The 2022 edition of our Annual Report begins today with our Top 50 Songs list. As the year winds down, stay tuned for more awards, lists, and articles about the best music, film, and TV of 2022. You can find it all in one place here.
Things are still far from perfect, but relatively speaking, 2022 was an okay year. With a push towards returning to semblance of normalcy, the last 12 months felt a bit like the “hard launch” of live music’s return; luckily for us, there was plenty of fantastic new music worth — to paraphrase Paramore — leaving our houses for.
Really. We had a lot to pore over. Early-year Artist of the Month alumni Momma and Wet Leg gave us riffs that we’re still humming along to in December. Indie rock veterans like Alex G, Big Thief, and Alvvays each managed to put out some of the best songs in their already-fantastic discographies. Bad Bunny, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, and Beyoncé kept pop fans fed, while cuts from rising acts like Ice Spice, Soul Glo, and Bartees Strange set new standards for what their respective genres can be.
That’s not to say everything’s been perfect. The past year has given us a laundry list of aspects we need to re-evaluate within the music business in order to maintain it both as a lucrative stream of income and as an accessible form of entertainment for consumers. We sure don’t have all the answers, but we know they’re questions worth asking.
And if you needed any proof, here are just 50 songs released in 2022 that reminded us that music is a fine art, and worth fighting for.
— Abby Jones
Editor’s note: Scroll to the end for a playlist of all 50 tracks.
50. Wet Leg – “Ur Mum”
They’re full of male ego-killing one-liners, but “I feel sorry for your mum” may be Wet Leg’s sharpest jab. Here, the Isle of Wight duo’s Rhian Teasdale melds inevitable post-breakup anger with the knowledge that she deserves better: “I loved you/ That was crazy/ ‘Cause you just don’t motivate me.” If you’re not ready to move on yourself, howling along to her “longest and loudest scream” at least offers catharsis. — Carys Anderson
49. Angel Olsen – “All the Good Times”
Angel Olsen’s turn toward country wasn’t unprecedented, but it was still a risk. Luckily, in case there were any “I-listen-to-anything-but-country” fans hiding in her audience, Big Time opener “All the Good Times” proved just how comfortable Olsen was in a cowboy hat and spurs. Olsen combined genre signifiers like pedal steel and organ with her signature voice and wrapped it all in an explosive, climactic structure. Simply put, it’s a good time. — Jonah Krueger
48. Lil Yachty – “Poland”
Drawing inspiration from Wockhardt cough syrup and a bottle of spring water that Lil Yachty spotted in the studio, the warbling “Poland” wasn’t even finished yet when the self-described “joke” song leaked online. However, the track’s absurdly catchy hook instantaneously made it a viral hit, forcing the Atlanta rapper to first release the song on SoundCloud before bringing it to streaming services. Harkening back to Yachty’s earlier, carefree days, it’s no wonder that “Poland” became his first solo Top 40 entry and allegedly scored him an invite from the Polish prime minister. — Eddie Fu
47. Death Cab for Cutie – “Here to Forever”
Death Cab for Cutie have learned to age gracefully with “Here to Forever,” which tackles legacy and mortality with the seemingly effortless brevity and wisdom that only a band in their third decade could pull off. With palpable urgency, Ben Gibbard finds the means to push himself and the band forward, whether it comes from “God, or whatever.” — Bryan Kress
46. Plains – “Problem with It”
Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield and Jess Williamson formed Plains to explore their favorite country sounds, aided by Brad Cook’s production and backing from Phil Cook and Spencer Tweedy. It’s hard to imagine those ingredients leading to anything but success, and highlight “Problem with It” is the “leave you in the dust” breakup song that proves the recipe was just right. — Ben Kaye
45. Horsegirl – “Anti-glory”
“Anti-glory” was an indie-rock banger upon arrival. Surprisingly danceable and slightly moody, the track is drenched in the genre’s history without feeling stuck in the past. The first song for Horsegirl’s debut album, Versions of Modern Performance, it not only lives up to the record’s title, but introduces Horsegirl as a rising force poised to help direct the state of indie in the 2020s. — J.K.
