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Top 20 Best Hit Songs of 2017 — December 28, 2017

Top 20 Best Hit Songs of 2017

Yes, with the worst out of the way, it’s time to count down the best. In a lot of ways, this year was a mixed bag. A lot of pop was very formulaic, but “pop” as a genre was much less prominent on the charts than in previous years, allowing pop artists like Lady Gaga, Kesha, and Calvin Harris to branch out in exciting new directions while non-pop artists like Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino found their way into the mainstream ear. So there was a lot of middling shit, but an above-average amount of great shit as well. Here are my personal favorites. Note: for the purposes of these lists “hit” refers to any song that made its way onto Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 or into the top 20 at any point this year.

20) MOTORSPORT – Migos, Cardi B, and Nicki Minaj

In a way, this song acted as a bookend for the year in pop rap. It acts as the first single off Migos’ upcoming Culture II, the follow-up to their January Culture album which dominated the culture for much of 2017. It features Cardi B, who made waves this year with her smash hit “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” and became the first solo female rapper to earn a #1 single this century. Nicki Minaj had a busy year herself, including high-profile beefs, a few talked-about verses, and a top-ten hit with Yo Gotti’s “Rake It Up.” In October, these five titans came together for “MotorSport,” a surprisingly-lowkey but still undeniably catchy track featuring outstanding verses by the two female MC’s and solid work from Migos. A bit overlong, perhaps, but I don’t think there’s anything I’d take out (except maybe Quavo’s verse).

19) LOVE GALORE – SZA feat. Travis Scott

“Love Galore” is the lead single off SZA’s earth-shattering debut Ctrl, and it gave mainstream audiences the first taste of the R&B songstress’ unique vocals and penmanship with a distorted, deep-groove sex song. The marriage of styles between SZA and Travis Scott goes as wonderfully as you’d expect, with Travis’ woozy psychedelic rap juxtaposed against SZA’s syrupy pipes to create something strange, but undeniably enjoyable.

18) FRIENDS – Justin Bieber feat. BloodPop®

There’s something about that big ’80s synth sound I just can’t get enough of. On “Friends,” Justin Bieber reunites with producer BloodPop, who worked on five songs from Bieber’s last album Purpose, including the smash hit “Sorry.” You can definitely hear the “Sorry” in this track, an upbeat-yet-forlorn plea to an ex-lover punctuated by weird EDM sounds and a deep, driving groove on the verses. It’s simple, but not to the point of being cut-and-dry; it still feels real in spite of its universal “Can we still be friends?” conceit.

17) BODAK YELLOW (MONEY MOVES) – Cardi B

Not since Bobby Shmurda has an up-and-coming rapper made this much of an impression with a solo single. For the latter half of 2017, “Bodak Yellow” was inescapable.  People who’d never listened to it knew half the words. There’s the famous video of an entire subway station gathering together to turn up to it. And it’s not a bad song, either. It’s simple, sure, but there’s a power in it; an infectious quality that can’t be understated. It’s a common concept (“I didn’t have money, but now I do”) handled elegantly by a rapper with a lot of potential. A lot of big singles by new rappers turn out to be flukes. I don’t think Cardi B is going anywhere.

16) MILLION REASONS – Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga’s pivot towards country was met with mixed reception. You’ll recall I rather dug the album, putting Joanne somewhere in the upper twenties on my 2016 Album of the Year list. A lot of people hated that album, most agreed it could’ve used an edit. One thing less polarizing than the album: the hit single, “Million Reasons,” which enchanted fans and critics alike by taking Gaga’s commitment to country and going all the way with it. Like “Bodak Yellow,” it’s simple: a wistful guitar-and-piano tune with pretty repetitive lyrics, but it’s Gaga’s vocal performance (one of the best of her career) that really makes the song. Of course, the simplistic folky concept does have a certain Paul Simon quality to it. It’s a perfectly timeless song, a sandbox that could be covered and transformed a million different ways. But I just need one good one to stay.

15) DESPACITO – Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee feat. Justin Bieber

Hello again, Bieber. Look, what do you want from me? Justin Bieber had like, a half dozen hit singles this year. He’s gonna have to show up on the list. You’re lucky I didn’t also throw in “Let Me Love You.” Anyway, it was a weirdly brilliant idea to throw Bieber on this track. He complements the Latin guitar surprisingly well, he gave the song the crossover appeal it needed to top the charts in the US for a billion weeks, and the way he says “despacito” is just honey on the ‘drums. Also, say what you will about Luis Fonsi, but the dude’s got hooks on hooks. In a year of hit-free hits, “Despacito” was refreshing not only for its language, but because it was an actual summer song. With how absurdly overplayed it was, it may take a few years to appreciate in quality, but I think history will be kind to “Despacito.”

