Top 50 singles of 2016, according to me


Since 2008 I’ve been sending readers to sleep with a Top 50 countdown of my favourite singles from the year, and looking back there are only a couple of No1 choices that I don’t thoroughly regret, which is nice. For reference, my past No1s have been:

2008: Sweet About Me – Gabriella Cilmi (fine, but I might be tempted to switch-in No Air or Hot’n’Cold now)
2009: Battlefield – Jordin Sparks (WRONG, best song of all time My Life Would Suck Without You should 100% have been victorious)
2010: Teenage Dream – Katy Perry (no regrets)
2011: Till The World Ends – Britney Spears (no regrets)
2012: Wings – Little Mix (WRONG, it’s Anything Can Happen or Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) or even We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together)
2013: Heart Attack – Demi Lovato (no regrets, although Little Mix’s Move is a whisker behind)
2014: Into The Blue – Kylie Minogue (no regrets)
2015: Style – Taylor Swift (no regrets, but I already loved it in 2014 before it was a single so maybe Run Away With Me should have clinched it)

So what of 2016? After eight years of female dominance, WILL THE MEN FINALLY GET SOME ATTENTION?!?!?!?!? (Spoiler: not really, no).

First off, I’ve DECREED that any song that was officially serviced as a single in 2016 is eligible, even if it was first heard on a 2015 album. 2014 albums can fuck right off though, because A) it feels like those songs happened ages ago, and B) it would have been boring to have Out Of The Woods and New Romantics ranked against stuff that came out just a few weeks ago.

Also I’ve excluded tracks that are bubbling under right now but may well fully explode in early 2017 (looking at you, Little Mix’s Touch). That’s mainly because last year I included Selena Gomez’s Hands To Myself in my list after it started “popping” in the US, only for it to become a UK hit in April. NEVER AGAIN.

Anyway, no time like the present, here are my #picks:

50. Back To You – Mollie King

I’ll be honest, I expected more from this song. I do really like it (hiya, here it is in my Best Of list), but I completely see why it was a chart flop (it barely scraped into the Top 100) and I hope it’s not too late for Mollie to try scoring a hit again. Watch on YouTube

49. True Colors – Zedd feat. Kesha

There was a sense that this was less about giving Kesha a hit and more about giving her a voice. True Colors is a loaded, triumphant song with some great change-of-pace production from Zedd, and a raw, determined vocal from the fighter on the mic. (Sidebar: remember when Adele gave her a shout-out at the Brits? I cried.) Watch on YouTube

48. Make Me… – Britney Spears feat. G-Eazy

A real slow-burning sex jam, this. It doesn’t slap you around the face as much as Britney’s best bangers, but it’s still a great song that I have a lot of time for. Watch on YouTube

47. The Sound – The 1975

Is it ~cool for anyone to like The 1975? I seem to recall them being too pop for indie fans, and too indie for pop fans. I wouldn’t want to be stuck in a lift with them but their 2016 output has, for me, been more than solid.

46. NO – Meghan Trainor

Ah, remember that brief fortnight earlier this year when it looked like Meghan Trainor was on the verge of pulling off the biggest turnaround in pop history? That was a weird – and, it transpires, isolated – fortnight. Watch on YouTube

45. This Is What You Came For – Calvin Harris feat. Rihanna

It’s nowhere near the standard of We Found Love but fortunately We Found Love was of such an other-worldly quality that this is still pretty good. Watch on YouTube

44. Colors – Halsey

Forget that irritating heterobanger she helped The Chainsmokers with: this is my favourite Halsey song, and it’s a shame that its best global chart position was No99 in Australia.

43. Kiss It Better – Rihanna

I still haven’t decided if the chorus on this track is brilliant or appalling, but in any case the rest of it is superb. Watch on YouTube

42. Final Song – MØ

LET’S HOPE THIS ISN’T HER FINAL SONG, RIGHT?? (Yes I know she’s already released another one, forget it). Watch on YouTube

41. Body Say – Demi Lovato

It doesn’t sound anything like a hit but whilst I initially wrote this off as a weak waste of time, I soon became obsessed. Good for a writhe, this. Watch on YouTube

40. Dangerous Woman – Ariana Grande

I never fell fully in love with this song, but I also listened to it an OBSCENE number of times, which has to count for something, right? (It’s my decision, and yes it does.) Watch on YouTube

39. Superwoman – Rebecca Ferguson

Bones was a really lovely lead single but it’s the title track from Rebecca Ferguson’s third proper album (the covers one DOES NOT COUNT) that shows off why she’s still going strong six years after The X Factor.

