Billboard's 10 Best Dance/Electronic Songs of 2016: Critics' Picks

Dance music's diversity of styles and deluge of singles make annual superlatives especially difficult. 2016 was a banner year for electronic music crossing over to the mainstream -- dance artists occupied six of the Billboard Hot 100's top 10 spots during the second week of October. At the same time, stateside house and techno scenes flourished as a maturing generation of fans dug deeper in music discovery. As best as it can, this list aims to include both worlds. 

Given only 20 total spots to work with between the dance songs and albums lists, our critics elected to avoid redundancy in their picks. For example, Anohni's "Drone Bomb Me" and Flume's "Never Be Like You" would certainly have merited inclusion on this list if the albums on which they appear were not already honored. It should be noted that this ranking does not correspond to our staff-wide pop songs list as different criteria were applied.

From radio anthems to subterranean club-shakers, here's a list of Billboard Dance's critics' picks for the best dance and electronic songs of 2016.

10. Unders - "Syria"

Coming courtesy of Dutch DJ Unders (real name: Duncan Meulema), this Eastern-influenced deep house gem commences with a lurking guitar line and woodwind drones before sidewinding into an infectious melodic groove midway through. With Unders emerging as a staple of freeform festivals like Burning Man (where he made a rite of passage debut aboard the Robot Heart bus last year) and Afrika Burn, it’s little wonder the eight-minute odyssey arrives playa-ready. - Matt Medved

 

9. The Black Madonna - "He is the Voice I Hear"

You'll have to purchase a vinyl record to hear The Black Madonna's first original release in two years, but it's well worth the investment. The Chicago DJ/producer (real name: Marea Stamper) launched her new We Still Believe imprint with a moving ten-minute tribute to dance music pioneers who came before her -- specifically Frankie Knuckles, Larry Levan, Arthur Russell, Walter Gibbons and Loleatta Holloway. Stamper succeeds in her stated aim to "make a record that returned to the core values of dance music," tapping Grammy Award winning violinist Davide Rossi and pianist Christoforo LaBarbera for this memorable disco homage - Matt Medved

 

8. Mr. Fingers - "Qwazars"

When Larry Heard released the Outer Acid EP this year, it marked a welcome return for his Mr. Fingers persona — the same moniker that birthed undeniable classics like "Mystery of Love" and "Closer" more than two decades ago. "Qwazars," which builds around a comforting, gradually evolving synth loop and light percussion, is the EP's serene highlight. "What's going on?" a garbled voice asks mysteriously, but the answer isn't important — everything here is pleasantly inscrutable. - Elias Leight

7. Porter Robinson & Madeon - "Shelter"

Supergroups can create some of music's most exciting moments, and the Porter Robinson and Madeon collaboration was definitely one of 2016's brightest and most adorable musical creations. The two best friends have known each other way before the hype, and their sounds are all but meant to come together. They proved that fact when they hit the road on a double-headline collaborative live tour, mixing and mashing their original productions together in new breathtaking ways, but this one-time-only single is the highlight that will live on forever in our hearts – until maybe they give fans a live tour LP, which would be totally awesome and should totally happen. - Kat Bein

 

6. Calvin Harris ft. Rihanna - "This is What You Came For" 

It might have been written by Taylor Swift, but it's Rihanna's unmistakable voice that helped push this single into smash territory. It's the singer's third major collaboration with the Scottish superstar, and “This Is What You Came For” holds strong against its massive predecessors. Harris' hasn't lost his touch for the perfect hook, and while it didn't land the duo a Grammy nomination, it has audiences ravenous for Harris' next album, whenever that's scheduled to come along. - Kat Bein

 

5. Major Lazer ft. Justin Bieber & MØ - "Cold Water"

As the first taste of what's to come on Major Lazer's upcoming fourth LP Music is the Weapon, “Cold Water” set the tone for big features and catchy, melodic hooks. The song features vocals from Jack U collaborator Justin Bieber and “Lean On” homegirl MØ, as well as writing credits from Ed Sheeran, Benny Blanco, and others. Its uplifting message and easy dancehall rhythm helped make the single a bonafide pop-radio smash. Three official music videos didn't hurt either. - Kat Bein

 

4. DJ Snake ft. Justin Bieber - "Let Me Love You"

DJ Snake did it again. The biggest hit from the French artist's strong debut album Encore shows off his sensitive side with a perfect vocal performance from dance music's favorite new collaborator Justin Bieber. The beat is more melodic than turn up anthem, which helped it match Snake's Hot 100 high watermark (No. 4) and made it a deserving radio mainstay from the moment it was released. Plus this song would top the list if it were up to Billboard Dance's Facebook following. - Kat Bein

 

3. Cashmere Cat ft. The Weeknd, Francis and the Lights - "Wild Love"

Norway's Cashmere Cat went from future bass darling to heat-seeking pop missile in nearly no time. His cute, bass-laden style has been tapped by Kanye West, Selena Gomez, Miguel, and more. Fans wait with baited breath for his debut LP, and “Wild Love,” with its weird bouncy beat laid bare against The Weeknd's running vocal, set the tone for what's to come. Cashmere Cat will give people the pop they want, but never at the cost of the bold, unique style that got him here in the first place. It's a cool, wintery song that can't be confused for anyone else's. - Kat Bein

 

2. The XX - "On Hold"

Drake isn't the only king of loves turned ghost. The XX are one of the most darkly romantic groups on the scene, and this lead single from forthcoming third album I See You is the most danceable tune from the English trio to date. It's the kind of song you could put on repeat for half a day, and you still won't get tired of its droning bass and haunting guitar. All that lofty atmosphere pairs perfectly with Jamie XX's upbeat production. “On Hold” is an excellent omen for things to come in early 2017. - Kat Bein

 

1. The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey - "Closer"

When The Chainsmokers debuted an ID duet at Coachella this year, few realized it would become emblematic of dance music's mainstream arrival. By distilling the millennial zeitgeist into an infectious four-minute earworm, the New York duo became the first dance/electronic artists to score a Billboard No. 1 hit since Baauer's "Harlem Shake" in 2013 -- and they didn't even need a meme to achieve the feat. As the capstone to a 2016 campaign that included two top 10 hits in "Roses" and "Don't Let Me Down," "Closer" bested Drake and Justin Bieber for the longest Hot 100 reign of the year with 12 weeks atop the chart. The hit's impact was far-reaching, bringing electronic musicians back to pop's highest summit (one that not even time-tested hit-makers like David Guetta and Calvin Harris have reached as solo artists) and the award show stages. "Closer" was quite simply this year's most significant dance/electronic song.