Unlikely musical marriages bear the best fruit when artists complement each other’s strengths and challenge assumptions (just ask Jack Ü and Bieber). Jamie xx’s feel-good summer jam did just that, casting Young Thug, an Atlanta-bred rapper of Haitian descent, and Jamaican dancehall MC Popcaan in a temperate calypso daydream punctuated by cheery steelpan rhythms and an unimpeachable Persuasions sample. Nothing feels forced about this diverse meeting-of-minds, and that’s an impressive feat.
24. "Burning House," Cam
In one four-minute track, Cam manages to pack in frustration, despair, anguish, and torment. But what makes it beautiful is the wounded vocal melody set against gentle guitar strumming and understated strings. This is the rare quiet breakout hit of 2015.
23. "Dreams," Beck
What did Beck do four months after his downtempo melancholy LP Morning Phase won Album of the Year? Release an irresistible radio-ready track with the refrain, “d-d-d-dreams, she’s making me high!” “Dreams” benefited from Beck’s Grammy momentum to dominate its radio lane (it peaked at No. 2 on Alternative Songs) and gave us plenty of reason to anticipate another dramatic LP reinvention from the ol’ L.A. hipster. Speaking of which, we’re still waiting…
22. "Tennessee Whiskey," Chris Stapleton
Stapleton turned a lot of heads with his blues-laden nod to George Jones on Traveller (David Allan Coe originally recorded the song, but Jones' 1983 version is the biggest hit). HIs CMA duet of the song with Justin Timberlake knocked down walls for the singer, who saw his album shoot to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and get a Grammy nod for Album of the Year. Originals on his LP aside, his version of "Tennessee Whiskey" remains an album highlight, showing off a falsetto that is, in fact, as smooth as Tennessee whiskey.
21. "FourFiveSeconds," Rihanna Feat. Kanye and Paul McCartney
Rihanna's long-awaited album still isn't here, but she did give 2015 a collaboration -- Rihanna, Kanye West and Sir Paul McCartney -- that no one saw coming. Even more surprising than the genre and generation-spanning trio's existence is the fact that the song itself is incredible. McCartney's whimsical melody pairs nicely with the tale of getting drunk and spazzing out. Who knew?
20. "Pedestrian at Best," Courtney Barnett
Since her early EPs, fans knew Courtney Barnett had bars (okay, lyrics), but on the resident banger from her debut album, she proved she had killer hooks, too. Within and in-between the crunchy chorus, Barnett weaves a first person one-act about a sad sack that's so sharp, it’s hard to believe her every time she sings, “I’ll only disappoint you.”
19. "Good For You," Selena Gomez feat. A$AP Rocky
Selena Gomez has talked about wanting a more grown-up image/sound for some time, and she got it with her sexy Revival single “Good For You” featuring A$AP Rocky. Her sultry voice is a perfect match for the come-hither lyrics, and the thumping beat ensures we’ll be dancing to this at clubs for quite some time.
18. "Know Yourself," Drake
The lyric “Running through the 6 with my woes” popularized squad goals before Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” video even touched timelines. “Know Yourself” finds Drake flashing several mean mugs at the man in the mirror for the Boi-1da co produced confidence booster, which appeared on Drizzy’s album-mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. “N----s want my spot and don’t deserve it,” he huffs and puffs, giving the rest of us enough reason to shoo away the haters on one of the year’s best shit-talking records.
17. "Me Voy Enamorando," Chino y Nacho
With its official video alone garnering over 220 million YouTube views, this song was a smash. What got to us was the mix of tropical and pop, not to mention romance and dance. The duo’s tale of budding romance struck a universal chord, and bringing rapper Farruko in as a guest gave it just the right touch of edge.
16. "Biscuits," Kacey Musgraves
Musgraves, who many have compared to a modern-day Loretta Lynn, scored a triumphant note with this banjo-backed warning to keep out of other people's business. As usual, it’s done in her tell-it-like-you-see-it style.
15. "Flesh Without Blood," Grimes
There were several otherworldly pop bangers on Grimes’ Art Angels, but we’re glad she decided to let this stratospheric kiss-off kick off the album cycle. The artist named Claire Boucher kept us guessing in the album’s long gestation period, sharing “Go,” an EDM banger she’d written for Rihanna, and then admitting she’d scrapped an entire album’s worth of material. In the end, she delivered the pop some of her fans were craving, without sacrificing the weirdness that made her a cult star. “Flesh Without Blood” is that in a nutshell -- a sky-scraping hook pulled out of unintelligible vocals, served over an underbelly of humming guitar.
14. "Leave a Trace," Chvrches
Chvrches didn’t build a new foundation on their sophomore album Every Open Eye. Instead, they followed the same blueprint as before, and built an even better shrine for Lauren Mayberry’s majestic vocals. On “Leave a Trace,” Iain Cook and Martin Doherty’s fine-tuned swirls of synthesizer are just begging for a killer hook, and Mayberry -- singing with more swagger than ever before -- hammers it home. Prayer hands up.
13. "Classic Man," Jidenna feat. Roman GianArthur
You might not expect the man behind 2015's coolest R&B song to count Nat King Cole as his swag idol, but Jidenna tells you right there in the title: He's a "Classic." The Nigerian-American singer/songwriter hit the Billboard Hot 100 top 25 with the song, imparting the importance of a tailored suit and slanging "cane like a dandy" (yes, as in an actual cane) while also dropping enough "mummafunkas" that you can't accuse him of being too fancy. This mean-and-clean cut was a burst of cool air on radio this year, made even cooler by a Kendrick Lamar-assisted remix this summer. We'll see if it takes home the best rap/sung collaboration Grammy come February.
