5. Drake – “Passionfruit” (#65)
Drake got about as close to taking 2017 off as someone can get while still releasing a 22 track project in the same year. More Life didn’t come with any videos (sidenote: for a former child/teen actor, Drake’s videos have always been underwhelming) or a tour or any late night show guest appearances; after its release, the 6 God was arguably the quietest he’s been since 2008. Yet, despite the fact that I’ve seen small-ball indie bands promote their work with more effort, “Passionfruit” stuck because it’s just that good. Equal parts “Hold On, We’re Going Home” and “Too Good,” “Passionfruit” is like, the platonic ideal of a Drake single for this point in his career. He could do nothing, and this thing would still turn up on radio, on streaming, and at the club because of how well it blends sadboy synths, a thumping beat, and pop sensibilities. Not even that kind of doofy intro could sour this fruit.
4. Kendrick Lamar – “DNA.” (#62)
Similar to “Redbone” yesterday, ranking “DNA.” on the best hits list feels like a “letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law” line step in a way that ranking “HUMBLE.” or “LOYALTY.” wouldn’t. Putting it here feels loosely analogous to award show category fraud, like nominating Get Out for Best Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes. But the damn (ha) thing looks enough like a hit, so I’m counting it. If “HUMBLE.” is Kendrick playing nice and coloring in the lines of a radio single, “DNA.” is him doing a single on his terms of fire and brimstone. For most of its length, “DNA.” is a loud and technically impressive but conventional track, but then you get to that Fox News sample and the countdown, and Kendrick goes in. I feel like every time I write about Kendrick, I inevitably talk about how electrifying those moments are when he decides to just annihilate a track, but the remarkable thing about “DNA.” is that the beat fights back. The last minute is just Kendrick and Mike WiLL Made-It’s beat warring for supremacy in a battle of speaker destroying rasped syllables, bass bombs, and samples. That this thing gained traction all was a testament to Lamar’s pull and people’s willingness to go with it.
3. SZA ft. Travis Scott – “Love Galore” (#80)
Dating in the 2010s is fucking complicated. There have been thousands of essays involving millions of words to catalogue the subject, hours of conversation dedicated to it, an entire library of fiction, and approximately 20% of all social media fixates on this notion. And SZA’s “Love Galore” is probably as incisive as any sprawling essay or conversation in four and a half minutes about modern romance. A lightly tropical R&B track with some actual rhythm and blues to it, SZA hits on the highs and lows of a back and forth will-we-won’t-we-but-we-probably-shouldn’t-but-fuck-it not relationship she has a guy played by capable placeholder Travis Scott. SZA’s vocals hit every important emotional beat here, but I also love just how unflinching this song is. Like, SZA straight up asks why they’re still doing this when dude’s got a woman, and then cops to digging up dirt on her. She doesn’t sugarcoat what she’ll do to maintain control (also, her Genius notations are a blast).
2. Kesha – “Praying” (#67)
Just listen to this song. Kesha’s return to music during her protracted battle with her abuser and King Shit of Fuck Mountain Dr. Luke is a skyward ballad dedicated to the sun finally breaking through again to lead you out of the dark. It’s inspirational for yourself while also knowing that justice will prevail against the person holding you down; that they’ll be pressed to run away and pray for repentance. But even without the context, “Praying” hits like a fucking ton of emotional bricks. It has Kesha’s best ever vocal performance, and that’s even before it hits The Note (you know the one), and the best use of Ryan Lewis–that Ryan Lewis–that you’ll ever see. It’s hard to not be a little cynical about piano and string ballads in a year that has Sam Smith in it, but “Praying”? “Praying” is like kingdom come.
1. Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean, Quavo, and Offset – “Slide” (#71)
So, the name of this list is the best hits of the year. And “Slide” just kind of is a perfect song. It was a perfect summer hit all the way in February, and slid (haaaa) right into place during the warm season, and listening to it near constantly all year still hasn’t worn any holes in it. In fact, “Slide” is so great that it even inspired its own mini-list of perfect moments.
5. 0:54: “Do you slide on all your nights like this?” is one of those title lyrics that’s immediate and exciting, but vague and cryptic at the same time. It just sounds like potential for nothing but a good time (it also makes for a killer Instagram caption).
4. 2:28: Few things announced fun in pop music this year like hearing “Off-set!” and his verse on “Slide” is an incredibly tight, memorable performance.
3. 0:50: That twinkling synth shows up for the first time. It’s just a fantastically wistful production flourish that signifies how methodical Harris is on this track.
2. 1:44: This moment, where Frank switches up his delivery for “Wrist on a wrist, a link of chams” and sings “chaaaarms” in that Frank Ocean major sixth, is where his performance clicks on “Slide.” It’s the moment where you realize that Frank, a guy who’s been illusive to the point of detriment before, is showing all the way up on a guest mainstream track (while telegraphing his continued activity for 2017).
1. 1:59: That Frank to Quavo hand-off. The thing with “Slide” is that it was announced as a Calvin Harris, Frank Ocean, and Migos collaboration, and while any two of those could have probably worked, there was skepticism around what all three of them would do. By the two minute mark, “Slide” establishes itself as a capable Ocean and Harris joint, but you’re still wondering how Migos play into it. And then, from out of nowhere comes the smoothest damn transition from Frank to Quavo, who turns in an AutoTune sung verse that perfectly bridges the gap between Frank and Offset. It’s the connective tissue of the track, and what turns a great collaboration into something noteworthy: the best pop hit of 2017.
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