May’s a big month for a lot of reasons. Coming right at the start of the summer season, any act who wants a fighting chance at the Song of the Summer crown is gonna drop something this month. As a result, a lot of pop tends to drop in May, but it’s also a month where weirder, more niche artists come out of the woodwork. Critic-pleasing releases tend towards the later end of the year, but May is the ideal month to release a single. This time around, it was also a pretty big month for Migos. They’ve been riding that “Bad and Boujee” mainstream wave for quite some time now, and no less than 12 songs on my shortlist for this month featured at least one member of the trap trio. Still, I managed to narrow it down to 20 singles, ranked for your listening convenience. The lower half of this month’s list is pretty hip-hop-heavy, but it gets more varied as it goes on.
20) BIG FISH – Vince Staples
Kicking off this month’s list, we’ve got critically acclaimed rapper Vince Staples. “Big Fish” is the first release off his forthcoming album Big Fish Theory, and it has all the philosophical flexing, nasal Long Beach twang, and fun-yet-unsettling vibes we’ve come to expect from him. Frankly, the beat’s pretty stale, but Vince’s lyrical chops are as prime as ever and Juicy J lends a welcoming club chorus. A lesser Vince Staples track is still worthy of a mention.
19) PAPER OVA HERE – Quavo
In an interesting change of pace, all three members of Migos each released a solo single this past month. Quavo’s is the weirdest, most memorable, and probably best of the three, but the exercise allowed all three of them to showcase what they all bring to the table as artists, lending a little more appreciation to their combined efforts. “Paper Ova Here” shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does. It’s only two minutes long, sounds like a Napster track from 2006, and it sounds like Quavo and producer OG Parker are fumbling over each other to get the song to function. But somehow, it all comes together. This song probably got stuck in my head more than any other song on this list. I contemplated replacing it with Migos’ “To Hotty,” but there’s something about that hook that just works better than it has any right to.
18) F.B.G.M. – T-Pain feat. Young M.A
The King of Autotune returns with another romantic banger that feels like 2008 all over again. T-Pain sings the praises of an open relationship with an hustling, independent, bisexual woman, The classic “fuck bitches, get money” credo feels as fresh as it ever has, and lesbian gangsta rapper of the hour Young M.A stops by for a really solid guest verse. There’s something about that acoustically-minded ’00s R&B beat that always hooks me.
17) MASK ON – Joyner Lucas
This one’s lower on the list because it’s actually a freestyle over Future’s “Mask Off” and not necessarily a single in its own right, but Joyner fucking snaps as always. Hip hop’s got a lot of different facets and new directions it’s headed in, but I think Joyner’s the next super talented rapper that pretentious white dudes want you to listen to. He’s got an incredible ear for flow, able to spit at a speed that only a handful of rappers can achieve and still maintain unbelievable rhythm. Is it at the expense of content? One could argue that. He definitely does have more to say on his slower tracks. One moment that sticks out on this song, even though he alleges he isn’t calling out anyone with it, is the part where he very clearly and explicitly calls out Logic, another speedy biracial MC that boring white people like. Apparently, Logic took about six months to submit his verse for Tech N9ne’s track “Sriracha” and the verse he did send in was trash. Aside from that chestnut, the song’s mainly notable for technical reasons, but no one handles that better than Joyner.
16) CRYING IN THE CLUB – Camila Cabello
After that whole Machine Gun Kelly fiasco, I sort of tuned out Camila Cabello for a while. I like Fifth Harmony, and she’s partly responsible for arguably the best Shawn Mendes song, but I didn’t see much potential in her as a solo artist. “Crying in the Club” convinced me otherwise. Of course, it later turned out that the first half of the video is actually “Questions,” a totally different and probably better song that she hasn’t released yet, but still. It’s good. Maybe I just really like the title and the image it conjures, but it also feels like a really good song to cry in the club to (you can thank cowriter Sia for that). I am definitely more invested in Camila Cabello’s music than I ever have been before (that new song she did with Major Lazer is good too).
