Entertainment

The 50 Best Songs of 2017

50 best songs of the year 2018
Evan Lockhart/Thrillist

In 2017, individual songs often felt like escape hatches from reality. If you felt overwhelmed by the unending digital sprawl of the news cycle, it was possible to remove yourself from the narrative by retreating into the cheery rhythms of a dance-pop hit, the comforting twangs of a country ballad, or defiant stomp of a hip-hop anthem. Peace could be found by trading the consistent dread of a news ticker -- or a Twitter feed -- for the soothing stream of a digital music platform.

Or, at least, that was the hope. As is often the case with pop culture, the anxieties of the moment find ways into the songs that blast from passing car windows, hum from your headphones, and colonize valuable space in your brain. From established acts like the Arcade Fire and Taylor Swift to newcomers like Cardi B and Lil Uzi Vert, this was a year of big swings, sly reinventions, and sneaky surprises. These were the 50 songs that we connected with the most. The cathartic release they offer may only be temporary, but you can always put them on repeat.
 

Here is a Spotify playlist of 49 of the 50 songs on this list -- or you can access it by clicking here.  
Arcade Fire
Photo by Guy Aroch, Courtesy of Sony Music

50."Everything Now" by Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire want you to know they're fun, too. Ever since breaking through with 2004's Funeral and 2007's Neon Bible, two bracing and relatively po-faced indie rock records, the group has expanded its sound to make room for Blondie facsimiles, like "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" off the Grammy-winning The Suburbs, and disco-speckled dance songs, like the title track of Reflektor. "Everything Now," the first single from their recent full-length of the same name, is cut from the same glittery cloth. With production from Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and Pulp’s Steve Mackey, the song is an apocalyptic party-starter complete with a nah-nah chorus, soul strings, bouncing pianos, and even a little flute solo at the end. Sweat-absorbing headbands are recommended but not required.

Miguel Told You So
MiguelVEVO/YouTube

49. "Told You So" by Miguel

Miguel's last album, 2015's captivating and sensual Wildheart, was the work of an ambitious artist looking to expand the sonic scope of his R&B sex jams. His fourth record, War & Leisure, ventures even further into the political realm, like on the the soulfully apocalyptic "Told You So." Following the Travis Scott collaboration "Sky Walker," this slice of Prince-like guitar pop is a welcome bit of scolding. "I don't wanna say I told you so," Miguel sings in the chorus. "But I told you so." Sounds about right.

Pleasure Feist
Universal

48. "Pleasure" by Feist

Leslie Feist has made a career out of defying expectations, so it was no surprise when she returned with her first single since 2011's Metals with a song called "Pleasure" that, on first listen, resists the candy-colored, teenage hopes of her most famous hit. Instead, it's all hushed vocals, spiky guitars, and elliptical lyrics. (Compare this to "Halfway Home," the more outwardly anthemic comeback single from her Canadian collaborators in Broken Social Scene.) But, put the title track of her latest record on repeat and you'll find a nerve-y, fractured classic rock jam lurking inside. The pleasure is all hers.

NERD lemon
NERDVEVO/YouTube

47. "Lemon" by N.E.R.D. featuring Rihanna

A team-up between two superstar-level talents does not guarantee a hot song -- check out Beyoncé and Eminem's recent "Walk on Water" if you don't believe me -- but it can lead to some diverting, infectious experiments. "Lemon" didn't conquer radio, but it didn't have to. The reunion between Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo under the N.E.R.D. umbrella sounds more like a shiny, robo-funk Neptunes track than a Fly or Die throwback, which is fine. (Some of the N.E.R.D. nostalgia of recent years has always felt a little overblown.) Rihanna's flow is the real selling point here. Like her verse on Kendrick Lamar's DAMN., it's just a pleasure to hear her go off.

Def Loaf No Fear
DejLoafVEVO/YouTube

46. "No Fear" by Dej Loaf

In a subtle nod to her past, the video for Dej Loaf's new single "No Fear" opens with her lying on her bed and listening to "Try Me," the gleaming, sing-song rap track that served as her 2014 mainstream breakthrough. It's a fun touch. "No Fear," with its glittery, slightly cookie-cutter pop-rock sounds, doesn't quite have the same edge as her earlier hit -- she's not threatening to turn her enemies into macaroni here -- but the song's comforting, laid-back vibe is a good fit for the Detroit native's lithe voice. It's a winning summer song that's not working too hard for your approval.

