The 101 Best Songs of 2016

When the history books are written, music will probably not be the first thing anyone remembers about 2016. Nevertheless, the music was excellent—memorable and meaningful enough to grant us aesthetic reprieve from a world tilting more toward chaos. In the music we loved, we found unrestrained glee, soul-stirring explorations of love, reminders to stick close to our friends, awed encounters with death, slinky erotic chronicles, muted longings for people and places far from us. There were crowd pleasers, club-shaking bangers, best American boys and girls, too many text threads to keep track of, fancy cars that looked like you-know-whats, and at least one full-throated repudiation of the president-elect. There was a lot to love.

Here are our favorite songs of the year—the ones that got us through it all.

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

101. Calvin Harris, “This Is What You Came For” ft. Rihanna

Calvin Harris’ ability to translate trends from the dance music underground to the pop overground palate is a continuous magic act, one he does with such deftness it’s hard to ever be mad at his glossy singles. This year, he nodded to the continued surge of house music by plopping an undeniable Rihanna riff on top of twinkling club arpeggios, plus a secret tom-clatter that doubled as a vogue house “Ha” and paid homage to Rihanna’s interest in ballroom culture and voguing. It eventually turned out to be a bait-and-switch: For some reason, Taylor Swift surprise-announced that she’d co-written the song with Harris, which didn’t diminish its breathless ebullience but did change its context a little, in that she had clearly written about herself. Somehow, though, a vanity song about the lightning that strikes every time you move make doesn’t work if you’re singing it, as Swift’s feeble attempt at performing it live on piano proved. The chemistry that made this a club smash was solely Harris and Rihanna’s, and the lightning was Rihanna’s alone, inseparable from a video where she wore a silver spacesuit inside a giant strobe-light box. It was aspirational. — JULIANNE ESCOBEDO SHEPHERD

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

100. Lady Gaga, “Perfect Illusion”

Rock’n’roll may not be the same cultural force it was even 10 years ago, but don’t tell Stefani Germanotta, who recruited a supergroup’s worth of studio wizards—Kevin Parker, Mark Ronson, BloodPop—to vamp it up like a Van Halen cover band scoring a Baz Luhrmann movie. Like Slash finding himself in the “November Rain” video, Gaga absconded to the desert to wail it out, one gratuitous key change at a time. It’s messy and thrown together, but like the perfect illusion, it’s barely indistinguishable from love. — JEREMY GORDON

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

99. The Weeknd, “I Feel It Coming” ft. Daft Punk

“I Feel It Coming” is about as squeaky clean as the spread on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, which puts it at direct odds with most of Abel Tesfaye’s music. But even with the modern prince of lechery on vocals, “I Feel It Coming” doesn’t sound like anything other than good clean disco fun. It’s a song that could open a night’s first round and close it at sunrise nine hours later. “You’ve been scared of love and what it did to you,” Tesfaye sings, as smooth and as gallant as he’s ever sounded. “You don’t have to run, I know what you’ve been through.” It’s a crisp, convincing ode to a heartbroken woman who needs to be persuaded that he’s still worth a try, even if she knows she should know better. — EMMA CARMICHAEL

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

98. DIIV, “Healthy Moon”

DIIV outgunned the competition in the Brooklyn buzz band arms race thanks to their big shirts and their jaw lines, but beneath the fashionable affectation lies a dusky romanticism glimpsed in flickering candles and backlit faces. “Healthy Moon,” a graceful, piano-driven song from sprawling double album Is The Is Are, crystallizes this blurry, lovely ethos from the first line on: “How could I describe this fading dream?” A must for all mix CDs made by heartsick kids. — JEREMY GORDON

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

97. Chairlift, “Moth to the Flame”

“Moth to a Flame” is glassy, funky, and oddly baroque. As a metaphor for relationships—real moths are attracted to man-made lights because they’re confused—it was satisfyingly natural. Like a you-know-what, I kept coming back. There’s something about hearing Caroline Polachek cry, “But hope hides inside a cliché / Like a nod of understanding from the poet who first felt this way” that makes unrequited love feel so romantic. — ANNA GACA

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

96. Frankie Cosmos, “Sinister”

A winsome, made-on-the-cheap treasure from an album full of ‘em. Lead singer/songwriter Greta Kline—comfortably fronting a full band after a successful stint as a Bandcamp auteur—nods to the late Arthur Russell while owning up to the shadier side of her personality. Shambling and intimate, the whole song’s got a frayed quality to it, like a worn-in bookbag you refuse to part with. Feeling sinister shouldn’t feel so soothing. — KYLE MCGOVERN

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

95. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, “Existence in the Unfurling”

Much of analog-synth-obsessed, Los-Angeles-based composer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s EARS consists of short flurries of tightly compacted sine waves and vocoder chorales. On its appropriately titled 11-minute closer, she allows the piece’s component parts to gradually rubber-cement themselves together: Its arpeggiated backdrop recalls some forgotten ‘80s-thriller soundtrack; the superimposed vocal processing channels either Laurie Anderson or The Knife; her obscure, vaguely liturgical melodies could have been ripped from Security-era Peter Gabriel. Smith deftly blurs the line between singer-songwriter and electronic process music composer in a way that’s ready-made to attract fans from beyond the realms of avant-garde and ambient music. “Existence in the Unfurling” is a protracted, sumptuously beautiful exploration of her particular sonic obsessions—her ribboning, undulating musical syntax taken to a logical extreme. — WINSTON COOK-WILSON

