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The Best Songs of 2022

Sadly, the rules prohibit us from including Kate Bush. In her place, we’ve got viral hits, indie rock earworms, hyperpop explosions, and lyrical excursions. Did your favorite make the cut?

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What’s the best song of a year like 2022 when the most important one was released nearly 40 years ago?

There are reportedly at least 60,000 songs released to Spotify (The Ringer’s parent company) each day, which would put the conservative estimate of new songs on the platform this year at over 20 million. That’s a lot to sift through, and it makes it understandable why we gravitate toward event albums like Kendrick Lamar’s and Taylor Swift’s. It also makes it understandable why the song that dominated the zeitgeist more than any other in 2022 was Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God),” first released in 1985 and most recently lionized in a massive TV show.

Following the release of Stranger Things Season 4 in late spring, “Running Up That Hill” peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It never quite reached the same apex as Swift’s “Anti-Hero” or Harry Styles’s “As It Was” or the handful of other chart-toppers this year brought. But on the Spotify daily charts—potentially a more accurate reflection of consumers’ on-demand listening habits—the song dominated for weeks. It was a genuine sensation that people inside the industry and out couldn’t stop talking about.

There are myriad reasons why “Running Up That Hill” saw a resurgence, including—but not limited to—its timelessness and the Netflix effect. (A similar thing may be happening with goth-psychobilly heroes the Cramps thanks to the breakout hit series Wednesday.) The song’s success also highlights a growing shift in the industry—thanks to streaming, major labels are as concerned with back catalogs as they are minting new stars. But more than anything, the “Running Up That Hill” phenomenon is a sign that in an environment where it’s impossible for one person (or publication) to stay ahead of the avalanche of new releases, we default to what we already know. It’s the same impulse that helped Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” skateboard into the collective consciousness anew: Nothing cuts through the static noise like a beloved classic. Especially one as titanic as Kate Bush’s.

All of which means 2022 is a difficult year to explain through a list like this one. Does a song like Kendrick Lamar’s “Mother I Sober”—potentially the most important song of his career, but the least-streamed from his new album—define the year? Or what about Harry Styles’s a-ha cosplay? Do you default and give it to Taylor, who did things no one has ever done before? Do any of those stand out in a way like Kate Bush’s biggest song did?

Below are our top 10 songs of the year. They include TikTok hits and indie rock earworms, hyperpop explosions and lyrical excursions. Some were massive hits, some were small moments that brought us joy. All were great. But none were “Running Up That Hill.” At least not yet—check back in a few decades to see if that’s changed. —Justin Sayles

[Editor’s note: Several of these items ran previously in our mid-year song rankings.]

10. “Hotel Lobby,” Quavo and Takeoff

Let’s flash back to about a decade ago, before the Atlanta scene was big enough to inspire a book hailing it as the capital of rap, before the sons and daughters of Gucci Mane came to dominate the charts and debates over the best rappers alive. In 2013, there were two fledgling stylistic innovators rewriting the rules of the genre: On one side, you had Young Thug—a dreadlocked alien whose gun could barely fit in his skinny jeans—who had taken Lil Wayne’s influence and turned it into something both technically thrilling and syrupy. On the other, you had Migos, a three-headed monster draped in Medusa logos who did not invent the triplet flow, but had distilled it to its purest form. The group was made up of Quavo, the de facto leader with the best pop sensibilities; Offset, the natural celebrity who fit into whatever track you threw him on; and Takeoff, the youngest of the trio with the biggest voice, and the one with the most pure rapping ability. The one who could casually toss off verses like this. The heart of the group, and in turn, a region.

In the years that followed, Migos (and Young Thug) got cosigns from the biggest stars in the genre before becoming the brightest names on the marquee themselves. There were chart-topping hits, classic albums, and naturally, memes. But in a streaming-dominated landscape, bloat set in: first overlong albums, then ill-advised solo ventures. Then they were surpassed by their sons and daughters: Lil Baby, Gunna, Playboi Carti (another alien stomping around the ATL). By the time 2021’s Culture III ambled in, the Migos spark appeared to be gone, save for the occasional Takeoff highlight.

Rumors of the group’s demise quickly spread, then were all but confirmed by the announcement of a Quavo-Takeoff side project. (Beyond music, the pair were related by blood: Quavo’s sister is Takeoff’s mother.) The album they created, Only Built for Infinity Links, is uneven, but intermittently solid. (The Just Blaze–indebted opener and “Bars Into Captions”—a tribute to the fathers of virtually all Atlanta rap, Outkast—chief among the highlights.) Early in its tracklist comes the best Migos moment in nearly a half decade: “HOTEL LOBBY (Unc & Phew).” Over a gorgeous Murda Beatz coproduction, Takeoff and Quavo both float, with Takeoff stealing the show as always thanks to his percussive flow and booming delivery.

