If albums had something of a soft landing on the pop landscape in 2017, then songs more than picked up the headline-grabbing slack. It was a year of Cardi B replacing Taylor Swift atop the Billboard Hot 100, of Rihanna and Justin Bieber dominating the calendar without so much as a solo lead single from either, of Camila Cabello and Harry Styles striking out of their own, and of DJ Khaled and Calvin Harris going pop-star crowd-sourcing. It was a year of “Despacito” and BTS making international chart history, while Portugal. The Man and Sam Hunt did so domestically.
And even with all this, it was still a year where the very best singles might not have been the very biggest. From “Paris” to “Malibu,” “North East South West” and everywhere in between, here are Billboard‘s 100 favorite songs of 2017.
100. Lady Gaga, “The Cure”
Following her rootsy, personal Joanne LP, “The Cure” comes across like Gaga’s concession to radio’s (now waning) love affair with trop-pop. Even so, the track is unmistakable Stefani Germanotta, from the smoky coo on the verses (hello, jazz chanteuse Gaga) to the full-throated, mountain-top-tickling bellow that announces the chorus. And not to oversell it, but this just may be the best Cure to hit radio since “Friday I’m In Love.” — JOE LYNCH
99. The Killers, “The Man”
In 2017, we welcomed back synth-rock veterans The Killers with open arms. Their fifth studio album Wonderful Wonderful debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and its lead single “The Man” hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Adult Alternative Songs chart. “The Man” is a satirical look back at a brazen, young Brandon Flowers circa 2003-04 during the band’s introduction to the world. The song radiates confidence with a disco stomp as glitzy as the Las Vegas strip, and guitar riffs that demand a Travolta-like strut. Over a decade later, Flowers and his glamorous blazers are still headed for the frontman hall of fame. — JOE KELLEY
98. Julien Baker, “Turn Out the Lights”
Listening to the confessional musings of 22-year old singer-songwriter Julien Baker can sometimes feel like looking in a mirror and seeing your truest self exposed. The devastating imagery in Baker’s songwriting has always felt relatable and raw, but on her sophomore album Turn Off The Lights, she’s paired her incisive insights with a sonic balm of beautifully layered reverb guitar. On the title track, Baker finds clarity in the emptiness that colors her darkness by embracing the parts of herself that only come to light when “there’s no one left/ Between myself and me,” leading to one of the most cathartic climaxes of the year. — BRYAN KRESS
97. Halsey feat. Lauren Jauregui, “Strangers”
Our staff favorite from Halsey’s sophomore album, this sultry, Greg Kurstin-produced synth-pop firework was the 23 year old’s self-described stab at getting an all-female love song on pop radio. So far, it’s remained just a sterling album cut (it peaked at No. 100 on the Hot 100 in its lone week on the chart) but certainly not over a lack of chemistry between Halsey and her duet partner. When Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jauregui takes the reins on verse two, lovesick desperation drips from her husky croon, enough to match Halsey’s opening yearning (“She doesn’t kiss me on the mouth anymore”) and channel a whole relationship’s worth of severed nerve endings. — CHRIS PAYNE
96. Justin Bieber & BloodPop, “Friends”
Building his cachet over the past few years by co-producing every song on Lady Gaga’s Joanne and a handful off Madonna’s Rebel Heart, BloodPop reunited with Justin Bieber — he also produced five songs on 2015’s Purpose, including the achingly affecting Hot 100-topper “Sorry” — for his co-billed single “Friends,” lifting Bieber out of his tropical house haze and thankfully centering him once again in propulsive electro-pop. — STEVEN J. HOROWITZ
95. Smino, “Anita”
One of the most joyful songs of the year, “Anita” is Smino’s ode to the women in his life. It’s a love song, but the rare sort that makes room for platonic and familial love, in addition to the romantic variety. Over Monte Booker’s warm production, the 26-year-old St. Louis native raps in his breezy, sing-song flow, “Bing! How that spotlight beam on you/ Green light, you better go” — at least that’s what it’d look like on paper, without his croon stretching the words in various buttery directions. Just like how he turns that name, Anita, into “I need her” in the exuberant chorus. — ROSS SCARANO
94. Dej Loaf, “No Fear”
Dej Loaf’s ode to loving with abandon deserved better than its No. 100 cameo on the Hot 100. With its instantly memorable chorus and sun-bleached disco-meets-hip-hop swagger, this laid-back summer stunner is the Detroit native’s most pop-friendly offering to date, and warrants a spot on every poolside playlist for the rest of eternity. — PATRICK CROWLEY
93. Tash Sultana, “Jungle”
The breakthrough hit from Australian singer/songwriter Tash Sultana is both a gorgeously toxic ballad of emotional decay, and good exemplification of the lesson that if a song needs over three genres (alt-reggae-psych-jazz?) to be described anywhere near accurately, it’s probably something pretty special. Of course, as beautiful as the radio edit’s serpentine may be, the real fun and games are found in the song’s eight-minute live bedroom take, where Sultana untaps levels of soul in loop pedals and guitar noodling to make jam bands across the globe weep in shame. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER
92. SOPHIE, “It’s Okay to Cry”
London producer Sophie spent the past few years constructing hyper-reality pop confections crackling with energy, marked by collabs with Madonna and Charli XCX. Largely known for staying out of the public eye, she made a public pronouncement with the release of the slowly unfurling “It’s Okay to Cry,” the heart-piercing first trickle of what promises to follow Sophie’s 2015 album Product. In a near whisper, she delicately builds towards an explosive denouement, without losing any of the cool remove. — S.J.H.
91. JAY-Z, “4:44”
On the title track of JAY-Z’s Grammy-nominated album, the rap legend publicly lays bare his own vulnerabilities as he comes clean about his womanizing and unfaithfulness to wife Beyoncé. A soulful loop lifted from another song about infidelity, Hannah Williams and the Affirmations’ “Late Nights and Heartbreak,” underscores JAY-Z’s forthright introspection (“I suck at love”). Then the rapper and producer No I.D. double down on the song’s powerful lament with the addition of yearning vocals from gospel singer Kim Burrell. — GAIL MITCHELL
90. Bonobo feat. Rhye, “Break Apart”
British DJ-artist-producer Bonobo (real name Simon Green) may not yet be a household name, but 2017’s reflective Migration album really put him on the map, debuting at No. 1 on the Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart and even earning him a best dance/electronic album Grammy nod. With soulful vocals from R&B duo Rhye, second single “Break Apart” has an ethereal sound, with jazzy textures and loops of sped-up harp chords. The song’s slow-building beauty meshes perfectly with the heart-wrenching lyrics — “You’re my favorite, You’re my favorite… but we’re phasing, but we’re phasing…” — making it one of the year’s best breakup songs for staring longingly out the window. — JAYME KLOCK
89. Vince Staples, “Big Fish”
The quasi-title track off Vince Staples’ Big Fish Theory comes in the form of a smug I-told-you-so. “Shoulda been dead broke, shoulda been chalked out/ But it didn’t happen, now it’s time to get it cracking,” the rapper brags, reflecting on his gang violence-stricken upbringing in Long Beach as Juicy J counts “hundreds by the thousands” over slick, zig-zagging keys in the gaps. Let him gloat: Here, Staples offers a smart musing on his own fame that boasts about life on the bright side while also ruminating on the shadow behind. — TATIANA CIRISANO
88. Ozuna, “Se Preparo”
Puerto Rico’s new enfant terrible may be the most sensitive reggaetonero around. Ozuna ended the year as the top new Latin artist and the artist with most tracks on the Hot Latin songs chart, 19 — among those, the solo-sung “Se preparó” stands out as an example of Ozuna’s predilection for strong melodic lines over rhymes, and for lyrical content over simple rhymes. “Se preparó” (She Got Ready) — a story about a girl preparing for a big night out even though she knows her boyfriend is cheating on her — was poignant, but also packed a slyness that hooked us from the first line. — LEILA COBO
87. The Chainsmokers, “Paris”