Niall Horan
Columbia Records

45. "Slow Hands" by Niall Horan

Who will be the biggest star to emerge from One Direction? It's still too early to say -- post-break-up careers are a marathon, not a race -- but Niall Horan makes a convincing play for the grownup John Mayer zone on "Slow Hands," an acoustic guitar-driven R&B track about his skills as a lover. (Surprisingly, he's not using those steady hands to build model boats.) While the song lacks the art-rock flair of Harry Styles's "Sign of the Times," it makes up for it with steely professionalism. That killer instinct will serve Niall well in the years of boy-band bloodshed ahead.

Yo Gotti Rake It Up
YoGottiVEVO/YouTube

44. "Rake It Up" by Yo Gotti featuring Nicki Minaj

It's difficult to age with grace as a major label hip-hop star: The temptation to chase trends, collaborate with emerging artists, and pepper your lyrics with embarrassing references to what "the kids" are into is strong. Luckily, 36-year-old Memphis rapper Yo Gotti is savvy enough to swerve around those potential potholes with ease. On "Rake It Up," he follows his clever 2015 mixtape smash "Down in the DM" with a nimble, Mike WiLL Made-It-produced anthem about keeping your money straight. With an assist from Nicki Minaj, Gotti's low-key reign as a hitmaker continues. He's gonna need those rakes. 

Jessie Ware Selfish Love
JessieWareVEVO/YouTube

43. "Selfish Love" by Jessie Ware

There's a Peroni commercial that I've seen over a dozen times this summer where a woman cavorts on a boat, chats with friends, and dives in the ocean while a cover of "Here Comes the Sun" flutters in the background. It's breathtakingly annoying. I only bring it up because both the music and the visuals for Jessie Ware's "Selfish Love," the stand-out single from her Glasshouse LP, are like the darker flip side to the ad's cheery optimism. Ware's version of an idyllic vacation plays out like a deleted scene from last year's European arthouse film A Bigger Splash. "So tell me darlin', why are we like this?" she asks at the beginning of the song. "I must admit that I kind of like it." We do, too.

Tim McGraw Faith Hill
Artisa Nashville

42. "Speak to a Girl" by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill

What makes a killer country duet? Well, it helps to have a pair of bona fide superstars like IRL couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, who invest this syrupy power ballad with swoon-worthy theatrics; just listen to the way Hill eases into the chorus. It's also a good idea to cut the obvious sentiments of your song with some clever asides. "She don't give a damn about your Benjamin Franklins," sings Hill in the first line. "She wants Aretha." By the end of this song, these two have more than earned your respect.

Screaming Females
Don Giovanni/Farrah Skeiky

41. "Glass House" by Screaming Females

Marissa Paternoster has a booming voice that often intensifies in subtle ways as a song builds. On a track like "Glass House," the second single from the New Jersey garage rock trio's upcoming album All At Once, that voice is weaponized alongside yet another punishing guitar riff, pounding bass part, and stomping drums. Each verse feels like clouds of fog are slowly parting to reveal a demon army climbing over a hill. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Paternoster said the song was inspired by the feeling of being mired in "social media sludge," which is certainly relatable, but it also taps into the even more timeless anxiety of feeling trapped beneath mounting pressure. By crystallizing that feeling, the song serves as a temporary escape.

40. "American Dream" by LCD Soundsystem

There's always been an arch quality to James Murphy's ambition. LCD Soundsystem, the art-rock project he formed in 2002 and ceremoniously disbanded in 2011, often played a game of chicken with its own growing pomposity, writing yearning ballads like "Someone Great," "All My Friends," and "I Can Change" that combined earnestness with a carefully raised eyebrow. Murphy's highly anticipated comeback single "American Dream" was in that same mold, joining woozy synths to withering lines about how the "sunlight exposes your age." It turns out the sunlight of 2017 was kind to a band that's always been more about looking backward than blazing a trail.

Queens of the Stone Age
QueensoftheStoneAgeVEVO/YouTube

39. "The Way You Used to Do" by Queens of the Stone Age

The combination of Queens of the Stone Age -- the ever-evolving desert rock project of middle-aged rock god Josh Homme -- and Mark Ronson, the guy who put the "funk" in "Uptown Funk," sounds horrible on paper. It sounds horrible if you just say it out loud. But if you actually listen to it, particularly the way Homme coos the word "seventeen" over those hand-claps, you'll find yourself falling under the song's chintzy, leering charm. The Guitar Hero tabs practically light up on your brain as the song plays. 

