The past 12 months have been filled with disaster, tragedy, and political and economic turmoil. Despite all of the negative news Americans have been faced with, we have been encouraged to become more politically active, conscious, and vocal about contemporary issues. This has reflected in the works of a lot of artists and musicians. Below is a list of 20 of the best songs of the past year. As a disclaimer, this list is based on my personal opinion.
20. “Tyrant” by Kali Uchis featuring Jorja Smith
Known for her collaborations with Odd Future, Columbian singer Kali Uchis released her major-label debut single, “Tyrant,” this past May. “Tyrant,” is lyrically about loving a manipulative man. Although lyrically dark, Uchis’s soft-sung vocals allow for the song to have a soothing, romantic feel, mirroring the contrast people face when deeply in love. Uchis’s Spanish ad-libs also allow for the song to sound more cultured compared to everything else on the radio.
19. “Drew Barrymore” by SZA
SZA’s debut album, CTRL, is one of the most cohesive projects of the year. From beginning to end, CTRL is a story of battling insecurities, unrequited love, and home-wrecking. The album’s lead single, “Drew Barrymore,” is an artistic manifestation of SZA’s desire for reciprocated love, affection, and validation.
18. “Honey” by Kehlani
22-year-old Kehlani Parrish kicked off 2017 with one of the year’s most anticipated albums. On SweetSexySavish, Kehlani puts up a tough exterior. She shows that although she’s had her hardships, she will let nothing stand in the way of her growth and her autonomy. On “Honey,” a stand-alone single, she lets her walls come down as she sings to a female lover. As the song’s title suggests, “Honey,” is a sweet, precious queer anthem for the ages.
17. “May I Have This Dance (Remix)” by Francis & the Lights featuring Chance the Rapper
Francis & the Lights has been active for nearly 10 years, however, he came to larger success last year with the release of his Kanye West and Bon Iver collaboration “Friends,” along with his contributions to Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book mixtape. This past summer, Francis released a remixed version of “May I Have This Dance,” a cut from his 2016 Farewell, Starlite album. The song is a wholesome, minimalistically produced electronic song. Chance gives the song what the original album cut was missing; a bridge complete with his signature, raspy vocals.
16. “Bodak Yellow” by Cardi B
After announcing her departure from VH1’s “Love and Hip Hop: New York,” rapper Cardi B went straight to work on her music. This past summer, Cardi B released her track “Bodak Yellow,” which later proved to be a game-changer. “Bodak Yellow” went on to be the first Billboard Hot 100 number one single by a female rapper in 19 years, a feat previously achieved by Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing).” Cardi B also met Beyoncé after a set at Made in America festival this past summer, and the two are rumored to release a collaboration in the near future. She ended the year with “Bodak Yellow” snagging two Grammy nominations, as well as achieving triple platinum status.
15. “Spice Girl” by Aminé
Ethiopian rapper Aminé’s debut album, Good for You, is filled with clever wordplay and references to ’90s culture. One of the most notable tracks is “Spice Girl,” on which Aminé details what he “really really wants” from a female. Only ’90s kids will understand what he means when he says he wants a girl who’s “posh when she talk” and “scary and sporty.” I kid, I kid, but still, the track is a novelty for lovers of ’90s culture.
14. “Bounce Back” by Big Sean
Everybody and their dad knew the lyrics to the lead single of Big Sean’s I Decided record. It was an anthem for workout junkies, sports lovers, or those recovering from taking a loss. “Bounce Back” cements Big Sean’s status as a legend, as he spits fire bars, flawlessly switches his flows, and crams multiple syllables into lines, all without missing a beat.
13. “Lust for Life” by Lana Del Rey & The Weeknd
After Lana Del Rey’s fourth studio album, Honeymoon, failed to match the success of her previous three, she knew she had to make her next album very special for her fans. On the title track of her fifth studio album, Lust for Life, Lana delivers the sexy, sultry vocals fans came to know and love her for. She is joined by The Weeknd, whose vocals give the song a sensual, erotic touch.
12. “No One Knows Me (Like the Piano)” by Sampha
Sampha’s debut album, Process, is filled with poignant, vulnerable, and heartbreaking ballads that strike the listener at the heartstrings. On “No One Knows Me (Like the Piano),” Sampha searches for the comfort and solace he once knew in his childhood home. The song itself consists of nothing but Sampha’s pure vocals and a piano. Sampha’s vocals overshadow the instrumentals, allowing the listener to fully absorb and digest the song’s lyrics.
11. “Big Fish” by Vince Staples
It’s really a shame that after years of hard work, Vince Staples’s music is still largely overlooked. His latest album, Big Fish Theory, deserves to be in the same conversation as DAMN. and I Decided. On the album’s lead single, “Big Fish,” he spits rhymes about economic disparity and poverty he faced growing up, all over a bouncy west coast beat. The lyrics themselves are more serious and dark than they are celebratory, however, the Christian Rich-produced instrumental turns the track into a contender for a fun party or club anthem.
