The 100 best songs of 2016
Beyoncé, Tegan and Sara, Fifth Harmony, Kanye West, and a couple tunes from Taylor Swift: EW’s top tracks of the year
Fifth Harmony made working from home a full-on party; Ariana Grande commanded us to the dance floor; and Taylor Swift returned with two new songs — though she didn’t sing either of them. But 2016 will always be the year Beyoncé ordered us to get in formation. Below, EW’s list of the 100 best songs of 2016. To hear all these songs in one place, subscribe to our playlist here.
100. The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey, “Closer”
Are Chainsmokers the LMFAO of 2016? Possibly. Does closer rhyme with Rover and corner? Not really. Is this song a total goddamn earworm? Absolutely. Sometimes a track comes along that bypasses all your filters and objective ideas of what constitutes “good music”; it just makes you sing like you actually care about mattresses in Boulder, and dance like no one can see your Spotify streams. —Leah Greenblatt
99. Dirty Projectors, “Keep Your Name”
Dirty Projectors’ mastermind Dave Longstreth channels Kanye West’s recent outré attitude — the two collaborated on 2015’s “FourFiveSeconds” — with this warped, woozy loosie, the art-rock band’s first new music since 2012’s Swing Lo Magellan. —Eric Renner Brown
98. Holychild feat. Kate Nash, “Rotten Teeth”
Who knew railing against the patriarchy could be such a blast? Frontwoman Liz Nistico and British singer Kate Nash commiserate about the impossible expectations women face on a cavity-inducing indie-pop riot that crackles and pops with verve and wit. “I can never be the girl I want to be,” Nistico sings, yet somehow everyone can feel her pain. —Nolan Feeney
97. Twin Peaks, “Walk to the One You Love”
With this year’s Down In Heaven, the ragtag Chicago rock group busted out of the garage, trading in scuzzy simplicity for the strut of golden-era Rolling Stones. Spunky horns, plucky piano, and lackadaisical guitars guide the album’s upbeat opener. —E.R.B.
96. Tourist, “Run”
You may know William Phillips best as a co-writer of Sam Smith’s Grammy-winning song “Stay With Me.” But under the moniker Tourist, he’s shown himself to be an adventurous conjurer of electronic sounds; this standout track from his debut album, U, crackles and fizzes and twitches non-stop for four minutes, yet it still exudes a meditative vibe nonetheless. –Kevin O’Donnell
95. Fujiya and Miyagi, “Freudian Slips”
This Brighton, England-based crew of groovemasters have long perfected the studied minimalism of krautrock pioneers Can and Neu!. “Freudian Slips” is something else: it starts as a quiet examination on psychoanalysis—”An involuntary slip, or an unconscious wish?” singer David Best whispers—but then launches into the stratosphere mid-way through, thanks to one insanely great synth melody. –K.O.
94. Weezer, “King of the World”
If he could do whatever he wanted, Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo sings over chugging, pop-punk power chords on “King of the World,” he’d take his lover and “ride a Greyhound all the way to the Galapagos.” Weezer wear their nerd-rock charm with pride — and with songs this good, who can blame ’em? —E.R.B.
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93. DJ Shadow, “Nobody Speak”
The best instrumental off the seminal producer’s The Mountain Will Fall also sports some of the few verses Run the Jewels — the duo comprised of Killer Mike and El-P — delivered in 2016. —E.R.B.
92. Bibi Bourelly, “Ego”
The German songwriter behind Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” introduced herself as an artist with this wrenching, soulful stunner, where she quips, “I’m 19 years old with a big ego/Got holes in my pants but a sick flow.” Set against handclaps and gentle guitar strums, Bourelly’s raw vocals slink about like a cabaret star — even when she’s singing, “You got me f—ed up.” –Jessica Goodman
91. NxWorries, “Lyk Dis”
For NxWorries, 2016 breakout Anderson .Paak teamed with the producer Knxwledge to make Yes Lawd!, a collection of soulful beats and even more soulful vocals. Its key track is lush, sensual, and dirty as hell — don’t play this one around the kids. —E.R.B.
90. Holy F—, “Caught Up”
Five minutes of throbbing bass, squealing vocals, and a monster guitar riff add up to the year’s most urgent punk-funk anthem. –K.O.
