Monday, December 5, 2022

Top Songs of 2022

As a society, we are blessed with a few guarantees each December: Mariah Carey will return to public discourse, Patti LaBelle will demand to see that card again, and gay men will post their Spotify Wrapped or Apple Music Replay to their social media feeds. And as someone who feels it necessary to reveal his every thought on music to this website, I don't need a data aggregator to declare my homosexuality. Here's my list of top songs of the year – and yes, there are even a few men on it this time.

15. "Anti-Hero" by Taylor Swift

Midnights is not Taylor Swift's best album. "Anti-Hero" is not her best song, either. But even still, it’s somehow an undeniably charming number. It has the hallmarks of a Taylor Swift Single™ – loose and relaxed songwriting, some one-liners worthy of an Instagram caption set to an easy melody, plus a nudge and a wink – without indulging beyond comfort. Plus, there’s something so comforting in just admitting it: “It’s me, hi. I’m the problem, it’s me.”

14. "Happiness" by The 1975

The 1975 quite literally got their groove back this year. Their newest record, Being Funny in a Foreign Language, is a culled collection in comparison to the mega-records in their back catalog. It's a well-rounded playlist, really, with "Happiness" landing at the very peak of the record's upswing. "Show me the love, why don't you grow up and see?" Matty Healy sings in the makeshift jam session. A puddle of soft synths pad the floor, an electric bass dances behind him, and a saxophone shoots off at the climax  a perfect '80s homage if I've ever heard one.

13. "Choreomania" by Florence + the Machine

Florence + the Machine’s Dance Fever was marketed as the revival of choreomania for the modern day – and what better way to make that obvious than a namesake song to commemorate the feeling? “Something’s coming, so out of breath. I just kept spinning, and I danced myself to death,” Florence Welch panics throughout the song. By the end, I’m left out of breath myself in keeping pace with the full-bodied, anxiety-fueled outbreak. 

12. "Love It When You Hate Me" by Avril Lavigne feat. blackbear

It has been 20 years since Avril Lavigne debuted with a skateboard and a dream. She celebrated the milestone with a blowout year, including a remixed and remastered anniversary edition of Let Go and a new studio album, Love Sux, that repositioned her back where she belongs: Squarely within the genre where it all started. “Love It When You Hate Me” goes full-on punk-rocker, a perfect predecessor to her newest record: “Don’t call me bay-bay. I love it when you hate me. I know it’s cray-zay,” she over-annunciates over slamming drums and heavy guitars. Rock and roll, bitches.

11. "The Actor" by alt-J

“I’m in the deepest end of an empty pool,” Joe Newman cries in a pinched falsetto on “The Actor.” Behind him, women whisper doubts into his ear: “He’s never going to make it. He’s never going to make it in LA.” It’s the perfect dialogue for a song that feels as if it sinks deeper into despair with every note. A fuzzy guitar casts a heat haze in the track’s undercurrent while Newman all but breaks into a paranoid sweat in the unsteady environment.

10. "Easy Lover" by Ellie Goulding feat. Big Sean

Ellie Goulding returned to music after marriage and motherhood with a song written at least five years ago near the tail end of her Delirium campaign, an album that shifted her into a hardline pop landscape. And as she eyes a pivot back to dance-pop music, "Easy Lover" is more than just an appropriate callback to her biggest pop outing – it's a triumph of a track that feels just as invigorating now as it would have back then.

9. "Muscle Memory" by Kelsea Ballerini

Whether writing about love found or love lost, Kelsea Ballerini knows how to write a fine country song. While rekindling an old flame on “Muscle Memory,” she delivers one of her finest. The guitar whines down the sidelines, a fat kick drum stomps the track into rhythm, and her melody whips listeners into a newfound lustful frenzy. "Oh, something I can't control comes over me. My hands know where just to be, it's muscle memory," she tells her old-flame-turned-current-fling.

8. "Break My Soul" by Beyoncé

When Beyoncé decided to return to the club, she did it with a tsunami’s worth of force: Sampling Robin S. and Big Freedia, she merged the timelessness of house classics with a modern bounce. “Now, I just fell in love, and I just quit my job. I'm gonna find new drive. Damn, they work me so damn hard,” she declared amid the mid-2022 workers’ rights movement that flowed in the undercurrent of the American economy. Beyonce, of course, releases music without elaboration nowadays – but it’s not typically needed. She is the guidepost: We just follow, even if it means quitting our jobs to get there.

