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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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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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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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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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