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YaejiPhotography Rachael Wright

The 20 best tracks of 2017

From the breakout success of Yaeji to a mind-bogglingly great Frank Ocean offcut, here are the songs that mattered to us most over the past 12 months

Our favourite songs of the past 12 months prove why artists should never second guess themselves. A North London teenager’s DIY pop song can leave just as much of a mark on a listener as Lana Del Rey’s lavish, loved-up return. Likewise, Alice Glass came through with a deeply personal solo single, but probably wouldn’t have predicted it’d take on a far more universal resonance when the bruising but necessary #MeToo movement came to the fore. It’s impossible to know what music will make sense to people and what events in the world will change a song’s context – and in a year as volatile as this one, it was especially important for artists to just be true to themselves and see how listeners respond. Here are our 20 best songs of 2017.


Since hearing this recently, a few months after it came out (finger off the pulse, there), London DIY star-in-the-making Jimothy Lacoste’s “Getting Busy!” has been on in the Dazed office every day. A house track that pays tribute to the idea of being sensible doesn’t necessarily sound like the most fun on paper, but “Getting Busy!” is an addictive lo-fi anthem. If you don’t watch the video and fall in love with Jimothy’s dancing, hijinks, and irrepressible style, then we just don’t know for you, man. (Thomas Gorton)


London DJ, producer, and songwriter Nathan Jenkins has spent the past few years putting out oddball pop records, either under his Bullion alias, as part of groups like Blludd Relations and Nautic, or by other artists via his label DEEK Recordings. Released via The Trilogy Tapes (a UK label with close ties to, amongst others, the Palace streetwear brand), Bullion’s “Blue Pedro” swaps the artist’s usual light-touch songwriting for something more aimed towards the dancefloor – but it’s far from a conventional club banger. Reimagining house music as a jaunty sea shanty, “Blue Pedro” is one of the most bouncy, original, and grin-inducing dance tracks to come out this year. (Selim Bulut)


Besides giving us two of the best and most daring hours of television drama aired this year or maybe ever (Parts 8 and 18, FYI), the return of Twin Peaks also gave us one of 2017’s most beautiful pieces of music. Johnny Jewel’s excellent work as a producer, score composer, band member for Chromatics and Glass Candy, and head honcho of the Italians Do It Better label over the past few years has had an incalculable influence on the eternally-ongoing 80s revival in pop music, but as “Windswept” illustrates, there’s much more to his work than noirish, neon-lit disco. Driven by a wandering solo saxophone, the instrumental “Windswept” is – like much of Twin Peaks – meditative, mournful, and powerfully affecting. (Selim Bulut)


With “The Pure and the Damned”, Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin set out to compose a song in the same vein as the mysterious singer Lewis, whose vanity-pressed albums from the 1980s have in recent years found a cult following. It’s not easy to recreate accidental brilliance, especially when Lewis’s appeal seems to stem as much from his casual abandonment of his own music as the music itself, but together with Iggy Pop, Lopatin comes as close as can be imagined. Both artists step into a mode outside their usual oeuvre here; Lopatin’s more focused on texture and mood than concrete synth figures, and Pop reclines into a vulnerable, spare baritone. It’s as strange as the film for which it was composed, the Safdie Brothers’ Good Time, and taps into an abundant parallel pathos. (Sasha Geffen)


Italian producer Lorenzo Senni serves up the driving, dizzying peaks and troughs of classic, epic 90s trance and the euphoric freefalls of hard techno with “The Shape of Trance to Come”. A lover of the at-times-ridiculed genre, the Warp signee genuinely delivers it with the driving bass notes and breaks of punk and hardcore he grew up on. Gloriously glitchy, the track hurtles through varying swells of emotion, delicately pressing into stolen moments of vulnerability before snapping back into unbridled jubilation. Trance is taken seriously without leaning into cheese, nostalgia, or irony, and it has a beautiful soul. The record skillfully drives us up to that celestial high, keeping it just out of our grasp. (Anna Cafolla)


Hailing from Chattanooga, Tennessee, BbyMutha is an actual mother-of-four who writes hard, honest rap. With its concrete-slapping bass, take-no-prisoners flow, and lyrics stressing the importance of keeping watchful, “Rules” felt like a real breakthrough (it ended up going viral on Twitter, resulting in Kehlani and SZA giving her love) and marked BbyMutha out as one of the most promising talents to watch in 2018. (Selim Bulut)


In August, nearly three years after departing Crystal Castles, Alice Glass disrobed the final electro-punk trappings of her former band with “Without Love”, an unexpectedly melodic, glassy synth pop effort. As skittering synths and warped beats creep along, the track’s midtempo soundbed blooms around the Canadian singer-songwriter's breathy, billowing vocals like petals unfurling in slow motion. Recalling the airy, experimental synthpop of both Purity Ring and Grimes without ever abandoning Glass’s signature melancholia – thanks, in part, to haunting production and brutally raw, relentlessly introspective lyrics that allude to her toxic relationship with former bandmate Ethan Kath – “Without Love” may be gloomy, but it’s also liberating. (Erica Russell)


