Album Review: Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves

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I don’t know how to approach this. I don’t know how I can. I feel like Alberto has the market cornered when it comes to talking about this album because he loves it so much. I mean, you don’t see anyone else besides me talk about how good Yours by Russell Dickerson is, do you? But it didn’t matter because I was going to tackle this anyway. I knew that when I set out to catch up on critically acclaimed albums that I missed, this had to be the first one. It couldn’t be anything else other than something that a fellow country lover gave a perfect score. I had very high hopes going into this, and I’ll say this right out of the gate: this is one of the best albums I’ve ever heard.

I hesitate to call it perfect, but there are no bad songs, not even a WEAK song on this album. It might not be 100 percent country, but every song sounds chill and laid back and puts me at ease. It’s definitely more pop-country than outright country even though there are a lot of country tropes, but it doesn’t matter what genre it is because it combines the three things I love most about country: great production, heartfelt lyrics, and a charismatic singer. Every song has warm instrumentation that’s so calming, and Kacey Musgraves’ voice is just so wonderful. She just OOZES charisma. The way she sings is incredibly soothing and is the perfect match for the instrumentation on every single song. She sounds so cheerful all the time and it’s breathtaking to listen to. And her voice just elevates the subject material, which was already great to begin with. Here are some of my favorite topics: Lonely Weekend is a song where she has no one to hang out with, but it’s not as sad as you’d think, it’s just “oh well I have no plans, but that’s okay.” Oh, What A World is a song appreciating the beauty of nature and tying it back to the beauty of the man Kacey has. Butterflies is about how she didn’t really have a purpose in life until she met her man, and if that sounds pretty familiar, it’s because it’s basically the female version of Yours. The title track is about how her man makes the world look beautiful to her. Slow Burn is about taking a relationship slow, and it’s probably the most relaxing song on the entire album. I love the laid-back guitar. And it’s not just happy love songs either here, as High Horse is a kiss-off anthem towards a guy who’s way too arrogant, and it has a pretty cool disco groove to boot. There are a couple of songs I don’t like as much like Mother (which is only like a minute long so I don’t mind it), but this album is chock full of great song and wonderful moments.

But all these great songs pale in comparison to the closing track and the crown jewel of this record: Rainbow. It’s an absolutely beautiful piano ballad about how everything will always be alright even in the darkest of times, and I’m not gonna lie, it makes me tear up every time I listen to it. Even now when I’m writing about it. It’s just so emotionally powerful and I love it so much. The piano work is gorgeous, and Kacey delivers her best vocal performance of the entire album. It’s so soothing and comforting, and it’s basically the musical equivalent of having a shoulder to cry on. It’s not even a sad song, but it’s so moving that I can’t even describe it. It needs to be heard in order to fully experience the weight it has. Yes it’s a hard listen to get through, but it’s totally worth it if you haven’t listened to it yet. It’s the best closing track I’ve ever heard to any album, and I don’t know if anything can ever top it. It’s by far the best piano ballad I’ve ever heard, and it’s so cathartic. If you listen to it you need to have tissues on hand. Trust me. This album was already good, but this is just on another level. I’m not sure I’ll hear a better song this entire year.

Golden Hour might not have any songs with a rock edge that I always love to rave about. There aren’t that many goofy songs with hilarious instrumentation and lyrics. I don’t care, because it surpassed my expectations for music I like to listen to and then some, and set a new standard for what I’m going to listen to for the rest of the year. I don’t listen to many albums, but I think I found the one that will be on permanent rotation for years to come. I’d rant about how the mainstream country establishment ignores Kacey for male artists with a lot less talent, but that would just ruin the mood. I’m just so happy this record exists, and I adore it with all of my being. It may not be a 10, but it deserves all my praise. If you haven’t heard it yet, I can’t recommend it fast enough.

Best Songs: Rainbow, Oh What A World, Lonely Weekend, Slow Burn, Golden Hour, Butterflies, Love Is A Wild Thing

Worst Songs: None

Very Strong 9/10

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The Top 10 Best Hit Country Songs of 2017

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You know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone make a list out of a year-end genre chart. I’ve seen people rank weekly genre charts before, but never a top 10 list based on a genre’s year as a whole. So I thought it would be fun to do that. Maybe it’ll inspire other people to do the same. With that being said, let’s talk about country music.

It’s honestly a shame that country music doesn’t have more mainstream success, and when it does the songs are usually garbage. I mean, it’s a pretty telling sign that Body Like A Back Road was the biggest country hit in years. But if you pay close attention to the Billboard Hot 100 like I do, you know that there are a lot of great country songs that fly under the radar, and I thought I’d talk about the best country hits from last year. 2017 was the year I really started getting into country music and realized how much I loved it. From organic instrumentation to heartfelt lyrics to charismatic performers, there’s a lot to love about most country songs. So consider this a guide to what country songs you should start listening to if you haven’t been already, because there are a lot of gems here that have been ignored by many for far too long.

But before I get into the list proper, here are some honorable mentions that are still worth your time:

HM1: I’ll Name The Dogs by Blake Shelton

Year-End Position: #66

What a better way to kick off the honorable mentions with a song that’s just downright adorable? I mean it’s Blake Shelton singing about what he wants to happen if he and his girl (fellow The Voice judge Gwen Stefani, perhaps?) get married and settle down together. The details about how he envisions the future are pretty cute and paint a vivid picture, and the guitars and strings provide a perfect backdrop to the earnestness of this song. I feel like this could come off as cheesy or corny if it was sung by someone with less charisma, but Shelton’s delivery makes it sound 100% sincere. It’s just a sweet little song that just makes me happy. And sometimes that’s all I need.

HM2: Unforgettable by Thomas Rhett

Year-End Position: #22

Speaking of songs with details, here’s a song where Thomas Rhett himself admits the absurdity of remembering every detail about a night with a girl. But after all, that night, just like the girl he was with, was unforgettable. I’ve said before that I love story-driven songs with a lot of details, so this just hits a sweet spot for me. It’s great to see Thomas Rhett make good music after Tangled Up, and while it’s not the best song from Life Changes (we’ll get to that later), it’s definitely in my top 5.

HM3: Bar At The End Of The World by Kenny Chesney

Year-End Position: #64

So…does anybody remember this song? I certainly didn’t before making this list, but I’m glad I rediscovered it, because this is one of the most unique country hits from last year. It’s another story-driven song with a lot of details, except this time it’s about sailing and draws upon pirate iconography. It’s a great change of pace for a basic hookup jam about meeting up with a girl at a bar. And it certainly helps that it sounds a lot like Drunk On A Plane by Dierks Bentley, except the goofy strings are replaced with a guitar line that sounds adventurous. It’s a seafaring escapade to that elusive bar at the end of the world, and I love being along for the ride. Ahoy!

HM4: Hometown Girl by Josh Turner

Year-End Position: #38

This is just one of those simple songs that’s not hard to see why I like it. The guitars are great with the gentle acoustic tones playing off the sharper electric tones, and Josh Turner’s lyrics about his ideal “hometown girl” are full of details (noticing a trend here?) and show why he likes her. Again, it’s a short and sweet song, but that’s why I like it. Not much else to say.

HM5: 80s Mercedes by Maren Morris

Year-End Position: #69 (2016 Position: #60)

Since the weekly country charts have half as many songs as the Hot 100, there’s bound to be a lot of repeats on the year-end list. So my rule is that repeats are eligible for this list….as long as they have a higher position in 2017 then they did in 2016. Unfortunately that means this song is ineligible for the list, but screw it, I’m making it an honorable mention anyway. I Could Use A Love Song was originally going to here instead, but this is the much better song.  The Middle being one of the biggest songs in the country right now is proof that Maren Morris can carry a pop song, but I’ve known that ever since this song came out in 2016. Yeah this isn’t country, but it’s super catchy with the piano and percussion lines and especially Morris’s singing. And the best part is the content, because she’s singing about her dream car, which is hilarious. It’s a love letter to the car she wishes she has, and how often you hear that in country music? Or in any genre, really? This song is perfect for those evening drives down a highway or through a city (I mean, just look at the thumbnail), and the fact that it was technically a 2016 hit won’t stop me from talking about it. I’m allowed to break my own rules.

HM6: They Don’t Know by Jason Aldean

Year-End Position: #40

I live about half an hour away from New York City. I’m from the suburbs. So when country artists talk about their hometowns and their country lifestyles, I can’t relate. So why is this song, where Jason Aldean is all like “no one GETS how we live!” an honorable mention? Well…the instrumentation. It sounds like a rock song with those drums and guitars, especially the electric one. And coupled with Aldean’s delivery, it sounds angry and I like it quite a bit. Hey, I might not get what he’s talking about, pretty ironic since that’s the point of this song, but I can recognize a great beat when I hear it. I guess not even country can escape my “production over lyrics” mantra.

HM7: Make You Mine by High Valley

Year-End Position: #77

Now here’s a forgotten gem. And by forgotten, I mean it didn’t even make the Hot 100. And I get why, these guys are Canadian and not many Canadians make country music…but they just had a song chart earlier this year with She’s With Me! Why couldn’t this be their first crossover? Because this is awesome! The fast-paced guitars and percussion coupled with that banjo makes this sound like the soundtrack to a good ol’ hoedown, and it’s a joy to listen to. I do wish there was a fiddle somewhere to make it sound even wilder and more fun though. And the lyrics about how much they love a girl and will make her theirs is sweet, but what else were you expecting from a country song like this? This just makes me want to get up and square dance. Okay, not square dance, but it does make me want to dance.

HM8: What Ifs by Kane Brown feat. Lauren Alaina

Year-End Position: #4

Yeah I know, I already talked about this song on my best hits of 2017 list, but I need to point something out: I regret making that list a top 20. Pretty much the entire bottom half of that list are songs that are clearly a step below my top 10, and I should have just made them all honorable mentions instead of designating them 20-11. There was just a thought I kept having that went: “you couldn’t possibly leave songs like Redbone, DNA., and Praying off your list, could you?” Well now they’re officially not on my list, so there. But I bring this all up because What Ifs was my #10, which means it’s now on my list over such critically beloved songs like DNA. and Praying. And that’s pretty impressive, especially since I still think it holds up over both those songs. But again, I already talked about this song on my hits list, so check that out if you want to know my full thoughts on it.

HM9: Do I Make You Wanna by Billy Currington

Year-End Position: #41

This was the last cut I made from my list, and it’s easy to see why it was so close to making it. It’s another sweet song with a lot of details, as Billy Currington describes all the different things he could do with a girl and places they could go. His delivery is pretty mellow and the guitars and percussion fit pretty well. I especially love the bridge where everything calms down before picking up again as Currington lets loose to transition into the final chorus. Moments like that are what elevate songs from good to great. Songs can be perfectly fine without any defining moment, but songs like this that go above and beyond have a special spot in my rotation. And while I unfortunately didn’t have room for this on my list, it was pretty damn close.

But now it’s time to kick off the list proper, starting off with:

NUMBER 10

So What Ifs is the only song mentioned on this list that was also on the Year-End Hot 100, and I think that’s a good thing. This list is entirely composed of songs that didn’t get that much exposure because they weren’t mainstream hits, and I get to dig them up and show why they should get more attention. That being said, this song probably would have been a hit if it didn’t get caught between years, so I can’t really say that every song on this list wasn’t a hit. But I can say this:

I can’t go one blog without a controversial opinion, can I?

10. When It Rains It Pours by Luke Combs

Year-End Position: #11

Granted this isn’t as controversial as some of my other controversial opinions, but this isn’t exactly well-liked in the country community. The most common criticism of this song is that Luke Combs doesn’t deserve to be this happy about his good fortunes post-breakup because it’s implied the breakup was his fault and now he’s pretty much rubbing in his ex’s face. I…don’t see it that way. Even if the breakup was his fault, he’s allowed to have fun, right? Because fun is exactly what this song is, as Combs goes through all the lucky things that have happened to him since he got dumped. From winning a vacation to Panama to getting a waitress’s number at Hooters after getting the last parking spot, he’s just having the time of his life. It’s just a guy celebrating his newfound success, and he’s allowed to do that. Besides, we don’t even know why he was dumped. All we get is the line that his girlfriend was complaining about the time he had. That could mean anything from late nights out with his buddies to even cheating, but still it’s not clear, so we can’t demonize this guy if we don’t know exactly what he did. Plus he’s not even rubbing it in his ex’s face! It’s not directed at her, like he’s saying “look how much better my life is without you.” It’s just a story he’s telling the audience, and it’s a pretty entertaining one. It’s pretty much a song in the same vein as Drunk On A Plane, and just like Drunk On A Plane, it’s a ton of fun. This really doesn’t deserve that hate it gets.

NUMBER 9

By far one of the biggest things country has going for it is the abundance of heartfelt songs. There are a lot of artists who have the charisma to pull off really sweet love songs, and the genre’s tendency to use organic instruments makes the songs even sweeter. I’ve praised heartfelt songs in previous lists and videos, so it’s no surprise that there will be songs like that on this list…and here’s the first one.

9. The Long Way by Brett Eldredge

Year-End Position: #97

Brett Eldredge is one of those country singers that really needs to be a lot bigger than they currently are. He’s one of those artists who has one or two songs make the Hot 100 each year but has no mainstream hits to show for it. And that’s a shame because he’s one of the most charismatic singers in the industry. I mean just listen to this song, where he’s asking his girl to take him around her town so he can spend time getting to know her more. It’s a pretty simple subject, but Eldredge’s delivery really conveys just how much he loves this girl. It sounds like it’s coming from the heart, and it’s really passionate. And the production really helps here, with the soft percussion playing off the acoustic pedal steel guitars and the multitracking on Eldredge’s voice on the second and final choruses. The pedal steel in particular really carries this song. That’s the guitar that sounds like it’s “whining,” and it’s found in a lot of country songs. And the high tones of the pedal steel and the low tones of the acoustic provide a nice contrast here. Overall it’s calm and relaxing and is the perfect fit for these lyrics. The song that this reminds me the most of is I Don’t Dance by Lee Brice, which was on my 2014 hits list. They’re both examples of sweet country songs that deserve to be a lot more recognized than they currently are. Yet even I Don’t Dance scraped onto the bottom 5 of the year-end list while this song didn’t make the top 60. I think it’s time we give Brett Eldredge a legitimate hit. Can that please happen?

NUMBER 8

And speaking of country artists who should be a lot bigger…women. No really, pretty much all of them. It’s no secret that the country establishment is predominantly male, and this unfortunately results in female artists who deserve the spotlight getting little airplay. “Oh, Kacey Musgraves released a critically acclaimed album? Screw that, let’s give airplay to this female popstar instead because she has Florida Georgia Line on her song!” If you’re a woman not named Carrie Underwood or Miranda Lambert (and hell, Lambert hasn’t had much success recently), you won’t get your fair shake in the country industry. And when those female acts are making songs like this next one, it’s hard to see just what everyone’s missing out on.

8. Road Less Traveled by Lauren Alaina

Year-End Position: #47

To be fair, I’m not sure even a male artist could have made this song big, because it falls into a rare category that you don’t see that often in country music: empowerment anthems. And let’s make one thing clear right away- Road Less Traveled puts the POWER in empowerment, because this song rocks. You hear those pounding drums that start when Lauren Alaina starts singing? Well it only gets better from there, because that chorus…man that chorus. The drums kick into high gear and Alaina sings with raw power, and it’s glorious. Those millennial whoops (stupid name, I know) at the end of each chorus are also great, and are super catchy too. And that’s before we get to the final chorus, where she lets it all out, which is something you know I love if you’ve seen my previous lists. It’s the clear highlight of the song and is the perfect closer for this empowerhouse. Yes, that’s what I’m calling it. And yet if I like it so much, why is it only #8? Well, the lyrics…yeah, they don’t do much for me. When it comes to empowerment anthems, this isn’t as on the nose as like Scars To Your Beautiful or as boring as Fight Song, but this message is generic as all hell. It’s your basic “be different, stand out from other people” lyrics that I’ve heard so many times before. Aren’t country songs supposed to have nuanced lyrics? Who wrote this anyway?

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Wait, WHAT???????

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Well hello Meghan Meghans. Was not expecting to encounter you on this list.

And yet Lauren Alaina rises above these generic lyrics and a co-writer that belongs nowhere near country, because her delivery here is fantastic. She sounds like she 100% believes in what she’s saying. She was pretty good on Whats Ifs, but she’s even better by herself when she truly gets to shine. This is one part charismatic singer, one part production over lyrics, and it combines to land on this list. It could have made the top 5 if it had better writing, but hey, I’ll take what I can get. Because this is great.