Margo Price
Danielle Holbert

38. "A Little Pain" by Margo Price

"A little pain never hit anyone," goes the chorus of this old-fashioned riff on honky-tonk melancholia. By name-checking the Band's Levon Helm in the first verse, the ever-scrupulous Margo Price draws a connection to the past, but her brand of spirited resilience is timeless. Like most of the song on her sophomore record, All American Made, the follow-up to last year's debut, it's a tale of struggle told with a twinge of hope and a deep understanding of despair.

Mozzy and Gunplay
MozzyVEVO/YouTube

37."Out Here Really" by Mozzy and Gunplay

For a brief period, Gunplay was the most exciting rapper on the planet. The Florida native exploded off songs like "Bible on the Dash" and "Cartoons and Cereal" with Kendrick Lamar, grabbing your ear with shocking, window-shattering energy and keeping your attention with clever, perceptive lyrics. After releasing his major label debut, Living Legend, in 2015, he seemed to fall off the map a bit. He's back with Dreadlocks & Headshots, a collaborative mixtape with Sacramento rapper Mozzy, who, like Gunplay, has developed a vocal and loyal following. As "Out Here Really" shows, this is an ideal partnership. The two artists share a hardscrabble sensibility but have different lyrical approaches. Gunplay sounds rejuvenated here, like he hasn't lost a step.

Courtney Barnett Kurt Vile
Matador

36. "Over Everything" by Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile 

The announcement that Australian songwriter Courtney Barnett and Philadelphia garage rock lifer Kurt Vile were joining forces felt surprising, but after you heard their first song together "Over Everything," the pairing makes sense. They both write off-kilter lyrics with surreal, darkly humorous imagery and they often set those words to beautiful, tangled guitar squalls. This wasn't a Watch the Throne-style showdown between two larger than life titans. It was a sly, thoughtful collaboration between likeminded space cadets. 

Tove Lo Disco Tits
ToveLoVEVO/YouTube

35. "Disco Tits" by Tove Lo

Swedish songwriter Tove Lo has a gift for turning stray phrases into dryly funny, unapologetically horny lyrical daggers. "I'm sweat from head to toe," she sings on "Disco Tits," a dancefloor brain-worm off her latest record Blue Lips. "I'm wet through all my clothes/I'm fully charged, nipples are hard/Ready to go." From 2 Live Crew to Lil Kim, there's no shortage of sexually blunt bangers in the great American songbook, but they rarely come as danceable as this. For all the talk of sweat, the song is effortlessly cool.

Pinegrove
Pinegrove Bandcamp

34. "Intrepid" by Pinegrove

Pinegrove's Cardinal was one of the best indie rock records of 2016, an exhilarating howl of pain and hope. "Intrepid," the group's latest single, doubles down on the loud-soft dynamics they explored in their previous work with fascinating results. Singer Evan Stephens Hall isn't a hyper-verbose lyricist like Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus or Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, but he invests simple lines like "The way I spent my winter, I wonder/How could we commit?" with a sneaky emotional complexity. By the end, when the guitars twinkle away, you're left reeling.

YoungBoy Never Broke Again
Never Broke Again LLC

33. "Untouchable" by YoungBoy Never Broke Again

YoungBoy Never Broke Again is only a teenager, but his voice sounds weary. On a track like "Untouchable," a mixtape cut released after the then-17-year-old artist spent months in jail, he takes the boisterous post-prison anthem of invincibility and invests it with moments of pain, anger, and self-reflection. ("Whole lotta nights I went to sleep and I ain't had no food," he raps. "But now I'm up and I'm just thinking about my next move.") Like fellow Louisiana rappers Kevin Gates and Boosie Badazz, he has a melodic style that enlivens his often distraught lyrics. He makes you a believer.

JayZ
JayZVEVO/YouTube

32. "The Story of O.J." by JAY-Z

The way JAY-Z says "OK" on "The Story of O.J." is the perfect example of his talents. He knows when understatement does the trick. He still understands how to pull back and let the space in the music speak for a moment. He's fully capable of being withering, funny, and cool. With its Tidal-sanctioned rollout and likely coronation at next year's Grammy Awards, it's easy -- and probably advisable -- to feel a little cynical about 4:44, the rapper's classy, confessional concept record. But that "OK?" It's masterful -- and so is the song around it.

