In hindsight, it’s always easy to find commonalities among the songs that are deemed the best of any given year. But the tracks that resonated the most in 2022 weren’t defined by trends or themes so much as similar objectives: pop hits pulsed with nostalgia, indie stunners brought comfort, wrenching ballads unravelled in strange ways, yet they all sought some form of release. There are several anthems on this list that embrace human empathy; others teeter into a world of absurdity and violence. Some offer reconciliation, others revolt. You’ll find songs from albums that have already garnered a lot of praise, but we’ve also tried to include highlights from records that, in a year so stacked with music, didn’t quite crack our previous best-of lists. Here are the 25 best songs of 2022.
25. Let’s Eat Grandma, ‘Happy New Year’
When Let’s Eat Grandma released ‘Happy New Year’ on the third day of 2022, it instantly felt like the perfect way to kick off the year. Buoyed by celebratory synths and actual fireworks, the track’s warm festive glow is undeniable, but it also serves as a candid introduction to the duo’s third album, which addresses the shifting nature of Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth’s lifelong friendship. As their voices interweave in its shimmering embrace, they relay precious memories – rope swings, building igloos in snow, bubble baths in swimsuits – to hold the weight of difficult realizations: “It’s okay to say what you wanna say/ And that we’ve grown in different ways.” There’s a soft melancholy to the song, but that doesn’t prevent it from sparkling into view, capturing childhood nostalgia while ushering in a bright new chapter.
24. Methyl Ethel feat. Stella Donnelly, ‘Proof’
A standout from Methyl Ethel’s latest album, ‘Proof’ has all the elements of an infectious pop song: a dazzling hook, a hypnotic groove, the right kind of dynamics to keep the song interesting. But it’s the tension between the song’s propulsive strings and the call-and-response vocals from Jake Webb and Stella Donnelly that take the song to the next level, raising more questions than it answers. A sense of political urgency is woven right into the titular line, “Take a chance on proof,” but the actual subject of the track remains ambiguous. “What can you see?” asks Donnelly with calm persistence, and Webb’s evasive responses hint at ignorance, disorientation, and ultimately even delusion. As it blooms into something dreamlike and theatrical, their voices almost angelically merge into one before getting warbled down, more vulnerable and human than ever amidst the chaos.
23. Gladie, ‘Born Yesterday’
‘Born Yesterday’ is a catchy and exhilarating single all its own, but it really comes alive in the context of Gladie’s second album. Kicking things into gear after a gentle instrumental called ‘Purple Year’, the song frames Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out as a record about the joy of starting life anew even when it seems most fragile. Bandleader Augusta Koch doesn’t name all the shifts that led her to embrace this rejuvenated mindset, but it brings with it an unwavering commitment to, and belief in, her own ability to change. For a rock song with such a sturdy, driving rhythm, there’s a strange fluidity to it: When Koch proclaims “The way I feel I could fill the ocean/ On my own,” she lets her voice glide around those last three words, as if riding out the possibilities.
22. Indigo Sparke, ‘Pressure in My Chest’
With little more than a couple of chords and Indigo Sparke’s incandescent voice, ‘Pressure in My Chest’ sketches out a vast and open landscape, where “the light is filled with wonder/ And the echo of our love.” The singer-songwriter has a penchant for poetic lyrics, but “the wasteland of my forgotten screams” is a pretty direct reference to her experience of living in Taos, New Mexico, surrounded by huge desert. And while the verses are rife with vivid imagery, it’s the repetition of the chorus that evokes just how raw and invigorating of an effect that isolation can have on one’s sense of self. Elevated by Aaron Dessner’s subtle production flourishes, it circles around a simple sentiment in a way sounds ancient and holy, lit up by the hope that finding your breath can ignite something much bigger.
21. Paramore, ‘This Is Why’
Paramore’s last album, 2017’s After Laughter, barely cloaked the anxiety that pervaded its bright, 80s-inspired synth-pop. On the first single and title track from their long-awaited follow-up, there’s no dancing in spite but with the darkness that has now crept further up into the surface, rooting itself more in a wider cultural paranoia than personal discontent. Williams initially sings with a quiet restraint that only higlights her conviction before erupting in the chorus, where the track’s jerky, infectious groove turns curiously aggressive. For a song about locking yourself inside, ‘This Is Why’ shows no interest in hiding its true nature, and all it takes to fill in the gaps is have a look around.