38. That’s My Girl – Fifth Harmony

I have a sneaking feeling this would have been an enormous success if it was released in the summer, and if they hadn’t outsourced all their UK promo to Gifty Louise. Watch on YouTube

37. Blow Your Mind (Mwah) – Dua Lipa

Dua masters that unique popstar art of sounding completely disinterested, but in a good way. Watch on YouTube

36. Can’t Stop The Feeling! – Justin Timberlake

I don’t want to like this song. Time magazine are so desperate not to like it they even made it their Worst Song of 2016. But if 2016 isn’t the year for an unashamedly uplifting pop “ditty” then I don’t know what is. Watch on YouTube

35. Let Me Love You – DJ Snake feat. Justin Bieber

Still not convinced he isn’t a total prick, but Bieber continues to know his way around a massive banger. AND I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT THOSE NUDE PICTURES AMIRIGHT??!?! Watch on YouTube

34. The Greatest – Sia feat. Kendrick Lamar

Sia’s songs are great because even when she’s singing about being Upon The Floor, often she’s also singing about things being a fucking mess (see also: Chandelier). The Greatest didn’t really click with me until I saw the video, inspired by the Orlando attacks, and realised how great she is at honouring darkness without seeming insipid or sentimental.

33. Cool Girl – Tove Lo

“Fuck if I know how to put it romantic” – excellent lyric. Watch on YouTube

32. Hold Up – Beyoncé

Even when Beyoncé doesn’t sound like she’s chasing hits, she just can’t stop with the goddamn hits. Watch on YouTube

31. Ain’t My Fault – Zara Larsson

I don’t know what I like better: the chorus drop, the “OH MY OH MY OH MY” bits, or the subtle background chants of “NOPE! NOPE! NOPE!”. Ultimately it’s all great. Watch on YouTube

30. False Alarm – Matoma & Becky Hill

Side-bar: Nearly put Matoma’s track with The Vamps in this list too, but favoured Mollie. Watch on YouTube

29. Piece By Piece (Idol Version) – Kelly Clarkson

This was technically a single in 2015, and I’m normally not here for songs that get the dreaded “stripped back” treatment, but it gave us one of the best TV moments of 2016, so:

28. Send My Love (To Your New Lover) – Adele

Adele and Max Martin. Never going to end badly, was it? Watch on YouTube

27. Hotter Than Hell – Dua Lipa

Peaked at No14 in the UK singles chart; approximately 14 positions too low for my liking. Watch on YouTube

26. Hurts – Emeli Sande

Imagine if Emeli sounded this ferocious ALL THE TIME? (No but I actually quite like her softer stuff too, so…). Watch on YouTube

25. Like I Would – Zayn

You get the impression Zayn is ~above bangers now, and then he comes out with this masterpiece; so good it gave Azealia Banks enough rope to hang herself with. Watch on YouTube

24. Starving – Hailee Steinfeld & Grey feat. Zedd

Love Myself was my third-favourite single of 2015 and I worried its commercial failure would spell the end for Hailee’s pop career, but luckily Zedd and Grey (?) did her right with this rare example of an easy-going floorfiller. Watch on YouTube

23. Misery – Gwen Stefani

SO many popstars over the last couple of years owe a huge thank you to Justin Tranter and Julia Michaels, and I hope Gwen took them out for a lovely meal to say cheers for much of her brilliant comeback album.

22. Kids – OneRepublic

“I refuse to look back thinking days were better just because they’re younger days.” Cracking lyric there, Ryan, well done. Watch on YouTube

21. Heaven – Troye Sivan feat. Betty Who

Serviced as a single just a couple of months ago but originally from the 2015 opus Blue Neighbourhood, Heaven – which delicately addresses the conflict between homosexuality and religion – made absolutely no chart impact anywhere in the world but I love it enough to count it as a bona-fide 2016 gem.

20. Something In The Way You Move – Ellie Goulding

That live video really is inexcusable, Elena. Watch on YouTube

19. Work From Home – Fifth Harmony feat. Ty Dolla $ign

I STILL can’t make my mind up about this song. Some days it really scratches an itch, others I just don’t think it’s very good. I originally had it much lower in this countdown but I looked at its play count in my iTunes library and realised it needed massively bumping up. Watch on YouTube

18. Starboy – The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk

I hadn’t previously been a massive cheerleader for The Weeknd or for Daft Punk, but anything goes in 2016 and this song’s just great.

17. Water Under The Bridge – Adele

Like the Troye Sivan track, this was part of a great 2015 album and never really took off as a 2016 single, but it’s so damn irresistible I’m going ahead and putting it in anyway. I just wish there was an incredible music video for it. Watch on YouTube

16. Somebody Else – The 1975

To be honest, had one of my favourite female popstars recorded this, it could be Top 3. Watch on YouTube

15. Shout Out To My Ex – Little Mix

They’ve had better lead singles but even with that in mind, Shout Out To My Ex is a big ‘event’ of a pop smash. A virtual clone of GRL’s Ugly Heart it may be (No2 on my 2014 list, trivia fans), it’s still an enormous, universally accessible song that’s helped drive Little Mix’s Imperial Phase to a new peak.