For a while there it seemed like The Chainsmokers couldn’t miss with their go-to formula of pairing pop-leaning electro beats with irresistible female vocals on the hook, and “Paris” continued that streak. The wistful, nostalgic lyrics of its verses — “We were staying in Paris/To get away from your parents” — and Emily Warren’s hook (“If we go down then we go down together”) make it a late-party playlist staple, while its steady build to the climactic finale cements it as a future classic pop hit. — DAN RYS
86. Greta Van Fleet, “Black Smoke Rising”
Over the hills and far away – in Bavaria-influenced Frankenmuth, Mich. – the Kiszka brothers and drummer Danny Wagner are being hailed as the second coming of Led Zeppelin. That’s a heavy burden to bear, but it’s pretty impossible to avoid the comparison after listening to “Black Smoke Rising.” Vocalist Josh Kiszka sounds like Robert Plant without the mileage — not yet a golden god but on his way to bronze at least. His guitarist sibling Jake has clearly studied Jimmy Page’s locomotive riffs, and the song’s vaguely medieval imagery resembles Zep’s Middle Earth rockery. Time will tell if the Fleet ever joins its forebears in rock n’ roll Valhalla, but right now, the track’s anthemic, go-for-broke chorus — “It’s the new age crisis / And we will stand up in the cold” — makes it feel like 1969 again. — FRANK DIGIACOMO
85. 21 Savage, Offset & Metro Boomin, “Ghostface Killers”
21 Savage, Offset and Metro Boomin each had an incredibly busy and highly successful year, already having dropped an album apiece in 2017 (Offset’s with Migos) while scoring any number of solo and collaborative hits between them. It was only natural for the trio to team up on Without Warning and standout track “Ghostface Killers,” featuring Travis Scott. Backed by a killer beat from Metro Boomin, the song opens with Offset claiming “Ghostface Killers, Wu Tang/ 21 News Gang” — a hook that gets stuck in your head after first listen — and just gets spookier and funnier from there, Savage connecting with the unforgettable putdown “Shrimp ass n—a, did you do your chores today?” — XANDER ZELLNER
84. Imagine Dragons, “Thunder”
With a title like “Thunder,” it was reasonable to guess that Imagine Dragons were following up their pounding Evolve smash “Believer” with another explosive rock anthem. Nope: Instead, “Thunder” is relatively stripped down, and between its soldierly cadence and a bouncy, helium-inflated, one-word hook, it makes for a curious pop gem. — P.C.
83. Tee Grizzley, “First Day Out”
Few hip-hop hits in 2017 had a backstory as compelling as “First Day Out,” Detroit rapper Tee Grizzly’s reflection on his year-long prison stint, recorded on the day of his release. Similarly, few moments within all of popular music this year possessed the kinetic force of the beat drop at the 1:29 mark, which completed its transition from meditation to elbows-up banger. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
82. Daniel Caesar feat. Kali Uchis, “Get You”
From the celestial fade-in on Daniel Caesar’s album opener “Get You,” there’s a clear signal that an out-of-this-world talent has landed. While the Toronto crooner almost immediately ascends with a nimble falsetto, his mind stays grounded in a sumptuous meditation on beauty and commitment (“I’ll take some time just to be thankful that I had days full of you”). The unabashed love song operates on multiple levels with balanced couplets that celebrate physical attraction as much as deeper connections, and it reaches even greater heights with a sultry assist from Kali Uchis, who sails above the production with hushed reassurances. — B.K.
81. Alice Merton, “No Roots”
Alice Merton has been everywhere, man: Germany, Canada, England, the U.S. That no-fixed-zip code kind of living informs debut single “No Roots,” which almost revels in displacement – since, after all, the alt-pop singer-songwriter’s home “was never on the ground.” Chances are you’ve heard the delectable bass line that kicks off this song, and it’s remained implanted in your brain in the hours after. — KEVIN RUTHERFORD
80. Arcade Fire, “Everything Now”
The only truly effective promo moment from Arcade Fire’s now-infamous Everything Now campaign was one the band stumbled into accidentally: When a record shop in Barcelona got an advance copy of the title-track single, and couldn’t help but share a video of them playing it in-store. The clip was quickly pulled, of course, but its lo-fi enthusiasm was everything the rest of the LP cycle wasn’t — organic, intimate, fun — and it was matched by the giddiness of the song itself, which took a Talking Heads approach to ABBA for an alt-disco stadium filler that probably should’ve been titled “Everything ’77.” — A.U.
79. Dagny, “Love You Like That”
“You know how they say you got the real thing/ When nothing else matters/ I love you like that,” Norwegian pop newcomer Dagny declares on the effervescent “Love You Like That” chorus. It reads conversationally, but thanks to the rapid vocal delivery, it sounds euphoric: The latest entry in pop’s long history of true-love revelations captures the giddiness of realizing that you’ve found your partner, and aren’t afraid to shout it out to the world. — J. Lipshutz
78. Big Sean, “Bounce Back”
“Everything I do is righteous/ Betting on me is the right risk,” Big Sean declares on his first top 10 hit as an unassisted lead artist. Indeed, there’ve been few more consistent winners in ’10s hip-hop than Sean Michael Leonard Anderson, which makes this collab with Metro Boomin (in the midst of an even longer undefeated streak) about taking an L a curious proposition. Still, the determination of the hook and the hustle of the verses certainly seem to come from experience; if Sean really is bouncing back, perhaps he’s just doing so with Superman-leaping-tall-buildings ease. — A.U.
77. SZA, “The Weekend”
A standout slow-burner from R&B songbird SZA’s monumental debut album Ctrl, “The Weekend” is a slinky after-hours anthem about sharing a lover with other women. It’s a song that captures everything about SZA’s artistry on Ctrl: she expresses her disregard for men who play with her and empowers women who are strong enough to cast them aside, and the infectious chorus remains one of the year’s most clever: “My man is my man is your man / Heard it’s her man too.” A video directed by Solange is due out soon, which means “The Weekend” may last to next year. — CHRISTOPHER MALONE
76. Chris Stapleton, “Second One to Know”
From A Room: Volume 1 cut “Second One to Know” makes the case that Chris Stapleton is at his best when letting loose, with the country stalwart’s fire-and-brimstone wailing melding with a chugging riff and a shredding solo for one of his fiercest tracks yet. No surprise, then, that this is the song that nearly crossed Stapleton over from his country home base into the Triple A radio world. For related listening, check out the similarly hell-raising “Midnight Train to Memphis,” from this month’s From A Room: Volume 2. — K.R.
75. Miley Cyrus, “Malibu”
For the Bangerz star with the twerk seen ‘round the world, the sun-splashed, carefree pop vibe of “Malibu” — written about Miley’s reconciliation with fiancé Liam Hemsworth — marked the end of an eventful, if controversial, era. But it also kicked off a refreshing new one: As the 25-year-old croons wistfully about rekindled love over surging acoustic strums, we fall for her all over again. “I never would have believed you if three years ago you told me I’d be here, writing this song,” Miley rhapsodizes, and it’s hard not to smile in agreement. — T.C.
74. Marshmello feat. Khalid, “Silence”
Still-anonymous EDM DJ/producer Marhsmello has gained a following for his high-energy, explosive dance tracks — but “Silence,” his first Hot 100 top 40 hit, breaks that mold. Khalid’s soft-spoken, velvety vocals coaxed more subdued production from Marshmello, and like many unexpected crossovers this year, this too has lyrical timeliness. “I’ve been quiet for too long” and “I found peace in your violence” provoke a mild-mannered but determined resistance, and create a sense of calm among so much noise. — LYNDSEY HAVENS
73. Becky G feat. Bad Bunny, “Mayores”
For Becky G, age ain’t nothing but a number. On the infectiously syncopated “Mayores” record, which recently topped Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” in YouTube views, Becky G chooses trap rapper Bad Bunny, aka El Conejo Malo, to deliver his seasoned rhymes, as the femme fatale echoes her carnal desires for men who are older and wiser. In the end, “Mayores” speaks to the young woman who knows a thing or two about what she wants, and just how she likes it. Two words for Miss Becky — get it. — MARJUA ESTEVEZ
72. The xx, “Say Something Loving”
On this delicate duet from their I See You album, The xx capture the exhilarating emotional spiral of new love and the nauseating need for reciprocation that comes with it. With an aching vocal sample courtesy of the Alessi Brothers’ 1976 soft-rock cut “Do You Feel It,” this earnest plea is sure to melt the iciest of hearts. — P.C.