NUMBER 7

So originally this was going to be #8 and Road Less Traveled was going to be #7, but then I realized I had no emotional connection to that song. Like I said, it falls into a mold that’s not really seen in country, so it doesn’t do much to stand out. This, on the other hand…

7. Legends by Kelsea Ballerini

Year-End Position: #76

On the topic of women in country, Kelsea Ballerini’s actually the closest a female country singer has gotten to having a solo hit in the past few years. No really, the only female country singer to make the year-end since 2016 other than Lauren Alaina was Carrie Underwood, and that was a guest spot on the completely non-country The Fighter. Meanwhile, Peter Pan could have made the 2016 year-end list had it lasted another week, so it’s pretty impressive that Kelsea Ballerini pulled that off. And yet Legends blows it out of the water in pretty much every way possible, and is by far her best song to date. The piano that opens the track promises a sentimental song with a twinge of sadness, and that’s exactly what we get. It’s about a relationship that Ballerini thought could last forever, and she’s reliving it through memories now that it’s over. As such it’s the first sad song on this list, but it also has that triumphant chorus where the drums kick in and Ballerini relishes in that old relationship and how she’ll always remember it. It’s wistful and nostalgic, to the point that reminds me of a song that could be played at a high school graduation (makes sense given the video). It just sounds like the perfect song to put in a graduation slideshow, because it invokes memories. Relationships, whether friendships or romances, are a powerful storytelling tool, and while it’s tragic when they end or drift apart, it also makes those stories even more emotionally powerful. I’d love to have my high school years back and relive those memories, and while I obviously can’t, I have this song to play whenever I long for those moments. If you miss friends like I do, I suggest playing this song. I’m sure it will jog your memory.

NUMBER 6

You know, I could talk about how the guys behind this next song are yet another underrated country act. Or I could just post this picture.

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That works a lot better, doesn’t it?

6. How Not To by Dan + Shay

Year-End Position: #26

If Legends was the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sad songs, then this is the rest of the iceberg…I guess. At least the sadness from Legends only comes from the fact that the relationship is over, because it’s a happy look back at an old flame. This on the other hand is a post-breakup song where Dan and Shay (but mostly Shay, Dan only does backing vocals I think) sings about how hard it is to get over a girl and accept the breakup. And while that might sound creepy, it’s pretty clear that this is happening in the immediate aftermath of the breakup…at least I think so. There’s a line on the chorus about how this guy should be strong and move on, so there’s a chance that it’s been a while post-breakup. And then there’s the line on the second verse about how he still needs her as time goes by and she’s worth the heartbreak and regret…yeah, this is kinda getting pathetic. But what stops it from being 100% pathetic is the production and how it conveys that sadness. The verses sound happy and sad at the same time, as they’re upbeat but sound resigned to the fact that it’s over. I especially love that twinkling piano  halfway through the second verse. And Shay’s vocals really convey the feeling of being unable to get over this girl. The point is, breakups suck and this guy is obviously having a hard time with it. He just can’t let go, even though he’s really trying to. That part in the chorus where he goes to her house and falls back in her arms only to wake up and realize it’s a dream is heartbreaking. Especially when right afterwards he says he hates himself for being unable to get over her. It’s almost like this guy has depression, this breakup hit him hard. Like I said in the last entry, the end of a relationship is a powerful tool to tell a sad story, and this is definitely the saddest song on the list. It’s just an emotional gutpunch that catches you off-guard. Dan + Shay knocked it out of the park with this, and if we’re lucky they might finally get their first hit this year with Tequila. It’s close to being their highest-peaking song and I would absolutely love for it to be a hit. Can we make that happen? These guys deserve more love.

NUMBER 5

So that was a pretty big downer, wasn’t it? Well fear not, because it’s time to kick off the fun section of the list!

5. Flatliner by Cole Swindell feat. Dierks Bentley

Year-End Position: #21

Three of the songs in my top 5 are what I’d call a ton of fun to listen to, goofy, or a mix of both. I’ve already gone on record multiple times saying how I love songs like that, so are you even surprised? Anyway, let’s kick off this fun tour with a song where Cole Swindell and Dierks Bentley are both just blown away by some girl. And when I say blown away, I mean she makes them feel like they’re gonna have a heart attack. That idea is funny enough, but they decided to go the extra mile and include the sound of an EKG flatlining in the song. Hell, it’s how the song starts! What a better way to get a listeners’ attention than to have that be the first sound to hit their ears? Add some solid guitar and drum work and a sweet solo on the bridge and you have the perfect setup for this scenario. Because it’s just Cole and Dierks talking about how this girl makes them feel and how they’re almost powerless in her presence. After all, what’s a country boy to do? Its basically two guys at a bar talking about a girl they see and are completely wowed by her. But what really makes this song so much fun is how Cole and Dierks interact with each other. Like how Cole ends the first chorus by saying “tell ’em bout it, Dierks!” And of course, the highlight of the song, right before the final chorus, is this spoken word exchange about what they’d do to woo this girl:

Cole: “What would Dierks do?”

Dierks: “Grab a guitar, and go sing her a song.”

Cole: “And go play one of my songs?”

Dierks: “No! Don’t play of yours, play one of mine, man!”

(they both laugh)

So not only is this song fun, but it’s also funny! Who’d ever expect a country song to randomly have witty banter like that? It’s amazing! And that’s not even the last time they have an exchange, as there’s a bit at the end where they each say a line. Cole has the standout there with “yeah man, she’s gonna hurt somebody.” This song doesn’t take itself seriously, and it’s not supposed to be. I can’t see how someone can hate this. Looking at you, Mark.

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Not only did you give this dishonorable mention, not only did you give Bar At The End Of The World worst of the week, but both over AJR????? Really???? You need to appreciate more laid-back country songs, man.

NUMBER 4

And speaking of songs that are a ton of fun, was there any way I could leave this off my list?

4. It Ain’t My Fault by Brothers Osborne

Year-End Position: #23

Of all the hit country songs from last year, this was by far the one that got the most praise. Everyone loved it, it made both Mark and Pearl’s top 50 songs of 2016 (Pearl had it in her top 10 even!), and yet I never really said anything about it. But make no mistake, I’ve loved this song ever since it charted. Everything about it is wild, crazy, and kicks all amounts of ass. That electric guitar line is catchy as hell and is insanely fun to play. The drums keep pounding away and almost never stop. That prechorus with the backing vocals and clapping is breathtaking, it sounds like a gospel choir. The guitar solo on the bridge is epic, and the aftermath where it gets quiet right before the third verse is equally amazing. And T.J. Osborne ties it all together with his incredibly deep voice that makes the song even more badass than it already is. You need a voice like that to pull off this type of song, and he absolutely nails it. And if that’s not enough, then we get to the content. This is all about a wild party that got out of hand, and the the picture that Osborne paints makes me want to be there and experience it for myself! There was drinking, partying, sex, fighting, and even a fire! And yet he claims none of it is his fault, deferring blame to his ex that made him drink, a bouncer that couldn’t take a joke, and even public education for him not knowing better. And at the end of the day, he’s “only guilty of a good time.” God I love that line. This might not be the most fun song on this list, but it’s definitely the wildest. This is what happens when you combine country and rock sounds with Wild West-style debauchery, and it is absolutely glorious. If you somehow haven’t heard it yet, you really need to fix that. You’re missing out.

NUMBER 3

Does this even need an intro? You all KNEW it was coming.

3. Yours by Russell Dickerson

Year-End Position: #55

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know how much I’ve tweeted about my love for Yours. I’m pretty much the biggest fan of this song, the torchbearer in this community for it. I was the one who hijacked Amber’s country top 20 video last fall to explain why it’s so great.  I could just copy and paste the script I wrote for that bit, but it’s way too short since I didn’t want to hog too much of Amber’s video. No, that bit doesn’t do that song justice, I need to fully explain why this song is amazing. Strap in folks, this could be long.

You know how I said that one of country’s strengths is the wide array of heartfelt songs? Well, I can definitively say that this is the best heartfelt country song I’ve ever heard. Everything about it, from the instrumentation to the lyrics to Russell Dickerson’s performance, is absolutely perfect. And I mean PERFECT. First off, the lyrics. Dickerson sings about the difference between him before and after he met a girl. The verses are him being sad and lonely, the choruses are him being happy and lifted up by the presence of a girl in his life. The symbolism used to portray loneliness is pretty powerful,  ranging from a boat in a bottle, kept away from the sea, to a one of millions of stars in a galaxy, wondering why he doesn’t shine. And then this girl comes along and he’s like a completely new man. He feels revived and is just so happy to finally have someone in his life. Lines like “the best me has his arms around you,” “you make me better than I was before,” and of course the central “thank god I’m yours” just drive home how happy he is. I’ve seen this described as a great wedding song and I completely agree. I might even use it when I eventually get married! But these lyrics would be nothing without the instrumentation. My god, that instrumentation. The gentle guitar and piano are so sweet, and the acoustic and pedal steel complement each other perfectly. The slow drums give the song an extra kick and make it incredibly powerful. We even get a guitar solo on the bridge! But then we have Russell Dickerson himself, and his charisma MAKES the song. He has the perfect tone and delivery to pull off this range of emotion. He sounds sad and defeated on the verses, only for his voice to get more powerful and upbeat on the chorus. And he’s by far at his best on the final chorus though, as he gets to let it all out. First off we have that mini-verse in between the bridge and the final chorus that serves as the final transition between sadness and happiness. I can’t describe how much I love that elongated note right before the drums kick in. But Dickerson on that final chorus is something else entirely. The way he sings the word “around” in “the best me has his arms around you.” The way he raises his voice to sing “long gone memory.”  And to top it all off, that long note when he says “yours” near the very end. I’d say that was the best part of the song, but THE WHOLE SONG is the best part! If the lyrics were nothing without the instrumentation, then the lyrics and instrumentation are nothing without Russell Dickerson. The fact that this not only charted despite being released in 2015, but managed to reach the top 50 and last a whole 20 weeks, is nothing short of a miracle. I love this song with every fiber of my being, and I will not rest until everyone recognizes it for the masterpiece that it is. But I know what you’re thinking: how can there possibly be two country hits from last year that are better than this? They have to be really special, right? Well….

NUMBER 2

So there’s an interesting debate to be had about what is or isn’t country. Especially now when we have a pure pop song dominating the country charts just because there’s a country duo on it. But while pretty much everyone agrees that Meant To Be isn’t country, it’s hard to draw the line when it comes to songs with country artists that use barely any country tropes. For example, this next song: I don’t consider it country at all, and that’s probably one of the reasons why it’s not my #1. But yet it in a weird way, the fact that it’s not country is why it’s so high on my list. Because it sounds AMAZING.

2. Craving You by Thomas Rhett feat. Maren Morris

Year-End Position: #8

So here’s something that’ll probably surprise you: Life Changes is the best album that I listened to in 2017. Granted I only listened to like seven albums, but one of them was Concrete & Gold by Foo Fighters, my favorite band. But Thomas Rhett topped it with a genre-bending magnum opus that showcased better instrumentation, better songwriting, and a lot more maturity than Tangled Up. I mean Marry Me is on this album, and pretty much everyone agrees that it’s one of the best hits of this year, myself included. And I don’t think it could have started any better than Craving You, because my god, what a powerhouse of an opener it is. Like I said, this isn’t really a country song, but it’s so good BECAUSE it’s not a country song! Instead, it’s more of a mashup of country and pop-rock, and it works incredibly well. The guitars are excellent, and that percussion… man, I just can’t get enough of it. It might not be real drums like on other songs on this list, but it’s what makes this song have a pop-rock feel. But what really makes this song great is how catchy it is. Every instrument and every melody is designed to stick in your head and it works. What stands out to me the most is that little guitar riff on the intro and the end of the chorus, and ESPECIALLY the performers. Now I get to talk about Rhett and Maren Morris, and they both brought their A-game to this song. I don’t think I’ve heard either of them sing better than this. The lyrics aren’t that important, it’s just a relationship where they can’t get enough of each other and it sounds like an addiction. But both of them sing with such conviction that makes it sound incredibly important. Even Maren Morris, who’s pretty much a backup singer on this a la Lauren Alaina on What Ifs, is a valuable piece of this song. She really shines on the second verse and especially on the bridge. Her long “yeah” that transitions into the final chorus is just perfect. Overall this reminds me of a late 90s song for some reason. No song in particular, it’s just sounds like something from that era. Again, Life Changes pulls from a lot of different genres and decades of music, so I definitely welcome a laid-back 90s-style pop rock song. It’s the best song Thomas Rhett will ever make and it could have topped this list…but it never stood a chance because my #1 is truly something special. And with that…

NUMBER 1

It’s almost fitting that the best hit country song from 2017 is the only song in my top 10 to not reach the Hot 100. It’s almost like it was too good for the chart, and in a year of forgotten gems, this was not only the best, but also the most forgotten. And so it’s only right to end this list by telling you why this song is so great, and when I’m done I hope none of you will ever forget it. With that being said…get ready to go crazy right here!

1. Somethin’ I’m Good At by Brett Eldredge

Year-End Position: #61

Where do I even begin with this song? It’s perfect. Literally, there’s nothing wrong with it. It was destined for my #1 spot since day one and nothing was ever going to top it. Yours is great, but THIS is the song that I should have constantly raved about. Yours might be incredibly heartfelt, but this on the other hand is one the most fun songs I’ve ever heard. Everything about it puts a smile on my face. First of all, that instrumentation. The heavy rumbling drums and upbeat guitars would be enough to make this super fun and goofy, but this song goes the extra mile with those sleigh bells, the banjo on the bridge, and even some accordion work on the second verse! It’s a classic goofy country sound and I adore it. But of course, let’s get to the real reason why this is #1: Brett Eldredge. He’s already appeared on this list, and while I said that he’s one of the most charismatic singers in country, I have to take that back: he is THE most charismatic singer in country. He sounds like he’s having a blast singing every song I’ve heard from him, but this is his crowning achievement. Why? Because of the lyrics he has to work with. This is a song about how he can’t do anything right, at least until he finds a girl and can make her smile. And the way he sings about how much of a screwup he is is marvelous in every way. He burns the toast, he can’t dance, he has a poor sense of direction, is way too fond of whiskey, etc. It’s like a mixture of Russell Dickerson’s sadness on Yours’ verses and LunchMoney Lewis on Bills. Except while Dickerson played it pretty serious and Lewis had a sad-sack persona, Eldredge is just enjoying himself despite his screwups, because he knows he can so something right: make a girl smile. The way he says “I finally found something I’m good at” at the end of the chorus is so triumphant. He’s so happy he’s found this girl because he’s finally successful at something. The more I think about it, the more this really is the superior version of Yours. They’re both about guys who struggle with stuff until they have a girl and boom, they’re happy, and I’ll take the fun and goofy version over the heartfelt version any day of the week.

But I’m not done raving about this song, because the second half…oh my god, it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard. Not really, but it certainly feels like it. Everything from the start of the bridge until the end of the song is absolutely phenomenal. First off, Brett Eldredge stops talking about himself and starts talking about the girl and why he loves her. It’s jam-packed with metaphors and Eldredge is singing with a fast-paced flow. It’s glorious. And the bridge ends with the instrumentation cutting out as he lets out this shout that I can’t even describe. It sounds wild, almost like an animal roaring, and it’s the best part of the song. It’s a shout of exhilaration, jubilation, and it’s almost never fails to make me smile. The last two entries also had great transitions to their final choruses, but this is by far the best one. But wait! It’s not the final chorus! Nope, just when you think the song is over, it sounds like it’s winding down, Eldredge hits you with a “you thought it was over” and delivers another bridge! And this one ends with him saying “I can’t stop singing, I’m having way too much fun,” which damn right he is! Add a lesser version of that shout from the first bridge and you have what’s probably the best minute of any country song. And let’s not forget the final chorus, which doesn’t add anything special, but then Eldredge ends the song by yelling “CUT!” I’ve never heard anyone on any song have this much fun. This song is like a rollercoaster, and just when you think the ride’s over it throws you for another loop and keeps going. You just don’t want it to end, but unlike most rollercoasters you can ride it again immediately afterwards. Would you look at at? I finally found the best country hit song of the year. And now that this list is over, YOU NEED TO LISTEN TO IT!!!!!!!

So thanks for reading this, I know it’s different than most countdowns, but I wanted to try something new and see how it went. Up next is my summer top 20 ranking in July unless I decide to do something else, so stay tuned for that!

 

 

 

Billboard Hot 100 Top 20 Ranking: Spring 2018

 

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Who needs a long intro? Here’s the link to the top 20, let’s jump right in!

THE AWFUL TIER (0/5)

Sad! by XXXTENTACION fell to #22 this week, and that was the only truly awful song in the top 20. Thank goodness, because I’ve never had to talk about that human trashpile and I will continue ignoring him because he doesn’t deserve my attention. So, with that being said, what song is the worst in the top 20 this week?

