The Best Song Of 2017, According To 10 Music Nerds
Bad year. Good music.
2017 truly had it all, even when we didn’t want ‘all’ at all. We survived Donald Trump’s first full year as president, we saw our queer community get dragged over the coals for marriage equality, and we watched in horror as the #metoo movement unfolded. But on the bright side, at least there was some good music?
Back in July, ten of Junkee’s resident music nerds picked out their favourite song of the year so far. Now, with 2017 almost through, we’ve selected a fresh batch of standout tracks. The selections span everything from radio-ready pop to rap and jazzy neo-soul — some are songs you’ll definitely have already heard, others flew more under the radar — but they’re all among 2017’s most exciting releases.
Future — ‘Mask Off’
In 2017 there are two objective criteria for evaluating the quality of a song: 1) Is it a banger, and 2) Has it spawned numerous brilliant memes?
On both those measures Future’s ‘Mask Off’ is a clear standout for track of the year.
The ridiculously catchy beat which borrows its iconic flute sample from Selma, a 1978 musical about Martin Luther King, clashes with the bleaker, hedonistic lyrics, but the end result is an absolute scorcher of a track. Nearly every line references a different kind of drug, from promethazine to Percocets, but rather than chasing an exuberant high you’re left with the feeling Future is looking for something to drown the pain.
What could be a more fitting metaphor for this trash year?
Kaiit — ‘Natural Woman’
2017 needed Kaiit. Amid a gloomy year, the Melbourne singer’s ecstatic breakthrough single was just what the musicologist ordered. A jazzy, neo-soul jam, ‘Natural Woman’ pays homage to the genre’s greats like Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu, while confidently carving out it’s own distinct attitude.
That attitude comes via Kaiit’s extraordinarily dexterous vocal, which glides seamlessly from confident, syllable-packed raps to a powerhouse chorus.
‘Natural Woman’ is as giddy as new love, loaded with smile-out-loud verses (“Quit when I was 11 to work on my tennis/Now all I do is run from love/And now I guess I’m Galileo coz all I do is reach for the stars/And Mars/And Venus/Serena”) and the year’s most infectious jam.
Lorde — ‘Writer In The Dark’
I like songs about people having feelings of such ridiculous and dangerous excess, that law enforcement needs to be involved to curtail the destructive rushing lava of their emotion. This year, my favourite song of this genre (lava pop?) is ‘Writer In The Dark’ from Lorde’s album Melodrama.
It sounds a lot like a Kate Bush song; not just in the way that Lorde contorts her voice to make it sound fragile, desperate and angry at the same time, but because it revels in the 4am shame emotions we have all felt — as if we are all as one cry-singing this in the mirror, with a cigarette in one hand and a mug of bad decisions in the other.
It helps that I too am my mother’s child, and tend to fling my adoration on people who don’t always deserve it (spoiler: I’ll love you ‘til my breathing stops!). Then again, I am a writer, and as Lorde proves in this song, we are a dramatic and self-obsessed lot.
Stella Donnelly — ‘Boys Will Be Boys’
Stella Donnelly first released ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ back in April, meaning it long pre-dates the current #metoo movement. How serendipitous, then, that it would go on to become the most necessary song of 2017.
Backed only by an acoustic guitar, Donnelly quietly devastates with the story of a friend’s rape, confronting the attacker and the culture of victim blaming. “I will never let you rest,” she promises the young man, her voice soft but resolute. “You broke all the bonds she gave ya/ Time to pay the fucking rent.” It’s a punch to the guts, but a bloody beautiful one.
St. Vincent – ‘Los Ageless’
St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION is a high achiever in a year of very good albums. (At least it was a year of very good something.)
Annie Clark clearly enjoyed herself on this outing with super-producer Jack Antonoff, and nowhere is that clearer than on second single ‘Los Ageless’. It’s vampy and winking but cut through by real venom, as Clark sounds off over some punchy synths.
‘Los Ageless’ excels as the spiky sister to ‘New York’, the album’s other, more open-hearted ode to a city. Oh, and it also boasts one of the year’s best videos, featuring a magnetic St. Vincent in the lead role(s).