7. "What I Want" by MUNA

“I want the full effects. I want to hit it hard. I want to dance in the middle of a gay bar,” pop trio MUNA demands on “What I Want,” the boldface and underlined banger of their self-titled studio record. Fully embracing a messy night out, they dive into a pool of flashbulbs and hypnotic synthesizers without a single care for the consequences that will be revealed in the morning light. It’s the in-your-face, knock-out banger that wouldn’t have been expected from the sad-dancing MUNA of five years ago – and it’s the bold charge forward for the band’s trajectory as an independent act.

6. "New Gold" by Gorillaz feat. Tame Impala and Bootie Brown

The intersection of Gorillaz and Tame Impala seems like one that should have been reached long ago: The former’s tactful launches into dreamy (or nightmarish) musical planes and the latter’s affinity for psychedelic trips into nu-disco were destined to collide soon enough. And now that they have, the resulting cosmic explosion is an absolute treasure. Kevin Parker and The Pharcyde rapper Bootie Brown bounce rapped verses off an airy hook that leads listeners right into the magic cove of temptation.

5. "This is Why" by Paramore

Paramore, the pop-rock band, was fun while it lasted. But this year was 2022: Rock is back, and so is Paramore, the rock band. “This Is Why,” the first time we heard from the trio since the internet (and Olivia Rodrigo) effectively uncanceled “Misery Business” and lifted Paramore back into the kids’ vernacular, is a quarantine song in its own right – but not a quarantine of the public health risk variety perse. Rather, frontwoman Hayley Williams shields herself from shitty perspectives and hot takes: “if you have an opinion, maybe you should shove it,” she opens the song.

4. "Western Wind" by Carly Rae Jepsen

From “Talking to Yourself” to “Go Find Yourself or Whatever,” a whole handful of songs from Carly Rae Jepsen’s newest album, The Loneliest Time, could qualify for a year-end list. But “Western Wind,” the Rostam-produced lead single, was the bellwether to a tide change for Jepsen. Percussive and organic yet unshakable in its pop inclinations, the song wraps around a listener in a way unlike any other Carly Rae Jepsen song before it. When swept into the ambiance of the track, it’s difficult to realize how ear-catching the melody alone is – until it breaks down to handclaps and keys, leaving us begging for another few repetitions of the chorus.

3. "Thoroughfare" by Ethel Cain

With the intention to strip away perceived charm from the American south and reveal the traumatic underbelly of the religious Sunshine Belt on her debut album, Ethel Cain achieves her goal best on “Throughfare.” The track unfolds like a map across almost eight minutes, tracing the highways from Florida to California as she romanticizes a hitchhiking trip in a stranger’s 18-wheeler across the country. “And you said, ‘Hey, do you want to see the west with me? ‘Cause love’s out there and I can’t leave it be,’” she recalls of the trucker’s pursuit for a love affair that ultimately develops between the two.

2. "Shotgun" by Soccer Mommy

Sophie Allison, doing business as Soccer Mommy, often felt as if she was circling around the bullseye of her artistry on her studio records – until “Shotgun” was unveiled ahead of Sometimes, Forever, her third album, earlier this year. A casual banter about fun drunken nights at home conceals an underlying romantic echo chamber awaiting listeners in the song’s climax: “Whenever you want me, I’ll be around. I’m a bullet in a shotgun waiting to sound,” she promises in the chorus.

1. "Quicksand" by Hatchie

Injecting the nagging fear of unchecked greed into a syrupy pool of vocal harmonies and synthesizers, Hatchie launched the first instantly brilliant song of the year with “Quicksand” ahead of her second record, Giving the World Away. Hazy, unsure verses creep toward the song’s moral before it plummets into its chorus, a disorienting release of uncertainty and regret for craving something more without the promise of permanent satisfaction: “If I had everything I wanted, would I want more? Would I keep fighting if there’s nothing left to fight for?”

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