Have I even listened to enough new music in 2017 to be doing this list? According to Spotify, my two most streamed artists this year were sister to The People’s Minogue, Kylie, and British pop evergreens Atomic Kitten. Neither have had any new music to show for this year – except maybe if you want to count the NERVO collab Kylie appeared on.
Aside from the Kittens, S Club Juniors, Mis-Teeq, Samantha Mumba, Billie Piper and iio all turned up in my most streamed tracks of the year. It would seem at the year I turned 30, I had suddenly become nostalgic for the Smash Hits era of my youth. There I was, properly getting into acts I had skipped over the first time around like S Club Juniors/S Club 8 and Honeyz, losing hours and weeks on YouTube blackholes of Top of The Pops and CD:UK performances.
In the brief moments where I was actually present in 2017 – it felt like this was the year pop got its groove back. It has been mostly rhythm-led, thanks to the dominance of Caribbean, tropical house, Latin pop and afrobeat influences, which suit me just fine. This year is also the first year in ages where there aren’t any non-singles in the round up, so RIP the album, I guess.
Here are my 32 songs of 2017 (it’s not a round number because, full disclosure, there are two singles here that were actually released late last year).
#32 – NCT 127 ‘Limitless’
Okay so this is NCT 127, a nine-member strong boy band subgroup of NCT. This is one of three different subgroups they have going including NCT U and NCT Dream, which by the way can feature the same members in changing configurations. It’s all very confusing to the casual observer of K-Pop like yours truly. However, what is clear to me is that ‘Limitless’ is a treat. It’s bristling with hard, trap beats and laser-sharp synths – and yet in the heart of it – a skyscraping, classic boyband chorus that sounds like something you’d hear from a late 90s Backstreet Boys writing session.
#31 – Lotto Boyzz ‘No Don’
Birmingham afrobbean (as they would describe it) sensation Lotto Boyzz crept up on me with this one. It wasn’t until several casual listens that ‘No Don’ sunk its hooks in. It’s the interlocking of different melodic and rhythmic nods from Carribbean and African music, with a completely on-trend production that won me over. There is a sense that sound is gonna be what dominates ‘urban music’ in 2018.
#30 – Lauren Faith ‘Rush’
Emerging British singer-songwriter Lauren Faith glows on this rose-tinted slice of pop-R&B. A breezy, innocent and effortlessly charming soundtrack for a blossoming romance, ‘Rush’ – co-written by Faith with Zena Kitt (Karen Harding) and Luke Fritton (Kylie) – sounds like the youngest cousin of your favourite Jessie Ware song. You know the one. She’s now coming of age a little, doesn’t want her mum buying her clothes anymore, and is learning to contour from watching Courtney Act tutorials on YouTube.
#29 – Jessica Mauboy ‘Fallin”
The darling fleur of Australian pop, Jessica Mauboy, has managed to carve out a deep-rooted career in the music industry since taking silver on Australian Idol over 10 years ago. In her latest incarnation as actress of drama musical series “The Secret Daughter” where she is principally the soundtrack of the show as well, Jess has found a way to re-connect with the masses. ‘Fallin” – an original song taken from the soundtrack – saw her back in the Top 20 for the first time in two years and earned her three nominations at the ARIA Awards. The song’s bluesy and acoustic elements show what a timeless vocalist she has become, while still giving us something that feels delightfully current in a Sheeran-esque sense.
#28 – ALMA ‘Chasing Highs’
A Day-Glo, soulful-tropical house number propelled by one of the most distinct new voices in pop: ALMA. The Finnish star-in-ascendence presents herself an alternative next-gen pop heroin with an image that is distinctly her own and I want so bad for her to be a huge commercial success in the vein of Sia and Tove Lo.
#27 – SUNMI ‘Gashina’
Ex-Wonder Girls star SUNMI returns to the spotlight with an infectious and domineering modern banger. ‘Gashina’ hits all the trending sounds of the moment, blending dancehall and tropical house while giving you several moods. It is delicate yet aggressive at the same time, vulnerable yet utterly pissed off. ‘Gashina’ is a prima donna, she is me at work.
