X

By clicking “Accept All Cookies,” you agree to the storing of first- and third-party cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts

The 101 Best Songs of 2015

The Hills were alive with the sound of music in 2015, a period dominated by pop monoliths — the year started with Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars threatening the all-time record for weeks spent at No. 1,  peaked with Drake and Future super-teaming at the same time that Ryan Adams ensured that Taylor Swift’s 1989 got its full 12 months in the news cycle, and ended with Adele serving as the music industry’s one-woman Black Friday. But as usual, SPIN found just as much joy in the spaces between, whether it be an Oscar-nominated child star trying her hand at Top 40, a series of gifted singer-songwriters exhuming the spirit of ’90s post-grunge for Buzz Bin-worthy alt jams, or an unnaturally ebullient rapper emerging out of nowhere — well, Paterson, New Jersey — to become the people’s champ (and unavoidable voice) of hip-hop radio.

Read on to our picks for the 101 best songs of 2015, and see how we balanced the massive with the intimate, the self-aggrandizing with the self-deprecating, the iconic with the iconoclastic. Run away with us, it’s gonna feel so good.

101. Demi Lovato, “Cool for the Summer”

From that first icy, neon piano riff, “Cool For the Summer” feels like a Miami drag race in an ‘80s dream, with a muscular force in Demi’s chorus that makes those sweet, girlish verses seem like a lie you’d tell your parents just before you’d sneak out of the house. It’s the younger, more unpredictable cousin to fellow Max Martin joint “I Kissed a Girl,” and it should’ve gone to No. 1. — JIA TOLENTINO

100. Pinegrove, “New Friends”

Montclair, New Jersey’s Pinegrove aren’t too far removed from their suburban adolescence, so when frontman Evan Stephens Hall sings of growing up and slowly shedding all of his old pals, the wounds still feel fresh and open. But consider “New Friends” a hopeful salve — over a dizzy guitar line and the whinny of a distant banjo, Hall offers cautious optimism: lose all your old friends? Go ahead and make new ones. — COLIN JOYCE

99. CL feat. Diplo, RiFF RaFF & OG Maco, “Doctor Pepper”

Diplo’s menacing, tension-filled production and K-Pop star CL’s hard-assed delivery combine for the ultimate endorsement that no brand would ever actually touch — especially since noted miscreant RiFF RAFF is involved. There doesn’t appear to be any particular reason that the all-star quartet are boasting about America’s oldest soft drink, other than that it has an authoritative ring to it, but whatever — the world can share a Coke, we’ll be chilling in the freezer, putting it on ice like the musicals. — JAMES GREBEY

98. Big Sean feat. Drake & Kanye West, “Blessings”

Give thanks for the song that spawned a thousand hashtags and all but leads off Dark Sky Paradise, the G.O.O.D. Music acolyte’s claim to Yeezus’ Holy Mountain. Though the skies may be cloudy and synths stalk ominously underneath “Blessings”— which itself threatens to be overshadowed by its Bigger Guests — Big Sean’s future is as bright as anyone’s. — HARLEY BROWN

97. Jess Glynne, “Ain’t Got Far to Go”

Glynne’s voice is so huge that she often struggles to find songs vast enough to contain it. Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be” had room; most of Glynne’s disappointing album did not. But over that rollicking piano, double-time string darts, and call-response backup of dreams, this gospel-tinged banger was the grand exception. — DAN WEISS

96. Gavin Turek, “Don’t Fight It”

“Don’t Fight It” is such a hidden gem that it wasn’t even the A-side of the Los Angeles-based Turek’s “Frontline” single, where it debuted. But the slinky, Doobies-dabbling track deserves headline billing; you’re unlikely to hear roller disco this hummable until Daft Punk’s next album in 2021. — DAN WEISS

95. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”

Ruban Nielson, leader of psych-soul project Unknown Mortal Orchestra, sounds caught in Fred Armisen’s Technology Loop in this funk-flecked creeper about getting — or not, as the case may be — someone on the horn. It’s extra-frustrating, because on top of everyday anxieties, there’s an unwelcome sense of resentment that comes into play when someone’s making you repeatedly grab at your pocket due to Phantom Vibration Syndrome — a visceral unpleasantry captured by UMO’s ominous opening horns, low-toned guitar line, and jittery, scattered percussion. Let this be another reason to stop ghosting already. — RACHEL BRODSKY

94. Floating Points, “Silhouettes (I, II, III)”

The crown jewel of electronic intellectual Floating Points’ solo debut LP Elaenia, “Silhouettes (I, II, III),” swims into focus as if doing the butterfly. Orchestral muscles exert themselves in tandem — searing strings, precisely timed loose and then tight jazz drums, ethereal choral blooms — all without breaking a sweat. The result sounds as effortless as it is staggeringly complex beneath such a pellucid surface. — HARLEY BROWN

93. Action Bronson feat. Chance the Rapper, “Baby Blue”

The closing chapter of a mini-musical within Action Bronson’s major-label debut, “Baby Blue” catches the Queens chef-turned-rapper moving on from a breakup and living the only way he knows: large. He’s reeling in swordfish, riding butt-naked in a Lamborghini, taking, er, liberties in the front row of the opera, and enjoying the company of his friends (producer Mark Ronson, featured guest Chance the Rapper, and Beats 1 DJ Zane Lowe, who co-wrote the chorus), as they raise their champagne glasses and toast the bouncy, breezy piano-and-horns arrangement they cooked up. — KYLE MCGOVERN

92. Selena Gomez, “Hands to Myself”

Selena Gomez’s vocals will never match those of Adele or Beyoncé, but she knows her own limitations, and she’s gotten better at stretching the boundaries of what her aerated tones can achieve. On the crackling, insightful “Hands to Myself,” Gomez breathes life into bars like “your me-ta-pho-ri-cal gin and juice” and “I mean I could but why would I want to?” — an all-time great pop kicker — atop a crisp Mattman & Robin hand-clapper. It’s the not-so hidden anchor of Gomez’s coming-of-age LP Revival, and with a well-timed radio push (and a prime upcoming performance slot at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, thanks very much), “Hands to Myself” will soon have its hands all over you, too. — BRENNAN CARLEY

91. A$AP Rocky feat. Rod Stewart, Miguel & Mark Ronson, “Everyday”

A$AP Rocky’s At.Long.Last.A$AP holds together almost too well: Tracks bleed into one another, thick with psychedelic ripple effects and disembodied-sounding vocals, making it tough to distinguish individual songs. The one single to rise above the psychotropic swirl is the penultimate number, the Beaujolais-sipping “Everyday,” which is boosted by a rip from none other than Rod Stewart. The small-voiced sample — taken from Stewart’s guest turn on “In a Broken Dream,” a 1972 hit by Australian band Python Lee Jackson — is so intrinsic to “Everyday” (and likely so expensive) that it earned the 70-year-old singer a prime spot on the track’s marquee, above studio contributors Miguel and Mark Ronson. Rocky’s never been shy about flashing the labels he dons, so why start now? — KYLE MCGOVERN

90. Deafheaven, “Luna”

The longest entry on a record dominated by shape-shifting epics, the ten-minute “Luna” typifies Deafheaven’s devastating and gorgeous New Bermuda. Opening with teeth-gnashing guitar and blood-curdling screams, the track builds and swells, spiraling furiously within itself until it settles, about two-thirds of the way through, into a doleful intermission. Then, the crashing denouement; frontman George Clarke continues to sacrifice his throat with lyrics that are tough to make out unless you read along — except for one word, the source of his inner strife, parsable only because he’s howling it over and over: “suburbia.” Welcome to Bermuda. — KYLE MCGOVERN

89. Dan Deacon, “When I Was Done Dying”

Fitting of a stream-of-consciousness narrative that begins with consciousness’ literal end, the climax off Dan Deacon’s Gliss Riffer album operates on its own musical plane, an ever-morphing post-folk trance of surrealist imagery (“How my skin did explode leaving only my shirt”) delivered with hymnal conviction and new-wave playfulness. Look for it on Vol. 1 of Sung Tongs to Learn and Sing. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

88. The Radio Dept., “Occupied”

As the political climate in Scandinavia increasingly favors the far right, the Radio Dept.’s Johan Duncanson has taken care to write songs whose protest messages (2010’s “The New Improved Hypocrisy,” 2014’s “Death to Fascism”) are unambiguous. Their Occupied EP and its title track blurred the lines a bit more, using language that speaks of conquest (“This was a warning”), but whether that’s romantic or political remains unclear. Their message is a whisper on the dance floor and over the din it’s hard to tell whether they want to fight or f**k. May as well do both. — COLIN JOYCE

87. Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk!”