THE BAD TIER (1/5)

20. Walk It Talk It by Migos feat. Drake

Another top 20 ranking, another boring/repetitive trap song taking the bottom spot. Last time it was “gucci gang gucci gang gucci gang gucci gang,” this time it’s “walk it like I talk it walk it walk it like I talk it.” I know Migos has a tendency to say phrases over and over in their songs, but this is the worst example of that since Versace. This is just unpleasant, with that glassy beat that sounds like it belongs in a Halloween song, and trust me, the performers aren’t any better. Each verse is the same and indistinguishable from the other, and Drake certainly doesn’t do anything notable as guest star. In fact, the most notable moment in the song isn’t anything that anyone says, but rather when Drake’s verse randomly stops and plays a dial tone. If that’s the best moment in your song, then you know you’ve done something wrong. I mean come on Migos, you just had Stir Fry as a hit, and that song’s pretty good. Wish I was able to rank that, but instead I’m stuck with just this. But hey, if you want to hear a good version of this song, check this out:

That’s right, someone rapping Dr. Seuss is more interesting that Migos. Shameful.

19. Be Careful by Cardi B

Oh come on, really? REALLY? Cardi, what the hell are you doing? Aren’t you supposed to make trap bangers? What the hell is this mess? Why does a song threatening your fiancé because he cheated on you sound so pleasant? Why is the beat not menacing? Why aren’t you going harder? God dammit, this is super disappointing.

Basically my main problem with this song is how little the subject material and the beat match. This is a song where Cardi goes off on Offset for cheating on her, but you would never tell if you weren’t paying attention to the lyrics. This beat sounds anything but intimidating, because even though it’s in a minor key, it sounds like a melody to a children’s song. Plus there’s this weird sound at the back of the mix that keeps making me think it’s coming from somewhere else and I can never unhear it. I mean, what happened to the menacing beats of Bodak Yellow or Bartier Cardi? Imagine this song with the beat and intensity of Bartier Cardi! Imagine Cardi using all her vocal power to absolutely destroy Offset! That would have been awesome! This isn’t worse than Walk It Talk It, but I didn’t really have expectations for Migos. I had expectations for Cardi, and she let me down big time. This is a meh tier-quality song that’s bumped down a tier for being a massive disappointment. C’mon, girl, I KNOW you can do better than this.

THE MEH TIER (2/5)

18. Plug Walk by Rich The Kid

So…uh…this is a thing?

I have no idea why Rich The Kid is big right now, and I’m even more baffled that this is his big hit instead of New Freezer, his song with Kendrick Lamar. I guess that song is semi-popular since it peaked just outside the top 40, but it would make sense if that made the top 20 instead of this, right? Because this just goes in one ear and out the other. Besides the chorus and the line “space coupe like ET” which is admittedly pretty funny, I’m not going to remember this song. It’s the perfect definition of a “meh” song, which I guess I can respect.

17. Psycho by Post Malone feat. Ty Dolla $ign

You know, for a song called “Psycho,” you’d think it wouldn’t sound this boring. Why doesn’t it sound…you, know psycho? Why is it so calm? I don’t get what you’re doing here, Post. You can’t just call a song “psycho” and then make a song this mellow. I mean, why is it even called Psycho? What’s the context for that word?

Damn, my AP goin’ psycho, lil’ mama bad like Michael
Can’t really trust nobody with all this jewelry on you
My roof look like a no-show, got diamonds by the boatload
Come with the Tony Romo for clowns and all the bozos

…oh, it’s another brag rap song. And AP stands for a luxury watch brand, although I want to believe the theory that it’s a reference to the Fallout video game series, because that would make a lot more sense. Apparently psycho is the name of a drug in the game, so I guess that makes more sense than a watch going psycho. What, did it break? Are the numbers mixed up? Did it become sentient and try to cut off the circulation to your arm? You know what, maybe AP stands for Advanced Placement. You know, those tests you take in high school to get college credit?  Maybe he went back to high school and is stressed because these tests are “psycho,” or crazy hard. I don’t know, I’m just entertaining myself at this point. Also I keep hearing the “Tony Romo” line as “Tony Homo,” which is super uncomfortable even when I know that’s not what he says. I just don’t hear an “r” when he says “Romo,” it sounds more like an “h.” Oh, and Ty Dolla $ign is on this. He doesn’t do anything notable. Next!

16. Freaky Friday by Lil Dicky feat. Chris Brown

You know those videos that you found hilarious back in the day but now you watch them and they don’t even elicit a chuckle? That’s exactly how I feel about this song.

The first time I heard it I thought it was really good, creative and funny. I love the concept of two artists rapping from the perspective of each other, and I there were some legitimately laugh-out-loud moments. Hell, I even tried to defend it when Mark revealed how much he hated it on Twitter. Needless to say, it did not go well.

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185 combined likes for him and three for me. Yikes.

But eventually I realized what everyone had been saying all along: none of this is funny. Chris Brown as Lil Dicky wondering if he can say the N-word and then proceeding to do so over 10 times? Lil Dicky as Chris Brown being thankful that he’s no longer black and doesn’t have to take responsibility for his “controversial past?” (His words, not mine.) Multiple jokes about Lil Dicky’s….lil dicky? Chris Brown as Lil Dicky posting dick pics online?  Lil Dicky switching bodies with Ed Sheeran and thinking it’s not as cool as being Chris Brown? The bit with Kendall Jenner, DEAR GOD the bit with Kendall Jenner? Where she sounds vapid as hell while Lil Dicky is excited to explore her vagina? The fact that I keep ending every sentence with question marks? Is any of this supposed to be funny? Granted, I always hated the Jenner part even when I liked the song, but none of this makes me smile. Maybe the DJ Khaled bit, but still that’s just like one second. The majority of this song are punchlines that fall flat and neither artist being self-aware enough to realized that none of this is entertaining at all. Ugh.

But you know what, let’s take this a step further, because I have an even bigger problem with this song: the execution of the concept. Like I said, I thought two people singing from the perspective of one another was creative and I still do, but here it doesn’t work. Why? Because Lil Dicky and Chris Brown are both hip-hop/R&B artists, and thus would act pretty similarly. Think about the Freaky Friday movie. The mom is tight and controlling and the daughter is rebellious and carefree. So when they switch bodies it creates a humorous situation where they’re both out of their element. Here, Lil Dicky as Chris Brown is doing stuff that Chris Brown himself would do, like go to the club. This idea would have worked if we got two artists from completely different genres. Like if Lil Jon switched places with Adele. It would be legitimately hilarious to hear Lil Jon yell love songs while Adele sings about doing crazy stuff and getting turned up. So while I do give some credit for an interesting premise (and an okay DJ Mustard beat), this song loses major points for not being as good as it could have been.

15. Call Out My Name by The Weeknd

So this is basically Earned It 2.0, minus the gross lyrics and tone. Okay so it’s not REALLY Earned It 2.0, but it certainly sounds like it. And to be fair, it’s better than Earned It, but honestly it’s a problem I have with most slow Weeknd songs. I’m a much bigger fan of his songs with good-flowing beats. Can’t Feel My Face? Great. The Hills? Bad. In The Night? Pretty good. Starboy? Great. I Feel It Coming? AMAZING. Pray For Me? You’ll see later. This? Eh…it’s definitely better than The Hills and Earned It and I do appreciate the atmospheric production, but again, slow moody Weeknd is far from my favorite Weeknd. Sorry.

14. Meant To Be by Bebe Rexha feat. Florida Georgia Line

So it turns out this song grew on me a bit. But just a bit. I guess it has a good beat, but that’s about it. I could put it in the decent tier if I wanted to, but when it comes to rating a song as meh or decent, I usually go by whether I’d change the station if it came on the radio. And if Meant To Be came on the radio, I probably wouldn’t keep it. Plus I’m still annoyed this got so big because Billboard and country radio treat this like a country song, and I’m ESPECIALLY still mad this was Bebe’s big hit over I Got You. Seriously, that song is great. Oh well, I guess she can only get hits when she’s riding the coattails of David Guetta/Nicki Minaj, G-Eazy, and Florida Georgia Line. To be fair, Me Myself & I is actually pretty good, but the other two are mediocre at best. Next!

13. Havana by Camila Cabello feat. Young Thug

Meanwhile, this song shrunk on me. I don’t know, I’m just not a big fan of it anymore. Like Meant To Be, I’d probably look for something else to listen to if it came on the radio. Like that other Camila song in the top 20 right now. Or that other latin-inspired song that sounds kinda similar.

12. Mine by Bazzi

For all intents and purposes, this shouldn’t be this low. It’s a short and sweet little song where Bazzi serenades a girl, how great she is, and how thankful he is to have her. It’s nothing more, nothing less. The production is solid and fits perfectly with the lyrics. And yet…look, I’m going to go into any details, but it reminds me of an unpleasant experience that happened recently which I don’t want to think about. I’ll give credit with credit is due, but it just brings up bad memories. It’s a nice song, but not one I want to listen to right now. Maybe some day, but not today.

THE DECENT TIER (3/5)

11. Look Alive by BlocBoy JB feat. Drake

Don’t let the title fool you, this is mostly a Drake song. He handles the verses and the first chorus, and BlocBoy JB has the verse before the final chorus, which is usually when there’s a guest verse.  I bring it up because despite not getting top billing, Drake is the one who makes this song good. I like his flow and his lines really connect, with this one being the standout:

I’ve been gone since like July, n***as actin’ like I died

I love that line because it’s true. Drake ended his eight-year streak of appearing on the Hot 100 every week last July, and it took a bit for him to come back, which wasn’t like him considering all the songs he’s either put out or been on in recent years. It’s a solid boast about how you can never count Drake out, even when it looks like he’s on hiatus. And his first single to hit the Hot 100 since falling off the chart debuted at #1 and stayed there for 11 weeks (knocked off the top by his next single, no less!), so he has every right to boast how people acted like he died when he’s still as popular as he’s ever been. And it’s all set to a menacing piano beat which, while minimalist, is pretty effective here. As for BlocBoy JB, he’s alright I guess, and like Drake there’s one line that really draws my attention:

My—my—my weapon be a instrument
I’ll blow you like a flute (rrah) 

Hey look, it’s rapper who knows what instruments you blow into! And he uses it as metaphor for shooting people instead of making it a sex joke, so that’s extra points for him. Pretty good set-up for Drake’s final chorus, so it’s pretty good. Again, don’t know why Drake isn’t the main artist here, but I don’t care because it’s a solid song regardless.

10. The Middle by Zedd, Maren Morris, and Grey

So, what do you get when you combine Starving, a song that I don’t care for, and Stay, a song that’s okay at best? Wait, you get a passable song? Huh.

This is Zedd’s best song since Clarity, and it’s all because of the production. It’s not annoying like Starving or Stay, and feels a lot more laid back. There are no annoying instrumental moments that Stay and Starving had because Maren Morris sings over the entire drop. It’s nice and pleasant instead of loud and blaring, which is a nice change of pace for Zedd.  I especially like that little electric guitar lick before the first drop. And Maren Morris does a good to boost the beat with her singing. I’ve heard her sing better, and this is no where near as good Craving You, the best song from Thomas Rhett’s way-better-than-it-has-right to-be Life Changes, but it’s fine enough here. Definitely better than Hailee Steinfeld or Alessia Cara. Solid effort all around.

9. I Like It by Cardi B, Bad Bunny, and J Balvin

Thank goodness this is good, I don’t think I’d be able to handle it if Cardi had two straight massive letdowns.

This is kinda like Havana with Cardi on it and Bad Bunny and J Balvin as Young Thug. It has a pretty similar piano line, but that’s where the comparisons end. The beat is way more Latin-inspired with better percussion and horns that Havana does, and there’s also that high-pitched “I like it like that” vocal that plays in the background which I like a fair bait. And of course, Cardi runs circles around Camila. Unsurprisingly this is a brag rap song, and Cardi really sells it. She talks about expensive jewelry, having a hot body, expensive cars, basically just making herself out to be a badass, which she obviously is. Oh, and she ends her verse with this:

Told that bitch I’m sorry though
‘Bout my coins like Mario 
Yeah they call me Cardi B, I run this shit like cardio

I love hearing a rapper make a Mario reference, and I myself have made the Cardi/cardio pun before, so it’s great to hear Cardi herself do it.

If there’s one thing that holds this song back from being higher, it’s Bad Bunny and J Balvin. They’re a step back from Cardi, and their brag rapping doesn’t really connect with me, even after I looked up the translation. It’s no Mi Gente is what I’m saying. Mi Gente is all about the rhythm so the lyrics don’t matter. Here the beat is good, but I think lyrics that I would understand would be a lot better for it. Hell, why not just have this whole song be Cardi? Wouldn’t that go a lot harder? Overall it’s pretty solid and definitely better than Be Careful, but it could have been better.

8. God’s Plan by Drake

Here’s the second of three songs in the top 20 that heavily feature Drake, and like Look Alive, it’s pretty good. The beat is chill and Drake’s chill delivery fits perfectly. I guess the lyrics could be better, like if Drake said what bad things people are wishing on him and why, but I’m just vibing out this song. And of course there’s the “I only love my bed and my mama” line, which has deservedly reached memetic status. It’s perfect chill music and there’s not much else to say about it, and that’s 100% fine in my book.

THE GOOD TIER (4/5)

7. Never Be The Same by Camila Cabello

It wouldn’t be a Jordan The Music Man blog without a controversial pick, would it?

This is calm and chill like God’s Plan, except with a much more expressive performer. Oh, and if this song being this high wasn’t controversial enough, then wait until you read this: this song has Camila’s best vocal performance. No really. Her range here is dynamic, going from low on the verses to falsetto on the pre-chorus and then finishing with a lower but still high pitch on the chorus. And they’re all great and give this song variety. Yes, really, I like that falsetto. Not only is it not grating, but it’s actually endearing in a goofy sort of way. Her voice and how she sings makes the song pretty catchy, especially on the chorus. It’s just a simple love song but I’m invested in it because of her. And the production here is perfect for letting Camila’s voice dominate, with the low synth and the heavy percussion doing just enough to connect while not doing too much to take away from what Camila is doing. I especially love the part after the choruses where it’s just her, some sparse backing vocals, the pounding drums and nothing else. It gives extra weight to Camila’s voice, which can only be a good thing here. I know I’ve ragged on her before, but this is really solid work and is definitely her best hit so far.

6. Perfect by Ed Sheeran

Yep, this is still good. The production is nice and sweet and Ed’s voice makes every line he says great. Nothing else to say since I already talked about this song on my winter ranking, so moving on then!

5. Chun-Li by Nicki Minaj

Daaaaaaaaaamn.

This is Nicki Minaj’s best song and it’s not even close. I was never the biggest fan of her work, but she’s improved recently! With Cardi B becoming the new dominant female rapper, it felt like Nicki kind of fell to the wayside, but then she showed up on a song alongside Cardi and they both absolutely killed it. And now that Cardi has songs in the top 20 that aren’t up to par with her best work, it’s great that Nicki made a song this good to replace her. At least for now.

This is just straight fire, no doubt about that. First off the beat is menacing with the looping melody, the constant horn blasts, the sleigh bells, and especially that percusion. And that’s before we get to the content, where Nicki’s bragging about how great she is, dissing everyone who dares to step to her, and her delivery is great. She sounds mad, and it’s a great fit for her. It’s the best she’s ever sounded. This is just a middle finger to all her haters, and there are some super good lines here:

He keep on dialin’ Nicki like the Prince song

I guess “dialin’ Nicki” and “Darling Nikki” is kind of a stretch, but it’s pretty interesting how she makes it sound similar. Besides, that what I thought she said before I looked up the lyrics.

How many of them coulda did it with finesse?
Now everybody like, “She really is the best”

And I’m pretty sure this is a diss towards Cardi B? I had not idea she had beef with Cardi, put apparently she does! Maybe it’s a thing about how there can only be one big female rapper, but that’s just stupid. Or as one article I found puts it, “Cardi B and Nicki Minaj are both rappers with vaginas, so naturally the music industry has taken it upon itself to stir up rumors that the pair are bitter rivals, even though they have both repeatedly denied this.”  But apparently there was some controversy regarding who was on MotorSport and Migos and Cardi made it look like Nicki lied about something, but I’m not big on celebrity drama so you can look it up if you’re interested. But if Nicki’s taking shots like this, it must be something worth at least mentioning.

Honestly the only lines that aren’t good are when Nicki rhymes “King Kong” with itself eight times, but other than that this song is really solid. But now we wait to see Cardi’s response. It better be something special…

THE GREAT TIER (5/5)

4. Pray For Me by The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar

See, THIS is The Weeknd that I like! None of that boring stuff that’s way too dark, just a solid groove and a great vocal performance. That’s all I need here.

To be fair, this song is dark, but it’s dark in a good way. The pounding percussion and low tones make it really catchy, which is an element that songs like The Hills and Call Out My Name lack, and The Weeknd’s trademark delivery matches it really well. I like the content too, where The Weeknd is talking about the costs and sacrifices that come with being a hero, very fitting of a song from the Black Panther soundtrack. And then Kendrick contributes with a guest verse that’s obviously great because it’s Kendrick. He goes more into detail about the struggles of being a hero and really illustrates the picture. Black Panther’s about the leader of an African country, but this sounds like it’s more about the struggles of someone from the inner city. When you’re from an inner city and get big rapping or playing sports or whatever, you’re going to have a lot of people depending on you and it’s a tough burden to have, and Kendrick definitely captures that struggle here. And that’s all before the bridge where we get flutes and those “ALALALALALALA” voices. I didn’t like that at all when I first listened to this song, but it grew on me and now I accept it, just like with those goat noises on Mi Gente. Except most people like this song.