“Hate to burst your bubble, bitch,” Princess Nokia spits electrifyingly over the dark beats of “G.O.A.T”, but she’s not sorry. Not sorry that she’s the weird girl running things, or that she’s been unleashing a divine, powerful feminine energy across rap. Across her staccato flow, she references the gaudy BV belts and Pelle Pelle jeans of the guys from her Harlem home, and shouts out her own personal talismans: anime, Myspace, Vans, and Avril, as a skater girl at heart. Princess Nokia continues to show a talent for an undeniable presence that oscillates across style and genre, but with her strong character always centre stage. “G.O.A.T” squares up, unblinking. (Anna Cafolla)


Kesha’s triumphant Rainbow brought plenty of bangers to cry to, some lose-your-fucking-mind vocal somersaults, and relentless guitar-twanging anthems that soar high above all the shit the pop star has had to persevere through. “Learn to Let Go” is one of its standouts – a growing, cathartic piece of music that sees the musician cast the demons out and move on, written with her mother, Pebe Sebert. She sings over sparse, dark drums: “Had a boogieman under my bed / Putting crazy thoughts inside my head,” before reaching the driving, glorious mantra: “The past can’t haunt me if I don’t let it.” “Learn to Let Go” is a fearless proclamation for freedom, and evolving into the person you were always meant to be. (Anna Cafolla)


Rihanna was the person of the year. She established herself as the patron saint of cosmetics, strengthening her presence in the fashion world with her brand(s). She upped her humanitarian efforts. She rapped, she sung, she clapped back. It was glorious. And in the midst of all of this glory, she teamed up with DJ Khaled and dropped “Wild Thoughts”, which meant you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing her and you also couldn’t find your wig for the rest of 2017. The song is a rework of Santana’s 90s latin-pop bop “Maria Maria”, with that unmistakable guitar solo. The video was worthy of repeat watches too, staying true to Rihanna’s impressive commitment to mesh tops and no bra. (Kemi Alemoru)


How Lana Del Rey didn’t release a song called “Love” until 2017 is a mystery that may never be revealed. On the first single and opening track from her album Lust For Life, the singer launches her voice to the stars, giving herself fully to a subject that she’s danced around, poked at, and punctured since she debuted her first tracks. “Love” has a chorus that goes on forever as Del Rey stretches the eponymous syllable out across multiple lungfuls. While plenty of her songs narrate tortured romantic love, here, she trains her eye on her listeners, addressing “you kids” directly. Maybe they’re in love with each other; more likely, they're in love with the idea of love she relays in her music, and of course she loves them for it. Few artists manage to sing about their own music with so much tenderness. Del Rey, in her steadfast commitment to songs for songs’ sake, enchants her fans and herself with a chorus melody she flings off a roof like so many Christmas lights. (Sasha Geffen)


Charli XCX has found that super sweet spot between her forever-faithful poptimist followers and a generation of clubbers buzzed off Rustie’s Glass Swords, SOPHIE, and the output of the PC Music gang. “Boys” crafts sticky taffy pop and spins it into a subversive song about getting candy-eyed over guys. But these boys aren’t just things she wistfully lusts over – Charli goes out, gets them, and directs them in a pastel pink video with puppies, red roses, and fluffy pancakes. It’s a dreamy, care-free, Nintendo-powered bop, and although it’s one of the rare songs that Charli – one of the Top 40’s very best songwriters – hasn’t written herself, her fresh vision of renegade super-pop is all over “Boys”. (Anna Cafolla)


Most artists would write a song like “Chanel” and hold it for their next album cycle, but it’s testament to Ocean’s boldness and infinite reserves of talent that post-Blonde he dropped one of his best songs out of nowhere with little fanfare – well, except playing three versions of it 18 times in a row on his Beats 1 show. Lyrically it’s wonderful, dropping references to Gaspar Noé, Cam’ron, and of course the iconic fashion house that he uses as a vehicle to sing about his bisexuality. As beautifully pointed out in this article, “Chanel” is to pop music what Moonlight was to cinema – an intimate, artful exploration of race, identity, and love. (Thomas Gorton)


Flower Boy is Tyler, the Creator’s most coherent message to date, and “Boredom” in particular is its uncharacteristically mellow and refreshingly frank highlight, showing a softer side than, say, the Goblin-era, cockroach-eating Tyler who introduced himself to the world. The rapper enlists the help of south London singer-songwriter Rex Orange County to muse on the aching loneliness of apathy. He’s hungry, his friends won’t text him, and he’s really, really bored. It’s got that desperation of a day watching too much Netflix because nobody wants to hang out, and the erosion of personal care that comes from long stints of feeling like you little to no purpose. It’s equal parts bleak and beautiful. (Kemi Alemoru)


