The 20 Best Country Songs of 2020 (So Far)

Summer 2020 has been a strange one. There wasn’t a dominant “Song Of The Summer” that seemed inescapable as June and July rolled into August. There weren’t many typical summer gatherings, and those that did occur were (hopefully) socially distant. Country songs sound like summer—patios, picnics, boat rides and beach days—but this summer has left us only daydreaming of abundant summer bliss. Thankfully, we’ve still been treated to an excellent crop of country music this year (despite the less-than-ideal circumstances for gathering together). This has also, in some ways, been a year of reckoning for the country music industry. Artists who didn’t speak out about Black Lives Matter were called out for it. Other artists spoke up—loud. Some of these songs deal with social issues, while others are more concerned with letting the good times roll. We gathered some of our favorite country tunes of the year so far. It’s not a list based on radio play or popularity. It’s just what we like, and we hope you like it too. Songs are listed alphabetically by artist.

Listen to the Best Country Songs of 2020 So Far playlist on Spotify right here

Ashley McBryde: “One Night Standards”

Carrie Underwood walked on the sultry 2000s hit “Last Name” so Ashley McBryde could run on the equally sexy “One Night Standards,” one of a few wonderful singles released ahead of her record Never Will. McBryde quickly and acutely sums up the unspoken rules of one-time hookups in a way that quietly but undeniably flaunts her agency as a 21st century woman. —Ellen Johnson

Brandy Clark: “Who You Thought I Was”

Your Life is a Record is a moving collection of 11 songs sung and written by a woman who has lived a lot of life in her 44 years. The characters in these stories are empathetic (“I’ll Be the Sad Song”), innovative (yet forlorn, on the brilliantly sad “Pawn Shop”) and ever-evolving (“Who You Thought I Was”). But they’re far from perfect, which is what makes this Record so real and relatable. On the latter, Clark wishes she could be the person her partner fell in love with—not the one who let them down. She starts off by addressing her far-fetched goals as a child (She wanted to be a “cowboy” or “Elvis” and drive a “pink Cadillac car”) before addressing more true aims inspired by regret and the desire to improve herself:”And I wanna be honest / Now I wanna be better / Now I wanna be the me / I should’ve been when we were together.” —Ellen Johnson

Cam: “’Till There’s Nothing Left”

Firecracker country singer Cam’s February single “Till There’s Nothing Left” (the first song from her highly anticipated sophomore album The Otherside, out Oct. 30) looks at love from a different angle than her 2017 track “Diane.” Cam wrote the new song for her husband, and it’s about going all in on a relationship. “My husband and I will go drive and have a quickie in the back of the car,” she divulges. “Why am I embarrassed to sing about that? ‘Till There’s Nothing Left’ is a commitment. It’s saying—I am gonna love you with everything I have, physically, spiritually, I’m so in.” We’re so in, too. —Ellen Johnson

The Chicks: “Gaslighter”

If they didn’t already have enough of these already, “Gaslighter,” the lead single and title track from the Dixie Chicks’ new album of the same name, is another anthem for women scorned. Seventeen years after they were shunned from the country music institution (and popular music at large, at least for a while), this single was almost too good to be true. It’s a revenge track, a breakup song and a souped-up, banjo-featuring country banger all in one. “You’re sorry, but where’s my apology?” they sing. Not only are they chastising a low-down scoundrel for getting himself into this mess, but they’re also calling him (and everyone in the music industry who ostracized them all those years ago) out with guns blazing: “You made your bed and then your bed caught fire.” It’s the same spirit of “Goodbye Earl,” but with a post-#MeToo edge. The song arrives with a punchy music video à la the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt opening credits, full of gussied-up black-and-white footage, edited internet memes and plenty of pink power. —Ellen Johnson

Courtney Marie Andrews: “It Must Be Someone Else’s Fault”

