Well, I’ve already done my best of 2014 and 2015 lists, and seeing how it’s already November, I think it’s time we finally bridge that gap…2016 it is!
Oh boy, 2016. Was it as bad as everyone says it was for mainstream music? Was everything dark and painfully mediocre? Well…no. I certainly came into this list thinking otherwise, but a lot of the songs I remember as bad or mediocre actually turned out decent! There was a lot more quality and memorable songs than people think. Compare it to a year like 2014 that’s just a complete black hole for music with almost nothing memorable, and you’ll see why 2016 is actually kind of decent. Of course it’s not as good as 2015 (although not many years are), but hey, like I said, there is a surprising amount of good stuff here. So much so that like in 2015, I managed to come up with 15 great songs instead of the normal 10. What are the best songs from last year? Without further ado, let’s find out!
If you recall, my #1 song of 2014 is A Sky Full Of Stars by Coldplay, almost solely due to the fact that it’s so uplifting and makes me really happy. And two years later, Coldplay released another uplifting song that, while not nearly as good as A Sky Full Of Stars, is still pretty damn awesome nonetheless.
15. Hymn For The Weekend by Coldplay feat. Beyonce
Year-End Position: #73
I wasn’t expecting this song to be the first one on the list, but it’s a pretty nice way to open it. It’s also kind of an indication of just how bad and forgettable 2014 was. If a song that fits the mold of my favorite song of 2014 is only #15 on my 2016 list, then 2016 couldn’t be that bad, right?
This song does have a lot in common with A Sky Full Of Stars, like how both have a piano melody that anchors the verses, but there are also a lot of differences. The biggest one is that A Sky Full Of Stars is an EDM song, but Hymn For The Weekend is a pop-rock song. But that doesn’t mean it’s not as powerful.
Just like A Sky Full Of Stars, this song gets most of its uplifting factor from the production. That piano line is fine enough, but where it really gets going is the pre-chorus, where you get some hints of horns and the melody sounds like it’s building to something big, and then BOOM. The chorus hits, with the pounding percussion and an electric guitar. And that’s not even mentioning the final “chorus”/outro where the electric guitar is clearer. I’m a rock fan, what else do I need for a song like this?
And then of course there are the performers. Chris Martin has great charisma as a singer, and his delivery really carries this song, especially since this message is about a girl who lifts his spirits up and makes him feel “drunk and high” (the “love = drugs” metaphor has been done to death, I know). I especially love how he belts on the chorus. And compared to the lyrics on A Sky Full Of Stars which are more bittersweet and deal with Martin’s divorce with Gwyneth Paltrow, this song probably has better lyrics!
But this song wouldn’t be complete without Beyonce, who, like Martin, sounds great. She’s mostly a background singer for the first half of the song, but then she gets the bridge and the outro, where she really shines. I’ve never been a big Beyonce fan, but she brought her A-game here. Bravo to her.
Between this, A Sky Full of Stars, and now Something Just Like This, I’ve discovered that Coldplay is a pretty good band that consistently churns out or is featured on good singles. Good on them, and I hope to hear more good stuff in the future.
We can all agree that Bills by LunchMoney Lewis is amazing, right? It’s one of my favorite songs of 2015 and is definitely my favorite non-hit of that year. That combination of a bouncy piano line and Lewis’s incredibly cheery vocal performance makes it such a joy to listen to. Why it wasn’t a hit I’ll never know, but at least we had a similar song in 2016 that actually was a hit.
14. Broccoli by D.R.A.M. feat. Lil Yachty
Year-End Position: #34
Okay, it’s not nearly as good as Bills, but this is still really solid! Right away you have a happy upbeat piano line and D.R.A.M already giving off a really charismatic performance. That’s an amazing start, so why is it so low on the list?
Hey lil mama would you like to be my sunshine/n***as touch my gang, we gon’ turn this shit to Columbine
God damn it Lil Yachty.
I’m not going to say that Yachty’s verse ruins the song, but it definitely keeps it from the top 10, or maybe even higher. His low tone doesn’t really fit the instrumentation, and his content… well you already know he starts by making a reference to a school shooting, but it doesn’t really get better from there.
Fifty Shades Of Grey, beat that pussy like Hulk Hogan
Put that dick up in her pussy, man she feel it in her toes
Also this verse clocks in at just over a minute, which is way too long for a guest verse, so we’re already off to a bad start. But you know what? It’s time to talk about why this song is on this list in the first place. And it starts with the chorus.
That chorus…oh man. D.R.A.M comes back with his great delivery, and of course that amazing flute. I don’t really have words to describe how good that flute is.
