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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

 

Kevin Gates

Christian Fernandez

40

Kevin Gates, “Wylin'”

Louisiana rapper-to-watch Gates drops a Dirty South jam as brawny and dangerous as Luca Brasi, whom he named his mixtape after. Amid a wickedly catchy singsong chorus, Gates' rhymes somehow blend Jay Z agility with Waka Flocka shout-thunder.

Natalie Maines

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39

Natalie Maines, “Free Life”

The best song on the Dixie Chick's solo debut was written by ex-Semisonic mastermind Dan Wilson, with lyrics that must have resonated for Maines after going AWOL from country music. "Who we gonna end up being?" she sings, answering the question in the process.

Kurt Vile

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38

Kurt Vile, “Wakin on a Pretty Day”

The shaggy indie-rock strummer stretches out for nine minutes of peaceful, easy jamming – like a great Southern California record from the Seventies played at half-speed. Few rock acts this year found a guitar tone quite this rich and warm.

J. Cole

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37

J. Cole, “Crooked Smile”

Over piano chords straight out of Kanye's College Dropout, the North Carolina rapper opens up about his own insecurities and reassures fans about theirs. It's lush soul rap that's uplifting but never boring – making self-affirmation sound like a hot night at a velvet-rope club.

TNGHT

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36

TNGHT, “Acrylics”

The jam that makes Skrillex sound like John Denver. Canadian producer Lunice and Glasgow's Hudson Mohawke bring big gulps of terror on this festival-shaking slab of weapons-grade EDM – all thunder-dome house music and Nightmare on Elm Street soundtrack ambience.

Jim James

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35

Jim James, “A New Life”

The My Morning Jacket frontman's solo debut peaks with this stardust-sprinkled track, where he croons like Sam Cooke's long-lost grandson over a string-sweetened space-soul arrangement. It's a love song that's easily as cosmically pretty as anything he's done with the Jacket.

Kings of Leon

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34

Kings of Leon, “Supersoaker”

They just don't write 'em like this anymore. America's realest arena-rock band tears off a hammer-road-dog anthem cut with cathedral-guitar shimmer. Caleb Followill's not-totally-subtle allusions to premature ejaculation give this heroic-sounding single an undercurrent of weariness.

Kelly Rowland

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33

Kelly Rowland, “Dirty Laundry”

A slow-burn confessional produced by the-Dream in which the former Destiny's Child singer comes clean about a physically abusive ex and her jealousy over Beyoncé's success. When she cried performing it live, it was one of the year's most heart-rending moments.

Katy B

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32

Katy B, “5 AM”

Most divas rule the club from a queenly roped-off perch. Katy B sweats it out with the dancefloor masses. Over a Madonna-tinged house groove, the U.K. singer has a hasty hookup because she needs "some lovin' like Valium." The next morning? Whatever.

Wavves

FilmMagic/FilmMagic

31

Wavves, “Demon to Lean On”

No 2013 song channeled the ghost of Kurt as well as this, which mopes like it's 1994 – "No hope and no future/We'll die the same loser" – over molten guitars. But don't buy that nohope thing: When you can make bad vibes sound this catchy, your future can't be all bad.

Beck

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30

Beck, “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard”

This song from Beck's sheet music LP, Song Reader, is aching California folk-rock gold that you could imagine hearing in a kinder, gentler radio age. It was one of a few Song Reader tunes that became a YouTube cover. Best version: Beck's, of course.

Thundercat

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29

Thundercat, “Oh Sheit It’s X”

The most concentrated dose of disco joy this side of "Get Lucky": Los Angeles cult artist Thundercat, who's better known for trippy jazz explorations on bass guitar, goes all the way pop with an irresistibly melodic groove. Roller skates not included.

Ashley Monroe

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28

Ashley Monroe, “Two Weeks Late”

Riding juicy pedal steel and honky-tonk piano, this may be the best I'm-pregnant bitchfest since Loretta Lynn's "The Pill." Monroe's "What a damn cliché" line is delivered with a wink, of course, because it's just the sort of cliché that makes country music great.