The sound of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object, “Dum Surfer” was the killer second single from King Krule’s widely heralded return, The OOZ, and a rare moment from the record where Archy Marshall’s anger gained the ascendancy over his self-evident depression. It’s a wonderful piece of work, something that could only have sprung from the diseased mind of young master Krule. Blending the paranoid trip-hop of Tricky with The Cramps’ diabolical kitsch, Marshall’s lyric sketches out a tale of bad weed, worse habits and lowlife criminality in impressionistic detail, even eking out a few queasy laughs with its incessant mashed/slash rhyme-schemes. The video nails the vibe perfectly, a wan-looking Marshall wheeled into a dive bar on a hospital trolley that seems to be pushing itself. Then the music strikes up, and the band rides that sickly rockabilly beat all the way to hell. (Alex Denney)


On her first new song since the 2015 singles collection PRODUCT, SOPHIE settles into a gentler register than the balloon-popping, latex-snapping tracks she’d issued over the first two years of her career. Rather than commission vocals from a collaborator, she uses her own voice for the first time on a SOPHIE song, too, exploiting its whispery edges over twinkling synth bells. Like most SOPHIE songs, “It’s Okay To Cry” confounds the line between broadly relatable pop lyrics and hyperspecific ones. In one line, she’s accepting you unconditionally; in another, she’s reading a magazine over your shoulder, homing in on a particular page whose contents she doesn’t divulge. “It’s Okay To Cry” plays like a secret, a soft brushing away of shame and anxiety, a letting loose of buried feeling. (Sasha Geffen)


Is there anything more stirring than the first few notes of “Bodak Yellow”? The synth melody and trap beat, paired with its brashy lyrics, often means that it doesn’t matter whether there actually is a little bitch that can’t fuck with you – you feel it. Everyone is the little bitch – your best friend, your boyfriend, that chair in the corner. Although obviously inspired by the flow of (and named after) Kodak Black, the track is undoubtedly and undeniably Cardi B, whose cult following developed from her no-holds-barred personality via Instagram and Love & Hip Hop. It became the longest running number one by a solo female rapper of all time and, to round off an amazing year, she’s been credited with increased interest in Christian Louboutin’s “bloody” red-bottomed shoes. (Kemi Alemoru)


Yaeji’s biggest single to date is, in some ways, her least representative – a spare, sexy ode to feeling yourself that swaps the Korean-American producer’s preferred house and techno leanings for a trap-infused banger. On the other hand, it shares the same tactile quality that makes all of Yaeji’s music so irresistible – its chorus refrain, sung in Korean, translates as “That’s not it”, but was included more for its phonetic qualities. Then there’s the video, a 3am bike-ride through Chinatown swathed in soft neon hues that tells you everything you need to know about the producer’s subtle swagger – think Nicolas Jaar without all the chin-stroking surrounding him. Yaeji took her silky pop-toned house to ecstatic new heights on recent single “Raingurl”, but for now at least, it’s “Drink I’m Sippin’ On” that remains the mercurial Queens talent’s calling-card. (Alex Denney)


Admit it – you probably got half way through 2017 without really knowing how to pronounce SZA’s name properly. Many guessed that sounded a little bit like this woman’s hilarious reaction in this vine; they were wrong. Nevertheless, you definitely know now, since SZA soundtracked the love and loss of countless young women this year. On “Love Galore” her smooth vocal oscillates between euphoric high notes and a deep tone of regret, tracking the R&B singer’s thought process as she reflects on a past relationship. She wants to see him again – then she decides she’s done, she’s dusting it off, and she’s trying to swerve this guy who’s playing too many games. The best thing about this song is truly how much some of these lines hit women hard – especially “Why you bother me when you know you don’t want me?” Skrrt skrrt on him SZA. (Kemi Alemoru)


Everyone’s favourite boy band came through with the gold-gilded, heartstring-tugging “LAMB”. The LA-based collective of rappers, producers, artists, and more back Kevin Abstract, Matt Champion, and Merlyn Wood for the track. It bursts with sunlight and youthful energy, unwavering in its expression as an urgent reminder to hold our friends close to face the unknown future together – however wondrous, great, or shitty it proves to be. Past the third instalment of their SATURATION trilogy, we can hope the group will pursue more stuff together as well as their successful solo projects, keeping up the DIY, inventive spirit.

“I’m just a boy, yeah,” Wood proclaims on the sun-dappled bridge. Brockhampton may just be boys, but “LAMB” is a considered, strong manifesto for self-love, celebrating innocence, free expression, and a shared legacy. And, hands down, the cutest fucking shit out there. (Anna Cafolla)

Listen to this playlist on Spotify and Apple Music