The world was definitely in a weird, bizarre, at times awful place this past year. But the music did not fail us.
With this rollercoaster year finally coming to an end, we've selected our 100 Best Songs of 2016. And perhaps more so than in past years, there were many more tracks we could have included.
Nonetheless, we've chosen the ones that stood out the most—the best, the brightest, the deepest, the most alluring sounds of a wild year.
Hear our 100 Best Songs of 2016 Spotify playlist below, followed by brief commentary on the 100 entries.
FDT / Fuck Donald Trump (feat. Nipsey Hussle)
The song title speaks for itself. It became an anthem for many who opposed what was largely considered the ugliest and most vile presidential campaign in modern American politics.
99. Cruel Youth
Teddy Sinclair shined brightly once again on this debut single from her new, post-Natalia Kills project, which happens to be an all-girl trio.
All hail Blythe Pepino, the frontwoman of Vaults whose impeccable vocals were on full display in this sparkling gem, which preceded their long-awaited debut album.
97. The Cool Kids
While they previously suggested they were done, Mikey Rocks and Chuck Inglish have made clear they’re far from over. This cut was proof.
Photo of Vince Staples performing at Bonnaroo 2016, by Dan DeSlover
96. Vince Staples
With an André 3000 sample and production from buddy James Blake, there was an intense urgency about this track highlighting the ongoing fight for justice.
95. Mr. Little Jeans
Norwegian singer Monica Birkenes brightened up a tumultuous year with this dazzling shot of wonder.
In addition to collabs with the likes of YG and Drake, the Oakland rapper really got her strut on in this summery cut, effortlessly hopscotching between singing and rapping.
93. Brandyn Kaine
The Nashville-based emcee gave us the perfect dose of fire and ice with this track about a girl who’s just using him for personal success.
92. DVTCH NORRIS
Seeking Closure (feat. Yann Gaudeuille)
The Belgian rapper delivered an earworm with no shortage of bars, giving fans a fiery preview of what’s to come.
91. John Paul White
Whether or not the line “she's a quitter” is a veiled reference to the breakup of The Civil Wars, this song seemed achingly personal but also anchored by optimism.
90. Pusha T
Circles (feat. Ty Dolla $ign, Desiigner)
King Push came flexing ahead of his new album, teasing fans with this slow-burning party cut, a reminder of the work he’s doing in (and out) of the studio.
89. Strong Asian Mothers
The More That I
The London trio of best friends made their mark early in the year with this delectably glossy pop tune.
Photo of Colours' Kyle Tamo & Morgan Alley, by Dustin Smith
The Florida upstart has embraced the blurring of lines between genres, with this song seamlessly fusing the grittiness of rock with unapologetically gooey pop.
87. Young Thug & Travis Scott
Pick Up the Phone (feat. Quavo)
There’s a reason this song appeared on both emcees’ new projects—because it’s gold.
86. Josef Salvat
An unapologetically seductive gem from the Australia native’s deeply underrated debut album. “Dig your nails into my back,” he whispered as he asked his lover to join him in a rooftop pool, sans clothes.
The fuzzy, spacey single made pure poetry of the words “I wanna eat you up.” And it was only a glimpse into what was one the year’s finest albums.
84. Jarryd James
1000x (feat. BROODS)
A collaboration we didn’t know we needed until it arrived. Jarryd James and BROODS singer Georgia Nott’s voices are simply magic together.
Aussie singer Benjamin Yates made quite the entrance with this intense single, which encapsulated the humanity of a broken heart.
“Ain't no such thing as too fast” was just right. While Brent Faiyaz, Atu and Dpat have found success separately, this track proved they’re on to something as a trio. The musical chemistry is tangible.
81. 21 Savage & Metro Boomin
X (feat. Future)
Atlanta rappers 21 Savage and Future were a fiery combo on this brassy cut.
80. Louis the Child
Fire (feat. Evalyn)
This addictive single proved the Chicago duo is far more than just a couple of remix masters. “Fire” most certainly lived up to its name.
79. Rag’n’Bone Man
The British singer’s breakout single was a soulfully spectacular preview of his upcoming debut album and likely blockbuster career.
Photo of LÉON by Catie Laffoon
Think About You
The Swedish songstress was flawless on this honest but upbeat ballad which so accurately captured the wandering mind post-breakup.
I Get It Now
A beautiful, emotional capsule of love and loss from one of Canada’s most promising duos.
A delightfully sultry, perfectly honest cut about pure sex, no strings attached. It was a wonderful preview of what turned out to be the singer’s new Nightr1de project.