Lonely Island

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27

Lonely Island feat. Adam Levine, “YOLO”

The greatest joke-rappers alive somehow flip a colossally annoying live-for-today catchphrase into an argument for tinfoil-hat paranoia. Hilarious, zeitgeisty and catchier than most of the Top 40.

Avicii

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26

Avicii, “Wake Me Up”

A Swedish EDM producer, a California soul singer and a guy from Incubus on Mumford-y acoustic guitar. Instant global chart success, right? Actually, yeah. The whooshing beat pushes singer Aloe Blacc to a spiritual awakening most mortals can only dream of.

Washed Out

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25

Washed Out, “All I Know”

What U2 might sound like if they were reborn as pixels on an HD image of a waterfall. Home-studio guy Ernest Greene makes electronic pop with a grand rock sweep, complete with a woozed-out nature-film ambience. Is this what it feels like to actually be a Joshua tree?

The Julie Ruin

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24

The Julie Ruin, “Oh Come On”

The return of riot grrrl O.G. Kathleen Hanna, who hasn't sounded so unhinged since her days with Le Tigre and Bikini Kill. She carries this primal garage-punk stomp with her unmistakable voice, snarling through the distortion to turn the title into a battle cry.

Elvis Costello

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23

Elvis Costello and the Roots, “Walk Us Uptown”

The signature song of this unlikely collaboration sounds like a New Wave "Take the 'A' Train" Costello revisiting the sneering reggae-rock of his early jams but with deeper blues. And, needless to say, a murderous Questlove groove.

Ciara

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22

Ciara, “Body Party”

When the Atlanta R&B goddess commands, "Baby, put your phone down," that phone is getting turned offor tossed out the window. Riding a vintage Isley Brothers quiet-storm groove, she makes it clear: No guests are invited to this party except her body and yours.

Jake Bugg

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21

Jake Bugg, “Broken”

This ballad from the British roots rocker's debut album is a reverb-wrapped heartbreaker that splits the difference between the Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison. "I'm broken/Down in the valley where the church bells cry," Bugg sings, already sounding like a legend at age 19.

Kanye West

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20

Kanye West, “Blood on the Leaves”

Sampling Nina Simone's near sacred "Strange Fruit" – about lynching in the South – to underscore a celebrity-relationship-train-wreck narrative takes ginormous balls. But beneath references to money, molly and abortion is 'Ye wringing startling heart out of his Auto-Tuned self-obsession.

Jay Z

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19

Jay Z, “Picasso Baby”

The standout track from Jay Z's lackluster Magna Carta . . . Holy Grail is an ode to the man's bulging art collection, with a dirty, distorted, hard-strutting beat and lines like "Yellow Basquiat in my kitchen corner/Go ahead, lean on that shit, Blue, you own it." Lax parenting, hot high-end banger.

Katy Perry

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18

Katy Perry, “Roar”

Do you ever get the crazy feeling that Katy Perry wants to empower you? She basically crams a whole mixtape of Eighties breakup songs into one bouncy pop hit that most human beings are powerless to resist. Listen to the lioness in her soul as she glares at her ex with the eye of the tiger. Roar on, Kat.

Lady Gaga R. Kelly

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17

Lady Gaga feat R. Kelly, “Do What U Want”

Gaga and Kells go head to head, so to speak – it's a summit between two of the biggest freaks in the freak biz. Gaga lays off the Mother Monster persona tics, leaning strictly on her R&B voice to remind everyone she can sing her ass off.

HAIM

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16

HAIM, “The Wire”

Three California girls deliver a pop nugget that taps into the glory days of L.A. radio rock, with big drums under the sunshine-folk touches. The handclap beat is straight from the Eagles playbook, and the chorus tangos in the night with Fleetwood Mac.

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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