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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


Young Thug

Courtesy Young Thug


Young Thug, “Picachu”

The Atlanta rapper flips the name of a Pokémon character into wordplay for the way his diamonds will "peek at you" as he rolls through the club. With a bloopy track and a giddy highpitched delivery, this is about as playfully exuberant as young thuggery can get.


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Prince, “Breakfast Can Wait”

Priiiiiiiince, your starfish and coffee are getting cold. When a man is in the mood for a little before-work booty, that tummy just has to grumble. This kinky R&B jam is the Purple One at his most sublimely smutty, turning the kitchen upside down until the cops show up.


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Superchunk, “Me and You and Jackie Mittoo”

A song that reminds you of a missing friend can be bittersweet – or just piss you off. The punk heroes name-check the late Jamaican reggae star, ranting, "I hate music/What is it worth?/It can't bring anyone back to this Earth."

Vampire Weekend

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Vampire Weekend, “Unbelievers”

Ezra Koenig ponders the possibility of love in a godless age over a skipping groove with a Highway 61 Revisited organ line: "Want a little grace, but who's gonna save a little grace for me?" Few other bands could make a spiritual searching sound so thoroughly catchy.


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M.I.A., “Sexodus”

The queen of electro-pop-rap confrontation takes a gentle turn on this blunted slow jam, calling out sweet nothings ("Baby, you can have it all") through an intoxicating haze of vocal filters and pillowy synths. It's quiet-storm seduction that's still defiantly weird.

Kevin Gates

Christian Fernandez


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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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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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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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.


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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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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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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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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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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, “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.


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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.


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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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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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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.


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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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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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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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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.


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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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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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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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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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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.