Lana Del Rey
LanaDelReyVEVO/YouTube

31. "Love" by Lana Del Rey

"Don't worry, baby," sings Lana Del Rey on this submerged piece of swooning retro-pop. There's always been a surreal, David Lynch-esque quality to the controversial singer's best songs, which mix the cliches of '50s normie culture with the lingering violent threats of modernity, and "Love" is no exception.

Shania Twain
ShaniaTwainVEVO/YouTube

30. "Life's About to Get Good" by Shania Twain

Why wasn't this more of a hit? For one thing, the "That Don't Impress Me Much" singer hasn't released a full-length since 2002's Up!, which came out a full seven years before that Pixar movie with the same title that makes you cry in the opening 10 minutes. That's a long time ago. George W. Bush was president the last time there was a new Shania Twain record. Crazy, right? With "Life's About to Get Good" she showed up with the same slick, clever country-pop tricks that made Come On Over a minivan staple in the late '90s. In some alternate universe, this song is huge. 

Charlotte Gainsbourg
Charlotte Gainsbourg/YouTube

29. "Deadly Valentine" by Charlotte Gainsbourg 

"Deadly Valentine" effortlessly sneaks up on an epic, otherworldly vibe that so many contemporary songwriters are desperately chasing. The track begins in near silence, the rumble of a bass in the distance. The synths, piano, percussion, whispered vocals, and strings arrive at a steady pace, building toward a brooding disco freak-out but never descending into chaos. Instead, Gainsbourg chooses control.

Drake
DrakeVEVO/YouTube

28. "Passionfruit" by Drake

After the inescapable cultural sprawl of "Hotline Bling," it's probably a good thing that Drake cooled it a little in 2017. He still released an album -- or, fine, a playlist -- full of new material, which he dutifully promoted, but he didn't feel as unrelentingly omnipresent as he has in the past few years. He took it easy. That allowed a song like the playful, rhythmically adroit  "Passionfruit" to linger for almost a whole year without becoming annoying. It's nice -- don't get used to it.

Paramore
Fueld By Ramen/YouTube

27. "Hard Times" by Paramore

Paramore has the one quality that allows bands to prosper over a long career: artistic flexibility. As the Warped Tour pop-punk and mall-ready emo of the mid-00s has faded from most playlists, Hayley Williams has opened up the sound of the group, letting New Wave and '80s rock influences take center stage on the endlessly catchy "Hard Times," the first single from their latest full-length, After Laughter. If you were never a fan of the group, this might be the song that converts you.

Vince Staples
VinceStaplesVEVO/YouTube

26. "Big Fish" Vince Staples

The West Coast swagger of "Big Fish" is an inspiration. For his second studio album, Big Fish Theory, North Long Beach rapper Vince Staples carved out a space between the vivid, lived-in storytelling of his debut and the more experimental, club-ready palette of last year's Prima Donna EP. This song, a neurotic nightlife chronicle with a Maury Povich joke and a monster chorus, is the result of that mad experiment.

Kesha
KeshaVEVO/YouTube

25. "Praying" by Kesha

The weight of expectations threatened to overwhelm Kesha's "Praying," the lead single from Rainbow, her first collection of new music following her prolonged legal battle with Dr. Luke and her record label. Luckily, her voice rose above it all. The same resilience, defiance, and purpose that powered the #FreeKesha movement also powered this song, making even the more bombastic and saccharine elements of the production by Ryan Lewis -- yes, the Ryan Lewis of Macklemore fame -- feel earned. Triumph has always been a part of Kesha's best party anthems, and though she's changed as an artist, that sense of elation remains.

Future Draco
FutureVEVO/YouTube

24. "Draco" by Future

By releasing two albums -- FUTURE and HNDRXX -- in consecutive weeks, Future became the first artist to ever score back-to-back No. 1 debuts on the Billboard album chart. (Not even Nelly did that.) Volume is important to the Atlanta rapper, and sorting through his drug-fueled data dump is half the fun for his obsessive fans. But if you're just looking for the hits, start with "Draco," an intoxicating space-age banger that may or may not be about Scottie Pippen's wife. After you've worn this one out, expand to the other new Future songs from this year accordingly.

