The best songs of 2022 sounded great across mediums, whether soundtracking a TikTok video, blasting out of a car window, or emitting out of a tiny speaker next to a campfire. These songs arise from some of the biggest rising stars from reggaeton, hip-hop, country and indie rock; they tell vivid stories, close cultural gaps, and this year, made us dance and cry.
10. “Jack,” Hardy
Country music has a rich history of drinking songs, from breezy celebrations (Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup”) to despondent confessionals (Merle Haggard’s “Misery and Gin”). “Jack,” a new single from the fast-rising country star Hardy, sits somewhere in the middle, and provides several compelling twists on the well-explored subgenre.
First, it’s written from the perspective of the bottle itself, as it tries to win over a new convert. Second, its metal influences lend it a bracing forcefulness akin to slamming an empty shot glass onto a wooden bar. Third, it engages in none of the blind devotion, self-pity, or moralizing that plagues many drinking songs, instead telling a straightforward and true story about both the heroic and demonic aspects wrought forth by liquid courage. Hardy isn’t afraid to find the gray within difficult topics—see his murder ballad “Wait In the Truck”—and “Jack” is a prime example of his developing craftsmanship.—Andrew R. Chow
9. “Kind of Girl,” MUNA
Although the indie pop group MUNA scored plenty of buzz this year for their Phoebe Bridgers collaboration, the queer love anthem “Silk Chiffon,” it’s their plaintive rumination on self-love, “Kind of Girl,” that’s the glittering crown jewel of their self -titled third studio album. Fresh off a new deal with Bridgers’ Saddest Factory Records after an unceremonious break with RCA, the trio’s hope for the future shines bright on the song, an acoustic track rippling with emotion that evokes a heartfelt country ballad.
Teeming with tender vulnerability and radical kindness, the song is an earnest ode to the power of love, both given and received over the course of a lifetime, where change is not only inevitable but necessary. Amid growing pains, the song is a missive to be gentle with everyone, especially ourselves: “Yeah, I like telling stories/ But I don’t have to write them in ink/ I could still change the end/ at least I’m the kind of girl who thinks I can.”—Cady Lang
Read more: The Best Songs of 2022 So Far
8. “Unholy,” Sam Smith ft. Kim Petras
Sam Smith and Kim Petras both scored their first no. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Unholy,” a lusty, sinuous song about the forbidden fruit of a married man’s illicit affair. Smith and Petras’ history-making feat at the top of the charts (they’re the first openly nonbinary and trans artists to nab the peak spot) has also translated to TikTok, where the certifiably provocative chorus (“Mummy don’t know daddy’s getting hot/ At the body shop, doing something unholy/ He lucky, lucky”) has become a viral soundbite. The song’s commercial success is absolutely well-deserved—anchored by a haunting Arabic scale progression and a throbbing bass, the synth-heavy track is a little dark, a little campy, and 100% a very good time, whether you’re sweating it out on a dance floor or giving it a casual listen.—CL
7. “Finesse,” Pheelz ft. BNXN
There’s a reason “Finesse” became a TikTok sensation in February: its chorus is one of the catchiest of the year, an unfiltered ray of sunshine. Pheelz, a sought-after Nigerian producer who has worked with Afrobeats superstars like Olamide and Tiwa Savage, trades effortlessly cool verses with the rising singer BNXN. And the song isn’t played out yet: expect to hear it plenty during the World Cup, as the song made the FIFA 23 soundtrack and name-drops the footballers Joseph Yobo, Daniel Owefin Amokachi, and Mo Salah.—ARC
6. “ChevyS10,” Sudan Archives
The main hook of Sudan Archive’s “ChevyS10” doesn’t drop until three minutes and forty-five seconds into the song. Up to that point, a whole lot has happened: a journey from the Bronx to the ‘burbs; some pointed class commentary; autotuned harmonic fireworks; a little tri-state drag racing. But not until the hook hits does the song really kick into high gear, and become an avant-garde dance-pop treatise for the ages. As Sudan Archives—real name Brittney Denise Parks—chants the deceptively simple refrain (“cruising in a Chevy S-10”), the musical walls start to move around here: there’s a springy bass line, then a vicious kick drum made only for the sweatiest of nightclubs, then a cranking violin. It’s a living, breathing, flow state; a passage of sweet, unhinged release.—ARC
5. “Bad Habit,” Steve Lacy
Steve Lacy’s quiet ascent to the top of the charts with “Bad Habit” this year evoked the same feelings that the song did: pure, euphoric joy. The track, a single from his second studio album, the aptly named Gemini Rights, is a soulful, mellow melange of wistful longing, playful flirtation, and straight-up vibes. While the lyrics sound like cheeky ad-libs, tailor-made for TikTok soundbites, Lacy’s songwriting packs a deeply emotional impact, musing on both yearning (“I wish I knew, I wish I knew you wanted me”) and boyish desire (“ Can I bite your tongue like my bad habit?/ Would you mind if I made a pass at it?”). Although the song is lo-fi easy listening at its best, don’t be surprised if it gets at your feelings with each listen.—CL
4. “FNF,” Glorilla
On the streets, the undeniable song of the summer was “FNF (Let’s Go)”—and for good reason. The track, a breakout single from Memphis rapper Glorilla and producer Hitkidd, is a boisterous and thrilling crunk anthem for single ladies everywhere and a sparkling addition to the Southern rap canon. Over a menacing beat, Glorilla, a former church girl (she was born Gloria Hallelujah Woods) turned gangsta rap darling, offers a bombastic and unabashed celebration of the newly single life, her husky voice reaching a barking timbre when she talks about her newfound liberation .
