May marks the entryway into summer, which is significant for two key reasons: firstly, a lot of artists put out their final submissions for summer jam, which means a high saturation of music coming out from big names. Second, it’s the beginning of my summer vacation, which means more time to write, both of which create the perfect storm behind this supersized 30-song list. At one point, I seriously contemplated putting 40 songs on this list, but I easily got that down to 35 and, once I got into writing it, felt that it’d be better suited for 30. Still, big things ahead, including a ton of big-name artists making their returns, plus some up-and-comers and acts you may not have heard of. For example:
30) TO THE MAX – Yellow Claw feat. MC Kekel, Bok Nero, Lil Debbie, and MC Gustta
Yellow Claw’s been pumping out solid EDM tracks for the better half of this decade, but I’d go as far as to say this has the most hit potential of anything they’ve released so far. Despite lacking the recognizable names some of their other singles have had (the most recognizable name in the song’s rogues gallery would seem to be White Girl Mob rapper Lil Debbie), it has the kind of instantly infectious beat that’s pushed many a relatively unknown artist into the top ten (think last year’s “Mi Gente”). There’s some other things I admire about this track (the parallels between each verse are fun, and Lil Debbie’s quasi-hook grows on you), but the star of the show is this beat, and it’s one of the EDM duo’s greatest to date.
29) STARLIGHT BRIGADE – TWRP feat. Dan Avidan
Synthwave group TWRP and Game Grump Dan Avidan join forces yet again on “Starlight Brigade,” a sci-fi odyssey that marks new territory for both artists. The strength of Avidan’s work in the past (particularly in his comedy band Ninja Sex Party) has been his lyrical skills, weaving clever storytelling into dense rhyme schemes. Where this is typically used in a comic setting, here he adopts the same style to tell the story of a voyager on an interstellar fleet, aided by some of TWRP’s most powerful-sounding production to date. It channels ’80s rock and techno while also being deceptively catchy.
28) I WISH I MISSED MY EX – Mahalia
English R&B singer Mahalia returns with “I Wish I Missed My Ex,” a soulful slow jam that gleefully dresses down obsessive old flames. It’s a perfect storm of a unifying breakup song, from its smooth piano beat, which builds to a jubilant horn section on the hook, to the chorus of voices joining in on what could have otherwise quickly become a self-centered affair. If you ever feel yourself wanting to text him back, this track is perfectly crafted to bring you to your senses.
27) JERRY (MAYBE WE SHOULD GET MARRIED) – Bethany Cosentino, Nick Lutsko, and @Seinfeld2000
The best way to express this song’s charms is to simply describe it: released on the 20th anniversary of Seinfeld‘s final episode, “Jerry (Maybe We Should Get Married)” features Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast teaming up with Nick Lutsko and Twitter legend @Seinfeld2000 for a ’50s-infused love song comprised entirely of lines spoken by Elaine on Seinfeld. That’s essentially all you need to know about the song. It’s funny, just weird enough to work, and surprisingly replayable, not unlike the sitcom it pays homage to.
26) WIN – Jay Rock
There’s something indescribable about Jay Rock. He makes the kind of music that a lesser artist could make and sound terrible, but his sheer personality, his energy and flow propels him to the level of a force of nature. “WIN” is his first piece of new music in nearly three years, and the gestation period feels much-deserved as Rock employs his charms over an absolutely explosive brassy trap beat. Fellow Black Hippy member Kendrick Lamar joins with some ad-libs, but where Kendrick tends to take over any track he’s featured on, here Jay Rock remains the star of the show.
25) FAKE IT – jesse saint john
After cutting his teeth as a songwriter for the likes of Britney Spears, Charli XCX, and Camila Cabello, jesse saint john broke out as a solo artist this year with singles like “MOVE” and now “FAKE IT.” The forlorn synthpop track is downright electrifying, opening with a dreamlike riff and building to a robotic chorus of “fake it until we feel it” that’s hard not to be taken away by. It’s about as much of a journey as you can possibly experience in a scant three minutes, and it solidifies saint john as one to watch.
