2017 was a year of love and loss, pride and shame, joy and pain. So much changed, but one thing remains: music is the key to all this. Here’s 50 pieces of music that influenced, accentuated, and defined my mind-boggling year.
50. King Krule – “Czech One”
I originally thought he was in some coffee shop or pub, but the music video has him on a plane. There’s also references to a train. The world is eerie and askew, a choir of ghosts wailing deeply in the shadows. A nocturne of solitude, an introvert’s anthem. Slow jazz atmos to the dreams of a lonely mind.
49. Cardi B – “Bodak Yellow”
Everyone says it’s the best. The simplistic music prevented me from appreciating it until later. Memorable lines, for sure – Cardi has The Personality™. Her biggest hit yet, but she’s had bangers dropping for years. Potentially the most “important” song of the year.
48. EXO – “What U do?”
Just a club banger, with a funky undercurrent, lovely electric guitars, and EXO’s unmatched harmony. The faded ooh-ooh’s in the chorus are to die for. Sounds come in and out with joyous variation, but it’s immaculate formula at heart. Designed for staying up all night.
47. Charli XCX ft. Carly Rae Jepsen – “Backseat”
Can’t get over my self-imposed Blink-182 comparisons in the chorus: “in..the..back…seat / true care truth brings.” If it weren’t for that, top 20 of the year. Charli keeps coming up with pop gold, Carly was born from gold itself. Intimacy, tease, touch – her voice is closeness. Best of a generation.
46. Drake – “Passionfruit”
Proper chill. Drake floats us through space. There are shit things in life, but they hardly matter when you can close your eyes and imagine a world where this tune is the sound of the air. That first minute is unparalleled – Drake’s sound is THE sound of this decade. When he starts singing it’s pretty good too, but in the memorable-after-you-hear-it kinda way. Something you want to hear in the background.
45. Solace – “Infinite”
I only listened to it because Grimes recommended it on her Instagram. A love song with a nerve-wracking bass; perhaps we’re bobbing through snake-infested waters. The boat is slowly moving. Solace guides us to safety. It’s got that ethereal female vocal that sounds covered in a haze of smoke that I just die for.
44. BOYFRIEND – “Never End”
Those cringy claps and “hey! hey!”s in the background don’t detract – when it drops into the chorus and the music gets all excited, a smile arrives. The words “never end” stick. I do not, to be sure, want the joy to ever end. Those voices are fun and confident, with a sense of tryhard immaturity and a hint of sweat-drop cheek. Hear those pianos bounce!
43. Post Malone ft. 21 Savage – “rockstar”
Everyone wants to be a rockstar. Or, at least, they think they do. To fuck the hoes, to pop the pillies. What lip-biting hedonism. And what joy to warn one’s homey that their girl is “just tryna get in”. But Post, I’m told, is the nicest guy of all time, and H3H3 has taken pictures with him. Ergo, fave. This is a BIG part of the sound, rap-singing, or whatever the technical term is, in its catchiest form yet. “Savage, why you got a twelve car garage and you only got six cars?” – still tryna decipher that one, but it’s deadly, as the Dubliners say.
42. EXO-CBX – “Ka-CHING!”
A Tinder match had this as her chosen song. That connection faded away but the song stuck. Best use of the whole till sound thing since “Paper Planes” (only other notable use? Can’t remember). Rapid-fire commercial-ready power-dance, all for the flexing. I got my first real job this year. It’s nice to obtain money. This song recognizes that common fact with uncommonly stirring production.
41. Karencitta – “Cebuana”
I don’t understand most of the lyrics, which are in Cebuano, but the chorus is irresistable. An accessible, super-normie tropical-toned club banger for the empowerment of the titular people. No doubt the sort of thing this world needs. Music video is expectedly cringeworthy, typical body positivity-core. That chorus, however, sung as truth, is an unavoidable virus. Yooooouuuu really need a this song.
40. Yaeji – “Feel it Out”
I’m sorry yaeji, it auto-capitalizes! I’ve always hated starting words and proper nouns that weren’t capitalized, but I’m surely wrong. David Ehrlich doesn’t do it on his Letterboxd reviews, and he is typically right. Lol. But yaeji is certainly, unironically right, and the best new artist of the year. Her droll vocals, the unmoving beat – it’s a conveyor belt of fruit and smoke and human movement. The type of movement the spirit of happiness compels us to.
39. Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean & Migos – “Slide”
The tone I sense from Frank is judgemental, sarcastic, contemptuous. Well, do you slide on all your nights like this? There are likely other readings – what does sliding on a night actually mean? As often, there’s an annoying high pitch intro, but it sticks, that stuff about the boy with the pipe. Calvin gets the sunset vibe ooh so right. The self-announcer “Offset”, when combined with that vibe, is a moment for history. Best since “2Chainz!!!!!!!!!” in “Mercy”.
38. Paramore – “Hard Times”
It’s nice that Haley says she gotta get to rock bottom. NUANCE! The whole album is a wonder – some of western culture’s sunniest ever pop music with themes to recognize that nah, not everything is okay. We put on these faces of joy, but there’s pain underneath. There is a mental health crisis. Not to put messages where Paramore did not intend them, but that’s what this is about for me. Though the optimism’s still there, as it must be. That’s what music’s for.
37. Bolbbalgan4 ft. 20 Years of Age – “We Loved”
On the cover, two lovers sit, worlds apart. We Loved, past-tense; tears drop, if they can. Nothing lasts forever; you can hear it in the cracking of the voices, the strains of the vocal interplay. It’s beauty, in the way all great tragedies are beauty. The sounds are so pleasant; that’s why the story’s so sad. When it all breaks down, and the only words are “we loved, we loved, we loved”, then we can be happy for what we achieved. But the prevailing impression will always be a hope to return to that sacred connection.
36. Sampha – “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”
A personal tale steeped in family and artistic expression. Classic because it’s a universal experience (“I flew the nest”). Yet only Sampha could do this. A spare piano melody is all this story needs – there’s hardly anything else. The way it should be. Surrender to his voice – he himself does at the end. And the piano plays on, his hand a spirit haunting that home. “Haunting” in the nicest sense of the word.
35. Nilüfer Yanya – “Baby Luv”
Raw, scratchy guitar, a series of a few notes. Bare-bones indie with heartfelt, human vocals; there always has to be a few of them acclaimed each year. Here’s one that’s so damn great, a case of repetition doing all the work; in terms of helping music stick in the mind, that’s how it’s done. Do you like pain? Again, again, again, again, again…
34. Calvin Harris ft. Pharrell, Katy Perry & Big Sean – “Feels”
Didn’t know it was Katy Perry until like 2 days ago. Catchy hook, can’t cringe at her this time. Opening slides are enticing; if this was your Powerpoint I’d appreciate it. You just want to move your head to it, don’t you? Calvin and fam are like “just feel good, ya know?” and we couldn’t agree more. The funky reggae beat makes it happen.
33. Charlie Puth – “Attention”
He’ll drop a bunch of garbage chart-bait then one or two of these gold nuggets every once in a while. You can imagine him in the club; he’s a bit bitter. Wonder what the other side of the story was, if it existed at all. Can’t go wrong with the skeletal nature of that bassline in the chorus. You hear that elegant voice repeated in surround sound; he’s mocking the subject from all angles, surrounding them in shame. A sigh is all that was needed.
32. Primary – “On”
Random Spotify find. He’s a legend. What a chorus – on and on and on and on and on. That conveyor-belt tone; boring office life is a chore, we must embrace the things that truly allow us to be. Look up from the desk, notice the sun peeking through the window, reflect for a moment. Get up to dance, let the smile arrive. And do what we feel!
31. The Horrors – “Something to Remember Me By”
Prog maybe. A bit. A long intro. Things are listed. Build-up to a resounding release. Spinning through a vortex into space, but leaving something human on this world as legacy. Drums and bass are relentless; synths oscillate like wave frequencies. Close your eyes and embrace the spiralling. This isn’t horror at all.
30. Little Big Town – “Happy People”
So white, right? If only it was this easy – but let us believe it for a minute. It can be the secret for now. Simple messages distilled with warmth and charm; you know she really believes it. It’s all a truth, and I try and live by it. But complexity is the thing. There’s so much dirt and hate. Push that to aside, if just for a second, and be a part of this big happy family. Or unlock the family inside you.
