Ah, right down to the wire and out of time for doing my end of year rankings, just like always! I was actually completely on schedule until a deadline being pulled forward and a random afternoon of drinking derailed my carefully laid plans, so there’s no album write ups this year (honestly, I was lukewarm on most of them anyway, I wouldn’t have had much to say). Special mention to the surprise! Little Simz and the never-thought-I’d-see-the-day SZA albums which I only got around to listening to for the first time last week so didn’t make the final ranking, but I rated very highly. I did do a little bit of commentary on my favourite 30 songs of the year – and a lot of commentary on my #1 – which you can read below, or go right on ahead and click on this Tidal playlist or this Spotify playlist which also includes a bunch of other songs worth listening to when you have the time. Happy New Year!
THE KNOCKS – ‘SLOW SONG’ w/ DRAGONETTE
The last time I loved a song by The Knocks this much it was ‘Love Me Like That’ by Carly Rae Jepsen which, funnily enough, was another Dragonette aka. Martina Sorbara co-write. Dragonette have long been one of my most favourite bands in the world, underrated to an almost offensive level, and Martina is not only one of the best pop songwriters we have, but one of the most expressive vocalists too. Between the warm, dreamy synths, little sparkling flourishes into the chorus and the subtle strings, it takes a minute to realise that this song is not, in fact, romantic and intimate but relentlessly horny, and – upon further inspection – dangerously (in)toxic(ating). As a boomer who hasn’t opened the clock app since March, and finds the musical output of Gen Z devoutly unsexy, I can’t tell you what manna in the desert this chorus about getting fucked stupid by an emotionally unavailable commitment-phobe has been to me. The other factor that contributes to my appreciation for this track is the loose relation to another song I really love – the 2018 Jax Jones dance hit ‘Play’ featuring Olly Alexander of Years & Years. “How long ’til you play me the song that will make me belong to you?” and “I’ma play you, play you right until the track’s done, play you however many times I want” are separate sides of the same conversation; where ‘Play’ is a little bit frantic and desperate, ‘Slow Song’ is languid and dominant. If you want to talk storytelling in pop music, this is a master class – changing “because you can take it” to “if you can take it” in the pre-chorus lyric alone says so! much! – and ultimately I just marvel at how visceral the whole listening experience is. It’s actually rare that the best song of the year, my favourite song of the year and my most played song of the year are all the same track, but ‘Slow Song’ sweeps in 2023. It’s perfect.
TOVE STYRKE – ‘FREE’
I just love a chorus that sounds like a spaceship taking off, especially if it then booms into a big, stomping liberation anthem. Half gospel, half Scandipop – how do you listen to this without throwing your arms out wide? You can’t.
BAD BUNNY – ‘TITÍ ME PREGUNTÓ’
Starts slow and ends that way too, with a huge floor-filling middle section this is really one of the only songs of the year worth dancing to. If Shakira knew how mad this gets my hips moving she would simply be forced to retire.
BEYONCÉ – ‘BREAK MY SOUL’
I am yet to hear this song without having a completely primal reaction to it. I’m just… compelled to move whenever it comes on. When the album dropped, I was so surprised to discover that a huge swathe of people had found it an underwhelming lead single? Its excellence was just instant to me, I barely even thought about it.
DOECHII – ‘PERSUASIVE’ ft. SZA
Doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing when this song plays, it always feels like blazing sun, moisturised skin and not a single care in the world. Luxury for the ears.
MEGAN THEE STALLION – ‘HER’
RAYE – ‘ESCAPISM.’ ft. 070 SHAKE
Has there been anything more delicious this year than Raye peaking at #2 with this weird ass song with no real chorus, no real structure, no buzzy feature (all love to 070 Shake, but she’s not a household name) and, most importantly, no label?
ROMY & FRED AGAIN.. – ‘STRONG’
Picture me, standing under the discoball in the middle of the dancefloor with tears streaming from my eyes!
EMPRESS OF – ‘SAVE ME’
The first time I heard this song on New Music Friday, my finger was literally just about making contact with the skip button when the beat suddenly switched up, and I was like “…now hol’ up, wait a minute”. A world where I never heard this chorus doesn’t bear thinking about.
RINA SAWAYAMA – ‘HOLD THE GIRL’
Do you know what this song has? Drama! Pathos! Catharsis! There’s a strong sense of the theatrical in a lot of Rina’s output actually, and ‘Hold The Girl’ is a really good example of how she can crush that into one song as well as draw it out over a full body of work. None of that has anything to do with why I ranked this so highly though. I just fucking love a key change.
CHLÖE – ‘TREAT ME’
The prominent use of the Bubba Sparxxx sample in this track really split opinions, but without it, what is there? Gorgeous layered harmonies and not much else. The sample elevates it from throwaway playlist filler to something with a little more bite.
MAJESTIC – ‘TRICKY’ ft. AUTUMN ROWE
Nods just enough to a classic – ‘It’s Tricky’ by Run-DMC – that you make the connection, but it’s essentially a completely different song. Chef kiss.
TOVE LO – ‘NO ONE DIES FROM LOVE’
Tove Lo’s influence on pop music in the last decade is inarguable, and I’m hoping that the distinctly 2010 synths on this track trigger a shift back to maximalist pop because I am starving for bangers.