44. Lizzy McAlpine – “All My Ghosts”
There are few places less likely to spark a romance than “in the 7-11 under fluorescent lights,” and yet there’s a beating heart behind the Slurpee-centric love story laid out in Lizzy McAlpine’s “All My Ghosts.” The 23-year old folk-pop singer-songwriter’s chance convenience store encounter revives dormant fears from the past, but her plain-spoken confidence reveals a brighter future ahead as she says, “When all my ghosts disappear/ I can see it crystal clear.” — B. Kress
43. Joyce Manor – “Gotta Let It Go”
Joyce Manor have spent the better part of their tenure delighting in suburban skate-punk debauchery, but they’re older and wiser now. So what happens when the rebellion starts to go too far? On the band’s explosive single “Gotta Let It Go,” frontman Barry Johnson recounts a night spent aimlessly wasting time that may have taken a wrong turn: “Got into your car, the one that you stole/ It’s not a confession if I was just messing!” Suddenly, as he repeats the song’s title, “you gotta let it go” feels more like a wake-up call than a hedonistic mantra. — A.J.
42. Lucius – “Next to Normal”
May we humbly submit this for the highly coveted Bass Line of the Year Award? Never has the musical duo of Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig sounded so downright funky, weaving a witchy disco heater seemingly cooked up in a laboratory for the sole purpose of shutting down dance floors across the globe. When the chorus kicks in, you’re liable to hallucinate a disco ball spinning triumphantly in front of you. — Spencer Dukoff
41. BROCKHAMPTON – “Brockhampton”
Leave it to a song like “Brockhampton” to remind us how special it was to have such a unique and creative band around for the last six years. Across lush strings and a romantic air, Kevin Abstract lays it all out for his audience: the good, the bad, the moments where everything fell apart. His bars are fiercely vulnerable, lifted from his most personal thoughts, and frankly, heartbreaking. R.I.P. (?) BROCKHAMPTON, it’s been a blast. — Paolo Ragusa
40. Arctic Monkeys – “There’d Better Be a Mirrorball”
“There’d Better Be a Mirrorball” answers a question Arctic Monkeys fans have been wondering for four years: What would happen if Alex Turner took Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’s surrealism and wrote about realism? Turns out it would be a lounge-y breakup song perfectly suited for Turner’s languid croon. With the end of a relationship reflecting off spinning glass like a Bond title sequence, The Car lead single shows the band’s commitment to this second phase of their sound can be just as potent as their post-Britpop roots. — B. Kaye
39. Father John Misty – “Q4”
Chloe and the Next 20th Century — Josh Tillman’s fifth studio album as Father John Misty — makes an impression from start to finish, sonically reaching back in time with Jazz Age flourishes. “Q4” is the catchiest tune of the bunch, elevating the tale of two fictional sisters with a sweeping orchestral arrangement. It’s baroque indie pop by way of Old Hollywood, and it gets better with each listen. — S.D.
38. Wild Pink, Julien Baker – “Hold My Hand”
You don’t have to know the backstory of “Hold My Hand” for the song to wrap you up in a warm hug. Whether or not cancer has touched your life, lead singer John Ross’ tale of a small comfort from a member of his surgical team is as devastating as it is beautiful. Baker provides a thoughtful counterpoint, a bit more openly hurt but matching Ross’ hushed focus, and the ghostly way her voice floats above his is breathtaking. — Wren Graves
37. Hitkidd, GloRilla – “F.N.F. (Let’s Go)”
Written during a 60-day cleanse, “F.N.F.” (which stands for “fuck n**** free”) is a carefree, turn-up anthem for anyone who could also use clarity in their lives. Over a menacing beat, Memphis rapper GloRilla touts the freedom that comes with focusing on the goals at hand (“I ain’t poppin’ out at parties, gotta book me for a show”), a message that resonated on TikTok and beyond with encouraging cheers of “Let’s go!” As GloRilla says herself, there’s nothing like celebrating the single life with “ratchet-ass friends.” — E.F.