At the tail end of 2014, “Don’t believe me, just watch” could’ve well been referring to one’s ability to top the charts with a present-day, Morris Day-esque funk ditty. But along with over one billion YouTubers, watch we did. And danced. — DAN WEISS

86. Girl Band, “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?”

It’s just as funny picturing Girl Band accidentally accosting diners at a nice steak dinner with their take on “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage?” as it is difficult to imagine an environment in which it’s comfortable enduring such brown-note blasts and chalkboard-scraping feedback. But beneath the noise throbs a pulse as thrilling and visceral as the bludgeoning bass on techno producer Blawan’s original, which is more than can be said for what’s buried beneath the band’s ride. — HARLEY BROWN

85. Hailee Steinfeld, “Love Myself”

A great song about masturbation has to match its built-in childishness with an equally convincing level of command. Eighteen-year-old actress Hailee Steinfeld gets there by way of sincerity and understatement: “Can’t help myself / No, I don’t need anybody else,” she belts on this buoyant, restless track, as the chords break new colors into the background. — JIA TOLENTINO

84. Beach Slang, “Throwaways”

All of us daydream about pulling up every root we’ve set down, but those above a certain age are usually expected to just stay put and grow extra rings around their center. Not so with forever-punk fortysomething James Alex. Throwing gruff vocals and Westerbergian melodies on top of drummer JP Flexner’s crashing cymbals, the Beach Slang frontman has no reservations about wanting to decamp to “hungrier” and “wilder” pastures — hard to blame him when the “streets ain’t got no guts.” More importantly, though, it’s weirdly reassuring to know that youthful restlessness isn’t only for the young. — RACHEL BRODSKY

83. Juan Wauters, “I’m All Wrong”

As breezy and untethered as the hands-free bike cruise Juan takes through Flushing Meadows Park in the video, and as endearingly naïve in its self-confidence. Delivered in a warbling grin over hip-swiveling acoustic rhythms and handclaps that you yourself might be subconsciously providing, the song’s open-armed refrain becomes Wauters’ version of a ’70s self-help mantra: I’m All Wrong, You’re All Wrong. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

82. Father John Misty, “The Ideal Husband”

Name: Josh Tillman, a.k.a. Father John Misty. Sex: Male. Occupation: Musical shaman. Marital Status: Formerly (and dangerously) untethered, now happily married. Interests: In his darkest moments? Excessive drinking, obsessing over graying hair, sleeping late, binging on unearned attention, and worrying that this information will be made public. In his brightest moments? Channeling all of his self-awareness, self-loathing, and self-absorption into rich, meticulously assembled songs. — KYLE MCGOVERN

81. Thomas Rhett, “Crash and Burn”

That’s the sound of the men of country realizing that Sam Cooke was long overdue for a Nashville reboot. Zac Brown and Brett Eldredge achieved similar revelations in 2015, but none did so more memorably than Thomas Rhett, who best harnessed the sweet science of ‘60s soul for the perfect whistling, grunting, and sashaying accompaniment to the sound of his teardrops falling dow-ow-ow-ow-ownnnnn. A “lesson learned,” for sure. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER



80. Sufjan Stevens, “Should Have Known Better”

The early high point of Sufjan Stevens’ return-to-form LP, “Should Have Known Better” has him grieving for his mother, and, as with all of Stevens’ best songs, it comes alive in the juxtaposition of anguish and delicacy. Halfway through there’s a break that could ruin you: “I only want to be a relief,” sings Stevens, and the track sings back, forgiving him. — JIA TOLENTINO

79. Disclosure feat. Lorde, “Magnets”

Any song that starts with shared Oreo milkshakes is bound to be good, and Disclosure’s sultry Lorde vehicle delivers on its delicious Instagram tease. Waves of shimmering synthesizers lap at the Lawrence brothers’ clanking percussion, giving each of Lorde’s slowly enunciated syllables as much distance as she’s trying to get from the cad in question. But in the end, it’s futile: Appropriate to its title, “Magnets” is irresistible. — HARLEY BROWN

78. Vic Mensa feat. Kanye West, “U Mad”

The down-pitched horns of Jericho announce one of hip-hop’s great 2015 moments of rabble-rousing, Vic pulling up skirts in the club and making terrible Ray Rice jokes while Kanye starts writing settlement checks before he even throws the first bar stool. “Oh, u mad, huh?” Well, we weren’t before… — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

77. Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment, “Sunday Candy”

Though initially released at the tail end of 2014, “Sunday Candy” marked both the archetype and peak of the flower-petal flurries that made up 2015’s Surf, Chance the Rapper’s first full-band record with the Social Experiment. Resident horn-blower Donnie Trumpet gets first billing on the record and prominent placement in the video, but the song’s sunshowers of emotion owe entirely to Chance’s half-sung/half-smiled verses, which function both as tribute to his grandmother and anticipation for his (at that point) unborn daughter. It underscores the buried message of older songs like “Cocoa Butter Kisses” and the title of his lengthy 2015 tour: “family matters.” — COLIN JOYCE

76. Speedy Ortiz, “Raising the Skate”

“I’m not bossy, I’m a boss,” asserts Speedy Ortiz frontwoman Sadie Dupuis in this towering Jenga puzzle of a track. Delivered over see-sawing guitar-work, distinctions of Dupuis being a “shooter, not the shot,” and a “captain, not a cro-o-o-o-ny” illustrate what some meeker types think but won’t say. So let’s salute — and learn from her example. — RACHEL BRODSKY

75. Meek Mill feat. Tory Lanez, “Lord Knows”

He gets knocked down, but he gets up again; say whatever you will of Drake’s not-quite-vanquished enemy but any “Dreams and Nightmares” fan knows that the furious one-flow wonder can slaughter a herculean album opener — as with the Mozart-sampling, rise-to-power bombast of this Dreams Worth More Than Money leadoff — if not a “Hotline Bling” purveyor. — DAN WEISS

74. Liturgy, “Vitriol”

Excising black metal’s entrenched throat-shredding screams and further abusing the dominant techniques of the genre (blast beats and tremolo picking) was a big project of Liturgy’s third full-length, The Ark Work. But “Vitriol” marks Hunter Hunt-Hendrix’s most seamless integration of his bafflingly disparate interests and influences. There are calls to the democratizing power of the end of days, kick drums that hit like rap beats, wonderfully twisted singing that somehow treads the unlikely intersection of Migos flow and Stockhausen’s vocal pieces. But from the start Hunt-Hendrix has been less guitarist than alchemist and all of these different elemental structures have finally come together into an unrecognizable oily whole — out of black metal comes black gold. — COLIN JOYCE

