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100 Best Songs of 2013

Daft Punk went disco, Kendrick Lamar murdered the competition, and a 16-year-old New Zealander dissed bling and made the whole world sing

French robots owning the radio with super-smooth Seventies disco, a 16-year-old wunderkind repping the mean streets of New Zealand, an angry hip-hop genius going off on corporate racism, Canadian rock redeemers making epic art-disco, HAIM, Drake, Miley, Justin – music in 2013 was a hot mess of innovation and blurred genre lines. Anarchy on the hip-hop and pop charts and thrilling new energy in the EDM and indie-rock underground meant picking the best 100 songs amidst all this wasn't easy. But it was fun.

Contributors: Jon Dolan, Will Hermes, Christian Hoard, David Marchese, Rob Sheffield and Simon Vozick-Levinson

 

Eminem

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15

Eminem, “Rap God”

Eminem rolls out a six-minute argument for his immortal hip-hop genius, and it's pretty convincing. "You don't wanna get in a pissing match with this rappity-rap," he rappity-raps, and for pure word-scrambling, syllable-stringing pyrotechnics, no one can touch him.

Miley Cyrus

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14

Miley Cyrus, “We Can’t Stop”

Miley's red-cup-draining party anthem gets weirder – and better – as the rich tapestry that was her year unfolded: Its chorus gets more defiant, its purple-haze melody gets more darkly engulfing. You want to call this song a cab home, but you know it'll never get in.

Kendrick Lamar

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13

Big Sean Feat. Kendrick Lamar, “Control”

Lamar hops on this chipmunk-soul track and spits the rap verse of the year: a rapacious word torrent where he says he's "tryin' to murder" Drake, A$AP Rocky and nine other competitors.

Tegan and Sara

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12

Tegan and Sara, “Closer”

The Canadian sister duo's dance-pop change-up is the best product yet of indie pop's adorable disco crush. The beat is pumping, the synths gush like geysers, and the sweetness in their promise to "make things physical" is heartwarming as well as steamy.

Arcade Fire

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11

Arcade Fire, “Reflektor”

This seven-minute mission statement is nominally about digital-age alienation. But with production by LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy and a sly cameo by dance-rock forebear David Bowie, it's more pointedly about the communal bliss of dance-floor ass-shaking.

Arctic Monkeys

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10

Arctic Monkeys, “Do I Wanna Know?”

The highlight of the U.K. crew’s soul-rock overhaul album, AM, unfurls a monstrously badass groove as Alex Turner drunkenly pitches a late-night hookup. Half seductive swagger, half Hail Mary hunger, it features a slow, cutting groove that makes desire sound like torture.

Drake

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9

Drake, “Started From the Bottom”

Sure, "bottom" is a relative term for a teenage TV-actor-turned-MC. But rapping over a ghostly piano track produced by Mike Zombie and Noah "40" Shebib, Drizzy sells this so hard, it became the year's uncontested striver's anthem.

James Blake

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8

James Blake, “Retrograde”

This dazzling tough-love space-blues track builds off the U.K. soulman's somber, scat-hummed melody, looped with muted piano chords and measured hand claps. When that gorgeous synth build hits midway through, it's like dawn after a rough night.

Justin Timberlake

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7

Justin Timberlake, “Mirrors”

The standout hit from JT's comeback LP, "Mirrors" more than earns its eight minutes, taking Seventies falsetto soul on a Seventies prog journey. Timbaland's percolating grooves end up being the perfect backing for pop's greatest voice as it stretches to the stratosphere.

Parquet Courts

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6

Parquet Courts, “Stoned and Starving”

Fast, funny, outrageously catchy, coursing with New York punk-rock guitar heat – in short, indie-rock heaven. Brooklyn's best new band takes us on a potted-out bodega tour of Queens while pondering the big existential questions: "I was reading ingredients/I was asking myself, 'Should I eat this?'"

Disclosure

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5

Disclosure, “When a Fire Starts to Burn”

The best song to bubble up from the EDM underground in 2013 was a tech-house blast that kicks your ass in the club at night, and kicks your ass out of bed the next morning. And that titular hook – a fragment of motivational speaker Eric Thomas – was pure sampling genius.

Vampire Weekend

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4

Vampire Weekend, “Hannah Hunt”

Maybe Vampire Weekend's best song ever, with a searching Dylanesque melody, a beautiful Ezra Koenig vocal and vivid lyrics about an ambivalent couple on a cross-country road trip from Providence to Phoenix. At heart, it's a song about getting older when all you've got is tested faith and shaky trust.

Kanye West

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3

Kanye West, “Black Skinhead”

The anthem that announced the Yeezus LP was full-bent on wrecking shit is a collab with Daft Punk'Ye rapping rabid over an industrial glitter-rock stomp pumped with heavy breathing and Tarzan screams. Next time someone says America is post-race, play 'em this, and watch their head explode.

Lorde

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2

Lorde, “Royals”

It didn't sound like the kind of song that owns the pop charts – just a cool singer, a softly swag beat and sisterly backup singers. But "Royals" touched a nerve by being both irresistible and radical: the sound of a teenager in love with hip-hop (but not its materialism) deciding to be queen of her own scene.

Daft Punk

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1

Daft Punk feat. Pharrell and Nile Rodgers, “Get Lucky”

What more could you possibly want in a summer jam? The French electro robots devise a stardust disco groove for the ages, getting a little space-oddity soul from Pharrell and a taste of le freak from Chic guitar god Nile Rodgers, who basically invented this music. "Get Lucky" sounds vintage and futuristic at the same time, yet it's full of twists. It was the kind of pop song the whole world could agree on. It topped song charts in 55 countries and went on to be covered by everyone from Florence Welch to Fall Out Boy to Wilco to a group of coaches on The Voice U.K. (including Tom Jones). Rodgers and Pharrell proved they're the Yoda and Obi-Wan of summer jams – between them, these guys must have scored 90 percent of them since the Nixon administration. They're both used to supporting roles, but sound energized by the spotlight here. And Daft Punk, the guys behind the robot masks, nail the all-too-human pop emotion they've been chasing for 15 years: It's a song about staying true to yourself, and a love letter to that lucky feeling you get when the mirror ball starts to spin.

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