Here’s the introductory text
Was it sensible to delay publication of this list until the very final closing moments of 2017? In traffic terms, certainly not. NME went live with their list in August or something didn’t they? Imagine all the lovely delicious traffic they got from that.
Our decision to wait until December 31 mainly hinged on the hope that Robyn would choose December as the right time to release the full version of Honey, the song she contributed to the Girls finale. “That would be a great Christmas gift,” we thought. Obviously, the Christmas period came and went.
In the end the weird grey area between the publication of most year end lists and the actual proper end of the year did throw up a few surprises from the likes of Lily Allen, Charli XCX and Beyoncé, but nothing that changed the 45 pop songs that feel like the year’s best.
So here’s the list, followed by some commentary, followed by a list of loads of songs that didn’t quite make the Top 45 but in another time and place probably would have done.
Here’s the list
By Niall Horan
Wot U Gonna Do?
By Dizzee Rascal
By Cardi B
Set Me Off
By Magdalena Bay
By Louisa Johnson
Dusk Till Dawn
By Zayn and Sia
By Clean Bandit and Marina and the Diamonds
On My Mind
Wild Thoughts – Dave Audé Dance Remix
By DJ Khaled, Rihanna and Bryson Tiller
By Daniella Mason
By Calvin Harris, Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry and Big Sean
Don’t Take The Money
Despacito – Remix
By Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber
By Miley Cyrus
By Danny L Harle
Lust For Life – BloodPop® Remix
By Lana Del Rey and The Weeknd
Move Your Body
By Selena Gomez
By Linkin Park and Kiiara
There For You
By Eves Karydas
By Vera Blue
By Camila Cabello and Young Thug
Chained To The Rhythm
By Katy Perry and Skip Marley
Too Good To Be True
Waking Up Slow
By Gabrielle Aplin
By Charli XCX
By Julia Michaels
Scared Of The Dark
By Clean Bandit and Zara Larsson
By Little Mix
By Justin Bieber ‘+’ BloodPop®
By Anna Of The North
By Dua Lipa
By Stefflon Don and French Montana
By Rita Ora
Cut To The Feeling
By Carly Rae Jepsen
By Rae Morris
Here are the notes on the list
- This year a really quite excellent Guardian article explored the proliferation of “HEY!” sounds in pop music, and that trend’s reflected in this year’s Top 45 list: you’ll find it in Wild Thoughts (represented here by the perky Dave Audé mix because there’s less Santana in it, you’re welcome), Cruel Summer, Feels, New Rules, Cut To The Feeling, Friends and Touch.
- Magdalena Bay were totally independent when whey released Set Me Off in 2017. “We spend our days making decent, sometimes danceable pop,” they told Popjustice in an email back in August. “Our sound is influenced by our love for the pop music of the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, combined with our admiration for contemporary pop production — Grimes’ Art Angels pretty much shifted our perspective about what pop could be and we were inspired by the possibilities of what we could do with the genre.”
- Look, if you’re going to put a parrot on your single artwork, you’re almost guaranteed a place in the Popjustice Top 45. The Funk Wav Bounces project felt like something of a calculated risk on Calvin‘s part, reacting against his own back catalogue with a subdued sound where he’d found international fame and fortune with something rather less subtle, and reacting against the developing trend for one-off track streams with a cohesive, fully formed album. The album didn’t exactly end up being one of 2017’s biggest sellers, but it’s Calvin’s strongest to date and, as for that calculated risk, we reckon Funk Wav Bounces will ultimately, eventually, prove one of Calvin’s smartest career moves.
- At this year’s Popjustice Twenty Quid Music Prize judging fiasco there was very nearly a coup when a number of judges decided that Dua Lipa should be a last-minute, mid-evening addition to the shortlist. They were overnewruled which we now accept was a mistake, as was the shortlist’s initial omission of New Rules, a No Scrubs for the smartphone era which sent Dua Lipa’s career skywards and set her up for a huge 2018. Look, the thing was, right, it originally felt as if the chorus was a bit of a let-down after what most of us can agree is the best bridge of 2017, but that was a silly way of looking at it. This mistake will not be repeated in 2018.
- Daniella Mason, who makes the list with wibbly synth-slinker Cruel Summer, once went horse riding with Joe Jonas. “I’m allergic to horses,” she told Billboard this year, “so my face fully blew up.”
- Cardi B has still not released her own range of yellow cardigans, which is a shame.
- Slow Hands is a true Horanus mirabilis, and quite the turnaround for a man who spent the first two years of his time in One Direction looking like a competition winner. As well as being the greatest ever song to begin with the sound of someone knocking three times on the door of a property belonging to an alarmed goat, this track was also a glimpse into what a One Direction hiatuser might — just might — sound like if they hit the sweet spot between trying hard enough, not trying too hard, and trying at all.
