Wednesday, December 28, 2016

the top ten best hit songs of 2016

So for those of you who saw my last list, you might have caught my general assertion that 2016 was not good for the Hot 100. And here's the deeper truth: the bad songs, while there were more of them, they weren't the sort of atrocious that keeps you up at night, at least not as a whole. Despite how angry I got, I can think back to a few other years that had far more contemptible songs that would inspire a lot more rage - I think society as a whole has pretty much forgotten that in 2013 Rick Ross teamed up with Rocko and Future to release a song with a verse endorsing date rape - yeah, that was a thing.

No, the bigger problem with the year-end Hot 100 in 2016 is that there was a lot less good songs - we always get a lot of mediocrity but this was a year where the pickings were very slim. On the one hand, it makes this list pretty easy - very little to cut - but at the same time in stronger years, like 2012 or even 2015, I'm not sure how much of this list would have measured up. Many people made that same observation back in 2014 - I didn't, mostly because I genuinely found a lot to like about my list that year - but I'm not denying it for 2016, especially because the majority of songs that will make this list were originally released in 2015 and only became hits this year. If that's not the most glaring indictment on pop in 2016, I don't know what is, and what gets all the more infuriating is that the mediocrity clogging the arteries of this year kept otherwise great songs from catching on, especially in country music which despite big improvements even on the Hot 100 practically disappeared for the year end. 

But again, it had to land on that list, and it's a thin list indeed... but still, it wouldn't have made this list if I couldn't defend it being here, so let's start with our Honourable Mentions!




For the second year in a row, Nick Jonas managed to scrape onto the Honourable Mentions list - and make no mistake, in a stronger year, 'Close' would not be a contender, even despite how much I liked it on Billboard BREAKDOWN. Like so many Nick Jonas songs it's pretty damn bleak with the washed out drippy organs, trap percussion, reverb-drenched percussion, and that whole line 'space is just a word made up by someone afraid to get too close' is dangerously close to questionable and could be very easily interpreted as something far darker. And yet Jonas was smart enough to make the song a duet with Tove Lo, and the fact that they have pretty damn good chemistry makes for a solidly intense listen, both grappling with insecurity about getting this close to each other and sharing real vulnerability. And though the music video is strikingly unsexy, the vibe and delivery is just enough to tilt into that territory, and it's easily the best thing either artist made all year. I'd prefer the song with a little more color, but as it is, it's a solid track.



I've have gone on record saying this song is the worst track of Blurryface and I meant it, and the fact that twenty one pilots seem to have the worst possible instincts when pushing and releasing singles drives me off the wall. It's a murky, morose little tune heavy on the bass and warbling synths until the piano comes in to pull into the sharper drum patter of the hook, and the pitch-shifting on the outro drives me off the wall, even if it's supposed to represent 'blurryface', the faceless creature in Joseph's head that represents his neuroses. And that's before we get into the lyrical content, where Tyler Joseph retreats into crippling insecurity at confronting adulthood and the loss of typical innocence that comes with it, seeing maturity and sprinting away from it, this song should be insufferable... but that's the trick that comes with smart framing and great writing. Not only is the lyrical construction excellent with a hook that balances wistfulness with frustration, the song is framed to know that while Joseph's insecurities are warranted in fears about selling out and failing and that childish whimsy might be preferable, this is also something to which he can't return right now. The entire album is a healthy dose of 'grow up and get over yourself' and 'Stressed Out' is the opening act - and I have to say, it's a good one.



This is one of those pop songs I just like to have around, clearly imported from Europe courtesy of the accents and commitment to a more straightforward electro-pop sound, but also very familiar and fitting snugly with modern pop tropes. It's not a great track - I think the rattling percussion of the drop is a little flat, I'm not wild about the pitch-shifting, and I wish there was a little more complexity in the emotional dynamic in the lyrics - two old lovers or friends fell out but are drawn back together through old memories, it's a good idea but I think a little more detail could have drawn it all together. But if we learned anything from 'Closer' it's that said extra detail can backfire in record time, and that simplicity gives both MNEK and Zara Larsson plenty of room to breathe against the gleaming keys, jittery melody, and subtle swells at the base of the mix. And man, I don't know if it's the multi-tracking or just excellent vocal chemistry, but by the time we hit the bridge and that great final hook with the deeper beat, it's an incredibly potent track. Zara Larsson would go on to follow this with 'Lush Life', an even better song that sputtered out too early on the Hot 100, and she hasn't really had much success since, but man, she and MNEK captured some real pop magic with this song, I have to say.