“HOTEL LOBBY” was a sign that even if Migos was no more—even in the short term—Takeoff would find a way to thrive. Unfortunately, we know what happened next: Like too many rappers these days, Takeoff died by gunfire. It was shortly after midnight on Halloween, and he was outside a Houston bowling alley where he had attended a private party alongside his uncle. There was reportedly an argument that didn’t involve Takeoff. Bullets not intended for him struck him in the head and chest. He was just 28 years old.

Takeoff’s killing slammed the door on one of the most significant regional movements in rap history, where some kids made it out of the traphouse and pushed the music to places it had never been. (As I write this, Young Thug remains in prison on RICO charges alongside Gunna and other YSL affiliates, staring down the possibility of life in prison.) There will likely be a plethora of posthumous verses and albums, and maybe even a cobbled-together Migos project. (Already, Takeoff has appeared on a highlight from Metro Boomin’s recently released Heroes & Villains.) But moments like those will ultimately serve as reminders of what was—how a talent so vibrant could be snuffed by an act of unfathomable violence. They’ll be somber, possibly morbid. I’ll choose to remember Takeoff through moments like “Hotel Lobby,” when he was full of life and capable of powering a song—and a scene, and an entire genre—through the sheer force of his abilities. —Sayles

9. “Bites on My Neck,” yeule

To Yeule’s Nat Cmiel, love and pain are two sides of the same coin. “You know that I could have loved you with my bare hands,” they admit in one breath; “You know that I could have killed you with my bare hands,” they threaten in the next. The Singaporean electropop artist teams up with PC Music alum Danny L Harle and eclectic producer Mura Masa on the standout track meditating on sex, scars, and healing. “Video game music” would not be a derogatory way to describe the sound of “Bites on My Neck”—it’s no coincidence that Cmiel’s stage name is nearly identical to a Final Fantasy character—but it doesn’t accurately get across how epically this song builds and deconstructs. It’s deceptively simple at its climax, but no less nuanced. Intense, thrilling, and tinged with real melancholy, as Cmiel sounds choked up on the spoken-word bridge. “I had to walk into the fire to know how to feel,” they reflect throughout the song. The wounds of lost love may not heal themselves, but at least they serve as an antidote to numbness. —Julianna Ress

8. “Munch,” Ice Spice

New York can’t have nice things. In early August, “Munch (Feelin’ U)” made a late and successful run at claiming the city’s song of the summer title for its own. Over a no-frills beat, Bronx-born Ice Spice immediately added to the “He Ain’t Shit” canon with a bruising song about simple and unserious men.

The song launched a thousand terrible takes and an off-putting Meek Mill freestyle. In the unrelenting youthful exuberance of “Munch,” Real Rap Wranglers and Yankee Fitted Formalists wanted bars. But what many failed to acknowledge is Spice’s rare ability to never seem like she’s trying too hard in a genre oversaturated and beset with streaming rappers doing too much. Everything from the acid with which Spice raps “you thought I was feeling you” to delivering “You was my stitch but it’s not what it seam” is funnier than it has any right to be. In a city prone to identity crises, “Munch” persists because it is so self-assured. —Charles Holmes

7. “Back to the Radio,” Porridge Radio

Suddenly it’s an embarrassment of riches out there for fans of painfully literate and ecstatically self-loathing English rock bands who don’t so much sing as declaim or rant or lament, but ain’t nobody wringing more pure arena-sized catharsis out of three minutes and seven seconds than this endless monster crescendo from Porridge Radio’s splendid and anguished third album, Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky. “We almost got better, we’re so unprepared for this,” bellows singer-guitarist Dana Margolin, her voice wobbling thrillingly, her confidence shattered but also somehow unbreakable. “Running straight at it / I’m not the right man for this.” This is indeed the power ballad you put on when you need to psych yourself up to run through a brick wall but you know it’s gonna knock you flat on your ass. The beauty, and the catharsis, is in the failure; the victory is in never quite being prepared. —Rob Harvilla

6. “Cash In Cash Out,” Pharrell Williams featuring 21 Savage and Tyler, the Creator

The five best parts of “Cash In Cash Out,” ranked:

5. The left-right punch of the chorus, when 21 Savage warps the titular phrase into something hypnotic.

4. The perfect chemistry between the murderously deadpan 21 and the back-flippingly eccentric Tyler, two of the best working rappers today who have somehow never collaborated.

3. The thought of Pharrell FaceTiming Tyler “with this fucking weird face on” after he heard the rapper’s verse. As Tyler told GQ: “He didn’t even say anything. And then he just hung the fuck up.”

