101. Bhad Bhabie, “Hi Bich”
100. G Perico, “Keep Ballin”
This motivating slapper is all about staying focused, but one of my favorite things about it is how G Perico describes his appreciation for women wearing nude polish as “girls with naked nails.” It shows that he pays attention to details and nods to his vivid approach to storytelling. — Lakin Starling
99. Bbymutha, “Rules”
First of all, Bbymutha did not have to use her precious time to help us. She has fits to get off and four magical children to raise, and yet she made a song that could save a life. In “Rules,” the bass knocks hard as hell to mirror the rapper’s conviction as she warns against dealing with men who have fragile ass egos. Fellas, listen closely because she has gems for some y’all too. — Lakin Starling
98. BROCKHAMPTON, “Star”
“Star" is a murky creeper in which boy-band-of-the-future BROCKHAMPTON reel off more famous names than an IMDB deep dive. Molly Shannon, Tom Hanks, and Jason Statham all get shout-outs, but Kevin Abstract steals the show with his filthy and proud verse. “Bruh, I don't fuck with no white boys,” he says — making an exception for Shawn Mendes, name-checking a pop star of today while sounding like an icon of tomorrow. — David Renshaw
97. Mal Devisa, “You Are My Sunshine”
2017 started in a dark place for Massachusetts musician Deja Carr, when she was forced to pull a raft of tour dates due to an undisclosed illness. Radio silence followed until July, when “You Are My Sunshine” dropped out of nowhere. The soulful tribute to her mother was both a reminder of her undeniable talent — most people can’t sing or rap this well, never mind both — as well as a relieving message that things were getting better. — David Renshaw
96. SOPHIE, “It's Okay to Cry”
SOPHIE has been on a gradual, five-year transformation from a shadowy producer of alien pop jams to interplanetary superstar. This year, “It’s Okay To Cry” signaled her chrysalis-like re-emergence. Her tender, computer-altered vocals, upfront like never before, are dotted with twinkly FX and muffled, “Lemonade”-esque synth distortions. At the climax, the drums ramp up to a full-throttle frenzy, rupturing the track with cathartic energy. As SOPHIE put it herself, it’s a whole new world. — Owen Myers
95. Kesha, “Hunt You Down”
In a year where most men deserved to die, Kesha treated us to a barn-burning banger about why yet another one of them might have to go. “Hunt You Down” is ultimately a song about fidelity and what should happen when you wrong a woman in control. Her delivery of the spunky lyrics is so spot-on. Country-fried Kesha was one of the year’s best surprises. — Myles Tanzer
94. Jlin, “Black Origami”
In March, Jlin shared her requirements for a music workshop in an Instagram post. ”There would be no equipment of any sort involved," she said. The only thing I would want there is the person/people.” An artist who starts her work not from a sound or a hype, but from within, is a treasure, though “Black Origami” isn’t shy of showcasing the intense distress being yourself can bring. The production has a white-knuckle anxiety, part of a current sent through a singularly designed conduit of footwork, and into one expressly forward motion from the self, outward. — Jordan Darville
93. Demi Lovato, “Daddy Issues”
This song is so good it made me like Demi Lovato. “Daddy Issues” is about the surprising positives you can pull out of your greatest foibles. It also happens to spotlight some of the most dramatic programmed drums I’ve ever heard in my life. It's a showstopper worthy of Lovato’s intense vocal abilities, and it feels like a completely honest statement from the singer. Listening to it will trick you into making bad decisions and feeling really good about it. — Myles Tanzer
92. MUNA, “I Know A Place”
L.A. trio MUNA’s stomping synth anthem “I Know A Place” was not intended to be an elegy, but it became one. An ode to the sweaty refuge of LGBTQ dance floors, it was written before the 2016 shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub; but in the shadow of that tragedy, its defiant commitment to joy is now moving in new, deeper ways. Vocalist Katie Gavin speaks right to the heart of her listeners, punching through the ’80s grandiosity of the instrumental. You’re worthy, she says, and you should never be afraid. — Aimee Cliff
91. Moses Sumney, “Quarrel”
When Moses Sumney sings, it sounds like spirits are ascending from his core. On “Quarrel,” a beautiful antithesis to a traditional love song, he artfully declines to participate in a lover’s feud: “If I don't have tools to fight / Calling this a quarrel isn't right.” For Moses, who’s described himself as aromantic, an impassioned fight would require reciprocity. — Lakin Starling
90. Actress, “Dancing in the Smoke”
Is a dance floor a site or a mindset? Actress knows it’s both and more. On “Dancing in the Smoke,” from this year’s AZD album, he harnesses the transformative power of the club and relocates it to a cosmic realm. An android-like voice repeats “The future, the future,” synths are wielded like laser beams, and an apprehensive layer of bass descends like a red velvet curtain. Close your eyes and join us. — Ruth Saxelby
89. Margo Price, “Weakness”
“Weakness” is the kind of self-destructive and self-aware honky-tonk country song that reveals as much about the singer as it does about those who relate to it. “Sometimes I'm my only friend, and my own worst enemy,” she sings, summing up her relatable duality in a down-home style. "My right head never knows what my left one’s gonna do." — Leah Mandel
88. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, “Drowning”
When A Boogie’s “Drowning” first surfaced on Twitter in February, racking up close to 6,000 retweets, it was clear that the Highbridge hitmaker had another massive record under his iced-out sleeves. The instantly recognizable Erik Satie piano sample, a frankly unnecessary feature from Atlantic labelmate and accused assaulter, Kodak Black, and an irresistible sing-a-long chorus, all contributed to the track’s platinum status in early August. It’s the Bronx streaming star’s third, and counting, plaque of its kind. — Ali Suliman
87. Chris Jeday f. Ozuna, Arcángel, & J Balvin, “Ahora Dice”
On this atmospheric heater, three kings of reggaeton are seething with jealousy. Each one insists that no other lover can take their paramour to such heights, but, in the end, they’re all left to soak in their exquisite frustration. Think of “Ahora Dice” as the mellower flipside to some of this year’s party-starting Spanish-language crossovers; producer Jeday softens the harder edges of hip-hop for a song that just about anyone can get behind. — Owen Myers
86. Weaves f. Tanya Tagaq, “Scream”
Weaves fucking rules, and that’s a fact. On “Scream,” the pop-rock quartet got legendary indigenous throat-singer Tanya Tagaq to wail about what it’s like to be a woman in this shitty world. All percussion and passion and reverb and lines like “I'm a child of commercials and body language and floating drones,” the collaborative track truly sounds like nothing else. They sang it together at the Polaris award ceremony this year. Is there a sicker way to get your message out there? I can’t think of one. — Leah Mandel
85. Quay Dash, “Decline Him”
Bronx rapper Quay Dash drops bars like icicles on her frosty come-up anthem “Decline Him,” and doesn’t once look back to witness the shatter. “Fuck ‘em on a leather recliner / Smudging all my lipstick and my M·A·C makeup liner,” she spits on the chorus. It’s an image worth lingering over — a moment of fire within the ice that might just be the hottest couplet of the year. — Ruth Saxelby
84. SahBabii f. T3, “Marsupial Superstars”
I don’t know what SahBabii likes more, animals or sex. On “Marsupial Superstars,” as throughout his breakout S.A.N.D.A.S. mixtape, he falsettos, yodels, and straight-up raps his way through innuendo up and down the food chain. Nothing so deranged ever sounded this angelic. — Rawiya Kameir