Oh, I can bet this'll be a controversial pick, not just because it goes straight into tabloid culture, but it's a response song to a better song that came out in 2014, co-opting a lot of similar motifs and miscommunications that made that earlier track work so damn well. So let's get this out of the way: no, 'On My Mind' by Ellie Goulding is not better than 'Don't' by Ed Sheeran, mostly because this is distinctly out of Ellie Goulding's wheelhouse. Her best songs have always worked in broad abstraction, not this sort of messy, detail-overloaded writing, it doesn't work with her more sweeping and potent delivery. But in a sense, that confusion is why this song works so damn well for me, mostly because its honesty confirms everything both artists said about each other - Ed Sheeran didn't actually seal the deal or communicate well his true feelings, and Ellie Goulding wasn't really perceptive enough to pick up on more, now left less bitter and more bemused. And I love that about the framing: there's no actual resentment coming through, just a lot of missed signals with her finally getting something a clue with this song. She doesn't look good here, but Ed Sheeran didn't look good on 'Don't' either, with this sort of messy situation, there's no clear right answer outside of two people who weren't compatible and afraid of being alone. And I'll say it, I like the instrumentation on this: the runny guitar blurring together with the beat and percussion coming through sharper to the synths mirroring the wonky melody against the cloud of trap snares on the hook, and when you factor in the pauses and vocal harmonies on the second verse and a great sweeping bridge... look, it's a weird song, I get why people don't like it and why it unfortunately did a number of her career - it's no 'Burn', after all - but I appreciate the framing and humanity of a song like this, it work for me.



Okay, seriously, why the hell do we have Daya when we have Alessia Cara instead? If we're looking for the pop heir to Lorde - because I'd put money on Lorde's album being the furthest thing from pop-friendly - I'd take Alessia Cara any day of the week, and not just because she has an uncanny knack for getting into the overload of details that describes more than a few unfortunate millennial house-parties I've attended just as tilt into borderline nightmare fuel. But where for Lady Gaga she just joined the party and fell into the madness, Alessia Cara is paralyzed and unable to look away, wishing that she could be with people she knew or trusted, but even the 'here' she specifies is not an escape. It's why that little sample of R&B artist Isaac Hayes' voice - which was originally from his song 'Ike's Rap II' and echoes throughout the song - intensifies that ominous feeling that comes through the drippy cascades of pianos, thicker bass and guitar, it's not a comfortable song. Now the reason this song isn't higher is because, well, she could leave if she's so uncomfortable, even if her friends were there - hell, she says in the bridge she's going to the car, and that kind of neuters the trapped feeling.... unless she's trapped by her own bad decisions and is now paying the consequences, trying to squeeze in a last laugh at girls talking about haters they don't have and guys who can't handle their liquor, but man, it's a hollow laugh indeed. Again, if you've seen my review of her debut Know-It-All late last year, you know that I probably like Alessia Cara more for her potential than what she's delivered thus far - songs like this are the reason why, because there's talent here, and I'm looking for Canadian pop singer-songwriters, I'd take her over Shawn Mendes any day of the week!



