1. Bishop Briggs - "River"
I was watching TV last September and heard music in an Acura commercial that I liked. After searching around a little, all I was able to find was that the song, "Wild Horses," was by some artist named Bishop whose accounts on Twitter, YouTube and Soundclound were all about a week old and only contained that song and no real biographical information. I kind of chuckled about it at the time, that a very polished and marketable-sounding new artist just turned up out of nowhere in a major ad campaign, and speculated that there was already big money behind this mysterious Bishop. Then 8 months later, I heard another song called "River," on my local alt-rock station, that set me googling around only to realize that it was the same Brit singer, now going by the full name Bishop Briggs and now charting on Billboard and openly signed to Island Records and opening for Coldplay in arenas this fall (she also now has a third song on Spotify called "The Way I Do" that's very good). Cynicism aside, though, this is promising stuff, she has a great voice, and "River" kind of combines a lurching EDM track with a really raw vocal in a way that reminds me of one of the best songs of the decade, AWOLNATION's "Sail." Here's my running playlist of favorite 2016 singles that I update every month.
2. Jeremih - "Pass Dat"
This was instantly my favorite song on Late Nights when it was released in December, but given Def Jam's all around terrible handling of that album, I had my doubts that it would get a 4th single. But since "Oui" was the album's third #1 single, this is finally getting a chance and I'm just delighted to hear it on the radio. The Weeknd and Young Thug did freestyles to it pretty quickly after the album was released, which made me think an all-star remix could happen, but I'm kinda glad just the original version is a single. It's funny how Jeremih already has a pretty unusually high voice but it sounds so crazy being slightly pitched up on the hook (nevermind, apparently that's an uncredited Starrah?).
3. Dae Dae - "Wat U Mean (Aye, Aye, Aye)"
When I saw the title of this song I expected some kind of goofy dance rap song, but this is really a pretty classic Atlanta street rap song. I feel like we've been told over and over that this kind of stuff isn't relatable if you're not in the trap or a famous rapper, but a song like this that is really just about working hard and feeding your family, the shit that I get up to do every morning, I dunno, this is just a song I really take to heart.
4. 2 Chainz - "MFN Right"
This was a highlight of both Felt Like Cappin and ColleGrove but it still feels kind of unlikely as a radio song, just because it sounds like this delightfully low key freestyle that just coheres into a real song by accident. Zaytoven and Mike Will Made It co-produced it, and while Mike Will gets all the shout outs on the song, it really just sounds like a classic Zaytoven track, and I've really been in the mood for his stuff lately, love his recent tape with Young Dro.
5. Future - "Wicked"
The popular narrative about Future's career was that he kind of lost his way relying on superstar features on Honest, and got his buzz back with mixtapes that had very few guests. So it seems notable that following his big solo comeback hit ("Fuck Up Some Commas"), all of his big radio hits have been the result of riding the Canadian waves of Drake ("Where Ya At," "Jumpman") and The Weeknd ("Lowlife"). I mean, it's working for him, I guess, but it's kind of depressing that solo songs like "March Madness" kind of lost their shot at radio rotation because they were competing with Drake collabs. So with that in mind, "Wicked" feels essential as the biggest solo Future song in a minute, and it's really my favorite Metro Boomin beat in a while. And as I mentioned in my Complex song of the summer piece, "Wicked" kind of took off from the Purple Reign mixtape to the point that they've appended it to the EVOL album.
6. Guourdon Banks - "Keep You In Mind"
A nice low key slow jam that's been on R&B radio a bit lately, kind of has that cool lo-fi electro vibe of Miguel's "Adorn" without sounding like a rewrite of "Adorn" (looking at you, Chris Brown's "Back To Sleep").
7. Elle King - "America's Sweetheart"
I always feel like I'm doing something right, as a critic or just as a fan of popular music, when I make up my mind that I dislike an artist and then end up loving a song by them anyway. And man, I really hated "Ex's & Oh's" and made Rob Schneider jokes at every opportunity, but this song is pretty much perfect, all this momentum building up to a massive belted chorus, I don't know why this wasn't as successful as her other singles.
8. Beyonce - "Sorry"
Lemonade is a record that I kind of think of more in terms of moments I enjoy more than songs -- for instance the bridge in "6 Inch" is one of my favorite parts of the whole album but I doin't really care for the rest of the song. And I love the last minute of "Sorry" was more than the rest of the song (also I'm obsessed with this tweet that suggested that it ends like a chapter of "Trapped In The Closet"). But mostly I'm grateful to "Sorry" that it stopped "Hold Up" from being the breakout hit from the album, I really dislike that song. Hit-Boy really makes some awesome tracks, I kind of get annoyed with him that he seemed to sell his production career short by aspiring to a Kanye-like transition into rapping that was never gonna pan out.
9. Joywave - "Destruction"
My friend Robbie really loves Joywave, last time I saw him I noticed he actually has a Joywave license plate. I never really got the appeal with their previous singles, but this one has really grown on me.
10. Brothers Osborne - "21 Summer"
Although the whole 'summer jam' concept has kind of transcended genre, country is really the one radio format where a huge chunk of playlists in the summer is dedicated to songs explicitly about summer that labels all start pushing in the spring, it's kind of ridiculous. I'm glad that Pawn Shop finally has a second single creeping up the charts, it seemed like they waited a while to follow up "Stay A Little Longer" simply because they had a summer-themed song that wasn't going to peak until the summer hit.
The Worst Single of the Month: Zac Brown Band - "Castaway"
A popular subset of the country summer song phenomenon is songs specifically about getting drunk on the beach, which have been reliably ubiquitous for the 13 years since Alan Jackson met Jimmy Buffett. I find "Castaway" especially irritating, though, because it opens with an interpolation of "Don't Bogart Me" a.k.a. "Don't Bogart That Joint" by The Fraternity Of Man, most famous for appearing in Easy Rider and being covered by Little Feat. Ordinarily I might say it's pretty cool of Zac Brown to pay homage to that song, but it's pretty lame that he changes the lyrics of a pot anthem to be about booze, and the authors of "Bogart" didn't get a writing credit on "Castaway," which is outrageous.