The 100 best songs of 2023
From Sexyy Redd to Liturgy and Fever Ray to Ralphie Choo, these are the songs we loved in 2023.

For all of its exhausting megastar narratives and apparent monoculture victories, 2023 was, beneath the surface, an unpredictable year. Regional Mexican Music burst into the mainstream, underground hip-hop took fascinating turns, and the fifth-most Googled artist in the world was an 84-year-old Neopolitan singer called Peppino di Capri. Our list of the year’s best songs reflects that weirdness — though “the Italian Buddy Holly” didn’t release any new music. There are songs here that borrow from the past to make something new (the track that tops our list) and songs that sound like nothing else in the world (start with Flagboy Giz), modern legends refining their craft (Sufjan Stevens, Wiki, Lana Del Rey) and new artists grabbing the spotlight for themselves (Peso Pluma, Sexyy Red).

If you want to dig deeper, we’ve been updating Songs You Need in Your Life on the website and on streaming all year, and our favorite albums of the year are here. Listen to all the songs we chose for this list on Spotify. See you in 2024. — Alex Robert Ross, Editorial Director


100. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Psychedelic Switch”

”Don’t wake me ’cause I’m lucid dreaming
Meditating on your lips”

99. Gabriel Gifford & Aphty Khéa, “Voice From The Wind”

An unlikely club banger from Gifford’s concept album about a child traversing dangerous land to find a King.

98. BAMBII, “One Touch”

Rubbery and frenetic breakbeats from the Toronto DJ and Kelela producer.

97. Baby Keem and Kendrick Lamar, “The Hillbillies”

The best “They’re cousins?” duo duo since Nicolas Cage and Sofia Coppola go in over a Bon Iver sample.


96. MIKE feat. Earl Sweatshirt, “plz dont cut my wings”

”My mommy be in my thoughts
My body be in the tall glass”

95. Bickle, “The Fly”

A pop experimentalist is blinded by the light on the opening track of his superbly titled album Biblickle.

94. feeble little horse,“Steamroller”

“Threw the towel in
I’m tired of baking
I’m the only one
Who sees me naked”

93. Uncle Waffles “Yahyuppiyah”

Amapiano’s biggest breakout star spreads the sound globally, one extended mix at a time.

92. Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer, Shahzad Ismaily, “To Remain/To Return”

An eclectic trio of musical personalities combining to create a singularly ambient wave

91. Horse Jumper of Love, “Snake Eyes”

“Four and four, five and five
Next one he rolls, I’m betting on snake eyes”


90. Capoxxo, “u make me feel like i’m special”

Pure digital puppy love from a prolific underground artist.

89. Ice Spice, “Actin’ A Smoochie”

”Gimme a tissue
Why would I miss you when you was the issue?”

88. Mustafa, “Name of God”

“Both our eyes are red, but you’re high and I’m crying”

87. Jorja Smith, “Little Things (Nia Archives remix)”

Further proof that every song could be improved by a jungle edit.

86. Jordan Ward, “FAMJAM4000”

Hearts-and-flowers romance rebooted over irrepressibly perky production.


85. Tems, “Me & U”

Even in her most doubt-ridden moments, Tems sounds imperious.

84. Kate NV feat. Quinn Oulton, “Confessions At The Dinner Table”

The year’s trippiest Saturday morning cartoon theme.

83. Kelela, “Contact”

”It’s 2 a.m., yeah, we made it, everybody faded”

82. MUNA, “One That Got Away”

”I’m the one that got away
The kiss you never tasted.
Tell me that you hate it”

81. RealYungPhil, “The One”

RealYungPhil sounds ready to take off, even with the weight of the world on his shoulders.


80. Asake, “Lonely At The Top”

Isolated by success, Asake keeps the vibes high while he waits for the world to catch up.

79. Yajaira La Bejaca & Genosidra, “VNK3K”

POV: It’s 5 a.m. in Buenos Aires and you haven’t seen light in days.

78. Laura Groves feat. Sampha, “D 4 N”

”Talking in half sentences, said something about the wings of desire
And the plot just falls apart”

77. Doja Cat, “Paint The Town Red”

“Bitch, I said what I said”

76. Slow Pulp, “Doubt”

Lathered in aftersun and filled with self-doubt, Slow Pulp question everything.

75. Troye Sivan, “Rush”

A Balearic disco, a bespoke version of contemporary radio sounds.


74. Youth Lagoon, “Idaho Alien”

“I don’t remember how it happened
Blood filled up the clawfoot bath, and
I will fear
No frontier”

73. Joanne Robertson, “Blue Car”

Diaristic and immediate, like a recording of a synapse firing.

72. 2hollis, “all 2s”

“Can you trust God? I’m throwing up the raws”

71. Zubin feat. Drippin So Pretty, “ICU”

“I burn in hell, girl, I can’t wait for the afterlifе”


70. RXKNephew, “Critical”

“Drivin’ my car like I got no license
Drivin’ my car like I got no license
Drivin’ my car like I got no license
Matter fact, bitch, I ain’t got no license”

69. Byron Messia, “Talibans”

A song-of-the-summer contender that shows off Messia’s vocal control as he darts between the spotlight and the shadow of the groove.

