News I by I 19.12.17

Singles Club Christmas special: The biggest tracks of 2017 revisited

Ho, ho, ho, it’s the Singles Club Christmas special!

You’ve already seen our tracks of the year list, which covered the best tracks of the year. But what about the biggest? Whether we like it or not, 2017 will be remembered by the general public for the likes of Taylor Swift invoking Right Said Fred on ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ and Ed Sheeran going all tropical house on ‘Shape of You’. Songs that, it being the end of the year and all, deserve revisiting and reappraising.

Which is why this week’s Singles Club sees our writers have their say on the biggest and best-selling songs of the year now that the dust has settled on all of them. From Cardi B’s hip-hop history-making juggernaut ‘Bodak Yellow’ to Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s ‘Despacito’ featuring Justin Bieber, here’s how the year’s undisupted chart smashes went down with our reviewers. Merry Christmas!

Cardi B – ‘Bodak Yellow’

Al Horner: Spoiler alert for the 2017 edition of the prestigious FACT annual “Best Rap Performance While Riding A Camel” end of year list: Cardi B is definitely the best person to have rapped on top of a camel in 2017. But ‘Bodak Yellow’ wasn’t just the biggest breakout rap song of the year because of its video, which I can only describe as Lawrence of Arabia for the fidget spinner generation. ‘Bodak…’– the name a clear tip of the hat to Kodak Black that somehow didn’t stop internet idiots complaining Cardi was jacking his flow – is the sort of thunderbolt that continues to jolt adrenaline through you from the first beat even 100 listens later. It rightly blew up and dominated rap radio and playlists as the year went on, meaning at this point, I feel like I know ‘Bodak Yellow’ line-for-line better than I know some of my closest friends and family (soz mum, please don’t make this awkward at Christmas dinner next week). That I’m still not tired of it speaks volumes for the city-sized charisma of an artist from whom, if her follow-up spot on Migos’ ‘MotorSport’ is anything to go by, ‘Bodak Yellow’ was just the beginning. (9)

Chal Ravens: I’ve managed to get through 2017 having heard ‘Bodak Yellow’ only twice – three times if you count just now. It’s so incredibly boring and turgid for the first minute or so, that when I first listened I was properly astonished – like, this is the track we’ve collectively picked to Make Cardi B Happen? But there’s a magic to dunder-headed repetition delivered with such relentless aggression and sass – and that’s true in any genre, by my book. When she finally relieves the tension with the burst of double-time flow it’s a light bulb moment: Okaaaay, she’s in total control of this. We could… Make Cardi B Happen. I wish Cardi all the best for 2018, because she is a star who has only just decided she wants to make music – and it’s really not the same job. (6)

Claire Lobenfeld: There was a whole of heft of newsworthy rap coming from the women of NYC in 2017 and that makes my heart swell. But the ascendency of Cardi B does a little for my jaded little soul. I just think she’s so cute and funny and full of so much personality that in the most eat-the-rich year of my adulthood, I can still rock with her when she raps, “I’m a boss / you’re a worker, bitch” because she just makes it so dang fun. That’s the thing about rap: so often you find yourself negating your own personal politics just because something jams. ‘Bodak Yellow’ is just one of those songs that is too fun that it makes you forget you feel any way about anything except for the adrenaline it gives you in that moment. The only thing really wrong with this is SoundCloud reject beat, but for my money, Cardi’s Uptown flow more than makes up for it shortcomings. (8)

April Clare Welsh: ‘Bodak Yellow’ has made rap history, bagged two Grammy nominations, kicked Princess Taylor off her throne and sounded the death knell for poptimism – let’s be honest, it’s the most important song of the year. Helmed by an ex-stripper turned super-savvy reality TV star, the low-key, cameo-free, male-free anthem smashed through mainstream rap’s glass ceiling with its autonomy in tact, paving the way for women in hip-hop to go forth and conquer. The fact that it’s an effortless slow-burner with nothing to prove makes it’s the least likely contender for any of the above – and that’s why the victory tastes even sweeter. (9)