10. “Up All Night” by Beck
As a Beyoncé fan, I may come off as partial, but let’s be honest, Beck’s Morning Phase album did not deserve the coveted Album of the Year award at the 2015 Grammy Awards. I am a fan of Beck, and I admire his versatility and his ability to fuse together different genres, which is why I found Morning Phase very repetitive and monotonous. On his most recent album, Colors, Beck revisits the unique hip-hop/rock sounds that made him famous. The single “Up All Night,” contains major Guero vibes and is an overall fun, wholesome, enjoyable song.
9. “Unforgettable” by French Montana featuring Swae Lee
I never thought I would ever listen to a French Montana song on purpose, but I managed to have “Unforgettable” on repeat all summer. Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd is the real star of the song, delivering strong, gritty vocals. Lee isn’t exactly The Weeknd or Frank Ocean, but his unique stylings make for the perfect summer rhythmic-pop anthem.
8. “Chanel” by Frank Ocean
Following the premiere of his Apple Music show, “Blonded Radio,” Frank Ocean spent most of the year randomly dropping standalone singles. He kicked off his series by releasing “Chanel,” on which he sings of his admiration for a male subject who exhibits both masculine and feminine characteristics. Despite never having identified as bisexual or pansexual, he has long used his music to openly express his sexual fluidity. “I see both sides like Chanel,” is perhaps his most explicit line regarding his fluidity.
7. “Feel it Still” by Portugal. The Man
Portugal. The Man first formed in 2004. After 13 years, the band finally charted on Billboard’s Hot 100, with “Feel it Still” peaking at number 4. The song’s instrumental is similar to those of anthems from the ’60s-70s era, along with its lyrics, which serve as commentary on our nation’s political climate. In regards to the line “we could fight a war for peace,” guitarist Eric Howk said in a Genius interview “Fighting a war for peace is like fucking for virginity. It’s just banging your head into a wall over and over again, you’re not gonna win. It’s doing the exact opposite thing that’s gonna get you to a better place.”
6. “You’re the Best Thing About Me” by U2
U2 caused many an annoyance in 2014, when their album Songs of Innocence was sneakily inserted into the iTunes library of every iPhone user. Although this left a bad taste in consumers’ mouths, the album was met with much critical acclaim. For the release of their 14th studio album, Songs of Experience, Bono and the boys stuck to a more conventional approach, allowing fans to appreciate the albums musical quality at their own discretion. “You’re the Best Thing About Me” is a powerful rock song on which Bono embraces the power of love and beautifully expresses his affection towards his wife.
5. “Praying” by Kesha
After Kesha’s widely publicized legal battle with producer Dr. Luke, fans began to wonder if she’d ever be able to release music again. She made a triumphant return this summer with “Praying,” which served as the lead single of her third studio album, Rainbow. On “Praying,” she confronts her demons saying “you brought the flames and you put me through hell, I had to learn how to fight for myself.” “Praying” is a departure from the drunk party girl anthems with which Kesha first stepped on the scene, allowing her fans to focus on her vocal and lyrical ability and not on the auto-tuned drivel forced upon her by Dr. Puke.
4. “1-800-273-8255” by Logic featuring Alessia Cara and Khalid
Mental health awareness and pop music may sound like a strange combination, but Logic, Alessia Cara, and Khalid hit the nail on the head with “1-800-273-8255.” Logic opens the song sharing a story of his struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts. Cara and Khalid follow up Logic’s story, encouraging the listener to seek help, rather than ending their life. The song ends with Logic singing “I finally wanna be alive,” contrary to “I don’t want to be alive,” which is how he opened the song.
3. “Homemade Dynamite (Remix)” by Lorde featuring Khalid, SZA, and Post Malone
When you put four of the biggest artists of 2017 on one track, you’re guaranteed to get a certified banger. Lorde’s sophomore album, Melodrama, is a conceptual, cohesive record, in which she addresses lost love and her struggles to find a “perfect place” in the world. The album version of “Homemade Dynamite” fits into a musical story, and therefore, can’t exist without the other 10 Melodrama tracks, however, the remixed version makes for a perfect anthem celebrating the fuck-ups and disasters that shape us into scrappy, tough, and beautiful individuals.
2. “Humble” by Kendrick Lamar
You couldn’t go anywhere this year without hearing “Humble.” It’s a song unlike anything else. The unique Mike Will Made-it instrumental and catchy chorus make it the perfect anthem for putting a hater in their place. Plus, the Dave Meyers-directed music contains excellent use of symbolism and imagery throughout. Since its release, “Humble” has gone on to peak at number one on Billboard’s Hot 100, and to receive four Grammy nominations.
1. “Family Feud” by JAY-Z & Beyoncé
Beyoncé’s 2016 album, Lemonade, raised many questions for fans of both her and Jay. “Did JAY-Z cheat on Beyoncé?” “Who is Becky with the good hair?” and “Are they getting a divorce?” On his 13th studio album, 4:44, address accusations regarding his infidelity. Although “Family Feud” is lyrically about cultural differences in the different generations of hip-hop music, Jay said the track was one of many that were created while he and Beyoncé were working to repair their marriage. One of the results of their joint sessions is a beautiful track in which Jay raps about the importance of supporting one another in the hip-hop community, over an instrumental track consisting of Beyoncé’s vocals. As JAY-Z says, “nobody wins when the family feuds.” Whether this line refers to his immediate family or the hip-hop family, it’s the line that best sums up the album’s themes and overall message.