Here’s a sign of the times for you: We’re still a couple weeks away from cleaning up bottles on New Year’s Day, and year-end list season has already been in full swing for what feels like forever. The media’s annual pop-culture recap ritual progresses, how do you say, muy despacito. Lucky for you, that’s what I like! Cataloguing the year’s greatest pop singles sets my feelings on fire, and I’d be a bad liar if I told you otherwise. So push me to the edge of the calendar and let’s cut to the feeling: It’s time to put our rose colored glasses on and turn up our favorite songs from 2017 one more time, just in case these hoes forgot. (Regarding this entire first paragraph: Sorry, I’m not sorry.)
Stereogum’s other genre-centric year-end lists have focused on albums, but the single has always been pop’s predominant form. Granted, the pop mainstream usually yields a few album-length stunners, and this year it even produced our staff’s pick for the best album of 2017. Besides our Lorde and serenader Ella Yellich-O’Connor, several other pop artists came through with compelling LP- or EP-length statements this year. Depending on how far you want to stretch the boundaries of “the pop mainstream” — more on that in a moment — a list of the year’s best pop albums and mixtapes might include SZA, Kendrick Lamar, Khalid, Calvin Harris, Kesha, Halsey, Drake, Harry Styles, Demi Lovato, Julia Michaels, Lil Uzi Vert, Paramore, Migos, Future, Kehlani, WizKid, Cashmere Cat, Pink, Dua Lipa, Charli XCX, and, yes, Taylor Swift.
But pop music ultimately lives and dies by the single. It is the currency by which household names and treasured memories are made. Pop has historically been sold and experienced one tune at a time, first via 7″ records, then MP3s, then a vast network of streaming services, with terrestrial radio blaring hit after hit all the while. And when we look back on the pop music of 2017, as with any other year, those pervasive and magnificent individual tracks are what we’ll remember most. So as in 2014, 2015, and 2016, I’m closing out this column for the year with a list of its finest pop singles.
A word about my methodology: subjective. A few more words about it: This list represents an extremely loose and personal concept of what constitutes pop music. I’m erring on the side of mainstream ubiquity, but as discussed earlier, it’s hard to say what even qualifies as mainstream anymore. I’ll have more on that ongoing metamorphosis in January when I publish my annual State Of Pop Address. In the meantime, for this list’s purposes, anything that was a staple on top-40 radio is automatically eligible. So is anything that got close to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and songs that were huge on Spotify, Apple Music, et al — all of which leaves a lot of leeway for rap and R&B.
Country, which mostly seems to exist in its own vacuum-sealed universe, barely factored into this column this year, so I left it off this list. I also left out “indie” pop, partially because aside from St. Vincent I can’t think of too many worthy contenders in that field this year. As for mainstream-adjacent figures like Lana Del Rey and Frank Ocean, I included them when I felt like it, arbitrarily yet somehow also with exact correctness. Ultimately, you know pop when you hear it, which is why Kendrick Lamar’s #1-charting “HUMBLE.” cracked this list while the arguably superior #4-charting “DNA.” did not. I also made room for songs that were technically released in 2016 but made a big impact this year.
The resulting list is a time capsule of 2017 pop, curated for good taste’s sake — the inescapable minus the insufferable. You’ll encounter a lot of the year’s defining tracks, but many massive hits are excluded, sometimes at the expense of stellar deep cuts or brilliant singles that never really caught on. The point I’m trying to drive home is that you should understand this list as an organized splatter of the songs that made pop music feel like a worthwhile pursuit this year, from the perspective of a person who beheld the medium’s highs and lows on a weekly basis. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive portrait of pop music in 2017. Like Lorde’s own personal memory reel, it’s just a supercut.
40. Katy Perry – “Chained To The Rhythm”
Katy Perry was undone this year by trying too hard, and some might argue the failure extends to her album’s lead single, a chillwave-meets-dancehall social conscience anthem that seems to be critiquing itself. But the confused self-conscious wokeness that sunk Witness can’t derail this tune’s compulsive keyboard undercurrent and sneakily persistent hook. It’s a case of the pop songwriting machine generating a single that’s both weird and good.
