We’re kicking off our 2022 Midyear Report with our favorite songs of the year so far.
What the hell happened to time? Remember when a week felt like a week? Since everything went belly up a few years ago, seven days seem to feel more like 30. Which might go some way to account for the onslaught of music we’ve received over the first half of 2022.
This feels like the first time since it happened that things are running at full-steam again — or more than full, really. The industry’s collective finger was on pause for essentially two years, and now we’re fast-forwarding to make up for it. It’s a lot to take in — then again, so is everything these days. We’re faced with such a constantly shifting rush of emotions, swings of positivity and negativity, that it only makes sense for music to mirror the surge.
Over the last six months, we’ve witnessed the return of legends, follow-ups to viral hits, and rookie breakthroughs at a seemingly unprecedented clip. But if there’s one space where “too much of a good thing” doesn’t necessarily apply, it’s music. That’s especially true when we’re locked in an experience whirlwind; we need something to pull us back towards the ground, to tether us in the chaos and remind us simple joys still exist.
Perhaps nitpicking through such a smorgasbord of sound to find the “best” songs of the year so far is a bit of a fool’s errand. For one, there have just been so many good songs. For another, whatever got you through these last six months are the best songs, regardless of what the experts say. Maybe it’s better to say these are the 50 songs that the experts at Consequence have connected with the most so far in 2022. We know you connected with some of them, too.
— Ben Kaye
50. Avril Lavigne – “Love It When You Hate Me”
A more modern entry in Avril Lavigne’s pop punk comeback, “Love It When You Hate Me” could easily have been bogged down by the emo rap contributions of blackbear, but a beat switch allows him to slide right in without overstaying his welcome. Elsewhere, Lavigne delivers a chorus that’s as hooky as ever, venturing into the familiar territory of ignoring the warning signs. And of course, Travis Barker’s thunderous drums continue to be the cheat code two decades into his career. — Eddie Fu
49. Joy Oladokun – “Keeping the Light On”
Joy Oladokun has promised the follow-up to her breakout in defense of my own happiness debut will be “about the human will to keep trying in the midst of all the tragedy that we’ve seen and perpetrated.” Consider “Keeping the Light On” a thesis statement to that goal, a bright counter to modern misery that’s as heartening as it is catchy. — B. Kaye
48. Momma – “Speeding 72”
Pavement reference? Check. Fuzzed-out guitars? Check. A chorus that gets lodged in your subconscious? Check, check, check. This rocker from co-bandleaders Etta Friedman and Allegra Weingarten is a song about driving a car tailor-made for playing while driving a car, preferably with the volume turned all the way up. — Spencer Dukoff
47. Father John Misty – “Q4”
The master of indie satire strikes gold on “Q4,” his Chloë and the Next 20th Century track that bites back at the corporatization of art. The tale is centered around a struggling memoirist, but coming from Father John Misty, you can’t help but find the irony doubling back on itself. In that way, it reveals an earnestness in Josh Tillman’s songwriting that actually only furthers the innate irony, a feedback loop that ends up thoughtfully revealing. — B. Kaye
46. Oso Oso – “Computer Exploder”
If it came out that a radioactive songwriting spider bit Jade Lilitri of Oso Oso, no one would be shocked. Lilitri can write some of the catchiest music in indie rock, only to withhold it for the perfect moment. Case in point, “Computer Exploder,” the first track off sore thumb. What starts as a mid-paced opener seamlessly morphs into a festival-ready anthem with a chorus begging you to sing along even upon first listen. — Jonah Krueger
45. The Weeknd – “Sacrifice”
Since his major label debut in 2015, The Weeknd has constantly been in pursuit of dissecting and reframing the hedonistic bad boy persona that earned him his keep, and “Sacrifice” is yet another phenomenal entry from Abel Tesfaye. Throughout the thumping, Swedish House Mafia-assisted track, Tesfaye examines the tension between who he used to be and who he wants to be, sacrificing his time and his habitual quest for dopamine for the commitment necessary to maintain a relationship. — Paolo Ragusa
44. Wet Leg – “Angelica”