On her new album Old Flowers, Americana singer/songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews stares heartbreak in its ugly face. However, it sounds really beautiful when she does it. On this buoyant single from the album, Andrews scrambles to avoid the pain of an old relationship, searching high and low for contributing factors beyond her own control that may have contributed to the breakdown. She says she feels like she’s gone “crazy,” “Like the women in my family usually do / We can’t seem to keep our heads on.” But, really, she just sounds like a woman running away from continued heartbreak. —Ellen Johnson

Eric Church: “Bad Mother Trucker”

There are plenty of country songs about women, but few that describe them as powerful, independent “bread winners” and not objects of affection and sexualization. Enter Eric Church, the powerhouse country-rock star who tends to write more introspective tunes, and his recently released song “Bad Mother Trucker” (a verifiably awesome name for a country song, right?). In the song (sort of like his own version of Carl Carlton’s “She’s A Bad Mama Jama”), Church describes a female truck driver and mother figure who supported her family from the highway. Church, now a touring musician, relates his career on the road back to hers. The song is also a gritty honky-tonk jam that belongs on your 2020 country playlist. Power to the women. —Ellen Johnson

Hailey Whitters: “Janice At The Hotel Bar”

Your new favorite country singer/songwriter is here. Hailey Whitters can make the everyday feel monumental and vice versa, and her song “Janice At The Hotel Bar,” from her February album The Dream, recounts a spontaneous heart-to-heart with a Boomer at the bar downstairs. The mysterious Janice, who prefers pharmacy “face cream” advises splurging on the good coffee and staying off pills, except for the Pill. It has too many good one-liners to list, but ”’All men are babies and that’s just how they roll’” might just take the cake. Whitters’ music has so much heart, and this song is another delightful entry to her young career. —Ellen Johnson

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: “Letting You Go”

“Being your daddy comes natural / The roses just know how to grow,” Jason Isbell sings on “Letting You Go,” the final song on Isbell’s and the 400 Unit’s excellent new album Reunions, which releases a series of timely social outcries alongside intimate personal narratives. Last year, 400 Unit member and Isbell’s wife Amanda Shires sang on the lovely (but heartbreaking if you let it be) song “My Only Child,” from her supergroup The Highwomen’s self-titled album. It’s Isbell’s turn to express parental devotion on the equally beautiful “Letting You Go,” which tracks their daughter Mercy’s life from the moment she’s brought home from the hospital to her predicted first heartbreak down the road. Isbell has always had a flair for the tender, but only recently have those gentle, quiet feelings been focused on the fatherly kind. “Letting You Go” is sure to devastate any father who hears it, but even for those of us who aren’t parents, the song lands like a sweet ode to the finite nature of time and growing up. It’s a comfort to know Isbell will be there to sing about all stages of life, including the “hard part”: letting go of the ones you love. —Ellen Johnson

John Prine: “I Remember Everything”

Earlier this year, beloved folk legend John Prine passed away after contracting COVID-19. A livestream tribute was held for him later on, with appearances from many famous celebrities, and his estate shared his final song “I Remember Everything.” The nostalgic ballad was produced by Dave Cobb and co-written by Prine and his longtime collaborator Pat McLaughlin. Its lyrics are as beautiful as any John Prine song: “I remember everything / Things I can’t forget / The way you turned and smiled on me / On the night that we first met.” Break out the tissue box, and watch Prine performing “I Remember Everything” in a living room below. —Danielle Chelosky

Joshua Ray Walker: “Voices”

Fans of drawl-heavy, introspective loopy country music should know about newcomer Joshua Ray Walker—particularly his song “Voices.” A track from his recently released album Glad You Made It, “Voices” is a fantastic example of Walker’s intricate, informative songwriting style. The Dallas, Texas native reminisces on forever lost love and contemplates driving his car into a lake (“But first I’ll finish off this bottle so it looks like a mistake”) on this haunting ballad. It’s not cheerful, but it’s real, and isn’t real life what country music is all about? —Ellen Johnson

