Monday, January 1, 2018

Top 10 singles of 2017

So it's been... er, five long months since I last updated the blog. But I couldn't resist compiling my Top 10 singles of the year.

This year's list is extremely pop heavy, even for me, but the choices are determined by my iTunes play counts, which means they represent the songs I actually listened to over the last 12 months.

So here we go... in reverse order, with a playlist of the videos at the bottom of the post.

10) Lorde - Green Light

Max Martin called Lorde's comeback single "incorrect songwriting" but to my mind, that's a compliment. Green Light's awkward lurch from verse to pre-chorus encapsulates everything that's brilliant about Lorde - a pop star who's not afraid to embrace her weirdness (cf her performance at this year's MTV Awards).

Green Light isn't the best song on Melodrama, but there's something graceful about its clumsiness that kept me coming back for more.

9) Don't Kill My Vibe - Sigrid

Rae Morris made it into my Top 20 with the sublime Do It, a song about falling in love with her producer. Don't Kill My Vibe tells the opposite story - of how pop-star-in-waiting Sigrid Raabe was patronised and demoralised by an obnoxious studio boffin. Working with more sympathetic collaborators, Sigrid poured her scorn into this undeniable pop banger - and unwittingly set the scene for the song at number eight.

8) Praying - Kesha

Kesha could have come back swinging - she'd spent years in legal limbo, fighting her boss and mentor Dr Luke, who she accused of psychological and sexual abuse. But her response was much more compassionate than anyone expected.

The star doesn't hide her anger ("we both know all the truth I could tell") but turns it into a plea for redemption. "I hope you find your peace, falling on your knees, praying," she sings. If only we could all be so forgiving.

7) Little Of Your Love - Haim

AKA the song that saved Haim's second album. As Este confessed earlier this year, "There was a time where I was like, 'OK, why is every song I’m writing sounding like the theme from ‘Jurassic Park’?'"

Little Of Your Love broke that curse. Commissioned for (but not used in) the Amy Schumer movie Trainwreck, it relieved Haim of the pressure of following up their first album, allowing them to write a joyous, freewheeling True Blue tribute that's become a highlight of their live set. It also has one of the best videos of the year, which you can see at the bottom of this post.

6) Mistakes - Tove Styrke
Tove Styrke released two absolute corkers this year: Say My Name and Mistakes are cunningly detailed songs, employing multiple vocal layers and pixel-perfect production to embellish Tove's seemingly straightforward pop melodies.

Mistakes is my favourite of the two, thanks to that slap-back snare drum and a delicious portamento in the vocoder refrain. But it would be remiss of me not to mention Say My Name's "wear it out like a sweater that you love" lyric.

5) Lust For Life - Lana Del Rey ft The Weeknd
"My boyfriend's back and he's cooler than ever". Lust For Life is Lana's most radio-friendly single since Summer Sadness, and one in which she invites The Weeknd through the airlock of her interplanetary spacecraft.

It's a curious duet. Despite the chorus's demand to "take off all your clothes" the singers perpetually circle one other - mesmerised, rather than ravenous. But there's something beguiling about their soft-focus sensuality that keeps me coming back for more.

4) Hard Times - Paramore

A fluorescent, upbeat pop song about plumbing the depths of depression. "All that I want / Is a hole in the ground," sings Hayley Williams. "You can tell me when it's alright /For me to come out."

The counterpoint is the point. Taylor York's triangular, new wave guitar hooks and Zac Farro's creative drum fills make the bleakness of Williams' lyrics all the more stark. Radiohead, take note.

3) Bellyache - Billie Eilish
The best debut of the year? 15-year-old Billie Eilish fantasises about killing all her friends and going on the run - only to get an ulcer from the guilt.

Reviews rightly focus on the lyrics, but the music is equally ambitious - switching from peppy acoustic balladry to the gut-churning bass drop of the chorus. Billie Eilish is going places in 2018, and not just to escape the law.

2) New Rules - Dua Lipa

How often does someone come up with a new lyrical conceit for a break-up song? Almost never, that's how often. But Dua Lipa found a new angle with her step-by-step guide to avoiding your ex - and it became her proper breakout hit.

New Rules was the first single to really capture the star's witty, approachable Twitter persona ("It's so cold outside my nipples could key a car rn") but it also benefitted from a super-smart video; which saw Dua being supported by her girlfriends as she struggled to stick to the four-point programme.

The video rightly became a viral success... and not just for its gif-tastic choreography and themes of female solidarity. Someone "in the know" told me the pastel palette was deliberately chosen to reflect the most popular colour schemes on Instagram. How 2017 can you get?

1) Bad Liar - Selena Gomez
The way it interpolates Talking Heads' Psycho Killer. The way the lyrics spill out like an infatuated teenager's love letter. The line "just like the Battle of Troy there's nothing subtle here." The nuance in Selena Gomez's delivery - alternately awe-struck and assertive. The way she tries to deny her feelings ("you're taking up a fraction of my mind"). The melody in the chorus. The counter-melody in the chorus. The line "every time I watch you, serpentine".

The whole damn thing is perfect. Perfect. Perfect. Perfect. Perfect.

FYI: The next 10 would have been:
11) St Vincent - Los Ageless
12) St Vincent - New York
13) The Killers - The Man
14) Kendrick Lamar - Humble
15) Laura Marling - Wild Fire
16) Tove Lo - Disco Tits
17) Dagny - Love You Like That
18) Foo Fighters - Sky Is A Neighbourhood
19) Camila Cabello - Havana
20) Rae Morris - Do It

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