2016 year saw the return of heavy hitting Pop icons, like Britney and Beyoncé, those who had been away far too long, like JoJo and Solange, and the new generation of hitmakers, such as The Weeknd, Bruno Mars and Rihanna. Of course, there wasn’t a shortage of worthy fresh talent either, such as ZAYN, Nathan Sykes, and Anderson Paak. Shakira even came back with a new Spanish-language song, and Ariana Grande dropped a single even Mariah’s truest lambs can’t deny. But, where did their singles place on our list?
At EST. 1997, we chose the 19 “97” singles of 2016, which simply means the 19 best singles of 2016. If you’re familiar with the way we review singles/albums, then you know that “97” is our top score. We love every song on this list, ranked them according to how much, and weighed in with a few thoughts about each. Please feel free to comment with your thoughts, as well! We’d love to hear from you and engage in any discussion.
If you don’t know who Anderson Paak is, please leave and go to your Apple Musics or your Spotifys or your Tidals and listen to him right now. Nah, for real. RIGHT NOW. You’re missing out if you don’t. Anderson Paak is the free and wild child of 2016 R&B, with a raspy timbre and expert usage of instrumentation to match. Following a stellar year in which he was heavily involved with Dr. Dre’s Compton album, Paak seems to have stumbled upon the cusp of a full on commercial breakthrough. In “Come Down”, which stems from his second full length studio effort Malibu, Paak utilizes a deep bass line and a crisp usage of the high hat to carry the track the whole way through. In terms of lyrics, the track is a feel good anthem for being lack of a better word, lit. Paak’s performance of Come Down at the 2016 BET Awards was a standout of the night, and served to put him on a lot of people’s radars, and I am ecstatic to see that his time for greatness is truly drawing near. —Jordan
Continuing with the trend she began after her debut English language album Laundry Service in 2001, Shakira is seemingly following up her last album, the eponymous and English-language Shakira., with another Spanish-language album to be released in 2017. “Chantaje” is the lead single from that set, featuring Colombian sensation Maluma. The song is a return to form for Shakira, recalling her 2005 collaboration with Alejandro Sanz, “La Tortura,” in its reggaeton-inspired, danceable-duet nature. The song is intoxicatingly catchy and oozes sex appeal; you certainly wouldn’t notice that Shakira is 17 years Maluma’s senior, either. Perhaps that is the “Chantaje” they sing of… (chantaje translates to blackmail). Their chemistry is fierce, and the song is an infectious smash because of it. –Vincent
Nathan Sykes may not be the former boy band heartthrob getting all the attention in 2016, but believe this: His voice is a force to be reckoned with. He abandons the dance pop of his former boy band The Wanted and goes full-blown retro-soul on this foot stomper. It could fit in fabulously with the upbeat 60’s guy group classics, but Sykes shows that his voice can carry the whole show solo. —Andrew
After obtaining success on the Pop and international charts, The Weeknd enlisted Daft Punk for the lead single and title track of his new album. “Starboy” is a thumping mid-tempo with Electronic influences that finds him reflecting on his newfound stardom, the beginning of a new era in his artistry and the possible negative consequences of this new journey. While it appears as a catchy cute track, it’s actually a unique song in the current Pop landscape for its theme and dark imagery. But that’s also exactly what makes Abel fascinating and mysterious, despite now being a Pop star. —Mario
