The 20 Best Songs of 2016

The 20 Best Songs of 2016

2016 was an incredible year for music with artists at every level turning things up a notch or trying something completely unexpected. We spent the year listening to them all (or, well, most) to bring you a comprehensive list of the 20 best. They aren't all chart-toppers, some you've probably never heard, but there's no denying their greatness.

2016 was an incredible year for music with artists at every level turning things up a notch or trying something completely unexpected. We spent the year listening to them all (or, well, most) to bring you a comprehensive list of the 20 best. They aren't all chart-toppers, some you've probably never heard, but there's no denying their greatness.

Text: Ian David Monroe

Presented in no particular order...

"Fade Away"—Hannah Diamond

There's something simultaneously futuristic and nostalgic about Hannah Diamond's PC Music-produced track, like a too-early-for-its-time throwback. The saccharine sound of "Fade Away" would never make it on the radio, but it's addictiveness begs it to be. Here, Diamond's track feels like an escape from a harsh reality.


Few songs dominated dance halls and clubs quite like "Work." The earworm had longevity long into the daylight, too. Anywhere you walked, people were humming the track's chorus. They didn't know the lyrics, but they didn't need to. That's the sign of a stellar song.

"On Hold"—the xx

The three-piece returned in spectacular form with their echo-y vocals and somber lyrics, but this time with a particular kick, courtesy of producer and bandmate Jamie xx. After 4 years, "On Hold" is a welcome reprise.

"Diamond Heart"—Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga's latest album, Joanne, wasn't the EDM-heavy pop album the world was expecting, but it was a strong showcase of an artist moving into a new direction. While many of the tracks heard the singer venturing far into country music territory, "Diamond Heart" straddled the pop and country spheres effortlessly.

"Cranes in the Sky"—Solange

This year, with her new album, Seat at the Table, Solange Knowles fully stepped out from her sister Beyonce’s shadow. Or perhaps, as an artist, she’s just grown too tall and too bright to be compared. While every track stands well-edited and strong on its own, there is something exceptional about “Cranes In The Sky,” which is likely due to its stunning music video.

"I Need A Forest Fire"—James Blake

In a year of political and social turmoil, Blake's "I Need A Forest Fire," featuring Bon Iver, feels like the kind of tranquil reprieve the world so desperately needs. Less a song and more a meditation, "I Need A Forest Fire" forces an intimacy typically missing from music's more mainstream artists.

"Waves"—Kanye West

Few albums were discussed as much in 2016 as Kanye West's The Life of Pablo. Few albums have ever been altered (if any) as many times after going on sale either. What the world got to witness was that the very best in the business are never quite satisfied with their work, and that things—no matter how fixed they may seem—aren't subject to change, while still maintaining their beauty. "Waves" is a track just about that.

"Vroom Vroom"—Charli XCX

Few musicians today are as unapologetically pop as Charli XCX. Here's she channels that energy into an aggressive and confrontational pop song with production by PC Music's SOPHIE. It's quirkier elements are done with an expertise that elevate them beyond a gimmick. In that way, Charli XCX transcends mainstream pop, looking back at the contemporaries she's speeding past.

"Lost and Found"—BETSY

This massive disco-tinged track from newcomer Betsy is for the dancers, dreamers, and heartbroken. While not her first track as an artist, "Lost and Found" is the first that proves Betsy has a staying power and exists in a league of her own, despite her vocal similarities to Cher.

"I Know A Place"—MUNA

The LGBT-anthem from rising trio MUNA reminds us all that music is a healing force. Give the track one spin and you'll be instantly hooked. On its catchiness alone, "I Know A Place" makes the list and that it's got such a positive message only sweetens the deal.

"Into You"—Ariana Grande

Quite possibly the best pop song of 2016. Period.

"Guys My Age"—Hey Violet

This band, led by vocalist Rena Lovelis, fills the sonic void left by No Doubt. No, "Guys My Age" didn't top charts or spark controversy (you might not have ever heard it), but the potential it presents for a rather rad band is undeniable. For that, it makes the list.

"Drone Bomb Me"—ANOHNI

Here, ANOHNI perverts the standard love song tropes into a track about death, specifically death by drone bombings. That you'll find yourself dancing to such an unnerving track only adds to its beauty.

"Come First"—Terror Jr

You can thank Kylie Jenner for launching this mysterious trio into the mainstream. Many still speculate that its vocalist is actually Jenner, though she's denied it profusely. The band's irreverence for the music industry is clear on its social channels, which makes them all the more intriguing. "Come First" might be a little before its time, but the over 45 million plays it's already garnered prove there's plenty tuning in.

"White Ferrari"—Frank Ocean

There is no arguing that Frank Ocean's long-awaited new album, Blonde, was the most hyped album of 2016. What you can argue, though, is which track deserves the title of best?We landed on “White Ferrari” because its greatest quality is that its simplicity is its beauty. It proves that less can always be more, and that the best music just has to hit the right chord.

"00000 Million"—Bon Iver

Bon Iver’s new album, 22, A Million, heard the Grammy-winning folk artist venture into electronic territory for the first time—at least as a solo artist. The result is an album that perfectly reflects the ever-intensifying digital anxiety of society, with vocalist Justin Vernon’s falsetto acting as the guiding light to something greater. Where opening track “22 (Over Soon)” promises reprieve, “00000 Million” takes you there.

"Alaska"—Maggie Rogers

In terms of viral breakthroughs, no one had quite the year like Maggie Rogers. A video of Pharrell's stunned reaction to a rough demo of "Alaska" circled the Internet twice over launched Rogers's career. It's a standout track that effortlessly combines the sounds of nature and the typical pop format. Give "Alaska" one play and you'll realize there's absolutely nothing like it.

"What's It Gonna Be?"—Shura

Shura’s debut album, Nothing’s Real, was a long time coming, so long, in fact, that a few of its track made their first debut all the way back in 2014. The wait was worth it, though. The singer and producer’s penchant for ‘80s synth and experimental elements culminated into one solid LP that pushed pop forward by tapping heavily into it’s past. “What’s It Gonna Be?” is an impressive execution from a self-taught star.

"OOOUUU"—Young M.A

This track made Nicki Minaj dub its creator the "female Jay-Z." Is there any better endorsement than that?


There wasn't a single track in 2016 that infiltrated pop culture quite like "Formation." Lyrics like "hot sauce in my bag," "get in formation," and "take his ass to Red Lobster" were ubiquitous. If you're surprised "Formation" made the list, then you weren't paying attention in 2016.


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