You heard me. (Note: I’ll be updating this periodically as batches of new hits enter the fray)
85) HARLEM SHAKE – Baauer
One of this decade’s many instances of a song only charting because of a meme, this one didn’t even have a good meme going for it. It’s basic stuff, and I can’t say I really understand why it became a meme. The drop kind of sucks, right? It also gentrified the name “Harlem Shake,” which already referred to a fairly successful hip hop dance move.
84) SEXY AND I KNOW IT – LMFAO
Novelty songs are all well and good, but the thing is that they’re supposed to be funny. The problem with “Sexy and I Know It” isn’t JUST that it’s gross and annoying and poorly written and poorly produced. It’s also jarringly unfunny. It’s ridiculous enough that you can tell they were trying to make a joke, but there’s just no humor in it.
83) ROAR – Katy Perry
Maybe not the worst song Katy’s ever made, but “Roar” definitely has her lowest quality-to-success ratio. How does a song that was so popular become so quickly forgotten? Maybe it’s the lame beat, cliche-riddled lyrics, and overall insincere veneer that taints most of Katy’s catalog (or Katylog). This song may be inoffensive, but it’s a grotesque display of ineptitude on the part of all artists involved.
82) LIKE A G6 – Far East Movement feat. The Cataracs and Dev
Chances are you’ve heard this song, given that it was a #1 hit and all, but I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t recognize any of these names. The Cataracs were a little production team that has since kinda broken up without amounting to much on a mainstream level. Dev had a handful of hits and even has her own show on Beats 1 radio, but is still pretty much only known as the “gettin slizzard” girl. Far East Movement is the most successful Asian-American music group of all time. They’re kinda trash, unfortunately. This song has weak lyrics, a weak beat, and is in general just a pretty boring club song.
81) IMMA BE – The Black Eyed Peas
In the late ‘90s, the Black Eyed Peas were pretty cool. They weren’t lyrical masterminds, but they had really cool beats and were a lot of fun to listen to. Then Fergie entered the fray, and over time they became a sort of Michael Bay reboot of the Fugees. On this song, they say “Imma be” over 100 times, which, while grammatically correct (yes, grammar nazis, “I am going to be” is a complete sentence), still doesn’t really mean anything. When it’s elaborated on, it usually refers to stuff they’re currently doing, not what they’re going to do. It gets a lot better after the beat shift in the last third of the song, but it’s too little too late.
80) ONE MORE NIGHT – Maroon 5
This ill-advised foray into reggae comes from the depressing husk of the mid-’00s pop/rock game: Maroon 5. Adam Levine’s falsetto is more grating than ever and tells the tale of a relationship constantly on the brink of collapse, being held up by constant stress and last-minute empty gestures. Not a bad subject to make a song about, but M5 doesn’t exactly do the best job going into it.
79) PART OF ME – Katy Perry
Some might say I’m being too hard on Katy Perry. You’re in for a pleasant surprise later on in the list. Still, “Part of Me” is shallow, boring nonsense and I won’t stand for it. What “part of her” is she referring to? Her “soul?” What part DID he take away from her? We’ll never know, and there probably isn’t an answer to begin with.
78) RUDE – Magic!
On this song, a Canadian man pretends to be Jamaican and pisses and moans about not getting his girlfriend’s father’s blessing to marry her. Never mind that Mr. Magic! here was being a total dick to the father, and that the father was letting him down easy and reasonably, no. He’s just being rude. Oh, and let’s not even talk about what the girl thinks of all this, don’t you know I’M human? ME? The person you CALLED your FRIEND and APOLOGIZED to? Where are MY rights? Fuck you, Magic!.
77) DARK HORSE – Katy Perry feat. Juicy J
Here’s what’s weird about this song. Sure, it has all the trappings of a hit song, and I’ll even say it does most of them well, but there’s a big problem. It’s just not catchy at all. I can’t explain it. It has rhythm, and simple lyrics, and a decent beat. But it’s just not something that sticks in your head. Throw in some mixed metaphors and a totally phoned-in Juicy J verse (what is Juicy J doing with a #1 hit in the ‘10s?), and you get a generally OK song that just doesn’t work at all.
76) WHISTLE – Flo Rida
Possibly the worst of Flo Rida’s endless parade of interchangeable club bangers, this one doesn’t even offer a decent guest singer. It’s just Flo’s bizarre gravelly smarm inviting the listener to blow his dick-whistle.
75) SEE YOU AGAIN – Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth
Touching memorial to beloved actor or half-baked cynical promotional single with a gratingly white-bread singer and a lame stoner rapper who fails to form structured bars OR indicate at any point that the song is about a dead person? You decide.