And then we have D.R.A.M.’s verse, which is the real highlight. While Lil Yachty’s verse was weird and gross, this is just a treat. Just look at some of these lines:
All I wanted was the fame and every game they made on Sega
But I treat you like my equal, never lesser
I acquired taste for salmon on a bagel with the capers on a square plate
’cause I got that cheese, bitch I keep dairy
It’s just one great line after another! D.R.A.M is really enjoying himself here, and I absolutely love listening to songs where the performer is clearly enjoying themselves. He’s pretty much singlehandedly responsible for rescuing this song after it got off to a bad start, and thank goodness for that.
I don’t know why D.R.A.M. hasn’t had another hit since this, but he deserves one. It’s nice he at least got one unlike LunchMoney Lewis, but let’s be honest, we need more of this guy. Please America, make it happen.
The Todd Effect strikes again!
13. Closer by The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey
Year-End Position: #10
I mentioned it in my 2015 video, but this song grew on me a lot after Todd In The Shadows put it as his favorite hit of 2016. Something about how this song affected him after a year where he thought music was really bad really got to me, and I started liking it more and more after having no solid opinion on it.
If I had to sum up Closer in one word, it would be “nostalgic”. Everything about this song is wistful and sounds like someone is looking back at fond memories. The production is pleasant with the piano that anchors the melody, and the percussion is nice and not too powerful. And those handclaps are a nice touch. I guess my only complaint is that the drop is a bit “loud” and doesn’t fit with the mood, but it’s not as bad a drop as people say it is.
And that nostalgic feeling extends to the lyrics as well, as Andrew Taggart and Halsey play the roles of two people who once had a relationship but happen to run into each other after a long time away. Taggart plays the guy who drinks a lot and kind of comes off as a jerk, while Halsey is regretful and wonders why she ever left him. I like duets like this where both people have distinct parts instead of saying the same thing, and while I do wish they had a little bit more to say on each of their verses, it’s still long enough to convey the emotions they’re feeling. As for the chorus, some of the lyrics are kind of clunky, most notably the mattress line, but it’s still a nice sentiment. I especially love how the final line is “we ain’t ever getting older.”
But what really puts this song over the edge for me is that final chorus and outro, where Taggart starts by himself but then Halsey joins him as they repeat the line “we ain’t getting older” over and over as the production builds up… and then the drop happens and it feels like a release of emotion, especially with Halsey’s “ah’s.” It’s the best moment of the song and I love listening to it.
I’m glad I came around on this song. I know not everyone likes it, but it’s just a great listen. I think it’ll go down as one of the defining songs of this decade, hell maybe this generation. It’s the epitome of a “millennial anthem.” Yep, the #SELFIE guys made a generation-defining song. Who saw that coming?
Even though this isn’t #15, the decision for the final song on the list came down to In The Night and Starboy. Both are by The Weeknd, and both have great qualities about it. In The Night is powerful with an 80’s vibe and The Weeknd giving one hell of a vocal performance. On the other hand, Starboy is more lowkey and catchier, thanks to Daft Punk’s production. For a while I had no idea which one would make the list, and every time I thought I had made up my mind, I realized I was wrong and kept flip-flopping. It was a pretty tough decision, but in the end, I gave it to…
12. Starboy by The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk
Year-End Position: #58
In the end, I feel like the deciding factor that put this above In The Night is the catchiness. This song has one hell of a groove, and that’s because of Daft Punk. Daft Punk is known for making funky music, and this is no exception. They’re responisble for one of my favorite hit songs of 2013 in Get Lucky, and while this isn’t as good, it’s still amazing nonetheless.
What I love most about this song is how it’s dark, which of course it is, it’s a Weeknd song. That pounding percussion really stands out, especially when it gets louder on the second half of the chorus. The piano melody is simple with sparse notes, but it gets the job done well. Or how about that melody that’s on the second half of the chorus that’s amazing? Plus there’s that whirring sound that starts of the song and is also in the bridge and the final chorus. It’s a very distinct overall sound, and it fits The Weeknd perfectly.
And speaking of fitting The Weeknd, the lyrics are The Weeknd epitomized. He’s talking all about his fame and how he’s better than you. He can afford better cars, better furniture, and better girls than you. He’s rubbing it in your face, to the point that he says it’s your fault he’s famous, hence the “look what you’ve done” on the chorus. It’s braggadocious and full of swagger, but not to the point where’s insulting like, say, Me Too. It’s not in-your-face and the production balances out the lyrics so you can enjoy the bragging without feeling insulted. Besides, you can’t get mad at The Weeknd.
This isn’t the best song on Starboy, or even the best song on Starboy with Daft Punk on it (foreshadowing!), but it’s just classic Weeknd. I love him a lot more when he does stuff like this and Can’t Feel My Face than when he does stuff like Earned It and The Hills. More of this and less of that, please.
Let’s go back to the end of 2015, when The Chainsmokers were still only known for #SELFIE. Somehow they got another song on the Hot 100, except it was a serious attempt at making music instead of a novelty song. But if they wanted to convince the public that they could now be taken seriously as real musicians, they had to start on the right foot. Their first “real” mainstream song had to have quality.
