The Billboard Hot 100 in 2017 was filled with mainstream and underground hip-hop, emergent Latin pop that straddles language, and sadness. I’ve been listening.
Just like last year, I took valuable time out of my life to rank every song on the 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 disqualified the following songs because I hadn’t heard them enough to make a “fair” “judgment”: Ayo & Teo’s “Rolex”; YFN Lucci’s “Everyday We Lit”; Blackbear’s “Do Re Mi”; and XXXTentacion’s “Look At Me!”
I disqualified the following songs because I associated them more with 2016, or because they appeared on my ranking last year: The Chainsmokers’ “Closer” feat. Halsey; The Weeknd’s “Starboy” and “I Feel It Coming,” both feat. Daft Punk; Ariana Grande’s “Side to Side” feat. Nicki Minaj; DJ Snake feat. Justin Bieber’s “Let Me Love You”; D.R.A.M.’s “Broccoli” feat. Lil Yachty; Hailee Steinfeld & Zedd’s “Starving” feat. Grey; Shawn Mendes’s “Treat You Better”; Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”; Twenty One Pilots’ “Heathens”; and Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles” feat. Gucci Mane.
Without further ado…
84. The Chainsmokers, “Paris.” Nothing good can come from empowering these guys and their lyrically vacuous, sonically unthreatening, inexplicably popular music. [Watch them perform it on SNL.]
83. Taylor Swift, “Look What You Made Me Do.” It pains me to put an artist I’ve defended for much of her career so low on this list. But she led with the most cringeworthy offering from her mostly-not-cringeworthy new album reputation. First impressions count. [Watch them perform it at Capital FM Jingle Ball.]
82. The Chainsmokers, “Something Just Like This” feat. Coldplay. Why, Chris Martin, why? ($$$) [Watch them perform it live on the BRIT Awards.]
81. Maroon 5, “Cold” feat. Future. Dull as a block of ice. Why, Future, why? ($$$) [Watch them perform it live on Ellen.]
80. Machine Gun Kelly, “Bad Things” feat. Camila Cabello. It’s like a PG-rated movie about seduction — all the edges sanded off, and lazy rapping to boot. [Watch them perform it live on Corden.]
79. Dustin Lynch, “Small Town Boy.” What people who don’t listen to country music in 2017 think country music is in 2017. [Watch him perform it live on Kimmel.]
78. Maroon 5, “Don’t Wanna Know” feat. Kendrick Lamar. The rap verse in this song is comically (and pointedly) brief. [Watch him perform it on the American Music Awards.]
77. Post Malone, “Rockstar” feat. 21 Savage. Fundamentally empty.
76. Liam Payne, “Strip That Down” feat. Quavo. Somehow this flop eclipsed any of Harry Styles’ far better offerings on the chart this year. [Watch him perform it on Graham Norton.]
75. Jon Bellion, “All Time Low.” Zzz. [Watch him perform it on Fallon.]
74. ZAYN, “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” feat. Taylor Swift. Everything is off here. [Watch Taylor perform it before the Super Bowl.]
73. James Arthur, “Say You Won’t Let Go.” Zzz. [Watch him perform it at Capital’s Summertime Ball.]
72. Clean Bandit, “Rockabye” feat. Sean Paul & Anne-Marie. Zzz. [Watch him perform it at Capital FM’s Jingle Ball.]
71. Cheat Codes, “No Promises”“No Promises” feat. Demi Lovato. The featured guest perks up a song that’s otherwise zzz. [Watch them perform it live on Fallon.]
70. Gucci Mane, “Both” feat. Drake. Listless.
69. Jason Derulo, “Swalla” feat. Nicki Minaj & Ty Dolla $ign. A disappointingly straightforward digression from Derulo, who’s normally wilier.
68. Alessia Cara, “Scars to Your Beautiful.” A nice song with a nice message that doesn’t do much with bland empowerment cliches. [Watch her perform it on the Video Music Awards.]
67. Niall Horan, “Slow Hands.” Sexier than “Strip It Down,” but not very sexy. [Watch him perform it on BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge.]
66. Miley Cyrus, “Malibu.” One of several female pop stars who faltered this year despite maximum effort. [See Perry, Katy; Gaga, Lady.] [Watch her perform it live on the Billboard Music Awards.]
65. Kygo & Selena Gomez, “It Ain’t Me.” It pains me greatly that I can’t include Selena Gomez’s outstanding “Bad Liar” on this list. Her pre-surgery dancehall collaboration did not wow me.
64. Harry Styles, “Sign of the Times.” I liked much of Styles’ opening album, but this operatic debut single never connected with me. [Watch him perform it on Graham Norton.]
63. Keith Urban, “The Fighter” feat. Carrie Underwood. Love seeing these two perform together; wish the lyrics were less regressive. [Watch them perform it on the CMT Music Awards.]