Yeah, this is definitely the best of the Black Panther hits. King’s Dead is okay, All The Stars is pretty good, but this is on a whole other level. Although I haven’t actually seen Black Panther yet. But I have seen Infinity War, so try to make sense of that.

3. Finesse by Bruno Mars and Cardi B

The king has been dethroned.

That’s right, my #1 from winter was passed up by not one but two songs. It is no longer the hit song to beat in 2018. So, what happened? Well if I’m being honest, it’s because of a problem I have with most Bruno Mars songs: you have to be in the right mood to fully enjoy it. This is a song that requires energy, and it doesn’t have the same impact when you’re just lying in bed, you know? It kicks ass when you’re out and about, but it’s not a song for when you’re just lounging around. In fact, I think I have the perfect Bruno song for that scenario:

God, remember when Bruno made embarrassing music? Glad he decided to make funky throwbacks instead.

Finesee is still great though. Great beat, great flow, great use of Cardi B, great everything. I’m not going to make any guarantees about this making my year-end list after what happened with Despacito, but seeing how 24K Magic was my #2 last year, it seems very likely.

2. Nice For What by Drake

So the consensus is that this is the best song Drake has released in a long time, and…yeah, I definitely agree. It’s great to hear Drake give a damn here instead of being on autopilot like on most of his recent songs. Because while I do like Look Alive and God’s Plan, let’s be honest: his delivery is nothing special. Here he sounds like he actually feels something, and it’s such a breath of fresh air after being boring for who knows how long. But what really makes this song worth listening to is the beat. I love that Lauryn Hill sample, I love that dude who introduces the track and has that interlude in the middle, I love the bounce of the beat, and I REALLY love that breakdown near the end, OH MY GOD that breakdown near the end. That breakdown MAKES this song and elevated it this high on my ranking. Hell, this was originally going to be in the meh tier before it suddenly grew on me big time. I’m so glad this debuted at #1 and hopefully it will stay there for a long time. Maybe it’ll be at the top longer than God’s Plan! This just sounds like a song that would dominate the summer and I’d be all for that. Drake, you finally deserve that throne. What could possibly better than this banger? Well gee, it could only be one thing…

BEST OF THE BEST

1. Whatever It Takes by Imagine Dragons

And in the least shocking ending ever, the song I kept hyping up on Twitter and waited to make the top 20 so I could do this ranking is my #1. Hey, no one ever accused me of being unpredictable.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that a rock song is topping this ranking, but here’s something you didn’t see coming: I think this is Imagine Dragons’ best hit. Yes really, better than Radioactive. Radioactive is loud and Dan Reynolds’ yelling on the chorus gets annoying after repeated listens. This on the other hand is calmer in comparison and Reynolds isn’t yelling at all. Actually you can hear him yelling on the chorus, but at the back of the mix. That was a really smart decision by the producer because this song would be a lot worse if it dominated the chorus. This whole song is actually a lot calmer than most Imagine Dragons songs because even on the verses Reynolds’ voice isn’t as loud as it usually is. Normally he’s trying to sound important with a booming voice but here he’s singing in a lower register which is a really good fit for him. Even when he goes higher on the chorus, it’s still lower than normal for him. Plus it allows the instrumentation to shine through, and this might be the best instrumentation on any Imagine Dragons song. Once the percussion starts on the pre-chorus it just keeps chugging along until the bridge, and I can’t get enough of it. I also love the cowbells on the chorus because it’s a unique sound that adds to the bombast. It’s simple instrumentation but it does a great job of conveying the weight of the song. And while I’ve said in the past that I don’t pay attention to lyrics of most Imagine Dragons songs, the message here about doing whatever it takes to achieve a goal in the face of insurmountable odds is a perfect fit for this production. It’s sounds gloomy on the verses where Reynolds is singing about struggles to achieve those goals, and then it starts to get going on the prechorus when he sings about how much he wants it. I love the way he sings that prechorus. And then it culminates in that bombastic chorus where he sings about how he’ll do whatever it takes to reach that goal. This is an anthem for anyone who’s struggling to get stuff done, and it’s an inspiring anthem that kicks all amounts of ass. I won’t say this is the frontrunner for my best hit of 2018 because of some potential hits on the horizon, but it’s definitely the best song in the top 20 right now. I’ve loved this song ever since it came out last summer, and I’m so glad it managed to be a hit. Can’t say I didn’t call it, though.

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Sorry Amber, but I need to bring out these receipts.

 

So that was the top 20, and overall it’s a 60/100. That’s the lowest score I’ve given a top 20 ranking, but it’s still pretty good! I’d go back and listen to over half of the top 20 on a regular basis, so it does deserve this score. Sure there’s more mediocrity than usual, but the equivalent of a 6/10 score means it was an okay week, so I’m not complaining. Next up…well, I have something interesting planned, so stay tuned for that!

Billboard Hot 100 Top 20 Ranking: Winter 2018

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Now that 2017 is behind us, I think it’s time to take a look at the state of mainstream music in 2018. I’ve said many times that last year was a great year for music, but will this year be of a similar quality? Well, let’s take a look at the biggest songs in the country right now and see if 2018 has started on the right foot.

As always, the top 20 will be divided into six tiers: awful (0/5), bad (1/5), meh (2/5), decent (3/5), good (4/5), and great (5/5). But this time the #1 song on this ranking will be given its own special tier: best of the best. This is similar to how Alberto gives “the throne” to his #1 spot in top 20 rankings, except here’s it’s only reserved for times when there’s a song in the top 20 that’s head and shoulders above even the other songs in the great tier. I’m sure some of you are already speculating as to what that song is, but we have a lot to get through before we reach it. Oh, and the top 20 that I’m basing this ranking on can be found here. With all that being said, let’s get started!

THE AWFUL TIER (0/5)

Wouldn’t you know it, there are no songs in this week’s top 20 that deserve a 0! Last time I gave a 0 to Bank Account for being extremely boring, but this week there’s nothing that I legitimately hate! But there are a couple of songs that I don’t like, which brings us to…

THE BAD TIER (1/5)

20. Gucci Gang by Lil Pump

I’m tempted to put this in the awful tier because of how little it tries and how repetitive it is. For starters, Lil Pump says “Gucci gang” 53 times during this song. 53 times. If half your bars are just saying the same phrase over and over, then you’re just not even trying.

The thing is, I’ve already established Bank Account as the example of an awful song, and I’ll give this credit for not being as boring. The beat is pretty bad, but at least it does something at points, like the piano on the intro, chorus, and outro. But other than that, it’s just your standard trap beat that I’ve heard so many times before. As for Lil Pump, he’s actually not that bad, and I do like some of his lines, especially the WestJet ones. But pretty much everything else he’s saying is just standard brag-rap: having a lot of money, buying expensive clothes, doing drugs, and having sex with women- including his teacher. Ew. And of course, “Gucci gang Gucci gang Gucci gang Gucci gang Gucci gang Gucci gang Gucci gang-”

Shut up. If I wanted to listen to brag rap, I’d listen to someone who actually deserves to brag and does it in an interesting way. Not this annoying, repetitive mess. Next!

19. I Fall Apart by Post Malone

Oh great, this returned to the top 20.

Look, I don’t hate Post Malone. I tolerate a lot of his songs a lot more than most people. But this is by far the worst song I’ve heard from him. It’s so annoying and unpleasant, and it’s all thanks to Post himself. Usually he has a fine enough delivery, but here he’s whining through a breakup song, and I can’t stand it. His voice is so grating for a song that’s supposed to convey sadness after getting dumped, and I don’t buy it at all. Breakup songs like this are supposed to sound sad and make you sympathize with the singer, not make you annoyed with them. And it doesn’t help at all when he calls his ex a “devil in the form of a whore.” That line just rubs me the wrong way. Why should I feel bad for you, Post?

And this song is especially bad when it comes to the bridge. There’s a melody that starts off sounding suspiciously like Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, and Post talking about getting over the breakup with drinking and how he’s “whippin’ in the foreign and the tears keep blowin’ ” Was that line really necessary? What does your expensive car have to do with anything? Does it mean that not even your expensive stuff can help you get over this breakup? Because if so, that’s stupid. This song is whiny and pathetic, but that line was the icing on the cake. God this is lame.

THE MEH TIER (2/5)

18. Bad At Love by Halsey

God dammit.

You know how everyone’s complaining about how Halsey chose this as a single over Strangers with Lauren Jauregui? Well they’re right, because Strangers is so much better than this! I actually thought Now Or Never was pretty decent, and Strangers would have been an even better follow-up. But we got this instead. Halsey, you may be bad at love, but you’re worse at choosing singles.

This song just goes in one ear and out the other for me. There’s nothing interesting about this except for the second verse where she discusses a relationship with a girl, but of course Strangers does that concept so much better. Plus Halsey kinda of comes off as a jerk on this song. Saying you don’t like your boyfriend’s friends and now you’re mad that he calls you a “bitch”? Admitting that you make the same mistakes but blaming it on being “bad at love” instead of on yourself? Do you even want to make an effort to change? Whatever, this song is just bland and I don’t need to waste any more time talking about it. Let’s just hope Halsey’s smart enough to make Strangers her third single.

17. Meant To Be by Bebe Rexha feat. Florida Georgia Line

…did anybody ask for this?

Seriously, who wants to hear Florida Georgia Line on a Bebe Rexha song? Hell, it’s not really Bebe’s song as it is FGL’s! They have the first verse, which in most cases belongs to the lead artist, and even finish off Bebe’s second verse. And it’s all backed by a repetitive piano melody and trap hi-hats. You know, exactly the instrumentation you’d expect from the #1 song on the COUNTRY CHARTS. I’d be surprised, but Body Like A Back Road already set the bar low enough for what country radio will eat up. And of course this became a hit while I Got You, the far superior Bebe song from last year, didn’t. Good job America.

THE DECENT TIER (3/5)

16. Too Good At Goodbyes by Sam Smith

The is the one of two songs from my last ranking that’s still in the top 20, and my opinion hasn’t changed on it since then. It’s a good enough song with a nice beat that Sam Smith rides well with his breakup lyrics. (See Post Malone? This is how you do a breakup song.) I said last time that it might move up a tier if it sticks around, but I guess it’s just stuck here for now. Eh, it’s still pretty serviceable.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Isn’t there a song in the 20 that pretty much everyone hates? But we’re in the decent tier and it hasn’t shown up yet! He couldn’t possibly like it, could he?”

Well folks, prepare yourselves for what will probably be my most controversial opinion ever.

15. GUMMO by 6ix9ine

…I don’t know how to explain this.

I mean for starters, this dude has plead guilty to use of a child in a sexual performance, which is just awful. So that should put this song at the very bottom of the list by default, right? Well, not necessarily. See, there’s a concept called “separating the art from the artist,” where you consume a work without letting a terrible act of the person who made it get in the way of your opinion. And here’s my take on that: it only works when the artist doesn’t reference the terrible act, because if they do, it makes you actively think about what they did. For example, Kodak Black’s Tunnel Vision doesn’t work because it references his sexual assault charges and how people want to see him in jail because they “don’t want to see him winning.” Hell, there was originally going to be a line where he said “I don’t gotta rape.” But here, does 6ix9ine talk about his crimes? Well, he does talk about having sex with girls, but it’s never implied that they’re underage, so no, he doesn’t talk about his crimes. So this song passes the “separate the art from the artist” test.

But with all that aside, why do I actually like the song? Well, you know how I love it when singers let loose on their songs, especially on the final chorus? Well, this is “Letting Loose: The Song.” 6ix9ine’s aggressive yelling is a pretty unique sound in hip-hop that I appreciate. It’s a breath of fresh air compared to the Lil Pumps and 21 Savages of the rap world. And the menacing beat is a perfect complement for that yelling. I especially love the part at the beginning when beat cuts out and you hear gunshots. It adds to that menacing feel. And while the lyrics are standard brag-rap (I actually don’t like the lyrics at all), it doesn’t matter with the good beat and delivery. Yep, this is yet another “production over lyrics” song for me.

I try to be as honest as possible when I make these lists, and I would be lying if I put this song in the bad tier or even the meh tier. 6ix9ine might be a terrible person, but at the very least he doesn’t let it affect his music like other rappers, and is actually interesting compared to some other rappers. I’ll give him that at the very least.

14. Havana by Camila Cabello feat. Young Thug

…and on that note, let’s return to music that I can enjoy guilt-free!

I may not like this as much as other people, but this is still pleasant enough. The nice piano melody that runs throughout the song works well with the trap-like percussion, and I especially like the horns near the end of the song. But it’s Camila Cabello who really carries this song with her vocal delivery, because it matches the pleasant instrumentation very well. She’s built up a reputation for being a bad singer, and her warbling on songs like Work From Home and I Know What You Did Last Summer is very unflattering. But here she plays it safe and doesn’t warble at all. I love it when artists ride a good beat, because it makes the beat better.

Oh, and Young Thug is on this too. I’ve never really been a fan of him at all, but his verse here is fine enough. Like Camila, he has a tendency to sing/rap in an annoying voice (a prime example would be Lifestyle), but is pleasant here. He just does what he’s supposed to, and that’s good enough for me. It’s a nice addition to the song.

So yeah, this was a surprise coming from Camila. And while it’s not the best song she’s on (that would be That’s My Girl), it’s still good, and I’ll definitely take it over some of her other Fifth Harmony songs.

13. Bodak Yellow by Cardi B

This is the other song from my last ranking that’s still here, and unlike Too Good At Goodbyes, this has gotten better since then!

In hindsight, I think I wasn’t really a big fan of this because it was the only Cardi B song I had heard back then. But now that I’ve heard a lot more from her, I can appreciate this more while also realizing that she’s done a LOT better. I love her flow and her intensity, and she has a few great lines here, especially on the second verse:

And I just checked my account, turns out I’m rich I’m rich I’m rich!

I need to let all these hoes know that none of their ni**as is safe!

I go to dinner and steak, only the real can relate!

And I really love how hard her delivery gets, especially near the end of the second verse. She’s going all out! This is a great brag-rap song, and unlike other similar trap songs, it really stands out.

But at the same time, the slow beat doesn’t fit this song that well. As you’ll see later, she’s done so much better with faster beats. Still, it’s a great song for the genre and I kind of feel bad that I ranked it so low last time, especially since it was a sign of what Cardi would do in the future. I mean I ranked it lower than Look What You Made Me Do, for crying out loud! How on earth did I think it was worse than that colossal letdown?

12. rockstar by Post Malone feat. 21 Savage

See, I told you Post Malone is usually good!

This debuted the week I put out my previous top 20 ranking, so I just barely missed talking about this. At least it’s still in the top 20 (it’s never even left the top 5!) because it’s pretty good! The beat is nice and spacious, and it’s perfect for Post Malone’s vocal delivery. I ragged on him a lot for his annoying voice on I Fall Apart, but he usually sings in a lower register that I like, and that’s exactly what he does here. Yet at the same time he goes higher for the pre-chorus, and I like that too! I like his warbling when he says lines like “don’t give a daaaaaaamn.” It’s a unique sound, and it fits the minimalist beat pretty well. Again, this is a great example of someone riding a beat. And while I’m not crazy about him shouting out legitimate rockers like Bon Scott and Jim Morrison, I get the comparison that his lifestyle is like that of a rockstar. When you think about it, rappers have similar lifestyles to rockstars (doing drugs, having sex, making lots of money), even if their musical styles are vastly different. Look, I’m not endorsing these lyrics, but I definitely get where Post is coming from, even despite his controversial comments about hip-hop. Maybe he really does think of himself as rockstar.

And what makes this song even better is that 21 Savage actually sounds interesting on it! Not only is he not using his boring monotone flow, but he actually sings most of his verse! Who ever saw that coming? Yeah this is a HUGE improvement over songs like Bank Account, and I’ll take interesting 21 Savage over boring 21 Savage any day of the week.

Like I said before, I like Post Malone for the most part, and this is one of the reasons why. If he puts out more songs like this and less like I Fall Apart, I’m all for it.

11. Him & I by G-Eazy and Halsey

Remember Me, Myself & I, the G-Eazy and Bebe Rexha song from 2016? I like that song, and put it as an honorable mention on my 2016 list. Well this is pretty much the Me, Myself & I of 2018, and I like it for a lot of the same reasons that I liked that song. The beat is dark and spacious like that song, and I like it a lot. It does exactly what it’s supposed to do. But what really makes it like Me, Myself & I is that is has a killer hook. I really like Halsey’s voice on this hook, especially the way she says “the crazy kind,” and I like her post-chorus “ooh’s” too. I know I’m not a big fan of Bad At Love, but I actually like Halsey as a singer. Between this, Closer, Now Or Never, and Strangers, she’s had some pretty good vocal performances.

