The end of the year means only one thing: lists! The BAFTA’s choose their best newcomer. The BRIT’s have their critics choice. Which? Magazine pick their favourite grout sealant. Here at Hey Nineteen we are no different. We’re doubling down on lists at the moment; thus, here are my favourite hit singles of the year. Note that to qualify these songs must have been entered the UK Top 40 at some point. Okay? Otherwise it’d be a bunch of crap you’d never heard of. Brill.
20. Sigala – Give Me Your Love (Official Video) ft. John Newman, Nile Rodgers
Despite the trashy distorted vocal loop in the chorus, the fact is I’m a sucker for big housey keys. Nile Rogers is under utilised here but John Newman is perfect for bellowing out these big choruses.
19. Mike Posner – I Took A Pill In Ibiza (Seeb Remix)
While this is a fun enough three minutes of EDM fit for an Ibiza boat party, it finds its voice in Mike Posner’s oddly poignant and heartfelt lament on the emptiness of his own life. This feels especially close to home when you know that Mike Posner is a pop washout who has never had any sustained success. It’s a fun song, but it’s also sort of heartbreaking, because there is no doubt the song is this guy’s life. Chin up mate, at least this one was good!
18. Jonas Blue – Fast Car ft. Dakota
I cried sacrilege the second I heard anyone was even thinking about touching this song. It is so perfect and timeless in it’s initial incarnation, but this is fun too. It’s nice hearing a song as good as this on the radio again too, and the sighing guitar translates well into big flashy synths. Besides, there’s still a little sadness in there.
17. Fifth Harmony – Work ft. Ty Dolla $ign
Even more so than the other song of the same name (coming up), this was the subject of much criticism for it’s nerve shredding repetition. I won’t defend that. Ultimately though I’m won over by the beat. It’s like a really fun house remix that Fifth Harmony just happen to be in.
The song want’s me to hate it. The ‘construction site’ video? Do people still do themed videos this side of 1997? Why do all the girls have next to nothing on whilst the lone guy on the track has a full set of overalls on? Do they think this is a clever metaphor for sex? Where was the union when the girls had a choreographed dance number in the foundations of that condo? Despite all of this, I think this one is a winner and while I doubt I’ll ever listen to a Fifth Harmony song again, that keyboard hook is genius.
16. DNCE – Cake By The Ocean
Funky riff, falsetto hysterics, sleazy lyrics…. I for one am thrilled that Maroon 5 songs are now being sung by other people, because Maroon 5 sure as hell aren’t. Although now all the pressure is on the third Jonas brother to pursue a credible career after both Joe and Nick have found chart success. In the end it’s the goofiness of the chorus (i.e a grown man using ‘cake’ euphemistically) that makes it great.
15. Bruno Mars – 24K Gold
Bruno Mars has gotten a lot better ever since he ditched the idea of finding his own style and just started sounding like other people. When Bruno tried to write from the heart we got ‘The Lazy Song’. Lest we forget. I much prefer Bruno when he’s wearing other people’s clothes.
Whether he was riffing on The Police or The Original 7ven he sounded so much more lively and relevant. Hell, he actually sounded like he was having fun, and no more so than here. This feels like a song tailor-made for me and my love of tinny 80s synth lines and big showy choruses. The completely preposterous misuse of vocoders is just the cherry on the cake.
14. Chainsmokers – Closer ft. Halsey
Somehow the bro-house duo whose only hit was that atrocious gimmick ‘Selfie’ have had two of the biggest hits of the year. That this song has depth, and such detail in it’s vivid verses and chorus, is an even bigger shock. I was left clutching my pearls at the porny video (no wonder they don’t show music on MTV these days!) but this is a duet done right, where Halsey and Andrew Taggart interact and sing over and under one another to impressive results.
13. Adele – Send My Love (To Your New Lover)
While ‘Hello’ was the big hit, this was the real star of ’25’ by putting Adele in a new light without breaking the public image we hold of her. This is not happy-go-lucky by any means and is still loaded with the heavy emotion we’ve come to expect. However, the reggae and R&B sound is a new one for her and sees her melancholy sound curated and shaped into something new and exciting.
12. Calvin Harris – This Is What You Came For (Feat. Rihanna)
It’s a shock that Calvin has ended up here. After horribly embarrassing himself last year by trying to sing, Calvin Harris has seen a turn of fortune. Slowly, but surely, his songs have approached being bearable, and on this one, he has breached that delta and actually produced something noteworthy.
The groove is fun, Rihanna is playful (despite having little to do), and best of all, the electronics sound fresh and don’t re-use from songs past. This may be shameless EDM, but it isn’t brainless. It’s a very good time. Just add alcohol and poor decisions.
11. Sia – Cheap Thrills
No one has ever been more fringey, literally and otherwise, and yet stuck so close to the mainstream, than our Sia. The leap from indie weirdo to international chart topper was a big one, but then the enormous success of ‘Chandelier’ probably had something to do with it.
‘Cheap Thrills’ is the most fun she has ever been, possibly because she actually wrote it for Ri. The bizarre remix whereby Sean Paul raps random sounds from the adjacent recording booth is to be avoided, but in its original form this is a lithe, hooky dance song. The chorus itself isn’t the focus, the real good stuff is in the resounding electronic beat, keyboard sting and perfectly pitched pre-chorus.