89. Parquet Courts, “Berlin Got Blurry”
With a Jonathan Richman-esque eye for detail and sharp post-punk riffs, the best indie-rock band in the land delivers a drunken travelogue worth tapping your feet to. —Ray Rahman
88. Delorean, “Epic”
The Barcelona-based quartet crafted five minutes of blissed-out electro-pop escapism — in a year when we needed it more than ever. –K.O.
87. Captain Cuts feat. Nateur, “Love Like We Used To”
Whether they’re remixing divas like Britney Spears and Ellie Goulding or crafting alt-pop hits like Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance,” this songwriter-producer trio know how to get people moving. They put the skills they’ve been honing to good use on this groovy funk workout, which doubles as their official artist debut. Good luck trying to sit still. —N.F.
86. OneRepublic, “Kids”
True story: Ryan Tedder, the OneRepublic frontman who’s written hits for Beyoncé, Kelly Clarkson and others, came up with this song’s irresistible vocal hook one random day and instantly sang it into his phone. He’s spun that moment into one of his band’s boldest and most adventurous songs to date. And that massive chorus wouldn’t sound out of place on a peak U2 record. —K.O.
85. The Avett Brothers, “Ain’t No Man”
The North Carolina roots-rockers have worked with studio jedi master Rick Rubin since 2009, but it’s this year’s True Sadness that finally glows with the producer’s prowess. “Man” retains the band’s boozy, old-timey strings longtime fans love yet throws itself into the 21st century with bright production. —Madison Vain
84. Tyler Glenn, “Midnight”
The Neon Trees frontman’s solo debut has no shortage of its emotional moments — it chronicles his split from the Mormon Church following an anti-gay policy change — yet this piano ballad makes for one gripping centerpiece. Glenn sounds at once mournful and excited as he ponders life outside of the institution he called home for more than 30 years. “God! I could never be like you!” he belts. “I can’t change, I can’t change, and I don’t want to.” We don’t want him to, either. —N.F.
83. Dolly Parton, “I’m Sixteen”
“It goes to show you’re never old/Unless you choose to be,” 70-year-old Dolly Parton exclaims over cotton-candy sweet folk instrumentation, a highlight from her 43rd(!) album Pure + Simple. “And I will be sixteen forever!” We don’t doubt it. —M.V.
82. Sampha, “Blood On Me”
”I swear they smell the blood on me/I hear them coming for me,” British singer-songwriter Sampha sings. It’s a desperate plea, and the music behind it — a heady swirl of wind-chime atmospherics and a throbbing low-end — matches the mood. The best cut yet from an artist who’s just getting started. —M.V.
81. Jim James, “Here in Spirit”
The My Morning Jacket frontman digs deep into retro soul and funk styles, yet his message about the importance of activism has never been more current. –K.O.
80. Gallant, “Bourbon”
“But I’m shaking, I need it like bourbon in my coffee cup,” the 23-year-old R&B artist sings. He’s lamenting a lost love, but with that silky smooth voice and throwback, Seal-esque style, “Bourbon” may induce similar withdrawals in you once it’s over. —M.V.
79. Whitney, “Golden Days”
“Those golden days snuck away from us,” Julien Ehrlich yearns over extravagant horns and slide guitar. But like much of Light Upon the Lake, the impressive debut from indie-rock group Whitney, “Golden Days” radiates warmth despite such chilly subject matter. —E.R.B.
78. D∆WN, “Not Above That”
Anytime a woman sings about bedroom power dynamics it feels provocative, but with D∆WN on this track, it feels vital and political. And the howling atmospherics and skittering Machinedrum-produced beat come on like an extraterrestrial force beamed down from outer space. —M.V.
77. DJ Khaled feat. Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean and Betty Wright, “Holy Key”
Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper alive, Big Sean is one of the game’s most underappreciated artists, Betty Wright is a soul veteran, and DJ Khaled is hip-hop’s lifestyle juggernaut. Throw ‘em all together, and you have a breathlessly grandiose monster song with a message. —R.R.
76. Dierks Bentley, “Black”
Monogamy got a whole lot sexier this year thanks to this Dierks Bentley cut, where he brags about familiar hands that “know just where to go.”—M.V.
