Considering how tumultuous times inspire great art, it should be no surprise that 2017 was a banner year for great songs. Here’s a look at some of the best:
1. Jay-Z, “The Story of O.J.” (Roc Nation) What makes Jay’s story so masterful is that he doesn’t just lay out his experience of being black in America today, but he also offers some advice on how to improve that experience. “I’m tryin’ to give you a million dollars’ worth of game for $9.99,” he says, without breaking flow and making the most of a great Nina Simone sample.
2. Kendrick Lamar, “HUMBLE.” (Top Dawg / Aftermath / Interscope) If all we come away with from 2017 is K.Dot’s mantra of “Sit down / Be humble,” we have still learned an important lesson for years to come.
3. N.E.R.D. featuring Rihanna, “Lemon” (Columbia) N.E.R.D. has always been great at generating memorable grooves, but in recent years Pharrell has learned how to top them with simple, meaningful lyrics that stick with you. Then, Rihanna slays us all by rapping.
4. Randy Newman, “She Chose Me” (Nonesuch) No bells. No whistles. Just a gorgeous love song that will be passed on for generations with its straightforward, beautiful sentiment: “Of all the people, there are in the world, she chose me.”
5. Lorde, “Liability” (Republic) There are flashier songs on Lorde’s stunning “Melodrama,” but the raw beauty of “Liability,” as she works through a mix of emotions from downtrodden to rebellious, is unforgettable.
6. Selena Gomez, “Bad Liar” (Interscope) Selena takes the bass line from the Talking Heads classic “Psycho Killer” and builds her own psychodrama out of it — trying to resist someone you know you should avoid, but can’t. The result is a light and airy wonder, as irresistible as the guy she’s singing about.
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7. J. Balvin, Willy William featuring Beyoncé, “Mi Gente” (Scorpio / Universal / Columbia) Unlike the dreamy “Despacito,” the other massive Latin crossover of the year is an in-your-face club banger that incorporated the song’s theme by adding Beyoncé and becoming a benefit single for those affected by this year’s hurricanes.
8. Blake Shelton, “I’ll Name the Dogs” (Warner Bros.) The latest in Shelton’s string of charming country love songs may be his best yet, as he outlines a delightful division of labor in a relationship that seems super-sweet.
9. Declan McKenna, “Paracetamol” (Columbia) Teenage singer-songwriter McKenna vividly captures what LGBT youth face and how those hurdles can lead to hopelessness. His singalong, though, still manages to be upbeat and welcoming.
10. Spoon, “Tear It Down” (Matador) Sure, it may be referring to a border wall, but the rock anthem is really about inclusiveness.
HONORABLE MENTION Cardi B, “Bodak Yellow” (Atlantic); Margo Price, “Pay Gap” (Third Man); The Killers, “The Man” (Island); Arcade Fire, “We Don’t Deserve Love” (Columbia); Kelela, “LMK” (Warp); The National, “Guilty Party” (4AD); Taylor Swift featuring Ed Sheeran and Future, “End Game” (Big Machine); DJ Khaled featuring Rihanna and Bryson Tiller, “Wild Thoughts” (Epic); Calvin Harris featuring Frank Ocean and Migos, “Slide” (Columbia); Japandroids, “North East South West” (Anti-).