10. Portugal. The Man, “Feel It Still”
It may seem like Portugal. The Man came out of the woodwork in 2017, but it’s not their first bullfight by any means — the indie rock veterans have been releasing albums since 2006, and this year’s album Woodstock marked their eighth. But once they unleashed this inescapable earworm in March, they went from commercial zeroes to heroes in what felt like a matter of minutes: The boogieing pop-rock jam “Feel It Still” suddenly found Portugal. The Man all over pop radio, breaking an Alternative Songs chart record, and landing the band a performance on the AMAs. And to top it all off, the groovy smash notched PTM a best pop song Grammy nomination, showing that a little pep in their step was all it took to turn these cult favorites into pop fixtures. Call it a sell-out if you must, but we’ll still be feeling it well into 2018. — T.W.
9. The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk, “I Feel It Coming”
After conquering the Hot 100 with their first-ever collaboration “Starboy,” The Weeknd & Daft Punk kept their hot streak going when they teamed up for the top 10 smash “I Feel It Coming.” The buoyant single allowed The Weeknd to channel his inner MJ with his whispery coos, drifting away from his usual melancholy sound for something more invigorating. The ’80s-inspired record offered hope to lovers who craved more out of a relationship: “Just a simple touch and it can set you free/ We don’t have to rush when you’re alone with me.” With Daft Punk providing a yearning but distinctly danceable beat, Abel crooned his way to every new romantic’s heart in 2017. — C.L.
8. Harry Styles, “Sign of the Times”
Harry Styles marked his solo debut in the most ambitious way possible, with a near-six-minute power ballad that calls upon the likes of David Bowie and Queen for a type of rock grandeur rarely heard in 2017. The soaring vocals and symphonic production make clear Styles has left his boy band days of pure pop in the past — he’s traded up (and has the designer suits to show for it). Though he revealed the song was inspired by a mother dying from childbirth, “Sign of the Times” couldn’t have come at a more opportune time: It transcends any one situation or viewpoint with its use of an ambiguous “we,” and refrains from being too much of a downer with its gentle nudge to “remember everything will be alright.” And when Styles sings the deeply affecting refrain, “Just stop your crying/It’s a sign of the times,” he only makes you want to bawl harder — even if you don’t quite know over what. — L.H.
7. J Balvin & Willy William feat. Beyonce, “Mi Gente” (Remix)
Few sounds were as gratifying as pop radio in 2017 as the moaning, disembodied vocal loop and vinyl crackle that introduce “Mi Gente.” Borrowed from Willy William’s original “Voodoo Song,” J Balvin took that song’s absolutely unstoppable reggaeton bounce and turned it into a global anthem, with a chorus that sounds like a club rallying cry, even if you don’t understand what Balvin’s “¿Y dónde está mi gente?” is literally asking. (“Where are my people?,” natch.)
The song topped Spotify’s international charts for weeks well before Beyoncé jumped on the remix, but the Queen slotted in perfectly to the song’s already-regal procession, adding timeliness in her galvanizing of relief efforts for her hurricane-struck H(ome)-town. The duo even left the perfect amount of room for their special guest in the second-verse roll call — “J. Balvin. Willy William. Beyoncé.” — before yelling “FREEZE!” on one of 2017’s most iconic moment-in-time musical snapshots. That this wasn’t even the genre’s biggest (or arguably best) crossover should tell you everything you need to know about the impact Latin music had on American pop this year. — A.U.
6. Kendrick Lamar, “HUMBLE.”
It’s fitting that King Kendrick’s caps-locked 2017 return kicks off with a record scratch — whatever you were listening to before, prepare to be interrupted. The Compton MC earned his first Hot 100 No. 1 as a solo act with this biting admonition, which needless to say, is not really all that “humble.” Yes, shots are fired, and names are dropped: “Obama just paged me,” Lamar brags in one scathing verse before unleashing the undeniable “sit down/ be humble” hook — less advice than it is warning. Insults aside, the beat bangs, employing heavy, thudding keys that make the free jazz of To Pimp A Butterfly seem like “Mambo No. 5” by comparison. Every Lamar album includes at least one song to put the competition in its place, and “HUMBLE.” might be Lamar’s most deserving — if ironic — boast yet. — T.C.
5. Lil Uzi Vert, “XO TOUR Llif3”
The spellcheck-baiting SoundCloud single that could, “XO TOUR Llif3” peaked in June, leading to some talk that perhaps it was our song of the summer. But as 2017 comes to a shameful, fiery close, it’s easier to see that Lil Uzi Vert’s desperate emo plea, recorded while he was on tour with The Weeknd, was a song for all seasons. TM88’s busy, mournful-but-not-funereal beat provided the backdrop for Uzi’s concise summary of the claustrophobic trash feeling that overtook everyone the past 12 months: “Push me to the edge/ All my friends are dead.” It’s odd to hear everyone in the club shouting along to Uzi’s alternately slurred and wailed cries about depression, Xanax abuse, suicidal thoughts, and dead friends. And yet here we are. — R.S.
4. Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee feat. Justin Bieber, “Despacito” (Remix)
A solo opening guitar line with Caribbean flair. An “Ay” that could only signal the song’s “Latin-ness.” And then, Justin Bieber singing, in English, the No. 1 Latin song on the planet. “Despacito” was already a major hit when Bieber heard it in a Bogotá nightclub and asked to appear on a new version, recording it within 24 hours and releasing it within 48. His collaboration, first in English, then overwhelmingly in Spanish later in the song, propelled “Despacito” to become one of the biggest singles of all time, notching 16 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and tying the record set by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day” decades earlier. Bieber certainly helped, but it wasn’t just him: “Despacito” struck the right tone of sultry sexiness with Fonsi’s R&B-tinged Spanish vocals and Daddy Yankee’s reggaeton edge. And the lyrics, sensual but not raunchy, appealed to both male and female listeners. Not to mention the “Des…pa…ci…to” hook itself, a refrain so easy, so memorable, everyone from your three year old to your grandmother ended up singing it all year. — L.C.
3. Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean & Migos, “Slide”
The key to the greatest producer-rapper(s)-singer super-teaming since “Yeah!” is in its subtly palindromic structure: The signature “Empty my bank account…” squawking kicks off the song, before giving way to Frank Ocean’s cool-breeze chorus — then neither are heard in full again until three verses later, when Frank’s hook makes its satisfying return, and the song ends on a final “I might!” It gives the song a sunrise-to-sunset feel: Harris’ opening keys are as life-giving as rays peeking through the blinds on a gorgeous Saturday morning, Quavo and Offset’s verses are the sound of the ideal piped-up weekend bash, and Ocean’s disembodied closing wails serve as the perfect adult bedtime lullaby. It’s telling that the song was used for the season two trailer of Insecure, as star Issa Rae contemplates life situations while forgetting that she’s in the midst of L.A. traffic. No better West Coast day-in-the-life soundtrack has ever been produced by a New Orleans transplant, three ATLiens and a Scotsman. — A.U.
2. Cardi B, “Bodak Yellow”
The last few years have seen an increasing number of A-list stars struggle to land lasting hits, while newer artists emerge from the streaming shadows to claim the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100. Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)” was the prime 2017 example, proving that sometimes a fresh sound and a no-fux attitude can get you further than a massive indu$try push. Of course, “Bodak Yellow” isn’t without precedent – “Bad and Boujee” and “Black Beatles” demonstrated the viral, chart-topping power of trap, and the song itself takes inspiration from the up-down, sing-song cadence of Kodak Black’s “No Flockin'” (and even Freak Nasty’s unsinkable “Da’ Dip”). But make no mistake: “Bodak Yellow” is pulling in green because of the 25-year-old Bronx spitter. Her time on a reality show served her well, because Cardi’s indelible personality makes you root for her even as she’s shoving her cockiness in your face and making it clear she couldn’t give a shit if you like her or not. “Bodak Yellow” is the brash, year-defining smash that we can’t stop spinning, even if we waaaaaaanted to. – J. Lynch
1. Selena Gomez, “Bad Liar”
Imagine reading this headline five years ago: “Selena Gomez Samples Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’ on Best Song of the Year.” The unlikeliness of “Bad Liar” is a testament to the way in which the always-evolving Gomez has matured her approach to pop since the days in which her albums were credited to herself “& the Scene.” Her 2015 album Revival showed continued refinement of her vocal technique, but “Bad Liar” gets all the way there: Gomez flutters through syllables and doubles back on her own assertions to demonstrate the vulnerability she feels around her crush. She also doesn’t overplay her hand when she needs to yearn: “Ooooh, you’re taking up a fraction of my mind,” she admits, careful not to wail but gritting her teeth as she unveils a deep secret. It’s a commanding performance, full of the type of nuance that most singers would steamroll over while trying to sing their lungs out; credit Gomez as well as songwriters Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, who know exactly the kind of phrasings that help their collaborator excel.
But then there’s that sample, a bass creep that became iconic in Talking Heads’ catalog and helped underscore the idiosyncratic dread of their first hit single 40 years ago. On both “Psycho Killer” and “Bad Liar,” it provides an foundation of anxiety — but whereas David Byrne makes that nervousness oversized and cartoonish on “Killer,” Gomez turns the tension inward on lines like “Your touch like a happy pill/ But still all we do is fear.” She can’t help trying to work toward a happy ending, even when one isn’t possible. Byrne has publicly co-signed “Bad Liar,” which, among other things, honors the quirk that Talking Heads baked into their music — that pop can be bizarre and irresistible at the same time, whether played at CBGB’s in ’77 or on top 40 in 2017.
That said, “Bad Liar” was not a huge hit in 2017; it wasn’t even Gomez’s biggest hit (“It Ain’t Me,” her single with Kygo, aimed dead-center at modern pop and dominated radio). Yet “Bad Liar” was the most interesting and enjoyable song on top 40 radio this year, a weird little moment of frustrated melody and imperfect romance that may prove to be a high point in Gomez’s increasingly fascinating career. On paper, “Bad Liar” doesn’t make much sense, but that’s why it doesn’t exist on paper. — J. Lipshutz