68. Naomi Sharon, “Hills”

“I might clench you even harder when you push me to be free
Said love was never easy, but it’s harder when it’s with me”

67. Burna Boy, “City Boys”

“Don’t need a shy ho, baby, I need a freak
Lick it like ice cream
As if you mean to be disgusting”

66. Quavo feat. Hunxho & Baby Drill, “Stain”

Three totally distinct flows over a booming BNYX® beat.


65. Pi’erre Bourne, “Lessons”

A pillowy production that closes out Bourne’s Grails tape in style.

64. Baby Osama, “No Label”

Baby dreams of land ownership over a panic-attack beat.

63. Mandy, Indiana, “Drag [Crashed]”

A venomous indictment of everyday misogyny backed by throbbing drums and wailing drones.

62. Noname, “toxic”

“Quiet as kept, yo, your dick is mid
Quiet as kept, I don’t want your kid”

61. Chuquimanani-Condori, “Until I Find You Again”

A must-hear album crash lands in awe-inspiring fashion.


60. Ken Carson, “Jennifer’s Body”

A track destined for virality, bristling with the off-tempo energy of early Carti.

59. Tyler ICU & feat. DJ Maphorisa, Nandipha808, Ceeka RSA & Tyron Dee, “Mnike”

A sprawling amapiano posse cut with a subtly irresistible groove.

58. Hotline TNT, “Protocol”

A shoegazing paean to “falling on a sword” for the sake of a relationship.

57. Indigo De Souza, “You Can Be Mean”

“I’d like to think you got a good heart
And your dad was just an asshole growing up
But I don’t see you trying that hard to be better than he is”

56. James Ivy, “L-Trip”

“If you can’t be loud, cast a shadow of doubt
Ruin everything”


55. Dave & Central Cee, “Sprinter”

“Mixin’ codeine up with the Phenergan
She got thick, but she wanna get thin again”

54. Lost Girls, "With the Other Hand"

A vivid second-person narrative that drops you into the action with filmic precision.

53. Babyxsosa, "Babyonce"

In which Babyxsosa gleefully curves a manipulative womanizer over a colloidal beat.

52. KAYTRAMINÉ feat. Pharrell Williams, “4EVA”

A slick love song with a silky Pharrell chorus on top.

51. Caroline Polachek, “Blood And Butter”

“Look at you all mythological and Wikipediated
Look how I forget who I was before I was the way I am with you”

50. Liturgy, “93696”

If Liturgy’s 93696 is bandleader Haela Ravenna Hunt-Hendrix’s vision of heaven, its 15-minute title track is that vision’s purest form. Like any good symphony, it introduces its central motif — a mathy sequence of heavy power chords and heavier drums that batter like war hammers on your tympanic membranes — early on. The song never stays in one place for long, though; it rattles, glitches, and heaves its way into the furthest reaches of what Hunt-Hendrix refers to as “unbound ecstasy.” “93696 / Haela Sophia in the sky,” she screams above the melee, dropping signifiers for the celestial realm of her mind’s eye. Like all of Liturgy’s best work, “93696” is an intersection of arcane theory and visceral black metal that only makes sense when you hear it. — Raphael Helfand


49. Victoria Monét feat. Buju Banton, “Party Girls”

Victoria Monét glides across the sultry production on “Party Girls” with confidence and precision, presiding over a sweat-drenched dancefloor where standing still is not an option: “No more backs on the wall / Come pull me close to you.” A sweet and sticky joyride that ramps up to a booming dancehall bridge straight from the ’90s, the standout from Monét’s JAGUAR II distills what it sounds like after the after hours. — Sajae Elder

48. Margo Price, “Black Wolf Blues”

Country music and psychedelics don’t always make for pure starry-eyed romance. The lyrics to “Black Wolf Blues” tell Margo Price’s grandparents’ love story from her own perspective — though they were actually written by Price’s husband, Jeremy Ivey. Its Rhodes piano and gospel backup are gorgeously melancholic, and Price’s voice effortlessly pierces the desert night. Which is almost enough to make you forget that she’s singing about a terrifying specter stalking the couple: “Lord, won’t you save us from the evil in the world? / Keep that old black wolf out of my yard.” There’s no tidy ending either; Price sings sweetly that the beast has “got a taste for your blood now.” Read it as love persisting in spite of everything, if you want. It won’t drive the wolf any further from your yard. — Alex Robert Ross

47. yeule, “sulky baby”

Transhumanist philosophy says technology can reshape our nature. A new generation of musical cyborgs has embraced this open question, with Nat Ćmiel, known better as yeule, leading the charge. But despite the glitch-pop artist’s digital preoccupations, their new album softscars is bloodily, shockingly visceral. Its lead single, “sulky baby,” is at once a ’90s grunge throwback and lullaby for a depressed younger self that hinges on one of the most human depictions of need I’ve heard all year: “I wanna eat your face.” In yeule’s metaverse, the future sits alongside the past, flesh side by side with the machine. — Walden Green