But what about G-Eazy, the main performer of this song? Well, here’s a shock: I actually like his lyrics! They’re all about how much he’s in love with Halsey and how she’s the only girl for him, and I think that’s really sweet! His verses describe the relationship in detail, and the fact that the two of them are dating in real life makes this so much stronger. And Halsey’s chorus confirms this love, which is even better. A lot of people have compared the relationship in this song to the Joker and Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad, and at first I agreed. These lyrics are kinda cringy, especially this one:

Ever catch me cheating, she would try to cut my (Halsey laughs)

Yeah, that doesn’t flatter either of you. The last thing I want to hear on a song about a real-life relationship is a threat cut someone’s dick off. But you know what, these lyrics fit the beat really well. Yeah it sounds like a Joker/Harley Quinn relationship, but this sounds like it belongs on the Suicide Squad soundtrack, so I’m okay with that. 2017’s Bonnie and Clyde? Sure, I’ll take it. This is pretty solid.

10. Thunder by Imagine Dragons

Looks like we’re ending the decent tier with a controversial pick again.

Okay, liking Thunder isn’t as controversial as liking 1-800-273-8255, but still, I’ve seen this on a lot of worst lists. And like Believer, I think it’s completely unwarranted. Sure that might be the rock fan in me, but this song is pretty good! Not as good as Believer obviously, but I’ll definitely take it.

Like Believer (and most other rock songs), this song is good because of the powerful instrumentation, even if it’s not always powerful. The verses in particular are subdued, as there’s a basic melody accompanied by snaps. That’s it. It actually reminds me of Lorde’s Royals a little bit. But when that chorus hits we get actual pounding percussion, and those three quick drum hits in particular just get me pumped up. Hell, I even like the pitch-shifting that everyone complains about! A lot of people think it’s annoying, but I think it just makes the song better. And then there’s the guitar solo near the end, and again, why are people complaining about this? Sure it kind of sounds autotuned, but come on, it’s a guitar solo! Those are awesome by default! And after a pretty awesome final chorus, we get another guitar solo as the outro! I complained about a lack of real guitars on Believer, but this has plenty of guitar to satisfy me. It’s good enough to make up for the fact that Dan Reynolds isn’t that interesting here. I’ve said before that I’ve never really been into the abstract lyrics on most of his songs, and that definitely applies here. He needs to have a good vocal presence to elevate a song, which is why I like Believer so much. So this is just okay in the vocals department, which leaves it up to the instrumentation to carry this song. And for the most part, it does. Hey, I never said it was perfect, but it’s good enough to top the decent tier.

THE GOOD TIER (4/5)

9. MotorSport by Migos, Nicki Minaj, and Cardi B

This is the rap equivalent of all those “girl power” songs I’ve raved about in the past. Oh, and Migos is here too.

I’ve never been a fan of Migos. Most of their songs are your boring standard trap rap that I’ve heard done a lot better elsewhere. And to their credit, they do okay on this song. Sure I don’t really like Quavo’s slathered-in-autotone verse, but at the very least his chorus is catchy. I actually like the chorus a fair bit. Offset follows him up with a faster verse, and I like his flow even though I’m not really invested in what he’s saying.

…but then she shows up. Cardi freaking B.

Cardi B makes this song. Oh my god I love her verse! Remember when I said that she’s done a lot better than Bodak Yellow when she’s on faster beats? Well this is exhibit A. Her flow is so much better with this fast beat, and she has so many lines that connect:

Ride the dick like a BMX, no ni**a wanna be my ex!

Same lips that be talkin’ bout me is the same lips that be ass-kissin’!/These hoes ain’t what they say they are and their pussy stank, they catfishin’!

Why would I hop in a beef (why?) when I could just hop in a Porsche? You heard she gon’ do what from who? That’s not a reliable source!

And that’s all before her final bars where she goes faster and it gets even better!

So tell me have you seen her, let me wrap my weave up, I’m the trap Selena, Dame más gasolina, skrrt!

I love that “skrrt!” in particular. It’s high-pitched and is a perfect ending to one of the best rap verses I’ve heard in quite some time.

But you thought Cardi was the only one who rules this song? Well, Nicki Minaj also shows up and delivers a great verse as well! And just like Cardi, she has so may great bars:

Watch you man, then you should watch you mouth/Bitches is pressed, administer mouth-to-mouth

You see them stats? You know what I am about?/I am the champ! I’m Iron Mike in a bout!

Attention, Imma need you to face front/You don’t want smoke with me, this is a laced blunt

I don’t work in no office, but they copyin’ and that’s facts though

I ain’t tryna be violent, but if Nicki on it, it slaps, ho/Get you lined for that paper like a loose leaf when that strap blow

And just like Cardi, she goes faster on her final bars

“Ayo Nick, didn’t you just do a hit with Gotti?”/That too, but my ni**as send hits like Gotti

It’s a wrap like the things on a head of a Saudi/Bitch you my son, go and sit on the potty

This is far and away the best thing Nicki Minaj has ever done. I feel like people are on the fence when it comes to this verse, but it really bangs. Cardi’s verse might be better, but Nicki still brings the fire. Even though Cardi’s the big female rapper right now, she’s not the only woman who can spit.

I’d talk about Takeoff’s verse, but does anyone care after what we just heard? Sure he has the best verse out of the three Migos members here, but he has the tough task of following up Cardi and Nicki. It kind of kills the mood a bit when we get a verse that’s just okay after two amazing ones.

If this song was just Cardi and Nicki, it would have easily been in the great tier. It’s a shame Migos had to bring it down a bit, but hey, what can you do?

8. LOVE. by Kendrick Lamar feat. Zacari

I guess even hardcore rappers have a sensitive side.

It’s no secret that I love HUMBLE. and DNA. because of how hard Kendrick goes, but this is a good song for pretty much the exact opposite reason. Instead of being hard, it’s nice and pleasant. Everything about it makes me feel calm. The beat is warm and lowkey with the synths and percussion giving off a really warm vibe. I especially love that high-pitched descending tone. You know what I’m talking about, right? It’s high-pitched and comes right before Zacari says “just looooooove me.” Alberto described this song as “dream-like”, and that’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s like a song you’d fall asleep to. And this is one of the most-played songs on the radio? I hope drivers aren’t dozing off at the wheel.

And the calm feeling extends to the performers, as both Kendrick and Zacari match the beat perfectly. This is a stark contrast to Kendrick going hard and taking shots at his haters, and instead he’s singing a love song (or should I say LOVE. song?) in a low tone, and the lyrics are really sweet! He’s talking about being in this relationsip forever, and this line in particular stands out:

Only for the night, I’m kiddin’
Only for life, you’re a homie for life

And Zacari adds his higher voice which is the perfect complement. It’s even calmer than Kendrick’s and puts me in an even calmer mood. Remember on my 2015 list when I said that Good For You was “ASMR: The Song”? Well this is an even better example of that. I’m so happy Kendrick chose this as the next single from DAMN. and it was able to re-enter the chart and peak higher than it initially did. Because this is really something special.

And speaking of really sweet love songs…

7. Perfect by Ed Sheeran

This is pretty much a country song to me. No, really.

If you’ve seen or read any of my stuff, you should know how much I love country music, especially when it’s really heartfelt. And this song has a lot of characteristics that remind me of those heartfelt country songs. First off you have organic instrumentation that gives this song a sweet feel right off the bat. The gentle guitar that runs throughout the song would be enough, but then the strings come in on the first chorus and takes it to a whole other level! It gives the song an orchestral feel, and I love it! Hell, this sounds like it could be in a Disney movie! I know I compared this to a country song, but how many country songs have a violin in them? And I especially love the strings after the first and final chorus. Plus there’s also a piano at some points, and while it’s hard to hear, it still does so much in the long run. And it’s all tied together by the percussion, which gives it an extra kick. This song reminds me a lot of Thinking Out Loud, except while that song is really boring, this song is really interesting! Thinking Out Loud only had a guitar and drums that moved way too slow, but this has a guitar, percussion at a good speed, and so much more!

But then you have the lyrics, and Ed Sheeran is at the top of his game here. He’s talking about how much he loves a girl, and it’s so nice and romantic! I especially love the details on the chorus about dancing in the grass at night. It really allows you to picture the relationship in your head. And I really love the line on the second verse about wanting this girl to carry children for him. This isn’t just a normal relationship, this is one that he wants to be in forever, and that just puts a smile on my face. Or rather, makes the smile I already had while listening to this song even bigger. And his delivery is what really makes this song. It’s so earnest and beaming, and is perfect (no pun intended) for a love song like this. It just conveys that feeling of being in love, and I adore it. And the final chorus, where we hear Ed “ooh”-ing in the background? That just adds so much by doing so little, and it makes that final chorus sound so much more important than the other choruses. And the way he says the line “I have faith in what I see” sounds nothing like any other delivery in the song, and it’s a perfect lead-in as the song approaches the ending.

Overall this song reminds me of a song I’d sing at summer camp while my arms were on my friends’ shoulders as we all swayed around a campfire or something. It’s just beautiful, and while it’s obviously no Castle On The Hill, it’s still really good. How is it only #7?

6. Let You Down by NF

So we have a Christian rapper in the top 20 right now. Okay.

To be fair, this isn’t a Christian song, so I’ll give it a pass. Actually I’ll give it more than a pass because this is pretty good! The beat here is great thanks to the simple piano line and the drums. I love the drums in particular because they’re loud, fast, and prominent. And unlike a lot of popular songs nowadays, they’re real drums instead of from a drum machine! So this is basically a rock song! I even like the trap hi-hats, because they make the beat even better! They’re a great complement to the drums. And as for NF, he has a really good fast-paced flow that reminds me of Macklemore on some of his best songs like Can’t Hold Us or Glorious. As seen by my comments on MotorSport, I love it when rappers have a fast flow, especially when it’s paired with a fast beat.

As for the content, it’s pretty bleak. This is song about a relationship between someone and their father, and it’s not a good relationship. NF feels like he’s disappointed his parents and even blames himself for the relationship, as evidenced by the chorus where he apologizes for letting him down. It’s pretty sad, honestly. But at the same time I like how NF’s flow allows him to sound biting and almost sarcastic, especially on the last verse. He has a right to be angry when he’s treated this way by his own parents, but it’s subdued anger because he’s also sad. It’s a complex relationship, and NF portrays it well. But really, I like this song primarily because of the beat and his flow. This song could be brag-rap and I would probably still like it.

…okay maybe not, but you get the point.

5. End Game by Taylor Swift feat. Ed Sheeran and Future

Woo, New Taylor can still make pop bangers!

Looking back at my previous top 20 ranking, I think I really overrated Look What You Made Me Do. Not only is a is a colossal letdown, but it’s a trainwreck of a song with no melody on the chorus and really bad lyrics. I’d even go as far as saying that it’s my worst hit song of 2017. But thank goodness Taylor Swift can still make quality music, and this is by far her best hit from Reputation.

Like Let You Down right above, End Game had a catchy beat with punchy percussion that I really like. But instead of somber piano keys, there’s uplifting swells of synth. That’s pretty much it, but it’s more than enough here, especially since it matches the content. Because this is a song where Taylor expresses her desire to be the true love of a guy. That’s it. No stupid celebrity drama like on Bad Blood or Look What You Made Me Do. Well, maybe except for this line:

I swear I don’t love the drama, it loves me

You and I both know that a lie, Taylor.

But whatever, she’s always been at her best when she’s making upbeat love songs, and while this isn’t as good as most of her singles from 1989, I will definitely take it.

And while Taylor is fine here, it’s the guest stars that push this song over the edge. Future is surprisingly competent with his fast-paced melodic flow, and I even like the autotune on his voice. It’s not overdone and makes his voice even more melodic than it already is here. I especially like how he has ad-libs peppered throughout the song. He deserves to be on more than just one verse. But Ed Sheeran might even be better! You already know that I love him and his voice, and he delivers yet again. And while I love his singing, the best part of his verse is when he briefly starts rapping! I love that little moment because it’s so unexpected but it’s so great! I love a lot of Taylor Swift songs because of what she brings, but this is a pleasant surprise because she rarely works with other people. And when she does, it doesn’t always turn out well. But this is really good, and like I already said, I’m really glad she still knows how to make good music. I almost lost faith in you, girl.

THE GREAT TIER (5/5)

4. Bartier Cardi by Cardi B feat. 21 Savage

Now THIS is a great Cardi song!

This is basically Bodak Yellow again, except SO MUCH better! Seriously, Cardi is absolutely amazing on this! Let’s start with the chorus, which is absolutely legendary. Her flow is so fast and it’s all well-deserved bragging after the success of Bodak Yellow. If you thought her verse on MotorSport was great…well it is, but this is better! I especially love this part:

Cardi took your man, you upset, uh
Cardi got rich, they upset, yeah 
Cardi put the pussy on Offset 
Cartier, Cardi B brain on Offset

What I love the most about it is how it’s repeated twice but with two different flows based on what part of the beat she starts it on. I can’t remember the last time I heard something like that. And then she continues to spit absolute fire on the verse:

Who get this motherfucker started? (Cardi!)
Who took your bitch out to party? (Cardi!)
I took your bitch and departed (Cardi!)
Who that be fly as a Martian? (Cardi!)
Who that on fleek in the cut? (Cardi!)
Who got the bricks in the truck? (Cardi!)
Them diamonds gon’ hit like a bitch on a bitchy ass bitch
Bitch, you a wannabe Cardi!

Those “Cardi!” ad-libs are great. It helps her establish her dominance and show just how badass she is.

But you know what the most impressive thing about this song is, other than Cardi herself? 21 Savage is actually good on it! No, really! He’s obviously not as good as Cardi, but his verse is surprisingly serviceable! His flow might not be as fast as Cardi’s, but it’s actually interesting compared to a lot of his other verses. Plus he gives us this hilarious line:

I pulled the rubber off and I put hot sauce on her titties

I have no idea why he’s putting hot sauce on anyone’s titties, but that’s by far the best 21 Savage line I’ve ever heard. It comes out of nowhere and it amuses me every single time I hear it.

The first time I heard this time I was floored. I had no idea Cardi was capable of this. Kendrick might be one of the best rappers in the game right now, but Cardi’s the one to beat when it comes to great bars and flows. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

3. No Limit by G-Eazy feat. A$AP Rocky and Cardi B

I’ve talked a lot about bangers on this ranking. I’ve talked about great beats as well as great bars. But this is by far the best banger in the top 20 right now, and it’s not even a contest.

First off, this beat is absolutely STUNNING. It’s menacing in all the right ways, and the percussion especially is top-notch. This just gets me so hyped every time I listen to it. And the people rapping on it all bring their A-game. A$AP Rocky starts with an incredible hook that sticks in your head, and I love it when he says “it ain’t safe” over and over again. Then we get G-Eazy, and while I’ve never really liked a lot of his rapping, this is the best thing he’s ever done. His flow is great and I like his vocal delivery a lot. He’s boring on some songs, but here he’s fun and energetic. Hell, even though I wasn’t a fan of his second verse at first, I actually like it now! My biggest complaints about it were the fact that he referenced “Damn Daniel” and used the R-word, and while I still have a problem with him saying the latter, the Damn Daniel reference is actually funny to me now! It’s just so stupid and unnecessary, but at the same time I can’t help but laugh. The same goes for his bragging about how much sex he has, how he keeps a Costco pack of rubbers in his nightstand, and how he has 300 one-night stands. It’s so stupid that I can’t take it seriously, but that’s why I like it. With all these goofy lines that I enjoy even though I shouldn’t, G-Eazy is like a discount Macklemore. Hey, Macklemore doesn’t have a lot of success right now so we need someone to take his place.

And of course, Cardi B is also on this song. And while I obviously love her, she doesn’t stand out as much when everyone around her is also spitting fire. That being said, of course her verse is still great! It’s fast-paced and bragging, which is her trademark, and I’m all for it. And it ends with her saying “you know me, Cardi B, pussy poppin’ on the charts!” She has every right to brag about her success here. Not even Nicki Minaj was ever this successful.

Of all the rap songs in the top 20 this week, No Limit is by far the best. It has the best beat and the best rappers, and I’m so glad this became a hit. What could possibly be better than this? Well…

2. New Rules by Dua Lipa

And you all thought this would get caught between years!

While everyone was lamenting the fact that this was picking up steam at the wrong time and wouldn’t make a year-end list, I was like “calm down, this will make the top 20 and stick around long enough to make the year-end.” And now it’s in the top 10. What, just because it’s a European hit doesn’t mean it will get big enough? Come on, sometimes America gets it right.