It is now totally okay to want to leave a bad party, or not even want to be at a party at all, thanks to recent Artist of the Month Wet Leg and and their debut album highlight “Angelica.” As the penultimate verse goes, “I don’t know what I’m even doing here/ I was told that there would be free beer.” If there’s not even free beer, what is the point? — Cady Siregar
43. Bad Bunny – “Moscow Mule”
The leading track from Bad Bunny’s hit album Un Verano Sin Ti (“A Summer Without You”) perfectly captures the essence of the loneliness that can come with being an international superstar. Searching for a deeper connection, the singer finds himself somberly going through the motions of sex — while reflecting on the fact that his sexual partner hasn’t saved his phone number. The contrast between pain and ecstasy is strong, with deep grooves and rhythms detaching us from the anguish. — André Heizer
42. Widowspeak – “Everything is Simple”
“Everything is simple… ’til it’s not.” Widowspeak channel a meditative melancholy with this The Jacket cut, a steady drum groove and sparse guitars accompanying Molly Hamilton’s dreamy vocals. It’s an observational and apt ode that ponders fresh new beginnings and experiences — like falling in love, or starting a new job — that seem fun and exciting at the very start before the reality and weight of everything else starts to set in. — C.S.
41. Maren Morris – “Circles Around This Town”
The lead single from Maren Morris’ third major label album is essentially a love letter to her entire career, spinning the tale of her arrival in Tennessee as a fresh-faced hopeful eager to break into the country music scene. Of course, the road to Nashville superstardom is far rockier — and more cyclical — than it may seem. Ultimately, the song serves as a testament to Morris’ tenacity, about how far she’s come, and how far she still has yet to go. — Glenn Rowley
40. EARTHGANG – “All Eyes on Me”
On the cathartic “All Eyes on Me,” EARTHGANG celebrate survival, which comes with an added burden in the Black community. Masterfully acknowledging the strength it takes to start each day in the face of poverty, addiction, and systemic racism, the duo sum up the current situation in eight simple words: “You survived last year, get your hands up.” More than a catchy line, it bears repeating in the dark days that unfortunately aren’t behind us just yet. — E.F.
39. Dove Cameron – “Boyfriend”
If there was ever any doubt left that Dove Cameron has made the well-worn leap from Disney Channel starlet to twenty-something pop star, all reservations were soundly put to bed with the release of her breakout single, “Boyfriend.” But instead of copying a page from the playbook that’s already been written (like, say, Miley Cyrus’ “I Can’t Be Tamed” or Britney Spears’ “Overprotected”), the former Descendants actress flips the script by showing that sometimes a lady can be the best kind of gentleman a girl could want. — G.R.
38. Maggie Rogers – “That’s Where I Am”
Maggie Rogers finally seemed to hear our cries and is returning this summer with a new album. It’s simply been far too long since her 2019 masterpiece, Heard It in a Past Life, and she’s finally offered a first taste at her new era with “That’s Where I Am.” Her vocals have remained crystal clear; her storytelling is still visceral, natural, and evocative. We’re counting down the days ’till July 29th, when Surrender is set to arrive. — Mary Siroky
37. Megan Thee Stallion – “Plan B”
Houston’s favorite Hot Girl has come such a long way since her days of viral freestyles on social media — just take a quick look at her six Grammys. With “Plan B,” though, Megan Thee Stallion reminded us all how her journey began in the first place. This track has so many of the hallmarks listeners love about her: bars for days, a throwback beat, and all the attitude us peasants can only aspire to. — M. Siroky
36. Horsegirl – “Anti-glory”
Hummed verses, guitar squall, abstruse lyrics — Chicago trio Horsegirl do ‘90s indie rock right. With a head-bobbing riff and that stop-start “Dance! With me!” command, “Anti-glory” packs these well-worn building blocks into a 21st century song that sounds fresh, and guarantees you’ll oblige their request. — Carys Anderson
35. Beach House – “Superstar”
The highlight of Beach House’s Once Twice Melody is an effortlessly hypnotizing potion of catchy licks, droning vocals, and driving rhythm. As Victoria Legrand reminisces about a bittersweet past, airy synths are underlaid with a stiff and fuzzy guitar progression, making one feel like they’re sitting in the backseat on a blurry car ride down memory lane. — A.H.
