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50 Best Songs of 2015

Adele, Drake, Fetty Wap, the Weeknd and more

50 Songs

Illustration by Ryan Casey

2015 was the year Drake made our hotlines bling, the Weeknd made sure we couldn't feel our faces, Adele said "Hello" again and Fetty Wap made us all jealous of his steady pie-cookin' companion. Check out the year's 50 greatest songs below, and stream them all here.

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50

Titus Andronicus, “Dimed Out”

In a year where more was more, this pulse-racing punk anthem about never settling for less than the realest, deepest experiences in life was a wild-eyed rallying cry.

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49

Carly Rae Jepsen, “Run Away With Me”

Part M83, part "Baker Street," the mid-Eighties Corvette-cruise retro obsession that ruled so many playlists in 2015 burst from the vaporwave underground into explosive pop.

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48

Major Lazer feat. Mø, DJ Snake, “Lean On”

Rihanna turned it down. Nicki Minaj, too. So Diplo's anything-goes dance crew teamed with a Danish goth-pop upstart and a French party starter who loves Middle Eastern melodies. The result: The most streamed track in Spotify history, and one of this year's most insidiously delightful hooks.

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47

Cage the Elephant, “Trouble”

The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach helps the Kentucky garage-rock crew stir up some exquisitely sweet, red-eyed psych-pop — like the Tommy James of "Crimson and Clover" hiding under the covers and wishing the world away.

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46

Kacey Musgraves, “Biscuits”

Country music's great blue state hope returns with some plucky Hee-Haw corn that gives Hank Williams' "Mind Your Own Business" a very contemporary boot: "Pissin' in my yard ain't gonna make yours any greener."

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45

Rihanna, “Bitch Better Have My Money”

Rihanna gaffles five words from a handful of Eighties and Nineties men (Keenan Ivory Wayans, Big Daddy Kane, AMG), and now she might own them forever. Album or no album, this one goes harder than John Kasich trying to get elected.

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44

Wolf Alice, “Lisbon”

Pure retro-Nineties noise-pop bliss: 23 year-old London alt-rocker Ellie Rowsell sounds like she just strutted in from the second stage at Lollapalooza but her music crackles with fresh, knotty self-discovery.

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43

Mumford and Sons, “The Wolf”

The world's biggest string band discovers electricity and uncorks one of their most muscular anthems without compromising a shred of folk-rock heart.

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42

Sheer Mag, “Fan the Flames”

This Philadelphia five-piece's second seven-inch rocked harder than a lot of artists' entire albums this year – like Big Star or Cheap Trick busting out of an amp that doesn't sound much bigger than telephone receiver.

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41

Coldplay, “Adventure of a Lifetime”

How did it take Coldplay this long to go disco? This confetti-bright, carefree jam was exactly as fun as "The Scientist" was sad.

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40

Unknown Mortal Orchestra, “Can’t Keep Checking My Phone”

Dizzingly strange, undeniably soulful rattle-trap stoner-disco that somehow makes lines like "We eat crickets/In the future" seem like an invite to a five-star feast.

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39

The Weeknd, “Earned It”

The 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack proved Abel Tesfaye's ideal entree into the pop mainstream, though here he eschewed S&M to instead focus on the bottom line, lending his liquid falsetto to the role of affectionate sugar daddy.

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38

A$AP Rocky feat. Rod Stewart, Miguel, “Everyday”

A sampled '68 Rod Steward guest vocal (from Python Lee Jackson's "In a Broken Dream") ebbs into Miguel's contemporary take on the same melody; A$AP Rocky pivots from boast to confession and back again with nimble, conflicted virtuosity.

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37

Blur, “Ong Ong”

Brit-pop lives in 2015! Damon Albarn's written tons of great hooks in the decade-plus since Blur's last album, but he kept this one in his back pocket.

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36

Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney, “FourFiveSeconds”

2015 was a car crash of a year. When we woke up every day as optimists and were ready to go wild by nightfall, this was the blues song we needed, with Rihanna voicing our pain, Kanye venting our frustration and a Beatle strumming along in support.