74) BLURRED LINES – Robin Thicke feat. T.I. and Pharrell
We have sixty other songs ahead of us and I’m still embarrassed by how high I put this one. Robin Thicke’s failure in the wake of this song’s controversy is legendary, but many forget that it was also the #1 song in the country, and with decent reason. The production is pretty cool, and T.I. and Pharrell do a relatively OK job. If this were a list looking at the morality or general public good of pop songs, this would likely be at the bottom, but in terms of its own quality? It’s not the worst thing ever. It’s not good by any means, though.
73) BAD BLOOD – Taylor Swift feat. Kendrick Lamar
This is the first, but certainly not the only, time we’ll be seeing Taylor Swift on this list. “Bad Blood” sounds like it was made up on the spot in the studio. The production is boring and doesn’t really fit the tone of the lyrics, and Kendrick delivers some of his least-impressive bars to date. The mere fact that best rapper alive Kendrick Lamar is on the song, and the line “Band-aids don’t fix bullet holes,” keep it from being a total disaster, but then there’s everything else.
72) BLACK AND YELLOW – Wiz Khalifa
Let me get one thing straight first: this song is about a car. Both verses are about a car, the chorus is about a car, that’s all there is to it. It’s not a good song about a car, but that’s another story. I said I don’t hate Katy Perry as much as her placement on this list may make it seems, but let me be clear here: I loathe Wiz Khalifa. His personality is annoying, his lyrics aren’t clever or special or interesting, and he often can’t even manage to follow a simple rhyme scheme for more than two lines.
71) STRONGER (WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU) – Kelly Clarkson
Kelly Clarkson has been making pretty much the same song over and over for over a decade. “Stronger” isn’t even good at being the same thing. It’s a little too poppy, just a bit more polished than a good Clarkson song should be. It never feels like she’s really sold on what she’s saying, and it’s riddled with terrible writing.
70) WE FOUND LOVE – Rihanna feat. Calvin Harris
“We Found Love” might be the most important song of the decade so far. It’s basically singlehandedly responsible for the mainstream success of the electro-house genre, especially the Caribbean-infused style that’s still prominent today. It’s one of the most successful love songs of all time, and indeed, one of the most successful singles ever. It’s not very good.
69) FANCY – Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX
For her debut single, Iggy Azalea pulled out all the stops: affected “rapper voice,” lame-ass DJ Mustard wannabe beat, AND asinine lyrics. She even dragged blossoming pop star Charli XCX down with her (if you only know Charli from this song, I beseech you to give her a chance). Charli is obviously the more talented of the two, and she saves this song from the bottom five.
68) ALL OF ME – John Legend
This song isn’t bad, but it just… doesn’t really do anything for me, you know? I don’t get any enjoyment out of it. I think John Legend can do a lot better, and I don’t really understand how it became such a big hit. It’s pretty lame, right?
67) NOT AFRAID – Eminem
This was Eminem’s big comeback single. The song that finally showed people that, after years of atrocities, he was finally in a place where he could rap again. And lyrically, it’s pretty good. There’s some really clever bars on it, and it accomplishes what it set out to do. But with an uncharacteristically lame beat by Em and Boi-1da, plus an annoyingly preachy chorus, it’s really annoying when you just look at it as a song.
66) WHEN I WAS YOUR MAN – Bruno Mars
I love Bruno Mars. I really do. But they guy’s not perfect. There was a solid four-year period there where his music was marred by whiny, melodramatic sludge. I will say this song doesn’t 100% fall into that category, but it definitely falls into the category of super boring, pop-stars-trying-to-be-indie-because-that’s-what-the-people-want music that was so popular in 2013-4. It’s kind of sweet, though.
65) BREAK YOUR HEART – Taio Cruz feat. Ludacris
A man named Taio Cruz was very famous for a very short period of time in 2010, and this is his generic AutoTuned EDM-pop hit that made him famous. To be fair, though, Taio’s voice is pretty enjoyable, and it’s always nice to see Ludacris on the radio, even if he kind of phones it in.
64) ALL ABOUT THAT BASS – Meghan Trainor
Meghan Trainor is known more today for trying to empower women and instead creating a string of accidentally sexist goof-’em-ups, but when this song came out, it came out of nowhere. “Who is Meghan?” “Is she from the ‘50s?” “Why does she call her butt her boom-boom? Is she a child?” I don’t know if we ever really got the answer to this, especially since she’s sort of morphed into a mid-2000’s Jennifer Lopez for the white feminist set, but we still have this: an awkward, not particularly catchy throwaway song with a decent message that Trainor was, once again, too incompetent to do justice.