The Houston native has written for pop’s best and proven himself a worthy EDM collaborator, but this song about falling in love with someone living literally 11 blocks away showed he deserves to be front and center.
74. Lady Leshurr
Where Are You Now
The future grime queen brazenly called out her peers (or once-peers) as she acknowledged her own seemingly unstoppable rise. It was exactly the way to get us hyped for her upcoming debut album.
73. Maggie Rogers
Raised on a farm in Maryland, the young singer’s unfinished demo of this glowing track went viral earlier this year. And as a result, her life—and our ears—were forever changed for the better.
72. Alex Vargas
The Danish singer rather candidly acknowledged the risks of love on this infectious single, but he made clear the plunge is definitely worth it.
71. Mura Masa
Love$ick (feat. A$AP Rocky)
The British producer’s original version of the track was itself as irresistible as they come, but Rocky turned up the temperature and the result was just right.
70. Bruno Mars
There were clearly millions of people in 2016 yearning for a vague yesteryear, some “good ol’ days” which aren’t coming back. Without channeling the angst of the present, Mars instead seemed to tap into his own feelings of nostalgia, delivering a harmless, gummy pop hit drenched in funk.
A stunning debut from the Scandinavian up-and-comer, who is on track to have an incredible 2017.
68. Ry X
Ry Cuming has long proven he’s a musical genius, but this cut from his new album Dawn was truly spellbinding.
67. Shy Girls
I Am Only a Man
With his powerful vocal abilities on display, Portland’s Dan Vidmar confirmed his upcoming debut album will be worth the wait with this gripping single.
66. Saint Motel
While the Los Angeles troupe has built its name on big and fuzzy, confetti-popping tunes, this acoustic number was a heartwarming tribute to unplanned love.
On this bittersweet, jangly track, singer Evan Hall sang about being “too caught up in my own shit” and missing moments with loved ones, only to be reminded of his error after losing someone close to him. Ultimately, it was a simple, beautiful reminder of the importance of the intangible.
64. ScHoolboy Q
THat Part (feat. Kanye West)
This song was exactly what it was intended to be, a boastful rap cut from two emcees with their own complicated pasts but plenty to brag about now.
63. Bibi Bourelly
Perfect. (feat. Earl St. Clair)
The German singer-songwriter’s track certainly lived up to its name, as her vocals seemed to fuse effortlessly with those of up-and-coming singer Earl St. Clair.
Photo of The Darcys' Wes Marskell & Jason Couse, courtesy Arts & Crafts
62. The Darcys
The Toronto outfit kicked off a new era—shrinking back to its original form as a duo and dramatically changing sounds—with this glitzy, pop-leaning single, which was a welcome appetizer for this bright new phase in the band’s career.
California Heaven (feat. ScHoolboy Q)
Originally from Canada, JAHKOY seemed to suggest on his new single he’s accommodating well to his new home of Los Angeles, celebrating the angelic women and heavenly weather, with help from Cali native ScHoolboy Q. As if we needed further proof of the singer’s inevitable stardom, this collaboration made clear he’s unstoppable.
60. St. Lucia
Dancing on Glass
Jean-Philip Grobler once again proved he can craft glossy, dance floor-ready cuts out of the darkest of nights, as evidenced by this shimmering spectacle about pending doom. He and his cohorts also showed a willingness to evolve their sound, perhaps giving a glimpse into their own longevity or paving the way for other acts.
The San Antonio artist quickly propelled his rise with this irresistible single, showing his ambitions (and his talents) far exceed just cozy spaces. “This is the start of something great,” the song’s lyrics correctly declared.
Blood on Me
After proving he can write and contribute vocals for titans such as Kanye West and Drake, Sampha released this mesmerizing single, the result of experimentation in the studio and a riveting preview of his upcoming album.
57. The Head and the Heart
All We Ever Knew
This track, the first from the band’s new album Signs of Light, was bursting with new energy, which seemed appropriate considering it followed a period of transition for the group, with frontman Josiah Johnson taking a hiatus.
After having been teased for months and in various forms, the final track was great for the club but also in solidifying Skepta’s reign over grime.
55. Tegan and Sara
After embracing their pop core on their previous album Heartthrob, they proved they’re right at home with this sparkling tribute to the heat and passion of an intimate moment.
54. Margaret Glapsy
You and I
A good old fashioned breakup song, highlighting the California singer’s gravely rock sound and her captivating, roaring vocals, built for the biggest of festival stages.