14) PASSIONFRUIT – Drake

Is Drake any good? The question’s haunted me for quite some time. On the one hand, you’ll recall how “Both” made my worst list, and I put “Fake Love” and “Free Smoke” in the running as well. He’s definitely not putting very much effort into some of his music these days. More Life is a fine not-album, but there are a lot of songs on it that were pretty clearly made not out of inspiration, but out of a commercial need to put something out. On the other hand, there’s “Passionfruit.” I don’t know whether or not Drake uses ghostwriters, but assuming he doesn’t, this is probably his most impressive song to date. It’s got a brilliant, poetic structure to it; it almost feels like a St. Vincent-type art-pop song, but with a lo-fi Caribbean flair. I don’t think anyone would be doubting Drake if he put out more tracks like this.

13) FEEL IT STILL – Portugal. The Man

There’s no surer sign that the pop machine is dying than the fact that, for the better half of 2017, Portugal. The Man had a top ten hit. Yes, the indiest of indie bands finally found its way onto pop radio with “Feel It Still,” an undeniably catchy send-up to ’60s protest culture. How did these oddballs score a hit? Well, the short answer is commercials. As it’s become harder for lesser-known artists to make a living in the age of streaming, bands have started turning to advertising companies, who have been working for years to make indie rock synonymous with cars and Vitamin Water. Most heard “Feel It Still” for the first time in a commercial featuring Aaron Paul dancing on a treadmill. It picked up steam from there, thanks to its unshakable groove built around a sample of the Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman,” and the rest is history.

12) ROCKABYE – Clean Bandit feat. Anne-Marie and Sean Paul

Yeah, I still love this song. I know I’ve written about four different blurbs on it already, but what can I say? It’s such a bizarre concept, handled by the most extra name in EDM, featuring conscious raps from Sean Paul. From Paul’s opening ad-libs “All the love and devotion / Calling the moms, adoration / Foundation / A special bond of creation” to the melodramatic violin outro (represented in the video by a woman in her underwear solemnly pole dancing), it’s the most bizarre EDM-pop track to find its way onto the radio this year, and I love it dearly.

11) LOCATION – Khalid

This is another song that could be described as “weird,” but less in a cornball way and more in a “this guy’s gonna be huge” way. It’s simple, layered, and completely unforgettable. Khalid’s voice is soft, weary, but unique, and works perfectly in tandem with the desperate lyrics. And the beat is unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. bubbly synths create the illusion of a somber acoustic guitar while barely-there vocal samples give the track an otherworldly feeling. This song transports you to a strange, liminal space, and it’s easily one of the most moving songs on the radio this year.

10) ATTENTION – Charlie Puth

After a couple years of sappy, schlocky, insipid piano pop, Charlie Puth finally gave the gays what we want with “Attention.” Granted, this could’ve easily been another stupid piano ballad, and it would have been only slightly less shitty than the rest. But that groove, man. Who would’ve thought funk and Charlie Puth go so well together? Hopefully Charlie’s learned his lesson now: if your song’s gonna be stupid, it at least has to be fun. “Attention” is fun.

9) I FEEL IT COMING – The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk

If I recall correctly, this song was rather high on last year’s list, but in fairness, my standards for last year’s list were ridiculous. This year, “I Feel It Coming” was actually a hit, and I’m glad too, because it’s still an amazing song. That ’70s groove is Daft Punk at their finest, and The Weeknd’s mellifluous crooning brings it to another level. It’s pure campy disco bliss.

8) 24K MAGIC – Bruno Mars

Hey, speaking of camp. An earlier version of this list had “That’s What I Like” in the top ten, but upon further consideration, I’m ready to say definitively that “24K Magic” is a better song. It’s a brilliant send-up to the entire history of R&B, and a perfect intro to Bruno Mars’ delightful 2016 album of the same name. Sure, it’s not the type of doe-eyed piano ballad that made him big, nor is it a bold new direction, but if Bruno Mars just kept remaking “Uptown Funk” in slightly different genres for the rest of his career, I would not complain.

7) BAD LIAR – Selena Gomez

I was a fool for sleeping on this song when it came out. I let the fact that Selena Gomez has literally never made a good song before get the better of me and failed to see how absolutely brilliant this track is. It’s catchy, it’s funny, it’s relatable, and above all else, it’s super fucking weird. Selena murmurs through gonzo verses over a classic Talking Heads bass line leading up to a hook that doesn’t have any right to be as catchy as it is. One can only hope we get to see more delightfully weird shit from Selena Gomez in the future.