83. Mike WiLL Made-It f. Chief Keef & Rae Sremmurd, “Come Down”
“Come Down” sounds like the soundtrack for that uplifting moment at the conclusion of a young adventurer’s epic quest, when, mission accomplished, they head home victorious. Aptly placed toward the end of Mike WiLL Made-It’s Ransom 2, the cut features awesome, aspirational verses from Rae Sremmurd’s Jxmmi and Swae Lee — but the real standout is Chief Keef. On the chorus, he assuredly sings his whole heart out about knowing exactly what he’s about at this point in his life — a high he doesn’t want to come down from. It’s a somewhat under-the-radar marker of what was a monumental bounce-back year for the young star. — Nazuk Kochhar
82. Dua Lipa, “New Rules”
A truly great pop song holds you in the moments when you’re wearing a bathrobe and despairing over your ex. It brushes your hair and makes you feel glamorous again. It gives you instructions on how to empower yourself (one, don’t pick up the phone; two, don’t let him in; three, don’t be his friend), and makes them so damn catchy you will never forget them again. Dua Lipa gave us not only one of the best pop moments of the year but also some of the best advice. — Aimee Cliff
81. Young Dolph, “100 Shots”
No rapper in 2017 has returned from the brink as dramatically or as frequently as Young Dolph. Released after the first of two shootings he’d survive this year, Dolph’s triumph on “100 Shots” is the ultimate validation of his predictive hustler instincts. He’s a super-soldier emerging from the fog of a war he could have lost — and since DJ Squeeky’s beat doesn’t drop until just after the song’s halfway point, Dolph’s knowledge has the punch of a beloved general who still hasn’t cleaned the blood from his sword. By the time he raps “How the fuck you miss a whole hundred shots?” in that distinct peaking bark, Dolph has answered his own question. — Jordan Darville
80. Yves Tumor, “My Nose My Lips Your Head Shape”
A few hours after I heard “My Nose My Lips Your Head Shape” for the first time, I saw Yves Tumor perform in a Montreal church. It was a 30-minute blitzkrieg of harsh noise, the opposite of the song I heard earlier that day, but with both pieces, I felt Tumor casting invisible lines into me in the hopes of ensnaring an authentic response. “Head Shape” was the biggest catch. It is raw 21st-century intimacy blessed with Tumor’s loop alchemy, here a catacombs choral lit in wedding night afterglow. It's what love sounds like. — Jordan Darville
79. Ibeyi, “Away Away”
“Away Away” strikes to the very core of humanity’s ancient desire for “elsewhere.” From Instagram FOMO to global instability, it’s all on Ibeyi’s spectrum. “Away Away” is a soulful call for change, a hip-hop-inflected expedition to the unexplored places in our own hearts. Twin sisters Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé Diaz tease joys from their singular harmonizing, a shimmering foundation of the band’s Yoruba electro-soul-pop. And yet, “Away Away” keeps despair close and never shields its eyes from inevitable questions like: “Why should I be racing my fate of flames?” Sometimes, staying in place can be the biggest movement towards ruin. — Jordan Darville
78. Teengirl Fantasy, “Telepaths”
The burning smiley face on a beach that covers Teengirl Fantasy’s album 8AM is basically how I’ve felt all year. The sublimely percussive “Telepaths,” about as soothing a drum track as you’ll find, is how I’ve felt in rare moments of peace. — Duncan Cooper
77. Lil Baby, "My Dawg"
2017 was the first year in recent memory when Atlanta started to feel a little less like the epicenter of rap, as SoundCloud’s viral young stars from every nook and cranny of the country rose to the forefront of the genre. But Quality Control’s latest protege, Zone 4 rapper Lil Baby, emerged as one of the city’s newest hopes with his breakout hit “My Dawg,” taken from his Harder Than Hard mixtape. Though he only started rapping this year, the 21-year-old’s delivery feels natural and the song’s chorus is uplifting every time. — Ben Dandridge-Lemco
76. Syd, “Know”
I used to play this song every morning while waiting for the train and catch myself doing slight body rolls on the platform. Syd’s falsetto makes waves like deep strokes as she advises a paramour that no one can find out about their affair. In a slinky melody reminiscent of Aaliyah, she makes what could be a stressful predicament sound like an exhilarating hot mess that’s worth the pleasure and risk. — Lakin Starling
75. Mount Kimbie f. Micachu, “Marilyn”
I don’t know if it’s her scruffy, soulful voice, her just-woke-up delivery, or the nasal London edge of her accent, but I hang off Mica Levi’s every word. In recent years she’s made the leap to film scoring, which makes this feature on Mount Kimbie’s “Marilyn” all the more special. For their part, the U.K. band demonstrates the journey they’ve been on, steering away from the club textures of their early work, instead finding a home in the abundant possibilities of percussive dialogue. — Ruth Saxelby
74. Arca, “Reverie”
Half ballad and half feverish scream, “Reverie” shows the full force of Arca’s painfully personal, confrontationally queer reinvention this year. The sound reflects the vulnerability it takes to bare your soul; among the torn-apart club rhythms and angelic vocals, the track is haunted by pained whimpers and ghoulish moans. He twists traditional Venezuelan folk lyrics, swapping out the consolation of the classic for the kind of rattling intensity that’s worth getting nightmares for. — Owen Myers
73. Lil Durk, “Make It Out”
The name of Lil Durk’s clique “Only The Family” conjures a protective forcefield of loyalty, and “Make It Out” is the sound of that barrier being shattered. The best song in a revitalized 2017 for the rapper, “Make It Out” pumps poisonous betrayal through Durk’s untouchable melodies and a rich narrative reflecting on the life he’s shared with his traitor, and storm clouds now bearing over him. But there’s no trace of self-pity, as the code remains the same: “I never asked you for anything, just your honesty” Durk sings on the hook, aching for reconciliation. — Jordan Darville
72. Steve Lacy, “Dark Red”
There’s a moment before a breakup when you know what’s coming, and you’re powerless to do anything about it. And so you freak out secretly: anxious thoughts circle your mind like jaunty Motown melodies you can’t shake. You repeatedly ask yourself questions that can’t be answered, all the while trying to keep a breezy tone, pretending everything is just fine. “Dark Red” by 18-year-old Steve Lacy, guitarist of The Internet, is that feeling embodied in a song. — Aimee Cliff
71. Fever Ray, "To The Moon and Back"
After the release of her second album, Plunge, Karin Dreijer opened up about her new LGBTQ life since leaving The Knife. But that shift was already front and center to her huge comeback single, “To The Moon And Back,” which offers deliciously enticing possibilities for queer living (piss play optional), alongside a thwacking electro-pop beat that wakes you up as if someone’s stuck a cattle prod where the sun doesn’t shine. — Owen Myers
70. Kehlani, “Undercover”
Kehlani can sing her ass off. Combined with her honest-as-hell lyrics, she has the ability to make you feel like she’s reading straight from your heart. With “Undercover,” a favorite from her debut album SweetSexySavage, the singer delivers a sparkling, whirlwind interpolation of Akon’s “Don’t Matter” that has the power to make you feel invincible. “They don’t wanna see it happen, but we say fuck it!” — a mood!!!!! — Nazuk Kochhar
69. Waxahatchee, “Brass Beam”
