Top 25 Pop Songs of 2016
2016 featured some great music from artists both old and new; some making their debuts onto the music scene, others adding onto their already impressive resume. In this list, we’re counting down the top 25 pop songs of 2016.
These songs made their way onto this list via their amount of peak radio exposure, likeability, and commercial success during the 2016 calendar year.
"Heathens," Twenty One Pilots
I didn’t like Twenty-One Pilots to start this year. I didn’t understand their music, or their appeal, and I couldn’t stand hearing them on the radio wherever I went. Then I heard them perform on Saturday Night Live, and something clicked. “Heathens,” features a somber piano lick throughout, with Tyler Joseph’s aggressive bass dispersed throughout the song, almost mimicking the sound of a shotgun being reloaded. The track was the lead single off the soundtrack to the 2016 film Suicide Squad. It reached as high as #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
Best line: “We don’t deal with outsiders very well, they say newcomers have a certain smell”
"No," Meghan Trainor
The song, in my opinion, should have been called “Untouchable,” because that’s the catchiest part of this Meghan Trainor earworm. “No” is a major departure from Trainor’s first album (Title), as it lends itself to more of a hip-hop vibe with more apparent sexual undertones. It works perfectly as a hip-hop track, and even draws comparisons to songs from Brittney Spears, Madonna, and NSYNC.
Best line: “My name is ‘no,’ my number is ‘no,’ my sign is ‘no,’ you need to let it go”
"Don't Mind," Kent Jones
Hate on this one if you want, I think it’s so clever. Kent Jones takes us on a journey through the land of geography, remarking on women he meets from every corner of the globe. And then we get to the chorus, which features a sloppy, but catchy and ultimately very effective pairing together of different languages, including Spanish, Japanese, English, and French. The song features elements of the Barry White song “Practice What you Preach,” as Jones sings “Telling me this, telling me that” in the chorus numerous times.
Best line: “She from Africa, but she fuck me like she Haitian”
“Cold Water,” Major Lazer, Justin Bieber and MØ
This EDM track by Major Lazer features some big names, including Justin Bieber and MØ, but also Ed Sheeran, who is featured on the main guitar lick throughout the verses of the song. The track isn’t really anything all that profound, but its synth-heavy chorus made ”Cold Water” a fine summer anthem this year.
Best line: “And if you feel you’re sinking, I will jump right over into cold, cold water for you”
"HandClap," Fitz and the Tantrums
Whether you’ve heard it at sports games or during commercials or video games, “HandClap” gets you up and moving. Fitz and the Tantrums’ third album featured this leading single, an indie-dance-pop anthem that’s clearly aimed at getting people to, well, clap their hands. But it’s not the chorus or the earworm bassline that is featured throughout the song. It’s the fast moving vocals of Michael Fitzpatrick that really make it unique. With a healthy balance of sharp and pulsing verses and a pre-chorus that has a perfect breakdown feel, “HandClap,” is a great jam song. Just don’t forget to clap on the right beats during the chorus.
Best line: “Get on my knees and say a prayer to James Brown”
"Side to Side," Ariana Grande feat. Nicki Minaj
A last-minute entry on this list, "Side to Side" marks the first of three Ariana Grande songs on this list. She had another big year with "Dangerous Woman," what can I say? This reggae/R&B tune features the always-wonderful Nicki Minaj on a strong verse midway through the song, paired with another strong vocal performance from Ariana herself (that riff in the hook? UN. REAL). I can just see the club materializing around me as I listen to this song, can't you? Or maybe this one makes me want to take a spin class, I don't know.
Best line: "Tonight I'm making deals with the devil, and I know it's gonna get me in trouble"
Never has a song about a BMW sounded so good. “Panda,” the debut single by rapper Desiigner, features an incredible hook painting the image of the artist’s lifestyle. His line about “having broads in Atlanta,” is probably a nod to Desiigner’s rapping style, as it’s very similar to that of rappers who hail from that city. As a whole, though, “Panda” is about Desiigner’s love for the BMW X6, which he describes, lyrically as “the panda is the black X6 and the white X6. The black X6 looks like a Phantom, the white X6 looks like a panda.” This trap song has been widely praised critically, as it was hailed as one of the 30 best songs of the first half of 2016 by Rolling Stone, and reached the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 at the end of April. It was even so good, Kanye had to sample it for his own album.