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

94. Fifth Harmony, “Work From Home”

The grind of your j-o-b is inescapable, and perhaps even your dirty talk is infected by corpo-speak. A sexy slow-ish jam for the era of stagnant wages and a big orange capitalist crook as president, “Work From Home” twists workplace language into a series of coy sex metaphors and double entendres. A guest verse casts Ty Dolla $ign as the put-upon working dude fielding all these come-ons; the interplay between him and Fifth Harmony is ultimately about a lack of leisure, not passion, navigating the very real problem that often one of y’all is going to be at work when one of y’all wants to fuck. It turns out that loving, sext-y romance is about all that can make late capitalism close to tolerable. — BRANDON SODERBERG

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

93. Kodak Black, “Can I”

Kodak Black seemed primed for big things, whether it was viral hit “Skrt” riding an early year wave, his star-making appearance on French Montana’s “Lockjaw,” locking down one of the earliest verses from a newly freed Gucci Mane, or showing up on Rae Sremmurd’s huge Sremmlife 2. But “Can I” eclipses the noise of his own hype: A simmering, maximal summer song co-produced by Honorable C-Note, a master of the simmering, maximal rap song, it tackles big questions while Kodak adopts his sleepiest register. “Can I ball, can I chill? Can I stunt? Will I live long enough to raise my son?,” he asks in the hook, grounding his “I’m rich now” concerns in the realest of terms. “Money don’t change you, but it do drive you crazy.” Kodak’s 2016 was erratic—he was in jail, released from jail, and hit with an ugly, still-lingering sexual assault case—but with “Can I” he tapped his deepest nerve. — MATTHEW RAMIREZ

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

92. Tegan and Sara, “Boyfriend”

Tegan & Sara’s sweetly subversive “Boyfriend” is a bouncy plea to someone who’s not quite sure she’s ready to make it official: “You call me up like you would your best friend / You turn me on like you would your boyfriend / But I don’t wanna be your secret anymore.” That a song called “Boyfriend” would be the Quin sisters’ most anthemic embrace of their status as queer icons to date is just another expression of the sensitivity and humor that’s animated their fifteen-plus years of indie-pop stardom. — ANNA GACA

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

91. Kyle Craft, “Pentecost”

If Kyle Craft led a glam revival, he’d be wearing a big snakeskin hat singing about small-town life and heartbreak with songs culled from an album he recorded in his friend’s laundry room in Shreveport, Louisiana. The highlight of his Sub Pop debut Dolls of Highland is this Ziggy Stardust ripper by way of Harry Nilsson or, I don’t know, Nate Ruess. It sounds like a lost gem pulled from a crate labeled “70s stuff.” Craft’s voice calls back to those days at the major labels when you actually had to have one. It’s shocking to listen to, like he was plucked from a local dive bar karaoke league. But the twists and turns of “Pentecost” (its huge bridge, its bare-naked ending, all amplified by the fact that Craft plays every instrument on here) makes this just a really impressive feat, a glittery piece of rock’n’roll that feels like it could win a competition. — JEREMY D. LARSON

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

90. Wreck and Reference, “Powders”

On “Powders,” Felix Skinner sounds like a sadcore Type O Negative sans guitar as he plays a quarreling couple, keeping his composure even as the accusations from each side grow more damning. It sounds like he’s fighting against himself, but it’s when Ignat Frege launches a snare roll that Skinner begins to really unravel, bleeding more furiously than the noise that overtakes the piano. It culminates with him yelling “that’s fine” on repeat, each utterance less assuring than the last. In deconstructing metal by eschewing its instrumental foundations, Wreck and Reference open new dimensions for exploring existential frustration. “Powders” brings you uncomfortably close to futility, as if we weren’t looking it in the eye already. — ANDY O’CONNOR

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

89. Modern Baseball, “Just Another Face”

“Just Another Face” is the decade’s greatest musical testament to the remarkable resilience of young friendship, and it wouldn’t have a fraction of its power if Modern Baseball hadn’t spent the first 90% of Holy Ghost barely on speaking terms. The internal issues that nearly caused their breakup are inextricable from the album’s format: Jake Ewald spends the first half wishing he could stay home with his girlfriend, while Brendan Lukens’ Side B is a frenzied cry for help as his life in a successful touring band spirals out of control. Lukens finally admits to being a selfish, self-pitying prick during the verses of “Just Another Face,” and all is forgiven as the band remembers its happy place, on stage pretending to be the Killers. It’s a song about appreciating those who believed in you when you couldn’t believe in yourself, one that gives undeniable credence to Modern Baseball fans who will tell you this band can change lives and even save them. Lukens is all the proof they need. — IAN COHEN