46. Nourished by Time, “Daddy”

Recorded in his parents’ bedroom in Baltimore, Nourished by Time’s “Daddy” mirrors the chaotic range of heartache, capturing the moment when a healing mantra turns into a desperate and delirious incantation. A beat inspired by early ’90s house and R&B — the sound of propulsive joy — folds into Depeche Mode-like existential agony, back and forth, over and over, until the song turns to hysteria: “I’ll never be alone, daddy,” sings a voice, pitched up high, sexy and ridiculous. — Emma Madden

45. Ralphie Choo feat. Mura Masa, “MÁQUINA CULONA”

Between maximalist production, surrealist lyrics — “I want a guardian angel as my majordomo” — and moments of sparseness, Madrid’s Ralphie Choo links up with Mura Masa on this ode to a “big-assed machine.” Reverberating with off-kilter flamenco handclaps, chopped-up accordion, and hard bass, “MÁQUINA CULONA” shows off the madrileño newcomer’s experimental tendencies. The video’s just as freaky, at one point meshing visuals of a lobster with a stuttered line about drowning in toto. The brief beat switch that ends this bombastic track, paired with a sharp deepening and slowing down of his vocals, leaves one gasping for breath — and for more. — E.R. Pulgar


44. Avalon Emerson, “Sandrail Silhouette”

Berlin-based Avalon Emerson’s turn from techno DJ into indie pop songwriter was one of the year’s most refreshing pivots. On “Sandrail Silhouette,” her conversational vocals bring a tranquil feeling to her concerns about aging and ticking off life’s boxes. “Tell me I got more time / When all my friends are having daughters / Beautiful just like them of course / A reason for an optimistic view,” she sings. Spectral guitars throughout nod to C86 gods, but it’s the strings, shining like sunshine on a rain-flecked window, that make time feel endless. — David Renshaw

43. Model/Actriz, “Crossing Guard”

While many of their post-punk peers have talked themselves to exhaustion, Brooklyn’s Model/Actriz shook a stale indie rock formula back into life with “Crossing Guard.” The song is coiled tightly throughout, abrasive guitars combining to create an itching sensation. That unsettling feeling is given added surreal flourishes by vocalist Cole Haden, who says he wants to be ground into a pearl and compares himself to Lady Gaga in his desire for escape. You can practically feel his breath on your neck as this chokehold tightens. — DR

42. billy woods & Kenny Segal feat. Danny Brown, “Year Zero”

Danny Brown gave us two full albums this year, but “Year Zero’’ stands as 2023’s most powerful reminder of his preeminence among the most awe-inspiring rappers alive. billy woods’ phenomenal first verse and Kenny Segal’s apocalyptic instrumental would be excellent on their own, but they’re set dressing here. “Check!” Brown shouts at the start of his two-and-a-half-minute tirade as the beat trails off into amorphous noise. “Low vibration, moral high ground / You slippin’ at night like a old bitch nightgown,” he raps, ad-libbing a hyena laugh that beams us back to the carefree, dangerous energy of his 2011 opus, XXX. Even when the backing track meekly returns, his flow continues to unhinge, spiraling off its axis into a Vantablack void. — RH

41. Little Simz, “Gorilla”

The wannabe apex predator is rap’s invasive species. He stalks the genre ceaselessly, building his empire on a swamp of trend-chasing and internet clout. Little Simz is no pretender — the London rapper hasn’t left the top of rap’s food chain since 2021’s Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, and on her fifth album, NO THANK U, she resoundingly rejects the fraudulence that has compromised rap’s integrity. “Basically, the rest is almost like to me what a stain to a vest is,” she raps on “Gorilla.” “You ain’t drop nothin’ in my eyes I’m impressed with.” Her presence on “Gorilla” is not just elite but effortless, a flow state personified that’s nearly oblivious to the jubilant celebration of horns around her. — Jordan Darville

40. Nettspend, “shine n peace”

There are reasons to be skeptical of Nettspend, a Bieberian rascal from Virginia who adopts a narcotized drawl in interviews and is prone to sketchy trolling, like when he claimed that his favorite color is “drank.” And yet, he makes songs like “shine n peace,” which are blissed out, blistered, and relentlessly euphoric in a way that very little in rap is. Amid a flurry of snares and a slipstream of trance synths, he offers up ecstatic bars about loyalty and a life of crime. Like a lot of his friends and collaborators in NOVAGANG (and many other experimenters in the Soundcloud underground), Nettspend feels like he has the ability, amid these otherworldly beats, to stop time and levitate when he wants to. — Colin Joyce


39. Davido, “UNAVAILABLE”

In the months following the tragic passing of his son last year, many wondered what version of Davido would return to the public eye. He came back, unexpectedly, in the pursuit of happiness and fulfillment in the face of despair on his third album, Timeless, in March 2023. No song captures Davido’s abiding quest for joy and the boundlessness of Timeless quite like “UNAVAILABLE.” With South African singer and producer Musa Keys for company, Davido blurs the boundaries between amapiano and Afrobeats on “UNAVAILABLE” with engrossing log drums and pristine songwriting that evoke euphoria with every spin. It was always a bit of a stretch to think that Davido’s music would retreat into the dark. On the back of his magnetism and pure zest for life, however, “UNAVAILABLE” supercharged Africa’s continental party scene like no other song. — Wale Oloworekende