20. Dazy & Militarie Gun, ‘Pressure Cooker’
‘Pressure Cooker’ was already a pretty fleshed-out Dazy song when Militarie Gun entered the picture, but it takes more than a Venn diagram approach to collaboration, instead using it as a chance to tread unexplored territory. On the surface, it’s the sort of hooky alt-rock jam that Dazy’s James Goodson amply supplies on his solo material, but vocalist Ian Shelton manages to inject it with the spirit of hardcore – not by screaming, but with the bits he adds in the background or just before belting out the chorus – while Justin Pizzoferrato’s mixing helps balance out any potentially opposing elements. Things just sort of keep piling up, and no sing-along anthem this year made it quite so easy to join in the commiseration.
19. Destroyer, ‘June’
When it comes to figuring out the meaning of ‘June’, the best you can probably come up with is a poetic guess. But while you may not be able to take Dan Bejar’s dazzling journey into the subconscious at face value, you can hear its beating heart – which is a rare thing when a songwriter ventures into this sort of surreal territory, rarer still when it’s paired with a disco groove. It’s a wonder it works at all, but the way you never stop believing it’s Bejar’s thoughts you’re trying to trace – tumbling and absurd as they may be – feels intentional, like he’s entirely conscious of the trap he’s built for himself. Some of it sounds profound, some of it maybe is, part of it’s just nonsensical – or just beyond me. Bejar knows sometimes you’re kidding yourself if you think you know the difference, and he makes quite a show of it.
18. Rosalía, ‘Hentai’
‘Hentai’ might be an outlier on MOTOMAMI – an album whose explosive vision is perhaps better represented by the reggaeton-meets-free-jazz-improvisation of opener ‘SAOKO’ – but it stands as a stark expression of the artistic freedom Rosalía allows herself throughout. A minimalist ballad that embraces its delicate nature while working beyond the form’s emotional conventions, the song finds the Spanish artist treating eroticism with a sense of humour as well as spirituality, cheekily professing her love for God and Spike Jonze alongside more explicit references. The bare-bones production spotlights her vocals in a way that’s chilling given the many ways it’s manipulated across the record, and when shuddering drum samples are introduced at the end, they don’t so much warp as sway to Rosalía’s version of transcendence.
17. Special Interest feat. Mykki Blanco, ‘Midnight Legend’
By expanding into the realm of disco, one may assume Special Interest would have to dial down the fiery intensity of their earlier material. It’s true that ‘Midnight Legend’ stands out as the most approachable song on the band’s sophomore album Endure, but their vision of dance music is as thoughtful and honest as it is crowded, with thrumming bass and gleaming synths that propel and clash against each other. Vocalist Alli Logout paints a vivid scene, recognizing the dancefloor’s potential for both escapism and empowerment but leaning towards the latter. The chorus is a tender invitation: “Won’t you tell me all about your story/ And about the day that you didn’t have to fight,” Logout sings, seizing the role of the narrator as an empathetic observer capable of drowning out the noise. And when they offer to be the “soundboard for your visions,” you have every reason to trust them.
16. Yeah Yeah Yeahs feat. Perfume Genius, ‘Spitting Off the Edge of the World’
‘Spitting Off the Edge of the World’ could have been a vague anthem about existential dread, and we’d still run to it with open arms. The combination of Karen O’s declarative vocals and Nick Zinner’s towering guitars is more than enough to hook you in – not least because it marked the band’s first new music in nearly a decade – and this song couldn’t have nailed it better. But it also grounds its dystopian atmosphere in emotional realism: “Mama, what have you done?/ I trace your steps in the darkness of one/ Am I what’s left?” Karen O sings, conveying the intimacy of a parent-child exchange that’s at once personal and universal. Slowly but beautifully, Yeah Yeah Yeahs harness their ability to shed off an enormous amount of weight while conjuring one more embrace.
