2016: A top 50 roundup of the best bangers in the pop world
Look, 2016 has been a crap year in general. But, one thing that hasn’t been crap is pop music. Well done, 2016, for that. Let’s look at the fifty best pop songs of the year by counting them down from 50 to 1.
BUT BEFORE WE DO THAT, let’s anger ourselves with a reminder of two songs that should have been singles this year but for some godforsaken reason weren’t.
Ellie Goulding – Lost & Found
What a complete nosedive the Delirium campaign turned out to be. And the reason why? This song wasn’t released as a single. I was holding out for 12 months to see if it would happen and nothing. Nothing at all. I’m disappointed.
Selena Gomez – Sober
Right, Selena, y’know, get well soon and everything but also extend the Revival era and just chuck this out as a single. Please? Also, pre-warning that ‘Hands to Myself’ will not feature because I already featured it in last year’s countdown; if it WAS featured in this list, it would be the second best song of the year.
OKAY, let’s get to the good things about pop music this year.
50. Foxes – Cruel
A standout (along with the timeless ‘Body Talk’) on an album that just about wins by being consistently six-and-a-half out of ten.
49. Florrie – Real Love
What a chorus.
48. Margaret – Cool Me Down
The second-best song of the year with ‘cool’ in its title, but the best song of the year where said ‘cool’ means to make something less hot.
47. ZAYN – Like I Would
The “he”s are genius.
46. Drake – One Dance (feat. Wizkid & Kyla)
A song by an artist.
(As much as I dislike Drake, it’s hard to deny the ubiquity of this song this year)
45. Kiiara – Gold
A spaciousbanger if there ever was one, technically this is a 2015 song but, y’know, it was sent to radio and got a video this year so I’m going to count it.
44. MNEK – At Night (I Think About You)
The “I. CAN’T. GET. NO. SLEEP AT NI-IGHT” bit in the final chorus is magnificent. Also, it’s the third-best MNEK-produced song of the year.
43. Charli XCX – Vroom Vroom
My favourite thing about this song is that it just sounds like three or four separate songs hectically cobbled together in a clusterfuck of synth.
I love it.
42. Allie X – Old Habits Die Hard
The most sonically complex song of the year, I don’t really know what happens – musically – from the verses to the chorus but I do know that it is euphoric.
41. Flume – Never Be Like You (feat. Kai)
The perfect ratio of sprinkly to wobbly synth.
40. Nick Jonas – Under You
“Really? This ‘Style’ rehash – and from Nick Jonas of all people?!” I hear you say, as your eyes roll back, but HEAR ME OUT. Taylor Swift’s ‘Style’ is an I’ve-knocked-it-out-the-park perfect pop song; therefore, any good attempt at re-doing it is automatically at least a seven out of ten. This is an eight. It’s also the fourth-best Max Martin song of the year.
39. Little Mix – Shout Out to My Ex
It’s not exactly the most innovative Little Mix song, but that doesn’t even matter given how much they know their way around a chorus. I’m also very much buckled in for ‘Touch’ to dominate Q1 of 2017.
38. Olly Murs – You Don’t Know Love
This song was released on the 8th July 2016. Five months on, searching ‘you don’t know love run away with me mashup’ on YouTube still yields no results. Quite frankly, I’m disappointed. The fact it has the same time signature as – and overall feel of – Jeppo’s ‘Run Away With Me’ is probably why it’s one of the best Olly Murs singles.
37. Christine and the Queens – Tilted
Mesmerising. The pop star that the mainstream needs.
36. AlunaGeorge – I’m In Control
This years’ ‘Cool for the Summer’. It set a high expectation for the subsequent album seemingly out of nowhere only for us to be left disappointed. Oh well, we’ll still have this and ‘Mean What I Mean’.
35. The 1975 – The Sound
The second-best The 1975 song of the year.
34. Charli XCX – After the Afterparty (feat. Lil Yachty)
If this song was a person, it’d be that kind of person purveying a “don’t write me off just yet, you haven’t seen the last of me; I promise I’m good!” attitude. A lovely grower.
33. The Weeknd – Starboy (feat. Daft Punk)
A very welcomed and poppy return for The Weeknd, who’s given us one of the best albums of the year. The last 45 seconds of this, where the entire production crescendos, is quite something.
32. Britney Spears – Slumber Party (feat. Tinashe)
Mattman & Robin on the production? Check. Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels on the songwriting? Check. An established pop megastar on the vocals? Check. An up-and-coming or they-should-be-bigger pop star as a featured guest? Check. That, my friends, is how you do a pop song in 2016; and WHAT a result.
31. Tove Lo – True Disaster
This song has everything in it – and has been perfectly produced – for it to be Tove Lo’s Best Song Ever, but that’s exactly why it isn’t. It’s objectively amazing, but it’s also missing the idiosyncrasies that made me fall in love with Tove Lo in the first place. This also sounds like it would be The Big Single from Queen of the Clouds, and consequently almost sticks out on Lady Wood, but nevertheless, it’s fantastic.