38. Harmony, “Good Things Take Time”

Since her days as half of Girlpool, Harmony Tividad has written songs that are wordy, esoteric, and mired in moral ambiguity. “Faultline,” one of her defining Girlpool songs, was also incredibly heavy, casting life as an endless depressive spiral spent at the whims of the callous and the uncaring. “Good Things Take Time,” Tividad’s debut solo single, is like a mirror image of “Faultline”: radiant, directional, and open-hearted, still shot through with acid, but open to the possibility that life isn’t just one long slide into oblivion. Produced by 100 gecs’ Dylan Brady, among others, it retains Tividad’s sense of style, establishing her as a singular, and still mighty esoteric, pop artist. — Shaad D’Souza

37. Eslabon Armado & Peso Pluma, “Ella Baila Sola”

More than almost any other song this year, “Ella Baila Sola” is a symbol and anthem of Mexican music’s commercial explosion, an inescapable TikTok hit that would become the first-ever regional Mexican track performed on The Tonight Show. Alongside the muted wail of a brass band, frontman Pedro Tovar sings from the perspective of a lovelorn partygoer, working up the courage to proposition a girl on the other side of the crowd; his smooth voice makes for a complimentary foil to Peso Pluma’s throaty rasp. — Nadine Smith

36. 100 gecs, “dumbest girl alive”

The first song from 100 gecs’ second album opens with the THX Deep Note, which gets cut off by three gunshots. It speeds past on a big, shiny, radio-ready nu-metal riff and a lot of crash cymbal, with all the subtlety of a Fast & Furious trailer. It’s also, like a lot of 10,000 gecs, immediately, endlessly, compulsively replayable, a song carefully programmed to make the human brain release happy chemicals. Extra credit for the shout-along Lyric of the Year contender: “I’m so happy I could die / Put emojis on my grave.” — ARR


SHE SAID IT IN ALL CAPS but she didn’t even need to. The hypnotic pulse of PAMÉ’s “BULLET PUT DOWN” is striking all by itself. Over a hounding bass beat, the Dominican-born, Los Angeles-based artist slides from English to Spanish and back again, with a guttural voice that fuels the song’s relentless palo drive and chantable chorus. To listen is to be thrust — and I mean thrust, as if by the pelvic power of a dancing PAMÉ herself — into a previously inaccessible echelon of Latin hip-hop bliss. It’s decadent, demanding, unequivocally fun, and, as PAMÉ’s second-ever single, only the beginning. — Lila Dubois


34. John Cale, “NOISE OF YOU”

John Cale’s January album MERCY is a strange collage of au-courant collaborations, but its most resonant moment is the soft-spoken solo Cale cut “NOISE OF YOU,” a heartbreaking document of unbearable loss. Here, the octogenarian avant-garde legend paints a tragic parting of lovers inspired by wintertime in Prague. Suspended in aspic synths, the second verse flashes forward to a painfully quiet household as Cale’s protagonist waits for his sense of sound to return so he can hear his lover again — her voice, her footsteps on the stairs, anything to remind him of a life he’ll spend eternity missing. — RH

33. Tyla, “Water”

Tyla’s “Water” places desire front and center. A sonic and thematic throwback to the pithy inquiries into love and desire that defined some of the biggest R&B hits of the ’90s and early 2000s, “Water” is unabashedly pro-pleasure and, concurrently, cleverly written enough to pass an explicit content check in many homes — in sharp contrast to some of the most popular 21st-century songs about sex — so it was no surprise when it became a viral TikTok sensation upon release. “Make me sweat, make me hotter / Make me lose my breath, make me water,” Tyla croons sweetly on the song’s now-iconic, syrupy chorus. “Water” has since propelled Tyla to the Billboard Hot 100 chart and established the singer’s status as one of global pop’s superstars-in-waiting. — WO

32. MJ Lenderman, “Rudolph”

MJ Lenderman is rightfully lauded for his exceptional work as the lead guitarist of Wednesday, but his body of solo material is just as impressive; last year’s Boat Songs is a strong collection of blissed-out, scuzzy alt-country rock that singles out his masterful guitar playing and zany lyrics. His latest solo effort, “Rudolph,” is astounding in that the line “Deleted scene of Lightning McQueen blacked out at full speed” might not even be its most unforgettable lyric. “I wouldn’t be in the seminary if I could be with you,” Lenderman wails during the crescendo of the song, complemented by a breathless, extended guitar solo that acts as a further disruptor to the track’s non-conventional, free-wheeling structure. “Rudolph,” as Lenderman’s larger discography, takes the same alternative country cues as Alex G’s God Save the Animals, and his guttural cries even echo that of Giannascoli’s whines in “Forgive.” Lenderman is an eager student of indie rock’s past and present, even as he carves out his own unique and wonderful niche within the genre. — Cady Siregar

31. Purelink feat. J, “4k Murmurs”

Chicago’s Purelink have said their friends describe them as a jam band. It may seem like a strange label for three guys who’ve been known to sit behind MacBooks at their live performances, but when you consider the loopy logic of tracks like “4k Murmurs,” it almost makes sense. Spectral synth pads and thickets of glitches give way to burbling rhythms and skittering percussion in a way that feels free associative and improvisatory. They never sound like they know quite where they’re going next, nor are they in any hurry to get there, but once they do arrive, it’ll be somewhere beautiful. — CJ