15. Babehoven, ‘I’m on Your Team’
A gorgeous ballad from their debut album Light Moving Time, ‘I’m on Your Team’ unravels with the same patience and care that anchors Maya Bon’s vocal performance. Inspired by the strange melodrama of Roy Orbison’s ‘You May Feel Me Crying’ and the empathetic songwriting of Courtney Marie Andrews, the song manages to sound light and watery yet anthemic, each layer radiating warmth without labouring its message. Bon wears her heart on her sleeve, but what makes ‘I’m on Your Team’ so moving is the way it subtly reveals itself as a plea for self-compassion as well as the strength of community. When she sings about the importance of “Learning how to be angry/ But not be mean,” it sounds like she’s already in the process of carving that path for herself.
14. yeule, ‘Bites on My Neck’
In the post-human world of yeule’s Glitch Princess, violence and eroticism are closely intertwined. ‘Bites on My Neck’ is a song that culminates in a pure kind of romantic confession, but what’s most captivating is the journey it takes to get there, the way it thaws itself to the reality of their love over the course of four minutes: “You know that I could have/ Loved you with my bare hands/ You know that I could have/ Killed you with my bare hands,” they sing, like a machine testing out the difference. A majestic intro gives way to ecstatic dance/hyper-pop and cosmic, perfectly glitched-out melodies, evoking the depth of feeling you’d walk through hell for – and in doing so, Nat Ćmiel discovers there’s pleasure in it, too.
13. Soccer Mommy, ‘Shotgun’
‘Shotgun’ revolves around an intoxicating desire that’s as easy to get hooked on as the song’s choruses, and its sweet vulnerability does little to mask the destructive tendencies that underlie it. With layered production by Oneohtrix Point Never, the standout from Sometimes, Forever oscillates between soaring confidence and cool disaffection, as Sophie Allison recognizes the dangers of a certain kind of love but decides to take a shot at it anyway. “Uppers and my heart never meshed/ I hated coming down/ But this feels the same without the bad things,” she sings, which may sound like a case of self-deception; but take it as a whole and it’s clear that Allison is cannily making sense of the complex dynamics of new romance in physical terms, giving shape and colour to the old language of obsession.
12. Sudan Archives, ‘Home Maker’
As the opening track to Natural Brown Prom Queen, ‘Home Maker’ serves as a bold statement of intent: “I got big plans for this home I made,” Sudan Archives declares, her ambition matched by her expansive and shapeshifting palette. While the singer-songwriter frames the single as an anthem, she also uses it as a space that allows her to move between empowerment and self-doubt, imagination and melancholy. Her admission of crying when she’s alone does nothing to detract from the swagger of the song’s sweeping and propulsive instrumental, instead portraying this home as a place to dream and nestle into yourself. These behaviours can yield profound joy, and more than a celebration, ‘Home Maker is the sound of Sudan Archives cultivating it.
11. Kendrick Lamar, ‘Mother I Sober’
Kendrick Lamar spends much of Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers trying to fight or escape his personal demons, and as its penultimate track, ‘Mother I Sober’ comes damn near close to exorcising them. What makes it so wrenching isn’t just the intimate, piano-led backdrop against which Lamar confronts and threads together complicated histories of generational trauma, sexual abuse, and shame, but also his unusually wounded, downcast delivery. But the rapper shows no interest in going around in circles, and just when he acknowledges the pain that’s “resurfaced/ Amplified as I write this song,” he begins to change its course, shifting his focus towards collective responsibility and freedom with growing conviction. After one long final verse that ends with the line “As I set free all you abusers, this is transformation,” you think Beth Gibbons’ recurring melancholy plea – “I wish I was somebody/ Anybody but myself” – may have no reason to return. The fact that it does could suggest that he hasn’t quite succeeded in silencing his own inner voice, but that of his partner Whitney Alford then steps in with an affirmation: “You broke a generational curse.”