This is just a simple yet amazing pop song that does everything right. The beat is catchy and punchy, but it’s Dua Lipa who’s really makes this song so great. She shines as she sings about the rules she’s made after going through a breakup, and the pre-chorus where she lists those rules is absolutely legendary. The ascending melody works perfectly with Dua’s great voice, and it leads to a perfect payoff when the chorus hits. I especially love the rapid-fire percussion right at the end. And the final pre-chorus is even better because there are extra Dua vocals where she’s belting! If you know me, you know how much I love that. I also love how the pre-chorus is pretty much a meme in this community, and even I got in on the action!

Why did I combine it with one of the worst songs of last year? I don’t know.

And of course the chorus is amazing as well with that repeating noise in the background. I don’t know what that is, but it’s great. This whole song is amazing in every way, and it’s probably the best European hit since Never Forget You. That is high praise indeed. This would have easily topped this ranking if I made it a few weeks ago, but, well…

BEST OF THE BEST

1. Finesse by Bruno Mars and Cardi B

Oh come on, was it ever going to be anything else?

I’ve already established that a) I love Cardi B, b) I love funky throwbacks, and c) Bruno Mars is the king of funky throwbacks. So when the king of throwbacks teams up with the queen of hip-hop, was there any way it WASN’T topping the ranking? Hell no. This was locked into my #1 spot for a while, and it 100% deserves it.

Of course, this is amazing first and foremost because of the throwback feel. While Uptown Funk had a 70’s feel and 24K Magic has an 80’s feel, this has a 90’s feel. More specifically, this is rooted in New Jack Swing, an offshoot of R&B that was popular in the late 80’s and early 90’s. And it’s one of the most unique throwback sounds I’ve ever heard. I’ve never heard a New Jack Swing-inspired song before, and this is amazing! I absolutely love the groove on this. I think it’s the percussion that makes it so groovy, because it establishes the tempo. It’s the main reason why the song sounds this way. Of course there are also those walls of synth that increase the groove and the throwback feel even more, and remind me a lot of 24K Magic. This song just makes me want to get up and dance, which I have done multiple times while listening to this.

But of course it’s the performers that really solidify this song as my #1 on this ranking. Do I even need to explain why Bruno and Cardi work so well here? I don’t, but I will anyway. Cardi starts off the song with her trademark energetic fast-paced delivery that you know I love, and she has some great lines. This one in particular stands out:

Hit that Lil Jon, okay! Okay!

I love the way she says that! She’s not spitting fire here, but she doesn’t have to because this is a pop song. She can have fun here without going hard, and I love that about her.

And then we get Bruno, who’s just having fun like usual. He always has a great vocal delivery, especially on funky throwbacks, and this is no exception. He’s great the whole way through, from the verses to the amazing pre-chorus, to the chorus, and then the bridge which is as amazing as the pre-chorus. I mean, is it even possible for him to not sound cool on a funky throwback? And like Uptown Funk and 24K Magic, this song is all about flexing. He and his girl are flaunting their stuff, and “dripping in finesse,” which even he admits makes no sense! But it doesn’t have to make sense when it sounds this good. Bruno just keeps raising the bar when it comes to funky throwbacks. This is basically 24K Magic in a different time period, just like 24K Magic was Uptown Funk in a different time period. And knowing how much I love 24K Magic and how close it was to topping my 2017 list, then you probably saw this #1 pick coming from a mile away. I don’t care if I’m predictable. I’ll be as predictable as I want when we have hit songs this good.

This top 20 had a lot of good songs. We had hip-hop bangers, great pop songs, and sweet love songs. But there was only one funky throwback, and it came from two of the best artists currently working in the mainstream. This is currently the song to beat for my best hit song of 2018, and I’m interested in seeing what, if anything, can top it.

So this week got a 67/100, which is actually three points higher than my 2017 fall ranking! So 2018 is already off to a great start! I can’t wait to see what we get in the months to come, because if 2018 can be as good if not better than 2017…man, that would really be something.

The Top 20 Best Hit Songs of 2017 (Part 1)

 

It’s finally time for my magnum opus. For now, at least.

I’ll say this right away: 2017 is one of the best years for music in recent memory. I don’t know if it’s up there with 2015 when it comes to memorable songs, and there’s nothing like an “iconic top 5” this year, but by god, there was so much quality this year! But not only was there quality, but there was also variety. You name any genre that showed up on the chart this year and there’s at least one good song from all of them. Pop, rock, hip-hop, R&B, EDM, country, even Latin music all had their time in the limelight, and they’re all making my list. And while 2015 was the first time I expanded beyond a top 10 list, this time I needed to expand even further: I found 20 songs worthy of great praise this year, more than any year since I started making lists. So without further ado, let’s begin!

NUMBER 20

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a song shrink on me this fast.

No, despite me saying it would be on this list in my 2014 video and putting it in the great tier in my fall top 20 ranking, Despacito is NOT on my list. Sure I loved it when it was huge and was happy that Latin music was doing well in the US… but then I realized this was almost exactly like 90 percent of all reggaeton songs. It does nothing to stand out amongst its peers, and not even Daddy Yankee’s adlibs can put it on this list.

…so, what takes this spot instead? Maroon 5. No, really.

20. What Lovers Do by Maroon 5 feat. SZA

Year-End Position: #97

They did it. They finally did it. After years of being mediocre, Maroon 5 actually made a good song.

Adam Levine and Co. have been the punching bags of many music critics over the past few years. People have  called them “bland,” “boring,”, and “sellouts.” Todd In The Shadows has a running gag where he constantly compares them to household objects. And for the most part, I agree. Their music is for the most part bland and uninspired, or at least their hits are. Hell, their previous hits from this year, Don’t Wanna Know and Cold, were both pretty subpar. (Sidenote: a recent non-hit of their that’s actually pretty good is This Summer’s Gonna Hurt. Controversial opinion, I know.) But with What Lovers Do, they finally struck gold.

Of course, they didn’t do it alone. They brought SZA along for the ride. And while I’m not that crazy about her breakout hit Love Galore, I get her appeal. She has a nice voice, and she brings it here. It’s a great contrast to Adam Levine’s weak falsetto.

But I think what really propels the song onto this list is the production. It’s chill and laid back with the main melody being a great complement to both Levine and SZA’s vocal melodies, but especially SZA’s. I especially like the pre-chorus where Levine is at his best vocally, and the second time around it’s even better with the percussion backing it up. It seems weird, but that pre-chorus alone might be the reason why it snuck onto the list. I also really like the bridge, which also has Levine and SZA with pleasant voices as the beat is also subdued. Pretty much any part where Levine doesn’t have a falsetto is pretty good. But with that being said, this production actually makes Levine’s falsetto tolerable in a way! Really, that pleasant melody balances out the annoyingness! How is that even possible?

If you told me during the summer that Despacito would miss my list and be replaced by a Maroon 5 song, I would have called you crazy. But somehow it happened, and while this isn’t a perefect song by any measure, it’s still pretty solid, at least by Maroon 5 standards. Congratulations guys, you somehow managed to capture lightning in a bottle.

NUMBER 19

…and it turns out that Despacito wasn’t the only song that was knocked off the list!

My #19 was originally going to be Black Beatles by Rae Sremmurd, but then I realized that there was a song that deserved to be here a lot more. Don’t get me wrong, Black Beatles is still a good song, but could I really put it here over a country song that’s pretty similar to one of my favorite country songs of the year?

19. In Case You Didn’t Know by Brett Young

Year-End Position: #57

If you follow me on Twitter or have seen Cicabe’s country ranked video from a couple of months ago, then you know how much I love Yours by Russell Dickerson. Long story short, the production and the lyrics combine for a perfect heartfelt song that gets to me every time I listen to it. In Case You Didn’t Know might not be as good, but it still has that same formula that makes it great.

Like Yours, this song is primarily based on gentle guitars and slow-moving percussion, and it uses them both to its full advantage. For me, the best part of the instrumentation are those high-pitched guitar whines that start right after the first chorus and run throughout the second verse. It adds an extra element of sentimentality that not even Yours has, I have to admit. But while the production is great, what really shines here is Brett Young himself.

This is a song where Young is pouring out his feelings to his girl, feelings that he’s kept to himself for a while. And lines like “you had my heart a long long time ago” and especially “I would be lying if I said that I could live this life without you” really bring this relationship to life. And of course there’s also the line “you’re my everything” on the bridge, just to hammer in just how Young feels about this girl. It’s a great set of lyrics to accompany great production. That’s honestly all I need for a song like this.

It’s no secret that I love country, and this song is just another reason why. God I’m a sucker for sappy country love songs. Between this, Yours, and I Don’t Dance, which made my 2014 list, I think I’m starting to compile a wedding song playlist.

NUMBER 18

I’ve mentioned this before, but one trend that popped up a lot in 2017 was how a lot of popstars from the past few years had songs that underperformed. Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, and Lady Gaga all had songs lined up to be big hits, and while some of their songs got big boosts early, they all collapsed and faded from public memory, even if a few did end up making the year-end list.

But there was one popstar who bucked this trend late in the year and delivered a hit song that, while not among her best work, is still worthy of landing on this list.

18. Sorry Not Sorry by Demi Lovato

Year-End Position: #47

I feel like after Demi made Cool For The Summer and Confident, she set the bar pretty high for future music, and from that sense this is kind of a disappointment. But at the same time, it’s hard to recapture the lightning in a bottle that led to those two great songs, so I’ll take what I can get as long as it’s good. And that’s definitely the case here!

First off, the melody is catchy with the snaps, handclaps, and piano, and I really like those robotic “wait a minute” vocals. And it certainly helps that the gospel-sounding chorus reminds me a lot of No Problem by Chance The Rapper, one of my favorite non-hit songs of 2016.

And similar to how No Problem is directed at record labels who might get in Chance’s way, Sorry Not Sorry is a message towards Demi’s haters. When I talked about this in my top 20 fall ranking, I said this was directed at an ex, and while the lyrics definitely make it sound like that, the fact that it’s a message towards her haters actually makes the song better! Lyrics like “payback is a bad bitch” and “you fuckin’ with a savage” are a lot more potent when they’re aimed at people who doubted her rather than at some nameless guy. And as someone who, like I said before, thinks that Demi has made a few amazing songs, this feels very well-earned.

But what puts this song over the top for me is the bridge, where Demi gets to let loose, especially on the second half, and it carries over into the final chorus. Demi has a tendency to let loose on the final chorus of a lot of her songs- again, Cool For The Summer and Confident are the best examples- and while this final chorus isn’t obviously as good, it’s still great, and definitely bumped this song up a slot or two on this list.

Overall this is a fantastic song, and the fact that this became a top 10 hit while a lot of other songs from popstars flopped still amazes me. Here’s to Demi making more great music like this in the future.

NUMBER 17

One problem I had with 2016 was that there were a lot of great songs that just missed being hits. Great heartfelt country like You Should Be Here by Cole Swindell and Record Year by Eric Church, amazing pop/EDM like Sugar by Robin Schulz, the aforementioned No Problem and Confident, and even The Sound Of Silence by Disturbed, a symphonic metal cover of a folk song, all reached the top 50 but couldn’t get enough points to crack the year-end list. Plus there were amazing songs that weren’t even close to being hits like Lush Life by Zara Larsson, Dark Necessities by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, That’s My Girl by Fifth Harmony, Kids by OneRepublic, and Brand New by Ben Rector, which all weren’t able to make it to the mainstream and cross over. And that’s not even counting stuff like country songs that didn’t even make the top 50, like Fix by Chris Lane, Confession by Florida Georgia Line and American Country Love Song by Jake Owen. All in all, it was a terrible year for great songs that just missed being hits, and I for a while I was seriously considering making a top 15 or 20 of the best non-hits of the year.

2017, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have that problem, but there was one song I really liked that looked like it would never become a hit. No music video and it fell off the chart multiple times, but by the power of memes and one of the biggest movies of the year, it somehow stuck around, made the top 20, and became one of the 25 biggest hits of the year. Thank god we all stayed woke.

17. Redbone by Childish Gambino

Year-End Position: #25

Of all the songs on this list, this is the one that I’m happiest became a hit. This is a song that probably wouldn’t have been a hit in other years, but somehow in 2017, it broke through. Even though I wasn’t so crazy about Get Out (it’s not bad, but I’m not a big fan of horror movies), I love how it actually ended up being popular because of those “what Redbone would sound like if X” memes. You know, like “what Redbone would sound like if it was a hit.” I think that’s the best one.

Redbone fits the mold of a song that has appeared multiple times across my lists: the funky throwback. When I think of funky throwbacks, I think of uptempo groovy songs that you can dance to. This is slower, but it’s no less potent. Between the liquid guitar that opens the song and returns for the chorus, the slow-moving drum melody, and what sounds like a xylophone at the back of the mix, this isn’t your standard “funk” or “disco” throwback, but instead leans more towards jazz or even psychedelic rock! How often do you hear that in the mainstream? And of course there’s that killer guitar solo to close out the song that just never gets old, even if it lasts over a minute! And near the end there’s piano accompaniment too! It’s a perfect way to end the song and it makes it even better than it already was. This might be in the running for some of the best instrumentation I’ve heard all year.

And when you add Donald Glover’s gorgeous vocals to the mix, it just gets even better. He sings the entire song in a falsetto, and he really pulls it off well! Especially on the second chorus, he goes into an even higher range and it sounds amazing! If the instrumentation is what makes this song great, than these vocals are the cherry on top of the sundae. Or in the this case, the cherry on top of the peanut butter chocolate cake. With Kool-Aid. I could go for some of that right now.

Even though this song is low on this list, I adore it so much, and I’m so happy that I was able to put it here. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song like this, and I don’t think we’ll ever get a hit like this again.

NUMBER 16

Remember when Todd In The Shadows put Get Lucky atop his best list in 2013 and said this?:

“What a fascinating approach this ‘Daft Punk’ guy has come up with: dance music you can actually dance to! Has anyone told Calvin Harris about this bold new development?”

Four years later and I think Calvin Harris finally got the memo.

16. Slide by Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean and Migos

Year-End Position: #71

It’s funny that I bring up Todd’s 2013 list in regards to Calvin Harris, because I initially had plans to make a best of 2013 list before my 2014 list, and while that was ultimately scrapped, Sweet Nothings was going to be on there. It’s a pretty good with solid production and great vocals from Florence Welch, but I was going to say that this was Calvin Harris’s best song. Back then I thought of Harris as a mediocre EDM producer with no standout gems, so Sweet Nothings was a breath of fresh air for me. But with Slide, he proved me wrong in the best of ways. Heatstroke would probably have been here instead if it was a hit, but this is still a great alternative!

But the thing is, I can’t give Calvin Harris all the credit for why this song is great. Sure the beat is great with the opening piano, the bassline, the high-pitched synths, the percussion, and even the child-like voice that says “I might”. It gives this song a funky sound that’s not really a throwback but it sure does sound like it. And yet, the real standouts here are the performers, Frank Ocean and Migos. (Well, two-thirds of Migos, anyway. Poor Takeoff.) Ocean handles the chorus and the first verse, and his calm voice is perfect for singing about exploring an intimate relationship.

The real standouts here though are Quavo and Offset. I’ve never really liked a lot of Migos’s music, but they brought their A-game here. Quavo’s verse is more melodic, but then Offset comes in with a bit of a darker edge. And yet their bars are all about being in a relationship with a girl. Offset even mentions taking her to Malaysia! Most trap songs have people bragging about having a lot of money, doing drugs, and stealing girlfriends. This is a nice change of pace, and it’s probably the best thing that Migos has ever done.

You know in hindsight, maybe Calvin Harris wasn’t that mediocre of a producer. While making my 2015 and 2016 lists, I realized that How Deep Is Your Love and This Is What You Came For were pretty good, and they both came close to being honorable mentions. But this is by far the best hit he’s ever made, and I hope that he keeps making music like this in the future. Hey, his latest album was called “Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1,” so there’s gotta be a “Funk Wave Bounces Vol. 2” eventually, right?

NUMBER 15

I’ve said in the past that I’m not a big fan of Adele. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like her, it’s just that most of her songs sound boring to me. I love her voice, but I need more than piano ballads out of her. I don’t want stuff like Someone Like You and Hello, I need more songs like Rolling In The Deep and Set Fire To The Rain. Maybe something with real percussion and more instruments than just a piano. You can do that, right Adele?

15. Water Under The Bridge by Adele

Year-End Position: #88

Fun fact: despite this being a hit in the winter/spring, this was actually one of the songs that defined my summer. I heard it a lot driving to and from my summer job because the radio is a sucker for Adele (and really I don’t blame them), and it really got me to like the song. Because make no mistake, this is excellent.

Talk about a return to form. This is by far the bet hit Adele has had since Rolling In The Deep, and might actually be her best hit ever. And thank goodness, because I finally get to talk about why I like her. Her soulful voice is one of the most distinct in music, and has always been her best asset, even on songs that I don’t really like. But here it’s made stronger with powerful production that a lot of her songs lack. Like I said, I need songs from her with percussion, and we definitely get percussion here. It’s present throughout the song and does its job perfectly. But on top of that we also get handclaps, another element you don’t hear in a lot of Adele songs. Plus we even get a fluttering guitar riff! These are all elements that make this song amazing, and combined with Adele’s always powerful voice, it was a shoo-in for this list.

