The Best Canadian Songs of 2020

It was the worst of times, but we had the best of songs. From Drake to Grimes to Justin Bieber—these were the finest bangers Canada had to offer this year.

best canadian songs 2020 drake nav mustafa manila grey jessie reyez
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original/Kagan McLeod

best canadian songs 2020 drake nav mustafa manila grey jessie reyez

There basically isn’t a single facet of the music industry that hasn’t been completely disrupted, thwarted, or upended this year. The coronavirus pandemic annihilated so much of what we've taken for granted about this art form: it canceled world tours, put a stop to promotional campaigns, and for long stretches at a time made it impossible to even go to the store to buy a record. Most musicians spent the year like the rest of us, staying cooped up inside their houses or apartments—some even recorded new music there. Stars in the making watched their dreams be put on pause. Songs that could have torn up the charts floundered.

But there was one thing that COVID-19 couldn’t do: it couldn’t stop us from listening to music. In a way, music has never been more important than it has been this year, as songs and albums became one of the easiest and most reliable ways to escape the routine of lockdown and the horrors of the pandemic at large. Whether it was Drake laughing and crying at the Nike headquarters, Grimes plucking an acoustic guitar, or The Weeknd blessing us with a club anthem for a time without clubs, music helped make a ridiculously hard year a little easier. Here are the 30 best Canadian songs of 2020. 

30. Merkules f/ The Game, "Death Wish"

View this video on YouTube

Album: Apply Pressure

Producer: C-Lance, Aaron Hiltz

B.C. has been telling the world to pay attention to Merkules for a minute now, and this track exhibits why. The Surrey-raised rapper holds his own trading verses with Compton icon The Game (who himself lays waste to the Dre type beat), spitting about manifesting his own success. We presume this very collab is something he used to dream of as a plucky youth on his 8 Mile shitso props to Merk for actualizing the vision on "Death Wish." Here he sounds less like a fanboy and more like one of two West Coast heavy hitters killing a track. —Alex Nino Gheciu

29. Why G and J Neat, "Ketchin' Up"

View this video on YouTube

Album: N/A

Producer: 365 Management Group Inc.

“Ketchin' Up” features a pulsating beat accompanied by various punchlines about selling dope. J Neat’s flow and charisma help sell the song. While Why G’s flow is sometimes a bit off, his ability to make off-the-wall punchlines ("Bricks from El Salvador/I'll serve your grandmother") make him an entertaining listen for sure. The energy never lets up between the two northside Jane rappers, going bar for bar with their knee-slapping wordplay. I mean, the track title itself is a play on the word "glizzy," which you have to admit is pretty clever. —Brian Capitao

28. Charlotte Day Wilson f/ Syd, "Take Care of You"

View this video on YouTube

Album: N/A

Producer: Charlotte Day Wilson, Jack Rochon

As summer drew to a close, Charlotte Day Wilson returned with a stunning couplet. The two-song drop was led by "Take Care of You," a soulful ballad with a plucked string instrumental and vocals distorted to perfection on the chorus. Wilson’s alto glows as she anchors the track. Meanwhile, Syd brings an airy element on her verse. It’s the perfect balance. Wilson has said that writing the track came easily: “I just wanted to write the sort of lesbian love song that I would want to listen to,” she wrote in a press release. We want to listen too. —Sumiko Wilson

27. BADBADNOTGOOD f/ Jonah Yano, "Goodbye Blue"

View this video on YouTube

Album: N/A


"Goodbye Blue" exudes an ethereal softness and ease, partly from the levity of Jonah Yano’s voice, with lyrics dabbling in French for the refrain but consistently conversational and poetic. The song’s smooth texture also comes from the lightly-strummed instrumentals, sounding almost harp-like. Leland Whitty’s sax suite in the song’s third act brings lush dimension, almost as if he’s setting the song free while Jonah sings “You were bound to run.” —Sumiko Wilson

26. Lou Phelps, “New Friends”

View this video on YouTube


Producer: Kaytranada

The Celestin brothers have a lot to celebrate in 2020. Not only has big brother Kaytranada racked up his first Grammy nominations, little brother Lou Phelps also had a breakout year with the release of his excellent EP, EXTRA EXTRA! The cut we keep coming back to is “New Friends": Kaytranada’s signature swingy production lays the perfect foundation while Phelps bars on top about the perils of failed relationships in the digital era, including getting blocked by your former flame. —Josephine Cruz