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

88. Moor Mother, “Creation Myth”

The leadoff track on Moor Mother’s audacious, watchful debut Fetish Bones is a whirlwind recounting of American violence against black souls and bodies. Over burrowing noiseworms, samples of spirituals, and percussive jazz passages, Camae Ayewa—a Philadelphia-based artist/educator/community organizer—bears witness to the murderous legacy of whiteness, from Reconstruction to Sandra Bland. “Nine words,” she declares: “I resist to being both the survivor and victim / But I know the reality.” Every line is measured, even during a climactic passage where she speaks the names of the dead while applying enough bile for untold millions to choke on. — BRAD SHOUP

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

87. Underworld, “I Exhale”

Underworld’s return was low-key the best comeback of 2016, and it led off with this eight-minute, spoken-word fever dream. Frontman Karl Hyde raves, in multiple senses of the word, rattling off in a clipped rhythm everything that’s rushing past him. Black leather. White lines. Shadowy doorways. Cold sweats. Sideline chatter. Piston-pump percussion. God help Danny Boyle if this doesn’t make it into Trainspotting 2. — KYLE MCGOVERN

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

86. Sleigh Bells, “Hyper Dark”

The fact that Sleigh Bells, who in 2010 seemed for all the world like a one-trick band, have made it to four albums is impressive in itself. The fact that “Hyper Dark” resists the obvious—the very clear idea someone, sound unheard, would have of a Sleigh Bells song called “Hyper Dark”—is also impressive. The sole gimmick is a Lumidee interpolation; the butt-rock riffs, which circa Treats or Reign of Terror would be loud and brickwalled, are submerged beneath gloomy synths, as is the machine-gun percussion. Alexis Krauss’s vocals, far from the easy juxtaposition (teen pop! But against noise!) the band leaned on as late as 2013’s Bitter Rivals, make perfect sense in this context. It’s like a more muted Garbage track, or something off the Buffy the Vampire Slayer soundtrack. Once again, it’s Sleigh Bells pursuing a sound that would be unmistakably trendy were it not for the fact few else are doing it now. — KATHERINE ST. ASAPH

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

85. Deftones, “Prayers / Triangles”

Deftones were always one step ahead of their nü metal peers in melding chunky riffs with dreamier influences, a testament that aggression doesn’t need to be overtly masculine to resonate. As their competition has shifted to hardcore bros who finally discovered Ride and Slowdive, this has remained true: Gore is the culmination of their trajectory, and “Prayers/Triangles” is one of their most beautiful and raging songs. Stephen Carpenter flips post-metal’s nautical fascination on its head, as his guitar crashes against the shimmering melodies like alluring, imposing California waves. “Prayers/Triangles” is draped in a veneer of pretty grime—New Wave chopped and screwed to death—matching the album’s aesthetic of tropical oranges and pinks signaling darkness. While it doesn’t resemble shoegaze on the surface, it’s otherworldly guitar as a portal to something more sinister, not an end to itself. — ANDY O’CONNOR

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

84. 21 Savage & Metro Boomin, “No Heart”

This year, did any rapper have a better conversation with themselves on record than 21 Savage? The doppelganger on the rising Atlanta star’s shoulder reaching out to him on the chorus to “No Heart” is a bit of a yes man, who comes bearing ego-boosting insights like a motivational talk therapist. Q: “Why you got a 12 car garage?” A: Because you’re hard as hell, 21, now get back out there and have a better week. The laconic rapper’s best solo song is not just boilerplate d-boy gloating and repurposed Gucci Mane flows (“So much dope that it broke the scale”). And it’s not just the slightly incorrect references to children’s books (Stuart Little is a mouse, not a rat) that distinguish it; the anecdotes of a street miseducation, which lent themselves so well to dramatic reenactment, are the main event. Below, Metro Boomin’s death-knell snare echoes in a mine shaft, blending easily with Savage’s flat, frayed, velveteen voice—the most enjoyable part of so many songs it’s been cut and pasted into, whether pitted against Drake or Meek Mill. — WINSTON COOK-WILSON

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

83. Anderson .Paak, “Am I Wrong”

Anderson .Paak’s Malibu glistens with the intensity of a prodigious musician who knows he’s good, but “Am I Wrong” alchemizes all of its hallmarks into gold. Paak achieves lift-off on top of the album’s funkiest groove, causing Google to hop on the phone and offer all their money. It aims for the rafters, selling every one of Paak’s strengths—memorable chorus, catchy beat, layered melodies, gorgeous harmonies, a notable feature via an uncharacteristically smooth Schoolboy Q verse—to wild success. One can find fault with Malibu’s precocious eagerness to please, but “Am I Wrong” is transcendent, even with its silly chorus. Come on, man, just say “fuck.” — MATTHEW RAMIREZ