Taylor Swift – ‘Look What You Made Me Do’

April Clare Welsh: I had hoped Taylor Swift’s massively misjudged meta experiment gone wrong could be the final nail in the coffin for her this year, but that was clearly wishful thinking. The worst thing about ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ isn’t the video’s gratuitous narcissism, the try-hard electroclash vibe, or the veiled attack on anyone and everyone who has dared to ever criticize her, but the fact that it interpolates one of the best songs of the ‘90s – ‘I’m Too Sexy’. I just want her to go away now please. (1)

Chal Ravens: Oh it’s been DELICIOUS to hear the tumbleweed rolling by where the highbrow Swifties once roamed, filling up my fucking timeline with their babble about their 21st century feminist icon. LOL! So this is a prog-pop showstopper stuffed with wink-wink lyrics about her “reputation,” in the tradition of some of the greatest pop tunes of all time (shout out Britney’s Blackout album, always) – but the lyrics and production are genuinely hilarious at points. What next for the poker-face princess? She’s blates gearing up for the stripped-down, make-up-free, back-to-country and “humbled” album. HILARIOUS. (1)

Al Horner: Here’s a list of things this song made me do when it dropped in August. First I recoiled: musically, this was clearly total fucking dross, and its “ooh, I’ve gone bad now guys!!!!” overtures, as I’ve noted in previous Singles Clubs, were straight out of Butters’ Professor Chaos school of laughably pathetic, clueless villain makeovers in South Park. Then, it kinda made me angry: the exceptionally petty score-settling and of it all reminded me too much of the man I turn to pop music to forget about (no wonder she’s been dogged by accusations of being the alt-right’s favourite pop star, accusations her lawyers have aggressively tried to stamp out while Taylor has remained troublingly silent on Trump and his supporters). Now? Now I just laugh. (3)

Claire Lobenfeld: When we rated this for Singles Club the first time in August, I gave it a very whiny 0 forgetting that what’s on Top 40 radio is some of the most soulless, drab pop I’ve ever heard in my life. So while people like Noah Cyrus and Bebe Rexha are flexing their lack of personality throughout Ubers around the world, Taylor Swift’s odd experiment ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ is at least somewhat interesting. I despise the little rap-y, the-world-moves-on-another-day-another-drama-drama bit (especially when she sets a brick of money on fire in the video! In 2017???) but she applies the teaches of Peaches pretty well here! Or maybe it’s having songs like ‘…Ready For It’ and ‘Gorgeous’ to compare ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ to just make this a much easier pill to swallow. (3)

Miles Bowe: No, look what YOU made me do Taylor. [Closes page forever, puts Cardi back on] (2)


Ed Sheeran – ‘Shape of You’

Al Horner: “I’m in love with the shape of you” is my favourite lyric about tfw you’re making eyes at someone in the club, but also you have glaucoma. Or maybe one of your contact lenses just fell out on the dancefloor. Either way, thank you, Ed Sheeran, for finally gracing pop with a much-needed tale of seduction from the perspective of someone with impaired vision. I find it literally impossible not to think of Buster Bluth, squinting sexily at the “brownish area with points” of his affections in Arrested Development when this song comes on the radio. So in a way, I should give this super high marks, for the (inadvertent) enjoyment it’s brought me over 2017, right? Hmmm, maybe if its beat wasn’t a gross appropriation of dembow. (4)

Chal Ravens: There’s only one other song in this selection that’s followed me around the world as doggedly as Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’, and you know what? I take my hat off to him. I really do. This will make me sound like a show-off twat so I do apologize, but I’ve travelled around a lot this year and I’m pretty sure that I heard this song on the radio in every single car I got in, in every country – Spain, California, Brazil, and always in London. It is the very meaning of ubiquitous: slowly appearing in the grain of life itself, a perpetual background beat that cemented the shift in the rhythmic dimensions of pop music and also helped clear the way for the other UNAVOIDABLE song of the year, with its pop-ified dembow rhythm and multilingual “oooh-aye I’m in love with your body” chorus (it’s absolutely NOT cynical to suggest that these simplistic choruses are written with international audiences in mind). Begrudgingly, it is a banger. What have I become. (6)