- Sharing Don’t Take The Money — one of two Talking Heads-influenced tracks on this year’s Top 45 — with the world, uppercase text avoiding songsmith Jack Antonoff wrote: “dttm is something i say in my head a lot. it’s not about actual money. it’s about following a light. a gut feeling. not following a deep gut feeling destroys your art and the people around you. so i say it in my head constantly. sometimes about something very specific relating to music, sometimes about a bigger question about marriage or depression :):). point is, it’s become my phrase to stay on track. specifically in don’t take the money i’m talking about my relationship. verses go through the past, pre is an explosive fight and the chorus is that moment when you hit rock bottom and everything is clear. you know that feeling?” Still waiting for the ‘everything is clear’ part to be honest Jack but thanks for asking.
- Katy Perry’s ‘purposeful pop’ thing got a bit of a bashing earlier this year, which we kind of agree with, but at the same time the frustratingly opaque lyrics of Chained To The Rhythm still had something to say about filter bubbles, media distortion, numbness and modern life’s endless cycle of shit. Basically it meant nothing if that suited whatever anti-Perry agenda you had, and it also meant something if you didn’t need or want everything spelling out for you. If you do like things being spelt out for you C.A.P.I.T.A.L.I.S.M., Rein’s amazing slice of Engels Aloud-esque electropop shouting was, one supposes, a true slice of what most people thought purposeful pop should have sounded like in 2017. If you like that check out Rein’s Freedoom (do you see!!!) EP, which contains a song — of course it does — called (You Call It) Democracy.
- There was a terrifying moment near the start of the year when an unexpectedly brilliant robopop banger called Automaton — by Jamiroquai, of all people — dropped and it seemed possible that many years after the furniture-dodging headgear apologist’s unpleasant chart reign ended we might all finally have to ‘get on board’ with Jamiroquai. Fortunately it was a false alarm because the rest of the album turned out to be The Usual Old Shit, but what a single Automaton was.
- Songs about fame tend to be great by default*, but there’s something even more special about those rare songs that deal with the moment when adulation, cash and creativity drift away. “The funny thing about that song is people are always asking me who it’s about,” Dizzee said of Wot U Gonna Do? this year, “when it’s obvious it’s about me.” It’s kind of about everyone everyone eventually, though, isn’t it? The Official Charts Company should ditch those statuettes they hand out when people hit Number One, and just email over this song’s lyrics instead.
* Not included in this sweeping statement: songs about being ‘on the road’, songs written for second albums in which people complain that they don’t see their family as much as they used to when they were unemployed and still lived with their parents, songs which fall into the category of stop-looking-at-me-oh-Christ-please-don’t-stop-looking-at-me.
- Rita’s unexpected pensivepop behemoth Anywhere is another song about fame, or at least trying to get away from the pressures fame brings, and “looking for connection in a crowd of empty faces” pushes the tune into full-on Super Trouper territory.
- The theme of getting away from all this absolutely fucking awful hellride we call modern life popped up in another of this year’s Top 45 songs. Two years after Marina’s last album and two years, also, since Disconnect was first performed live, Marina’s surprise return to pop felt a little bit like a potential farewell, too — in terms of subject matter the song feels like a preface to Marinabook, the psychology-‘n’-relatable-musings blog Marina launched a few months after the release of Disconnect. One of her more recent Marinabook posts discusses life as a psychology student but it does also mention that new music will probably arrive at some unspecified future date so for the time being Disconnect works as a fantastic pop career placeholder, even if the lack of promotion (partly, presumably, at Marina’s ‘behest’) gave the impression that it had been largely disowned by all parties. One does wonder if Clean Bandit mainly released Disconnect in order to stop people demanding its release via social media.
- Strangers was a single whose artwork depicted Sigrid having been sent to the naughty step to have a long hard think about what she’d done. And what has she done? Well, during 2017 alone she’s unveiled a string of songs, each more incredible than the last (if you exclude various streambait acoustic efforts), culminating quite recently with Strangers. It’ll be interesting to see how the Sigrid story unfolds in 2017; at the time of writing she’s pretty much hit the Hot New Artist ceiling and 2018 will be the year of shitting or getting off the pot. 3.3m monthly Spotify listeners is a respectable, if not explosive, way to be going into the new year. (In accordance with 2017 pop law, Strangers came with a R3hab remix. How much cash do you think R3hab made off remixes in 2017? Well in excess of eighty quid, almost certainly.)
- Louisa’s nocturnal trop-pop belter Best Behaviour pulled off the trick of sounding like about 100 other major pop singles while ultimately sounding like 0 other major pop singles. Little Mix would have got 250m streams out of this one.
- Sonically Dusk Till Dawn makes absolutely no sense in terms of Zayn’s previous solo work and lyrically it probably stands as one of 2017’s least convincing love duets, but it bangs anyway and Zayn got to do some Acting in the video, so that’s nice. Dusk Till Dawn was a big radio hit in Croatia.
