Take a look at this year’s political climate and it’s pretty clear that 2017 has not been the brightest year. Thankfully the same can’t be easily said for the pop music calendar. If anything, there has been a plethora of fantastic pop music over the past twelve months to lift the spirits on the all-too-frequent rainy days. Sure, there have been some pretty abysmal moments: we’ve had to endure the Sheeran chart reign and I, for one, am still waiting for a release that will match the glory of Ariana Grande’s ‘Into You’. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of releases worth shouting about. After plenty of indecision, our seventeen singles of 2017 can be presented to you. Whether a chart smash or a humble gem, the tracks on this list are worthy in their own right as pop moments to be appreciated. Get listening before this year is up, but also feel free to keep listening in 2018. We’re not going to stop you.
17. Jessie Ware – Alone
Kicking off our list is a single from Jessie Ware in support of Glasshouse, her latest studio release. Continuing her style of emotionally charged lyricism in a moody sonic landscape, ‘Alone’ is sweet as much as it is bitter whilst charting the anticipation for a love to be realised. Ware pines after a lover, revelling in the escapism of a romance that is yet to be fully achieved. The caution that pervades this track gives room for Ware, like in the earlier single ‘Selfish Love’, to dwell on insecurities and the potential that the love being expressed may not reciprocated (‘Knocking me off of my feet / Just say that I’m the one that you need / Oh please’). Both lyrically and sonically beautiful, ‘Alone’ was a promise fulfilled by the arrival of a striking studio album. Ware not only created another rich addition to her discography with ‘Alone’, but also provided a downcast soundtrack to match the chills of the winter season.
16. dodie – In the Middle
dodie is a noteworthy newcomer to the UK pop scene, particularly for having built her way up to official releases and sell-out tours from the humble beginnings of performing her own songs with a ukulele on YouTube. Utilising quaint imagery, happy-go-lucky instrumentation and the occasionally plaintive lyric, dodie has garnered attention for maintaining an uncompromised, sensitive millennial voice whilst tapping into the chart environment: her second, independently released EP, You, managed to share a top-ten position on the UK Top 100 Albums chart alongside accustomed contenders like Kesha, Dua Lipa and Ed Sheeran. ‘In the Middle’, the third single from this EP, makes its way onto our list for representing all these positives of the artist. Over soft and percussion-driven production, dodie daintily asks a lover if they would like to be introduced to her ex for a particular type of group activity (‘Wanna make my worlds collide? / Let’s make a bow with old cut ties’). Her charm is irresistible in this track as she teases both the lover and the listener with a bashful power, whilst also providing something quite bop-worthy. This is possibly the most delightful song about a threesome around, so it’s worth a listen. Check out its rather odd music video below.
15. Lady Gaga – The Cure
Next up is the standalone single and latest release from Lady Gaga. The release and promotion of this single was rather understated, only serving to credit the memorability of its sound. Following some rather lacklustre cuts from her fifth studio album, Joanne, ‘The Cure’ proved to be a promising recalibration of Gaga’s direction, taking the artist back to her pure pop beginnings. ‘The Cure’ is ultimately simplistic, showcasing Gaga’s knack for testing the malleability of pop convention. Welcoming listeners with a soft, distorted whistle, Gaga eases us into an address of restorative love carried by her own take on a whisper-pop delivery. This initial softness all but creates a false delicacy before Gaga belts into a chorus that denies idle listening and concludes with the home runs of two sweet hooks: ‘I’ll fix you with my love’ and ‘Promise I’ll be the cure’. The gentle close shows a departure from the aural bombardments of ARTPOP, whilst its unremorseful simplicity forfeits the spiel of stripped-back, artistic integrity that saturated Joanne’s promotion and threatened to become tiresome. What ‘The Cure’ did was bring Gaga back to the new-pop blueprint that initially captivated audiences at the beginnings of her career. This track was a statement, one which reminded listeners why Gaga still remains to be a major presence in contemporary pop music.
