Remember when we thought 2016 was bad? We crawled out of that year beaten, bloodied, and positive that nothing could possibly be worse. Then 2017 happened.
Whether you’re reeling from the endless onslaught of mass shootings, the revelation of all your favorite people as sexual predators, or literally anything the Trump administration has done, it seemed like this year would never end.
Thankfully though, today is the last day of 2017. So let’s take a look at the things that didn’t make us want to tear out our hair in frustration. For every time the news told us the world was ending, we could always mute it and put on a solid jam. Then we could pretend just for a moment that everything wasn’t crumbling around us. Every year is a good year for music, but 2017 was so brutal, that the escape these songs gave us might have been just a little sweeter than batches from years past. Whether it be the unstoppable reggaetón of “Despacito,” the funk revival captured by our favorite hip-hop artists, or a life affirming anthem from Kesha of all people, these songs lifted us out of the doldrums three to five minutes at a time.
So without further ado, let’s pay tribute to the thirty best tracks of 2017, and hope that maybe 2018 won’t be any worse.
30. Dej Loaf — No Fear
We’ve come to expect a certain sound from Detroit native Def Loaf. Her 2014 debut “Try Me” skated on trap window dressing, but hinted at an effervescence that set her apart from her contemporaries. With “No Fear,” she finally leaned full-tilt into it. It’s a bright, earnest ode to self confidence and being able to love free of doubt that in another year might have drawn serious attention. As it is, Top 40 tended to lean heavier on cookie-cutter electropop and slack-jawed flow, leaving her on the sidelines. Here’s hoping the mainstream will catch on to her genius eventually.
29. Little Big Town — Better Man
2017 shouldn’t have been Taylor Swift’s year. So many new and emerging artists were poised to make an impression, and then she dropped Reputation like a ton of bricks, sucking up the conversation like bloated vacuum cleaner. But not everything she did this year reeked of her calculated propaganda machine. Take for instance this tender ballad that she wrote for country mainstay Little Big Town. Reminiscent of her early work, it delves into the lingering pain after a breakup done for all the right reasons. Even if someone isn’t right for you, their absence can still leave a scar. This is the type of songwriting that Swift excels at and it’s brought to vibrant life by Little Big Town’s soaring harmonies.
28. Rafferty — Mausoleum
Singer-songwriter Rafferty has toyed with gothic themes and dark tonality on many of his singles, but they mainly color what are first and foremost rock songs. “Mausoleum” is a different beast altogether. Released as a Halloween tribute, this track is a gothic tango rooted deeply in Edgar Allen Poe mythos and bolstered by haunting keys. Even the subject matter takes a more classic approach to horror, meditating on lovers separated by eons and death. It’s a far cry from the kitschy jingles of Halloweens past, more The Raven than it is “Monster Mash.”
27. J. Cole — High for Hours
4 Your Eyez Only was a late-quarter masterpiece in 2016, but it seems Cole saved his most poignant piece for the new year. It’s easy to see how “High for Hours” got left on the cutting room floor as it doesn’t fit into Only’s tidy concept. Instead, it’s a meditation on violent revolution spit like beat poetry over a grooving baseline. Whereas most cultural critics are quick to point out society’s problems, Cole dives even deeper, questioning the act of revolution itself. In a culture obsessed with disrupting the status quo a la the Bernie Sanders or MAGA scenes, Cole recognizes that revolution is part of a cycle, that violence only begets more violence and inequality. “What good is takin’ over when we know what you gon’ do?” he questions. “The only real revolution happens right inside of you.” He honestly might be a Buddhist, though he hasn’t out and said it yet.
26. Alice Merton — No Roots
This song is so simple it almost shouldn’t work. A plucked bass hook and kick drum are all that back the German songstress at the outset, but that simplicity works to her advantage. Using only the barest of bones, she crafts an infectious hook that’s impossible not to repeat for the second, third, or hundredth time. The lyrics read like every twenty-something’s dating profile, embracing the #wanderlust that’s gripped an entire generation. It’s a recipe that ticks all the right boxes at just the right time.