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

82. Weyes Blood, “Do You Need My Love”

There’s an astonishing level of sadness on Weyes Blood’s standout track, “Do You Need My Love.” It’s the kind of anguish you feel after a bad breakup, or an extended one you saw coming from a mile away. The song rests in those first painstaking moments after it’s over, when you know you still love the person, but there’s no way to repair the bond. Judging from the raw angst fueling the song, it seems likely Natalie Mering has been there. “Tired of feeling so bad,” she sighs. “The world that I knew just fell through.” It sounds like something you’d hear in the breakup scene of a romantic comedy—maybe it’ll help you reconcile, perhaps it won’t. The heartbreak might subside over time. — MARCUS J. MOORE

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

81. Joey Purp, “Girls @” ft. Chance the Rapper

2016 was a big year for Chicago’s independent hip-hop scene, in which numerous artists received adulation and press attention without the support of major labels, radio, or club DJs. Many of the artists in this scene aren’t ignored by radio as much as they ignore it; clubs and airwaves seldom seem to be the point. (Even Chance the Rapper, who aims to bring radio to him on his terms, relied on big-name national guests for those bigger records.) “Girls @” was a sublime exception, a populist party record that captured the easy fluency of A Tribe Called Question or mid-aughts Neptunes, relied on no national guest stars, and qualified as an easy floor-filler. It’s a hit record in quality if not quantification, one that sounds like the East Room—the Logan Square dance floor, artist hangout, and one of the city’s favored hip-hop venues. It also understands what years of “indie hip-hop” records before it didn’t—there’s no party if you don’t know where the girls @. — DAVID DRAKE

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | Soundcloud

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

80. Esperanza Spalding, “Earth to Heaven”

Long before jazz surged back into public view, bassist Esperanza Spalding carried a torch for the genre, navigating various mainstream circles with profound grace. Yet following the release of 2012’s Radio Music Society, Spalding disappeared for a couple years to recharge and find a new direction in her sound. In turn, “Earth to Heaven” is a bold mix of jazz, rock and funk, on which the singer assesses the afterlife, pondering if one exists. (“If the heavenly goddess should call / Is it heaven at all?”) Like much of her excellent new album, Emily’s D+Evolution, Spalding examines human existence through her alter-ego, Emily, landing on something that’s equally spiritual and grounded in reality. Her pointed philosophical questions give you the power to believe, even if you haven’t picked a side. — MARCUS J. MOORE

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

79. NAO, “Girlfriend”

Unrequited love remains a ready R&B trope, but few songs capture the quiet violence of those lonely nocturnal squabbles like NAO does on “Girlfriend,” the standout from debut album For All We Know. “Feels like pretty doesn’t know me / Only shows up when I’m lonely,” she admits, self-love and romantic love both broken. It shares its themes with Janet Jackson’s intimate classic “I Get Lonely,” which also climaxed with an implosion of unfulfilled desire, but NAO substitutes Jackson’s multi-track vocal arrangements with moonlit synths and a stadium guitar riff. When she belts out “If I was your girlfriend, could you pull me through? / To make us fly,” the result is immensely affecting, the sadness deeply understood. — BRIAN JOSEPHS

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

78. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam, “A 1000 Times”

For sounding like the best prom band in a Wes Anderson movie about competing prom bands, these guys are pretty good. No, I’m kidding, this is a great song. The uninformed will bemoan the death of indie rock, but on I Had A Dream That You Were Mine the buttoned-up vibes and sharp songwriting are thriving. The tag-team of verified stars wrote this song not about how many times they’ve collectively played Bowery Ballroom, but simply about a dream of love. That’s it. Rostam’s spartan doo-wop production and Leithauser’s paint-stripping vocals aren’t breaking any molds—they’re just there, existing, unforced, unbidden to anything but the craft of making a great song. That’s all indie rock ever was, and ever will be. — JEREMY D. LARSON

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

77. Savages, “Adore”

Is it natural to love life in such a chaotic world, to be struck by its beauty amid so much ugliness? Through Savages’ “Adore,” an ominous, deeply existential slow-burner, singer Jehnny Beth wonders aloud how to persevere, or better still, how to thrive, when faced with so much sadness, guilt, regret, evil, and death. She pushes through the song in bellows, lurches through phrases, drags at the ends of syllables. “I understand the urgency of life,” she sings. “In the distance there’s truth, and it cuts like a knife.” Maybe death is what gives everything its meaning, she wonders. If it’s human to adore life, then how do we make the best of it? Just keep doing, and moving. — SHELDON PEARCE

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

76. Desiigner, “Panda”

The best parts in “Panda” come at precisely one minute and thirty-three seconds in, and again at 2:39. These are the song’s twin oases, when Desiigner takes a breath and stops rapping for a while, freeing our ears from his unholy mantras. “Black X6, phantom / White X6, panda” he repeats, and you can almost imagine the baldheaded hippies of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness slotting it into their chants between “Hare Hare” and “Hare Rama,” imagining what life might be like if they hadn’t sworn off luxury SUVs and the other allures of the material world.