Lilly Hiatt: “Candy Lunch”

Even at its most mellow, Lilly Hiatt’s new album Walking Proof has strength. When Hiatt leans more toward Americana’s country roots, like on “Candy Lunch,” she’s still standing tall and straight. There’s a real sense of pride in every song she’s written here. “Candy Lunch,” in keeping with Hiatt’s identity motif, articulates that pride with the airy reverb of a classic country ballad, evoking open night skies as she embraces her inner oddball: “I’ve always done my own weird thing / And sometimes that means I want candy for my lunch.” Your dentist won’t approve, but your soul will. Hiatt isn’t advocating ruining your appetite with a grip full of peanut butter cups; she’s just telling listeners that they’re better off just being themselves, and she’s telling them in her own weird way. —Andy Crump

Little Big Town: “Sugar Coat”

Would you rather have the gussied-up gentle version of what happened, or would you rather have the cold hard truth? That question is on Little Big Town’s mind on this song from their 2020 album Nightfall—except in this optimistic narrator’s case, she wishes she could take off her rose-colored glasses and just wallow in all of life’s pain. Instead of rose-colored glasses, though, she wears a “Sugar Coat” (written by the talented songwriting forces of Jordyn Kay Shellhart, Josh Kerr and Lori McKenna). “Sometimes I wish I liked drinking / Sometimes I wish I liked pills / Wish I could sleep with a stranger,” they sing. “But someone like me never will.” She wishes she could drop the act (the coat!) and not have to hide her feelings anymore, but she’s so afraid to do just that. That fear of intimacy in truth is heartbreaking, and it’s what makes this song so beautiful. —Ellen Johnson

Lori McKenna: “When You’re My Age”

McKenna co-wrote “When You’re My Age” with her longtime partners Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose (collectively, the trio is known as the Love Junkies), and the same goes for “Two Birds,” a sprightly and cleverly written song about a love triangle that falls apart. “When You’re My Age” is a striking piano-driven ballad built around McKenna’s hopes for her kids’ (and, someday, her grandkids’) future. It’s the kind of song that could come off as treacly in less capable hands, but McKenna imbues it with the generous tenderness of a seasoned parent: “They’ll outgrow their shoes. They’ll outgrow their beds. They’ll outgrow that house and you can’t stop it,” she sings, her voice nearly cracking with emotion. —Ben Salmon

Margo Price: “Twinkle Twinkle”

“Twinkle Twinkle” is a blaring rocker, where country singer Margo Price offers a vivid account of paying dues on her long, circuitous route to stardom. “Playin’ dives, tryin’ to stay alive / Twinkle, twinkle little star,” she sings over rowdy guitars. In that sense, Price has definitely upended expectations, by gutting her way through the disappointment, self-doubt and financial peril of a musician hoping for a break. She’s earned hers, to be sure, but her new album That’s How Rumors Get Started suggests that she’s still getting her bearings after such a tumultuous ride. —Eric R. Danton

Mickey Guyton: “Black Like Me”

Nashville’s Mickey Guyton is the unapologetic voice country music needs right now. Unfortunately, women in country music still don’t receive radio airplay equal to that of their male counterparts, and for a Black artist like Guyton, the odds are even more stacked against her. That hasn’t stopped Guyton, who has released some of the best country songs of the year in her singles “Black Like Me” and “Heaven Down Here,” both written in response to 2020 and ongoing current events. In the former, Guyton sings freely about the racism she encountered in childhood—and, sadly, still faces today: “Now, I’m all grown up and nothin’ has changed,” she sings. “Yeah, it’s still the same.” She calls for equality, but, ultimately, she’s displaying hope and pride: “Oh, and some day we’ll all be free,” she sings. “And I’m proud to be, oh, black like me.” It’s 2020, and a country song like this shouldn’t feel out of ordinary, but the fact of the matter is this song is radical. Country fans, listen to Mickey. We can learn so much from her. —Ellen Johnson

