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50 Best Songs of 2017

Cardi B’s money moves, Harry Styles’ classic rock breakout, the record-breaking “Despacito” and more

2017 sucked like no year since 2016. But pop music kept giving us reasons for hope – from Harry Styles’ glam grandeur to Cardi B’s Bronx fire to Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s takeover of middle America. Atlanta trap stars like Migos, Future and 21 Savage slow-rolled out addictive smoked-filled hits. Julia Michaels, Lorde, Tove Styrke and Taylor Swift put their personal stamp on the glistening pop confessional. The pulse of the radio opened a little, via the breezy island beats that powered Drake and Ed Sheeran, or Selena Gomez dubbing in a little Talking Heads on “Bad Liar.” Even rock nostalgia felt more fun than it has in ages, whether it came via Portugal. The Man’s Motown throwback jam, the blurry Nineties-punk recollections of of Charli Bliss and Diet Cig or veterans like U2 and Beck making music that updated their classic moves. Here are our 50 favorites.

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15

Drake, “Passionfruit”

Only Drake would look at a tasty tropical fruit and see a metaphor for a girlfriend’s passive aggression. But that’s why we love him: At his best, which includes this wonderfully leisurely R&B/house groove, he makes long-simmering resentment sound sexy. “Passionfruit” might be his coolest, calmest kiss-off ever.

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14

LCD Soundsystem, “Call the Police”

Seven minutes of strangely liberating synth-funk paranoia from the masters of dancing through the bad vibes. LCD leader James Murphy played on David Bowie’s Blackstar last year, and you can hear what that taught him ­— he sounds like the Thin White Duke’s nervy American cousin, zonked out on the 2017 blues.

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13

Ed Sheeran, “Shape of You”

Sheeran famously considered giving this one away to Rihanna before deciding to keep it for himself. Smart guy! With its irresistible marimba beat and its unpretentious vision of seduction (which other pop star would cue up Van the Man in the club?), it’s no wonder “Shape of You” was a record-breaking smash.

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12

Selena Gomez, “Bad Liar”

Stop making sense, indeed. America’s sweetheart bites a New Wave bassline from the Talking Heads and turns it into a fiendishly clever tale of addictive lust. Whether Selena is whispering, cooing or belting it out, she makes every moment of “Bad Liar” prove that this girl’s got her feelings on fire.

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11

Tove Styrke, “Say My Name”

A fiendishly catchy song about an instant crush, sung with wild Nordic verve by this onetime Swedish Idol also-ran. “Say my name/Wear it out like a sweater that you love,” Styrke teases just before the playful digital-guitar riff hits. It’s the best pop hook about cozy winterwear since Weezer’s “Undone (The Sweater Song).”

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10

Future, “Mask Off”

Future Hendrix gets bold as love with his “Percocets/Molly, Percocets” chant, going off about his Rick James chains and pink molly over that eerie jazz-flute loop. The Kendrick remix brings “Mask Off” to a new level as he declares himself the incarnation of Prince and yells, “Get your ass up and be inspired!” 

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9

Lana Del Rey feat. the Weeknd, “Lust for Life”

Del Rey’s Cali-goth empire stretches out past the Hollywood sign and deep into the desert of the soul on this darkly lustrous duet with fellow sad-eyed beauty the Weeknd. “We’re having too much fun,” she sings, savoring every second as slow-dissolve girl-group-boom-bap pulls them under. 

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8

Portugal. The Man, “Feel It Still”

A long-running bunch of rock dudes from Portland suddenly stumble across pop gold with the year’s slickest and glossiest Motown trip. “Feel It Still” reaches back to the frantic mod sweat of vintage Detroit soul, with the unlikely hook: “Oooo, I’m a rebel just for kicks/I’ve been feeling it since 1966.”

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7

Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee feat. Justin Bieber, “Despacito”

The year’s biggest hit is also one of the year’s best – a seductive reggaeton groove that took the beat of San Juan to Middle America. “Despacito” took over the Number One spot on the charts and refused to let go all summer, becoming your suburban grandmother’s favorite Spanish-language song since “La Bamba.”

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6

Migos feat. Lil Uzi Vert, “Bad and Boujee”

The Atlanta crew landed one of the year’s most ubiquitous hits, setting out to reach the bourgeois and rock the boulevard. Offset, Quavo and special guest Lil Uzi Vert toast the pleasures of new money over the Metro Boomin bass, switching their flows like clothes and ordering the chicken with blue cheese.

50 best songs of 2017

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5

U2, “Lights of Home”

No one does redemption like U2. “I shouldn’t be here ’cause I should be dead,” Bono growls over a gnarly, Stones-y riff from the Edge. It’s a hell of an opening statement, followed closely by a defiant declaration: “I believe my best days are ahead.” Everything that makes this band great is here, from that fighting spirit to the skyhook of a chorus that takes it all home. 

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4

Cardi B, “Bodak Yellow”

How exactly did we get over before we had Cardi B in our lives? The self-proclaimed “strip club Mariah Carey” blew up worldwide with “Bodak Yellow,” announcing her arrival with her raw Bronx flow: “Got a bag and fixed my teeth/Hope you hoes know it ain’t cheap.” Cardi doesn’t dance now – she makes money moves, stomping her haters in bloody shoes. Like the lady says, only the real can relate.

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3

Kendrick Lamar, “Humble.”

The greatest rapper alive goes for the kind of achievement that didn’t seem to interest him until now – a pop hit – and scores his first Number One with a hilariously defiant ode to realness, with a track to match from producer Mike Will Made It. For all the pop finesse, “Humble.” sounds as real as ass with some stretch marks.

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2

Lorde, “Homemade Dynamite”

Awesome, right? Lorde had an astounding breakthrough with Melodrama, but “Homemade Dynamite” is her heart-breaking peak, a nervously sexy synth-pop thriller about meeting a kindred spirit at a party. They share a moment of dancing with their shoes off and telling each other their best lies, while that Swedish electro beat sparkles like broken glass. “Homemade Dynamite” got a killer remix featuring Khalid, SZA and Post Malone, but it’s Lorde’s eccentric whisper that holds the track together, right down to the moment where she simulates the sound of all that dynamite in her heart going off: “Poooof!” She celebrates a moment of dance-floor eye contact as a thrill worth savoring in itself.

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1

Harry Styles, “Sign of the Times”

In case anyone out there thought the One Direction star was going to play it safe in his solo move, Harry Styles shut up any doubters with his first solo single. “Sign of the Times” made an instant splash – an eccentric piano ballad stretching to nearly six minutes, aiming for Bowie/Queen levels of glam grandeur, with Styles hitting heavenly high notes as he broods on death and rebirth. “Sign of the Times” just grew in resonance as the year went on. The reckless ambition of the song is only part of what’s brilliant about it – the confidence and empathy in his voice just keep surging as the music builds. Styles was the only rock star all year to aim for such a giant sound, with a giant-hearted song to match. A high-risk move for sure – but only this guy could have imagined “Sign of the Times” and then made it real.

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