NPR's 100 Best Songs Of 2022
It took 50 people to make this list of 2022's 100 best songs. Why put in that much effort, when algorithmically generated playlists can give a listener what they already know they want? Because there's more to a year than the insulated corners that, in the streaming era, can feel so cozy. That's especially true in a year like this one, whose thrills, even with hindsight, are tough to organize into neat categories or hierarchies. For the staff and contributors of NPR Music, making this list felt messy, but there's an upside to the effort: We got together. We talked. We listened. We ended up making a ranked list of 100 songs that reflects the sprawling, energetic messiness of 2022. Because the end of a year is a nice moment to celebrate what you love, but it's the perfect time to listen to something outside your comfort zone. A guarantee: You'll find something here that does the trick.
100. Little Simz, "Gorilla"
The North London-based rapper Little Simz knows her worth. She may be an introvert, but she isn't faint-hearted, and on "Gorilla" she's keeping score: "Name one time where I didn't deliver," she assuredly raps on over a laid-back, plucking bassline. Over producer Inflo's steady break beat and surging streaks, she displays command of her punchy rhymes with a cadence so casual it feels as if she could deliver them in her sleep. The track closes the same way it starts: with the pomp and circumstance of booming brass notes. It's a declaration — Little Simz is here and she wants you to feel it. —Teresa Xie
99. Ian William Craig, "Attention For It Radiates"
The sonic shifts in this nearly nine-minute ambient piece are faint and fractured, disrupted by squelches of static and distant alien voices. The effect of the track — composed to accompany an online puzzle inspired by quantum mechanics — is as beguiling and wondrous as the cosmic mysteries it endeavors to understand. —Robin Hilton
98. Viking Ding Dong (feat. Ravi B), "Leave It Alone (Remix)"
While some of us were drinking water and minding our business, the self-declared "sexiest big belly man in soca" was reminding listeners that everything is not for everybody. Viking Ding Dong's soca hit "Leave It Alone" is a gleefully matter-of-fact anthem touting common sense and responsible partying over the infectious, waist-whining "Big Joy Riddim" produced by The Great Zeee. As you pull up to your holiday fêtes, remember, "If you know you cannot handle de people rum / When you see de people rum, leave it alone." —Nikki Birch
97. Adeem the Artist, "Middle of a Heart"
Adeem the Artist knows their way around a good-time country jam — the singer-songwriter's debut album is called White Trash Revelry, after all — but "Middle of a Heart" pauses for a hard, wrenching examination of military service, gun culture, working-class romance and the weight of the choices we make. —Stephen Thompson
96. Zahsosaa, D STURDY and DJ Crazy, "Shake Dhat"
Every rap generation gets the dance trend it deserves. The Philly Goats, a teen trio as viral for their moves as their raps, has been at the center of the club-rap movement emerging from Philadelphia in recent years. One of the group's members, D STURDY, linked up with Jersey transplant DJ Crazy in 2021 for a run of singles that culminated in "Shake Dhat" with the rapper Zahsosaa. Constructed out of gun sounds, the song has an almost hydraulic bounce that its performers navigate like kids flipping on a trampoline. "Shake Dhat" comes with its own dance, of course, but it's the song's tensile power that makes you want to learn it. —Sheldon Pearce
95. Gabriels, "If You Only Knew"
"If You Only Knew" is an exercise in holding your breath; it builds from a devastating piano ballad to a powerful and all-encompassing choral release. Jacob Lusk's vocals can be as intense or quivering as you need them to be, and in one of this soulful trio's most astonishing songs, he uses them to inspire hope — drowning you in sorrow before pulling you into the light. —Teresa Xie
94. DOMi & JD BECK, "SMiLE"
The prodigal jazz-adjacent keys-and-drum duo's "SMiLE" is a buoyant tune that beams you into a Nintendo game of Super Mario. As DOMi unleashes a number of punchy, bright, colorful melodies that shimmer with every harmonic shift, BECK gracefully oscillates between meters of 4/4, 3/4 and 5/8, keeping every section of this song fresh and interesting. —Ashley Pointer
93. Rema, "Calm Down"
When your tag is "another banger," you better bring the heat, and the young Nigerian superstar was a living breathing fire emoji in 2022, largely due to this earworm of a love song about keeping it cool around a young lady. The west caught wind when Selena Gomez jumped on the remix, but we'll stick with the original. –Otis Hart
92. Pigeon Pit, "milk crates"
On the first day of this perpetually bruising year, Pigeon Pit offered an irrepressible folk-punk anthem that bears witness to exhaustion, isolation and grief but still barrels toward freedom, believing that a "world worth living in," as Lomes Oleander sings, is just over the horizon. —Marissa Lorusso
91. Tyler Childers, "Angel Band" (Hallelujah Version)
Tyler Childers' latest roots-country album expounds on grand themes of life and death, damnation and salvation, and the forces that divide and unite us. "Angel Band" gives the record its rousing centerpiece: a grand song of unity that heads to church as a stopover on the way to heaven. —Stephen Thompson
90. Straw Man Army, "Human Kind"
Punk, at its heart, is political, but in its most vulnerable state, punk is a meditation — a tough-loving mirror to life. In a taut, sparse arrangement that nevertheless floats like fog, Straw Man Army stares down the scale of our own devastation, yet still clings to the oars of hope. —Lars Gotrich
89. Guitarricadelafuente, "Quien encendió la luz"
Clamoring voices and a pulsating rhythm capture burning passions as Valencia's Álvaro Lafuente Calvo draws from the sounds of Spain, Cuba and even Brahms to create a feverish melodrama about the specific human misery of being left behind. —Fi O'Reilly
88. Mary Halvorson, "Night Shift"
The annunciatory flourish and stutter-step cadence of "Night Shift" signal more than just the latest wily provocation from Mary Halvorson, a brilliant guitarist and composer rightly hailed for carving her own way through the millennial jazz avant-garde. This forward-tilt piece also consolidates a peer group worthy of close attention on their own steam — notably trombonist Jacob Garchik and vibraphonist Patricia Brennan, who each command a solo turn that feels like a highwire act. —Nate Chinen, WRTI
87. Leyla McCalla, "Dodinin"