71. Maren Morris, “I Could Use a Love Song”
After crashing the country scene last year with her dynamic breakout hit “My Church” and subsequently earning a Grammy for it in February, Morris followed up her rock-star rookie year by showing her vulnerable side. The more stripped-down, lovelorn “I Could Use a Love Song” is relatable for any music lover who’s had their heart broken – and although Morris is asking for a love song to help ease the pain, in 2017 she was the one who actually provided it. — TAYLOR WEATHERBY
70. Miguel, “Told You So”
Since he first stepped foot into the R&B game, Miguel has swept listeners away with transportive seduction anthems. For his fourth album, War & Leisure, Miguel cut back on the baby-making jams to voice his disdain against the ills of the world. His socially charged record “Told You So” is layered with an electric soundscape, indelible lyrics like “Every pleasure you taste has its price,” and a video packed with a slew of political messages. If the world ever crumbles due to global strife, at least Miguel can sit back and laugh that he… well, you know. — CARL LAMARRE
69. Migos, “T-Shirt”
From its brash opening synth-bass booms to its relentlessly catchy “Mama told me…” hook, “T-Shirt” was the ideal follow to lead single “Bad & Boujee” in setting up the Migos’ Billboard 200-topping album Culture. While the ice trapper-themed video gets a lot of the praise — understandably — the song itself serves up a slew of quotables from each member of the trio, none more enjoyable than Takeoff’s celebratory “Straight out North Atlanta!” line to close out his first verse. — D.R.
68. Maluma, “Felices Los 4”
Colombian heartthrob Maluma caused a ruckus with “Cuatro Babys,” his hit single where he brags about having four women at his beck and call. Unfazed, he followed up with “Felices los cuatro,” a far more romantic take on multiple lovers — but this time, it’s the woman who has more than one, prompting Maluma to croon: “If you’re spending time with someone else, let’s all four of us be happy together.” The mix of melodic pop over the reggeaton beat, with just the right dose of bad boy (and girl) in the lyrics, made it irresistible. — L.C.
67. Post Malone feat. 21 Savage, “Rockstar”
Post Malone became one of the more polarizing breakout hitmakers of 2017, particularly after this 21 Savage collab spent eight weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100 at year’s end. But ignore Posty’s (and even 21’s) contributions for a minute, and focus on the gorgeous, disquieting stillness of Tank God & Louis Bell’s production: The way the beat pitches down as it kicks in, as if it’s literally shifting gears; how it swells like a deep breath just before the refrain starts again, or how it disappears completely at the beginning of 21’s verse, saving DJs the trouble of having to drop the audio themselves. No Bon Scott-big-upping tribute to living like a rock star has ever been this unnervingly serene. — A.U.
66. Rex Orange County, “Loving Is Easy”
Rex Orange County started buzzing this spring after dropping his self-released Apricot Princess album, and the hype only grew stronger when his name appeared on the track list for Tyler, the Creator’s Flower Boy this summer. The 19-year-old British singer, born Alex O’Connor, makes joyous music that flits among pop, R&B, and hip-hop, and nowhere is his sound more buoyant than on his standalone song “Loving Is Easy,” released in October. The single, with Dutch singer Benny Sings, could easily soundtrack a movie montage of a guy in love, the piano and drums timing the spring in his step, the sighing strings perfect for any sweeping gestures. And Rex’s smitten-but-frank take on it all keeps it from getting corny: “Loving is easy, you had me fucked up.” Is there a more accurate take on matters of the heart? — CHRISTINE WERTHMAN
65. Mura Masa feat. A$AP Rocky, “Love$ick”
Mura Masa’s “Lovesick” originally came out in 2015 and, after getting remixed by Four Tet in 2016, got the dollar-sign treatment from A$AP Rocky for the super-producer’s self-titled LP this year. The Guernsey-born artist, whose real name is Alex Crossan, described the song as a “twisted-pop, calypso, hip-hop dance track” and added that Rocky’s verses “took it to this lovelorn, exotic place.” The end result is 3 minutes of sexy unrequited lovesickness that goes from piano to steel drum to techno clap and back before you even realize that A$AP just used the word “melatone” as an adjective. — J. Klock
64. LCD Soundsystem, “American Dream”
Here comes a dreamy hangover, in James Murphy & Co.’s deft summation of every aging hipster’s first-world dread: of realizing that you can’t party like you used to, that the routine is getting old, that “you just suck at self-preservation.” The chiming chords mark passing time, the closing of doors behind you and the longing to go backward, culminating in an ironic, surf-like refrain. — RENA GROSS
63. Kelela, “LMK”
Rising D.C. R&B artist Kelela made her official debut album’s most accessible track its lead single. On it, she pairs hazy synth and percussive production (along with the recurring sound of a tab being popped) with a chill-girl chorus that sees her repeatedly insist: “No one’s tryna settle down/ All you gotta do is let me know.” The laid-back energy and spellbinding lyrical delivery on “LMK” highlight what makes Kelela so special — her heart is in her music. But if and when she does want something more, she’ll be sure to let you know. — L.H.
62. Playboi Carti, “Magnolia”
This year, Playboi Carti, the self-described “Jay Electronica of mumble rap,” materialized out of the SoundCloud hype that had surrounded him since his “Broke Boi” blew up two years ago. Armed with a bag of Pi’erre Bourne beats and clout goggles, Carti silenced the doubters with boneless ethereal raps, where structure didn’t matter and bars weren’t necessary. “Magnolia” was the early standout, with an instantly meme-able producer drop and catchy hook. With lyrics that didn’t need advance beyond “Woo!” and “Whet!,” everyone milly rocked to Cash Carti as he made the adlib avant-garde. — R.S.
61. Taylor Swift, “Getaway Car”
In a Rolling Stone feature earlier this year, Harry Styles said that Taylor Swift’s music is “the most amazing unspoken dialogue ever.” That’s evident nowhere on Reputation more than on “Getaway Car,” a not-so-subtle farewell to one lover and a hello to a new one (can you guess the suspects?). The song, which Swift belts over a synth-pop beat that you can almost feel Jack Antonoff hovering over, is a Bonnie & Clyde-style action romance — doomed from the start because, as Taylor says, “nothing good starts in a getaway car.” It’s unsurprising that Swift wrote yet another perfect pop song, but it is surprising that it hasn’t been released as a single yet. — X.Z.
60. Demi Lovato, “Daddy Issues”
It’s inspiring to think how far Demi Lovato has musically evolved since both her Camp Rock days and her pop-punk adjacent 2008 debut Don’t Forget. After a string of albums where she dabbled in R&B and relatively safe pop, she harnessed a true experimental spirit for Tell Me You Love Me, her finest full-length to date. Among gems like “Sexy Dirty Love” and “Ruin the Friendship,” “Daddy Issues” stands out as one of the strongest, all mysterious and smoky in the verses before exploding into a whopper of a chorus that stings and stabs. — S.J.H.
59. Calvin Harris feat. Pharrell, Katy Perry & Big Sean, “Feels”
Pharrell’s “nothing ever lasts forever” opening to Calvin Harris’s summer smash “Feels” is a statement that all but defines the Scottish electronic producer’s genre-hopping reinvention. But this one’s the smoothest of transitions for Harris — and the highest-charting hit from his Funk Wav Bounces, Vol. 1 LP, peaking at No. 20 on the Hot 100 — with his disco sensibilities topped by Williams’ slick falsetto, an irresistible hook by Katy Perry and a flirtatious verse by Big Sean to round out the band. With Harris guiding every bass slap and hand clap, there’s a whole new reason to catch feelings for the dynamic producer. — B.K.