30. Kylie Minogue, "Padam Padam"

In the beginning, Kylie Minogue created the heavens and the Earth, and 35 years into her music career, Minogue said, “Let there be Padam,” and there was Padam. Minogue’s biggest hit in years, “Padam Padam” is ancient as stone. It means nothing. It means everything. It’s gay gobbledygook. It’s scripture. It’s the song that will make every Pride and queer club night at least 100 times better from now until the end of time. — EM

29. Navy Blue feat. Zeroh, “Life’s Terms”

No matter how hard life gets, Navy Blue will bear the weight of the world with a grin: “That’s just the way it go,” he beams at the start of “Life’s Terms.” “Puffin’ on niche exotic strains to ease the growing pains / that came with the gains,” Zeroh sighs soon after, plotting on a better future. Navy builds on the density of the guest verse with a parade of intricate assonances: “Begging for your pardon / All up in that stardust when I was self-harming.” There’s palpable relief in voicing the frustration and strain that accumulates under society’s polite facade. — Vivian Medithi


On “Scaring the Hoes,” JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown celebrate their reputations as rap iconoclasts with a provocative combination of off-key sax riffs and hardcore breakdowns. After all, both musicians are self-aware enough to know that most mainstream fans may consider them a little too “weird” or “left-field.” So why not lean into their so-called “outsider” status and parody a record exec who wants them to “stop scarin’ the hoes”? — Sandra Song

27. L’Rain, “Pet Rock”

L’Rain’s body of work as a multi-instrumentalist is unregulated and boundless, straying away from the limitations of genre and structure. She describes the I Killed Your Dog standout “Pet Rock” as “a morose ode to the white dad rock I never listened to.” It’s a warm, swirling gust of psychedelic indie rock à la The Strokes, and L’Rain channels her best Julian Casablancas vocals with the help of plenty of chorus and reverb in the first half of the song, before it morphs into something unwinding and madcap, like Currents if Kevin Parker grew up in New York City and not Perth. “Like a dead girl with shades on, propped up by captors, I’m fine,” she insists, fully committing herself and her sound to the surreal. — CS

26. Mk.gee feat. Two star, “You got it”

Snapping into focus as if aliens just tuned into an intergalactic oldies station, “You got it” is a murmur of a song, trepidatious piano and a splash of guitar suffused with static. In the midst of this muted swirl, Mk.gee offers a simple supplication: “Baby don’t sleep on us.” As in, anyone paying attention knows the deal. As in, the ties that bind two lovers together can silence the noise of the world, at least for a moment. As in, “If you find me / Baby I’ll find you.” — VM


25. jim legxacy, “old place”

English vocalist and producer jim legxacy makes heartfelt bangers like few others, his songs like an emotional kaleidoscope of pop music memories. On “Old Place,” he stitches together fragmented shards of samples — an emo guitar line here, a grime track there — over a high-energy club beat. It’s a blender of styles that shouldn’t work, but legxacy’s uncanny falsetto holds it all together, inspiring you to shed tears and throw ass in equal measure. — NS

24. Sarah Mary Chadwick, “Shitty Town”

Few songwriters write confessionals with the same vigor and conviction as Melbourne-via-New Zealand musician Sarah Mary Chadwick does. “Shitty Town” is the rabid and risible jewel of her latest record, Messages to God, and it’s as acidic as much of her back catalog while finding room to incorporate new dimensions. “Dull as endless thunder, I′m still stuck living here,” she opens, before bluntly annihilating the “shitty people” who represent her captors. Later, she provides a plain, affecting raison d’être for her essential and challenging body of work: “My story’s tiresome, but it’s mine.” SD

23. Bad Bunny, “BATICANO”

The “darks” standout of Bad Bunny’s latest album is a middle finger to conservative critics. He starts by quoting Boricua rap OG Eddie Dee’s anti-censorship classic “Censurarme” before introducing droning, downtempo synths. “BATICANO” — an intentional misspelling of vatican in Spanish — blends darkwave keys with grimy bass, trap beats, and some of Bad Bunny’s raunchiest lyrics. He flows between braggadocio, Teletubbie anal metaphors, and spiritual reflections: “To believe in God you don’t have to be a minister / No man on Earth has the right to judge in Christ’s name.” This one’s for the marquesina, the goth rave, and the confession booth. — ERP

22. Armand Hammer, “The Gods Must Be Crazy”

Sparked by a pack of JPEGMAFIA beats and built off of a free improvisation session led by the modern jazz icon Shabaka Hutchings, We Buy Diabetic Test Strips — billy woods and E L U C I D’s sixth album as Armand Hammer — is a hallucinatory thing, flitting between reality and fiction, terror and comedy without pausing to breathe in the thick New York air. “The Gods Must Be Crazy,” produced by El-P, might be the album’s most bewildering track (E L U C I D: “No mystery God / All data lost / Spirit roaming / Beast vs. harlot at the garden”), and its funniest (woods has a made-up story about being cut from Live Aid in ’85 for Chris Hayes, and it’s the second-best joke of the verse). It’s also the moment where woods and E L U C I D’s bars wrap themselves tightest around the beats as they trade off flows for fun. Two decades in, they’re still pushing each other into weird, unexplored corners of their own creativity. — ARR