Again, I can imagine this pick being contentious too, mostly because a lot of critics like it but are completely unconvinced in Ariana's attempts to sound like a 'dangerous woman' - and yeah, I am too, there's nothing that's threatening about her. But if you look at the lyrics, the main line of the hook is about she feels more like a dangerous woman, that this guy is pulling her into this darker, more experimental, more openly sexual world... and she's finding she's enjoying it. Compare to 'All In My Head (Flex)' by Fifth Harmony, which is arguably their best song and has a welcome verse from Fetty Wap but just missed this list because it ultimately was all their heads - the heady rush of emotion is still here but it is being driven by something more tangible, not just wants and imagination. That's not saying this song isn't flawed - I wish that guitar solo had a little more presence in the mix, Ariana still isn't enunciating very well, and the implication that all girls want to be bad girls is misconceived at best - but it's outweighed by the better elements. The smoky yet tight guitars anchoring the melody against the thin sheen of organ, the huge beat that help drive into the massive hook, and how Ariana translates her eager hunger for more, it's a surprising amount of swing to it. It's far from her best - 'Love Me Harder' remains the best thing she's ever made, and even if we look to this year, well, stay tuned - but more often than not, I really did enjoy this.



This one snuck up on me, and it barely made the year-end Hot 100... but if we're looking for the swan song from One Direction before all going their separate ways, it's a pretty damn good pop song. And it really seems to combine many of the elements that worked in the pop tracks I already described - liquid guitars blurred in reverb, a huge hook, and even celebrity controversy as the running rumor is that Harry Styles wrote this about his former hookup Taylor Swift, even picking up a basssline that does share some common groove. And yeah, the percussion is a little heavy for my taste, but the framing of this song deserves a lot of credit: despite how big the swell of the instrumentation feels - and that vocal switch-up on the final hook is killer - the focus and lyrical details are smaller in scope, almost seeming to acknowledge that it isn't going to work full time, and more amazing still he's okay with that. Hell, Harry even acknowledges on the bridge that if she's looking for someone to write break-up songs about, he could fill that role. Having dated other artists myself, it's a big step of emotional maturity when you realize that part of your story might end up in their work and you have to accept it. It's a smart bit of emotional maturity that I never expected to see from One Direction - perhaps a little too late for it to really click on a deeper level, I'd have loved to hear more of this three years ago - but it ends up making a damn great pop song, and it's honestly a shame we probably won't hear more of this.

But now on to the list that you've all been waiting for...

10. So this will a much bigger thing when we get to the lists of the best albums and songs of 2016 that weren't hits, but this was a year that showed a lot of improvements for country. The pop country trends started to ebb away in favour of more neotraditional sounds, the Americana and indie country scenes got even bigger, and we even got traction from acts like William Michael Morgan in the mainstream... and the Hot 100 rewarded this by giving country music only three slots on the year-end list. The biggest was 'H.O.L.Y.' by Florida Georgia Line, which I don't hate nearly as much as some do for being as dumb as it is, and 'Die A Happy Man' by Thomas Rhett is such an obvious ripoff of 'Thinking Out Loud' that it might actually be a bit better than that song and at least avoid its lyrical mishaps! But the last one... well, credit must be given when it's good.


10. 'Humble And Kind' by Tim McGraw (Billboard Year-End Chart Position #96)

Look, this is far from the best country song that I'd consider a 'hit' on those charts in 2016 - hell, I wouldn't even say this is the best version of this song I heard this year - but so long as country (and rock for that matter) continue to ignore streaming, the genres will be further marginalized and I'll have less and less to choose when it comes to talking about them. But really, that is being unfair to a damn great song that heartily deserved all the awards it won, even if to a more cynical audience it could feel a little like a lecture on being a good person. What's amazing is how... well, it doesn't feel like that, a part of which is that Tim McGraw is old enough to sound like your dad and yet smart enough to frame it with quiet subtlety, letting the expansive mix do a lot of the work to build the swell in the guitar tones. It also helps a lot that the song is written by Lori McKenna, one of the best songwriters in country music right now and who has a remarkable knack for making little details matter a lot more without coming across as preachy. Take the line of 'know the difference between sleeping with someone / and sleeping with someone you love' - even in our era where the challenges seem insurmountable, and celebration of beating them seems natural, the message here resonates. Powerful stuff, and if this is all the country the year-end list is giving me, I'll take it.
9. I'll say it: I was disappointed in Beyonce this year - and not for the reason you might think. Because of her choice of singles and marketing, while seemingly everyone heard her best album Lemonade it didn't do much of anything on the Hot 100. And I'm blaming her promotion team for this - seriously, why '6 Inch', 'All Night' and 'Sandcastles' weren't pushed as major singles is utterly beyond me, I love 'Freedom' and I'm okay with 'Hold Up' and 'Formation', but they were not the best songs for the mainstream! As such, instead of getting a stream of bonafide hits we got a song I like but don't really love from the record... but I'll take what I can get. 