58. Frank Ocean feat. JAY-Z, “Biking”
Almost all of Frank Ocean’s 2017 releases have been about money and responsibility. His correspondence with Hov must have started to make sense; Frank’s acting his net worth now, which means more than fanning out blue faces. You gotta take care of yourself, too, not to mention the people you care about — even when those people don’t exist yet, like the family he imagines late in the song. Of his four loosies this year, “Biking” is the wistful one, anchored by acoustic guitar and gentle percussion, and peppered with the vivid images and similes Frank does so well: “I’m biking downhill and it sound like a fishing rod.” And then the song erupts, with Frank barking about his new money, while the grown-up questions about marriage and family fall away, because nothing’s fucking with cash. — R.S.
57. Little Big Town, “Better Man”
Back in January, long before Reputation was even a rumor, Taylor Swift wrote the perfect vintage-Taylor Swift ballad — for country quartet Little Big Town. In its simple melody, emotionally direct lyrics and bittersweet tone, “Better Man” called to mind Swift classics like “Fifteen” and “All Too Well.” It was almost impossible not to imagine Taylor herself singing it — but if she had, “Better Man” might have registered as just another (very well-written) Swiftian tale of a magical man who once done her wrong. With LBT’s Karen Fairchild singing lead in her rich alto, the song takes on some extra gravitas — the regret of a grown woman who blames another even as she admits a breakup takes two. It’s a win for everyone involved: a stellar showcase for LBT’s gossamer harmonies, and an understated rebuff to anyone who insisted Swift had gone too global to ever return to Nashville. — REBECCA MILZOFF
56. Lil Uzi Vert feat. Nicki Minaj, “The Way Life Goes” (Remix)
Despite Uzi’s presence on two epochal, 2017-defining hits still to come on this list, his most stunning achievement this year might’ve been “The Way Life Goes.” For all his purported nihilism and stated Marilyn Manson worship, Uzi proved with “Life” that he could also nail a conventional breakup moper more effectively than anything on More Life or Divide, deriving strength (and one of the year’s best choruses) from an inspired Oh Wonder lift, the same way that countless lovelorn teens undoubtedly will from this sentimental jam. It didn’t need a Nicki verse, but no remix has ever been worse for one, and every “Dilemma” needs both a Nelly and a Kelly — even if it’s not totally clear who’s who here. — A.U.
55. Japandroids, “North East South West”
When you have your breakout moment like rock true-believers Japandroids had a half-decade ago, you’re going to add a new title to your list of skills in the interim years: jetsetter, or, you know, whatever the van-touring equivalent is. Regardless of transportation mode and no matter the location, “North East South West” fetishizes the journey, namedropping all stretches of North America – but never losing sight of home in the process. That home’s Canada, by the way, in case you’ve never listened to a Japandroids song. Definitely Canada. — K.R.
54. Charlie Puth, “Attention”
Don’t forget to affix a third slash to singer/songwriter Charlie Puth: He’s a producer, too, and the sonic detail on “Attention” is jaw-dropping: The pop of the deceptively funky bass line underneath his chorus, the light tick-tock of percussion drawing out the tension in between beats, and (most of all) the way you can hear every mini-crack in Puth’s voice on the smartly bungled climactic chorus. It all adds up to a soul-pop jam that just went harder than any of its top 40 peers this year, and proved that Puth might be a little more George Michael than we initially gave him credit for. — A.U.
53. French Montana feat. Swae Lee, “Unforgettable”
French Montana’s “Unforgettable” was one of the hottest songs of the summer, in large part due to Swae Lee’s weird, minor-key hook but also because of that pumping beat. The trio 1Mind originally produced the foundation of the steel drum-sampling rhythm for Drake’s Views, but it didn’t make the cut. The track kicked around from there, with producer Jaegen adding to it, and the final version stars Swae and French, singing and rapping, respectively, on the cavernous banger — which, no matter how low it goes, never loses that bounce. — C.W.
52. Father John Misty, “Pure Comedy”
The piano and vocals are vintage Elton John, but the lyrics are firmly rooted in the here and now. Like kindred spirit James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, Josh Tillman has a preternatural grasp on the culture that shaped him, with a verbal dexterity and wit to match. Born to devout Pentecostal parents shortly before the dawn of the millennial generation, Tillman is an outsider with an insider’s perspective — well-equipped to report from the front. He’s the Tom Wolfe of alt-rock, and “Pure Comedy” is his brief history of the world, up to the moment where Trumpism, opioids, religious fundamentalism and the Internet collide in a big bang of pain, suffering and self-involved bullshit. “Now that’s what I call pure comedy,” Tillman croons. “Just waiting until the part where they start to believe/ They’re at the center of everything.” — F.D.
51. Tove Lo, “Disco Tits”
Unlike most top 40 newcomers with a surprise hit to their name, Tove Lo isn’t slavishly attempting to recreate the magic of “Habits (Stay High)” on follow-up singles, and the world of pop is more interesting for it. “Disco Tits” is what would happen if the Weeknd’s NC-17 alt-R&B met one of Ladytron’s chilly dancefloor bops at 3 a.m., and they decided to take things back to Disclosure’s place. – J. Lynch
50. 21 Savage, “Bank Account”
Thanks to 21 Savage and his infectious banger, watching your money multiply was the cool thing to do in 2017. Produced by his go-to collaborator Metro Boomin, the “X” star deftly penned an addictive hook that made everyone want to live the lavish life: “I got one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight Ms in my bank account.” 21 Savage was certainly laughing straight to the bank after releasing this Platinum-certified single. — C.L.
49. BTS, “DNA”
BTS’s crossover into the U.S. market isn’t a coincidence: The K-pop superstars have been building up to overseas success since 2013. Riding on the momentum of their Billboard Music Awards win for Top Social Artist, ARMYs galvanized to make BTS the highest-charting K-pop group on the Hot 100. The Korean-language lead single off their 2017 album, Love Yourself: Her, is a rich concoction of soft rock and brain-burrowing EDM-pop. The lyrical theme of interconnectedness is meaningful — “DNA” was one of those rare instances when a K-pop act’s transmutation of their American influences was reflected back at the U.S. in full Technicolor. — CAITLIN KELLEY
48. yaeji, “raingurl”
Its creator called “Raingurl” “the definition of introspection at the club,” but this track off yaeji’s second 2017 EP is a certified banger to boot. With its subterranean house throb and highly-quotable call-outs (“When the sweaty walls are bangin’/ I don’t fuck with family plannin’!”), yaeji brashly serves both ends on this alternate universe dance blockbuster. 2017 was a shit storm of existential dread and actual reasons to be crying in the club, so here’s to the upstart singer-producer dropping more like-minded jams to see us through. — C.P.
47. P!nk, “Beautiful Trauma”
The title track to P!nk’s latest came out in Oct., but it already has two iconic visuals to its credit: The Fred-and-Ginger-inspired music video with Channing Tatum, and P!nk’s in-air performance of the song on the side of a f#$%ing building on live TV. Stunts aside, the Jack Antonoff-produced single is also a perfect encapsulation of Alecia Moore’s enduring appeal — not only is she happy to kick open her front door and give you a look at her messy life, but she makes a strained relationship (“my perfect rock bottom”) sound like the sweetest thing on the planet since Harry met Sally. And in a world where most of us are closer to the gutter than the stars, it’s reassuring to know we’re not flailing around alone. — J. Lynch
46. Logic feat. Alessia Cara & Khalid, “1-800-273-8255”
“Who can relate?” Well, pretty much everyone, obviously — otherwise no way would this heavy-hearted collab have ensnared radio, captivated the VMAs stage and climbed all the way to No. 3 on the Hot 100. Still, if you think “1-800” is all message-over-music, you’re mistaken: The song’s a profoundly beautiful construction, from its gently sighing beat, to the sneakily affecting way Logic’s “I don’t wanna be alive” protestations on the chorus flip by the final refrain, to the song’s end allowing Khalid to audibly (and understandably) succumb to his overwhelming emotions. But the song’s most profound statement is still right there in the name, a wordless assertion that if one troubled kid who needed it managed to remember the title, it wouldn’t matter how many DJs flubbed or skipped over it altogether. — A.U.