24) HUMILITY – Gorillaz
Yep, Gorillaz are back. Just a year after releasing their stellar apocalyptic dance record Humanz, Damon Albarn’s vocaloid rockstars return with “Humility,” a groovy summer jam promising another brand-new direction to come with their forthcoming record. You can always count on Gorillaz to at least somewhat deliver, but the extent to which Albarn finds ways to continually reanimate the animated band 20 years into their career is still noteworthy.
23) THIS IS AMERICA – Childish Gambino
“This Is America,” which debuted at the top of the month and reigned at the top of the charts throughout it, has already gone through an enviable life cycle. There was the initial praise, the backlash, the counter-backlash, the meme, the backlash to the meme, and the backlash to said backlash to the meme, which acted both in favor and against the song, which by this point had already begun its descent from the tip of the Hot 100 and had been out for… three weeks. The song’s impressive in many ways, but is perhaps best consumed as a straightforward expression of Donald Glover’s frustrations as a black artist rather than as a revolutionary opus or a simple commercial single.
22) LOW – Lenny Kravitz
One name neither of us was likely expecting to see on this list was Lenny Kravitz, the ’90s sex symbol who last appeared in the public consciousness as a bizarre cameo during Katy Perry’s Super Bowl halftime performance. However, he did put out a single this month, and it’s kind of phenomenal. The track’s got some juicy bass, a pretty excellent hook, and some quality vocals from Lenny himself. It’s a funk slow burn with a bit of a vintage sound, but all you really need to know is that it whips major ass.
21) ACCELERATE – Christina Aguilera feat. Ty Dolla $ign and 2 Chainz
This is almost certainly not what people expected to hear from Christina Aguilera’s new single. The veteran pop crooner, known for sex jams and self-empowerment anthems, kicked off the promotion of her forthcoming eighth studio album with “Accelerate,” a labyrinthine ink blot of a hip-hop-infused pop track featuring distorted vocals, a raspy, desperate Ty Dolla $ign, and a methodical guest verse from 2 Chainz. The song can cause musical whiplash on the first go, but it rewards repeat listens as Kanye West’s ever-layered production coheres into an effortlessly cool pop jam that proves Xtina still has plenty of tricks up her baggy suit sleeves.
20) 5 IN THE MORNING – Charli XCX
Now, here’s an artist you would expect to hear a song like “Accelerate” from. Charli XCX has developed a reputation as pop’s chief innovator over these past few years, pioneering an aggressively unbothered electronic sound that’s infested the pop genre even as she continues to take it in new directions. Here, she incorporates trap drums and cadences, encapsulating her don’t-give-a-fuck attitude perfectly while employing her ear for hooks that’s kept her ahead of many of her experimental counterparts. You’ll recall that Charli had two different records on my latest Album of the Year list, and this track proves the hype train shows no signs of slowing.
19) QUARTER PAST MIDNIGHT – Bastille
Five whole years after their global hit single “Pompeii,” Bastille continues to improve on their bombastic indie pop sound, combining Florence + The Machine-esque songcraft with big ’80s hooks and electrifying instrumentals. The first song I can think to compare it to is Lorde’s “Green Light,” with both songs capturing the hectic and uncertain atmosphere of a late-night party with gleeful catharsis. While I’ve stated that “Green Light” isn’t exactly my favorite Lorde song, the energy suits Bastille’s sound particularly well.
18) GENIUS – LSD (Labrinth, Sia, and Diplo)
LSD is the first of two supergroups unveiled featuring Diplo this month (the other, Mark Ronson’s Silk City, may be even more promising, but I wasn’t exactly blown away by their debut single). The group features three of the most unique voices in pop: the quirky, refined R&B of Labrinth, the artful, much-imitated pop of Sia, and the infectious, pioneering EDM of Diplo, and the results are about what you’d expect. “Genius” is a baroque pop marvel, twisting effortlessly between intense strings and big pop hooks over a stomping electro beat. There’s so much to love on this song that I could easily see it becoming an obsession of mine as the year goes on. From the playful lyrics to the “wha-what you say?” sample to the way each singer introduces the other before their respective verses, I love it a little more each time I listen to it.