9. 'Sorry' by Beyonce (Billboard Year-End Chart Position #71)

There's a lot to unpack on why 'Sorry' indeed a great song - most of which ties into the context of the album and its placement right between 'Don't Hurt Yourself' and '6 Inch' and how it factors into the narrative. But the truth is that 'Sorry' is a great song regardless of that, because it's a microcosm of the shattering of an institution in American culture. Even if you're no big fan of either artist - which for me is very much the case, as I did not come around on Beyonce until Lemonade - there was significance for an artist like Beyonce to take a sledgehammer to this song, as the embers of their relationship gutter even further. And yet to her credit, this is no 'Irreplaceable' - Beyonce has real skin in the game this time and her more fragile delivery, especially on the third verse, shows her and Blue Ivy sneaking off into the night - as much as she says she's not thinking about him, in a subtle way she is. It's a bassy kiss-off anthem flush with trap snares and watery synth, with Beyonce casually flipping the gender binary as she heads into the night, but as the mix collapses into clanking fragments, it's less confident and more apathetic - she knows the gravity of her choices, but she can't allow herself to care. Again, would not have been my choice for a big single from the album - The Weeknd was on '6 Inch', it would have been obvious - but still, this is a really potent track.

8. ...I swear, twenty one pilots, can you get anything right?


8. 'Ride' by twenty one pilots (Billboard Year-End Chart Position #20)

Okay, as I said earlier, 'Stressed Out' was not one of the better songs on Blurryface - and here's the follow-up, which is also not in the top tier from that album. In fact, if we're looking for where the cynicism has been creeping into twenty one pilots' marketing, it'd be here - the organ, the choppy beat that, the reggae chord progressions, this was a naked attempt to play into tropical sounds that were huge this year, so much so that people were trying to brand 'Ride' as 2016's version of 'Rude' by MAGIC!. Except the comparison doesn't really work - the more aggressive buzzy synths, the piano, and the fact that Tyler Joseph just goes wild on the final chorus, where 'Rude' was insufferable cod-reggae 'Ride' follows in the murky wake of 'Stressed Out' and begins delivering a healthy dose of that reality that twenty one pilots needs. For one, it targets the martyr complex and self-pity, emphasizing that living or being willing to take action is far more difficult and worthy of praise - and yet Joseph is still kind of terrified of facing this truth, freely admitting he's been thinking too much about it. But that's the ingenious part of the song: simply by taking his time and actually enjoying the ride, he's living, and it's proof he can get out of his own head. That's why that huge hook feels so exultant, so freeing - he got out, and it's a powerful moment. Again, far from my favourite song from Blurryface, but I'll take what I can get.

7. Okay, as I said, Beyonce should have had a better year on the Hot 100... but that doesn't mean she didn't find a way to get here - it just wasn't on her song. And instead, making a return off an album I didn't even like, we got this, arguably the song that grew me on the most and was one of the biggest and most exultant sleeper hits of the year...


7. 'Hymn For The Weekend' by Coldplay ft. Beyonce (Billboard Year-End Chart Position #73)

So for those of you who remember - and that might not be many of you, given that a certain record label ignored the law of multiple countries and blocked the video worldwide, even though the review is still in text form on my blog - I did not really like Coldplay's newest album A Head Full Of Dreams, which would probably be the closest thing to a pop sellout record they've ever made. Hell, I wasn't entirely even high on this song when it was released as a single - but in a weird way it broke through for me. Some of you might think it's because of Beyonce's backing vocals, which only serve augment that ethereal feeling, but it runs deeper than that. Part of it is that Coldplay didn't sacrifice the underlying melody in the piano, which they crank up to eleven with the brass for the huge stomping hook, and partially because they know how to hit a precise intersection point between airy soaring and the somewhat unearthly feeling of falling out of control, whether it be from an insane party or confronting something or someone that transcends a physical space. And I kind of love that Chris Martin, a frontman of a band long past their prime, still manages to bring the sort of dramatic intensity to his falsetto on the hook to make it work, mostly through the usage of more minor chord progressions. Look, this is far from the Coldplay I love - if you're not listening for it, you can barely hear the guitar on this song - but they still have a gift for anthems unlike any other act, and for that, credit where its due.