10. Bad Bunny, ‘El Apagón’
Un Verano Sin Ti encompasses a wide range of styles, but its best moments are those that try to mesh as many of them together. Bad Bunny does just that on ‘El Apagón’, one of the rowdiest anthems in his discography and a song whose wild shifts match the complexity of its subject matter. While Benito’s love for Puerto Rico and Caribbean culture at large is evident throughout the LP, ‘El Apagón’ explicitly addresses issues like political corruption and gentrification that pose a threat to his home country. He delivers his message with all the urgency you’d expect, but he also manages to convey a kind of cheeky abandon, knowing there’s nothing more powerful than a group of people rallying around in celebration. “I don’t want to leave here/ I don’t want to leave here/ This is my beach, this is my sun,” Bad Bunny’s girlfriend, Gabriela Berlingeri, sings in Spanish during the bridge, making clear exactly who is and isn’t welcome.
9. Björk, ‘Ancestress’
Björk’s unconventional approach to sound has long been etched into the fabric of her music, but the idiosyncratic structure of ‘Ancestress’ serves as another way of honouring her mother. A devastatingly stirring epitaph, the song finds Björk wrestling with grief in terms both poetic and startingly human – and often both, like when she describes her mother’s dyslexia as the “ultimate free form.” As she stretches her voice and the accompanying instrumental over the course of seven minutes, the ballad juxtaposes sweeping strings with off-kilter percussion to offer a vivid portrait of their relationship, its echo reverberating in the harmonies provided by her son, Sindri Eldon. “Nature wrote this psalm/ It expands this realm,” she sings, gracefully ceasing control. In this act of unlocking memories and letting go, she suggests, we also end up seeing ourselves.
8. Wild Pink, ‘ILYSM’
Wild Pink’s ILYSM is filled with tender confessions floating between moments of gnarled and dreamlike intensity, inspired in part by frontman John Ross’ battle with cancer. The title track is as sincere and straightforward as things get, and while the pairing of ‘See You Better Now’ and ‘Sucking on the Birdshot’ might be the album’s most stunning moment, ‘ILYSM’ comes startingly close to their combined power. In a record that savours quietude, the song’s shout-along choruses help raise the momentum, while Ross’ understated vocals and stark imagery surrender to a love of ghostly intimacy. Its softness doesn’t work against but amplifies the vast scale of the music, with surging guitars mirroring a boundless subconscious state before waking back up. The emotional shift is more subtle than the musical one, but just as deeply felt: whatever happened while drifting off to sleep seems to have sharpened his perspective into poetry: “You moved just like smoke from wet wood/ With dandelion seeds falling all around you just like summer snow.” It blurs the line between being loved and being haunted, yet Ross’ vision has never been clearer.
7. Ethel Cain, ‘American Teenager’
Even if you know nothing about the lore surrounding Ethel Cain, ‘American Teenager’ immediately registers as a massive heartland anthem. For the uninitiated, it also serves as an introduction to the all-American tale she masterfully lays out in Preacher’s Daughter, delivered here in its most accessible form – when the American dream has dimmed but not fully subverted, and searching desperation has yet to take its toll. She offers a glimpse of small-town life with references to high school football and crying under the bleachers, memories that haven’t lost their tinge of romance. ‘American Teenager’ doesn’t mask disillusionment so much as it soars through it, using it as fuel for her own path to self-actualization: “I don’t need anything from anyone/ It’s just not my year/ But I’m all good out here,” she sings, which could sound like slyly twisting the truth for the sake of hope. But how you could not believe it when out here sounds so magnificent?
6. Alvvays, ‘Easy on Your Own?’
Picking a favourite from Blue Rev is an impossible task: Alvvays’ latest album blasts through stunner after stunner, and any song from it can feel momentous if it hits you at the right time. But ‘Easy on Your Own?’ is at the very least a neat encapsulation of everything it has to offer, swirling around big life changes and tackling them with even bigger questions, like how to “gauge whether this is stasis or change.” Despite singing about “crawling in monochromatic hallways and dreaming “about burning down all day,” Molly Rankin is poised not to wallow in regret, not even when tempted by a whirlwind of shoegaze guitars. She sounds more energized than paralyzed by the central question, which she doesn’t pretend to have an answer for; and rather leaving her in the dark, the rest of the band helps her become one with the shifting tides.