Move over Calvin Harris, Major Lazer, and Zedd. The Chainsmokers have finally arrived as a new pair of EDM kings. If you remember back in 2014, the same duo created the nearly ear jarring, but viral smash “#SELFIE.” Over the years since The Chainsmokers fine-tuned their sound, and found something that works for their genre and more importantly radio. Explosive drops perfect for raves mixed with simple relatable lyrics was key; not only to keep them in constant rotation, but helped solidify themselves and Indie-Pop newcomer Daya as Top 5 artists. The two newbie acts came together and presented their best work to date. “Don’t Let Me Down” was inescapable in 2016, and became a massive hit. “Down” succeeded the Top 10 hit “Roses” which began the new string of Chainsmokers hit music. The Daya collabo was also the perfect setup to their followup summer smash hit, “Closer.” A hit that managed to out peak the former, and top the Hot 100 for an impressive 12 consecutive weeks after “Don’t Let Me Down,” finally decided to retreat. Drew Taggart and Alex Pall seem to have finally found the perfect formula for EDM Pop success. 2017 looks bright for the duo! —Keenan
A sign of a great song is when it can be transformed from one sound or genre to another. That’s exactly what Coldplay’s “Hymn For The Weekend” was; a great song, with an even better remix thanks to Seeb. With lyrics “feeling drunk and high” it made perfect sense for a rave-ready EDM remix. Seeb adds additional pulse to the alternative jam, which features vocals by Chris Martin’s personal friend Beyoncé, and tackles the original vibe Martin desired for the jam. Usually known for their melancholy music, it was nice to see Coldplay try a new more experimental sound on “Hymn,” truly showing why they have managed to become a premiere Rock act due to classic hits like “Speed Of Sound” and “Viva La Vida.” If you want to please a diverse crowd or bop to something (vibey cue original, dancey cue Seeb remix), add this to your playlist. —Keenan
My friend put me on to this song over the summer, and I’ve been completely addicted ever since. Mix one part Frank Sinatra bossa nova and one part Beyoncé’s “Drunk In Love”, with the angst of Panic! At The Disco’s early days, and you have this brilliant composition. It’s a complete departure for the Brendon Urie-driven vehicle, but his admiration for Sinatra and contemporary pop sensibility create the perfect genre fusion. —Andrew
“Pillowtalk” is a great showcase of what Zayn Malik can do solo, without any of his verses being countered by former bandmate Niall Horan’s underwhelming vocals. 2016 paved the way for Zayn to make baby-making jams that are “100% honest“, and “Pillowtalk” served as the perfect conveyor of that honesty. The “alternative R&B” debut single is sung with singular passion that the video comes off as an affront to that passion, as Zayn listlessly acts out “pissing off neighbors” as a result of all the pillow-fighting, -talking and fucking. Nonetheless, “Pillowtalk” drips with all the charisma and horniness that Zayn had been wanting to show as his god-given right since stepping on to the stage of X-Factor. The reckless behaviour in which he engages in is in stark contrast to the discipline in which he sings it; in his former life as one-fifths of a boy group, that would have been shocking. Freed from all that, we get to see the artist he’s always wanted to become: a bearded, grown-up crooner with serious R&B chops. —Patrick
The current single from Joanne, “Million Reasons” is also arguably Lady Gaga’s best ballad thus far. What makes it special is its incredible honesty and the fact that, for once, she wrote a song that many can relate to. The lyrics are simple and clear, there are no innuendos, nothing to decipher here. The structure and the instruments used allow her to showcase her singing abilities, to bare her soul and every live performance she’s done of this song has been unique because Gaga really wears her heart on her sleeve. You can really feel every bit of the emotion she’s put into it. —Mario.