This rollicking highlight from Leyla McCalla's theatrical tribute to Haitian freedom fighters, Breaking the Thermometer, is a song of resistance from the 1980s that she and her band takes to new polyrhythmic heights. —Ann Powers
86. The Mountain Goats, "Bleed Out"
The Mountain Goats' highest-energy record in years closes out with this sauntering slow burn, in which our narrator confronts his inevitable mortality with the wisdom of a sage and the smart-ass humor of an action-movie star. —Marissa Lorusso
85. NewJeans, "Hype Boy"
Assembled by the label that brought the world BTS, the quintet NewJeans stunned out of the gate with the starry-eyed, Y2K R&B of its debut, "Attention," but the full breadth of the vision was revealed a day later with "Hype Boy." The members of this girl group are more than simple revivalists: The second single from the unit's self-titled EP is transformative, precisely and gently blended, subtle in its nods to electronic music, shimmering synthpop and moombahton rhythms. With stripped-down vocals rarely heard in K-pop, NewJeans announced itself as part of the 4th Gen vanguard. —Sheldon Pearce
84. Joyce, "Feminina"
Originally recorded in 1977, this unearthed 11-minute version of Joyce Moreno's signature song is a gift to Brazilian music lovers and historians. Moreno, in her featherlight voice and aerobic guitar work, is the master of ceremonies over an exhilarating jam session that gallops on the wind. —Lars Gotrich
83. Ayra Starr, "Rush"
Ayra Starr isn't rushing her come up. After being positioned as a new fresh face for the Afropop genre, uplifting reprise and the singer's resplendent vocal tone and delivery, "Rush" is less a single and more like a mantra; a reminder to work hard, grant yourself grace and smile extra big at haters who're clocking your every breath. —Sidney Madden
82. Disclosure & RAYE, "Waterfall"
This melodious, summertime groove gets your whole body moving. The British electronic duo brings the two-step rhythm of garage from across the pond — mixing airy synths with eccentric drums. British singer-songwriter RAYE hops on the track with her powerful vocals, edging you to belt with her as she pours out her love ... like a waterfall! —Sofia Seidel
81. Ari Lennox, "POF"
The opening track of Ari Lennox's latest album, age/sex/location, "POF" effectively transitions us from the lovelorn woman of her previous releases. An initialism for the worn-out idiom "plenty of fish," and the dating app named after it, "POF" is Lennox's opportunity to inform admirers of her unwaning self-love, and lay bare her (many) qualms with the dating landscape. —Kiana Fitzgerald
80. The 1975, "Part of the Band"
Matty Healy has a big personality, but sometimes it gets hidden behind The 1975's opulent production. On "Part of the Band," Healy's witty poetry is front and center thanks to help from Jack Antonoff, who Healy said helped "take the insecurity away" from his performance and simplify things. The song feels both confident and vulnerable — and it's funny, too. —Raina Douris, World Cafe
79. Anna Tivel, "Black Umbrella"
Many songs have been written in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, but few capture the disaster of systemic state violence with the vivid, devastating detail the great Portland singer-songwriter offers in this account of a chance encounter with police that leaves a teenager dead. —Ann Powers
78. Attacca Quartet, "First Essay (Nimrod)"
Composer Caroline Shaw begins with a sprightly tune that tumbles into a musical rabbit hole. While tricky to play for the cunning Attacca Quartet, it falls easy on the ears. Moving through the maze, look out for cresting waves, moments of shimmering repose and one final raw chord that slips through the last trap door. —Tom Huizenga
(A version of this review originally appeared on NPR Music's #NowPlaying blog.)
77. Beth Orton, "Friday Night"
A shudder runs through this astonishing song of sorrow. Alongside the consoling shuffle of Tom Skinner's kit, Beth Orton (that voice!) details the devastation of lost love, the sort of sadness that keeps you inside and up late on a Friday night. Memory makes a merciless bedfellow. –Otis Hart
76. DJ Python, "Angel"
In an inversion of the fait-main eau de parfum available for purchase alongside this track (topnotes of yuzu, ambergris; basenotes of sandalwood), Piñeyro performs sound-as-aroma with a bouquet of botanical minimal patter. (Topnotes: Aphex Twin circa 1992, Boards of Canada. Basenotes: Virgin Records' Isolationism compilation, birdsong in the summer.) The scent came packaged unfussily inside a little chip of beige plastic, but a winged, crystal thing would've suited it just as well. —Mina Tavakoli
75. Patricia Brennan, "Unquiet Respect"
More Touch, the triumphant second album by mallet percussionist Patricia Brennan, synthesizes a meaningful array of rhythmic influences — folkloric music from her native Veracruz, the sanctified churn of Afro-Cuban batá drums, even the strobing repetitions of post-minimalism. The opener, "Unquiet Respect," is a thrilling plunge into the buoyant syncopations of soca music, with Brennan's vibraphone (lightly processed with a digital wobble) wafting over the twin-engine momentum of Cuban percussionist Mauricio Herrera and American drummer Marcus Gilmore. —Nate Chinen, WRTI
74. Black Sherif, "Kwaku the Traveller"
Drill, that deceptively simple strain of bass-fueled street rap, has gradually evolved over the past few years as new scenes sprout in cities around the world. On "Kwaku the Traveller," Black Sherif, the 20-year-old Ghanaian rapperMohammed Ismail Sharrif, takes it to the mountaintop and gives the urban chirr a biblical sheen. –Otis Hart
73. Madison Cunningham, "Life According to Raechel"
Plenty of artists make their way to themes of loss and regret eventually. In "Life According To Raechel," folk-rock sophisticate Madison Cunningham movingly captures the sharp pangs of a first youthful experience of realizing too late that she's squandered time with a beloved elder. —Jewly Hight, WPLN
72. La Doña, "Penas con Pan"
Would-be lovers, we've all been there. "Penas con Pan" is a narrative of a relationship's fickleness, but La Doña's not wallowing. Instead, the pulsating beat of the song's dembow rhythm and La Doña's seductive assertion of her own desirability capture the tantalizing push and pull of an elusive romance. —Fi O'Reilly
71. Julia Jacklin, "Love, Try Not To Let Go"
Julia Jacklin is a consummate personal storyteller, her incisive songs slicing open a complicated interiority. But above piano that curls like question marks, she zooms out to spot an epiphany: Like the rest of us, she's just trying to hold herself together, to hold fast to the only thing anchoring her — love for whomever (orwhatever) will accept it. —Grayson Haver Currin