25. Ruth B., “Dirty Nikes”

View this video on YouTube

Album: N/A

Producer: Patrick Wimberly

A pair of dirty Nikes might not be the first thing you associate with lost love, but that’s exactly the magic of Edmonton native Ruth B.’s artistry. Her tender vocals are what originally took her viral on Vine (RIP), and this minimal track allows them to take centre stage as Ruth longs for what once was, and reminds us that when you truly miss someone, even the smallest things can set you off—even a pair of dirty sneakers. —Josephine Cruz

24. Preme and Popcaan f/ Davido, “Comfortable”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Link Up

Producers: Jaegan, 1Mind, Amir Jamm

Toronto's rich diasporic culture is at the very centre of its identity, and this standout cut from Preme and Popcaan’s joint EP could be a love-letter to the immigrant communities who have made Canada’s most populous city what it is. While club culture took a hiatus this year, we hope this song has a revival when we can have dancefloors again, so that we can have the dancehall-meets-Afrobeat-meets-Canada moment we deserve. —Josephine Cruz

23. Adria Kain, “Peace Be Still” 

View this video on YouTube

Album: N/A

Producer: Chin Injeti

Adria Kain has been consistently releasing quality music for years now, and while she often is named as a favourite of industry tastemakers, she seems to always be just on the edge of a major breakthrough. Her latest “Peace Be Still”—a collaboration with veteran Grammy-winning producer Chin Injeti—is one of her strongest efforts yet, showcasing her incredible, expressive vocals and gospel of love, loss and growth that will be relatable to many people in a challenging year. —Josephine Cruz

22. Nate Husser, “Iced Out Baby-G”

View this video on YouTube

Album: N/A

Producer: DJ Coco

Followers of early 2000s street culture will be familiar with the era that Montreal rapper Nate Husser is referencing on his turn-up-and-feel-good slap “Iced Out Baby-G.” A young Husser was enamored with Pharrell and Lil Wayne for their iconic fashion moments and their contributions to “the culture,” so it only makes sense for him to pay tribute now that he’s an established artist himself.  If you need a little motivation to crank things up for 2021, let this be your anthem. —Josephine Cruz

21. Pressa f/ Sleepy Hallow and Sheff G, "Head Tap"

View this video on YouTube

Album: Gardner Express

Producer: d.a. got that dope

"Nah at first I hated pressa’s part but now it’s my favorite that shit is so catchy," reads one of the YouTube comments on "Head Tap." That seemed to be the general consensus among U.S. listeners after Pressa dropped the track featuring Brooklyn drill stars Sleepy Hallow and Sheff G in July. "I ain't no regular thuggy," the Toronto rapper warns on the hook, and nor is he a regular MC. His high-pitched, cartoonish-yet-menacing voice dances all over the song's dramatic piano and 808s, changing up flows while holding down a deceptively contagious melody. It provides the perfect foil to Hallow and Sheff G's grittier delivery. Pressa's vocal style indeed takes some getting used to, but Toronto rap fans already know: once you're acquainted with it, you're hooked. —Alex Nino Gheciu

20. PARTYNEXTDOOR f/ Drake and Bad Bunny, "Loyal"

View this video on YouTube


Producer: Dregotjuice, Noah "40" Shebib, OG Parker

We deserved a summer (out of the confines of quarantines) where "Loyal" was in rotation. It’s the perfect summer song: a breezy beat with infectious drums that pulsate in a way that’s reminiscent of a pared down calypso rhythm. The remix, which featured Bad Bunny, made it even harder to enjoy the track from indoors. PARTYNEXTDOOR’s lyrical talent shone here too: the song is simple in its messaging. However, the expert assembly ensures that it still resonates. —Sumiko Wilson

19. Caribou, "Never Come Back"

View this video on YouTube

Album: Suddenly

Producer: Dan Snaith

Dan Snaith really snapped on this one. "Never Come Back" is the singer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer better known as Caribou at his punchiest and poppiest. The song is a sticky piano-house slammer that makes us nostalgic for dance floors—not just because it sounds like early '90s electronica, but because it was released way back when dance floors still existed (i.e. last January). Even listening to the tune from a WFH-friendly gamer chair, it's impossible not to bob your head to it. The Dundas, Ontario native reins in his esoteric, psychedelic tendencies for more crowd-pleasing fare: sun-drenched staccato keys, thumping kicks, and even some cowbell! Snaith's wispily-sung refrain—"And you'll never come back"—sounds almost like a taunt: both you and he know you'll be returning to this track again and again. —Alex Nino Gheciu