75. The Range, “Florida”
For “Florida,” The Range’s James Hinton chopped up a cover of Ariana Grande’s “You’ll Never Know” he found on YouTube and outfitted it with twinkling steel drums and pulsing synths for one of the year’s most addictive electro jams. —E.R.B.
74. Day Wave, “Deadbeat Girl”
Day Wave’s Jackson Phillips takes a dreamy sojourn through sunshine-soaked melodrama to tell an “ooh-ooh”-filled tale of love lost to a “deadbeat girl” who “tries to be okay, but just falls apart.” Set to strummy guitars and ’80s-pop synths, Phillips’ fuzzy, distorted vocals were made for the beach, a pair of shades, and a toke or two. –J.G.
73. All Saints, “One Woman Man”
Successes from Fifth Harmony and Little Mix made 2016 a banner year for girl groups, but it wasn’t complete without this reunited veteran quartet. Over earthshaking percussion and a string section ripped from an action-movie climax, the ladies throw down against a philandering fella and his side chick: “Didn’t she hear me say I ain’t goin’ nowhere!” —N.F.
72. M.I.A., “Survivor”
Who would’ve thought that the agit-rap star extraordinaire could go positive without losing her trademark swagger? This airy delight showcases a welcome new dimension for the artist. —R.R.
71. Metallica, “Hardwired”
“We’re so f—ed, s— out of luck, hardwired to self-destruct!” frontman James Hetfield yells on “Hardwired,” the violent opener on Metallica’s hearty return-to-form Hardwired… To Self-Destruct. Sure, the song’s chorus took on new meaning for many fans after November’s election — but with Kirk Hammett’s spiraling guitar solo and Lars Ulrich’s unrelenting drumming, its old-school spirit is a welcome reprise of the thrash metal the band pioneered more than three decades ago. –E.R.B.
70. Zayn, “Intermission”
On an album full of slinky bedroom jams and 4 a.m. Frank Ocean-isms, “Intermission” is just that: a hushed, lovely swerve into Urdu (Malik is Muslim and half-Pakistani) that stands out for its quiet beauty — and flies far above the divisive, dismissive noise of identity politics in 2016. —L.G.
69. Kings of Leon, “Walls”
“Walls” offered a new, welcome intimacy from the Southern rock rebels. Over a gentle pitter-patter beat and cozy piano, Caleb Followill and his boys unspool a sprawling, five-and-a-half minute reckoning of man in the throes of romantic crisis. —M.V.
68. Loretta Lynn, “Who’s Gonna Miss Me?”
Country music’s indefatigable First Lady dares to ask the question we long thought she knew the answer to on this plucky campfire yarn. Who’s gonna miss you, Loretta? Everyone. —M.V.
67. KT Tunstall, “Hard Girls”
The Scottish singer-songwriter almost gave up on her recording career when she packed her bags for Los Angeles in 2014. Thankfully she changed her mind: Inside this crunchy rock and roll stomper is a warm, gooey center about giving up on trying to be anybody else but yourself. —N.F.
66. CL, “Lifted”
Behold the song of the summer that should have been: The K-pop superstar’s bid for hip-hop credibility might come off a little try-hard — has she ever even had a 40-ounce before? — but her schoolyard-chant rhymes and a recycled Wu-Tang Clan hook mean you’ll be too busy singing along to care. —N.F.
65. Kevin Morby, “I Have Been to the Mountain”
“That man lived in this town, ’til that pig took him down,” Kevin Morby sings on the incendiary Singing Saw standout. “Have you ever heard the sound, of a man stop breathing, pleading?” The singer-songwriter’s civil rights message continues to resonate, and on “I Have Been to the Mountain,” he backs it up with jagged electric guitar and a haunting choir. —E.R.B.
64. case/lang/veirs, “Honey and Smoke”
Three beautifully distinct voices — k.d. Lang, Neko Case, and Laura Veirs — united for a serene ballad that’ll instantly transport you to a sunlit cruise on a desolate highway in West Texas. –K.O.
