Pop music was pretty decent overall in 2017. 2016 was a really bad year, so maybe 2017 just looks much better by default. This year was the year of “artists I never liked releasing the best songs of the year”. Seriously, Charlie Puth even made a pretty decent song this year – what is 2017? I was really surprised at how many songs I liked this year that came from artists that have previously made music that I’ve hated.
I can’t complain about that though, I also can’t complain about a handful of songs that are by artists that I’ve loved for a long time now finally getting mainstream recognition. Yeah, I liked 2017, I promise you I did; no cynicism this time.
Big Shaq – Man’s Not Hot This is better than anything Stormzy has ever made.
Harry Styles – Sign Of The Times I can’t tell if this song will get forgotten or will be remembered in the future, but for now I do think it’s great.
Kesha – Praying This is the most powerful performance I’ve heard from a pop singer in years, holy shit.
French Montana – Unforgettable (Feat. Swae Lee) Imagine how good this song would be if French Montana didn’t show up.
Clean Bandit – Disconnect (Feat. Marina) I don’t think anyone knows who Clean Bandit are, but every song of theirs becomes a hit, and somehow one of their best ones didn’t.
Carly Rae Jepson – Cut To The Feeling This wasn’t a hit but the fact it wasn’t makes me sad.
And now the top 10.
10. Shawn Mendes – There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back
Well, this was a surprising turn of events. I took a massive shat over Shawn Mendes in last year’s worst pop songs list, and my conclusion was that he would never make a good song.
Well it’s time for me to eat my shit as the saying goes, or something along those lines. There aren’t any awful lyrics here that make Shawn sound like a snaky nice guy, which we’ve had in previous songs by him. “I wanna follow where she goes” might be a little creepy but, hey, I’ll take what I can get.
Here, it’s just straight up hopeless romanticism. Those initial feelings you get with someone you’ve fallen hard for we can all relate to. This is so much more enjoyable for me to listen to: I’m bored of “they break my heart now I need stitches” and “that guy is bad for you I’m the better choice”, which aren’t just songs made by Shawn Mendes, it’s across all of pop music. Where are the heart pumping, butterflies in your stomach, genuine happy-feeling pop love songs?
The answer is right here. There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back is the song I’ve been looking for in pop music. I just didn’t expect it to come from this source, so I hope Shawn Mendes sticks with this in the future.
9. Post Malone – Rockstar (Feat. 21 Savage)
I wouldn’t call Post Malone a rockstar, I wouldn’t call him a rapper either. This song to me doesn’t fall into a particular category, which I think is why I like it. On songs like White Iverson, it’s clear that Posty is trying to emulate something he’s not very good at. Whereas here, I think he’s managed to bridge the gap between trap, and his other influences.
There’s something about the sound of this song that I find very unique, it’s got an atmosphere that other trap songs can’t pull off anywhere near as well. Then the first verse comes in, and, my god, that is some damn good singing from Post Malone, I belt that entire verse out every time I hear. Even 21 comes on the track sounding decent; better than any of his own songs.
Lyrically, it’s as stale an generic as a typical popular rap song. It’s the kind of song that would make a hip-hop hater say “see, all rap is the same! Hoes and guns!”, and yeah, some of it is, but sometimes it can’t be denied, and Rockstar is the greatest example of that.
8. J Hus – Did You See
J Hus is a nice addition to the UK hip-hop scene. This track isn’t even the best from his debut album, so it just shows the talent he has. This track does follow a similar sound to much of the dancehall/Afrobeat songs that hit the charts over that past year or so.
The difference, though, is that this sounds much more vibrant than those other hits, and well, J Hus actually comes from Afro-descent. Not that you can’t do a style of music just because you don’t come from there, but it sounds much more organic that way – there’s nothing worse than something sounding gentrified.
J Hus makes it sounds fluid and natural, and easily the best song to come out of the this dancehall trend.
7. Kendrick Lamar – Humble.
When a guy that has some of the most critically acclaimed albums of the decade starts his first verse with “I remember syrup sandwiches”, you know he’s embracing the memes. And by god was this meme embraced. Not only that, but it’s actually one of his catchiest songs, the beat alone is enough to win me over. Mike WiLL Made-It killed it with this one – the piano riff that plays throughout the song makes it so bouncy.
With Kung Fu Kenny, you often get thought provoking detailed lyricism, but this is far more simple for his standards. On the chorus, he’s basically taking a stab at all his contemporaries and telling them to be humble. Less of the bragging ‘lil bitch’, and be thankful you made it. It’s a sentiment I can definitely get with.
Kendrick has been known to reference religion in his music, and you could liken this sentiment to the quote “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”. Kendrick could be talking to himself on this song, as he’s now gotten so popular that his earnings have become a major privilege, and material things shouldn’t be the most important asset to him (as discussed on How Much A Dollar Cost?). So even when the guy isn’t lyrical, he’s still frigging lyrical. Goddamn this man.
6. Katy Perry – Swish Swish (Feat. Nicki Minaj)
In Katy Perry’s writing process of writing a diss track towards Taylor Swift, she accidentally wrote the best hip-house. I say accidentally for one reason; there were no songs as good as this one on Witness or even sounded like this.
Seriously, where did she pull this from? She released this in the same year as the awful Bon Appétit and the “socially conscious, super woke” Chained To The Rhythm. I didn’t think Katy Perry could pull off this kind of sass, but she somehow did.
It’s quite clever how the tone to this song is incredibly dark but still manages to be catchy as hell, something that didn’t work on Dark Horse. Like with Dark Horse, though, there’s a guest rap feature. This time it’s Nicki Minaj, and I’ve always seen Nicki as a wasted talent – to start your career with a verse like the one on Monster to then go to trendy club bangers is a real shame. Some of those club bangers were pretty fun, but the lyrical ability of Nicki in those songs just isn’t there, but thankfully here she really does snap (especially the second part of her verse).