Out in the Storm, Katie Crutchfield’s excellent fourth full-length as Waxahatchee, tells the nonlinear story of a romance gone wrong. The record’s best song, “Brass Beam,” is an earnest account of her ex-lover’s suffocating narcissism. Listening, you might be tempted to send the lyrics to all your friends, or at least the ones with toxic boyfriends. “I got lost in your rendition of reality,” Crutchfield remembers, her Alabama twang more audible than usual. Luckily for her — and for fans of urgent, alt-country breakup jams everywhere — she found her way out. — Patrick D. McDermott
68. Bedouine, "Solitary Daughter"
“I am not an island, I’m a body of water” may be the most important lyric I heard this year. A flip on the old adage “a man is an island,” it’s the best line on the best track from Armenian singer Bedouine’s debut album of stunning, reel-to-tape folk. Sung with an unforgettable confidence over a soft-plucked guitar line, her words are a reminder both of the depth of one being, and that we don’t live alone on this earth — each life touches all others. We needed that affirmation in 2017. — Leah Mandel
67. Klein, “Cry Theme”
“I never cr- / I never cry,” repeats Klein on the intro to “Cry Theme,” a standout from this year’s Tommy EP on Hyperdub. With each utterance, her voice is increasingly pitched up, clipped, and distorted — a touch Prince-like, circa “If I Was Your Girlfriend” — as if to knock the sentiment off its hinges. Notes solemnly picked out on a piano sink into a babble of indecipherable voices that swell into a wall of sound. It’s a bold, thrilling work from the young London artist. — Ruth Saxelby
66. Charly Bliss, “Percolator”
Over two years in the making, Charly Bliss’s hook-stuffed debut album, Guppy, was well worth the wait. All the Club-Mate sodas in the world couldn’t get me to the level Eva Hendricks is on when she sings LP opener, “Percolator” — or anything else in the band’s small but impressive repertoire, for that matter. “I think it’s cool I’m in touch with my feelings,” she quips after the shredder of a first riff. Straight away, their world feels fully-formed. Unlike songs by some of their forgotten ’90s power-pop influences, this one feels destined to stand the test of time. — Leah Mandel
65. Chief Keef, “Can You Be My Friend”
Like many of Chief Keef’s best songs, “Can You Be My Friend” started out as just a snippet. In a video on his Instagram from August 2016, the Chicago rapper compulsively readjusts his fur hat and sings along passionately to the dancehall track. Keef sounds just as comfortable over the swing of the bassline as he did on his pioneering drill sounds, asking, “Baby, will you take me for who I am?” before letting off his most tranquil “bang bang.” This year, the Chicago rapper showed a renewed desire to share music with his fans and “Can You Be My Friend” was a hopeful sign that he’s having fun in the studio again. — Ben Dandridge-Lemco
64. Superorganism, “Something For Your M.I.N.D.”
This bizarro pop song by a ragtag group of internet kids gets its off-kilter hook from C'hantal's 1990 house classic, "The Realm," on which a woman in monotone offers “something for your mind, your body, and your soul.” Superorgansim left the “body and soul” out of their sample choice, and the song’s lyrics are super brainy and out-there: “This sucks, I'm the K-mart soda jerk / Cirque du trash, I kept the stash.” — Myles Tanzer
63. DeJ Loaf, “No Fear”
A good pop song has the ability to transport you to another moment in time, and on “No Fear,” DeJ effortlessly returns us to our wide-eyed and unafraid first forays into love. That grueling butterflies-in-stomach sensation comes back with a vengeance as DeJ’s distinct high-octave timbre pierces through a familiar-feeling bounce, on lines like “Who would’ve thought we wouldn’t be married by now / We been true lovers since high school” and “none of the gossip, nothing can stop us.” It’s a carefree and infectious bop that gently throws us back. — Ali Suliman
62. Japanese Breakfast, “Road Head”
“Road Head” is a cool song in the canon of Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner: she released a loopy version of its first two lines in 2014, itself calling back to a lyric from a 2013 song with her band Little Big League. What that means, really, is that the guy who inspired the song, by making her feel like she wouldn’t have a music career, is an idiot three times over. — Duncan Cooper
61. Maleek Berry, “Been Calling”
Maleek Berry is best known as an afropop mastermind, producing hits for stars like Wizkid and Davido before he began recording and releasing songs of his own. But “Been Calling,” a sunny loosie from this summer that turns heartbreak into zen pop, is proof that his ear for melody goes way beyond any genre. May 2018 reflect that. — Rawiya Kameir
60. Wiki f. Evy Jane, “Pandora's Box”
At his album release show at Rough Trade, Wiki explained to a crowd of young New York City kids what exactly he means when he says he “ate Pandora’s box.” I don't remember precisely what he said, but the gist was that it widened up his world, in good and bad and inexplicable ways — just like in the myth. On the song, he’s referring specifically to a woman he dated for a minute. It’s hyper-personal and scrapbook-like, but if you’ve ever had one of those exhausting, mind-swirling relationships, you’ll find ways to relate to its beauty and its pain. — Leah Mandel
59. Yhung T.O, “Blame Em”
If Vallejo rap crew SOBxRBE is N*SYNC, then Yhung T.O is their Justin Timberlake, and “Blame Em,” the lead single from his debut solo project, On My Momma, is proof positive of his effortless star power. The video for the track perfectly matches its shimmering beat: T.O and crew take over the Crestside streets on a sunny spring day in Vallejo and, for nearly three minutes, the small Bay Area city seems idyllic, even as T.O addresses those who wish to end his life head on. — Ben Dandridge-Lemco
58. Oneohtrix Point Never f. Iggy Pop, “The Pure and the Damned”
Daniel Lopatin, a.k.a. Oneohtrix Point Never, likened the experience of hearing Iggy Pop’s voice in the studio to receiving a dispatch from God himself. Listening to “The Pure and the Damned,” the pair’s collaborative track from Good Time, the 2017 acid-trip heist flick for which Lopatin helmed the soundtrack, I know what he’s getting at. Iggy Pop’s leathery voice hovers like a holy ghost over OPN’s soulful sci-fi atmosphere; the punk legend’s half-sung poetry, about chasing dreams that’ll probably never come true, is some of the year’s most straight-up tear-jerking. — Patrick D. McDermott
56. Kranium f. Ty Dolla $ign & WizKid, “Can't Believe”
It’s hard to be a champion for a concept as shaky as monogamy in 2017, and the devil’s advocate trio of Kranium, Ty Dolla $ign, and Wizkid make no attempt to do so on this infidelity-themed banger; never has a chorus boasting about taking somebody else’s partner sounded so affectionate. Set over a pulsating Zj Liquid riddim, and at a time where faithfulness can seem like folklore, “Can’t Believe” is a fete-friendly antithesis to the maybe outdated one-lover practice. — Ali Suliman
55. Future, “Mask Off”
Beyond its instant internet appeal, “Mask Off” was a clear example of Future’s biggest strength: creating slaps that hint at deeper traumas, substituting feeling for apathy. The Metro Boomin-produced song samples Tommy Butler’s “Prison Song” from the original Selma musical and the beat’s somber flute line reminds the listener that Future’s numbing “Molly, Percocet” chant is less glorification that it is escapism. — Ben Dandridge-Lemco
54. Charli XCX, “Boys”
“Boys” is probably the song I listened to the most this year. I watched the video with its cute cast of musical men a bunch of times, too. But the song is what really hooked me — it’s just shy of three minutes of Charli talking about having fun with boys in a pitch-perfect deadpan whisper, swirled with addictive Nintendo bleeps and bloops. It actually delivers on the longstanding promise that Charli XCX is the future of pop. — Myles Tanzer