21. Faye Webster, “But Not Kiss”

“But Not Kiss” is an exercise in pulling close and pushing away, vulnerable warmth and cold rejection. “I want to sleep in your arms,” “I long for your touch,” “I want to see you in my dreams,” “We’re meant to be,” Webster sings over tentative guitar strums. “But not kiss,” “But don’t miss,” “But then forget,” “But not yet,” she clarifies, ahead of bold piano arpeggios. Even in the song’s closing passage — a two-chord, eight-bar segment on loop for a minute — a powerful undercurrent of commitment anxiety leaks through her nonchalant delivery. The song is an exercise in misdirection, but its rigid, repetitive structure gives it a rare, refreshing directness. — RH


20. Kenny Mason, “Back Home”

Kenny Mason has always rapped with a bleeding heart. He’s schooled equally on Drake’s sentimentality and the woozy vulnerability of shoegaze greats like My Bloody Valentine, and “Back Home” wrings intense emotions out of both of these styles, weaving grayscale post-punk guitar fragments with dusty breakbeats, muttered bars about violence with gravelly vocal anthemics. It’s heavy, earnest, and uncategorizable, an “Everlong” for a generation whose genre borders have been eroded by the FYP. — CJ

19. NEW YORK, “night n day”

Gretchen Lawrence and Coumba Samba’s self-described “girl-pop” duo NEW YORK followed up No Sleep Til N.Y,. — one of the most twisted, addictively listenable debuts of last year — with “Night N Day”, a staggeringly disarming Ladytron flip that makes the original “Seventeen” sound like Kidz Bop. On the surface, there’s something “indie sleaze” (forgive me) about NEW YORK’s music, but “night n day” transcends made-up scene revivals, with Samba and Lawrence glitching and muttering their way to pop ingenuity. — SD

18. Amaarae, “Angels in Tibet”

From its breathy opening harmonies, “Angels in Tibet” pulls you into a hazy fantasy world filled with lust and luxury. Over a thumping baile funk beat and dreamy strings, Amaarae’s falsetto takes you from the club to the bedroom and back again. It may be made up of little more than coos, purrs, and whispers, but “Angels in Tibet” is anything but subtle: “I want to fuck a puddle” is as straightforward as it gets. — SE

17. Samia, “Charm You”

“Charm You,” a standout from Samia’s sophomore album Honey, describes the mundane experience of listening to Ke$ha through outdoor mall speakers and staring at the surface of a human-made pond while realizing that the perfectly nice and totally well-meaning person beside you isn’t life partner material. Over acoustic strums and a low-slung lead guitar, Samia sings in a dispassionately sweet drawl about her “whole life flash[ing] before” her date’s eyes, a revelation that spikes her with anxiety. Through its specificity and simplicity, “Charm You” lands on a seismic epiphany: that many consequential life decisions don’t announce themselves as such, instead arriving in otherwise meaningless moments that can pass you by if you aren’t paying attention. — Brady Brickner-Wood


16. Judeline, “CANIJO”

Judeline is haunted by her summer lover’s curls. On “CANIJO” — best translated as “scrub”, “bad person”, or just “guy” — she dances her broken heart away to the tune of deconstructed baile funk. One of Spain’s most compelling new acts captures a dissolution specific to brief love, to the mist of nighttime adventures turned to memory. With an electronic-dusted trill, she conjures an image of a bad boy who still “thinks about [her] as he crosses Gibraltar.” The hot July nights are now a distant memory, the salt left from evaporated seawater, a puddle of sweat on the dirty club floor. — ERP

15. Flagboy Giz feat. Kango Slim, “Fell In Love at the Secondline”

The Lady Buckjumpers, the Big 9, the Uptown Swingers, the Dumaine Street Gang; these are just a few of the second line groups that New Orleans native Flagboy Giz struts with while searching for his daiquiri-sipping soulmate. In perhaps the most hyperlocal song of the year, Giz trades his usual blend of street rap and bounce for a melodic hit that drops listeners right into the parade. — Millan Verma

14. Rosalia & Rauw Alejandro, “BESO”

To press play on the palatial reggaeton of “BESO” months after its release is to be transported to the peak of another couple’s passion. With a chemistry that could only come from two real-life lovers, Rosalia and Rauw Alejandro throw themselves into the stakes, anxieties, and raptures of new love, desperate to close any physical or mental separation between them. Their bliss translates to a seamless duet, creating melodies that connect as firmly as any wedding vow. More than anything, “Beso” is an invocation to God and each other, two sets of hands cupped together as if in prayer, shielding their love’s flame from the outside world. — JD

13. brakence, “5g”

As mixed a bag as the hyperpop era was, we may not have ever gotten to “midwest emo over a distorted drill beat” without it. The sound of “5g” is not as extremely online as the subgenre it stemmed from, though the internet does play a role in the song’s rocket-fuelled dread. brakence’s brain has become a dumping ground for despair growing larger with every swipe of the infinite scroll, his wails and murmurs riding rollercoasting pitches while guitar lines twirl merrily and drums beg us into a danse macabre. A primal scream from within the despair loop of farmed engagement. — JD


