?Songwriters Kendrick Duckworth, Mark Anthony Spears, Pharrell Williams
Publishers WB Music Corp., TDE Music, Hard Working Black Folks Publishing, EMI Music, More Water From Nazareth, Sounwave TDE Productions, Sony/ATV
From To Pimp a Butterfly
Label TDE/Aftermath/ Interscope
This track is a prime example of what makes To Pimp a Butterfly, the second official album from 2016’s top Grammy nominee, so compelling. “Alright” starts as a spoken-word treatise before exploding into a shape-shifting portrait of America that brings in jazz horns, skittering drum beats and Lamar’s mellifluous rapping as he struggles with troubles and temptations. Yet at the end of each verse, he reassures himself that “We gon’ be alright” — a simple rallying cry for a nation reeling from gun violence and police brutality. The song became an anthem for many in the Black Lives Matter movement and reached No. 24 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
Songwriters Max Martin, Shellback, Taylor Swift
Publishers Sony/ATV Tree Publishing/Taylor Swift Music/MXM administered by Kobalt Songs Music Publishing
Label Big Machine Records
Never let it be said that Swift, a seven-time nominee this year, can’t poke a little fun at herself. On “Blank Space,” which she co-wrote with the song’s producers, she makes light of her image as a man-hungry lover who is “a nightmare dressed like a daydream.” “I’ve noticed there’s been a pretty sensational fictionalization of my personal life,” she told SiriusXM. “To the point where it’s sort of like ‘Wow, that too?’ They’ve drawn up this profile of this girl who is a serial dater … but she can’t keep ’em because she’s too emotional and needy. Then … she’s jilted so she goes to her evil lair and writes songs about it for revenge.” “Blank Space” already nabbed single of the year at the American Music Awards for the seven-time Grammy winner.
Little Big Town
Songwriters Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna, Liz Rose
Publishers Warner- Tamerlane Publishing Corp./Songs of Crazy Girl Music, Songs of Universal, Hoodie Songs, HillarodyRathbone Music administered by BMG Rights Management
From Pain Killer
Label Capitol Records Nashville
It didn’t take long for Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild to realize the potential of “Girl Crush.” “We knew right off the bat,” she told Billboard. “There are lots of songs about jealousy, but nothing that had been written in such a provocative way.” Penned by top country songwriters Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose, “Girl Crush” got off to a rough start after conservative listeners at a handful of radio stations mistakenly thought the lyrics were about a lesbian relationship. But after the faux controversy died down, the single soared up the charts, spending 13 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart.
“See You Again”
Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth
Songwriters Andrew Cedar, Justin Franks, Charles Puth, Cameron Thomaz
Publishers Artist Publishing Group West/J Franks Publishing/Andrew Cedar Publishing administered by WB Music Corp./Wiz Khalifa Publishing administered by Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp./Charlie Puth Music Publishing/Artist 101 Publishing Group administered by Warner/Chappell Music, Universal Pictures Music, UPG Music Publishing
From Furious 7: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Label Atlantic Records
Anchored by Puth’s lilting, wistful vocal, “See You Again” served as the emotional sendoff for the late Paul Walker in Furious 7, but the bittersweet anthem had a life far beyond the movie. The song ruled the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 2015, spending 12 weeks at No. 1 and tying the record for the longest spell at the top for a rap single. Puth told Billboard that he has learned a great deal from Khalifa. “His energy and aura make me feel very comfortable. He’s a good influence.”
“Thinking Out Loud”
Songwriters Ed Sheeran, Amy Wadge
Publishers Sony/ATV Music Publishing/BDi Music Limited
Label Atlantic Records
Sheeran penned the romantic tribute to everlasting love with longtime Wales-based pal Amy Wadge, with whom he released the appropriately titled 2010 EP Songs I Wrote With Amy. Friends since Sheeran was 17, the pair wrote the soulful ballad, which melodically draws on Sheeran’s love of ’60s-era R&B, in only 20 minutes at Sheeran’s house, according to Wadge. The track, inspired by Sheeran’s then-girlfriend Athina Andrelos, was a lucky last-minute addition to X. The song became the first ever to pass the 500 million stream mark on Spotify. Sheeran showed his gratitude by saying, “Thanks to all the people who use this as a wedding song, a soundtrack to a date and as a way to woo someone into a Netflix-and-chill situation.”
This story originally appeared in the Jan. 2 issue of Billboard.