Sometimes, things are simple. These are straight up, no qualifications, four of our favorite songs of the year.
Lorde, “Green Light” — Jacob Nierenberg, contributing writer
In 2013, Lorde conquered the radio by breaking all the rules. In 2017, she conquered the radio by following them. On her breakout “Royals,” Lorde was the sly, insightful teen who watched her classmates from the edge of the house party; “Green Light,” her long-awaited return, saw her grow into both a vibrant young woman and the life of the party. Lyrically and musically, “Green Light” is a far cry from the “incorrect songwriting” and minimalist beat of “Royals.” It’s a kiss-off to a noncommittal ex over a maximalist, technicolor pop instrumental, with a chorus that demands to be shouted at the top of your lungs. It’s at once ironic and totally fitting that Lorde matured by embracing her teenage years. Before, Lorde sounded wise beyond her years; on “Green Light,” she sounds forever young.
Fleet Foxes, “Kept Woman” — Nick Burns, staff writer
Fleet Foxes’ new album takes its name (“Crack-Up”) from a 1936 essay by F. Scott Fitzgerald, in which the author explains that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” Fitzgerald confesses that his own inability to pass this test has led him to suffer a mental breakdown— within four years, he would be dead. On this album, as on its predecessor (2011’s “Helplessness Blues”), singer Robin Pecknold senses the high stakes of these personal crack-ups. But unlike in 2011, he seems aware they don’t happen in a vacuum. While pursuing this “first-rate intelligence,” do we fail to be first-rate friend, lover, brother, daughter? “Anna, you’re lost in a shadow there,” Pecknold calls to his interlocutor on “Kept Woman”: “I’m just the same as when / You saw me back then / And we’re bound to be reconciled.”
Kesha, “Praying” — Ugur Dursun, staff writer
After nearly five years without releasing any solo projects, Kesha made her triumphant return to the music scene in early July with “Praying,” a song directed mainly towards her abuser and ex-producer Dr Luke. The lead single off of “Rainbow,” her third full-length album, is a cleverly written track with lyrics that represent Kesha’s self-reflection and hurt instead of hatred and anger, with a chorus that goes “I hope you’re somewhere praying / I hope your soul is changing.” Furthermore, the song showcases Kesha’s vocal range unlike any other project of hers, going as far as belting a whistle tone right before the last chorus. Undoubtedly Kesha’s most critically-acclaimed work ever, “Praying” and its parent project are definitely worth a play if you have not already.
Lil Uzi Vert, “XO TOUR LLif3” — Jacob Kuppermann, desk editor
On paper, it’s easy to dismiss “XO TOUR LLif3” as just another pop-trap novelty song, a faux-edgy earworm of a hook about dead friends with no song supporting it. After all, Lil Uzi Vert dropped it on SoundCloud unceremoniously last February on the short stopgap mixtape “Luv is Rage 1.5”, and only gave it a commercial release after the song became inescapably popular on that platform. Yet as soon Uzi’s voice starts to croak over TM88’s cyber-goth beat, it’s clear why “XO TOUR LLif3” is special. Cloaked in layers of autotune that nevertheless serve to accentuate the raw human emotion of his performance, the Philadelphia rapper uses his limited range and insouciant affect to cut to the core of his insecurities. The line that everyone focuses on here is “all my friends are dead, push me to the edge,” which admittedly is one hell of a unique hook, but it’s in the song’s second verse (roughly speaking) that the song reveals its heart, a swirling mess of megalomania and fear: “I cannot die because this my universe.”