The 100 Best Songs Of 2022 (40-21)
It took 50 people to make this list of 2022's 100 best songs. Why put in that much effort, when algorithmically generated playlists can give a listener what they already know they want? Because there's more to a year than the insulated corners that, in the streaming era, can feel so cozy. That's especially true in a year like this one, whose thrills, even with hindsight, are tough to organize into neat categories or hierarchies. For the staff and contributors of NPR Music, making this list felt messy, but there's an upside to the effort: We got together. We talked. We listened. We ended up making a ranked list of 100 songs that reflects the sprawling, energetic messiness of 2022. Because the end of a year is a nice moment to celebrate what you love, but it's the perfect time to listen to something outside your comfort zone. A guarantee: You'll find something here that does the trick. (And while you're at it, be sure to check out our 50 Best Albums of 2022.)
Syd feat. Lucky Daye
Syd is angelic as ever on "CYBAH," pouring all of herself into a song that demands nothing less, while collaborator Lucky Daye smoothly weaves in and out of her vocals like it's second nature. "Could you break a heart?" she asks over and over again — already knowing the answer each time. —Teresa Xie
"Munch (Feelin' U)"
Drill in New York City has been waiting for Ice Spice, the blasé Bronx rapper who can't be bothered. She is calm in a mob full of rabble rousers — not so much breaking into the boys' club as ignoring it altogether. How fitting that her breakout single, "Munch (Feeling You)" is all about waving a guy off — a simp so clueless he can't even see she's not interested. As drill beats go, this rumbling RIOTUSA creation is nondescript, all itching hi-hats and growling 808s, not like the distinct sample drill that has defined the rapper's other singles, but the production's city-leveling tremors clear out space that Ice Spice confidently promenades into. Her lyrics are snappy yet composed, but the magic is in that sneering hook, the piercing, eye-rolling disdain of its opening quip: "You thought I was feeling you?" as if it's an idea beyond human comprehension. —Sheldon Pearce
Joy Orbison x Overmono feat. ABRA
Some songs have obvious use cases. This is a fact that we can open-heartedly accept. So give in: For a DJ to pop on "Blind Date" at peak time during a night out — at a time when vapes blinker red, sunlight starts streaming in through any available window, BPMs threaten the 160+ mark and body heat makes the room smell like a petting zoo — is exactly what this club mammoth is built for. —Mina Tavakoli
NxWorries feat. H.E.R.
"Where I Go"
Together, Anderson .Paak and producer Knxwledge make music as smooth and cool as a scoop of toasted coconut ice cream on a hot day, consumed in the back of a black Cadillac. For this return to force, the duo folded in a feature from H.E.R., and the resulting woozy jam is unabashedly glowing with love. —Ayana Contreras, Vocalo
Joan Shelley feat. Bill Callahan
Joan Shelley's voice was built to soothe, but her songs know darkness. While "Amberlit Morning" sets a vivid nature scene — fertile soil, a spring thaw — her reflections take her to the harsher realities of farming and the ways children learn about death. Backed by Bill Callahan's knowing baritone, Shelley acknowledges a simple truth: that "it takes so much to be human," and even more to keep us alive. —Stephen Thompson
Lowkey, Doechii made the most noise on the powerhouse label TDE with her 2022 debut. And nothing's "Crazy" about her most calculated release. Though the dystopian music video for the single was shadowbanned by YouTube for flouting its sexist community guidelines regarding nudity, the platform unintentionally proved the point of Doechii's thunderous song: Being a boss chick means slapping the status quo in the mouth, no matter how crazy they label you. —Rodney Carmichael
"One by One"
This simple and yet profoundly moving song is by Connie Converse, the pioneering singer-songwriter whose brilliance flickered for a brief moment in the 1950s before, in 1974 at the age of 50, she disappeared, never to be heard from again. Bullock, accompanied only by a piano, gives the song a hushed, almost prayerful tone, with lengthy, exquisitely sculpted phrases. Along with Converse's deceptively naïve wordcraft, you might mistake this for Schubert in a bittersweet mood. —Tom Huizenga
(A version of this review originally appeared on NPR Music's #NowPlaying blog.)