45. GoldLink feat. Brent Faiyaz & Shy Glizzy, “Crew”
The 2018 Grammys’ most unexpected hip-hop nomination truly came out of left field; DMV MC GoldLink is usually associated with his future bounce/go-go sound, while Shy Glizzy made his name for street anthems that owe more to Jeezy than JAY-Z. But buoyed by Teddy Walton’s slow-groove production and a crooning hook from R&B up-and-comer Brent Faiyaz, both deliver verses that fit in seamlessly without betraying their respective lineages, with GoldLink popping a staccato flow and Glizzy riding the beat effortlessly. At just 2:55, the only valid criticism is that the song feels too short. — D.R.
44. Shawn Mendes, “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back”
Shawn Mendes has been 5-for-5 with singles since breakout hit “Stitches,” but on the invigorating “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back,” he once and for all puts to rest the idea that he’s a Bieber-in-waiting. Truthfully, 19-year-old Mendes has a lot more in common with a young John Mayer, melding heart-on-sleeve emotions with furious acoustic strumming and a bluesy growl. Mendes might be the guitar’s best hope for a continued presence in top 40 radio – and if you’re really listening to his songcraft, you shouldn’t be mad about that. – J. Lynch
43. Sam Hunt, “Body Like a Back Road”
With the way Hunt’s 2014 debut Montevallo was still cranking out hits through most of 2016, it hardly seemed like the country star was coming up on three years since new material. But if you want to call it a comeback, it was certainly an epic one; the snap-along bounce of “Body Like a Back Road” broke the Hot Country Songs streak for longest run at No. 1 (34 weeks) and became the summertime anthem for fans of country, pop and beyond. “Road” keeps going, too: 41 weeks after it first hit No. 1, the song still sits in the Country Songs top 5, and has Hunt up for a pair of awards at the 2018 Grammys – further validating his strategy of taking it slow just as fast as he can. — T.W.
42. Sigrid, “Don’t Kill My Vibe”
Norwegian singer Sigrid popped up seemingly out of nowhere in 2017 with her debut EP Don’t Kill My Vibe, a smart collection of explosive pop songs with a strong personality to match. The title track roars to attention ferociously and somewhat surprisingly, the supple verses giving way to Sigrid’s serrated howl, over feeling like she’s being made lesser. But her vulnerable restraint is no match for her fury. — S.J.H.
41. Ed Sheeran, “Shape of You”
At the outset of 2017, top 40 had recently seen “What Do You Mean?,” “One Dance,” and no shortage of Major Lazer productions come and go, and you couldn’t help but wonder if that was it for this whole trop house thing. Then came this little nugget — the opening salvo of a new Ed Sheeran LP — which remained in the top 10 for 33 consecutive weeks, the longest run Hot 100 history. Cry for mercy all you like, but “Shape of You” is a total slapper: Alongside Ed’s familiar acoustic groove, the marimba tones drive this one to unshakeable bliss, popping on and off like a game of red light/green light, as our balladeer goes from bar to date to bedroom. Or: You can just imagine Rihanna singing instead. — C.P.
40. N.E.R.D. feat. Rihanna, “Lemon”
After a seven-year musical drought, Pharrell Williams’ funky side project N.E.R.D. made their 2017 return with this bop — and it does not disappoint. The fizzy, chaotic dance-floor time bomb sees Pharrell mixing verses about fancy cars and paparazzi with thoughts on border patrol and guns over bouncy, head-rattling production. Guest Rihanna busts in to purr about her cash flow and new La Ferraawrrr with enough swagger to give you weak knees, and don’t forget the year’s best fake ending and most on-the-nose 2017 intro: “The truth will set you free / but first, it’ll piss you off.” — T.C.
39. Kygo feat. Selena Gomez, “It Ain’t Me”
No other song by Kygo has resonated with pop audiences more than “It Ain’t Me,” a stellar mid-tempo trop-house banger featuring Selena Gomez, which earned the DJ his first top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Gomez sings about love gone wrong, asking, “Who’s waking up to drive you home, when you’re drunk and all alone?” with the retort, “It ain’t me.” The mature-sounding kiss-off was new territory for Gomez, and helped kick off a huge year for both artists. — X.Z.
38. Perfume Genius, “Slip Away”
“Don’t hold back, I want to break free/God is singing through your body/ And I’m carried by the sound,” Mike Hadreas sings in a bright, quavering croon at the beginning of “Slip Away” – and then, wow, does the song break free. An insistent, tribal drum beat explodes in a giddy wall of sound that, like the sumptuously hued music video, feels like a rom-com romp — or is it a white-knuckle chase scene? Although the track would be an exhilarating addition to any playlist celebrating the strides that the LGBTQ community has made in recent years regarding same-sex rights and respect, Hadreas told NPR that it’s still much too early for a victory lap. “There are still a lot of really horrible things going on right now,” Hadreas observed. “So there’s a joy to this song, but it’s a protest, too.” — F.D.
37. DJ Khaled feat. Rihanna & Bryson Tiller, “Wild Thoughts”
Mr. Keys to Success unlocked a 2017 song of the summer (No. 4 on Billboard’s annual chart) with this revitalizing take on a 1999 classic — that classic, of course, being “Maria Maria” by Santana featuring Product G&B. Santana’s searing guitar riffs on the sensual groove provide the foundation for Khaled’s fiery 2.0 version. Also upping the song’s sultry quotient: Rihanna and Bryson Tiller, the former’s voice tag-teaming with the latter’s street-edged vocals to perfectly capture the “Wild Thoughts” that can erupt between lovers. — G.M.
36. iLoveMakonnen feat. Rae Sremmurd, “Love”
Like its titular emotion, “Love” is a many-splendored thing: Ask a music fan to describe the song and they might come up with everything from rap to surf rock to punk to girl-group pop, all of which would be correct. You could feign surprise at the song working so well despite being such an unusual hybrid, but that would be an insult to the versatile talents of all involved, including co-producers Mike WiLL Made-It and Travis Barker. But the song’s true genius is lyrical, where a whiny refrain ultimately gives way to acknowledgment that the narrators’ heartbreak is of their own doing: “Shoulda left that girl alone,” admits Slim Jxmmi, as Makonnen’s own “I’m smoked out/ You turned me into a stoner” accusation gives way to “I smoke now/ I’m such a stoner!,” suggesting love might not have that much to do with it after all. — A.U.
35. Charli XCX, “Boys”
Only part of what makes Charli XCX such an enigmatic pop figure is the fact that she writes her own songs, usually confrontational, confident missives about love, life and having a damn good time. Which is why it came as a surprise to see her relinquish the reins to a team of songwriting artisans — four guys, two girls — for “Boys.” But the one-off single fit Charli beautifully — unapologetically lustful, with an air of girlish innocence, and so evocative that you can almost picture her gazing at the posters on her bedroom wall instead of answering her texts. — S.J.H.
34. Bruno Mars, “That’s What I Like”
Bruno Mars’ 2016 release 24K Magic is, in the best way possible, familiar. You feel like you’ve heard these songs before—maybe at your middle school dance, or your parents’ crystal wedding anniversary. The chorus of the undeniable “That’s What I Like” reminds you that familiarities like sex in front of the fireplace and champagne with strawberries (straight out of Richard Gere’s playbook in Pretty Woman) are cliches for a reason. Because they’re good. Waking up inside clean sheets without any clothes on? Fantastic. The private chef, Julio, preparing shrimp scampi for dinner? Obviously excellent. OK, all maybe new to your personal experience but Bruno Mars is a pop star of total hospitality. He’s at your service, so act like you’ve been here before. — R.S.