63) RAISE YOUR GLASS – P!nk
P!nk is still making the same music she was making 15 years ago, but she might be not quite as good at it as she used to be. “Raise Your Glass” is powerful, alright, but it’s also awkward and too weird but also too generic and the word “fuck” is not just censored, but bleeped out, in the “clean” version. P!nk can do better.
62) PANDA – Desiigner
I spent a long time picking this song apart, thinking about whether or not it was any good, whether or not Desiigner had any merits as an artist. But after about a year and a half’s gestation, I think it’s safe to say that “Panda” doesn’t have much going for it. It’s fine, I suppose. Not very memorable at all. The subject matter’s pretty cliche, though handled in a relatively okay way. Desiigner has two or three tracks I really like but this isn’t one of them.
61) HELLO – Adele
On the surface, this is perhaps the most generic and unimaginative song Adele has ever made, and even one of the least catchy. But I’ve since come to appreciate it a little bit. From what I understand, the song isn’t just a sadder retelling of “Hotline Bling,” but actually Adele talking to her former self, reflecting on the difference that fame has made in her life. It’s still not great.
60) TIMBER – Pitbull feat. Ke$ha
Pitbull is, in general, a scourge on pop music. But there’s a little bit of creativity in this one. Mr. Worldwide himself isn’t too cringey, Ke$ha does a pretty good job, and it has a unique sound behind it. I don’t know if they expected country pop to be the next big thing, but I think it’s for the best that it isn’t.
59) THE MONSTER – Eminem feat. Rihanna
I think the main problem with this song is that it’s too upbeat. Given its dark subject matter about coming to terms with your inner demons and letting the fame monster overtake you, the lighthearted jaunt of the “whoa-oh whoa-oh” doesn’t really work. Also, Eminem yodels.
58) THE HILLS – The Weeknd
This song is sort of an enigma. It’s dark and melancholy, but also pretty catchy. It’s very well-written, but it doesn’t make any sense. It’s sexy and violent and disgusting and cool. But is it good? Meh.
57) HOLD IT AGAINST ME – Britney Spears
So far, this is the only hit solo record from Britney Spears this decade. Building a song around a cheesy pickup line is never a good call, but the rest of the song is pretty much fine. I could definitely jam out to it, but I can honestly say I forgot about it before I started making this list.
56) CALIFORNIA GURLS – Katy Perry feat. Snoop Dogg
Let’s be serious here. This song was a bop and a half. Everyone was rocking out to this in 2010, whether they admitted it or not. But despite its irresistibility, it doesn’t hold much weight when analyzed. Some of the lyrics aren’t very good, it’s not nearly as sexy as Katy thinks it is, and Snoop is clearly phoning it in. But that’s the thing with Snoop: the less he tries, the cooler he seems. And this song is a perfect platform for not giving two shits.
55) WRECKING BALL – Miley Cyrus
I’ll be real here and say that this song didn’t get much of a rise out of me. I think it’s catchy and easy to dance to and easy to cry to and all that, but it doesn’t actually make me feel anything. It’s also kind of a ripoff of “Battlefield” by Jordin Sparks, but admittedly, a decent one.
54) GRENADE – Bruno Mars
Despite being the start of a disappointing and whiny era of Bruno Mars’ career, this is a pretty good song. It’s just unique enough to work, with excellent production from the Smeezingtons and some real passion in it. It’s still whiny and a little overwritten, but there’s some genuine emotion in there that makes it work.
53) SOMEBODY THAT I USED TO KNOW – Gotye feat. Kimbra
Oh, remember this one? “Somebody That I Used to Know” was inescapable in the summer of 2012. And yet, looking back at it, it’s pretty hard to imagine why. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s definitely not something I’d listen to if it were on the radio. It’s slow and quiet and whiny and doesn’t really come out of its shell until Kimbra’s part ⅔ of the way through. The concept of the song works and feels pretty genuine, although once again, I side much more with Kimbra’s character than I do Gotye. Really, it should come as no surprise that Kimbra is still pretty well-known in pop and Gotye has done fuckall since this song came out.
52) MOVES LIKE JAGGER – Maroon 5 feat. Christina Aguilera
At the time, “Moves Like Jagger” was maligned by critics, but I think I speak for many of us when I say that, given what we now know Maroon 5 to be capable of, this song isn’t that bad. Sure, its concept doesn’t make much sense, but at least it’s pretty unique. Christina and Adam Levine both do a fine job vocally, and the song still stands out as the only song from the past seven years that Maroon 5 will be remembered for.