73. Sheer Mag, “Button Up”

“Don’t like the clothes that I wear / Don’t like the way that I cut my hair.” It’s easy to picture the title of Sheer Mag’s infectiously rawkous debut single as being delivered by a Mark Metcalf-esque drill sergeant, bellowing disapprovingly at singer Christina Halladay about what she wants to do with her life. But if you don’t already know the answer to that question, you really haven’t been paying attention. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

72. Leon Bridges, “Coming Home”

This one goes out to all the old-souled romantics. The opening and title track from Leon Bridges’ throwback debut album, “Coming Home” cozies up closest to those sweet on vintage rhythm and blues, who get just as weak in the knees over Sam Cooke as they do their one and only. Nostalgia aside, Bridges’ warm vocals are the real draw here, particularly when the 26-year-old opens up on the chorus, “I wanna be around you, girl.” Infatuation at its purest. — KYLE MCGOVERN

71. Cousin Stizz, “Dirty Bands”

Shoutout to Drake, but it turns out this Boston-born rapper’s drug-slinging sloganeering goes far deeper than his Drizzy-approved 2014 single titled, uh, “Shoutout.” The mantra of “Dirty Bands” is the same message; bars tout “the money from the drugs,” repetition and insistence underscoring the circularity of his pursuits. The grind weighs heavy on young Stizz, but his knack for turning simple phraseology into choruses as infectious as the rusty cans filling Massachusetts back alleys make these grimy meditations feel like celebrations. — COLIN JOYCE

70. Rabit, “Pandemic”

Just because a woman’s voice kicks off the most terrifying track on Rabit’s full-length debut doesn’t mean there’s actually any humanity in it. Like the rest of the Texas producer’s endearingly crepuscular catalog, “Pandemic” is a mess of distorted cries and whispers, percussion claps that pierce like gunshots in the night, as if to underscore the track’s bleak and affecting absence of touch, love, and intimacy. If you listen closely, the sample that starts it all sounds like a mission statement for an alien afterlife: “There aren’t any people.” — COLIN JOYCE

69. Tame Impala, “Yes I’m Changing”

Themes of growth, identity, and self-acceptance flow throughout Tame Impala’s Currents, but they’re explored most directly on the album’s no-longer-secret treasure, “Yes I’m Changing.” The lyrics are as plain as the title, with auteur Kevin Parker bottling the realization that he needs to jettison from a relationship: “Life is moving, can’t you see? / There’s no future left for you and me.” But this isn’t a tragedy, it’s an opportunity; if that’s not clear from Parker’s calm reasoning, then it is when the instrumentation blossoms, as the fat-bottomed bass and cracking handclaps become a backdrop for sparkling, resplendent synths. An evolution captured in real time. — KYLE MCGOVERN

68. Fifth Harmony, “Worth It”

The Ricky Reed-styled sax hook became one of the year’s most unavoidable sounds on pop radio, but the real thrill of Fifth Harmony’s now-signature hit comes through singer Camila Cabello’s densely packed edict on female pleasure (“I don’t like it / Like it too soft / I like it a little rough / Not too much / But maybe just enough”). For a song that started off as a Kid Ink castoff — he appears on 5H’s version for good measure — the ultra-gratifying “Worth It” works its own way back to relevancy. — BRENNAN CARLEY

67. Jam City, “Dream ’15”

Here we have a gorgeous cloud of industrial-pop that sounds like the combined work of every producer New Order turned to in the ‘80s to make them sound cool — the electro-funk edge of Arthur Baker, the percussive buoyancy of Shep Pettibone, the claustrophobic grind of Martin Hannett. You could snark that it should really be called “Dream ’85,” or you can acknowledge that the maybe the ‘80s’ predictive vision of the future was just wonderfully spot-on. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

66. Holychild, “Plastered Smile”

It’s comforting to know someone still cares about brat pop, and, more importantly, is taking it into the future. HOLYCHILD boldly goes where no Avril Lavigne has ever ventured before: into the clattering space between Sleigh Bells’ marching-band blast beats and a Charli XCX-style top line that sticks out its tongue so far the wad of gum falls out. — DAN WEISS

65. Baroness, “Shock Me”

“A deep well of despair I found the day my dreams came true,” singer John Baizley laments over a jackhammering groove — fair enough, considering the horror that befell the band just a month after the release of their breakout album. That admission reveals the Purple highlight to be not a KISS-like call to titillation, but a heart-rending plea for anything to jolt him out of his life’s post-tragedy malaise. “Shock me/ I needed a surprise!” he calls on the chorus, and if the ensuing full-band maelstrom doesn’t snap him out of his funk, it’ll at least ensure he never has the hiccups again. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

64. Jill Scott, “Closure”

Low-key perennial chart-topper Jill Scott winningly (and funkily) hits an ex where it hurts: by listing all of his favorite things she cooked for him — waffles, quiche, and don’t even think about her pepper-jack grits — none of which he’ll ever get to eat again, with punchy horns slamming the door behind him. Ouch/yum. — DAN WEISS

63. DIIV, “Dopamine”

Zachary Cole Smith is clean now, but old habits still haunt his songwriting. The dagger of DIIV’s “Dopamine” comes in the form of a lyrical sentiment that one Abel Tesfaye might agree with: “Got so high I finally felt like myself.” But instead of the Weeknd’s pity-me self-loathing, Smith’s barb comes at the tail end of an addict’s lament, as heartwrenching and delicate dream-pop soundtracks lines about soaking and shaking. The song’s central question is a puzzling one: How many years are you willing to give up for a fix? The instrumental beauty and existential crises offer two conflicting answers — all and none. — COLIN JOYCE

62. Ryn Weaver, “The Fool”

On a track that sounds like a magic-peddling caravan rolling through the woods, Ryn Weaver’s preternatural vocal gifts are at a chirping, lilting peak. When she escalates her quaver up to that nonverbal chorus coda, it sounds like a release and an epiphany; the moment communicates more clearly than words. — JIA TOLENTINO

61. Heems, “Flag Shopping”

A funnyman’s candidly defeated account of a family succumbing to xenophobia post-9/11 and plastering their home with American flags to ward off zealous racists who mispronounce their names and call their turbans “diapers.” In the wake of ISIS terrorizing Paris, it will only resonate more. — DAN WEISS



60. Kurt Vile, “Wheelhouse”

Few choruses in 2015 rock were more spellbinding than the instrumental refrain that crystallizes throughout b’lieve I’m goin down’s centerpiece, a spectral twinkle of guitar that briefly emerges from Kurt Vile’s picking before disintegrating and folding back into the song’s languorous main riff. “Sometimes I talk too much, but I gotta get it out,” the singer-songwriter unconvincingly confesses at song’s beginning. Uh, yeah, Kurt, we were just about to tell you to shut up. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

59. The Weeknd, “The Hills”

Seduction as explicit horror; Abel Tesfaye playing the predator who knows that you’re in that big house all by yourself, and that you’ll run upstairs to the bedroom when he shows up, instead of out the door like you should. Distorted synth blasts play like Psycho strings in the intro, while that scream that introduces the chorus certainly doesn’t sound like ecstasy. “Who are you to judge?” the villain asks on the bridge, and to a certain extent, it’s a fair question— after all, we’re the ones who keep inviting him in. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

58. Ciara, “I Bet”

Bit of a shame that it’s impossible to hear such a timeless-sounding, universal-feeling ballad without filling in Ciara and Future’s names to its pronouns (with Super Bowl champion Russell Wilson an implied “somebody better than you”). But “I Bet” so perfectly captured the frustration of breaking up with someone immature and predictable — enough so that they’d make a song like “Pussy Overrated,” for instance — that it almost had to be inspired by such a real-life and public breakup. “You acting like you upgraded me / I upgraded you!” Arguable point after Navyadius’ 2015, but this song was a strong enough argument for Ciara that her ex had to have the best year of his career to properly fight back. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

