Oh, 2015: When it comes to music, you’ve made sure that there are a few songs we’ll never forget. Adele returned to prove that she’s still the Queen of Your Emotions; Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato tag-teamed to bring us a new wave of self-care pop; Drake continued to slowly evolve into his meme final form. In celebration of not just a fantastic, but memorable year in music, here are the songs that’ve defined our 2015 (and yes, we’ve built you a handy playlist to jam out immediately after reading):
Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars — “Uptown Funk”
It’s hard to remember anything that happened more than like, a week ago, but in the beginning of 2015, “Uptown Funk” was the song that would not die. How many people made parodies of it? How many people blasted it from their cars, their speakers, their headphones? How many of the lyrics can you still remember? The answer is likely all of them. Don’t believe me? Just watch.
Fetty Wap — “Trap Queen”
Okay, so this song properly came out in 2014, but let’s not pretend that this somehow disqualifies “Trap Queen” as one of the best songs of any genre in 2015. Yeah, its subject material is dicey, but in a musical climate that continues to celebrate male artists who slight, disdain, or downright threaten independent women, Fetty’s tribute to a down-ass chick is revelatory.
Cam — “Burning House”
Country music is full of songs about angry breakups, but Cam’s “Burning House” isn’t the literally barn-burning song you might expect it to be. Instead, it’s more meditative than murderous, and in paring back on the theatrics, it goes straight from anger to acceptance — and is arguably a million times sadder, but also cathartic, as a result.
Alessia Cara — “Here”
When this song first dropped, it had that immediate head-turning effect: Who is this new voice, and what is this song with the Portishead sample (itself a sample)? Cara’s introvert perspective and dry delivery made “Here” a sleeper hit and Cara a rising star in the pop world.
Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé — “Feeling Myself”
This isn’t the only self-love (wink) anthem on the list, and for good measure. 2015 was the year that more and more female public figures started talking about sexual pleasure and desire as not just things to do with the bedroom door closed, but as jumping points for larger conversations about sexuality. That it’s taken so long is its own issue, but “Feeling Myself’s” hit status (predicated on its amazing video) suggests that long-term change is coming. (Wink.)
Janet Jackson — “No Sleeep”
Bow to the queen: Janet could’ve returned in a flurry of sound and motion, but instead she came back with quiet storm R&B. This lowkey jam is perfect on its own; the “official” version with a J. Cole verse dulls its shine a bit (something that’ll come up later), but can’t take away from its instant classic status.
The Chainsmokers and Rozes — “Roses”
The Chainsmokers made a splash last year with their song “#SELFIE,” but 2015 was a year of real musical growth for the group. “Roses” is the stand-out single off of their new EP Bouquet, and its slow creep up the charts means it’s likely to break even bigger next year. Get on board now.
Selena Gomez — “Good For You”
A pet peeve I have is when a male rapper jumps onto a female pop song and instantly switches on his own POV; for that reason, I’m choosing to pretend that “Good For You” doesn’t have a line about A$AP Rocky talking about his John Hancock. (In fact, there’s a verse-less video of the song on YouTube.) But the song itself? A shivery slice of pop reinvention.
Demi Lovato — “Cool for the Summer”
Speaking of pop reinvention! It’s impossible to discuss Gomez’s transformation without mentioning Lovato’s similarly dramatic summer smash. “Cool” is sooo extra in its sentiment, but with the help of a guitar riff that hooks into your ear like a barbell, it was the perfect actual JAM jam for the summer and otherwise.
Kendrick Lamar — “Alright”
Though Lamar is far from a pop rapper, “Alright” is the mainstream hit off of his sophomore album To Pimp a Butterfly, and for all the right reasons. It’s a protest song, but one slanted toward optimism, fitting right in both with 2015’s generally poptimist spirit and the year’s activist movements (particularly within and for black protesters).
Carly Rae Jepsen — “Run Away With Me”
Jepsen’s pop desires are on the purer side, and perhaps that’s why the album itself has gotten so little commercial love, despite listeners’ assertions that they want this kind of music. And man, are people missing out: “Run Away With Me” is the natural follow-up and answer to “Call Me Maybe,” sentiment without strings.
Drake — “Hotline Bling”
Drake’s had an interesting year, starting with a surprise mixtape, a rap world beef, and then this: A one-off flip of another song that became its own phenomenon. Can anyone ever wear a giant turtleneck and shimmy-dance again without a “Bling” comparison? No, and despite releasing much “harder” music, it’s Drake’s conscious reversal into his softer, pettier image that got him thiiiis close to #1 on the charts.
Hailee Steinfeld — “Love Myself”
Look, could anyone have predicted Steinfeld’s move from Oscar-nominated child actress to pop performer? No, but the song’s self-love ethos is in line with what’s going on in pop culture across all mediums. “Love Myself” is alright, but it’s scarily catchy and did well enough for Steinfeld to justify her career switch.
Justin Bieber — “Sorry”
As our features editor Margaret Eby puts it, “I was not a Belieber, but now I Beliebe. And it’s partially in thanks to his new album Purpose, which distills the essence of Bieber into ‘dance-y dolphin sounds’ mixed with ‘vague relationship angst.’ The other part is thanks to the video for this song, which is excellent, and which made me want to run out and invest heavily in patterned crop tops.”
Justin Bieber — “Love Yourself”
Yes, Justin Bieber gets two songs here, and he could have more, but this isn’t a Justin Bieber playlist. (That said, he did reeeeally well in 2015.) “Love Yourself” is a change even from his year of change, and features one of the most memorable lyrics of the year: “My mama don’t like you and she likes everyone.”
One Direction — “Perfect”
For their final release of the time being, One Direction kept true to their “the girl comes first” formula. “Perfect” is perhaps the perfect distillation of their message, and it’s ridiculously refreshing for the female listener to basically be handed the reins to a song.
Missy Elliott and Pharrell Willians — “WTF (Where They From)”
Like Janet, Missy Elliott came back this year, but in her case, instead of stripping back, she went all-out: The song’s video was the ur-Missy treatment, and it. was. everything. We didn’t know how much we missed you until you came back, Missy. (That’s a lie, we’d missed you before and your return only solidified that.)
Adele — “Hello”
Every time Adele releases an album, Kleenex sales go up by 500%. Well, that might not be true, but despite telling everybody that the album was more about her relationship with herself than any romantic relationship, Adele’s songs are and will always be perfect places for listeners to project their ex (and otherwise) regrets. That she released 25 so soon to that end-of-year reflective period, and that “Hello” would wreck you no matter how you might actually be feeling, aren’t mistakes, and serve as a clear cap to 2015. We can’t wait to see what makes moves in music next year.
Listen to all the songs (except “Hello,” alas; put it on after this plays through) below:
Images via RCA/Tumblr, RGF/Tumblr, Arita Nashville, Def Jam/Tumblr, Young Money/Tumblr, Rhythm Nation, Disruptor, Interscope/Tumblr, Republic/Tumblr, Top Dawg/Tumblr, Interscope/Giphy, Cash Money/Giphy, Republic/Giphy, Def Jam/Giphy, Def Jam, Columbia/Giphy, Atlantic/Giphy, and XL Recording/Tumblr.