Best line: “Man I’m the macho like Randy, the choppa go Oscar for Grammy”
The Top 25:
25. "Unsteady," X Ambassadors
Does anyone else think someone is shaking a rattle in front of the microphone for a majority of this song? This hit, the third single from X Ambassadors’ debut album “VHS,” features stellar vocals from Sam Harris, as he switches back and forth from belting high notes to reaching into his falsetto, giving the chorus an eerie sound as he moves back and forth between his two vocal registers. In fact, nothing about the lyrics to the song suggest stability, and Harris’ vocals perfectly exemplify such unsteadiness, much like the crinkling of whatever-it-is throughout the song. Watch the music video, and let the story of an alcoholic rip your heart out, paired with Harris’ stunning vocals (he’s so damn good). This one reached #20 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Best line: “Mama, I’m here, approach, appear”
24. "Say You Won't Let Go," James Arthur
A man and his guitar. Nothing better than that, am I right? James Arthur, winner of the ninth season of The X Factor, gave us this single off of first studio album. This simple, folk tune is a beautiful love song about the prospects of a potentially long-term relationship. Arthur’s smooth voice slips in some of the best, most natural riffs you’ll hear this year, and his lyrics will make you cry. Eventually, the song swells to feature a little percussion and some backing strings, and Arthur reaches the depths of his emotions and lets them all pour out during the last chorus. I anticipate that many first dances at weddings will be to this song.
Best line: “I’m gonna love you till my lungs give out, I promise till death will part like in our vows” and his riff before “Oh, and you look as beautiful as ever”
23. "Sledgehammer," Rihanna
“Sledgehammer” was written to promote Star Trek Beyond, but had been written and worked on for two years prior to the film’s release. It makes total sense that this song was written by Sia, as her vocal patterns and tendencies are found in both the pre-chorus and chorus to the song. Stylistically, the song is perfect for a Star Trek film, much like the way most James Bond theme songs are stylistically appropriate for their films, featuring the signature Bond chord progressions. “Sledgehammer” gives off the vibe of a majestic adventure film, and the music video only drives that point home more. The lyrics suggest something different, in that Rihanna describes how she moves past someone who hurt her. The chord progression from D to Bb in the chorus is chilling.
Best line: “You’re just another break and I’m a sledgehammer”
22. "Body Moves," DNCE
As is typical for DNCE, their funk-rock and dance-pop origins are fantastic and can get anybody moving. Featuring a thumping bass line found in a lot of pop music recently, and the highly underrated vocals of Joe Jonas, “Body Moves” reminds us of the fun-loving stylings of MKTO, while giving us sexy undertones like that of Justin Timberlake’s earlier albums. Then we’ve got the horn-inspired bridge, which is incredible. The synth and the trumpets blend perfectly together. The music video features a lot of making out, and a lot of half-naked hot people. A lot of hot people.
Best line: “Come and roll with me, we’ll rock them body moves, me and you, body moves”
21. "New Romantics," Taylor Swift
Another hit from Taylor’s 1989 album is “New Romantics,” which, as the music video shows, follows her on the road toward the end of her tour, as she reminisces on the good times she’s spent with her fans. It makes sense that it takes place at the end of her tour, because the song is a bonus track on the album. Why it was ever left off the album in the first place is completely beyond me. Much like “Blank Space,” or “Shake it Off,” “New Romantics” does reference Taylor’s perceived personality (as she likes to do), but it offers itself back to the fans that she’s addressing.