57. D.R.A.M., “Cha Cha”

“Cha Cha,” the spurned godfather of Drake’s metastasizing hit “Hotline Bling,” is large-hearted and electric with love. Featuring a Magic School Bus reference, a Super Mario sample, and a beat that could get the whole block popping, this is an idiosyncratic classic that sounds like a smile. — JIA TOLENTINO

56. Pender Street Steppers, “The Glass City”

As glistening, immaculate, and fragile as the title would imply, gently gliding by on a faux-horn zephyr (borrowed from Frankie Knuckles) and unobtrusive bass thump. It’s techno as retro-futurism, and you almost yearn for a huge rock to come crashing through its utopian construction just to see how breathtaking the wreckage would be. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

55. Beach House, “Space Song”

Like much of Depression Cherry, “Space Song” feels immediately familiar — thick with a foggy atmosphere, the track’s sweeping guitar and toy-drum percussion wouldn’t sound out of place on any of Beach House’s previous albums, particularly 2008’s Devotion. Still, refinements reveal themselves: the hi-def but low-lit production, the almost-antiquated synth that rises and fades throughout. For the refrain, brittle-voiced singer Victoria Legrand beckons, “Fall back / Into place.” That incantation needn’t be a sign of progress lost; it could instead underline the pleasure of resuming old habits. — KYLE MCGOVERN

54. Future, “F**K Up Some Commas”

When your song’s big enough to worm its way into a heel-cracking dance break by the world’s most beloved superstar (hey, Mrs. Carter), you know your year’s on fire. Though “F**k Up Some Commas” first sounded its sirens on Future’s 2014 tape Monster, it was his missile-after-missile-driven 2015 — and a prime appearance on Dirty Sprite 2 — that took the Kill Bill-lifted “We don’t give no f**ks, yeah” anthem to Pluto and back. Nostradamus Nayvadius, what mayhem you hath wrought. — BRENNAN CARLEY

53. Omarion feat. Chris Brown and Jhené Aiko, “Post to Be”

How do we love “Post to Be”? Let us count the ways: the choice spelling of the titular phrase, the way it’s permanently spiced up the act of grocery shopping, and even the throwaway throwback to reggae party-starter “Murder She Wrote,” largely courtesy of loutish lothario Chris Brown. Yes, all signs point to really?, but with Mustard on the beat and hip-hop sweetheart Jhené Aiko demurring as the third point of the snappiest R&B love triangle since “The Boy Is Mine,” well — that’s just the way it’s ‘pposed to be. — HARLEY BROWN

52. Diet Cig, “Harvard”

Every Ivy League put-down contains at least a modicum of insecurity. Diet Cig’s tirade against singer Alex Luciano’s ex — not to mention the new girlfriend who totally “went to school in Cambridge” — stops just short of complete catharsis. It’s tempered, beautifully, by a quivering hint of doubt before the guitar slams back in, doubling down with an epic f**k-you to status-boasting sweaters. And yeah, there’s no way she’s as loud. — JAMES GREBEY

51. Lim Kim, “Awoo”

No Stateside pop song this year breathed like this Korean emoji of a pop song, its verse’s synths popping like a benevolent Purity Ring and its chorus’ beats skittering like 45 RPM Timbaland. “Awoo” sounds factory-produced, but only if Willy Wonka’s calling the shots, making it a kinetic environment bursting with creativity, synthesis, and an intrinsic passion to get the job done with as much efficiency and fun as possible. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

50. OMI, “Cheerleader” (Felix Jaehn Remix)

As if harkened by the exceedingly chill trumpet blare that signals OMI’s coming, “Cheerleader” swept over the world like the tropical breeze that it is. Sure, “not really” isn’t the firmest affirmation of monogamy when presented with a chance to cheat, but the not-totally-committal response fits the song. There’s just no need to draw a hard line about anything when the sun-soaked grooves are this laid-back. — JAMES GREBEY

49. Skepta, “Shutdown”

Hits like Skepta’s bleeping, chaotic, heavily accented “Shutdown” are the reason why singers like Rita Ora are bandwagon-jumping on grime. It’s the song that coined another iconic Drake-ism (laser-print “Trussssssssss mi da-ddy” on my coffin please) and helped Beats 1 programmers define the station’s early sensibilities, within the same horn-honking cacophony. — BRENNAN CARLEY

48. Young Guv, “Ripe 4 Luv”

Young Guv (a.k.a. Ben Cook, the guitarist for F**ked Up) couldn’t sound less hardcore in this power-pop-a-thon of a single. Emphasizing his readiness — or, more likely, randiness — for passion with breathy vocal layers and quick, sunshiney guitar strokes, the Toronto native is in so deep, he almost channels Woody Allen in Annie Hall: “Love” is too weak a word for what he seeks. — RACHEL BRODSKY

47. Courtney Barnett, “Depreston”

Looking for a fresh start, Courtney Barnett goes house-hunting on “Depreston,” the modest centerpiece of her knockout debut. Accompanied not just by her partner, but also by brushed percussion and gentle guitar, the Aussie singer-songwriter admires the amenities: the lovely garden, the pressed-metal ceilings, etcetera. But suddenly, after noticing the shower’s handrail and the photo of a young man in Vietnam, Barnett experiences a Proustian rush on someone else’s behalf. She doesn’t care about real estate; she’s realized that she’s standing in a person’s home, where they’d sit and think, or sometimes just sit. Knocking down and rebuilding would mean demolishing somebody’s life story — a story that has stretched on ever so slightly to include this epilogue, the most lovingly rendered song on an album full of future classics. — KYLE MCGOVERN

46. Christine and the Queens, “Tilted”

French crossover star Christine is unmatched in terms of pop sophistication, and “Tilted” foregrounds her wit-spiked voice, her easy sweetness, and her taut attention to the beat. The track pulses low, like light in an empty room; synth riffs materialize out of nowhere, and she dances on top of them as if in a dream. — JIA TOLENTINO

45. Lakker, “Pylon”

A thundering death march led by Dublin-bred, Berlin-based duo Lakker, “Pylon” blankets everything before it in despair. Lined with crystalline piano but dominated by radioactive waves of fuzz, it’s the kind of techno track that not only gets your heart pounding — it could also possibly level crops and turn fruit to ash. Phone-recorded church bells ring out in the second half, tolling for all who fall within the song’s blast zone. If Christopher Nolan can’t get Hans Zimmer to score his next film, this’ll more than do the trick. — KYLE MCGOVERN

44. Colleen Green, “Deeper Than Love”

Six minutes of sparse drum machine, ominous, one-note-at-a-time guitar, and casually catalogued intimacy fears. It’s just surprising (and disco!) enough to shake those Best Coast comparisons for this axe-wielding prankster/slacker once and for all. Call it “The Safe Space Dance.”DAN WEISS

43. Tink, “Ratchet Commandments”

One of hip-hop’s most exciting young MCs brings her stone tablets to the club, excoriating lesser-thans with a parental, I take no joy in this straight-facedness. Producer Timbaland, meanwhile, presents a unified front by standing in the back with his arms folded, like he would do when Aaliyah or Missy used to drop knowledge on fools. “Y’all can’t sit with us,” Tink chastizes, and she sounds more like Ms. Norbury than Gretchen Wieners, really just wanting her charges to realize their full potential. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

42. Adam Lambert, “Ghost Town”

This glam-pop cheesecake scored a perfect gimmick once he had the title. First there’s a lonely-so-lonely acoustic lament and then the most unexpected synth drop of the year, giving way to — what else? — empty-saloon whistling. This jam is, in fact, big enough for the both of them. — DAN WEISS

