Yeah, yeah, I know it’s taken me forever to get around to this one. I guess I just wanted to be as thorough as possible, ensuring that the songs that I chosen for this list stood the test of time and stayed good well into the new year. I wanted to make sure that what I considered the best of the year was actually indeed the best of the best, because that’s what we all deserve. Also, I’ve just had so much on my plate lately, with One Random Single a Day and Oscar season in general taking up a huge chunk of my free time. Still, I haven’t forgotten about the necessary counterpart to my successful Worst Hit Singles list, and I’d like to throw some positivity onto the trash fire that was 2016.
And no, that’s not even me being dramatic. 2016 was a shoddy year for me (and others) for lots of reasons, but it didn’t help that the pop music that I was following so closely just came off as pretty uninteresting. I know that this is really my first year doing something like this, but something tells me that 2016 is particularly bland. It was actually pretty tough for me to compile twenty hit singles for this list. Even though I mentioned that there were a healthy bit of hit singles that I found myself all the better for having given a listen, the diversity in such singles were lacking. I even had to forgo the “one per artist” rule that I had given myself for my Worst of 2016 lists, since I was struggling to say much about the songs I only kind of enjoyed. For this reason, a few artists will show up twice on this list. Still, I think that there are quite a few songs on the following list of which I don’t think many people would doubt the credibility and enjoyment factor. Many might disagree with what I consider a “good” or “great” single, but it’s all just personal opinion, and I’m more than welcome to open discussion on the merits of any of these songs!
First, as a refresher, here are the two basic rules I made for myself to follow while compiling this list.
- The single must have debuted during a Billboard chart issue landing in 2016.
- The single must have entered the Top 40 in 2016.
- The song must have had its chart debut in 2016.
Now, let’s begin!
20) “Two Phones” by Kevin Gates (peak position: #17)
Here’s one of the aforementioned singles that I only kind of love – I don’t have too much to say about it, other than the fact that I’ve never not enjoyed listening to it. The hook in the chorus (“I got two phones / One for the plug and one for the load”) is just so cool; even though it’s definitely about buying and selling drugs, I find myself splicing it into everyday conversation for no real reason at all. I have yet to listen to Kevin Gates’ debut album Islah, but this song alone demonstrates his sharp rhythm and terrific flow. If “Really Really” had been a slightly bigger hit, that one would have probably taken this spot instead (or maybe even ranked a bit higher). Nonetheless, this is still a fine slice of trap music detailing the woes and complications of attempting to balance business and pleasure without mixing the two.
19) “X” by 21 Savage and Metro Boomin ft. Future (peak position: #36)
I really hope entries like these last two won’t turn people away from the rest of the post! I’ll admit I was never really on board with trap, but 2016 was the year in which I really found its merits as bangin’, often minimalistic party music. I’m also pretty sure 21 Savage and Metro Boomin’s release Savage Mode was one of the most important factors that converted me to this realization. “No Heart” just barely missed the Top 40 rule, which saddens me because I legitimately love that song so much more than this one and I wish I could write about it. As it stands, though, “X” isn’t half bad either and has many of the qualities I appreciate in “No Heart”, albeit to a lesser degree. I can see how so many would be turned off by 21 Savage’s druggy flow and the triad’s surface level lyrics with shades of misogyny, heard in lines like, “My new bitch wetter than a lake… and she love to let me paint her face”. I’ve got to be honest, though – I can’t stop myself from getting down every time that intense bass drops for the first time. I may sound hypocritical for criticizing how so many songs from this year sound so dark and gloomy, yet turning around and praising this one with that exact type of production. But I really don’t care. This is a banger.