33. MUNA, “I Know a Place”
Synth-pop trio MUNA mix pop with politics in this glittery, uplifting anthem dedicated to the LGBTQ community, immigrants, people of color and anyone else who might be in search of a safe space in 2017. Over a glimmering, ‘80s-inspired soundscape, lead singer Katie Gavin imparts motivating — but never cheesy — pearls like “a bruise is only your body trying to keep you intact” before a rush of a chorus that will move listeners of all backgrounds to dance, and perhaps, ugly cry. Hey, we won’t judge. — T.C.
32. Sampha, “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”
One of the highlights of 2017 was seeing R&B singer/songwriter Sampha’s musical career take off. We’d gotten tastes of his musical prowess as a featured player on tracks with Drake (“4422”) and Solange (“Don’t Touch My Hair”), but even those didn’t prepare us for the 29-year-old’s debut set Process — and standout track “(No One Knows Me) Like The Piano,” a heartbreaking tribute to Sampha’s late mother and the instrument that helped him find solace. It’s gut-wrenching and beautiful, cementing the singer-songwriter as an artist we’re sure to see a lot more of in the coming years. — X.Z.
31. Kendrick Lamar, “DNA.”
Don’t let the effortlessly singsong cadence fool you: “DNA” is the hardest rap song of 2017 and arguably the most immediate track in Kendrick Lamar’s discography. The blistering DAMN. banger finds him unleashing a torrent of murderous bars over Mike WiLL Made-It’s booming trap beat, making sure to give Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera a long-overdue skewering for his asinine comments about Lamar’s 2015 BET Awards Performance. A mid-song countdown ominously expires as the beat collapses on itself, and Kung Fu Kenny launches into an explosive, originally a cappella second verse, singlehandedly rewriting the hip-hop hierarchy and inserting himself into the “greatest of all time” conversation. It was in his DNA all along. — BRYAN ROLLI
30. St. Vincent, “Los Ageless”
“I try to write you a love song / But it comes out a lament,” the artist born Annie Clark murmurs, as the grinding guitars and brilliant chorus drain out. “Los Ageless” is a mechanically danceable song, ostensibly revealing complex love bridled to hard plastic and chrome in speedy modern life. But there’s a dark, gut-twisting sense that the true target of the “lament” is superficial beauty on the lam, not a person or an emotion. — R.G.
29. Paramore, “Hard Times”
“You can run on the fumes of being a teenager for as long as you want, but eventually life hits you really hard,” Hayley Williams told The New York Times back in April. “Hard Times,” the vividly colorful lead single from fifth album After Laughter, is proof. Inter-band tensions (the band had parted with longtime bassist Jeremy Davis and welcomed back founding drummer Zac Farro) and the cynicism that accompanies coming of age (“Hard times, gonna make you wonder why you even try”) get tied together neatly in Williams’ “too-rock-for-pop” vocals, before being drenched in glittery ’80s new wave. The darkest-before-dawn track feels like the anthem for former emo souls that just don’t want to feel bad anymore, and suddenly, hitting rock bottom never sounded so promising. — ALLISON STUBBLEBINE
28. SZA feat. Travis Scott, “Love Galore”
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.”
If you’ve ever made a defiant statement to one of your elders, you’ve heard that incredulous “…OK” in the opening couplet here, a single word whose doubting tone conveys a dramatic eyebrow raise. Granted, JAY-Z is younger than O.J. Simpson, but in 4:44‘s “The Story of O.J.,” the veteran rapper assumes the role of the old wise man, doling out advice on everything from respecting your culture to investing in art (if you’ve got a million to spare). Like the rest of 4:44, JAY raps in a measured cadence in front of a backdrop of samples stitched together by producer No I.D. That Nina Simone’s stereotype-dismantling “Four Women” dominates the song is fitting, as JAY uses his own track to draw a roadmap for how other people of color on the rise could also come to defy unjust expectation. — C.W.
23. Taylor Swift, “Gorgeous”
“You’ve ruined my life/ By not being mine,” Taylor Swift drawls on easily her funniest song to date, managing to send up both the country bros who’ve gotten away with delivering such odious it’s-not-me-it’s-you come-ons for far too long, as well as her own perceived M.O. as a narcissistic maneater. That’s not real, but the hooks here certainly are — DayGlo synth-and-bass firecrackers that could’ve fit on the Paramore album with minor fine-tuning — as are the jokes, which Swift leans so far into she very nearly falls over herself: “I guess I’ll on home to my cats/ Alone… / …Unless you wanna come along!” But then, that alarm clock of a triangle ding, snapping Taylor out of her goofy hello stranger haze, and reminding her to get back to the goddamn chorus already. — A.U.
22. Dua Lipa, “New Rules”
Unlike some pop artists who seem to have the voice but not the presence or star power for the A-list, it always seemed like a question of when, not if, British singer-songwriter Dua Lipa would become a top 40 force. “New Rules” was the infectious viral hit to do it. Come for Lipa’s serpentine vocal on the chorus, stay for her cautionary tale of casual post-breakup flings with one’s ex, a theme expanded upon in one of the year’s most memeable music videos. Had Rihanna recorded this, it’d already be No. 1 in the U.S… but check back on this one in 2018. — K.R.
21. Drake, “Passionfruit”
Leave it to Drake to pull up to the roller rink in a yacht. Young Aubrey has so much fun with the handclaps, faux-flute and tangential title of “Passionfruit” that he almost forgets both a) that the lyric is yet another melancholy chapter in what appears to be the most dragged-out long-distance breakup saga in pop music history and b) which era of carefree pop cheesiness he’s attempting to tip his captain’s hat to. For the latter, he basically ends up choosing “all of the above,” which is probably the right call, given that the song ends up sounding like a Jodeci cover of Michael McDonald, remixed by Thomas Bangalter. No surprise that Moodymann is far from the only one who has to start the motherfuckin’ record over again. — A.U.
20. Francis & the Lights feat. Chance the Rapper, “May I Have This Dance” (Remix)
Before this incandescent love song first appeared on 2016’s Farewell, Starlite! it was sparked by a single line, a desperate plea in Francis Starlite’s head: “Give me one more chance!” Fast-forward to May 2017, and Francis’ on-bended-knee plea got its Chance, with a tender, doe-eyed verse from Lil Chano at his sentimental best. But where Francis’ subject was romantic, even walk-down-the-aisle worthy (“All of the people we passed through / Now we’re down to the last two”), Chance goes for fatherly affection. In a love letter to his two-year old daughter Kensli, he salutes what she’s gotten from each of her parents (mom’s eyes, daddy’s discernment) even if he and former partner Kirsten Corley remain apart (“I know you’ve been looking for something concrete”). But more than anything, this genre hybrid is about togetherness: just as Francis and Chance’s lovelorn confessions intertwine, so does their footwork. — C.P.
19. Camila Cabello feat. Young Thug, “Havana”
The heated and mid-tempo “Havana” didn’t arrive like a breakthrough hit, but it ended up changing the entire course of Camila Cabello’s solo career. While her first debut solo song, the radio-ready, Christina Aguilera-interpolating “Crying In The Club,” barely cracked the top 50 of the Hot 100, the slower-burning “Havana” shot all the way to No. 2 — Cabello’s highest peak to date. The success seemed to turn the ignition on her solo career in earnest, as the former Fifth Harmony singer wiped her hands clean of her pre-“Havana” releases and even finally announced a January release date for her long-awaited debut LP (now simply called Camila). On “Havana,” an ode to her Cuban roots, Cabello gleefully sheds the weight that came with trying to prove herself outside of her former girl group and clears a path to finally be herself. — L.H.