12. Grupo Frontera & Bad Bunny, “un x100to”

This irresistible cumbia banger is a cross-country link-up, from Texas to Puerto Rico, between two artists who speak to the expanded reach of Spanish-language music in 2023. Over a swaying, conga-heavy beat, vocalist Payo Solís sings of digital heartbreak, pleading with his lover to take him back before his phone battery dies; when Bad Bunny hits halfway through the track over a bed of brooding synthesizers, it’s like a time traveler arriving from the future, but he sounds just as natural over accordion and bajo quinto guitar. — NS

11. Olivia Rodrigo, “bad idea right?”

A crucial tenet of surviving the endless horrors that come with “growing up” is to never take things too seriously — and that includes your exes. “bad idea right?” sees Olivia Rodrigo playfully approaching the moral conundrum of being tempted to spend the night with a former flame. Filled with a Le Tigre-inspired bounciness and riot grrrl guitars, Rodrigo’s verses drip with tongue-in-cheek mischief and jest: “I just tripped and fell into his bed!” Rodrigo sing-speaks as she narrates her night out, hemming and hawing as she receives a suggestive text from an ex. Ultimately, she declares, “fuck it, it’s fine,” and goes through with the deed; in her mind, the ex is only as important as she allows him to be. In being flippant with her decision, she reduces him to barely an eye roll and flip of the hair, merely a plaything for her own desire, because it’s just not that deep. It’s a wisdom we could all learn from. — CS

10. Tinashe, “Needs”

Tinashe’s “Needs” is an unabashedly horny pop-R&B anthem, a high-glam update to DJ Mustard-type strip club bangers that’s empowering and flirty in equal measure. Though nominally about fulfilling Tinashe’s desires, the song’s fun is in hearing the singer make her prey beg for the privilege of doing so, lest he be swiftly ejected and replaced. Imperious throughout, Tinashe is dismissive of her suitor’s feelings, openly mocking his girl, and yet she somehow manages to make a night in her bed sound impossible to resist. — Son Raw

9. Babyface Ray feat. 42 Dugg, “Ron Artest”

Everything about “Ron Artest” has the texture of an underdog’s championship parade: The pitched-up sample, plucked from a song released in 1979 by an obscure Japanese singer-songwriter, glitters like golden tickertape. The perennially unbothered Babyface Ray seems slightly awed at how far his lifestyle raps have taken him from the Detroit streets. And the seamless trade-off to 42 Dugg’s pinched verse feels essential to the song’s momentum, reminding the listener that this was a team effort. Despite leaking over three years ago, the track’s overdue debut on streaming platforms meant that it was soon heard more widely in the kind of spaces it was supposed to be — blasting out of crowded sedans on hot summer afternoons, at clubs where catching a vibe is the most important thing, and in the headphones of millions of gymgoers motivating them towards that last rep. The fraught release schedule of “Ron Artest” should have doomed it, but Ray says it best: “Live in the flesh, Ron Artest / Counted me out, came back, I’m a champ.” — JD


8. Sufjan Stevens, “So You Are Tired”

Sufjan Stevens’s 10th album, billed as his return to singer-songwriter mode, is no simple look back; it’s a fuller self-portrait of one of this century’s most fascinating artists, drawing briefly from the more kaleidoscopic sounds with which he experimented on Michigan and The Age of Adz. And when he does strip the songs all the way back, as he does on the heartbroken “So You Are Tired,” he is capable of communicating devastation and yearning more acutely and concisely than ever. Built around little more than a muffled piano, a plucked acoustic guitar, and a choir growing louder in the chilly atmosphere, the track’s focus is on Stevens’s voice, almost in a whisper, reflecting on the end of things: “So you are tired of us / So rest your head.” He sounds totally resigned, as though he’s only realizing how broken things are as he repeats the truth to himself; he is “a man born invisible,” “a man indivisible,” and finally “the man still in love with you / When I already knew it was done.” It’s difficult to think of any other singers or songwriters who could sing about death — real and imagined, corporeal and spiritual, literal and figurative — and make it sound so grievously lifelike. — ARR

7. Fever Ray, “Kandy”

There is a unique alchemy to the Dreijer siblings’ work together, Olof’s dark and dreamy productions snaking around Karin’s multifaceted voice like ivy on a wall. “Kandy” is one of the standout tracks on Radical Romantics, and one that finds Karin further exploring their queer sexuality. “She laid me down and whispered / All girls want Kandy,” they sing as they wipe the sweat from their brow. This exploration of desire is weaved around Karin’s trust in a new partner and their newly developing bond. It feels romantic and candid at the same time. That they chose to reunite with their brother, their most familiar collaborator, to work on this track only makes the whole thing feel richer. — DR

6. Mitski, “I’m Your Man”

From Leonard Cohen to Lana Del Rey, the phrase lives in the annals of musical history as a vow to remain steadfast through feast and famine. Not so on Mitski’s “I’m Your Man,” the tragic crux of The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We. We open in media res on a scene of relationship death. Mitski knows she did wrong, but her self-recrimination is unstable — she is at various points a man, a god, and a dog, embodying the worst vices of each. Mitski used to bet on losing dogs; here, her voice blends with the howls of wolves. — WG

