The 10 biggest chord progressions of 2020.

When analysing the 10 biggest chord progressions of 2020, there are some distinct patterns that emerge. So read on to learn a little more about the tunes we couldn’t stop listening to last year. And who knows, maybe you’ll have the tools to compose your own smash hit.

While many things spluttered to a halt in 2020, one thing remained unshakeable: Trap and Rap’s domination of the pop charts. Country music continued to grow in popularity, while it was (another) big year for the likes of Drake, The Weekend and Postmalone.

Understanding the DNA of the biggest songs of 2020 is the first step towards writing your own monster hits. And, usually, the chord progression is the foundation upon which each million-seller is built.

According to Rolling Stone, these are the 10 biggest songs of 2020:

Artist Song Units Key/Scale
Roddy Rich The Box 6.4m A#m
The Weeknd Blinding Lights 5.7m Cm
DaBaby Ft Roddy Rich Rockstar 5m G#m
Drake & Future Life is Good 4.8m Gm
Jack Harlow ft. DaBaby, Tory Lanez & Lil Wayne What’s Poppin 4.6m Em
Megan Thee Stallion Ft Beyoncé Savage 3.9m A#
Cardi B Ft. Megan Thee Stallion WAP 3.9m B
Gabby Barnett I Hope 3.6m D#m
Saint JHN Roses (Imbanek Remix) 3.6m Fm
Postmalone Circles 3.6m C

How did they calculate this?

Short answer: Witchcraft.

Long answer: Clever people have a formula for combining sales figures with streams, plays and other online interactions to establish which songs are the most played and biggest-earning.

So what can we learn?

Well, quite a lot.

  • For starters, 70% of the songs are in a Minor key – that’s even more than we’ve come to expect in modern music.
  • There’s almost no Rock music. At a push, you could call Gabby Barnett’s ode to heartbreak ‘Alternative’, but it’s really just Country with distorted guitars.
  • And that’s an interesting development, too. Country is gaining momentum in the US and is fast-becomng the number two genre to Hip-Hop/Rap.
  • Synths are more common instruments than guitars. In fact only Gabby Barnett and Postmalone use any at all.
  • Sound design is equal to composition. Most of these chord progressions are super simple – it’s the sonic aesthetic that makes them so powerful.
  • Keep it simple. Some of these tracks employ merely two chords for the whole song!
  • Half-time is the go-to tempo. But these tracks don;t appear ‘slow’ thanks to the Trap style big 808s, triplet hats and aggressive, moody energies.
  • An absence of Rock doesn’t mean none of these tracks rock. In fact, two of the hardest hitting tracks are also two of the three tracks – Cardi B Ft Megan Thee Stallion’s WAP and Megan Thee Stallion Ft. Beyoncé’s Savage – in a Major key. Major keys are commonly employed by Rock acts, so you might deduce that if you really want to bring it, bring it in a Major key.
  • It’s also worth noting that these two tracks are, alongside Gabby Barnett, the only tracks fronted by female artists. It’s still a man’s world, it seems.

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Time to check out the chord progressions behind the hits.

One of the greatest things about Captain Plugins is the ease with which you can experiment with different chord progressions. It’s super simple to change the rhythmic structure, add or delete chords, select chords from specific scales, or bring in out-of-scale chords for extra interest. You can also transpose between keys and scales with the click of a button, meaning you can audition the same chord progression in a dozen keys and scales until you find the perfect one.

Here, we’ve recreated the 10 biggest grossing chord progressions of 2020 inside Captain Chords. Hopefully, this will help you understand how to set the foundation for your own hit songs. Even if you don;t end up using prominent chords, as in many of the Trap tracks featured, the chords are crucial to setting the intention of the music.

1.

Artist Song Units Key/Scale
Roddy Rich The Box 6.4m A#m

3 chords, a very simple i – iv – VII progression, and a chart-topping smash-hit is born. It’s in a minor key, specifically the dramatic sounding A# Minor, which helps give the progression gravitas. Rhythmically, the final chord strikes an off-beat which adds a touch of dramatic presence.

2.

Artist Song Units Key/Scale
The Weeknd Blinding Lights 5.7m Cm

C Minor is one of the most common key/scale choices for EDM, and other forms of dance music. So it’s no surprise that it’s employed by the Weeknd here. What’s fascinating about Blinding Lights is the heavy influence of early 80s New Wave and Pop styles. There are moments that we could be listeniing to A-Ha, Heaven 17 or New Order. It’s a great example of how to pay homage to styles and eras of the past while maintaining a modern aesthetic. It’s never a sin to ‘borrow’ the odd idea from great musicians of yesterday!

