I like pop.
I mean, I dislike the vast, vast majority of pop songs, but every year, a handful of them catch my ear, and I can’t deny them.
This year wasn’t great for pop music. Even hitmakers that I like like Drake and Rihanna didn’t release stuff that interested me too much, and Kendrick’s new stuff, while fantastic, wasn’t really “Hot 100” material. Nevertheless, there’s a lot of good here.
To qualify for this list, a song had to have debuted on the Hot 100 this year and stayed on that chart for at least 5 weeks. This sadly weans off a couple of songs that hit the chart that I really liked, but them’s the rules.
On with the countdown!
20. Rihanna – Needed Me
I didn’t really like anything off this CD the first time I heard it (except, kind of, “Same Ol’ Mistakes”, but that is literally a karaoke version of Tame Impala’s version from last year, and it never charted). Then this song sort of weaseled its way into my subconscious in the last month or so. It didn’t cause me to run out and buy ANTI or anything, but it’s not bad.
19. Rae Sremmurd – Black Beatles
I don’t know what the mannequin challenge is, and I’m not looking it up. Either way, this is the first (and likely to be only) Rae Sremmurd song that I’ve ever heard that I’ve been able to stand for more than ten seconds. The “rapping” isn’t all that great, but the beat is dreamy and very tasty.
18. James Bay – Let It Go
This probably would’ve been a lot higher on the chart around July. I sort of heard this last year, so it’s a bit of a cheat (though nowhere near the biggest cheat on this list). As it stood, I heard this one a little too much in the summer/fall, and it sort of got boring to me. I still like James Bay, though.
17. Justin Timberlake – Can’t Stop the Feeling!
I don’t know what, exactly, is so loathsome about this song. Either way, Caleb loves dancing, and this was one of the first songs he danced to, so I never had a chance to hate this one.
16. Frenship – Capsize (feat. Emily Warren)
“Capsize” is just a pleasant song that doesn’t grate, but sounds nice when it hits the eardrums. It’s a sort of ham and cheese sandwich song, and it hasn’t made me go hunt down anything by either featured artist, but it’s nice.
15. French Montana – Lockjaw (feat. Kodak Black)
If this year taught me nothing else, it’s that I would like every generic hip hop producer to either add some horns and go superbig, or take about forty chill pills and go dreamy/barely awake. Ben Billions (whoever the fuck he is) took the latter advice, and made French Montana tolerable, even if for only one song.
14. Sia – Cheap Thrills (feat. Sean Paul)
Seems weird that this is Sia’s biggest song now. It’s not nearly as good as Chadelier, but it’s fun and catchy, and likable. Sean Paul weirdly makes it better, which is not a quality I would have ascribed to Sean Paul until I heard this song.
13. Fat Joe – All the Way Up (feat. Remy Ma)
It’s all about that beat. Specifically, those horns. This just feels like a turn-of-the-century big rap song. I normally dislike Fat Joe, but readily made an exception for this.
12. The Lumineers – Ophelia
I don’t mind the Lumineers. I doubt anyone feels too strongly about them in a positive manner (negative, on the other hand…), but this song is nice. The piano has a nice touch to it, and the little twinkle in the middle of the hook is pretty great. It gets stuck in your head in a positive way.
11. Mike Posner – I Took a Pill in Ibiza (SeeB Remix)
I’ve heard enough ill about the original that I haven’t sought it out. The “woe is me” tale begins to ring a little false after about the twentieth time you’ve heard it, but “All I know are sad songs” is an underrated line, and the hook is juuust jaunty enough to cover up all that wahmbulence.
10. Ariana Grande – Into You
My weakness for the occasional Ariana Grande song went unabated this year. It was between this and “Side to Side” (I decided on one song per artist for this list), and this one just won out.
9. Coldplay -Hymn For the Weekend
Another solid Coldplay single.
8. Zayn – Pillowtalk
I absolutely hated this song the first time I heard it. The second time, I hated it a little less, by the fourth time, I was listening to see what Zayn’s other stuff sounded like (spoiler: it’s garbage). One of the best pop hooks of the year.
7. OneRepublic – Wherever I Go
I sort of hated myself for liking this one as much as I did, but the draw was instant. It turns out that OneRepublic does uptempo pop quite well.
6. The Weeknd – Starboy (feat. Daft Punk)
Abel’s new album isn’t good, but the title track surely is. Though The Weeknd doesn’t go beyond the “drugs and babes” mode that has increasingly become his rut, here he doesn’t really have to. Daft Punk doesn’t amp it up the way they have on previous tracks, but the smooth vibe is omnipresent and perfect for night driving.
5. Chance the Rapper – No Problem (feat. 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne)
Chance’s new album was heavy on the Gospel (which was at times endearing, at times offputting), but he saved himself a hell of a single. The shouts before the hook hits are some of the most enjoyable moments in music this year. Even Lil Wayne can’t drag this one down (though he does kind of try, as he has for quite a while).
4. Maren Morris – 80s Mercedes
It was just a couple of weeks ago that I heard this for the first time. I’ve heard it many times since then. The bubbly fun of the chorus, the “whoa-oh-oh’s” of the afterchorus – all of it buoyed by a hint of the country pop that totally works in the song’s favor. It’s the best straight up pop song of the year.
3. Empire of the Sun – Walking on a Dream
HA! Supermassive cheat! I love this song. I have since 2009. When it hit the Hot 100 this summer, I was elated, but completely befuddled. Apparently one car commercial was enough to vault it into previously uncharted heights. Good on them.
2. Kanye West – Famous
Oh, Kanye. Even at his most divisive and offputting (which Life of Pablo certainly is) he’s able to craft a couple of bangers. Famous is all that. The beat is huge, the sudden “bom bom dilla” breakaway is awesome, and Rihanna doing Nina Simone is fantastic. Even the cringeworthy line about Taylor Swift can’t stop this one.
1. Beyoncé – Sorry
I was not sold on Lemonade. I probably haven’t given it a fair go, but suffice to say, it doesn’t move me the way it moves many. This song, though. This song is the best song she’s ever written. It’s defiant in all the right ways. It’s deeply personal, but in a way that feels universal. It’s reserved when it ought to be, and sneering when it needs to be. It’s deeply excellent.
It’s my favorite hit song of the year.