20 Songs of 2017
There are many ways a person can reflect on their past year, and unsurprisingly, mine is counting down the songs and albums that made this year what it was sonically, I'm often overwhelmed by the fact that there is already so much more music than I could ever experience or consume in a lifetime, and yet each new year comes with a whole host of fresh sounds and creations to listen to.
as artists have continued to find new expressions through sound that borrow and build off of the rich history of music we already have.
So with that in mind, I will never presume to have listened to everything released this year. Of the music that I have surrounded myself with, here are 20 songs that have made up my 2017 soundtrack. Feel free to share your favourites (including ones that I missed) in the comments or over on Twitter.
I should also mention that in order to give myself time to compile and write these lists, I've made the cutoff date Nov. 30th. That's why you might find some Dec. 2016 releases here, and why I'm not talking about anything that came out in the past couple of weeks. One last thing to keep in mind with this song list - there were a few albums that struck me to the core this year, and although they had several songs that I considered for this list, I felt as though I couldn't choose one representative. You'll have to wait for my 2017 Albums list for those.
This super feel-good track features Canadian sweetheart, Alessia Cara, and some really tight and addicting drums. Oh yes, and a Banks sample of all things! When I first heard this song, I would get it mixed up with the T. Swift song of the same name, but now it has officially taken over as my first association with the line, "all you have to do is stay."
Lyrical Highlight: All you have to do is stay a minute / Just take your time / The clock is ticking, so stay / All you have to do is take a second / Your hands in mine / The clock is ticking, so stay.
"Hit the Ceiling" is one of my favourite offerings yet from this singer/producer duo. The lyrics describe resisting being pulled down by the weight of the world, and the groove supports the work of resistance by providing just the right kind of encouragement and momentum.
Lyrical Highlight: I'ma hit the ceiling, you hear me / I won't take my spirit, I'm living.
18. Praying - Kesha
I could say a lot about the return of Kesha. I should also mention I had a difficult time choosing between this popular radio ballad and the roaring anthem, "Woman." Ultimately, the emotion that Kesha pours into this track wins out, as she reminds us all that she is so much more than her history of abuse by Dr. Luke, her legal battles with Sony, or even her classic party anthems of earlier this decade. She reminds us that she's not only a damn good songwriter, but also a boss woman willing to pick up the pieces of her tragedy and suffering, and transform it in to pure, expressive, gold. "Praying" is Kesha's phoenix rising, while "Woman" is her call for all of us to join her celebration.
Lyrical Highlight: Cause you brought the flames and you put me through hell / I had to learn how to fight for myself / And we both know all the truth I could tell / I'll just say this, that I wish you farewell.
I have vacillated on including this song more than any other on the list, so it's a miracle it managed to not only make the cut but also climb to the 17th spot. I was determined to hate this song when it came out. For one thing, the word "sorry" is overused in pop music (and I feel like Beyoncé deserves the final word). And although I am happy to defend the heck out of Demi's vocal chops, I have no expectations from her pop songs. That is, until now. Lovato has crafted a nearly-perfect "later-haters" dance track, and has paired it with a campaign all about championing the bullied. This could make me cool for the summer. Oh, wait...
Lyrical Highlight: 'Cause the grass is greener under me / Bright as technicolor, I can tell that you can see / And yeah I know how bad it must hurt to see my like this / But it gets worse.
This is not the first time I've included a Drake song in my list, but I still feel a little sheepish about it, considering I use his name on the regular as short-form for "lowlight of the day" (ie. My Drake was that I was struck with crippling self-doubt; My Beyoncé was when my barista didn't charge me!). Anyway, this song is my jam, like, still. To be fair, I was late to the game on listening to the More Life mixtape (see first sentence), but now I have Drake to thank for introducing me to the glorious Jorja Smith. She was also in another favourite collaboration with Kali Uchis that just barely missed the cut for this list. If you want some extra homework, definitely check out "Tyrant."
Lyrical Highlight: You need me to get that shit together, so we can get together.
15. Soothing - Laura Marling
This song is not what I expected from Marling, but it is phenomenal. It is also paired with one of the most mesmerizing and sensual videos of the year, where (according to me) two women personify the song's two bass lines curling around each other intimately, though not always comfortably. It's downright creepy. My love of "Soothing," has less to do with the lyrics than it does with the emotion with which she delivers them - especially the chorus, and the way that the final line, "my god is brooding," shifts in its delivery each time. Can we also just make note of a song that is called "Soothing," that arguably never finds release for its own tension?
Lyrical Highlight: I banish you with love.
I'll be honest and say that this song has lost a bit of its initial magic with me - perhaps because it was likely my personal most-played song of 2017. Although I have given it a rest for a while, It is still an incredibly brilliant and bold song about complicating and breaking binaries from one of my all-time favourite artists. Frank Ocean proves he is the king of double (and triple... and quadruple) entendre with the titular refrain: "I see both sides like Chanel, See (C) on both sides like Chanel." He references a logo, his own sexuality (as well as Coco Chanel's), possibly a geographical channel (with a sea on both sides), and some have suggested it includes mention of Chanel's involvement in the second World War as a Nazi informant, having seen both sides of the war. And that's just one line in the song.