Best line: “Heartbreak is the national anthem, we sing it proudly”
20. "One Dance," Drake feat. Wizkid and Kyla
Drake, the almighty one, has come to save us. With this follow up to 2015’s “Hotline Bling,” “One Dance” is more of a dancehall tune with some afrobeat flavor, as it mixes in some vintage-sounding echoing piano, shades of tropical music, and a solid, club-worthy beat. The additions of Nigerian artist Wizkid and British singer Kyla make the song even more complete. It’s a great representation of the spiritual energy two people can share together while dancing at the club. The song is a gorgeous array of multiculturalism that evokes some of the stylings of 80s Lionel Richie. The song reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and reached #1 as well in the UK.
Best line: “Grips on your waist, front way, back way, you know that I don’t play”
19. "Hide Away," Daya
“Hide Away” was Daya’s coming out party. The Pittsburgh native had a big year this year, as she released both her self-titled EP, as well as the Sit Still, Look Pretty album, on both of which this song appears. “Hide Away,” features Daya’s near flawless vocals, as she effortlessly pops back and forth from chest voice to head voice, a la your prototypical indie-pop singer. However, there’s something about Daya’s voice that’s extremely unique, which is why “Hide Away” received so much love at the outset. The synth-pop song has a catchy hook, with the phrase “Where do the good boys go to hide away, hide away” being repeated numerous times, not to mention the phrase “tell me where the good boys go” during the bridge. If you listen to her music, Daya the artist is extremely likeable, and it’ll be fascinating to see where she goes next.
Best line: “Boys seem to like the girls who like to kiss and tell, talking them up about the things they do so well”
18. "Scars to Your Beautiful," Alessia Cara
A powerful anthem about body image, Alessia Cara’s “Scars to Your Beautiful” was released as a single from her album “Know-It-All” in July 2016. The Canadian singer’s song is unconventionally dark for a song about body image addressed toward women (much unlike Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass”), but it is able to tackle the subject with scathing introspective lyrics like “What’s a little bit of hunger? I can go a little while longer,” and then blow the doors open with a powerful chorus, reflecting on the fact that all of us are stars in our own way. Musically, Cara’s voice is silky smooth, with riffs in all the right places, reaching high and low points effortlessly. The synth-pop foundation for the song paired with the subject matter draws some comparison to Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song,” but also draws comparisons to singers like Beyoncé due to the dark yet powerful style of the song.
Best line: “There’s a hope that’s waiting for you in the dark, you should know you’re beautiful just the way you are” and “No better you than the you that you are”
17. "Let Me Love You," DJ Snake feat. Justin Bieber
The big year for the Biebs continues with this collaboration with “Lean On” producer DJ Snake. This one’s a little more bearable than the aforementioned “Lean On,” as Bieber’s vocals and riffs throughout the track make it easy to sing along with. The musical hook uses some kind of synth piano, and, while annoying for a time, it gradually becomes likeable and memorable. Due to Bieber’s work with both DJ Snake and Major Lazer, he’s definitely solidified his status a feature fixture of the EDM world. This track may be the most romantic club banger we’ve heard in a while.
Best line: “Say go through the darkest of days, heaven’s a heartbreak away”
16. "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)," Adele
A pregame song from Adele. Who knew? The release of 2015’s “25” saw Adele once again embrace both the somber and glorious upbeat sides of breaking up. Last year, it was “Hello,” this year, it’s “Send My Love.” The 10-time Grammy winner walks the line between biting passive-aggression and unapologetic truth telling, all while swelling into a bittersweet hook. The harmonies of the chorus really help drive the point home. While it might not be her best up-tempo in her career (because the “21” album was and always will be her best work), “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)” gets us all feeling some kind of way about our ex-loves and the night of drinking ahead.
Best line: “I’m giving you up, I’ve forgiven it all, you set me free”
15. "My House," Flo Rida
Is it just me, or does every Flo Rida song make you want to throw a house party? Finally, the guy wrote a song about a house and throwing a party inside, and it’s great. When that piano riff hits for the first time, you know it’s time to turn on the colored lights and pop the champagne. The hook is absurdly catchy, and the beat is just right to jam to in all parts of the party stage, whether before, during, or even after it.