5. Wednesday, “Chosen to Deserve”

It says a lot about Wednesday’s range that the two standout tracks from their breakthrough album, Rat Saw God, are so different. The first, “Bull Believer” (released as a single last year so ineligible for this list) is a sprawling, bloodied, form-hopping epic, a howl of desire and desperation. “Chosen To Deserve,” by complete contrast, is a no-bullshit country-rock song in search of intimacy, all loose honesty and proudly messy romance, spread out mostly rhyme free over a glittering slide guitar. Written by Hartzman in an attempt to rework Drive-By Truckers’ smalltown misadventure-fueled “Let There Be Rock,” “Chosen to Deserve” is addressed to a lover who’s already been subjected to all the early-relationship self-flattery and might as well hear the whole, unglamorous truth. So, while Hartzman’s being a bit self-deprecating when she introduces her childhood misadventures — she says she’s singing them “just so you know what you signed up for” — she sings the song’s title slowly, deliberately, and with no coyness at all. — ARR


4. MIKE, Wiki, and The Alchemist, “Mayors a Cop”

The latest in a lineage of socially conscious New York anthems dating back to Melle Mel’s “The Message,” “Mayors A Cop” is a howl of frustration for the Eric Adams era — not a cry for help, but instead a warning that life in the city cannot continue this way. Wiki’s opening verse sets the stage, drawing straight lines between the mayor’s background, misused city budgets, and the increased suffering of the Brooklyn’s and The Bronx’s working class. In contrast to Wiki’s protest, MIKE interiorizes the pain, painting an abstract picture of his mental health in between plans to “free the chastised” and remembrances of his mother. Continuing to volley back and forth over the booming drums, harp arpeggios, and psychedelic horns of The Alchemist’s most vivid instrumental of the year, the duo are the advocates the city needs: of the people, for the people, and wise enough to know they’re getting fleeced by a system designed to see them fail. The rare song fit to soundtrack both street protests and nights spent staring at the city from a rooftop, “Mayors A Cop” is both an introvert’s banger and an extrovert’s reflection. — SR

3. Lana Del Rey, “A&W”

Listening to the epic entirety of “A&W” almost feels like reading the intro to Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas — messy, chaotic, and erratic, with free-associative lyrics and sudden switch-ups. It’s a hazy, diary-esque whirlwind of fuzzy tape sounds, psychedelic trap beats, and one-off references to Forensic Files; an irreverent, wild-eyed vacillation between markedly different moods and musical styles, to the point where it’s hard to say whether she’s pining for a lover or just straight-up cackling in his face. One minute she’s flying high, and the next she’s flipping the bird, making the kind of unapologetically unhinged declarations you’d scream into the ether while speeding along an empty desert highway. The entire time, Del Rey delivers her oddly specific exclamations with an air of invincibility, openly declaring herself an “American Whore” who’s unconcerned by any outside opinions. Her mind has been freed by the powerful psychotropic that’s “A&W,” and, by proxy, so has yours. — SS

2. Sexyy Red, “Hellcats SRTs”

America’s lust for automobiles extends past transit architecture and civic life to the furtive corners of the inner psyche. No mere mode of transportation, muscle cars with pumping cylinders and leather interiors enable novel erotic acts, including speeding as foreplay, backseat cunnilingus, and rounding third base somewhere between point A and point B. “Hellcats SRTs” isn’t just a welcome throwback to the maximalism of Drumma Boy and Lex Luger; it’s 152 seconds of the hottest rapper in the world being cool as fuck: smoking zaza, rocking diamonds, driving without insurance and without a license, being “that bitch since I was in first grade” — a.k.a. the Sexyy Red experience. In her duck-nail-manicured hands, the titular Dodge Challenger is no mere status symbol or fetish object; when she nyooooooooms, approximating the Doppler effect as a car blows by, it’s like watching her take a victory lap in real time. — VM

1. NewJeans, “Super Shy”

This was a banner year for looking backwards: lowrider jeans, David Beckham, Barbiecore, The Dare, butterfly clips, another Mean Girls, wired headphones, Paris Hilton, flip phones. Plenty of artists can use that as shorthand and press a listener’s buttons; rising K-pop superstars NewJeans instead turn it into a vision for the future. “Super Shy” is a skittering club fantasy that calls to mind the turn-of-the-century sounds of U.K. garage and the relentless energy of Jersey club. The production produces the same headrush as a crush, a pounding heartbeat keeping the dopamine surging. It’s a song that recognises the cruelty of being both anxious and horny, where being quiet means missing out on the one thing you want the most. These are timeless sentiments backed by vintage sounds, but the lightness of the production and the dizzyingly seamless movement between Korean and English vocals break “Super Shy” out of the glass walls of a museum exhibit. “You don’t even know my name do you?” could sound like a meek admission of defeat. Backed by that jacking, iridescent beat, NewJeans make it sound like a challenge they’re ready to overcome. — DR


The 100 best songs of 2023