Not every great song this year was released by Katy Perry. From a snarling avant-electro NPR lecture to a haunted-house posse cut to a ludicrously profane viral sensation, here are 10 examples. “Teenage Dream” might still be better than all of these, though. Better get this started before I change my mind.
Janelle Monáe ft. Big Boi, “Tightrope”
If this vicious funk insta-classic doesn’t get played at your wedding reception, your marriage is doomed. I miss the thrash-metal, crowd-surfing coda of the live version, but this one has Big Boi rhyming “NASDAQ” with “ass crack.” Fair trade.
Drake ft. The-Dream, “Shut It Down”
Top-shelf loverman r&b so luscious it’s essentially barely scrambled pornography; the greatest moment of The-Dream’s ridiculously great year. Spent much of 2010 debating the merits of the initial single leak (those maddening slowdowns!) vs. the Thank Me Later version, but in this case more (and thus the latter) is better. (Oh, and Rich Juzwiak always speaks the truth.)
Laurie Anderson, “Only an Expert”
The only political commentary I could stand to listen to this year, perhaps because it’s not so much disguised as transformed and made invincible by virtue of being borne aloft the avant-pop dance-floor smash of the century, Robyn be damned.
Robyn, “Dancing on My Own”
Ah, but nobody made heartbreak sound so defiant, so triumphant, so intense and sublime an emotion you’re desperate to share it with her, devastation notwithstanding. Single-handedly justifies nearly 1.5 decades of critical hype.
Spoon, “Written in Reverse”
For those who find Britt Daniel aloof and dispassionate and unnecessarily gnomic, here we find him going delightfully apeshit, screaming AAAAAAHHHH and LOOKOUT! and YESSSSSS (absolutely love the YESSSSSS) while making you look absolutely psychotic as you storm down the street with this jarring jagged-piano burner blaring through your earbuds. May the “isolated vocal track” craze currently sweeping the Internet make its way here soon.
Kanye West ft. Rick Ross, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, and Justin Vernon, “Monster”
Not entirely about Nicki, no. But mostly about Nicki.
The Hold Steady, “The Weekenders”
Professional Springsteen disciples attempt to distill all the best parts of Born in the U.S.A. into one song: “I’m on Fire” slow-burn longing for the verses, “No Surrender” triumph for the chorus, uneasy “Bobby Jean”/”Glory Days” nostalgia radiating throughout. Plus Craig Finn actually sings! Hold Steady power ballads (“Lord, I’m Discouraged,” “First Night”) are the best.
Arcade Fire, “We Used to Wait”
The Suburbs drags and drags, but this rises above: quick, clever, mournful, and devastating, a lethal first shot in the Pre-Internet Nostalgia Wars, coming soon to a dark night of the soul near you. I hear the video’s awesome, but my childhood home apparently doesn’t show up on Google Earth, which of course only makes me sadder.
Crystal Castles ft. Robert Smith, “Not in Love”
Arena-goth anthemia, the best song Robert Smith’s been a part of since “Friday I’m in Love.” I will see whatever awful teenage sex comedy deploys this during its emotional climax.
You know it.