Best line: “Mi casa es tu casa so it ain’t no holding back, another shot of vodka, you know what’s in my glass”
14. "Gold," Kiiara
Kiiara’s snap-pop single “Gold” is fascinating, particularly during the chorus, as she runs samples of her own songs backwards and mixes them up, ultimately creating some weirdly unmelodic but strangely catchy hook. This one gives us flashbacks of Sia’s “Chandelier” (at least thematically) and Lorde’s “Royals.” While we’re waiting for the latter to come back to us with another album, Kiiara was the perfect person this year to step into the spotlight with this smooth and smoky hit.
Best line: “Gold up in my teeth, tastes like money when I speak”
13. "Me Too," Meghan Trainor
Yes. I have put a Meghan Trainor song in my top 25. This is finally the one that Ms. Trainor got right, as she finally comes away from her faux-doo-wop-and-bubblegum-pop music from “Title”. The second single from her “Thank You” album, “Me Too” gives us much more of a club vibe, while also giving us soulful sections full of tambourines and great three part harmony (and yes, she’ll throw in a great riff or three in there as well). While some of the lyrics aren’t the best things ever, a lot of it is really, really great. Hopefully she’ll stick with this kind of music from now on. Bless you, Meghan. Bless you. Also, she's in a onesie for the majority of the music video. So that's fun.
Best line: “My life’s a movie, Tom (Cruise), so bless me baby, Ah (Choo)”
12. "Adventure of a Lifetime," Coldplay
The first single from the British group’s colorful “A Head Full of Dreams” album features a disco and funk-infused beat, a pulsing bass groove from Guy Berryman, and a catchy guitar solo that highlights its intro and choruses. Much like their other leading singles from previous albums, “Adventure of a Lifetime” has the energy to be that quintessential quirky, yet mainstream pop hit. It works as a car jam song, a workout song, and it can even pass for existing in a club setting. The music video is a little weird, though, as shown by all these monkeys running around playing instruments. The high, echoing “woo-hoo’s” by Chris Martin during the outro of the song are infectious. You’ll find yourself singing along even if you’ve never heard the song before.
Best line: “Under this pressure, under this weight, we are diamonds taking shape”
11. "24K Magic," Bruno Mars
Bruno and the boys from Uptown are back, this time with another flashy, delightfully arrogant 80s-style groove. It has all the same retro-funk stylings of “Uptown Funk,” but Mars’ solo turn on lyrics turns up the heat on the amount of swagger oozing from the lyrics of the song. “24K Magic,” has all the nostalgia of the 2013-14 Billboard chart topper, but doesn’t do very much to top it. In fact, I’m not sure there’s any party song that could top “Uptown Funk” at this moment. But it does keep the party going, and it does so in the fun, bouncy way that we’ve come to love Bruno Mars for.
Best line: “Take your sip, do your dip, spend your money like money ain’t shit; We too fresh, got to blame it on Jesus, #blessed”
10. "Dangerous Woman," Ariana Grande
Ariana takes the art of the slow jam and makes it her own with this first single off her second album of the same name. The waltz-time feel and ever-present guitar solo, combined with Ariana’s lyrics make “Dangerous Woman” her most mature song yet. It begins as a seductive whisper, and finishes with a full out, no marking, belt-and-riff fest, as she flaunts her obvious range and vocal control. The extended guitar solo in the middle of the song gives it that little bit of edge it needs as both a pop song, an R&B tune, and a rock song. When Ariana sings that final chorus, the chill will set in. Tell me about how good she is, will you?
Best line: “Taking control of this moment, I’m locked and loaded, completely focused, my mind is open”
9. "Ride," Twenty-One Pilots
Okay, so they snuck up on me and made me fall in love with this track. “Ride” is a combination of many different genres of music. It’s part reggae/afrobeat, part rap, part alt-rock (think FUN.), and part EDM. And I like a lot of the parts that make up this song. The lyrics are confusing, as the listener’s not sure what “Ride” Twenty One Pilots are talking about- the ride through life, or the ride toward death? They experiment with the deeply philosophical along the way, making us take a quick analysis of our closest friends and loved ones, and then circling back to ourselves as a whole, with the simple but poignant “I’ve been thinking too much” during the bridge of the song. In the song’s final act, when the bass drops into the hook of the song, and Tyler Joseph belts his little heart out for the final chorus, it’s a well-earned catharsis for the song. Finally, it settles on a warm, but ultimately somber tone, leaving us to wonder about our lives in the process.
