This was a historic year for music, in particular for 2017’s best songs. Records were shattered, milestones were broken, and the unlikeliest of tracks became capable of conquering the world (which they, of course, proceeded to do). In the face of a frightening world, the best songs of the year emerged from voices that needed to be heard the most – no, demanded to be heard the most.
This is the year of Cardi B. This is the year of too many good Kendrick Lamar songs to limit his number of entries to two, but somehow forcing ourselves to. This is the year of the preternaturally young – Lorde, Novelist, Playboi Carti – delivering the wisest musings. This is the year of artistic growth incapable of being measured and returns to form more glorious than we could have imagined.
These are the 50 Best Songs of 2017.
50. Post Malone – “rockstar” ft. 21 Savage
Post Malone proves yet again that he’s a hitmaker, this time recruiting 21 Savage to spit bars with him about the trials and tribulations of a rapper-rockstar over a melancholic minor melody and on-point beat.
49. Björk – “The Gate”
“The Gate” was a surprise, to say the least. Only now that Utopia is out and we can see that yes, Björk did make an entire album of panpipes, harps and Venezuelan bird calls, does the track fully snap into place. It’s a beauteous bridge from the desolation of her last album, Vulnicura, proving that there is indeed life after (loss of) love.
48. Miguel – “Sky Walker” ft. Travis Scott
The first offering from Miguel’s new album War & Leisure arrived at the perfect time: in the last, hazy days of summer when the world seems to glide just a bit slower. It’s why a line like ‘Luke Skywalker-ing on these haters’ can register as perfectly normal. And lowkey, this may have been the best Travis Scott feature of the year.
47. Phoenix – “J-Boy”
Phoenix’s remarkably-assured sixth album Ti Amo is a concept-record about eating gelato in Italy during the summer. “J-Boy” – the project’s lead single and opening track – is not only the first bite of the sundae, but the dazzlingly sweet maraschino cherry on top.
46. Charlotte Gainsbourg – “Deadly Valentine”
Few could have expected an album about the death of her sister and father to produce a neo-disco groove like “Deadly Valentine,” but Charlotte Gainsbourg has never been an artist capable of being easily pinned down. Morose funk at its finest.
45. Big Shaq – “Mans Not Hot”
We could say something clever here, or we could just say: The ting goes skrrrahh (ah). Pap, pap, ka-ka-ka (ka). Skidiki-pap-pap (pap). And a pu-pu-pudrrrr-boom (boom). Skya (ah), du-du-ku-ku-dun-dun (dun). Poom, poom, you don’ know.
44. GoldLink – “Crew” ft. Brent Faiyaz & Shy Glizzy
GoldLink finally finds himself a bona fide hit, a much-deserved victory lap for the MC who has been tirelessly repping DC on the national stage. Brent Faiyaz’ hook is a masterstroke of a guest spot.
43. Jorja Smith – “On My Mind” ft. Preditah
One of our favorite musical discoveries of 2017, muse to Drake (soon-to-be the world) Jorja Smith absolutely smashed it with this one, hearkening back to classic UK Garage sounds but keeping it 2k17 with her fresh vocals.
42. Calvin Harris – “Slide” ft. Frank Ocean & Migos
Producer extraordinaire Calvin Harris assembled a dream team of Frank Ocean and Migos for a breezy banger ideal for watching palm trees swaying in an ocean breeze or any life situation, really.
41. SOPHIE – “It’s Okay to Cry”
Talk about a dramatic evolution; SOPHIE, the producer who once used a friend as an imposter in disguise for a DJ set, has hurtled herself into the spotlight – both sonically and visually – with a sparkling ballad about having feels. It is a welcome sight and sound.
40. Gorillaz – “Andromeda” ft. DRAM
Humanz may not have been all it was cracked up to be, but Gorillaz’ grand return record wasn’t without its highlights. Chief amongst them was “Andromeda,” an ultra-smooth slice of fizzy synth-pop that made good on the album’s oft-referenced motif of post-nuclear nightlife.
39. King Krule – “Dum Surfer”
King Krule’s “Dum Surfer” (from the amazing The OOZ) feels like waking up from a whiskey-and-a-fever bender in an alleyway somewhere in London or New Orleans, brushing off the grime from your clothes and walking to the nearest bar for a drink – in the best way possible.
38. Smino – “Sorbet”
Over one of the most deliriously restless bass lines of the year, rising MC Smino offers some of the more colorful metaphors for genitalia and frozen treats we heard this year. He released this track on his birthday, which was an awfully nice present to us.
