My countdown of the 101 Biggest Hits of 2016 will begin after Billboard publishes their final Hot 100 of the year tomorrow morning. In anticipation of that, I decided that today was a good time to throw my objective research to the wayside and share my choices for the best songs of 2016.
Narrowing my list down to just 10 songs was an arduous effort, as my shortlist playlist was well over 50 this year. As always, my list was constrained by one song per artist, in order to keep this countdown fresh. Here are some honorable mentions (alphabetical by artist) that came up just short of full recognition this year:
In no way do I claim this to be a perfect or completely defensible ranking. The whole practice of best-of lists is to foster debate, disagreement, and ultimately hearty conversation on the year that was, and my aim is to represent the impact 2016 had on my own music taste. As I am a vehement pop apologist striving to find the perfect beat, you can expect this list to reflect my uptempo desires. So with that disclaimer aside, let’s take a look at my Top 10!
#10: Hummingbird by Kyla La Grange
I first learned of English siren Kyla La Grange when Kygo’s 2014 remix of her single “Cut Your Teeth” gave both artists their first international hits. La Grange crafted a wonderful slice of synthpop heaven sans remix in April with “Hummingbird,” boasting a punchy chorus with her breathy vocal delivery.
#9: Cold Water by Major Lazer f/Justin Bieber & MØ
I for one thought that “Lean On” would be a difficult act to follow for everyone’s favorite EDM collective Major Lazer. However, beginning with “Light It Up” late last year, the trio has been refining their craft and subtly improving their output. On “Cold Water,” MØ reprises her role from “Lean On” in tandem with Justin Bieber to sing around a momentous drop which is much more melodic than its counterparts. If “Lean On” evoked the sonic qualities of Middle Eastern music, “Cold Water” gives off a distinctly Caribbean vibe.
#8: True Disaster by Tove Lo
The trend of 80s influenced synthpop has been extremely welcome for my musical palate, and Tove Lo is one of the latest to give the style a try. Like Taylor Swift’s “Style,” “True Disaster” features a driving synth line which serves as a sturdy backbone. However, Tove Lo’s track is a darker, more melancholy take on the perils of falling in love, and the lyrics mesh perfectly with the minor key of the backing track.
#7: On Your Side by The Veronicas
Yes folks, these are the same Veronicas who had the 2008 hit “Untouched.” The Aussie duo has been out of the spotlight for quite some time now, but they had a resurgent 2016. “In My Blood” became a #1 hit in Australia this year and is a fantastic song in its own right, but its followup “On Your Side” edges it out by a nose. It charted lower than its predecessor, but features a more nuanced melody which swells effectively to an immaculate post-chorus.
#6: This Girl by Kungs & Cookin’ On 3 Burners
The best banger of the year belonged to a teenage French DJ. “This Girl” takes the typical guitar+beat Robin Schulz formula and adds a boisterous horn section to create an inescapable hook. An absolute blast from start to finish, “This Girl” easily took home my award for the song that featured most frequently on my workout playlist.
#5: Starving by Hailee Steinfeld & Grey f/Zedd
It’s been quite a year for Hailee Steinfeld, earning a Golden Globe nomination for The Edge Of Seventeen and reaching the Top 20 for the first time with “Starving.” The simple acoustic guitar riff that holds court during the verses is a better version of Bieber’s “Love Yourself,” and the the post-chorus interlude is pure Zedd fun. What truly sets “Starving” apart is its effortless flow from measure to measure, best exemplified when Steinfeld turns the turns the last word of the first chorus into the first word of the second verse without missing a step.
#4: Love On The Brain by Rihanna
6/8 is by far the most under-utilized time signature in music today, so there will always be a special place in my heart when an artists takes the plunge. Rihanna’s current single sounds vastly different from anything else on Anti, and for me that’s a very, very good thing. “Love On The Brain” showcases Rihanna’s vocal talents in a way that we haven’t seen for a few albums as she bares her soul on this retro torch song.
#3: The Ocean by Mike Perry f/Shy Martin
Quite simply the easiest listen of the year, Mike Perry’s downtempo tropical masterpiece “The Ocean” was prime summer listening. The interplay between its lilting verses and the jaunty throb of its drop mimicked the tidal effect invoked by its title, and by checking in at a brisk 3:03, the song never threatens to overstay its welcome. As the tropical genre continues to become diluted as it continues to encroach the mainstream, “The Ocean” was a breath of crisp saltwater air which gently kept The Chainsmokers at bay.
#2: False Alarm by The Weeknd
The second single released from The Weeknd’s Starboy was always destined to be my favorite of the bunch. Not even the Romantics-interpolating “Secrets” or the two Daft Punk-featuring tracks could sound as throbbingly unique as “False Alarm.” Blending driving dance-punk with a Drum & Bass breakdown not often heard this side of the Atlantic, The Weeknd practically doubled the beats per minute of his usual output, and it worked magnificently. His typical lyrical content of rampant sex and drug use takes on new meaning with the frenzied desperation the beat provides, creating an exhilarating listening experience quite unlike anything else in 2016.
#1: My Church by Maren Morris
Once I gave Maren Morris’ debut album Hero a first full listen, I had no doubt whatsoever that one of its defiant country-pop tracks would be gracing this countdown. Continued listens further elevated standout tracks like “80s Mercedes” and “Rich,” but in the end I had to go with the song that started it all. A debut single for the ages in a genre which is fiercely resistant to newcomers, “My Church” broke Morris into the country scene in a big way. This ode to a summer drive with the top down and the radio all the way up sounded right at home on country stations. But its pop sensibilities, effortless vocal delivery and effervescent glow made “My Church” a consistent must-listen for me throughout the year. I’m sure some may balk at my tapping a country record for my favorite song of the year, but no song this year felt more familiar while it helped to break down the walls of genre.