14. Lauv – I Like Me Better
Ari Staprans Leff (a.k.a Lauv) surprised many with the release of ‘I Like Me Better’, a mid-tempo, electronic track which ended up performing remarkably well on streaming services and also managed to enter various charts. To this date the track has received 43 million views between two YouTube videos whilst also boasting over 283 million streams on Spotify alone, proving its position as one of 2017’s pop surprises. Sonically, it is also very memorable. In a similar vein to Gaga’s ‘The Cure’, the track’s power lies in its simplicity and the impact of an endearing hook (‘I like me better when I’m with you’). Minimalist production allows Leff’s vocals to take precedence, his low register soothing listeners and guiding them along before a final swirl of adlibs pulls them into the rush of a budding romance. In ‘I Like Me Better’, Lauv manages to capture the bubble that can surround a romantic connection, with the wider world not mattering too much when you’re falling head over heels for another person.
13. SZA – Love Galore (feat. Travis Scott)
Next up is ‘Love Galore’ by SZA, a rising star of the pop, alternative and RnB crossover. Serving as the second single from an impressive and long-awaited debut album (Ctrl), ‘Love Galore’ cemented SZA’s tendency for powerful, confessional lyricism dancing with mellow vocals and complimentary, pulsating production. ‘Love Galore’ follows two perspectives as SZA and Travis Scott address each other over a love that was meant to just be ‘a summer fling’, shifting between the sexual, the apathetic, the biting and the hopeful. As SZA expresses at the track’s close, her voice just stronger than a mumble: ‘Searchin’ for you like love, / Only thing keepin’ me from droppin’ you right now.’ ‘Love Galore’ is riddled with preoccupation as the hope of SZA’s personal renewal is threatened by the reigniting of desire by Scott, who takes the role of the unshakeable player. His feature provides a perspective delivered with a gruffness and nonchalance towards the explicitness of his desires; all in all, providing the infuriating indifference of the charmer. ‘Love Galore’ is without clear resolution, dragging the listener into a heated affair and leaving them wanting to listen again for any juicy details they may have missed.
12. Camila Cabello – Crying in the Club
2017 brought us the pop music debacle of Fifth Harmony’s sudden readjustment, with Camila Cabello (predominant lead singer) parting ways with the group to pursue a much-anticipated solo career. So far, Cabello has not disappointed expectant listeners. ‘Crying in the Club’ is a powerful debut single which, as its initially tedious title suggests, is aware of its own melodrama. ‘Till you feel the sunrise / Let the music warm your body / Like the heat of a thousand fires’ Cabello calls, empowering herself as she finds solace in the boom of the club. With a tropical style echoing Sia’s ‘Cheap Thrills’ (2016), this track pulsates with an infectiousness that allows the listener to be liberated as Cabello emphasises that any sense of inferiority is ‘a lie that you tell yourself’. Somewhat overshadowed by the success of subsequent singles from Cabello, ‘Crying in the Club’ was a striking and memorable introduction for a solo artist following the already well-trodden path of spin-off solo careers. Plus, it includes a rather well-executed Aguilera sample to make itself even more enjoyable.
11. Cardi B – Bodak Yellow (Money Moves)
If the chorus of ‘Bodak Yellow’ doesn’t ring a bell, then it’s likely that you have been living under a rock this year. With this rap anthem and major-label debut, Cardi B became the second female rap artist to top the Billboard Hot 100 with a solo output since Lauryn Hill in 1998, taking her away from the realm of reality television and online popularity and placing her before a large-scale audience. It’s easy to see why this track made such an impact. Saturated by personal empowerment and delivered with a biting flow, ‘Bodak Yellow’ is a self-fulfilling prophecy detailing Cardi B’s striding into newfound power as a ‘boss’ making ‘bloody moves’ (‘I used to live in the P’s / Now it’s a crib with a gate’). Echoing the sound and delivery of Kodak Black’s ‘No Flockin’ (2014/15), Cardi is unapologetic and powerful as she narrates how an undying work ethic took her from strip clubs to a commercial label debut: ‘Dropped two mixtapes in six months / What bitch working as hard as me?’ As B, freakishly predicting the commercial impact that this track would have, consistently states: ‘I don’t dance now, I make money moves / Say I don’t gotta dance, I make money move’. ‘Bodak Yellow’ was a statement, a powerful commercial introduction of the rapper to a larger audience eager to see what will be coming next. Cardi B will be one to watch in 2018 but, for now, give ‘Bodak Yellow’ some more love.
And so ends the first part of our Seventeen Gems of ’17 countdown. Keep your eyes peeled for the second instalment, where we will be counting down through our top ten singles of the year!
Image credit: Vulture Magazine / SZA