Reyna Roberts: “Stompin’ Grounds”

“Stompin’ Grounds” is one of the most purely fun country songs of the year so far. You’ll be hypnotized and tapping your foot along in no time—and you’ll be shocked to find this is Roberts’ debut single, as in her country coming-out affair. And what a way to make an entrance! The Alabama/California-raised singer’s song is all about her favorite haunts and hole-in-the-walls in her hometown (”’Cause I was raised in the deep, dark, dirty south,” she sings) and how proud she is to be from the South. It may be hot down here (“Burnin’ up from the Alabama heat (Roll Tide!),” she sings, shouting out The University of Alabama’s championship-winning football team), but southerners know how to have fun and keep it cool. This is a promising first song from Roberts, and I really hope we get to hear more from her (and learn more about her) soon. —Ellen Johnson

Ruston Kelly: “Radio Cloud”

“Radio Cloud” is the Nashville singer/songwriter’s third single from his forthcoming album Shape & Destroy (out Aug. 28). It’s a cathartic country-folk ballad, following the release of the very Elliott Smith-influenced “Rubber” and “Brave.” The album is sure to be an enchanting, emotional masterpiece. —Danielle Chelosky

Sam Hunt: “Hard To Forget”

If you’ve heard “Body Like A Back Road” and “House Party” and you think you know everything there is to know about Sam Hunt, you don’t. The Georgia-born country singer’s new album SOUTHSIDE proves he has a lot to share with us beyond songs about hot girls, though it just so happens that one of the best on his new album, “Hard To Forget,” is also, well, about girls (or, at least a girl). Sampling Webb Pierce’s 1953 country hit “There Stands the Glass,” Hunt paints a romantic picture so bleak on this country-trap mash-up you can’t help but feel sympathy for the poor guy. Playing on the old phrase “hard to get,” Hunt just “can’t seem to get away” from an ex, who appears to be rubbing her new single life in his face, and he can’t get her out of his mind no matter how hard he tries. Lyrically, “Hard To Forget” is a riot (“You’ve got a cold heart and the cold hard truth / I got a bottle of whiskey but I got no proof / That you showed up tonight in that dress / Just to mess with my head”) but it’s an instance of Hunt using his country music history to make a radio-friendly summer jam, and we’ve gotta give him props for that. —Ellen Johnson

Taylor Swift: “betty”

There’s harmonica on this song! “betty” is the closest Taylor Swift has ever gotten to Neil Young and probably ever will. Here she takes the point of view of a regretful teenage boy, which proves her empathy truly knows no bounds. “betty” also marks the first time Swift has said the word “fuck” multiple times in a song, which is noteworthy in and of itself (and also accurate for her teenage boy character study). Swift’s fans are grown up now, so there’s no reason she shouldn’t be allowed to curse as freely as she pleases. And here, it also sounds really great. —Ellen Johnson

Tenille Townes: “When I Meet My Maker”

Tenille Townes’ debut album will make you cry. That much is certain. Just try listening to country lullaby “When I Meet My Maker” without waterworks. According to a Genius annotation written by Townes herself, the Canadian-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter was finished with this spiritual song in under 20 minutes. Songs like these don’t just appear out of thin air during the crowded songwriting roundtable or at a bustling workshop. Songs like “When I Meet My Maker” are born out of solitude and grief—and ample time spent with one’s own swirling thoughts. Like fellow Americana artists Jason Isbell or Lori McKenna, Townes has the power to convey powerful personal narratives in song and somehow still make you believe the words were about your own life all along. Who hasn’t given some thought to heaven and the likelihood of its existence? About the family members and loved ones hopefully awaiting us above? For Townes, it was memories of her great-grandmother that birthed this song into reality. But it’s her own death Townes is contemplating in these thoughtful three minutes. —Ellen Johnson

Listen to the Best Country Songs of 2020 So Far playlist on Spotify right here