I took valuable time out of my life to rank every song on the 2016 year-end Billboard Hot 100 in order of my preference. There is nothing definitive or objective on this list, and I often felt no need to explain my choices. Some things speak for themselves.
I hadn’t heard “Never Be Like You” by Flume feat. Kai, “Antidote” by Travis Scott, “Wicked” by Future and “Middle” by DJ Snake feat. Bipolar Sunshine enough to consider them for this list. I don’t feel too bad about it.
I disqualified the following songs because I associated them more with 2015: “Sorry” by Justin Bieber; “Hotline Bling” by Drake; “The Hills” by The Weeknd; “Jumpman” by Drake & Future; “679” by Fetty Wap feat. Remy Boyz; “Here” by Alessia Cara; “What Do You Mean?” by Justin Bieber; “Same Old Love” by Selena Gomez; “Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd; “Wildest Dreams” by Taylor Swift; “Lean On” by Major Lazer & DJ Snake feat. MO; “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” by Silento; “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa and “Perfect” by One Direction.
Without further ado:
81 “7 Years” by Lukas Graham. Expunge those Grammy nominations from the record, load this song into the world’s most powerful T-shirt gun and launch it out of our atmosphere.
80 “Sucker For Pain” by Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa & Imagine Dragons with Logic & Ty Dolla $ign feat. X Ambassadors. Take a look at that list of featured artists. How could anyone in their right mind look at that and not immediately think, “This will not work”? It does not work! (It’s also from the soundtrack to Suicide Squad, which, based on reviews, is the film equivalent of this song, in that it did not work.)
79 “NO” by Meghan Trainor. NO.
78 “We Don’t Talk Anymore” by Charlie Puth feat. Selena Gomez. I need someone to show me concrete proof that Charlie Puth is actually a human, and not a genetically engineered approximation of the world’s most generic “popular” “musician.”
77 “One Call Away” by Charlie Puth. See above.
76 “Pop Style” by Drake feat. The Throne. Here’s an example of a rap song featuring three of the most famous people on earth that is utterly forgettable. (Or rather, two and a fraction of a third. Kanye gets eight seconds at most on the track just for showing up at the studio.)
75 “Hymn for the Weekend” by Coldplay. Setting aside the deeply frustrating cultural appropriation on display in the music video, and bandleader Chris Martin’s citation of the unholy Flo Rida (see below) as inspiration for the band’s latest album, a quick glance of the lyrics for this song will tell you everything you need to know about why it’s so far down on this list. How did this end up on the year-end list when Beyonce’s “Formation” didn’t?
74 “Adventure of a Lifetime” by Coldplay. This one got that Super Bowl bump, but not much else.
73 “Me, Myself & I” by G-Eazy x Bebe Rexha. I don’t care about this song at all. All I want to write about is that “x” in place of “feat.,” “with” or “and” in the credits, which appear in the same configuration on Billboard, iTunes and Spotify. What does the “x” imply? Sex? Nuclear fusion? Sonic brilliance? Quick check: No, no and no. Still baffled!
72 “My House” by Flo Rida. I do not like this man’s artistic output. This is not his worst song?
71 “Back to Sleep” by Chris Brown. Why are we still letting this man on the radio?
70 “Heathens” by twenty one pilots. See the last sentence in the “Sucker for Pain” entry. (Also, something I didn’t get to in that one: Why is that song called “Sucker for Pain”? What an awful, bizarre-looking, linguistically unpleasant song title!)
69 “Cut It” by O.T. Genasis feat. Young Dolph. Grating.
68 “Me Too” by Meghan Trainor. Faux-empowerment is better than no empowerment at all, I guess?
67 “This is What You Came For” by Calvin Harris feat. Rihanna. The only thing going for this song is this joke from Devin Mitchell, in response to Harris’ tweets disparaging Taylor Swift: “I guess he didn’t get what he came for.” (This is one of Taylor Swift’s worst pieces of songwriting.)
66 “Ride” by twenty one pilots. I have nothing against these guys, except that I don’t connect with their music at all. Why is that? I actually don’t know.
65 “Lost Boy” by Ruth B. Sleepy.
64 “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” by Meghan Trainor feat John Legend. Sleepy.
63 “Let Me Love You” by DJ Snake feat. Justin Bieber. Sleepy.
62 “Stressed Out” by twenty one pilots. Sleepy.