MUNA – ‘WHAT I WANT’
The sound of unleashing yourself on the world after two years of lockdown regulations. Big euphoria.
ETHEL CAIN – ‘AMERICAN TEENAGER’
What an outrageously, audaciously, explosively fucking massive chorus – my GOD.
TOVE STYRKE – ‘YOUYOUYOU’
Another entry for Tove Styrke, this time for ‘YouYouYou’ and the punchy, overwrought angst of thinking about a past lover, interrupting the deceptively gentle verses about romantic bliss with someone new. Great for tossing your hair around to.
DOECHII – ‘CRAZY’
And another entry for Doechii. This twitchy, frenetic song, and the accompanying video, really put her on the map for me this year. The most exciting new act on the scene in a minute.
KNUCKS & SL – ‘NICE & GOOD’
“Step on your block and the food ain’t shit // your car ain’t shit // your crew ain’t shit // all the lil’ moves that you do ain’t shit // your drip’s meady and them shoes ain’t it”.
SUDAN ARCHIVES – ‘OMG BRITT’
The thing about the quote unquote alt girls is that they can really write the niftiest pop tunes without even trying. There’s something new to find in the production every time you listen to this.
JESSIE WARE – ‘FREE YOURSELF’
Not to pit women against each other but the new pop girls should be asking themselves why a podcast presenter and mother of three is serving more cunt than all of them put together.
FLO – ‘NOT MY JOB’
That opening tag! The way I am instantly transported to my childhood bedroom circa 1998 – 2001 when I play this song. FLO definitely dance on the knife edge of pastiche, but it’s a testament to how well-executed it is that the songs sound like they could genuinely be of that time, and a testament to that time that the sound is still box fucking fresh in 2022.
TIËSTO & CHARLI XCX – ‘HOT IN IT’
I don’t consider myself to be a particularly ethical person, but I am fair. As the #1 Charli skeptic (haters will say “hater”!) I am here to certify this song XCX for XCXCELLENCE.
MALLRAT – ‘SURPRISE ME’ ft. AZEALIA BANKS
A fairly forgettable song until it hits the Azealia feature. The lyric about Nicole Kidman’s face is my favourite punchline of the year.
FLETCHER – ‘BECKY’S SO HOT’
‘Becky’s So Hot’ is from the same special place in hell as Ariana Grande’s violation of the sisterhood, ‘break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored’, and I wish there were more pop stars willing to wear their chaotic behaviour as a crown like this. Girls don’t want Easter eggs, girls want gift-wrapped, hand-delivered villainy.
SHO MADJOZI – ‘TORO’ ft. DDG
Takes a minute to get going but once it does… whew! Also, “where are the men who said they made me?” is such an iconic opening line.
PARAMORE – ‘THIS IS WHY’
Paramore’s evolution from pop punk to pure pop was interesting to observe, because although their sound got more sugary, they still essentially felt like the same band. I don’t see too much of a through-line to their old material with This Is Why’ (but I do pick up notes of Hayley Williams’ excellent solo releases) and as a result this is sort of like discovering a completely new act. It sounds very grown up and I’m super excited for the album.
TOVE LO – ‘HOW LONG’
Euphoria’s second season was trash, but at least we got this incredible Tove Lo song out of it. The differing inflections when she sings the words “how long”, getting more hysterical as the song plays out… I live!
BREE RUNWAY – ‘SOMEBODY LIKE YOU’
I know everyone got the same memo about ‘Somebody Like You’, because everyone I’ve spoken to about it this year references how much like Phil Collins – ‘In The Air Tonight’ it is, and you know what? Everyone was right.
FLUME – SAY NOTHING ft. MAY-A
It’s really the way it stacks from the sparse verse, to the urgent drums in the pre-chorus to the slight, but potent kick up into the hook and does it all in under a minute for me.
MUNA – ‘ANYTHING BUT ME’
I am always so obsessed with Katie Gavin’s pointed line delivery, and the mild, reasonable tone of this song’s ridiculous opening lyric is another pristine example of why this band out-writes, out-plays and out-sings any and all of the bigger name acts they have opened shows for.
BEYONCÉ – RENAISSANCE
SPICE – EMANCIPATED
MUNA – MUNA
TOVE STYRKE – HARD
RINA SAWAYAMA – HOLD THE GIRL
SUDAN ARCHIVES – NATURAL BROWN PROM QUEEN
ETHEL CAIN – PREACHER’S DAUGHTER
TOVE LO – DIRT FEMME
CARLY RAE JEPSEN – THE LONELIEST TIME
GLORILLA – ANYWAYS, LIFE’S GREAT…
THE WEEKND – DAWN FM
KOJEY RADICAL – REASON TO SMILE
KNUCKS – ALPHA PLACE
STEVE LACY – GEMINI RIGHTS
STORMZY – THIS IS WHAT I MEAN
CHRISTIAN ALEXANDER – I DON’T LIKE YOU
CONAN GRAY – SUPERACHE
KENDRICK LAMAR – MR. MORALE & THE BIG STEPPERS
THE 1975 – BEING FUNNY IN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE
BROCKHAMPTON – THE FAMILY / TM