If 2023 taught us anything, it’s that we’re all honorary gay residents of Berkeley, Burlington, and Cambridge. And with plenty of great new music (Miley Cyrus, Victoria Monét, MUNA) out this year, can we be surprised? From Boygenius’ showstopper single ‘Not Strong Enough’ getting us in our feelings to Troye Sivan’s candy-coated comeback track ‘Rush,’ there have been plenty of mega-hits to help us cut through the chaos of the last twelve months. Check out the 20 best songs that dominated our playlists below.
100 gecs – ‘Hollywood Baby’
Future-facing duo Laura Les and Dylan Brady are the internet weirdos known for their absurdist gloriously unserious tunes. And rowdy album opener ‘Hollywood Baby’ fits the brand; a hopped-up pop-punk earworm packed with thrashing guitars and earsplitting drums – courtesy of rock icon Josh Freese – will no doubt give you Hot Topic flashbacks. This supersized single had us headbanging so much it’d make Hayley Williams proud. In a time when emo-rock nostalgia is splattered across the industry, 100 gecs showed us how it’s done.
Anohni and the Johnsons – ‘Can’t’
My Back Was a Bridge for You to Cross marks Anohni’s first album since 2016. A captivating release, each song speaks its own story. On ‘Can’t’, Anohni soulfully, heart-achingly, sings about a friend that has passed. The track’s jazzy melodic arrangements soundtrack Anohni’s forthright that roll off like lines of denial: “I don’t want you to be dead / I won’t have it”. But even in its sadness, and some regret, ‘Can’t’ remains entirely beautiful.
Angie McMahon – ‘Serotonin’
Australian artist Angie McMahon’s second album Light, Dark, Light Again is exhilaratingly honest. On ‘Serotonin’, the singer’s invitation to openness continues. Her lower register vocals carry across strumming guitars as she uses her rapid breaths as percussive beats, hitting your ears like a self-soothing mechanism.
McMahon meets you halfway, as if holding your hand, accepting that sometimes we are plunged into the chemical dark. Yet, no matter the outcome she promises to continue dancing at breakfast, to see friends and keep moving. The answer to it all, she settles, is change. And as she calms reflects (“Then my clothes got too small for my emotions / Too small, I had to change) you, too, realise that getting through isn’t that daunting after all.
Arooj Aftab – ‘To Remain / To Return’
Arooj Aftab made history, in 2022, as the first Pakistani artist to win a Grammy. Her delicate post-minimalist artistry invokes inspiration from jazz and neo-Sufi observations that feed into her ambient, moving melodies and lyricism. ‘To Remain / To Return’ captures this same outward sense of discovery. Cocooned in flickering instrumentals, the 9-minute song builds into a dreamy, electronic landscape. As splintered notes and piano keys collide, listeners are swept away by Aftab’s haunting vocals as she sings of a calling to leave with a promise to return.
Ashnikko ft. Ethel Cain – ‘Dying Star’
All the best artist collaborations happen over Instagram DMs, or at least that’s what Ashnikko told us. On this emocore ballad, Ashnikko and Ethel Cain lament a world gone by. Emotional lyrics sit against electric guitar strums and a pulsing clock-like ticking, a reminder of the destruction the pair narrate. It’s her vivid recounts – “I died and I land with both of my hands / In the mud / It felt like a god how she held me” that keep you listening, like a space-tourist on a decaying planet.
Where Ashnikko’s music is typically praised for its no-care powerhouse style, album closer Dying Star (ft. Ethel Cain) showcases its strength in focused, minimalist production. And so, as the track wraps us, amidst the catastrophe, Ashnikko calls out for a place to recoup, to lay down her weapons and, for now, escape — even if it’s until her next project.
Billie Eilish – ‘What Was I Made For?’
Billie Eilish joined a wave of star-studded names – Dua Lipa, Ice Spice, Nicki Minaj – on Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, yet none of the other songs left us with that aching existentialism on the tube home. Ballads and Eilish are a tried and tested duo. ‘everything i ever wanted’ and movie single ’No Time To Die’ are proof of how the singer’s soft soprano vocals can cut right to your emotions. Yet, on this track, Eilish was able to push past the pastel pink dreamhouses (or mojo dojo casa houses) and connect with our own bigger questions. While it may be another piano-led single, Eilish has (again) created a song that will, possibly, outlive the film it belongs to.