39. Chris Jeday – “Ahora Dice” (J. Balvin, Ozuna, & Arcángel)
A billion views and counting on this Latin pop posse cut extraordinaire, and it’s easy to see why. This is the same sort of dazed, melancholy trap-pop that has made Post Malone one of the biggest stars in music, except executed with a vivacious flair Post rarely demonstrates on the mic. The way each vocalist floats across those subtle electronic pulses is hypnotic.
38. Dua Lipa – “New Rules”
This British #1 hit cemented the stardom of a promising new pop star by making sober, sound advice feel like brazen, irresponsible fun.
37. French Montana – “Unforgettable” (Feat. Swae Lee)
Bet against the sun coming up tomorrow before you bet against French Montana’s streak of appearing on magnificent songs on which he is by far the worst part.
36. Tove Lo – “Disco Tits”
Blue Lips was a surprising downer, but at least we’ll always have this druggy disco-house bacchanal from another dimension.
35. Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee – “Despacito” (Feat. Justin Bieber)
There are statistical arguments for “Despacito,” which dominated the summer and tied the record for most weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. And there is a sentimental case for recognizing a Spanish-language success story at a time when our current administration seems set on antagonizing that population. But really the only metric you need to appreciate this gleefully explicit reggaeton love ballad is the sonic pleasure its every downbeat induces.
34. SZA – “Love Galore” (Feat. Travis Scott)
There was no better vocal performance this year than SZA’s voice spiraling across these dissipating keyboard clouds.
33. Khalid – “Location”
When “Location” first dropped in September 2016, it was not clear what a powerhouse Khalid would become — that he’d be one of the most in-demand collaborators in pop, that his debut album would linger in the top 10 for months, that he’d snag a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist and actually deserve it. This much was clear, though: His voice was imbued with strength and wisdom beyond his years. His approach defied genre with a fluidity fit for this day and age. And he was bringing a classic songwriter’s touch to the reference points of a new generation in gorgeous and understated fashion.
32. Camila Cabello – “Havana” (Feat. Young Thug)
In a year when Latin pop broke through to an English-speaking audience for the first time in a while, one of the English-speaking pop universe’s rising stars scored her signature hit by leaning hard into her Cuban heritage. The sizzling, swaying “Havana” was a winner even before it got an instant-classic music video. It’s also an extremely weird backdoor way to get Young Thug a #2 hit single.
31. Camila Cabello – “OMG” (Feat. Quavo)
On the same day Cabello released “Havana” she shared “OMG,” a trap-pop behemoth that should have become just as big a hit. It made better use of Quavo than almost any non-Migos track of 2017, and the electric way both singers exclaim “Oh my God!” reminds me how exhilarating budding infatuation can be.
30. Harry Styles – “Sign Of The Times”
Named after a Prince opus and inspired by Bowie classics, Harry Styles’ debut solo single was a grandiose rock ‘n’ roll piano ballad that absolutely soared.
29. Julia Michaels – “Issues”
Against a background so spare and featherweight it barely exists, songwriter extraordinaire Julia Michaels properly launched her career as a performer by singing insightfully and evocatively about the insecurity that threatens to undermine a romance. It’s fragile and catchy and brutally real.
28. J Balvin & Willy William – “Mi Gente (Remix)” (Feat. Beyoncé)
Beyoncé is impressive here, rapping in three separate languages and all, but don’t lose sight of Willy William’s insane drill-noodle rhythm bomb or J Balvin demonstrating the talent and charisma that made him one of the biggest pop stars in the world.
27. Taylor Swift – “…Ready For It?”
Even after months of normalization, the crushing bass bombs and problematic faux-Caribbean rapping are still a weird look for Taylor Swift. That chorus, though! And that bridge! Even if the best pop songs feel natural, as if an entire impeccable production just materialized out of nothing, sometimes trying extremely hard gets you somewhere too.
26. Taylor Swift – “New Year’s Day”
The Old Taylor lives, and thank God!
25. Halsey – “100 Letters”
It’s practically impossible to follow the narrative on Halsey’s Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, but for three and a half minutes I’m entirely swept up in the world she’s created and emotionally invested in its protagonist. “100 Letters” is a stirring opening statement with a solid-gold chorus that might just become her first solo #1 if she ever gets around to releasing it as a single.