Broccoli (feat. Lil Yachty)
Yes, it was a song about weed. But it was also an expertly crafted track, confirming both D.R.A.M. and Lil Yachty’s front-running place among a new generation of rappers.
Moth to the Flame
A mesmerizing pop cut from the Colorado duo, reflective of an unhealthy relationship that you just can’t quit, like “a moth to the flame.”
51. Isaiah Rashad
Stuck in the Mud (feat. SZA)
The Chattanooga rapper got rather personal on this track, referencing his struggles with addiction with this smooth cut, of which the somberness was further assisted by label mate SZA’s guest appearance.
The rising singer provided new evidence of his gripping vocals with this spellbinding cut, inspired by a past lover who seemed to put him out of view while he kept holding out hope.
49. Francis and the Lights
Friends (feat. Bon Iver)
Despite a relatively low-key album rollout, Francis Starlite’s fingerprints were all over our summer favorites. This track was sampled (pre-release) by Chance the Rapper, featuring Bon Iver, whose own album arrived later in September, with a cameo from Kanye West. Some “Friends” indeed. And it was proof of Starlite’s own A-list talent.
48. Michael Kiwanuka
Love & Hate
The British soul singer is still far too underappreciated internationally, but this title track from his new album was but a fraction of the depth and raw emotion showcased in his new material.
Never Be Like You (feat. Kai)
While the Aussie producer may have ventured away from his past festival-friendly cuts with his latest offerings, this massive hit about self-sabotage actually proved him worthy of main stages and arena settings.
46. Leonard Cohen
You Want It Darker
Although his final album, released just weeks before his death, was a gift for fans, the title track—with distinct layers of religious tension—seemed like a last cry out to heaven.
45. How to Dress Well
Can’t You Tell
Tom Krell was clearly in his zone with his new record, a full embrace of his pop core. On this fizzy bedroom jam, he showed himself as an artist fully confident, revealing intimate details he might have glossed over in the past.
44. DJ Shadow
Nobody Speak (feat. Run the Jewels)
This single was somewhat of a sleeper, but in an industry where collaborations are commonly just business transactions, there’s no denying this track somehow turned out to be one of the best, a testament to DJ Shadow’s genius arrangement and production combined with Killer Mike and El-P’s feisty lyricism.
While his vocals have been well-established as otherworldly, the California-based singer seemed to be sharing publicly an inner battle on this confessional track, one that saw him looking inward.
42. Maren Morris
A masterful tune inspired by windows-down driving and classic country from a spritely, up-and-coming starlet following her own path.
41. Jon Bellion
The fast-rising singer showed his vulnerabilities on this honest anthem about seeking answers in life but instead accepting the uncertainty and just trusting God.
40. Kodak Black
Too Many Years (feat. PnB Rock)
While acknowledging their checkered pasts and regrets, wishing they could undo some of their failures, the song was also a testament of how far they’ve come.
Good as Hell
This addictive track deserved to be a giant hit, the kind that gets hourly radio airplay. Nonetheless, the empowering cut seemed like the beginning of a wonderful new chapter for a future pop star.
Make It Up
Despite the pop perfection of this one of many gems from Shura, it was particularly crushing, having been inspired by a real-life breakup and a lonely train ride.
Shadow Man (feat. Phoelix, Smino & Saba)
A powerful offering from one of Chicago’s most promising voices, with this track doubling as a prayer for black lives gone too soon. It’s a true gift to tackle these very important topics in such an accessible way.
36. Moses Sumney
There was something so celestial and extravagant about this absolutely breathtaking track, divulging a refreshing new layer of Sumney’s musical talents.
35. Rae Sremmurd
Black Beatles (feat. Gucci Mane)
Thanks to the “Mannequin Challenge,” the song went viral and become the brothers’ first No. 1. But on its own, it was already a top 40 hit, thanks to its skillful celebration of lavishness and the rock star status they’ve been chasing.
34. Mac Miller
Dang! (feat. Anderson .Paak)
A wonderfully velvet collaboration between two emcees dealing with personal loss. While they each found inspiration in opposite events, the end result was magic.
33. Vancouver Sleep Clinic
Killing Me to Love You
The Aussie outfit prepped fans for their upcoming debut album with this perfectly stunning single, a whirlwind of emotion and imperfect love.
The Greatest (feat. Kendrick Lamar)
After proving herself a musical chameleon earlier this year with an album comprised of songs she originally wrote for other stars, she channeled her energy into this message of encouragement for the LGBT community and those affected by the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.