Boygenius – ‘Not Strong Enough’
A nod to Sheryl Crow and a pointed call out to the treatment of women in the industry, ‘Not Strong Enough’ glimmers as a single but also as an anthem of self-aware incompetence. Supergroup Boygenius has amassed a reputation for deprecating and emotionally existential lyrics – it’s to be expected. On ‘Not Strong Enough’, the trio verbalise a sense of collapse against the knotted relationship of half-heartedly trying to be there for someone else. Acoustics guitars give way to beaming synths that pile up enough momentum to convert an honest bridge-hooked chant into a shouted prayer. And even after the song has finished, you’ll find yourself wanting to scream: “Always an angel, never a god”.
Baby Queen – ‘Dream Girl’
This year was a big deal for Baby Queen. Following the anticipation of her heavily praised mixtape – The Yearbook – and as a support act for Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour tour, the 26-year-old had quite the comeback to make. Enter ‘Dream Girl’ – and what a lead single it turns out to be. It’s the alt-pop version of ‘Creep’ by Radiohead for the Converse-donning barrier girlies at Camden’s Koko, and Latham knows exactly what she’s doing.
An unrequited love song that pulls on both perspectives, Latham imagines life as the boy her crush is taken with. Over skittering synths and daydream pop beats, she longingly sings about the girl out of reach, questioning whether the boyfriend will ever be enough. And, in its vulnerable guitar-flecked ending, Latham takes the plunge, confessing: “You are all I see / when I fall asleep”.
daine – ‘smb2l’
Filipino-Australian daine emerged on the scene, in 2020, as the new patron of hyperpop beats and emo-infected trap sequences. On their new EP, Shapeless, daine steers away from expectations dropping a collection of brighter-sounding EDM-fronted tracks that fall into more mainstream pop territory. ‘smb2l’ is a head-rush of new energy, drilling home airy melodies while sneaking in a tale of caution: “You want somebody to love / I can’t give you nothing.” In a flair of post-genre alchemy, daine reaffirms they’re here to play entirely by their own rules.
Dua Saleh – ‘daylight falls’
Sudanese-American artist Dua Saleh has been everywhere. Credited on Travis Scott’s album UTOPIA to appearing in Netflix’s final season of Sex Education, Saleh has been flexing their name as an artist, in all its meaning. ‘daylight falls’ is a song about the sanctuary those closest to you selflessly provide. Soft strings unfurl as echoing vocals and a burst of laughter – from Saleh – cuts across the chorus as they paint a picture of despair: “Figure it out / ‘Cause I’m gonna cry / Fucking me up / In the dead of the night”. But when the chorus lands, it’s like a shoulder-dropping sigh as they warmly call to their friends finding them when it’s needed most.
Halsey – ‘Lilith (ft. SUGA of BTS)’
Halsey has a penchant for showing up where we least expect them. Whether it be voicing an Arctic grey wolf in a Universal Pictures movie or American slasher MaXXXine, the wildcard artist seems to do the unexpected. ‘Lilith (ft. SUGA of BTS)’ is another one of those moments. Unveiled as the official Diablo IV anthem, the revamped Halsey track – originally appearing on their grand alternative album If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power – elevates storytelling of horror and destruction for the gaming franchise. ‘Lilith’ isn’t just your surface-level repurposed release, its new layers (a mixture of thrumming synths, dramatic strings and guest vocals from BTS’ SUGA) bring it a fresh, dark hellish repaint.
Jaboukie – ‘‘not_me_tho’
2023 was the year Jaboukie Young-White truly became a triple threat. The US performer has jumped from comedian and a writer on Big Mouth to an actor (you’ll have spotted him in Selma Hayek and Annie Murphy’s brilliantly unhinged episode of Black Mirror this year too, as well as a recurring role in the first two seasons of Only Murders in the Building), but this past summer saw him release his debut album All Who Can’t Hear Must Feel. Standout single ‘not_me_tho’ proved that his addictive first cut ‘BBC’ was far from a one-off. ‘Not_me_tho’ embeds Jaboukie’s wit into an earworm that takes aim at the big-balls bravado of hustle culture. It’s the catchy refrain that declares his position on the matter: “Not me though, I’m a free hoe.” It will be swirling around in your head for days.
