Top 10 Songs of 2013

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There was an abnormally high amount of good music this year, but what songs did we think were the very best? We’ve hit the time of year again where everyone discusses their favorites and least favorites of the year – albums, songs, movies, books, etc. Songs are particularly tough to rank, because there’s so many options throughout a given year. 2013 was surprisingly normal for singles, despite how wild the year was for albums. The year was dominated by some great chart-toppers (“We Can’t Stop,” “Get Lucky”), and some terrible ones (“Blurred Lines,” “Blurred Lines” again). There were impeccable songs in every genre, from experimental rap to invasive black metal. Indie bands proved especially fruitful, and there were a handful of pop hits among the best in years. There were countless great songs this year, but we’ve come up with our top 10:

#10. Vampire Weekend – “Diane Young”

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Vampire Weekend’s third album was filled with some of the best songs they’ve ever done. “Diane Young,” the leadoff single, is instantly catchy. It starts seemingly in media res, with a warped synth rhythm matching Ezra Koenig’s reliably smooth vocals. It’s one of the few songs on their stellar “Modern Vampires of the City” that is as catchy as the songs on their two previous albums, but it’s got depth to it, too. The band grew up in between albums, ditching their African influences and deepening their songwriting. You may find yourself singing this song for hours before realizing you’re repeating the lines “Diane young / won’t change a thing.” There’s serious discomfort in the song, all masquerading as bouncy indie-pop.

#9. A$ap Rocky (feat. Drake, 2 Chainz and Kendrick Lamar) – “Fuckin’ Problems”

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There’s really no surprise to this song’s success. All four men involved in the song are credited as writers. What is the surprise is that they were able to create a song so catchy and successful despite being particularly profane. There’s little original going on the song, it’s just a great recording of four men having fun in the studio. One of the song’s best moments is Drake missing a pitch and laughing. Lamar, maybe the best rapper working today, is predictably the stand-out. But the whole song is one of the most memorable rap hits of the year, and has become the biggest chart hit for all except Drake.

#8. Janelle Monae – “Dance Apocalyptic”

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This one is a little more of a subjective choice, admittedly, but Janelle Monae is one of the most criminally underrated people in music today. “Dance Apocalyptic,” the second single from the great “The Electric Lady” album, is one of the most energetic songs of the year. Monae has the energy of a young James Brown, also invoking an R&B-infused sound. R&B has become largely repetitive and sleepy, something Monae is trying to change. “Apocalyptic” did not make any waves on the charts, but it’s one of the most fun songs of 2013. For a true understanding of Monae’s energy, watch the extended version she performed on “Saturday Night Live.” The only other R&B song in recent years that’s this much fun is Beyonce’s “Put a Ring On It.” And that’s not bad company.

#7. Justin Timberlake (feat. Jay-Z) – “Suit & Tie”

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Justin Timberlake’s pseudo-experimental double album “The 20/20 Experience” was wildly inconsistent, but one of the stand-outs was this top five charting classy collaboration with Jay-Z. The two would continue to collaborate throughout the year, with very mixed results, but “Suit & Tie” stands as one of the year’s best songs because of it’s smooth feel. It’s relatively classy, for a pop song, with Jay-Z’s verse coming from a man asking a girlfriend’s father for her hand in marriage. The horn section bolsters a slight big band feel that gives it more mass appeal, and it’s logical tempo changes make it one of the only songs on either album that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. It might not be a revolutionary song, but it’s safe and catchy, and it sticks in your mind.

#6. Avicii – “Wake Me Up”

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Folk and EDM don’t exactly go hand-in-hand, so surely this is the best and most successful folk-EDM song ever, if there were even any before Avicii’s “True” album. The Swedish DJ separated himself from his peers by bringing in other influences – namely a soulful singer named Aloe Blacc, and Mike Einzinger from Incubus. The result was a widely popular song that starts off as a purely mountain man type folk song before diving into an electronic, instrumental chorus. Nothing about it should work, and it’s one of the best songs of the year because it still all does. It doesn’t have the depth of most of the other biggest songs, but in a year filled with musical experiments, Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” was perhaps the very best.