Midnights' lead single echoed Taylor Swift's recent self-lacerations in smaller songs such as Lover's "The Archer" and folklore's "mirrorball," amplifying the worst of her self-image to a bruised, Boss-tinged cheerleader chant. The album's wordiness riled some critics, but on "Anti-Hero," Swift's internal rhymes tumble in on themselves like a racing brain being chewed up by anxiety. Among the revelations (her "covert narcissism" disguised "as altruism"), the weird humor was perhaps the song's most revealing quality, lines like "sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby and I'm a monster on the hill," suggesting a 30-something actually feeling pretty OK with her weirdness. —Laura Snapes
Hikaru Utada wants you to be in good hands. Co-produced with Sam Shepherd, who also records as Floating Points, the opening title track to BAD MODE sets the scene: glitterball city pop that sashays through Fender Rhodes, horns and soft four-on-the-floor as Utada switches between Japanese and English while offering solace to an anxious friend. Like the rest of their eighth album, it's a sophisticated pop song that captures the tears as they hit the dance floor. —Lars Gotrich
"Pull Up" is a marvel of innovation grounded in Jamaican musical tradition. Koffee lays down her spellbinding, complex, rapid-fire patois sing-jay rhymes over a quixotic soundscape, produced by British-Ghanian JAE5, that balances Jamaican dancehall's staccato rhythms with effervescent Afrobeats and jazzy sax embellishments. "Pull Up" exemplifies the 22-year-old artist's increasing understanding of her enormous talents and of the effect of that sophistication, helping to expand Jamaica's celebrated music trajectory and pop along with it. —Patricia Meschino
SiR feat. Scribz Riley
"Life is Good"
For those of us who trudge, Monday through Thursday, itching to get to the weekend, SiR has created a world where every day feels like a Friday on payday. Transporting us to the West Coast with laidback guitar and a bop-evoking trap beat, the Inglewood artist soulfully assures: "Life is good, we do what we want." Calling on Grammy-winning East London-born producer and rapper Scribz Riley, who spits a cool eight bars, feeding off SiR's nonchalant confidence, the two seemingly breezed into one of the year's hottest collabs. —Ashley Pointer
"El Bueno y El Malo"
If Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western scores were the pinnacle of arid desolation, guitar duo Hermanos Gutierrez, real-life brothers, have taken a different journey across that twangy landscape. Estevan and Alejandro are ingenious minimalist arrangers on "El Bueno y El Malo," leaving ample space for the impressionistic yet intimate interplay between their instruments, the rhythm with its guttural, galloping figures and chopped backbeats and the lean, lyrical lead, whose smallest reverberations nest within the pattern the two players tease out together. —Jewly Hight, WPLN
"Back To The Radio"
The opening track to this Brighton band's thrilling third album, Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder To The Sky, builds from a simmer to a full boil. Singer Dana Margolin told me she wrote the song while feeling lonely, anxious and isolating herself from those she loved, but also knowing she needed to fight the depression and rise above it. —Bob Boilen
"This is a Photograph"
As his father battled a heart condition, Kevin Morby encountered an old family photo for the first time — the whole clan on the lawn, his shirtless dad young and hale and "ready to take the world on." The songwriter, then 31, began to ponder his own inevitable senescence, but didn't wallow. Instead, he wondered what he wanted from the world, what the "glimmer in my eye" might get him. This irrepressible album opener, improbably buoyed by Afrobeat and Western swing, looks through a window to the past to fling open a door on the present. Race ahead now, Morby seems to realize, before you're frozen forever in a frame. —Grayson Haver Currin
Seamless, lush, groovy and lighter than air, "Dream Another" camps out on a sunny median space between hip-hop, jazz and soul. Like the rest of McCraven's rapturous album, In These Times, it is a feat of imagination, engineering, timekeeping, editing, collaboration and personal vision that does what all ecstatic music does: It makes you forget all the effort and skill behind it as you submit to its pleasures. —Jacob Ganz
"American Teenager" is Ethel Cain at her most accessible — an ode to the most revered parts of Americana, swathed in reverb and guitar tones equally inspired by Tom Petty and Taylor Swift. As much about NASCAR and high school football, the song searches for answers when all seems lost: "Jesus, if you're there, why do I feel alone in this room with you?" she begs, a pleading desperation in her voice. It's a song that doubles as a lifeline, sung as if Cain is shouting into the never-ending sky that envelops her, cautiously optimistic about what's to come. —Reanna Cruz
Megan Thee Stallion
One thing's for sure, two things's for certain: Megan Thee Stallion is never gonna play about her body or bodily autotomy. The Houston hottie takes the beat of a "Freek'n You" remix by Jodeci featuring Wu-Tang Clan and literally freaks it into a venom-laced diatribe for her dusty ex: "Still can't believe I used to f*** with ya / Poppin' Plan Bs 'cause I ain't planned to be stuck with ya." Given the historic overturning of Roe v. Wade earlier this year and the action's ripple effects throughout the states, "Plan B" is the type of snarl fans of Thee Stallion have come to love and rely on from the rapper but with a timely, added serving of sociopolitical juice. —Sidney Madden
"Expert in a Dying Field"
The superannuated professor is a tragic figure: his research irrelevant, his insight dimmed. On the title track of the Kiwi janglers' fantastic third album, Elizabeth Stokes likens being crushed by memories of a broken relationship to this tenured relic: What to do with that intimate shared language gone extinct, those omnipresent ghosts? She sounds brightly conversational but stretched to her limits over the band's rough-and-rumble power-pop, though the exuberant climax reveals a breakthrough: acceptance that carrying these memories is part of living, not dying. —Laura Snapes
Let's Eat Grandma
"Happy New Year"
The amount of music about the dissolution of romantic love could take decades to be played in its entirety — less so music that speaks to a shifting childhood friendship. In this shimmery synth-pop banger, the duo of Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth masterfully honor the changing shape of their singular artistic and emotional connection. —Hazel Cills
"Tamagotchi" contains multitudes. Flaunting his bilingual lyrical dexterity over a Neptunes-produced beat, Omar Apollo makes a show of his wealth, touts his total dreamboat status and offers a sincere plea for tenderness (or at least friends with benefits). Sure, it sounds a touch presumptuous to sing, "I want your body, you want me too," but who cares? Enjoy "Tamagotchi" as a delightfully self-indulgent burst of joy. —Fi O'Reilly
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