24. Bruno Mars – “That’s What I Like”
Any song off 2016’s joyous and immaculate 24K Magic would be a lock for this list if it had much of an imprint in 2017. The bouncing, snapping “That’s What I Like” is just the one that happened to hit #1 this year.
23. Selena Gomez – “Bad Liar”
— DavidByrne.com (@DBtodomundo) May 18, 2017
22. Drake – “Passionfruit”
More Life was Apple Music’s most-streamed album of 2017 — hmm — but after dominating 2016, Drake seemed largely absent from this year’s pop landscape once the “playlist” project’s spotlight moment gave way to DAMN. Still, “Passionfruit” stayed with me, its heartbeat pulse and weeping synths and gently cooed melodies adding up to a recurring soft-rock dream I was always happy to relive.
21. SZA – “The Weekend”
This woozy, melancholic, sultry, complicated R&B slow jam sounds good seven days a week. I look forward to 40 flipping this into a really good Drake loosie someday, too.
20. Kesha – “Praying”
A piano-laden reckoning of this ilk is really the only way Kesha could have announced her comeback from all she’s been through, and “Praying” powerfully fulfills that purpose. It’s one of those cases where a song is elevated by knowing its background, yet I have to imagine it’s an emotional wrecking ball even if you aren’t familiar with her battle against Dr. Luke. By getting inspirational pop balladry exactly right, it does justice to the weight of a very ugly situation.
19. Calvin Harris – “Rollin” (Feat. Future & Khalid)
Khalid released a promising debut album this year and generated a whole second album’s worth of music by collaborating with seemingly anyone who asked. Among the fresh wealth of songs in his young discography, none communicate his talent like this sweltering summertime funk-rap jam about coping with a bad breakup by cruising the highway to nowhere.
18. Demi Lovato – “Sorry Not Sorry”
Even the firmest gospel-pop foundation will not stop Demi Lovato from blowing your house down every time.
17. DJ Khaled – “Wild Thoughts” (Feat. Rihanna & Bryson Tiller)
That thumping “Maria Maria” bass alone was enough to make “Wild Thoughts” one of 2017’s greatest bangers. Never mind that it also has Rihanna selling every syllable, imbuing repeated words like “wild” and “naked” with colorful inflection and confidence beyond belief. Bryson Tiller is also present.
16. Lil Uzi Vert – “XO Tour Llif3″
Let me be the umpteenth person to point out that it says a lot about this year and this generation that one of 2017’s great sing-along anthems is built around the hook, “Push me to the edge/ All my friends are dead.” But it also says so much about Uzi’s charisma that “XO Tour Llif3,” in spite of its grim subject matter, brims with irrepressible life.
15. Kesha – “Woman”
Hear her roar.
14. Future – “Mask Off”
It is impossible to hear this song without whipping my head back and forth and bouncing up and down in my chair. Yet the song that incites this physical reaction is subtle, overlaying its steady booming undercurrent with a ballet of sorts between Future’s wizened croak and Metro Boomin’s wispy flute loop. As addictive as the drugs that probably fueled its creation.
13. Lorde – “The Louvre”
On much of Melodrama we see the wreckage that can result from passionate youthful romance, but “The Louvre” reminds us what giddy, intoxicating wonders can come of it too: both earthbound delights such as lovingly fixating on p-punctuation use and flights of fancy such as imagining an entire dance floor grooving to the sound of your racing heartbeat. In a sense, that fantasy becomes reality every time Lorde performs this song live.
12. Kygo & Selena Gomez – “It Ain’t Me”
Here we have a tropical house prince and an ascendent pop icon teaming up to achieve the impossible: artfully merging festival folk-rock and low-key EDM into musical manna. “It Ain’t Me” flashes back to bar-hopping nights and hung-over mornings, and fittingly you can imagine a whole room of drunken revelers belting out its chorus together. It also must be noted that this is the best song the on-again, off-again Justin Bieber-Selena Gomez romance has yielded yet.
11. Frank Ocean – “Chanel”
It has become a critical cliché to praise an artist for embracing their contradictions. Personally I reject the notion that such contradictions are inherently interesting or praiseworthy, but damn, they added up to magic in the case of this generational talent who sees both sides like Chanel.
10. Julia Michaels – “Uh Huh”
In which a songwriting prodigy-turned-rising pop star delivers a single so contagiously ecstatic that Rebecca Black tried to steal it outright.
9. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Cut To The Feeling”
Two years later, one final argument in praise of E•MO•TION: Carly Rae Jepsen’s modern classic was so stacked that they couldn’t find room for this enraptured blast of fresh air.
8. Cardi B – “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)”
“Bodak Yellow” hitting #1 was the most delightful underdog success story of 2017 until Doug Jones came along. Suffice it to say you can’t fuck with her if you wanted to.
7. Lorde – “Green Light”
An overture for one of this year’s true masterpieces, brilliantly tracing the steps from rage to rhapsody and making you feel every emotion along the way. Personally, I love that the first verse doesn’t rhyme.
6. Migos – “Bad And Boujee” (Feat. Lil Uzi Vert)
Was it really only 11 months ago, that week when Donald Glover shouted out Migos at the Golden Globes and “Bad And Boujee” completed its rise to #1? Yah yah yah yah yah! Since then Migos have become obscenely ubiquitous pop guest stars, and Uzi is looking like hip-hop’s latest nucleus. Much of that reach can be attributed to this song, a subtly addictive Metro Boomin slow-creep blessed by three rising stars who sound like they’re having a blast.
5. Lana Del Rey – “Love”
With its hooky straightforwardness and lovestruck sentimentality, I was certain Lana Del Rey’s best song since “Video Games” would also be her first to break through at radio since “Summertime Sadness.” It didn’t happen, but “Love” will still be a showstopper at Del Rey’s live show for the rest of her career.
4. Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.”
The moment Mike Will Made-It’s beat dropped like a piano on hydraulics, it was clear Kendrick Lamar was back on a world domination campaign. By the time he shouted “My left stroke just went viral!” it was clear that campaign would be successful. And once he was telling us to sit down and be humble, it was obvious just how deliriously fun the Kung Fu Kenny era would be.
3. Charli XCX – “Boys”
Instead of emojis, I need a string of visualized video game sounds to express my appreciation for Charli XCX’s ode to daydreaming about dudes. In the absence of such technology, the track’s genius music video will have to suffice.
2. Lorde – “Supercut”
In the movie that is Melodrama, this is the scene where our heroine emerges from her dark night of the soul and finds some kind of peace, when the seething anger of “Writer In The Dark” gives way to euphoric nostalgia for lost love. The lyrics are genius, the music a propulsive mirage, the overall effect overwhelming and tingly. I haven’t been this bowled over by wistfulness since the final scene of La La Land, which marks me as many things: a basic white person, a hopeless romantic, a romanticizer of my own life story, and a Lorde fan for life.
1. Calvin Harris – “Slide” (Feat. Frank Ocean & Migos)
At this year’s outset I did not peg Calvin Harris, of all the DJs in big-budget EDM, to be the one to tastefully pivot to funky, ebullient superstar posse cuts. Nor did I anticipate Frank Ocean to veer close enough to the mainstream to partake in one of these celebrity beach-party jams so soon after giving us the dual elliptical opuses Blonde and Endless. And although “Bad And Boujee” was already popping this time last year, I did not expect Migos to be such a constant crossover presence in 2017. Even if I’d realized these three artists would be joining forces, these exercises in brand convergence are always such a mess — craven aesthetic clashes that make more sense in a board room then on the mixing board. Which is all to say: I did not see “Slide” coming at all.
Somehow, not only does “Slide” align these three disparate forces, it sidesteps all the usual hazards and booby traps en route to blissful pop transcendence. The bass and 808s thump with the casual grace of an expertly thrown birthday bash. The squealing neon synth curlicues seem buoyed by a summer breeze. Retro guitar and keyboard riffs are deployed with a delicate, timeless touch that makes the whole song feel light as air. And all three vocalists attack the music like they’re having the time of their lives at just such a soirée, Ocean’s miraculous pipes gliding easily across the beat to bookend Quavo and Offset’s delirious tag-team flex. It’s all so ridiculously, impossibly fun that dozens of listens later I still can’t believe it exists.