62. Imagine Dragons, “Believer.” I don’t have the energy to complain about the ubiquity of these guys. They don’t inspire enough energy me to do much of anything. [Watch them perform it on the Billboard Music Awards.]
61. Imagine Dragons, “Thunder.” At least this one pushes them into a slightly unexpected genre? [Watch them perform it on Fallon.]
60. Zedd & Alessia Cara, “Stay.” Free Alessia’s gorgeous, nuanced voice from these cookie-cutter arrangements. [Watch them perform it on The Voice.]
59. Post Malone, “Congratulations” feat. Quavo. Slightly less vacuous than his #1 follow-up. [Watch them perform it on Seth Meyers.]
58. Halsey, “Now or Never.” Glad to see she’s getting a bump from her Chainsmokers feature. That same bump seems to have eluded Daya, who I prefer. [Watch her perform it on Fallon.]
57. Ed Sheeran, “Castle on the Hill.” U2-lite when U2-not-lite isn’t much to see. [Watch him perform it on the Billboard Music Awards.]
56. Drake, “Fake Love.” My favorite tracks from More Life didn’t make this list. This isn’t one of my favorites.
55. Marian Hill, “Down.” Zzz.
54. Big Sean, “Bounce Back.” Not the worst Big Sean has to offer, which is a blessing. [Watch him perform it on SNL.]
53. Ed Sheeran, “Shape of You.” I get that some people (millions of people) love this song! I’m just not into it. [Watch him and his co-writers explain how he made it, and watch him perform it on the Grammy Awards.]
52. Maroon 5, “What Lovers Do” feat. SZA. As Maroon 5 collaborations go, one could do worse. (See below.) [Watch them perform it on Fallon.]
51. 21 Savage, “Bank Account.” He was everywhere this year (including all over this chart), but this isn’t my favorite of his.
50. Kane Brown feat. Lauren Alaina, “What Ifs.” I just learned that Brown and Alaina have known each other since they were kids. Their chemistry on this song is just fine.
49. Rae Sremmurd, “Swang.” It’s no “Black Beatles,” but it’ll do.
48. Luke Combs, “Hurricane.” Reminds me of so many other country songs — good ones, though..
47. Travis Scott, “Goosebumps” feat. Kendrick Lamar. I’ve never connected with this lead artist, but he won me over a bit with his current album Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight.
46. Portugal, The Man, “Feel It Still.” More memorable than Imagine Dragons. [Watch them perform it on Conan.]
45. Katy Perry, “Chained to the Rhythm” feat. Skip Marley. Not a terrible song, and much better than the singles that succeeded it. But the first of many stumbles for Perry this year, perhaps marking the end of her golden age. [Watch them perform it on the Grammys.]
44. P!nk, “What About Us.” An old favorite who always delivers. [Watch her perform it on Good Morning America.]
43. Calvin Harris, “Feels” feat. Pharrell Williams, Katy Perry & Big Sean. A sunny posse cut that doesn’t overstay its welcome.
42. Zay Hilfigerrr & Zayion McCall, “Juju On That Beat (TZ Anthem).“ Every year has one.
41. Migos, “Slippery” feat. Gucci Mane. These guys were probably overexposed in 2017 — but there are worse things to be overexposed to.
40. Kodak Black, “Tunnel Vision.” Not only did he inspire one of the biggest hits of the year (see below), he had his own breakout in 2017. (Troubled by this, though.)
39. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, “Drowning” feat. Kodak Black. Is there a better rap name?
38. Playboi Carti, “Magnolia.” Fun gibberish.
37. Khalid, “Young, Dumb & Broke.” We’ll be hearing much more of this one in 2018.
36. Logic, “1-800-273-8255” feat. Alessia Cara & Khalid. As music, it’s fine. As public service, it’s invaluable. [Watch them perform it on the Video Music Awards.]
35. Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee, “Despacito” feat. Justin Bieber. Cut Bieber out and this would probably be higher. Cut out half the times I heard it in the ether this year and it’d probably be near the top. Good song that I’d be fine not to hear for a bit. [Watch Fonsi perform it, without Bieber and Yankee, on Conan.]
34. French Montana, “Unforgettable” feat. Swae Lee. [Watch them perform it live on the MTV European Music Awards.]
33. Gucci Mane, “I Got the Bag” feat. Migos. [Watch them perform it live on Kimmel.]
32. Shawn Mendes, “Mercy.” I loved him last year and I love him again. [Watch him perform it live on SNL.]
31. Sam Smith, “Too Good at Goodbyes.” Sometime around the 2016 Oscars, it became uncool to like Sam Smith. Call me uncool — his voice is something else. [Watch him perform it live on SNL.]
30. Demi Lovato, “Sorry Not Sorry.“ Not my favorite track from her strong new album, but brassy. [Watch her perform it live on the Video Music Awards.]