36. Spoon – “Wild”
“Wild” initially drills its way into your brain thanks to its pulsing percussive rhythms — then, it becomes so much richer, as Britt Daniel’s vocals kick in and the layers of guitars interlace with a thread of echoing piano. Harmonically deep, the song’s minimalist lyrics still drive their message home: “I was lost, I’d been kept on my knees/ And the world, still so wild, called to me” captures that very modern sense that as trapped as we all might feel by our lives, there’s a tantalizing glimpse of something greater, always close by. — Liz Shannon Miller
35. aespa – “Illusion”
For any casual K-pop listeners who have yet to get into aespa, let this be your sign. We’ve already deemed aespa the K-pop group of the future, and “Illusion” is a neat summary of exactly how they’ve earned that reputation. Their experimental edge, exciting visuals, and innovative energy are all tucked into “Illusion,” which appears on their explosive 2022 mini-album Girls. — Mary Siroky
34. Madison Cunningham – “Hospital”
As a quadruple threat — powerhouse singer, technically proficient guitar player, top-class songwriter, and Friend of Harry Styles — Madison Cunningham is operating at the peak of her powers on this sultry single from her 2022 album, Revealer. Cunningham swaggers over exuberant electric guitar riffs, delivering lines like, “Regret is like an infant that won’t let you sleep it off” with a wink and a smirk. — S.D.
33. Phoenix & Ezra Koenig – “Tonight”
Everyone likes when a popular band goes back to what they sounded like 15 years ago. But on “Tonight,” featuring Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, Phoenix wants you to know that while we can pretend it’s 2009 again, we can’t ignore the fact that things have changed, that we get older, that we have to make the most out of what we have now, not what we had then. If you listen closely, beneath the joy and the splendor is acceptance. — P.R.
32. Oso Oso – “Computer Exploder”
Oso Oso’s Jade Lilitri recorded his March album Sore Thumb along with his cousin and frequent creative partner Tavish Maloney, who tragically died a month after completing the demos. Fittingly, the emo-pop gem “Computer Exploder” encapsulates the all-consuming nihilism that comes along with realizing the future will always proceed unplanned; why not blow all your money on weed and acid? “Yeah, it’s fine if the love and the money run out/ If the drugs run out, I’ll die,” Lilitri sings on the track’ sticky chorus, as self-deprecating as it is earnest. — A.J.
31. Ethel Cain – “American Teenager”
There’s no shortage of minor-key doom and gloom on Ethel Cain’s 2022 album, Preacher’s Daughter. But on “American Teenager,” the singer-songwriter demonstrates a proclivity for crafting joyful, open-road anthems as well. When she sings, “I’m doing what I want and damn, I’m doing it well for me,” it’s not just a lyric — it’s a middle-fingers-up mission statement. — S.D.
30. Momma – “Speeding 72”
Of all the songs in the world about driving fast and getting to the gig with your friends, “Speeding 72” just might elicit the strongest rush. “Hey, I heard you’re coming from a complicated place at best,” Momma sing in its opening lines, and they deliver the track’s message as straightforward as possible. With gargantuan guitar riffs, effortless lyrics, and a direct reference to one of the most euphoric-sounding songs of ‘90s indie rock (Pavement’s “Gold Soundz”), “Speeding 72” is tailor-made for car stereos — or moments when you just need to replicate the exhilaration of surpassing the speed limit. — A.J.
29. Kendrick Lamar – “N95”
Kendrick Lamar uses a now all-too-familiar token of the pandemic as a metaphor: Take off our “masks” and start being real with our people and with ourselves. Those looking for some anti-mask message when he yells, “Take it off!” miss the point entirely. Lamar rebelling for a cause isn’t anything new, but he never sounds better than when he goes against the grain and calls out his peers for being fake. — Marcus Shorter
28. The 1975 – “I’m in Love with You”
The 1975 have attempted to be a once-in-a-generation band, and in many ways, succeeded. They’ve broken free from others’ expectations, they’ve released nuanced explorations of our modern times, they’ve shouted and begged and offered catharsis. But on “I’m in Love with You,” Matty Healy wisely reminds us that “it’s not that deep.” In fact, it’s deceptively simple, and it goes like this: “I’m in love with you, I, I, I, I, I….” Well put! — P.R.
