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50 Best Songs of 2012

Taylor made weapons-grade teen pop; Kanye put his brain on cruise-control, dubstep kingpins and stadium rockers invited us all to their parties

50 best songs 2012

Taylor Swift made weapons-grade teen pop; Kanye West put his brain on cruise-control, dubstep kingpins and stadium rockers invited us all to their parties

 

Contributors: Jon Dolan, David Fricke, Andy Greene, Will Hermes, Christian Hoard, Jody Rosen, Rob Sheffield, Rob Tannenbaum, Simon Vozick-Levinson

maroon 5

Courtesy of Universal Music Group

46

Maroon 5 feat. Wiz Khalifa, ‘Payphone’

Payphone – really? Did Adam Levine’s iPhone battery drain? The title may have confused a few kids, but the song was a smash, and for good reason. A burst of pure spun-sugar pop goodness, with delicious hooks and a surprisingly sour message beneath the candied surface: “One more fucking love song, I’ll be sick.”

justin bieber

Darren Tieste/CPi

45

Justin Bieber, ‘Die in Your Arms’

Bieber’s best weapon has always been his vocal tone – a soulful rasp that hints at depths of longing beyond his years. That tone is deployed to wondrous effect in this throwback blue-eyed R&B single, whose vibe, and lilting melody, are pure prime-period Hall & Oates. Bieber’s manager called it “hater-proof.” He’s right.

the wanted

Lee Strickland

44

The Wanted, ‘Glad You Came’

Naughty boys! Irish-English teen-poppers push at the genre’s PG-13 rating with a club-bumper that dares to raise the specter of under age inebriation (“Hand you another drink/Drink it if you can”). The unshakably catchy chorus does its work, as do the blunt 4/4 beats – and the salacious double-entendre in the title.

tanlines

Courtesy of True Panther

43

Tanlines, ‘All of Me’

The excellent Brooklyn indie duo titled its full-length debut Mixed Emotions, and that’s what the album’s signature song delivered, driven home by singer Eric Emm’s mournful yelp. The music takes Eighties dance pop through some witty turns, from the chant-like background vocals to a “steel drum” synth solo.

the 2 bears

Courtesy of Girlie Action

42

The 2 Bears, ‘Bear Hug’

This club-centric side project with Joe Goddard of U.K. electro-pop wizards Hot Chip and buddy Raf Rundell is a celebration of full-body contact and cheesy disco lyrics. "We've brought you all a gift/For maximum dance-floor uplift," they chant over an irresistibly rubbery house groove. Thanks, bros.

danny brown

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

41

Danny Brown, ‘Grown Up’

Brown exults with delicious self-satisfaction in his transformation from least-likely-to-succeed to Detroit’s top rap hope since Eminem: “Scribbled in my notebook and never did homework/Low attention span/Guess these Adderall worked.” Spiced with old-school scratching, it’s the year’s sunniest hip-hop nostalgia trip.

craig finn

Mark Seliger

40

Craig Finn, ‘Rented Room’

The Hold Steady frontman spins a tale about a down-and-out metalhead stuck in a cheap motel after a nasty breakup: “Playing records in a rented room/Hotter Than Hell into Bark at the Moon.” But the darkest part of this very dark story is the way Finn makes his guitar toll like a funeral bell.

dwight yoakam

Randee St. Nicholas

39

Dwight Yoakam, ‘A Heart Like Mine’

For his first album of originals in seven years, trad-country torchbearer Yoakam had the inspired idea to call on Beck to produce a couple of tracks. The result, in “A Heart Like Mine,” hits you like a linebacker – a ringing, clattering blend of Buck Owens-style California country and Sixties garage psychedelia.

teen

Courtesy of The Windish Agency

38

Teen, ‘Better’

Teen aren’t teens, actually – they’re four Brooklyn twentysomethings. But on “Better,” they’re adolescent in the best sense, with keyboards swirling over a muscular thump that gives the classicist girl group a low-fi makeover. And the chorus is pure youthful bravado: “I’ll do it better than anybody else.” Not much neo-girl pop does.

muse

Gavin Bond

37

Muse, ‘Madness’

The U.K. prog-rockers went Kid A with this year’s The 2nd Law, but this was the LP’s pop-ready cherry – all sweet Bonoish crooning by Matt Bellamy, electronically distressed backing vocals and deep-space bass wobble. Then the guitar rips in and brings it back to Earth. Chris Martin called it their best song ever; we agree.

himanshu

Roger Kisby/Getty Images

36

Himanshu, ‘Womyn’

Heems of Das Racist drops the year's most likable doofy love song, reeling o absurd science regarding the fairer sex over Bollywood boom-bap: "Women like to watch You've Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks/Women you're great; on behalf of men, 'Thanks!'" Foolishness, like most dude talk about women. But wise foolishness.

icona pop

Courtesy of The Windish Agency

35

Icona Pop, ‘I Love It’

The Euro-slut club jam of the summer never fails to get the drink-spillingest ladies out on the floor. Two Swedish synth-pop girls pout about their mean boyfriend: “You’re so damn hard to please/We gotta kill this switch/You’re from the Seventies/But I’m a Nineties bitch.” Advantage: Nineties bitches.

kendrick lamar

Dan Monick

34

Kendrick Lamar, ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’

The breakout rapper of the year delivers a woozy meditation on boozing that nails a drunk’s inner conflict: The slow-motion and hyperspeed verses mirror the arc of a bender, and there’s a liquid seductiveness in the groove, flow and chorus. In other words, ironically or not, it’s a fine drinking song.

miguel

Timothy Saccenti

33

Miguel, ‘Adorn’

Now this is some single-payer sexual healing. The R&B stud croons a baby-making slow jam that sounds up-to-the-minute fresh yet steeped in soul tradition. Miguel might be new on the block, but he already comes on like a master, right down to the way he lets his tongue linger over that “ll-l-let you” hook.

bruce springsteen

Courtesy of Sony Music

32

Bruce Springsteen, ‘We Take Care Of Our Own’

A huge, double-edged anthem that sounds like jingoism until you listen closer, when it reveals itself as both critique and challenge. “From the shotgun shack to the Superdome/There ain’t no help, the cavalry stayed home,” Springsteen declares, invoking Katrina, preaching to both the choir and the unconverted.

low cut connie

Courtesy of Big Hassle Publicity

31

Low Cut Connie, ‘Boozophilia’

Old-fashioned, piano-slapping rock & roll with a drunk-ass punk-rock spirit – like Jerry Lee Lewis if he'd had his first religious experience at a Replacements show. You can practically smell the Yuengling coming off this skunky, slippery ode to lowbrow kicks from Philly to the South Side of Chicago.

beach boys

Jakubaszek/Redferns via Getty Images

30

The Beach Boys, ‘That’s Why God Made The Radio’

The Beach Boys come back for one more hit of sun-baked nostalgia, with a hymn to a deity who sounds something like Phil Spector: “He waved his hand, gave us rock & roll/The soundtrack of falling in love.” Those Sistine-ceiling harmonies just might make you a believer.