20 Best Songs of 2013: Critics' Picks
Bruno Mars, "Treasure"
Bruno Mars' throwback single, about the love he's got for a girl that isn't beaming like she should be (yet), made more than a few fans smile this year.
Paramore, "Still Into You"
This joyous corkscrew of a love song crystallizes Paramore's unexpected, deeply enjoyable 2013 comeback -- "Let 'em wonder how we got this far," Hayley Williams sings, "'Cause I don't really need to wonder at all."
MIGOS feat. Drake, "Versace (Remix)"
Named after the fashion house, MIGOS' single had the South rumbling for a bit, but it wasn't until rap stud Drake hopped on it for arguably the best guest verse of 2013 that it quaked throughout the country.
Luke Bryan, "That's My Kind of Night"
Country music's biggest new star had humble plans for his kind of night -- driving a truck, having his gal by his side, and a catfish dinner, perhaps -- but "That's My Kind of Night" was anything but straightforward, especially given its nod toward hip-hop with the "Uh! Uh!" opening and the T-Pain name-check.
Pusha T, "Numbers on the Boards"
After his debut album faced countless delays, Pusha T silenced those who doubted him off the strength of the first "My Name is My Name" single. Over distorted buzzing courtesy of Don Cannon and Kanye West, "Numbers on the Board" featured a sly Pusha T boastfully spitting uncut rhymes of dealing.
P!nk & Nate Ruess, "Just Give Me a Reason"
Both P!nk and fun.'s Nate Ruess possess the ability to deliver booming choruses, but for their sparkling duet, the pair (mostly) dials down the vocal power to showcase the minute cracks in a crumbled romance.
Avicii, "Wake Me Up!"
Admit it: the first time you heard the opening acoustic strums of "Wake Me Up!," you crinkled your nose and asked, "Is this REALLY Avicii?" But the EDM maestro's massive beats would be dropping soon enough, this time around the soulful requests of Aloe Blacc.
Miley Cyrus, "Wrecking Ball"
Swinging nude atop a wrecking ball tends to leave one pretty exposed, but "Wrecking Ball" is even more naked than its music video -- Cyrus sounds on the verge of tears as the song swivels away from its chorus, but then the hook crashes back in with the power of a… well, you know.
Vampire Weekend, "Diane Young"
"Modern Vampires of the City" shoved Vampire Weekend's African influences into daring new corners, with no songs more evident of the band's playfulness than the euphoric sock hop of "Diane Young."
Ciara, "Body Party"
Ciara delivered her best steamy slow jam since 2009's "Promise," all while revitalizing Ghost Town DJ's R&B classic "My Boo." "Body Party," which was the foundation of the singer's self-titled album, featured a counted-out singer exuding new confidence above sleek production from Mike WiLL Made-It.
Justin Timberlake, "Mirrors"
Seven years after bringing sexy back, Justin Timberlake moved on to operatic love songs on "The 20/20 Experience," with none resonating quite as pristinely as the extended bleeding-heart jam "Mirrors."
Robin Thicke feat. T.I. & Pharrell, "Blurred Lines"
Forget the backlash: Robin Thicke's suggestive whispers, Pharrell's beaming bounce and T.I.'s charming raps rightly ruled the summer, and gave Thicke his first No. 1 Hot 100 single.
Disclosure feat. AlunaGeorge, "White Noise"
In a year in which Disclosure and AlunaGeorge watched their audiences and cultural cache grow exponentially, the two duos' wiry, icy-cool collaboration represented a high point for each.
Drake, "Hold On, We're Going Home"
While his first "Nothing Was the Same" single, "Started from the Bottom," amped listeners for Drake's third studio album, it was "Hold On, We're Going Home" that cemented Drake's sonic versatility. The rapper's light, synth-infused ode to inseparability strode into the Top 5 of the Hot 100 chart, and soon became a must-play at wedding receptions.
Kanye West, "Black Skinhead"
Fueled by a level of fury and militance never heard in his music before, Kanye West's menacing eruption careened into everything in its path this year. Radio hits be damned -- "Black Skinhead" was raw, unadulterated and unstoppable.
Daft Punk feat. Pharrell, "Get Lucky"
The Daft Punk gents have engineered generally perfect singles before -- "One More Time," "Around The World," "Digital Love," and the list goes on -- but "Get Lucky" was even warmer and more radio-friendly, even if that radio might exist in another decade. And like the legend of the phoenix, Pharrell Williams' comeback was spectacular, and sorely needed.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Mary Lambert, "Same Love"
The triumph of "Same Love" is in its specificity: just as Macklemore uses anecdotes about his childhood and his YouTube perusing to outline the ridiculousness of homophobia, Mary Lambert's message avoids cliche by staying strictly personal: "I can't change, even if I tried, even if I wanted to." "Same Love" is a cry for civil rights presented in a manner that's almost startlingly smart.
The cavernous drums, the finger-snaps, the warped synths that creep in from the edges during the second verse… they're great and all, but the whole affair would feel slight if not for the 16-year-old voice at the center of the storm. Lorde oscillates between disaffected rapping and intoxicating crooning, decrying the falsities of fame while becoming a star herself.
Kacey Musgraves, "Follow Your Arrow"
You didn't have to be a hardcore country fan to boogie along to Kacey Musgraves' exuberant call to make lots of noise and kiss lots of boys -- or lots of girls, if that's something you're into. Musgraves previously exhibited her whip-smart writing on her somber breakthrough hit "Merry Go Round," but "Follow Your Arrow" was something wholly independent and altogether hopeful -- a helpful reminder that there is no single way to happiness.
Miley Cyrus, "We Can't Stop"
Maybe the history books will remember the twerking and tongue-unfurling of the music video, but "We Can't Stop" was one of the bolder musical choices in recent memory, and that risk paid off tremendously. From the moment that Mike WiLL Made-It's beat kicks in with a screwed-down call of "IT'S OUR PARTY, WE CAN DO WHAT WE WANT," Cyrus torched her Disney-approved image under the hottest flame of the year.
[Written by Jason Lipshutz, Erika Ramirez & Brad Wete]