51) SET FIRE TO THE RAIN – Adele
This is perhaps the most forgettable of Adele’s smash hits. It’s melodramatic, but not in a way that really stands out in Adele’s vast catalog of melodrama. It’s too sad to be “Rolling in the Deep” and too poppy to be “Someone Like You.” It’s also a pretty confused concept and not exactly Adele’s best vocal performance.
50) SHAKE IT OFF – Taylor Swift
The best thing I can say about this song is that it’s innocuous. Sure, it’s not very distinctive, and it’s pretty uncharacteristic of Taylor Swift, but it’s a fun little song. It’s something that’s easy to dance to and not easy to be upset about.
49) PILLOWTALK – Zayn
This is a tricky one to rank. I think it’s good? Maybe? It’s definitely unique and interesting and enjoyable, but something just doesn’t feel right about it. Like, I’ve never gotten this song stuck in my head. I forget about it a lot. It’s sort of half-baked, I suppose. Still, I decided to give it an okay ranking, for a few reasons. The beat is cool. Zayn has a really good voice. The concept is unique and well-executed.
48) SHAPE OF YOU – Ed Sheeran
“Shape of You” is the blandest pop song Ed Sheeran’s ever made. The thing is, Ed Sheeran is really good at making pop. It’s well-written and insanely catchy, but it suffers from a sort of lame beat and sleepy delivery that prevents it from being the top-20 showstopper it could be. Ah, well. It’s still a lot of fun to listen to.
47) FIREWORK – Katy Perry
“Firework” is poorly-written, somewhat exploitative, and way overdone, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me feel like I could conquer the world. Where “Roar” was lame, cliche-riddled, and insincere, there’s some clear emotion in “Firework,” even if it’s not real. And Katy and crew at least try to be original. I can honestly say that, before this song came out, no one ever asked me if I felt like a plastic bag.
46) GIVE ME EVERYTHING – Pitbull feat. Nayer, Ne-Yo, and Afrojack
Let’s have a quick run-through of all the people on this song. There’s latin dance-pop rapper Pitbull, who despite being ubiquitous in 2011 had only ever had 1.5 hit songs as a lead artist. There’s Ne-Yo, a fairly successful and solid R&B singer who had fallen off the map around 2008. There’s Afrojack, a Dutch-Surinamese EDM producer who, to this day, is most famous for Eminem having never heard of him. And then there’s Nayer, a Cuban pop starlet whom I know absolutely nothing about. Together, they make a pretty solid dance track.
45) WHAT’S MY NAME – Rihanna feat. Drake
I actually don’t have any opinions on “What’s My Name.” It’s pretty good. For some reason, everyone knows Drake’s verse, so that’s gotta be worth something.
44) BAD AND BOUJEE – Migos feat. Lil Uzi Vert
The thing with “Bad and Boujee” is that it’s not really different from any other Migos song. One could even argue it’s a below-average showing out for the Atlanta trio. But it’s the most Migos song. It’s everything good about the Migos, everything tolerable about Lil Uzi Vert, and the way everything sort of comes together. It’s full of memeworthy moments and it gets you turnt like nothing else. I wouldn’t mind terribly it if Migos just kept making “Bad and Boujee” over and over again for the rest of their career. And it’s looking like they just might.
43) E.T. – Katy Perry feat. Kanye West
A forgettable, charmingly-oddball Katy Perry tune with a pretty solid Kanye guest. One of the better cuts off the Teenage Dream album, but I really don’t have that much to say about it.
42) CHEAP THRILLS – Sia feat. Sean Paul
I love Sean Paul, but while his part on “Cheap Thrills” is great, the song actually fares just fine without him. It’s as catchy and powerful and danceable as any Sia song, without some of the pretentiousness that can make her songs harder to enjoy. It definitely has the hallmarks of a song from the Rihanna reject pile, but a B-grade Rihanna song isn’t the worst thing you can be.
41) CHEERLEADER – OMI
Another charming little oddity, this one from unknown Jamaican singer OMI. It’s a sweet little ditty, but the version that’s famous is actually the Felix Jaehn remix. The original is a lot better. Still, it’s a cute song.
40) PARTY ROCK ANTHEM – LMFAO feat. Lauren Bennett and GoonRock
Remember LMFAO? They were really over-the-top and silly but not funny at all? The hip hop/EDM duo got really big off of this single, but they were actually seeing chart success since their 2008 hit, “I’m in Miami Bitch.” “Party Rock Anthem” is a substantially better song. It was overplayed in its time, but after some years out of the limelight is just as infectious as it was when it just came out. Repetitive? Sure. Dumb? Absolutely. But it’s also irresistible.