18. Kesha, “Praying”
Here’s the most impressive thing about “Praying”: if you were living under a proverbial rock and were completely unaware of the song’s context within Kesha’s career, you’d still have to admit that it’s a stunner. A gasp of air after literal years of battling her former producer Dr. Luke in court and attempting to release new music, the comeback power ballad is not subtle about the hell Kesha has gone through, but it doesn’t need to be — she has come out clean on the other side, and does not have time for any woe-is-me sentiments. “When I’m finished, they won’t even know your name,” she asserts, emitting a cathartic cry that will persist far longer than her not-so-secret enemy. During a year in which society has finally re-examined the way men abuse power, “Praying” broadcast the unbreakable spirit of an indispensable female artist, captured in four minutes flat. — J. Lipshutz
17. Zedd & Alessia Cara, “Stay”
Alessia Cara solidified her standing in the pop world with her stellar run in 2017, finally earning the best new artist Grammy nomination many thought she deserved the year before. Not only did she sprinkle her dulcet vocals on Logic’s “1-800-273-8255” smash, she offered a stunning turn on star producer Zedd’s “Stay.” The formidable tandem gave “A thousands reasons why” their radio-dominating dance-pop blast would keep listeners entranced. Cara and Zedd also captivated viewers with a stripped-down version of the song during the 2017 AMAs, proving the song’s power underneath its electronic dressing, and punctuating their torrid run. — C.L.
16. Future, “Mask Off”
Future was hardly the first hip-hop artist to back his rhymes with a flute sample, but in 2017 he made it meme-worthy as the unlikely musical signature of his highest-charting single. Mated with a trap snare roll and bottomless bass beat in Metro Boomin’s thick-as-sizzurp production, the result sounds like the score to a vintage samurai movie — starring Future as the Auto-Tuned Zen warrior, sharing the kabuki-free philosophy that took him to the top of the food chain: “We call the play, we didn’t come to play/Rob the bank, we gon’ rob the game.” There’s no shochu in this tale, however: In addition to the hypnotic refrain of “Percocets, molly, Percocets,” Future boasts an impressive pharmaceutical vocabulary — and, perhaps regimen — name-checking promethazine, a key ingredient in the cough-syrup-and-Sprite concoction known as lean, and Theo-Dur, a drug prescribed for asthma. — F.D.
15. Migos feat. Lil Uzi Vert, “Bad and Boujee”
The trap song that launched a thousand memes (“raindrop, drop top”) also gave Migos and Lil Uzi Vert their first Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 hit, nearly three months after its release. There’s a reason for the slow rise: Bereft of an obvious hook, it takes a few listens for the circular cadence of “Bad and Boujee” to burrow into your brain, but once it’s there, it’s game over, man. Metro Boomin keeps the moody production minimal, which is wise, because the Migos chuck syllable-stuffed lines and cheeky ad-libs at the listener like Jackson Pollock whipping paint at a canvas. Despite the title, the only bad thing about this song is that one of the Three Migos (Takeoff) isn’t on it — but with Uzi stopping by to snooze in a Jacuzzi and shout-out blue cheese, “Bad and Boujee” remains unassailable. — J. Lynch
If 2016 was the year of Donald Glover’s precipitous rise, 2017 was the modern-day Renaissance man’s coronation. “Redbone” arrived as the second single for Glover’s Awaken, My Love! album — third under his Childish Gambino moniker — and it teased a seismic shift in the former backpack rapper’s career, with classic soul production and a vocal delivery octaves above his typical register. Aided early on by a crucial sync in the satirical blockbuster thriller Get Out, the song — originally released in late 2016 — maintained its buzz throughout the next summer, ultimately peaking at No. 12 on the Hot 100 in August and reaching 3x Platinum certification the following month. Now a Grammy nominee for record of the year, “Redbone” is the rare ballad conscious enough for its two-word refrain to become an iconic rallying cry, but sexy enough to be most convincing delivered shirtless in shimmering pants. – B.K.
13. Lorde, “Green Light”
With her 2013 opus Pure Heroine, it’s safe to say Lorde mastered writing about teenage-hood. But with “Green Light” — the cathartic lead single off her lauded Melodrama — Lorde, now 21, ponders the triumphs and mistakes of her newfound adulthood. That includes bar-hopping, swiping on makeup in the car, waking up “in a different bedroom” and an absolute gut-punch of a breakup, all soundtracked by pulsing keys and electrifying, impatient percussion. The result elicits both thrill and trepidation, perfectly capturing the highs and lows of growing up. — T.C.
12. Khalid, “Location”
Khalid is undoubtedly one of the biggest breakout stars of 2017, and it all started with “Location.” The lead single debuted in late 2016 and carried the hype into the new year, when it was certified Platinum and reached a No. 16 peak on the Hot 100. In the song, Khalid takes a look at the early stages of a relationship, presenting a cautious ode to young love in a world of social media and technology. The 19-year-old Texas native shows his vulnerability brought on by the relationship as he asks the question, “Sometimes I wonder why I fool with you.” From the unique reoccurring ringtone sound that introduces the song to the clean jazz guitar (or is it a synth?) on the bridge, the production of “Location” stands out even amidst the rest of the excellent American Teen. We’re excited to see what the Grammy-nominated artist has in store for us in the future, but for now we’re going to just vibe out with him. — J. Kelley
11. Julia Michaels, “Issues”
After four years of quietly co-penning hits for the likes of Justin Bieber, Britney Spears and Selena Gomez, Julia Michaels stepped into the spotlight with this instantly relatable ballad about loving someone, flaws-and-all. “Issues” pairs Michaels’ feathery vocals with an understated strings arrangement, highlighting the track’s vulnerable lyricism — and earning an overdue Grammy nod for song of the year for the talented wordsmith. “Issues” also climbed to an impressive No. 11 on the Hot 100, outperforming every song she wrote for more established stars — Bieber and Gomez included — in 2017. — P.C.
10. Portugal. The Man, “Feel It Still”
It may seem like Portugal. The Man came out of the woodwork in 2017, but it’s not their first bullfight by any means — the indie rock veterans have been releasing albums since 2006, and this year’s album Woodstock marked their eighth. But once they unleashed this inescapable earworm in March, they went from commercial zeroes to heroes in what felt like a matter of minutes: The boogieing pop-rock jam “Feel It Still” suddenly found Portugal. The Man all over pop radio, breaking an Alternative Songs chart record, and landing the band a performance on the AMAs. And to top it all off, the groovy smash notched PTM a best pop song Grammy nomination, showing that a little pep in their step was all it took to turn these cult favorites into pop fixtures. Call it a sell-out if you must, but we’ll still be feeling it well into 2018. — T.W.
9. The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk, “I Feel It Coming”
After conquering the Hot 100 with their first-ever collaboration “Starboy,” The Weeknd & Daft Punk kept their hot streak going when they teamed up for the top 10 smash “I Feel It Coming.” The buoyant single allowed The Weeknd to channel his inner MJ with his whispery coos, drifting away from his usual melancholy sound for something more invigorating. The ’80s-inspired record offered hope to lovers who craved more out of a relationship: “Just a simple touch and it can set you free/ We don’t have to rush when you’re alone with me.” With Daft Punk providing a yearning but distinctly danceable beat, Abel crooned his way to every new romantic’s heart in 2017. — C.L.
8. Harry Styles, “Sign of the Times”
Harry Styles marked his solo debut in the most ambitious way possible, with a near-six-minute power ballad that calls upon the likes of David Bowie and Queen for a type of rock grandeur rarely heard in 2017. The soaring vocals and symphonic production make clear Styles has left his boy band days of pure pop in the past — he’s traded up (and has the designer suits to show for it). Though he revealed the song was inspired by a mother dying from childbirth, “Sign of the Times” couldn’t have come at a more opportune time: It transcends any one situation or viewpoint with its use of an ambiguous “we,” and refrains from being too much of a downer with its gentle nudge to “remember everything will be alright.” And when Styles sings the deeply affecting refrain, “Just stop your crying/It’s a sign of the times,” he only makes you want to bawl harder — even if you don’t quite know over what. — L.H.
