Drake’s luxury liner crashed its way through the middle of March, while Ed Sheeran continued to take over so many different radio formats that they’re probably currently working “Shape of You” to Sports Talk and Classical as we speak.
While those top 40 monoliths were ruling the Internet and the airwaves, however, plenty of other great pop songs sneaked in under the radar. Here’s a true “playlist” of ten of our favorites — no April Fools, promise.
The Drums, “Blood Under My Belt”
Brooklyn outfit The Drums have been successfully resurrecting the poppiest side of post-punk for nearly a decade now, and they’re always good for one absolutely irresistible lead single per album. The streak continues for the upcoming Abysmal Thoughts, with the trampoline-bouncy “Blood Under My Belt,” whose playfully wailed chorus (“Yes it’s true that I hurt you/ But I still love you/ I still do”) perfectly encapsulates the winking melodrama the band excels at.
The Argentinian house producer behind last year’s heavenly club-slayer “Trouble” and ecstatic remix of Calvin Harris’ My Way,” Offaiah ups the dancefloor ante even further with the absolutely scorching “Run.” A menacing piano leads an almost reggaeton-like thump, until the tension explodes with a scintillating hook that sounds halfway between a flute and ear-splitting guitar harmonics — one of the best riffs this year in any genre.
Computer Games, “Every Single Night”
There’ll be a built-in cult for Computer Games thanks to the involvement of Darren Criss and brother Chuck, but you don’t have to have been a Gleenatic to get hooked on “Every Single Night.” The song is pure mid-’80s pop punch, the kind that brought Steve Winwood a higher love, got Phil Collins to take off his jacket and still has Lionel Richie going all night long (all night) — pretty impressively studied for a couple of guys who weren’t even alive when The Breakfast Club came out.
Nelly Furtado, “Phoenix”
Nelly Furtado hasn’t been a radio fixture in ten years, but her pop music has only gotten deeper, more inventive and, well, better on her way back to the underground. “Phoenix” is the kind of misty, ethereal pop ballad that the ’90s excelled at, Nelly creating an almost womb-like sonic atmosphere as she offers her trembling-but-sturdy emotional support to those who have fallen: “Like a phoenix, rising from the flame/ You’re gonna be all right.”
Portland rapper Amine is exceedingly winning on his follow-up to unexpected smash “Caroline” (“Black ice, black seats, yeah I’m bumping Blackstar/ Rednecks tell me that I got a nice car”), but really, this thing is about the beat, a screaming, quaking throwdown that could’ve been something The Neptunes would’ve given to The Clipse at their peak. It’s produced by Malay — the dude behind a lot of the most interesting tracks on the latest efforts by Frank Ocean and ZAYN — and Vince Staples needs to hook up with him real quick.
Maddie Ross, “You’re Still My Sugar”
While Michelle Branch is bunkering down with Patrick Carney and Avril Lavigne is busy listening to Ed Sheeran, it might just be up to L.A. native Maddie Ross to keep the flame burning for explosive, sun-kissed pop/rock. “You’re Still My Sugar” is one of the year’s most heart-filling singles, a love song with a chorus so fizzy and combustible that Ross literally has to pop the tab on it before opening, and with verses that need car-crash and cash register sound effects to properly convey the emotional stimulation within.
Despite the name, B.O.Y. is an all-female rap trio — it stands for Be Only You, sure — with delectably grimy beats and hooks laid here underneath a surprisingly sweet, quirky lyric (“My love, I know I’m rocking with a winner/ You know I make my daddy dinner”). And yes, since you asked — it has been long enough since Charlie Sheen was a thing to make it OK to drop “Winning” like a musical hashtag in your songs again.
Louis the Child feat. Ashe, “World on Fire”
A jazzy EDM hybrid ballad that sounds a whole lot less awkward than whatever you’re no doubt picturing form that description, with singer Ashe tracing Louis the Child’s frisky piano riff with her vocal as clarinets blare softly in the background, and a scratchy beat knocks in the background. “The world could be on fire and we wouldn’t know,” Ashe croons with an uneasy tranquility, making this the snazziest post-apocalyptic jam that could possibly still soundtrack an Apple commercial.
Steps, “Scared of the Dark”
The long-awaited — well, on one side of the pond, anyway — return of late-’90s U.K. pop barnstormers Steps, now sounding gratifyingly like ABBA as filtered through Barry Manilow’s most theatrical singles. Is there a key change at the end? Of course there’s a key change at the end.
Like the first time you heard Kiiara’s “Gold,” TYSM’s latest (also produced by Felix Snow) just doesn’t seem quite right — the beat’s sorta missing, lyrical details repeat too often, is that drop actually gonna hit at some point? — but the mystery of how the hell it works is so compelling that you absolutely have to figure it out. And at a scant 1:58, it’s over well before you get the chance to figure it out, so you really have no choice put to play it over and over again.