53. Davido, “If” - The 101 best songs of 2017
The words “I love you” can be heartwarming, but when Davido sings them over and over on “If,” they sound true and unbreakable. That endearing repetition is what can shift the mood in the club, or serve as the perfect wedding soundtrack. His voice cruises over the Tekno production, so it’s hard not to bend your back, glide your feet, and celebrate real love. — Lakin Starling
52. Laurel Halo, “Jelly”
If Laurel Halo’s “Jelly” had a color, it would be bright, acidic yellow. It’s the most fun, hedonistic piece of music the techno experimentalist has produced, but it teeters on a knife edge between joy and uncomfortable intensity. With vocal assistance from Lafawndah and Klein, the often miserable lyrics represent an anxious, self-flagellating inner dialogue. But the rolling percussion, splashes of piano, and unfurling electronics pull the track in unpredictable directions, as if to undermine that message with a grin: Stop taking yourself so seriously! — Aimee Cliff
51. Julia Michaels, “Issues”
No pop song this year captured the pathological instincts of your most intense relationship with the uncanny accuracy of “Issues.” Producers Benny Blanco & Stargate’s instrumentation is strikingly minimal; the verses’ sharply plucked strings evoke emotions on a knife-edge. But Michaels’s vocals are the key to the song’s vulnerable chaos, her timbre effortlessly mutating from breathy to hangover-raw. She cut her teeth writing songs for others, but no one could sing this one but her. — Owen Myers
50. Daniel Caesar f. Kali Uchis, “Get You”
Toronto’s golden child Caesar is caught between lust and love on this velvet-soft ballad. He sings in falsetto over pillowy bass about a bond that is both physical (“Everything I need's between those thighs) and emotional (“Every time I look into your eyes I see it.”) For a moment, the bond is also unbreakable. Kali Uchis steps in as his romantic foil, waiting to be taken to paradise while sounding like she's already arrived. — David Renshaw
49. Lil B, “Wasup JoJo”
“Wasup JoJo” appears midway through what I like to think of as the first of three sections that comprise Black Ken, a mixtape seven years in the making. “Wasup JoJo” is the standout of the first section, in which the Berkeley rapper channels Too $hort, and other ’80s rap influences, over his own zany production. Lil B has been maligned by “real hip-hop” heads for years, but the song’s based boom-bap feel, and statements like “I own my own masters, so I’m a real rapper,” feel like his reclamation of his rightful place in the genre’s canon. — Ben Dandridge-Lemco
48. Camila Cabello f. Young Thug, “Havana”
2017 is the year Camila Cabello converted all non-Camila fans into stans. Hi, I am living proof! “Havana” is a sultry, irresistible bop about a multi-city romance that pays homage to her birthplace, Havana, Cuba. With help from Young Thug, she bridges a musical tie between Latin soul, pop, and Atlanta hip-hop. The first time I heard it, I was intrigued by the way the song’s melodies effortlessly blend southern trap with Latin horns and piano keys. The second time I heard it, I was hooked. — Juliana Pache
47. King Krule, “Dum Surfer”
Sometimes it feels like King Krule is happiest when he’s sad as shit. Case in point: the sobbing guitar solo and ominous vocals on “Dum Surfer,” where chronicling a drunken mess of a night winds up sounding way more buoyant, and relatable, than it should. — Rawiya Kameir
46. OMB Peezy, “When I Was Down”
“Lay Down” might have been OMB Peezy’s breakout hit, but the uncompromising follow up, “When I Was Down,” cemented the Mobile, Alabama native as an emerging force. The track is a slow-building come-up anthem, and Peezy’s high-pitched drawl cuts through the layered percussion. The 20-year-old rapper also offers a succinct metaphor for his current obstacles: “Tryna keep my feet clean, they wanna push me in a puddle.” — Ben Dandridge-Lemco
45. Lor Choc, “Fast Life”
Lor Choc — and her sweet and mighty voice — gave me hope this year. This 19-year-old from Baltimore, Maryland, has got hella charisma, and a whole lot more potential. Over “Fast Life”’s booming, candy-coated production, she sings and raps with her whole heart about her and her peers running their bands up. The song is so pure and good, her unfiltered talent and earnestness striking deeper with each listen, it will restore your faith that there are still good things in the world. — Nazuk Kochhar
44. JAY-Z, “4:44”
Seldom does a moment come that forces men to evaluate themselves, their shitty behavior, and their beneficial position within society’s gendered hierarchy. On the powerfully vulnerable and self-reflective title-track of his 13th album, JAY-Z laments on a decade of his own infidelity, abuse, and shortcomings within his marriage to the queen of the world. Hopefully heterosexual male listeners everywhere finally realized that what women have been saying this whole time is indeed true: men are trash, and we need to do better. — Ali Suliman
43. Lorde, “Green Light”
The genius of “Green Light” isn’t the ominously cheery piano melody, which crescendos during the first pre-chorus. It’s not Lorde’s immediately quotable lyrics, nor is it the way the music warmly recalls the strobe-lit melancholia of classic tracks by Robyn and New Order. These things do contribute to the Melodrama opener’s greatness, but what’s most worthy of celebration is the single’s stubborn refusal to conform to contemporary pop conventions. Its most polarizing traits — the giddy titular refrain, the atypical structure, all that empty space — are also its most unforgettable. “Green Light” is an irregular pop artifact, carefully assembled by one of the genre’s best new innovators. — Patrick D. McDermott
42. DJ Khaled f. Rihanna & Bryson Tiller, “Wild Thoughts”
Just when we thought Rihanna would be taking the summer off, she came through like a rainstorm in a June heatwave and gifted us “Wild Thoughts.” Floating over a sample from Santana’s “Maria, Maria” like a dragonfly, she gave us a verse and chorus about desire so powerful — who among us didn’t have that hook stuck in our heads for days? — that even an extra-boring verse from Bryson Tiller couldn’t stop its shine. — Myles Tanzer
41. Smooky MarGielaa, “Stay 100”
Few things brought me as much joy this year as screaming “Rock Maison Margiela!” along with Smooky MarGielaa on “Stay 100,” the Bronx 15-year-old’s breakout track. It’s an emotional anthem about glowing up, and staying down and true to yourself and your day ones, meant for belting while you’re out at the function, mobbin’ with your team. The video, featuring Smooky and friends hanging out on a playground, dangling their Margiela-clad feet from the monkey bars, reminds you that Smooky’s still just a kid, and he’s having fun on the way to the top. — Nazuk Kochhar
40. Tyler, The Creator, “911 / Mr.Lonely”
For a kid from the ‘burbs who’d drive to get anywhere, and use those me-time moments to reflect, Tyler’s “911/Mr. Lonely” clicked like my seatbelt buckle. It starts out sounding and feeling like a chill, introspective cruise, then slowly, surprisingly, double-times into a frantic, pedal-to-the-metal existential freakout. The Flower Boy cut is filled to the brim with pals and zappy two-bar zingers (“Treat me like direct deposit / Check in on me sometime”) alike, and features the year’s most underrated adlib, for which we have Frank Ocean to thank: “Chirp chirrrrrrp, chirp CHIRRRRRRP.” — Nazuk Kochhar
39. Sheer Mag, “Pure Desire”
Sheer Mag’s monumental vocalist Tina Halladay offers a mixed message on “Pure Desire.” She sings emphatically of a whiskey-soaked night with “no disco ball in sight.” Later she craves “the rush, the jolt when we touch,” pulling us in close over a sleaze-rock track that shimmers like the mirrored globe in Saturday Night Fever. It’s a dancefloor filler for the ripped denim crowd, flouting its contradictions proudly. — David Renshaw