Kamaiyah
KamaiyahVEVO/YouTube

23. "Build You Up" by Kamaiyah

A Good Night in the Ghetto, the debut mixtape from Bay Area rapper Kamaiyah, was the most invigorating album of last year, so it made sense to expect big things from her in 2017. While her major label project appears to be tied up with sample clearance issues at the moment, that didn't stop her from releasing another mixtape and the single "Build You Up," a track with all the buoyancy of a '90s sitcom theme song but none of the residual corniness. "Had someone to come around and break you down," she raps. "Never had someone to come around and show you love." Clearly, she's up to the task.

Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean

22. "Chanel" by Frank Ocean

Everything about "Chanel" is in flux. The shuffling beat, which at first sounds like a broom sweeping crumbs off the floor, gives way to an aching piano ballad comprised of hushed revelations, stoned ramblings, and fractured narratives. Is it a sketchbook or a portrait? A confession or a deflection? A hint of where Frank Ocean's post-Blonde music will go, or a red herring? It's a song that floats like a smoke ring, taking one form, transitioning into another, then disappearing into the air.

Calvin Harris
Sony

21. "Slide" by Calvin Harris featuring Frank Ocean and Migos

This blissful summer breeze of a song is the perfect seasonally schizophrenic track for the age of global warming. Frank Ocean sails over Harris' shiny, vaguely tropical production, and Migos provide bursts of energy to the chill session. Listen to it on a beach -- or in an igloo. It'll sound great either way.

Father John Misty
Father John Misty/YouTube

20. "Total Entertainment Forever" by Father John Misty

Some artists test your patience. Josh Tillman, the mystical, bearded wiseass behind Father John Misty, trolls your patience, and he does it with glee. On 2015's I Love You, Honeybear, the former Fleet Foxes member perfected his caustic blend of Nilsson bathrobe-pop and earnest folk bloodletting. "Total Entertainment Forever," a track from his often exhausting Pure Comedy record, is a fitting continuation of that style: soothing melodies, doomsday themes, and an opening line about having sex with Taylor Swift in an Oculus Rift. Is it bizarre? Yes. How does it all work? I have no idea.

Brockhampton
Brockhampton

19. "Gummy" by Brockhampton

The video for Brockhampton's "Gummy" shows the LA hip-hop collective's various members dancing in a sunroof, wearing goofy animal masks while doing push-ups, and goofing around in blown-up sumo wrestler suits. It's the type of free-wheeling, anarchic clip that ingratiates you to the group's sensibility while still capturing what makes the specific song pop. (The onscreen text that identifies different members also helps you remember who to Google when the song's over.) Like with the best Pharcyde or Odd Future tracks, there's a propulsive quality to the songwriting that's paired with a playful touch, drawing you into the group's warped but inviting vision of the world.

Fever Ray
Mute

18."This Country" by Fever Ray

The self-titled debut album from Fever Ray, the solo project of The Knife's Karin Dreijer Andersson, came out in 2009, which is a century ago in our current news cycle. That respite from the public eye is part of what made "This Country," a pulsating electro-pop missive from her latest record, Plunge, so impactful. "This country makes it hard to fuck," she repeatedly calls out in the chorus, succinctly describing the hard-to-define tension that political events can put on human sexuality. If you're exhausted and hollowed out by simply existing within the ideological chaos of modern life, how do you still find the energy for desire, tenderness, and, well, fucking? Listening to this song might be a good start.

SZA
SZAVEVO/YouTube

17. "Love Galore" by SZA featuring Travis Scott

When SZA showed up on "Consideration," the opening track off Rihanna's Anti, she helped establish a freewheeling tone of weeded-out bliss. "Love Galore," a bedroom anthem off her debut full-length, CTRL, isn't quite as joyful and uplifting, but it's just as striking. Here she's singing about recovering from a tough relationship, taking a Valium, and moving on with her life. It's a song about moving on that you won't be able to quit. 

Lil Uzi Vert
LilUziVertVEVO/YouTube

16. "XO Tour Lif3" by Lil Uzi Vert

"Push me to the edge/All my friends are dead," chants Philadelphia rapper Lil Uzi Vert on this sparse, haunting hip-hop track that flips the codeine-soaked nihilism of Future into something that feels genuinely post-apocalyptic. That it was a huge hit, peaking at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and racking up millions of streams, only speaks to the dire state of the world. This is the song you play in your car as you cruise around the wasteland.