17) FOUR OUT OF FIVE – Arctic Monkeys
Fans were decidedly split on Arctic Monkeys’ new album Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino, but in all honesty, I love this shit. Where the band could’ve easily upcycled their iconic sound, they instead chose to bring together some elements sorely missing from the modern music landscape. Firstly, “Four Out of Five” and the album it represents brought a lounge sound back into popular music, and I didn’t even realize how much I needed it until now. Artists like Charlie Puth and Shawn Mendes have been slowly bringing luxury to the world of modern pop, but lounge isn’t synonymous with luxury. Rather, it represents a facade of grandeur, a hollow, inflated cast of importance that makes way for the song and album’s other area of note: humor. There have been funny songs in recent memory, but there are these odd prerequisites that seem to keep popular music from being an outright joke the way “Four Out of Five” is. Not the kind of music we expected, but maybe what we needed.
16) TASTE – Betty Who
I’m hoping that Betty Who’s high-profile appearance on the new Queer Eye theme will finally wake gay Twitter up to one of the best up-and-coming pop singers in the game today. “Taste” is a sparse, sexy electropop jam that’s as catchy as they come, pushing Betty beyond her phenomenal 2017 record The Valley into brand new territory. In addition to this, Betty also put out a solid song with Lemaitre this month called “Rocket Girl,” but seeing as this list already had one techno song about spaceships (“Starlight Brigade”), I gave it to “Taste.”
15) HALLA – Taz Arnold feat. Anderson .Paak and Ty Dolla $ign
If I had told you an artist from “Accelerate” would be showing up again later on in the list, you probably would not have guessed Ty Dolla $ign. “Halla” had an uphill battle towards making it onto this list: a little-publicized solo single from the second-best-known member of alt hip-hop group Sa-Ra, the song only first caught my radar due to its features. Even after hearing the song, I didn’t really care for it (I don’t seem to have been alone in the sentiment). On a first listen, it’s flat, repetitive, and near-incoherent, but further listens uncovered the song’s layers. Its droning sound is deceptively-layered, fluidly welcoming the dulcet tones of Anderson .Paak, Ty Dolla $ign, old-school samples, trap drums, and a guitar solo(?). It feels like an odd midpoint between Gym Class Heroes and, say, Death Grips, but somehow, it works.
14) F ON THE J-O-B – Bad Rabbits
Here’s another funny song! I love comedy music, man. “F on the J-O-B” catches you off-guard: on the first listen, it’s a fun fantasy soul jam about sex at the office with a catchy hook and just-cheesy-enough production. But pay closer attention and you’ll uncover the song’s narrative, which tells the story of a serial sexual harasser who gets reported to HR, then sent to prison, then the shit kicked out of him by a female guard. It’s a funny commentary on the scuzzy nature of so many songs meant to be seen as “sexy,” and it’s also, as I said, a smooth jam with just the right amount of cheese to make it delightful.
13) HUNGER – Florence + The Machine
Remember how I compared Bastille to Florence + The Machine earlier? Turns out, the chamber pop duo is back with their own new single this month, “Hunger,” and it’s about as great as you’d expect. There’s an undeniable magic to Florence + The Machine’s sound; it doesn’t always work, but when it does, it can consume you. And this time around, it’s hungry. In their best moments, Florence Welch and Isabella Summers remind the listener of the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Paramore, Kate Bush, and ABBA all wrapped up into one, and this song is just that. It’s another healing, rollicking, exhilarating moment in the band’s already-storied career. And now, John Mayer.
