music industry. I personally sought comfort in music that addressed how the pandemic made us feel or provided some sort of escape, so many of the songs on my best-of lists reflected what it was like living through a global pandemic.

Best new synthpop artist of 2020

Several amazing new artists emerged last year, but German duo Beyond Border held my attention all year long. They burst onto the scene in early 2020 with a collection of club-friendly anthems like “Neurotic” and “Enjoy Your Life.” They followed those with an absolute banger called “Construction” and an energetic cover of the Visage classic “The Damned Don’t Cry.” The guys in Beyond Border haven’t slowed down. This year, they released another outstanding collection of singles, including “What Makes the World Go Round,” and completed their debut album, which will be released in December.

To learn more about this promising new band, read my interview with Beyond Border.

Best synthpop music video of 2020

My favorite music videos are high-concept, slickly produced films that add a whole new dimension to the songs they accompany. English band Empathy Test did just that for their first-ever music video, “Monsters.” It’s a mind-bending masterpiece. The band doesn’t appear in the video other than a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from frontman Isaac Howlett. Instead, it’s an art film that features a quarrelsome couple pulling into a carport and confronting a robed figure who thrashes about wildly in front of them, vomits on their windshield, and ultimately takes possession of their bodies. It remains one of the best music videos I’ve ever seen.

Here’s my complete list of the best synthpop videos of 2020.

Best synthpop song of 2020

I counted down my 100 favorite songs of the year, and it concluded with “Servant,” the only new song we’ve heard from Swedish duo Hearts of Black Science since their 2015 album, Signal. “Servant” is a dark synthpop masterpiece that defies genre—there are throbbing electronics, shoegazey guitar, media samples, and even a neon-lit synthwave breakdown in the back half. It’s a lot without ever feeling indulgent. Hearts of Black Science are working on their next album, and I was hoping we’d hear something from it this year, but they tell me they move slowly. If it’s anything like “Servant,” they should take all the time they need.

Here’s my complete list of the best synthpop songs of 2020.

Best synthpop album of 2020

Empathy Test also topped my best albums list with their third full-length, Monsters, which took the band’s exquisite songwriting into new territory thanks to the shock addition of Christina Lopez’s live drums. Monsters practically soundtracked our pandemic era with emotionally resonant songs that captured all our messy emotions: relationship turmoil, personal anxiety, social isolation. Empathy Test should have been touring behind Monsters this year, but the pandemic derailed those plans. They did manage to get in a few live shows in 2021, and they’re already teasing new music. Their next track will be called “Moths.”

Here’s my complete list of the best synthpop albums of 2020.

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