Miles Bowe: I honestly thought this was my first time listening to this song, but I’m not so sure now. Now that I’ve heard it, I’m reminded how Sheeran is never even memorably bad. I was really expecting to completely hate this song, but the truth is I already can’t remember what it sounds like. (3)

Claire Lobenfeld: Y’ALL ARE HATERS, or maybe I have Stockholm syndrome from hearing this song a few thousand times this year – who can be sure? But what is really wrong with it? Is it that Ed Sheeran, who everyone thinks is uncool, performs it? If Justin Bieber recorded this, it would be big hot shit to people who believe they have more discerning taste. It is, after all, just truly middling “tropical house” (still not a real thing) about courtship, so I’m pretty sure the people who oppose this extraordinarily popular song only dislike it because of Ed Sheeran’s voice and not too much else. (4)

April Clare Welsh: My weed dealer loves Ed Sheeran. Your gran loves Ed Sheeran. Your little brother loves Ed Sheeran. Everybody loves Ed Sheeran! As national treasures go, at least he’s smiley and nice and does good things, but the astounding popularity of this tropical pop-lite abomination spread and mutated like a disease this year and I don’t even think there’s an antidote. (1)


Luis Fonsi feat. Daddy Yankee – ‘Despacito’ (Justin Bieber remix)

Al Horner: “You don’t need to go to church to be a Christian,” Justin Bieber said of his religious beliefs a few years ago. “If you go to Taco Bell, that doesn’t make you a taco.” Naturally, ever since, I’ve been waiting for further insights into the pop star’s deep affinity for and understanding of the Latino community and its culture. Finally in the year of our lord 2017, we got Biebs singing in Spanish on a track that really didn’t need his presence: the original, released in January, was ludicrously huge long before JB’s “remix”, and indeed it’s the Bieber-less version that broke all manner of records, including becoming the first video on YouTube to surpass 4bn views. But anyways. ‘Despacito’ is a good song and arrived in a good year for Spanish-language music, on which this weird enormity of this Thom Yorke ‘Gasolina’ meme was an odd, endearing footnote. Bieber, whose year was curiously quiet, is also good, though I think we all could have done without the sorry episode where he forgot the lyrics in a live performance and started rambling nonsense about burritos. (6)

Chal Ravens: I could talk about ‘Despacito’ for about four days straight, but let’s play it again, why not. Even more than Sheeran, this song has tailed me everywhere this year. But it’s not just the song – which I heard in every taxi, every store, blaring from passing cars – the tune also appeared in countless reproductions: I heard Romanian buskers on the Tube play it on accordion and hand drum, to their own folk rhythm. I heard it in ringtones. I heard it bastardized into copyright-free versions playing under adverts. Its total domination reflects an increasingly joined-up global audience for pop – and it was a huge hit before Bieber decided to borrow some of its shine and tweak it into a cross-cultural mega-hit. Essentially, it’s a great tune – instantly memorable, tightly produced, but also full of interesting details, like the extra melodies in the finger-picked guitar and background chorus. There’s so much more to say on it, and no one says it better than the dembow don Wayne Marshall, but it’s clear that we have lived through Two Thousand And Sevencito. (8)

Claire Lobenfeld: ‘Despacito’ is the first song sung primarily in Spanish to hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in over 20 years, since the f’ing ‘Macarena’, and it is only because of the presence of Justin Bieber. You know what makes this song not so good? The presence of Justin Bieber. Like, the Biebz does not make this song somehow better than ‘Gasolina’ or ‘Danza Kuduro’ or ‘Bailando’ or anything Romeo Santos has done between now (*heart-eyes emoji* ‘Bella y Sensual’) and ‘Eres Mía’. It is genuinely maddening that some of the best and most beloved pop musicians are under-heralded in the US because they do not sing in English. It’s dumb! Destroy all borders 2018! This song still gets 5 from me for Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee though, dame mas Latin pop. (5)