25. ZZ Ward feat. The Fantastic Negrito — Cannonball
If there’s one thing that this white girl from Pennsylvania can do better than most, it’s play the blues. Her debut album toyed with a modern sound, glitzing up her style with shiny production value and hip-hop influences, but she tears all that down on The Storm. It’s an old fashioned, yet consummately earnest mission statement. Her blues has never felt more immediate or vital. On “Cannonball,” guitars screech with messy feedback against harmonica wail. It’s a push and pull dynamic mirrored in the he-said-she-said vocals she trades with the Fantastic Negrito (also in top form here). It’s raw, scrappy and utterly alive, just as the blues should be.
24. Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee — Despacito
During the month of December, my friends and I engaged in a little survival game called Whamaggedon, the object of which is to make it through Christmas without hearing Wham’s perennial holiday classic “Last Christmas.” If we had instead decided to play Despacitocolypse, we wouldn’t have lasted a day.
It’s hard to overstate the influence this reggaetón sleeper hit had on the culture this year. Not since “The Macarena” has a predominantly Spanish-language song topped the Hot 100, but beyond that “Despacito” seemed to transcend genre, time, space, and even personal taste in a way that we haven’t seen this side of “Gangnam Style” (whose record Fonsi and the gang long surpassed on the way to 4.5 billion YouTube views). It’s the most streamed song of all time and it’s easy to see why (though not everyone would like to admit it). Beyond its catchy hook, “Despacito” embraces a soft, yet earnest sensuality that makes it somehow both dirty and inviting. For a time, you couldn’t walk into a grocery store or even your grandma’s house without wanting to get down. Now, if only there was Macarena-style dance to go along with it.
23. Michael Kiwanuka — Cold Little Heart
The draw of Michael Kiwanuka has always been his voice, stretched and raspy as if weathered by time. Every note conveys a sense of having lived through incredible loss though he never overdoes it like many Voice-era belters. The title “Cold Little Heart” tells you everything you need to know up front and the soundscape he creates sends any icy chill right to your own. He strains over melodic strums of the guitar, reminding listeners that soul music should have (gasp!) a soul behind it. What a concept.
22. Portugal. The Man — Feel It Still
If you would have told me five years ago that one day Portugal. The Man would shoot into the pop stratosphere, I would have laughed in your face and probably made a couple calls to have you institutionalized. Yet they’ve given us arguably the most insufferably catchy tune of the year, one that is probably still spinning on multiple stations if you were to turn on your radio right now. Props to the Alaskan five-piece for staying true to form and delivering a track that sounds nothing like the pop bangers it rubbed shoulders with. It’s a toe-tapping piece of neo-Motown gold and a strong argument for a horn section in every band. Can this be a New Year’s resolution for the indie scene?
21. Selena Gomez — Bad Liar
Hear me out, Selena Gomez released one of the best indie pop songs of the year. I’m not kidding. Equal parts art-school allusion and lyrical cleverness, “Bad Liar” is the first real showcase of her talent as a singer, and done over Tina Weymouth’s “Psycho Killer” bassline no less. Paired with “best songwriter you’ve never heard of” Julia Michaels, Gomez shares an intellectual vulnerability that sounds almost impossible from the same artist who churned out “Fetish” in the same year. The minimalist instrumentation highlights her emotional turmoil, trying to hold back affection for a lukewarm lover, even as those feelings overflow. “You’re taking up a fraction of my mind / every time I watch you serpentine.” The twists and turns are palpable as is the gut-wrenching strain in her voice during the final bridge. It’s a Selena we haven’t seen before, hopefully one that is here to stay.