70. Molly Tuttle, "Crooked Tree"
Bluegrass great Molly Tuttle and her band are straight-up virtuosic throughout the album named for this song — but as a mission statement, "Crooked Tree'' beautifully articulates the award-winning singer and guitarist's conviction that imperfection and idiosyncrasy are the essence of human beauty and, indeed, survival: "A crooked tree won't fit into the mill machine." —Ann Powers
69. Black Country, New Road, "The Place Where He Inserted the Blade"
There, at the denouement of the 7-minute, 13-second track released this year by this Cambridgeshire sextet — past all its '90s emo revivalism, past the Syd Barret-era Floyd-ian vox, past the screaming, post-rock-y crescendo — lives a little moment of loss on the edge of agony and silence. "Show me where to tie the other end of this chain," the song goes, hopelessly. It might be helpful to think of "The Place Where He Inserted the Blade" as something Emily Dickinson would write from outer space. —Mina Tavakoli
68. Khruangbin & Leon Bridges, "B-Side"
Leon Bridges' confident falsetto is the jolt Khruangbin needed to kick their ultra-chill psychedelia into a higher gear. On "B-Side," the collected four deliver a foot-stomp blues-rock vibrating with yearning — crank it up as you speed down the highway to get back into their arms. —Nastia Voynovskaya, KQED
67. Nduduzo Makhathini, "Unonkanyamba"
"Unonkanyamba" uses repetition as meditative practice, looping drums and spacious piano into a nine-minute hypnosis. On an album of fervent spiritual grooves, this one sets a grand stage, a track equally steeped in traditional and contemporary South African jazz. —Marcus J. Moore
66. Karol G, "Provenza"
From cab windows to corner tiendas, the silky beats of Karol G's earworm "Provenza" soundtracked a global summer. The track boasts tropical sounds and a relentlessly danceable rhythm that are guaranteed to hook you for just one more and keep you out till the sun comes up. —Anamaria Sayre
65. Vince Staples, "WHEN SPARKS FLY"
The delicate, Frano-produced "WHEN SPARKS FLY" is a career highlight for Vince Staples. With shrewd storytelling, Staples cleverly spits devastating multiple entendres as the song's protagonist, a personified firearm, laments the incarceration of her beloved. A familiar tale sponsored by the prison-industrial complex, Staples' weariness is clear. In lieu of a conclusion, the record ends on a resigned sigh as if epiloging the Compton rapper's meticulous archivization of his childhood. —LaTesha Harris
64. Tove Lo, "2 Die 4"
Tove Lo piled Dirt Femme high with indelible dance-pop bangers about the scuffed-up underbelly of femininity. Best of them all is "2 Die 4," which interpolates Hot Butter's 1972 hit "Popcorn" to create a hard-driving earworm about the promise of a new crush and the joy of "danc[ing] in headlights and making out in the rain." —Stephen Thompson
63. Jazmine Sullivan, "BPW"
Brilliantly inspired by "'Mona's Tale," its preceding interlude on the deluxe version of Sullivan's Heaux Tales, "BPW" radiates the sexual prowess of a lover seeking adoration, stating plainly: "If there was an award, I want the gold / And I don't just want your heart, I want your soul." Sullivan delivers a perfectly rough performance over acoustic guitar as she captures the all-consuming desire of being totally desired. —Jerusalem Truth
62. Denzel Curry, "Walkin"
Denzel Curry refuses to accept stagnancy. One of few MCs from the SoundCloud rap era who is still standing, he thrives on the transformative process. "Walkin," the lead single from Melt My Eyez See Your Future, highlights an evolved Curry rapping over a healthy sampling of vocals from Keith Mansfield's 1973 song "The Loving Touch." With "Walkin," Curry generously offers us a glimpse of the perseverance and endurance it takes to live the life of a young Black man in this "dirty, filthy, rotten, nasty, little world we call our home." —Kiana Fitzgerald
61. beabadoobee, "talk"
"Not too much chaos but just enough to have a good time" — that's how beabadoobee has described a Tuesday night, the unexpected inspiration behind this impeccable slice of Y2K nostalgia about going out midweek to have a great time indulging your worst impulses. —Marissa Lorusso
60. Björk, "Atopos"
Björk's latest project positioned her as a seeker of new kinds of life on Earth. On "Atopos," a warped dembow-ish backbeat and dark clarinets provide the soil as they puzzle her questions together and apart. Her exhortation of hope thrums through all kinds of life, and an all-connected human biosphere. —Stefanie Fernández
59. Hyd, "Afar"
Hayden Dunham, aka Hyd, was one of SOPHIE's dear friends and collaborators, so when they sing, "I never meant to leave / It wasn't up to me / If I could, I would have stayed / Close to you," it's hard not to imagine the groundbreaking producer sending love from afar. Caroline Polachek's production completes the spectral spectacle. –Otis Hart
58. Sky Ferreira, "Don't Forget"
While the throwback '80s synth sound has been done to death, it really shines on this jam of a song. Ferreira's first new song in years expertly builds and haunts around the synths and rewards with each listen. —Russ Borris, WFUV
57. Regina Spektor, "Up the Mountain"
While much of Regina Spektor's music can fit comfortably with simply her voice and piano, this intense tune was built over months of long-distance dialogue between her and producer John Congleton. Featuring orchestral arrangements by Jherek Bischoff, "Up the Mountain" has the feel of a thriller and a classic noir. —Bob Boilen
56. Tommy McLain, "I Ran Down Every Dream"
The flicker in the octogenarian Louisiana soul crooner's voice is incandescent as he shares a lifetime of hope and disappointment in this gorgeous ballad, written with an assist from his longtime fan Elvis Costello. —Ann Powers
55. Yahritza y Su Esencia, "Estas En Mi Pasado"
Leveraging the naïveté of a young heart and the depth of an ancestrally fortified soul, Yahritza Martínez and her brothers have produced a smooth, gripping interpretation of Ivan Cornejo's "Estas en mi Pasado" that is sure to leave the iciest of souls in shambles. —Anamaria Sayre
54. Vikingur Ólafsson, "Study in Canonic Form"
This is music by Robert Schumann doing his best impersonation of J.S. Bach. Cascades of notes tumble down like a waterfall, flowing together in a streamlet of pure joy. It helps that the pianist here is Víkingur Ólafsson, who displays his signature precision, transparency and warmth. —Tom Huizenga
53. Lil Yachty, "Poland"