61 “Cold Water” by Major Lazer feat. Justin Bieber & MO. Sleepy. (It’s late! Can you blame me?)
60 “Just Like Fire” by P!nk. From the soundtrack of ‘Alice: Through the Looking Glass'” is not something I want on my resume, but this song is fine.
59 “Close” by Nick Jonas feat. Tove Lo. This song doesn’t do much for me, but “Bacon” didn’t end up on the Hot 100, so I want to mention “Bacon” here. I do not understand the underlying premise of that song.
58 “White Iverson” by Post Malone. Sleepy. (Yes, it’s happening again.)
57 “Luv” by Tory Lanez. “Controlla” for the weak. (See below.)
56 “Unsteady” by X Ambassadors. A fine soundtrack piece for mournful movie trailers.
55 “Say It” by Tory Lanez. I don’t mind this one, but I don’t luv it.
54 “Hide Away” by Daya. Daya is 18 years old with three songs on the year-end Hot 100 during her first year on the radio. I’m 22 years old and I have zero songs on the year-end Hot 100. Perhaps I need a career change.
53 “Gold” by Kiiara. Scrambled but charming.
52 “Cake by the Ocean” by DNCE. The backstory for this song’s hook is more entertaining than the song itself, which is okay. I like “Toothbrush” by DNCE a little better.
51 “H.O.L.Y.” by Florida Georgia Line. This song was written for Justin Bieber! Merle Haggard turned over in his grave when he caught wind of that. What’s funny is that this is one of FGL’s least grating songs.
50 “All in My Head (Flex)” by Fifth Harmony feat. Fetty Wap. (Flex).
49 “2 Phones” by Kevin Gates. I have nothing to say about this one, which I don’t hate at all.
48 “Never Forget You” by Zara Larsson & MNEK. Ditto above.
47 “When We Were Young” by Adele. I would not have chosen this one as her second single from 25. But Adele could choose a recording of her taking out the trash for four minutes and it would be a hit.
46 “On My Mind” by Ellie Goulding. Goulding’s good.
45 “Ex’s & Oh’s” by Elle King. Nice.
44 “Starboy” by The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk. A tad Weak-nd, but nice to have Daft Punk on the radio.
43 “Don’t Mind” by Kent Jones. A pleasant, if minor, key.
42 “Let It Go” by James Bay. Yearning, searching, stirring.
41 “Closer” by The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey. Exposure wore me down. Halsey’s vocals are rock-solid. I would rather become a chainsmoker than hear Andrew Taggart’s sorry excuse for singing ever again. If these guys win the Grammy for New Artist over Chance the Rapper, Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini and Anderson .Paak, there will be riots on the streets, and I will lead one of them.
40 “Roses” by The Chainsmokers feat. ROZES. Better than “Closer” + slightly less overexposed = one spot higher.
39 “Too Good” by Drake feat. Rihanna. I love listening to this song, provided I ignore Drake’s lyrics, which feel regressive.
38 “Really Really” by Kevin Gates. Kind of a banger.
37 “Die a Happy Man” by Thomas Rhett. Ed Sheeran-lite.
36 “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” by Mike Posner. Refreshingly direct.
35 “Pillowtalk” by ZAYN. I don’t really like this song, but I listened to it more than I typically would songs I don’t like. Take from that what you will.
34 “Side to Side” by Ariana Grande feat. Nicki Minaj. It’s amusing to think about the thousands of fans of this song who have no idea what it’s about, and would probably be horrified if they did.
33 “Sit Still, Look Pretty” by Daya. Empowerment that works far better than eghan Trainor’s similarly overtures.
32 “Exchange” by Bryson Tiller. Slightly faceless, but solid.
31 “Dangerous Woman” by Ariana Grande. I don’t believe that Ariana Grande is a dangerous woman, but listening to her aural equivalent of dress-up is not unentertaining.
29 “I Hate U I Hate Love U” by Gnash feat. Olivia Brien. The New York Times pop music critic Jon Caramanica thinks this is one of the best songs of 2016. I wouldn’t go there, but it’s effective.
28 “I Know What You Did Last Summer” by Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello. I like that title, and that’s a catchy chorus.
27 “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” by Justin Timberlake. It’s not cool to like this song, and some aspects of Timberlake’s persona give me serious pause, but Max Martin does what Max Martin does, and I’m powerless to ignore it.