And boy, did it ever.
11. Roses by The Chainsmokers feat. ROZES
Year-End Position: #27
I previously talked about how I like Closer, but this is actually my favorite Chainsmokers hit from this year. Sure Closer was good, but Roses is on a whole other level, both on a production and performance standpoint.
Let’s start with the production, because it’s this is probably the best and most unique beat that The Chainsmokers have made thus far. It’s kind of hard to describe it, but it’s very nice and pleasant. That melody that starts the song and runs through the first verse is nice. The percussion works great too, especially when it builds up right before the drop. The drop itself is pretty good, and I like how it has a chance to calm down at the end, especially the second time around.
But what really makes this song work is ROZES herself, because her performance complements it perfectly. A lot of the production elements work because they’re accompanied by her voice. When the instrumentation is sparse, she sounds low-key so that she’s not overpowering. Even when she doesn’t have lyrics she still has an impact thanks to her “ah’s”. It adds a layer to the pre-drop and the drop itself, and those parts would feel bare without her. This is one of those songs where it’s hard to imagine someone else singing it, because the person who does sing it does it so well.
I’m really glad this became a hit and launched The Chainsmokers back into the spotlight. If this didn’t do well, I don’t think they would have more hits, let alone become one of the biggest acts in music. Sure not everyone likes them, but there’s no denying the impact they’ve had on music in the past two years. And it all started with this song. The rest, as they say, is history.
I’m currently a junior in college, and on top of having a lot of work to do, there’s also the worrying idea that I’m graduating next year and will have to go out to the real world, get a job, pay rent, etc. It scares me because I’ve always had a structured life with classes and work, but soon it will all end, and that’s scary. If only there was a hit song that perfectly conveyed those emotions…
10. Stressed Out by twenty one pilots
Year-End Position: #5
This is by far the most relatable song of the year for me. The lyrics about wanting to “turn back time to the good old days” really speak to me. It’s not that I don’t like being adult, but being a kid has its perks, you know? Like having more time to play video games and having less work to do. When you were a kid you were excited to grow up, but when you actually grow up you wish you were a kid again. Funny how that works.
I’ve constantly said that I’m a “production over lyrics” person, but this song is definitely lyrics over production. It’s all about the insecurities Tyler Joseph faces regarding growing up, and while people have sung about that before, he does in a way I don’t think I’ve heard before. I mean, listen to how it starts:
I wish I found some better sounds no one’s ever heard
I wish I had a better voice that sang some better words
I wish I found some chords in an order that is new
I wish I didn’t have to rhyme every time I sang
Those last two lines are genius because it’s about not wanting to rhyme while not rhyming. I love how they do that. Also I love this line on the second verse:
Out of student loans and treehouse homes, we all would take the latter
Of course “latter” here refers to the second option of treehouse homes over student loans, but it could also be “ladder,” as in a treehouse ladder. I love puns and wordplay, so that line is definitely one my favorites.
And then there’s the bridge where Tyler reminisces on how he used to pretend to build rocket ships but now he’s being told “wake up, you need to make money.” It’s a way of saying as kid he imagined going to space, but now as an adult he’s grounded to earth and reality. It’s kind of sad because he had those dreams growing up, but now he realizes that he can’t accomplish them. Every kid wants to do cool things when they grow up like be an astronaut or a pilot or the president, but then as they get older they realize those dreams are unrealistic. It’s just a part of life you have to accept, but it’s still hard to come to terms with. And that’s why this song is so relatable, because it deals with something that everyone has to go through.
This is the perfect song for times when I feel stressed with a lot of work. It’s just a reminder that adulthood sucks sometimes, and tøp is the perfect band for that kind of message. Thanks guys.
One of the biggest trends of 2016 was the abundance of tropical hits. The trend was everywhere, and we had three tropical #1s (Work, One Dance, and Cheap Thrills). So with all that said: how come this was the only real reggae-inspired song?
9. Side To Side by Ariana Grande feat. Nicki Minaj
Year-End Position: #77
Because yeah, this beat is great. That guitar melody and percussion gives the song a tight reggae groove, which is very welcome.
But let’s be honest, the real reason this song is great is because the performers. I’m going to be blunt right out of the gate: this a song where Ariana Grande has so much sex that she has trouble walking. Seriously. That’s really all this is, a sex song. Sure Ariana talks about how her man has a bad reputation and how her friends tell her to give him up, but she doesn’t care. Why? Because of the good sex she gets. I’m not reading into anything here, that’s what this song is. I never expected pop princess Ariana Grande of all people to sing something like this, but damn I’m surprised how well she pulls this off.
But let’s get to the real reason why this song is so good: Nicki Minaj.