For a brief but amusing moment this year, the culture was transfixed by 83 seconds of idiosyncraticnovelty: Lil Yachty's garbled narrative of moving cough syrup across country lines. It's the type of simple, near-rudimentary melody that burrows into your brain and leaves you with more questions than answers — but it's just whimsical enough that you don't really mind. —Reanna Cruz
52. LF SYSTEM, "Afraid to Feel"
It's impossible to listen to LF SYSTEM's "Afraid to Feel" and not feel the urge to get up and dance. The Scottish production duo pays tribute to house music and '70s disco by speeding up the BPM from Silk's 1979 song "I Can't Stop (Turning You On)" to create an addictive beat while maintaining that old R&B sound. —Teresa Xie
51. Soccer Mommy, "Shotgun"
As descriptions of lust go, "Whenever you want me I'll be around / I'm a bullet in a shotgun, waiting to sound" doesn't come across as the most empowered. But Sophie Allison has proven again and again that she writes with a clearer eye and a sharper pen than most. The details here – the coiled guitar line, the cool confidence of the melody, the silvery shimmer that wells up over drums thundering like a heart beating up into your throat during the chorus — give it away: This is what it sounds like to own your desires. —Jacob Ganz
50. LE SSERAFIM, "ANTIFRAGILE"
No other song this year reflects K-pop's unique, dizzyingly ability to ensnare and mutate global sounds into something fantastically new quite like "ANTIFRAGILE." The rising girl group LE SSERAFIM mixes K-pop's bombastic style with Motomami-style reggaeton in a forward-thinking hit that should make American stars scared. —Hazel Cills
49. Flo Milli, "Bed Time"
On her album You Still Here, Ho?,Flo Milli promises she's more bite than bark. Her lyrical audacity is undeniable on "Bed Time," with quick-witted bars that aim to elicit reaction, including the standout line "My mama'll beat a b**** up, this s*** is genetic." Flo lets it be known that she's not the one to play with. —Kiana Fitzgerald
48. Kendrick Lamar, "The Heart Part 5"
Before Kendrick Lamar challenged his own myth with Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, he looked beyond himself, embodying other prominent entertainers for "The Heart Part 5," an incisive appraisal of Black masculinity's cultural standing. His lyricism is lacerating, clicking into place amid hand drums and prickly strings. The song's deepfaked video — in which Kendrick transforms into O.J. Simpson, Kanye West, Jussie Smollett, Will Smith, Kobe Bryant and Nipsey Hussle — drew much of the attention, but more staggering is his head-spinning wordplay, taking the culture to task for all the toxicity embedded within it. In the wake of "The Heart Part 5," his album can be read as an attempt to reckon with his own complicity perpetuating these generational curses. —Sheldon Pearce
47. Sudan Archives, "Home Maker"
"Home Maker" is all about building a place for love to reside. You can almost feel the greenhouse warmth of a plant-filled cottage in the track's thrumming synths. With shape-shifting instrumentation, Brittney Parks mirrors the way that at-home feeling can move from a place to a person to something harder to name. The single is an invitation as much as an anthem for the nesters among us: "You can be yourself with me." —Sam J. Leeds
46. Fly Anakin, "Love Song (Come Back)"
Fly Anakin swooped through with wings and sticky-icky flows on Frank, his proper album debut in 2022. And the opening number, "Love Song (Come Back)," stayed on perpetual repeat, thanks in large part to producer Foisey's mood-setting sample of David Oliver's timeless, purring pleas on "Can I Write You A Love Song." —Rodney Carmichael
45. Julius Rodriguez, "Dora's Lullaby"
Get used to hearing the name Julius Rodriguez. The 24-year-old multi-instrumentalist and producer's "Dora's Lullaby" is a beautiful piece that feels instantly comfortable and familiar. What begins as a piano journey with a determined sense of adventure spins off into a deceptively lush dream world with a hint of whimsy. —Nikki Birch
44. Maggie Rogers, "That's Where I Am"
Every note you sing is a choice. "That's Where I Am" spends four minutes in a go-for-broke acrobatic pop strut, but we most feel Maggie Rogers' unrequited desire start in her chest ("You never touched me"), then consume her entire being ("but I felt you eeeeeverywheeeere") in a vocal run that'll make you blush with a knowing grin. —Lars Gotrich
43. Rico Nasty, "Gotsta Get Paid"
The bubblegum trapper turned rage rapper Rico Nasty loves taking twisted sounds and making them sassy. She was one of the first MCs to embrace hyperpop and, in doing so, she brought zip to her more pugnacious songs. Co-produced with 100 gecs, "Gotsta Get Paid" is like Cypress Hill on gummy edibles — trippy rap repackaged for a sugar-trap audience. As the beat whines and wheezes, she struts through as if untouchable. —Sheldon Pearce
42. Anna Butterss, "Doo Wop"
In terms of composition, bassist Anna Butterss seems to shadow-chop through her songs, finding weak spots in their otherwise sparkling walls to pound a hole for peeking through. This is maybe most evident on "Doo Wop," from the delightful Activities. With a springly, a cappella ooh-wa (the titular doo wop) as its main character, Butterss wraps around and through in solid steps and tinny twinkles, creating a bright Sunday morning with nothing on the schedule. —Andrew Flanagan
41. Sean Shibe, "Peace Piece"
The conservatory-trained Scottish guitarist has shed his traditional nylon-strung instrument for a sleek black Mexican Stratocaster. While Shibe can fire up plenty of fuzz and feedback on his album Lost & Found, more often he coaxes diaphanous, colorful ribbons of sound from his instrument. An elegant example is a cover of Bill Evans' "Peace Piece," where an electric guitar has rarely sounded so featherlight. —Tom Huizenga
40. Syd (feat. Lucky Daye), "CYBAH"
Syd is angelic as ever on "CYBAH, pouring all of herself into a song that demands nothing less, while collaborator Lucky Daye smoothly weaves in and out of her vocals like it's second nature. "Could you break a heart?" she asks over and over again — already knowing the answer each time. —Teresa Xie
39. Ice Spice, "Munch (Feelin' U)"
Drill in New York City has been waiting for Ice Spice, the blasé Bronx rapper who can't be bothered. She is calm in a mob full of rabble rousers — not so much breaking into the boys' club as ignoring it altogether. How fitting that her breakout single, "Munch (Feeling You)" is all about waving a guy off — a simp so clueless he can't even see she's not interested. As drill beats go, this rumbling RIOTUSA creation is nondescript, all itching hi-hats and growling 808s, not like the distinct sample drill that has defined the rapper's other singles, but the production's city-leveling tremors clear out space that Ice Spice confidently promenades into. Her lyrics are snappy yet composed, but the magic is in that sneering hook, the piercing, eye-rolling disdain of its opening quip: "You thought I was feeling you?" as if it's an idea beyond human comprehension. —Sheldon Pearce