37. Toro y Moi – “Girl Like You”
There were many, many musical surprises this year, but none were quite as curious as finding out that Toro y Moi wrote the best Travis Scott track of 2017. Also, drinking San Pellegrino has literally never sounded sexier.
36. A$AP Mob – “RAF” ft. ASAP Rocky, Playboi Carti, Quavo, Lil Uzi Vert & Frank Ocean
The A$AP Mob’s second entry in their Cozy Tapes series may not have been as satisfying as the first, but it did contain “RAF,” which easily put together the best collective of guest-spots of 2017. When you assemble an Avengers crew of rap MVP’s like this, you can get away with a stream of consciousness ode to anything, even Raf Simons.
35. Kelela – “Frontline”
That cinematic synth line speeds across a deserted highway straight into our hearts. Kelela’s voice wandering over precise rhythms reminds us that not checking your rearview mirror can feel simply sublime.
34. BROCKHAMPTON – “STAR”
In a year of producing work non-stop, any track from BROCKHAMPTON could have made this list. But the verses of “STAR,” effortlessly packaging more information than a Wikipedia page, are a particularly impressive feat from one of hip-hop’s most fascinating 2017 success stories.
33. Young Thug & Carnage – “Liger”
The cultural legacy of Napoleon Dynamite gets an unexpected – and extremely satisfying – new chapter in the standout track from Young Martha and Carnage’s collaborative EP. An organ line keeps things curiously on edge, particularly when you hear phrases like “Oh yeah, I’m rich, oh, I don’t gotta vote, fuck you.”
32. Four Tet – “Planet”
Titling this track “Planet” is almost too perfect; Four Tet has made untold hours worth of transcendent sounds in his storied career, but he has never made something that feels quite so weightless. Even at seven minutes in length, this bit of mellow dance is constantly floating just out of reach.
31. 21 Savage – “Bank Account”
There are seismic beats, and there are subterranean beats. The one for “Bank Account” falls somewhere in between, like the rumble of the tectonic plates shifting a millimeter at a time. It is the ideal thing to hear 21 Savage whine “Saint Laureeeent” over, and makes it the undisputed highlight of his solo career.
30. DRAM – “Gilligan” ft. A$AP Rocky & Juicy J
Quietly released over the summer as DRAM’s first single of 2017, “Gilligan” is one of the best party track of the year – thanks in no small part to the unmistakable production footprint of Juicy J and an incredibly-dextrous verse from A$AP Rocky. Props to DRAM for breathing new life into a sitcom from TV’s Golden Age.
29. Lil Peep – “Awful Things” ft. Lil Tracy
One of the plainest examples of the genre-bending genius that was Lil Peep. An angsty, subtly profound, and confusing force to be reckoned with.
28. Kesha – “Praying”
Kesha made a comeback, and it’s no secret that we were extremely for it. Rainbow on the whole was pretty amazing, but there’s something about “Praying” that’s still goosebump-inducing months later.
27. Vince Staples – “BagBak”
By no means is “BagBak” the most incisive bit of political commentary set to music that arrived this year, far from it. It is, however, the only track that came out this year in which you could yell along to the phrase “TELL THE PRESIDENT TO SUCK A DICK BECAUSE WE ON NOW” to machine gun-like trap snares. At the end of many days this year, that experience proved more cathartic.
26. Perfume Genius – “Slip Away”
Leave it to Perfume Genius, one of our generation’s most captivating chroniclers of the queer experience, to create the sonic equivalent of a giant ball of glitter exploding above your head. By turns it is both extravagant and tender; really, both at once.
25. Novelist – “New Path”
2017 was full of unbelievably young artists making some of the most profound statements on the current human condition around. Chief among this crew of youngsters is Novelist, the crown prince of grime, who has been making his way up the ranks of the genre since before he could get a driver’s license. “New Path” is a phenomenal statement of intent, offering a rare sentiment of optimism this year – “I got people out here saying “hallelujah” feeling good because they’re seeing I don’t choose to moan.”
24. St. Vincent – “New York”
Those that have never lived in New York have a hard time grasping how desperately lonely of a place it can be – for instance, how can one feel isolated in a bustling, nine-million-person metropolis? St. Vincent, in a pitch-perfect pop song that aches with melancholy, nails it: when you lose “the only motherfucker in the city who can handle me.”