Then everything stops. There’s a whirring sound, like a futuristic weapon charging up, a cocky little guffaw from Desiigner, and a grainy noise floor about 10,000 stories below, with a few of those “brrrrrraw!” ad-libs ricocheting from wall to towering wall. It looks like a lot of racket on paper, but when you’re listening, you might as well be in the Marianas Trench. Pop music gets louder and more compressed every year, pushing its laser-guided melodies ever closer to our tender cochleas. For two brief, beautiful moments, Desiigner offers us something close to total silence. Inevitably, the oasis reveals itself as a mirage seconds after we arrive, and we continue our march through the desert. Reenergized, Desiigner starts rapping again: “Panda, panda, panda, panda…” — ANDY CUSH

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

75. Lucy Dacus, “Strange Torpedo”

“Strange Torpedo” is a familiar narrative—watching a loved one self-destruct and feeling helpless to incite change in them—but it’s also about looking inward, seeing yourself spiral downward and not knowing how to stop making the same mistakes over and over. Lucy Dacus is a sympathetic narrator, self-aware and pure in her vulnerability, but she expresses her observations without alienating the listener. Dacus maintains this honesty here, where she’s frustrated and even angry. She might condemn self-pity (“I think it’s wrong when you sit around/ Looking like a toy in the lost-and-found”) but she acknowledges that she’s just as at fault as her addressee.  It’s exemplary of what made 2016 a breakthrough for Dacus, how deftly she reflects her own experience while leaving room for anyone to understand. — TESS DUNCAN

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | Bandcamp

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

74. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Fever”

Not many artists are as skilled at using the heartbeat of a song—the thumps that double as a device of feeling and musical pacing—as Carly Rae Jepsen, who breathes into those pulses to convey her desire for love, a new start, an ending, or whatever. The pulse of “Fever” is an ache that she falls into, deciding that her way to recover from heartbreak is to not really, not yet. Instead, she’ll invite a little more, to taste the feeling all over again: “You wanna break my heart, alright.” But, still: “Don’t break my heart tonight.” The end bleeds into the beginning into the end into the beginning, a satisfyingly masochistic loop. — CLOVER HOPE

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

73. Iggy Pop, “Gardenia”

It’s often been said that there are two different Iggy Pops: the madman Iggy, who performs, and the gentleman Jim, who writes. The latter shines on “Gardenia,” the first single pulled from Post Pop Depression, his collaboration with Queens Of The Stone Age guitarist Josh Homme. It echoes QOTSA’s dark, roiling guitar churn but it’s designed to evoke memories of The Idiot and Lust For Life, the 1977 albums David Bowie produced for Iggy. If those albums pushed against boundaries, “Gardenia” follows familiar contours, offering an elegant distillation of Pop’s essence. By working within constraints, it pulses with insouciant carnality, gaining power from its restraint, with the tension only broken at the bridge by a wailing Homme solo. The guitarist may garner some attention here, but the focus remains on the singer. “Gardenia” winds up bringing out both sides of Iggy Pop: The performance feels cooly dangerous and the song is tightly composed, the work of a master songwriter who has honed his gifts over the years. — STEPHEN THOMAS ERLEWINE

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

72. Alex Anwandter, “Siempre Es Viernes En Mi Corazón”

In a majority-Catholic nation that decriminalized homosexuality just 17 years ago, Chilean Fridays can be a peculiar mix of abstinence and abandon, a reprieve from work that’s haunted by the labor of survival. Anwandter transmutes the tick of an office clock into a club goer’s strut, but nothing—not the narcotic music-box pings, not the Imperial Age disco strings—can put the drudgery out of mind. “If I want to set something on fire / May it be the church and Congress,” he seethes. “I always want total destruction/of the world I know/And the work that has no end,” he moans. It’s the socialist jam of the year. — BRAD SHOUP

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

71. Kendrick Lamar, “untitled 02 | 06.23.2014.”

When Kendrick Lamar took the Tonight Show stage in January to perform an untitled composition—his second following a performance as the last musical guest on The Colbert Report—it was a spiritual experience, equal parts capitalist censure, chest-beating TDE roll call, and king-making ceremony. Backed by a full jazz band, he spewed fire, drums crackling beneath his stomping feet as he made his case for being the best rapper in a generation.

Months later, the second verse of the jazz rap epic appeared on “untitled 02 | 06.23.2014.,” from the compilation untitled unmastered, as a more subdued, dreary-eyed rendition. The song examines the Compton rapper’s fame and fortune under a microscope, chastising his own greed amid flexes in a sobering, nearly numbing flow. Both versions of “untitled 02 | 06.23.2014.” are astounding showcases for Kendrick Lamar’s unparalleled lyrical acumen, but it’s the stage show that sticks in the mind—the way he roared as the instruments mushroomed around him, the way he commanded the moment. When he called out, “You ain’t gotta tell me that I’m the one,” he was understating it. — SHELDON PEARCE

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

70. Whitney, “No Woman”

The blackout as dream state: pain on trains and automobiles, a breakup that exposes a continent-long fault line. Like a less-peripatetic version of the narrator, Whitney trekked from their native Chicago to Los Angeles to record their debut album Light Upon the Lake. Formerly of Smith Westerns, co-founders Julian Ehrlich and Max Kakacek timeshift the sunshine pop of their previous act to the golden hours. “No Woman” is a song for the dawn: Ehrlich presses his falsetto to the window, waiting for the sardonic brass to break. “I’ve been going through a change,” he sighs, “I might never be sure”. Some gorgeous guitar turnarounds and drawn-out violin try to provide assurance, but our blinkered subject will not relinquish the privilege to wander, even if it deposits him back at the start. — BRAD SHOUP