38. Joy Orbison, Overmono & ABRA, "Blind Date"
Some songs have obvious use cases. This is a fact that we can open-heartedly accept. So give in: For a DJ to pop on "Blind Date" at peak time during a night out — at a time when vapes blinker red, sunlight starts streaming in through any available window, BPMs threaten the 160+ mark and body heat makes the room smell like a petting zoo — is exactly what this club mammoth is built for. —Mina Tavakoli
37. NxWorries (feat. H.E.R.), "Where I Go"
Together, Anderson .Paak and producer Knxwledge make music as smooth and cool as a scoop of toasted coconut ice cream on a hot day, consumed in the back of a black Cadillac. For this return to force, the duo folded in a feature from H.E.R., and the resulting woozy jam is unabashedly glowing with love. —Ayana Contreras, Vocalo
36. Joan Shelley (feat. Bill Callahan), "Amberlit Morning"
Joan Shelley's voice was built to soothe, but her songs know darkness. While "Amberlit Morning" sets a vivid nature scene — fertile soil, a spring thaw — her reflections take her to the harsher realities of farming and the ways children learn about death. Backed by Bill Callahan's knowing baritone, Shelley acknowledges a simple truth: that "it takes so much to be human," and even more to keep us alive. —Stephen Thompson
35. Doechii, "Crazy"
Lowkey, Doechii made the most noise on the powerhouse label TDE with her 2022 debut. And nothing's "Crazy" about her most calculated release. Though the dystopian music video for the single was shadowbanned by YouTube for flouting its sexist community guidelines regarding nudity, the platform unintentionally proved the point of Doechii's thunderous song: Being a boss chick means slapping the status quo in the mouth, no matter how crazy they label you. —Rodney Carmichael
34. Julia Bullock, "One by One"
This simple and yet profoundly moving song is by Connie Converse, the pioneering singer-songwriter whose brilliance flickered for a brief moment in the 1950s before, in 1974 at the age of 50, she disappeared, never to be heard from again. Bullock, accompanied only by a piano, gives the song a hushed, almost prayerful tone, with lengthy, exquisitely sculpted phrases. Along with Converse's deceptively naïve wordcraft, you might mistake this for Schubert in a bittersweet mood. —Tom Huizenga
(A version of this review originally appeared on NPR Music's #NowPlaying blog.)
33. Taylor Swift, "Anti-Hero"
Midnights' lead single echoed Taylor Swift's recent self-lacerations in smaller songs such as Lover's "The Archer" and folklore's "mirrorball," amplifying the worst of her self-image to a bruised, Boss-tinged cheerleader chant. The album's wordiness riled some critics, but on "Anti-Hero," Swift's internal rhymes tumble in on themselves like a racing brain being chewed up by anxiety. Among the revelations (her "covert narcissism" disguised "as altruism"), the weird humor was perhaps the song's most revealing quality, lines like "sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby and I'm a monster on the hill," suggesting a 30-something actually feeling pretty OK with her weirdness. —Laura Snapes
32. Hikaru Utada, "BAD MODE"
Hikaru Utada wants you to be in good hands. Co-produced with Sam Shepherd, who also records as Floating Points, the opening title track to BAD MODE sets the scene: glitterball city pop that sashays through Fender Rhodes, horns and soft four-on-the-floor as Utada switches between Japanese and English while offering solace to an anxious friend. Like the rest of their eighth album, it's a sophisticated pop song that captures the tears as they hit the dance floor. —Lars Gotrich
31. Koffee, "Pull Up"
"Pull Up" is a marvel of innovation grounded in Jamaican musical tradition. Koffee lays down her spellbinding, complex, rapid-fire patois sing-jay rhymes over a quixotic soundscape, produced by British-Ghanian JAE5, that balances Jamaican dancehall's staccato rhythms with effervescent Afrobeats and jazzy sax embellishments. "Pull Up" exemplifies the 22-year-old artist's increasing understanding of her enormous talents and of the effect of that sophistication, helping to expand Jamaica's celebrated music trajectory and pop along with it. —Patricia Meschino
30. SiR (feat. Scribz Riley), "Life Is Good"
For those of us who trudge, Monday through Thursday, itching to get to the weekend, SiR has created a world where every day feels like a Friday on payday. Transporting us to the West Coast with laidback guitar and a bop-evoking trap beat, the Inglewood artist soulfully assures: "Life is good, we do what we want." Calling on Grammy-winning East London-born producer and rapper Scribz Riley, who spits a cool eight bars, feeding off SiR's nonchalant confidence, the two seemingly breezed into one of the year's hottest collabs. —Ashley Pointer
29. Hermanos Gutiérrez, "El Bueno y El Malo"
If Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western scores were the pinnacle of arid desolation, guitar duo Hermanos Gutierrez, real-life brothers, have taken a different journey across that twangy landscape. Estevan and Alejandro are ingenious minimalist arrangers on "El Bueno y El Malo," leaving ample space for the impressionistic yet intimate interplay between their instruments, the rhythm with its guttural, galloping figures and chopped backbeats and the lean, lyrical lead, whose smallest reverberations nest within the pattern the two players tease out together. —Jewly Hight, WPLN
28. Porridge Radio, "Back To The Radio"
The opening track to this Brighton band's thrilling third album, Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky, builds from a simmer to a full boil. Singer Dana Margolin told me she wrote the song while feeling lonely, anxious and isolating herself from those she loved, but also knowing she needed to fight the depression and rise above it. —Bob Boilen
27. Kevin Morby, "This Is a Photograph"
As his father battled a heart condition, Kevin Morby encountered an old family photo for the first time — the whole clan on the lawn, his shirtless dad young and hale and "ready to take the world on." The songwriter, then 31, began to ponder his own inevitable senescence, but didn't wallow. Instead, he wondered what he wanted from the world, what the "glimmer in my eye" might get him. This irrepressible album opener, improbably buoyed by Afrobeat and Western swing, looks through a window to the past to fling open a door on the present. Race ahead now, Morby seems to realize, before you're frozen forever in a frame. —Grayson Haver Currin
