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Yung Raja
Photograph: Hans GohYung Raja

The best songs of 2020 by local music acts

Here are the songs that have contributed to the Singapore sound and helped us get through this hard year

Cam Khalid
Written by
Cam Khalid
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This year has pretty much rained on our music parade – music festivals were axed, concerts were cancelled, and nightclubs were shut. But musicians around the world refused to remain anything but silent during the pandemic. Instead, they tapped into the digital world to live-stream their intimate gigs and introduce songs that provide hope, escape, and cathartic dance parties in the bedroom.

It was also a great year for fresh sounds, from Yung Raja's multi-lingual rap to Keyana's sultry R&B, as well as reinventions, from Haneri's disco bop to Masia One's hip-hop switch. Here is a small sampling of the music that has defined the Singapore sound of 2020, and kept us going.

RECOMMENDED: Local Vocal: fresh new music from Singapore this week and 50 best local songs to have in your music playlist

The Dance Song by Yung Raja

There's no denying that 2020 has been a stellar year for Yung Raja who puts Singapore on the map with his tongue-in-cheek bop The Dance Song, which is also his debut release for US label Alamo Records. Released with an equally fun music video (which has reached over one million views in three months!), the bilingual hit features the hip-hop trailblazer rapping in both English and Tamil over an upbeat trap beat. The track is further injected with Busta Rhymes-fast flows, brag-filled bars, and references to Tamil cinema, cuisine, and pop culture. Its infectious hook will also have you repeating "Look at me dance," by the end of your third or fourth replay.

The Dance Song is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Fair Price by Bgourd

Don't be afraid to sample the veggie wrap of green bodysuit-clad rapper Bgourd who has sprouted from the scene with not one, but two EPs. The standout of his latest, Veggie Wraps, Vol. 2, has to be Fair Price. Cooked up together with electronic producer Fauxe, the experimental alt-hip-hop track has the kooky emcee spitting slick rhymes over a groovy bassline, kick, snare and hat jams, and all-round attention-grabbing instrumentation. It also features bold vocal experimentation that makes the track repeat-worthy.

Fair Price is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Kalah by Fariz Jabba and Omar Kenobi

During the circuit breaker, we vibed to Kalah, the brainchild of local hip-hop trailblazers Fariz Jabba and Omar Kenobi (who’s also one-third of Mediocre Haircut Crew). Rapped in both Malay and English, the unapologetic track is amped up with infectious synths, trap-inspired beats and witty bars, and is accompanied by a wacky music video, which has racked up half a million views today. Laced with tongue-in-cheek humour, Kalah was produced at the home studio of Omar Kenobi, starting as a fun freestyle before evolving into a wicked track.

Kalah is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Y Didn’t You Say So by Haneri

Together with its disco-esque cover and opening, Y Didn’t You Say So can be easily mistaken for a Doja Cat cover. While in the same direction towards boogie wonderland, Haneri’s (aka Daphne Khoo) frothy track takes a different turn – away from Doja’s raspy, quick-hitting rap flow. It’s layered with groovy basslines, funky beats, and what sounds like hiccups in the background, all coated in Haneri’s trademark doll-like, nasally vocals. Nonetheless, it’s still a party-startin’ combo of funk, pop and dance that could do with a viral Tik Tok choreo of its own. Read our interview with Haneri here.

Y Didn’t You Say So is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Scorpio by Keyana

The sophomore single of up-and-comer Keyana makes an appealing alternative to rounding off the tempestuous Scorpio season. Scorpio can easily be described as contemporary R&B with an alluring blend of moody trap-soul, ‘90s nostalgia, and sultry vocals. The slow-groove number also plays out like a coming-of-age TV drama à la Euphoria where the 17-year-old Ghanaian-Singaporean lets her walls down, confronting her past and reshaping her perspective on love with candor. If anything, Scorpio shows us the R&B wunderkind’s true potential – definitely an artist to keep an eye on. Read our interview with Keyana here.