15) RAF – A$AP Mob feat. A$AP Rocky, Quavo, Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert, and Frank Ocean
From the start, this song has a fair amount going for it. An interesting blend of artists from different realms of hip hop, a mesmerizing, sparse trap beat, a funny enough concept. But as one could probably expect, it’s Frank Ocean’s verse that really pushes it over the edge. We start with Rocky, who’s actually been on fire lately. I really hope he has a project on the way, because all his most recent verses have been great. This one’s no exception, as he pitter-patters about fashion while Playboi Carti delivers ad-libs. Rocky’s verse flows nicely into our old friend Quavo’s. His verse is really solid; Uzi’s is not. Maybe some people would appreciate it, but for me, his appeal doesn’t extend any further than 16 bars. It’s Frank’s disjointed, layered bars that bring the track to new heights. Bars like “Sterling silver lasers / Rubies red, my skin too black to blush / This bitch too rare to bust / Seen her in the iPhone pages” feel like they require a whole dissertation to unspool. All in all, the song comes together really well, even though it hits a lull somewhere around the third verse.
14) GOLD – Brockhampton
Brockhampton is a goofy, grimy hip-hop collective from California, sort of like a more versatile Odd Future. They put out a lot of singles this month, and they’re all really good, but when it came down to it, I went with “Gold” for this list. A big part of that has to do with the infectious chorus: “Keep a gold chain on my neck / Fly as a jet / Boy better treat me with respect.” Everyone brings something unique to the table and it’s a really fun time.
13) WANT YOU BACK – Haim
Pop rock band Haim came back in a major way this month with “Want You Back,” a shimmering, regretful track off their forthcoming album Something to Tell You. What I like about this song is that there’s a novelty to it but it still feels distinctly timeless. It seems like the kind of song I’ll be hearing in movies for years to come. They released a slower acoustic track called “Right Now” back at the end of April and I was kind of disappointed, but this is definitely a song I can get behind.
12) YOUTH IN REVOLT – Brady Watt feat. Michael Christmas
If you’re a fan of “B.O.B.” by OutKast (i.e. a human being), check out “Youth in Revolt.” Brady Watt’s a producer and bass player who’s worked with the likes of Talib Kweli, Curren$y, Jean Grae, and Joey Bada$$, and he definitely brings that frenetic, immersive sound to the table. Boston backpack rapper Michael Christmas is more than happy to take on the lyrical challenge, showing out with his typical dextrous flows and referential, earnestly boastful lyrics. It doesn’t have a strong hook, per se, but it’s an impressive track that gets the blood pumping right from the start.
11) SWISH SWISH – Katy Perry feat. Nicki Minaj
Katy Perry’s been drawing a lot of attention lately, for better or for worse. People have definitely remarked at her onstage antics and bizarre musical direction, and many feel she’s stealing aspects of marginalized cultures without properly crediting/regarding their originators (known in the pop community as a “Madonna move”). But here’s the thing: her music is better than it’s ever been before. She hasn’t had as strong a string of singles as “Chained to the Rhythm,” “Bon Appetit,” and “Swish Swish” in over half a decade. Of all the people I expected to be in the minority rooting for, I was not expecting Katy Perry. Anyway, “Swish Swish” is a fantastic song. It’s a savage diss track that refashions club tropes into an anthem of self-empowerment. Nicki’s verse is great. “Swish swish, bish / Another one in the basket” is a great hook.
10) HEEBIEJEEBIES – Aminé feat. Kehlani
What can I say? I’m a sucker for earnestly corny choruses. Like “Swish Swish,” “Heebiejeebies” is goofy to the core, as is typical for Portland rapper Aminé. On the chorus, he and Kehlani croon “I’ve never seen your type of species / Give me heebie-jeebies.” I like this song because the phrase “heebie-jeebies” hits me in a way that’s really similar to how I process Aminé. It’s always fascinated me, just how honest about its own cheesiness is. It’s sort of mesmerizing. Aminé’s no master wordsmith, but the inclusion of Kehlani’s nasal pipes and that “heebie-jeebies” refrain make this song feel more sincere and heartfelt.
9) STRANGERS – Halsey feat. Lauren Jauregui
If you’re looking for a powerful, emotional banger for Pride Month, I highly recommend “Strangers.” The two rising pop stars, both bisexual women, sing from the perspective of two lovers (er, strangers), each unsure about where their relationship stands, each craving something deeper and not knowing if their significant other feels the same way. I’m not a huge Halsey fan, and the song sort of takes on a pretentious tone when you put it into the context of the album’s grand Romeo and Juliet metaphor, but on its own, that wistful ’80s-inspired beat and those hopeless-romantic lyrics really hit you.
