Boygenius "Not Strong Enough"

“Always an angel, never a God” became the breakout line from Boygenius’ “Not Strong Enough” this year. However, the song is so much more than that repeatable sentiment. The lead single serves as an admission of the band’s own faults, recognizing that they both cannot be there for everyone’s burdens and realizing that they’re not bad people for that fact. While Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker carry the majority of the verses, their trio is not complete without Lucy Dacus, who ties the song together in the end with that closing mantra hits, taking the song through the stratosphere. – Lexi Lane

Lana Del Rey "A&W"

Lana Del Rey’s “A&W” has become an instant standout across her career. At seven minutes long, the first half finds her softly musing about personal life moments, starting with her childhood. Del Rey then considers the impact a woman’s sexuality and image has on being believed, or whether they would just continue to be seen as an “”American Whore”” — which is what the title stands for, despite also taking after the chain restaurant. The second half then changes tone completely by interpolating 1959’s “”Shimmy Shimmy KO KO Bop”” to craft a catchy hook. Del Rey ends the track with a caption-ready warning, “”Your mom called, I told her, you’re f*ckin’ up big time.”” – Lexi Lane

Victoria Monét "On My Mama ft. Chalie Boy"

When Victoria Monét released her album Jaguar II earlier this year, one track stood out in particular. “On My Mama” arrived as a confident and powerful anthem for women everywhere to hype themselves up when they’re feeling down. In fact, Monét wrote the song as her own confidence-booster. “I wrote it postpartum when I wasn’t feeling my best, but spoke to how I wanted to feel,” she said in a statement. With classic lines like “I’m so deep in my bag like a grandma with a peppermint,” Monét proves her clever lyricism. Plus, the song racked up two Grammy nominations, including one for Record Of The Year. – Carolyn Droke

Wednesday "Chosen to Deserve"

Part rock anthem and part teenaged dirtbag confessional, this is Karly Hartzman looking back on every bad decision she made in adolescence and concluding that she still deserves the world. But the words aren’t pushed to the forefront — it’s the crunching power chords borrowed from Southern rock gods Drive-By Truckers and that lifesaving pedal steel lick wafting throughout like a breeze on a sticky summer afternoon that immediately commands your attention. And, then on the 20th listen, Hartzman’s memoir finally lands a devastating blow. – Steven Hyden

Olivia Rodrigo "Vampire"

Found on her sophomore album Guts, Olivia Rodrigo’s third No. 1 hit enhances the formula that made her a songwriting sensation: an intro with plinking keys, a deliciously rockin’ crescendo, and straightforward lyricism. In true Rodrigo fashion, the track is a scorching kiss-off to an emotional “fame fucker” that comes with the generational specificity of one of Gen Z’s biggest names. Yet in comparison to her earlier offerings, “Vampire” shows introspection — in addition to chastising her former flame — proving both emotional accountability and her pen’s maturation. – J’na Jefferson

Billie Eilish "What Was I Made For?"

Billie Eilish was one of the first artists attached to the soundtrack for this summer’s blockbuster Barbie movie. The young pop star was perhaps the perfect person to deliver a gut-wrenching ballad that turns the plot into a question that is essential and existential. The song was a hit, inescapable just like its movie counterpart. But beyond the shadow of the film, Billie’s barely-there falsetto and lyrics feel cathartic for a year that feels like it was made need healing. Feeling small in the face of our imperfect world is universal; this song takes that fact and crystallizes it into something melancholy but beautiful – an art that Eilish has become a master at. – Zoë Jones

Ratboys "Black Earth, WI"

The experience of listening to Ratboy’s sprawling “Black Earth, WI” is like packing into a van alongside the Chicago quartet and setting off for a cathartic road trip. Clocking in at nearly nine minutes, the lead single from the band’s superb 2023 LP The Window kicks off with singer/guitarist Julia Steiner namechecking the Northern Lights and talking of “driving around in circles” under the guise of a laid-back guitar jam. Recorded live from the floor in two takes, “Black Earth” soars on the strength of an effortless sonic alchemy shared between Steiner and bandmates Dave Sagan, Marcus Nuccio, and Sean Neumann. Seamlessly segueing from extended riffs to a singalong-caliber crescendo and beyond, the release of “Black Earth, WI” proves that Ratboys is no longer destined for a breakout. It’s here. – Zack Ruskin

Olivia Rodrigo "Bad Idea Right?"