Scorpio is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Splinter by Myrne (with Salem Ilese)

Sounds like a dream, Splinter is a collaboration between local DJ and producer Myrne, and American Tik Tok sensation Salem Ilese. "[It] started out originally as a song that Salem sent over – it was a downtempo, slow-paced song about being with someone with a bit of an abuse streak. I really liked the idea that she had, and gave the original a bit of a pop-punk lean, whilst keeping to my electronic roots,” Myrne shares with us. It doesn’t matter where you stand on the electronic spectrum, the single has an effortless blend of subgenres from electropop to chill synthwave. Topped with Salem’s delicate vocals, it surfaces as part of the new crop of melodic dream-pop that’s trending nowadays.

Splinter is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Only Yours by .gif featuring Bani Haykal

Five years since the indietronica duo’s lush record Soma, .gif returns this year with sophomore LP Hail Nothing which further explores the pair’s synth-driven soundscape, roped with their signature haunting vocals, sharp lyricism, sonorous beats and clever arrangements. Only Yours, featuring OffCuff and b-quartet member Bani Haykal, is a hypnotic intro track that brilliantly captures that.

Only Yours is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Landmind by 10vacations

For something laid-back, let 10vacations' dreamy vocals soothe some nerves. But don't sleep on the bedroom-pop wunderkind – her sound is like an acoustic rojak of Soccer Mommy, Hazel English, and Frankie Rose, with a hint of Alvvways. Along with her first single Capitol Theatre, 10vacations' lo-fi, dreamy aesthetic oozes notes of nostalgia that somehow whisks you back to those salad days. For Landmind, she combines the intricacies of her alluring guitar melodies with her effective use of reverb that elevates her lush, atmospheric vocals to create a dreamy soundscape that serves to subdue and entice.

Landmind is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Nomad by Abangsapau

Need a crash course on cultural diversity in Singapore? New kid on the block, Malay-Sikh, hip-hop wunderkind Abangsapau fires up his bars with clever wordplay in different languages as well as sounds as heard in his latest single Nomad. A nod to Singapore’s Orang Laut, the textural and culturally rich track takes listeners on a sonic journey back to the 14th century.

Nomad is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Givin It Up by Dru Chen

If Dua Lipa’s sophomore album Future Nostalgia got you ‘levitating’, then rising funk-soul star Dru Chen’s new single will raise you higher. Along with Prince’s guitarist and band member Harts and Dr. Fink, Dru takes you Funkytown with this electropop jam that’s riddled with 00s pool-party electrofunk to 90s nu-disco influences, and an impressive range of vocals from low, sultry croons to high-hitting notes – all delivered with great panache. Together, it makes a funky antidote for any dull day.

Givin It Up is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Feeling Like… by Shye

If Alvvays and Japanese Breakfast had a baby and it sounds like a Billie Eilish-Clairo combo, it’d probably be the straightforward bouncy romp of Feeling Like… Unlike her previous releases, bedroom pop darling Shye speeds things up in this upbeat track about waking on the wrong side of the bed. But it’s just as good. It’s got everything you could want in an indie-pop tune – jangling guitars, surf-pop riffs, catchy hooks, and reverb-drenched, whisper-pop vocals. 

Feeling Like... is available on Spotify.

Freedom Fades by Masia One and Alx

Forget those flights and cruises to nowhere – why not take a long stroll to nowhere with rapper Masia One’s latest silky smooth track oozing through your headphones? Together with producer Alx – albeit separated by the Causeway – the “Far East Empress” goes back to her lyrical roots with a lo-fi number that revisits the golden hip-hop era where 90bpm concoctions of rap, jazz, soul and funk dominated the airwaves. The thoughtful lyrics make room for reflection of all sorts including mental health, which is much needed especially in these strange times.

Freedom Fades is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Raindrops by Sezairi

The soulful boy-next-door’s latest smooth ballad comes complete with bilingual flair. An effortless blend of English and Malay, Raindrops illustrates the dichotomy of the wistful song which is comparable to bouncing between the want to stay and the need to leave (c'mon, we've all been through that). The Singapore Idol alum has been known to dabble in the art of pop and funk, but this atmospheric slow funk, peppered with a pinch of jazz, brilliantly captures the singer’s emotional and melodic strengths, as well as lyricism.