#26 – Iggy Azalea feat. Anitta ‘Switch’
Regardless of what you think of Iggy, this is a bop. A feel good, radio-ready summer jam that slots in with ‘Black Widow’, ‘Fancy’ and ‘Pretty Girls’. This is what Iggy does best. It’s glossy rap pop that doesn’t ask too much of its listeners, except maybe to jiggle one’s posterior or swing one’s hair while raising a glass of glittered Prosecco. This could have been us but somebody was playing too much. Also, I’d like to know who’s that shady fucker who filled in the chart positions on its Wiki page: #302 on the Russian Airplay Chart and #180 on the Aussie ARIA Singles Chart?
#25 – PRETTYMUCH ‘Would You Mind’
I wasn’t expecting for Syco‘s shiny, mega-hyped new boyband PRETTYMUCH to debut with a song that references so much of the late 90s/early 00s pop R&B. Yet here they are with airtight harmonies and grooves that rekindle the fire of New Kids on The Block and polish of N*Sync.
#24 – Louisa Johnson ‘Best Behaviour’
I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard this little Moombahton pop number the first time. I had to check that I had definitely hit ‘play’ on a Louisa Johnson record because this was not what I was expecting for Louisa Johnson to come out with. It felt fresh but pretty commercial at the same time. We’ve had so many people fucking with dancehall and tropical house, this was turning the different corner in the same postcode. Plus her vocals are so nauseatingly good. And you know it had to be in order to cut through all the bullshit screeching you lot are doing when she hits the key change.
#23 – 5 After Midnight ‘Up In Here’
I must’ve somehow missed this when it came out earlier in the year because it took for the release of “The Sauce” EP to jog my memory about 5 After Midnight. Gone are the days where I watched and blogged religiously about The X Factor. However, I was pleasantly taken aback by how sharp and immaculately produced ‘Up In Here’ was. It’s all furious pop-locking electro pop energy with carefully measured doses of rap and harmonies. A confident and fun debut that would have earned more than just a brief look in had it been released by a better positioned new act.
#22 – Uhm Jung Hwa ‘Ending Credit’
This was a very late addition to the list but ever since this song was brought to my attention four days ago, I have been utterly obsessed and I’m starting to feel like it’s not just a phase. K-Pop grand dame Uhm Jung Hwa‘s 80s synth pop ballad feels like a permanent mood. Adding to ‘Ending Credit”s charm is this fully choreographed and kitsch 80s-gazing music video, where a sentimental Jung Hwa reminisces on the old times in a theatre. Giving me San Junipero chills, chiiiiild. I aspire to be as fabulous as her at 48.
#21 – Sigrid ‘Strangers’
Norwegian singer-songwriter Sigrid have been hailed as one of pop’s new hopes and with plenty of good reason too. None of which I really took on board until ‘Strangers’. This is a trip. The deceptively calm and reflective opening verse is only there to serve as contrast to the agitated synths and punchy chorus to follow. If she continues to show this kind of range and raw energy, there’s no reason why Sigrid shouldn’t emerge as a true force in pop.
#20 – Tove Styrke ‘Say My Name’
It is quite criminal that this didn’t blossom to be the song of the summer. The potential was definitely there with Swedish pop sensation Tove Styrke striking out with her most colourful record yet. It might not immediately show itself to be but trust, ‘Say My Name’ is pure addiction with its ukulele noodling and shouty chorus. Both equal measures cool and inviting.
#19 – Carly Rae Jepson ‘Cut To The Feeling’
If the charts were powered by Gay Twitter posts, this would’ve been #1 for 37 weeks. In a time where any popstar worth their salt on the streaming charts are chasing trends, Carly Rae has stood her ground with her signature, euphoric synth-driven pop. There is no real age or time stamp to her songs. ‘Cut To The Feeling’, ‘I Really Like You’, ‘This Kiss’, and ‘Run Away With Me’ – all exist in their own realm of 80s-inspired millennial pop. Like a modern day rendering of Stock Aitken and Waterman’s magic. You couldn’t necessarily hear what was going on in the pop charts at the time when you play these records, and that in itself is what keeps it fresh in its own way.
#18 – Jennifer Lopez feat. Wisin ‘Amor Amor Amor’
I think this might be the catchiest J.Lo single she has released in awhile – and it’s very upsetting that it’s getting slept on so much. If this had been one of those Spanglish remixes, it might’ve gotten on more people’s radars here. This stroblit reggaeton track sounds like the meeting points of all the different musical streams of J.Lo’s discography – urban, rhythmic, Latin pop, electronic-dance.
