The 20 Best Pop Radio Hits of 2016

Last week was the rap list, and now we continue with year's overview of pop radio (in previous years: 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015). Here's the Spotify playlist.

1. DNCE - "Cake By The Ocean"
#2 Mainstream Top 40, #9 Hot 100
In a year in which the coronation of Nick Jonas as a major solo star faltered badly, the only JoBro that scored a top 10 hit was Joe, whose band DNCE's debut single became a goofy sex euphemism sleeper hit with incredible chart longevity -- it lasted 46 weeks on the Hot 100, longer than any hit this year besides Twenty One Pilots' "Stressed Out," despite only peaking at #9.

2. MNEK & Zara Larsson - "Never Forget You"
#5 Mainstream Top 40, #13 Hot 100
A couple of Euros with weird voices heretofore unknown in the States came out of nowhere with a song that sounded like a lot of American pop but just a little faster, and a little more earnest than anyone from here could probably get away with these days.

3. Bruno Mars - "24K Magic"
#5 Mainstream Top 40, #4 Hot 100
You can't really call a top 5 hit a flop, but "24K Magic" is arguably underperforming given the fact that it's a de facto sequel to the biggest hit of the decade. and the first 2 singles from both of Bruno's previous albums went to #1. But in any event, I appreciate Bruno going whole hog on this Roger Troutman aesthetic and launching a whole album and tour with it.

4. Chainsmokers f/ Daya - "Don't Let Me Down"
#1 Mainstream Top 40, #3 Hot 100
2016 was a year most non-R&B pop superstars ("proper pop" or whatever euphemism you wanna use for white singers) didn't release albums or performed below expectations (cough Gaga cough), leaving a production duo previously known for the crude misogynist 2014 novelty hit "#Selfie" to become the unlikely rulers of Top 40 by pivoting cynically toward earnest EDM power ballads sung by less established young female singers. "Don't Let Me Down" was the best of their 3 blockbuster hits of the year, although it was also the one that sounded the most like a Rihject.

5. Hailee Steinfeld & Grey f/ Zedd "Starving"
#9 Mainstream Top 40, #12 Hot 100
Even some of this year's pop hits that weren't by The Chainsmokers sounded like they were. Between her starring role in the excellent teen film Edge Of Seventeen and her first top 20 hit, Hailee Steinfeld might have pushed the door open this year for an increasingly rare duel career on the radio and in Hollywood.

6. James Bay - "Let It Go"
#8 Mainstream Top 40, #16 Hot 100
James Bay is a British guy in a stupid looking hat, but his forlorn ballad really grew on me and became one of those songs I looked forward to as a quiet moment in otherwise bright loud Top 40 playlists. Of course, many stations played a remix with a cheesy reggae beat added to it, but I much preferred the original.

7. Kungs vs. Cookin' On 3 Burners - "This Girl"
#15 Mainstream Top 40, #26 Hot 100
Speaking of songs remixed for maximum radio play, "This Girl" was kind of this year's version of OMI's "Cheerleader," a years-old minor hit in its homeland that went global thanks to a trendy 'tropical house' edit. In most years, an international dance hit sung by an Australian woman named Kylie would be Minogue, but this time it was Kylie Auldist, who sang on the original 2009 version of "This Girl" by the Aussie soul trio Cookin' On 3 Burners before a French DJ got ahold of it.

8. Ariana Grande - "Into You"
#7 Mainstream Top 40, #13 Hot 100
Ariana Grande faltered in her initial attempt to carry on the momentum of 2014's blockbuster My Everything with last year's haplessly awful "Focus." She came back better with this year's Dangerous Woman singles but it kinda felt like the wind was out of her sails and even a big Max Martin banger didn't quite do as well as it should've.

9. Fifth Harmony f/ Ty Dolla $ign - "Work From Home"
#1 Mainstream Top 40, #4 Hot 100
"Work From Home" is probably the dumbest pop song this year that I actually enjoyed, and that's even before sentient urban slang word cloud Ty Dolla $ign shows up to say "bae" and "juug" and "finesse."

10. Troye Sivan - "Youth"
#18 Mainstream Top 40, #23 Hot 100
An Australia-based queer actor and YouTube vlogger mewling "my youth! my youth!" is probably the most emblematic of how the young are more obsessed with proclaiming their youth than ever before, but as a song, it works.