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

69. White Lung, “Below”

“They’ll bury your beauty, transient living stone,” Mish Barber-Way belts on “Below,” a tribute to glamorous women diminished throughout history. Way reportedly wanted to get away from writing about her own life experiences for her band’s fourth studio album, Paradise, but her sharp perspective as a critical feminist thinker is all over these lyrics, which were inspired by a quote by the writer Camille Paglia. “Beauty fades. Beauty is transient. That is why we value it,” Paglia once wrote, musing on how feminism fails to acknowledge beauty as a value in itself. In an interview with SPIN, Barber-Way shed some light on how her wide-open ballad came to be, after hearing the work provided by guitarist Kenneth William provided: “When I heard it, I was excited but also very intimidated because he’d never given me so much space. I had anywhere I could go … it was this big, blank sheet of paper that I could do anything over.” — LIZ PELLY

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

68. Kevin Gates, “Really Really”

Kevin Gates is unapologetically twisted, but sensitive and sincere underneath his hardcore tendencies. On “Really, Really,” he proclaims his authenticity so flippantly you’d think he didn’t even care if anyone was listening. It may seem brash and simplistic to immediately self-identify as “a lyrical song writer” who can also sing, but really, it’s true: His flow is swift, his verses clever, his hooks hefty. While Gates’ delivery is casual as can be, his ear for pop melodies results in a chorus that comes off as tongue-in-cheek—Jhene Aiko pun not intended—rather than snarky, genre-bending charisma at the heart of his street rap. — TESS DUNCAN

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

67. Shura, “What’s It Gonna Be”

The language of love slips from Shura’s tongue, but she’s not even sure she’s got a lover. Over clipped “I’m On Fire” guitar, the English singer slips from doubt to anxiety. She doesn’t wanna be that girl, she acts like it’s no big deal, but why are those synths increasing in volume? On an album of experiments in retro-wave, “What’s It Gonna Be” streaks like a comet. Even more touching: its video’s pansexual dread. — ALFRED SOTO

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

66. Metallica, “Hardwired”

“We’re so fucked / Shit outta luck / Hardwired to self-destruct,”  James Hetfield growls in the chorus to “Hardwired,” the lead single from Metallica’s latest album, and best since the Clinton years. That his lyrics wouldn’t be out of place as a poster at a pre-election Trump rally or at a post-election Trump protest explains part of the band’s long-standing appeal for Americans from red and blue states alike. Hetfield’s fatalism aside, there’s something comforting and familiar about hearing the track, which is a pummeling throwback to the group’s 80s heyday. Coming in at just over three minutes, the song packs in everything you’d hope to hear in a Metallica song, without any of the bloat dragging down their late period. — TAYLOR BERMAN

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

65. Moses Sumney, “Lonely World”

Moses Sumney has the kind of voice you simply need to hear to believe, a gorgeous, pitch-perfect falsetto conveying a desperate sense of longing from a faraway place. It almost doesn’t seem of this time. “Lonely World” might be his best song ever: Featuring virtuoso Thundercat on bass, Sumney unpacks a poetic verse that examines desperate feelings in a world filled with noise. It’s a notion with which we all struggle, but are embarrassed to admit. Yet Sumney shows there’s strength in vulnerability, even if he’s somewhat shrouded in his own mystery—he doesn’t get caught up in mainstream theatrics, lurking in the shadows as his creative light shines on its own. Given his growing fan base, maybe he’s not so lonely after all. — MARCUS J. MOORE

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

64. The xx, “On Hold”

The best part of the xx’s “On Hold,” the lead single from the band’s forthcoming new album, is the sample that centers its hook. A snippet from Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” is chopped into a bouncy refrain, wherein the the prominent sample levitates Romy and Oliver’s go-to, moody introspection into a track that’s suitable for a dance floor. Jamie xx is the clear mastermind of the thing—his history of finessing unusual samples with progressive garage and house aesthetics is palpable even here—and the song is so readily remix-able that it’s easily positioned to be a festival anthem in the coming year. And in a song by this particular band—one that responsibly focuses on the messy, lovelorn aftermath of a breakup and the impossibility of cutting ties with something you never expected you would have to—having something to throw your hands up and dance to in catharsis is a refreshing relief. — PUJA PATEL

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

63. Japandroids, “Near to the Wild Heart of Life”

In the span of about twelve hours, November 2 gave us the first new Japandroids song in nearly five years and the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs. Both long-awaited events had grown increasingly likely over the years, and the future promises more of the same, but for a day, public discourse was jubilant and justified, demanding people to wild the fuck out in the least pretentious way possible. It was the last moment of its kind this year.