63. Skepta, “Shutdown”
After a five-year hiatus and a total rebranding, the maestro of grime music returned this year with an excellent LP and his middle finger pointed way up. The best track off Konnichiwa is as much an indictment of authority as it is a rallying cry. “Me and my Gs ain’t scared of police,” he raps over a fiery beat that blends dancehall, jungle, and hip-hop. “We don’t listen to no politician/Everybody on the same mission/We don’t care about you ‘isms and schisms.” —M.V.
62. Andra Day, “Burn”
In the Broadway smash Hamilton, “Burn” is a heartbreaking solo sung by Alexander Hamilton’s wife Eliza after she’s found out — quite publicly — that her husband had an affair with a local temptress. The musical version is sad, but R&B star Andra Day gives her jazzy cover of the song a much-needed edge on The Hamilton Mixtape. It’s cathartic, goosebump-inducing, and one of the few songs on the Mixtape that’s actually a serious improvement over the original. –Isabella Biedenharn
61. Diana Gordon, “The Legend Of”
Diana Gordon has written material for Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Lopez, and Beyoncé — guess who penned the “Becky with the good hair” line — but on the first track put out under her own name, the artist formerly known as Wynter Gordon uses skittering drum beats and slinky vocal harmonies to throw her hands up in a last-ditch effort at self-discovery and love: “Put it all on the line, I’m all in, can’t you see?” And with a flex that features a shout out to Queen Bey (“I just got a fat check from Beyoncé!”), “The Legend Of” previews a star in the making. –J.G.
60. Lucius, “Gone Insane”
Fans of Lucius usually see front-women Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe as mirror images of one another, but on this brutal, angry single, they turn on each other, throwing shots and blame like fireballs: “You can’t call me the one who’s gone insane / ‘Cause we know you’re the one who’s gone insane.” The result is a biting rumination on a toxic relationship — and the best thing from their new album. –J.G.
59. Hinds, “And I Will Send Your Flowers Back”
A sweet and simple bare-bones kiss-off from the otherwise rambunctious crew of Spanish grrrls. —R.R.
58. Desiigner, “Panda”
The 19-year-old’s chart-topping banger was inescapable in 2016 — so much so that G.O.O.D. Music labelmate Kanye West sampled nearly the whole thing on The Life of Pablo. But it’s Menace’s cacophonous trap beat and Desiigner’s infectious energy that make this so memorable.—E.R.B.
57. JoJo, “F— Apologies”
After a messy legal battle with her former label, JoJo barreled into 2016 ready to put the music biz (and her contemporaries) on the chopping block. And that’s what she does on “F— Apologies,” a pop banger that stands up for a woman’s right to not apologize. With a handy verse from Wiz Khalifa and a hook so massive, it’ll send you screaming her titular command on the street. –J.G.
56. MØ, “Final Song”
Following up a global hit like “Lean On” could be a colossal task for even seasoned artists, but there’s been nothing meh about MØ’s output since. And on this glittering dance-pop marvel, her elastic vocals — just listen as she stretches the word ”soul” into “so-woah-woah-woah-woah-woah-oul” — have the same shot at getting lodged in your cranium. —N.F.
55. Rae Sremmurd, “Black Beatles”
Would the rap duo’s moody mo-money, mo-problems hit be on this list if it weren’t for the Mannequin Challenge? We’re here to tell you, yes. —R.R.
54. Sting, “50,000”
Sting putting out his first pop-rock album in 13 years? A reason to rejoice. Sting questioning his own mortality in the wake of David Bowie and Prince dying? Yeah, not so much. The ex-Police frontman seems to be on a mission to bum listeners out with lyrics like like, “Inside this prison I’ve made of myself…the bathroom mirror is telling me something else,” but his stadium-sized chorus is still cause for celebration — and a worthy tribute to the icons he mourns. —N.F.
53. Charli XCX, “Vroom Vroom”
If anyone can take experimental producer SOPHIE’s mad-scientist sound mainstream, it’s Charli XCX, one of pop’s most forward-thinking young talents. With its industrial sound effects and a beat that whomps like a lead pipe, “Vroom Vroom” feels like an instruction for others to step their pop game up.—N.F.