“Do you slide on all your nights like this?” Ocean asks. Nope; I only wish pop songs evoked these kinds of feelings in me more often. Deflect the question back toward Ocean and the answer is still a profound, resounding no. Even the living legends among us rarely happen upon a song so contagiously joyous, a collection of beautiful sounds that so potently stirs the other four senses, too. Much has been written about what a rough year 2017 has been, but there’s some small degree of hope in hearing artists from three distinct creative universes working together toward such a winsome result — and if not hope, at least relief. To listen to “Slide” is to be immersed in some of the finest sensations this world has to offer. It is a vacation we all get to go on four minutes at a time, any time.
Hey, somebody other than Taylor Swift has the #1 album in America! It’s recent Stereogum interviewees U2, whose Songs Of Experience debuts with 186,000 equivalent units and 180,000 in traditional album sales, good for their eighth chart-topping album. According to Billboard, that ties them with Kenny Chesney and Madonna for the sixth most #1 albums among all artists. U2’s previous most recent #1 album, 2009’s No Line On The Horizon, sold 484,000 copies in its first week.
Chris Stapleton debuts at #2 with 125,000 units/116,000 sales for his second album of the year, From A Room: Volume 2. That bumps Swift’s Reputation down to #3 with 112,000 units, which in many weeks would be good enough for #1. Ed Sheeran’s ÷ is back up to #4, A Pentatonix Christmas is at #5, and Demi Lovato’s Tell Me You Love Me shoots back up from #21 to #6 thanks to a concert ticket/album bundle promotion. After Sam Smith’s The Thrill Of It All at #7 and Michael Bublé’s Christmas at #8 comes the #9 debut of Miguel’s War & Leisure on the strength of 40,000 units. Garth Brooks’ The Anthology: Part I, The First Five Years rounds out the top 10.
We also have a new #1 single! After eight weeks, Post Malone and 21 Savage’s “Rockstar” has been dethroned. In its place stands Ed Sheeran and Beyoncé’s “Perfect.” Per Billboard, it’s the second Hot 100 #1 for Sheeran following this year’s 12-week leader “Shape Of You.” He’s the only artist to score two #1s as a lead artist in 2017; Justin Bieber has two #1s as a featured artist. “Perfect” is the 10th overall #1 for Beyoncé including four #1s with Destiny’ Child. Remarkably, it’s her first chart-topping single since 2008’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It).”
“Rockstar” is at #2, which bumps Camila Cabello and Young Thug’s “Havana” down to #3. Then comes Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” (#4), Imagine Dragons’ “Thunder” (#5), and Sam Smith’s “Too Good At Goodbyes” (#6). G-Eazy, A$AP Rocky, and Cardi B’s “No Limit” climbs to a new #7 peak, while Halsey scores her first top-10 hit as a lead artist with “Bad At Love” up to #8. (She of course was featured on the Chainsmokers’ 12-week #1 behemoth “Closer” last year.)
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Get stoked: Selena Gomez confirmed she’ll have an album out next year. [Billboard]
- And now get deflated: Ed Sheeran suggests his next LP will be a lo-fi album inspired by Springsteen’s Nebraska. [The Times]
- Then get stoked again: Kacey Musgraves announced a new album Golden Hour. [EW]
- And now get really, really excited: Carly Rae Jepsen filmed a new music video and in her Instagram Stories confirmed “new music is in fact on the way.” [Imgur]
- Camila Cabello, Nick Jonas, and Sugarland will perform in NYC’s Times Square for Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. [E!]
- Macklemore and Kesha announced their joint 2018 tour with a little rollerblading sketch. [YouTube]
- In a Nardwuar interview Post Malone says “White Iverson” is still his only “good song.” [YouTube]
- That didn’t stop Post Malone from dropping a “Rockstar” Latin remix featuring Nicky Jam and Ozuna. [YouTube]
- A Garth Brooks fan suffered facial injuries after a pole fell on her at the country star’s Nashville concert. [Billboard]
- Nick Jonas shared a video for this Ferdinand soundtrack cut “Home.” [YouTube]
- Harry Styles stepped in to host The Late Late Show Tuesday night after James Corden’s wife went into labor. [Twitter]
- But alas, Corden managed to film an all-star “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” Carpool Karaoke first. [YouTube]
- Here’s the poster for Ocean’s 8, featuring Rihanna. [The Fader]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
My 5 y.o son just now: Will you play me the song "Call Me Maybe"?
Me: Of course but 1st let's talk about something called rockism vs popti-
— Steven Hyden (@Steven_Hyden) December 12, 2017