1) “I Really Like You” — Carly Rae Jepsen
I guess that guy finally called Carly Rae after her endless melodic pleading because now she really, really, really, really, really likes him. Unless this is a different guy? In which case, Carly Rae, you little minx! The perfect song for when you’re just getting to know someone and aren’t quite sure where Netflix and chill’s going to lead: “Late night watching television/but how’d we get in this position?” Jepsen delivers exactly what we expect from her: a feel-good, catchy, pure pop song we can wail along with whose repetitiveness is offset by her sweet, breathy voice.
2) “FourFiveSeconds” — Rihanna, Kanye West & Paul McCartney
Just when we were thinking we had enough and might get a little drunk if Rihanna released another auto-tuned track, she produced a refreshing acoustic guitar-driven tune with Kanye West and Paul McCartney. Unfortunately, the stripped down track only serves to highlight her scratchy voice, but the song itself is mellow and relaxing and perfectly encapsulates the feeling of complete resignation (one that is not unfamiliar to us as the semester ends). Plus, who doesn’t laugh every time Kanye sings, “Then I heard you was talkin’ trash / Hold me back I’m botta spaz”? What a tough guy.
3) “Run Away With Me” — Carly Rae Jepsen
After “Call Me Maybe,” each subsequent track in Carly’s catalogue was expected to be “that song she made after ‘Call Me Maybe.’” After “I Really Like You,” any song she released had every right to be “that song she made after ‘Call Me Maybe’ and ‘I Really Like You.’” After “Run Away With Me,” all bets were off: This is the song that told the world that Carly Rae Jepsen was an undeniable force in pop music. Whether or not you like it, you have to admit that its sax intro unpacks all the best memories of the ’80s in a few sultry notes. Whether or not you like it, you’ll concede that it reaches a level of sheer smoothness uncommon to lesser pop cuts. Whether or not you like it, you’ll say that, as far as pop goes, it’s the real deal. But you do — like it, that is. How on earth couldn’t you?
4) “Hello” — Adele
Say what you want about pop music being soulless and stupid. You might find Katy Perry saccharine or Pitbull idiotic, but there’s no lack of passion in “Hello.” Its universal appeal, best captured by the SNL sketch in which the song saves Thanksgiving dinner from prying aunts and racist grandparents, is the single’s greatest strength — even more so than Adele’s stellar vocal performance. Every piece of “Hello” is profoundly moving, from the soaring chorus to the twinkling piano. At once a technical showcase for Adele’s stunning range and a guaranteed heartstring-tugger, “Hello” is the non-danceable mainstream pop song of the year, hands down. Many maintain that “Someone Like You” remains Adele’s strongest track, but the singer isn’t dwelling in the past. “Hello” proves that she’s as relevant at 25 as she was at 21.
5) “Should’ve Known Better” — Sufjan Stevens
A hushed hymn to his deceased mother, “Should Have Known Better’s” beautifully simple structure builds to a powerful crescendo. Sufjan mourns his mother’s passing, but finds redemption in the family’s continuation in his brother’s daughter: “The beauty that she brings / Illumination.” Although this song is a far cry from the power of many other tracks on this list, the track’s potency comes from its haunting authenticity.
6) “Hotline Bling” — Drake
Drake’s “Hotline Bling” was the subject of endless social media memes, some of which were compellingly witty and original. But as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump danced in a spoof of the track on Saturday Night Live, it became apparent that the song had made its impact on 2015 pop culture. Perhaps one of the ultimate breakup anthems for the millennial generation, so much of “Hotline Bling,” from Drake’s heartbroken lyrics to his melancholy tone, is completely relatable. Every young romantic has experienced that devastating breakup and the hopeless agony of waiting for a call or text message from the beloved ex-lover. Additionally, the world can enjoy a shared sense of admiration in watching Drake, clad in a gray turtleneck sweater, make even the nerdiest of dance moves seem attractive. In that moment, we all wish we were Drake or at least the turtleneck on his sweater.
7) “La Loose” — Waxahatchee
You don’t have to listen to the lyrics of “La Loose” to enjoy its audacity. The airy “whoo whoo whoo” chorus, and light, crisp drum machine beat undergirding the whole dreamy affair evoke the cheek and character that define the track, and much of Katie Crutchfield’s Ivy Tripp. But it’s her sticky and bold self-scrutinous words that recall this particular track for listeners. (“I know that I feel more than you do / I selfishly want you here to stick to.”) Her unapologetic wishes, (non)regrets and tiny confessions make us all wish we could speak of ourselves as she does.
8) “Sorry” — Justin Bieber
The most surprising comeback of the year. Bieber leaves his childish whine behind and cultivates a more mature, club-friendly sound. His apology might sound unconvincing, but the music doesn’t. Without being overshadowed by the other strong tracks on Purpose, “Sorry” is danceable enough to boogie, replayable enough for drive-time radio and intelligent enough to lend some thought.
9) “I Wanna Boi” — PWR BTTM
“I Wanna Boi” is the rare kind of song that absolutely floors you on first listen. It’s the rarer kind of song that continues to floor you on twentieth listen, as well as on fiftieth listen, and hundredth, and on and on and on. Why exactly it cuts so deep into my brain every time I hear it, I couldn’t say. Maybe it’s the brash conspicuousness of the guitar and drums being battered in sloppy harmony; maybe it’s the polished middle finger against “normalcy” (whatever the fuck that means) that the lyrics unabashedly thrust into the noisy air; hell, maybe it’s just that there’s something enticing in hearing a dude shout, “I wanna boy who thinks it’s sexy when my lipstick bleeds.” Whatever it is, all I know is that, for me, “I Wanna Boi” has been playing on repeat since September, as it will be for God knows how many months longer and as it damn well should be for everyone reading this right now.
10) “Everyday” — A$AP Rocky
The best song on Rocky’s thugged-out cloud rap L.P. mixes a killer Rod Stewart feature with typically charismatic, loose verses from the lead M.C. The result is a single that can be played during your late-night introspection trip, morning commute or drunken banger without sounding out of place at any time. Rocky isn’t in love with rapping the way, say, Lupe Fiasco is; instead, he’s a person who was destined for success from birth and happened to choose the rap game. If he’s doubted himself for a moment in his life I’d be surprised, and why should he?
—Max Van Zile