Best line: “We all have a list of people we would take a bullet for them, a bullet for you, a bullet for everybody in this room, but we don’t seem to see many bullets coming through”
8. "Sorry," Justin Bieber
I will admit that, traditionally, I am not the biggest fan of Justin Bieber. I didn’t like his music, he was a jerk in real life and had no remorse for his actions, and I didn’t take him or his fame seriously. That was until he released his “Purpose” album, and I understood, especially when his first major single from the album was literally apologizing to a girl that he had wronged. Bieber’s voice has matured a lot since his days of singing “Baby,” and all this life experience he’s had has certainly done him well, at least in the development of his music. This is a lot like when Taylor Swift released her “1989” album, and we all finally really understood what she was about. I think the “Purpose” album is Bieber’s real coming out party. The hook of the song is undeniably catchy, but also very deep, as Bieber acknowledges that there’s more to a woman than just her body and putting titles on a relationship. It’s good to see Bieber grow up, for once. I’m a fan of this incarnation of the pop star. Hopefully he can keep it going in 2017.
Best line: “I know you know that I made those mistakes maybe once or twice; by once or twice, I mean maybe a couple of hundred times”
7. "Into You," Ariana Grande
Ariana is back and explosive as ever. This sexy jam features incredible bass, along with some of the best synth in pop music this year. The music is both aggressive and smooth simultaneously, and creates a delicious musical soup when paired up with Ariana’s incredible voice. It goes without saying that the lyrics for “Into You” are hot as hell (as are most of the lyrics on the “Dangerous Woman” album), as she keeps the focus of her song completely focused on her through her quiet whispers at the beginning of the song, all the way through the powerful belting notes at the end. Also, her nod to Elvis is much appreciated. Say what you will about Ariana. You can like her, you can dislike her, but you can’t that she’s got talent, and can sing and perform circles around most other artists in music today.
Best line: “A little less conversation and a little more touch my body”
6. "Sit Still, Look Pretty," Daya
Daya dealt a one-two punch with her debut album this year, with her second single being the better of the two. “Sit Still, Look Pretty,” keeps that bubbly pop feel of “Hide Away,” but adds a quicker barrage of vocals during the hook, which make it a little more pleasing to the ear. On top of that, Daya keeps the same message in both tracks: following one’s dreams no matter what other people think, and dismissing any notions or expectations that women will act or look a certain way, or depend on other men in order to find self worth. It’s a delightful, bouncy middle finger to the people who expect girls to just “sit still and look pretty.” Daya nails it with this one.
Best line: “And I might love me some vanilla but I’m not that sugar sweet, call me HBIC”
5. "I Took a Pill in Ibiza," Mike Posner
2016 was a strange year. Nowhere is that feeling more exemplified than in Mike Posner’s first top-10 hit in nearly six years, “I Took a Pill in Ibiza.” The title to the song, firstly, is very misleading. It’s not about how awesome everything gets when one takes drugs. In fact, it’s the exact opposite, as Posner describes how he feels awful after taking a pill to seem cool (because I guess Avicii disapproves of him). It goes on to describe how Posner views himself as a “singer who already blew his shot,” as well as a dismal life that being a low-life of a celebrity who makes all this money and attention, but finds a way to screw it up. The juxtaposition of the lyrics and the vibrant hook make you want to stop and take a second look at the song, because doing so will make you realize exactly how disappointed Posner has become with his life. While it makes the song really sad, at least we know that we should never be high like Mike. It’s a shame this one never reached the top of the charts in the United States, but it did go double platinum, and is one of the top-selling singles of the year.