30. Zara Larsson – Ain’t My Fault
The number one that never was this year; the general public, wrongfully, didn’t catch on as much as I’d hoped for. God forbid we have a young, fresh pop star who a) has a very good voice b) is very good at being a pop star (you can tell she genuinely looks up to and studies performances of Beyoncé) and c) is very confident in the knowledge that they have points a) and b). Are you happy with yourselves ‘the general public’? It’s also the second-best MNEK-produced song of the year.
29. Shura – What’s It Gonna Be?
Well, Shura, I’ll tell you what it’s going to be: one of the most light, airy, joyous, forget-all-your-worries pop songs of the year.
28. Matoma & Becky Hill – False Alarm
“I heard sirens in my head from the first time that we met / Thought it was a false alarm” is effortlessly beautiful.
27. KDA – Just Say (feat. Tinashe)
Why, when this has literally every ingredient for the recipe to a number one single, was this not a number one single?
26. twenty one pilots – Ride
Reggae-pop can be quite stellar when executed properly, and twenty one pilots, along with producer Ricky Reed, do it perfectly. It has the correct choice of synths and the correct structure all whilst still feeling like a twenty one pilots song. Well done, everyone.
25. Fifth Harmony – That’s My Girl
The ‘bestworst’ video of the year. Also, if you find yourself walking in a crowded place, or you’re a slower-than-usual walker, this song is perfect to strut to the beat of; a walkbanger.
24. Adele – Water Under the Bridge
Listen, Adele, if you don’t perform this at the Grammys as a massive send off to the 25 era, we’ll be having words. Literally, the best single she’s released; and it would have been around 20 places higher on the list if there was a key change into the last chorus.
23. Rihanna – Work (feat. Drake)
The Rihanna song it turns out that we needed, and the most obvious single from the album of the year. It’s also now a life goal to sound as sultry-but-bored as she does in the chorus. The second-best apathybop of the year.
22. Rihanna – Needed Me
“Needed Me” really does sound like one of those songs that needs a slow-mo-all-the-way-through video, doesn’t it? It kind of emulated this in the charts, becoming her longest-charting hit ever in the USA.
21. Clean Bandit – Rockabye (feat. Anne-Marie & Sean Paul)
A song that is thematically and sonically like Ace of Base’s ‘All That She Wants’ is automatically a very good song. Also, it’s the second-best Sean Paul-featuring song of the year.
20. Sia – Cheap Thrills (feat. Sean Paul)
The best Sean Paul-featuring song of the year.
19. Taylor Swift – New Romantics”
No. No, I’m not going to add the video here, because you know what? It’s a fucking shambles.
‘Out of the Woods’ underperforms so they hurriedly rush the second-best 1989 track out as a single. Amazing! It’s released at the end of February for a good Spring smash. Fantastic! It’s getting a video. Fabulous! Then it arrived. A tour video A bloody tour video. Where was the castle made out of all the fucking bricks they threw at you, Taylor? Hm?
Great song, though. It’s the third-best Max Martin song of the year.
18. CL – Lifted
Why Wasn’t This Song a Worldwide Number One? A novel, by me, arriving in Q1 2017 – not too dissimilar from what I want CL to do.
17. Sia – The Greatest (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
One of the most important videos of the year.
16. Carly Rae Jepsen – Boy Problems
I could write a dissertation on my anger for Carly Rae Jepsen’s E•MO•TION – and its singles – not being globe-conquering pieces of history, reluctantly backing it up with feasible explanations as to why. Banger, though.
15. The Knocks – Love Me Like That (feat. Carly Rae Jepsen)
“I hear thunder in the distance / And it hits me in an instant” Y’know, I really would have liked that line to have been a microcosm for the general public’s welcomed positive reaction to this song, turning it into a massive hit but YOU CAN’T WIN THEM ALL, CAN YOU?
14. Flume – Say It (feat. Tove Lo)
Tove Lo’s ability to construct and subsequently command a song over this exquisite, wonky production is probably the best we’ve seen this year, given 2016’s penchant for weak-and-limp-vocals-over-a-shitty-instrumental (I’m looking at you, ‘Alan Walker’).
13. Ariana Grande – Dangerous Woman
As much as I love it, I’m so very glad that ‘Focus’ underperformed for Ariana Grande. It caused her and her team to forcefully press the red button and go into panic mode. “Okay, right, guys, don’t fret let’s just go back to the studio and get something out there that’s the complete sonic opposite of ‘Focus’!” To be honest, that turned out to be the best decision of her career. A massive, arena rock, 6/8 time signature curveball in the Grande machine, it inadvertently restarted the momentum of her as a pop entity. Specifically crafted for her to sing live, it began the slow-burning Dangerous Woman era with some solid live performances, and it’s only going to age beautifully. Sexy, sultry, clever; it’s the best single choice of Ariana Grande’s career. It’s also the second-best Max Martin song of the year.
12. Beyoncé – All Night
Quite simply, one of the best things Beyoncé has ever done.
11. The 1975 – Somebody Else
Quite simply, a masterpiece.
