The Top 40 Pop Songs Of 2023

The Top 40 Pop Songs Of 2023

December is always a bit of a dead zone for big pop albums, unless it’s 2013 and your name is Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. So for this month’s column…

Some notes:

  • The boundaries of “pop” grow wider and more fluid every year. We won’t draw lines around where it begins or ends. But as per tradition, the list skews toward Top 40 from the actual Top 40, with some personal picks thrown in to break the consensus and keep things interesting.
  • The actual Top 40 was frequently pretty grim in 2023! It’s been a particularly rancid year for No. 1 songs, whether because the artist was a known shithead, or because their chart-topping run came courtesy of culture-war trolling. Those aren’t on the list. Sorry Oliver Anthony fans.
  • One song per artist, although one especially prolific producer gets two in there.
  • This list could be expanded to 400 and there would still be great pop songs left off it. I’d love to hear them.

The Weeknd - "Die For You" (Feat. Ariana Grande)

Ariana Grande guided Abel Tesfaye from blog-R&B anonymity to mainstream fame in 2014(!) with “Love Me Harder”; nine years later, they reunite for this chart-topping synth jam. The Weeknd does his long-since-perfected lothario thing, while Ariana’s whistle register ascends into sacred Mariah territory. What a great start to Q1 for Abel; wonder what else he did this year?


Charli XCX - "Speed Drive"

No one sings “hah” like Charli XCX. No one seizes upon a hook — here, a Barbiefied “Hey Mickey” — with more assignment-understanding gusto. And I bet no one was more thrilled to join the Barbie cinematic universe.


Dawn Richard - "Bubblegum"

Best known for high-concept albums, the R&B auteur releases a single whose concept requires only two words: bass and booty.


SZA - "Kill Bill"

SZA plays the antihero well, from sidechick clapback “The Weekend” to this Tarantino-styled bit of R&B that escalates her persona into true crime tales with a hook she delivers casual as a lullaby: “I just killed my ex–not the best idea — killed his girlfriend next. (I still love him, though!)”


Rema - "Calm Down" (Feat. Selena Gomez)

An unexpected Selena Gomez verse helped this Nigerian artist’s laidback, guitar-flecked single begin a long reign atop the US Afrobeats chart and eventually the Hot 100 as well. More pop songs should have string sections.


Alison Goldfrapp - "Love Invention"

Alison Goldfrapp goes solo but remains the synthpop GOAT. “Love Invention” is a little over four minutes but so lush it almost sounds prog.


Doja Cat - "Paint The Town Red"

Two types of disdain: Dionne Warwick (distant, shady); Doja Cat (demon lord).


Jessie Ware - "Begin Again"

Obsessive about disco details, picky about her pleasures, Jessie Ware gets closer and closer to ’70s dancefloor apotheosis every year.


Tkay Maidza - "Ring-A-Ling"

Australian rapper Tkay Maidza has been a charisma fount since 2013’s “Brontosaurus.” The burbling bass and silky vocals throughout “Ring-A-Ling” are just a bonus.


Jung Kook - "Seven" (Feat. Latto)

Craig David’s “Seven Days” was a great single!


Mura Masa - "Whenever I Want"

Hell of a year for the British producer; in addition to his hand in one of the biggest pop smashes of the year (which will appear later in this column), he had a spree of buzzy collaborations (yeule! Daniela Lalita!) and solo work like this, a flip of Jersey rappers Outsidaz’ “Macosa” over a neon-pastel Memphis Milano candyland of a beat.


Coi Leray - "Players"

Coi Leray deploys a proven strategy, last seen with Latto’s “Big Energy,” to go from radio journeyman to star. She takes a big recognizable instrumental – here, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s foundational “The Message” – with several market-tested flips already, streamlines and spit-shines it even more, then rides the track up the charts to a new echelon of hit. The Coi of “Players” sounds like she’s still growing into her own charisma; that’s what’s interesting about it.


Kaytraminé - 4EVA (Feat. Pharrell Williams)

Rapper Aminé came up with the help of buzzy producer Kaytranada; now an official duo, the two bring Pharrell in for this funky, stuttery, summery jam. Hope the Suns reference ages better this season!