18. DijahSB, "I'll Pay You Back on Friday"

View this video on YouTube

Album: 2020 the Album

Producer: Cheap Limousine

When DijahSB spits "I am so damn broke, dawg" on this track, you can tell they really mean it. "I'll Pay You Back on Friday," the standout track on 2020 the Album, is a hella-relatable electro-hop rumination on being strapped for cash—which is all the more easier to sympathize with amid a pandemic. It's clear why Toronto's creative community donated over $3,600 on GoFundMe to bring the project to life: DijahSB keeps it refreshingly 100 in a way that truly resonates. They eschew hollow rap tropes to recount leaner, realer times, via flows that are aptly economical, yet laser-sharp. No braggadocio within earshot; just a smooth aural bong hit of honesty, that sticks to your ribs. —Alex Nino Gheciu

17. KILLY f/ Houdini, "VV's"

View this video on YouTube

Album: Canada's Most Wanted

Producer: MoneyMusik

With the world still adjusting to the new normal in April, "VV's," off of 6ixBuzz's compilation album Canada's Most Wanted, temporarily lifted Toronto out from its lockdown ennui. KILLY and the late Houdini ball out on this sheeny gem of a track about the trappings of rap stardom. They are also both clearly having a ball, letting loose on MoneyMusik's glitzy, arcade-inflected beat with playful verses full of silly zingers ("Used to find me by the bitch but now you find me by the beach"). The joint easily captures their natural chemistry. It makes me happy and sad at the same time. —Alex Nino Gheciu

16. Clairmont The Second, "Dun"

View this video on YouTube

Album: It's Not How It Sounds

Producer: Clairmont The Second

Clairmont The Second is done taking advice. On "Dun," Clairmont teeters between critical and confident as he dissects his relationship to ‘outside.' This can be interpreted as being on the outskirts of the industry or even being overly-accessible to those around him. Sitting at the halfway point of his album It’s Not How It Sounds, the sentiment on "Dun" is reminiscent of this thread, where he airs out his frustrations, ending with this: “I'm not putting out another banger of an album and it goes unnoticed. Done playing around.” —Sumiko Wilson


15. Manila Grey, "Shibuya"

View this video on YouTube

Album: N/A

Producer: azel north

On paper, a song using a yellow Lamborghini as its primary motif doesn't sound like it would emotionally resonate. But in the hands of Vancouver R&B duo Manila Grey and their go-to producer, azel north, it's surprisingly affecting. Over a buoyant beat drowning in retro-futuristic synths, Neeko and Soliven trade tenderly crooned tales of ill-fated romance, likening a supercar drifting to the way lost love can turn your mind sideways. My heart still goes skrrt every time I hear it. —Alex Nino Gheciu

14. Nav f/ Pop Smoke, "Run It Up"

View this video on YouTube

Album: Good Intentions

Producers: Pro Logic, Cash, Money Musik

If features are a sign of connections, Nav might be the best-connected rapper in Canada: his 2020 album Good Intentions is loaded with stellar guest verses from the likes of Travis Scott, Future, Young Thug, Lil Uzi Vert, and more. The album’s standout track also includes its most essential assist in the late Pop Smoke, who graces “Run It Up” with the trademark show of talent that was taken from the rap world far too soon. —Calum Marsh

13. The Weeknd, "Snowchild"

View this video on YouTube

Album: After Hours

Producers: The Weeknd, Illangelo, DaHeala

On "Snowchild," The Weeknd’s approach to storytelling is honest and autobiographical. To open the track he talks about resorting to self-harm if his career didn’t pan out (“If I didn't make it, then I'd probably make my wrist bleed”). In contrast to the bouncier tracks that we hear throughout the album, that were more explicitly inspired by the '80s, "Snowchild" mirrors the tone of The Weeknd’s earlier work. The video takes on a similar tone: we see an animated version of present-day Weeknd encountering past versions of himself. In such a character-driven era, where the facade requires him to have a bloody nose and a crimson suit on at all times, the openness is striking. —Sumiko Wilson