Lyrical Highlight: My guy pretty like a girl, and he got fight stories to tell / I see on both sides like Chanel, see on both sides like Chanel.
I cannot count the number of times I've played this song and others have asked me if this was new or old Phil Collins. It's neither, but Francis and the Lights is clearly channeling some serious 80s inspiration with both his use of synths, and his own very Genesis-like vocals. This Remix is actually a kind of sequel to the 2016 Kanye and Bon Iver featured, "Friends," which is especially evident when you watch the quirky dance video. I'll be honest, I never would have listened to this song if it weren't for the Chance feature, because I am not a fan of Francis as a singer or performer, but I'm glad I did, because "May I Have This Dance" is a strange and lovely exception to that particular personal rule.
Lyrical Highlight: We are bound to inherit the sins of our parents / and all the people we passed through, now we're down to the last two.
On the occasion of Beyoncé and Jay-Z's anniversary, she gave us all this gift. Well... all of us Tidal users, anyway, but I'm pretty sure we did a decent job of sharing it beyond subscribers. The video pictures Bey at a grand piano in a big empty room before cutting to home video footage documenting the power couple's relationship history. It's powerful, not only because of the ongoing drama of their celebrity story, but because of just how human this love song to family really is.
Lyrical Highlight: I don't have a reason to cry, and I have every reason to smile / I don't have a reason to lie, when you're already reading my mind / And I don't have a reason to be, if I can't be with you.
Here are two of my favourite new-to-me artists of 2017 together. Khalid as a performer has a certain charming awkwardness about him, and some of that comes across even sonically here. Meanwhile, Little Simz is one of the coolest rap nerds I've ever come across. I was lucky enough to catch her performing at a small venue in Toronto last winter, and on top of her raw talent, she has a contagious energy that I still recall when I think of that night. Here, she lends a light, laid back intro and outro with just the right attitude to bring out the best of the original version of the song.
Lyrical Highlight: You say it's best to plan it through / Well, boy I don't agree / The best things happen unplanned / The result of you and me. - Little Simz
One of my favourite things in the world is a new (or old) Missy Elliott music video, and when "I'm Better" was released in the first half of 2017, it did not disappoint. It provided many of us with a song to wake up to, keep grinding to, and as a bonus, made for some great instagram hashtags. This queen has done her fair share of work throughout the years, but I am ever so grateful that she is not done yet, and may have found a new groove in the world of streaming, no longer needing to press and sell traditional records. Have fun watching the video below (and trying to copy the choreography on the exercise balls)!
Lyrical Highlight: Another day, another chance / I wake up, I wanna dance / So long as I got my friends / I'm better, I'm better, I'm better.
I'm just so excited about this song. Perfume Genius is the name Mike Hadreas records his out and proud music, and "Slip Away" is his anthem to beautiful, forbidden same-sex love. The song begins with the line, "don't hold back," and then the whole track drives itself towards a massive chorus that shouts from a proverbial mountain top, modelling his own advice by holding nothing back. I love everything about this song - every lyric is well-chosen, and the musical representation sounds like love and protest and magic come together.
Lyrical Highlight: If we never see them coming, we'll never have to hide."
Also: Ooh love, they'll never break the shape we take / ooh Baby, let all the voices slip away.
2017 is the year I fell in love with Colombian Canadian singer Jessie Reyez. The E.P. this song lives on is called Kiddo, and I can't recommend it highly enough. I think the other most important song on Kiddo is "Gatekeeper," which documents her story of meeting a big-time producer who tells her she's not going to make it unless she has sex with him. I tell this story because I think it provides a helpful lens through which to view her other tracks as well. The reason I picked "Shutter Island" was because of how fast it grabbed me as raw and disturbing. Throughout the song, Jessie is vocalizing the experience of being gaslit, and doubts herself throughout the verses, but always breaks it down in the chorus with the brilliant imagery of a custom-made straight-jacket (with diamonds and rubies) as she recognizes that she's only crazy because he's made her that way. Then she goes on to compare her "crazy" to Galileo, who was right about the planets all along.
Lyrical Highlights: For a second I forgot I was a bad bitch / Begging you to stay became a habit.
I feel sort of guilty for loving a St. Vincent song that doesn't feature her guitar in it, seeing as one of the things I've loved the most about Annie Clarke is her guitar shredding abilities. "New York" is this sad and beautiful ode to the people - both past and present - that make a place not just special, but home. Her voice is always on the edge of cracking in the chorus, giving the whole thing a feeling of vulnerability, while the verses are set on top of a bouncy piano and kick drum beat. It takes a special lyricist (and delivery) to turn "motherfucker" into a term-of-endearment.
Lyrical Highlight: New York isn't New York without you, love / So far in a few blocks to be so low / And if I call you from first avenue / Where you're the only motherfucker in the city that can handle me.