Lake By the Ocean
The lake in the song represented a sense of being washed clean after betrayal. While it was clearly a love song, it also marked a distinct renewal for Maxwell, who hadn’t released new music of his own in six years.
Too Good (feat. Rihanna)
While their personal relationship is a tricky one, their professional one has been spotless, as they compliment each other so well musically. Perhaps ironically, this song about a pair of lovers who feel taken for granted was near perfect.
29. Parker Millsap
One of the most stirring, important tracks of the year from an Oklahoma singer brilliantly using scripture as he pleaded for acceptance from his father who believes homosexuality is a sin. Especially given Millsap’s Bible Belt roots, this track was weighty and sincere.
28. Japanese Breakfast
Everybody Wants to Love You
While Michelle Zauner’s debut solo record ventured into some rather heavy territory, this punchy track turned one night stands into something to dance about.
27. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam
In a Black Out
As part of their first album together, this haunting track about a past lover was simply entrancing, proving this collaborative effort was a worthy one.
Glowed Up (feat. Anderson .Paak)
A celebration of their own rise apart but also of the magic they’ve been making together, this track was less a mile marker and more a projection of what’s to come. And their future is definitely bright.
25. James Blake
I Need a Forest Fire (feat. Bon Iver)
Although the track was inspired by a dark chapter in James Blake’s love life—a forest fire of sorts—it was also reflective of a new beginning.
Love on the Brain
It seemed appropriate that on an album in which Rihanna demonstrated her true artistry, she also included this song, a classic-sounding ballad showcasing her own timelessness after having built a career on of-the-moment pop hits.
23. Blood Orange
Best to You (feat. Empress Of)
Together with Empress Of, Dev Hynes made an unhealthy relationship sound like pure bliss, although the saccharine and sparkle was merely cloaking angst and loneliness.
22. Robert Ellis
If there was a song that just hit you right in the gut this year, it was “California,” from a Texas singer so brilliantly straddling the lines of country, rock and pop all in one song—and a beaming example of those genres at their very best with a soul-crushing tale of divorce and broken promises.
21. Danny Brown
When It Rain
A chilling, personal testament from the Detroit emcee, who seems to have poured much more of himself into his new material, including this track, of which the chorus doubles as a warning to his neighbors hoping to avoid gun violence.
20. Lady Gaga
As a theatre kid, the singer has always thrived in big, dramatic hooks, but together with Nashville songwriting fave Hillary Lindsey, she gave us something that seemed straight from the heart. While Gaga may be new to the country sound, it’s an easy fit.
19. The 1975
Not only did the British pop act make clear on their new album they don’t care what their critics think (see ridiculously long title), they proved they are really savvy music makers who shouldn’t have to apologize for also being very shrewd about their intentions. While this addictive song reflected a selfish mindset of someone who didn’t want his ex to be with anyone new, the bluntness was much appreciated.
18. Childish Gambino
On this track which Gambino first performed live over the summer, he fully embraced his funk side, ditching the bars for show-stopping vocal fluctuations. It might have caught many fans by surprise, but it truly seemed like an organic change, even if he was clearly dealing with brutal personal battles during the making on this new material.
17. Car Seat Headrest
Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales
There was something humanizing about this mostly melancholic track, inspired by the awful feelings and bad decisions that usually follow a night of partying, while emphasizing the selfishness of humanity. Despite its depressing lyrical content, it was also distinctly clarifying, as singer Will Toledo reminded us “it doesn't have to be like this.”
Photo of Jamila Woods by Zoe Rain
16. Jamila Woods
Blk Girl Soldier
A defiant, poetic, necessary song for these very troubled times, “Blk Girl Soldier” was a rallying cry for black women and a celebration of those who have come before, a reminder not to give up in the face of opposition.
15. Miranda Lambert
While the singer has made a name for herself with plenty of rowdy barn burners, this poignant first single after her much publicized divorce cut deep, representing some of the best and most forthcoming music of her career. She’s previously said the track—which alludes to struggles with sex and alcohol—was written just as “the shit [was] hitting the fan.”
14. Anderson .Paak
The man who seemed to be watching his star rise in real time this year effortlessly showcased his emcee and vocal skills all at once on this magnetic, funky track fusing hip-hop, R&B and rock together into a uniquely captivating jam.
Your Best American Girl
A perfect indie-rock cut, this track also chronicled a true story for the New York-based singer. It was inspired by a difficult breakup, one in which she tried desperately to conform and be more “American” for her “all-American boy.” At a time when the very idea of being a American is being debated (who is, who isn’t, etc.), Mitski’s song was both personal confession and political commentary done very well.