6) HAVANA – Camila Cabello feat. Young Thug

It took the combined star power of Young Thug, Pharrell, and Starrah, but I’m finally a Camila Cabello fan. It’s not that I hated her or anything, but between her shitty collaboration with Machine Gun Kelly, her unremarkable work with Shawn Mendes, and “Crying in the Club,” which is fine, I just kinda didn’t see what she had going for her. It turned out, all she needed was to get on a Pharrell beat. I probably listened to “Havana” more than almost any other song this year. I instantly loved it. And it’s not just the Pharrell production, or Starrah’s pen, or Young Thug’s idiosyncratic warble; I love Camila on this song. I love her voice, I love the lyrics, I love how she fits with the beat. To me, this proved that Camila is more than just a bland pop star, and I’m excited to hear what she comes out with next.

5) SIGN OF THE TIMES – Harry Styles

Here’s another song I’ve already gushed to death about. We were all ready to be excited about Harry Styles, just waiting for him to come out with something worth talking about, and by god, he delivered. Once his debut album finally dropped, some folks didn’t love it, but this song’s still pretty great, right? It’s a meticulously-paced, gorgeously-produced glam rock ballad, the sort of thing that elevates the standard for a post-boy-band debut to live up to. “Cry Me a River?” Please.

4) HUMBLE. – Kendrick Lamar

With other folks’ end-of-the-year lists coming out, it’s clear that fans and critics alike just can’t get enough of Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. While I hear a lot of praise dumped on that album and think “Well, I don’t know about that,” I will say this: “HUMBLE.” is an amazing song. That dirty piano beat, the endless quotables, the sheer swagger of it all. Kendrick’s always been a pretty vulnerable, introspective artist, so to hear him come for rappers’ necks like this is really refreshing. When you’re the king, you get to gloat, and “HUMBLE.” revels in that glory to delightful returns.

3) SLIDE – Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean and Migos

“Slide” was one of the earliest contenders for song of the year, dropping in late February and staying true all the way through December. It’s an absolute powerhouse of a song, the type of space-age summer jam to be remembered for generations to come. Calvin Harris and Frank Ocean is a fever dream collaboration that has absolutely no business working as well as it does. Frank’s vocals are heavenly as always, Quavo and Offset put in some really solid work (this is actually the song that put me onto Offset as a rapper), and the production just might be Calvin Harris’ finest work to date. It’s almost too perfect, but it’s too much fun to ignore.

2) PRAYING – Kesha

I’ve remarked several times that this song is far too powerful to play on the radio. Whenever I hear it in the car or a cafe or my school’s dining hall, I lose 80% of my brain functionality to absorb its majesty. Ryan Lewis is the best thing to happen to pop music in a long time, and he does his magic on this track to create something baroque and beautiful without falling into cliche or inaccessibility. But of course, the star of the track is Kesha herself, who sets herself apart as one of the best pop vocalists alive in one fell swoop while baring her soul on this intense five-minute track. It feels like a song that should’ve gotten old months ago, but every time I listen to it, really listen to it, it still jerks a few tears out of me.

1) REDBONE – Childish Gambino

In a scant two years, we’re going to start discussing the best songs of the decade. Music journalists will begin the process of throwing together “decade in review” lists, picking out the most impactful, inspired, and enjoyable music of the 2010’s. And at this point, one of the strongest contenders is “Redbone.” It was an instant critical smash when it dropped late last year, and after appearing in two of the best films of the decade (Moonlight and Get Out), it creeped its way onto the pop charts. Now, looking at its impact, the countless memes it spawned, Gambino’s ethereal vocals, the inspired production, and everything else, it’s hard to argue “Redbone” isn’t one for the ages. Our kids will know “Redbone.” Musicologists in the next century will know “Redbone.” Donald Glover has been cementing his place as a pop culture icon for a few years now, but with “Redbone,” we start to see him carve his place into history.

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Top 15 Worst Hit Songs of 2017 — December 26, 2017

Top 15 Worst Hit Songs of 2017

Yes, 2017 has finally come to an end, which means it’s time to start looking back at this most recent year in the form of oversaturated listicles. The more positive lists will be out shortly, but we’re starting on a brown note with my personal picks for the top 15 worst hit songs of the year. To be clear, my definition of “hit” includes any song that made it onto Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 or placed in the top 20 at any point this year. In spite of this being an especially mediocre year for pop music, it was kind of hard to pick out songs for this list. It wasn’t too hard to pick out the best, but with so many floating towards the middle, there wasn’t as much fodder to mock for the worst. As a result, I was pretty damn close to including three different songs that were also on last year’s list, but I managed to restrain myself. Anyway, here’s your fucking list.

