LOS ANGELES — Ten of the best songs of the year, as determined by Associated Press Music Writer Maria Sherman, in no particular order. Dive in.
Buckle up for some positive affirmations! The 10-time Grammy-nominated Victoria Monét, once best known as a hit-maker for Ariana Grande, Fifth Harmony and Chloe x Halle, is getting her flowers these days as a soloist — and passing them right along to the mothers listening. Her blockbuster single “On My Mama” is a loving tribute to her mom and her daughter, with Monét’s buttery voice and bright brass production carrying throughout. It may very well be the best R&B track of the year — with one of the best samples, utilizing Chalie Boy’s 2009 banger “I Look Good.” It takes a real talent to borrow from such a recognizable sound. Monét doesn’t just manage to do that — she makes it her own.
Bad Bunny’s 2023 album, “Nadie Sabe Lo Que Va a Pasar Mañana,” is a reclamation of his past sound, the hard-hitting rap that preceded his mainstream superstardom. Perhaps it’s an exercise in getting back to the basics while unraveling the complications of fame, the source material for most of the album’s lyrics. At any rate, the combination makes for a more restrained, pointed listen: a true success on the stellar “Monaco,” a Latin trap song with a need for speed that wouldn’t feel too far removed on his debut album, 2018’s “X 100PRE.” Benito’s smooth, somber baritone carries the track, as does the rush sound of a Formula One car that bleeds into baroque production.
There’s a thin line between courageous and corny when it comes to uplifting pop records. Far too often, an empowering song with an ascendant chorus loses all tension and hits the ear like a too-sweet dessert. But on Miley Cyrus’ Grammy-nominated “Flowers,” her first No. 1 hit in a decade, the pop superstar makes magic happen. It’s a summery, retro-pop single teeming with optimism born out of divorce. “No remorse, no regret / I forget every word you said,” she sings — the musical equivalent of someone saying, “I’m bored with this conversation” — before launching into a self-help mantra. Then, she finds an emotional solution and musical resolve in her chorus: “I can love me better than you can.”
It is the song of the summer — heck, the year — and it came out in January. The dream team of Bronx rapper Ice Spice and hyperpop-punk hero PinkPantheress made “Boy’s a Liar Pt. 2” an examination of modern dating with an undeniable hook. It is so space-y as to take flight; a lackadaisical remix for the current moment. Plus, the pronunciation of “Liar” like “Leo” in the song’s chorus is “It’s Gonna Be May”-level creativity. What’s not to love?
Country artist Zach Bryan knows a thing or two about writing the loneliness of heartbreak into song with cutting specificity. It is one of the reasons his 2022 major label debut “American Heartbreak” was named one of AP’s top albums of last year. And it is part of the reason why his 2023 single and first No. 1 track, “I Remember Everything,” is one of our favorites of this year. It’s confessional, rich, balladic songwriting amplified by his full-hearted voice — those open, resonating notes — and the sweetness of Musgraves’ tone.
Long gone are the burnt orange pop-punk days of Paramore’s youth. The Tennessee rock band flirts with animated post-punk these days, experimenting with asymmetrical synth production that mirrors internal anxieties and the external forces that augment them. “Crave” is the latter reflecting on the former: a propulsive, matured band dancing around a prickly guitar riff. But at its core, like in all great Paramore tracks, is frontwoman Hayley Williams stretching her vast vocal range, belting out frustrations and excising misguided desires.
The opening track and lead single from Australian pop powerhouse Troye Sivan’s third full-length album, “Something to Give Each Other,” is all falsetto, locker room chants, and utopic homoeroticism: “I feel the rush / Addicted to your touch,” a group of men harmonize on the perfect pop of his lead single, “Rush.” Bravado is instituted only to drive home a sort of sweaty sexuality, all fun and light atop house and EDM beats. Sivan offered AP a kind of mantra for the song in an interview earlier this year: “Things are good. Life is fun. Sex is great.”
What came first: the chicken or the egg, 100 gecs or the Internet genre of hyperpop? It doesn’t matter. The duo of Laura Les and Dylan Brady are not in the market for sense; rather, their musical art is fueled by pixelated chaos. In the case of “Dumbest Girl Alive,” a choice cut from their sophomore LP “10,000 gecs,” the only thing that matters is the nu-metal bass lick and distorted vocals that deliver unintelligible lines like “Put emojis on my grave / I’m the dumbest girl alive.” It’s 2023’s best song that sounds like getting sucked into a computer simulation, fun and dumb in equal measure.
In 2023, girl groups dominated the K-pop conversation. At the fore is NewJeans, with their Y2K-nostalgic sound that pulls from the turn of the millennium’s R&B and pop music. “OMG” was the catalyst for their fame, with its addictive trap rhythm, propelled by U.K. garage-inspired production, tasteful cowbells (you read that correctly) and a sticky staccato synth that lays a strong foundation, brought to the next level by the quintet’s ebullient harmonies. Oh my, oh my god, indeed.
Danny Brown’s absurdist approach to contemporary rap has made him one to watch for years, and “Tantor,” the teetering lead single from his long-awaited sixth studio album “Quaranta,” is proof. The Alchemist-produced track is, in moments, prog-rock avant-rap, a retro-futuristic hip-hop filtered through, like, “Robocop.” If cyborgs aren’t your thing, look away — but then you’d be missing one of the most welcomingly clangorous and charming tracks of 2023.