A year of singles has come and gone, but when it came time for the Billboard.com staff to choose our 20 favorites we thought, fought and lobbied — and most of all we listened. These 20 tunes cover the gamut from hip-hop (Nas, G.O.O.D. Music) and pop (Carly Rae Jepsen) to country (Love and Theft) and rock (Bruce Springsteen), but we all agree they’re 2012’s best.
|20|| “Feel So Close”
EDM wizard and “We Found Love” maestro stepped out on his own and scored.
|19|| “Bad Girls”
We’re still waiting for that fourth full-length, but this whiz-bang one-off single almost made us forget the Super Bowl debacle… almost.
Standout from indie rockers’ “Lonerism” album rumbles along with melodies that Paul McCartney would appreciate.
|17|| “Let Me Love You (Until You Learn To Love Yourself)”
After his “Libra Scale” misstep, Ne-Yo returned in full force with an ode to much-needed support (see: song title).
|16|| “You’re The One”
U.K. pop auteur released a string of dazzle pop singles this year, none quite as fluttering as this synth-laden love song.
|15|| “Wrecking Ball”
The Boss soldiers on, fists clenched, and hollers “Bring on your wrecking ball!” For those who thought his last few albums underwhelmed, “Wrecking Ball” proved that the fire was back.
|14|| “Bye Baby”
A startlingly vivid portrayal of a dissolved marriage, with Nasty Nas lobbing both potshots and heartfelt memories at Kelis.
|13|| “Angel Eyes”
Love And Theft
In a year full of strong country singles, Love and Theft crafted a repeatedly enjoyable ode to a rebellious female heart.
|12|| “Wildest Moments”
For many people, “Wildest Moments” served as the ideal introduction to Jessie Ware, its thwacking drums and quivering emotion inviting listeners to dig deeper into this sublime new artist.
|11|| “The House That Heaven Built”
Japandroids’ “Celebration Rock” album lives up to its title, and “Heaven” is the moment the duo graces the upper reaches of its ideals, one “Oh-OH-oh-oh-oh-oh” at a time.
text by Jason Lipshutz
|10|| “What Makes You Beautiful”
The boy band resurgence of 2012 would not have been half as fun if its crown jewel, 1D’s “What Makes You Beautiful,” hadn’t been so delectable. And yes, hair flips get us overwhelmed, too.
|9|| “Everything Is Embarrassing”
An out-of-nowhere sensation stuffed as the last song on an EP, “Everything Is Embarrassing” captures the sensitivity of flirtation through unabashedly warm hooks. Look out for Sky Ferreira.
|8|| “Thinkin Bout You”
Mr. Ocean landed on this list last year with “Novacane,” but the first song on “Channel Orange” switched up the tempo by featuring soaring falsetto in between white lies told to an object of his affection.
|7|| “Somebody That I Used To Know”
Gotye feat. Kimbra
Sure, the words “Peter” and “Gabriel” will always be cynically tied to this unexpected No. 1, but Gotye and Kimbra synthesized forgotten styles and turned them into something fresh and unforgetta — sorry, didn’t mean to cut you off.
|6|| “Begin Again”
“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” was the Max Martin-helmed pop celebration, but the quiet moments of this follow-up single — from the restrained chorus to the James Taylor shout-out — allowed Swift to reach a heretofore unheard level of maturity.
“Fresh” is the word best used to describe “Adorn,” a song that was originally released in Miguel’s “Art Dealer Chic” series and elongated for maximum radio enjoyment. The sound is wildly original for R&B, but the romantic sentiments are strictly old-school.
|4|| “Some Nights”
A song that unfolds like “We Are Young” on steroids, “Some Nights” legitimized fun. as fearless, with absolutely absurd lyrics, no real chorus and an Auto-tuned breakdown. Somehow, it all works.
The summer’s biggest hip-hop beat is a bull in a china shop, smashing through Big Sean ass puns, seething Kanye rants and the Michael Jordan similes of Mr. 2 Chainz. This hip-hop summit still knocks.
|2|| “Call Me Maybe”
Carly Rae Jepsen
What, you’ve never heard of this one? Well, it’s a charming pop ditty from Canada that imagines a world where people still use telephones and strings should be included in every Top 40 refrain. “Call Me Maybe” took over everything in the summer of 2012, and it deserved to.
Teaming up with Diplo freed Usher’s mind and falsetto, as “Climax” reminded the pop universe just how adept Mr. Raymond is at concocting slow jams. “Climax” is about a breakup, of course, but its immaculate production and tender vocal performance washed away any sadness from listeners.
text by Jason Lipshutz
• Q&As: One Direction, 5 Interviews
• COVER STORY: One Direction
• OVERVIEW The Year in Pop
• YEAR-END ISSUE: Order It Here
• HUB: The Year In Music 2012
• 2012 CHARTS: Hot 100 Songs
• 2012 CHARTS: Billboard 200
• 2012 CHARTS: Top Artists