15) BOTH – Gucci Mane feat. Drake

Now, this song isn’t too bad from the start. Half-decent, innocuous trap beat. Some pretty fun bars from Gucci, an artist who had a particularly massive year. It’s hard to get upset about this song. But then Drake comes in and… oh boy. Oh, buddy. How the mighty who once rapped “I love you like the Ninja Turtles love pizza” have fallen. It’s a grating, unpleasant chorus, already a surefire sign that Drizzy’s not on his best behavior, but it’s only accentuated by one of the worst verses of his entire career. I don’t know if Drake is just so inundated with wealth that he doesn’t know how to properly rap about it anymore, but “used to get leftovers out the fridge” is not it.

14) 2U – David Guetta feat. Justin Bieber

Now, before you write this off as tedious Bieber hate, let me just say you can expect to see Bieber on my best songs of the year list more than once. In fact, this is actually tedious David Guetta hate. Of course, I admire Guetta for a lot of things. As an artist sometimes credited as the “grandfather of EDM,” he’s had a long and illustrious career, and for a time, defined the soundscape of pop radio. The only thing is, now cats like Diplo and Rihanna have started defining the soundscape and your boy David Guetta is having some trouble adjusting. It opens with some downright bizarre lost-in-translation lyrics, but the wobbly, overblown drop really seals the track’s fate. In the age of EDM, a lot of popular songs don’t really have hooks, but they’re written around not having hooks. You can’t build up to a huge hook and then give us nothing. There’s the beginnings of a good song here, but a depressing amount of wasted potential.

13) COLD – Maroon 5 feat. Future

Count on Maroon 5 to always find new and interesting ways to suck. They almost had me going there, between “Sugar” and “This Summer’s Gonna Hurt Like a Motherfucker.” Even that weak song with Kendrick Lamar seemed like it could have been a step in the right direction. But then we got “Cold.” It’s not uncommon for a pop song to come around that’s not catchy. But rarely do we get one so impossible to get into. There’s nothing; no beat, no hook, nothing to say, nothing to do, just four absurdly long minutes of wallowing. Future gives it his all, but the track ultimately drags him down with it.

12) IN CASE YOU DIDN’T KNOW – Brett Young

I’ll be brief with this one because country’s not really my thing and if you’re reading this, there’s a solid chance it isn’t yours either. I don’t want to comment too much on a genre I have no expertise in, but listen to this song for a quick sec. Just like, 20 seconds, long enough to hear Brett Young sing. Okay, now what the fuck? Why does he sound like that? This isn’t a joke or anything. It’s clearly meant to be a serious, romantic type of thing. I just don’t know how anyone could suspend their disbelief that someone who talks like that could be sexy for a full three minutes. Okay, I’m done. Back to my comfort zone.

11) GUCCI GANG – Lil Pump

To be clear, I understand why people like this song. I understand that it’s supposed to be low-effort, and it’s supposed to provoke your standards for what constitutes a good song. The only thing is it’s also, y’know, a bad song. I don’t need hot lyrics from every song I hear, but it’s not like, catchy or anything either. It’s a bad beat. Bad hook. Bad bars. It’s just a purely unenjoyable song.

10) LET YOU DOWN – NF

You know what’s worse than bad turn-up rap? Bad conscious rap. Purported Christian rapper NF has been building up steam over the past couple years as a sort of Eminem-lite, and he made a bid for the mainstream late this year with a #1 album and a bit of a hit single in “Let You Down.” Now all he needs is a point. For now, he’s content to wallow in pitter-patter platitudes, apologizing to… someone? His dad, I guess? There’s also the shitty, melodramatic EDM beat/hook, and the ingenious rhymes like “disappointment” and “disappointed.” If you thought Eminem was washed up, wait ’til you hear what his successors are peddling.

9) ROCKSTAR – Post Malone feat. 21 Savage

At first glance, this song’s pretty inoffensive. Forgettable, decent beat, pretty solid 21 Savage verse, certainly not Post Malone’s worst. The only thing is, this was the #1 song in the country for eight weeks. What the fuck? How did this cheesy, phoned-in, lame little tune keep audiences coming for so long? The answer seems to be Post Malone’s rabid fanbase, who must have been really clamoring for him to collaborate with lo-fi gangsta rapper 21 Savage, because goddamn. How else do you explain a song with no beat, no hook, that wasn’t even played on the radio, becoming the #1 song in the country? For two months?

8) ROLEX – Ayo and Teo

Shitty Rae Sremmurd impersonators gonna shitty Rae Sremmurd impersonate. Admittedly, this song has a fun beat, and a more tactful rapper (DRAM? Drake? Rae Sremmurd?) could’ve done good things with it. But as it stands, the song itself is annoying, unpleasant, and clumsy. It’s Rae Sremmurd’s ear for hooks and rockstar attitude that makes them so enjoyable; take away the skill and the charisma and you’re left with a bad one-hit wonder meme song like “Rolex.”