Kali Uchis with El Alfa & JT – ‘Muñekita’
Kali Uchis ‘Muñekita’ is a high-energy reggaeton tune with rich visuals that takes back to the 2000s: a hot pink Ford Mustang, furry dice and, of course, killer outfits — it’s a Latina Barbieland. On this Spanish track, Dominican rapper and JT (of hip-hop duo City Girls) punchy bars play to Uchis’ free-flowing styling to pull off an upbeat track that doesn’t quit.
Miley Cyrus – ‘Flowers’
New Miley is here, and she’s here to stay. The unofficial sun-soaked anthem of the summer – ‘Flowers’ is the ultimate self-love tune. Coloured with a funky bassline and a disco beat feel, it’s no surprise the track lasted eight non-consecutive weeks on the Top 100. And, of course, the track benefited from a dose of celebrity gossip, but Cyrus has long been a star overlooked for her catchy hooks and easy-to-pick-up lyrics. So, no matter where you stand on it, the singer has finally earned her ‘Flowers’.
MUNA – ‘One That Got Away’
It’s synth-pop, it’s slick, it’s MUNA, baby. They’ve opened for The Eras Tour, played Coachella and in the ‘One That Got Away’ music video they’re criminal masterminds. Pop trio – Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson – have reached new heights following the success of their self-titled third studio album. So how do you return to the fold after that? Well, how MUNA do it best – a hot hook-filled track that feels like something you’d hear at a queer club night. McPherson’s slinky, fine-tuned production perfectly pairs Gaskin’s zingy delivery and Maskin’s instrumentation, so when the chorus hits you’re left with nothing but a good time.
Omar Apollo – ‘3 Boys’
It’s bassy, soulful and signature Omar Apollo. On this mellow, slow-building track, Apollo reflects on a non-monogamous relationship and feelings for another. His smooth voice dips behind groovy notes in arguably one of his best songs to date. And, if you didn’t think he could do it all, his falsetto vocals seal the deal.
PinkPantheress and Ice Spice – ‘Boy’s a Liar Pt 2’
When two of the internet’s biggest stars collab, you’ve got to expect a low-fi banger. ‘Boy’s a liar Pt.2’ feels both old and new, the track’s running rhythm feels like a pinging gaming melody you just can’t get our your head. While it’s lyrically safe, the song’s glitchy electronic beats and Ice Spice’s clean delivery give the minimalist tune its stars.
Reneé Rapp – ‘Pretty Girls’
If there’s one thing Renee Rapp loves, it’s the drama. On her debut album, Snow Angel, Rapp calls out messy exes and sends rambling voicemails to her then-partner. On ‘Pretty Girls’ she has a message for the straight girls: keep trying. The lyrics are upfront and all too relatable; a curious girl wants to see how far things can go. But Rapp seems to find humour and frustration in the situation: Say your boyfriend, he wouldn’t mind / You think that I’d be flattered / It’s pathetic ’cause you’re right. A personality-fronted pop single, Rapp (and her background vocal runs) prove she’s on track to become your next favourite artist.
Troye Sivan – ‘Rush’
Born out of a longing for parties and to escape the suffocation of lockdown, Troye Sivan’s house pop track ‘Rush’ is the antidote to everything, whether that’s a bad night, a bad year locked indoors or a bad breakup. An ode to letting go, nightlife and gay clubs, Sivan’s song is a euphoric high made for sweaty dancefloors and the best bad decisions. A pop anthem of the summer, ‘Rush’ (and Sivan’s return to the charts) deserves a shoutout.
Victoria Monét – ‘On My Mama’
Victoria Monét has arrived. ‘On My Mama’ is a cool, sultry song built around a sample of Chalie Boy’s 2009 single ‘I Look Good’. Thick twanging baselines and bubbling horns soundtrack this confident, smooth single. On this track, Monét has fun dropping bars about looking fly, sprinkling positive affirmations and pulling up her body card mid-beat — a reminder she’s here to make more than a good song. As Monét puts it: “Your opinion is irrelevant, but I / I know you think I’m fine.”