34. Phoebe Bridgers – “Sidelines”
On her only original release of 2022 thus far, Phoebe Bridgers is fearless. Sort of. “Sidelines” is a love song about finding that person who makes you want to risk it all. Over soaring strings, Bridgers recounts all things that don’t scare her — dying in a fire, drowning in the ocean after a plane crash, getting older — before returning to the chorus: “Watching the world from the sidelines/Had nothing to prove/’Till you came into my life/Gave me something to lose.” — S.D.
33. Orville Peck – “Daytona Sand”
Straight out the gate, Orville Peck’s sophomore album starts at a gallop with opener “Daytona Sand,” a spellbinding, sun-drenched tale about the one who got away. “So rack ‘em up, big blonde/ I think I could’ve been your man,” the masked cowboy sings to his long-haired, slow-eyed lover — though by song’s end he admits, “I’ve been around long enough to know you can’t trust a man.” Still, they’ll always have that Daytona sand… — G.R.
32. Lizzo – “About Damn Time”
Since breaking out in 2019, Lizzo has become a festival headliner and TikTok influencer — sometimes combining both at the same time. With “About Damn Time,” she pronounces the new music drought is over with a disco-influenced bop showing off her flute expertise. A celebratory track set to rule the season, it offers the optimism and body positivity Lizzo has come to represent. With her next album, SPECIAL, on the way, we’re ready to dance through the summer. — E.F.
31. Zach Bryan – “Something in the Orange (Z&E’s Version)”
“Something in the Orange” shows off Zach Bryan’s lyrical storytelling and effortless gift for melody. A relationship is told through a single color: The hope of a morning sun is contrasted with the uncertain orange glow of interior bulbs, and when the narrator finds that same hue in headlights driving away, he’s pushed to the brink of despair. — Wren Graves
30. Ethel Cain – “American Teenager”
“American Teenager,” a glowing track off of Ethel Cain’s massively-acclaimed third record Preacher’s Daughter, reveals the expectations and horrors inherently intertwined within the American Dream. Cain explores intricate themes of religion and identity while delivering an explosive and intimate anthem that redefines the Americana music genre as dream pop. — Kelly Park
29. Charli XCX feat. Rina Sawayama – “Beg for You”
Charli XCX’s “Beg for You” proves how the right person can make life’s mundanities feel like a thrill. “Can I take you to the airport/ Make out under the bathroom lights?” she sings with an unfettered desperation on the Crash cut. It’s refreshing to see Charli, usually a champion of independence and girls’ nights out, admit she isn’t above clinginess and double-texts. Maybe it’s just the perfectly-utilized September interpolation, but “Beg for You” makes lustful obsession feel ultra-cool. — Abby Jones
28. Hatchie – “Lights On”
Hatchie’s “Lights On” strikes that perfect balance between nostalgic and unapologetically current. Though the Australian singer-songwriter has an affinity for hazy, ’90s influenced dream pop, “Lights On” is full of drive and urgency, emanating a pop star energy and digging its heels into a contemporary sheen that never takes away from Hatchie’s wholly original vision. “I’ve never felt so good with the lights on,” she sings. She’s never sounded so good, either. — P.R.
27. The Smile – “Pana-vision”
The Smile might be a non-Radiohead Radiohead band, but “Pana-vision” is definitely the most purely Jonny Greenwood-sounding track on the group’s debut. It’s still very much a Radiohead-esque song, with Thom Yorke’s vocal delivery achingly soft atop a quiet piano-driven composition: “I am dancing for pennies/ I am staring straight ahead.” Its lack of guitar only adds to its haunting nature, and perhaps the track that shows off Greenwood’s knack for composing film scores the best. — C.S.