HAIMVEVO/YouTube

15. "Want You Back" by HAIM

Haim's sophomore album, Something to Tell You, was one of the year's most anticipated releases, so it was surprising that the first single from it, "Right Now," was so unassuming. With its laid-back video directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the song announced the now Taylor Swift-affiliated group was back with a mild shrug. It was sleepy. Aimless. Luckily, "Want You Back" was the perfect course correction, a soft-rock banger filled with oddball synth flourishes, multi-part vocals, and frenzied production. It's a featherlight pop song working extra hard for your approval -- and earning it.

Luis Fonsi
LuisFonsiVEVO/YouTube

14. "Despacito" by Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee

Come on. Do you really need someone to explain why "Despacito" is a good song? After more than 4 billion YouTube streams, countless talk show performances, and the infinite number of times the song just randomly begins to play whenever more than a dozen people share a public space, it should be obvious that "Despacito," the world-conquering reggaeton-pop track, is a colossus. Ditch the Justin Bieber remix. Submit to the original's gravitational pull. 

Taylor Swift
Big Machine

13. "Getaway Car" by Taylor Swift

The idea of escape is clearly very appealing to Taylor Swift. After a challenging period in the public eye, which included a new chapter in her feud with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, the 27-year-old singer spent most of 2017 off the grid. "Getaway Car," a Jack Antonoff-produced track off Reputation, can be viewed as a ripped-from-the-tabloids tale about Swift's brief fling with actor Tom Hiddleston, but it's also a noir-tinged daydream about the futility of pulling a disappearing act. "Don't pretend it's such a mystery," she sings at one point -- as if pretending wasn't half the fun. 

Slowdive
Ingrid Pop

12. "Sugar for the Pill" by Slowdive

Many young bands reach for that John Hughes prom death waltz vibe, but sometimes it's best to trust the people who actually lived through the '80s. English shoegaze veterans Slowdive released their first new record since 1995's Pygmalion this year, and the single "Sugar for the Pill" hits all the elements you want from a song like this: chiming guitars, breathy vocals from singer Neil Halstead, and a steady beat to sway along to with your potential source of heartbreak. Slow dance with caution.

Carley Rae Jepsen
Interscope

11. "Cut to the Feeling" by Carly Rae Jepsen

In some corners of the internet, Carly Rae Jepsen is the biggest pop star in the world. While the Canadian songwriter became a household name with "Call Me Maybe," an inescapable chart-topping anthem about the perils of phones, she became an obsession for many playlist-building bloggers with 2015's Emotion, a record that doubled down on big '80s production flourishes and big heartbreak. (A case can be made for why her previous album Kiss was better than Emotion, but, really, you don't care.) A castoff from the Emotion sessions, "Cut to the Feeling" is just as intoxicating as her best work, rushing from chorus to chorus with the reckless energy of a trigger-happy fireworks display. For a song about skipping right to the good part, it's the perfect approach.

Craig Finn
Shervin Lainez

10. "God in Chicago" by Craig Finn

Most of the best Hold Steady songs are beer-fueled rave-ups that end with with guitar solos, sing-alongs, and everybody covered in sweat. On his solo records, the band's chattering id of a frontman Craig Finn takes a more measured, restrained approach, and it works beautifully on "God in Chicago," a song that feels like a Denis Johnson short story brought to vivid life. The details are hyper-specific -- it's tough to shake the phrase "Wayne from Winnetka" -- but the combination of romance and alienation should be recognizable to anyone who has ever made a rash decision in an unfamiliar town.

Rostam
Rostam/YouTube

9. "Gwan" by Rostam

Those strings! Erstwhile Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij can conjure a mood of melancholy quietude with ease, but what makes "Gwan" so good is that it makes you smile. "I was happy in the city," he sings towards the end of the track, painting a portrait of urban life that brings to mind the low-key potency of "Waterloo Sunset" by the Kinks. Like most of last year's record with Hamilton Leithauser, the excellent I Had a Dream That You Were Mine, the song finds big emotions in small moments.

Demi Lovato
DemiLovatoVEVO/YouTube

8. "Sorry Not Sorry" by Demi Lovato

"Sorry Not Sorry," Demi Lovato's comeback single after announcing last year that she was taking a break from the spotlight, is like a flipped bird emoji reaching through your phone to poke your eye. The track was produced by Warren "Oak" Felder, who worked on Kehlani's SweetSexySavage -- still the year's best R&B record -- and it's got some of the same strike-a-match-and-watch-the-world-burn energy that's powered countless kiss-off anthems by artists like Sia and Pink. What makes this one special? The combination of flippancy and playfulness Lovato brings to lines like "I'm out here looking like revenge." It's a good look for her.