I’ve never been a big fan of Nicki Minaj. I can’t really name a song she’s been on that I’ve liked. That being said, she steals the show here. Mark from Spectrum Pulse compared her to Ariana’s “older sister,” and that’s pretty accurate. Her lyrics are lot dirtier and more explicit than Ariana’s (the “dick bicycle” line is a prime example), and hell, there was this line that was cut:
But the line that I like the most is this:
I give zero fucks and I got zero chill in me
Nicki knows she’s badass, and that’s what makes this verse so great. It’s the perfect counterpart to Ariana’s subtler and girlier content.
Side To Side is the Cool For The Summer of 2016. That is, it’s the perfect definition of girl power and ladies being badasses. And while it’s obviously not as great as Cool For The Summer (or Love Me Harder, the Ariana Grande song that also made my 2015 list), it’s still one hell of a song.
In my 2015 video, I said that Love Me Like You Do “might be the best song from a bad movie that I’ve ever heard.”
Yeah, about that…
8. Heathens by twenty one pilots
Year-End Position: #21
To be fair, Love Me Like You Do is still a great song, but let’s be honest, it doesn’t beat out a rock song like Heathens. If you know me, not much beats rock songs.
Yeah, this song is awesome, and like most rock songs, it’s mostly because of the beat. That melancholy piano melody is nice, and it’s accompanied by a good drum line that ramps up the intensity for the chorus, which is always appreciated. Also that thing that sounds like a frog ribbiting is pretty interesting, even if some people find it annoying.
But the highlight of this song for me, of course, is when there’s not one but two big blowouts. The second one is the best because it starts with a great little drumroll that gets my blood pumping. Drumrolls are one of my favorite things in music because I love to do air drums to great rock songs. (For the best example of a drum roll, check out Bang Bang by Green Day.) Even that high-pitched voice thing that runs throughout the song is pretty cool on its own.
And I also want to give special mention to the lyrics here, because they really connect with me. Tyler Joseph is talking about the new fans of twenty one pilots who have become fans because of their newfound success instead of being with them from earlier. And that 100% applies to me because I had no idea who these guys were before Stressed Out was a thing. But I fell in love with that song, and found that Heathens was even better. So for Joseph to talk about this means a lot, especially since it’s also telling old fans to not call new fans “fake fans.” And I’m certainly not a fake fan. I’ve listened to Blurryface and there are a lot of really good songs on there. It’s nice for a famous person to step up and say that they’re accepting of all fans, even those who are pretty much just hopping on the bandwagon.
Heathens is definitely more than just a song from Suicide Squad. It has a good beat and it says something meaningful, and that’s all I need from twenty one pilots, well done guys.
Of all the entries on this list, I’m almost positive that this one will be the most controversial. Because while songs like Closer do have their haters, I think that most people tend to like the song or at least tolerate it. For this song, however, it seems that there are more people who hate it than like it. I’ve seen it on multiple worst lists as opposed to just one best list, and hell, one person put it at the very top of their worst list.
But it’s time to set the record straight and show just what side I’m on.
7. Cake By The Ocean by DNCE
Year-End Position: #18
I think I should start by talking about the exact reason why people hate this: the lyrics. It’s Joe Jonas making a sex song with candy metaphors, and that goes about as well as you think it does.
God damn/See you licking frosting from your own hands
There’s only one way you can interpret that line, and it’s gross. Thank you for putting that image in my head, Joe.
So fine, the lyrics aren’t that good. But what about the production? Well, that’s exactly why I like this song so much. It’s a funky throwback jam, and you already know how much I love those. This is no Uptown Funk, but it’s obviously trying to be, and that can’t be anything but good.
Cake By The Ocean is a ton of fun to listen to, and it starts at the very first second. Right away you hear a bassline that’s both memorable and catchy as hell. And then we there’s the percussion and the handclaps that start on the verse, adding to that throwback disco feel. The second half of the verse introduces the faint hints of another guitar line that really gets to shine in the second verse. That’s two great guitar lines in one song! You can’t go wrong with something like that.
And to be fair, even if the lyrics are questionable, Joe Jonas’s delivery really sticks in your head on the verse and especially on the chorus. It’s also pretty cool how he has interludes during his own singing on the final chorus. And I really love the “red velvet, vanilla, chocolate in my life” on the outro in a melody that mirrors that of the bassline. I’m not always a fan of vocal melodies mirroring the melody of the instrumentation, but this is an instance where it really works.
What can I say? I’m a sucker for these kinds of songs, regardless of the content. But if you want to hear a DNCE song that’s even better, check out Body Moves, which might be one of my favorite pop songs of all time. How on earth did it not become a hit??? I didn’t even CHART, for crying out loud! Come on America!
For the longest time I just assumed that Hymn For The Weekend was the better of the two Coldplay hits in 2016.
I never realized until now just how wrong I was.
