10. GIRLS' GENERATION, "I GOT A BOY"
You can hear the cranks of the factory machinations when listening to a lot of K-pop, but that's certainly not the case with Girls' Generation's hyperactive, multi-part pop opus, "I Got a Boy." Probably the only K-pop song ever to be compared to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" (with any fairness, anyway), the alternately coy, strutting and gleeful "I Got a Boy" is guaranteed to leave you dizzy with its rush of disparate but cleverly connected pop thrills, but you'll want to keep listening to it until you can wrap your head around it. Good luck with that, by the way.
9. KENDRICK LAMAR FEAT. JAY-Z, "BITCH DON'T KILL MY VIBE"
Kendrick's blissed-out, laid-back "Vibe" was a gem from the first time we heard it on good kid, m.A.A.d city, but the song's official remix takes the song even further into the clouds, with guest rapper Jay-Z a far more logical older-generation complement to Kendrick than real-life mentor Dr. Dre ever was. Jay sounds as relaxed as he ever has since his Blueprint days trading verses with Kendrick, dropping couplets like "No, I don't ¡®member you, I don't intend to empty my memory bank / It's a million dollars in it, baby, Hilary Swank," while Kendrick raises his own game to keep up with the legend, invoking everything from Trinidad James to Black Swan to show how sweet it is to be K dot right now. Delivered over that easy-like-sunday-morning beat, we don't need all that much convincing.
8. LITTLE MIX, "WINGS"
It's finally starting to bubble under in the U.S. mainstream, but we wish it would just go ahead and burst already. "Wings" has grown on us as one of the most undeniable pop singles of the decade, slapping you in the face with its booming horn intro, stomping beat and allk singalong chorus¨Cif you turn away for even a second while the video's on, you feel like the Little Mix ladies might jump off the screen and jerk your head back around. Not only do they have songs worthy of the Spice Girls, they have the swagger as well, and if they can't help bring back the girl group to Top 40 prominence, it's hard to imagine who will.
7. A$AP ROCKY FEAT. DRAKE, KENDRICK LAMAR & 2 CHAINZ, "FUCKIN' PROBLEMS"
The song that gave A$AP Rocky his long-overdue mainstream breakthrough, "Fuckin' Problems" is the kind of pop-leaning radio smash (but no so pop-leaning as to result in Flo Rida) that hip-hop has been so badly missing in recent years, with just a catchy chorus, a memorable beat, and generally positive vibes from all involved. (When your "Fuckin' Problem" is your all-consuming love of bad bitches, it's really not that much of a mood-killer.) Not to mention that if you needed one time-capsule song to represent what mainstream rap was like in 2013, you could do a lot worse than a jam in which Rocky, Drake and Kendrick Lamar do some friendly sparring for Hottest Rapper in the Game honors with their respective verses, while 2 Chainz comes off the bench to sing-rap the hook. Throw in a "Mike Will Made It!" vocal ID and you've pretty much got the best of it right there.
6. KACEY MUSGRAVES, "MERRY GO ¡®ROUND"
As Kacey Musgraves' debut single, defeated small-town tale "Merry Go ¡®Round" announced the introduction of a fresh new voice to country music, one which didn't celebrate unreservedly all that the culture had to offer, and had the guts to call out some of the hypocrisies and prejudices that can make the genre's oft-celebrated small-town life so stifling. But Musgraves' anti-establishment tendencies wouldn't resonate nearly so much in "Merry Go ¡®Round" if they weren't delivered with such detail and sensitivity by the singer/songwriter Kacey, who sings like somebody who's really been there¨Cpossibly still is¨Cand has no idea how to break the cycle. To call it "refreshing" would be an understatement, to call it "promising" would be an even bigger one.
5. PINK FEAT. NATE RUESS, "JUST GIVE ME A REASON"
A gorgeous ballad courtesy of two of popular music's best current vocalists, we're kind of mad with ourselves that we didn't see "Just Give Me a Reason" coming as the third single off Pink's excellent The Truth About Love, and probably her biggest hit off the album yet. The chemistry between the two singers is excellent, their voices seemingly pushing each other to greater heights as the song progresses, and though the Jeff Bhasker-produced track has more in common with "We Are Young" than "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)," the subject matter¨Ca couple basically begging each other to provide an excuse for them to stay together¨Cis as Pink as it comes. The result is an instantly classing-sounding duet that marks a worthy addition to both artists' increasingly impressive back catalogues.
4. DRAKE, "STARTED FROM THE BOTTOM"
Like Take Care advance single "Headlines," "Started From the Bottom" wasn't an immediate grabber¨Cthere's no big hook to speak of, the chorus is a little one-note and repetitive, and the song's short run time came and went without making a huge impression. But as was also the case with "Headlines," "Bottom" was a creeper, burrowing its way under your skin with its swirling, piano-led beat and snare-heavy shuffle, and its mantra-like hook, which quickly turned into a classic hip-hop catchphrase with its matter-of-fact simplicity. It's more intriguing than it is catchy, but it's also more intriguing than anything else on the radio, and most of all, it does what all lead singles should do¨Cleaves you chomping at the bit to hear the new album.
3. DEMI LOVATO, "HEART ATTACK"
You feel short of breath just listening to "Heart Attack," so committed is Demi's vocal to expressing just how nutty this romance is making her that she seems to completely forget about respiration. "Attack" is as addictive as last year's "Give Your Heart a Break," but goes in the complete other direction lyrically, her hyperactive wail sounding even more suited for bemoaning just how much she REALLY DOESN'T WANT TO FALL IN LOVE DAMMIT NO than how much she wants a guy to let her try a little tenderness, especially as the drum machine goes nuts and the violins scrape faster, faster underneath her. Few songs about stubbornly not falling in love will ever be this much fun.
2. TEGAN AND SARA, "CLOSER"
OK, this song had already been out a little while, but we didn't totally fall for it until it started getting a little further exposure with increased play on VH1 and in commercials, and especially once its parent album Heartthrob came out, still our favorite pure pop record of the year to date. Always a duo with razor-sharp pop instincts, even when they were more of an indie proposition, Tegan & Sara go for the jugular on "Closer," as shimmering, hooky and undeniable a pop song as you're likely to hear in 2013 from the first "All I want to get is¡a little bit clo-seee-errrr." By the time the night sky changes over and the the chorus kicks in full throttle ("IT'S! NOT! JUST ALL PHYSICAL!"), you wonder why it took nearly a decade from them to get from "Walking With the Ghost" to this, and you're willing to slug anyone who even thinks of calling them sell-outs.
1. JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE, "MIRRORS"
Regardless of your thoughts about "Suit & Tie," about The 20/20 Experience, about the whole JT Mach III story that dominated pop music in the first three months of 2013, you had to give it up for one thing: You'd never heard anything like "Mirrors" before. An eight-minute, metaphor-heavy ode to a soulmate with a crowd-pleasing (and crowd-participation-demanding) chorus, a beatbox-and-string-heavy beat led by an echoing guitar riff, and a three-minute outro that sounds like the original song melting into a puddle of love¨Cwe'd come a long way since "Senorita," certainly. It's totally bizarre, and it totally works¨Cmoving, captivating, stirring in the way that precious few pop songs a year truly are. It's the kind of song where it frustrates you how many words there are to remember in the chorus, because you want to be able to sing along to it as soon as possible. If this was all you had left us with from your second comeback, Justin, it would have been enough.
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