10. Dua Lipa – Hotter Than Hell
Dua Lipa’s secret weapon and big “hi! I’m here, I’ve arrived and I kicked your door down in the process, sorry about that!” moment. A tropical-esque song that managed to take the best bits of tropical house and shove it into a massive pop song, Dua ‘Dua’s my first name, Lipa’s my surname’ Lipa makes this her own. The almost-forced voice crack on “he-ell” is so emphatic. What a woman.
9. Tove Lo – Cool Girl
The best song of the year with ‘cool’ in its title and where said ‘cool’ means to not be in a frolic. The kick into the last chorus from the middle 8 is one of my favourite moments of the year. It’s also the best apathybop of the year.
8. Rihanna – Kiss It Better
Guitar-riffbanger of the year.
7. Usher – Crash
Minimalbanger of the year.
6. The Weeknd – I Feel It Coming (feat. Daft Punk)
The intro of this song, sounding like it’s underwater only to surface for the verse, is rather amazing. It’s a case of less is more here; the production is light and airy and – AND – it has a syncopated bass line. Amazing. I feel like this song will age gracefully.
5. MØ – Final Song
Somewhere, on an Earth in a parallel universe, this song was globally hailed as the Song of the Summer. It’s the most elegantly produced song this year. Much like ‘Hotter Than Hell’, I love a pop song that says its title just before the chorus as the production cuts out, only to pulse back in for the actual chorus. The little snare just before the drop is genius. It’s also the best MNEK-produced song of the year.
4. Allie X – That’s So Us
The most euphoric, romantic cringefest of the year. On paper, some of the lyrics make you want to throw up (“We make peppermint tea / And watch Space Odyssey”), but listening to it, and listening to how incongruous the melodies and rhythms are to the production – an Allie X staple – makes you want to cry tears of synth. It somehow encapsulates that “don’t worry, we’ll be alright” feeling in three and a half minutes and it’s glorious.
3. Dua Lipa – Be the One
The two songs above this one can be mathematically analysed to demonstrate how much of a good song they are. This doesn’t need to be. “Be the One” just generates that feeling inside you that you get when listening to a good song but can’t really explain what it is or why you’re getting it – and that’s all there is to it really. A structurally perfect, lyrically perfect and generally perfect pop song.
2. Fifth Harmony – Work From Home (feat. Ty Dolla $ign)
This song just has every ingredient for an absolute banger. Space in the production? Yep. The word ‘work’? You bet. A shitty-but-kind-of-catchy rap breakdown from a rent-a-verse rapper? Check. A great video? Literally one of the best videos of the year. Performed by a girl group? Yes. Drama between said girl group about rumours of dislike between them? YES.
It’s a shame that Fifth Harmony have seemingly found their sound as the band starts to crumble apart. But, y’know what, this song exists and is readily available to play, so let’s bask in it for years to come.
1. Ariana Grande – Into You
*breathes* where do I even begin with this song?
Maybe it’s the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it intro which actually makes you think “hang on, this lasts for literally a second, therefore I know that I have four minutes of genius song ahead of me”.
Maybe it’s the first line: “I’m so into you / I can barely breathe”. It’s not only an astronomical pop line in itself, but it also introduces the song title, the chorus hook of the song (but an octave lower to keep you surprised when the chorus comes around) and – AND – the rhythm of said hook, prepping your familiarity with it. That’s all in the first line – we’re literally eight seconds in and it’s already genius.
Maybe it’s the verse production, which comprises songwriter Savan Kotecha and producers Ilya Salmanzadeh and Max Martin (it’s the best Max Martin song of the year fyi) going “ha ha-ha / ha haaa ha” in the studio and shoving it through a synthesizer to make a gritty synth sound. Genius.
Maybe it’s the fact said synth sounds sound like they’re underwater in the verses but sport an unprocessed, breathier version of themselves for the chorus to emulate surfacing from said water. Genius.
Maybe it’s the fact that the bass in the pre-chorus literally rises when she says “the temperature’s rising in here”. Genius.
Maybe it’s the fact the bass in the chorus only ascends, building up anticipation only to leave you hanging as it drops back into the verses. Genius.
Maybe – MAYBE – it’s the middle eight. Remember the “ooo OO oo ooooo”s from the pre-chorus that occur after she says “been waitin’ and waitin’ for you to make a move”? Yeah, they form the basis of the chords of the middle eight, except they’re on the beat and not syncopated. Genius.
Maybe it’s the “SO. COME. LIGHT ME UP.” and all of its sister parts which, quite frankly, are genius.
Maybe it’s the final part of the final chorus where every sodding layer of this beautiful song are shoved together in one glorious and gargantuan ending to end all other pop song endings. Genius.
Or maybe it’s the fact that Ariana herself sings the shit out of it. Whistle notes? Low range in the verses to mirror the production? No probem. Genius.
It’s an anthem you can’t not dance to. It also sounds at peace with itself knowing that songwriter, producer and artist have all creatively merged to produce a technical masterpiece.
You know what, as much as I wanted it to be an earth-shattering record-breaking number one song, I’m glad it underperformed by Ariana’s standards. It’s kept it a bit special and hasn’t allowed itself to become overexposed. But really, when it all boils down, it does that thing that all pop songs should do: make you feel fucking awesome.