- Have you been reading those articles about how all pop music sounds the same these days? There was one doing the rounds a few weeks ago, it was pretty good and had a lot of perceptive points in it but you do sometimes wonder if half the people moaning about homogenised pop might benefit from delving into the further reaches of what’s actually being released. Because of course if you just look at the charts you’re going to find yourself faced with The Prevailing Pop Sound. It’s like standing on a beach and deciding that nobody enjoys tobogganing. 1 The point of mentioning this is that, well, there’s plenty of music in this year’s Top 45 that sounds very 2017, but then there are songs like Danny L Harle’s 1UL that sound like pop from a different universe in a different century. [Edit: a few days after we wrote these words, Danny tweeted this.]
- Everything should be remixed, produced or invented by BloodPop®.
- The inclusion of Move Your Body is notable for the fact that Sia released a single mix which was five seconds longer than the version on This Is Acting, and usually when people release single versions — if they even bother — they’re dicked around with to make them shorter. Yet another way in which Sia continues to bust the boundaries of the pop ‘sphere’.
- “But just like the battle of Troy,
There’s nothing subtle here.”
- You’ll know about this already because Julia Michaels has discussed it in a lot of interviews, but when she sits down with artists to start work on new songs, the first twenty minutes are a cross between a fact-finding mission and a therapy session. Speaking to Elle last year, she explained: “I’m like, ‘Come in. Sit on the chair. Let’s talk. What’s going on? What happened this week? Did that make you upset?’ I take everything they said in a span of 20 minutes and help them piece it together.” Anyway, the Linkin Park single Julia co-wrote alongside Justin Tranter really is quite something.
- Rhys released two great singles in 2017 (Last Dance is the other one).
- Imagine being a popstar, right. And imagine you’ve been doing the whole pop thing for really quite some time now. You’ve done pretty well at it over the years. And then imagine releasing one of the best singles of your career after almost half a century on the job. Bloody hell, right? BLOODY HELL. Blondie’s Long Time was written and produced by Debbie Harry and Dev Hynes, a duo we’d very much like to see work together again.
- It’s been a confusing year in the world of Charli XCX, but perhaps only if you think too hard about it. In a nutshell, though, there’s been a heavily-teased third album which is now, presumably, due next year (but which largely leaked over the summer), there have been two mixtapes which are album-length and arguably album-quality too (although if we’re totally realistic with ourselves you’d need to combine them and chuck out six songs), both of which have sort of had ‘singles’ off them, and then there’s been Boys, which seems to be a proper single off the proper album, and finds one of this pop generation’s best songwriters singing a song she didn’t actually write. But on that final point:
1. She’s Charli XCX and she can do whatever the fuck she pleases thank you very much.
2. So be quiet.
And on the is-the-album-coming-or-not front, perhaps 2018 will be the year we all have to just chill out about that sort of stuff. Perhaps 2018 is the year we just take what comes our way and stop worrying about what it is, where it fits in, or what it might lead to.
- Having said that, do you think Clean Bandit will ever release a second album?
- In a quote presumably emailed to The Fader by Kelela’s publicist as part of an extraordinarily lengthy chain of emails concerning the online premiere of LMK’s video, Kelela noted that “the song is directed at a man who’s being weird instead of being honest. Does casual have to be careless? Is wifey the only woman who deserves your respect, and why do you think I want more when I demand it? These are my questions…” Popstars who ask questions: more of those in 2018 please.
- Of all the songs written in 2017 about someone’s mum selling a malfunctioning motor vehicle, of all the songs written in 2017 to include the phrase “ulterior motives”, and of all the songs written in 2017 to hinge on an epoch-defining cry of “I’M-WONDRIN”, Friends by Justin Bieber ‘+’ BloodPop® is definitely in the Top 10. This was released with Justin as the lead artist for, one can only presume, boring streaming-related reasons, but it was really a very exciting first step in launching BloodPop® as an artist.
- Anna Of The North are a duo though, sadly, not the duo you can see in the artwork, because that would mean one of them was a dog and that would have been brilliant. Anyway Someone is the best song on AOTN’s otherwise-also-very-good album Lovers.
- And finally, well done to wonderful pop person Rae Morris. Her new album, due out in the first bit of 2018, more than lives up to the promise of 2017’s greatest pop single.
And now here’s a glimpse into an alternate universe
This year’s Top 45 longlist was really great.
So great, in fact, that you could probably take the leftover tracks and put together a second Top 45 list, and it would probably still be really great. But we haven’t done that because it would just be weird, so here’s a playlist of songs which at one point or another were considered for Top 45 inclusion.
They’re presented in alphabetical order. Here’s the playlist link if you need it.