In the early fall of 2016 we were already for the year to end and for the artificial demarcation of January 1st to provide us with an altogether more enjoyable existence. I was ready to get married in the Twentieth Century Women’s Club just a couple months after our first woman president was inaugurated. Instead the wedding was one of few bright spots in a year of personal and national trauma.
The media I gravitated toward this year was anything that made me feel good. To be honest that’s what I always go for. I’m never going to be the guy that wants to watch Manchester By The Sea. I’m sorry. So without further ado here are ten of the many songs that got me through this year.
10. Demi Lovato “Daddy Issues”
This is the Demi Lovato album we’ve all been waiting for. Every single song is so good (note: I am choosing to ignore the tacked on tracks where she isn’t even the lead artist) that it feels wrong to choose just one. “Daddy Issues” stands out for me because it’s got the pure pop joy and depth of emotion that would make Cyndi Lauper proud. Lovato’s narrator is very aware of her own deep neuroses but she’s still not able to avoid acting out through this deeply unhealthy relationship. I don’t know how you pull off this kind of dark subject matter while being legitimately funny and super sexy on top of just being a straight banger but she did it.
9. “Finding You” by Kesha
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Kesha’s been through a lot. Predating our current onslaught of horrible famous men, she revealed her abuse and assault at the hands of her producer Dr. Luke. Kesha brought us some great dance tracks in spite of the hell she was going through, but with her new album Rainbow she shut the door on that chapter of her life. It’s essentially a resilience-themed concept album. In today’s single-focused world it’s rare to find a pop album that is best listened to all the way through. “Finding You” is my favorite song because of just how damn sweet it is. Weirdly some people interpret this song as being about the death of a love one, but it’s really just about loving her boyfriend so much that she is determined to be with him literally forever, even if she doesn’t actually believe in the concept.
8. “Cut to the Feeling” by Carly Rae Jepsen
I know less about music than Victor Frankenstein writer Max Landis but I won’t ramble on as long as he did about Carly Rae Jepsen. If you’re any of the gay men I know, you don’t need to be told she’s amazing. I personally wasn’t as taken with her Emotions Side B as a lot of other Jepheads but she followed up with maybe her most joyous single ever. Once again her deeply desperate lyrics (see “Your Type,” “Gimmie Love,” or literally any other song she’s written) are hidden in a pure jump and dance sound. The beat is relatively simplistic but her voice and the bass just make the song feel so big and joyous.
7. “Miss You” by Amber Coffman
Amber Coffman has broken away from Dirty Projectors with a sound that is no less complex than her previous work but exudes so much more warmth. Nothing excites me more than musical geniuses embracing gorgeous melody (see also Wye Oak’s Jen Wasner aka Flock of Dimes). For some reason I buy romantic odes from women more than men. There’s no suspicion of ulterior motives (a lot of men are creeps if you’re not reading the news). On “I Miss You” I just hear genuine romanticism. I love it, I love love…speaking of…
6. “Love” by Lana Del Rey
If you haven’t yet watched this video I strongly suggest you do. You don’t even have to read this if you don’t want to. “Love” is a rare example of a modern pop starlet acknowledging she is quite older than a lot of her fans and just soothing their young hearts. It’s enough to almost make me understand young people calling their favorite celebrity “mom.” Shortly after this song came out my wife and I went up to visit my mom who had been diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer. That first trip was brutal, but this song was pure comfort and we listened to it every single time we got in the car. Plus those echoing drums are just pure 80’s soundtrack goodness.
5. “Your Song” by Rita Ora
“What is Rita Ora?” you may be asking yourself. Her bewildering career has previously brought us two great but lesser known singles, a host of random stinting gigs, an unremarkable album, and a Fast and the Furious cameo. Her perplexing level of celebrity recently resulted in a failed attempt to surprise the hosts of The Voice Germany. Despite her song being #6 on the charts there, none of them had any idea who she was. If her next album lives up to this fun, dirtbaggy (“making love on your best friend’s couch?,” not cool, man) single then maybe that will change.
4. “American Teen” by Khalid
If you’re at the elder end of the millennial spectrum than you might find a lot about our younger counterparts confusing. Why do they like YouTube celebrities? Has anything good ever come out of Vine? What is there to like about Barb from Stranger Things? But if there’s anything this next young crop of musicians has taught me, it’s the future is bright. Khalid (born the year There’s Something About Mary came out) has debuted with a full-fledged sound that is equal parts bouncy and sad.
3. “Die Young” by Sylvan Esso
A deeply depressed and cynical person is determined to end it all until a new love comes around and ruins their plans. Is she choosing to live because of this person or because they have revealed a joy they didn’t know they had inside them? Trying to be happy is a lot harder than wallowing in sadness. Listen to it a million times to explore the singer’s psyche (or just to hear that giant hook drop on you again and again).
2. “LOVE.” by Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick is undisputedly the best rapper in the game right now. And I feel comfortable saying that as someone who has not kept up with the artform at all. To Pimp a Butterfly was a great and devastating portrait of black life in America. So is a lot of DAMN., but with “LOVE.” Kendrick proved he can still do pop. Like I said, I like stuff that makes me feel good.
1. “Evolve” by Anoraak ft. Lydmor
There’s something heartbreaking about finding a song you love that’s a collaboration. You’re not gonna ever get a whole album of that sound you fell for. But there’s beauty in that scarcity. I know next to nothing about this European pair but none of their solo work can match the addictiveness of this track. It’s like if the Drive soundtrack finally found the right antidepressant. And yes, it’s another love song.