41. RP Boo, “Bang’n on King Dr.”

“Bang’n on King Dr.” isn’t just another ecstatic issuance from one of footwork’s forerunners, it’s a history lesson too. The track’s named for the Chicago street — Martin Luther King Drive — that’s home to both one of the United States’ oldest Black parades and the earliest instances of the fleet-footed dancing that spawned the rhythmically asymmetrical genre. Boo uses the title as a self-affirmation that all of the globe-trotting forms that footwork has inspired — either with its kick-drum firebombs or deli-thin sample slices — stem from just a few kids throwing down on a street in Chicago. Gloating, but not undeserved. — COLIN JOYCE



40. Florence + the Machine, “Ship to Wreck”

“Ship to Wreck” perfectly encapsulates the majestic, barely controlled fury of Florence Welch — the standout single thrashes around like a maelstrom, an awful destructive force in the truest, awe-full sense of the word. But then her voice, a beacon of unflappable clarity, bellows out, propelling the sails of this pushed-too-far metaphor past the rocks and into the “rock.” If all the passion inflicted on her was a busted foot, then she got off lucky. — JAMES GREBEY

39. Calvin Harris & Disciples, “How Deep Is Your Love”

“Is it like Nirvana?” Not quite, but the Hakkasan kingpin’s emotionally sledgehammering ode to house music — borrowed from London’s young, hungry, and (as it turns out) ironically named Disciples — is as close to Top 40-friendly as EDM will probably ever get. “How Deep Is Your Love” is repetition as dance-floor meditation: Norwegian singer and co-writer Ina Wroldsen repeats the central, soothing question like it’s a mantra, lulling the dance floor even further into bliss with its pounding piano movements and cannonball crescendo. — HARLEY BROWN

38. Childbirth, “Nasty Grrls”

For any lady who has ever gone a month without washing her bra, sneezed into a family-style meal, or neglected the litter box, this siren-punk ode to uncleanliness could be your life. Over droning, hypnotic guitar, Julia Shapiro sing-chants triumphantly (like the Raincoats’ famously atonal Ana da Silva) about all such manners of unsanitary stuff, while bassist Bree McKenna chimes in for emphasis: “We clip our nails on the bus / Pee in the shower.” So go ahead, wipe your nose on your sleeve. It’s a woman’s right. — RACHEL BRODSKY

37. Prurient, “Dragonflies to Sew You Up”

Between Vatican Shadow’s bleak, synth-walled political critiques and his wood-chipper noise work as Prurient, it’s clear that the man born Dominick Fernow has an ear for darkness. Frozen Niagara Falls was meant to be his acoustic Prurient record; he never quite got all the way there, but “Dragonflies to Sew You Up” is reflective of a newfound humanity in his work, an understanding that for most horrors there’s a person who can be held responsible. To confront the darkness of your fellow man is far more terrifying than any Stygian abstraction. — COLIN JOYCE

36. The Knocks feat. Alex Newell, “Collect My Love”

Sonically, this long-toiling production duo is nowhere near the kitchen-sink invention of Basement Jaxx at their rootiest. But song-wise, the Knocks’ brassiest throwdown builds on the point-and-shoot guitar vamps of 2014’s “Classic” with a steelier-lunged turn by Alex Newell and an airborne “baby, baby, ooh” climax. The love in question juices every roof-raising fillip; gotta catch ‘em all. — DAN WEISS

35. Grimes, “Flesh without Blood”

Claire Boucher’s always been pretty cool with being uncool — she made a whole album inspired by Dune after all — but “Flesh without Blood” marks her dumpster-diving take on pop music’s new high. She rips muted guitar lines from Max Martin, fleshly vocal pulses from the Cocteau Twins, and jarring compositional mutations from her own early work. Out of the past’s trashy thrift-store assortment of forgotten pop ephemera comes the present’s treasure, unwieldy, otherworldly, and disgustingly beautiful. — COLIN JOYCE

34. Galcher Lustwerk, “Parlay”

Hip-house the way the Jungle Brothers never imagined — a hybrid designed for the two genres to compliment each other’s most serene and hypnotic elements, rather than their most galvanizing and floor-filling. Which certainly isn’t to say that “Parlay” doesn’t groove, just that it feels more like the drive to The Thing rather than The Thing itself, its beat humming on like bridge sections underneath your wheels, its hook blinking like a turn signal. “I got some plans to carry out,” Galcher portends in monotone sing-speak. Whatever they are, by the time the song’s six minutes are up, he’ll be ready. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

33. Kendrick Lamar, “King Kunta”

For all of To Pimp a Butterfly’s depressive doubts and self-effacing second guesses, its most single-esque moment beats its own chest bloody with conviction. Kendrick recasts Roots’ Kunta Kinte as a Blaxploitation flick hero who’s avenged his right foot and amassed a bank account full of yams, all the while dissing rivals who use ghostwriters (“Most of y’all sharing bars / Like you got the bottom bunk in a two-man cell”). It’s a lot; all of Butterfly is. But you can shake your ass to it and it makes “Control” look like Kidz Bop. — DAN WEISS

32. CHVRCHES, “Clearest Blue”

There might not be a single moment in music in 2015 better than when, after a raw, pleading buildup to a tumultuous relationship (“You were the perfect storm / But it’s not enough, it’s not enough”), “Clearest Blue” explodes. And we mean explodes: CHVRCHES soar into a cloudless flight of synth rays, free — if only just for a moment — from the chaos of doubt swirling around them. “Every open eye” isn’t just awareness, it’s recognizing and holding onto those fleeting moments of serenity that make the hurricanes worth weathering. — JAMES GREBEY

31. Bosse-de-Nage, “Washerwoman”

Finally, a black-metal song that properly uses the creeping dynamics of post-rock as the prelude to a climax apocalyptic enough to make the end of “Good Morning, Captain” sound like Belle & Sebastian. After four minutes of slasher-tense guitar-and-drum circling and another four minutes of guitar-and-drum holy-warring, “Washerwoman” audibly shorts out, because how much longer could it possibly go on, really? When your metalhead brother hears the name Godpseed You! Black Emperor, this is what he imagines them sounding like, and it’s even more beautiful than the real thing. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

30. Chromatics, “I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around”

Even before bandleader Johnny Jewel’s retro-futurist synth-pop ballads became the go-to audio cue for starkly lit streets and seedy dealings in all manner of Hollywood productions, Chromatics were set on making widescreen epics. “I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around” pairs strobe-light synths and Ruth Radelet’s neon gaze with a droning kick drum that feels as blindly cinematic as a foggy night drive. The difference here is in the detail, the attention paid to raw emotions and internal convolutions (“Baby / I’m not the same me”) — the stuff that really makes plots move. After years of filming pretty landscapes, Jewel’s decided to zoom in, and it turns out he’s as skilled at character development as he is at cinematography. — COLIN JOYCE

29. Jamie xx, “Gosh”

Built with abstract but utterly personal intention, Jamie xx’s punishingly beautiful In Colour opener “Gosh” mimics life’s structure, filtered through a strict, spiritual, and transcendently kind lens. Throwaway words build into wheeling euphoria; the old samples loop and repeat, their pattern barely broken, and then, suddenly, unasked for — there’s a miracle. — JIA TOLENTINO

28. Zara Larsson, “Lush Life”

Zara Larsson’s only 17, but she’s turning out beautifully seasoned sonic confections like a super-engineered Scandi-pop production line. “Lush Life” has gone quadruple-platinum in her home country of Sweden already (Rihanna who?), and it rocks the most delightfully delayed chorus of the year: “Now I found another crush / Lush life giving me a rush.” A foreign delicacy worth unwrapping time and time again. — BRENNAN CARLEY