52. D.R.A.M., “Broccoli”
A joyous ode to weed and self-love, D.R.A.M.’s breakout hit also has hilarious shout-outs to lox (“I acquired taste for salmon on a bagel with the capers on a square plate”), pasta (“I just sauce ‘em up like Prego”), and video games (“All I wanted was the fame and every game they made on Sega”)—plus a killer assist from Lil Yachty. —J.G.
51. The Weeknd, “I Feel It Coming”
Abel Tesfaye’s quest for pop perfection reaches a climax on this Michael Jackson-evoking, Daft Punk-collaborating, sleek-and-sexy cut from Starboy. —R.R.
50. Lady Gaga, “Joanne”
So what if Gaga’s trying on musical styles the way one tries on Snapchat filters? Whenever her country-fried phase is over, this sweet folk-pop ditty about familial loss will remain one of the most moving songs she’s ever written. —N.F.
49. Bon Iver, “22 (OVER S∞∞N)”
Glimmering guitar, plaintive saxophone, a weird-as-hell vocal loop: “22 (OVER S∞∞N)” sets the tone for Bon Iver’s experimental third LP, 22, A Million; it begins hesitantly but ultimately achieves a glorious avant-garde catharsis. —E.R.B.
48. The Knocks feat. Wyclef Jean, “Kiss the Sky”
The former Fugees star and the rising DJ-producer duo might be unlikely musical bedfellows, but it’s no wonder Jean tapped them to executive produce his next album: They elevate each other to new heights with this carbonated electro-pop stunner. —N.F.
47. Drive-By Truckers, “Ramon Casiano”
One of Southern rock and roll’s most reliable bands daringly revisited the tragic story of Ramon Casiano, a Mexican boy who was shot to death in 1931 by Harlon B. Carter, who would go on to head the NRA. It’s a scary reminder of America today: the more things change, the more they stay the same. –K.O.
46. Nick Jonas, “Close”
Two pairs of pop music’s brightest brains — Mattman & Robin; Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter — united to create one woozy banger. But the real magic comes courtesy of Nick Jonas and Tove Lo: their aching vocals perfectly capture the weirdness of trying to find true romance in the Tinder age. –K.O.
45. Empire of the Sun, “Two Vines”
“We’ve got the best years ahead, we know we do,” Empire of the Sun frontman Luke Steele assures at the top of this thudding electro-pop anthem. He’s wrong, of course—but damn if “Two Vines” isn’t just another terrific example of rock and rollers forever in pursuit of staying young forever. –K.O.
44. Angel Olsen, “Shut Up Kiss Me”
A fiery love song that dares you to say no to Olsen. (We wouldn’t advise it.) —R.R.
43. Green Day, “Still Breathing”
The seemingly ageless punk band lets go of the pomp and politics and gets personal; this anthem hints at frontman Billie Joe Armstrong’s recent addiction struggles — but he does so on one of their most affecting anthems in years. —R.R.
42. Danny Brown, “Really Doe”
Hip-hop’s pre-eminent oddball called the posse he assembled for “Really Doe” — Kendrick Lamar, Earl Sweatshirt, Ab-Soul, and himself — rap’s “Four Horsemen.” And each of the MCs brings his idiosyncratic style to Black Milk’s lurching beat. —E.R.B.
41. Lizzo, “Good As Hell”
Fire your life coach, your therapist, and your self-esteem fairy: Lizzo’s sonic pep talk has every piece of all-the-single-ladies wisdom you need (“If he don’t love you anymore/Just walk your fine ass out the door”) compressed into two and a half minutes of gospel-caliber piano-pop soul. And it’s free. —L.G.
40. Drake, “Controlla”
It’s hard to choose between “Controlla” and its sister song “One Dance” — they both contain essential dancehall vibes and so many feelings. But only one has the lyric “I think I’d die for you, Jodeci ‘Cry For You,’” so obviously that one wins. —R.R.
39. Kendrick Lamar, “untitled seven”
Aptly enough, the song’s alternate title is “Levitate”: Lamar’s twisty flow floats just above a warped-and-woozy beat, resulting in one of the artist’s most beguiling tracks to date. —R.R.