6. Adventure Of A Lifetime by Coldplay
Year-End Position: #95
You thought Cake By The Ocean was a funky throwback disco jam? Well that pales in comparison to this! Cake By The Ocean starts with a funky bass guitar, but this starts with a freaking ELECTRIC GUITAR! That’s awesome! And it runs throughout the song and the “chorus”! That alone probably pushes this song up a few spots.
But let’s not discount the other parts of the production, like the funky guitar on the verses that’s a perfect counter to the electric guitar. Or the rollicking drumline. Or the handclaps. Or that twinkling noise whose instrument name is on the tip of my tongue but I can’t remember. Or whatever that is on the outro. This song has a lot of different instrumental parts to it, and they all work perfectly. Also this beat is at a tempo that I find is very ideal to walk to. That’s always nice.
And of course there’s Chris Martin, who I think always has the perfect delivery to fit the mood of whatever he’s singing. He’s not belting much like he was on A Sky Full Of Stars (at least not until the outro), but that puts more focus on the production. He knows when he can sit back and ride the groove and when he needs to do the heavy lifting. And a song like this is the perfect opportunity for him to just sing naturally and let the beat work its magic. Good thing too, because the lyrics are nothing special here, to be honest. They’re pretty much about how Martin is now reinvigorated after a bad experience (probably that divorce), but I don’t care about lyrics when the beat is this good. You all should know my mantra by know: “production over lyrics.”
While I’ve previously shown my love for Coldplay when they’re uplifting, making funky songs like this might be even better. I’m almost positive you can never go wrong when you make a throwback jam.
…oh wait, never mind. Moving on, then.
Earlier on this list I talked about The Chainsmokers and their remarkable comeback from making #SELFIE to being one of the biggest acts in music. And while that still blows my mind, what’s even more mind-blowing is that there was another comeback in 2016 that was a lot more unexpected. And I think you all know who it is.
5. I Took A Pill In Ibiza by Mike Posner (Seeb Remix)
Year-End Position: #15
For perspective, #SELFIE was released in 2014, a little less than two years before Roses was. So it was a perfect amount of time for The Chainsmokers to be out of the spotlight and come back without seemingly missing a beat. But Mike Posner? Not counting his behind-the-scenes work, he was last relevant in 2011, when Please Don’t Go made the bottom 10 of the year-end list. Hell, his biggest hit was a year earlier with Cooler Than Me, a song that is not good at all. It wasn’t back then and it sure isn’t now. I’m pretty sure by 2016 nobody even remembered him. But then all of a sudden he releases I Took A Pill In Ibiza. You’d think that it would go nowhere because everyone would be like “Mike Posner? Who?” But instead this not only became huge worldwide, but it also surpassed the success of Cooler Than Me. And I’m so happy that it did.
The success of this song after years of irrelevance is pretty ironic considering the subject matter. I’ve said before that I like story and narrative-driven songs, and this song’s narrative punches you right in the gut. Posner’s in a club lamenting how he’s no longer famous, unhappy with his wealth, and how people will only remember him for stuff like Cooler Than Me. He realizes that having your 15 minutes of fame come and go is far from a good feeling. As he puts it, he’s “just a singer who already blew his shot”, and his “name’s a reminder of a pop song that people forgot.” You don’t hear these kinds of lyrics in hit songs, because honestly there aren’t that many people who can sing about this. And while Posner doesn’t have the best voice, he pulls off the melancholy here very well. I can tell that he’s singing from the heart because of the personal lyrics, and that makes this song that much greater.
I also have to give a lot of credit to Seeb for a great remix that you can dance to while also keeping the message and tone of the lyrics intact. The original song only had a guitar and some percussion, and was in a major key which kind of ruins the tone. Plus there’s the extra verse where he pretty much tells some fans to give up on their dreams. Not cool, dude. But with this remix, I can imagine this beat playing in the background as Posner’s in the club upset, and the drop is where he’s kind of looking back at his career and what could have been. It’s a lot more powerful to think of this song like that. And it doesn’t end on any kind of resolution like the original, it just ends after the second drop. It lingers there and makes you feel really bad for Posner because of his fate. Even after this song got big, he’s irrelevant again while Blackbear, his partner on his project Mansionz, has a top 40 hit that’s still on the charts. It’s like the cycle’s starting over again. But who knows, maybe he’ll have another hit in 2022.
So yeah, this song combines a perfect story with great instrumentation to create a comeback story for the ages. Again, who knows if Posner will have another hit, but he’ll always have the fact that a song lamenting his own fame made him bigger than he ever was. And thank goodness for that.
One unfortunate trend that I see (or don’t see) on the Hot 100 is the lack of successful European crossover hits. Sure Clean Bandit and James Arthur had top 20 hits earlier this year and Dua Lipa is climbing the charts right now (please don’t get caught between years), but a lot of songs that are huge in Europe get stuck on the Bubbling Under and don’t chart at all, or do chart but don’t get higher than the bottom 50. Even worse is when you have a song like This Girl, that looks like it’s on the path to being a hit before suddenly sputtering out.