29. Yo Gotti feat. Nicki Minaj, “Rake It Up.” A throwback. [Watch them perform it on Fallon.]
28. J. Balvin & Willy William, “Mi Gente” feat. Beyonce. Hot take: This song didn’t need Beyonce. [Watch them perform it (pre-Bey) on Ellen.]
27. Shawn Mendes, “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back.” See above. [Watch him perform it on Fallon.]
26. Migos, “T-Shirt.” This could have been as big as “Bad and Boujee.”
25. Amine, “Caroline.” I hope this guy sticks around. He’s promising. [Watch him perform it on Fallon.]
24. DJ Khaled, “I’m the One” feat. Justin Bieber, Quavo, Chance the Rapper & Lil Wayne. No one (least of all Quavo) gives 100 percent on this track, and it somehow works. [Watch most of them perform it on the BET Awards.]
23. Sam Hunt, “Body Like a Back Road.” Bawdy and basic but I couldn’t resist its charms. [Watch him perform it on the Academy of Country Music Awards.]
22. Camila Cabello, “Havana” feat. Young Thug. It took for a few false starts for Cabello to find her post-Fifth Harmony lane, but with a little help from Pharrell & Co., she got there. (P.S. Fifth Harmony’s “Down” and “He Like That” belongs on this list.) [Watch her perform it on Fallon.]
21. Drake, “Passionfruit.” It belongs here for that title alone. [Watch Paramore (!) sing it on BBC Radio 1.]
20. Adele, “Water Under the Bridge.” Last year she took over the charts; this year she took over the arenas. This song didn’t hit as hard as “Hello,” but it’s classic her. [Watch her perform it on Fallon.]
19. Rihanna, “Love on the Brain.” The best vocal performance she’s ever given? [Watch her perform it on the Billboard Music Awards.]
18. Lil Uzi Vert, “XO TOUR Llif3.“ Uploading a bunch of audio scraps to Soundcloud is now a viable path to a music career. Better update my subscription. [Watch him perform with Ed Sheeran (?) on the VMAs.]
17. Childish Gambino, “Redbone.” It soundtracked an early scene in Get Out, it launched a thousand memes, it propelled Donald Glover to Grammy superstardom, and it still holds surprises in each listen. [Watch him perform it on Fallon.]
16. SZA, “Love Galore” feat. Travis Scott. The new face of R&B. “The Weekend” is even better and could end up on this list next year. [Watch her perform it on SNL.]
15. Charlie Puth, “Attention.” Few reasonably famous people made me angrier in recent years than this scruffy cherub. I’m over it now. Love this guy. [Watch him perform it on Corden.]
14. DJ Khaled feat. Rihanna & Bryson Tiller, “Wild Thoughts.” Bryson’s wild thoughts verge on too wild (“slaughter like I’m Jason”), but Rihanna’s are just the right amount.
13. Kesha, “Praying.” A resonant comeback from an artist who more than deserved one. [Watch her perform it on Fallon.]
12. Bruno Mars, “That’s What I Like.” Sexy and cuddly go hand in hand. [Watch him perform it on the Grammy Awards.]
11. Future, “Mask Off.” That. Flute. [Watch him perform it with Kendrick Lamar on the BET Awards.]
10. Migos, “Bad and Boujee” feat. Lil Uzi Vert. What more can be said about this one that Donald Glover didn’t already say better? [Watch them perform it on Ellen.]
9. Brett Young, “In Case You Don’t Know.” Simple, stunning balladry that will be a wedding staple for years to come.
8. Cardi B, “Bodak Yellow (Money Moves).” Her charm-offensive publicity tour has been a trip, but this breakout debut is its sturdy foundation. [Watch her perform it on the VMAs pre-show.]
7. Kendrick Lamar, “Humble.” K-Dot is funny! He also might be the Pope? [Watch him perform it on the VMAs.]
6. Bruno Mars, “24K Magic.” This song technically appears twice in the top ten (see below). It took time to grow on me, but it’s an opulent jolt. [Watch him perform it on SNL.]
5. Julia Michaels, “Issues.” A songwriting magician steps out from behind the keyboard with transcendent results. [Watch her perform it on Fallon.]
4. Kendrick Lamar, “DNA” This hard-charging banger becomes a different but equally hard-charging banger midway through. [Watch him perform it on the VMAs.]
3. Khalid, “Location.” Poignant modern romance and missed connections, lushly arranged. [Watch him perform it on Ellen.]
2. Calvin Harris, “Slide” feat. Frank Ocean & Migos. A year ago, nothing could have prepared me to put Calvin Harris near the top of a list like this. But 2017 is a special time, and this is a special song that combines several incongruous elements to thrilling effect. Frank Ocean sounds good in dance-able mode.
1. Kendrick Lamar, “LOYALTY” feat. Rihanna. Rihanna is a rapper now — and a good one. Kendrick Lamar has been a good rapper for a while. The sped-up Bruno Mars sample is an earworm. As a soundtrack to James Comey’s public testimony or to a private heart-to-heart, nothing beat this song in 2017.