12. "El Perdon," Nicky Jam and Enrique Iglesias
So much has been said about records set by “El Perdón,” the second longest running No. 1 song on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart. But too little has been said about the mix of sweet and sad on the danceable tune. Not to mention those plaintive lyrics of lost love that can make girls (and guys) cry. “When I wrote the beginning of the song -- ‘Did he take you to the moon, and I couldn’t do that’ -- that part hit me really hard,” Nicky Jam told Billboard. Trust us, Nicky, we get it, too.
11. "March Madness," Future
After kicking off his return to form with last year's "Commas," Future delivered a hammer blow of a single with "March Madness" from his 56 Nights mixtape this spring, a song that simultaneously celebrates the luxury and excess of his lifestyle while excoriating the rise in police brutality over the past few years. He doesn't come off as a savior or try to paint himself in a positive light. Future knows he's not perfect and he doesn't hide it, instead presenting himself as the conflicted, drug-addled anti-hero that he is.
10. "The Hills," The Weeknd
No. 1 hits aren't supposed to be this sonically adventurous and dark, but the Weeknd can do no wrong in 2015. There's barely a pop hook to speak of here – just a beguiling, harrowing soundscape that's impossible to forget.
9. "Sorry," Justin Bieber
Justin Bieber should try apologizing more often. From the bright opening notes to the manipulated vocal loop in the chorus, the Biebs brought EDM to his pop palette and made fans out of haters with an unforgivably good single.
8. "Alright," Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar made the struggle his message on the soul-stirring To Pimp A Butterfly cut “Alright.” With jazzy production provided by Pharrell and Sounwave, the fight-the-power anthem became the nation’s rallying cry in 2015, especially for the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite the album’s lead single “King Kunta” peaking higher on the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 58, the plight of police brutality victims can be heard in every breath Lamar takes on “Alright” as he tackles society’s ills with resilience: “Homie you fucked up / But if God got us we then gon' be alright.”
7. "Trap Queen," Fetty Wap
Sure, "Trap Queen" may have been out since the summer of 2014, but it's impossible to think back on 2015 without acknowledging the overwhelming impact of Fetty Wap, with "Trap Queen" as his first and best anthem. Whether it's the bouncy nature of Tony Fadd's production, Fetty's insanely catchy hooks or his equally singular ad-libs (which rang out continuously in clubs and car stereos nationwide), "Trap Queen" captured attention on its way to a No. 2 peak on the Hot 100, creating a new superstar along the way.
6. "Here," Alessia Cara
If Lorde's "Royals" was a rallying cry for those who felt isolated by the rampart materialism in pop culture, then Alessia Cara's "Here" is the anthem for those fed up with the glut of pop songs about partying and drinking. Thanks to the teenage R&B singer, being an introvert is finally cool again.
5. "Where Are U Now," Jack U Feat. Justin Bieber
Skrillex recently described this collab as a “turning point” in both his and Bieber’s careers, and it’s easy to see why. In the span of a song, Skrillex and Diplo became crossover forces with their first top 10 hit, while the troubled pop star used that priceless edge-by-association to reinvent himself as a serious artist coming of age -- and confounding millions of listeners who had hated him before. The chart success of “Where Are Ü Now” speaks not only to the mainstream's growing appetite for electronic music, but to pop music’s (presently) open-minded format as well.
4. "Hello," Adele
Grab some tissues: Four years after 21, Adele instantly warmed her way into our hearts (and tear ducts) with “Hello,” her heartbreaking reflection on looking at love from the other side. Instantly spawning memes, tears, and excitement, it was a comeback single that reminded everyone she is the queen of Feelings, and she has the vocal range and power to back it up.
3. "Lean On," Major Lazer & DJ Snake
The Grammys got it wrong. It’s rare that a dance record of this quality reaches this level of ubiquity -- after all, this is Spotify’s most streamed song of all-time as of Nov. 2015. Despite being independently released, the infectious three-minute single became the poster child for dance crossover, dominating both radio and festival play and hitting No. 4 on the Hot 100. By Billboard’s measure, “Lean On” was the dance/electronic song of the year.
2. "Hotline Bling," Drake
In a trio of freebies Drake plopped on SoundCloud in July, “Hotline Bling” was the only non-diss track. Backed by a tropical, groovy melody, “Hotline Bling” finds Aubrey Graham giving rap a hard pass and singing his heart out for some late-night loving through the phone. The record caught some drama, initially being referred to as a remix to Virginia rapper D.R.A.M’s “Cha Cha.” Still, the Toronto MVP got his dance on for the uber-viral video parodied by everyone from presidential candidate Donald Trump to Toronto Councillor Norm Kelly.
1. "Can't Feel My Face," The Weeknd
The Weeknd's irresistible, Michael Jackson-esque "Can't Feel My Face" is so perfectly crafted that it's impossible to imagine a world or alternate reality in which this song isn't No. 1. There are enough hooks in this one single for a dozen chart-toppers, but Abel Tesfaye packed them all into three-and-a-half minutes of sheer ecstasy -- and, naturally, topped the Hot 100 for the first time.