Best Songs of 2016 (So Far!)
PopCrush is taking a midyear breather to take a look back and appreciate all of the goods we’ve been given this year so far, from January to June. Missed our Best Albums (So Far!) list? Go check it out now!
We’re back with another midyear retrospective today — and this time, it’s all about the tunes.
Plenty of our favorite pop stars supplied the soundtracks to our frigid winter all the way to the current sunny season — from Selena Gomez and her uncontrollable hands to Charli XCX‘s unexpected, hard-edged swerve with “Vroom Vroom.” And did anyone imagine Terror Jr., the mystery group that provided the soundtrack to a Kylie Jenner lip gloss commercial, would be a top song of the year? 2016 is wild, y’all.
Didn’t see a song you loved on our list? Let us know in the comments!
Anonhi, ‘Drone Bomb Me’
Singer-songwriter Anohni — formerly known as Antony Hegarty — never runs out of new ways to devastate me musically. EDM producers Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never co-produced the glittering-yet-searing track, which sounds like a love song (“I want to be the apple of your eye”) until you listen closer: The lyrics are from the perspective of a body affected by war, the actual bombed bodies it’s so easy not to think about, and they invite the listener to consider the issue of complicity. “Explode my crystal guts / Lay my purple on the grass,” Anohni begs over waves of unfurling synths. “Choose me.” It’s a heartbreaking message in a powerful package. – Samantha Vincenty
Ariana Grande, ‘Greedy’
Ariana Grande’s likely sick of the Mariah Carey comparisons at this point in her career, but if ever a Dangerous Woman track were to unleash a wealth of new ones, let it be the horn-heavy “Greedy.” Grande goes full falsetto here, hitting notes so high they barrel into another plane of existence. But besides all her vocal acrobatics (and make no mistake — many and often are they present), the uptempo dance track is just straight-up, funkified fun. — Ali Szubiak
Bebe Rexha, ‘No Broken Hearts (feat. Nicki Minaj)’
Top 40 radio’s songwriter/featured artist du-jour, Bebe Rexha drinks and dances the pain away on “No Broken Hearts.” A perfect turn-up jam for 2016, the track builds upon a tropical trap-light beat during the verses, before it comes crashing back down on an anthemic chorus about leaving one’s heartache at the door. This is pure guilty pleasure pop — minus the guilt. – Erica Russell
Beyonce, ‘Hold Up’
It’s tough, impossible even, to pinpoint a standout track on Beyonce’s tour-de-force Lemonade. But “Hold Up” deserves multiple repeat listens, especially for anyone who’s ever been wronged by a former flame. Borrowing a vocal melody from the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps” but taking it to a far more vengeful (and calypso-inspired) place, “Hold Up” exemplifies fury in its basest, most terrifying form. Here, Beyonce embodies the calm before the storm with a vocal delivery that’s even-tempered and nonchalant, but somehow hums with an underlying, cutting lethality. “What’s worse: Looking jealous or crazy?” a baseball-bat-wielding Beyonce asks, as though the answer isn’t obvious, “I’d rather be crazy.” — Ali Szubiak
Listen on TIDAL.
While the singer-songwriter’s strengths lie in observing love-from-afar, the Beautiful Lies track closes the gap, and finds Birdy intently tethered to the subject of her infatuation. High, low – she’ll trail either, and “Shadow”’s sound follows suit, blindingly vacillating between Birdy’s deep, earthy tones and ozone-puncturing falsetto leaps. The word “haunting” has become corny and trite where pop critique is concerned, but there’s sincerely no other way to describe this one. — Matthew Donnelly
Charli XCX, ‘Vroom Vroom’
A fast and furious departure from the punky pop of the singer-songwriter’s previous album, Sucker, “Vroom Vroom” ushered in a new era for Charli XCX, one marked by the unmistakable high-gloss sheen of early 2000s bubblegum. Featuring fizz-n’-pop production courtesy of London’s PC Music wiz, Sophie, the single is a sleek and shiny electro-pop banger that sounds both nostalgic and futuristic all at once. – Erica Russell
Chloe x Halle, ‘Red Lights’
The teenage Bailey sisters cut their teeth on child acting roles and YouTube performances, but getting signed to Beyonce’s Parkwood Entertainment placed them squarely in the limelight this year. April’s genre-defying Sugar Symphony EP effectively shuts down any “will they live up the hype?” think pieces, and the twinkling “Red Lights” perfectly encapsulates their magic, their visionary teenage girlhood. “And all I want, is to be home /Hit the gas, just be alone / Turn oﬀ the world /Dance with myself, like ballerinas,” the two sing in unison over a stuttering drumbeat. The song’s airy like the baby’s breath that crowns their heads on the EP cover art, but it’s as hardy as it is beautiful. – Samantha Vincenty