Alvvays – ‘In Undertow’
Back in 2014, Alvvays perfected the kind of pastoral indie rock that Tumblr had been rife with for a few years. They sharpened the edges and dimmed the lights of an increasingly flat genre, producing ‘Marry Me, Archie’, an alchemical piece of shoegaze-pop that was warm and wry, and which felt like a final, definitive statement (even if it was only the second track on their debut).
‘In Undertow’ explores what happens after that final statement. The song deals with the fallout of a breakup, and while lead singer Molly Rankin delivers fragments of conversations (“What’s left for you and me?”) it’s not about blowouts or big emotional reckonings. It tracks the aimlessness and drift that comes with a life shift, the painful business of redefining yourself without someone there to help.
‘In Undertow’ isn’t funereal, though; it’s a big fuck-off anthem, one that channels U2 as much as it does Cocteau Twins (which is a lot). With its big, heartstring pulling guitar solo and driving synths it’s a far cry from the comparatively spare ’Marry Me, Archie’, but that song’s DNA is still present in this one, in the way Rankin makes the deeply mundane sound positively tectonic and the positively tectonic sound shatteringly intimate.
“There’s no turning back,” sings Rankin towards the end of the track, “I’m so uninspired.” It sure doesn’t sound like it.
Creek Boys — ‘With My Team’
Sure Kendrick’s album had jams, that Khaled song with Rihanna never failed to make me shake my ass in a potentially culturally insensitive way, and that Talking Heads-sampling-Selena Gomez track was way better than it had any right to be. BUT how many songs this year were about the greatest gift in life: true friendship?
Baltimore collective Creek Boyz (who also win my favourite group name of the year) dropped the triumphant friendship anthem ‘With My Team’ in March and the song eventually got big enough to justify them changing all the Bmore-specific references in the chorus and filming a way flashier video.
The song’s success unfortunately didn’t extend to Australia, where it cleared dancefloors every time I dropped it because life is pain. In a perfect world, everyone would put their arms on each other’s shoulders and sing each beautiful line with harmonies that rivalled that of E.T.S. J Reezy, E.T.S. Breeze, Young Fedi Mula, and Turk P. Diddy, the four incredibly complicatedly named rappers who make up Creek Boyz.
They also released the second best song named ‘I’m The One’ this year and you better believe their eventual album is on my most anticipated list for 2018.
Aminé — ‘Spice Girl’
First thing’s first: Aminé is my favourite new artist of 2017. If you haven’t listened to Good For You yet, stop reading this and do it immediately.
Like the album as a whole, ‘Spice Girl’ is a musical unicorn: smart, funny, trendily nostalgic, and a serious banger, without a single element sacrificed to make room for the other. The wonderful references to everyone’s favourite ‘90s girl group (including a Mel B cameo in the song’s ridiculous video), the on-point flute hook, the clever puns and the bouncy beat, equal parts perfect for tucking in or turning up.
Genuinely one of this year’s best songs from one of the year’s funnest albums — and that’s saying something for an independent debut.
Alex The Astronaut — ‘Not Worth Hiding’
‘Not Worth Hiding’ is the best kind of simple. It’s built sparingly, without any stray words or notes, a folk song that marries the Australian heartbeat of Paul Kelly with the unambiguous protest of Billy Bragg.
It was beautiful to watch it become a recurring comfort during a divisive spring. As a record, it was shared intimately between friends, and as a live performance it galvanised – whether amongst tens of thousands as the equality rallies reached critical mass, or in small rooms where oft-jaded industry were reduced to tears.
In a year where popular music continued to evolve at hyperspeed, ‘Not Worth Hiding’ reminded us of the simple, evergreen power of four chords and the truth.
Drake — ‘Passionfruit’
The weekend that More Life dropped — more or less out of nowhere, with no real fanfare — fans quickly indulged in the many different sounds the “playlist” had to offer. Among the entire tracklist, one track stood out as a new heir to Drake’s pop throne: the spiralling, neon-tinged and curiously-titled ‘Passionfruit’.
It succeeds as a radio smash in clear spite of itself — its false start, its sampled-voice detour — and it gets to the very epicentre of Drake’s emotional complexities. That’s not even mentioning it has the best use of four syncopated claps since The Rembrandts’ ‘I’ll Be There for You’.
As one of the key proponents of what’s been dubbed “cloud rap,” Drake has always sounded passionate from miles away. To hear him literally sing that out, however, is something stunning.