Inflation. Drought. Long COVID. Six months later, 2022 seems eager to match the chaos of the last years of the decade. Still, as always, some great songs got us through — some old (Kate Bush’s resurrected Running Up That Hill), some brand new (Beyoncé’s Break My Soul, which was released this week). We’ve seen hip-hop giants return to action and bold new acts connect with fans on TikTok. And the resurgence of live music seems to have only whetted appetites for recorded variety.
Here, in alphabetical order, are our staff’s picks for the best songs of the year so far, with the caveat that any given artist is limited to a single entry on the list.
Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul, “Blenda”: This Belgium-based duo specializes in cerebral dance-pop for those who bravely boogie between cultures. “‘Go back to your country where you belong’ / Siri, can you tell me where I belong?”
Anitta, “Envolver”: In her first international No. 1 hit, which made her the highest-ranked Latina on Billboard’s Global 200 charts, Brazilian bombshell Anitta serves up “the complete combo,” or the complete package: there’s the daring pun , the universally sexy reggaeton groove, and the viral dance challenge that doubles as a full-body workout.
Villano Antillano, “BZRP Music Sessions #51”: Argentinian producer Bizarrap has flooded Latino YouTube with one-of-a-kind studio sessions featuring the best MCs from the Spanish-speaking world, from Paulo Londra to Residente. His latest guest, Puerto Rican rapper and transgender luminary Villano Antillano, is 10s on all counts: with a tribute to Jennifer Aniston in “Friends,” his fiery Spanglish flow, which soars effortlessly through trap and diva beats. house, heats up No. 13 spot on YouTube’s Top 100 Music Videos chart.
Kassi Ashton, “Meet the Vans”: Like a prequel to Sam Hunt’s “Break Up in a Small Town,” Ashton’s alluring country soul savors the pleasures of a place where there’s nothing to do: Sonic Cut.
Bad Bunny feat. the Marías, “Otro Atardecer”: In this enchanting indie-pop B-side from his new album, “Un Verano Sin Ti”, the prince of Puerto Rico gets a dose of Cali cool from Los Angeles starlets, the Marías.
Beyoncé, “Break My Soul”: Burning capitalist critique to a furious jack-your-body beat? Pop’s most thoughtful superstar is definitely back.
Priscilla Block, “My Bar”: Upscale in-house rhyme from Nashville, where the cheap stuff just won’t cut it: “Out of the corner of my eye / I see the guy at the door checking your ID.”
Zach Bryan, “Whiskey Fever”: The rising alt-country troubadour picks up the tempo for a heartbreaking highlight of his 34-track “American Heartbreak.”
Dove Cameron, “Boyfriend”: Slick gender-bending lyrics + a raspy post-Billie Eilish vocal performance = a long-sought pop hit for this former Disney Channel kid.
Doechii, “Crazy”: The LA TDE label will find itself without a compass now that Kendrick Lamar is leaving for independent pastures. Who knows when SZA will be back with new music, but until then Doechii will hold the line for excellence in hip-hop. “Crazy” is a delightfully wild performance, one of the many styles she will soon be bringing to festivals and Rap Caviar.
Drake, “Tights”: Whether you loved or hated Yuma Tent’s bummer-house Drake’s new album, “Sticky” was the track everyone agreed on. It’s one of two cuts on “Honestly Nevermind” where he deigns to rap, and it captures all of his current interests, which apparently include hiding around DTLA raves after hours. It’s nice to hear the late Virgil Abloh again.
Duke Deuce feat. GloRilla, “Just Say That”: The “Summer Nights” crunk.
Sky Ferreira, “Don’t Forget”: The much-missed synth-punk siren follows her own guidance in this reverb-soaked throwback jam, which seems to come from Ferreira’s decade-old “Night Time, My Time.”
FKA twigs feat. the Weeknd, “Tears in the Club”: Some R&B fans like Twigs more in theory than in practice: his music is beautiful but sometimes distant. Not so on “Caprisongs,” the most song-centric LP of his career. This team of Weeknd proves that it has always had a pop star gift under the bursts of experimentalism.
DC Fountains, “Jackie Down the Line”: Fontaines DC – who in 2021 became the first Irish band to be nominated for a Grammy for a rock album since U2 – received international recognition again this year with ‘Jackie Down the Line’, a post-punk slant on the feeling uprooted after immigrating to England.
Gunna and Future feat. Young Thug, “Pushin P”: The fact that two of the three artists on this track are currently in prison on a series of conspiracy charges shouldn’t detract from the punch of “Pushin P.” It’s hard to hear it with the veil of Young Thug’s RICO indictment on, but it’s still the magic of Atlanta trappings no matter what comes next.
Jack Harlow, “First Class”: “I know what they like, so I keep playing,” Harlow raps over a perfect Fergie sample that proves he’s right.
Health x Lamb of God, “Cold Blood”: On this stellar cut from the LA Health trio’s collab album “DISCO::4,” groove metal veterans Lamb of God weld their riffs and growls to Health’s dark ambient haze. The two sounds fit together like a car accident – violent, sad and guaranteed to turn heads.
Joji, “A Glimpse of Us”: So pretty it hurts, that’s precisely the point.