2. The spare, neck-breaking Pharrell beat, which may be the best rap backdrop he’s ever laid down, Non–Pusha T/Clipse Division.

1. The thought of 21’s bodyguard actually looking like a horse. I already wasn’t planning on stepping to him, but good god. —Sayles

5. “Let’s Do It Again,” Jamie xx

The producer behind indie rock’s greatest car-commercial anthem has been mostly quiet on the solo front since 2015’s In Colour. But Jamie xx re-emerged in 2022 in grand fashion with a festival-best Coachella set and two stunning new singles. The first of the two, “Let’s Do It Again,” taps into his ability to chop a soul sample into something nearly religious, but still propulsive. Its uncut version is seven minutes of pure catharsis that hits you in the head, chest, and legs. Welcome back, Mr. xx. Hope it’s not too long before we hear from you again. —Sayles

4. “Wet Dream,” Wet Leg

From the legit geniuses who brought you “I went to school and I got the big D” comes this year’s wryest and goofiest and most vicious rock ’n’ roll epigraph: Take your pick between “You said, ‘Baby, do you want to come home with me? / I’ve got Buffalo ’66 on DVD’” or “What makes you think you’re good enough / To think about me when you’re touching yourself?” Wet Leg, the miraculously droll and stupendously raucous duo from the Isle of Wight who just might be the 21st century’s Kim and Kelley Deal, blew up outta nowhere with the brilliant fuzz-bomb single “Chaise Longue,” and their self-titled debut album delivers on that promise, nowhere more so than on this rude and infectious alt-rock ethering of some bro too hapless to be toxic: “You climb onto the bonnet / And you’re licking the windscreen / I’ve never seen anything so obscene.” Sing along, but resist the urge to tap on the glass. —Harvilla

3. “F.N.F. (Let’s Go),” GloRilla and Hitkidd

I don’t know GloRilla particularly well. Besides hailing from Memphis and having a viral song or two under her belt, she’s still a relative enigma. But often emotions delivered through song can transcend the divide between what’s known and what isn’t. The joy with which GloRilla belts “I’m F-R-E-E, fuck n---- free” is so infectious that you too want to be unencumbered by any and all “fuck n-----” in your personal life. As if knowing her listeners would ponder what GloRilla will do with all the free time being “S-I-N-G-L-E again” provides, she ecstatically states that she’s “Outside hanging out the window with my ratchet-ass friends.” And maybe that’s what makes “F.N.F.” feel as immediate as it does refreshing. GloRilla’s vision of happiness is one of the rare straightforward desires in an increasingly complex and morbid reality. Even as the world is burning, you too can stop at a red light and twerk on some headlights. Sometimes that’s all we can control. —Holmes

2. “Poland,” Lil Yachty

For nearly five years, Lil Yachty’s been in viral purgatory. The troll-induced veins on Joe Budden’s forehead no longer swelled with anger as the SoundCloud hits dried up. The iconic red braids and clacking clear beads were Target and Chef Boyardee cosigned. As is the fate of most teens (even their ruler), adolescent angst is the greatest marketing grist for the Fortune 500 mill. But even the most broken of viral clocks is destined to be right twice.

Enter “Poland.”

Silly, catchy, and nonsensical, the TikTok hit is Yachty at his purest form—a rare snippet unsullied by the need to expand on its initial brevity. At less than 90 seconds, “Poland” is two hooks and one verse of raw, dumb dopamine. There’s no elaboration as to why Yachty took an illicit substance to the country of free healthcare. Instead, we’re treated to the carefree Auto-Tune chirps of a star that wasn’t clamoring for a second act, but wasn’t turning it away, either. And sometimes that’s all it takes for a former King of the Teens to recapture that long eroded youthful sheen. —Holmes

1. “Bad Habit,” Steve Lacy

I tend to have big hater energy for songs that cross over from TikTok. Not exactly proud of it. (How many other algorithmic currents do I allow to steer my consumption habits without batting an eye?) Curmudgeonly, some might say. But then a 24-year-old Comptonite who used to make beats for multi-platinum albums on his phone dropped the song of the year, and it blew up on the platform. Played it once and I didn’t stand a chance.

“Bad Habit” melts down everything. It’s prismatic. A lo-fi sleeper. A punk ballad. Neo soul revivalism. Synth-pop groovy enough to rival The Purple One. It’s swooning, tender, doomed, savory. It might not be able to surprise a Gemini but it’ll make them beg for seconds. It’s inevitable. It’s biscuits, it’s gravy.

Truth is, we’re either going to look back at this as the moment that we realized Steve Lacy was the future or the moment we fought it, and lost. Nobody wants to be that guy. Steve’s one of the few. The song is too. Might have a pop star on our hands. —Lex Pryor

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