April Clare Welsh: ‘Despacito’ isn’t better than ‘Macarena’ but it is still an absolute scorcher. However, it goes deeper than a summer smash imo. Yes, the song is particularly lush – a reggaeton-pop soup of beachy new age samples, heartswelling cuatro, cumbia-inspired melodies and steamy lyrics – but perhaps more significant is the track’s political statement-making. It is, arguably, 2017’s accidental protest song – a mainstream Spanish-language blockbuster released in the same year as Trump’s repeated attacks on the Latino community. OK, so it’s a quiet victory, but the fact that the most streamed song of all-time isn’t sung primarily in English is testament to the power of music to dissolve borders like nothing else. (8)

Miles Bowe: ‘Despacito’ is like the perfect party. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’re feeling, this crowd will put a smile on your face and forget what you left at the door. Even when that dude you think kind of sucks shows up later, you can’t help but have a good time. (8)


Post Malone feat. 21 Savage – ‘Rockstar’

Claire Lobenfeld: If this isn’t quite the worst song I’ve heard in my whole 32 years of living, then it is definitely the worst song of the year. One of the most essential things in songwriting is to have a point of view and this song is just boastful platitudes about nothing. Post Malone recently told a Polish news outlet that if you want to hear “real shit” don’t listen to rap music: “There’s great hip-hop songs where they talk about life and they spit that real shit, but right now, there’s not a lot of people talking about real shit.” Sure, a lot of what gets played on the radio right now is a lot of bluster and filler hinging on some of the dumbest PMRC-era stereotypes about rap’s penchant for partying and materialism, but his statement completely disregards rappers like Vince Staples, Tyler, the Creator, Lizzo, Kendrick Lamar, Kamaiyah, Run the Jewels, Rapsody, NoName and, shoot, even Jay-Z who have stories to tell and stuff to say and are adored for saying it. Not to mention Lil Peep, whose recent tragic death seems to have culminated from self-medicating, as evidenced by the tenor of his lyrics and outlook. That’s real shit, Post Malone. In that same interview, Post said, “Whenever I’m trying to have a good time and stay in a positive mood, I listen to hip-hop. Because it’s fun. I think hip-hop is important because it brings people together in a beautiful, happy way.” OK, so what about ‘rockstar’ is fun? Even ‘White Iverson’ and ‘Congratulations’ have sense of tunefulness that is a little bit more engaging this molasses-mouthed ode to, I don’t know, smoking a lot of weed? Cool story, bro. (1)

Al Horner: I refuse to review Post Malone, because he is very clearly Shia LaHoweverYouSpellHisLastName in method acting preperation mode for a movie role about a rapper who seems to hate rap, and the American community who invented rap (in a radio interview last year, he said he’d perform at Trump’s inauguration for the right amount of money). But BLRGHGHH okay alright then, in the spirit of Christmas, time of forgiveness and that, I shall review anyways. For a start, I wish it was a 21 Savage track featuring Malone rather than the other way round. And in the grand scheme of rappers who have the actual magnetism and aura of excess that we once attributed to rockstars, Malone is no, say, Lil Uzi. But it’s hard to hate ‘Rockstar’, isn’t it? Shia, you did alright. (5)

April Clare Welsh: The Shia Lawhatshisface hadn’t even occurred to me but now that I’ve twigged, I can’t listen to this song without thinking of this video. That aside, until last week I actually thought Post Malone was a joke. (1)

Chal Ravens: I never got round to listening to this. I really, really like 21 Savage, and it seems to me that this track is a tribute to his downbeat vibe but tricked out for a pop audience – his blanked-out, opioid-smoothed misery is polished up into snackable emo-pop. Not really into it – if you’re gonna dabble in bleak, just go all the way bleak. (5)

Miles Bowe: The music video was cool. I will give them some points for that. (4)


Future – ‘Mask Off’

