Countdown to 2024: The Best Songs of 2023
The best songs can crystallize an entire era in just a handful of minutes. They capture a feeling, mood, or emotion — and connect the listener to a particular time and place, as all great art does.
We’re closing out 2023 with a list of our top songs of the year. These are the ones that will stick with us and remind us of the year we had. We chose from a range of genres and artists, so you can find the top songs of 2023 for the music you love. So, in order of release date:
“Kill Bill” by SZA
The charm in SZA
's “Kill Bill” is the contrast between the dark, violent lyrics — telling of the murder of an ex and his new girlfriend — and the sweet melody that reminds us of a lullaby. SZA’s voice captures the tension inherent in the story, with a flute adding the perfect touch to the bass-and-drums rhythm. “I might kill my ex; I still love him though / Rather be in jail than alone,” she sings with a wink as that sugar-coated melody leads on. The song was nominated for a Grammy Award for both Record of the Year and Song of the Year and spent two weeks at the top of Billboard’s Global 200 streaming charts as well as 21 weeks at number one on the Hot 100 singles chart.
“Flowers” by Miley Cyrus
This ode to self-care in the wake of a break-up starts off with Miley Cyrus recalling how she “started to cry,” leading us to think this is another heartbreak song. A sly bass line sneaks in along with a disco beat, and the mood brightens as the singer cements, “I can buy myself flowers, write my name in the sand.” The song turns into a celebration of singlehood as the beat picks up — and Cyrus sings with more and more force as she realizes she’s better off alone. “I can love me better than you can,” she sings. We never get a sense of her former partner and how it went wrong, so the song seems directed at romance in general. As the saying goes, you need to love yourself for someone to love you. Cyrus no doubt agrees.
$20″ by boygenius
Guitars and drums kick right in to start this indie rocker before boygenius‘s Julien Baker sings, “It’s a bad idea, and I’m all about it.” We’re not sure what “it” is at this point, but it’s the attitude that matters here. Indeed, with its staccato distorted guitar chords and deceptively simple drums, the song recalls early female alt-rockers like Veruca Salt and The Breeders. While the wistful tones of “Not Strong Enough” are affecting, this one brings more energy and force, while still offering lines like, “It’s an all-night drive / From your house to Reno / To the T-bird graveyard where we play with fire / In another life, we were arsonists.”
“Sculptures of Anything Goes” by Arctic Monkeys
Ominous chords join a steady beat before Arctic Monkeys lead singer Alex Turner’s engaging, versatile vocal tones chime in with the question, “How am I supposed to manage my infallible beliefs? / While I’m sockin’ it to ya.” The understated humor lightens the mood, while the brooding backing music adds tension and intensity. Nominated for the Best Rock Performance Grammy Award at the 2024 ceremony, the song sounds almost akin to a classic James Bond theme song, with rich production values, enigmatic lyrics, and a luscious melody. Let’s hope any explosions are reserved for the movies.
“Eat Your Young” by Hozier
Opening with an insistent beat and bass joined by a falsetto with a bluesy cry, Hozier‘s soulful vocals pour on top with an intriguing line: “I’m starvin’, darlin’, let me put my lips to somethin’ / Let me wrap my teeth around the world.” It’s an interesting image, suggesting ambition alongside hunger. The lyrics here are thoughtful, while the music itself never tires or wanes, changing up its main chorus with variations in pace and orchestration. His biggest hit since his breakthrough with “Take Me to Church” nearly ten years ago, topping the US Adult Alternative charts, “Eat Your Young” will be just as hard to get out of your head as his earlier success was.
“Dance the Night” by Dua Lipa
As the theme song for the summer’s biggest movie, “Barbie,” this feel-good disco jewel lets British-Albanian singer Dua Lipa‘s voice sparkle right alongside its funky bass line and irresistible beat. She avoids any breathy wispiness, instead singing with a smooth, weighty timbre that gives the notes extra force. The production is top-notch, with crisp, shimmering instrumentation that perfectly complements Lipa’s singing. The lyrics provide rhythmic poetry, a vehicle for Lipa’s voice. It’s exactly what you want as a dance-floor instant classic and party song for the summer and beyond.
“Scientists & Engineers” by Killer Mike ft. Future, André 3000, Eryn Allen Kane
A simple harmonic progression provides the backdrop from Killer Mike’s machine-gun raps on the lead single from his album, Michael, before R&B-style backup vocals rise up, joined by a subdued beat and an unobtrusive, jazzy guitar line. The music creates an almost gospel feel, the perfect backdrop while KM brings in guests Future, André 3000, and Eryn Allen Kane to spit some truth: “I used to be dope with the dealin’ / But that got a ceilin’, and we know the usual endin’.” The song recounts Killer Mike’s progress from the streets to the high life told with style and craft.
“Lwonesome Tonight” by PJ Harvey
An acoustic guitar riff canters alongside a gentle backbeat, providing the backdrop for PJ Harvey’s intriguing lyrics to take center stage. The song tells of a romantic picnic in a forest, only for the narrator’s partner to have left. Lines like, “Thrice she draws her lips to kiss / Mouthing for his mouth in vain” display a craft that gives power and force to the imagery, and sharpens the ache of the song’s final plea: “Thrice her lonesome kisses miss / My love, will you come back again?” What sets the song apart are the allusions and references to Elvis Presley, from the song’s title (an echo of Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”) to the description of banana and peanut butter sandwiches (the King’s well-known favorite) to the question posed to her paramour: “Are you Elvis? Are you God?” The allusions lend another layer to the song, giving it added mystery.
“In Your Love” by Tyler Childers
A song of pure devotion, Tyler Childers’ “In Your Love” opens with some delicate piano before the singer joins in with the simple statement, “I will wait for you / ‘Til the sun turns into ashes.” We’re never told what he’s waiting for, but it never matters, either. There’s no hedging in his love, there’s no ironic double meaning. Childers sings with honesty and without any guile, so we believe lines like, “We were just meant to go long enough / To find what we were chasin’ after / I believe I found it here in your love.” This one will be heard as a staple of weddings and proms for years to come.
“Pepper” by Flowdan, Lil Baby, Skrillex
This collab among English-Jamaican MC Flowdan and American rapper Lil Baby and DJ Skrillex brings something fresh to hip-hop, with the techno stylings of Skrillex blending nicely with Flowdan’s deep intonations and island patois and Lil Baby’s raspier, Southern-tinged flow. Skrillex opens the production with a haunting, ethereal four-note refrain before Flowdan enters, his raps sounding like a Jamaican Darth Vader, before Lil Baby joins in and the beat picks up, insistent and unrelenting. The rappers then take turns as Skrillex goes to work, and the result sounds like the hip-hop of the 22nd century.