12) NEW LIGHT – John Mayer
After nearly a decade of increasingly-indefensible public behavior, culminating in him dropping an n-word in a Playboy interview (and getting torn a new one by Taylor Swift), John Mayer took a break. After a three-year hiatus, and a few more years of apologizing and humbling himself, he was finally ready to win people over once again. One problem: his music still kinda sucked. That’s the thing with “New Light”: its success has nothing to do with Mayer’s purported new leaf, or the self-deprecating side he expresses within it. It just whips ass. Of course, it’d be shallow to praise “New Light,” a song whose message is literally “If you give me just one night / You’re gonna see me in a new light,” without considering the artist’s history leading up to this point. On the other hand, to celebrate it in said context would be to treat it as if he became a better artist because of his prior transgressions, which may very well be true, but fails to properly reflect the context of his egotistical beginnings and complete reinvention as a result of the backlash to these actions. So, I’ll just leave it at saying the song whips ass.
11) FAST SLOW DISCO – St. Vincent
You already know by now that I was a huge fan of St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION, so I had to include the record’s latest single, particularly given that said single happens to be a remix of the song on the album I thought had the most untapped potential, “Slow Disco.” The souped-up version of the song takes on the air of an ’80s electronic track, reminiscent of the likes of New Order and OMD with its pulsing synths, melancholy themes, simplistic melody and punk inklings. It’s a real cathartic experience, elevated by the chorus of voices singing the chorus, which takes on a whole new life over these synths.
10) HIGH HOPES – Panic! at the Disco
On “High Hopes,” Panic! at the Disco seems to have distilled their once-chaotic sound to a science: like Pray for the Wicked‘s previous singles, it’s an undeniably-catchy big band-infused electropop banger with jaw-dropping vocal stunts and loads of religious imagery. Some may be disappointed by this homogeny, which certainly puts the band in a much different zone than they occupied during their early dominance, but like Bruno Mars’ throwback R&B sound, I find myself compelled by their style no matter how many times they replicate it. Maybe Panic! has been coasting on their learned experiences of what makes their theatre kid audience tick, or maybe they’re adopting an especially cohesive sound on this record for a reason, but either way, if it ain’t broke.
9) GOD BREAK DOWN THE DOOR – Nine Inch Nails
Now, if there’s one thing you can’t say about Nine Inch Nails, it’s that their songs sound the same. “God Break Down the Door,” the single from their forthcoming ninth studio album, takes its clearest influence from David Bowie’s Blackstar. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross combine the frenetic, jazzy sound of Bowie’s final record with their own industrial style. Reznor smooths out the harsh instrumentation with an unsettling numbness that sets the song apart from NIN’s illustrious catalogue, signaling a bold new direction in the last of their current trilogy of records.
8) ROSANNA – Weezer / AFRICA – Weezer
Two songs in one! I weighed the idea of considering these songs separately, but at the end of the day, I think one can’t really be mentioned without the other. Both songs came out of a viral internet campaign to get Weezer to cover “Africa” by Toto, a concept with obvious promise. First, the band responded cheekily by releasing a cover of a different ’80s hit by Toto: “Rosanna.” Then, a few days later, they finally did release their cover of “Africa,” and not only was it a success, but it was Weezer’s highest-charting single in over a decade. And with good reason, too. Weezer and “Africa” isn’t a match that initially strikes as worthwhile, but the reason it was in such high demand becomes apparent the minute the song starts. Personally, however, I kinda like the “Rosanna” cover more. The band adds a brass to the song that in some senses improves on the original, where their “Africa” feels a bit watered-down (admittedly, it’s hard to top the original). Still, both songs are reflective of a bizarre time in popular music, as well as the true power of social media over artists and their work.
7) SELF DESTRUCTION – Boogie
I’ve been following Compton rapper Boogie for a while now. In the time since his “The Reach” mixtape first caught my attention way back in 2015, the MC amassed a large fanbase, catching the attention of Eminem (who just recently made him the latest signee to Shady Records). Now, he’s got a new single with “Self Destruction,” which perfectly encapsulates the witty lyrics and sheer personality that brought him to the attention of the likes of Eminem, and proves he just might be the star Shady’s been looking for.