6. And on the complete opposite side, here's a song that embraces its smaller scale and ends up being charming as hell in response. And yes, for those of you who are about to comment on it being here, it's also the most visibly flawed, and believe me, we're about to get to that. But I don't view music as a zero-sum game, you can still have enough great elements and moments to redeem a track even if there are elements that don't work at all. For example...


6. 'Broccoli' by D.R.A.M. ft. Lil Yachty (Billboard Year-End Chart Position #34)

Okay, let's get this out of the way right now: Lil Yachty is the absolute worst thing about this track: he's a lazy dead-eyed rapper whose flow and content does not fit well with everything else on this song. He's a cold sore on the mouth of an otherwise awesome song with flat delivery, flubbed rhymes and lines about 'beating the pussy like Hulk Hogan' and referencing Columbine - because that's what you want in your upbeat party song, thoughts of dead children that not even Eminem could get away with in 2000! But if you get past all of that, riding on the promise of D.R.A.M.'s gleeful yelps at the beginning, you're treated to an amazingly fun ride. Yeah, the rubbery bass beat is a little heavier than I'd prefer, but it kind of fits the jaunty pianos and pan flute careening over the hook, and above all of it is D.R.A.M.. I reviewed his debut album Big Baby D.R.A.M., and I'll say it again: I want this guy to be absolutely huge: not only does he have that same rambunctious enthusiasm that won people over on Fetty Wap, he's also a far better singer and rapper with the sort of slippy, off-kilter flow that is relentlessly infectious. And his framing and content is great: he raps not about his jewels or cars but getting all the video games he wanted and eating salmon on a bagel with capers, and instead of talking down to his audience, he acknowledges his own talent, but he says he'll treat everyone like his equal, never lesser. And the fact that he's so damn playful with his delivery and his goofy punchlines - folks, if Lil Yachty wasn't on this song, it'd probably end up in my top three, if not higher. As it is, please let's give D.R.A.M. a bunch more hits - I'd love to see 'Misunderstood' with Young Thug, but I'll take 'Cash Machine' or 'Cute' in a pinch. In a year where we needed fun music, D.R.A.M. absolutely delivered.

5. And on seemingly the complete flipside of this... okay, if you all watched my list of my top ten worst hit songs of 2016, I mentioned how you don't want to be talking down to your audience, but the truth - like always - demands more nuance than that. The fact is that if you're going to diss your listeners, you need to frame it properly, with the right groove and intensity, or perhaps only target a subset of the audience who wouldn't know any better. And hey, getting production from Daft Punk can't hurt either.

5. 'Starboy' by The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk (Billboard Year-End Chart Position #58)

No, it's not 'False Alarm' - we'll probably be talking about that song in a list in a couple of days. But the title track from The Weeknd's third album is still one hell of a single, mostly by laser-focusing on the sleek, 80s-inspired R&B grooves and sharpening them to a razor's edge. The entire song holds that killer groove, with Daft Punk's vocoders accenting The Weeknd's effortless charisma against the bleak pianos and weedy backing tones over the hook... although I personally really love how we get those darker whirs accenting the bridge that put me in the mind of the high end cars that The Weeknd talks about throughout the song. Because yeah, this song is a complete ego trip at your expense: the cars are more luxurious, the furniture is ornate, the women are hotter and are cleaning the furniture of any excess cocaine with their faces... and yet The Weeknd is self-aware enough to realize he didn't really change to get to this point. He's still a nihilistic, drug-abusing 80's-obsessed music nerd who knows he doesn't really belong in the spotlight, so not only is he going to revel in it, he's going to taunt the mainstream audience that's only here for the grooves and has never gotten the point. It's an act of pure bravado that doesn't have the same sourness that made Fall Out Boy's 'My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark' so infuriating for so many, but at the same time it's rooted in the same place... and it's a kickass song to boot.