Lady Gaga, “Hold My Hand”: No, it cannot hold a “Shallow” Bic lighter from “A Star Is Born”. But as experienced against the meta-blockbuster frenzy of “Top Gun: Maverick,” Gaga’s thunderous ’80s-style ballad reaches a kind of popcorn nirvana.
Kendrick Lamar feat. Summer Walker and Ghostface Killah, “Purple Hearts”: Words to live by: “Shut up when you hear about love.”
Miranda Lambert, “That’s what makes the Jukebox play”: A beautifully moody drinking song about beautifully moody drinking songs.
Lizzo, “About fucking time”: Lizzo sometimes struggled to create songs worthy of her prodigious star power. This happy disco-funk banger – set in the narrow time window between “bad bitch o’clock” and “thick-thirty” – gives it a hook and a groove to work with.
Muni Long, “Hrs & Hrs”: A slow, sly, D’Angelo-esque R&B jam from a singer who finally broke after more than a decade of behind-the-scenes songwriting work for Rihanna and Ariana Grande.
Lucius, “Favorites”: After singing for everyone from Brandi Carlile to Ozzy Osbourne to Harry Styles, the women of Lucius of Los Angeles drafted Carlile to produce their latest album, which culminates in that bubbly 80s bop pop.
Megan Thee Stallion and Dua Lipa, “Sweetest Pie”: Why this veritable buffet of sexual metaphors didn’t become the smash it was clearly prepared for is one of the great mysteries of 2022.
Mitski, “The One Heartbreaker”: Mitski hits the pinnacle of pop melodrama in his fashionable ’80s synth-rock escapade. For a sobering song about taking the blame to keep romance afloat, “The Only Heartbreaker” hits your body like a dose of vitamin B12.
Muna feat. Phoebe Bridgers, “Chiffon”: Dream-pop Gossamer for girls who love girls who might have been featured in a “Chickfactor” zine circa 1992.
My Chemical Romance, “The Basics of Decomposition”: Twenty years after My Chem debuted with their post-9/11 lament, “I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love,” New Jersey’s emo legends resurface with their first recorded album since “Fake Your Death” in 2014, a thunderous goth-rock elegy for a changing empire.
Angel Olsen, “All the Good Times”: Record nerds will love the “Dusty in Memphis” honks; humans with feelings will marvel at the empathy with which Olsen details a breakup.
Pharrell Williams feat. Tyler, The Creator and 21 Savage, “Cash In Cash Out”: Who does more with less than Pharrell? This track is just a red-rimmed 808 and a nasty little sample of stutter, but it gives 21 Savage and Tyler, the Creator more than enough room to play along to their verses.
Pusha T, “Let Smokers Shine Cuts”: Pusha raps about cocaine like Jiro dreams about sushi – he does one thing perfectly, every time. His “It’s Almost Dry” LP has off-the-charts precision and panache, and he absolutely spins his verses on the slinky “Let the Smokers Shine the Coupes,” a highlight of an album with no bass.
Adrian Quesada feat. iLe, “Mentiras con Cariño”: Grammy-winning guitarist Adrian Quesada, best known for his riffing in Texas bands Black Pumas and Grupo Fantasma, ventured out on his own this summer with the release of his Latin soul album “Boleros Psicodélicos.” In the hypnotic tropical noir of lead single “Mentiras con Cariño” or “Lies With Love”, Quesada shares the spotlight with Puerto Rican singer iLe and her quietly gripping alto.
Rosalia, “Saoko”: In her inspirational encore to rappers Wisin and Daddy Yankee – who delivered a hyped song for the ages with their 2004 reggaeton classic “Saoco” – Catalan avant-pop star Rosalía speeds it up with a frenetically fueled kick by jazz.
Bartees Strange, “Mulholland Dr.” : Signs of life in indie rock.
Harry Styles, “Boyfriends”: Point: “Our house is a very, very, very beautiful house.” Counterpoint: “Boyfriends – are they just pretending?”
Carrie Underwood, “Denim & Rhinestones”: There’s nothing country about the synth-covered title track from Underwood’s latest album. But like all “American Idol” alums, she’s studied Whitney and Mariah enough to fit into the pop-soul costume.
The Weeknd, “Out of Time”: On Weeknd’s “Dawn FM” album, this tender ballad follows an oral appearance by Quincy Jones – a way of acknowledging (and bragging about) “Out of Time’s” debt to “Off the Wall.”
Wet Leg, “Ur Mum”: Isle of Wight duo Wet Leg conjure up echoes of Van Halen and ELO in this anti-sexist slacker-rock missive. May you never be the recipient of such a scathing line as “When I think of what you’ve become / I’m sorry for your mother.
Yahritza and Su Esencia, “Soy El Unico”: Guided by the vocal dynamite of 15-year-old Yahritza Martinez, family band Yakima, Washington, Su Esencia first captivated audiences on TikTok; now their star has risen across the Americas, thanks to their heartbreaking corrido “Soy El Unico”. What’s most shocking isn’t that the Martinez siblings landed No. 1 on the Hot Latin Songs chart, but that it was the first song they ever wrote.