20. Foster the People — Sit Next to Me
In the years since Torches, Foster the People have been kicking around to middling success and diminished creative turns. Most of their latest, Sacred Hearts Club, are toss-aways save for this gem released as the album’s second single. And it’s the best thing they’ve put out since “Pumped Up Kicks” took over the world. Rooted in 60’s psychedelia, “Sit Next to Me” boasts bright, uplifting synths and a danceable hook that burrows into your brain and weaves its way down to your hips and feet. It’s not the immediate pop trap that their first and biggest hit was, but it boasts a sexiness that that one lacks. Mark Foster and the gang make the concept of sitting next to someone sound so saucy and scandalous, it’ll take you back to the grade school days when that was exactly the case.
19. Preservation Hall Jazz Band — Mad
A bit of a black sheep in this list, the New Orleans dixieland outfit nevertheless released one of the most infectious and pop-savvy albums of the year. Never mind the fact that it’s jazz. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band has existed in one form or another since 1963, first as the house band of the eponymous New Orleans landmark, then as a lauded group of touring musicians. 2017 saw them playing the big festivals from Coachella to Bonnaroo, flying the standard for live jazz with suitable chutzpah. “Mad” is the electric album closer of an airtight set, a fiery number that demands everyone swing onto the dancefloor like it’s the 60’s. It’s the closest you can get to the French Quarter without hopping a plane.
18. Francis and the Lights feat. Chance the Rapper — May I Have This Dance (Remix)
Blink while listening to this bit of gold-plated electropop and you might find yourself at a Peter Gabriel concert circa 1986. Here Francis Farewell Starlite crafts a minimalist soundscape that worships at the altar of 80’s greats, but transcends the bubblegum of early MTV. “May I Have This Dance” is a meditation on the simplicity of love and the desires that come with loving someone. This is perhaps best embodied by its music video, a stripped-down affair featuring choreography between Starlite and featured performer Chance the Rapper. It’s a threadbare, honest display that peaks with Chance’s verse during the bridge. He professes his simple, impossible love for his daughter. “I love you more than your mother / More than you love yourself.” The sentiment is nothing new, but with this raw, unpretentious sheen, it’s tough not to shed a tear.
17. Alex Lahey — Every Day’s the Weekend
Compare Aussie newcomer Alex Lahey to Courtney Barnett and she might call you sexist. The manic, confessional nature of her fuzzed-out squall is a fair enough similarity, but the same can be said of Frank Carter, Architects, or Drenge. She wants you to drop your preconceived notions of female artists and just listen to her music. Because it’s good — damn good. “Every Day’s the Weekend” is a furious little thrasher with a fuck-it punk mentality that makes quick work of any obligations you have that day. A friend, a lover, or whoever has just come to town, so why not blow everything off to be with them? “Fuck work! You’re here / Every day’s the weekend.” Damn straight.
16. Lil Uzi Vert — XO Tour Llif3
2017 was the year Lil Uzi Vert traded in his Soundcloud cred for honest to goodness stardom. “Do What I Want” and “You Was Right” may have cemented his place in 2016’s freshman class, but Uzi finally hit pop gold with “XO Tour Llif3.” From blown-out car subwoofers, to gym playlists, to every boombox on the Venice boardwalk, this song dominated the cultural landscape. With a bright energy more reminiscent of Hot Topic-era blink-182 than the trap-swagger of Future, it occupied a niche middle ground between the Warped Tour crowd and the tinny Internet rap of his roots. Like Twenty One Pilots and Lil Peep (RIP), Vert’s music bleeds across genre, proving modern audiences don’t care about rigid parameters if the hook seizes you.
15. A R I Z O N A — Electric Touch
After years of noodling around with concepts, the Boston three-piece (surprisingly not of Copper State heritage) finally perfected their recipe for buoyant, ethereal chillhouse. Marrying the tonal hockey played by main mainstream DJ’s with an ennui uncharacteristic of those Vegas-bound button-pushers, “Electric Touch” hits an emotional chord that seems almost surprising at first. When the electronic music throbbing from gym speakers all have assembly line vocalists belting about who-even-cares ninety percent of the time, the earnestness of a band like A R I Z O N A feels a breath of fresh air.