29. Logic ft. Alessia Cara, Khalid – “1-800-273-8255”
Surely helped a lot of people. Today I watched a 2018 Oscar predictions video where the guy said the Academy likes to reward the most important, not the best. Well this might be the most important. Logic’s hella underrated; maybe I say that because I’m white. Wonder what he’d say to that. Something passionate probably. Class album. Best part of the song is Alessia though; her singing’s a bit anxious, as if she has to get the words out faster than the song wants her to. I keep returning for that mystery.
28. DJ Khaled, Rihanna, Bryson Tiller, Santana – “Wild Thoughts”
DJ KHALED!!!!!!!!!!!!!! What a legend tbh. Makes a pretty good Santana song ten times better; electric guitar never left, but ya boi makes you think it did, and he’s brought it back as some sort of gift to the world. But Rihanna is the real gift – how good is she?! And Bryson’s head-shakingly fun. Great Pyramid wasn’t produced this well.
27. Thomas Rhett – “Sixteen”
We couldn’t all have Rhett’s upbringing, but this is the next best thing. Slight and cyclical, a pleasant smile over beer and bonfire. Feel the curvature of the country roads, the heat of the southern sun. Wonder if there’s meaning to the rites of passage Rhett reflects on, if it’s the “right way”. Hum along at the sentimental sincerity. What I wouldn’t give.
26. Noah Cyrus – “Almost Famous”
Almost famous is right. But Miley’s not been this good since maybe “Wrecking Ball”. Perhaps she was never this good. A few guitar notes repeated: it’s all you need if the singer means it. She does. Things might have worked. They didn’t. If only. Music is acceptance. Captures a universe in a bottle and pours it out with tremendous intent.
25. Jidenna – “Bambi”
Didn’t like it at first. Realized it’s his most musically visionary piece yet. Generations of family history building to a sly meditation on hookup culture. An entire personality recorded in 4 hypnotizing minutes, warts and all. Society is weird and messy and it is changing. ART helps us express that. And what an interesting artist – give him the attention he deserves!
24. CLC – “Where Are You?”
Mallsoft trance; you can feel the soft-focus haze. Like walking through a hall of human memories a few thousand years from now: the intersection of pristinely-produced corporate product and true, human beauty. Sparkly, high-pitched synth notes peek out the magic; 80s-funk guitar and bass transport us back. Utterly perfect harmonies float us a few realms higher than we normally deserve.
23. Joji – “Will He”
Maybe I like it because I’m trying too hard to accept my love is gone. “My love” being, of course, Filthy Frank. But the stock stuck with me, and it’s undoubtedly Joji. More like this, and I might one day truly accept the great retirement. Chill, dark, self-pitying, beautiful; it reflects so much about this singular artist yet encapsulates a little bit of us all. Scratchy drum machines and hollow, liquidy piano chords unleash a musical breakdown, a lifetime of influences surrendering themselves to the truth.
22. Big Shaq – “Man’s Not Hot”
“Fuck you that’s not a serious song”. Whatever lol this has a ridiculous influence on me this year, and I’ll always remember it fondly. If you’ve known me well in college in Dublin you’ve prolly heard a reference or fifty. Funny at first, then unironically catchy. The “ting goes” solo, appearing twice, to my unending gratitude, is amongst the most satisfying things 2017 has given us.
21. Algiers – “Walk Like a Panther”
Seeing them live helped elevate the song on this list. Musical scream of the year, a true unleashing of unrepentant anger. But is it anger? It’s also a holler of love. Political and populist, this is a song for the people. If you have a chance, witness this effect for yourself, as I did. What a band.
20. BTS – “Outro: Her”
BTS are the best because they put thought and care into every track they make. That an outro to an EP is amongst their greatest outputs of recent memory is testament to their level of craft. I hardly even know what the song is *specifically* about, but that comfy keyboard melody, sunrise drum track and compassionate group vocal delivery reveals the message: LOVE. It’s opener is flawed, youthful poetry: “the world is complex, we was looking for love”. And it’s the closing resonance of two years of unparalleled talent.