4. And yet if we're going to a song from The Weeknd that I'd argue stuck with me more - that had a little more ambition, hit a little harder, told more of a story, cranked the 80s worship even higher...


4. 'In The Night' by The Weeknd (Billboard Year-End Chart Position #61)

It was arguably the best song from Beauty Behind The Madness, and I can't tell you how happy I am to see this as a charting single, even if it never was as big as his lineup of #1 hits. It's also by far his song most inspired by Michael Jackson in its grooves and huge slick synths, which roar into one of his best ever hooks, and vocals that are damn close to capturing Michael's intensity. Of course, what makes this song stick out - aside from an absolutely insane and awesome music video that is probably the best homage to the 80s styles I loved that The Weeknd has ever made - is the content. And it's bleak: the girl in this song was sexually abused by a famous musician - it's left very ambiguous who that person is, probably a safe bet - and thus fell towards a dead-eyed numbness to become a stripper who dances to that musician's songs - a very 80s plotline, especially in exploitation films. And yet the most important lines in this song come from the fact that this girl is seeking some vestige of relief however she can and The Weeknd himself is more of a bystander with the crucial line, 'I don't think you understand'. It fits the dark framing that underscores all of The Weeknd's best work, and it cuts deep here, analogous to what Lady Gaga made with 'Till It Happens To You', only with the sense of danger still very mcuh lingering and arguably one of the most sweeping and epic instrumentals of The Weeknd's career. This is one of the few songs he's made in recent years that is close to his best with Thursday and Echoes of Silence, and while we didn't quite get that on Starboy, this was a welcome reminder of his incredible potential.

3. This is a song for which I've been cheering for all year, and I was so thrilled it was positioned as the follow-up single... that again, didn't do as well as it should have, but hey, it was 2016, if you're looking for a year to seriously doubt the taste of the mainstream public it was this one. But hey, a little less conversation...


3. 'Into You' by Ariana Grande (Billboard Year-End Chart Position #51)

I shouldn't have to explain why this song is amazing. Like The Weeknd Ariana Grande is calling back to the 80s with the huge walls of synth playing off a sparse reverb-touched snap that runs through the verses - especially on a bridge that blows my mind every single time with those huge chords that build to an amazing climax where the backing vocals are just perfectly layered, for a pop song this has the huge impact in a year where so much was dank mush. And that's even with lyrics that really aren't all that complex: the writing is tight as hell, especially on the hook, but it's a hookup song that teeters on the same edge of danger that worked on 'Dangerous Woman', just given a shot of raw adrenaline. But the standout here is Ariana, mostly because on the verses she's willing to play sultry and reserved and then cut loose for the hook and bridge, building to real crescendos in dramatic intensity that means despite being simple, it's a powerhouse of a track. Again, it's not quite as sexy as 'Love Me Harder', which is just a goddamn masterpiece, but this track brings in elements of the same sensuality that made that song work so damn well, and Ariana seems more and more aware when and how to use it. In other words, yeah, I'm into this.

2. It feels incredibly bizarre putting this song on the list, especially this high. When 2016 started, I knew this would have a serious shot, but I made the assumption there'd be more stuff that could beat it. But while it is a testament to how infuriating 2016 turned out to be that this stuck around for me, it's also a testament to the song, which, well...