26. Makaya McCraven, "Dream Another"
Seamless, lush, groovy and lighter than air, "Dream Another" camps out on a sunny median space between hip-hop, jazz and soul. Like the rest of McCraven's rapturous album, In These Times, it is a feat of imagination, engineering, timekeeping, editing, collaboration and personal vision that does what all ecstatic music does: It makes you forget all the effort and skill behind it as you submit to its pleasures. —Jacob Ganz
25. Ethel Cain, "American Teenager"
"American Teenager" is Ethel Cain at her most accessible — an ode to the most revered parts of Americana, swathed in reverb and guitar tones equally inspired by Tom Petty and Taylor Swift. As much about NASCAR and high school football, the song searches for answers when all seems lost: "Jesus, if you're there, why do I feel alone in this room with you?" she begs, a pleading desperation in her voice. It's a song that doubles as a lifeline, sung as if Cain is shouting into the never-ending sky that envelops her, cautiously optimistic about what's to come. —Reanna Cruz
24. Megan Thee Stallion, "Plan B"
One thing's for sure, two things's for certain: Megan Thee Stallion is never gonna play about her body or bodily autotomy. The Houston hottie takes the beat of a "Freek'n You" remix by Jodeci featuring Wu-Tang Clan and literally freaks it into a venom-laced diatribe for her dusty ex: "Still can't believe I used to f*** with ya / Poppin' Plan Bs 'cause I ain't planned to be stuck with ya." Given the historic overturning of Roe v. Wade earlier this year and the action's ripple effects throughout the states, "Plan B" is the type of snarl fans of Thee Stallion have come to love and rely on from the rapper but with a timely, added serving of sociopolitical juice. —Sidney Madden
23. The Beths, "Expert in a Dying Field"
The superannuated professor is a tragic figure: his research irrelevant, his insight dimmed. On the title track of the Kiwi janglers' fantastic third album, Elizabeth Stokes likens being crushed by memories of a broken relationship to this tenured relic: What to do with that intimate shared language gone extinct, those omnipresent ghosts? She sounds brightly conversational but stretched to her limits over the band's rough-and-rumble power-pop, though the exuberant climax reveals a breakthrough: acceptance that carrying these memories is part of living, not dying. —Laura Snapes
22. Let's Eat Grandma, "Happy New Year"
The amount of music about the dissolution of romantic love could take decades to be played in its entirety — less so music that speaks to a shifting childhood friendship. In this shimmery synth-pop banger, the duo of Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth masterfully honor the changing shape of their singular artistic and emotional connection. —Hazel Cills
21. Omar Apollo, "Tamagotchi"
"Tamagotchi" contains multitudes. Flaunting his bilingual lyrical dexterity over a Neptunes-produced beat, Omar Apollo makes a show of his wealth, touts his total dreamboat status and offers a sincere plea for tenderness (or at least friends with benefits). Sure, it sounds a touch presumptuous to sing, "I want your body, you want me too," but who cares? Enjoy "Tamagotchi" as a delightfully self-indulgent burst of joy. —Fi O'Reilly
20. Molly Nilsson, "Pompeil"
This is Molly Nilsson's first appearance on an NPR year-end list, but that's our fault, not hers. The Berlin-based DIY deity started writing, recording and releasing ecstatic synth-pop completely on her own while Barack Obama was still a senator, averaging almost an album per year during that span. "Pompeii" is arguably her finest five minutes, pairing ardent emotion and sardonic wit with rapturous synthesizers charting a path to the astral plane. "I wish we could stay forever this way," she yearns, "just like Pompeii." She gets it. Caring is creepy. —Otis Hart
19. Third Coast Percussion, "Derivative"
In an unexpected, irrepressible confluence, the underground dance music known as footwork and the traditional classical percussion quartet have found common ground. The electronic music artist Jlin, who has transformed footwork into her own masterful realm, crafted the 30-minute suite Perspective for the members of Third Coast Percussion. Midway through, "Derivative" struts a woozy, 161 beat-per-minute groove fueled by an arsenal of gongs, water bowls and drums. —Tom Huizenga
18. Plains, "Abilene"
"Abilene" falls into the long tradition of country songs named for somewhere that's receded into the rearview, but Plains' Jess Williamson and Katie Crutchfield found room for something fresh in the form — there's exquisitely subtle bite to how they depict a woman disentangling herself from the nostalgic pull of a small-town fantasy. "Well, Main Street was cute and the rents there were cheap," Williamson allows, before brushing away the romance of the image: "But I was too much for you and for your Abilene." —Jewly Hight, WPLN
17. Fireboy DML & Asake, "Bandana"
Two of Nigeria's ascendent Afrobeat stars come together for a functionally perfect pop song: The two bars of plucked electric guitar establish the central hook during the intro. A flipped clave rhythm takes hold. Fireboy DML's lilting melody rises and falls like a hand riding the wind out an open window. Asake's cavernous chorus takes us to church. And then there's that final touch of sentimental strings during the outro, all without losing an ounce of momentum. Everything's in its right place and nary a second is wasted. And that titular "Bandana"? It's an homage to 2Pac. I mean, how could anyone not love this song? –Otis Hart
16. Lizzo, "About Damn Time"
After a yearslong ascent finally rendered her a household name back in 2019, Lizzo returned with one of this year's most omnipresent anthems. From its instantly quotable opening words ("It's bad-b**** o'clock / Yeah, it's thick 30") to its bass-driven, flute-forward, roller-disco-worthy arrangement, "About Damn Time" is a three-minute pop masterclass that's impossible to resist. —Stephen Thompson
15. SZA, "Shirt"
First teased on social media as far back as 2020, the shadowy background vocals of "Shirt" allow SZA's messiest confusions to float freely, unencumbered by insatiable fears that feed them. But, like a surprise anvil in a cartoon, the rib-rattling sub weighs down this fever dream, reminding us to pay attention to the severity of her words: "In the dark right now / Feeling lost, but I like it / Comfort in my sins, and all about me / All I got right now / Feel the taste of resentment / Simmer in my skin."