19. Yaeji – “drink i’m sippin on”
Seeing yaeji on her Insta story – smiling while performing this to an excited crowd – has been the highlight of my week. Made me believe that, in all the drudgery of modern human existence, with all the anguish and insecurity and self-imposed identity chaos, there is light and hope and reason. Expression is that reason. yaeji won 2017 because she has truly been herself, taking many of the best trends in modern music and showing the world what her mind makes of them. From this, she could – should – grow into our greatest pop star.
18. Father John Misty – “Total Entertainment Forever”
“Bedding Taylor Swift every night inside the Oculus Rift” proved jaw-dropping opening line of the year. What’s really great about the song is it eschews regular structure to do what it wants; a usual sign of truly great music. There’s the big, then the BIG, then the small, then the gone. And the gone is pretty damn quick to arrive, meaning we’re constantly having to revisit the thing to get that rush again and again and again.
17. Red Velvet – “Rookie”
Their best single yet, despite incredible competition. Peppy cheerleader clapper with an endless reserve of energy. Combines sings and shouts and oodles of cheek to give us some top-notch pop silliness. Exists entirely to make people smile. And to make money. But what’s the problem if it does both? Red Velvet are the best girl group in the world right now.
16. Spoon – “Hot Thoughts”
Bee-buzz vibrations create a sense of dread. Teasing tip-toe vocal structure hint at inability to function. Thumping drums bring up the heat. Electric guitars blow the whole damn oven up. Rock song of the year in a year I basically forgot that was even a genre, to be honest. The brief stop-start in percussion in the “took time off from my kingdom” section always stops the heart.
15. Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – “Last of My Kind”
You can just see him hang his head in shame as he fails to fit in. But there’s joy in realizing what you have is special, what you have is different. Embrace that. Slow, soft, imagistically sad – the worst part is when he talks about being laughed at by his peers, given drugs, left alone for 2 days in a “bad part of town”. You can just feel the wide-eyed sincerity. He just wants to be loved. Don’t we all?
14. HAIM – “Want You Back”
I said “HAIM, I want you back”, and they delivered. Ha ha. As with most great songs, it works because it combines unique personality and talent with a feeling that’s universal. Is it faultiness or fault in us? Who cares. Indeed, mystery breeds interest. Interest breeds memory. Memory breeds identity. And now this wistful power-pop ballad is a tiny little bit of mine.
13. WINNER – “Really Really”
A few great dances at clubs this year, but this song dropping at the K-Pop Party tops them all. Tropical house seduction. Elegance and style embracing playful flirtatiousness. When those titular words drop, it’s an expression of who and what I want to be. On top of the world, on that golden stage. Young and free and iconic.
12. Perfume Genius – “Slip Away”
An enigma. I know it less than any other song on this list. Yet its grandiosity overtakes all. Everything builds and rises. A wall of noise and bass that tilts to become the floor, off which solid darkness bounces. Touch overcomes, sensuality evolves and envelops. Darkness becomes the light. The little images that do stick are eye-wideningly haunting. No caressing, no caressing, no caressing, no…
11. ASTRO – “You Smile (니가 웃잖아)”
Something simple, something beautiful. Energy. About smiling, inducing smiling. The simple pleasures which drive release. Often the song I needed the most. All celebration, all excitement. It’s the smiles we look back on with the most emotion. We must make them count.
10. Yeule – “I Saw You in My Dreams Last Night”
The perfect nocturne with which to end a drama episode. Her rich ghostly voice flows through the dark city streets, calling out for the elusive “you”. Dreams are substance, the reflection of who we truly, deeply are. For me, 2017 has had a few “you”’s. It’s that piano melody that matters most; it sounds ripped from the chambers of some long-locked cave of love. Unlimited emotion.
9. Kelela – “Frontline”
She flows through the pains of love with confidence. The highlight of a stellar album reflecting on physical identity. Like too many (just enough) of my 2017 picks, it tracks a faltering relationship. The stuttery delivery of the chorus is impeccable it’s-my-jam dance funk, dropping down deliciously from the year’s most tantalizing intro beat. Line of the year: “if it ain’t your life / I don’t know how to live it.”
8. Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.”
Maybe my favorite Kendrick song. Prolly not his best, but his catchiest. Not much to say about it that Kendrick can’t say better. He’s the speaker. Most fun anyone seems to have had playing around with lyrics in memory.
7. Shawn Wasabi ft. Hollis – “Otter Pop”
Summertime. Popsicles. Pink and purple and green and yellow and orange. In a Kero Kero Bonito off year, we might have gotten something even better. A resolution of style and taste, a song about the joys of kids being who they choose to be. THE party anthem. THE song of connection. You just wanna be friends with everyone involved in this joyous little ditty. I’m getting chills.
6. 2NE1 – “Goodbye”
Can’t lie, hardly ever listened to 2NE1 before this. I’ll catch up with their work someday. Wouldn’t have known they’d even broken up if I hadn’t heard this song was their breakup song. Some say it’s the weakest of the 3 major K-Pop breakup songs of the year (can’t remember the other two), but for my money it’s one of the most heartfelt goodbye songs EVER, even if one of the band’s members wasn’t even on it. The way they sing “ann-ye-o-ong, ann-ye-o-ong” piece-by-piece, stuttering through each syllable, is a heartbreaking expression of pain. It should sound difficult to sing if it was difficult to live.
5. Lorde – “Liability”
I sometimes feel this way. Too much. Too intense. Dare I say it, a liability. Knowing that I’m not alone helps. Love helps. On this song, Lorde practices self-love, if with a tear in the eye and a hand on an aching heart. It’s stunning imagery, the “girl swaying alone, stroking her cheek”. Many of my favorite ballads of the year (“Goodbye”, “(No One Knows Me) Like the Piano”, etc) had one thing in common: very minimalistic instrumentation, the vocals doing all the work. Sometimes the truth is messily-presented, but the undertones are simple. A lot of us feel these things, and that’s something to join hands over.
4. BTS – “Spring Day”
Structurally magnificent. Sonically masterful. A story conveyed so exceptionally and so unbearably emotionally that its meaning transcends magic. That is music, and BTS is music. So many parts to the song, so much to unpack, but it all feels like one fell swoop of the human heart. It sounds like the ending, but it’s a call for a new beginning; 2017, basically. Niga byeonhan geonji. The heart reaches out – will anyone push back?
3. Pink Guy ft. Getter, Borgore, Axel Boy, Tastytreat – “Pink Season: The Prophecy”
I consider it one long song. It’s the Abbey Road Medley of the Age of Edge. Couldn’t miss out on an opportunity to rank Joji’s comedy work higher than his serious stuff – it’s my last chance, after all. Combines all of the highlights of Pink Season into one disgusting, unforgivable, ridiculous montage of cringe and hate and offense, accentuating some of YouTube’s greatest ever content creator’s most memorable lines. It’s the opener, from “Friend Noodles”, which sticks the most: “I live in a constant state of fear and misery”. Words of a generation.
2. Father John Misty – “Pure Comedy”
Anything pretentiously profound that attempts to explain the entirety of human existence is my art. A six-minute song shouldn’t be this shamelessly re-listenable. But I’ve grown up inspired by Walking with Cavemen and 2001 and Apocalypto, so I was prime bait for this tragi-ballad roasting human nature, rooted all the way in prehistory and reverberating through the development of religion and politics. Maybe not the truth, but a truth. And skipping from truth to truth is how I try and make sense of my own.
1. Julien Baker – “Appointments”
I knew. It was always going to be here. I almost can’t put the words to it. No rhyme, but endless reason – or the attempt at such. A dirge for a dying love. Self-pity at not being good enough. Attempts to deal with mental health. Breakdown of communication. Disappointment. All of 2017’s great themes in one gorgeous song. Like many great songs before it, it flows precisely as it is meant to flow, not adhering to the rules of commerce or popular taste. Yet it nonetheless connects, for its musical simplicity and lyrical complexity reflects a human purity, a truth, that cries out to be heard. There is no other choice but to surrender. I’ve always been an optimist, but never more have the words “I know that it’s not / but I have to believe that it is” rang truer than in 2017, a year of endings and attempted re-beginnings. Here’s to 2018 being something different.