#5. Drake – “Started From the Bottom”

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Given that Drake was a main actor on a soap opera starting at age 15, “Started From the Bottom” isn’t the most believable song of 2013. But Drake sells it, with details about living in his mom’s house and keeping reminders of his past with him. It’s more of a personal ode than it is a boast of wealth, a reminder to himself and listeners that nothing is permanent. And Drake even sounds exasperated on the song. He sounds worried, rapping over a haunting piano and drum melody. “Started From the Bottom” personifies Drake more than any other song on “Nothing Was the Same,” and it makes for one of the most engaging songs of the year.

#4. The National – “Sea of Love”

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The National aren’t known for pushing up the volume – Matt Berninger’s deep, deep voice and deep, dark lyrics often work better over softer music. But the year’s most darkly comical break-up song has the band get louder and louder over a relentless snare drum. Lyrically, “Sea of Love” is equally funny and devastating, with the phrase “Hey Jo / Sorry I hurt you, but / They say love is a virtue / Don’t they?” being among the year’s best lines. The song is aided at the end by cameo vocals from Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent. Her voice soars in ways Berninger’s can’t, and it brings the song to a dramatic conclusion. “Sea of Love” might just be the most well-rounded alternative song of the year.

#3. Miley Cyrus – “We Can’t Stop,” “Wrecking Ball”

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Fan or not, Miley had two of the biggest hits of 2013. And it helps to lump them together, as two great, radically opposed songs that showed up on the same album. Given her new image, “We Can’t Stop” is the exact song we expected from Miley. And that by no means diminishes it. It’s a party song about debauchery, and there’s plenty of those nowadays, but no one can make it more believable than Miley. “Wrecking Ball,” meanwhile, acts as a post-break-up ballad that releases every emotion not associated with “We Can’t Stop.” “Wrecking Ball” feels like an unintentional sequel, a sad consequence. It definitely isn’t, but the two made “Bangerz” a surprisingly well-balanced album. So I put both on here. Fight me.

#2. Daft Punk (feat. Pharrell) – “Get Lucky”

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Almost definitely the most successful French robots, Daft Punk still hit a new high in 2013. On top of having one of the year’s best albums, “Random Access Memories,” they had one of the two biggest songs. Indeed, “Get Lucky” was inescapable, and it has never been the most meaningful song, but it’s one of the catchiest and most easily likable songs in years. A mix of an undeniably groovy throwback rhythm and a simple chorus provided the dance song of the year. Every time it seems like Daft Punk has been overtaken, they come back and overtake a whole genre.

#1. Lorde – “Royals”

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Coming into 2013, no one guessed one of the top songs of the year would go to a 16-year-old, especially one from New Zealand. Even as recent as July, most people in America hadn’t heard Lorde’s name. But “Royals” climbed the charts and beat out all of Lorde’s own idols. “Royals” ended up becoming the second most successful song of the year, chart wise, spending nine weeks at #1 (second only to, ughhhhhh, “Blurred Lines.” Interesting fact – “Get Lucky” never hit #1). The song’s dismay and jealousy over pop idols ended up sounding ironic given just how fast the song became popular. But however the lyrics stand now, they’re still poetic. And the song’s minimalistic rhythm was more than refreshing, in a year of competing volumes. “Royals” barely gets above a whisper, because it doesn’t need to. Not bad for a first single. “Royals” is my pick for song of the year. Here’s to a continuing career, Lorde!

Runners-up, in alphabetical order by artist: Arcade Fire’s “Normal Person,” CHVRCHES’ “the Mother We Share,” HAIM’s “The Wire,” Nine Inch Nails’ “Came Back Haunted,” Parquet Courts’ “Stoned and Starving,” Sleigh Bells’ “Bitter Rivals,” and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Sacrilege.” -By Andrew McNally

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