11. Flume f/ Kai - "Never Be Like You"
#11 Mainstream Top 40, #20 Hot 100
Yet another Australian in a very Australia-heavy (yet virtually Iggy-free) year of pop radio, Flume's breakthrough was like an arty version of a Chainsmokers power ballad, with the producer basically playing a drum solo over the whole big pretty vocal.

12. Flo Rida - "My House"
#1 Mainstream Top 40, #4 Hot 100
Flo Rida's 10th multi-platinum single continued his reign as the definitive generic Top 40 rapper of the iTunes era and now, the streaming era as well. The twist this time, though, was that he rapped over an "Impeach The President" drum break that made Flo rida of all people sound more like '90s hip hop than anything on rap radio this year.

13. Justin Timberlake - "Can't Stop The Feeling!"
#1 Mainstream Top 40, #1 Hot 100
Justin Timberlake has been washed for a long, long time, but it took a while for people to come to terms with it, since he only released albums one year out of the last 10 years and many were kind of in denial about how bad they were. But his reunion with Max Martin, for the first time since the N Sync days, was charmingly cheesy in a way "Suit & Tie" wasn't, and featured the great dirty bass sound Martin has been using on "Into You" and other productions this year.

14. Daya - "Hide Away"
#7 Mainstream Top 40, #23 Hot 100
I often got this song confused with the Chainsmokers' hit "Roses" even before Daya appeared on another Chainsmokers single, but this little sleeper hit has really retained its charm in the year since I first heard it.

15. Chainsmokers f/ Halsey - "Closer"
#1 Mainstream Top 40, #1 Hot 100
The biggest song of the year, by The Chainsmokers or anyone else, actually features one half of the group, Andrew Taggert, singing on the first half before he hands it off to the more capable Halsey, and it's cloying and syrupy and features a weird shout out to listening to Blink 182's "I Miss You," but it grew on me, and I'm kinda glad that something dethroned "One Dance" as the longest reigning #1 of the year.

16. Ariana Grande - "Dangerous Woman"
#4 Mainstream Top 40, #8 Hot 100
Ariana Grande's insistence that she could pull off a grown up femme fatale image overhaul while still wearing animal ears was really one of 2016's most entertaining lost causes.

17. Zayn - "Pillowtalk"
#1 Mainstream Top 40, #1 Hot 100
Released a full year after Zayn's exit from One Direction, following a series of magazine profiles that positioned him as a cutting edge alt R&B trailblazer in the making, "Pillowtalk" sounded faintly ridiculous. But after hearing how much worse the rest of his album is, I can respect "Pillowtalk" as pretty much the best he had to offer.

18. Ellie Goulding - "Something In The Way You Move"
#13 Mainstream Top 40, #43 Hot 100
I feel like a reverse bellwether for Ellie Goulding singles, the more I like them, the worse they perform on the charts. Shame there wasn't a Fifty Shades movie for them to tie this one into to give it a boost.

19. Maroon 5 f/ Kendrick Lamar - "Don't Wanna Know"
#7 Mainstream Top 40, #8 Hot 100
Kendrick Lamar has been collaborating with pop stars and doing corporate endorsements like any seriously famous rapper for the entire 4 years that he's been a seriously famous rapper, and people still act shocked that he's not walking around in a monk robe and subsisting on bread and water. This is a good stupid Top 40 song with a good stupid Top 40 guest rap.

20. Shawn Mendes & Camila Cabello - "I Know What You Did Last Summer"
#10 Mainstream Top 40, #20 Hot 100
Shawn Mendes, whose stardom was to Vine as Justin Bieber's was to YouTube in terms of legitimizing the video site as a launching pad for pop singers, reached new heights in 2016 just as Twitter was deciding to shut Vine down. I like this song, but for as long as I hear Shawn Mendes on the radio, I will feel bitter that his career outlasted Vine.

The 10 Worst Pop Radio Hits of 2016:
1. Justin Bieber - "Love Yourself"
2. Mike Posner - "I Took A Pill In Ibiza"
3. Lukas Graham - "7 Years"
4. Adele - "When We Were Young"
5. The Weeknd f/ Daft Punk - "Starboy"
6. Lady Gaga - "Perfect Illusion"
7. Charlie Puth f/ Selena Gomez - "We Don't Talk Anymore"
8. Selena Gomez - "Same Old Love"
9. Selena Gomez - "Hands To Myself"
10. Kiiara - "Gold"
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