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35

Car Seat Headrest, “Something Soon”

After five years and 12 Bandcamp releases, lo-fi hero Will Toledo yelped loud enough for the world to hear, announcing, "I want to romanticize my headfuck," complaining about sitcoms and idolizing Raymond Carver over wiry indie-rock.

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34

JD McPherson, “Let the Good Times Roll”

Though Shirley and Lee, Sam Cooke, Louis Jordan and the Cars all sang that title before, that didn't stop one of the top rock & roll revivalists of his generation from writing his own version with the perfect mix of arrogance and respect.

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33

EL VY, “Return to the Moon (Political Song for Didi Bloome to Sing, With Crescendo)”

Matt Berninger from somber Brooklyn indie-rock dads the National and a Portland buddy named Brent steal a title (the parenthetical part) and some guitar action from Eighties lefty-punks the Minutemen and knock out some swooned-out hand-clap disco-pop that's one of Taylor Swift's favorite new songs.

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32

Disclosure feat. Lorde, “Magnets”

Lorde finds the ecstatic liberation buried inside a slow-burn groove from Disclosure. The year's most understated dance-world magic.

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31

Kurt Vile, “Pretty Pimpin'”

Our man with the golden guitar tone finds himself staring in the mirror at a total stranger — then shrugs off the panic with a jokey tune that's loopier than a Möebius strip.

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30

Selena Gomez, “Good For You”

A seductive smile of a song that wouldn't leave your head for the rest of the night, or the year. 

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29

Drake, “Know Yourself”

No one outside of Drake's inner circle called Toronto "the 6" before this year, and few will call it that in 2016. But for the space of this song, he made his imaginary slang sound like the absolute coolest syllables in the universe.

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28

Eric Church, “Mr. Misunderstood”

Sung from one outsider to another, the Nashville maverick borrows an old Wilco tune and big-ups Jackson Pollock for an ode to a small-town outcast with rock & roll dreams.

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27

Miguel, “Coffee”

The alt-R&B seducer promises a night-long session of intellectual, sensual, carnal and playful pleasures, capped by either "coffee in the morning" or "fucking in the morning," depending on which version you hear — though, really, he's probably got time for both.

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26

Florence and the Machine, “Ship to Wreck”

Florence Welch's enormous voice whips up a maelstrom through which her band steers a steady course.

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25

Dawes, “All Your Favorite Bands”

This update on "Forever Young" gave us the rock-fan prayer of the year: "May all your favorite bands stay together."

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23

Beck, “Dreams”

Beck shook off those Morning Phase blues with this slinky disco jam. Please: More happy Beck in 2016!

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22

Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment, “Sunday Candy”

The best hip-hop song about a grandma, ever, courtesy of Chance the Rapper.

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20

Alabama Shakes, “Don’t Wanna Fight”

The Shakes get way down into the groove on what might be their dankest, funkiest tune to date. Brittany Howard's opening howl is a hurricane.

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19

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, “S.O.B.”

"Son of a bitch, give me a drink!" 2015's wildest vintage-soul rave-up came from an ex-folkie straight out of Denver.

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18

Lana Del Rey, “High by the Beach”

This narcotically catchy anthem was prime Lana in a year when we often just wanted to toke up and stare at some waves.

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17

Tame Impala, “Let It Happen”

Somehow this impossibly warm, pillowy synth-pop groove reminds us of Syd Barrett partying with Gary Numan. 

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16

Madonna, “Ghosttown”

An indomitable power ballad for a ruined world that sounds so great you might start rooting for the apocalypse.

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15

Grimes, “Flesh Without Blood”

Addictive dance pop as only Canadian oddball Claire Boucher could conceive of it: A chrome-shiny liberation anthem full of turbocharged electro beats and airy, ghost-diva hooks. It's currently ruling the clubs on Mars.  

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14

The Arcs, “Stay in My Corner”

A sweet falsetto-soul valentine from Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach's other band, complete with a hook that splits the difference between Curtis Mayfield-style guitar heat and the pretty melody of John Lennon's "Jealous Guy."

