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50 Best Singles of 2011

The year's best songs included Adele delivering the breakup scorcher to end all breakup scorchers, Beyoncé slathering a triumphant love song in crazy sauce and Lady Gaga giving us the year's best arena jam.

Contributors: Stacey Anderson, Jon Dolan, David Fricke, Will Hermes, Monica Herrera, Jody Rosen, Rob Sheffield, Simon Vozick-Levinson

jay-z kanye west

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

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Jay-Z and Kanye West, ‘Ni**as in Paris’

The year's most intense throwdown – minimalist thunder pegged to a tweedling synth line that seemed to taunt potential haters. The lyrics are full of opulence ("gold bottles" rhymes with "scold models"), but this is no breezy highlife jam: Kanye barks about wilding out in France, while Jay imagines the dark fate that could have awaited him had he not become Jay-Z.

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Paul Bergen/Redferns

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Adele, ‘Rolling in the Deep’

The biggest hit from the biggest album of the year is a breakup scorcher to beat all breakup scorchers, with Adele slinging bolts of regretful scorn amid gospel-tinged stomp and a gaggle of soul-sister backup singers. This is brokenhearted music that makes you feel like taking on the world – crackling with quiet menace in the intro, then slowly building to that gut-punch refrain of "We could have had it all!" How did such an old-school soul song dominate the charts next to Gaga and Katy Perry? Maybe it's the hint of hip-hop venom you hear amid the blues-steeped storminess when Adele tells her ex-lover she'll "lay your shit bare." Maybe it's that certain emotions – especially when channeled through a voice this powerful – will always seem timeless.

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Barry Walters' Original Review: Adele's 'Rolling in the Deep'
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