5. Beyoncé, ‘Break My Soul’
The timing seemed perfect for Beyoncé to return with ‘Break My Soul’, but can you imagine a time when the release wouldn’t feel perfectly necessary? It might not be the most opulent cut on Renaissance, the headiest, or the most experimental, but the way Bey commands the dancefloor compels you to rejoice in its euphoric rush without asking too many questions about it. Spinning samples of both Robin S.’s smash ‘Show Me Love’ and ‘Big Freedia’s 2014 bounce track ‘Explode’, the single sounds like a modern house classic even as it calls back to the genre’s heyday, paying homage to a few different styles while preaching for liberation and empowerment, ever-familiar themes in her discography. “Got motivation, I done found me a new foundation/ And I’m takin’ my new salvation/ And I’ma build my own foundation,” she asserts, making the new sound not quite old, but timeless.
4. Alex G, ‘Runner’
‘Runner’ opens with a pretty modest and heartfelt sentiment: “I like people who I can open up to/ Who don’t judge for what I say, but judge me for what I do,” Alex Giannascoli sings over an acoustic guitar progression reminiscent of Soul Asylum’s ‘Runaway Train’. This being an Alex G song, of course, things quickly get a little weird (“They hit you with the rolled-up magazine”), and, by the time he repeats “I have done a couple of bad things,” somehow cathartically grim. You even begin to question whether he’s singing from the perspective of a human being – after all, that scream he unleashes is one of primal anguish, and the album it’s lifted from is called God Save the Animals. But while Giannascoli likes to keep things at least a little bit messy and abstruse, ‘Runner’ is a stunning reminder that no one walks that line between accessible and eccentric songwriting quite like Alex G. More than any other time, he really takes the ball and runs with it.
3. Tomberlin, ‘idwhntht’
‘idwhntht’, a song tucked near the very end of Tomberlin’s album of the same name, describes itself better than any person could: “This song is simple, but it ain’t easy/ To sing it like it is, believe me.” Other tracks on idwhntht find striking ways of unknotting themselves around a hypnotic melody or loop, but here Tomberlin relies on the purest and most basic kind of repetition, one that more closely resembles the holding and releasing of the breath. Here, call-and-response – a tool she nimbly employs throughout the LP – becomes a conduit for music at its most earnest and expressive potential, inviting you to murmurously sing along. Unlike on the louder highlight ‘happy accident’, she’s able to diffuse the anguish of uncertainty: “Sometimes it’s good to sing your feelings/ Especially when you don’t know/ The next line or how it goes.” Tomberlin wrote this song because she needed it; it’s just a blessing we get to hear it too.
2. Wednesday, ‘Bull Believer’
Wednesday’s first single for Dead Oceans is such a spectacular maelstrom of emotion that it’s hard to know where to even begin: Its winding, multi-part journey? Those overpowering yet strikingly textured guitars? Karly Hartzman’s blood-curdling yet exultant screams? Absolutely everything about that outro? The lyrics of ‘Bull Believer’ alone, so dense in their imagery and seemingly disparate references, are worth poring over. But you don’t need to listen to the episode of the country music podcast Cocaine & Rhinestones that the band has cited as an inspiration to be swept away by it – Wednesday’s approach is visceral, not analytical. Bullfighting becomes a potent metaphor for exploring the cycle of addiction and the intoxication of violence: “God, make me good but not quite yet,” she implores, wounded in a daze, before projecting her anger through a video game: “Finish him!” It’s up to you to figure out how it all bleeds together, but best surrender to the noise – it might just flicker into silence.
1. Weyes Blood, ‘It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody’
The title of And in the Dark, Hearts Aglow‘s lead single, ‘It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody’, encapsulates a common theme in many of the year’s best songs. Weyes Blood is fully aware of how prevalent this kind of empathetic messaging is in the post-pandemic era, and her approach is not to abandon or complicate but rather render it in her own unique terms: through lush melodies, soaring vocals, and magnificent production, remembering that her personal experience can resonate far and wide. “Sitting at this party/ Wondering if anyone knows me/ Really sees who I am,” she sings, and we all know how feeling small can create such a gaping hole in our hearts. She prescribes mercy as the only cure for loneliness, which might sound like too much of a broad-strokes answer to an unfading and universal problem. But her belief in the power of it makes the simple observation that “we all bleed the same way” feel not redundant but revelatory, a perspective capable of transcending our shared alienation and technological anxiety. And what a thing to revel in, and with, each other.