23. LCD Soundsystem – “tonite”
Three albums, a decade of critical acclaim, and one ‘permanent’ hiatus later, James Murphy is still singing about the same things he was 15 years ago; getting older, the definition of cool and the general malaise of being alive in a late-stage capitalist funhouse. How nice of him to continue projecting his obsessions onto the most relentlessly danceable beats imaginable.
22. Stormzy – “Big For Your Boots”
Fact: listening to Stormzy spit the word ‘boot’ out of his mouth is guaranteed to make ease any anxiety currently lingering in your mind. Every rapper needs an anthem to announce their badassery to the world – and Stormzy now has his. Bolstered by the choral lines straight out of Bowser’s castle, this track effuses the aura of do-not-fuck-with-me; he can say a line like “Rudeboy, you’re never too big for Adele” and lose none of his power to get you to shut up and listen.
21. Sampha – “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”
Sampha’s long-awaited debut album Process is nothing short of a revelation; a profound analysis of the lingering effects of grief from an artist very much in the throes of it. No where is this more apparent than “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano,” a track that essentially finds the singer tearing his chest asunder, ripping out his heart and delivering it to us on a golden platter. Few would have the courage to release a track this honest at any point in their career, let alone on their first full-length.
20. Drake – “Passionfruit”
“Passionfruit” adds a splash of the tropics to Papi’s champagne. No surprises here that it became a hit – it’s both emblematic of More Life’s folding of influences and peak romantic Drake. Or, as Genius commenter ‘steftim’ put it so succinctly, “It’s essentially ‘Hotline Bling’ with less ridiculous lyrics and a fresh beat.”
19. Selena Gomez – “Bad Liar”
It would have been all too easy to hate this song, to resent it for its blatant lack of respect in sampling one of the most iconic and influential bass riffs of the 20th century. The difficulty lies in realizing this song’s crystalline perfection, making peace with how its reckless appropriation gave way to a radio-ditty with a zen-like sense of balance. David Byrne didn’t license his Talking Heads catalogue for nothing.
18. Future – “Mask Off”
With a unforgettable flute riff and the iconic duo of molly and percocet, Future reminded us yet again that he knows how to make a hit that can instantly go viral while still securing a place in the rap canon. It was his first ever song to top the charts, which says just as much about his ability to make hits as it does the public’s need of molly and percocet music.
17. Lana Del Rey – “Summer Bummer” ft. A$AP Rocky & Playboi Carti
The tropical tinge of Lana Del Rey was one that glowed for a whole season when her by turns political and patriarchal Lust for Life dropped. A gorgeous mix of campfire folk, traditional pop and trap, no song showcased her new sound better than “Summer Bummer.”
Featuring backing vocals from Playboi Carti and a verse from A$AP Rocky, her gloomy vocals on the track felt like they were taking us on a twisted road trip across sun-bleached America. “White lies and black beaches, and blood red sangrias / We traveled for weeks, just to escape your demons” she barely breathes in the song’s second verse. Morbid and mesmerizing – just like Del Rey herself.
16. JAY-Z – “4:44”
The entirety of JAY-Z’s 4:44 is pretty stunning; few could have predicted the same man who made “Big Pimpin'” would one day set a letter to his wife apologizing for his adulterous shortcomings to a beat. But that’s exactly what goes down on the album’s title track, a stunning admission of – not just wrongdoing – but shame and humility from one of the most braggadocious men to ever step in front of a microphone.
15. Tyler, The Creator – “911 / Mr. Lonely” ft. Frank Ocean & Steve Lacy
The first taste of Tyler, The Creator’s fantastic fourth album remains one of the sweetest. It immediately made clear just how much Tyler has grown as a producer, stitching together a tapestry of elements in service of his warm, buoyant groove. Not even Frank Ocean can steal this show; Tyler’s dual act as maestro and star-soloist is too magnetic to turn away from.
14. Lorde – “Sober”
The world seems to be declaring Melodrama‘s lead single “Green Light” as its essential track, but for my money, Lorde’s standout from her sublime sophomore album is “Sober.” It exemplifies her meticulous ear for production – making sonic magic out of small, hardly-noticeable effects. Like how she samples her own voice uttering the words “night, midnight, lose my mind” and runs it through the entire song. Or the jaw-dropping moment in the second verse where her voice suddenly splits into a six-part harmony, a beautiful anomaly in a track full of them. And I haven’t even mentioned the lyrical content which – like all her best work – is preternaturally profound beyond her years.