Those who never connected with Japandroids’ apolitical celebration rock might see the shamelessly triumphant, arena-aspiring “Near to the Wild Heart of Life” as escapism at best, or even tone deaf in the current milieu. This somehow misses the point of a song that could not be more direct about its intentions. As with “The Nights of Wine and Roses”, “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” “Younger Us”, “The House that Heaven Built”—and, really, Japandroids’ entire career—“Near to the Wild Heart of Life” exposes the worst lie we can tell ourselves: Our best days are behind us. Whatever bullshit awaits in 2017, no band appears better prepared to weather the storm than Japandroids. — IAN COHEN

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

62. A Tribe Called Quest, “Dis Generation”

Part of what made We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service shine so brightly was A Tribe Called Quest’s refusal to make it a Very Serious Statement Album, or, following the death of Phife Dawg, a somber meditation on his life and death. Anyone who watched the 2011 Tribe documentary Beats, Rhymes & Life knows that Q-Tip and Phife weren’t always the best of friends, but they and Jarobi White put their differences aside for the album. They sound loose, energized, and most of all, like they’re having an absolute blast making music. This dynamic is most evident on “Dis Generation,” which finds them passing the mic like it’s a playground basketball while accompanied by honorary Tribesman Busta Rhymes. As A Tribe Called Quest comes to an end, they’re not taking bows and admiring their own legacy, but looking to those they see as the future. “Talk to Joey, Earl, Kendrick, and Cole, they are extensions of instinctual soul,” Tip raps at the end of the first verse. “It’s the highest in commodity grade, and you could get it today.” — ANDY CUSH

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

61. Bruno Mars, “24K Magic”

Bruno Mars is a singer, first and foremost, and has spent his career emulating any style he finds fascinating, delivering bald-faced retro facsimiles that might’ve been true disasters in a less impressive voice. But he grew up listening to West Coast hip-hop, from Compton to the Bay, and the G-funk infused sound of his new album 24K Magic is a deep-seated testament to the rhythms and wheedling synth melodies of the genre embedded deeply in his bones. It feels like more than just Mars’ latest Top-40 costume change, as the album’s title track settles in between DJ Quik’s popped-out disco beats and James Brown’s call-and-response rave-ups. There’s the participational appeal of “The Cha-Cha Slide” and the lasciviousness of “Strokin’”—this is a song about getting ready to dance, making sure to do so properly, and wearing the right thing to the club. But the stadium-scope attitude and Broadway-ready high notes—the culmination of any great Bruno Mars song—make this still, inimitably, Mars Music. — WINSTON COOK-WILSON

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

60. Lizzo, “Good as Hell”

Tender and celebratory in equal measure, the Ricky Reed-produced “Good As Hell” detonates studio boom-bap across a Hathaway-style piano cradle. Lizzo’s exhortative soul-pop puts her friend’s trifler in the deep background, where he belongs. What matters is the aftercare: hair tossed, fingers fanned, tequila poured. Lizzo flips the script on a chartscape constantly assuring women that someone else finds them attractive. “Baby, how you feelin’,” she asks, and the response—“Feelin’ good as hell!”—hits with as much fanfare as the horns. Constantly switching between first and second person, “Good As Hell” posits self-care as something that’s often communal, and never cosmetic. — BRAD SHOUP

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

59. The 1975, “A Change of Heart”

“A Change of Heart” is an exquisitely gentle song about hurt, as told by a narrator who’s, by his own admission, a bit of “a twat”: “Was it your breasts from the start? / They played a part.” His self-awareness isn’t quite enough to redeem him, but this swooning, shimmering heartbreaker of a pop ballad might be. Haunted by a synth that sounds like it’s crying human tears, “A Change of Heart” is modern love at its most tragically ironic: “Your eyes were full of regret / And then you took a picture of your salad and put it on the internet.” — ANNA GACA

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

58. Travis Scott and Young Thug, “Pick Up the Phone” ft. Quavo

Three years ago, Young Thug and Migos recorded a song, “YRN,” that imagined what Southern rap might sound like if it also doubled as ambient cruise line muzak. A delightful and charming little track that was released on a random compilation mixtape, it went uncelebrated outside of each artist’s cult fanbase. But this year, Thug and one of the Migos reunited to record a sequel that may be even better than the original. A Travis Scott song in name only, “Pick Up the Phone” pulls from the same barely realized world of balearic rap, sailing along a keyboard melody that sounds like it’s splashing around in shallow water. Each of the three rappers normally plays the role of unrepentant hedonist, but “Pick Up the Phone” is an emotionally vulnerable love song that could double a softly sung lullaby. It’s also not without its own quirks: The song is directed equally to women and double cups of cough syrup, and the chivalry is unorthodox. “Throwing that Rollie on you,” Thug explains. “I like the way you be freezing.” He doesn’t say whether he’ll be giving you his jacket, too. — JORDAN SARGENT