The 33-year-old dropped a lusciously cruel video to accompany the song that finds her and actor LaKeith Stanfield cosplaying as a Tumblr-era Bonnie & Clyde before double-crossing each other. Dysfunction might never have stung so sweet. —Sidney Madden
14. Zach Bryan, "Something in the Orange"
The most resonant song from 2022's biggest country music breakthrough exudes the unvarnished poeticism that's made this young Oklahoman Navy vet a sensation. Over a driving acoustic strum, Bryan pours out his confusion as a love affair ends, and the jumble of his thoughts — poetic observations, desperate pleas, intrusive anger — form a confession that refuses Nashville's crafty sentimentality in favor of an immediacy that's a little bit ugly and wholly relatable. The orange, Bryan has said, is the sunset, but it's a killer metaphor. It could be a pill bottle, a shot of bourbon, a departing car's tail lights, the color of frustration. It's a short story in one line. —Ann Powers
13. Fontaines D.C., "Jackie Down The Line"
"Jackie Down The Line" is a warning: Don't get too close. The main character is cruel, destroying relationships out of boredom. The band wields acoustic guitars like switchblades, nodding toward The Stooges' "Gimme Danger," another dispatch from utter despair. This is not a feel-good song, but it is multilayered. The pain on display humanizes the villain at the center, turning a bleak ballad into rock transcendence. —Art Levy, KUT
12. Harry Styles, "As It Was"
Like a fling who would have never dated you in real life saying arrivederci at summer's end, this song is by turns forlorn, resigned, apologetic and a little caddish. Its slippery nostalgia is grounded in a synth line evoking the New Romantic era of Styles' parents' youth and in the singer's cool, bossa nova-ish croon, which sounds like the way it feels when that departing lover wistfully strokes your hair. The Easter-eggy verses matter to fans, but the chorus is what made "As It Was" so sticky in 2022: It renders regret comfortable, a service everyone needs in a time of chronic heartbreak. —Ann Powers
11. Stromae, "L'enfer"
Stromae's meditation on loneliness and the madness it can animate within feels more like a hand-held ride to nirvana. He conjures this, in part, with a sweetly carefree melody that ambles beautifully with a gently pulsing piano and chiming wine glasses. But the real lift comes from a recurring group of backing voices, sturdy and fearless, that seem to assure that, yes, life is hell. But we're in it together. —Robin Hilton
10. Steve Lacy, "Bad Habit"
Even though Steve Lacy's been around the block — you might recognize him as The Internet's eclectic guitarist — he only blew up the mainstream this summer when "Bad Habit" became an instant R&B staple. In the addictive, three-act ode to a lost not-quite lover, Lacy blends anachronistic influences like Prince's '80s synth, clumsy grunge guitar clashes, D'Angelo's 2000s falsetto and '60s baroque pop. The micro-global hit is a seductive tragedy: Lacy's lyrics and vocal delivery alternate between petulant, obsessive, regretful and smug as he tries but fails to figure out how to approach the one who got away. —LaTesha Harris
9. Joyce Wrice (feat. KAYTRANADA), "Iced Tea"
Joyce Wrice has proven to be a catalytic presence in R&B and soul. For anyone on the journey of tapping into their divine feminine, this empowering dance hit is the perfect soundtrack. Featuring and produced by KAYTRANADA, "Iced Tea" has an exhilarating force of hard-driving synth bass and myriad percussive layers — tastefully contrasted with Wrice's lustrous vocals — that exudes a goddess-like energy and preaches the message of standing tall on your own. —Ashley Pointer
8. MUNA, "What I Want"
A throbbing yearning defines the pulsating synth-pop of "What I Want" — so intense it has singer Katie Gavin shaking. "There's nothing wrong with what I want," she sings, and for a second you might think the proclamation unnecessary. But in a year in which the desires and bodies of LGTBQ people were highly legislated and targeted, the simple, strobe-lit freedom of "What I Want" rings out more like a protest. On MUNA's dancefloor, a shot isn't just a shot, a kiss isn't just a kiss and such desires have to be claimed, again and again, with all the strength one can gather, against a world that rather they be silenced. —Hazel Cills
7. Paramore, "This Is Why"
Paramore's first single in five years captures the agoraphobic paranoia of the post-isolation era of the still-ongoing pandemic, impending climate disaster and general cultural doom with a skittering rhythm guitar and dynamic pressure. Hayley Williams sings its verses in the rare, soft register she embraced in her 2020 and 2021 solo projects while the chorus blooms in her signature belt. With shades of Talking Heads, the track builds on After Laughter's project of dancing in the dark. It's a perfect excuse to stay home. —Stefanie Fernández
6. Gunna (feat. Future and Young Thug), "Pushin P"
A ridiculous RICO case put Gunna and his label boss, Young Thug, in prison for much of the year, but before they were wrongfully detained there was "Pushin P," a glorious, cryptic celebration of three generations of protean Atlanta trap. Over a Wheezy beat that is at turns crystalline and sludgy, the deeply alliterative raps tumble out of them. Gunna and Future do slow-mo call-and-response like an Actavis-activated Jadakiss and Styles P. Young Thug somehow does pantomime in verse. They take turns ad-libbing. It's a casual hit, as if they're only half-trying. Listening then, the song felt like the world's coolest in-joke, a moment of rap capital domination. Listening now, it feels like a waypoint to a brief time when reality hadn't yet encroached on new-year optimism. —Sheldon Pearce