13. N.E.R.D & Rihanna – “Lemon”
Rihanna’s flawlessly-rapped verse alone would warrant N.E.R.D’s return single ranking this high on the list, but even without her deified presence, “Lemon” is an astonishing track. Pharrell turned in one of his most invigorating beats in years – hearkening back to early work with Clipse far more than any of his recent Dreamworks-commissioned anthems. It’s a thrilling listen, precisely because his production continually keeps you on our toes; for instance, how are we to know that the first minute of the song is essentially a fake-out to the real beat about to drop? Factor in the Rihanna-rap and you have one of the most fascinating listens of the year.
12. Migos – “T-Shirt”
I see Migos less as as a rap trio and as more as a Greek chorus of the world in 2017; the three Atlantans spit verses that seem to spout from our collective subconscious, reflecting and contributing shards of profundity amongst an unwieldy mass of information. “T-Shirt,” boasting some of the best production on a record great production, is full of such moments of utter poetry. My year was constantly riddled with phrases appearing to me as if in a dream: “Real mob ties, real frog eyes, real whole pies, all time high,” “Scotty on the molly, pocket rocket from O’Reilly,” and of course, “do it for the culture.”
11. Kendrick Lamar – “DNA.”
I got honest to God shivers down my spine when I listened to “DNA.” for the first time. The bass line alone is enough to make this a physical reaction for about anyone who hears it, but it is when the song dramatically breaks into its final section – when Kendrick Lamar is rapping like he has never rapped before, spitting for over 30 seconds without an audible pause for breath – that I got goosebumps. The debate over who currently stands as the greatest rapper alive starts and ends here.
10. Yaeji – “Raingurl”
We probably could have selected any Yaeji song that came out in 2017 for this list, but the combination of punny lyrics, female empowerment, and an insanely dope self-produced house beat make this one a no-brainer for best of the year. Special shout-out to the sheer perfection of the phrase ‘Mother Russia in my cup.’
9. SZA – “Love Galore” ft. Travis Scott
What would the music universe look like this year if SZA never released Ctrl? At the beginning of 2017, this was a very real possibility, and now, by the end, it seems laughable. Homegirl is up for a whopping five Grammy awards and with one listen of her debut studio album, it’s easy to hear why.
Even if you just listened to “Love Galore,” the full-length’s best single, you could catch a glimpse straight into the core of SZA’s ever-expanding sphere. It’s constantly evolving, experimental yet still undeniably pop, indebted to classic R&B but also something deep inside the singer-songwriter’s third eye, with smooth exclamations from worthy collaborators – in this case, Travis Scott. It’s a marker of how far she’s come and how much further she’ll surely go.
8. Charli XCX – “Boys”
For the entirety of her career, Charli XCX has proclaimed herself as the guiding light of ‘experimental pop;’ trying on the suit of a pop star while delivering slightly-left-of-family-friendly-radio stories about dropping ecstasy in the club, employing producers from the electronic avant-garde to bring her powder-encrusted visions to life. Sometimes it has worked, other times, not as much.
It’s funny then that she has made what is easily her strongest track to date out of the most cliché, textbook subject in all of pop music: crushing on boys. Charli waxes poetic on the dream-like state of new attraction while A.G. Cook’s production pops beneath her, one that could not be more 8-bit retro if it sampled a Mrs. Pac-Man machine. It’s the most unified marriage of her pop star aesthetic with electro-insanity yet, and it’s also just, like, adorable.
7. Kelela – “LMK”
Kelela brought us a gift that keeps on giving with her debut studio album Take Me Apart. It’s the kind of record that can easily burrow into your soul if you allow it to. Perfectly articulating the existential romantic angst the vast majority of us feel in the year 2017 is “LMK” – our new, official late-night slide-into-the-DMs anthem.
From those opening chords and layered ahhhs, we were sold, and could tell Kelela was onto something with the record’s first single. Although “It ain’t that deep by the way,” Kelela shows us yet again that she can make seemingly banal life events infinitely momentous.
6. Playboi Carti – “Magnolia”
2017 was a benchmark year for songs that incorporated the flute as an essential element; it appeared everywhere from Future’s “Mask Off” to Drake’s “Portland” to all of Björk’s new album Utopia. Yet the granddaddy of them all is Playboi Carti’s “Magnolia,” an unlikely hit from his self-titled debut.
“Magnolia” is less a song in the traditional sense and more of a bauble; a hermetically-sealed capsule of Carti’s world, one where his days of selling crack have successfully paved the way for his edenic world of non-stop mutual oral sex. Aside from the aforementioned flute lilting in the background, there isn’t really any melody to speak of. This track is a carousel, dizzyingly spinning the same loop over and over until it becomes a single blur – nothing exists but the constant vibe.