Jessy Lanza - "Don't Leave Me Now"

Dance bliss that continually teases the possibility of going totally over the top with the drum break from “Vogue.”


Tove Styrke - "Another Broken Heart"

The other Swedish star named Tove continues her near-uninterrupted run of capital-P Pop singles, as well as her country’s grand tradition of shiny heartbroken bangers. And once again: more pop songs should have string sections.


Bad Boy Chiller Crew - "Spaceship"

The UK rap collective raves themselves off the planet at a delirious tempo. This is the track that should have been called “Planet Of The Bass.”


Perfume - "Moon"

Producer Yasutaka Nakata conjures some more of the maximalist J-pop disco magic he has for decades.


Davido - "Unavailable" (Feat. Musa Keys)

A hypnotic, smooth dancefloor filler from the Nigerian superstar. The lyrics say “unavailable” while the track says “come closer.”


100 Gecs - "Hollywood Baby"

This is so very, very stupid.


TWST - "Off-World"

Combines three things I love: t.A.T.u’s “All The Things She Said,” breathless yearning romance (also found on t.A.T.u’s “All The Things She Said”), and drum-and-bass breaks.


FLO - "Fly Girl" (Feat. Missy Elliott)

FLO are one of the best R&B girl groups we’ve gotten in years. “Fly Girl” is a celebration of nimble vocal runs, of 2000s hooks (Jagged Edge! 3LW!), and of the way Missy has yet to lose any of her gravitas.


Carly Rae Jepsen - "Psychedelic Switch"

CarJeps takes her crushed-out blissful talents to the realm of French house. Ever thought about how well the words to “Call Me Maybe” actually fit into “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”?


Álex Anwandter - "Precipicio"

Anwandter, a Chilean singer-songwriter and multiple-time Latin Grammy nominee, discos his way through the tears. Has any lyric more perfectly captured the whole point of pop music than “come with me to the precipice to dance?”


Caroline Polachek - "Dang"

Multihyphenate. Vocal acrobat. Spreadsheet queen.


Kesha - "Eat The Acid"

Kesha wrote “Eat The Acid” with her mother, country songwriter Pebe Sebert. Over a pensive, Rick Rubin-produced track, she recollects her mom’s advice to stay away from LSD, lest she learn answers to questions she didn’t ask, and an encounter with the divine that she called life-changing. Life-changing in what direction, though? “Eat The Acid” came from Gag Order, her last contractually obligated release with alleged abuser Dr. Luke; if that didn’t fill this with harrowing subtext already, Kesha’s morose, distorted chords and repeated refrain of “you don’t wanna be changed like it changed me” will.


Romy - "Loveher"

Romy Madley Croft made her name in the xx with spacious, introspective, subtly gorgeous songs. “Loveher,” from her solo debut Mid Air, starts out as one of those, then bursts into pop-house life with a euphoric piano line and a chorus that cuts to the feeling; “I-love-her-I-love-her-I-love-her-I-love-her!”


Hudson Mohawke & Nikki Nair - "Set The Roof" (Feat. Tayla Parx)

Disclosure and Björk agree: “Set The Roof” is one of the year’s most visceral dance floor tracks, with breakbeats, key changes that swerve and shimmer like Mario Kart’s Rainbow Road, and a star turn by vocalist and Thank U, Next songwriter Tayla Parx. It’s electrifying — even if we probably have Reddit to thank for its existence.


Raye - "Escapism" (Feat. 070 Shake)

Raye, a songwriter for stars like Rihanna and a long-striving solo artist, was dropped by Polydor in late 2021 after several years fighting to get her debut out of label jail. Less than two years later, she got her revenge, going No. 1 in the UK with the debauched, depressed “Escapism.” Raye channels the swagger of Beyoncé (a former client) and the soul and pain of Amy Winehouse, making self-sabotage feel magnetic.


Lexie Liu - "Delulu"

The emotional equivalent of making up a guy and the sonic equivalent of speedrunning a nightmare. Meme phrases never sounded so terrifying.