7) NOW OR NEVER – Halsey

I like Halsey. She’s got an interesting sound, she’s a solid writer, I like her albums. But man, someone’s gotta help her pick out singles, because she sucks at it. Her previous album Badlands went all in on “New Americana,” arguably the worst song she’s ever released, and the charmingly-baroque follow-up hopeless fountain kingdom staked its bet on “Now or Never,” an obvious rehash of Rihanna’s “Needed Me.” I mean, I’m not crazy, right? It’s literally a beat-for-beat copy. It has the same hook. Fundamentally, it has the same beat. As a fan of a lot of Halsey’s work, I kind of expect more from her.

6) WHAT LOVERS DO – Maroon 5 feat. SZA

That’s right, Maroon 5’s doing double duty this year. In some ways, this song is worse than “Cold,” but my main reason for putting it this much higher is that they had to drag SZA into it. One of 2017’s biggest breakthrough artists, one of the most exciting voices in R&B today, and she still couldn’t escape Maroon 5’s creative black hole. That tragedy aside, it’s also an insipid, unpleasant song that takes it a step further than “Cold” through A) gratingly repetitive lyrics and B) a beat that’s actually kinda good. It’s nothing special, but they could’ve put Khalid or Sia on this and made a really solid summer jam. Instead, we got “Say say say, hey hey now baby.”

5) HEATHENS – Twenty One Pilots

What? I didn’t say there weren’t any songs from last year’s list making a comeback; I just said I restrained myself. For a song like “Heathens,” I just couldn’t resist. I think I already thoroughly dug into this one on last year’s list, so I’ll keep it short, but this is really a phenomenally bad song. If it hadn’t been #1 last year, there’s a good chance it would be #1 this year. Then again, I’m not necessarily ready to say that any of the songs below are any better. Eh, they probably are. This songs so sloppy, so unfinished, so up its own ass that few can compare. Although, truth be told, it’s a little easier to stomach now that it’s not quite as ubiquitous. Still, they didn’t need to layer fucking chipmunk vocals over everything. Come on, guys.

4) GUMMO – 6ix9ine

This is another ugly, annoying meme song that just barely managed to crack the charts because people were quoting it on Twitter. The only difference is that 6ix9ine, the performer behind it, pled guilty to three felony charges of “use of a child in a sexual performance” in 2015. Earlier that year, when he was 18, he and his friend made a video of them engaging in sexual acts with a then-fourteen-year-old. So that’s, uh, pretty bad.

3) THUNDER – Imagine Dragons

Listening to all of Imagine Dragons’ recent singles, the same thought seems to cross my mind: “How am I supposed to feel about this?” The once-exciting pop rock band has been failing lately at one of the most fundamental, unappreciated aspects of making music: eliciting a specific emotional response. In that sense, “Thunder” may be the worst hit song of 2017. Yes, it’s got that annoying “thun-DAH” thing, a weirdly incongruous tone, and uncharacteristically basic lyrics, but its greatest failure is not nearly as concrete as that. It fails to make the listener feel anything.

2) BODY LIKE A BACK ROAD – Sam Hunt

Now, this song’s problems are a bit more obvious. You’re comparing a woman to a dirt road, jackass! I could cap it off there, because that’s already enough for high honors, but there’s even more to hate about this song. Namely, the track is a particularly insipid instance of “bro country,” the blight that’s been infecting mainstream country for a few years now. The beat is more DJ Mustard than Dolly Parton, complete with 1-2-snaps and “Ay! Ay! Ay!”‘s. At its core, this song is basically a hybrid of Liam Payne’s “Strip That Down” and Niall Horan’s “Slow Hands,” and while I actually like both of those songs, I don’t think “half as good as One Direction” is something your typical country singer would consider high praise. Still, this song was doomed from the start. “Body Like a Back Road.” Are you fucking serious?