27. Waxahatchee, “Poison”

For the bulk of her third album under the Waxahatchee banner, singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield deals in subdued tones: the low buzz that begins opening track “Breathless,” the soft “ooh-oh-ooohh” that sails through lead single “Air,” the solemn piano that imbues second-to-last song “Half Moon.” As affecting as Ivy Tripp’s reflective mood is, there’s no denying the teenaged thrill that comes with hearing the clattering drums and woolly distortion of “Poison,” as Crutchfield stretches out the admission, “I-IIII watch you anxiousllllyyyy.” What follows is the most purely enjoyable piece of a very considered work — a yearning, flannel-clad rock song delivered with the economy of peak Guided By Voices. If the rest of Ivy Tripp feels like music to hibernate with, then “Poison” marks the moment you’re ready to return to the larger world, footing a bit unstable but eyes wide and heart open. — KYLE MCGOVERN

26. Jason Derulo, “Want to Want Me”

It’s not easy to read the title of “Want to Want Me” without cuing up Cheap Trick’s 1977 jaunt of nearly the same name, but Jason Derulo’s steamy counterpoint to “It’s Too Darn Hot” takes care of that, and fast: Our horny R&B hero nearly trips over his own name trying to get to his lady’s house, the song’s bass synthesizers thunking along to his own titillated heartbeat. “Want to Want Me” might come in second to the Weeknd’s paean to ketamine in the race for the King of Pop’s throne, but it’s way more fun. Only Jason Derulo could make upside-down push-ups over an icicle-encrusted tub — an actual scene in the music video — actually kinda hot. Please pour us an ice bath, too. — HARLEY BROWN

25. Kacey Musgraves, “Dime Store Cowgirl”

On its Dobro-dotted face, “Dime Store Cowgirl” jangles through a wistful rumination on hometown living when faced with the worldwide fame that comes with a high-profile Grammy win and a critically acclaimed major-label debut. “And I felt really small under Mt. Rushmore,” Kacey Musgraves remembers, before flipping what a woman once told her as girl — the discourteous diss, ”You’re just a dime store cowgirl” — into a chorus meant to bolster her own worth (“You can take me out of the country / But you can’t ever take the country out of me”). “Dime Store Cowgirl” is a reminder of one’s path; no obstacle is insubstantial, no journey inconsequential. Every step counts, especially when the Pageant Material star is leading the way. — BRENNAN CARLEY

24. Miguel, “Coffee”

The single version of “Coffee” added to Miguel’s EP original a mediocre guest verse — in which Wale compares his dick to a scone — but also an outro that takes the song’s heat and sends it stratospheric. (The ?WILDHEART edit wisely dropped the rap but kept the coda.) No other song this year made you so helpless; befitting its occasional “F**king” subtitle, it’s a song that keeps you in bed all day. — JIA TOLENTINO

23. Nicole Dollanganger, “You’re So Cool”

Like Bill Callahan’s Midwestern seer songs, Canadian songwriter Nicole Dollanganger possesses the ability to make songs of devotion sound morbid and turn funeral dirges sublime. “You’re So Cool” is her debut studio collection’s best example of a knack for profound morbidity — a second-person address to a serial killer who keeps the”skulls of all the high-school champs” as rotting trophies above her bed. And still there’s hope: As the instrumentation swells into biblical ecstasy, Dollanganger sings that in the future “there’s no death.” All of this twisted world will melt away, no more guts, no more glory. It’s a moment of bodily transcendence on a record that’s so fearfully and wonderfully fixated on the evil and disgust of these fleshy prisons. — COLIN JOYCE

22. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Run Away With Me”

Sound the horns and summon the hounds: Carly Rae Jepsen’s E*MO*TION opener cracks the heavens and launches their glories earthbound. Another Mattman & Robin entry on our list (even if the Swedish production game is as friendly as they say, Max Martin had better gird his loins), “Run Away With Me” gallops forward towards a sax-n-synth utopia from its very first notes, with a stunning chorus (“Baby / Take me / To the / Feeling / I’ll be your sinner in secret”) that Jepsen howls, demanding undivided attention, love, and partnership. It’s not an unreasonable request, when electro-pop pioneer Shellback aids backstage, boosting the song’s immune system to pitch-perfect health with echoing harmonizing and teetering drum pops. Sweet satisfaction’s never been so immediate. — BRENNAN CARLEY

21. Lindstrøm feat. Grace Hall, “Home Tonight”

Within a career of 28-minute exegeses, Hans-Peter Lindstrøm’s peak just might be this relatively brisk nine-minute rollercoaster of shuffling urgency, pounding house piano, and lite, bubble-wrap synth pings. There’s too much build and suspense to be truly pop, but this standalone single is also too replete with full, spiraling melodies to be categorized as a mere floor-filler. Takeaway: Before the aural ecstasy bursts through the ceiling, you might as well dance on it. — DAN WEISS



20. Future, “Thought It Was a Drought”

No matter how celebratory he sounds, Future’s output over the course of the past year has been world-weary and drowned in codeine, slurry odes to a lifestyle that he doesn’t even really sound that stoked to be living out. Few opening lines — like, ever — feel as triumphant as “I just f**ked your bitch in some Gucci flip-flops,” but repetition reduces even that extravagant transgression to a chore. “Thought It Was a Drought” stands as Future’s most compelling depiction of anhedonia: You go through your day and do all the s**t you’d always do and still feel nothing. — COLIN JOYCE

19. Alex G, “Bug”

Simple and strange tend to be the leading descriptors of Alex G’s music, but “Bug,” the first single from this year’s sweetly unnerving Beach Music, deserves another crop of adjectives: Removed. Achy. Heartbreaking. You end up thinking of all the intangible stuff you’ve lost when he whimpers, “And when you go there, you stay there.” And yet, for all of its doldrums, the song leaves a trail of bizarre humor. Composed of lo-fi acoustic strums, lightly chiming tambourine, and the Philly native’s almost-whispered falsetto, Giannascoli warps his voice like a chipmunk on helium to bleat, “Bug in the crosshaaaair.” It still goes to show: We can dwarf an insect in size, but that doesn’t stop us from feeling small either. — RACHEL BRODSKY

18. Shamir, “Call It Off”

The death of electroclash wasn’t some cyclical hype thing; the genre lacked warmth and friendliness in its posturing distance. Shamir’s blocky, 8-bit cartoon synths could squeeze into a PVC corset and knee-high leather boots no doubt, but not without cracking up giggling. And thus a kettle-voiced 21-year-old’s buoyant anti-gaslighting anthem (“You had me blame myself / Question my mental health”) deservingly took hold. The other kind of bro dance music, as in the bigger little bro we all wish we had. — DAN WEISS

17. Major Lazer and DJ Snake feat. Mø, “Lean On”

Electronic emperors Major Lazer (Diplo, Jillionaire, Walshy Fire), Danish pop singer Mø, and producer DJ Snake struck gold this year with this pulsing, hooky-as-hell dancehall-pop banger. Even if you didn’t actively tune in, chances are you heard it somewhere: Top 40 radio, someone else’s too-loud headphones, or atop a Spotify playlist (it became the service’s most-streamed song ever with more than 500 million plays). As for why “Lean On” has been so pervasive, just look to the Bill Withers 1972 smash invoked therein: Sometimes the simplest concepts are the most effective. — RACHEL BRODSKY 

16. Deerhunter, “Snakeskin”

The shame of “Snakeskin” is that the song came out in 2015 and not 1996, the year in which its idiosyncratic funkiness would’ve been most appreciated by the mainstream. The choppy guitar slink and (duh) slithering vocals may speak to the trickle-down influence of all the T. Rex that frontman Bradford Cox listened to on the set of Dallas Buyers’ Club, but the song’s indie-dance shuffle and enigmatic lyrics (“I was born with a crippled man on my back / I was national, I was geographic black”) are pure “Pepper” and Primitive Radio Gods — you can almost see Beck, patron saint of the period, breakdancing over the bridge’s drum breakdown. It should have been the song where we look back in 20 years and go, “Remember when Deerhunter had that one huge crossover hit, how weird was that?” Instead, it’ll have to suffice with simply being the band’s best pop tune to date. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