“GODDAMN GODDAMN GODDAMN!” This was my genuine reaction to the surprise track, “Everybody Dies”, by lyrical master J. Cole. 2016 nearly came and went without a peep from Cole, until late November when “Dies” and the Kanye West pointed “False Prophets” leaked online. Jermaine, why you gotta ether everybody like that?! Now, as far as diss records go, this one takes a stab that all who fill up rap’s current musical landscape. In a market that is oversaturated with talentless, dispassionate, cookie cutter hacks, Cole takes everyone to task in hopes that his art, and the art of the true rap performer shines through. Instrumentally, the song is simple, and very reminiscent of Nas’ Illmatic era. In this abbreviated two minute track, Cole’s message is quite clear: he’s back, and everyone else has to go. –Jordan
“Fuck Apologies.” officially reintroduced JoJo to the airwaves once again. It was a daring choice to release a song with profanity in its title, but, well, JoJo was unapologetic. The talented vocalist and songwriter has a lot to say and “Fuck Apologies” is a symbolic anthem for her struggles over the last ten years with the music industry. For all that she’s been through, she has no regrets. “Fuck Apologies.” was the perfect reintroduction because it represents JoJo so well. She is sassy, confident, honest, raw, and delivers it all with powerful, skilled vocals. The catchy hook shows her pop sensibilities, while the hard urban beat, soulful vocals and guest feature from Wiz Khalifa remind us that her heart lies in R&B and hip-hop, straight from the Mariah Carey school of Pop. –Vincent
Any song that can incorporate influence from Roger Troutman and Zapp is an automatic BOP. I mean for real, Bruno was serving some serious Dr. Dre, Death Row Records circa 1995 realness on this one. The song is downright infectious, and a much needed light hearted offering, served in the midst of more self-introspective work from other artists of today’s musical landscape. While the feminist in me isn’t thrilled regarding Mars’ slightly misogynistic lyrics on the track, you honestly can’t help but hit a two step with a drink in your hand to this one. Sorry morals, you lose today. Anyway, the song is a great opening to a smartly done album, and most definitely a standout on the body of work as a whole. TENS! —Jordan
If there is a true casualty to the ANTI’s messy release, it’s the gorgeous, smoldering baby-making slow jam, “Kiss It Better,” arguably one of the most underrated singles of the year. “What are you willing to do? Tell me what you’re willing to do” Rihanna inquires on the chorus of this unconventional earworm. With a hazy and strange guitar-driven instrumentation, there are so many reasons the song shouldn’t work, but it does, and so well. The layered vocals and catchy lyrics make it an irresistible standout from the already unique ANTI. –Andrew & Patrick
Solange introduced A Seat at the Table with two singles, “Cranes in the Sky,” and “Don’t Touch My Hair.” The song’s title is an extended metaphor for one’s identity being questioned, invaded and appropriated. For Solange, that means her identity as a woman of color. For Black Americans, hair is a controversial topic, and one that White people like to touch on; literally and figuratively. “Don’t touch my pride,” Solange sings, warning those who seek to appropriate or question her identity to reconsider. As a later track on A Seat at the Table chides, some things are not for “you” – not for everybody. “Don’t Touch My Hair” is a statement that needed to be proclaimed, and major props to Solange for bringing it to the forefront by promoting the song not only as a single, but by performing it on Saturday Night Live, as well. It’s as though Beyoncé’s call to Black women to get into “Formation” was answered by the best possible responder: her own sister, who was able to go much deeper and further, taking very specific conversations… to the table, if you will. —Vincent
The second single off Dangerous Woman starts with a pulsating beat and sultry vocals by “princess-turned-bad bitch” Ariana Grande. It builds up to a euphoric pre-chorus where Ariana puts into excellent use her skill of embodying the persona of someone left hanging by a man whom she always courts back by her sensual vocals. She emotes with precision that all too familiar feeling of longing directed at people who just won’t make a move. Ariana is very much in her element here and her emotive vocals saves this beat-driven, infectious slice of dance-pop from being just a product of Max Martin’s lab, and turns it into one of her finest moments. In an album filled with high profile guest verses, it’s quite telling that she stands out when left to shine on her own. The very sly, very cute nods to Elvis and Mariah in the chorus don’t hurt, either. —Patrick