5. Rosalía, "Saoko"
Just moments into her finger-snapping, symbol-crashing album, la Rosalía comes crashing in — shattering the jazz club scene with biting vocals abreast a hard-hitting dembow line. Packing all of the ambition of the artist herself, this 4-in-1 opening track serves as the expertly crafted gateway drug to the unapologetically experimental Rosalía universe. —Anamaria Sayre
4. Alex G, "Runner"
Fan theories abound regarding the identity of this sideways pop gem's title character — it could be a drug buddy, a dog, a god or Dave Pirner. The object of this panegyric doesn't matter; it's great because it captures the feeling of devotion itself. The surrender in Molly Germer's tender, rolling keyboards, the insistence of drummer Tom Kelly's snare and Alex G's vocal as it builds from intimate to cathartic all add up to a kind of rapture: Whoever that runner is, it's his wife and it's his life, and he's not letting go. —Ann Powers
3. Bad Bunny, "El Apagón"
Bad Bunny kickstarts his opus to Puerto Rico with bomba percussion, but as the song builds into a house beat, it unfurls a complicated reality for Boricuas. Benito loves his home to an explicit extent — but he also sends a stern message to those who colonized and now gentrify the island. With an irresistible groove, Gabriela Berlingeri sums it up: Puerto Rico belongs to its people. Everyone else can get the hell out. —Isabella Gomez Sarmiento
2. Beyoncé, "ALIEN SUPERSTAR"
On "ALIEN SUPERSTAR," Beyoncé is a ringmaster presiding over a high-drama, opulent spectacle. "Stilettos kicking vintage crystal off the bar," she pouts in an aloof monotone, then breaks into a sex-kitten moan. She changes the vibe again with the snap of a manicured finger, and we're at her whim, along for the ride, as she raps about reveling in the power of our sexuality. With credits from star house music producer Honey Dijon, "ALIEN SUPERSTAR" pays homage to ballroom, and accomplishes what the art form does best: enrapturing the audience in an exquisite fantasy. —Nastia Voynovskaya, KQED
1. Hitkidd & GloRilla, "F.N.F. (Let's Go)"
The mechanism of the pop machine remains, by and large, boring. Assign blame wherever you like: to the algorithmic TikTokery that makes every song feel like a ringtone, to that crack team of Swedish producers that've, at times, been behind as much as half of any given week's top 10 tracks, toward an industry that clings to the already-established celebrity of those already in Billboard's or Hollywood's topmost crust. But there are occasions that remind me to show it gratitude – without all its roteness, the few songs that T-bone us out of nowhere each year would never feel like such freak, dazzling accidents.
No genre in contemporary America is better at preserving the miracle of surprise and keeping sacred the distinctions between space and time than hip-hop. Its unspoken policy isn't to move out of its cradle into the centrist mainstream; rap's inbuilt regionality ensures that the heritage of home accompanies any breakout artist. In a given year, any city could feasibly become the temporary center of the universe. Past prizewinners include Baton Rouge, Toronto and back-to-back-to-back laurels for Atlanta — this year, all hail Memphis, our chartbusting bolt-from-the-blue.
Success is a slippery, selcouth thing – familiar in its outline, but distinct and incalculable in its details. When producer Hitkidd sent a woman named Gloria Hallelujah Woods an evilish backing track heavy with the aroma of old-school Memphis – flat but bass-heavy, two notes carrying the beat – she was, per her admission, "on the toilet," preparing for a lash appointment. GloRilla brought her alto voice and easy, Project Pat-like cadence to the studio, and after 30 minutes, one good hook and one economical lyric sheet — in-and-out, like McCartney with a Backwoods — we had "F.N.F.," a track with one of the fastest ascents in recent history, ex nihilo to a Grammy nomination in just shy of 7 months.
"F.N.F." is a song of experience, not of innocence. Its video is all Memphis, gleamless, glossless — from the Hyundais parked in suburban streets to her mob of girlfriends in Shein camisoles to someone's baby running into the frame — but it could've taken place in a neighborhood in any state in the contiguous. It wants you to become her, to drown in her gospels, to take up her armor. I am not afraid. I don't need that sort of love. Learn from me. She says none of these things but means all of them. Self-help mantras dominate the charts, but girls like GloRilla can deal mentorship in the form of an acronym, can teach you that sacrifice for love can be a mistake, that the liberty from the baggage that you don't have to carry any longer is a lightness you should treasure. It feels meaningful that you can memorize the lyrics in seconds, like a prayer.
Pop's biggest magic trick has always been to turn the very specific into the nonspecific, but GloRilla's monster success in 2022 reminds us that the country has always been peopled with potential folk heroes ready to help you make the usual pains of living more bearable. Their ascent is not so much a fluke in the system but a testament to the strength of a star's gravitational pull. And GloRilla's has made a supernova of Memphis, cannoning it and her into the center of the universe. By fate, by exception, by her will, GloRilla belongs to pop now. —Mina Tavakoli
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