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

57. Mannequin Pussy, “Emotional High”

When offering advice to those less fortunate in matters of the heart, the veteran daters will advise us to close ourselves off like military fortresses: never text back right away, use emojis sparingly, and whatever you do, never let your feelings show until the other party folds first. Suppressing one’s self by way of pride’s bulwark may be a pragmatic romantic strategy for fending off the shitty people of the world, but we’re only human, and so we welcome the pain. No band understood that pain more in 2016 than Philadelphia’s Mannequin Pussy, whose appropriately-titled Romantic LP reads as an instruction manual for anyone left reeling from a burnt-out crush or a failed fling. The band’s antidote is honesty, and “Emotional High”, the album’s riotous calling card, smears on that riotous balm with aplomb, defiantly declaring: “I really can’t explain it / It’s an emotional high / There’s nothing to it / And if I could we’ll I’d tell you all the time.” As the guitars roar and the sentimental tidal wave hits, even the most po-faced swiper can’t argue that life, love, and music are better when it all comes rushing out. — ZOE CAMP

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube | Bandcamp

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

56. Dinosaur Jr., “Tiny”

Like AC/DC before them, Dinosaur Jr. have a sound that’s instantly recognizable and surprisingly resilient, withstanding the years without seeming weathered. Take “Tiny,” the second cut on Dinosaur Jr’s Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not, the fourth album the reunited trio of J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph have released since 2007. With its heady rush of fuzz chords and Mascis’ laconic drawl, “Tiny” so thoroughly conjures the spirit of vintage Dinosaur Jr. that it could be mistaken for the opening track on 1991’s Green Mind. There’s a difference here: Where most bands grow a little thicker and slower in their middle age, Dinosaur seem ferocious, louder and tighter than ever. “Tiny” showcases these strengths through an unusually nimble Mascis melody that winds up almost mimicking his trademark lyrical ambivalence. But where J’s reticence may once have played like adolescent ennui, he’s now adopted it as a worldview and his confidence in his lack of confidence mirrors the full-throttle roar of a band that embraces all the mess that makes them great. — STEPHEN THOMAS ERLEWINE

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

55. French Montana, “Lockjaw” ft. Kodak Black

Several different points of contrast help “Lockjaw” place as one of French Montana’s greatest cultural contributions that didn’t come from a mixtape with “coke” in the title. There’s a gossamer vocal sample adrift on the beat, which sounds like it could be playing either backwards or forwards, but the 808 loop is rigid—all militant double-kick drum. The combination throws off any sense of geographical affiliation; the song is a pan-American triumph, pairing one of the finest young Southern rappers working with a New York rapper trying to sound like a young Southern rapper. Here, both players’ rhymes come at an unusually brisk, intentional clip. The dynamic motion gets the listener completely caught up; with all that molly being passed around, there’s not even time to get a “Haaan” in edgewise. — WINSTON COOK-WILSON

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

54. Car Seat Headrest, “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales”

Every generation gets the bookish, depressive indie-rock superstar it deserves, and you could scribble out the margins of every notebook inside a Staples with all the soul-scraping lines packed into Car Seat Headrest’s Teens of Denial. On “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales,” Will Toledo drives drunkenly and recklessly late at night, wondering how his chemical dependencies took him down the wrong paths—”It’s too late to articulate it / That empty feeling”—and how he might begin again. The “killer whales” mentioned in the title and massive singalong allude to Blackfish, the heartbreaking 2013 documentary about the animals at Sea World, abused in captivity until they lash out and cause someone’s death, and potentially their own. Toledo is right: It doesn’t have to be like this, even if every generation has to learn it anew. JEREMY GORDON

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

53. Young Thug, “Kanye West” ft. Wyclef Jean

More ink has been spilled over Young Thug than any other new rapper, trying to parse his phenomenon, and still what I like best about him eludes an easy description. JEFFERY floors me, whatever it is—the duende, the unselfconsciousness, the sensitive samurai vibe, the Thugger of it all. “Kanye West” is like this freshly windexed view into everything he loves: Wyclef Jean, Kanye, sex, his fiancé, and probably not in that order. Lines like “Now she acting like she owe me / Yeah, you don’t ever ever owe me” aren’t noxious in that “girl you know it’s true” way. It’s sandwiched among lines about taking Xans and “here’s how I like to fuck” descriptions. With Young Thug, it feels like there’s no artifice, no kayfabe, just this oversized and generous soul being siphoned onto the track.  — JEREMY D. LARSON

LISTEN: Spotify | Apple Music | YouTube

The 101 Best Songs of 2016

52. Serpentwithfeet, “blisters”

Josiah Wise spent his childhood belting out paeans to the Christian messiah, the one man he was permitted to love openly. The music he records as serpentwithfeet infuses the gospel of his youth with the aesthetics of queer sensuality, and this poetic conflation of the devotional and the carnal makes him a timely heir to Leonard Cohen, pop’s greatest secular spiritualist. Wise reaches his holiest heights on the title track of his debut EP, blisters. In this torch song disguised as a prayer, a lover’s rejection offends the universe so gravely that it triggers strange natural disasters. “Pretend the floors cracking in the shape of our names is not a big deal,” Wise snarls at the person tying their shoes to leave. Producer The Haxan Cloak constructs a creaking church around that mournful voice, the jittery percussion that forms the building’s beams registering the reverberations of ghostl