An incredible year for the music industry, 2013 has brought forth some of the biggest and most influential songs in current music. For one, several great comebacks were made from artists that ranged from David Bowie to Justin Timberlake to Daft Punk. In addition, music in 2013 expanded, mixing various genres, as well as exploring different themes and stories that either broke your heart or gave you a reason to get up in the morning. Certain songs have embodied these musical trends and to give you some examples, here is a list of my 50 top songs:
50. “Entertainment“ – Phoenix
A charming, upbeat opener on Phoenix’s fifth album Bankrupt!, “Entertainment” is a wondrous spectacle of music that’s bound to be one of the band’s best singles.
49. “Royals“ – Lorde
17-year-old New Zealand vocalist Lorde most likely had no idea that she would become a huge breakout in 2013. In fact, she probably didn’t expect her ubiquitous pop-synth jam “Royals” to be one of the biggest and most commercially successful pop songs of the new decade. Regardless of Lorde’s newfound fame, “Royals” by itself is a catchy jingle that incorporates memorable lyrics and graceful vocals.
48. “Play by Play“ – Autre Ne Veut
Twinkling with Autre Ne Veut’s magnetic falsetto and a diverse set of bright sounds, “Play by Play” is a huge highlight off of the American singer’s acclaimed record Anxiety.
47. “Song for Zula“ – Phosphorescent
Despite being little-known, indie rock artist Matthew Houck (under the moniker Phosphorescent) has been making music since 2003. Now, 10 years later, he’s released what is most likely his best album, Muchacho, accompanied with the heart-achy, string-oriented single “Song for Zula.”
46. “Sail to the Sun“ – Wavves
Punk rock group Wavves returned to music this year with “Sail to the Sun,” a brash and bold headbanger that mixes dark lyrics with a fun vibe.
45. “Acrylics“ – TNGHT
Although “Acrylics” is a much darker and louder addition to TNGHT’s bouncy canon of music, its dynamic, energy-driven beat and boisterous resonance proves that the trap duo are continuing to expand on their hip-hop-electronic sound.
44. “Control (HOF) [ft. Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica]“ – Big Sean
To be honest, “Control” is one of hip-hop’s most overrated songs, particularly due to Kendrick Lamar’s attention-grabbing verse and its powerful effect on fans and other rappers. But considering that it garnered worldwide attention without having any actual presence on the radio or on Big Sean’s album (due to a sampling issue), it’s one of the most influential songs of 2013.
43. “Your Life is a Lie“ – MGMT
“Your Life is a Lie” is a positive outlier off MGMT’s middling self-titled album, with its short but sweet length, evocative lyrics, and lively rock rhythm.
10. “Hold On, We’re Going Home“ – Drake
We all know this one. Canadian rapper/vocalist Drake introduced music listeners in August to one of 2013’s most influential and ubiquitous singles. The memorable lyrics, the sultry beat, Drake’s lush falsetto — almost everything about “Hold On, We’re Going Home” emulates the sound of a great R&B love song. It’s moments like these that help us remember Drake not just as a clever rhymer, but as a deeply vulnerable and authentic musician. Though “Hold On, We’re Going Home’s” omnipresence on the radio might have marked the song as slightly annoying, it’ll still be one of Drake’s best and one that will be remembered for a long time.
9. “Mirrors“ – Justin Timberlake
After actor/singer Justin Timberlake hinted about a new album in early January, many thought he would return to his old, mainstream-pop roots — and, for the most part, we were half-right. Subsequent to the announcement of his fantastic third record The 20/20 Experience, Timberlake released “Suit & Tie,” a catchy, albeit old-fashioned, groove that mixed pop, hip hop, R&B, and jazz. Although the song might have caught some Timberlake fans off-guard, it ultimately led to a much more gratifying second single in February, titled “Mirrors.” Like its funky, pop-oriented predecessor, “Mirrors” not only maintains an impeccable vibrancy throughout its epic eight minutes, but it also displays Timberlake at his most ambitious.
8. “Retrograde“ – James Blake
London-based electronic instrumentalist James Blake returned to the music scene this year with the same vitality that made his 2011 debut a critical success. Blake continued to display his soulful tenor and luxuriant beats on his most recent album Overgrown, a thematically dark yet sonically dynamic record. One of the album’s many highlights,“Retrograde,” fuses Blake’s cynicism and unrequited love with buzzy synths, handclaps, dramatic hums and an overall bleak tone. Regardless of the song’s melancholic vibe, it makes for an idiosyncratic James Blake masterpiece.
7. “Diane Young“ – Vampire Weekend
Shifting from their recognizable indie rock noise to a more multi-faceted and gutsier sound, Columbian-grad quartet Vampire Weekend has arrived at the best stage in their career. Their brilliant third album, Modern Vampires of the City is filled with an inexhaustible amount of catchy and memorable songs, including the hyperactive toe tapper “Diane Young.” Similar to other up-tempo Vampire Weekend tunes (Vampire Weekend‘s “A-Punk” and Contra’s “Cousins”), “Diane Young” is an immensely likable song about being young and having fun. It colorfully displays Ezra Koenig’s charming vocals and a raucous and rapid electronic beat. Its tenacity and bold production continue to support the notion that Vampire Weekend can always perform well, no matter how unconventional their sound may be.