14. Childish Gambino — Redbone
The smashing success of “Redbone” should not have happened. Sure, it’s an irresistible slice of sweaty, enticing, vintage R&B, but it’s also a song that’s difficult to imagine alongside Drake, “Bodak Yellow,” or Calvin Harris. To make matters worse, Donald Glover (the future EGOT-er behind Childish Gambino), was barely available to promote the record between filming his hit TV series Atlanta and appearing in both a Star Wars movie and the Lion King remake. What should have been the last nail in the coffin? Gambino was known as a rapper — and “Redbone” has no rapping.
So how did it happen? The simple answer is that the song speaks for itself. It took a little pushing by label Glassnote to get it started, but once the ball got rolling there was no stopping it. With its delicious neo-soul sensibility, it forms a rare bridge between contemporary audiences and old-school P-funk aficionados. It was the slowest, sweetest, most sizzling burn of 2017 — seeping into the culture at an imperceptible pace until, like the proverbial frog, we cooked.
13. The Aces — Baby Who
This all-female group of wunderkinds from Provo, Utah of all places do HAIM better than HAIM. While the faux indie scene (mainstream pop in disguise) ate up Something to Tell You, the Aces quietly dropped the best EP of 2017. Four tracks, fifteen minutes, and not a second wasted.
The best of the lot is the ballad “Baby Who,” recorded right after the quartet signed with Red Bull Music. Trading the jangling guitar and effervescent sparkle of their other tracks for a minimal, considered instrumentation, lead singer Cristal Ramirez croons a tale of self-reliance. Though they claim it was written about no one specifically, it still rings true for anyone on the precipice of a backslide into a bad situation. When the past tries to reel you in, shake it off, she says — though in a more direct confessional way than T. Swift showed us three years ago. Who are you calling “baby?” I’m fine without you.
12. Cardi B — Bodak Yellow
On the surface, “Bodak Yellow” is a cookie-cutter trap song, packaged with a beat that took producer J. White 15 minutes to lay down and a flow Cardi morphed from the song’s namesake, Kodak Black. That should have made it an easy write-off for snobs as they ingested “Bad and Boujee” for the thousandth time. But unlike Migos, the underlying message of “Bodak” is clear — Cardi is insanely good at what she does. Like a Snapchat Generation Biggie, her boasting feels as earned as it does audacious — and “Bodak” is her “Juicy.” Her story is first aspirational, one of a girl born on the bottom rung of society who now pays her mother’s bills. Then it is dripping with swagger, a contagious kind that makes you feel like you too can make money moves, just so long as you don’t check your bank account balance.
11. Queens of the Stone Age — The Way You Used to Do
It’s pretty apparent when Mark Ronson has his hand in something, and once you realize that, you can probably bet that you have gold on your hands. Within the first few bars of “The Way You Used to Do,” both of these facts swing into focus — pun definitely intended. The dark fuzz and Josh Homme’s unmistakable haunting wail are still present, but they take a backseat to Ronson’s brand of sleek Uptown Funk-ery. What emerges is jaunting swing number so overflowing with cool that you can practically hear Homme cutting a rug like it’s 1942.
10. SZA ft. Travis Scott — Love Galore
We’ve seen this scenario before. It’s 3AM and the predictable “U up?” text arrives. It’s barely a sentence, but it speaks volumes, unpacking a world of interpretations with two words. That’s the premise of Solána Rowe’s, aka SZA’s, “Hotline Bling” reversal. Her would-be paramour, played with a groggy compulsion by Travis Scott, drones “I need I need / I need I need,” grasping at words through the murkiness of the late hour. “Love” she answers before he can settle on it. A simple concept, it’s still made to feel new, unique, and wholly alien as she teases it out syllable by endless syllable. In this moment, love isn’t a symbol of passion or commitment, but of lust and physicality. It’s a push and pull between giving in, skipping over the fuckbois who are beneath her attention, and of course giving in again.