And while most Adele songs are about breakups, this one actually flips the script and is a love song! Yeah, even though the title suggests otherwise, this is a song where Adele is asking her man to commit to a relationship despite the hard times. Adele herself confirmed that this about her husband, saying that “this is the relationship that I want to be in for as long as I can possibly be in it.” Adele has spent most of her career looking back on relationships, but this is once again uncharted territory for her. And I am 100 percent on board.

So yeah, this was a great breath of fresh air from an artist who I’ve been waiting a long time to make a song that I like. Do I expect her to make more songs like this? No, she has more success with her ballads. But can I hold out hope that she can make another song like this or maybe something even better? Absolutely. She is definitely capable of doing it.

NUMBER 14

So I said earlier that popstars didn’t have a lot of success this year, and one of the people I mentioned was Selena Gomez. Bad Liar hit the top 20 but sputtered out and missed the year-end list, and so did Fetish. In fact, that song did even worse, getting a big boost early to #27 but not reaching those heights again. It remains to be seen how Wolves will do, but it could be heading down that same path. Overall, the past 12 months have been particularly rough for her- with one exception.

14. It Ain’t Me by Kygo and Selena Gomez

Year-End Position: #27

Sure, this is technically Kygo’s song and not Selena Gomez’s. But when it comes to EDM songs, it feels like whoever’s singing it has a more important job than the producer. You can have a great beat, but the song won’t be that good if there aren’t solid vocals to back it up. And Selena is a perfect example here.

I think this is actually her best vocal performance I can remember. She’s nice and subtle on the verses, starts to build up, and then really shines on the part before the breakdown. I love when she gets into that upper range, especially on lines like “when you’re drunk and all alone”. It’s not something you usually hear in songs from her, so it’s great for her to do this. It’s also very fitting for the lyrics. It’s a breakup song where Selena is looking back at the good times of the relationship while saying that she’ll no longer be there for this person when they need her. There’s some heartbreak in her delivery, especially on the verses when she’s recalling memories. I’ve always liked songs where you can get certain emotions just by the way a performer is singing, so this is something I really enjoy.

Of course, even though I said that singers have a more important job than EDM producers on most songs, Kygo’s produdtion here is great. A gentle guitar riff opens the song and continues on the verse, as well as with a synth, handclaps, percussion, and a piano on the bit before the breakdown. That’s all you really need here. But of course there’s the breakdown itself, and it’s one of the most unique moments in pop music this year. It takes chopped-up snippets of Selena Gomez’s vocals in a similar way to Gold or Down, but unlike those two songs Kygo knows what he’s doing and pairs it with good instrumentation. The aforementioned piano is great here, and I especially love it when the percussion kicks in, and especially the higher tones that mirror the vocal melody on the final breakdown. And overall this beat is a perfect match for those breakup lyrics I mentioned above. Overall, Kygo and Selena teamed up to make a great song, and it’s just a taste of some of the great EDM we had this year.

NUMBER 13

Controversial opinion time!

13. Believer by Imagine Dragons

Year-End Position: #9

I’ve seen this on a a lot of worst lists, and honestly I get why people hate this song. It could sound obnoxious and annoying to some people, and sometimes I feel that way about it. But at the end of the day, it’s a rock song, and if you know me, there’s no way on earth that I would hate a song that rocks this hard.

This is the first time I’ll bring up my “production over lyrics” mantra on this list (shocking it took so long), because let’s be real, that’s the only reason why this song is on this list. I don’t care what Dan Reynolds is singing about because it sounds pretty abstract, but the beat here kicks all amounts of ass and makes the song sound so much more important than it actually is. Its most distinct feature is that pounding percussion, and I love those times when it gets fast-paced on the verses. And sure there’s a guitar too, but it’s pretty faint. Honestly this song would be a lot better if there was an actual guitar, but as it is, the percussion works wonders to make me like this.

But what really puts this song over the top is how Reynolds sings it. I love right before the chorus when he starts a fast-paced delivery that reminds me a bit of rapping, and that’s followed up by him howling his lungs out on the chorus and it’s amazing! He’s putting his all into it and it just adds to how important this song sounds.

And it all comes together in that incredible final chorus. Those added backing vocals do so much to elevate the song, and this time you can actually hear some electric guitar! It’s a kickass ending to an already kickass song. It’s just the perfect climax, and I can’t get enough of it.

So hate on this song all you want, but there’s no denying that this song ROCKS. It’s not the best rock song of the year, but it’s definitely the hardest. And yet, if you want a song that “rocks” in a different way, well…

NUMBER 12

This song needs no introduction. You should all know why it’s on this list.

12. DNA. by Kendrick Lamar

Year-End Position: #62

When I was a kid I didn’t really listen to rap music. I guess my parents didn’t want me to listen to music with profanity in it, and I grew up thinking that most rap songs were just people cursing a lot. Of course that’s true for some rap songs, but not all of them, and especially not Kendrick Lamar. I shouldn’t even have to explain why he’s one of the best if not the best mainstream rappers working today. His bars are incredible, and this song might be his crowning achievement.

Dear god does Kendrick go hard on this. His delivery is amazing, and his content is on point. He talks about his experiences as a black man, takes shots at haters, and is an all-around badass. The beat is nice too, but you don’t really need to care about a beat when you’re listening to a rapper at the top of his game.

…that is, until the switch-up.

The switch-up is where this song really kicks into high gear. Backed by a clip of news anchor Geraldo Rivera saying “this is why I say that hip hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years” (which….really?) and an electric guitar riff, Kendrick just absolutely loses it, going harder than he has ever gone before, tearing into his haters even more, and now backed by a sample of Rick James yelling “GIMME SOME GANJA!”, which, if I’m being honest, is the best part of the entire song. Even better than Kendrick’s bars. It’s a great sample than I can never get enough of. Sometimes when I listen to it I pay more attention to that instead of listening to the lyrics. When it comes to what 2017 hit has the best final minute, DNA. might be head and shoulders above the competition.

There really isn’t much else to say about this. It proved that Kendrick Lamar one of the kings of the rap world, and the fact that this was a hit despite it not being an official single from DAMN. is absolutely incredible. Yet it’s somehow only #12? Maybe that’s a sign that 2017 really was that good.

And speaking of songs that pretty much everyone has on their best list…

NUMBER 11

It pains me to not put this song in my top 10. It really does. But the fact that it’s this high to begin with is almost a miracle, considering how it goes against a lot of things that I like in a song. Hell, I wasn’t a big fan of it when I first listened to it, and for a while I just thought of it as another “boring piano ballad” for the most part. But then it grew on me and became one of my biggest sleeper hits of 2017.

11. Praying by Kesha

Year-End Position: #67

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: this is not a piano ballad. A ballad implies sadness- think of most of Adele’s songs like Hello and When We Were Young. No, this is a statement. And not just any statement, but one that’s incredibly powerful. I don’t need to go into detail about what Kesha endured with Dr. Luke, but she was very courageous to come back with a song like this.

I’ll admit, this song takes a while to get going. A lot of it does fit that “boring piano” mold that turns me off to a lot of songs, but eventually we get that buildup and it’s absolutely beautiful. It starts late in the second verse with strings, and then it just keeps going until it hits that high point when the pounding percussion kicks in. That’s when you know the song just went from pretty good to amazing. It makes that “boring” part so worth it, because you know that moment of triumph will eventually come. And of course Kesha’s vocals match the instrumentation perfectly, being downplayed on the first verse/chorus/first half of the second verse, intensifying as the second chorus approaches, and then just exploding on that chorus. And of course I have mention that amazing scream right before the final chorus, which I’ve heard described as a “whistle tone.” (Not sure why because it’s not a whistle. Maybe because you can only imitate the high pitch if you whistle? I don’t know.) It’s not as good as Ariana Grande’s scream at the end of Into You, but it’s definitely up there. It’s a moment of release that Kesha definitely earned.

But look, I can’t discuss this song without mentioning the content. Like I said, this is about Kesha addressing Dr. Luke, a man who did terrible things to her. And what I love the most about this song is her maturity regarding the situation. If she decided to let loose and tear Dr. Luke apart, nobody would blame her, and I’m sure most people in her situation would do the same. But she doesn’t do that. Instead, she hopes that he’s praying and that he finds peace. And while going through the lyrics of the song, I found a quote from Kesha that said, “If you feel like someone has wronged you, get rid of that hate, because it will just create more negativity.” The fact that she can say this after what happened to her is remarkable. She admits that she has a lot to say about him, but holds it in, and that is incredibly powerful. Even better is the fact that most of the song is about how stronger she has become in the wake of her ordeal. Instead of focusing solely on Dr. Luke, she focuses on herself and she has grown because of him. She lets loose on other points on her album Rainbow (like Let ‘Em Talk), but here, against that gentle piano, she takes the high road. This is a stunning song that not many people expected after Kesha’s output earlier in the decade, but she absolutely nails what she’s going for. It’s just a gorgeous song in every aspect.

And now that we’re at the halfway point, I’m just going to list a bunch of honorable mentions. I’m not going to say anything about them because this list is top 20 and will already be long, so this will just be a list of songs that I think are good but not good enough for my top 20:

  • Feels by Calvin Harris feat. Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry, and Big Sean (YE: #74)
  • Passionfruit by Drake (YE: #65)
  • goosebumps by Travis Scott feat. Kendrick Lamar (YE: #68)
  • Swalla by Jason Derulo feat. Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign (YE: #85)
  • Black Beatles by Rae Sremmurd feat. Gucci Mane (YE: #19)
  • Hurricane by Luke Combs (YE: #76)
  • The Fighter by Keith Urban feat. Carrie Underwood (YE: #100)
  • Bounce Back by Big Sean (YE: #35)

Alright, now it’s time for part 2 with the cream of the crop: the top 10! I’m posting both parts at the same time, so click here to finish.

The Top 20 Best Hit Songs of 2017 (Part 2)

So after that quick detour, let’s get back on track. Part 2 is underway!

NUMBER 10

I’m sure a lot of people will be surprised with this pick. I haven’t really seen it on any other best lists, and you wouldn’t think that this would be one of the 10 songs that I think is better than DNA. or Praying. But let me make my case.

10. What Ifs by Kane Brown feat. Lauren Alaina

Year-End Position: #72

What can I say? I’m a sucker for good country music.

Unlike songs like Yours and In Case You Didn’t Know, the main reason I like What Ifs is because of the instrumentation. The guitar line that opens the song and plays after each chorus is catchy and sticks in your head (not the catchiest part of the song though, we’ll get to that later), and the drum line on the chorus/bridge is potent and pounding, which is all kinds of awesome. And of course you have that guitar solo on the bridge which is by far the best part of the song! It pushes it over the edge and kicks it into high gear.

And while this song sounds great, it’s the performers that put this song so high on the list. I like the concept of Kane Brown addressing all the potential bad things in his relationship with a girl and dismissing them in favor of good “what ifs” on the chorus. The line that has the most weight is when he suggests he changes her name, which implies marriage. He’s in this relationship for the long haul, which is why he doesn’t want to think about the ways it can go bad. It’s not as overtly sweet as other country songs, but it’s still a nice sentiment which I do like. And I love Brown’s delivery, as his deep baritone helps convey those negative thoughts he’s having about the relationship, before he goes to a bit of a higher range to get to those positive thoughts. And of course there’s Lauren Alaina who gives the song an extra boost by harmonizing with Brown on the chorus, which helps it really stick in your head. Seriously, that chorus is catchy as hell. And I especially like how she’s also committed to this for the long term, which is pretty evident in the second verse. When Brown says “I could kiss you”, she says “you should kiss me,” and when he says “what if you like it,” she says “bet I’d like it.” The feelings are mutual here, and that makes the message even stronger. And it all ends with a great final chorus which is highlighted by them both saying “last first kiss” as the instrumentation cuts out, which makes it a very emotional moment. It’s a great way to cap off this song.

Not only is this the best country hit of the year, but it’s also the best duet I’ve heard in a while. If you’ve slept on it like a lot of people have, then you’re missing out on a great song.

NUMBER 9

This next song is a collaboration between two acts who have logged a combined five songs on my previous best lists, so it should come as no surprise that it’s showing up here. And yet, while I do like what they’ve both done on their own, what they did together in 2017 was truly something special.

9. Something Just Like This by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay

Year-End Position: #5

Coldplay is no stranger to working with EDM producers. When they worked with Avicii they gave us A Sky Full Of Stars, my favorite hit song of 2014. And while working with The Chainsmokers didn’t give us a better song than A Sky Full Of Stars, it still produced something memorable that marked a high point in both of their careers.

This is basically a combination of almost all the Chainsmokers and Coldplay songs that have been on my lists before. It has the drop of Roses and a similar sound to Closer, as well as the uplifting feeling of A Sky Full Of Stars and Hymn For The Weekend. Each group here brought their best talents to this song, and it works so well.

That’s what I like most about this song, just how well The Chainsmokers and Coldplay work together. The Chainsmokers bring their trademark sound which I’ve always liked, using the Closer and Roses formula to give us another great melody. Sure the drop is recycled from Roses, but it uses different notes this time that make it more uplifting to fit with the song, so it’s not completely identical. Plus there’s also the piano that comes right before the drop which is a nice touch. And then there’s Chris Martin, who brings his classic uplifting voice that I’ve always loved. I’ve said before that he always has the perfect delivery for whatever beat he’s on, and here is no exception. He uses a lower tone on the verses, goes a bit higher for the buildup, and then goes all-out on the drop. And while I’m not a big fan of the lyrics (the superhero references are a bit cheesy, I’ll admit), his tone more than makes up for it. Coldplay always has abstract lyrics that are hard for me to follow, so it’s always on Martin to make me interested in his songs, and he delivers yet again.

And just like many other songs that I love, the crowning moment here comes with that buildup and final drop. It starts subtly enough with a piano line and Chris Martin’ going “doo-doo-doo” over and over again, just like before the first drop. But then he repeats the lines from that pre-drop in a higher tone to make it even more uplifting! And then we get an amazing little piano solo before the drop, and when the drop comes, it comes with an ELECTRIC GUITAR! That’s AWESOME! I’ve NEVER heard anything like that before in an EDM song, and it is pretty much the best thing ever. Not even A Sky Full Of Stars had something this uplifting!

Songs like this are the epitome of why I love uplifting music. It just makes me so happy to listen to this. It’s easily one of the best things each group has ever done, and I might even call it the best song The Chainsmokers have ever made, except for…well, stay tuned.

NUMBER 8

So, what beats out an EDM song with a rock group? A funky throwback with a rock group. Duh.

8. Feel It Still by Portugal. The Man

Year-End Position: #45

Even though I’m obviously a huge rock fan, I don’t just love this just because it’s a rock song. No, the main reason why I love this is because of that groove. That catchy-as-hell groove that will get stuck in your head and never leave. It’s absolutely amazing.

Feel It Still establishes its groove right away with that killer bassline, and then we get John Gourley’s really good falsetto that adds to the funkiness. And of course it gets groovier thanks to the percussion, handclaps, and especially the horns on the chorus! I love those horns, and I think they’re the best aspect of the song. Or how about that little guitar riff halfway the second chorus and right before the final chorus? I love that too. This song is also really fun to dance to, which is definitely a bonus.

I guess this is another one of those “production over lyrics” songs for me because the lyrics about being a rebel don’t really connect, especially since Gourley admits that he’s doing it “just for kicks,” so it’s not really that genuine. But like I said, I love his falsetto, so I don’t have to care about what he says as long as it’s sung in an interesting way, which it totally is here.

Not much else to say about this one. It’s just a great little funky throwback/indie song that caters to multiple genres that I love to listen to. I’m so glad this became a hit.

NUMBER 7

Like I said in part 1, Despacito missed this list because it’s just another formulaic reggaeton song that sounds like so many other Latin songs. And it’s a shame that the biggest Latin hit isn’t really that original, because I like Latin songs and want to see more than just typical reggaeton get big. But thankfully, the Latin boom caused by Despacito gave us a hit Latin song that sounded absolutely nothing like reggaeton or any other Latin song that I heard before. And it absolutely ruled.

7. Mi Gente by J Balvin and Willy William

Year-End Position: #50

I think the Radical Douche perfectly summed up why this song is so good when he reviewed it a few months ago: the rhythm. This song is a straight-up banger, and I love every second of it. The annoying goat noises? Yeah they’re kind of annoying but I’ve listened to this song so much that I don’t care anymore. The tambourine? They’re placed in the mix perfectly. The percussion? Dear god, the percussion is great. It’s loud and pounding and gets in your head, which is perfect for this song. I especially enjoy that weird rattling noise on the big blowout. I have no idea what it is, but it’s unique and just keeps the rhythm going.