38. Justin Timberlake, “Can’t Stop the Feeling”
Max Martin, Shellback and Timbo delivered a tune that was genetically engineered for chart dominance; “Can’t Stop the Feeling” may have been overplayed to death, but it nevertheless failed to serve as an instant mood enhancer. –K.O.
37. Chairlift, “Crying in Public”
The arty Brooklyn duo usually leans toward the languid end of the dance-pop spectrum, but “Crying” is a straight-up swoon of shameless vulnerability, with its surging synths and rapturous refrain “I’m sorry I’m causing a scene on the train/I’m falling for you, I’m falling for you.” (And let’s be real; who hasn’t lost it at least once on public transportation?) —L.G.
36. Gwen Stefani, “Misery”
Sit down, Gavin Rossdale. Never mind its misleading title; “Misery” is actually a new-love song — Stefani’s finger-snapping, utterly smitten plea to the new guy (you know, the tall one in the ten-gallon hat) she can’t stand to be separated from for one more hot minute. —L.G.
35. Bruno Marks, “24K Magic”
Bruno Mars’ delightful love of retro funk reaches peak fun in this bulletproof party jam. You can all but see the flashy gold-plated chains hanging off this song’s neck. —R.R.
34. Anohni, “Drone Bomb Me”
Want a typical pop song? Ask a typical pop star. Transgender art-star Anohni’s mesmerizing electro opus is as nakedly political as it sounds (“Drone bomb me/Blow me from the mountains and into the sea”), but there’s another kind of exposure at work in her beautifully layered symphony of savage imagery and unfiltered emotion. —L.G.
33. Tove Lo, “Cool Girl”
Try as she might to keep things chill — like, man-eating ice princess of the north kind of chill — the Swedish singer can’t deny her feelings on this theme song for friends with benefits. But thanks to a stuttering hook and a bass line that moves like molten lava, her feelings aren’t the only thing that’s irresistible here. —N.F.
32. The 1975, “Love Me”
The references are strong with this one: Talking Heads, David Bowie, and INXS. But the band’s irrepressible confidence and bombastic vision are singularly catchy as hell. —R.R.
31. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Body Language”
Jepsen throws a total ‘80s dance party, complete with handclaps and 808s, as she makes a breathy, urgent plea to not get friend-zoned: “If you stay with me tonight, then we’ll talk it over.” A perfect slab of bubblegum disco. –J.G.
30. Frank Ocean, “Pink + White”
Produced by Pharrell Williams and featuring Beyoncé on backing vocals, Frank Ocean delivers the smoothest R&B moment on his excellent surprise album. —R.R.
29. Mitski, “Your Best American Girl”
The lead single from Mitski’s astonishing Puberty 2 shows why she is such a fresh voice in indie-rock. Over gravelly vocals and a head-banging groove, she lays bare her anxiety of not living up to the expectations of her own femininity and identity. (“Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me,” she croons.) Mitski may not be perfect — but she wouldn’t want it any other way. –J.G.
28. Iggy Pop, “Gardenia”
What do you get when you mix the Stooges frontman’s bleak lyricism with Josh Homme’s sleaze-rock sensibilities? The most sensual, blissful, irresistible vignette of an affair with a cheap girl in an even cheaper motel, um, ever. —M.V.
27. Margo Price, “Hands of Time”
Much is made about authenticity in music these days. And perhaps no one showed she’s the real deal this year quite like Price. The six-minute epic reveals a lifetime of autobiographical struggle: Dad losing the farm, encounters with seedy industry men, a penchant for the bottle, the death of her child. Those may not be your scars, but when she wails so convincingly about how she wants to “turn back the clock on the cruel hands of time,” you’ll instantly feel her pain. —M.V.
26. James Blake, “Modern Soul”
Modern soul, indeed: on this standout from his excellent The Colour in Anything, the songwriter-producer James Blake weaves a thudding post-dubstep groove and an echo-soaked piano ostinato with a vocal performance so engrossing, it’ll send a shiver down your spine. –K.O.
25. Flume, “Never Be Like You”
The Australian DJ Flume lays out a fierce and twitchy dubstep-inspired groove, while Canadian singer Kai elevates this club-rattler to the heavens with her breathy soprano. The EDM anthem that defined 2016. –K.O.