3.

Artist Song Units Key/Scale
DaBaby Ft Roddy Rich Rockstar 5m G#m

Another entry with Roddy Rich involved, and another moody, minor key Trap roller. G# Minor isn’t the most common key and scale for Trap music, which just serves to show that experimenting with different scales can take a chord progression to another level.

You may notice that the chords aren’t particularly audible in the track itself, but this just goes to show how chord progressions give a song its emotional framework, even if the chords themselves are later removed.

4.

Artist Song Units Key/Scale
Drake & Future Life is Good 4.8m Gm

A more light-hearted take on the Trap sound from Future and Drake. A tried and tested i – VII – iv – v progression with a regular rhythm has a degree of predictability to it. However it’s the focus on sound design that takes centre-stage.

5.

Artist Song Units Key/Scale
Jack Harlow ft. DaBaby, Tory Lanez & Lil Wayne What’s Poppin 4.6m Em

Could. Not. Be. Simpler. If ever there was a lesson in keeping it simple, this is it. The only two chords used in the track have been carefully chosen to elicit just the right amount of attitude. After that, it’s entirely down to the rhythmic cadence to liven things up. Even that is super simple, and super repetitive. This simplicity allows the host of featured artists space to shine.

6.

Artist Song Units Key/Scale
Megan Thee Stallion Ft Beyoncé Savage 3.9m B♭

Another 2-chord wonder! Again, it’s all about a dynamic rhythm that spits the chords out venomously. This track uses a highly unusual I – ii progression. It would be more common if it resolved to a V chord, as I – ii – V is a variant of a well-known jazz progression. However, by steadfastly refusing to resolve to the V, the track is imbued with a pregnant tension. We’re constantly unsettled, waiting for a resolution that bnever comes. Meanwhile, it’s in a major key, which as we’ve discussed earlier, amplifies the energy greatly.

7.

Artist Song Units Key/Scale
Cardi B Ft. Megan Thee Stallion WAP 3.9m B

Fiendishly simple on first glance, it’s another 3-chord progression. Yet, interestingly, this one features an unusual II chord called a ‘Neapolitan’. It’s a form of ‘chromatic variation’ whereby the composer uses an ‘out-of-scale’ chord, in this case C Maj, that has a relationship with the supertonic (2nd scale degree). In this case, it’s been flatted from C# to C, which makes it a highly unusual chord choice, but one that still relates to the scale. It’s quite advanced music theory inside a three-chord progression. Ultimately, it just shows that out-of-scale chords can offten sound great – this time the progression is imbued with extra tension thanks to the fairly dissonant 2nd chord.

8.

Artist Song Units Key/Scale
Gabby Barnett I Hope 3.6m D#m

Country makes an entrance to the party, with Gabby Barnett’s emotional Alt-Pop lament. Along with The Weeknd, it’s one of the most traditional chord progressions in the Top 10, with a i – VI – III – VII riff running throughout. While ostensibly in a minor key, by using 75% major chords there is an enhanced sense of boldness more common in Rock music. This makes a lot of sense when you consider that, although a Country song in many ways, the distorted guitars and vocal style has a very strong Rock crossover.

9.

Artist Song Units Key/Scale
Saint JHN Roses (Imbanek Remix) 3.6m Fm

In the key of F Minor, this progression is entirely comprised of minor chords in the scale. It’s a simple i – v – i – v – iv progression, with an inversion on the v chord adding a different voicing. Later in the track these chords adopt a different phrasing and rhythm as the energy shifts.

10.

Artist Song Units Key/Scale
Postmalone Circles 3.6m C

Finally, Postmalone’s Circles is yet another 3-chord progression. This time it rotates on a I – IV – iv riff, which is a little more jazzy than we might expect. This jazziness largely comes from the major/minor modulation of the IV/iv chords. In fact, some might argue this is actually a 2-chord progression… which reinforces the point that simplicity is King if you want to write modern bangers!

Write your own hit songs with Captain Plugins.

It’s super easy to create your own ideas from scratch. Visit the official Captain Plugins homepage and see how it will help you explore music and write your own original productions.