One of the only female R&B breakouts of 2017 (and one of the only female artists on R&B radio at all), SZA came like a revelation. Her lush vocals and flowing delivery make it impossible not to lose yourself in her struggle. “Love Galore” may be about grappling with what she really wants, but she’s always firmly at the wheel.
9. Calvin Harris feat. Frank Ocean & Migos — Slide
For a long time, Harris’ name has been synonymous with the EDM garbage heap — fishnet bodysuits, Vegas club douche fests, and vodka-filled water bottles all included. But despite his enormous price tag, the one thing he hasn’t been able to buy all these years is respect. Perhaps that’s why his latest album felt like a table flip of all the moves we’ve come to expect from him.
“Slide” isn’t revolutionary. In fact, it feels dated in a way that evokes a cover band breaking into “Get Lucky,” Daft Punk’s own attempt at reliving a laptop-less past. But what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in conviction. Atop the propulsive bass, fluttering synths, and punctuating handclaps (all done by Harris, he’ll be happy to tell you) the guests push “Slide” into instant summer classic territory. Frank Ocean lays out an ode to romance with smoother-than-silk vocals before passing the baton to Quavo, not rapping so much as humming deliciously into your ear.
It feels like such a curveball from an artist who built a fortune on paint by numbers EDM. The appeal to be taken seriously as a musician might be a bit transparent, but he knows enough to stand back and let the stars shine. If anything, it’s the perfect summer jam.
8. Japandroids — North East South West
Celebration Rock set the bar astronomically high for Japandroids’ return. That album’s uniformity of theme — an exaltation of life and the beauty of its fleetingness — instantly shot it into the punk rock pantheon. Near to the Wild Heart of Life is a worthy follow-up, and yet it’s hard not to feel a little disappointed. The cathartic jams that made Celebration such a tight set are largely missing in the more artistically expansive Life, but “North East South West” stands as a stark exception.
Wanderlust is a recurrent theme throughout Life, but it’s usually approached from arm’s length, like we’re being forced to sit on the couch while grandma busts out the family photo album for the thirtieth time. For a span of four minutes though, wailing soundscapes drenched in nostalgia carry us on a road trip from Toronto to NOLA and everything in between. It’s a journey outwards and inwards as the world unfolds before us, revealing the truth of one’s desires not in the spaciousness of the country, but at the center of the compass rose. While other punk bands focus on externalizing aggression, Japandroids know how to light a fire in your soul.
7. Cold War Kids and Bishop Briggs — Love on the Brain
As long as this song is continually covered, it should land somewhere on a year-end list. Such is the strength of Fred Ball and Joseph Angel’s songwriting, that under the tutelage of any half-decent singer, it always sounds immediate and inspired. But Nathan Willet and Bishop Briggs are more than half-decent. After teaming up on “So Tied Up,” a fun and serviceable bopper from Cold War Kids’ 2017 release LA Divine, they doubled down on another collab, emerging with a minimalist take on the Rihanna classic. Backed only by the soft ululation of moog keys, Willet and Briggs soar, wringing longing and agony from each note. Perhaps nothing will eclipse the original, since Rihanna’s rendition feels so lived-in, but they’ve added a new dimension, breathing a pure humanity into it that takes shape free from the doo wop composition. And if nothing else, it cements their status as two of the most underrated vocalists of our time.
6. POWERS — Just Kids
The best electropop band you’ve never heard of released the best song about childhood nostalgia you didn’t listen to this year. LA by-way-of Brooklyn duo Mike Del Rio and Crista Ru cut their chops co-writing for pop sensations like Kylie Minogue and Selena Gomez before striking out on their own, and that sensibility remains in the light-hearted whimsy of “Just Kids.” Namechecking the 2010 Patti Smith memoir of the same name, the song carries the rock icon’s mantra of universal connectedness and continued youth through creativity.