10. Kungs vs Cookin’ on 3 Burners – This Girl
While the saxophone beat(!!) lacks all subtlety, the rustic and earthy feel of this house track is a welcome break from the shrill, electronic sounds of the Top 40. It recalls last years ‘Are You With Me’, and is the latest in a niche of house music characterised by acoustic instruments and washed out, soulful choruses. This one ditches any of that nuance, but it does bounce between funk, deep house, and tropical music with aplomb.
9. Zayn – Pillowtalk
When I heard that one of the 1D twerps was having a go at the whole ‘edgelord R&B’ style that’s swept in on Weeknd’s coat tails, well, I had myself a good hearty chuckle, and then went on with my life. Yet Zayn is the one left laughing because he has a flashy comeback single and I’m well, just actually single. Painfully so.
Zayn on the other hand has finally set about having some sex, now that Simon Cowell has removed the SyCo clamps from his horribly engorged knackers. And he seems to quite like it. But beyond that, he writes with genuine maturity about the pitfalls of relationships and the brevity of satisfaction. All the while walled in by a glitchy R&B soundscape. Bravo Mr Malik, bravo.
8. Major Lazer – Cold Water (feat. Justin Bieber & MØ)
Diplo and friends are fast becoming the tastemakers of EDM, and once again their tasteful borrowing from world music pays off. The central conceit isn’t exactly high art. Is bathing really such a sacrifice to make for the person you love? Especially when they’re apparently drowning or something? In fact in France it’s actually illegal to do that. Hardly romantic. Still, Bieber turns in solid vocals which lean on his huskier side and, as ever, MØ steals the song.
7. Zara Larson – Lush Life
Further proof that everything to come from Sweden is great by default, Zara Larsson owned the summer with this candy-coated disco funker. The themes may be familiar, very familiar, i.e summer, partying, strange, in that order. That can’t diminish the inventiveness of the production or the strength of the melody. Zara too, whilst at first a little lispy, has an endearing and light-hearted vocal style that works perfectly.
6. Rag’n’Bone Man – Human
That this song has flourished on the UK charts and elsewhere is nothing short of miraculous, as is the song itself. It flies in the face of every trend that is big at the moment, relying on vocal soul and a dirty bass riff. This sounds like a Rick Rubin song, and while many are quick to compare it to that shapeless dirge ‘Take Me To Church’, this sounds most like Johnny Cash’s American Recordings series. This is excellent.
5. The 1975 – The Sound
Healy and friends get properly campy on this one, and they weren’t exactly Commando to begin with. Enormous keys, a sing-a-long chorus and wondefully kitshy solo combine to produce a wickedly fun pop song. It may lack the depth of their album work, but as an example of how far the band can go out on the wing, it’s a succesful experiment.
4. Christine & The Queens – Tilted
3. Rihanna – Work
When Ri had her big comeback at the start of the year, she needed a proper banger to get her back on the charts. A ‘We Found Love’ shaped floor filler. What we got was this, a strange, wispy, skeletal dancehall song. I think it’s great. Genuinely.
Yes it’s easy to sneer at just how basic the pop structure is, or the fact Rihanna says the word ‘work’ just shy of eighty times in three and a half minutes. I get that. If you think that’s dumb then fine, go ahead, sit in a wing chair and tut under your breath, you tedious shit.
Fact is this is playful. It’s inventive. The rolling bass line and trap beat somehow drive the track even though they are hardly there. The electronic touches are basically just three notes repeated. Yet nearly 10 months down the line I am still not tired of hearing this. It’s a master class in maintaining a tempo and sustaining tension.
2. One Dance – Drake Ft Kyla & Wizkid
This is that rare song that informs you from the first bars that it’s going to be huge. This is the definition of a smash, a phrase rendered corny, but that is what ‘One Dance’ is. This song sounds enormous, and the core components are indeed huge; the compulsive bass, Drake’s commanding spaced-out sing rapping and looping piano. However it’s far from basic; it’s the most beautifully constructed offering of pop all year. Canadian Drake draws in London’s Kyla and Nigerian Wizkid; the resulting song carrying the hallmarks of a truly international sound – pure neoterica.
The ‘tack-tack’ drum machine lends credence to the songs longing for dancehall glory, whilst the opening sting is untouchable. This is proof that intelligent pop is still around, that it is being made by the A-listers, and can be huge hits. It is exactly the kind of party this dreadful year needed.
1. Ariana Grande – Into You
It’s very hard to coax a curmudgeon into strong praise of anything, but ‘Into You’ is the best pop song released all year. It operates on a well-worn premise: unfulfilled young thing demands their partner lose the pleasantries and get down to doing it, Greek style. The fact that it’s sung from the perspective of the girl isn’t so ground-breaking either, it’s all in the delivery.
There is something genuinely empowering about a promise as brazen as ‘I’ll let you on it’. What’s more, she doesn’t labour the empowerment shtick, whilst her peers bash you over the head with it. The groove is super tight. The synthesisers, arranged by an all-star production team including Max Martin, sound like spaceship sound effects. It’s intense and evocative, and most importantly, it is a sound all of her own.