Pop music’s best wasted no time getting into formation this year, with major releases from a galaxy of our brightest stars cluttering the calendar’s opening months. But even with so many established huge names taking up space on the marquee, what really made the last twelve months in pop special was how they also found room for the lesser-known little guys; a Desiigner for every Drake, a Kiiara for every Kanye. Soundtracking a period of seemingly limitless real-world disagreement and strife, these artists big and small provided us with rare moments of much-needed unity, ones we all would’ve actually wanted to freeze time on. Here are the 100 pop songs that pulled us closer in 2016.
(Note: Songs were considered eligible for this list if they were either released in 2016 or peaked on the Hot 100 during that time — unless they already appeared on our 2015 list.)
100. Meghan Trainor, “No”
After decades of men singing to women they know “want it” on the dance floor, Meghan Trainor hits the club and K.O.’s the entitled male ego with one simple word: “No.” This song is what happens between “Dear Future Husband” and actually finding that husband – you shut down a lot of bull. — JOE LYNCH
99. Flume feat. Kai, “Never Be Like You”
An EDM apology of such staggering contrition that you almost feel guilty for listening in on it, as guest chanteuse Kai offers to “give anything to change / This fickle minded heart that loves fake shiny things.” It sounds more like your own warped perspective on what the other person in a breakup must be thinking rather than the actual other side of the story, but maybe that’s why so many people liked it, as it became Aussie producer Flume‘s first U.S. crossover hit this summer. —ANDREW UNTERBERGER
98. Amber Coffman, “All to Myself”
Becoming one of the underground’s most familiar and comforting voices thanks to her work in art-pop collective Dirty Projectors and guest turns on singles by EDM maestros Rusko and Diplo, Amber Coffman finally achieved the titular independence with the gorgeous nu-wop of her solo debut “All to Myself.” “Maybe if I step out, go get some sun / Maybe today I’ll get something done” she croons tentatively ever a splendidly syrupy electro-waltz, and it’s clear that the world is ready when she is. — A.U.
97. Shura, “What’s It Gonna Be?”
If Carly Rae Jepsen hadn’t taken EMOTION SIDE B for her own 2016 release, Shura could have earned the title with her supercharged set of synth-pop fireworks, Nothing’s Real. “What’s It Gonna Be?” was the single and likely high point, a dizzying new-wave Tilt-a-Whirl, so exhilarating in its breathless questioning of whether or not the singer’s relationship is only going on in her head that it almost doesn’t matter whether or not it actually is. — A.U.
96. Gucci Mane, “Waybach”
Legend has it that when Gucci Mane was released from federal prison this May after nearly three years behind bars, it took him just six days to record his comeback album, Everybody Looking, with his two closest producers, Zaytoven and Mike WiLL Made-It. So it makes sense that one of the album’s standout tracks is a co-credit between the two beatmakers, with the rapper dedicating the hook to his friendship with each. “Waybach” pulses with swagger as Gucci matter-of-factly reclaims his crown while bestowing Zaytoven with the highest honor in hip-hop: “I’d rather rap a Zay track than a Dre track.” Ride it out. — DAN RYS
95. Britney Spears, “Do You Wanna Come Over?”
A throbbing, soda-popping and unmistakably menacing Pharrell beat puts Britney Spears in Predator Mode on this Glory should-be-single, simultaneously seductive and terrifying as Brit declares “Nobody should be alone if they don’t have to be,” not allowing for a ton of choice in the matter. Lord help us all if your answer’s no. — A.U.
94. Kings of Leon, “Waste a Moment”
The first single from Kings of Leon‘s WALLS served as the rock stars’ comeback declaration, and while its breeziness offers subtler thrills than the stadium bravado of “Use Somebody” or “Sex On Fire,” the loping bass, pounding drums and shout-along chorus prove it a moment worth reveling in just the same. — TAYLOR WEATHERBY
93. Kelsea Ballerini, “Peter Pan”
After Kelsea Ballerini’s cutesy-by-comparison breakout single, the country princess showed her more vulnerable side with a ballad telling of her problems with boyfriend immaturity. Her vocals are undeniably pretty, but it’s Ballerini’s songwriting that really pierces through, with her masterful use of the titular metaphor: “You’re always gonna fly away, just because you know you can/ You’re never gonna learn there’s no such place as Neverland.” — T.W