NewJeans - "Cool With You"

K-pop’s biggest ambassadors of UK garage released a bounty of great singles this year; this one, with its whispered triplet flows and deep bass hook, was my favorite.

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Bad Bunny - "Monaco"

No matter how you try to get across just how massive an impact Bad Bunny’s Un Verano Sin Ti had upon release — 4.5 billion streams as of last November — you’d be understating it. But you can get pretty close by listening to the bassy, noir-styled, deep-voiced “Monaco” and hearing how big it sounds.


Calvin Harris - "Miracle" (Feat. Ellie Goulding)

For over a decade Calvin Harris has extended his relevance by grabbing at dance music subgenres just as they (re-)enter the pop mainstream: Guetta-thud, pop-house, disco funk, and now Robert Miles-ripping euphoric trance. Calvin and Ellie channel all the emotionally manipulative moves (complimentary) that have powered every trancepop hit: soaring vocals, rave-along piano, weapons-grade earnestness. “Are you too cynical to believe in a miracle?” Goulding sings, daring you to call this opportunistic.


Jimin - "Like Crazy"

With “Like Crazy,” the BTS vocalist became the first solo South Korean artist to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. BTS’ tireless Army undoubtedly worked hard to make that happen, but make no mistake – this is a synthpop song so enormous, so lavish with breathy falsetto and endless soaring hooks, that it earns every bit of that (sadly short-lived) spot even without stan intervention.


Sho Madjozi - "Chale"

South African rapper Sho Madjozi, who went viral with 2019’s “John Cena,” turns a track about fake famechasing friends – “you wasn’t there when we were shooting in the gym!” she barks – into one of the year’s most generous singles. The beat pumps out perpetual energy (complete with Frankenstein’s-lab buzzing SFX) and Sho drops verse after commanding verse, while the video invites you and everyone to join the dance through her hometown of Limpopo.


Kylie Minogue - "Padam Padam"

You hear it and you know.


Chappell Roan - "Red Wine Supernova"

Of all Chappell Roan’s firecracker pop songs, “Red Wine Supernova” is the single that exploded with supernova impact — and deservedly so. Roan takes the melody of 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up” to a pep-rally rodeo, telling with giggly, anxious charm the tale of her first real reciprocated sapphic crush.


PinkPantheress - "Boy's A Liar Pt. 2" (Feat. Ice Spice)

Quiet confidence from Pink, quiet vulnerability from Ice Spice, a quietly irresistible Jersey club track from Mura Masa, and “the boy’s a liar” repeated until it sounds like an unchangeable fact of the universe.


Tyla - "Water"

A huge and deserved breakout moment for the South African house subgenre amapiano, “Water” is seduction at its most rarefied, with fountains of piano and a steady flow of a beat.


Shakira - "BZRP Music Sessions #53"

For four years, Argentinian producer Bizarrap has brought various Latin artists into the studio for quasi-freestyle collabs, but Shakira is one of his biggest gets by far. She did not come in peace. “BZRP Music Sessions #53” is a disintegration beam of a diss track aimed at her ex, footballer Gerard Piqué, and his twentysomething new girlfriend. Over Bizarrap’s chilly Depeche Mode homage, Shakira names both their names via deft wordplay and launches a barrage of pitiless lines like “you traded a Rolex for a Casio.” And unlike many diss tracks, “BZRP” worked; Piqué tried to parlay that line into a Casio sponsorship, then publicly ate shit when Casio turned it down in a tweet. The impact.


Olivia Rodrigo - "Bad Idea Right?"

In which every side of Olivia Rodrigo – the former theater kid, the heiress to ’90s alt rock, the relatable confessional songwriter – coalesces into one colossal anthem about the short-lived thrill of making drunken mistakes. The chorus sounds like a rush of substance-fueled confidence; like finally winning a slot-machine jackpot while knowing you’re deep in the red; like a self-deprecating vaudeville routine with campy character acting and jazz hands; basically, like a megastar doing megastar things.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of all 40 tracks:

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