“There’s something about undressing someone, figuratively and in reality, that can feel so playful and eternal,” said the band in a Billboard interview earlier this year. “Creativity and connection are what keep us taller children after all.”
More than a sugary ode to the wonders of childhood, “Just Kids” also boasts maturity and songwriting prowess that exists in its airy, encompassing atmosphere you can practically live in. If we continue to create, it’s a world we never have to leave.
5. Jay-Z — The Story of OJ
Jay-Z dropped 4:44 like a “Dear Diary” entry addressed to the world, a confession so juicy, you practically want to view it between parted fingers. But whereas most of the album is his dirty laundry laid bare, its crown jewel is an external indictment laser-focused on picking apart the culture. “I’m not black, I’m OJ,” HOV quotes before smashing it with a single side-eyed word. “Okay.” The metaphor instantly materializes, that skin color isn’t something that can be discarded at will. For people of color, that should hardly be news, but “The Story of OJ” nevertheless broke through the squall in a year bursting with racially-driven strife. Thank Hov’s uncharacteristically woke soulfulness, words flowing like wisdom from a cloudy-eyed sage. His use of OJ as both a real person and instantly recognizable cultural meme has the kind of prescience that can only come from someone who’s personally toiled with the inseparability of wealth, race, and personal accountability. And laid over producer No I.D.’s vintage concoction of Nina Simone, Kool and the Gang, and Funk Inc., the message goes down like a sweet, soulful syrup.
4. Royal Blood — I Only Lie When I Love You
A couple of young, British blokes sporting floral St. Lucia button-ups have no business making a sound this big. Armed with nothing but a bass guitar and stripped-down drum kit, Royal Blood set about filling the room with thundering sludge, melodic vocals, and just enough cowbell. It’s an equation that seems like it shouldn’t work at first, like someone cobbled Mastodon, Shawn Mendes, and some indie island-hopper together and released it into the wild. But everything about Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher’s Frankenstein monster is considered, molded into the best version of itself. For this reason, Royal Blood sounds like nothing else on rock radio, even Death from Above 1979 who arguably utilized the same formula before the duo emerged from the Arctic Monkeys’ birthing chamber.
“I Only Lie When I Love You” is a microcosm of everything that makes the band so sleazily delicious. Thatcher hammers out a toe-tapping rhythm while Kerr chugs along on the bass, creating something akin to a stoner rock dance-along. Marry that to a syncopated dose of vocal sugar and bake fort three minutes. You’ll wonder why the club hasn’t gotten more metal.
3. Kendrick Lamar — DNA.
What many in the current generation of Soundcloud rap often forget is that hip-hop is first and foremost poetry. And in that spirit, Kendrick Lamar is the genre’s Keats, Elliott, and Ginsberg wrapped up in one. His short but hefty catalog already carries prominent examples of this (a standout being the breathless runaway train that is “For Free”), but “DNA.” takes his penchant for spur of the moment beat poetry and weaponizes it.
Propelled by Mike WiLL’s skittering production, the first half of the song plays like Kendrick is a one-man firing squad, shooting bravado from the hip. He is multitudes — “I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA” — and he’s raging against the matchbook personalities that dominate the culture — “Problem is all that sucker shit inside your DNA / Daddy prolly snitched, heritage inside your DNA.” When the second half of the song finally hits, the indictment comes like an execution, whole sentences spat before they can even register. Announced by a Geraldo Rivera sample as a thesis for what is being raged against: “This is why I say that hip-hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years,” Kendrick immediately peppers it with holes. It’s a strawman narrative created by White America to ostracize Black culture and justify its otherness. Kendrick knows that’s garbage. “This is how it is when you’re in the Matrix / Dodgin’ bullets, reapin’ what you sow / And stackin’ up the footage, livin’ on the go.” It’s this self-sustaining narrative that draws his ire, not the chest-puffing of other rappers. And if words are weapons, no working rapper is better suited to tear it down than Kendrick Lamar.