And then you have the performers, who both sustain this rhythm and make it better. J Balvin and Willy William both have cool and calm deliveries, just riding the flow of the incredible beat. That being said, there are still moments where they get to be wild, like when they reach into their upper range right before the blowout. I especially love the “un, dos, tres, leggo!” right before the blowout, as well as those Pitbull-like hollers before the verses. It hypes up the song and makes it better. And if you translate the lyrics, you’ll find that this song is about how their music makes everyone move, and they’ve absolutely earned the right to say that with this song. This song isn’t perfect, but at the same time I can’t find anything wrong with it. Not even the goat noise. It’s just amazing all-around, and it’s as good if not better than when I put it at the top of my fall top 20 ranking.

I guess I just take some to discuss the Beyonce remix, which is okay I guess. Beyonce sounds kind of awkward singing in Spanish, and I’m not that big of fan of her English verse that was added. Still, it keeps the rhythm of the original intact, so it’s not all bad.

This was exactly the kind of Latin hit we needed after Despacito. Something even better than sounded nothing like it. I’m not sure when we’ll get out next Latin hit, but I hope it’s soon. We need more songs like this to cross over.

Oh, and one more thing: unlike Despcaito, became a hit BEFORE it got a remix with a popular English-language speaker! If that’s not an indication of how big this song really is, then I don’t know what is.

NUMBER 6

And you thought Mi Gente was a banger? That’s nothing compared this next song, because…whoo boy.

6. HUMBLE. by Kendrick Lamar

Year-End Position: #4

I remember when this song came out and everyone was going crazy over it. I never really listened to any of Kendrick’s music, but I knew I had to check it out. And as soon as I listened to it, it was guaranteed a spot very high on my list, because this is easily the best rap song of the year.

It’s funny, I feel like a lot people think DNA. is better than HUMBLE. Of all the best lists I’ve seen so far, HUMBLE. is either lower than DNA. or just isn’t on the list at all while DNA. is. And I like DNA. of course, but to me HUMBLE. is just a better song overall. DNA. might be a bit harder, but HUMBLE. has an actual chorus and great beat. Let’s talk about that beat, because oh boy, it’s a doozy.

The beat here is simple but it works wonders. That revving guitar that opens the track is great, and I just can’t get enough of that minimalist but aggressive piano line, especially when more than one key is played at once. And on top of that there’s that squealing synth that adds to the intensity and makes this beat even harder! It’s just so good, and is by far the best thing Mike WiLL Made-It has ever done. Stop making stuff for Rae Sremmurd and do more of this please!

But Kendrick…oh man does Kendrick rule this song. His bars are fierce and hard-hitting, lashing out at his haters and my god is it amazing! He’s just going all in on his attacks, and bragging about stuff like how Obama pages him! The dude has actually met Obama so this is totally something he can back up! And of course there’s the classic “MY LEFT STROKE JUST WENT VIRAL!” I love the way he says that. But at the same time he’s said that the hook, where says to “sit down” and “be humble” isn’t just directed at his haters, but also back inwards at himself. Kendrick has always had great writing, but to take a swipe at his competition while also applying it to himself is almost next-level. The fact that it’s a message to haters disguised as addressing himself is something not everyone will catch- hell, I didn’t catch it until I read/watched other people’s reviews- but it’s just another example of Kendrick proving that he’s currently the rapper to beat in the mainstream. And with LOVE. now in the top 20, he’s probably earned himself a spot on my best of 2018 list. God damn Kendrick, you just continue to amaze.

NUMBER 5

Fun fact about this next song: it caused me to start using Spotify. No really. Back around December of 2016 when this song was first released, I wanted to check it out based on snippets that I heard. Unfortunately due to copyright, I couldn’t find an official version on Youtube since there was no video yet. Someone suggested I use Spotify, so I listened to it there. And then I listened to it again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again…

5. I Feel It Coming by The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk

Year-End Position: #34

This was my #1 at the beginning of 2017, and while it’s obviously not anymore, the reason why I love it so much remains the same: it’s an upbeat Weeknd song in a MAJOR KEY!

51474538.jpeg

…not that.

The Weeknd has has upbeat songs before, like Can’t Feel My Face, but none this upebat! I mean a lot of his songs sound dark. Earned It? Starboy? In The Night? False Alarm? THE HILLS???? They’re all pretty dark. But this is super upbeat and happy! I’ve never heard anything like this from him before, so this is definitely a breath of fresh air.

And the upbeat feeling definitely extends to The Weeknd’s lyrics, which are about being in a relationship with a girl and how he’ll be there for her despite both of them having bad relationships in the past. Again, this is uncharted territory for him, and it’s very nice to hear. I’m used to hearing him talk about how he’s this “sex god”, bragging, and doing cocaine. But the content, alongside that instrumentation, is a great sound for him. Don’t get me wrong, I obviously like previous Weeknd songs, but this is a great new direction and makes it even better compared to his past work.

And yet he’s not alone on this, as just like Starboy, Daft Punk is here too! And let me tell you, they absolutely steal the show. Their part is short, but it is by far the best part of the song. I absolutely love those robot vocals on the bridge. It adds to the already uplifting mood and makes it even better! It reminds me a lot of the robot vocals they do on Get Lucky, and while they’re not as good here, they’re still really great! It’s one of those elements that turn a great song into an excellent one, and I’m all for it here. It’s just fantastic.

So The Weeknd and Daft Punk are now 2-for-2 when collaborating, and both songs they’ve made together have been amazing. I can only hope they collaborate again in the future and make even better music, because I would really love that.

NUMBER 4

I’ve made it no secret how much I love Bills by LunchMoney Lewis. It’s one of the best songs of 2015 and if it had become a hit, it would have probably made my “iconic top 5” of that year. And while we got a similar-sounding hit in 2016 in Broccoli, it wasn’t nearly as good, and it kind of made me wish that Bills was a hit even more.

But what if I told you there was also a hit song in 2017 that was like Bills, except not because of the instrumentation but because of the lyrics? And there was nothing in it like a Lil Yachty verse to hold it back, making it better than something like Broccoli? It might not seem obvious at first, but let me explain:

4. All Time Low by Jon Bellion

Year-End Position: #75

Think about it: a song about a down-on-his-luck guy lamenting about his situation? That description fits both Bills and All Time Low! Except Jon Bellion post-breakup somehow comes off looking worse here than LunchMoney Lewis does on Bills. While Lewis says how he’s going to “work work work everyday,” Bellion pretty much just mopes for the entire song. By all accounts it should be pathetic, especially with lines like “you’re the reason I’m alone and masturbate.” But I don’t know what to say, this just works, and I think it has to do with Bellion’s delivery.

It’s beaming and honest despite him being at one of his lowest points. He just got dumped by the girl who he thought was perfect for, and now he’s just wallowing in self-pity. If he took this seriously and made it sound sad, then it probably would be pathetic. But I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to take it seriously. It’s supposed to be lighthearted, especially with the organ playing off that percussion and that weird noise on the chorus. This could have easily been a boring piano ballad, but instead it’s a goofy little song about someone who knows he’s pathetic and just needs to get over himself.

See? Even he admits it.

But I think what really makes this song work so well outside of Bellion’s charming delivery is that bridge. It’s a moment where everything slows down and it’s mostly just Bellion’s voice and some faint piano keys. But then it starts building when he says “low” -but then it stops and he sighs. Is this a sign of weakness/sadness or is it him telling himself “toughen up, everything will be okay?” I think it’s the latter, because right after you get a chorus of people saying “low” and then that ascending noise and Bellion shouting “hey!” It’s a moment of release, which to me is him getting over the breakup, especially with the triumphant-sounding chorus that comes right after. It sounds different than the other choruses because he’s now happy instead of sad. I guess this isn’t really a pathetic song after all, but rather a song that sounds pathetic at first but turns around and becomes mature. And after the disaster that was AJR’s The Click, which was clearly trying to imitate Bellion’s sound, this serves as a reminder to why I love stuff like this and twenty one pilots. Because this is fantastic.

NUMBER 3

Best song The Chainsmokers have ever made. Hands down.

3. Paris by The Chainsmokers

Year-End Position: #42

This song is just beautiful in every way. It sounds like what would happen if you took Something Just Like This and combined it with Midnight City by M83. And yes, I know a lot of people have accused The Chainsmokers of “ripping off” that song, but I don’t really see it like that. Sure they sound similar, but I think it’s more like a homage to that song. They’re taking it and turning it into something new, which is great, because I like Midnight City. Is this better though? No, but it’s close.

This song’s strengths lie in how calm it is. I love the gentle keys paired with the percussion on the verse, and I especially love that electric guitar riff that comes in after the chorus. It’s just all really nice and peaceful, and that also applies to Andrew Taggart. The way he sings really adds to the tranquility. They really fit the idea of being young and in love, just like on Closer. Plus there are also great additional vocals from Emily Warren, which are also soft and pleasant. I know I’m just rattling off synonyms for “calm” here, but that’s how the overall mood makes me feel.

But just like Something Just Like This, this song really comes together on that final drop. The buildup is great of course with that electric guitar riff and Warren’s vocals, but the ensuing drop is beautiful. I love that ascending riff in the background, but the horns are even better! It’s not as good or complex as the saxophones at the end of Midnight City, but I just can’t get enough of it. After being calm for the most part, this song all of a sudden sounds soaring and triumphant, and it’s a perfect ending, especially given the content. Paris is about a relationship that not everyone approves of, but the two lovers will be together regardless. And that drop is like a confirmation of that love and how they’ll be together even with the hardships. The Chainsmokers don’t always have the best writing, but this is okay I guess, and their production just makes it a lot stronger. Any great song with a great buildup to its final chorus/drop becomes excellent in my book, and while there were multiple examples of this in 2017, this was by far the best one.

This might not the best hit of the year, but it’s by far the most beautiful. I don’t think I realized how much I loved The Chainsmokers’ hits until this year, because while Closer and Roses are great, Something Just Like This and especially Paris right here are masterpieces. I look forward to seeing what The Chainsmokers make in the future and if they can somehow top this. Because if they can, that would really be something.

NUMBER 2

Bruno Mars somehow made a better version of Uptown Funk. And I still have no idea how that’s possible.

2. 24K Magic by Bruno Mars

Year-End Position: #16

Look, Uptown Funk is a classic. There’s no denying that. It’s a great song that’s in my “iconic top 5” of 2015. But with that being said…24K Magic is better. I really do believe that. It does things that not even Uptown Funk did. Looking back on Uptown Funk, it sounds kind of aggressive and in-your-face. Those horns especially are loud, and they can come off as a little unsettling. 24K Magic’s instrumentation on the other hand just sounds fun all around and is taking you along for the ride, and I’m enjoying every single second of it.

For starters, it begins with one of the most unique sounds you’ll ever hear in a pop song: a talkbox. You thought Daft Punk’s robot vocals were great? Well that’s nothing compared to the absolute joy coming through this guy’s voice. It makes me happy every time I hear it, because I know that it’s only going to get better from there. Because then Bruno comes in, and listening to him is a real treat. And you better believe that there’s great production backing him up. The wall of synth, the pounding percussion, and those high-pitched keys keep the 80s vibe going and make for a great chorus.

And the party keeps coming with the verses. “It’s showtime, showtime, guess who’s back again?” Bruno says, embracing his return. He hasn’t done anything since Uptown Funk, and he knows we’ve been waiting for him to come back with great music, so he makes sure to lets us all know that he’s back with more party jams. He says every line with such swagger, and his backup guys accentuate him with their own great delivery. This is by far the best vocal delivery I’ve heard in a song this past year.  I should also mention the pre-chorus with that ascending alarm sound and the whoops before we go right back into the chorus. It’s a perfect way to hype you up, and it’s one of those buildups that you should know I love. Plus there’s also that little breakdown right before the final chorus that’s all kinds of awesome. God, this song just oozes 80s.

But let’s be honest, the real reason why this song is amazing is because of Bruno Mars. I don’t care that he’s bragging about how much money and cool stuff he has. I don’t care if this is basically brag rap luxury porn that we’ve heard so many times before from rappers. Bruno does it so well that I’m forced to be interested. How can you be jealous of Bruno when he’s making such good jams like this? He can make stupid lines like “got to blame it on Jesus (hashtag blessed!)” sound cool. Only the funky throwback KING can do that! I was expecting a lot from Bruno after Uptown Funk and he blew past all of my expectations. This song is absolutely incredible, and based on that recent Finesse remix with Cardi B, it doesn’t look like the king will be leaving his throne anytime soon.

This is the ultimate funky throwback jam, and for the longest time it was a lock for my #1. But while making this list, I realized that there was a song that deserved that top spot even more than Bruno Freakin’ Mars. What song could that possibly be? Let’s find out.

NUMBER 1

There are some songs that are so good that it’s hard to put into words why I love them so much. Every little musical moment, every lyric, every detail is so perfect that it’s hard to write about it, you just have to listen to it to understand. But my favorite hit song of 2017 is more than just a perfect song. It goes above and beyond the meaning of a “song” and does something that no other song this year, or any recent year for that matter, did. Because while 24K Magic is an amazing piece of music in all aspects, this managed to top it at the last second by being not just a song…but an adventure.

 

 

1. Castle On The Hill by Ed Sheeran

Year-End Position: #40

This song is like a story being told through music. Instead of reading it, you’re listening to it. And just like any good author makes it feel like you’re there in the story they’re telling, you really do feel like you’re there with Ed Sheeran when he’s recalling his childhood memories. The fact that this song was able to do that guaranteed it a high spot on my list, but the way that it does it is what catapulted it all the way to the top.

If I talked about why this song works so well, I would probably need a separate blog post, but literally every moment of this song is perfect. We can start with the big picture, like that fluttering guitar riff that reminds me of the one on Shut Up And Dance (and you all know how much I love that song!) and the steady pounding percussion, which gives this song a great rock edge that some have even compared to U2! There’s no denying this song rocks, and while that could be enough for it to top my list, this song goes the extra mile with all the great little musical cues peppered throughout. There are so many tiny moments that do so much in the grand scheme of things, moments that you might not pick up on first listen and still might miss if you’re not wearing headphones. Like that little high-pitched noise at the end of the intro and after most lines on the verses. Or the backing vocal on the pre-chorus. Or that glorious whoop on the second and last choruses- I love that so much! Or the little guitar riff right before the bridge, which is also amazing. Or that weird noise after Ed Sheeran says “one’s brother overdosed.” Or the great piano line right before the final chorus kicks into high gear. Again, they’re not all things you would pick up when you first listen to it, but once you hear them, you’ll keep hearing them every time you listen to it. They remind me just why I love listening to music, to pick up those small things that make great songs even greater.

But it’s Ed Sheeran that makes this song so special. Like I said earlier, he’s reminiscing on childhood memories, and the detail is stunning. He talks about breaking his leg at age six while being chased by his brother, smoking at age 15 (and I buy Ed Sheeran smoking at a young age more than Lukas Forchhammer!), his first kiss, drinking, etc. I love story-driven songs, and the narrative here is one of the best I’ve heard since…hell, maybe Drunk On A Plane. And Ed’s delivery is breathtaking for this material. I can tell it’s genuine because these are his own memories that he’s going through, and his belting on the chorus is truly something to behold. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love how he says “miss the way”. Or his hollers of triumph at the end of the second and final choruses. And like the instrumentation, there are little touches that make it that much better. The one that stands out to me most is how you can hear his British accent on the “a” in “castle”. I don’t know why, but I really like that! Also the bridge in particular really stands out, as he talks about what his old friends are going through now, and it’s not all happy. One’s divorced, one’s brother is dead of an overdose, one’s struggling to get by… but they’re still all part of who he his, and it really makes the line “I can’t wait to go home” a lot more meaningful. He’s rich and famous now, and while his friends weren’t that lucky, he still yearns to go back. Because no matter where you go and what you do in your life, you need to remember where you come from, and that message is all the more powerful here.  Like I said, it’s a story being told through music, and Ed is our narrator. And what a narrator he is.

Castle On The Hill might not have a great buildup and final chorus like Praying, Something Just Like This, All Time Low, or Paris. It might not be a banger like DNA., Mi Gente, or HUMBLE. It might not be a ton of fun like 24K Magic. But this is the most cathartic and satisfying song for me to listen to this year. It takes me through a lot of emotions, which is exactly what a song like this is meant to do. And while it took me until the last minute to recognize it, it’s the best hit song of 2017. What a perfect song to top this amazing year.

I’m Jordan The Music Man and my winter top 20 ranking should be next month. See you then!

The Top 15 Best Hit Songs of 2016

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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!

NUMBER 15

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.

NUMBER 14

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

Why?

Put that dick up in her pussy, man she feel it in her toes

Ew.

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.

NUMBER 13

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?

NUMBER 12

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.

NUMBER 11

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.

NUMBER 10

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…

Oh wait.

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.

NUMBER 9

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.

NUMBER 8

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.

NUMBER 7

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!

NUMBER 6

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.

NUMBER 5

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.

NUMBER 4

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.

NUMBER 3

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.

NUMBER 2

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

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…

NUMBER 1

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!