Fifth Harmony, ‘Work From Home (feat. Ty Dolla $ign)’
Fifth Harmony know a thing or two about putting in work, work, work. Four years after their ‘X Factor USA’ debut, the girls finally notched their first Top 10 hit, filling the girl group void on the charts for the first time since the Pussycat Dolls many, many moons ago. Every bit of their 7/27 lead single is satisfyingly cheeky — from the ‘work, work, work’ earworm of a chorus to Camila’s oversinging during the live performances to Ally Brooke hammering away at a wheel on the construction-themed video. Never before has an ode to remote employment felt so thoroughly satisfying. – Bradley Stern
Technically, “California” was released in late 2015 on the Canadian alt-pop maestro’s euphoric Art Angels — but the song wasn’t actually marketed as a single until its official music video release in May 2016, which featured a cosmic, twinkling alternative version of the album’s original track. A light, bouncy slice of joyful electro-pop, the tune is pure Grimes at her most whimsical: all lush, surfy synths, wispy vocals and lyrics that contain more bite than the track’s saccharine melodies suggest. – Erica Russell
Kanye West, ‘Ultralight Beam (feat. Kelly Price, Chance the Rapper, The-Dream & Kirk Franklin)’
Kanye’s often-cringeworthy Twitter and arguably misogynistic treatment of a waxen Taylor Swift proxy in the “Famous” video are hard to defend (he doesn’t need my help anyway), but dammit if he doesn’t still make music I love. “Ultralight Beam” is exactly what the title promises, delivering a gospel-imbued shot of positivity at the top of the complex and mostly-great The Life of Pablo. Kanye wisely lets his guests outshine him on the song he produced with Mike Dean, Chance the Rapper and Swizz Beatz; Kelly Price’s stunning vocals provide “Ultralight”’s emotional backbone, and you can hear the smile on Chance the Rapper’s face as he raps “My daughter look just like Sia/ You can’t see her” before he brings his verse to its crescendo. And the sound of the choir that closes the track after gospel superstar Kirk Franklin’s mini-sermon on redemption and hope is enough to justify the nine (9) producer credits. – Samantha Vincenty
Miike Snow, ‘I Feel The Weight’
The Swedish indie group’s third LP, iii, is otherwise fueled by flashy electro-pop, but its lowly, atmospheric ballad strikes most pronouncedly. At once devastating and light, “I Feel the Weight” gives emotional ruin a beautiful allure – here, being lovesick is the perfect picture of health. Featuring eerie Vocoder effects and bubble-pop percussion, Miike Snow’s take on loss’s acceptance stage is a journey through winding doldrums, where the view is a bit obscured but no less worth your lingering stare. — Matthew Donnelly
Ra Ra Riot, ‘Bad Times’
A decade after playing basements in run-down college crash pads, the Syracuse indie group have successfully applied sound to the concept of a silver lining. “Bad Times” is Need Your Light’s bit of unlikely sunshine, and chronicles a series of tough breaks that Wes Miles somehow shrugs off. The track is polished garage band bliss, and winds up through swelling pre-choruses before delivering synth-soaked pop-music fastballs. — Matthew Donnelly
Rihanna, ‘Kiss It Better’
Our fearless Navy Commander has been raunchier and less subtle in the past, but Anti‘s bedroom banger “Kiss It Better” is arguably Rihanna’s most sexual song of all time. The aggression in her voice as she barks out commands (“Take it on back, boy!”), winding and grinding up against that sexy electric guitar whine…by the end, it’s hard not to feel like you’ve thoroughly phucked by RiRi. — Bradley Stern
Selena Gomez, ‘Hands To Myself’
Yes, the song technically came out on last year’s Revival, but it was in 2016 that Selegend formally blessed us with her featherlight, Prince-inspired metaphorical gin and juice, which went on to become a Top 10 hit — and her stalker fantasy of a music video to boot, reminding us all to install a reliable security system. There’s just no way I could leave this one off. (I mean, I could, but why would I want to?) — Bradley Stern
Terror Jr. ‘3 Strikes’
Contemporary pop’s most mysterious trio, Terror Jr., received a public endorsement from reality TV’s leading lady when their debut single “3 Strikes” set the soundtrack to Kylie Jenner’s “Glosses,” a bizarre lip gloss ad that doubled as a mini-movie. Somehow, the song surpassed the inherent hype surrounding Ms. Jenner — it stands up just fine on its own, thankyouverymuch. Modulated, near-incomprehensible vocals are layered over smooth, R&B-inflected synth-pop for a mid-tempo jam perfect for a chill summer afternoon — or a speedy getaway. — Ali Szubiak