The Best Music of 2013: The Twenty Best Pop and Hip-Hop Singles
January 7, 2014 Leave a comment
Although our countdown is primarily concerned with the best albums of the year, it would be foolish to ignore the most joy-bringing single releases in the song-shuffling era. So here are my picks for the twenty cuts that defined the best of the pop charts in 2013.
Drake, “Started From the Bottom”
I’ve been a Drake doubter/hater, didn’t really like Take Care, questioned why he was being anointed on the strength of jacked Jamie xx beats, etc. He crushed my puny objections with an absolutely epic year on the charts in 2013. This cut was his opening salvo: a profane, braggadocious tribute to his homeboys that resounded from clubs to stadiums to car speakers. Respect where it’s due.
This song came out of absolutely nowhere to dominate the Billboards for a solid month. Lorde’s soulful voice, some killer harmonies, and a tight backbeat drove a message perfectly calibrated for the aftermath of the economic apocalypse. 141 million Youtube plays and counting. You can call her Queen Bee.
Big Sean f. Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica, “Control”
Kendrick Lamar managed to put the Best Rapper Alive crown on lockdown in 2013 despite not bothering to release a new album, and this song was a huge reason why. Claiming the kingship of New York, LA and all spots in between with an audacious verse in which he calls out every single rival in his generation and challenges them to try and top him. Sounding like the reincarnation of Tupac, he thunders relentlessly and concludes with an epic Eminem-style extended metaphor that drops jaws. (Poor Jay Electronica then has to try and follow this.)
Beyonce f. Jay-Z, “Drunk In Love”
More to come on this later, but Beyonce’s shock album release was a neutron bomb that melted the Internet and left the greatest efforts of List Season in ruins. Keying the effort was this majestic single, a cauldron full of mature sexuality built around a shimmering beat from virtually-unknown producer Beats (Jordy Asher). Bey’s voice is pure power and her confidence has never been more founded. MASTERPIECE.
Icona Pop f. Charli XCX, “I Love It”
Cranking a Charli XCX track up to eleven with wild, shouted vocals and decaying electronic beats, Icona Pop busted out as the latest Swedish pop group to watch. I don’t think there’s a more fitting refrain for the nihilistic spirit of 2013 than “I crashed your car into a bridge — I don’t care!”
Capital Cities, “Safe and Sound”
This charming electro-indie track has been kicking around for a couple of years, but went wide with major label promotion ahead of Capital Cities’ debut album release. It’s purely enjoyable dance pop, along the lines of the underappreciated Chromeo. It was refreshing to hear this mixed in with the miscellaneous poptarts on Top 40 radio this summer.
Kanye West, “Black Skinhead”
2013’s most thunderous beat. Kanye synthesized the prodigious mindbrains of superproducers Daft Punk, Mike Dean, NO ID, Lupe Fiasco and more into this monster cut. Its hook is undeniably awesome. (Please don’t say this is a “Beautiful People” ripoff. I will be forced to ice you for your erroneous claims.)
Janelle Monae, “Dance Apocalyptic”
The joyous highlight of The Electric Lady, this ebullient cut soars with completely unpredictable melodic changes and nods to the girl-group heyday with a soupcon of shelang-alang-alang. If this song doesn’t make you dance, you should seek medical attention.
Daft Punk f. Pharrell, “Get Lucky”
Off a 30-second Saturday Night Live ad tease alone, it was clear that the mysterious Frenchmen had topped themselves with their dankest groove yet. Here, they remind the world why Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams are two of the greatest hitmakers of all time, while celebrating the oft-scorned disco era with a gem single. This song has NOT gotten old since it dropped. An all-time classic.
2 Chainz f. Pharrell, “Feds Watching”
I simply love the artist formerly known as Tity Boi, and this was the closest thing to a classic Neptunes track in years. Even sans Chad Hugo, Pharrell delivers a beat that bumptiously accompanies 2 Chainz’ grimy flow and adds a singable chorus taboot.
Robin Thicke f. Pharrell & T.I., “Blurred Lines”
Before the backlash and “rapey” accusations, and before this track was played into the ground such that we’ll all be sick of it until 2015 at earliest, this was an unexpected jam that dominated the entire summer. It’s a rare record that launches one of the hot ladies from the video into significant screen roles. And given that we’re celebrating the renaissance of Pharrell Williams’ career as a hitmaker, it would be malpractice to omit this megahit. (P.S. Robin Thicke definitely has a micropeen)
Miley Cyrus, “We Can’t Stop”
“Wrecking Ball” made a splash with its video, but it was this song (and Miley’s unbelievably over-the-top MTV live performance of same) that dosed the zeitgeist’s soft drink with molly. An excellent beat by Mike Will Made It builds to a defiant, bratty, auto-tuned holler. When the history of pop music in 2013 is written, “We Can’t Stop” shall be mentioned in the first paragraph.
Justin Timberlake, “Mirrors”
Whatever Rat Pack bullshit JT was gesturing at with “Suit & Tie” fell flat, but this Timbaland-helmed track salvaged matters and then some. This gorge ode to Jessica Biel’s love, pulled from the vault after being laid down in 2009, embodies everything that Justin Timberlake does best.
Dre Skull f. Megan James & Popcaan, “First Time”
This is a truly rad track from producer Dre Skull (Vybz Kartel, Snoop Lion), Purity Ring singer Megan James and dancehall artist Popcaan, built around Dre’s Loudspeaker Riddim. This may not fit in the “pop” or “hip-hop” buckets neatly, but I would be remiss if I let this monster track slip through the cracks. If you haven’t heard it yet, crank it UP!
Selena Gomez, “Come and Get It”
Selena Gomez went from a forgettable Disney talent famous for deflowering Justin Bieber to starring in one of the year’s edgiest movies (Spring Breakers) and dropping this legit pop banger. This song could not be more obviously intended for Rihanna’s use, but RiRi’s loss is Gomez’ gain. The bridge kinda sucks, but master producers StarGate wisely bring the hook back pronto.
Pitbull f. Ke$ha, “Timber”
As if I’d ever write an article hailing the best in pop music without shouting out my home girl Ke$ha! Dr. Luke and his minions did their best work of the year on this one.
A$AP Rocky f. Drake, 2 Chainz & Kendrick Lamar, “Fuckin’ Problems”
I want to get in a time machine, go back to any moment when I ever disrespected Drake’s producer Noah “40” Shebib, and slap myself across the face. THIS IS A MONSTER TRACK. Four of the finest rappers of this or any era leave no rounds in the chamber. Beast!
HAIM, “The Wire”
Although the video linked above is kinda terrible (the presence of my hero Jorma Taccone notwithstanding), this is a wonderful song from the Haim sisters of sunny Los Angeles County. The breakdown that starts around 2:30 lifts my soul.
OneRepublic, “Counting Stars”
I’m a sucker for the melodies of Ryan Tedder (who wrote one of my favorite contemporary R&B songs, Beyonce’s “Halo”). This is a highly enjoyable country bumpkin of a pop track, sort of a 2013 version of the Doobies’ “Black Water.” Yeah, the lyrics are dumb but whatever. HEY!
Drake f. Majid Jordan, “Hold On We’re Going Home”
This song is responsible for at least 1,000 pregnancies. It’s Drake’s world, we’re merely living in it.
Revealing our favorite tracks as our list unfurls.