April Clare Welsh: Let’s face it, the biggest star of 2017 was basically the flute. This year, the divisive instrument was given a hot-to-trot makeover by everyone from Future, A$AP Mob and DRAM to Björk that helped it wrack up the cool points after years of languishing in your primary school-era rucksack. Personally, I’ve always bloody loved a jazz-inspired flute sample in hip-hop, but Future’s juxtaposition of floaty hook with drug-addled bars about percocets and molly make this a total game-changer. Also, thank you for the memes. (8)

Al Horner: The ghost of Christmas Future! ‘Mask Off’ is so good, it cannot be diluted in any way: which is why whenever the Kendrick remix drops on a playlist or radio station I’m listening to, I immediately reach for the immaculacy of the original. I’m not sure there’s been a single song more immediately energizing than ‘Mask Off’ this year. Gets a bonus point bumping it up to perfect marks because some guy I went to school commented on a Facebook post about the song that appeared in my feed, asking in earnest who Molly Percocet is. One million percent one of my top moments of 2017. (10)

Miles Bowe: Tucked deep inside the gilded-chaos of Future’s self-titled opus, the rapper hasn’t given us an eye-of-the-storm moment like this since ‘The Stripper and Percocet Joint’ on DS2. The memes, the Kendrick remix, the instantly unforgettable flute hook all gave this song a life of its own throughout 2017, but at the center of it is Future. He sounds completely in control assessing and celebrating the damage around him, making it the culmination of Future’s lost weekend and the bridge towards Hendrxx’s redemption. (9)

Claire Lobenfeld: People I’ve had to explain to that, yes, that song on the radio that sounds like it’s about Percocet is, indeed, about Percocet: my boyfriend, my therapist, a cast member of the HBO show Insecure. That was all kind of fun and cool, but aside from the flute line, this has nothing on the HNDRXX singles. (6)

Chal Ravens: As much as 2017 was the year of reggaeton domination, it was also a big year for flutes. And since the flute-packed Björk album turned out to be totally overlong and boring, the flute track of the year must be owned by Future. He’s had a banging year regardless, with that double-drop of albums – both incredible – but for me it was the darker FUTURE that went on repeat for days. This is still a perfect tune. Don’t take Percocet, kids. (7)


The Chainsmokers & Coldplay – ‘Something Just Like This’

Al Horner: Name a less iconic duo, I’ll wait. (2)

Miles Bowe: ACTUAL chainsmokers can LITERALLY give you cancer and they are still not as bad as this. (1)

April Clare Welsh: Somebody needs to tell The Chainsmokers that we’ve all moved onto vaping now. (1)

Chal Ravens: I haven’t heard this before. Coldplay are so bait now! Imagine the guy who wrote ‘Parachutes’ thinking about teaming up with a sort-of-fake electro-pop duo who got famous on a novelty song about selfies. Too much Goop will turn you mad. I can’t really think of much to say about this playlist filler – the chorus is a bland approximation of an anthemic arm-raiser, and the lyrics mean less than nothing: “I’ve been reading books of old, the legends and the myths / The testaments were told, the moon and its eclipse.” Wat. It would be unfair to encourage this sort of cynically engineered product with anything more than a one out of 10. (1)

Claire Lobenfeld: I can no longer count the number of times my ears and brain have consciously uncoupled when this song has come on the radio. Listen, I’m not completely hard on Coldplay; ‘Sparks’ is kinda nice, no? It’s at least got a really romantic bass line that reminds you of talking about your crushes with your girlfriends in high school? Just me? Whatever. I’m at least glad I didn’t have to grow up with adult contemporary EDM like and the rest of The Chainsmokers’ hashtag-yolo nonsense that I wish would be punishable. (1)


Final scores:
Cardi B – ‘Bodak Yellow’ (8)
Future – ‘Mask Off’ (8)
Luis Fonsi feat. Daddy Yankee – ‘Despacito’ (7)
Ed Sheeran – ‘Shape of You’ (3.6)
Post Malone feat. 21 Savage – ‘Rockstar’ (3.2)
Taylor Swift – ‘Look What You Made Me Do’ (2)
The Chainsmokers & Coldplay – ‘Something Just Like This’ (1.2)



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