15. SOPHIE, “Just Like We Never Said Goodbye”

SOPHIE’s PRODUCT — a collection of singles new and old that, for all intents and purposes, serves as the London producer’s de facto debut album — isn’t completely removed from the sort of high-minded gimmicks employed by his friends in the PC Music collective. But separate PRODUCT’s final and most fulfilling tune, “Just Like We Never Said Goodbye,” from that extraneous context and what you have is a futuristic take on pop’s oldest and corniest trope: the love song. In this case, it’s the story of estranged lovers reconnecting and falling for each other like it’s the first time. The feminine, pitched-up vocal, intestine-twisting synths, and lack of proper percussion have the same effect on the listener — a worn-down topic becomes shiny and enthralling, and a simple line like “You still remember my favorite place,” sets off a sharp twinge. No instruction manual necessary. — KYLE MCGOVERN

14. Jack Ü feat. Justin Bieber, “Where Are Ü Now”

Compared to the raw desperation in just one line of Jack Ü’s beatific bang-a-rang, “Where Are Ü Now,” Justin Bieber’s tearful collapse to his knees at the VMAs reads like he was teleprompted. When the angel-voiced comeback kid of 2015 suddenly growls this song’s titular verse between clenched teeth, it’s like a table flip after what everyone thought was a mature breakup conversation. #Expensivestep or not, Diplo and Skrillex definitely found sounds no one’s ever heard before when they decided to fill their bass-cratered caverns with Bieber’s yodels, swirled in a computerized pitch he desperately needed to breathe again. — HARLEY BROWN

13. Bully, “Trying”

As a kid, you think adults have it all figured out — then you grow up and realize that no one knows anything. That’s what Bully frontwoman Alicia Bognanno has in mind on this breaking-point plea, which finds her “hiding from my mind,” “waiting for my period to come,” and “questioning my focus, my figure, my sexuality.” That’s clearly a lot to process, but the Nashville-based singer knows how to work out her frustration: via cathartic, voice-cracking yowls, classic alt-rock guitar ca-chunks, and a final round of asking, “Why am IIIII????” The answer, like the question, is deceivingly simple: All anyone can do is try. — RACHEL BRODSKY 

12. Drake, “Hotline Bling”

Fitting that the best and biggest pop song by the greatest Canadian MC of all-time should sound like the world’s dopest Zamboni music. With its tired narrative thrust — good girls, why oh why do you still insist on feigning badness in Drake’s presence? — “Hotline Bling” could’ve easily been an eye-roller, a heavy-handed triviality dismissed as a D.R.A.M. rip-off. But with Drizzy skating over the tap-tapping beat and organ swivels lifted from Timmy Thomas, the song achieved a light-hearted jubilance unheard from the singer/rapper since 2010’s “Best I Ever Had,” tied together with Aubrey’s masterful use of vocal call-outs (“I know when that hotline bling!” “Ever since I left the city, you!“) to release the beat. It was the world-conquering single Drake needed to put the Meek Mill feud in his rearview, and everything about it — the tell-me-more title, the instantly iconic cover art, the confidence of cutting his final chorus off and just letting the beat rock a little longer — proved that he was still Jari Kurri with the shot, boy. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

11. Nick Jonas, “Levels”

“Levels” clocks in at under three minutes, but were Nick Jonas and his production/writing team the Monsters and the Strangerz (alongside with Ian Kirkpatrick) to expand it to three hours of immaculately stacked madness, we’d still play it on a loop. The 22-year-old Jonas has always possessed soulful pipes worthy of production far superior to what he’d been offered previously, but “Levels” finally offered a beat flexible and exuberant enough to challenge him to rise to the upper-floor. Just like how Timbaland handled almost the entirety of Justin Timberlake’s grown-man breakout, 2006’s FutureSex/LoveSounds, “Levels” makes the case for the Monsters and the Strangerz to take the reins on Nick Jonas’ rise to the — shout it with us, now — ROOFTOP. — BRENNAN CARLEY

10. Kendrick Lamar, “The Blacker the Berry”

Compressing a novel’s worth of social nuance into a five-minute grenade launch, “The Blacker The Berry” is the most politically direct track on Kendrick Lamar’s resistant, mystical, prophetic third album, To Pimp A Butterfly. It was released during a bloody season, the spring of Walter Scott and Freddie Gray. And in America’s ongoing reckoning with racial doublespeak and exploitation, Lamar is exceptional in every way. He’s a millionaire 18 times over, a black man almost universally beloved, who’s seen in his honesty to be some sort of release point for anger and guilt. On this track, he’s uncommonly furious about all of it. He raps raggedly, and Boi-1da’s production hits hard, a swaggering march. The sound is as engaged with the subject’s politics as Lamar’s verses are explicitly: The backdrop is laced with pain and anxiety and promise, and the beat sounds like it’s both running towards and away from something, while bodies fall heavy on the floor. — JIA TOLENTINO

9. Death Team, “F**king Bitches in the Hood”

Once in a while, something glorious really does just come from the middle of nowhere, in this case a dolphin-obsessed Swedish duo who’ve strung together the most perfectly WTF rap verse of 2015. And they repeat it verbatim with maniacal, second-verse-same-as-the-first aplomb in all of its insane-person glory; making Trump-level claims of how deep their songs are and of owning a million white horses, generally writing all sorts of checks they can’t cash without a single line you can safely tune out. There’s a piano solo. Nothing means anything. Their other songs are completely negligible. But one thing is completely certain for two and a half minutes of Death Team’s impossible rock’n’roll magic: They’re the kind of people that you don’t want to f**k with, f**k with, you don’t want to f**k with. — DAN WEISS

8. Ought, “Beautiful Blue Sky”

By now, it’s no secret that Ought frontman Tim Darcy has a way with words. Between the Montreal foursome’s two studio albums — last year’s More Than Any Other Day and this fall’s Sun Coming Down — the thought-punk poet has recorded reams of lyrics examining, fussing over, and panicking about modern life. On the new LP’s sprawling side-two opener, “Beautiful Blue Sky,” when Darcy isn’t aiming his gaze with awe at the open canvas above us, he’s targeting with contempt the empty, insincere pleasantries that contaminate our daily lives. While he’s doling out tight six-string stabs, the singer-guitarist spits out and cycles through snatches of small talk (“How’s the family?,” “Beautiful weather today,” “Fancy seeing you here”), invokes images of war planes and fresh condos, then equates dancing with death, but finds freedom in both because they’re all he has left — well, those and the big, beautiful blue sky. Remember: The moon belongs to everyone, and the best things in life are free. — KYLE MCGOVERN

7. Tame Impala, “Let It Happen”

“Let It Happen” is the Discovery of psych-rock, eight minutes of steady vamping that coalesce into an ideal synthesis of Tame Impala’s gentle, kaleidoscopic powers and big-tent EDM’s ability to physically command. As multifaceted, whole, and mesmerizing as a disco ball, the song rotates in its own light: The drums come like flashes, the synth like static and lightning, a hum in the back like a sunrise. It’s almost wordless, but the narrative is utterly consuming, time-lapsed and panoramic. The emotional landscape roils through itself continually, with mournfulness becoming ecstasy, then questioning, then panic, then absolution. Against this relentless forward movement, the loop that comes halfway through is an unmatched minute of genius: A split-second skips, repeats, and glitches for longer than you could have ever imagined, and every time it feels like something you never knew you wanted till you had it, a certain type of strange and hollowing love. — JIA TOLENTINO