14. You Don’t Know Love – Olly Murs

The verses could maybe be a TINY bit better, but that pre-chorus/chorus combo is so delicious, it’s easy to forget that the rest of Olly’s discography is more than a little patchy. Watch on YouTube

13. Sorry – Beyoncé

Sometimes there’s no banger like a non-apology banger. Watch on YouTube

12. Pillowtalk – Zayn

This was a very strong solo debut. Interesting, too, that so far three One Direction members have put out solo material and Zayn’s the only one to have managed a No1. And 123,000 sales in one week is very good going these days. Watch on YouTube

11. Rockabye – Clean Bandit feat. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie

Does Sean Paul make this song better, or drag it down? We may never know. But it’s pretty damn good as it is, and “DAILY STRUGGLE!” is the best thing he’s ever said. A staple of everyone’s winter parties, this is nothing short of a concrete thumper. (‘Thumper’? Does that work? Will revise.) Watch on YouTube

10. One Strike – All Saints

If you’re gonna put yourselves back in the game for a SECOND comeback, especially after the first one ended so disappointingly, you’ve got to have the goods to back you up. All Saints had the goods, and it turns out they were very much at home on the 2016 soundscape.

09. Lush Life – Zara Larsson

We’ll overlook the fact that this was technically released in 2015 and focus on its status as one of the big star-making hits of this year: Zara is one of the world’s most exciting new popstars and, I swear to God, the whole project had better not go tits-up in 2017.

08. Still Falling For You – Ellie Goulding

Right don’t @ me but I’m an absolute sucker for an Ellie Goulding love song, especially if Tove Lo has a writing credit. It’s all lovely and heartfelt but the bit at the start of the second verse when the synths very calmly kick in still makes my heart do a wobble (note: get a doctor on that).

07. Rock Bottom – Hailee Steinfeld feat. DNCE

I thought the addition of seaside dessert enthusiast Joe Jonas to this incredible semi-ballad would derail it completely, but actually it kind of lifts it. The tweaks to the production really work, and vocally the track soars as a duet. Naturally, of course, it went no further than No103 in the US.

06. Tears – Clean Bandit feat. Louisa Johnson

Many will argue that Rockabye is better than its predecessor, and many may well be correct. But for me, Tears was one of the big anthems of the summer; an I Will Survive for the 21st Century with a career-saving performance by Louisa Johnson and a vital chance by Clean Bandit to prove they’ve got another ~era in them, after skating close to one-album-wonder territory two years ago. The first half of the song is very good, but the second half is near-perfect: post break-up heartbreak you can dance to.

05. Formation – Beyoncé

We can laugh at that Beyoncé Turned Black SNL sketch until the cows come home, but it’s actually quite tragic how accurate and goddamn necessary it was. And then there’s the atrocious Piers Morgan get-back-in-your-lane-Beyoncé thinkpiece (nope, not linking to it); as if A) issue-based songs are a strict no-no for artists with the biggest platform in the world, and B) as if PIERS HIMSELF doesn’t need to stay in his own freakin’ lane in the first place. Gosh. But even if you do strip out all the social context of this release – and you shouldn’t, at all, because it’s important – but even if you do, Formation is still an absolute fucking jam.

04. What’s It Gonna Be? – Shura

I’d never heard of Shura before this year, although Wikipedia tells me she’s been low-key churning out the bops for a few years now. What’s It Gonna Be? does, on paper, tread a well-worn path – it’s about having a crush on someone, essentially – but in its execution she perfectly captures the angst, hope and fluttery-butterfly-ness in one neat 3:35 package. And the super-gay video is my favourite of the year.

03. Fuck Apologies. – JoJo feat. Wiz Khalifa

Y’know what, lads, this really should have been an enormous hit. Every bit as anthemic as Too Little Too Late or Leave (Get Out), F*ck Apologies is a middle-fingers-aloft sophistibanger that firmly gives JoJo her place in the contemporary musicscape and deserved to be a Top 40 smash at the very least on both sides of the Atlantic.

02. True Disaster – Tove Lo

This SONG is fucking MAGICAL, and we truly do not deserve Ebba Tove Elsa Nilsson in our wretched lives.

01. Into You – Ariana Grande

Let me tell you literally everything I like about ‘Into You’:

  1. The intro. PAH PAH PAH PAH.
  2. That stuttering production underneath the first verse, which Ariana practically purrs.
  3. The chorus.
  4. The potential for choreography (admittedly not realised in the weak video).
  6. The chorus.
  7. The pyro-friendly middle-8.
  9. The chorus.
  10. At 3 minutes 20 seconds when everything explodes.
  11. Solid ad-libs.
  12. The fact the whole thing sounds like a strobe light (?).
  13. The fact it ENDS. It doesn’t just end, or worse end, it ENDS.
  14. The chorus.
  15. The chorus.

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