12. A Tribe Called Quest
We the People…
If Tribe’s new album was indeed their last, they sure delivered some timely fuel for longtime fans and a new generation facing LGBT inequality, police brutality and racial discrimination. And this track featuring some of the late Phife Dawg’s last work, driven by a gravely bass line, didn’t hold back in calling out bigotry.
11. Angel Olsen
Shut Up Kiss Me
A pure, beautiful rock song. In the middle of pleading with a lover for a second chance, Olsen also showcased her grittiest, most ferocious vocals, marking one of her most outstanding performances yet.
Image via Genius
10. Frank Ocean
From its very first seconds, the Blonde standout had a way of pulling us in, as Ocean recalled innocent but failed young love, accompanied by the distorted strums of an electric guitar. Perhaps it’s because we knew the unfortunate outcome of the relationship or because we could feel the singer’s pain with every hushed lyric that it made the song’s sterling climax that much more stunning.
09. David Bowie
I Can’t Give Everything Away
The final track on his final album Blackstar, its full story may never be known, but with the music icon’s death just two days after the album’s release, the song served as a bittersweet, likely planned farewell. Maybe there was much he couldn’t share with others, but on this track, he seemed to give everything.
08. Sturgill Simpson
One of the year’s most mesmerizing singles from one of its biggest stars, this track was also one of the most underrated. Considering Simpson previously called his third album a lullaby dedicated to his son, the singer’s advice on the song was that much more important, as he attempted to help him eventually navigate the world, assuring him “it’s all a dream.”
Drone Bomb Me
While Hudson Mohawke’s production on this track was breathtaking, the lyrics were absolutely heartbreaking, with ANOHNI telling the story of a young girl caught in the middle of war, literally begging to become a victim after her family was taken from her by a drone bomb. Unfortunately, it was a gut-wrenching commentary on the very real darkness in the world.
Photo of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon by Cameron Wittig & Crystal Quinn
06. Bon Iver
With Justin Vernon at a crossroads in his career, this was a very illuminating cut off his new album 22, A Million, with a direct lyrical nod to Psalm 22. The number 33 also pointed to Jesus Christ’s age at the time of his death, which was particularly interesting, given the song’s aura of uncertainty and the album’s description as “part love letter, part final resting place of two decades of searching for self-understanding.”
Cranes in the Sky
Despite her being part of such a famous family, Solange Knowles showed us she is not immune to the very real, very human struggles, especially as a black woman. On this track, she suggested she’s tried to fill the void with material things and hoped to make changes from the outside in, before ultimately realizing she should be looking inward.
04. Chance the Rapper
No Problem (feat. Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz)
There was no bigger star in 2016 than Chance the Rapper, and this brassy cut was one of the best examples of why. In it, he made clear he wasn’t chasing a big label deal, while proving his command of the rap game was very real. With all that was wrong with the world in the past year, Chance gave us reason to keep our heads up.
It was impossible to listen to this track without being instantly transported into a cinematic world created by Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, with the latter’s intimate yet chilling composition and the former’s aching vocals. While Yorke was clearly drawing from personal heartache, trying to make his way back to light, to reality, he also seemed to be confronting society’s idea of what is real and what is simply pixels.
02. Kanye West
Ultralight Beam (feat. The-Dream, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin & Chance The Rapper)
In a year overrun by the plenty of worst humanity had to offer, this Kanye West track was a pillar of hope, perhaps as much for listeners as it was for the artist himself. With the help of the likes of Kelly Price and gospel’s finest, Kirk Franklin, West seemed to hark back to his College Dropout days, while also perhaps alluding to his personal road to Damascus. Ultimately, it was one of the most powerful songs of the year.
In the age of Trump, both as a candidate and as president-elect, the national discourse has been so deep in the gutter, with many hardly hesitating to say the nasty, crude, hateful things they might have shied away from before. So it was appropriate for Beyoncé, one of the most influential and beloved public figures on the planet, to raise her voice with this black feminist anthem, at a time when so many Americans (many of whom are well-meaning people) were shouting “All Lives Matter,” trying to drown out the very real cries of their hurting neighbors, searching for answers. Yes, she riled up many critics, but it highlighted the importance of stars like Beyoncé lending her name to substantive conversations.
Editor's Note: Janna Davis, Rachel Faylene, Lindsay Howard, Emily Hulseberg, Dustin Maher, Josh Morris, Jonathan Robles & Tyler Schmitt contributed selections and/or commentary for the Best Songs. As of this writing, "Formation" by Beyoncé is not available on Spotify.