26. Kehlani – “up at night feat. justin bieber”
The truth of the matter is that Kehlani’s voice never misses. She can also be counted on for a vibrant, vibe-y track, and this team-up with Justin Bieber is just that. Both artists have dabbled in stories of heartbreak, bliss, loss, and confusion; “up at night” falls somewhere square in the middle. It’s a fun bop about being in a healthy relationship (a concept!) that makes it easy to pass the time. — M. Siroky
25. Sharon Van Etten – “Porta”
The dreaded year of 2020 was a low point for most everyone, and Sharon Van Etten readily admits she shared in the dark times. “Porta” is her begging from this hole of despair for someone to hear her, as if the simple act of listening is itself the rope ladder out. Sonically, it’s built for dancing alone, but the message reminds us not to be afraid to ask for help. For many, the darkness hasn’t let up, so the advice remains sound. — B. Kaye
24. Sigrid – “It Gets Dark”
Sigrid kicks off her sophomore album How to Let Go from high above the clouds, blasting off into space on bombastic opener “It Gets Dark.” The cold, dark reaches of the galaxy are the perfect setting for some serious introspection; the Norwegian pop sensation spends time drifting among the stars over expansive production as she vows, “Yeah, my feet came off the ground/ Gravity won’t hold me down/ No, not this time.” — G.R.
23. Spoon – “Wild”
In a behind-the-song video, Spoon’s Alex Fischel perfectly described “Wild” as “anti-jaded.” If ever we could use a reminder that the “world, still so wild” can call us to adventure, it’s certainly in these dark times. Bolstering the concept that good still exists is an uplifting composition that throws back to Spoon of the mid-aughts — only with a chord progression co-written by Jack Antonoff, if you can believe it. — B. Kaye
22. Benny the Butcher & J. Cole – “Johnny P’s Caddy”
For those paying attention, a collab between Benny the Butcher and J. Cole was inevitable following the mythical Revenge of the Dreamers III sessions. “Johnny P’s Caddy” was well worth the wait, with an eerie Alchemist beat challenging each artist to bring their A-game. Benny breaks down how he carried over the lessons he learned from grinding in the streets to becoming one of the best MCs alive, while Cole calls out rappers who need to hide behind fake personalities just to compete. — E.F.
21. MUNA – “Anything But Me”
Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson trade rollerblades for a regular-sized horse on this buoyant, synth-laden anthem about leaving a broken relationship and finding strength after striking out on your own. The track continues the momentum created last year by “Silk Chiffon,” making MUNA’s upcoming first full-length album on Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory label one of the most anticipated projects of 2022. — S.D.
20. Arlo Parks – “Softly”
After releasing one of the best albums of 2021, our Artist of the Month alum returned with “Softly,” a frankly devastating representation of the urge to yank the Band-Aid off a dying relationship before it’s fully over. However, it’s not all doom and gloom; Arlo Parks takes the time to reminisce about the good times over the twinkling piano of the fast-paced beat, making the pain at least go down smoothly. — E.F.
19. Soccer Mommy – “Shotgun”
A dark, reverb-heavy riff anchors the verses of the first single from Sophie Allison’s upcoming album, Sometimes, Forever, but a sweet melody swirls in the chorus, as Allison promises, “Whenever you want me, I’ll be around/ I’m a bullet in a shotgun, waiting to sound.” With that, we knew we’d be around for Soccer Mommy’s next LP. — C.A.
18. PUP – “Robot Writes a Love Song”
PUP frontman Stefan Babcock told us that he penned a love song from the perspective of a robot because it allowed him “to write about real emotions without going too deep down the cheese rabbit hole.” It worked. The track is catchy as can be, a clear highlight on THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND, and — luckily for any vegans out there — entirely devoid of cheese. — J.K.