18) “Immortal” by J. Cole (peak position: #11)
I know I mildly dissed J. Cole’s latest release 4 Your Eyez Only in my post on the Worst Singles of 2016, but I did also mention that the album had its upsides. One of the strongest comes with “Immortal”, which is the official introduction to the story of the album. The album as a whole examines and criticizes the inner-city existence and method of survival for Black youths coming of age in harsh conditions that force them into such confined, limited expectations as to “sell dope, rap, or go to NBA”. “Immortal” is one of the most prominent of vessels for such a message, with J. Cole’s mantra of “real n*ggas don’t die” feeling almost like a cry for desperation. There are a lot of really good lines in this one, my personal favorite selection being: “Have you ever seen a fiend cook crack on the spoon? / Have you ever seen a n*gga that was black on the moon? / Have you ever seen your brother go to prison as you cry? / Have you ever seen a motherfuckin’ ribbon in the sky?”. The Stevie Wonder reference in the very last line gives me chills every time. J. Cole may be far from being near the top of the rap game, but this single could provide a good supplement for those who argue that he is.
17) “Famous” by Kanye West (peak position: #34)
Ugh, that opening line has been given enough credit than what it’s worth – so I’ll ignore it completely. For that matter, this song has been given so much attention and scrutiny throughout the entire godforsaken year, there’s hardly anything else that I could add here, but I guess it wouldn’t hurt to add my two cents. The Life of Pablo as a whole is dark, spastic in its samples, and just plain weird. “Famous”, however, while not the strongest track on the album, is memorable for many reasons. Kanye’s rhymes here are far from his best (I’m still wondering if they’re even “good” in the traditional sense), but that almost doesn’t matter, since everything else surrounding his presence gracefully outshines him. The backing music during Kanye’s verses is fantastic, and Swizz Beatz’s ad-libs are the only parts I really sing along to during the whole song (“God-damn!”). And that’s not even mentioning the trio of outstanding female presences: Rihanna and Nina Simone bookending the track with two tender renditions of “Do What You Gotta Do”, with a choppy interpolation of Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” being thrown right in quite beautifully. In terms of production, this may be one of my favorite releases from the rapper ever, which is interesting considering that he’s not really much of the reason why.
16) “Perfect Illusion” by Lady Gaga (peak position: #15)
I feel like “Perfect Illusion” is a song that I should have loved a whole lot more had it been given some more time with its lyrics and production. I recently wrote on length of what I think about Lady Gaga, so I won’t get too much into that. But alongside the rest of her wonderful album Joanne (including “Million Reasons”, which I would’ve been writing about instead had it been more commercially successful!!), this one sticks out like a sore thumb. Still, it feels pleasingly Gaga-lite, fitted for people who dig her bombastic nature but not so much the silly lines like, “I want to take a ride on your disco stick”. Like the rest of Joanne this is a restrained effort from the artist, but it’s still big as hell. And oh, that polarizing key change… I dig it. I’m a fan of most upward key changes, though. It just successfully manipulates that part of my brain that wants to interpret them as epic and ground-breaking, but I’m not ashamed to admit it. Overall, while it’s far from the greatest dance track I heard all year long, it still pumps me up with every listen and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of Gaga’s impeccable vocal ability.
15) “Needed Me” by Rihanna (peak position: #7)
While “Work” was dominating the Hot 100 in early spring of last year, I was quietly obsessing over “Needed Me”. The dark, moody atmosphere in its production – courtesy of DJ Mustard – was like nothing I’ve ever heard Rihanna attempt before, further solidifying the fact that she has been transforming into one of the definitive artists of this entire generation. Her vocals here are fittingly dark and mysterious, a perfect complement to the track’s mood that is often so dark it’s almost sleepy. I will admit that after it climbed up the charts with near-equal vigor as “Work”, the initial appeal of the song slowly wore away, but I think most of that effect can be blamed on the fact that all of DJ Mustard’s productions sound pretty grating to me eventually. Nevertheless, the song is a fair example of the fact that RiRi is a real force to be reckoned with.