After writing songs for plenty of notable pop stars and filling out an incredibly impressive resume, Julia Michaels finally wrote a song too personal to give away. "Issues" is deeply honest and simple, relying on pizzicato strings, finger snaps and eventually a percussive bass to back up her vocals. Even the melody follows a fairly simple climb-and-fall pattern, with a few exceptions that stand out all the more because they surprise us. Lyrically, Michaels shares her issues and love of her subject, while being just vague enough that everyone can relate in some way.
Lyrical Highlight: I'm jealous / I'm overzealous / When I'm down I get real down / When I'm high I don't come down.
It took me a while to get into Sampha's 2017 album, Process, simply because I kept returning to this song and never making my way through the rest of the songs. I like to call this a drop-what-you're-doing song. I can't even write about this song while it's playing because this song was written to listen and feel to, and nothing will distract from either. I didn't think this song could get more emotional than it already is, but then I read about it being the last song Sampha sang for his mother before she died, and now I'm weeping.
Lyrical Highlight: An angel by her side, all of the times I knew we couldn't cope / They said that it's her time, no tears in sight - I kept the feelings close / And you took hold of me and never, never, never let me go / No one knows me like the piano in my mother's home.
It was incredibly tricky to pick just one song from Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. Others have argued for the superiority of a handful of songs on this album, but I'm pretty biased towards "LOVE.," one reason being that this is the kind of song that makes my wife sneak up behind me and kiss me on my neck. With Zacari assisting with vocals, this song could almost be a Justin Bieber collaboration, but the fact that it's not makes me like it even more. It deepens my appreciation for how this song works just as much as a really sweet love song as it does a reflection on fame and fandom.
Lyrical Highlight: Ayy, I got something, hold up, we gon' function, no assumptions / Feeling like Tyson with it / Knock it out twice I'm wit it / Only for the night, I'm kidding / Only for life, yeah homie for life / You're a homie for life, let's get it.
I realize that some of you may have heard this song in 2016 when her masterclass with Pharrell Williams went viral, but I did not, and since it was released officially on her EP, Now That the Light Has Faded earlier this year, I decided I could include it here. (I should note that the other songs on the EP are also worth a listen, and it's contributing to my consideration of adding a top EP list to my year-end repertoire.) Anyway, "Alaska" is still the stand-out track, for the simple imagery and relatable message of taking stock of your past and present, but not letting any of it prevent you from walking confidently into your future.
Lyrical Highlight: I was walking through icy streams that took my breath away / Moving slowly through westward water, over glacial plains / And I walked of you, and I walked off an old me.
Snow Hill, North Carolina's Rapsody has quickly become one of my favourite rappers alive. She is clever, referential, wise, and an incredible storyteller, and on "Sassy" she plays with expectations around melody and rhythm, creating a song that sounds like nothing I've heard before. And yet, it's a mood that I love in music; a shake-it-off, hold-your-head-high, fuck-haters attitude, that borrows from the deep brilliance of Maya Angelou's "I Rise" poem, and still manages to make you move without pause. This came out late September and just destroyed all of my 2017 playlists (in a really, really good way). This song doesn't have a video, and the YT streams are always taken down, but below is a short clip of her rocking out to it with dancers.
Lyrical Highlight: I got no chill, but I do got the Netflix / You can watch the movies or me / I like my t-shirts wit no sleeves / Ain't gotta bare arms to show I'm deadly.
ALSO: Diamonds 'tween my knees / Oil wells in thighs / Does my sassiness upset you? / Oh, you mad cuz I survived?
This is without hesitation, my song of the year. And I know that I am a sucker for both Frank Ocean and Calvin Harris, but it's hard to really articulate what it is about "Slide". Certainly it's the combination between these two, with Harris' tried-and-true, happy-clappy beats and Ocean's laid-back delivery of clever and meaningful lyrics, as he analyzes the intimacy of a one-night-stand. Harris and Ocean's styles are so different and distinct, and yet they've found a way to blend without losing either the DJ's energy nor Frank's reflection and thematic quirks. While this song is clearly a Calvin Harris song that lives on his (IMO underrated) album, Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, the song begins with Frank Ocean's voice pitched higher, which is a staple motif from his 2016 album Blonde. Part of the fun of this song was the attempts to discern what Frank was actually singing in the odd intro and outro, and then all the more fun to dig into learning about the reference to Picasso's "The Boy With A Pipe," and it's record-breaking art sale. Migos is also on this track, which I have fewer feelings about, but their involvement is probably appropriate seeing as they've reached a new level of status in both the rap and pop world. But mostly, this song is my top of the year because it has a kind of charm that has managed to not wear off almost 10 months later.
Lyrical Highlight: Wrist on a wrist, a link of charms, yeah / laying, we're still a link apart / It's like we could die here all young / Like we could dye hair all blonde / If we could see in twenty twin / twice we could see it 'till the end.
To listen to a playlist of these tracks, click these links for either TIDAL, SPOTIFY or GOOGLE PLAY. There will be some inconsistency due to availability on different services. I've also ordered the tracks as they can relate to one another as opposed to this somewhat arbitrary order. ;)
Let me know what I missed, what you love, and what you cannot stand in the comments or on Twitter! I'd be happy to argue, concede or agree to disagree! Also, check back soon for my 20 albums of the year!