2016: Favorite 50 Songs Our picks spread across five themed mixes

Anonymous, 2016, Completely Automated, digital oil on canvas, 1017 × 785 px

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series


PART 5: “COUPE” mixed by Reggie MT


Kero Kero Bonito

“Trampoline”

[Double Denim]

What bliss to sardonically raze the edifice of bubbly corporate pop forever selling canned happiness and meritocratic ideology to no one in particular. The biggest explosion of insurgent pop dogma that Kero Kero Bonito could muster this year was “Trampoline,” a song as delusionally aspirational and impractically idealistic as one might imagine sunny pop music could ever be. KKB adopt the necessarily airy, high-flying pop architecture used to hawk optimism and harmless personal ambition to the masses, but they avoid placation; like many great pop groups, they amplify the absurdity instead. And, of course, bounce, bounce, bounce…


Princess Nokia

“Tomboy”

[Sef-Released]

Part anti-norm-bred body image, part take-your-man-without-trying, part “fuck your conformist ideals of what women should be” — total banger. Princess Nokia’s “Tomboy” (produced by SAINT.), off one of the best self-releases of the year (1992), universally bumps — in the car, in the house, at work, with any warm body in earshot with anthemic appeal. WHO DAT.


Rae Sremmurd

“Black Beatles” ft. Gucci Mane

[Interscope]

Public Enemy did it, Kanye did it; Rae Sremmurd are certainly not the first rappers to call themselves the “black Beatles,” but their #1 hit might just be the only song this side of “Hey Ya!” that sustains the weight of a boundlessly brash claim like that. Thanks to another mind-boggling production from Mike WiLL Made-It, the jam sits at the very forefront of pop’s techno-musical progress, while still sounding as hummable as something you’ve heard a million times. Above all, it has proved to appeal to people who swear by only seeking out music that does one or the other. What on earth can be more “Beatles” than that?


Babyfather

“Motivation”

[Hypberdub]

Descent is one of the most interesting words when considering “the future.” The recognition of here-and-now exists only in the preceded and what remains. Commuting to work and blaring “Motivation” by Dean Blunt becomes cocksure. “This song moves traffic,” you yell at passengers while stuck in a strawberry jam of automobiles. Then you twitch away hours-on-end, half-woke on a subway of falling bodies; you’d rather walk than wait for the rollercoaster-line of time to bus. Shrieking fades. The elderly observe. Hood residence are all leaders and have a voice worth vocalizing. Use “Motivation” as transgressive output youth naiveté. You’re never gonna get it, “Boy, boy.”


Rihanna

“Work”

[Roc Nation]

What was more universal in 2016 than “Work”? When the song first appeared, it felt unfinished, open-ended, looping, iterative. Then it grew on us all, fast. It came to embody us. In public spaces, on our phones, in our cars, we were working. But amidst Rihanna and Drake’s unresolved, bantering dialectic, work was indistinguishable from play. Yearning indistinct from intimacy. Did Rihanna ever get done at work and come over? Did her words ever get to Drake? Work held us in a shared separateness, suspended in that synth loop, that sweet unrequitedness. That immanent choral imperative offering a kind of salvation. It is what it is: “work, work, work, work, work.”


Charli XCX

“Vroom Vroom”

[Vroom Vroom]

Eyes always seeing sunglass, luxe plush body behind neon-headlight eyes in suicide machines sprung from caged paradise, Charli roulettes the wheel and coos, “tramps like us, baby,;” engines combust back: “Vroom Vroom.” Because pop sputters and roars, the place for feet to race and tires to dance — there’s a radio in the car, there’s a car in the radio. Because “All my life I’ve been waiting for a good time” and “Vroom Vroom” lasers highway swerve into stop-and-go street sonata, liberation promised in a “let’s ride” manifesto, transfiguring our “where to” wonder into Charli’s only answer, to radios and to life: why not?


DeJ Loaf

“Goals”

[Yellow World]

DeJ Loaf is a superstar. What else can you say? Releasing a string of great tracks this year that somehow still flew under the radar, “Goals” was maybe the ultimate refinement of the DeJ persona: stoic and ice cold while still, in her blunt self-reflections, keeping the strength to stay vulnerable. Bosses have feelings too, even when leaning on a piano in shades and an all-white suit, and here, Loaf runs both modes with smooth, effortless braggadocio. To wit: “Get to knowing yourself, that’s some shit that put fear in you.”


Young Thug

“RiRi”

[300/Atlantic]

A recent Nobel laureate once dedicated a lecherous stanza to a young soul singer he had the hots for. While I can’t imagine Thugger ever being invited to such ilk of Swedish club, in “RiRi” he does something far more impressive than unleashing his carnal impulses by both impersonating and replying to Rihanna’s patois-laden smash. In the guise of his singing-prone alter-ego Jeffery, Young Thug flexes his trademark swag to incorporate Caribbean tonalities, overt pop impressions, and even some R&B. It’s a fusion that reaches its apex in “RiRi,” less a track inspired by the travails of seduction than a heartfelt tribute to Rihanna. Indeed, Jeffery doesn’t try to get in RiRi’s pants, but mimics her vocal inflections and openly proclaims his admiration, once again making good on Thugger’s habit of subverting expectations. Getting to chill with the Barbados star is, you know, just a little extra.


Solange

“Cranes in the Sky”

[Saint/Columbia]

Wrapped in folds of insulation, neck outstretched, Solange sings the micro-adjustments of recovery, the navigation of depression and dominant culture as a process of elimination. The song is (earthly beautiful, the walking piano and her angel voice) light and air despite the heavy lifting of its words. After so many failed escapes, she’s coming to peace with the unsightly structures that stand against her horizon; they are of a future site, and they are capable of tremendous strength. By the song’s end, when she wishes it all “away, away, away,” it’s not for nothing; she’s celebrating that these moving machines might spread their wings.


Kanye West

“Ultralight Beam”

[GOOD/Def Jam]

Like a Sunday morning when you wake up and it’s raining. You are born into this shit, and it is already overflowing. You can’t stand up all the way. You make hundreds of steps before you learn you can’t take any of them back. The things you learn unmake you. There is no God. Everybody is already here. Evil is real, and love is lost. The future is monstrous. There is certain death. A dark and endless ocean awaits you. Without faith, you’d sink like a stone. You feel a blue compulsion. You act out to be alive. You swing, and you get hit back. You get a little relief, a little distraction. Your eyes widen. You’re smart. You sense a missed opportunity. You could market this, get a better result. You can improve the effect, you think, push a little farther and cut a little deeper. You practice, and you escape yourself. You use your voice. You make something new. You touch people’s hearts and inspire them. You can unmake them too. You don’t know what this feeling is. A small light grows in the middle of you. A light that only you can see. You laugh a little. The light does not go away.

Click to the next page to view the entire list.

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music that helped define the year. More from this series


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