17. Caroline Polachek – “Billions”
Caroline Polachek often uses futuristic production and age-old imagery to create a time plane all her own. “Billions,” a love song embellished with industrial instrumentals and a boys’ choir, arguably embodies this method best. Here, Polachek uses a treasure trove of juxtapositions — sexting a sonnet, being the pearl to your lover’s oyster — to highlight the intricacies of relationships. But when the bad and good coexist, she infers, modern love becomes like an ancient cornucopia, seemingly bottomless. — A.J.
16. KAINA – “Apple”
In March, KAINA followed up her breakthrough 2019 album, Next to the Sun, with the dazzling It Was a Home. While the Chicago singer-songwriter landed assists from Sleater-Kinney and Helado Negro on the project, it’s the solo track “Apple” that stands out as the sweetest of the bunch. And don’t miss the tongue-in-cheek video, which looks and feels like a Sesame Street fever dream. — Gab Ginsberg
15. Denzel Curry – “Walkin”
On the debut single “Walkin” from Denzel Curry’s fifth LP, Melt My Eyez See Your Future, the Florida MC tries to carry on in “this dirty, filthy, rotten, nasty little world we call our home” while a mournful vocal sample holds the production in permanent state of despair. Curry also uses the album’s lead-off track to introduce his unfolding cinematic effort inspired (quite literally) by Seven Samurai director Akira Kurosawa. — Bryan Kress
14. Bartees Strange – “Heavy Heart”
“This past year I thought I was broken,” Bartees Strange says at the beginning of “Heavy Heart,” before adding, “You look so nice in a cherry scarf.” He finds joy in the transition from soft to loud, internal to external, and the tender guitar that opens the track sounds right at home after those pummeling drums kick in. Lyrics and licks combine for an exhilarating message: He may rely too much on his heavy heart, but that doesn’t mean he can’t depend on it going forward. — W.G.
13. Rosalía – “Saoko”
Described by Rosalía herself as her most experimental song yet, “Saoko” nods to the past by sampling Daddy Yankee and Wisin’s reggaeton classic “Saoco” and heavily featuring industrial synths reminiscent of Kanye West’s Yeezus era — not to mention a short jazz piano interlude. Meanwhile, the lyrics look forward by encouraging listeners to celebrate constant transformation, a theme reflected in the continued sonic growth exhibited throughout MOTOMAMI. — E.F.
12. Lucy Dacus – “Kissing Lessons”
Music’s ability to put words to our own emotions, joys, and fears has always been its indelible power. In an era where LGBTQ individuals — and youth, in particular — are facing frighteningly potent attacks from positions of power, Lucy Dacus’ “Kissing Lessons” serves as both a gentle rebuff and a necessary burst of empathy. This sweet tale of burgeoning queerness may be a simple, lovely ditty at its base, but it’s going to mean a lot to a lot of people. And you have to hope Rachel hears it, too. — B. Kaye
11. Soul Glo – “Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass?)”
“Can I live?” Soul Glo vocalist Pierce Jordan unspools endless iterations of those three words, so that at times it sounds like a cry for equality, a mocking laugh, or the growl of a cornered creature. The song from our March Artist of the Month’s Diaspora Problems finds freedom in nihilism and something almost like joy in the idea that if people will try to punish you anyway, you may as well do whatever the fuck you want. — W.G.
10. Nilüfer Yanya – “the dealer”
All across Painless, Nilüfer Yanya’s stellar sophomore album, the British singer-songwriter struggles to accept that the only person you can count on is yourself. She first comes to this realization on album opener “the dealer,” where, as skittering electronic drums coalesce with clean, simple guitar, she sighs, “I thought you were someone to rely on.”
Fortunately, she picks her head up quick, and as bass slips and slides around her, she asserts, “I need some time to work out what this is.” “the dealer” may be the beginning of her journey, but it sets the stage well: At once modern and familiar, the single layers unique textures over a commonplace experience. — C.A.
09. Rina Sawayama – “This Hell”
Rina Sawayama has your invitation to eternal damnation! On “This Hell,” the maximalist pop star and Artist of the Month alum issues a rallying cry perfectly crafted for all the girls, gays, and anyone else who’s ever been told that who they are will send them, well, straight to you-know-where.