2. 'I Took A Pill In Ibiza' by Mike Posner (SeeB Remix) (Billboard Year-End Chart Position #15)

Here's the other big reason I didn't expect this song to stick around for me: Mike Posner. If I were to go back and make lists for my top ten worst hit songs of 2010, 'Cooler Than Me' would probably top it, I genuinely loathe that song. And a lot of his contributions as a songwriter behind the scenes have the sort of acrid wannabe cool stench to them that can be unbelievably corny. In 2014 he was working with Riff Raff on Neon Icon and I thought that was an appropriate level for his talents... and yet 'I Took A Pill In Ibiza' is a fantastic song. For as much as the charges of 'critic-bait' that this song gets for its obvious pop insider references and existential emptiness and the fact that it's a Mike Posner song in 2016 that doesn't suck, it's also a profoundly satisfying and potent track in its own right, presuming of course we're talking about the remix, which is the only reason this came back at all. The tropical vibe of ghostly synth and jingle of sleigh bells that kick into the prechorus against the snap and deeper percussion groove that lead into a synth drop that's actually satisfying, this would work as an electronic song just fine without the vocals. But it's the storytelling of the track that gives it a real edge, capturing the desperate insecurity that comes when you're trying to cling to whatever scraps of fame you have left, coming off the roller coaster for popularity to find nobody on the other side. It's a song that works because Posner is unflinchingly, brutally honest, both in his writing and his framing - and the real gutpunch is that he could have ridden this out to some greater happiness... but he can't keep a personal connection with people as he tries to maintain the image, and that's entirely on him. 'I Took A Pill In Ibiza' captures an artist at his lowest, and the precise balancing act of capturing one last note of catharsis is a delicate one, but I think he pulled it off, so what could be better?

1. There are years where picking my #1 is hard, and this was not one of them. This song had a serious shot of making my year end list of my favourite songs of 2015 - because it was featured on an album last year - because it was so strong. Hell, it was closer than my number #1 hit last year on that list, because arguably this is even better. And it comes from an artist who in previous years has broken the top three and even top two of my favourite hits, but never the #1... until now, when it was so justly earned.


1. 'When We Were Young' by Adele (Billboard Year-End Chart Position #83)


Yeah, it's an easy pick, but it's no less right here. Adele calls this her favourite song that she's ever written, and I wouldn't dispute that, because it's a masterpiece. I could talk about how Ariel Rechtstaid's production perfectly balances Adele with the gentle percussion and upright bass and piano line and swells of backing vocals from cowriter Tobias Jesso Jr., an artist I don't even like, but that's half of the story. The real power comes from Adele, who again is walking a delicate line when it comes to the framing of this song, especially given how it's a surprise encounter with a long-lost love at a glamorous party that leaves her almost dazed in a rush of memory. And while Adele has always been soulful, this song gives her a chance to tap into an older vein of emotional maturity - she's always had dramatic gravitas but this comes with the weight of years, as he hasn't seemed to change, at least in her eyes. She wants to capture that moment of glamour before it inevitably fades for the both of them, a passing that she hates but knows is inevitable, which definitely factors into the complicated framing here. It's wistful but bittersweet, self-conscious and starstruck but also grieving that the moment and all it represented when they were younger will fade along with the rest. Time's passage is the biggest theme represented on 25, and when we get to the bridge Adele makes it plain that a part of her life she thought she had left behind still lingers, and she wonders whether that person will still care - it's a reckless ask, but time draws that out in anyone, and it lends to that wonderful, understated humanity that has always given Adele's best ballads a core that is unmatched. And right now, it's the best hit of 2016, a song in its own heralds its reflection - timeless, like all the classics are.

2 comments:

  1. Thoughts:
    10. Well...I'm a cynical-minded person.
    9. I really want to like this because it is really good...except here's the thing: that intro. The odd sounds is an automatic SKIP from me. I do agree, 6 Inch should've been dropped. That song gets better with every listen.
    8. THIS SONG IS AWESOME
    7. I love the remix by SeeB, because it's the already good original version plus ITAPII's instrumentation.
    6. Cut out Yachty and I'll party to this on the daily.
    5 and 4. These are my numbers 2 and 1, so it goes to show how much I love The Weeknd.
    3. 's good
    2. Yup, it is an incredible song.
    1. Saw this coming from a light-year away. Also, I literally heard this song for the first time two months after it dropped out when it played on the radio at a cafe. It's great, but it wouldn't make my list.

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