7. J Balvin & Willy William feat. Beyonce, “Mi Gente” (Remix)
Few sounds were as gratifying as pop radio in 2017 as the moaning, disembodied vocal loop and vinyl crackle that introduce “Mi Gente.” Borrowed from Willy William’s original “Voodoo Song,” J Balvin took that song’s absolutely unstoppable reggaeton bounce and turned it into a global anthem, with a chorus that sounds like a club rallying cry, even if you don’t understand what Balvin’s “¿Y dónde está mi gente?” is literally asking. (“Where are my people?,” natch.)
The song topped Spotify’s international charts for weeks well before Beyoncé jumped on the remix, but the Queen slotted in perfectly to the song’s already-regal procession, adding timeliness in her galvanizing of relief efforts for her hurricane-struck H(ome)-town. The duo even left the perfect amount of room for their special guest in the second-verse roll call — “J. Balvin. Willy William. Beyoncé.” — before yelling “FREEZE!” on one of 2017’s most iconic moment-in-time musical snapshots. That this wasn’t even the genre’s biggest (or arguably best) crossover should tell you everything you need to know about the impact Latin music had on American pop this year. — A.U.
6. Kendrick Lamar, “HUMBLE.”
It’s fitting that King Kendrick’s caps-locked 2017 return kicks off with a record scratch — whatever you were listening to before, prepare to be interrupted. The Compton MC earned his first Hot 100 No. 1 as a solo act with this biting admonition, which needless to say, is not really all that “humble.” Yes, shots are fired, and names are dropped: “Obama just paged me,” Lamar brags in one scathing verse before unleashing the undeniable “sit down/ be humble” hook — less advice than it is warning. Insults aside, the beat bangs, employing heavy, thudding keys that make the free jazz of To Pimp A Butterfly seem like “Mambo No. 5” by comparison. Every Lamar album includes at least one song to put the competition in its place, and “HUMBLE.” might be Lamar’s most deserving — if ironic — boast yet. — T.C.
5. Lil Uzi Vert, “XO TOUR Llif3”
The spellcheck-baiting SoundCloud single that could, “XO TOUR Llif3” peaked in June, leading to some talk that perhaps it was our song of the summer. But as 2017 comes to a shameful, fiery close, it’s easier to see that Lil Uzi Vert’s desperate emo plea, recorded while he was on tour with The Weeknd, was a song for all seasons. TM88’s busy, mournful-but-not-funereal beat provided the backdrop for Uzi’s concise summary of the claustrophobic trash feeling that overtook everyone the past 12 months: “Push me to the edge/ All my friends are dead.” It’s odd to hear everyone in the club shouting along to Uzi’s alternately slurred and wailed cries about depression, Xanax abuse, suicidal thoughts, and dead friends. And yet here we are. — R.S.
4. Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee feat. Justin Bieber, “Despacito” (Remix)
A solo opening guitar line with Caribbean flair. An “Ay” that could only signal the song’s “Latin-ness.” And then, Justin Bieber singing, in English, the No. 1 Latin song on the planet. “Despacito” was already a major hit when Bieber heard it in a Bogotá nightclub and asked to appear on a new version, recording it within 24 hours and releasing it within 48. His collaboration, first in English, then overwhelmingly in Spanish later in the song, propelled “Despacito” to become one of the biggest singles of all time, notching 16 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and tying the record set by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day” decades earlier. Bieber certainly helped, but it wasn’t just him: “Despacito” struck the right tone of sultry sexiness with Fonsi’s R&B-tinged Spanish vocals and Daddy Yankee’s reggaeton edge. And the lyrics, sensual but not raunchy, appealed to both male and female listeners. Not to mention the “Des…pa…ci…to” hook itself, a refrain so easy, so memorable, everyone from your three year old to your grandmother ended up singing it all year. — L.C.
3. Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean & Migos, “Slide”
The key to the greatest producer-rapper(s)-singer super-teaming since “Yeah!” is in its subtly palindromic structure: The signature “Empty my bank account…” squawking kicks off the song, before giving way to Frank Ocean’s cool-breeze chorus — then neither are heard in full again until three verses later, when Frank’s hook makes its satisfying return, and the song ends on a final “I might!” It gives the song a sunrise-to-sunset feel: Harris’ opening keys are as life-giving as rays peeking through the blinds on a gorgeous Saturday morning, Quavo and Offset’s verses are the sound of the ideal piped-up weekend bash, and Ocean’s disembodied closing wails serve as the perfect adult bedtime lullaby. It’s telling that the song was used for the season two trailer of Insecure, as star Issa Rae contemplates life situations while forgetting that she’s in the midst of L.A. traffic. No better West Coast day-in-the-life soundtrack has ever been produced by a New Orleans transplant, three ATLiens and a Scotsman. — A.U.
2. Cardi B, “Bodak Yellow”
The last few years have seen an increasing number of A-list stars struggle to land lasting hits, while newer artists emerge from the streaming shadows to claim the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100. Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” was the prime 2017 example, proving that sometimes a fresh sound and a no-fux attitude can get you further than a massive indu$try push. Of course, “Bodak Yellow” isn’t without precedent – “Bad and Boujee” and “Black Beatles” demonstrated the viral, chart-topping power of trap, and the song itself takes inspiration from the up-down, sing-song cadence of Kodak Black’s “No Flockin'” (and even Freak Nasty’s unsinkable “Da’ Dip”). But make no mistake: “Bodak Yellow” is pulling in green because of the 25-year-old Bronx spitter. Her time on a reality show served her well, because Cardi’s indelible personality makes you root for her even as she’s shoving her cockiness in your face and making it clear she couldn’t give a shit if you like her or not. “Bodak Yellow” is the brash, year-defining smash that we can’t stop spinning, even if we waaaaaaanted to. – J. Lynch
1. Selena Gomez, “Bad Liar”
Imagine reading this headline five years ago: “Selena Gomez Samples Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’ on Best Song of the Year.” The unlikeliness of “Bad Liar” is a testament to the way in which the always-evolving Gomez has matured her approach to pop since the days in which her albums were credited to herself “& the Scene.” Her 2015 album Revival showed continued refinement of her vocal technique, but “Bad Liar” gets all the way there: Gomez flutters through syllables and doubles back on her own assertions to demonstrate the vulnerability she feels around her crush. She also doesn’t overplay her hand when she needs to yearn: “Ooooh, you’re taking up a fraction of my mind,” she admits, careful not to wail but gritting her teeth as she unveils a deep secret. It’s a commanding performance, full of the type of nuance that most singers would steamroll over while trying to sing their lungs out; credit Gomez as well as songwriters Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, who know exactly the kind of phrasings that help their collaborator excel.
But then there’s that sample, a bass creep that became iconic in Talking Heads’ catalog and helped underscore the idiosyncratic dread of their first hit single 40 years ago. On both “Psycho Killer” and “Bad Liar,” it provides an foundation of anxiety — but whereas David Byrne makes that nervousness oversized and cartoonish on “Killer,” Gomez turns the tension inward on lines like “Your touch like a happy pill/ But still all we do is fear.” She can’t help trying to work toward a happy ending, even when one isn’t possible. Byrne has publicly co-signed “Bad Liar,” which, among other things, honors the quirk that Talking Heads baked into their music — that pop can be bizarre and irresistible at the same time, whether played at CBGB’s in ’77 or on top 40 in 2017.
That said, “Bad Liar” was not a huge hit in 2017; it wasn’t even Gomez’s biggest hit (“It Ain’t Me,” her single with Kygo, aimed dead-center at modern pop and dominated radio). Yet “Bad Liar” was the most interesting and enjoyable song on top 40 radio this year, a weird little moment of frustrated melody and imperfect romance that may prove to be a high point in Gomez’s increasingly fascinating career. On paper, “Bad Liar” doesn’t make much sense, but that’s why it doesn’t exist on paper. — J. Lipshutz