14) “Black Beatles” by Rae Sremmurd ft. Gucci Mane (peak position: #1)
As I mentioned before, I finally discovered the merits of trap music in 2016 and I think I’m all the better for having done so. Sometimes I just need to turn off the super-analytical, snobby part of my critic brain for a second and judge a piece based on its failure or success of what it’s trying to accomplish. I know that the commercial success of “Black Beatles” could almost completely be credited to its role in a popular meme on Vine, but part of me hopes that it’s also because of how catchy it is as well. The production and lyricism are youthful and optimistic, and while the song has very little to do with The Beatles outside of the title (and the line “She’s a good teaser / and we blowin’ reefer”), there’s still a lot of distinct personality in this track. I’ve listened to Rae Sremmurd’s two albums and it’s often the case that I prefer either Swae Lee or Slim Jxmmi depending on the track. Here, their contributions are both equally important and this may, in fact, be the best introductory Rae Sremmurd track for that reason. If anything, it’s Gucci Mane’s bit that brings this one down slightly – it isn’t so awful that it makes the song bad, but I could really do without it anyway. I listened to this song countless times this year (even more after it hit the top spot for seven weeks), but I can’t say that I’ve grown sick of it yet.
13) “Starboy” by The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk (peak position: #1)
I know most people, when making these lists, have this song ranked much higher – usually the top five, but definitely the top ten. To be honest, though, it took me far too long to finally admit that I enjoyed this song to be able to rank it any higher than I have here. While I initially really dug The Weeknd when I discovered his music a couple years ago, I’ve come to grow really tired of his sexy, drug-fueled R&B schtick that seems to make up the bulk of his content. His latest album Starboy is a whole bunch of that across eighteen tracks; the lead single “Starboy”, in particular, is a collection of nonsense phrases that amount to a whole lot of nothing (“Look what you’ve done / I’m a motherfucking Starboy” is the chorus). Still, I can’t find myself to undermine the contribution of Daft Punk in this track. The production makes this track – “Starboy” would be absolutely nothing without the crashing synths, frayed edges, and the handful of other Daft Punk staples that are peppered throughout. It helps give the illusion of Abel actually being as much of a badass as he claims he is. In an album chock-full of a whole lotta nothing, “Starboy” is one of the few beacons of hope throughout.
12) “I Took a Pill in Ibiza (SeeB Remix)” by Mike Posner (peak position: #4)
I’m just as bewildered as everyone else with the fact that I’m writing about Mike Posner in 2016… well, 2017 now (I’m sorry again that this post is so late!). Mike Posner, who had a top ten hit with the abysmal “Cooler Than Me” back in 2010, then disappeared into a black hole of obscurity and trivia questions. And now I’m writing about a single of his that made my top 20 of 2016 – what gives!?! Well, let’s make it clear that the original version of this song is bland, forgettable acoustic drivel. SeeB’s remix – with what I think is the pop drop of the year (thanks again, Switched on Pop) – really makes this one a cut above the rest. Interesting, considering that this is a song that is critical of the downward spiral of party culture, while also becoming a real banger itself with its remix. This song does feel like a bit of a pity party for Posner himself (“I’m just a singer who already blew his shot / I get along with old-timers ’cause my name’s a reminder / Of a pop song people forgot”), but while we have so much content from A- and B-list celebrities who condemn the hedonism of their day-to-day lives, the C- and D-listers are often thrown under the bus. This won’t make me rush out to buy the latest Mike Posner release any time soon, but it is a pretty good pop song nonetheless.
11) “Cheap Thrills” by Sia ft. Sean Paul (peak position: #1)
I’ve immensely enjoyed watching Sia’s rise to the top lately. I’ve loved her ever since I discovered Color the Small One back in high school and rejoiced when her phenomenal “Chandelier” hit the top ten. “Cheap Thrills” was one of the only pure pop songs to reach the top of the Hot 100 in 2016 (along with “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” and maybe “Closer”), and it is far and away the best to do so. Its optimism and “money can’t buy me love” sentiment might seem naive to some, but I think it’s exactly the flicker of sunshine that is needed in such a dismal year that 2016 was. Tropical house influences touched practically everything in pop music this year, and while this song continued this trend that I honestly found pretty boring, it managed to be effortlessly fun and youthful in the meantime. Sean Paul is as undecipherable as always here, but I can’t deny that I had a bit of a nostalgia boom listening to his voice appear in popular music once again. This is one of the most well-crafted pop songs of the year, and I’m forever looking forward to Sia’s future output.
10) “Broccoli” by D.R.A.M. and Lil Yachty (peak position: #5)
And now here’s the part of the countdown where I start getting to songs that I genuinely love to some degree or another. But I swear, Lil Yachty’s presence on this track almost made me rank this song way lower than it probably deserves. I’ll admit that I’m a Yachty fan – at the very least, I really dug his Lil Boat mixtape and a couple of his solo singles – and his flow at least is a welcome inclusion to the atmosphere of this whole track. Yet with his introductory verse including nonsense lines like “we gon’ turn this shit to Columbine” and “50 Shades of Grey; beat that pussy like Hulk Hogan”, I was put off very quickly and really had low expectations for what was to come next. Luckily, D.R.A.M. came to the rescue and quickly re-transformed this to the stellar party track it was always meant to be. The hook is one for the ages: “Ain’t – no – tellin’ – what – I’m – finna – be on! / I’m beyond all that fuck shit”. I sing along every time and it always puts me in such a great mood. His verses are also significantly better, with some pretty clever lines like, “All I wanted was the fame and every game they made on Sega”. All of this is strung together by a piano riff that is really just the same two notes again and again, a silly but distinct inclusion to this party balloon of a song. Overall, it’s such a fun, light-hearted, positive song, certainly the likes of which I wish we had more this year.
9) “Formation” by Beyoncé (peak position: #10)
I’ve been trying really hard to get on the Beyoncé train that everyone’s been raving about for years now, and while I appreciate her as a pop diva and super-important icon of the times, there had only been a handful of songs that I could truly consider great. But in early 2016, she dropped “Formation”; soon after that, she dropped Lemonade and my concerns were quickly quelled. Her artistic vision and maturity has never been stronger than it has been in the majority of Lemonade, and it still remains one of my favorite albums of the entire year. Yet, I doubt my excitement would have been nearly as pronounced had it not been the surprise fireball of a song and video that is “Formation”. The two are nearly inseparable, but the song works quite well on its own regard. It’s a call to arms, specifically catered to Black women, to unapologetically embrace the powerful intersection between their blackness and their femininity. Of course, this message was meant with controversy and divisive opinions overall, but anthems like these are so important and always needed. Beyoncé is loud and bossy here, and it’s hard to not feel subjugated to her every want and whim. It’s her personality all wrapped up in the dominant message of female empowerment that makes this such a delight to listen to every time.
8) “I Feel It Coming” by The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk (peak position: #16)
Of course, the two best songs off of Starboy happen to be The Weeknd’s collaborations with Daft Punk. And that’s no mere coincidence either – just as how their work on “Starboy” lifted the song up from its potentially mediocre standing, their contributions here bring the track up to absolutely ethereal standards. Unlike “Starboy”, which took me a while to enjoy, “I Feel It Coming” got me moving from the very first listen. And also unlike “Starboy”, the performance of The Weeknd himself here is totally welcome, with his dreamy, sex god stature sounding more convincing than usual all throughout this track. It’s a nighttime disco ballad with an 80s backdrop that somehow extends beyond its basic aesthetic into something a tad more glorious. I don’t really want to oversell this song, because the best track off of Starboy barely reaches the heights of the worst song off of Random Access Memories. But for a compromising collaboration between a slinky R&B star and a sonic deity, it could certainly be much worse.
7) “Panda” by Desiigner (peak position: #1)
The internet age of popular music will probably go down in history as one of the all-time weirdest, and “Panda” may be the one song that best exemplifies this. It’s a shameless Future ripoff from an MC with not another commercial recording to his name, which was then shamelessly copy-pasted into a track from a high-profile rapper’s highly-anticipated album, and then went on to reach #1 on the Hot 100 for two weeks. The most interesting part is that this song is actually a real banger. I was just as perplexed as everyone else when it dropped, but once it got up to that number-one spot, I was jamming along to everyone else in the country. Desiigner is probably nothing more than a cheap gimmick, with his druggy flow and hyped exclamations being the main source of his personality. For the record, the “panda” of the title is in reference to a car’s paint job – that’s so silly! Nonetheless, this song is so much stupid fun, I can’t find the heart to dislike it. And I can’t lie – I also really like “Tiimmy Turner” as well, and even though Desiigner is a name that won’t mean much in two years, his presence in the meantime is welcomed.
6) “All the Way Up” by Fat Joe and Remy Ma ft. French Montana (peak position: #27)
Few radio songs from this past year put me in a better mood overall than “All the Way Up”. I think part of it is the pure nostalgia of listening to Fat Joe on the radio once again. I always just associated him as the “Lean Back” guy, but the older I get the more I appreciate him for being one of the most prominent Latino rappers on mainstream radio. Here, he leads one of the most instantly catchy turn-up songs of 2016, and does so without even seeming to so much break a sweat. This single in particular, though, gave me a greater appreciation for Remy Ma, of whom I never really considered much in the past. Her star power here runs deep, with lines like “Just left the big house to a bigger house / Ain’t have a girlfriend, but the bitch is out” and, my personal favorite, “I’m that n*gga on Viagra dick / That means I’m all the way up!” – which is just hilarious. French Montana’s lackluster contributions keep this from being ranked much higher, but as a whole, there are few other songs from this year that get me in the mood for straight-up ridiculous fun so quickly.
5) “Bad and Boujee” by Migos ft. Lil Uzi Vert (peak position: #1)
Yeah, I know. Most people would probably add this to their 2017 list (and many probably will!), but technically this single made the Top 40 before the first chart dated 2017, so I’m gonna add it here. The popularity of this song has really blown up very recently, thanks to the internet, and it’s reached the point of its fame now where the backlash might now be louder than its praise. But let’s not lose focus here – every bit of its praise is certainly well deserved. In particular, Metro Boomin’s trademark deep-and-dingy production is the star player in this song, as is pretty much every word that comes from Offset’s mouth. There are so many great lines in this one, most about attractive women and making money with drugs (“Cookin’ up dope in a crock pot” is unparalleled), but even more important are the duo’s ad-libs which are out of control here. It’s not perfect though – like, I really, really hate pretty much every part of Lil Uzi Vert’s verse. Just awful. But with “Bad and Boujee”, the sum is certainly greater than its parts, and I’ve never stopped having a good time with this one. It’s just a fine, filthy piece of work, an excellent leading single from a just-as-bodacious album.
4) “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars (peak position: #4)
2016 – the year when Bruno Mars finally caught my attention. Now, I always saw him as pretty talented, but some of his biggest singles like “Grenade” and “Just the Way You Are” always left such a bad taste in my mouth. It was only when his flair for creating throwback dance jams became more and more prominent with each new single – “Locked Out of Heaven”, “Treasure”, and his featured credit in Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” being the strongest examples of such. In many ways, “24L Magic” feels like it’s riding off the coattails of the Grammy-winning latter single, but after a few listens, the unsheathed personality of the track starts to show its teeth. Beginning with some smooth Zapp & Roger vocoder work, the party atmosphere really becomes full-frontal with the first utterance of its “Put your pinky finger to the moon!” hook. Where “Uptown Funk” paid homage to 70s funk, like Parliament, “24K” moves forward to the more synth- and scratch-laden sound of 80s hip-hop. It’s a roaring fireball of good partytime vibes from start to finish, which is more than needed in the depressing pop music world of today. Also, I just really like saying, “Hashtag, blessed” whenever that part comes up.