Olivia Rodrigo is often most compelling when her delivery takes on a puckish snarl. Like Sour cuts “Good 4 U” and “Brutal,” Rodrigo draws from pop-punk’s relentless catchiness on “Bad Idea Right?” Whereas she aimed her vitriol at her ex for a decent chunk of her debut, “Bad Idea Right?” sees Rodrigo direct that scrutiny inward… to an extent, that is. “Yes, I know that he’s my ex / But can’t two people reconnect,” she shouts, scarcely stopping for a breath between rapid-fire syllables. The chorus ends with a recidivist punchline that Rodrigo knew was coming the whole time, but she utters it with pure glee: “I just tripped and fell into his bed!” – Grant Sharples

Mitski "My Love Is Mine All Mine"

Mitski has never been one to shy away from raw emotion, and her buzzy single “My Love Mine All Mine” is no different. Taken from her seventh studio album, The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We, “My Love Mine All Mine” features Mitski looking back fondly on her time on earth, inviting in feelings of love, seeking to return them through the moon after she’s passed on. The minimalistic piano-and-pedal-steel-guitar-driven instrumental allow for Mitski’s poetic lyricism to shine through — and resonate with listeners by way of many a TikTok. – Alex Gonzalez

PinkPantheress "Boy’s a Liar Pt. 2 (with Ice Spice)"

Breakout stars PinkPantheress and Ice Spice kicked off the year proving they were the ones to watch in 2023. With PinkPantheress’ painfully relatable account of a dishonest ex, and Ice’s punchy bars reminding us why she stays on his mind, the song has proven inescapable. Whether you’ve heard the song in the club or discovered it on one of many viral TikToks, you can’t help but shake your “duh-duh-duh” when “Boy’s A Liar, Pt. 2” comes on. – Alex Gonzalez

SZA — "Kill Bill"
SZA "Kill Bill"

SZA’s 2023 dominance, though it dates back to 2022 with the release of SOS, can be heavily credited to the success of the album’s post-release single “Kill Bill.” Though the singer eye-rolled at the “super easy – one take, one night” song from the album being the one to top the singles chart, “Kill Bill” is the kind of heartbroken, carefree, and fictionally (or literally) violent experience that this generation tends to gravitate toward (see: true crime tv shows and movies). In the metaphorical sense, “I might kill my ex, I still love him [or her] though,” is a line that some have thought of a few times in their lives. It’s that very relatability that keeps people running back to SZA. That and her cutt-throat pen which allows her to be equally good at writing the diabolical “Kill Bill” and the sweet and romantic “Snooze.” – Wongo Okon

Boygenius — "$20"
Boygenius "$20"

Boygenius are practically socialist in their commitment to treating every member equally. But the second song on Boygenius’ world-beating The Record is nonetheless Julien Baker’s baby. Atop a chunky riff destined for a Guitar Hero revamp, she contemplates pointless teenage rebellion and the sort-of go nowhere hometowns that tell you at every turn you will never leave, until you finally do. It’s her origin story, but also the Boygenius tale in miniature, drive all-night DIY tours, hoping a $20 guarantee will cover the gas until the next show, keeping going in order to keep going. Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus provide heavenly harmonies, underlying the drive to find salvation on the road and, eventually, with your fellow travelers. Your people are out there, go find them. – Michael Tedder

Doja Cat — "Paint The Town Red"
Doja Cat "Paint The Town Red"

Doja Cat cannot beat allegations being hurled at her of being “demonic” and a “Satan worshipper,” so she instead leaned into them on her Scarlet lead single “Paint The Town Red.” The widly catchy song features a remixed sample of Dionne Warwick’s 1964 track “Walk On By,” infused with Doja’s unmatched swagger. The song suavely responds to the number of controversies the rapper has had since her rise to fame, putting them all to rest with the assertion, “B*tch I said what I said, I’d rather be famous instead.” People clearly resonated with the song, as it quickly became Doja’s first-ever No. 1 solo single. – Carolyn Droke

SZA — "Snooze"
SZA "Snooze"

For those critics who say SZA only writes breakup songs, I’d like to please direct your attention to her SOS track “Snooze.” The loved-up song shows SZA at her best: masterful vocal delivery and catchy hooks accompanied by a lush and dreamy beat. It’s a feel-good tune that’s a certified R&B hit that became somewhat of a sleeper hit (pun intended). The song peaked at No.2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart ten months after its release. On top of that, “Snooze” was nominated for a 2024 Grammy for Best R&B Song, and SZA herself earned 8 other nominations, making her the most-nominated artist at the award show. – Carolyn Droke

Sufjan Stevens — "Will Anybody Ever Love Me?"
Sufjan Stevens "Will Anybody Ever Love Me?"