Sawayama’s response to the judgments laid down by people claiming to speak for God, though, is to laugh it off. “Don’t know what I did/ But they seem pretty mad about it/ God hates us, all right then/ Buckle up, at dawn we’re ridin’,” she sings, choosing to dance away from the hate with a Prada-wearing devil and all her friends over an irresistible guitar line and pop-driven beat.
Plus, amid the devilish revelry, she even finds time to throw a dose of well-deserved damnation at the fame-hungry paparazzi culture that chewed up and spat out the likes of Britney Spears, Princess Diana, and Whitney Houston for sheer voyueristic entertainment. — G.R.
08. Arcade Fire – “The Lightning I, II”
A day, a week, a month, a year — we’ll wait any amount of time for a stellar Arcade Fire song. Fortunately, the New Orleans-by-way-of-Montreal band didn’t disappoint with the two-part track “The Lightning,” which served as the first taste of their sixth studio album, WE.
When “The Lightning I, II” arrived, a virtual sigh of relief from fans who didn’t love 2017’s Everything Now echoed across the interwebs. For those who did love that album (hi!), it was simply a great follow-up. Either way, the consensus seemed to be: Arcade Fire are BACK.
The singles were recorded by the band in El Paso, Texas “in the shadow of the Mexican border wall” at the peak of the pandemic, and amidst the 2020 election. As is Arcade Fire’s specialty, the tracks are at once anthemic, emotional and perfectly tailored to scream along with at the top of your lungs in a live setting. “We wanted to play the song so fast and hard that you can’t breathe when it’s over,” the band explained in a note to fans,” with the realization that you can’t win them all, even when you give it all.”
All together now: “WAITING ON THE LIIIIIIGHTNING!!” — G.G.
07. Fontaines D.C. – “Jackie Down the Line”
The idea of holding tight to your identity in a new place is so often presented as an act of strength, but Fontaines D.C. find a toxicity in it on Skinty Fa single “Jackie Down the Line.” For a song that’s ostensibly about being a Dubliner clinging onto their “Jackeen” nature — even with its derogatory connotation — amidst the swirl of London, there’s a stark relatability in its misanthropy.
It’s an incredibly rough topic to address, especially in 2022, but Grian Chatten has a compelling knack for writing from a less than attractive angle. “I think it’s interesting in this world where it’s incredibly important to be good, it just makes it very, very alluring to write from the perspective of somebody who doesn’t want to be good or doesn’t feel the need to pretend to be good,” he told Rolling Stone about the song.
Even if you take “Jackie” at face value and say it’s about a cognizant lack of investment in a relationship, it’s painfully relatable. Fontaines’ reputation for turning doom into oddly charismatic post-punk is already well established, but “Jackie Down the Line” might be their finest effort yet. — B. Kaye
06. Harry Styles – “As It Was”
Harry Styles has been riding a high for quite a while, but perhaps no peak was as widespread as his 2019 album Fine Line. Without even knowing, “Watermelon Sugar” and “Adore You” became euphoric soundtracks to a long, difficult lockdown, and Styles shifted from ex-boy band hero to a completely developed superstar.
Then came “As It Was.” Styles could have easily picked something more bombastic and bright for the lead single of Harry’s House, but “As It Was,” an introspective and intimate offering, fits the bill in a whole other way. The climactic waterfall of cymbal crashes, church bells, and chamber synths at the song’s closing is vibrant and exciting, but it’s Styles’ reflecting solemnly on the passing of time and the way his status has strained his relationships that keeps us coming back.
In the outstanding second verse, Styles remarks that people tell him he’s “no good alone,” they ask what kind of pills he’s on, and that his dad just wants to know that he’s okay. Styles doesn’t often shy away from a more personal approach, but the tension that populates “As It Was” demonstrates how truly in command he is. Not only is it one of his best songs to date, it’s a well-needed change up to kick off the new era of one of music’s biggest stars. — P.R.