39) OMG – Usher feat. will.i.am
This song might be garbage. The lyrics are pretty abysmal and will’s guest verse is indistinguishable from the rest of the song. But it’s just… mesmerizing. There’s so much going on with this song. The beat. The infectiousness of it. How bizarre and almost robotic the lyrics are. It’s just a song that unveils a new layer every time you listen to it, all while seeming less and less significant.
38) CAN’T STOP THE FEELING! – Justin Timberlake
Call it what you will. Maybe it’s unoriginal. Maybe it’s a step down for Justin. Maybe it’s a PG version of “Can’t Feel My Face.” But it just makes me feel good everytime I listen to it. On some level, I feel like by enjoying this song, I’m giving Justin Timberlake license to stop trying, and he’s one of my favorite artists (and one of my top five celebrity crushes), so I’ll say that this song is, in a certain sense, a guilty pleasure. But that’s Pleasure, with a capital P. Because it’s a serious bop.
37) BLANK SPACE – Taylor Swift
“Blank Space” is unique because it’s Taylor’s first hit where we really see her laughing at herself. It’s not exactly true-to-life, but her ability to turn herself into a caricature makes it feel really genuine. But it gets old really fast. Like, I’m only putting it this high because I know that it’s technically a great song. I would never willingly listen to it at this point.
36) LOVE THE WAY YOU LIE – Eminem feat. Rihanna
This is Eminem’s biggest hit ever. Really doesn’t feel like it, does it? It’s a fascinating portrayal of a toxic relationship, apparently representing Skylar Grey’s “abusive relationship with the music industry.” Sure. Rihanna and Em both do excellent jobs, but if anything ruins this song, it’s the beat. It just feels whiny, and while it does fit the subject matter, it makes the song just a bit hard to listen to. Still, there’s nothing technically wrong with the song. It just doesn’t feel great.
35) I’M THE ONE – DJ Khaled feat. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper, and Lil Wayne
This song’s not perfect. The chorus is overlong and not particularly memorable. Lil Wayne’s verse is basically a wash. But at the end of the day, I just think it’s a lot of fun. The beat is really sunny and immensely enjoyable, Chance’s verse is sweet and hilarious. Quavo does a pretty solid job. Khaled singles tend to be liked by many and disliked in an equal proportion. I think I dig this one.
34) WE R WHO WE R – Ke$ha
Tell me you can listen to this song and not turn the fuck up. It’s just an irresistible club song, the likes of which made Ke$ha famous. “Tik Tok” may be her most monumental work, but I’d be willing to argue that the quintessential Ke$ha track, with all the goofy lyrics, slimy imagery, and hooks that’ll be stuck in your head for years, is “We R Who We R.”
33) CAN’T HOLD US – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Ray Dalton
“Can’t Hold Us” isn’t about anything, like Macklemore’s other hit, and it’s not a dumb novelty song, like Macklemore’s other other hit, so it just sort of lingers in the middle as a really solid party song. It’ll probably fade away as the most forgettable of Mack’s hits, but it’s not bad at all. In fact, it’s arguably the best beat Ryan Lewis ever made.
32) WE ARE YOUNG – fun. feat. Janelle Monae
A waste of a perfectly good Janelle Monae, but nonetheless a really solid song. It was sadly overshadowed by fun.’s other hit, “Some Nights,” one of the greatest songs ever recorded, but it’s still really good. Officially, fun. never broke up, but they’ve all but fallen off the map, and frankly, I’m satisfied. I’m just surprised that a group like fun. made it on the pop scene at all. 2011 was a strange year. But in a good way.
31) THAT’S WHAT I LIKE – Bruno Mars
Like many Bruno Mars songs, the true main appeal of “That’s What I Like” is how goddamn fun it is. Sure, the chorus isn’t particularly catchy, and as a radio single it doesn’t exactly work (the beat is a little too weird for its own good), but it’s just impossible to resist when the guy’s having that much fun with it. This was the most original song we got from Bruno in a couple years, and it proved detractors wrong: Mars isn’t just a fine imitator; he’s a true original.
30) ONLY GIRL (IN THE WORLD) – Rihanna
Tucked away quietly in the middle of Rihanna’s cluttered red-hair phase, this song does have a power to it that I really admire. The Europop beat is certainly unique, but it’s basically drowned out by Rihanna’s impassioned, victorious vocals, which is what makes the song so enjoyable. Not Rihanna’s best work, but certainly a very good track.
29) THRIFT SHOP – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Wanz
This is probably the closest thing to a ‘50s novelty song we’ve seen on the charts this millennium. It’s admittedly pretty ridiculous, but it was a really interesting song at a time when there weren’t very many interesting songs on the radio. It’s pretty funny, it’s got a great hook (even though nothing rhymes), and it’s kinda hard not to like, even though hating on Macklemore is what all the ~cool kids~ are doing.
