Top 10 Best Songs

  • “King,” Years & Years

    The British trio’s electro-pop stunner topped charts in several European countries but barely cracked the U.S. Top 40. That’s America’s loss: “King” is as compulsively danceable as any ‘90s house anthem, and frontman Olly Alexander’s bewitching voice puts plenty of heart behind an arsenal of turbo-charged synths. As he sings of breaking free from a partner’s spell, you might just fall under his. —Nolan Feeney


  • “Yoga,” Janelle Monáe and Jidenna

    Little of what Monáe describes in this sweaty workout resembles your average yoga class—let’s just say Lululemon pants aren’t the only optional clothing item here. Yet only an artist as out-of-the-box as she could turn an ancient Indian tradition into an extended sex metaphor that also makes a statement about not letting society police your individuality. It’s definitely not Vinyasa, but it’s got plenty of flow. —Nolan Feeney


  • “Hotline Bling,” Drake

    If drunk-texting your ex after stalking his or her Instagram had an official theme song, this would be it. The Toronto rapper’s fizzy hit arrived too late to be the year’s song of the summer, but thanks to covers by everyone from Justin Bieber to Sufjan Stevens, it may come to define 2015 nonetheless—and perhaps this election cycle too. The song’s meme-ready video was spoofed by Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live and inspired a fake Bernie Sanders parody from Ellen Degeneres. If that’s not a sign of pop’s ability to unite the masses, what is? —Nolan Feeney

  • “Let It Happen,” Tame Impala

    Apologies to Miley Cyrus and her psychedelic surprise album, but the opening track from the Australian band’s third album, Currents, offers the trippiest ride of the year. In the span of eight minutes, “Let It Happen” moves through all the states of matter: lava-lamp keyboards give way to gaseous soundscapes, robot voices depose into fuzzy guitar riffs, and stuttering sound effects briefly make you think your speakers are having a meltdown. Buckle up accordingly. —Nolan Feeney

  • “Disappointing,” John Grant featuring Tracey Thorn

    It begins with a bassline that recalls the pulsing rhythms of the early ’80s—the stuttering underpinning of “Axel F,” perhaps. And then John Grant, in his mannered, almost-haughty baritone, begins making a list in sing-song form: “Roller coasters and Earl Gray malts, ocelot babies, but not bath salts.” All these things (well, except the bath salts) sound pleasant if not delightful, but it turns out they—along with Rachel Dratch and French horn sections—are just, well, disappointing to the sunlight given off by Grant’s love, which is radiant enough to inspire one of 2015’s most grandiose synthpop fever dreams. It’s plush and painstakingly detailed, with buried shoo-bee-doo-bees, a skittering keyboard solo, and a cameo from indie-disco doyenne Tracey Thorn, whose impassioned delivery of the line “ballet dancers, with or without tights” should inspire a ream of thinkpieces on hosiery. —Maura Johnston

  • “The Hills,” The Weeknd

    The music video for the year’s darkest No. 1 single finds 25-year-old Abel Tesfaye a.k.a. the Weeknd pulling himself out of a smoking car wreck. It’s a fitting visual, as listening to his twisted brand of R&B can feel like rubbernecking when he brags about dysfunctional relationships and being on so many drugs that getting high feels like decaf. Yet the song’s throbbing bass and Tesfaye’s horror-movie vocal delivery make the song, like some accidents, hard to turn away from. —Nolan Feeney

  • “When We Were Young,” Adele

    A 27-year-old singing about her fear of growing older on an album named after turning 25 doesn’t exactly cry out for audiences’ sympathies. But after just one listen to this insta-classic cut from Adele’s comeback album, it’s clear why the woman easily shattered the record for the biggest first-week sales in U.S. history. She eloquently captures the pain that comes with watching the years slip through your fingers, as well as the joy of stumbling upon your old self. —Nolan Feeney


  • “Want to Want Me,” Jason Derulo

    If nothing else, the lead single from Jason Derulo’s Everything Is 4 was the most joy-filled trip to erotic city taken by pop in 2015—and the singer even tipped his cabdriver well en route. After his obligatory self-identification (this time, whispered so quickly that it sounded like a sharp intake of breath), Derulo launches into a falsetto-heavy breakdown of how he handles insomnia over a skipping-stone synth beat that lightly recalls Blondie’s strutting “Heart Of Glass.” Only instead of that song’s slightly bitter look back, Derulo is looking forward—to a tryst, of course. The listener has to fill in the details of what happens after his paramour answers the door “wearing nothing but a smile,” but the joyous nature of Derulo’s whoops and the bubbly pop surrounding them hints at it being a smashing success. —Maura Johnston

  • “Tilted,” Christine and the Queens

    Drag queen superstar RuPaul once declared, “You’re born naked and the rest is drag.” The idea echoes on in this gently pulsing track from French singer Héloïse Letissier’s deceptively named solo project. “I’m doing my face with magic marker/ I’m in my right place, don’t be a downer,” she sings triumphantly over wilted chords. Her album’s explorations of queerness may not apply to every listener, but those words nail a universal truth about our identities anyway: we’re all making it up till we find what fits. —Nolan Feeney


  • “Flesh Without Blood,” Grimes

    It usually takes half a dozen songwriters to concoct a pop song this spine-tingling, but Claire Boucher, who once described her solo project Grimes as the girl group to her inner Phil Spector, writes and produces her music all on her own. Even when her shape-shifting voice seems to jump freely between cartoonish characters, she never sounds like anything but herself, which makes this brutally honest account of a falling out over her success all the more electrifying. —Nolan Feeney

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