1) 1-800-273-8255 – Logic feat. Alessia Cara and Khalid

Hoo boy. Get your crucifixes ready. Alright, obviously this isn’t actually the worst song of the year, in the sense that on its own, it’s probably less bad than more than a few of the songs preceding it. So if it’s not the worst, why is it at the top of the list? Well, a few reasons. First of all, it should be noted that it is pretty bad. It fails as a serious song because it’s trying too hard to be a radio single, from the Chainsmokers chords to the cheesy ad-libs to the bankable guest appearances. It also fails as a pop song because it’s super depressing and melodramatic. I get that it’s about a really serious topic, but when you hit the point of literally having a dude crying in the background for the last minute and a half, you might be going overboard. Couple that with some pretty poor lyrics (the song’s cowritten by the Chainsmokers, if you can believe it) and a few other very questionable choices (Who can relate? Woo!), and it’s obvious this song isn’t the masterpiece we’re socially obligated to pretend that it is. That’s a huge part of the problem, too: it’s taboo to not like this song. Logic suckered us into bringing his grating, nasally pipes, middle school bars, and masturbatory social commentary to number 3 on the Hot 100. Like with “Heathens,” this song’s baffling ubiquity is a big part of the reason it’s so unpleasant. If it had come and gone, peaked at #8 and raised money for a good cause, the thought to put it on this list at all wouldn’t have crossed my mind. But for the past few months, this syrupy drivel has been inescapable. That’s why it’s the worst song of 2017. Don’t @ me.

Best Songs of the Month (November 2017) — December 13, 2017

Best Songs of the Month (November 2017)

Sorry I’m a little late on this one. Finals and whatnot. This was a pretty solid month for music. Not much in the way of earth-shattering singles, but we did get some hotly-anticipated returns by the likes of Eminem, Beyonce, Rihanna, N.E.R.D., Natasha Bedingfield, Ashanti, and many more. At least three members of One Direction put out new music (plus one Big Time Rush member and one Jonas Brother), Sia dropped a surprise Christmas album, and a ton of other artists were putting out great new music throughout the month, though things seemed to quiet down a bit towards the end. Still, only twenty singles made the list, and to kick things off, here’s a long-awaited release by DMX.

20) RUDOLPH THE REDNOSE REINDEER – DMX

Back in 2012, DMX did a radio interview where he performed a live cover of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” That video went viral, five years passed, and now here we are. I’m not the type to put a ton of stock in novelty, but this is actually a really good cover. DMX’s off-the-wall energy brings sheer fun to a Christmas classic, aided by a really solid hip hop-infused instrumental. I was genuinely surprised by how good this turned out to be, and I like DMX.

19) TRAVELING LIGHT – Talib Kweli feat. Anderson .Paak

When he’s not engaging in pipin’ hot discourse on the world wide web, Talib Kweli still puts out music. Back in April, he dropped a solid EP with Styles P, and he’s already back with a full-length this month. The first single off that new album, “Traveling Light,” is a frenetic five-minute display of charisma and penmanship, slathered liberally with silky Anderson .Paak vocals. 20+ years into his career, Kweli’s as sharp as ever, and if you’re looking for bars, he’s got ’em in droves.

18) SOMETHING FOREIGN – SiR feat. ScHoolboy Q

SiR is the latest signee to Top Dawg Entertainment, and “Something Foreign” is his silky-smooth new single with fellow unconventionally-capitalized TDE crew member ScHoolboy Q. It’s got a cool, old-fashioned soul beat, with a late-night jazz club piano backing and rainy day drums. SiR’s unassuming voice carries free-flowing, flirty vocals, leading up to ScHoolboy’s show-stopping verse. Q doesn’t give out guest verses to just anyone, but when he comes through, he comes hard. 

17) PIÑATA – Vice feat. Bia, Kap G, and Justin Quiles

This was the last song I decided to put in the top 20. It was between this, Louis Tomlinson’s new song, and a couple others. I ultimately chose “Piñata” because it was the one I was thinking about the most. It’s not perfect. It’s a little simple, it feels like it could’ve come out in 2014 or 2011 or maybe even 2009. The hook is pretty ridiculous. There’s a buildup, but no real drop, which can be irritating a lot of the time. But it’s just… fun. I love the hook, I love that ludicrous suh-winnng! sound effect, it’s just a really enjoyable, memorable song. I’ve also been meaning to put something by Kap G on one of these lists for a while. Mostly the other stuff, though.

16) CARTOONS – CupcakKe

“Cartoons” is exactly the kind of song CupcakKe shines on: a dizzying two-and-a-half-minutes of raw energy, lyricism, and unfettered personality. Everything about her is over the top, from her image to her raunchy lyrics to her indulgent beats. There’s lots of wonderful wordplay all over this track, but my personal favorite is probably “I’m a snack, so I attract Scooby Doos.” CupcakKe was one of the rap game’s biggest revelations this year, and I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.

15) PINEAPPLE SKIES – Miguel

Miguel came back in a major way this month with a summery, idiosyncratic record full of soaring vocals, glitchy pop beats, and metaphorical critiques of American imperialism.  “Pineapple Skies” is one of the sunnier tracks on the record, with beachy synths and assurances that “everything’s gonna be alright.” It’s a four-and-a-half-minute journey of ecstasy, one of the most blissfully enjoyable R&B songs to come out this year. After his 2015 album Wildheart was seen as a stagnation of sorts, “Pineapple Skies” is a welcome reinvention of Miguel.