28) BLACK BEATLES – Rae Sremmurd feat. Gucci Mane
Rae Sremmurd, suddenly and with little fanfare, got a number one hit in November 2016 after “Black Beatles” became a viral sensation as part of the Mannequin Challenge meme. Not a sustainable method of hit-making, but I’m glad it got the attention it deserves. “Black Beatles” is a sort of stream-of-consciousness banger, with a hard yet hazy beat by Mike WiLL Made It and a charmingly inexplicable guest verse from Gucci Mane. Not a perfect song, but an immensely enjoyable one.
27) LOVE YOURSELF – Justin Bieber
Only Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber could make a “go fuck yourself” song sound so sweet. And yes, in case you didn’t get the hint, that is what “you should go and love yourself” means. Ol’ Eddy works really well with the Biebz, whose breathy, minimal vocals pepper Sheeran’s emotionally and verbally dense lyrics pretty well. “My mama don’t like you and she likes everyone” tells more of a story in one line than half the songs on this list do in their whole running time.
26) DESPACITO – Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee feat. Justin Bieber
This song has turned into quite the phenomenon. As of this writing, it’s been #1 in the U.S. for five weeks, has topped the charts in a staggering 45 countries, is the fourth-best-selling Latin single in U.S. history, and has been certified platinum 34 times. So, what’s the big deal? Well, I think it came at a time when pop music was waning a little. We’ve been moving towards slower, more introspective songs with fewer big hooks and more EDM drops. “Despacito” is possibly the strongest single we’ve heard on the radio all year. It’s got a killer hook. A danceable beat. It’s even got the Biebs. Quite frankly, the way Bieber sings the word “despacito” on the chorus is more than enough to carry the song on its own.
25) WORK – Rihanna feat. Drake
It took me a long time to come around on this song, but I kind of love it. It sticks with you, in a way that not a lot of 2016’s pop hits did. I still think about it sometimes, and I don’t mean absent-mindedly humming it (which I also do), but actually pondering it. There’s actually a lot going on in this song. As a side note, “If you had a twin, I would still choose you” is an underratedly terrible Drake line.
24) HAPPY – Pharrell Williams
This is a good example of what I was talking about just a second ago. The story of this song is this: Pharrell Williams is happy. He is letting you, the listener, know that if you are happy, and you know it, you’re invited to clap your hands. Some people forget how huge the backlash towards this song was, but after the dust settled, I can safely say that it still holds up. It’s got the anatomy of a classic and the content of a nursery rhyme, but it’s irresistible just the same.
23) LAST FRIDAY NIGHT (TGIF) – Katy Perry
I don’t have much experience with Kenny G, since everyone who has had experience with him has recommended that I don’t. But despite that, I’m fairly confident in saying that his saxophone solo on “Last Friday Night” is the highlight of his career. It’s a perfect moment, turning a decent Katy Perry song into something so much more. It’s an iconic moment in our history. As I said, the song itself is pretty decent, but not great.
22) CLOSER – Chainsmokers feat. Halsey
“Closer” isn’t a perfect beat. It’s not the catchiest song ever. It doesn’t really stand out among Halsey’s discography. But it works because of how fast-paced, fun, and above all else, how personal the lyrics are. It’s a forever-young party jam that’s as earnest as they come, and even if it may not stand the test of time, that doesn’t matter if “we ain’t never getting older.”
21) TIK TOK – Ke$ha
I’m not even exaggerating when I say that this song is iconic. It made Ke$ha a superstar and it defines the summer of 2010. It’s also a pretty great track. There are a few parts I could do without (the opening lines, while very memorable, aren’t great), and the beat is pretty basic, but it’s otherwise a masterpiece.
20) JUST GIVE ME A REASON – P!nk feat. Nate Ruess
OK, top 20, y’all. Just dope shit from here on out. What’s great about this song is how real it feels. There’s years of heartbreak in their voices, and the lyrics are pretty genuine. It’s also really catchy, even if it’s slower than what we’re used to hearing on the radio. It’s just a really solid song all around.
19) SOMEONE LIKE YOU – Adele
“Someone Like You” is one of the rawest emotional tracks in chart history. Adele is tornt the fuck up, and it comes through in every single aspect of this song: the music, the lyrics, the melody, her voice, etc. It’s surprisingly catchy for a song that’s so sad and bitter and about 3 bpm. I guess that’s why it’s endured after all this time.