While it’s no doubt a breakup song, “FNF” is also an ode to female friendship; indeed, the song’s most exhilarating moments come when Glorilla gives a shoutout to her girls during a spelling lesson in the song’s now-TikTok viral hook: “I’m FREE, f-ck n-gga free/ That mean I ain’t gotta worry ’bout no f-ck n-gga cheating/ And I’m SINGLE again/ Outside hanging out the window with my ratchet-ass friends.”—CL
Read more: The 10 Best Podcasts of 2022
3. “Part of the Band,” the 1975
“Part of the Band,” the gorgeous, lush lead single from the 1975’s Being Funny in a Foreign Languagemarks the band’s return to music following 2020’s Notes on a Conditional Form. Frontman Matty Healy sings this self-aware, stream-of-consciousness track with the help of some background vocals from producer Jack Antonoff. The song features a sweeping string section and Healy’s charming vocals, which propel the listener forward even if the lyrics don’t always make sense. Even Healy admitted he barely knows what it means: “As a narrative, I don’t know what the song is about,” he told Apple Music. “It was just this belief that I could talk, and that was OK, and it made sense, and I didn’t have to qualify it that much.” Whatever it means, it sounds great.—Moises Mendez II
2. “Delincuente,” Tokischa
While the thundering beat and the raunchy lyrics are enough to get your heart racing, the real star of “Delincuente” is the unabashed and fully assured confidence of Tokischa, the Dominican dembow artist who’s been making waves as a queer, sex-positive provocateur disrupting here genre, one hit at a time, respectability politics be damned. The track, which also prominently features Anuel AA and Ñengo Flow, is filled with racy and at times ludicrous double entenders which create an intoxicating romp, driven in turn by a bouncing and infectious rhythm. But it’s Tokischa’s irrepressible, irresistible energy and powerful, rock-influenced vocals that make the song a standout, the liberated anthem of an artist who answers to no one but herself and her pleasure.—CL
1. “Titi Me Pregunto,” Bad Bunny
For the four years I’ve been writing TIME’s year-end music roundups, my colleagues and I have enforced a self-imposed rule to never feature the same artist in both the song and album categories. To do so felt narrow-minded and redundant, and we felt it important to spread the love around with the few slots we have.
But we had to break tradition for Bad Bunny, who lands on top of both our albums and songs lists. Un Verano Sin Ti is an unimpeachable collection top to bottom, and “Titi Me Pregunto” is its crown jewel: a speaker-rattling, tightly-coiled whoop-ass can of boisterous exuberance. Bad Bunny wields his malleable, magnificent voice in all of its forms, through dextrous rapidfire verses and sludgy singalongs; he makes even his gasps for breath sound sexy. The song’s aesthetics alone pushed it towards complete cultural dominance. It hit the top 10 in 13 countries, and when I went to see a concert by the DJ Sofia Kourtesis, all she wanted to do, instead of playing her own songs, was sing “Titi Me Pregunto.”
But like all great songs, “Titi Me Pregunto” is much more than its sheer sonic brilliance. While the first two verses show Bad Bunny playing the carefree, chauvinist playboy, he eventually confesses that it’s all a shield for his emotional fragility. “I’d like to fall in love but I can’t… I don’t even trust myself,” he sings despondently. “I don’t want to be like that anymore.” Just another day in the office for the biggest pop star in the world—ARC
Correction, Nov. 22
The original version of this story misstated the name of a Hardy song. It is “Wait in the Truck,” not “Wait in the Car.”
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