6) GEYSER – Mitski
“Geyser” is a perfect example of why Mitski has come to be known as one of the most respected artists of our time. While many an artist may be tempted to take this assured proclamation of love after years of longing ambivalence and stretch it to its bare limits, Mitski packs twice the emotional depth into a lean two and a half minutes. The euphoria the song builds to is overwhelming, and you may feel like you never want to leave, but the song isn’t a second longer or shorter than it needs to be. Mitski crafts a song like a fine blade, and “Geyser” is one of her most impressive works to date.
5) BLOOM – Troye Sivan
Now having grown into the role of pop superstar, Troye Sivan returns with “Bloom,” his prettiest, raunchiest, and possibly best song so far. Like “My My My!,” the song dips its toe into ’80s pop nostalgia, but exists squarely on Troye’s own terms, as evidenced by the cheeky #BopsBoutBottoming hashtag he started immediately after its release. Once the taboo novelty of a pop song about bottoming wears off, it becomes much more novel as a sex song of uncharacteristic sweetness, conjoining love and sex in a way pop music seems to have forgotten in recent years. “My My My!” put Troye on a brand new level, and “Bloom” proves his ascension has yet to slow down.
4) DUPPY FREESTYLE – Drake / THE STORY OF ADIDON – Pusha T
Don’t worry, this is the last time I’m putting more than one song in an entry. It may seem like a cop-out to place both of these songs on the same list, let alone in the same entry, but the fact is I’ve never been one for picking sides. This month gave us a feud between Pusha T and Drake, and as much as commentators can debate over who went too far or who had the better bars, the fact is that we were all winners. Drake awoke his inner dragon to show his lyrical teeth after Pusha provoked him on DAYTONA (only for him to retreat into mediocrity with “I’m Upset” less than a week later), and Pusha responded in kind with the most vicious diss track to come out in years. J. Prince and Kanye apparently brought the beef to a halt (I don’t trust that it’s actually over), leaving us with these two songs, each monumental in their own time, now standing as a hallmark of what could have been (or perhaps was) the best rap beef of the decade.
3) CHERUBIM – serpentwithfeet
The elevator pitch for serpentwithfeet is “Björk meets Frank Ocean (with a dash of Sufjan Stevens),” and if that’s not enough to get you interested, give “cherubim” a listen. The song is actually another #BopBoutBottoming, as it finds the Baltimore crooner professing a religious devotion to the man he loves. I’ve been following serpentwithfeet for a while, waiting for the perfect storm of all his charms to come together, and I think “cherubim” might be the one. It combines experimental vocals and electronic instrumentation, intensely emotional and double entendre-laden lyrics, and a surprisingly infectious hook. The singer put out his debut album “soil” this month, and rest assured, you’ll hear me talking about it at some point in the near future, but for now, check out “cherubim,” a damn-near perfect song.
2) GIRLFRIEND – Christine and the Queens feat. Dâm-Funk
Christine and the Queens, the pansexual pop star who’s taken France by storm and has already been expanding her reach around the globe, returns with her new bilingual single “Girlfriend.” “Girlfriend” is only the name of the English version of the song (the French version is “Damn, dis-moi”), but while both versions have their charms, it’s the heavily-accented, barely-discernible English that really pushes this one over the line for me. Chris’ tempered vocals lend the song an air of headstrong confidence, which is bolstered by the smooth ’80s-infused funk/pop beat courtesy of Stones Throw’s Dâm-Funk. When you combine that with lyrics like “Same old sadness in small lumps in my jaw / For lusting after is the usual freak show / May your girl come, birdie die under this spur / F-f-f-fingers angrily sunk on the jugular,” what’s not to love?
1) BUBBLIN’ – Anderson .Paak
I kinda new this song would top the list as soon as it came out. Sure, I had moments of contemplation as I was filing down the shortlist, but there was really no song this month that I fell as quickly or as hard for as I did “Bubblin’.” This blistering display of bars reflects the Dr. Dre protege’s latest push for domination: he may be known as a great singer, but never let that distract from the fact that the dude can rap his ass off. With a frenetic orchestral beat and booming bass, it’s one of the most infectious, inspired displays of sheer charisma to come out this year.