26 “Don’t Let Me Down” by The Chainsmokers feat. Daya. The best Chainsmokers song of the year, thanks to Daya, who is good.
25 “Hands to Myself” by Selena Gomez. I almost cut this one out because it’s a late 2015 holdover, but I really like it, so I kept it in, because this is my list and if you’ve read this far, I hope you agree with the premise that I make the rules here.
24 “For Free” by DJ Khaled feat. Drake. A Views outtake that’s more fun than 90 percent of Views. Drake doesn’t play himself here.
23 “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” by Adele. See the “Can’t Stop the Feeling” entry re: Max Martin. I also love that this song only exists because Adele overheard Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” in a cafe and decided she wanted a song like that.
22 “In the Night” by The Weeknd. Another late 2015 holdover that makes a legitimate stab at convincing post-Michael Jackson power pop.
21 “No Limit” by Usher feat. Young Thug. Usher released a good album this year and almost everyone slept on it. Check out “Crash” and “Rivals” feat. Future.
20 “Work from Home” by Fifth Harmony feat. Ty Dolla $ign. What? I like the metaphor, and Rihanna taught us (see below) that the word “work” is an unstoppable ingredient in a pop smash.
19 “Starving” by Hailee Steinfeld & Grey feat. Zedd. Hailee Steinfeld should be an Oscar contender for The Edge of Seventeen. She’s such a good actress that I probably overrate the quality of her perfectly average but hardly revolutionary music.
18 “Cheap Thrills” by Sia feat. Sean Paul. Sia has a song in the end credits of the movie Lion, and it is terrible. Sia does not make many terrible songs, so this is notable. Also notable: I saw three movies (The Shallows, Finding Dory and Lion) this year that ended with three Sia songs, and it’s doubtful that these were the only ones. Anyway, Sia is an outstanding singer and songwriter, and this song is a thrill.
17 “Into You” by Ariana Grande. You wouldn’t know it from the number of times you saw her perform on TV, but Ariana Grande didn’t have her best year on the singles charts. “Into You” seemed to me like an unsinkable lob to radio, but it didn’t quite catch on. But it’s good!
16 “Panda” by Desiigner. In twelve months, the word Desiigner might look like a garble. I admit to not fully understanding what makes him tick, and I admit to being entranced by this song during “Father Stretch My Hands (Part II)” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, and I admit to still being entranced by it.
15 “Timmy Turner” by Desiigner. This song didn’t set the charts aflame, but this video set the Internet buzzing, for good reason. It’s bizarre and remarkable, in a completely different way than his actual recorded music is.
14 “Stitches” by Shawn Mendes. He is like Justin Bieber without the baggage and the bad behavior and the tinges of cultural appropriation, and it works for me.
13 “Don’t” by Bryson Tiller. Tiller is one to watch, though he popped early in 2015 and couldn’t quite keep the momentum going the whole year through.
12 “Love Yourself” by Justin Bieber. Despite my comments two entries above, I do not hate a Justin Bieber jam, and this is a juicy one.
11 “Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw. All hail Lori McKenna, one of the great country songwriters of the moment.
10 “All the Way Up” by Fat Joe, Remy Ma & Jay Z feat. French Montana and Infrared. Both the original and the Jay version are uplifting and awe-inspiring. Remy back!
9 “One Dance” by Drake feat. WizKid & Kyla. An international pop song that feels deeply entrenched in its international influences, rather than casually skimming them.
8 “Low Life” by Future feat. The Weeknd. A dark, roiling combination for the ages.
7 “Broccoli” by D.R.A.M. feat. Lil Yachty. D.R.A.M. is a force for good, and this song is a bundle of (Grammy-nominated) joy.
6 “Treat You Better” by Shawn Mendes. Mendes! See entry 13.
5 “Controlla” by Drake. I prefer the leaked version of this song featuring vocals from Jamaican singer Popcaan, but I like Drake best when he’s trying to have a good time, and he’s trying really hard here.
4 “Sorry” by Beyonce. What more can be said about Lemonade? “Sorry” was my favorite track on first viewing, and it’s the one that’s most traditionally radio-friendly, on top of its considerable meme-generating powers. A no-brainer.
3 “Needed Me” by Rihanna. Glorious and throbbing.
1 “Oui” by Jeremih. Luxurious, comfortable, fleet-footed. (I already loved this song, and then Donald Glover used it to soundtrack a key scene in “Value,” one of my favorite episodes of Atlanta.)