#17 – CNCO and Little Mix ‘Reggaetón Lento (Remix)’
‘Reggaetón Lento’ has to be my favourite of all the smash Latin pop collabs to emerge this year. What a genius synergy for both bands – not just from the evidently harmonious blending of earnest vocals by CNCO and sultry maturity in Little Mix, but for CNCO, a Latin American boyband formed on another of Simon Cowell’s star-making TV shows “La Banda” (and mentored by Ricky Martin – !!!), this is the perfect introduction to the European market. For Little Mix, the perfect sound of the moment without the pressure of concocting something all on their own in the middle of a major world tour for the re-release of “Glory Days”.
#16 – Jax Jones feat. Demi Lovato and Stefflon Don ‘Instruction’
“If you’re the Supreme then I’m Diana Ross” – sounds like a burn tossed across the room at a Real Housewives reunion episode. This bossy little reggaeton zinger, co-written by MNEK, hears our evergreen young diva Demi Lovato confidently trying something outside her usual pop style with Stefflon Don adding some spice to the mix. I’d be fucking disappointed if don’t see a drag performance to this soon.
#15 – Katy Perry feat. Nicki Minaj ‘Swish Swish’
Oh this is very im_gonna_give_the_gays_everything_they_want dot gif, isn’t it? And I’m obviously here for it. Vogueing house beats? Check. Lyrics that read you for filth? Check. Empowering female pop star and accompanying fierce, boss bitch rapper? Check. And we are all present. Wonder if Tinie Tempah and Zara Larsson have clocked the track’s similarities to ‘Girls Like’?
#14 – Dua Lipa ‘New Rules’
What a relief that this has become the devilishly quotable, meme-generating monster hit that it has for Dua Lipa. Dare I say, ‘New Rules’ was a bit of a dark horse – having already released a handful of singles and collabs ahead of the album’s long awaited summer drop. It was surprising that this elaborately produced trop-house hybrid turn girl code became the one to take Dua to #1 and become the most streamed female artist of 2017. ‘New Rules’ sounds like nothing she’d done before or anything else on the album. What’s remarkable is that it appears to have engineered its own success, by somehow tapping into and feeding the zeitgeist. We’d be hard pressed to find a great triumph this year for a new popstar.
#13 – Camila Cabello feat. Young Thug ‘Havana’
I haven’t been particularly impressed with any of Camila‘s solo records but ‘Havana’ felt like the eureka moment some people have been trying to get me to see. An insanely catchy bop of the highest order, it felt like the timing was suddenly right and it all clicked for Camila. This tribute to her Cuban roots stands in a lane of its own in the midst of other popular Latin pop records scorching up the charts. Her assured and soulful performance of ‘Havana’ feels well beyond her years, making it sound like something from another generation entirely.
#12 – Tayá feat. Yxng Bane ‘When You’re Sober’ (Thomas Rasmus Chill Mix
This is actually the second time Tayá has been on my year-end list. What we’re gonna do from here on out is keep a close eye her because she is going to be huge. ‘When You’re Sober’ is a stormy modern R&B ballad that manages to be both emotionally intense and delicately vibey at the same time, largely due to Tayá’s honeyed vocals.
#11 – Raye feat. Mr Eazi ‘Decline’
100% here for the Ja Rule/Ashanti reworking, the Beyoncé and ‘Bug A Boo’ reference – I think if fashion is gonna keep snatching pieces from 2001 – 2005 then lyrically y’all might as well. In a perfect world, this would be the new ‘New Rules’ style success story. Feisty and made for throwing your hands. Everyone needs to get on board with this asap.
#10 – Rita Ora ‘Your Song’
Rise up, Rita. Rise up. This is the best fucking year to be Rita Ora since she debuted to be honest. After a few wilderness moments with some mouldy singles two years ago, it’s great to see that Atlantic is steering her to proper popstar terrain where she belongs. The beauty of ‘Your Song’ lies in its simplicity and Rita’s lightly raspy morning-after vocals. The seemingly unfussy production – where everything seems to adorn lightly around the main acoustic guitar frame and her vocals – that has done Rita favours. At a time where she’s still having a hard time convincing the masses she’s an artist not just a celebrity/presenter/social media boss, ‘Your Song’ couldn’t have been a better reintroduction.