38. Bad Bunny, “Soy Peor”
Bad Bunny is a new kind of rapper from Puerto Rico. He’s melded influences from homegrown reggaetoneros and Travis $cott-type-beat artists alike to create a dark, soul-shaking sound, best heard on his breakout hit, “Soy Peor.” Over super-sparse production, booming bass, and extra-low, rumbly chords, he raps in his deep and pained voice about forsaking true love, and how he’s now a worse person because of a former special someone. It’s one of the best fuck-it-all anthems of the year. — Nazuk Kochhar
37. Calvin Harris f. Frank Ocean & Migos, “Slide”
It sucks that we had to wait until 2017 to get a disco song about buying Picassos and smoking weed before gay sex, but I’m glad “Slide” is finally here. Calvin Harris managed to pull off three impressive tricks: he turned Migos into disco divas, somehow got Frank Ocean to make a radio-friendly song, and made a ’70s-inspired pop track that sounds completely new. — Myles Tanzer
36. Stormzy, “Big For Your Boots”
Stormzy is such a perfectionist that he scrapped a whole video for “Big For Your Boots.” The eventual clip was worth it, and the hard-hitting song itself is reflective of how minutely Stormzy measures his craft. At breakneck speed, he launches a thousand playground punchlines, weaving in social commentary and shouts to his mom, girlfriend, and sister. Stormzy gets a lot of credit for how hilarious he is on tracks like these, but deserves more for his precision, too. — Aimee Cliff
35. J Balvin f. Beyonce & Willy William, “Mi Gente (remix)”
In a year filled with discussion about the crossover potential of Latinx music, J Balvin’s “Mi Gente,” an undeniable, dancefloor-ready remix of Willy William’s “Voodoo Song,” made it to No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100. And then came a surprise bilingual remix featuring Beyoncé, released to benefit hurricane and earthquake relief. When they go despacito, we movemos la cabeza. — Rawiya Kameir
34. YBN Nahmir, “Rubbin Off the Paint”
Many new rappers have face-planted this year, but I have faith in Nahmir’s savvy. Before music, the babyfaced Birmingham teen was a streaming star on Xbox Live, which surely must count for something in the uncharted waters of modern self-promo. Supposedly, it was gaming that connected Nahmir to Mozzy, with whom he shares a great affinity for bouncy-yet-tough tunes, like his googly breakthrough “Rubbin Off the Paint.” — Duncan Cooper
33. YoungBoy NBA, “No Smoke”
AI YoungBoy, the Baton Rouge native’s first project following his release from prison, found YoungBoy honing in on his bluesy regional sound while expanding his mastery of melody. “No Smoke,” a standout track from the tape, is contained aggression, a warning shot that at the same time showcased some of the teenage rapper’s best songwriting: “Forever posted in the trenches / I swear that we forever spinning.” — Ben Dandridge-Lemco
32. Sorority Noise, “A Portrait Of”
On “A Portrait Of,” Cameron Boucher sings about trying to be a good person in the face of tragedy, about how hard it is to stay positive when you’re not even sure you want to stay alive. The result is a pop-punk singalong with life-and-death stakes, capped off by a stream-of-consciousness rant that highlights Boucher’s preternatural gift for writing songs that inspire and devastate in equal measure. — Patrick D. McDermott
31. Jorja Smith X Preditah, “On My Mind”
Jorja Smith is reclaiming her time. “I finally found what went wrong,” she sings on “On My Mind,” and you can almost hear the eye-roll in her tone, aimed at a no-good ex. Her soulful voice seems to have an extra magic when paired with Preditah’s choppy two-step production, the track’s jagged edges bringing out the richness to her tone. Smith may have only been four years old when U.K. Garage was at its commercial peak, but she rides the beat with the supple ease of the greats. — Owen Myers
30. Playboi Carti, “Magnolia”
Whenever I heard “Magnolia” in a public setting over the past year, Carti’s stream of consciousness flow and Pi’erre Bourne’s buoyant beat seemed to lift a huge weight off the room. The title is a reference to New Orleans's famed housing projects and the uptempo bass hits match bounce music’s unbridled energy; the track feels like crashing a party and being the most turnt person there. “Magnolia” signaled the rise of both Carti and Pi’erre and gave me a carefree goal to aspire to: “I’m riding in a Mozzy / This ain’t even my Mozzy.” — Ben Dandridge-Lemco
29. Miley Cyrus, “Malibu”
2017 was the year Miley Cyrus wrote a chorus-less pop-country song about a town where only loaded people live, a place where Neil Young takes early-morning walks down the beach, and I was here for it. It’s made up mainly Miley’s gooey-gravelly voice, some iridescent guitar strings, and drums that build toward ordered chaos. The result is a misunderstood gem of the easy-listening variety, a just-plain-happy ode to rekindled love.
P.S. I did go to Malibu for the first time this year and, yes, I did play “Malibu” on the way there. — Leah Mandel
27. Shawn Wasabi f. Hollis, “Otter Pop”
Most of the other songs I’m writing about on this list are super depressing, which makes “Otter Pop” all the more necessary. It’s happy and silly, and none of the lyrics really matter (“Sippin' Tropicana in a coconut cabana / Floatin' on flamingos, smokin' all the mangoes”) except that they sound happy and silly. Sure, there’s something intellectually satisfying about the fact that 22-year-old Shawn Wasabi made the whole thing on a 3D-printed MIDI controller with 64 buttons and none of them labeled — but really I just like the bubble sounds. — Duncan Cooper
26. Kendrick Lamar, “HUMBLE.”
Kendrick Lamar is always self-assured but he reaches a new level of authority as he takes the reigns and sons his rivals on this taunting track. Known for both his composure and confidence, he matches Mike WiLL Made-It’s boisterous beat with a clear message for any competition who may have gotten besides themselves. The song’s force is cutting, but its instructions are simple: “Bitch sit down / Be humble.” — Lakin Starling
25. Mhysa, “Bb”
As one half of experimental electronic duo SCRAAATCH, Philly artist E. Jane has been known to employ the full arsenal of contemporary club warfare sonics: serrated synths, sirens, agitated percussion. When she’s recording as Mhysa, however, her sights are set elsewhere. "I'm not letting go of my rage,” she told me this summer, “but I also need joy, desire — really to experience the full range of emotions because I am human and those feelings are inside of me, as they are inside of all of us.”
Mhysa’s solo album fantasii, and in particular the song “Bb,” seeks to externalize these inner shores, like a magician pulling an endless string of silk scarves from her esophagus. “Do you ever think about it? / Do you ever-er-er-er,” she softly sings over a skeletal, slo-mo R&B sound bed. These past few years, popular culture has shifted the dial on vulnerability, reframing the ownership of intimate feelings as strength. That’s just as important as articulating rage: we need to be in full command of both our senses and our sensations to clear the way for evolution. Mhysa: she has the range. — Ruth Saxelby
24. Kelela, “LMK”
The electrifying R&B on Kelela’s debut album Take Me Apart tells the story of two relationships: the first sparks and flares with quick intensity, before coming to a rocky end, making way for a new and wiser partnership. “LMK” is the lightning strike that breaks the record open in the middle. With bass-rich production from Jam City, it’s Kelela’s moment of singledom, as heated and flirtatious as her all-time best work. “It ain’t that deep, either way,” she shrugs. “No one’s trying to settle down.”
Across her catalog, Kelela is a master of heartbreak and relationship conflict, as well as songs that are simply about getting blazed. But on “LMK” she proves her finest mode is sexual ownership and agency. With this song, she joined the canon of great R&B songs about hooking up, and by “topping from the bottom,” made an empowering anthem for women everywhere who want to do the same. — Aimee Cliff
23. Tove Lo, “Disco Tits”
This year felt to me like it was running at 100 percent full throttle, all of the time. I found myself craving music of that same energy and was glad to find good company with Swedish pop star Tove Lo and her sparkly brand of hedonism. When I first heard “Disco Tits” — "I'm fully charged / Nipples are hard / Ready to go" — all I could say was “same.” It’s a song that bucks pop music’s normal winking and nodding about sex and drugs, and replaces it with a big ol’ bag of pills and a head-to-toe sweat.
Tove sounds like she’s singing the song to you from the messy bathroom of the best club in the entire world, and the woozy electroclash instrumental provided by mysterious production duo The Struts matches that energy. So put on as much makeup as you want, leave your flats at home, and dance to “Disco Tits” all night long. The world is almost over and there’s no use pretending you don’t like to have fun anymore. — Myles Tanzer
22. Sampha, “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”
Process is an album of singular presence, not just in scope, but dimension: on his debut album, Sampha Lahai Sisay offers rich, lived-in metaphors, as messy as constellations pregnant with meaning, elusive, and utterly compelling. “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” the record’s centerpiece, is Sampha at his most direct, and raw. The song was conceived in Sampha’s childhood home, and has absorbed the grief of its setting: in a room upstairs above the piano, his mother, a woman who urged Sampha to pursue a career in music, spent her final days battling cancer.
“(No One Knows Me)” is spartan in its design, but not emotion. Sampha explores the contours of his sorrow without straying into the saccharine, knotted up with sadness, but moored in gratitude. “You would show me I had something some people call a soul,” Sampha sings, as his fingers hit the keys with that very divinity. It gives true life to his personification of the piano, past weaker charges of nostalgic or simple emotional attachment. “(No One Knows Me)” is about not getting choked in grief’s ashes. Here is Sampha, taking deep breaths. — Jordan Darville
21. Drake, “Blem”
Using social media chatter as a litmus test, this year it seemed like the era of Peak Drake was finally coming to a Stone Island-outfitted end. Many felt fatigued by his ubiquity, his is-it-or-isn’t-it-vampiric energy, his cheeky Instagram captions, the questionable tiny tattoos he keeps adding to his constellation of bad ink. All empires must fall, and, having held on longer than many of his peers, maybe the time had come for the Boy.
And yet it is a fact that More Life, the full-length “playlist” Drake released in March, was full of bangers. Among them was “Blem.” The song, on which he sings in a Caribbean lilt, distills the past couple of years of his career into one shimmering, T-Minus-produced stoner anthem. Depending on who you ask, “Blem” is either evidence of Drake’s business-minded cultural appropriation or an earnest reflection of the immigrant-shaped culture of his hometown. Either way, it’s classic Drake: bare unshakeable melodies and emotional unavailability masquerading as vulnerability.
At a time when astute political commentary feels like social currency, Drake’s vague emoting, no matter how catchy, may prove enough to keep him around but not necessarily at the top. And he may be savvy enough to know that: late in the year, he announced that he’s planning to pivot to video. I wish him Godspeed. — Rawiya Kameir
20. Lil Peep, “The Brightside”
I didn’t expend a lot of energy trying to convince people to like Lil Peep. I always understood that his signature style — a booming, unsubtle patchwork of basement rap and third-wave emo — would never sound right to everyone’s ear. It just makes sense to me, I would say, shrugging, when someone asked what about it appealed to me. Listening to “The Brightside” now, less than three weeks after his death at the age of 21, I don’t really have a better answer.
I keep looping the song’s mantra-like final section, which is percussion-less and muffled, like we’re listening to it through a wall. “Just look at the club lights / Just look at the nightlife / Watching the sunrise by my side / We gotta look at the bright side.” It’s Peep’s version of optimism, an important reminder that beauty existed within all that darkness, not merely in spite of it. I’ve listened to it so much that now I’ve changed my mind: this actually is music for everyone. — Patrick D. McDermott
19. Girlpool, “It Gets More Blue”
The strange, specific loneliness of city life has inspired a lot of beautiful art. In 2017, the song that most accurately captures that feeling was by Girlpool, the DIY duo previously best-known for making drum-less twee-rock about growing up. On this year’s short-but-extremely-memorable Powerplant, Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker added percussion to the mix, and their sweetly sad songwriting got more complex, too.
“It Gets More Blue,” the album’s catchiest track, and one of the most charming guitar songs of the year, is about the self-destructive lengths we’ll go to for someone we think we love. It’s full of weirdly specific details that shouldn’t work out of context, but do — likely thanks to the pair’s uncanny gift for creating a melodic-punk mood that matches their words. Here, that offbeat poetry includes one of the more bleakly funny confessions in recent memory: “The nihilist tells you that nothing is true / I said, ‘I faked global warming just to get close to you.’”
Though Girlpool moved back to California this year, “It Gets More Blue” is an unmistakable artifact of the East Coast. I mean, where in L.A. can you dissociate inside a bodega while a subway car rattles overhead? “I’m still here / I’m always digging in trash,” they sing together on the final chorus, a blur of chunky chords and impressive harmonies. Just another day in paradise! — Patrick D. McDermott
18. Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Zure”
Sound can manipulate space and time. Or at least, that is the hope: some artists wish to immortalize themselves; others, to document a feeling that they can barely see the outline of. Ryuichi Sakamoto is a master of the latter, a composer of sonic realms that hold a thousand nameless notions and desires. This past May, Sakamoto released his first solo studio album in eight years. Titled async, it in part processes the revered Japanese artist’s recovery from throat cancer, an experience that left him reflecting on the nature of time and mortality. Nowhere does he make that clearer than on “Zure,” which is named after the English rendering of the Japanese word for “gap” or “slippage.”
A slow-to-stationary ambient track, "Zure" builds a palpable tension from just a few sonic elements: a 2-chord synth wash; a metronomic, beep-like piano note; and what sounds like occasional dispatches from a cosmic fax machine. It’s a strange zone, akin to a space-time waiting room, that prods at parts of the soul that I’m not ready to reckon with just yet — but I know “Zure” will be waiting for me when I am. — Ruth Saxelby
17. Julien Baker, “Turn Out The Lights”
There is a part of a video of Julien Baker performing “Turn Out The Lights” that gives me chills each time I watch it. Baker stomps on her distortion pedal, launches into the chorus, and opens her mouth so wide you would think she’s unhinged her jaw. She wails, “When I turn out the lights / There’s no one left / Between myself and me,” and it looks as if she’s expelling a demon.
When Baker is at her best, her songs feel like a diary entry you would guard with your life, full of the kinds of bottled up feelings that fly onto the page before you’re able to second guess yourself. A great Baker song is like a stark moment of clarity after being stuck in a haze. In the case of “Turn Out The Lights,” the standout guitar ballad on an album full of standout guitar ballads, these emotional crescendos become literal; the guitar gets heavier, and her voice becomes more powerful. In that live performance, when Baker finishes belting her last big note, she has this snarl on her face and a look in her eye that feels – and perhaps I’m projecting – something like triumph. — Olivia Craighead
16. Lana Del Rey, “Love”
You can stream “Love” anywhere online, but it sounds even better on its special-edition, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls-esque heart-shaped vinyl. Put it on and you’ll hear Lana sing "Look at you kids with your vintage music" amid lushly swelling bass notes, the firing of artillery rifles, and the caw-cawing sound of the seagulls at Ventura Beach. Like her earlier music, “Love” finds Lana playing around with images of America’s past, but this time she’s got a fresh vision.
On “Love,” she fits her signature sound with keen consciousness of the “signals crossing” in the weird world we live in, teasing out the parallels between today’s uncertainty and the mood of the late ’60s and ’70s — a time when, as Joan Didion put it, “the center was not holding.” The result is one of the biggest sounding songs she’s made yet: epic yet winking, and an entirely Lana way of inserting herself into social conversations. “Don’t worry baby,” she sings, quoting the Beach Boys, invoking the past with a subtle benediction for the screwed-up present. — Owen Myers
15. Perfume Genius, “Slip Away”
It shouldn’t have been true, but it was: in 2017, just being yourself felt like a radical act. And so “Slip Away,” the first single from Perfume Genius’s gorgeous fourth album, No Shape, was not simply an incendiary hymn by one of this generation’s most heartfelt storytellers but also a queer-as-hell protest song, a legitimately uplifting piece of music about living and loving freely on a planet brimming with judgmental fucks.
The track’s general message — about tuning out the voices of your oppressors, as well as the distressed thoughts in your own mind — might have felt obvious, had it not come this year, when it really seemed like horrific villains were lurking around every corner. It also helps that the sentiment was given such an evocative sonic space to exist in. “Don’t look back / I want to break free / If you never see ‘em coming / you’ll never have to hide,” project mastermind Mike Hadreas sings on the second verse, just after the baroque-ish production literally explodes.
I spent a lot of the year dreaming of a different world for me and everyone I love to be transported to, a place free of bullies and triggering bad news, where anxiety is nothing more than a seven-letter word. When I listened to Hadreas sing “Ooh love / they’ll never break the shape we take,” it was almost like I was already there. — Patrick D. McDermott
14. Selena Gomez, "Bad Liar"
Selena Gomez released the best pop song of the year, a little punk masterpiece called “Bad Liar.” Over the iconic baseline from Talking Heads’s “Psycho Killer,” she talk-sings, whispers, and howls about that special spark you feel when you fall in love at first sight. She goes from sounding like Alanis Morissette to Britney Spears in mere seconds — and both modes are believable as hell. Selena sells this song on her charisma, nerve, and vocal talent alone.
I first listened to it while stomping up Broadway on my way to work on a hot May morning and it felt like I'd been blessed by a supernatural pal. The lyrics, courtesy of Selena and the incredibly-gifted team of Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, are both poetic and cryptic: “Your touch like a happy pill / But still all we do is fear.” Even after a bajillion plays, “Bad Liar” sounds so left-of-center and hypnotic that listening still feels as if Selena’s reading a new-age incantation above my head while ringing a magic bell. — Myles Tanzer
13. Paramore, “Hard Times”
After a three-year hiatus, Paramore returned in 2017 with an explosive new album, After Laughter. The imaginative first single had millennials reconsidering orange highlights and asymmetrical bangs so we could fully live in the return of our emo days. Hayley Williams’s was an important voice of that moody era, but the fresh sound of “Hard Times” gives her downcast angst an upbeat tempo: “Walking around with a little rain cloud / Hanging over my head and it ain’t coming down.” As she sings, it’s possible to forget this jam is about her struggle with happiness. Life can be tough but it’s alright to dance through the feels. — Lakin Starling
12. Meek Mill f. Young Thug, “We Ball”
“The condition of black life is one of mourning” is the title of a New York Times piece that the essayist Claudia Rankine wrote in response to a senseless 2015 church shooting that claimed the lives of nine innocent black people in Charleston, SC. It’s a distressing sentiment that I often circle back to when listening to Philadelphia’s prodigal son, Meek Mill, whose over-familiarity with tragic death has inspired timeless records like “Miss My Dawgs,” “Lil Nigga Snupe,” and more recently, the Wins & Losses standout, “We Ball.”
The track’s melancholy opening serves as a eulogy, with Meek commemorating the life of slain Baltimore rapper Lor Scoota and his manager Truz, Detroit’s Dex Osama, and prized Dreamchaser protégé, Lil Snupe. Using a harrowing loop of wordless hums by Future, who’s credited as a co-producer on the track, and skeletal drum work, YSL-affiliated beatmaker Wheezy creates a minimal soundscape that perfectly accentuates mournful verses by Meek and featured guest Young Thug. The grieving duo trade gut-punching opening lines that, on every listen, knock the wind out of you with their vividness: “When they killed my nigga Snupe, I seen my young nigga in the casket he ain’t even have no blood in him,” raps Meek, followed by Thug wailing,“ When they killed my nigga, I seen the footage on the tape/ Man I must’ve threw up everything I ever ate.”
Mourning has a crippling way of manifesting within black and brown people, and the holes left by the death of loved ones seem to only ever be replaced with trauma from new passings. For Meek Mill and Young Thug, just as Rankine says in her Times essay, grief is a perpetual state of life. — Ali Suliman
11. (Sandy) Alex G, “Powerful Man”
Picking just one track from (Sandy) Alex G’s profoundly wide-ranging Rocket isn’t fair to America’s greatest living songwriter. But “Powerful Man” is an undeniable standout, with special meaning in a year made memorable by its disgraceful, powerful men.
More adeptly than just about any other artist, particularly those who came up like him on Bandcamp, Alex G is deeply sensitive without ever being sentimental. On “Powerful Man,” he uses little moments to make big topics feel personal: he sings about loving people who hurt others, what it means to be a good father, and why guns are so desirable to so many guys. Who else is making music like this? What else is worth talking about? — Duncan Cooper
10. Yaeji, “Raingurl”
Yaeji floated into 2017 surreptitiously, with an addictive “fuck this” attitude that no one could run from. “Dance!” the Seoul/N.Y.C. artist practically screamed, with a song called “Raingurl,” in particular. Released in November as a true Scorpio-season banger, the track is a rager about ragers that sounds like the best kind of ragers: “And my glasses foggin’ up / Oh yeah hey dog hey what’s up?” Yaeji sing-talks on the bridge, as if she just bumped into someone she knows but can’t quite place them, likely since “the sweaty walls are bangin.”
But the best part of every Yaeji song is the part you can hide in, the hushed nook of detachment and outsiderness. “Standing still in the same place / Nobody can really find me,” she sings on “Raingurl,” reminding us that the magic of Yaeji is in the way she makes even the loneliest partiers feel powerful. — Leah Mandel
9. Ozuna, "Se Preparó”
Ozuna is a romantic savior-zaddy in “Se Preparó,” the pop-reggaeton standout from his debut album, Odisea. In it, the Puerto Rican-Dominican artist sings and raps about his admiration for the woman he loves and supports her efforts to seek closure — and revenge — from a former lover’s betrayal. Ozuna couldn’t be the least bit threatened by her need to get back at her cheating ex-boyfriend. In fact, he cheers her on from the stands, celebrating her strength and independence. It’s three masterful ass-shaking minutes of one long “ARE YOU DUMB?” to his partner’s ex-lover.
