When you think of 2015, a few songs immediately come to mind: Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ ubiquitous “Uptown Funk”; OMI’s breezy summer jam, “Cheerleader” and Wiz Khalifa’s solemn Paul Walker-tribute, “See You Again,” to name a few. And while those songs are good, none of them were among the best songs of the year. So what were the best songs of 2015? Take a gander below and see…
Hello — Adele
Given the success of 21, anything Adele released was going to be huge. Thankfully, her first new single in three years was excellence, personified. “Hello” starts off quiet and simple, but when Adele unleashes the full power of her voice on that first chorus, the world was immediately reminded of her effortless brilliance. The epic power ballad became an instant, record-breaking number one song, selling over a million copies in a week; moreover, it perfectly reintroduced Adele back to the public by whipping up a frenzy for her 25 album. Adele had the mother of all comebacks in 2015.
Broken Arrows — Avicii
After drip-feeding us one-off singles for over a year, Avicii finally released his second album, Stories, in 2015. While the album underwhelmed, “Broken Arrows” stood out from the mediocrity. By lassoing country star Zac Brown for the uncredited vocal, Avicii perfectly recalled the previous dance/country fusions that made him a star, while still sounding fresh. If only the whole album had been this great…
On My Way — Axwell and Ingrosso
After bringing stadium house to the masses with Swedish House Mafia, Axwell and Ingrosso soldiered on, delivering brilliant one-off singles throughout 2015; their best effort is “On My Way.” Starting with a simple piano introduction, the song transforms into a house banger, exploding with a euphoric chorus that is the very definition of dance floor exaltation. It was catchy. It was uplifting. And in a year surprisingly devoid of truly momentous dance music, “On My Way” was a shining example of what excellent EDM can be.
Gotcha Love – Estelle
Estelle is a literal superhero — she’s the voice of Garnet in Unicorn Booty’s favorite cartoon, Steven Universe. Of course, Estelle sings so well, she’s a figurative superhero too. This year’s True Romance was a phenomenal album despite not really spinning off many singles — the only one is last year’s teaser single “Conqueror”, which appeared on an episode of Empire. But for our money, “Gotcha Love” is the perfect follow-up single that never happened.
Peanut Butter Jelly — Galantis
With all the depressing headlines in 2015, we sometimes needed something irreverent and silly to take our minds off the insanity of modern life. And Galantis delivered that in spades with the excellent “Peanut Butter Jelly.” Mixing clarion calls, strings, and the ridiculous chorus of “spread it like peanut butter jelly,” it was a joyous and delicious treat, and the best song Prince never wrote (and the 70s’-roller-disco-at-the-grocery-store music video perfectly captured the song’s cheeky vibe). No song sounded more brilliantly bonkers in 2015.
Love Me Like You Do — Ellie Goulding
Ellie Goulding got our year started with this tender love song. Tethered to the sleazy Fifty Shades of Grey film, “Love Me Like You Do” transcended the hot mess of a movie by being simple, classy, and beautiful. The song sounds exactly like that terrifying and confusing moment when you first fall endlessly in love with someone, and Goulding’s airy, ethereal vocals bring a sweetness to the moment that can’t be faked. No surprise that this became her biggest global hit to date.
Classic Man — Jidenna (featuring Roman GianArthur)
It makes sense that Nigerian-American Jidenna’s “Classic Man” appeared on the collective EP for Janelle Monae’s Wondaland Records. Her work and “Classic Man” both reflect a #BlackLivesMatter aesthetic, championing self-worth and encouraging positive, unapologetic influence in the greater community with rhymes like, “The ladies on my elbow ain’t for the show / Every madam on my team is a top general.” The song brags with swagger and warns of war (one already being fought on American streets, no doubt), but suggests that culture and style make a great arsenal. Plus, you gotta love those fancy Bay Area chants and 808 beats — classic indeed.
Cool For the Summer — Demi Lovato
Remember in 2001 when Britney Spears used “I’m a Slave 4 U,” to announce that she was now a full-fledged adult? Well, Demi Lovato must have been taking notes, because after penning introspective brooders like “Skyscraper” and “Heart Attack,” she ditched the soul-searching and got sexy. Sure, “Cool For the Summer” is calculated. And, yes, it was released too late to have contended for Song of the Summer — but it successfully ushered in a new, more Confident Lovato, and proved that she is a force to be reckoned with.
Ghosttown — Madonna
Madonna’s Rebel Heart album was her best in a decade, but the singles were commercial under-performers, including this mid-tempo ballad. “Ghosttown” featured some of Madonna’s career-best vocals, and the organ-flourishes bathed everything in a spooky coldness that affirmed the song’s post-apocalyptic sentiment. It was beautiful and classy; it’s a shame it wasn’t a hit.
Hell You Talmbout — Janelle Monáe (feat Deep Cotton, St. Beauty, Jidenna, Roman GianArthur, and George 2.0)
While easily the least fun song on this list, “Hell You Talmbout” is one of the most important songs released in 2015. A protest song for #BlackLivesMatter, the lyrics are a list of people killed by police: Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray and, sadly, many more, followed by an call to say their names. And, if that weren’t powerful enough — when the song was performed on the Today show, NBC faded it out early.
Seasons — Olly Murs
Despite being a household name in the UK, Olly Murs is still struggling to find an audience in the States; “Seasons” should have been his US-crossover moment. While the Ryan Tedder-penned song employs an age-old “seasons as story” narrative, the haunting echoey vocals provide the perfect hook. And while a more deplorable character would be kicked to the curb for his cheating ways, Murs is adorable enough in the music video to forgive him for any transgression he’s apologizing for.
Recognition – THEESatisfaction
Three years after releasing their debut album, Seattle art-rap duo THEESatisfaction teamed up with musician Erik Blood to release their second LP EarthEE. They told Fader that the LP’s debut track, “Recognition” “is a message of self-assurance and ultimate belief… to encourage confidence… give praise and respect to our ancestors… [and] to celebrate those who inspire us… It’s a daily mantra to stay aligned with your path.” It plays like a spoken-word poem with a relentless tribal beat and indelible street-style, one longs for several re-listens before its message truly moves your soul.
The Hills — The Weeknd
The Weeknd dominated the year, as the former Abel Tesfaye scored three consecutive top 3 singles and a number one album. While cocaine-tribute, “Can’t Feel My Face” was his first number one, “The Hills” was the Weeknd’s best moment in 2015. The song’s dark, expletive-ridden and drug-fueled ode to late-night/early morning booty-calls fused Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” the film The Hills Have Eyes, and sixteen “fucks” (and one “motherfucker”), to become, by far and away, the darkest number one song this decade.
Burundi — Saul Williams (feat. Emily Kokal from Warpaint)
New music from Saul Williams is always cause for celebration. While his new album MartyrLoserKing doesn’t come out until January, Williams has shared a few teaser singles, including the outstanding “Burundi”. Williams worked with Justin Warfield of She Wants Revenge on this album, and the results so far are the type of industrial-leaning hiphop that Saul Williams is the best at — and with “Burundi”, it’s clear that MartyrLoserKing will be among Williams’ best albums.
Renegades — X Ambassadors
This year was sorely lacking in excellent alternative rock, as albums by Mumford and Sons, Muse, and Florence and the Machine all disappointed. X Ambassadors filled the void with the haunting “Renegades.” The song’s almost hymnal tone gave the song a surprisingly uplifting quality (a point that was hammered home with a music video depicting real life people overcoming their physical disabilities). While the band seem doomed to one-hit-wonder status (follow-up single, “Unsteady” failed to chart), X Ambassadors had the best alternative rock song of 2015.