Though the biggest hits are often saved for the second half of the year, the front end of 2016 has seen more than its share of exceptional pop tunes, from left-field tracks that streamed their way to the top to the always-unpredictable antics of Kanye West. Here are 10 singles that rose above the pack.
Brandy Clark, "Girl Next Door"
She became known as one of country's premier songwriters with her 2013 debut 12 Stories (not to mention her work with the likes of Jennifer Nettles and Miranda Lambert), and Brandy Clark digs deeper in the dirt with this rave-up, which takes its titular metaphor and a persistent guitar line and twists them into a sharp parry against societal expectations.
Henry Chadwick, "Guest At Home"
With its peppy "ba da bop"s, sly lyrics, and instantly sticky hook, this spunky throwback to the heyday of power pop will thrill devotees of the skinny-tie era while delighting listeners looking for guitar tracks with bite.
Fantasia, "No Time For It"
American Idol might have bid farewell to the airwaves this year, yet Season 3 winner Fantasia is still soldiering on. This slinky track's lighter-than-air feel buoys its lyrical kiss-off, a salvo aimed right at any gossipmongers who fill their hours with loose talk.
Fifth Harmony, "All In My Head (Flex)"
Borrowing its hook from Mad Cobra's 1992 reggae smash "Flex" and assisted by the boisterous bellow of the New Jersey MC Fetty Wap, this bubbly offering from America's reigning girl group transforms Caribbean rhythms, confident lyrics, and Spice Girls-level moxie into a a flashy ode to looking, and feeling, good at the club.
Flo Rida, "My House"
Flo Rida has become one of pop's more improbable elder statesmen because of his knack for finding irresistible hooks, and this arena-ready tune is no exception; its bouncy piano would turn any gathering into a party even if the "G.D.F.R." MC wasn't explicitly inviting people to hang out and "pour yourself something cold."
Kitten, "Fall On Me"
Los Angeles singer-songwriter Chloe Chaidez channels Siouxsie Sioux and Charli XCX on this grandiose track, which coats a relationship's rise and fall in sparkles and grand gestures. Kitten's strength lies in the way Chaidez can add drama to any lyric, and the opulent synthpop of "Fall On Me" adds urgency to her near-weeping delivery.
Lizzo, "Good As Hell"
Minneapolis-via-Houston MC Lizzo's ode to feeling and looking fine is buoyed by a piano riff that will have the most reserved listener tossing their hair and reveling in their unqualified fabulousness. Produced by pop master Ricky Reed (Meghan Trainor, Andy Black),"Good As Hell" is guaranteed to add a dance party segment to any beauty routine.
Miguel featuring Kacey Musgraves, "Waves (Remix)"
Last year's Wildheart further cemented Miguel as one of R&B's most compelling shape-shifters, ready to bring any influences into openhearted take on funk. He broke down more boundaries on this year's Rogue Waves EP, where he gave one of Wildheart's grooviest tracks over to the likes of hazy MC Travi$ Scott and Aussie psych-rockers Tame Impala. But the slightly twangy collaboration with country sparkplug Kacey Musgraves added the most depth to the song's breezy sexiness.
Varsity, "Eye To Eye"
This Chicago outfit arrives at its hooks in a roundabout way, but the path toward them is a delight—the pinging guitars, singsong verses, and pounding drums that lead to the schoolgirl-choir chorus of "Eye To Eye" make this track a slice of melancholia that can be reveled in as much as it can be wallowed in.
Kanye West, "Ultralight Beam"
The Life Of Pablo was a bit of a mess before Kanye West's announcement that he'd be taking advantage of digital distribution methods by tweaking its contents constantly. Its sparkling opening track is one of the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous songs of 2016, with powerhouse performances from R&B belter Kelly Price and gospel legend Kirk Franklin and a fiery flag-plant by fellow Chicago native Chance the Rapper.