6. “Latch [ft. Sam Smith]“ – Disclosure
The UK was lucky enough to popularize one of this year’s noteworthy new groups. Brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, known as the house duo Disclosure, began their journey as up-and-coming artists with their marvelous debut Settle. During promotion of the album in October 2012, Disclosure released “Latch,” a dazzling single that makes for a great love ballad, as well as a bubbly club jam. One of “Latch”‘s major strengths comes especially from rising British vocalist Sam Smith, whose intoxicating croon and poignant lyrics not only match perfectly with Disclosure’s neo-pop sound, but also sound just as fantastic without the instrumental (see Smith’s chilling acoustic rendition of “Latch”).
5. “The Mother We Share“ – Chvrches
Scottish synthpop trio Chvrches (pronounced “churches”) have slowly emerged from being hardly recognized to one of 2013’s promising new talents. Prior to the release of their sparkling debut The Bones of What You Believe, Chvrches unleashed the album’s opener, “The Mother We Share,” late last year. The song not only comprises of Lauren Mayberry’s cheerful vocals and enchanting keyboards, but also evokes a strong sense of hopefulness, despite the song’s somewhat depressing subject matter. However, what makes “The Mother We Share” an instantly powerful track off Chvrches’ debut is that it successfully blends both an optimistic sound with moody lyrics into a pleasant tune that’s hard not to like.
4. “New Slaves“ – Kanye West
Who knew that Kanye West’s first song of 2013 would be about political issues (or that it would be released visually on the sides of apartment buildings across the world)? Most would have assumed that zeitgeist rapper West would continue to rap about love, wealth, or pop culture. But contrary to popular belief, the 36-year-old hip hop artist released “New Slaves,” an unexpectedly brash attack on modern racism and materialism. “New Slaves” was the closest thing West has to a promotional single for West’s sixth studio album, Yeezus, which did not advertise any songs commercially prior to its release. However, with that in mind, “New Slaves” helped distinguish West’s vociferous lyricism and operatic production as two of the rapper’s greatest artistic strengths, making it an iconic track off Yeezus.
3. “The Wire“ – Haim
One of the most unexpected successes in music this year came from the Californian rock group Haim. Though Haim’s sister trio have been active as far back as 2005, they skyrocketed into mainstream music last August with the announcement of their groovy debut Days are Gone. The album itself flourishes through its noise-pop and folk influences, especially on the melodious third track, “The Wire.” On the instantly memorable tune, sisters Este, Danielle, and Alana, jam about the struggles of ending a relationship, providing both a hilarious yet thought-provoking message. It’s surprising to think that it took seven times for Haim to tweak “The Wire” to the right sound, having recorded and re-recorded the song several times during the album’s production. Nevertheless, it shows that the Haim sisters possess both a respectable work ethic and a unique quality, marking the triad as one of the coolest and hippest new bands of 2013.
2. “Reflektor“ – Arcade Fire
When Canadian avant-garde band Arcade Fire released the title track to their fourth album, Reflektor, in September, it brought a new type of sound and range of themes that listeners had not heard before. Accompanied by two music videos (one of them being interactive), the 7-minute “Reflektor” gave Arcade Fire fans what they needed, even if it wasn’t what they had expected. Bolstered by a commendable production from LCD Soundsystem’s ex-leading man James Murphy, “Reflektor” touched on psychedelic and tribal beats, as well as philosophical lyrics that explored religion, existentialism, and the human connection. The lyrics were also partly influenced by lead vocalist Win Butler’s trip to Haiti, where he juxtaposed the difficult lifestyle of being in a third-world country to the digital age in America and how each mirrored a different way of living. Although the rest of Arcade Fire’s new record didn’t live up to my expectations, “Reflektor” thankfully did, as it became one of the band’s greatest anthems.
1. “Get Lucky [ft. Pharrell Williams & Nile Rodgers]“ – Daft Punk
No one would have guessed that electronic house duo Daft Punk would make such a huge comeback. After years of hiding from the public image, Daft Punk transpired back into the music scene early this year with a catchy 10-second snippet of music that got people’s attention. Was it new material? Was there going to be a new album? What was Daft Punk doing exactly? Luckily, our questions (and prayers) were answered when the French duo presented the full version of that snippet as “Get Lucky,” which featured an unexpected pair of artists: R&B singer Pharrell Williams and Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers. Surprisingly, “Get Lucky” was able to harmoniously blend Pharrell’s flawless vocals and Rodgers’ stylish guitar riffs with Daft Punk’s electronic-infused beats, making it one of the hottest songs of the year and, possibly, of the decade. Unsurprisingly, Daft Punk is pretty good at establishing their club-friendly jams as cultural phenomenons (2002’s “One More Time” and 2005’s “Technologic”). But nevertheless, Daft Punk garnered an intrigue from listeners and critics, in terms of how they approached the promotion of “Get Lucky,” as well as their innovative fourth record, Random Access Memories. It also showed us that Daft Punk is not only great at making timeless music, but at making old-fashioned instrumentals sound brand new.