But then you have a song like this, a rarity European crossover that is not only an actual hit, but is also absolutely amazing and makes you wonder why we don’t get more hits like it. And while I’m shocked in hindsight that this crossed over at all, I couldn’t be happier that it actually did.
4. Never Forget You by Zara Larsson and MNEK
Year-End Position: #46
When you look back at Zara Larsson’s songs and how they did stateside, you see almost nothing but flops. Lush Life needed two videos and a discount to spend just three weeks on the chart. Ain’t My Fault had little success before falling off and is now only known for having a similar title to a much better Brothers Osborne song. And Symphony? Jeez, that song just couldn’t catch a break. It was near the top of the Bubbling Under chart for weeks but couldn’t break through, even if it was from Clean Bandit, a group that had a top 10 hit here earlier in the year. But somehow it was her first hit that successfully crossed over. I have no idea how that happened.
This song is about about two people who have broken up but still remember each other and wonder what could have been, and Larsson and MNEK play those two roles pretty well. They don’t have distinct stories like Andrew Taggart and Halsey on Closer, but I can tell through the deliveries that they both left a big impact on each other’s life that neither of them will ever forget.
And the production is nice too, with the opening piano and that high-pitched tone thingy in the lead-up to the drop. And the drop itself is pretty good. I especially like how the percussion sounds like it’s galloping along. It’s a unique sound that I haven’t heard in many songs.
But it’s time to talk about the real reason this song is so high on the list: the bridge and the final chorus/drop.
Holy shit that bridge is absolutely incredible. It starts off slow with Larsson and MNEK alternating lines backed by a sparse piano line, but then it starts building up with the percussion as they start singing together. And then it just explodes on that final chorus with both of them singing so well, with that chugging percussion making everything sound so much more important. And then the final drop happens as they both sing their hearts out. I adore Larsson’s wailing, but MNEK saying “never” over and over is what really takes the cake, because it’s the first time he gets to belt and he absolutely nails it. It’s definitely among my favorite moments in pop music from 2016.
I don’t care if Zara Larsson might not have another hit here in the U.S. for the rest of her career. I don’t care if she might not chart on the Hot 100 ever again. She gave us more than enough with this song, and I’m still waiting for a European crossover that can top this.
If I made this list last year, this would have been my #1. It ruled my 2016, and it’s definitely the hit that I’ll remember most from that year. In hindsight, I realize that I may have overrated it just a bit, as I did have a pretty big bias towards it and especially towards the group behind it. But with all that being said, it’s still a damn great song, so let’s talk about it.
3. Ride by twenty one pilots
Year-End Position: #20
Full disclosure here: not only would Ride have been my #1 hit song if I made this list last year, but Heathens would have been #2 and Stressed Out would have been #3. I just loved all of twenty one pilots’ hits last year, and while some of that love has subsided since then, Ride is still by far the best of their hits.
I take back what I said about Side To Side being the only reggae-inspired hit of 2016. Sure this was from 2015, but the reggae influences are very clear here. From the opening piano to the movement of the percussion, this has a pretty nice groove. I like it a lot.
But the great production goes beyond the reggae instrumentation. There’s also an organ that reminds me a lot of being at a baseball game, and Josh Dun’s intense drumwork on the second half of the second verse is really fun to listen to. Or how about that slow little piano line on the bridge? It’s nice and calming compared to how the rest of the song sounds intense.
But unlike the other two twenty one pilots hits from 2016, I don’t really have a big investment in the lyrics. Sure it’s interesting how Tyler Joseph is talking about how he fears death but he’s enjoying the “ride” of life as he lives it, but it’s not as relatable as something like Stressed Out. So instead, I’m going to focus on his delivery, because I love how beaming it is. Joseph was more downplayed and melancholic on Stressed Out and especially Heathens, but here he sounds very positive even as he faces the possibility of dying. Because after all, he’s just enjoying his time here. I love how he repeats “I’ve been thinking too much” over the gentle piano melody on the bridge. And then of course there’s the buildup to the final “chorus” with the drums beating intensely and Joseph sounds ready to just let it all out and then…
I’m falling so I’m taking my TIIIIIIIIIIIIME
Best moment of the song right there, by far. Hell, it’s up there with the end of Never Forget You for my favorite moment from a hit song this year. It’s so satisfying and cathartic to hear Joseph belt at the top of his lungs like that. Again, he didn’t do stuff like that on Stressed Out and Heathens, so it’s really great to hear it here.
Ride might not be my #1 anymore, but it still shines as the prime example of twenty one pilots at their best. I do hope they have more hits on their next album, because it would a shame for them to just be a flash-in-the-pan act that was only relevant for one year. Because if they can have more hits like the ones they had in 2016, then I can guarantee they’ll have multiple entries on future year-end lists of mine. And for damn good reason.