Ozuna’s infectious music, which helped launch him to No. 1 on YouTube’s Music Global Top 100 chart for multiple weeks in 2017, lives among an abundance of incredible reggaeton cuts from this year — a year in which much of the global music industry is starting to recognize the power and influence of Latin American artists. El negrito ojos claros has taken over the world, and I’m here for it. — Juliana Pache
8. Creek Boyz, “With My Team”
On “With My Team,” Creek Boyz — the Baltimore County rap crew made up of Turk P Diddy, Young Fedi Mula, J Reezy, and ETS Breeze — all chant the song’s hook in unison. The group’s regional smash is an anthem about comradery as a means of survival and the hook’s choral sound, accompanied by Breeze’s sung ad-libs, makes the refrain feel like a loved one’s arm around your shoulder.
The common threads that run from verse to verse are prayers for friends, family lost to violence or prison, and an appreciation that, as Turk P. Diddy raps, they “ain’t on no T-shirts.” In November, 300 Entertainment released an updated version of the song to streaming services, changing an essential line from the hook about Baltimore’s escalating murder rate — “Too many n*****s dyin’” — to a sanitized “Can’t nobody stop our shine.” Despite the unnecessary tweak, the song remains about healing. As the group repeats over and over in the song’s final seconds, their voices rising together again, “Yeah, it’s gon’ be fine.” — Ben Dandridge-Lemco
7. SZA, “Love Galore”
One of the best things about SZA’s much-anticipated return this year was the way she galvanized fans to shout along at the top of their lungs. She drags out the word “love” in a way that forces you to reach deep down into the pits of your emotions, open your mouth wide as hell, and cry out. No setting is safe from her catharsis; I’ve seen it play out at parties, in cars, and even watched toddlers bellow this tune.
But the memorable pre-chorus hits the deepest when SZA asks a trifling lover a simple and pressing question: “Why you bother me when you know you don’t want me?” So many of us have fired off similar queries through memes, group chats, and texts to exes because, like SZA, we’ve had enough. “Love Galore” was the first time we’d heard the singer/songwriter be so forthright —about her emotional state, and what type of lover she’d been dealing with. In the past, she’d only offered mystifying, Scorpio-like tellings of her feelings and situations. Now that she’s ready to share more, we hear her loud and clear. — Lakin Starling
6. Cardi B, “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)”
Cardi B doesn’t have to prove herself to anyone, but with “Bodak Yellow,” even the people who doubted her couldn’t help but chant her lyrics in bars, clubs, and festivals. School teachers made G-rated versions, families made gospel versions, and you couldn’t walk down the street in New York City this summer without hearing it blaring from car windows.
“Bodak Yellow” is the kind of song that purges insecurities from your psyche. It convinces you that nobody can fuck with you, today, tomorrow, or ever. I’ve had countless moments facing myself in the mirror, reciting the lyrics to Bardi’s No. 1 single as if they were my daily affirmations. In 2017, Cardi B defied all narrow expectations of her. In 2018, you won’t be able to tell her shit. — Juliana Pache
5. Frank Ocean, “Chanel”
Before I buy a book, I always read the first line. I have learned that it’s a pretty reliable way of judging if it’s gonna be my kind of thing, and because of this long-time habit, I tend to remember the best opening lines as if they were song lyrics. This year, my favorite first sentence actually was from a song: “Chanel,” Frank Ocean’s out-of-nowhere post-Blonde masterpiece.
“My guy pretty like a girl / And he got fight stories to tell” is a flaw-free opening couplet, not just because it indicates that, yes, this is about to be very much my kind of thing, but also because it’s a simple way of saying something that’s not all that simple: there’s many sides to every single queer human. “Chanel,” the song, is about the people who see those sides and lust for us anyway.
It’s also about having lots of money, about rude cops and gay sex and high fashion. It’s about the cruising-around-L.A.-in-a-self-driving-SUV kind of feeling that comes after releasing one of the best albums of the decade. It ends on a cavernously produced outro that, like Blonde’s best sections, sticks in your gut as much as your head. Just like finishing a good book, you think differently when it’s done. You feel smarter, and maybe sexier too. — Patrick D. McDermott
4. J Hus, "Did You See"
The sound of unaccompanied chimes that opens “Did You See” is a suggestive one. Drop those subtle opening bars in a London club, and you’ll see the room swell with anticipation, even though, in reality, the track never builds to a more chaotic point. It always stays at this level: sparse and sultry, like something whispered in your ear on a dancefloor. It’s that subtle hum of excitement that makes it so addictive.
A balmy mixture of afropop and U.K. rap, with a distorted vocal that adds an off-kilter slant, the song also proves that J Hus is the ultimate pop alchemist. As the lead single of his Mercury Prize-nominated debut album Common Sense, it soundtracked his biggest moment yet, and despite its understated energy, will forever sound triumphant. It’s the sound of a boy who was evicted from his hometown in east London by the arrival of the Olympics in 2012, only to have the last laugh when he sped away in a white Benz. — Aimee Cliff
2. Phoebe Bridgers, “Funeral”
The best album of 2017 happens to be a debut. It’s Stranger in the Alps, a casually sad rock record by 23-year-old Phoebe Bridgers that is named after a redubbed-for-TV-censors line in The Big Lebowski: “You see what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass? (*smashes car windshield*)” So it’s sad, but kind of fun.
There are at least 10 standout tracks, but “Funeral” is the one that really hurts. It’s as brutally unabashed in its lyrics as it is in its acoustic production. Bridgers tells a story of suicidal thoughts and blacking out and feeling sorry for yourself in your childhood bed, all leading up to a killer reminder that other people have it worse, which is how I will remember 2017. Jesus Christ, I’m so blue all the time. — Duncan Cooper
1. Tay-K, “The Race”
In a time dominated by stories of violence committed by men, one of the year’s best songs was made by a 17-year-old who could soon be executed by the state of Texas. Taymor McIntyre, better known as Tay-K, born a second-generation gangbanger in Long Beach, CA and raised in East Arlington, TX, faces multiple charges, among them two counts of capital murder.
If convicted — in a jailhouse interview this summer, Tay-K predicted there’s a 65 percent chance he won’t make it home — he will join the 2,902 people currently on death row in the U.S., over 100 of them likely innocent, according to one recent study, and a disproportionate number of them black.
The video for his breakout song “The Race,” all 104 seconds of it, was recorded while he was literally on the lam, a type beat-selecting outlaw. The song’s energy reflects that: “Fuck a beat, I was tryna beat a case / But I ain’t beat that case / Bitch, I did the race,” he raps, his voice barely pubescent. He sounds like he’s outrunning the law, and outrunning the track. The effect is that he lands slightly ahead of the beat, crunchy drums underscoring his one-liners.
Through his lawyer, Tay-K maintains his innocence. But his litany of charges, and his escape, certainly added to the buzz that propelled “The Race” to cult status this year. Should that real-life story make the song more compelling or less so? Can a piece of art be invalidated by the circumstances under which it was created? For some publications and listeners, the answer is yes; for others, quite the opposite.
The feasibility of ethical consumption is among this era’s most enduring, unanswerable questions. This year, The FADER chose not to cover certain artists out of a concern that generating clicks on their behalf would equal complicity for their crimes. When we look back at 2017, and how it has reshaped the way we all engage with the producers of culture, it's songs like "The Race," and stories as complex as Tay-K’s, that will stand out the most. — Rawiya Kameir