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13

Bully, “Trying”

In a year that was lousy with great young Nineties-drunk guitar bands, Bully stood apart – channeling Hole and Veruca Salt with loads of heart and resilience on this gold-plated shouter about toughing out a so-called life.

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12

Foals, “What Went Down”

Ambitious British art-rock dudes reboot their sound with a seething guitar epic that sounds like Radiohead and My Morning Jacket going in together on a souped-up space vessel and setting the controls for the heart of the sun.

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11

The Weeknd, “The Hills”

The Weeknd's second Number One smash of 2015 is much more like the guy we knew from his old mixtapes: Horror-movie shrieks and stormy electronics punctuate his seductive moans about a nihilistic affair, and somehow it's all catchy as hell.

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10

Jack Ü feat. Justin Bieber, “Where Are Ü Now”

EDM superfriends Skrillex and Diplo rescue the Bieb from celebrity purgatory, bending and processing his voice into a trippy space-dolphin croon that was one of the year's most instantly indelible sounds. 

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9

Tobias Jesso Jr., “How Could You Babe”

The NBA-tall Canadian with the Harry Nilsson voice stole our hearts with this defeated piano ballad about watching an old flame move on without you. No wonder Adele tapped him to co-write a song for 25 after this.

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8

Future, “Fuck Up Some Commas”

From Atlanta to Pluto, the man who's dubbed himself "Future Hendrix" came back strong in 2015, taking a money shower – thousands, millions, the more commas the better – over a siren-laced banger of a beat.

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7

Kendrick Lamar, “King Kunta”

The fiercest and most funkadelic track on To Pimp a Butterfly takes aim at everything from Lamar's haters to "the power that be." We already knew Kendrick was a great lyricist; turns out he's kind of a badass, too.

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6

Adele, “Hello”

When Adele says "hello," people listen – like, tens of millions of them. Whether she was singing to an ex (as the video seemed to imply) or to her younger self (as she's maintained), this achingly intense ballad hit home like an emotional sledgehammer.

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5

Jamie xx feat. Young Thug, Popcaan, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”

2015's sunniest summer jam came from the unlikely trio of Jamie xx, Young Thug and Jamaican toaster Popcaan – plus sweet R&B harmonies sampled from the Persuasions, for a true street-corner symphony.

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4

Courtney Barnett, “Pedestrian at Best”

The most thrilling four minutes in rock in 2015: garage-y guitar crunch and a darkly hilarious rant lead to a chorus that your favorite Nineties alt band would have eaten its Doc Martens to have written.

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3

Drake, “Hotline Bling”

A vintage Seventies drum-machine sample powers Drake's exquisitely rueful remembrance of booty calls past. Now all he can do is miss that girl, brood about her new life at the club and dance like the world's biggest fool for love.

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2

Fetty Wap, “Trap Queen”

The year's biggest brand-new star sent a stylish "Hey, what's up, hello" from Paterson, New Jersey, to the entire world. Fetty Wap conquered the radio with a gangsta love song – behind that nuclear-level catchy hook is the tale of a criminal-minded hustle for two, a Scarface dream where Fetty and his trap queen can cook up hella-illegal pies and ride high together forever. It definitely says something about our crazy times that the most credible romantic fantasy out there is about a drug-slinging couple, but perhaps that's what we've come to. A pair of matching Lambos? Now that's true love.

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1

The Weeknd, “Can’t Feel My Face”

It was the "oooooh!" that changed everything. That single ecstatic syllable, slipping out just before each chorus, transformed Abel Tesfaye (a.k.a. the Weeknd) from a cult R&B singer to a full-on pop star – just as decisively as a similar yelp of joy marked a new era in Michael Jackson's career when "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" hit 36 years earlier. Max Martin's satin-smooth production helped, too, vaulting "Can't Feel My Face" straight to Number One on the pop charts with Scandinavian efficiency. But Tesfaye's showstopping vocal performance is what makesit an instant classic. He spends the song remaking himself as a pop giant – cleverly disguising his obsession with drugs beneath a metaphor about a dangerously hot fling, and playing down his angst-y tendencies until there's just a hint of existential pain in his lighter-than-air falsetto. By the time the song is over, you'll do anything for another hit.

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