05. Pusha T – “Diet Coke”
Marking Pusha T’s return after a two-year layoff to spend time with his son, “Diet Coke” features vintage Kanye West chipmunk soul production reminiscent of beats provided to all-time street rappers like JAY-Z, Cam’ron, and Beanie Sigel.
On the track, the artist who is perhaps Ye’s most loyal G.O.O.D. Music soldier relishes the opportunity to stand among the greats, nodding toward the past by paying tribute to Hov, Missy Elliott, and Diddy while celebrating how he and Ye run circles around the competition: “Far as I’m concerned, who’s the best? Me and Yezos.”
Although Push takes a moment to acknowledge the luck it took to survive the crack era, further boasts about holding the purest coke demonstrate the Virginia native is hardly apprehensive about still being a drug kingpin on wax. The lead single from It’s Almost Dry isn’t as adventurous as other tracks from his most well-rounded album to date, but just like the product he boasts about, it’s Virginia MC distilled to his purest form. — E.F.
04. Mitski – “Love Me More”
We all worried that Mitski was retiring from music right after finally making it big. Be the Cowboy was a stunning follow-up to her indie smash Puberty 2, and just a year later she was announcing her “last show indefinitely.” Could someone garnering such universal acclaim really be shutting themself off from the music world that so eagerly wanted more?
“Love Me More” arrived as a companion in a way to the first Laurel Hell single, “Working for the Knife.” Both served to rebuff the notion she was going away for good, while also explaining exactly what she was experiencing. “I need you to love me more/ Love enough to fill me up” directly encapsulates all the fears that led to her (admittedly temporary) retirement from the road: If my value is derived from others’ attention, what is my value?
It becomes too easy to expect artists to keep delivering the goods, especially in an age of swift and constant consumption. It’s worth considering what it costs the artist to continue feeding our appetites — and accept the irony that in telling us exactly that in such a wonderful song, they leave us still wanting more. — B. Kaye
03. Florence + The Machine – “King”
There’s no one making empowerment pop quite like Florence Welch. As the lead single off Dance Fever, “King” acts as both a mission statement for the record and for Welch as a person. Is Welch going to conform to society’s expectations or defy them?
“As an artist, I never actually thought about my gender that much,” Florence wrote in a note accompanying the release of the song. “I just got on with it. I was as good as the men and I just went out there and matched them every time.” At the same time, Welch acknowledges that “to be a performer, but also to want a family might not be as simple for me as it is for my male counterparts.”
Beyond the weightier themes, “King” features Welch in peak belter mode, assisted by cinematic strings and one of the best drum breakdowns since Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” In short, it’s one of the best songs of Welch’s career. — S.D.
02. Kendrick Lamar – “N95”
Leave it to Kendrick Lamar to make a song about metaphorical masks and call it “N95.” No, this isn’t an anti-mask song or him dipping his toes into debates that shouldn’t exist. Rebellion is in Kendrick’s DNA, and this is his song lambasting current trends within the Culture of which he takes much umbrage.
While the masses are concerned with memes, updates to the canceled list, or their clout status, there’s a real world outside with real consequences. And even realer problems. “The world in a panic” is really the only bar you need to know, as it summarizes the other three minutes and sixteen seconds.
While Kendrick poo-poos the world for frivolous concerns, he still has several of his own that those on this side of his fish bowl may feel are just as frivolous. And they’re not wrong. But that’s the point to his whole album. — Marcus Shorter
01. Big Thief – “Simulation Swarm”
Few lyricists are as gifted with negative space as Adrianne Lenker. She’ll sing a line like, “You believe, I believe too/ That you are the river of light,” and somehow, the more she repeats the word “believe,” the greater the doubt grows.
“Simulation Swarm” is a song that defies easy explanation, with references to an unmet adopted brother, poetical flights of fancy, and lines that ache with longing. Some of that is true for many of Lenker’s best songs, but “Simulation Swarm” stands out for its captivating musicality.
It rests on two layers of strings, with a high guitar picking out a riff that sounds like sunlight filtering through the trees above a lower, bending bass line that curves like a brook through the track. — W.G.