5. Frank Ocean – “Chanel”
By the time this track came around, most of us were still smitten by the brilliance of Blonde. But after the five year silence that followed Channel Orange, Frank had now caught the ‘new music’ bug. His first release after Blonde was the Calvin Harris collab “Slide;” “Chanel” followed soon after.
A euphemism-laced ode to bisexuality, “Chanel” debuted on Frank’s Beats One radio show ‘Blonded’ to a sea of fan-fueled hysteria. “My guy’s pretty like a girl, and he’s got fight stories to tell,” he boasts on the song’s opening line. Doused in smart double entendre lyrics and produced by Scandinavian duo Jarami, it’s the first in a long line of Frank’s spin-off singles, but one that’s yet to be bettered.
4. Vince Staples – “Big Fish”
Each element of “Big Fish” cuts with exacting precision; gelatinous line of synth, a crisp, clipped beat, two classically-acrobatic Staples verses and Juicy J delivering the hook of the year are stacked neatly together, not a second wasted between them. Staples’ bars cut even deeper – his staccato delivery masking they way his phrases blossom as they chug along, “Swimming upstream while I’m tryna keep my bread / From the sharks make me wanna put the hammer to my head.” As the almost-title track to the most foreboding club record in recent memory, it could not make it have announced itself any better.
3. Cardi B – “Bodak Yellow”
2017 was a lot of things, notably The Year of Cardi B’s Come-up. In the beginning, she dropped Gangsta Bitch Vol. 2 and signed to Atlantic Records, dropped “Bodak Yellow” somewhere in the middle, and by the end, she became a certified record-breaking rapper, collaborating with the likes of Nicki Minaj and A$AP Rocky without losing an ounce of her Bronx-cultivated outspoken vivacity.
Harnessing her ability to make nearly everything she does in life go viral, but this time with the support of a major label, “Bodak Yellow” finally put Cardi in a place where the mainstream music media couldn’t ignore her obvious talent by dismissing her as an internet personality. It doesn’t hurt that the song absolutely bangs in every sense of the word. From Cardi’s don’t-you-dare-f***-with-me bars to the sinister, earworm-inducing production courtesy of J. White Did It, “Bodak Yellow” undoubtedly conquered 2017, spreading the gospel of Cardi B further than any could have foreseen.
2. Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.”
Don’t be fooled by the title – this is the least modest thing Kendrick has made since at least “Backseat Freestyle.” And for good reason. “HUMBLE.” is the dazzling centerpiece to an album that solidifies his reputation as music’s ultimate auteur. How does he follow up a groundbreaking free-form jazz symphony that spoke to America’s growing societal riff? By turning in go-for-broke hits.
And on his most pop-oriented record yet, no hit was bigger than “HUMBLE.” It earned him his first solo number one and was ubiquitous throughout the year. Clubs, cars and showers alike vibrated with the thrum of Mike WiLL Made-It’s air-raid-like synth blares, announced by the thundering of that menacing piano line. “HUMBLE.” is not so much heard as submitted to.
1. Lil Uzi Vert – “XO Tour Llif3”
What started off as a humble SoundCloud upload, hastily named after a tour with XO boss man The Weeknd, turned into one of the biggest songs of the year, and in our opinion, the best. “XO Tour LIif3” blends early 2000s emo and contemporary rap in such a specific, special way that it turned Uzi-ambivalent music listeners into certified stans, ourselves included.
As the story goes, Uzi told producer TM88 on FaceTime, “we gotta make the most epic shit in the world,” and in many ways, they succeeded. That blissfully melancholic minor key melody is perfectly suited to Uzi’s near-crying delivery of his lyrics – feelings that range from lowest of the low post-breakup blues that can only be soothed with Xanny to “fast car, NASCAR,” on top of both the world and his growing stacks of cash.
“Everyone got the same swag now / Watch the way that I tear it down,” Uzi proclaims in the song’s first verse. Although it may not be the most memorable couplet, it says a lot about Uzi’s approach to his artistry. His trailblazing mesh of genre and mood, at their peak on “XO Tour Llif3,” is why the song resonated with so many this year, and why it is unquestionably the best song of 2017.
Take a look at our ranking of the 10 Best Music Videos of 2017 here.
- Contributors: Jake Boyer, Bianca Giulione, Douglas Greenwood, Ana Velasco
- Cover Image: Theo Wargo / Getty Images