Something that started in 2016 but is very prevalent now in 2017 is the fact that all One Direction members have branched off and found success in their own little niches. Zayn and Liam make R&B, Niall does folk, Louis has collaborated with EDM producers like Steve Aoki and Digital Farm Animals, and Harry leans toward rock. And while the critical consensus for their solo careers overall have been mixed, I have said that I like all of the guys’ work, especially their hits. It will be interesting to see how they take their careers going forward.
But with that being said, I don’t think any of them will ever top what they did on their last hit together.
2. Perfect by One Direction
Year-End Position: #100
Look at that. #100. The second-best hit song of the year and it almost wasn’t a hit. Hell, it reached its peak in 2015 when it debuted at #10 and spent the rest of its run underachieving. But it made it onto the year-end list, and that’s all that matters.
Right off the bat, you can tell that this is based on one of the best hits of 2015: Style by Taylor Swift. It’s in the same key and has a similar-sounding chorus that lists things. And while I won’t say this is better than Style, it’s pretty damn close. Style was supposedly about Harry Styles (hence the title), so it makes sense that he would make a song in response. And the response couldn’t have been better.
Style might be better, but I think that Perfect holds the edge when it comes to production. It’s more sharp-edged with the guitar, the synths, and especially the hard-hitting percussion. Of course Style sounds great, but it was rooted in more romantic and graceful instrumentation. Perfect is more refined, and it sounds absolutely amazing.
And as for the content: Well, Taylor Swift is notorious for making breakup song after breakup song, so why not respond with a song that acknowledges that One Direction isn’t the perfect fit for this girl in the long-term, but they’re perfect for her right now? They realize that they might not be “the one” for her, so they should just live in the moment and have fun while it lasts. And Harry really drives this point home in the bridge when he says that he’s perfect “if you’re looking for someone to write your breakup songs about.” Even after the relationship ends, he still wants to be connected with this girl, even if it’s just through the songs that he writes. It shows that this relationship is so strong that he wants to hold onto it after it ends, which is why it’s important to make the most of it before it’s over.
It’s also really impressive that all four singers here can hold their own and deliver their parts well. Some groups have a weak link when it comes to singing (Hi, Camila), but One Direction’s strength has always been that all of them have great voices. Louis and Liam handle the first verse pretty nicely, and they set up Harry to deliver a great chorus. Then Niall gets his time to shine with his verse, Liam and Harry repeat their parts, and then Harry gets the bridge which I mentioned earlier, which really brings the whole song together. It’s short but effective, and it’s a perfect lead-in to the final chorus. Overall it’s a great performance from everyone on the song, and it’s a perfect example of why they’re all capable of sustaining a solo career.
If Drag Me Down was the first sign for me that One Direction is actually pretty good, then Perfect confirmed it. It’s kind of sad that they might not get back together, but I take solace in the fact that they went out on the best possible note. This song might not be perfect like the title suggests, but it’s pretty damn close.
And before I reveal my #1, here are some honorable mentions, in no particular order.
HM1: Too Good by Drake feat. Rihanna
Year-End Position: #29
Honestly I think this is the best tropical non-reggae beat that we got in 2016. It definitely felt like Drake was at the forefront of the trend, and he struck gold with this. Seriously, that outro with the tribal vocals is top-notch. Also kudos to Rihanna here, because I’m sure this song would have been a lot less interesting if it was just Drake.
HM2: On My Mind by Ellie Goulding
Year-End Position: #81
I’m sure a lot of people expected this to be on the list proper considering how much I gushed about Ellie Goulding in my 2014 and 2015 videos, but this falls just short of her best efforts. It’s still a pretty solid song though, and I actually think it’s better than Ed Sheeran’s Don’t, the song she’s responding to, which made my 2014 list. Bet you didn’t see that coming.
HM3: Don’t Let Me Down by The Chainsmokers feat. Daya
Year-End Position: #8
I really want to love this. I really do. Almost everything about this song is great. I love Daya’s delivery, and the buildup to the drop is amazing as the percussion builds up and she says “don’t let me don’t let me don’t let me down.” But oh god, that drop. It’s so dead and limp. And people thought the drop to Closer was worse? Really?
HM4: Sorry by Justin Bieber
Year-End Position: #2
I liked this song in 2016, but I like it a lot more in hindsight because of how similar it is to Friends, which I think is Bieber’s best song of his career. I mean they were both produced by Bloodpop. Sure his lyrics are douchey here, but again, that beat, it’s great. And speaking of Friends, why did it have to be a promotional single? It’s so goddamn good that it should have just gotten a full single push. Imagine being able to put both Friends and Body Moves on your best list this year. It would make 2017 a lot better than it already is.