24. Maxwell, “Lake by the Ocean”
Let DNCE have their “Cake” and eat it; the near-matchy title of Maxwell’s “Lake by the Ocean” may have been one of 2016’s stranger coincidences, but there was nothing in his sumptuous blackSUMMERS’night anthem that could be mistaken for confused Swedish sex euphemisms. This is slow-burn R&B by and for grown-ups, gorgeous and intimate and real. —L.G.
23. Britney Spears, “Do You Wanna Come Over?”
“Whatever you want, whatever you need, I’ll do it!” Spears shouts on the freakiest song from this year’s Glory. She’s trying to coax her boo into a Netflix and chill sesh, but she might as well be talking about the track’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production: soda-pop sound effects, Latin guitars, keyboards that sound like they’re ripping a hole in the time-space continuum. Fine, Britney! We’re calling an Uber now! —N.F.
22. Kim Gordon, “Murdered Out”
If your guitar gods are all dudes, you’re doing it wrong. Set free from the smoldering ruins of Sonic Youth and her wrecked marriage to Thurston Moore, Gordon is a brilliant and defiant as she’s ever been on this post-punk fuzzbomb, a chugging feedback beast that’s way too good to damn with fey art-rock praise. —L.G.
21. Maren Morris, “80s Mercedes”
Music City’s best road trip jam of 2016 didn’t come from a Luke, Jason or Jake — instead, it came from a “Nineties baby in and Eighties Mercedes.” Who says millennials care nothing about the past? —M.V.
20. Rihanna, “Needed Me”
You may kiss the ring; you might even make it all the way to fourth base if you’re very, very lucky. But boss bitch has no use for your trifling concerns, your “inner issues,” or your insecurities. “Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage?/F— your white horse and carriage/Bet you never could imagine.” Consider yourself told. —L.G.
19. David Bowie, “Lazarus”
David Bowie’s swan song, Blackstar, brims with masterful moments — but “Lazarus” might be the finest of them all, a chilly dirge about mortality that quickly blooms into the type of cathartic swell the Starman has given us so many times. —E.R.B.
18. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, “I Need You”
Though much of Cave’s Skeleton Tree was reportedly written before the sudden death of Cave’s 15-year-old son last year, it’s impossible not to see tragedy—and prophecy—in its bone-aching elegies, especially in devastated lyrics like “Nothing really matters, nothing really matters/When the one you love is gone.” Coming from anyone, it would be sad enough; from the mouth of rock’s eternal bad seed, it’s shattering. —L.G.
17. Chance the Rapper, “No Problem”
The independent Chicago MC’s exuberant warning shot to music industry bigwigs — “If one more label try to stop me, it’s gon’ be some dreadhead n—-s in your lobby!” — would be intimidating if it wasn’t delivered with such heartwarming infectiousness. Backed by an exultant choir and thumping bass, the 23-year-old boasts about his meteoric success, buttressed by stellar verses from Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz. —E.R.B.
16. Kiiara, “Gold”
Not since Missy Elliott’s “Work It” has a pop song been so weirdly, fiercely hypnotic—and so technically impossible to sing along to. Missy’s method was pretty straightforward: Put her thing down, flip it and reverse it; “Gold” takes it further, essentially shoving the 21-year-old Illinois native’s vocals in a studio Cuisinart and spinning her words into a million glimmering pieces of glitch-pop confetti. —L.G.
15. Beyoncé, “All Night”
It makes sense that a sweet, tender lullaby of a love song would garner less attention in the immediate wake of Mrs. Carter’s firebomb Lemonade revelations, but it would be a shame to miss this low-key stunner, one of the all-time finest odes to a subject pop music hardly ever deigns sexy enough to address: long-term monogamy. —L.G.
14. Radiohead, “Burn the Witch”
“This is a low-flying panic attack,” Thom Yorke wails early on “Burn the Witch,” the paranoia-steeped opener to Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool. From “Electioneering” to “2 + 2 = 5,” the British quintet have long used their music for political statements. But “Burn the Witch,” released amidst a tumultuous year that included Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, seems particularly vital. Jonny Greenwood’s anxious string arrangements only add to the urgency. —E.R.B.
