After a couple years of waiting, SZA, the first lady of TDE, finally dropped her debut album of confessional R&B, Ctrl, which quickly proved itself worthy of all of the high anticipation. “Love Galore,” the album’s lush, mellow second single, opens with a yearning voice saying, “I need, I need" -- but it’s Travis Scott, not SZA, who is making that desperate cry. That’s one of the biggest takeaways of SZA’s music: She is not the one you’ll find begging. SZA declares that she’s done with the bad men in her life, proving the song is as much about self-love as it is about loving someone else. “I do it for fun / Don’t take it personal,” she sings, with the nonchalance of some modern-day Monica. -- C.W.
27. Niall Horan, "Slow Hands"
While “This Town” was undoubtedly a crowd pleaser for Horan’s eager One Direction fans, it was arguably a safe play for the blond-haired, blue-eyed good boy of 1D. So when he launched into summer 2017 with a follow-up that began with a smoky “We should take this back to my place" come-on, Horan made the clear statement that his squeaky-clean days were behind him. Bringing out his sexy side with daring lyrics, sultry vocals and a thumping, bluesy guitar hook was definitely worth the risk, as it landed Horan his first No. 1 Pop Songs hit as a solo artist, and set the scene for his debut LP Flicker to arrive atop the Billboard 200 in October. -- T.W.
26. Frank Ocean, "Chanel"
In a year that the generally-reclusive Ocean spent knocking out scene-stealing guest verses, "Chanel" arrived as a welcome loose solo single that reminded just why his 2016 album Blond was so intoxicating. Ocean is at his best when he's flipping bourgeois double-entendres and metaphors into achingly personal narratives, and "Chanel" hits that sweet spot, with its "see both sides" refrain serving as a comment on the boutique fashion line's iconic logo and possibly on his own bisexuality. (It goes even deeper, too, if you believe some fan theories about Coco Chanel's secret past as a WWII spy.) Toss in offhand references to Gaspar Noé, Cam'ron, Dennis Rodman, high-end Tokyo shopping district Shibuya and W-12 luxury car engines and, well, "Chanel" checks all the boxes for what fans have come to expect from a Frank Ocean single. -- D.R.
25. Carly Rae Jepsen, "Cut to the Feeling"
To her rabid fanbase, Carly Rae Jepsen is the Queen Who Keeps on Giving. In 2015, she bestowed upon us the immaculate pop masterwork Emotion; then last year, extras collection Emotion Side B, better than most pop artists' A-sides. Then, in late May, the glittering pop gem "Cut to the Feeling." Only true Jepfriends would remember where the song even came from (it was on the soundtrack for Leap!, a Canadian-French cartoon film that earned 37% on Rotten Tomatoes). But did it matter? This was a belt-it-from-your-car distillation of all things wonderfully Carly Rae: yearning for something grandly romantic ("I wanna dance on the roof, you and me alone") with a breathless, stratospheric chorus, not unlike "Run Away With Me." No shade to "Despacito," but for a select segment of the pop-loving masses, it was the song of the summer. -- R.M.
24. JAY-Z, "The Story of O.J."