Hello, and welcome to day 3 of Listmas! Today, we narrow our sights (and site) on the pop charts for the year. I’ll be honest: 2017 was kind of a rough one on the charts, where it felt like there was, at times, only a handful of different sounds that were catching on. Not that the sounds weren’t interesting, but you could make an argument (as Craig Jenkens does here in a brief but must-read essay) that pop’s found its center sound, and is refusing to budge. That center can feel limiting, but here are 10 hits that didn’t.
The usual disclaimers and rules before we get started:
1. Gotta be on the list: if it didn’t make the cut for Billboard, it didn’t make the cut here.
2. One and done: if it made my 2016 list, it’s tired from this one, so goodbye “Starboy” and “Black Beatles.”
3. Live for the now: holdovers from 2016 that peaked then and charted here because of a slow descent are ineligible. This meant DQing “Closer” and “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” so there weren’t exactly great losses. Now, we’ll do one honorable mention before the list proper.
Honorable Mention: Childish Gambino – “Redbone” (#25)
I love “Redbone” plenty. I remember being blown away when Childish Gambino released it as the 2nd single last year to preview Awaken, My Love! to clarify that, yup, this kinda-jokey rap project was really in the business of ’70s funk for a whole record. I remember trying to match that falsetto when no one was listening. I remember being stoked that it soundtracked the opening credits to Jordan Peele’s Get Out.
None of those are what kicked it onto Billboard’s list. Instead, “Redbone” made the year-end by the jankiest method of internet fame: it became a meme. To be fair, the meme in question is absurd and funny, but y’know, still just a meme. The same thing happened with “Black Beatles” last year, but that translated into airplay in a way it didn’t with “Redbone,” so while I love it, it would violate the spirit of the law to rank it on the list proper.
10. Future – “Mask Off” (#14)
Future and producer Metro Boomin are frequent, frequent collaborators, working on literally dozens of songs together. “Mask Off” might not necessarily be their crowning achievement, but damn, if it isn’t their most fruitful. Metro’s “bass+snare+[random instrument]” beats seem to not miss–“Bank Account” almost made the list based on that guitar alone–but matching that gliding, cinematic pan flute from Tommy Butler’s MLK musical Selma (not that one) with Future is near perfect. Of all the Atlanta trap rappers, Future’s one of the best at weaving through a beat, and I can’t imagine Migos or 21 Savage or anyone sounding this melodic on the track. “Mask Off” wasn’t Metro’s biggest production gig this year, but it handily won the “most heard blasting out of cars” award (on a kind of related note, the Kendrick Lamar remix is peak Kung-Fu Kenny).
9. Lil Uzi Vert – “XO Tour Llif3” (#13)
“XO Tour Llif3” (nope, still not over that spelling) is a loud bash of teenage feelings, but a sneakily well-constructed one. Each part of it ratchets up the drama, from that opening twisting synth to Uzi’s higher and higher yelp to the spent croak he uses on the last chorus; the whole song’s just an angsty joyride. While the “Push me to the edge/All my friends are dead” hook’s gotten a lot of praise, I think that the pre-chorus before that of “I don’t really care if you crrrrry” is the real make because it’s all melodic flourishes. It’s that kind of construction that took “XO Tour Llif3” from SoundCloud one-off to national hit; it’s been years since it felt this cathartic to scream “I’m not okay.”
8. The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk – “I Feel It Coming” (#34)
The Weeknd’s written a hit song that mentions 5:30 AM; now he’s written one that sounds like it. “I Feel It Coming” combines Daft Punk in full-blown “Random Access Memories disco classicist” mode and Abel Tesfaye doing his best Off the Wall-era Michael impression for a cut that’s as warm and reassuring as watching the sun come up with the person with whom you just spent the night. Granted, that reassurance is that you don’t have to worry because Tesfaye’s gonna sex you up right, but there are no drugs involved, so I think that technically counts as progress for a Weeknd tune. Also, I just realized this is the second song in a row that rhymes “eyes” with “lies.” Go figure.
7. J Balvin and Willy William ft. Beyonce – “Mi Gente” (#50)
“mi gente” translates to “my people,” and Willy William (a French DJ and producer) says that the inspiration for the song came from his desire to make something for all people to dance to. And fuck me, did he do it; “Mi Gente” is the kind of jam that impossible to stay still during, blending Latin pop, Afrobeat, and dance for a beat that succeeds because it’s always doing something different. You’ve got what’s become a kind of standard rhythm, but it stops and starts and there are so many different elements always playing off of it that the production is its own, dynamic thing instead of a constant loop like so many other hits. The chemistry between the 3 vocalists is great, too; Colombian singer J Balvin and William fire off solid verses and a traded off pre-chorus, and Beyonce comes through in party-mode as a gracious guest who doesn’t try to overshadow the track. The success of “Mi Gente” is a truly collaborative effort, and for a good cause, too. What’s not to like?
6. Cardi B – “Bodak Yellow” (#24)
Here are some things to know about “Bodak Yellow.” It’s the first solo number 1 by a female rapper in 3 presidencies. It’s inspired by/interpolated from Kodak Black’s 2014 “No Flockin'” a song that I think 12 people have ever heard despite it going platinum earlier this year. It’s likely the only song you’ll see both Janet Jackson and Azealia Banks dance to. It’s the major label debut single of Cardi B, who has two mixtapes, and already had successful careers as a stripper, social media presence, and reality TV star before her breakout year as a rapper. Its producer J White claims to have made the beat in 15 minutes. It has a length of 3 minutes and forty-four seconds, and consists of approximately 686 words bellowed through semi-recently fixed teeth, and in a Bronx accent that sounds ready to kick your ass.
Here’s the final thing to know about “Bodak Yellow:” it is a world-class shit-talker.
Come back tomorrow for the top 5!
Listmas 2017 Schedule
12/14: Favorite Albums
12/15: The Gibby Fifty (50 Favorite Songs)
12/16: Top Ten Best Hits of 2017 (pt. 1)
12/17: Top Ten Best Hits of 2017 (pt. 2)
12/18: Top Ten Worst Hits of 2017 (pt. 1)
12/19: Top Ten Worst Hits of 2017 (pt. 2)
12/20: The Year In Rant/Odds and Ends