Best 100 Songs 2017. 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 at the top, 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 the critics picks and there commentaries.
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 chantease Gaga) to the full-throated, mountain-top-clicking 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”.
In2017, we welcomed back synth-rock veterans The Killers woth 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 satircal look back at a brazen, young Brandon Flowers circa 2003-04 during the band’s introcduction 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.
Listening to the confessional musings of 22-years 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 song-writing has always felt relatable and raw, but on her sophomore album Turn Off The Lights, she’s paired her incisive insight 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.
Our staff favorite from Halsey’s sophomore album, 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 Jauregi 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.
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.
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.
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 laidback 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.
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.
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.
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.