HM5: My House by Flo Rida
Year-End Position: #14
Following in the footsteps of Time Of Our Lives in 2015, here’s another fun upbeat song about partying that I really enjoy. It’s not as good, but it’s probably the best hit Flo Rida’s had so far. Not bad for the most inessential song on pop radio.
I’m sorry, I had to.
HM6: Can’t Stop The Feeling! by Justin Timberlake
Year-End Position: #9
Speaking of happy upbeat songs, this is just a ton of fun to listen to. I love Timberlake’s charisma, and even though the beat doesn’t really evolve, it’s still funky as hell. I dig that bassline. Overall it’s exactly what you want in a song from a kids movie.
HM7: Me, Myself & I by G-Eazy x Bebe Rexha
Year-End Position: #19
Not the biggest fan of G-Eazy here, but Bebe Rexha kills it on the hook. Her and the beat are enough to make up for G-Eazy’s shortcomings. It kind of like 2016’s version of Good For You with the dark but “spacious” beat that actually sounds kind of beautiful.
HM8: Humble And Kind by Tim McGraw
Year-End Position: #96
For a while I thought this song would make the list, and it would actually be pretty high if I did this last year. I guess it shrunk on me a bit, but it’s still a great song. For as much as I like songs with great production and lyrics, sometimes you just need something that’s simple and sweet. And this is as simple and sweet as you can get. I mean it’s just Tim McGraw giving you advice. Change some of the lyrics to “eat your vegetables,” “do your homework,” and “listen to your parents” and it’s basically a song for kids. I don’t care, I still love it.
HM9: In The Night by The Weeknd
Year-End Position: #61
And finally, here’s the song that was closest to making this list. Like I said, it was a tough decision between this and Starboy, but this song is still great. It’s all about bombast with that beat and especially The Weeknd just belting throughout the entire song. I didn’t care much about this song last year, but it grew on me a lot while making this list. To quote Mark from Spectrum Pulse: “If you haven’t heard it or if you’ve ignored it, rectify that. Immediately.” Preach it, Mark.
And speaking of songs that grew on me a ton since last year…
It’s very rare that we get a hit song that can be described as “pop perfection.” I’ve heard a lot of songs that weren’t hits that are pop perfection, but not many big mainstream hits. Sure there are a lot of great pop hits, but you can usually find at least one flaw in most of them. That’s not the case with this next song. This next song is perfect in every way, and just like Shut Up And Dance in 2015, it was a very easy pick for my #1. And when it comes to pop perfection, it’s only fitting that it comes from the one person who, at least for me, fits the perfect definition of “popstar.” So, without further ado…
1. Into You by Ariana Grande
Year-End Position: #51
Into You is one of those songs that provokes a visceral response of joy and delight in me every time I hear it. Everything about it just makes me happy because it’s all done incredibly well. I can listen to it over and over and it never loses any of its quality. That’s how good of a song it is. In fact, I highly recommend you listen to it while reading this so you can fully appreciate its greatness. (But if you can’t, I guess that’s okay.)
And how else can I start describing how amazing it is than with the production? I love everything about it. This is synthpop at its finest. That low chugging synth throughout the song works wonders with the pounding percussion. They’re both low-key on the verse before going full force on the chorus. Seriously, the chorus is absolutely amazing. I also love that twinkling sound on the second half of the second and last choruses.
But while the production is outstanding, there’s one element that makes it work even better and catapulted this song to the top of my list: Ariana Grande herself.
How can it not be? I adore her performance so much. She sounds like she’s having a blast singing this, and with lyrics are about how in love she is with a guy, she is the absolute perfect person to sing this. Her delivery is truly something to behold, expressing a multitude of vocal ranges and personalities. It starts on the verses with her “shyer,” softer, more seductive delivery. And then she goes higher on the pre-chorus, building up to the chorus where she’s just in her zone. I’m captivated every time she says “I’m so into you, into you, into you,” in that upper range.
And just like with Never Forget You earlier on this list, this song reaches it peak on the bridge and final chorus. There’s no other word to describe it other than breathtaking. The pounding percussion really does pound here, and Ariana is just BELTING. Dear god is she belting, and it’s the best thing in the world…until the final chorus. After a brief moment of respite with the first few lines, Ariana belts even better than earlier, and it just keeps getting better as it keeps going. And it all culminates with that scream right before the outro. I don’t have the words to describe just how good that scream is. All I can say is that it’s the best two seconds of vocal delivery on any song in 2016, and maybe any song ever. If there was any doubt that this would be my #1, it was all erased with that one moment.
Into You is the pop song that every other pop song should aspire to be. Tight production, catchy as hell, and a vocal performance that’s out of this world. I’m going to go as far as saying that it might be the best pop song I’ve ever heard. I like rock a lot, but not even Ride, the best rock hit of the year, approaches the highs that this does. It is, without any question whatsoever, the best hit song of 2016.
I’m Jordan The Music Man, and I’ll be back next month with the best hit songs of 2017. See you then!