27. SZA – “Shirt”
SZA has only put out a handful of solo singles since her landmark debut Ctrl five years ago, and each one is a brilliant example of her unique artistry. “Shirt” finds SZA once again making something dazzling out of the simplest beats. Her melodies wander and jump unexpectedly, her phrases are loaded with anxious musings and present moment discoveries, and her deliveries are crystal clear and immediate. As the anticipation grows for S.O.S, “Shirt” is perhaps the best gift we could ask for in the meantime. — P.R.
26. Alvvays – “Belinda Says”
On Blue Rev, Alvvays push their signature dream-pop sound past their usual boundaries and to its My Bloody Valentine maximum. “Belinda Says” is a dazzling wall of fuzzed-out shoegaze, Molly Rankin’s verses the voice of saccharine reason under a current of distortion. It’s an ode about succumbing to the desire of moving to the countryside and starting a life anew and anonymous, and the perennial struggle of transitioning into full adulthood (with the help of the sugary alcoholic drink that the band named their record after). There is a reference to the mighty Belinda Carlisle with the song title, only Rankin adds a crucial addendum: “Belinda says that heaven is a place on earth / Well, so is hell.” She’s right. — Cady Siregar
25. Steve Lacy – “Bad Habit”
Steve Lacy stumbled upon a miraculously good pop song with “Bad Habit,” and its Billboard Hot 100-topping legacy is still ongoing. But “Bad Habit” is also a testament to Lacy’s creative freedom, compiling what sounds like three different songs into one cohesive mix and twisting the concept of desire and a missed connection into something wholly original and authentic. There are many that qualify, but “Bad Habit” is one of the most deserved breakthroughs of 2022. — P.R.
24. Ice Spice – “Munch (Feelin’ U)”
“You thought I was feelin’ you?” Bronx native Ice Spice raps in response to a guy (a.k.a. a “munch”) desperate for sex. With a sense of playfulness often lacking in the male-dominated New York drill scene, the 22-year-old artist floats over a sparse beat produced by RiotUSA. Though the track is filled with mean girl lines like “Bitch, I’m a baddie I get what I please” and “If you ain’t a baddie can’t sit with me,” the tongue-in-cheek vibe makes it irresistible — even for the munches out there. — E.F.
23. Taylor Swift – “Anti-Hero”
It’s so much fun when Taylor Swift lets her most unhinged instincts out to play. “Anti-Hero” is Swift at her most theatrical and absurd, an exercise in paranoia and self-reflection. Let’s put one thing to rest here and now: The “sexy baby” line is good, ok? Allow this playful spot off Swift’s tenth album, Midnights, to have its moment. — M. Siroky
22. Danger Mouse, Black Thought, MF DOOM – “Belize”
This trio of names should in and of themselves have you reaching for the headphones. Over Danger Mouse’s hypnotically soulful beat, Black Thought’s precise rhyming and the late MF DOOM’s internal scheme spin your head in opposite directions, leaving no doubt you’re “checking the top two of a thousand intelligent chaps.” No collaboration delivered more fully on the promise of its components this year than “Belize.” — B. Kaye
21. BTS – “Yet to Come”
After two consecutive summers of earth-shaking English-language releases from BTS (“Dynamite” and “Butter”), South Korea’s preeminent septet opted for a tender Korean pop ballad to celebrate their ninth anniversary. It’s a loving ode to their past and a hopeful look towards the future; the members are ready to leave the “crowns, flowers, and countless trophies” behind and are more interested in the business of “dreams and hope going forward,” a vision they’re already making good on since the song’s heartfelt release. — M. Siroky