EW's music team sizes up releases from the first half of the year, from Beyoncé to The 1975
The first six months of 2016 have brought new releases from heavy-hitters like Kanye West, Beyoncé, Drake, and Rihanna, dazzling debuts from newcomers like Gallant and Bibi Bourelly, and welcome returns from Maxwell and James Blake. Ahead, EW’s music team picks the 20 best songs of the year so far. For more on the year in music so far, check out our list of best albums from 2016 (so far), and pick up Entertainment Weekly’s new Ultimate Summer Preview Issue, on newsstands Friday, or available to buy here now.
20.”Vroom Vroom,” Charli XCX
While other divas are mining the ’80s and ’90s for inspiration, Charli XCX recruited avant-pop beatsmith SOPHIE for the year’s most futuristic banger. –Nolan Feeney
19. “The Sound,” The 1975
The U.K. quartet prove they’re a rock band to be reckoned with thanks to this blend of ’80s-style gloss, ’90s indie pop, and stadium-size hooks. A total earworm. –-Madison Vain
18. “Into the Night,” Cardiknox
The duo break through with an uplifter about setting your phone to silent and leaving your worries behind—with a gloriously ginormous hook. –Kevin O’Donnell
17. “Boyfriend,” Tegan and Sara
Make it Facebook official already: The pair sing about the pitfalls of commitment, but it’s worth going steady with their sweet synth-pop. –N.F.
16. “Sally,” Bibi Bourelly
The 21-year-old German who helped write Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” cements her solo-artist status with a soulful, guitar-powered hit that’s perfect for a weekend full of debauchery. –Jessica Goodman
15. “Feel No Ways,” Drake
The highlight from Drake’s lengthy fourth album, Views, finds the Toronto rapper in prime form as he rhapsodizes about a dead-end relationship over a beat that recalls the synth-driven sentimentalism of 2013’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home.” –Eric Renner Brown
14. “Not Above That,” Dawn
“If I beg for it will you get me off?” the former Danity Kane member exhales over a skittering, Machinedrum-produced beat, opening the best bedroom jam of 2016. –M.V.
13. “Kiss It Better,” Rihanna
One of the slinkiest, sexiest jams she’s ever recorded—and that arena-rock guitar line is the best hair-metal throwback in years. –K.O.
12. “Florida,” The Range
James Hinton, better known as the Range, soups up a cover of Ariana Grande’s “You’ll Never Know” he found on YouTube with quaking synths and delicate steel drums. The resulting dance gem shows that in the right hands, Internet rabbit holes can yield beautiful things. –E.R.B.
11. “Close,” Nick Jonas
With banging steel drums and a feature from Swedish crooner Tove Lo, Jonas creates a catchy, sexy mantra about bouncing back from a breakup. –J.G.
10. “I Have Been to the Mountain,” Kevin Morby
The indie rocker punctuates the timely politics of his lyrical message—a manifesto about modern police brutality and racism that references a Martin Luther King Jr. quote—with fiery guitars and a huge choir. –E.R.B.
9. “No Problem,” Chance the Rapper
The unsigned rapper’s warning shot to greedy labels features impressive guest verses from 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne, along with an intoxicating instrumental that’s as sunny as Chance’s outlook on life. –E.R.B.
8. “Intermission: Flower,” Zayn
The ex–One Directioner abandons his boy-band past with a song that’s delicate and lovely like a peony, sung in Urdu, his father’s native tongue. –M.V.
7. “Modern Soul,” James Blake
Modern soul indeed: The British songwriter-producer delivers a heartbreaking ballad that’s so sad and so poetic, it’ll send a shiver down your spine. –K.O.
6. “Lake by the Ocean,” Maxwell
One of the finest R&B singers in the game returns with a dazzling accompaniment for a late-night skinny-dip with your boo. –K.O.
5. “Reaper,” Sia
“Don’t come for me today,” Sia tells the guy with the black cape and the scythe on this death-defying rave-up, co-piloted by Kanye (he co-wrote and co-produced the track, which was originally meant for Rihanna). –Leah Greenblatt
4. “Bourbon,” Gallant
Love-is-a-drug metaphors are pop’s oldest trick, but Gallant’s falsetto and glacial R&B make for a potent mix. –M.V.
3. “Work From Home,” Fifth Harmony
These girls deserve a LinkedIn endorsement for pulling off a pop song so hooky it makes fans want to actually play hooky. –N.F.
2. “UltraLight Beam,” Kanye West
“Ultralight Beam” opens Kanye’s game-changing The Life of Pablo, but its true stars are the supporting players: Chance the Rapper, singer Kelly Price, and gospel artist Kirk Franklin make this lurching chorale staggeringly emotive. –E.R.B.
1. “Formation,” Beyoncé
Queen Bey slays the competition with a spring-loaded black-pride anthem that has plenty of kick on its own—no need for extra hot sauce. –N.F.