20. IMAGINE DRAGONS, "RADIOACTIVE"
Finding the halfway point between Linkin Park's "Burning It Down" and Alex Clare's "Too Close," Imagine Dragons' attention-demanding, stadium-ready second single upped the ante from breakthrough single "It's Time" and announced that the group was officially ready to become the fun. of crossover rock/pop for 2013. With a massive chorus and screamingly cinematic production, expect to hear this song in bars and in movie previews for the rest of the decade.
19. TYLER, THE CREATOR, "ANSWER"
It's weird to think of a natural rabble-rouser Tyler, the Creator releasing anything like a "mature second album," but his Wolf album is actually pretty close to that - nowhere moreso than on "Answer," a nakedly emotional retelling of his complicated relationship with his father, also touching on the passing of his grandmother and (if you believe his spoken-word outro) a soured relationship with his girlfriend. Built around a surprisingly stately slow-picked guitar riff and shuffling drums, the song never gets overwrought, and shows how much more there is to Tyler as a songwriter than Bruno Mars death threats and "Bitch Suck Dick."
18. PARAMORE, "NOW"
Paramore's new self-titled album, released today, shows that the group is capable of both sharp pop songcraft and epic rock scope, in ways we never would have expected. Before that, though, the band got back to basics with the absolutely blistering lead single "Now," its searing guitar, crashing drums and anthemic shout-along vocals showing that after a three-year absence which saw the group shed nearly half its lineup, Paramore has only gotten tighter and stronger in the interim.
17. CHVRCHES, "RECOVER"
Synth-pop trio Chvrches built buzz in 2012 with their singles "Lies" and "The Mother We Share," but they should officially bubble over with the release this year of their excellent Recover EP. The title track, a typically sparkling and lurching jam, also features the group's best-yet lyric, about a pivotal moment in a relationship, with a devastating two-part chorus keyed around the instantly unforgettable titular question: "And if I recover / Will you be my comfort?"
16. BRUNO MARS, "WHEN I WAS YOUR MAN"
Perhaps the biggest credit to Bruno Mars and his dominance over pop radio in this decade is that when he follows up a funky, Police-aping rave-up like "Locked Out of Heaven" with a stark, piano-only torch song, neither sounds all that out of place, even though nothing else in the Top 40 sounds remotely like either. That's largely because as undeniable as "Heaven" was a party starter, so is "Your Man" as a heartbreak ballad, sounding relatable and timeless and immaculate and containing at least one note - you know the one - of absolute pop transcendence.
15. J. COLE FEAT. MIGUEL, "POWER TRIP"
A much less broad heartbreak ballad than "When I Was Your Man," but one arguably more affecting in its bleary-eyed, late-night confessional vibe. The song's hook is jarringly raw and strained for a lead single, Cole bleating "She got me up all night / Constant drinking and love songs" as if it was both written and recorded at the end of one of those insomniac benders. J.'s rapping about his unrequited "longest crush ever" is affecting enough, but it's the chorus - contrasted with the always-smooth Miguel's "Would you believe me if I said I'm in love?" crooning - that keeps you coming back to it.
14. JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, "SUIT & TIE"
It didn't carry with it the shock of the new that Justin's first two lead singles did, and it doesn't care nearly as much about pushing the envelope as it does pushing you out on the dance floor. If you can get over that, you can still feel free to enjoy one of the catchiest songs JT has ever put out, and a jam that kind of makes you want to get married just to have an excuse to shimmy to it in the titular garments (and preferably while also in the swing of love). Even Jay-Z's much-maligned guest verse is growing on us a little. "They ain't lose a daughter, got a son / I show you how to do this, huh!"
13. ANNA KENDRICK, "CUPS"
Hard to imagine how an 87-second a capella cover of a YouTube sensation by a non-professional singer based on an overnight camp cafeteria trick could possibly comprise one of the most likeable pop songs of the year, but those are indeed the circumstances with Anna Kendrick's "Cups," taken from her audition scene in Pitch Perfect. Cute, catchy and inexplicably compelling, "Cups" may not end up as the launching pad for a long and fruitful career for Anna Kendrick in pop music, but it will be a brilliant inclusion on any future mix attempting to feed '10s nostalgia.
12. PHOENIX, "ENTERTAINMENT"
There have been few safer bets in alternative pop/rock over the last decade than the lead single from a Phoenix album, and "Entertainment" is no exception, riding in on a roaring guitar riff and an obviously Eastern-influenced synth riff and eventually exploding into one of the band's typically enigmatic choruses ("Entertainment / Show them what you do to me"). It was mixed on the same console that MJ used for Thriller, and while it may not exactly be the equal of "Beat It" or "PYT," it does provie one of the biggest and best pop head rushes of early 2013.
11. NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK, "REMIX (I LIKE THE)"
At the height of the recent wave of boy bands, here come the not-so-New Kids to show the young'ns how it's done. Except "Remix" isn't like NKOTB, or any other boy band, has ever done it - a muscular, soulful workout that's far more Bruno Mars than One Direction, with one of the year's most clever pop lyrics and a video that might cause inappropriate dancing outbreaks nationwide. If this is New Kids on the Block 2.0 - maybe more like 4 or 5.0 - then we gotta say that we like the remix pretty OK ourselves.
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