12. Savannah Ré, “Where You Are”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Opia

Producers: Boi-1da, Allen Ritter

Savannah Ré’s talent puts her up there with the very best R&B stars today. She is an artist whose glistening vocal ability is only (maybe) outshined by her songwriting acumen, and the instinctive way she effortlessly tells all of our stories back to us through song. “Where You Are” is the perfect example—an emotional rollercoaster that details the challenges of a long-distance relationship atop a dynamic, expertly-crafted track by Boi-1da and Allen Ritter that mirrors love’s ups and downs. —Josephine Cruz

11. Grimes, “Delete Forever”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Miss Anthropocene

Producer: Grimes

As Claire Boucher, a.k.a. Grimes, has continued to hone her craft since early albums Geidi Prime and Halfaxa; her production has gotten bigger, her sound has gotten weirder, and her songwriting has generally gotten more complex. “Delete Forever,” one of the standout tracks on her incredible album Miss Anthropocene, is almost the exact opposite of that trend: the simple, largely acoustic ballad finds Grimes at her most stripped-down and laid bare, the instrumentation minimal and her voice clearer and more intelligible than ever before. Of course, she doesn’t stray from strange for long, and Miss Anthropocene is rife with experimentation in her usual style. But this rare foray into simplicity is perfection. —Calum Marsh

10. Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber, “Monster”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Wonder

Producer: Frank Dukes, Matthew Tavares, Kaan Gunesberk

“Monster” is the kind of superstar collab teenage pop stans dream of: of-the-moment Pickering-born Shawn Mendes coming together with London, Ontario’s crew-cutted boy wonder Justin Bieber for a moody jam about the pitfalls of fame, resulting in the highest-profile collision of Canadian pop talent since the Swollen Members teamed up with Nelly Furtado (not to mention an all-star Canuck lineup behind the scenes, including producer Frank Dukes and co-writers Daniel Caesar and Mustafa). It’s a sultry single that plays to the strengths of both artists, wisely placing them on equal footing so that neither’s fans have to pick sides. —Calum Marsh

9. Junia-T f/ Faiza, "Puzzles"

View this video on YouTube

Album: Studio Monk

Producer: Junia-T

There are many great moments packed into the 53 minutes of Studio Monk, the opus which Junia-T dedicated two years of his life to crafting with meticulous care, from the opening synth of “Tommy’s Intro” to the satisfying power-down signal sound that closes the album. The penultimate track “Puzzles” manages to stand out from the pack—thanks to the luscious blend of Faiza’s buttery vocals against a slow-churning beat that showcases Junia’s mastery of playful productions and arrangements. What starts as an atmospheric, neo soul song effortlessly transforms to reggae as drums, strings, and horns are slowly added to create the perfect final product. —Josephine Cruz

8. Drake, "Laugh Now, Cry Later"

View this video on YouTube

Album: Certified Lover Boy

Producer: Gry, CardoGotWings

2020 was an unusually quiet year for Drake, as he continues to work on forthcoming album Certified Lover Boy in secrecy, slated for release in January. But in August, he briefly reappeared with “Laugh Now, Cry Later,” an outstanding new single following the spring’s mixtape Dark Lane Demo Tapes, and between the addictive horn-heavy beat, the hilarious Nike HQ-based music video, and the charming refrain, the short-lived but much-needed appearance proved typically unforgettable. —Calum Marsh

7. Backxwash, "God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It"

View this video on YouTube

Album: God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It

Producer: Backxwash

In the ranking of most unpredictable things that've transpired this year, the return of rap-rock has gotta be up there. Backxwash's God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It came into 2020 like a jagged, metal-infused wrecking ball, catching Canadian music critics unawares and prompting them to award it the Polaris Music Prize for best album in the country. On the title track, the Montreal horrocore rapper—who handles production herself—does some truly ungodly things with a Black Sabbath sample. Whereas most hip-hop songs sampling classic rock keep their FM-radio source material largely intact (see: Puff Daddy's "Come With Me," which, admittedly, was fire), Backxwash cuts and contorts elements from both genres into her own bloodcurdling, occult vision. It's like a sonic ransom note... that happens to slap.  —Alex Nino Gheciu

6. Dvsn f/ Ty Dolla $ign and Buju Banton, "Dangerous City"

View this video on YouTube

Album: A Muse In Her Feelings

Producers: Nineteen85, Hannibal, Noah Breakfast

Dvsn’s third studio LP dropped about a month after the COVID-19 pandemic began its relentless spread across the globe, and while there is impressive variety across the 16 tracks—from the Jersey club-influenced “Keep It Going” to body-rolling banger “A Muse”—the songs about isolation, loneliness, and longing really hit different in the early stages of the new normal. While “Dangerous City” was written pre-pandemic, it may as well be an anthem for spring 2020 with Daniel Daley’s crooning about things “getting worse up in the city,” and that the only crime one can “ever face is feelin' lonely.” —Josephine Cruz