18) WHAT DO YOU MEAN? – Justin Bieber
This was Bieber’s first (yes, first) #1 hit, and with good reason. First of all, it’s written and produced by Justin himself. Songs like “Baby” and “Boyfriend” and “As Long As You Love Me” all have more names behind them than verses on them, and in some cases Bieber isn’t credited once. As a result, “What Do You Mean?” feels more authentic than anything Bieber put out before it. The emotion behind the song seems pretty genuine, and I really like how he used a ticking clock as the base for the beat, giving the whole song a feeling of urgency and desperation.
17) S&M – Rihanna
Here’s a song only Rihanna could get onto the radio. It’s called “S&M.” It’s about S&M. The video features pretty straightforward (albeit PG-13) depictions of S&M. At one point in the song, she says “sex in the air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it.” It’s loud, perhaps obnoxious, full of cheesy lyrics, and in-your-face. And it is amazing. I can’t really describe what I like about it so much, but it seems like everyone else likes it too, so I’ll just leave it at that.
16) CALL ME MAYBE – Carly Rae Jepsen
There’s really no reason Carly Rae Jepsen shouldn’t be the biggest star in the world. E•MO•TION is a fantastic pop album full of songs that could easily have been smash hits. And yet, what we’re left with is “Call Me Maybe.” And “Good Time.” And I guess “I Really Like You.” But while “Call Me Maybe” is by no means her masterpiece, it’s an innocent and irresistible track that we just couldn’t get enough of in 2012 and that still holds up today.
15) BORN THIS WAY – Lady Gaga
As much as I love this song, I was pretty surprised to learn that it was a #1 hit. I don’t seem to remember it being that big. I mean, it was definitely a phenomenon, and it kinda still is, but I didn’t really hear it on the radio that much. It seemed like more of a cultural touchstone than a song. It changed people’s lives. It probably won a Nobel Prize or something. What’s the gay equivalent of the Nobel Prize? Can we make one? Help me out here, gay brigade (brigayde).
14) ONE DANCE – Drake feat. WizKid and Kyla
This song’s super polarizing. Anthony Fantano called it one of the worst songs of 2016. But honestly, I’m a big fan. It brings a Nigerian dancehall sound to pop radio, something we haven’t really encountered before. The production is fantastic, the lyrics are clever and fun, and in general it feels like a really good mix between “Take Care” (Drake’s best song) and “Hotline Bling” (Drake’s okayest song). It signified a seismic shift in Drake’s artistic direction, and still stands out as one of maybe four great songs on VIEWS.
13) DIAMONDS – Rihanna
The fact that Sia wrote this song sort of ruins it for me, because I kind of prefer to think that Rihanna just made this one really weird sentimental track while she was on E. Still, I think I’d like pretty much every Sia song more if it was performed by Rihanna. There’s no pretentiousness with Rihanna. When she says “Palms rise to the universe as we moonshine and molly, feel the warmth, we’ll never die, we’re like diamonds in the sky,” she means it. That’s exactly what she wants to say, whatever it means.
12) JUST THE WAY YOU ARE – Bruno Mars
This is the song that made so many men and women fall in love with smooth-talking cocaine lemur Bruno Mars. In a medium full of songs about love and sex, Mars did the impossible: he made a song that sounded like he was actually in love. It was also pretty unlike anything else on the radio, making his love interest sound like some vast unexplored tropical destination that Bruno was gawking at from his tiny off-white motorboat. There’s also some nice piano in there.
11) ROYALS – Lorde
“Royals” is a song unlike anything that came before it, anything around it, and many things after it. The modern indie girl boom owes a lot to Lorde, but very few artists have come close to her level of talent and creativity. “Royals” may not have been a brand new sentiment, but it was certainly a refreshing one. Lorde’s voice is one that many have both literally and figuratively tried to replicate, but “Royals” stands in a league of its own.
10) NOTHING ON YOU – B.o.B feat. Bruno Mars
Reminder that B.o.B made Bruno Mars famous, not the other way around. When this song came out, B.o.B was a bigger deal than Bruno Mars. What a world. But it still holds up as a really genuinely sweet song, one that works not despite, but because of B.o.B’s lyrical foibles. “You the whole package, plus you pay your taxes.” No one would say that unless they meant it. The song just gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling whenever you listen to it.
9) SORRY – Justin Bieber
Let me start off by saying that this song makes Bieber come off as a fucking douche. There is nothing redeemable about his demeanor on the song. But I think that’s the point. Some people interpret this song as a genuine plea for forgiveness, but if you really look at it, he never actually apologizes over the course of the song, and a lot of the lyrics make it seem like he’s playing a pathetic character. Not that it matters, because the real star of this track is Skrillex. He’s been impressing me a lot lately, but this still stands out as perhaps the best beat he ever made. It’s a song you can dance to, laugh at, or maybe really connect to. Me, I just stand back and appreciate it for what it is: a work of art.