So yeah, a damn good song which I still think is a fluke by Katy Perry’s standards. Next year she’ll be back with something terrible, but this will go down as one of her best.
5. Dua Lipa – Be The One
Of course, the one Dua Lipa song that makes my list is probably the one that did worse in sales, because I’m a massive hipster. I still think this is the best single she’s released, she has been a great addition to the modern pop landscape, but this song is… The One*. She has grown with every subsequent release but I do think that’s because her sound has gotten trendier with each single.
It’s crazy that this is over 2 years old at this point (bonus hipster points: I heard this back then before it got big, ha, call yourself a fan) and it only broke big this year. It’s a much more subtle sounding pop song than your average smash hit, very simple hand claps on the verses with a minimal but groovy beat. Then the chorus comes in and flourishes. It’s a very gorgeous sounding pop song that you don’t often hear hit the charts anymore. It’s a good thing we’ve got SZA now too to push these gorgeous pop songs back into the mainstream.
I think the reason I gravitate towards this song more than her other singles is because it’s so much more original in sound. New Rules and Hotter Than Hell both follow the same ‘verse, chorus and then drop’ formula that every radio hit does these days. Arguably, Dua Lipa does it best, but it’s nowhere near as fresh as a song like Be The One.
4. Camila Cabello – Havana (Feat. Young Thug)
This sure is better than anything Fifth Harmony has ever done. This is the kind of song Zayn wishes he wrote after leaving 1D. The kind of song that proves that you’re not just girl/boy band member, and you actually have a tonne of talent that can hold up on its own.
There’s something so classy about this song, the piano played throughout gives it an old-noir feel to it, like I’m in some kind of 50’s jazz club. Looking suave with my slick back hair, something I definitely couldn’t pull off in real life.
Then of course there’s the Latin influence of the song, in sound and in heritage. Camila is from Cuba so in this track she’s longing to be back in Havana. It’s strange, because it makes me feel like I want to be there too: she’s managed to pull me into her nostalgia and I suddenly want to be in a place I’ve never been to.
3. Calvin Harris – Slide (Feat. Frank Ocean & Migos)
Calvin Harris really stepped up his production game this year. He tried with funkier sounds and a straight up summery chillwave vibe. I don’t think it worked with every track on Funk Wav Vol 1, but he was certainly heading the right way with the album.
The lead single was by far the best on the album, and personally I think it’s his best ever song to date (I’m sorry, We Found Love). Now, this may be due to Frank Ocean being on the track. Anyone that’s heard Frank Ocean’s solo material will know that whatever he touches turns amazing and here we’ve got the same Ocean effect; his deadpan delivery works insanely well over this beat. Migos don’t sound out of place either, considering their usual work is trap-oriented. Gotta give the best verse to Offset here.
What I also liked about this song was the growth it had on a lot of people. It’s not the typical instantaneously catchy pop track that gives immediate gratification, it’s a track that you appreciate more and more over time. I think if it was released closer to the summer, it would have been enjoyed by more people, because it does have a chilled out tone that fits perfectly over the summer period. 2017’s best summer jam, featuring Frank Ocean — man, I was not expecting that.
2. The Weeknd – I Feel It Coming (Feat. Daft Punk
My number two and number one picks could easily be 80s songs if you’d didn’t know otherwise. Abel is becoming the master of the singles game: his past few albums have been a mixed bag, but they feature incredible singles on them. We had the title track Starboy from 2016 (which also made the best pop songs list) and False Alarm, which was a wild and experimental track that I didn’t expect from The Weeknd. Then came I Feel It Coming, a smooth and sexy R&B song which once again has Daft Punk handling production. At this point, I just want a whole album of songs produced by Daft Punk with The Weeknd singing over them.
The Weeknd’s signature style was one night stands and self-deprecating lyrics about how he’s a messed up guy that can’t keep a girl. And sure, that’s all still there, but to hear a track that’s more invested in a relationship and the deeper feelings that come from them is quite refreshing for him. Maybe he’s trying to appeal to a wider audience here, making something more relatable to your average person rather than focusing on snorting crack cocaine and waking up next to a prostitute.
If it sounds this good then I’ll gladly hear more of this Michael Jackson sound. I’m very convinced that this along with The Weeknd’s best singles are going to age extremely well and I can see this being loved years down the line.
1. Bruno Mars – That’s What I Like
It took a long time for me to come around on Bruno Mars, but it also took a long time for him to make music as good as this. It’s very clear that Bruno is emulating the late 70’s/80’s funk pop sound, but just like with The Weeknd, this is the best it’s been done.
24K Magic was a fun track, but admittedly, it was very similar to Uptown Funk. It had the bombastic beat, the quotable lines and the banging beat that makes you want to dance. Now with That’s What I Like, it has the quotable lines, but this time it’s got the instant replay value. Uptown Funk or 24K Magic don’t have that for me: they’re fun when they’re on but once I’ve heard them, I’ve got the gist and I’m okay with not hearing it again for a long time.
This song is addictive and the beat is done to perfection. I’ve said it sounds like a specific time period of music, but at the same time it sounds like nothing else out there. Every line pops out and I just wanna quote them all day. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say “that’s what I like” in an ordinary sentence without singing it in this melody.
I’m just amazed at how much this song sticks in my head; rarely any songs can do it in the way this song can. This has been the most played song in my head all year round, not that it’s possible to work that out, but you get what I mean.
The vocals on the bridge are unbelievably good as well. It’s a rarity in modern pop music, and I don’t expect a song as good as this for quite a long time. *EDITOR’S NOTE: You make me sick, Ryan.