14) FAKE HAPPY – Paramore

Speaking of new directions, Paramore traffics in depressing ’80s-infused pop jams now. “Fake Happy” runs in the same vein as “Hard Times” and many of the other tracks off After Laughter, one of the best albums of the pop punk band’s illustrious career to date. Conceptually, you get a lot of what “Fake Happy” is about from the title: the narrator is fake happy, and she’s trying not to confront her reality, noting “I bet everybody here is fake happy, too.” Hayley Williams delivers an excellent vocal performance, which I suppose is to be expected, but it comes out especially on this song in particular.

13) RODNEY, LEHMAN BROTHERS PROFITED FROM SLAVERY AND OTHER TALES – Lupe Fiasco

This is another track released via Twitter by Lupe Fiasco, featuring a handful of lyrics from the previous set. It’s also another eight-minute lyrical tirade by Lupe Fiasco, swimming from topic to topic effortlessly with legendary lyrical skill. You can also barely hear it. As the song opens, you listen and think “Oh, he must have recorded this on his phone, since he’s releasing it on Twitter and everything.” But as the song wears on, you notice some samples standing out in front of others, the beat becoming clearer, deeper, while Lupe’s voice fades into the background. I have no idea what he was going for with this, but it’s mesmerizing regardless.

12) OBSESSION – OK Go

The trouble with OK Go, or perhaps their entire strategy, is that they put so much time, money, and energy into their videos that the music often gets lost in the fray. Outside of “Here It Goes Again,” their biggest hit and potentially their best song, I can’t say I remember many of their songs. It’s hard to even get an idea of how I feel about them as a bad when the videos themselves are so dazzling. I like this one, though. Lyrically, it’s not the most revelatory stuff I’ve ever heard, but there’s something about the instrumental. Something about those space-age synths, the sparse use of hard rock guitar and cowbell. It’s simplistic in a lot of ways, but deceptively complex, and it’s as tightly-produced as we’ve come to expect from the band. This is one OK Go song I won’t be forgetting any time soon.

11) SOMETHING BOUT OUR LOVE – JONES

JONES is a British alt-pop artist whose first album came out late last year. I had never heard of her before this month. But if this song is any indication, she’s found a new fan. “Something Bout Our Love” is a sparkling disco-infused electropop track with an absolutely killer beat and a pretty solid hook. I don’t have too much to say about it, it’s just a great tune by an artist with tons of potential. Check it out, why dontcha?

10) STRANGERS – Sigrid

Speaking of big tunes, I’m really digging this song. I’ve heard Sigrid a few times before, and I always felt she had a certain je ne sais quoi that I admired. This song immediately stood apart from the pack, though. Its most obvious inspiration is 1989-era Taylor Swift: introspective lyrics, hard-hitting ’80s synths, that one “hey!” sound effect in the background, you get the idea. Still, Sigrid expands on Swift’s ideas, creating someone that sounds particularly modern while still wearing its influences on its sleeve. And what a hook. It stands about halfway between Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Run Away With Me,” and that’s high praise.

9) TISK – MellowHype

After being declared dead in January 2015, cult favorite hip-hop duo MellowHype (consisting of Odd Future’s Hodgy and Left Brain) return, sounding fresher than ever on “Tisk.” The track serves as a five-minute show of lyrical strength by Hodgy, who swims through complex wordplay and elongated syllables over the simple, mesmerizing Left Brain beat. I was impressed with a lot of the stuff on Hodgy’s most recent solo effort, but he’s really stepped up to the plate on this track. At one point, he uses the word “Lincoln” about six different ways in the span of a few seconds. I’ll admit I never listened to MellowHype in their heyday, but after this onslaught, I’ll be sure to keep my ears peeled.

8) SAY LESS – Ashanti feat. Ty Dolla $ign

After a few years of dormancy, early-’00s R&B it girl Ashanti is back on a new track with Ty Dolla $ign, produced by DJ Mustard, and it absolutely slaps. Musically, the beat is a slight step backwards for Mustard, who proved his prowess with Rihanna’s “Needed Me” last year, but despite him playing his old tricks, he’s clearly harnessed their power in a major way. The beat is infectious from start to finish, as Ashanti and Ty$ glide from hook to hook with no end in sight. I don’t want to jump the gun and say this is another hit for Ashanti, but with the right team behind her, it certainly has it.