8) RUDE BOY – Rihanna
I just love everything about this song. The lyrics, simple yet effective. Rihanna’s vocal performance, powerful and commanding, yet playful and sexy. The beat, combining Europop with an island flavor in unique and unexpected ways. It’s just all-around great. At the time it came out, it was one of Rihanna’s best single, and it’s aged rather well. People forget how much of an icon this track is. Try playing it for a group of people and watch their reactions. It’s always welcome.
7) LOCKED OUT OF HEAVEN – Bruno Mars
In 2012, after a few years of increasingly generic sad boy pop, Bruno Mars finally figured out what he’s best at: pretending to be someone else. “Locked Out of Heaven” may be a Police song, but it’s a very good one at that. It’s fun and sweet and energetic and all the things a good love tune should be. And let’s be real, who else would have thought to put a Police song on the radio in 2012? Not you.
6) WE ARE NEVER EVER GETTING BACK TOGETHER – Taylor Swift
She’s baaack. While she’s had a number of very impressive songs since, I still find myself pondering if “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is the best song Taylor Swift ever made. You see, Taylor is at her best when she’s authentic. Songs like “Wildest Dreams” and “Style” reflect Taylor, the biggest star in the world, being herself, and that’s something we don’t get to see a lot. And yes, “Style” is an amazing song, but it doesn’t work for the same reasons this song does. At a point towards the end of “WANEGBT,” Taylor starts talking to the audience. And she’s not delivering some Rod Serling diatribe about the dangers of a bad relationship, she’s just being herself. She’s talking how I could imagine she talks. And that’s the beauty of it. The story feels real. The guy feels like a real, relatively reasonable human being. Taylor feels like a real teenage girl (even though she was like 22 when this song came out). It’s a feeling that hasn’t really been replicated in the years since it came out. Like, ever.
5) HUMBLE. – Kendrick Lamar
Is it Kendrick’s best song? Absolutely not. The chorus is repetitive, there’s a couple weak lines, it’s far from perfect. But there’s no Kendrick song I’d rather see at #1. It’s undeniable, infectious fun. It’s ridiculous and cocky, to an even more absurd level than “Sorry.” The beat, produced by Mike WiLL Made-It, is simplistic and viscerally appealing. The hook is incredible. This man really tried to rhyme “Photoshop” with “Richard Pryor.” You tell me he’s not the best rapper alive.
4) CAN’T FEEL MY FACE – The Weeknd
Yes, you all know it: the song that made the Weeknd a star. No, the other one. No, not that one. That’s the one. This swelling ‘80s-infused pop ode to cocaine was absolutely inescapable in the summer of 2015. And it’s a fantastic song. It just has a mass to it that pop songs haven’t had enough of in recent years; it feels monumental. It’s short and repetitive, but it says what it needs to say. I can’t feel my face when I’m with you. That’s really all you need.
3) TEENAGE DREAM – Katy Perry
“Teenage Dream” is the best Katy Perry song because it’s not just a fun song. It has opinions and mindsets behind it. There’s a sort of sentimentally nihilistic underpinning holding the song up, and it makes for an irresistible yet strangely contemplative experience. I could go on and on about the layers to this song, but this article is long enough already. Suffice to say, it’s a practically flawless song.
2) ROLLING IN THE DEEP – Adele
Some of you were probably expecting this. On the other hand, some of you are probably groaning right now. But “Rolling in the Deep” isn’t going away. “Rolling in the Deep” can’t be lost in time because it’s timeless. It’s really unlike any other song I’ve ever heard. Sure, it borrows elements from a few different genres, but they come together in never-before-seen ways, and they tell a really interesting story. There are love songs and breakup songs and all that, but it’s rare to hear a “get the fuck out of my house” song. And of course, Adele’s voice is phenomenal. Something about the mix of passion and fury this song offers really suits her voice and makes for a very viscerally fun experience.
1) UPTOWN FUNK! – Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars
What is it about “Uptown Funk?” In fact, what is “Uptown Funk?” It’s definitely about something; specifically, a wild party where Bruno Mars fucks you on top of a pile of cocaine, and the fact of these parties being a frequent activity for Bruno and the gang. But it’s not the subject matter that makes it so delightful. Maybe it’s the raw exuberance with which Bruno conveys these ideas. Maybe it’s the masterful beatwork courtesy of one of our time’s greatest producers, Mark Ronson. Maybe it’s just fun. I don’t know. But I wouldn’t change a thing.