8) WHAT THE HELL IS IT THIS TIME? – Sparks
Sparks is an art rock duo started in 1968 that’s been trafficking in weird shit™ pretty consistently ever since. I’m surprised I didn’t get into these guys before; apparently, they’ve been cited as an influence by the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Kurt Cobain, Morrissey, Arcade Fire, Depeche Mode, ABBA, and Paul McCartney. Their latest single is “What the Hell Is It This Time?” It lives up to its title. It’s anthemic, timeless, musically- and lyrically-dense, and just absolutely bonkers. I’m gonna have to listen to more of these guys.
7) COMPUTER BOY – Poppy
Is it disrespectful to put an intentionally-vapid bubblegum pop song right ahead of two guys who’ve been on their grind for half a century? Perhaps. But also, “Computer Boy” might be the best song Poppy’s ever made. It’s unbelievably catchy, viscerally enjoyable while also being just creepy enough to drive the point home. This is a song about falling in love with a laptop and you won’t even care. It has all the makings of a pop classic, which makes that menacing film of technology fetishism and demonic undertones all the more tantalizing. It tells so much of a story while leaving so much to the imagination, and I know I’ve said this already but it’s so goddamn catchy.
6) STOP ME – Andreas Moss
This is possibly the most memorable song I’ve heard this month. It has a really unique, sparse electronic beat, and Swedish singer Andreas Moss blends a lot of different genres to breathe a unique life into the song. I’ve heard it described as nu-R&B, and Moss definitely has a voice for nu metal, but there are also elements of pop, electronica, and soul in there. The lyrics are reference-heavy and blunt, and the part where he randomly starts singing in Swedish is delightfully pretentious. Maybe not catchy, per se, but it will definitely stick in your head.
5) FAKE MAGIC – Peking Duk and AlunaGeorge
One group that I don’t feel has gotten the attention they deserve, both on these lists and in the public eye, is AlunaGeorge. Sure, they’re decently big in the UK, and they had that one song with DJ Snake, but they’re so good. Aluna Francis has a really nice voice, they do great production work, and they’re really good songwriters. On “Fake Magic,” they team up with Australian house duo Peking Duk (they’re big in Australia) for an infectious funk track that sort of snuck up on me. I put it on the list when I first heard it, but it took a few days for it to creep into heavy rotation. It’s not the best song on the surface, but it’s the kind of song you never get tired of. And every once in a while, you need a song like that.
4) PHANTOM OF ALEPPOVILLE – Benjamin Clementine
Hey, what the fuck?
3) CHASE ME – Danger Mouse feat. Run the Jewels and Big Boi
I was already excited for Baby Driver, the next film by one of my favorite directors, Edgar Wright, but “Chase Me” may have pushed me over the edge. The song teams up Danger Mouse, one of the greatest producers alive, with the most acclaimed duo in hip-hop today (Run the Jewels) and a Southern rap icon (Big Boi). The result is quite possibly the coolest song of 2017. The beat is an instant classic, and all three rappers throw down insane verses. What’s not to love?
2) CUT TO THE FEELING – Carly Rae Jepsen
The rightful queen of pop, Carly Rae Jepsen, returns with another pitch-perfect power ballad, one of over 200 outtakes from her 2015 critical darling E•MO•TION. It’s hard to even break into a piece of pop as immaculate as “Cut to the Feeling.” First of all, that titular refrain: “I wanna cut to the feeling.” It’s a sentiment that’s certainly been expressed in pop before, even by Jepsen herself, but the breathless holler with which she delivers it is unforgettable. It’s inspiring, empowering, and downright delightful.
1) QUICK – Tank and the Bangas
I saw Tank and the Bangas’ performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series and instantly fell in love. The New Orleans funk-soul collective is unpredictable, brimming with creativity, and endlessly energetic. They’ve performed “Quick” in a number of settings before, but only released it as an official single this month, and I’m so glad. The frenetic, off-the-wall soap opera of a song is absolutely irresistible. Tank and the Bangas is on the fast track to becoming one of my favorite bands if all their songs are as much boundless, mind-bending fun as this one is.