Raindrops is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Amazing by Yung Raja, Alyph and Trifect

With a rhythmic introduction – think steel drums of the Caribbean – and what sounds like the water, the airy track starts off with an amazing reminiscent of the beach, poolside, or "vacay". The track is a synthesis of hip-hop and bossa nova influences, and while intrepid, it is strikingly uplifting. Aside from Yung Raja's fire bars, producers Alyph (one-half of SleeQ) and Trifect beef out the track by adding the magnetic backdrop of booming bass, cheery synths, and loping beat. It's definitely one to welcome the weekend with.

Amazing is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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My Type by brb.

If Amazing is the daiquiri, My Type is the piña colada. Another summery track – and more steel drums – the R&B trio's latest single is a sweet, breezy love song packed with tropical beats and dreamy vocals. It's groovy, infectious, and easy-on-the-ears – altogether a signature brand of the brb. sound. Unlike the somber songs from their debut album Relationsh*t, My Type takes a more jovial turn. The first single also doubles as a preview of their upcoming 2021 release, so expect a more cheerful approach in the weeks to come.

My Type is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

If You’d Have Me by Whirring

Let’s just say that electro-pop duo Whirring is Singapore’s answer to British pair Oh Wonder. And you’d want to keep ‘em on your radar. If You’d Have Me keeps you glued with Aqid and Michelle's lush vocal harmonies, punchy 808s, shimmering synths, and emotive lyrics that have the two wearing their hearts on their sleeves. The swelling chorus simply pulls you into the uncertain waters of infatuation, and you’ll want to take a deep swim in it before resurfacing when the song ends.

If You’d Have Me is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Daytona by Islandeer

This duo plays easy-breezy jangly pop-rock that feels at home on the radio. Borrowing inspiration from the likes of Bombay Bicycle Club, Tame Impala, The Strokes and even The Beatles, Islandeer puts out tracks with feel-good vibes including Daytona, which just feels like eternal summer.

Daytona is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

 

Sickleberry Sunsets by Wovensound

Sickleberry Sunsets is centred by a mesmerising hook that features Shak singing “It’s music to my ears” – and we couldn’t agree more. Taking a page out of Brockhampton and Tyler the Creator’s books, producer Wovensound weaves in elements of lo-fi, jazz and hip-hop to create a track that sounds like a road trip. It takes you on a sonic adventure through various sections of the song, with each artist bringing their own flavour – Ihasamic! with his punchy rap verses, Shak with his arresting, soulful vocals, Andrew Marko with his fiery bars, and Raina Sum with her haunting, minimalist bridge.

Sickleberry Sunsets is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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(Feel Like) Dancing Alone by Lincoln Lim and Houg

If you have to, retreat to your comfy corner for a solo boogie with this one. (Feel Like) Dancing Alone drops as a two-track release that celebrates the duality of Lincoln Lim’s folk-tinged, alternative-pop sensibilities, and Hough’s lo-fi, chillwave essence. One is beefed up with hypnotic synths and basslines, while Houg’s mix is more atmospheric, slipping deeper into the chillwave circle. Both offer listeners two different mixing and mastering approaches to the same track – and we can’t even pick a favourite out of the two. Nonetheless, both culminate with Lincoln’s bright falsettos.

(Feel Like) Dancing Alone is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Omelette Du Hommage by Cinnamon Persimmon

Swap the mainstream for the alternative with this Baybeats alumni. Besides the clever wordplay, Omelette Du Hommage is a carnivalesque track that makes an ace introduction to the emerging five-piece indie outfit and its eclectic sound – a chaotic-good mix of funk, math-rock, and psychedelia. The alluring ruckus off the group's debut EP Bird's Eye features slices of dark tones and euphoric vibes amidst notes of 90s nostalgia. If this power-packed tune is only the starter, then we're hungry for the mains.

Omelette Du Hommage is available on Spotify.

The Singapore sound

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