3) “Love on the Brain” by Rihanna (peak position: #14)
I know that I’ve complained many times about how relentlessly sad pop music across in 2016, and that’s still very true. Nonetheless, even though I’ve poured over many of these upbeat songs for being a shining beacon in a dark year, I couldn’t really respect myself as a music critic if my choices were really all that predictable. On the basis of what I believe makes a good song and a good recording, “Love on the Brain” is one of the best. Those tried-and-true guitar arpeggios really hit deep, setting the stage for the shocking somber performance from Rihanna herself. Where singles like “Bitch Better Have My Money” and “Needed Me” solidified my love for her, it was the three-tier finale of “Love on the Brain”, “Higher”, and “Close To You” from her latest album ANTI that shook me to my core. To my delight, the former was released as a single, and it’s one of the strongest of her entire career. There’s so much tragedy in lines like, “It beats me black and blue / But it fucks me so good/ I just can’t get enough / Must be love on the brain” and it seems to only get sadder as the song goes on. Some call it an Amy Winehouse tribute, others call it a Prince pre-humous tribute – I say it’s all Rihanna, through and through. One listen will leave you hooked.
2) “Into You” by Ariana Grande (peak position: #13)
Ariana Grande may be the truest pop star of this generation, a feat made all the more concrete with her latest album Dangerous Woman. While many pop stars of the day are hybridizing their sound or reaching backwards to give a more retro feel to their music, Grande’s sound has remained definitively poppy and still entrenched in the era from whence it comes. “Into You” is tied with her 2014 single “Love Me Harder” as being the very best of her career, but even “Love Me Harder” let the production do all the heavy lifting. With “Into You”, Max Martin’s production still kicks with its pulsing electronic drive, but Grande herself has never sounded better. She is in total control here, both vocally and in terms of her general presence – the line “A little less conversation and a little more ‘touch my body'” might be an Elvis Presley reference, but she makes it her own phrase entirely. It’s just such a sleek, sexy, explosive number, the likes of which will be on replay for years to come. I’m so happy I discovered Grande this year, and I really can’t wait to find out what nuggets of greatness she has up her sleeve in the future.
Now, before I move onto my #1 single of 2016, I’ll first like to list a few honorable mentions. I mentioned before that there really weren’t many songs that hit the top 40 that I legitimately loved, but there were a fair bit of singles that missed the mark that were definite favorites of mine. Therefore, if I were to extend the rules of my list to include any song that appeared on the Hot 100 in 2016, these ones would’ve definitely made the cut:
- “No Problem” by Chance the Rapper ft. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz (peak: #43): I so wish this single would have performed much better than it actually did. The chorus is one of the catchiest pieces of music I’ve encountered all year, helped by Chance’s signature goofy ad-libs. This also has a decent verse by Lil Wayne, which is something I can’t say too often.
- “Redbone” by Childish Gambino (peak: #48): Gambino’s latest record ‘Awaken, My Love!’ had a whole bunch of hype leading up to its release, but was overall a bit of a flash in the pan. The strongest part of the album, though, is “Redbone”, a smooth R&B number with a bizarrely erotic hyper-pitched vocals from Gambino. A real sex jam.
- “Nikes” by Frank Ocean (peak: #79): Frank Ocean’s Blond was another super anticipatory release; contrary to ‘Awaken’, though, it actually turned out quite excellently. It took me a long, long time to get around to appreciating “Nikes”, but overall I think its distinct sound works more in its favor. It’s a highly emotional, atmospheric piece unlike anything else to hit the charts this year.
- “Fade” by Kanye West (peak: #47): Much like the entirety of The Life of Pablo, Kanye once again proves his prowess in sampling esoteric tracks for a sound all his own. In this case, Mr. Fingers’ house classic “Mysteries of Love” takes center stage with vocal bits from Hardrive, Barbara Tucker, and Rare Earth. It’s not among the best that Pablo has to offer, but it’s still a solid, bumping single.
- “Million Reasons” by Lady Gaga (peak: #52): Lady Gaga’s Joanne has a lot of high points, but I’d never expect a softer ballad to be one of them. Toning down her usual hyper-glam persona, she gives a truly heartfelt, honest performance, with just a touch of melodrama, making this one of the best ballads of the year as well as one of her better recorded performances.
- “Look Alive” by Rae Stremmurd (peak: #72): “Look Alive” was the first single from Rae Sremmurd that I truly listened to, and I was captivated from the very first listen. Mike WiLL Made-It’s dark, spacey production, coupled with Swae’s delivery of the captivating hook, make this one of the coolest atmospheric trap singles of the year.
- “We the People….” by A Tribe Called Quest (peak: #77): I could really do fine with just the instrumental of this song, to be honest. Typical of a Tribe track, the production is on point, but the lyrics might be some of the sharpest written from their whole career (where I mainly dug them for their production, rather than their lyricism). One of the most important songs of the latter part of the year.
- “Why You Always Hatin?” by YG ft. Drake and Kamaiyah (peak: #62): Yeah, this has Drake, who is as disposable as ever. And yeah, this is essentially a shameless throwback to 90s West Coast rap. But it was also one of my most-played hit singles of the whole year, and for good reason. It’s just good, good fun. I only wish Kamaiyah had a bigger part.
- “Cranes in the Sky” by Solange (peak: #74): Here, Solange wears her vulnerability firmly on her sleeve, laying out her insecurities and pain for all to see. Laced within the sleek R&B production and exquisite harmonies is a tale of human desperation and one of the most accurate descriptions of depression that I’ve heard in a pop song. It’s a delicate, beautiful listen from start to finish, and quite possibly my most favorite single of the whole year.
And now, my number-one hit single of the year.
1) “Lazarus” by David Bowie (peak position: #40)
This might be a cop-out. After all, this song did debut at #40 a week after David Bowie’s death, but then fell off a week later. Technically this qualifies it for the list, according to to rules I’ve made. In any case, that opening line still really hurts: “Look up here; I’m in heaven”. Led by a sparse production, which makes the guitar and drums seem astronomical, and punctuated by the saxophone motif, it’s hard not to feel that this is what death sounds like. And more than any other track on Blackstar (except, perhaps, “Blackstar” itself), this is a contemplative, personal piece of work from Bowie himself, hanging by the final threads of his long, prosperous life – “Look up here, man; I’m in danger / I’ve got nothing left to lose”. And it’s not just about death as a rock star, but death in general. The concept alone is something that we don’t often think about 99% of the time, but this song, with its dark, hellish jazz overtures, forces the idea of everyone’s inevitable fate to the very foreground, making it a very uncomfortable listen overall. Objectively, though, it’s a brilliant musical accomplishment from one of the biggest musical masterminds ever, and I’m sure I’ll be giving it a listen every January 10th for the indefinite future.
And since I’m sure some readers might be disappointed in my pick for #1 – it’s a bit of an unfair pick, isn’t it? – I’ll here reveal that my number-one slot actually ends in a tie. Here is the second of my two number-one hit singles of the year.
1) “Sorry” by Beyoncé (peak position: #11)
Ah, yes – my number-one hit pop single of the year 2016 comes from Madame Knowles herself, the unmatched queen of pop. Lemonade was a fantastic album, full of fantastic tracks and accompanied by a number of wonderfully-shot, equally important, visceral music videos. While theoretically it would’ve been difficult to pick a single song from the whole album that shines above the rest, it was honestly a no-brainer from the very first listen I gave to “Sorry”. On the surface, it’s a simple kiss-off to ne’er-do-well lovers, set to the tune of razor-sharp pop production and chant-along lyrics of empowerment. More universally, though, it’s a homage to feminine strength in retaliation against cheating male partners who expect the stereotypically weak emotions of women to give them the second chance they may not deserve. Beyoncé’s response: “Hell naw!”. Through sarcastic wit and colossal amounts of sass, she leads a new movement en route to never taking shit from another man ever again. And boy is it convincing! The cap-off “Becky with the good hair” line honestly gives me chills every time, and it must have done the same for others, considering the amount of speculation over who the identity of Becky could be. The celebrity aspect is hardly a factor in the single’s strength, though – rather, it’s a collection of terrific production choices, with Beyoncé sounding as great as ever while emitting the chorus of her entire career “Sorry (I ain’t sorry)”. I just can’t get enough of this one, and I couldn’t think of any other pop song to better top the list than this one.