5. Jessie Reyez, "Roof"

View this video on YouTube

Album: Before Love Came To Kill Us

Producers: Bizness Boi, P2J

Jessie Reyez has a great voice and a fresh style, and if that were all, it’d be enough to make her a great R&B singer and a gifted Canadian artist. If you want proof that she’s also one of the country’s premier rappers, though, look no further than “Roof,” the centerpiece of her outstanding album Before Love Came to Kill Us. “Hair not done and my teeth ain’t fixed/but your man, your mom, your sis, your favourite artist/all of them love my shit,” she manages to spit with a speed that would make Busta Rhymes blush. She’s got a lot to recommend her, but it’s her flow that puts Reyez in a league of her own. —Calum Marsh

4. TOBi, f/ Haviah Mighty, Shad, Jazz Cartier, Ejji Smith, "24 (Toronto Remix)"

View this video on YouTube

Album: STILL+

Producer: Take A Daytrip

In a remix to one of STILL’s standouts, TOBi calls on some of Toronto hip-hop’s brightest stars to breathe new life into "24." Featuring gritty production from Take a Daytrip and new instrumentals from guitarist Ejji Smith, TOBi taps spitfire 2019 Polaris Prize winner Haviah Mighty as well as iconic Toronto emcees Shad and Jazz Cartier to expand on the ideas in the original "24." The result was momentous. With verses from artists ranging in subgenres and generational appeal, it truly feels like a Toronto track that we’ll be playing for years to come. —Sumiko Wilson

3. Drake, “Chicago Freestyle”

View this video on YouTube

Album: Dark Lane Demo Tapes

Producer: Noel Cadastre

The big, splashy lead single on Drake’s so-called “commercial mixtape” Dark Lane Demo Tapes was “Toosie Slide,” an upbeat dance number that ignited its own hugely popular TikTok dance trend. The real highlight of the album, though, was of a distinctly darker tone: the somber, downbeat “Chicago Freestyle,” on which Drake bears his soul over the soulful chorus crooning of Giveon. Between confessing his romantic frustrations and lifting verses from Eminem’s “Superman” wholesale, the track shows a side of Drake we haven’t seen much of since the days of Take Care: from mood to rhythm, this is his most emotional song since “Marvin’s Room.” Here’s hoping we see more like it on Certified Lover Boy—Calum Marsh

2. Mustafa, "Air Forces"

View this video on YouTube

Album: When Smoke Rises

Released: Jamie xx, Frank Dukes

Mustafa’s folksy follow-up to his stirring debut single serves as a warning. Aligning with his lyrical background, the artist poetically speaks to the dangers awaiting at “and all these intersections, where we've been kept and left in,” as he describes in the second verse. With lyrics that sound like they could be coming from a concerned mother, waiting up until her children come home, Mustafa continues to tell nuanced stories of life in Regent Park, the Toronto neighbourhood where he’s from. The track features production from Jamie XX and fellow Torontonian Frank Dukes, who sampled Sudanese ritual chants to incorporate a choral element into the track that pays further homage to Mustafa’s roots. —Sumiko Wilson

1. The Weeknd, “Blinding Lights”

View this video on YouTube

Album: After Hours

Producers: The Weeknd, Max Martin 

Can we start with the obvious? The Weeknd was clearly snubbed by the Grammys—as the man himself has effectively declared—and his sensational album After Hours deserves every award under the sun. Its lead single “Blinding Lights,” with its propulsive '80s beat and sumptuous, sun-kissed synths, is one of Abel Tesfaye’s very best, completing his years-long transformation from melancholic R&B singer into one of the most gifted and dynamic pop stars since Michael Jackson. No song dominated the airwaves in 2020 quite like “Blinding Lights,” and throughout a year of turbulence, sickness, and uncertainty, the track lights up the night like a beacon in the sky, blazing with neon panache. It’s a cruel irony of a crazy year that the song came to us at a time without parties or nightclubs, where it practically demands to be heard. But you can be sure that when going out is safe again, “Blinding Lights” will have another moment to shine. —Calum Marsh

Latest in Music