Kelela
Warp

7. "LMK" by Kelela

The R&B of Kelela's debut studio album, Take Me Apart, pulsates with life. Though it's possible to interpret an icy, careening song like "LMK" as a missive received from a distant planet, the vocals keep the track from feeling like a song that would play in a Blade Runner-themed nightclub. It's rooted in deft psychological observations and the subtleties of modern communication. ("You don't read between the lines," she sings. "'Bout to leave, can you read my mind?") You've got to read the signals.

Lorde
LordeVEVO

6. "Perfect Places" by Lorde

"I hate the headlines and the weather," sings Lorde in the first verse of "Perfect Places." "I'm 19 and I'm on fire." Like Bruce Springsteen or Johnny Cash, she's on fire -- songwriting doesn't get much more direct than that. Over a bleary synth and chugging drum machine, the 20-year-old singer describes a search for a state of perfection that she's wise enough to know might not exist. This song, the final track from her excellent Melodrama album, is the comedown to the exhilarating rush of "Green Light," the harsh sliver of light peeking through the blinds after a night of adventure. 

Syd
SydVEVO/YouTube

5. "All About Me" by Syd

Syd, the 25-year-old songwriter and producer, got her start in music as a member of the roving hip-hop collective Odd Future before breaking out as the singer of the neo-soul outfit The Internet. Her first solo album, Fin, is clearly the work of an artist who understands the aesthetic lane she excels in, but also wants to push the boundaries a bit. Fittingly, the lean, muscular single "All About Me" is a brash expression of individuality from a gifted team player. You can't look away. 

Jason Isbell
Danny Clinch

4. "Hope the High Road" by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Few artists do earnest self-reflection quite like Jason Isbell, the former Drive-By-Truckers member turned solo country everyman. On "Hope the High Road," the first single from The Nashville Sound, the 38-year-old songwriter pens a thoughtful op-ed about empathy, identity, and blame in the Trump-era. "I've heard enough of the white man's blues," he sings. "I've sang enough about myself/So if you're looking for some bad news/You can find it somewhere else." Instead, he's looking for real connections and real solutions. Here's to hoping he finds them.

Cardi B
Cardi B/YouTube

3. "Bodak Yellow" by Cardi B

No song on this list prompts a physical response quite like "Bodak Yellow," a thundering, blood-covered testament to the power of making money moves. When the beat kicks in, the body activates and motion becomes inevitable. There's no "secret" that explains the song's success. It all comes down to Cardi B, the former stripper and reality TV star who powers this track, and the way she uses her voice to command respect. "If you a pussy you get popped, you a goofy, you a cop," she raps in the second verse. "Don't you come around my way, you can't hang around my block." It's an exclusionary warning that also plays as an invitation: This is a club you want to be a member of.

Kendrick Lamar
KendirckLamarVEVO/YouTube

2. "Humble" by Kendrick Lamar

For all the political provocations, jazzy soundscapes, and spiritual heft of 2015's totemic To Pimp a Butterfly and 2016's introspective B-sides collection Untitled Unmastered, Kendrick Lamar is still a young artist capable of delivering hits. More than his recent (and often excellent) experiments, "Humble" sounded massive. It got your head nodding. Though it also inspired controversy and debate, this was primarily a party-ready banger in the mold of "Swimming Pools (Drank)" or "A.D.H.D." I haven't even mentioned the flame-filled video: No other visuals so brilliantly captured the eyebrow-singeing chaos of the contemporary moment. 

Selena Gomez
Interscope

1. "Bad Liar" by Selena Gomez

Selena Gomez got droll on this spiky pop song that swipes a sample of the bass line from the Talking Heads classic "Psycho Killer." On that track, singer David Byrne mapped his own anxiety in a state of violent panic; Gomez sounds more laid-back in her vocal delivery here, but if you parse the lyrics, it's clear she's similarly paralyzed by her own neurosis. "I was walking down the street the other day," she sings. "Trying to distract myself/But then I see your face/Oh wait, that's someone else." Romantic obsession rarely sounds this twitchy and hypnotic.  

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Dan Jackson is a staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.