It’s kind of hard to believe that there hasn’t been a Sufjan Stevens song called “Will Anybody Ever Love Me?” before now. In fact, if you were to ask me what Sufjan Stevens whole deal is, this might be the most succinct way of responding (without getting into an annoying discussion about American geographical mythology). The song somehow manages to exist as an emblem of more than just Stevens’ lyrical vibe, going from gentle and spare to soaring and cathartic in just a few minutes. It’s quintessential Sufjan that could win over a skeptic, and stands up to the best things he’s ever written. – Philip Cosores

Troye Sivan — "One of Your Girls"
Troye Sivan "One of Your Girls"

Troye Sivan’s “One Of Your Girls” is a synth-pop vibe, but listen closely or you’ll miss its heartbreaking lyrics. The track, also the third single from Sivan’s latest album Something To Give Each Other, depicts Sivan as a lover-in-waiting who’s attracted to a man questioning their sexuality. Despite Sivan’s sensual vocals and subtle teases (“face card, no cash, no credit”), the song’s background coos haunt with yearning, while the vocoder-heavy chorus exhibits Sivan suppressing his adoration. Sivan goes in for a gut-punch with the line “give me a call if you ever get desperate,” a melancholic statement for fans who feel equally lost in love. – Jaelani Turner-Williams

Tyla — "Water"
Tyla "Water"

The increasing popularity of African music over the past 15 years has pushed genres like afrobeats and afro-fusion to the mainstream spotlight. This popularity has also unearthed sub-genres, like amapiano, that are now a favorite from the Afro-music world. Tenured acts like Wizkid and Davido have showcased their own offerings of the genre, but in 2023, amapiano birthed a new star in the making with South Africa’s own Tyla. With her breakout hit “”Water,”” Tyla skyrocketed into the conversation as music’s next pop star thanks to her sweet and soft vocals, undeniable dance skills, and readiness for the spotlight. With a TikTok challenge behind the song in full gear, Tyla has plenty of momentum to continue a run into and through 2024. We’ll just have to wait and see what her next steps are. – Wongo Okon

Militarie Gun — "Do It Faster"
Militarie Gun "Do It Faster"

Some songs just have it. “Do It Faster” by Militarie Gun is one of them. It has the adrenaline, the post-hardcore invigoration, the catchy hook to scream wherever you are in the mosh pit: “I don’t care what you do / Just do it faster,” Ian Shelton shouts. It has their signature barks to be emitted in unison; it has a less-than-two-minute run time that leaves no room for messing around. It’s an all-in ripper for anarchy, a call to immediate fervor. – Danielle Chelosky

Drake — "First Person Shooter (featuring J. Cole)"
Drake "First Person Shooter (featuring J. Cole)"

Drake and J. Cole are widely believed by rap fans to be two-thirds of the triumvirate that sits at the very tippy-top of the genre’s upper echelon (the third is Kendrick Lamar). Provided such a hierarchy actually exists, “First Person Shooter” provides exemplar evidence of their dominance — or at least, fans’ response to it does. An album cut from Drake’s For All The Dogs, those fans streamed it to the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (Cole’s first) before it was released as a single and spent weeks debating the rappers’ unconventional approach to their previously established collaboration formula. Their chemistry remains intact, though; I guess it’s not so lonely at the top after all. – Aaron Williams

Eslabon Armado, Peso Pluma — "Ella Baila Sola"
Eslabon Armado, Peso Pluma "Ella Baila Sola"

Música Mexicana went mainstream this year thanks to a collaboration between acts from both sides of the US-Mexico border. Chicano group Eslabon Armado joined forces with Mexican superstar Peso Pluma for the alluring “Ella Baila Sola.” The fiery love song seamlessly blends Eslabon Armado’s sad boy sierreño with Peso Pluma’s corridos tumbados swagger. Eslabon Armado’s lead singer Pedro Tovar, who also wrote the track, beautifully harmonizes with Peso Pluma about a woman who captured their attention on the dance floor. This Mexican dream team in turn captured the hearts of listeners around the world with the first música Mexicana song to crack the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. – Lucas Villa

Music Editorial Director: Philip Cosores | Music Critics Poll Creative Direction/Management: Jason Tabrys & Jessica Toomer | Design: Daisy James, Carlos Sotelo Olivas, Merle Cooper | Poll Construction: Joseph Petrolis & Derrick Rossignol | Dev: Max Pukhalevych & Sergey Pasyuk