6. Kelela, “Rewind”

Misremembered fogs of K-Ci and Jojo and other hazy abstractions of the past somehow became the default mode of R&B experimentation over the past few years, but Kelela’s undoubtedly a futurist and “Rewind” is her most bafflingly forward-thinking take on the genre to date. Aided by her former Fade to Mind labelmate Kingdom and a pair producers from their British sister label, Night Slugs, Kelela morphs synthesizers and skittering drum samples into the sorts of impossible shapes and anachronistic technologies that other pop music Nostradamuses have been talking about for the last couple of years. It’s sort of like seeing a hoverboard (like, one without wheels) in the middle of some Bushwick warehouse party — or witnessing anything but a “Rewind.” — COLIN JOYCE

5. The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face”

Abel Tesfaye has never been so comfortably numb, maintaining a remarkably expressionless facade during his express elevator ride to the top of the Billboard charts. The only time the Weeknd has succumbed to his own song’s chest-swelling, fist-pumping, sing-along-until-your-throat’s-sore ecstasy is when he jumped so high at the VMAs that Kanye jumped with him. Maybe he’s still reeling from the brilliant shock of pop svengali Max Martin’s syncopated clap-backed beats, which punch through “Can’t Feel My Face” as hard as the Weeknd’s own monosyllabic cinderblocks. No matter how far they fall from ubiquity on the radio dial, the guitar-trailed yelps and gulps of his increasingly uncanny Michael Jackson pop chops aren’t going to fade anytime soon. — HARLEY BROWN

4. Jamie xx feat. Young Thug & Popcaan, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”

It wasn’t exactly shocking when the tracklist for Jamie xx’s solo debut, In Colour, revealed that the U.K. producer had tapped his co-conspirators in the xx, Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim, to contribute guest vocals. Much more intriguing was the presence of Atlanta oddball Young Thug and dancehall star Popcaan, who tag-team the LP’s liveliest cut, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times).” Decorated with dashes of steel drums and propelled by a chest-puffing (and, despite some initial confusion, totally legit) sample of the Persuasions’ 1972 song “Good Times,” the collaboration injects In Colour with some much-appreciated jubilation.

The 11-track album is no doubt an accomplishment and one of the finest full-lengths of the year, but after 30 minutes of moonlit brooding, it’s refreshing to have some sun-bathed optimism in the mix. So, Jamie sets the scene, Popcaan supplies the bridge, and Thug uses his pinched vocals to stretch and smush vowels like they’re laffy taffy. Of course, anything this attention-grabbing is going to incite some backlash — complaints that it’s too populist, too safe, too pat — and those grievances are totally valid; to certain segments of the Internet, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” is too clean and probably was forehead-smackingly obvious. But to others, it simply delivers on its name. — KYLE MCGOVERN

3. Fetty Wap, “Trap Queen”

Fetty Wap could’ve had eight top-ten hits this year — he only had three, ho hum — and there’d still be people who’d refer to him as a one-hit wonder. When an artist releases a debut single as wonderful as “Trap Queen,” you just sorta assume that they’ll spend the next decade trying in vain to replicate its success, that first hit still casting a shadow over all follow-ups. With moon-bounce sonics, a nursery-rhyme-catchy melody, and of course that one-of-a-kind croon — appraised on the track by hypeman Nitt Da Grit at a zillion bucks, and he might’ve lowballed — “Trap” sparkled like the North Star on hip-hop and Top 40 radio this year, the song that was clearly going to define 2015 before we even really knew what 2015 was. “My Way” and “679” were bangers in their own right, and Fetty’s self-titled debut LP made for one of the year’s most satisfying pop listens, but it’s “Hey-what’s-up-hello” that we’re going to be cooing to our kids as a bedtime lullaby someday. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

2. Courtney Barnett, “Pedestrian at Best”

The middlebrow ain’t what it used to be: Where one woman’s alt-rock rallying cry was once “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover,” 2015’s banner rock’n’roller smashes her alarm clock to mutter, “I’m homely, I’m a Scorpio.” On her soon-to-be-signature hit, Barnett conjures Tom Waits’ “Step Right Up” in reverse, an auctioneer rattling off her inadequacies through a megaphone as fast as she can, trying to get every bidder to walk away. Born to conduct her power trio, with some extra crunch from co-producer Dan Luscombe, she roars over Dave Mudie and Andrew “Bones” Sloane’s best Krist-and-Dave with her anxiety-attack guitar and still probably ranks herself fifth in the crew. Fueled by unrelenting impostor syndrome, Barnett vows to slay the dragons of excellence with her sword of mediocrity, and luckily, she loses. How will she sleep at night over all this success? On top of a pile of money, all folded into elephants. — DAN WEISS

1. Justin Bieber, “What Do You Mean?”

The tick-tocking clock that leads off “What Do You Mean?” could very easily have come straight from Justin Bieber’s head. The annals of pop history are littered with obnoxious teenage megastars who the public decided they didn’t like so much once they came of drinking age — in another world, maybe Bieber becomes the laughing stock of the Internet for his sadly ludicrous claims to being the successor to Michael Jackson. After spending two years hand-cranking the tabloid-media cycle, enduring his biggest commercial failure, and permanently destroying his Ideal Underage Boyfriend image, the Biebs was at risk of becoming a relic, the sort of performer whose continued presence in pop culture mostly serves to remind his onetime audience of how young they no longer are. The inspired Jack Ü collaboration “Where Are Ü Now” was a brilliant re-branding for Bieber, but it also could’ve been a fluke, a favor from EDM cool kids Skrillex and Diplo, one where the most memorable hook came with the singer’s voice rendered unrecognizable. He’d have to prove it on his own, too.

The suspense of whether or not “What Do You Mean?” would be the song to put Bieber back on top lasted maybe 15 seconds. If it’s technically possible to resist those dawn-of-a-new-day piano chords as long as they’re only accompanied by the metronomic timepiece, once Justin utters the title phrase for the first time and the parkour-hopping synth hits, it’s all over. The groove is instantly familiar, but not quite like anything else you’ve ever heard: No pop song in recent history has been this light on its feet, to the point where the most apt musical point of comparison isn’t really the tropical house of Kygo and Robin Schulz, but the weightless, pleasure-center-poking scores to ’90s video games like Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario Kart 64. And Bieber does an expert job steering the beat, breathing life back into the production with his evenly paced, scale-stepping vocals — in the past, his pinched wail would’ve sucked the oxygen out of the song with brash over-expression. Even thematically, the song avoids ever getting too heavy — asking a girl why her body language is conflicting with her words might not be the least-problematic thing you can write a song about in 2015, but at least he’s legitimately asking; previous Bieber jams would’ve almost certainly offered, “Girl, let me tell you what you mean…”

The flawless victory of Justin Bieber’s return single — and somewhat symbolically, it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the Biebs’ first single to ever reach pole position — is the latest and most convincing example of something we’ve always known to be true: There’s no amount of bad press that can’t be undone with one truly great pop song. (Just ask former collaborator Chris Brown, whose crimes were legitimately terrible and whose take-me-back hit single wasn’t even quite this good.) As much as the pubic enjoys climbing on their high horse to tut-tut the minor and major sins of an irresponsible, hot-headed young star, they’ll always dismount in a second’s time if they hear an undeniable hook over an electrifying beat emanating from the dance floor. That’s because, as David Marchese so brilliantly put it in his profile of another pop icon who’s had transgressions far tougher to answer for than Bieber’s, songs are better than people. And “What Do You Mean?” was better than anyone in 2015. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

Jump to comments