13. Ariana Grande, “Into You”
Ariana Grande’s breathy backroom coos and Max Martin’s thunderous synths make “Into You” the sultriest, most immediate call to the dancefloor of the year. And with lines like “a little less conversation, and a little more touch my body,” it’s also the cheekiest, too. —N.F.
12. Rihanna, “Kiss It Better”
After a three-year hiatus, the Barbadian pop star returned in 2016 with her excellent eighth LP, ANTI. The set’s most addictive surprise comes with “Kiss It Better,” featuring six-string support from none other than Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt. It soars. —M.V.
11 and 10. Little Big Town, “Better Man,” and Calvin Harris, “This Is What You Came For”
Taylor Swift released no solo material in 2016, but she still dominated as a songwriter. And while these two songs are wildly different — her ex-boyfriend Harris cut a dance-floor epic; Little Big Town crooned a perfect country ballad — both cement her as one of her generation’s finest songsmiths. —K.O.
9. Savages, “Adore”
The most blistering rock & roll song of the year, “Adore” is a slow burn of distorted guitars and amp fuzz that gives way to a fit of apocalyptic drums. But doom and gloom this ain’t. It climaxes with frontwoman Jehnny Beth hollering a simple but nonetheless inspiring mantra: “I adore life!” —J.G.
8. Frank Ocean, “Nikes”
The R&B singer daringly pitch-shifts his voice for the first half — but with forward-thinking production, richly detailed lyrics, and a cinematic peak that showcases Ocean’s angelic croon, it’s an instant classic. —E.R.B.
7. Tegan and Sara, “Boyfriend”
Take the giddiness and anxiety of early-stage romance; throw in a clever, queer-inclusive examination of relationship roles; then dress it up with a sing-along hook and shimmering production. Welcome to the coolest Intro to Gender Studies course you’ll ever take, courtesy of Canada’s finest. —N.F.
6. Miranda Lambert, “Vice”
She could have given Nashville another shiny, boot-stomping take on romantic misdemeanors. But instead of blowing up an ex’s spot or burning down his backyard, Lambert delved into her own darkness, lamenting late nights and last calls on a crackling, laid-bare confessional — easily the year’s best song about bad choices. —L.G.
5. Solange Knowles, “Cranes in the Sky”
Meaningless sex, shopping sprees, workaholism. Knowles’ poetic rumination debunks that such pursuits will cure loneliness or heartbreak, so she prescribes a cure-all with “Cranes in the Sky,” a string- laden ballad that’s so warm and inviting, it’ll comfort the coldest heart. —K.O.
4. Kanye West, “Ultralight Beam
Kanye West billed The Life of Pablo as a gospel album, a sentiment epitomized by the rousing opener, “Ultralight Beam.” Co-written by Chance the Rapper, who also delivers a scene-stealing verse, the song’s lurching synths and muted trumpets perfectly complement West’s message about striving to be better, down to Kirk Franklin’s tear-jerking, nobody’s-perfect spoken-word coda. —E.R.B.
3. Sia, “Reaper”
Not since Blue Öyster Cult has pop music taken on the guy with the black cloak and the scythe so memorably. The anomalous Australian pop star’s antisuicide PSA, written and produced with Kanye West, is both joyful and defiant: a blithe celebration of all the reasons she’ll live to die another day. —L.G.
2. Fifth Harmony, “Work From Home”
With its vacuum-sealed beat, sexy-stupid puns, and a video that makes Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” look like an OSHA safety seminar, this girl group offered the year’s most deliriously fun ride. Even the HR lady approves. —N.F.
1. Beyoncé, “Formation”
Black-girl-magic manifesto, postfeminist call to arms, most potent celebration of personhood this side of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”: No one piece of music could ever claim to be all things to all people, but “Formation” lands pretty damn close. (Even Red Lobster gets a boost.) Released on the eve of the Super Bowl, the lead single from the still-shrouded-in-mystery Lemonade came on like its own colossus: This was pop music politicized, diversified, electrified to the nth degree. Over that strange, shivery twang of a bass line, Beyoncé twirled on her haters, tweaked Bill Gates, and laid out the mandate for every lady (or restless little girl, or bullied boy in suburbia) who dared to doubt their own destinies. It slayed. —L.G.