2. Lorde — Liability
If Pure Heroine announced Ella Yelich-O’Connor, better known to the world as Lorde, as a singular malleable voice in pop, Melodrama does exactly the opposite. Fans expecting more downtempo alt-dance — an authentic yang to Lana Del Rey’s curated yin — were sorely disappointed, but they were a thankful minority. Melodrama is an unexpected masterpiece, a singular work of no frills empathy that shines a light on all feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness that plague every nameless face you pass on the sidewalk.
The hits are plenty across its forty-minute runtime, but the most nakedly honest moment comes from the bare-bones piano ballad “Liability.” No longer does Ella hide behind the camaraderie of her audience. Whereas Pure Heroine was all about the power of “We” (“We’ll never be royals,” “We live in cities you’ll never see on screen”), “Liability” finds Ella on her own, facing her demons in solitude. “I am a toy that people enjoy, till all of the tricks don’t work anymore / And then they are bored of me.” It’s the existential crisis that all pop stars on the Top 40 conveyer belt must face. What makes someone relevant when the spotlight moves on?
In the grips of depression, it’s hard to know what gives a person their worth. Lorde smashes that point home like a wrecking ball about halfway through the first verse. “So I guess I’ll go home, into the arms of the girl that I love / The only love I haven’t screwed up.” At first it seems like a respite from the agony, a lover perhaps, or a friend that understands. But then the other foot drops: “We slow dance in the living room, but all that a stranger would see / Is one girl, swaying alone, stroking the cheek.” It seems a tragic note to end on, but there’s a glimmer of hope in the premise. To be truly okay, even when you feel wholly alone in the world, you must love and care for yourself.
1. Kesha — Praying
2017 was the year of Kesha. While the sky darkened, and strife spread across the land, one voice looked for the refracted light shining through the rain. True, the news gave many of us continual heart palpitations and visions of the end times, but Kesha Rose Sebert saw the rainbow and sang that even in the darkest times, there are always hints of light.
Take her own struggle. For years now, she has fought in vain to be released from her contract with Sony, a situation in which she would have to continue to work with her abuser Dr. Luke. While she had been denied her appeal to the ire, it seemed, of the whole music industry, she took that situation and spun it into gold. Rainbow is the best album of the year, made better by Kesha’s triumph over her demons. Though she must continue to release albums under Sony’s umbrella (and the label has moved Dr. Luke to another branch where the two thankfully won’t work together), she hasn’t let that inhibit her creative process. In fact, her new songs brim with a creativity and catharsis not hinted at in the rest of her recorded work.
Nearly every track on Rainbow, from the girl-power Motown romp “Woman,” to the rambling folk ballad “Spaceship,” to the Beach Boys-inspired mission statement title track, is a masterpiece unto itself, but the one that best encapsulates Kesha’s newfound peace of mind is the lead single “Praying.” A barely-veiled screed to Dr. Luke, the song unfolds over a Ryan Lewis-produced piano hook. Whereas she could have used the 4-minute crescendo to tear him down (“And we both know all the truth I could tell”), she instead spends her time forgiving him and hoping that one day he can make peace with what he’s done. More than that though, it’s about letting go of her hatred and allowing herself to grow as an artist and person. “It’s from our darkest moments that we gain the most strength,” she wrote in an essay to Lenny Letter earlier this year. And strong she has certainly become. Never is it more apparent than when “Praying” reaches its climax and she breaks into a victorious, goosebump-inducing whistle tone (one that inspired a whole thread of reaction videos). If Kesha can take a dark, seemingly hopeless situation and turn it into art, maybe the world 2017 gave us can be fixed too.
Did I leave anything out? Let me know your favorite tracks of 2017 in the comments.