7) JUICE – Chromeo

Chromeo is a group known for bringing an ’80s flair to their electropop bangers, and “Juice” might be their freshest yet. It’s delightfully corny, incessantly catchy, and it’s got a talkbox solo. What more could you want? The hook (“You got the juice / That’s why I keep pressing ya, pressing ya”) is pure camp brilliance. Earlier this month, I revisited Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic after it was nominated for Album of the Year. “Juice” embodies a similar spirit, and its swagger can’t be tamed.

6) LEMON – N.E.R.D. and Rihanna

Yes, after years of silence (SpongeBob soundtrack album notwithstanding), N.E.R.D. is back and as ahead of its time as ever. “Lemon” is an acquired taste; its pulsating beat feels a little too fast, and Pharrell’s whiny, repetitive vocals are just barely tolerable. But once Rihanna starts rapping, there’s no turning back. You’re hooked. Rihanna’s always carried the swagger of a rapper, and this song is all the evidence we need that she should pursue rapping on a larger scale. The world needs a Rihanna rap album, that’s all I’m gonna say.

5) HEY BOY – Natasha Bedingfield

You might remember Natasha Bedingfield from her two smash hit pop masterpieces, “Unwritten” and “Pocketful of Sunshine.” Those two songs remain ingrained in the psyches of Generation Z, but little was heard of her since then, and she hasn’t released a full-length album since 2010. Now, the voice of a generation is back with “Hey Boy,” a swinging retro pop song taunting immature men in power. It’s iconic, it’s powerful, and it couldn’t have come at a more perfect time, when the world is in desperate need of A) shitty men to be taken down a few pegs and B) more Natasha Bedingfield. Also, apparently this song was co-written by Linda Perry? That’s fucking wild.

4) FINALLY IT’S CHRISTMAS – Hanson

For those of you not “in the know” who only faintly recall Hanson as mildly irritating ’90s teenyboppers, please be advised that they’ve since become the greatest Christian rock band of all time. Okay, it’s debatable whether they’re the greatest, or especially Christian, or rock, but they are a phenomenal pop rock group, and “Finally It’s Christmas” is a fine introduction to their many charms. It knows what it is, it gets you in the Christmas spirit, and it absolutely kicks ass in the process. As previously mentioned, Sia put out a Christmas album this month, and it had a few singles I seriously considered putting on the list, but at the end of the day, I haven’t heard a new Christmas song that works as well as “Finally It’s Christmas” in ages.

3) CHECK YA FABRICS – DRAM

DRAM has quickly set himself apart as an artist for whom I’ll drop everything to listen when he puts out a new single. “Check Ya Fabrics,” produced by the incomparable Rick Rubin, is one of his best songs to date. It’s a simmering slow-burn full of dizzying observations on DRAM’s own obsession with clothing. The chipmunk vocals deterred many fans, but I think they suit the song perfectly and make for a delightfully weird experience, which is what all the best DRAM songs deliver. There’s something so perfect about how it all comes together. I don’t know who it’s for, or why it was made, or what mood it’s trying to convey, but I love it all the same.

2) PUT JEWELS ON IT – Statik Selektah feat. Run the Jewels

I sort of surprised myself with how high I ended up putting this on the list. I love Statik, and I love RTJ, but it’s not like I was clamoring to see these two forces collide. There’s just something about the way they work together on this track. It’s rare to hear an RTJ track without El-P producing, but the duo’s lyrical stylings suit Statik Selektah’s refined old-school sound effortlessly. This is also one of the more impressive lyrical displays by RTJ to date. It most reminds me of the song they did with DJ Shadow last year, “Nobody Speak,” and as much as I love that song, I’m tempted to say this one outdoes it. I may come to regret putting this so high up on the list, but I’m certainly not there yet, so enjoy it!

1) KIWI – Harry Styles

November is the month Harry Styles got absolutely robbed by the Grammys, receiving a resounding zero nominations for his beloved debut Harry Styles or its lauded lead single “Sign of the Times.” November was also the month that the album’s latest single “Kiwi” was released, and it proves why Harry deserved better. I’ve probably listened to “Kiwi” more than any other song on the album, including “Sign of the Times.” It’s just so infectious, so fun, so raw. In it, Harry plays around with vintage punk aesthetics to describe a debauched encounter with an anonymous woman (ostensibly a Kiwi). If anything, it’s a show of Harry’s sheer artistic range, transitioning seamlessly from boy band fluff to glammy, indulgent ballads to this fuzzy, unfiltered rock. There’s some great lyrical moments (“It’s New York baby, always jacked up / Holland Tunnel for a nose, it’s always backed up”), but what drives the song is Harry’s sheer energy, hollering classic rhythms with a delightful intensity. It kicks ass.