Best line: “I’m just a singer who already blew his shot; I get along with old timers ‘cuz my name’s a reminder of a pop song people forgot”
4. "Cake by the Ocean," DNCE
Just when we were all ready for a good summer song, along came “Cake by the Ocean,” the first single released by ex-Jonas Brothers member, Joe Jonas, and his new band, DNCE. The song begins with a creeping guitar line, reminiscent of 1950s surfer songs, and worms its way to an unsurprisingly catchy hook with lots of repeating phrases, including the always-memorable “ah-ya-ya-ya-ya-ah.” Okay, so the song isn’t really about anything. There’s cake, and there’s an ocean, and I guess it could be about butts or sex or whatever, but the point is this: Doesn’t it make you want to go to the beach and scream your lungs out to this pop-punk gem?
Best line: “Red velvet, vanilla, chocolate every night- confetti, I’m ready, I need it every night”
3. "Love Yourself," Justin Bieber
An unexpectedly stripped down feel for the Biebs, “Love Yourself” might be the best thing he’s ever done. Ed Sheeran makes a guest appearance on the track, featured throughout as guitar player and background vocalist. The tender track is a very honest break-up letter to an ex, giving a self-assuring mantra that says: “If you don’t think I’m good enough for you, go ahead and love yourself.” Written with scathing burns, “Love Yourself” also features some interesting musical elements, including a set of trumpets which give the song a blues side midway through. This isn’t Bieber’s first outing with Sheeran, as he is also featured on “Cold Water,” Bieber’s collaboration with Major Lazer. But the two make really good music together, that much is clear. The tongue-in-cheek song keeps us laughing at the jabs, but crooning along with the lyrics. “Love Yourself” may have only been at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks out of the year, but it was the top-performing single of 2016, going double-platinum, selling over 2.7 million times.
Best line: “My mama don’t like you, and she likes everyone”
2. "Can't Stop the Feeling!," Justin Timberlake
JT’s newest hit is a feel-good party jam that just makes you feel happy all over. From the opening beats with overlaying piano, JT puts his signature style on the song, making a super bouncy and colorful song (because it was written for the Trolls movie, after all) super cool, only the way the “Suit and Tie” superstar can. The pre-chorus of the song is the best: soft at first, then descending into a really neat tension-filled section, and finally sliding up to the hook, where it explodes with vivacity, life, and good, wholesome fun. Just like “Shut up and Dance,” was last year’s song of the summer, so too is this one. You can try to forget this song, but you might be too busy dance, dance, dance, dancing to do it.
Best line: “I got that sunshine in my pocket, got that good song in my feet”
1. "Closer," The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey
After I heard this song for the first time, I already knew the words to the hook. That’s how catchy this song has been this year. It was a little bit of a sleeper hit (keep in mind that The Chainsmokers had the incredibly profound song “#Selfie” last year), considering all the new albums put out by artists like Beyonce, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Sia, and Kanye West this year, which really highlighted pop music in 2016. However, “Closer” remained the pesky single that no one could get out of their heads or escape from. The combination of synthesized strings, the keyboards, and bass is fantastic, and the tension of the dramatic musical and lyrical duet between Andrew Taggart and Halsey is palpable. The amount of millennial nostalgia and late 90s-early 2000s zeitgeist will make all us pique our ears and listen (especially when they throw in that line about a Blink-182 song). The sweet melodies of the verses and emotional final hook of this song will be memorable long after this song fades into the background of pop music. When this song comes on the radio in 10 years, you’ll still be nodding your head in rhythm and respect. “Closer” was the longest-running Billboard #1 this year at 12 weeks, and it earns the top spot on this list for 2016.
Best line: “Stay and play that Blink-182 song that we beat to death in Tuscon, okay”
What were your favorite pop songs from this year? Leave a comment down below!
Don't forget to check out the list of the top 10 most annoying songs of 2016 HERE.
Take a look at the rest of According to Andrew's "Best of 2016" spread HERE.