In the context of LEMONADE and its story arch, “Sorry” represents the moment the wife has stopped caring about her husband’s sexcapades and decides to leave and not look back. In Beyoncé’s world, it was the song that created the “Becky with the good hair” controversy that had fans, haters and the tabloids talking and speculating for weeks. That’s not to say the song should be reduced to that, because it deserves more attention for being one of the most commercially viable songs on the album, first of all. It’s catchy, it’s empowering and the music video has Serena Williams bopping and twerking like her life depends on it. However, the choice to include Serena is likely deeper than that. Serena is the ultimate unapologetic Black girl, after years of being made to feel out of place in, as someone once said, “the most Lily White” sport there is. Serena’s inclusion was indeed a political statement. If that isn’t reason enough to love it, then you’re simply not a fan. And I ain’t sorry to make that clear. —Mario & Vincent
Catchy is an understatement to describe “Slumber Party.” From the first listen of Glory this song stood out as something special (and hearing Britney say “fuck” is always an added bonus). It could have easily been buried under Glory’s many stand-outs, but, instead, it was chosen as a sensible follow-up to the sultry, low-key first single “Make Me.” The assist from the underrated Tinashe adds a slight but refreshing splash of sultriness. With slinky, sensual verses and upbeat hooks, Britney shines strong here. Tinashe adds a welcomed layer of vocal diversity, meshing well with Britney’s. The pair took it the next level in the fantastic video, only adding to the song’s overall wow-factor. –Andrew & Patrick
When speaking of “Cranes in the Sky,” Solange recounted that it is actually a song she began in 2008, but finished in 2016 at the end of her sessions for A Seat at the Table. Now, “Cranes in the Sky” is the nucleus of the album. The mellow groove is R&B perfection that encompasses Solange’s style in a cool four minute jam. The jazzy vibe, the soft vocals and the lyrics all work together to create an ethereal and captivating track. Lyrically, it is a thematic focal point to which all the tracks go back to: feelings of pain as a result of being rejected and outcast; it is this struggle that is the focus of the album as a whole.
There’s nothing particularly catchy about “Cranes,” but each of these elements contributes to making it as great as it is and that’s the brilliance of the song. The track does what so many great songs do: it transcends the intended specificity of its theme by being a song that is relatable to all. It’s no surprise it is the track that got the most attention when the album came out. There’s really something about it that makes you stop for a moment and realize that you’re listening to an R&B masterpiece. –Mario & Vincent
Who would’ve thought Beyoncé would release the most politically charged, controversial song and video of 2016? When you’re Beyonce, you can either come out of the gate swinging, or come out of the gate slaying. When Beyonce opens “Formation” with “Y’all haters corny with that illuminati mess”, every Queen in the land, male or female raises a hand and emits a collective “YAS”. The biggest statement Beyoncé could make this year was “Formation.”
Beyoncé has come a long way from her humble Destiny’s Child beginnings where she simply bashed her imaginary male suitors. But oh, how times have changed. With the Black Lives Matter movement in full force, racial and social injustice reaching new heights in the US and her natural disposition towards feminism, it now seems only natural that she would address all of that. The best thing about it is that she did so during Black History Month, with some of the most powerful visuals she’s ever created: the image of Beyoncé sinking on top of the police car alone is goosebumps inducing. With one song, Beyoncé smashed White Supremacy and Patriarchy by celebrating her Blackness and her Womanness without giving a single solitary fuck. “Formation” is the truest expression of black girl magic, giving space not only for the diva herself, but for all Black women to be their magical Black girl selves, and be proud of it, with nary a fuck to give.
Once again King B was able to create awareness and controversy by using her platform and influence to shake the institutions and the masses alike, over possibly the only Mike Will Made It Beat that doesn’t have a drop. Regardless, nae naes were hit, folks were dropped, edges were snatched, and life was gotten. With “Formation,” Beyoncé to solidified her place as a leader in today’s music industry. Hot sauce? Check. Swag? Check. “You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation,” she drawls as the song closes… a self-fulfilling prophecy. –Vincent, Andrew, Mario & Jordan.
Press play on our YouTube playlist below for the perfect soundtrack to your New Year’s Eve get together, or any occasion, really! So long, 2016!