#9 – DJ Khaled feat. Rihanna and Bryson Tiller ‘Wild Thoughts’
A real turning point for DJ Khaled who led a surprisingly classy and subdued show here with ‘Wild Thoughts’. There’s little doubt in my mind that the voodoo of this song is down in huge parts to Rihanna and the Santana ‘Maria Maria’ sample. Warm, playful and alluring – this feels like it was designed for humid summer nights out under a full moon in a town that doesn’t know your name.
#8 – Mamamoo ‘Décalcomanie’
OK I know this was released in November 2016 but I’m often so fucking late with all things K-pop I don’t pick up on things until several months and seasons pass. Mamamoo is unquestionably one of the top girl groups to watch for at the moment, bowling over everyone with their powerhouse vocals and brassy funk sound. ‘Décalcomanie’ is pure crack, served with all the subtlety of glitter cannon hauled around the room by a dozen Vegas showgirls on roller skates.
#7 – Steps ‘Scared of The Dark’
The pop comeback of the year. Full disclosure, I wasn’t bothered about Steps the first time around but this 20th anniversary renaissance presented not only a dose of nostalgia for the old times but new music that brought out the best in their style (they thankfully eschewed tropical house and reggaeton beats this time around). From the dramatic opening strings, ‘Scared of The Dark’ instantly assures us that we are in safe hands. This was to be a confetti-loaded, electro disco showstopper with a palpable emotional core. It recalls the Eurodance servings we would have lapped up again and again at G-A-Y between 2010 and 2012. So basically, what I still listen to every other day. Speaking of which, here’s my Crying At The Disco – Act I playlist – do join in.
#6 – Anne-Marie ‘Ciao Adios’
I properly rinsed through this all summer. A searing kiss-off to a two-timing ex in the shape of a dancehall banger via Essex. You know what, it just dawned on me literally as I was writing this that I was probably channelling all my disappointment from a fling that faded away this year every time I played this song. Men really are trash. End of.
#5 – Dagny ‘Wearing Nothing’
Norwegian electro pop babe Dagny low key delivered one of my favourite summer soundtracks this year with ‘Wearing Nothing’. With shimmering melodies that soar over a cloud of breathy synths and funk guitars, the composition complemented the intimate lyrics about wanting to be completely bare and intimate with someone.
#4 – BLACKPINK ‘As If It’s Your Last’
Officially the most watched K-Pop music video of 2017 (with over 202 million views in six months), trumping even the mighty BTS. If BLACKPINK only managed to release just one single this year, they’ve certainly made it count. ‘As If It’s Your Last’ is a giddy mix of pulsating house, hip hop, and moombahton styles, with a power pop chorus that torpedoes off to full effect. It is simultaneously too much and moreish, which might explain why this was my most streamed track of the year on Spotify.
#3 – Charli XCX ‘Boys’
Do not be fooled by its seemingly simple soundboard of bleeps, glitches and daydreamy melodies – there are layers to this cake. ‘Boys’ is easily one of the most instantly charming songs of the year for me. Everything from Charli‘s zero-fucks attitude, the straight-to-the-chase lyrics, and down to the expertly layered arrangement just floors me. Flipping from this to her recently endowed “Pop2”, it’s clear that ‘Boys’ marks the spot between where she wants to be hyper-creatively and where she could excel in commercially.
#2 – Justin Bieber and BloodPop ‘Friends’
I don’t think I’ve ever been so strongly drawn to a Justin Bieber song before. It’s funny, the minute he steps back from the public eye and doesn’t want to court my attention, I come running to him. This collab with BloodPop is a steely, synth disco banger – not groundbreaking in anyway in a post ‘Dancing On My Own’ world. However, what the icy and mechanical sounds do bring to full effect is Justin’s breathy vocals and the distant feeling. I think I might be listening to this one for many years to come.
#1 – Jax Jones featuring Raye ‘You Don’t Know Me’
There is no denying this absolute beast of the record. When it dropped in December last year, I had a feeling it could (and definitely should) be everywhere but I had no idea how obsessed I’d become with it. In my pop mind, this was the sound of the underground. It was giving me the testosterone of Jamaican bashment crossed with the persistent and sleek, UK house beats. This just felt like a very natural meeting of two cultures. This is the sound of London and we got our it girl of the moment, Raye, delivering really cocky pure fire lyrics around the clock. It is a fist full of attitude but not too much that it overpowers the fun clubby vibe. Jax Jones has carved a new club classic that I sense we will be revisiting for many years to come in the way we do ‘Sing It Back’ and ‘Lola’s Theme’ now.
Check out the full Spotify playlist: