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Top pop of 2022

By Lucy Fitzgerald

Lucy provides a mini-dissertation, dissecting the best pop music of the year.

When Kesha said “I just accepted that I’m kind of a cheesy bitch that loves pop music, and I’m not going to hide!”, I felt that. I cannot enlighten you about niche underground sounds; I am a pop girlie through and through. (My Spotify Wrapped will attest I beat the eclectic-taste allegations every year.) But Pop is productive. Pop is the number one numbing agent to life’s pain: its sunny melodies urge you to be more carefree and playful, and when it presents more depressive undertones, it gives emotional insight. Personally, in my formative years, pop functioned as a vital tool in connecting me to my femininity (shout out the holy trinity: Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé). Pop dials a number in the pursuit of dance and I pick up everytime! Pop digs for happiness more than any other genre and I will never stop enjoying the joyous shine of the gold it excavates. And so I’m going to rhapsodise about it some more! Below I present a selection of what I consider the best pop output of the last 12 months. Let’s go:

  1. CUFF IT by Beyoncé

Abundance. Catharsis. Infectious jubilation. If Beyoncé was gliding on a roller rink in CUFF IT’s younger cousin Blow, then she is now levitating across an unbounded Rainbow Road, entering a new, kaleidoscopic realm of release. Urging everyone to clock in for their utilitarian shift to have a good time, she guarantees that you too can achieve divine transcendence (“Bet you elevate / bet you meet God”). There is beautiful intention in the repeated “we”: this is a united abandon, we’re letting go and getting lost together, and there is a plentiful supply of ecstasy to go around! Offering total stimulation, the track feels like you’re playing all the games in the arcade at once. The successive stabs of “Come and cuff it, cuff it, cuff it, cuff it, baby / While I buss it, buss it, buss it, for you baby” are beyond life-affirming, and in its ethereal outro I imagine I’m airborne in an arabesque, stroking the clouds. In the world of Renaissance disco is God and the club, a heavenly refuge; Taylor Swift you know nothing of mirrorballs!

  1. HEATED by Beyoncé

This is an all encompassing afrobeat tune from the superlative album of the year, with an incandescent outro that has the power to mobilise a nation. With its double-dutch rope jumping rhythm, it is the single most energising sequence of music I think I’ve ever heard. HEATED has propelling, elemental force: the sound of “Tip, Tip, Tip // Ten, Ten, Tens” disrupts like fissures opening up the grand canyon and “Yadda, yadda, yah, yadda, yadda, yah, yah / Yadda, yadda, yadda, bom, bom, ka, ka slices like garden shears fashioning geometric topiary. In 2011 Beyoncé delivered an unprecedented progression of register in Love on Top when she climbed infinite ladder rungs of pitch, and as a listener your senses ascend in a similar way here as her relentless onomatopoeic phrasing outdoes every image and sound that came before. Her mastery of musical accents on “Dimples on my HIPS, stretch marks on my TITS! // Monday, I’m overrated, Tuesday, on my DICK!”  land like the emphatic slashes of Zorro/Puss in Boots’ sword marking his initial on a tree. 

Still, amongst this sonic buffet, Beyoncé never loses narrative pull – this is a song about defiantly asserting your own self-worth and not letting anyone mess that up; she serenely conveys that “only the radio could play me”

  1. Out of Time by The Weeknd

Pop’s resident toxic Romeo: he’ll serenade you on the balcony but not before listing his fetishistic demands. The Weeknd appears to have turned a corner here though; this track suggests an effort has been made to try and understand women’s agency (lol).

Out of Time is a truly stunning, soul-stirring ode to regret that cements a painfully simple epiphany: he’s too late to love her. He’s admitted his shortcomings and committed to reform, but his efforts are redundant, with temporality now merciless to his adoration (this is perhaps a trite concept in art but he manages to make it feel new, as his repentance twinkles in lush synths and dazzling glissandos). Left contending with a life sentence of longing, only Abel can make misery sound so sweet. 

  1. New Shapes by Charli XCX ft Christine and the Queens and Caroline Polachek

A worthy successor to Gone: its booming, declarative “WHAT YOU WANT? I AIN’T GO IT” plays like flood lights illuminating a stadium pitch from darkness. In synesthetic terms, New Shapes would be received as glorious fauvism colouring. 

In distinct verses, the girls revel in breaking free from stasis: when Christine leans into a long note it soothes like a rowing oar caressing a channel of water, and contrasts her sharp isolation-dance tendencies; Caroline’s spacey, spectral, Joni Mitchell vocals undulate like diaphanous chiffon rippling in a gentle wind; and Charli grounds everything with her reliable cool girl sensibilities. The three-nomer strike of “Charli. Caroline. Chris.” offers a new entry into the musical canon of emphatically making known you are in the presence of a a triumvirate of powerful women, see Nicki Minaj in Bang Bang announcing: “It’s Me, Jessie and Ari ”and of course Destiny’s Child in Independent Women Part I paging “Lucy Lui, with my girl Drew, Cameron D.”

  1. La Fama by Rosalía ft The Weeknd

La Fama joins the hall of fame of the supremely sexy tunes that play like seductive ghosts, alongside Haunted by Beyoncé and Buttons by The Pussycat Dolls. The push-and-pull bachata here has the feel of an enchantress chassé-ing towards you, hell bent on hypnosis. Rosalía’s vocals wind around the melody with serpentine threat, like icing cascading from a piping pen decorating a cake, icing laced with arsenic that is. Its cinematic music video sees her instruct a cautionary tale about fame and an equally treacherous femme fatale …

  1. CHICKEN TERIYAKI by Rosalía

A cheery 4/4 time signature makes you feel like you’re receiving a high five from every passerby as you skip down the street in this pulsating, compact burst of reggaeton charm. “Rosaaaaaa’ sin tarjetaaaaaa / Se las mandoooooo a tu gataaaaa”: Rosalía’s vocals are stretched and then clipped, like a sweet being dangled in front of you and retracted at the last second – and you enjoy such taunting. Its music video only serves to enhance the song’s magnetism: the camera whips around, trying to keep up in a rehearsal studio where full-bodied choreo is a go and pleaser heels are astonishingly rooted on scooters. A philistine might dismiss its cute routine at the chorus as a TikTok-type dance, but no, these are moves for battle! CHICKEN TERIYAKI is a juicy cherry from the Knickerbocker Glory album of MOTOMAMI


Like you’ve just received Holy Communion at midnight mass and, instead of returning to your pew, you’ve strutted straight down the aisle, out the door and into a taxi, this song evokes “church at 12, club at 1”. Her rendition of a classic Cuban bolero is augmented by “Man, it’s ridiculous, I got you so delirious / Kiss me through the phone, While I lick you just like licorice. As the track delicately spirals from her sweeping flamenco pipes into this inspired Soulja Boy sample, Rosalía demonstrates rigorous and exact execution. 

  1. Crash by Charli XCX

I don’t know if I’ll be coming back to life again (uh) / All or nothing, burn in Hell or go up Heaven sent, yeah (uh) / Wheels up on the curb side, put it in speed drive / I’m about to crash, I’m about to crash. Delighted in danger, Charli’s character revs her engine for one last sick thrill. In a state of total nonchalance, the only person fretting is the guitar soloist. She doesn’t have time to think about legacy, she’s going out in style, baby! The sparse drum present in the verses steadies you before the almighty impact of the chorus’ collision. As heady-sounding vocals stipulate a plan to “end it all so legendary”, with tar marks on her Louboutins, Charli chooses suicide by slay. 

  1. Yuck by Charli XCX

I can’t make those plans, come catch me if you can” – you’ve got to get on her level dude! She’s not the goey type. She rejects sentimentality. She is actively offended at your softness. “Yuck, that boy’s so mushy / sending me flowers, I’m just tryna get lucky!agitated by sincerity, Charli’s character warns against the importance of being earnest (a commensurate contempt can only be found in fellow hard-to-please queen Sharpay Evans, what with her high threshold for what constitutes Fabulous). Giving musical face to the ick, I just know that The White Lotus’ Portia had Yuck on full blast after her first date with Albie. 

  1. Lightning by Charli XCX

Developing from the distorted reverb of its tentative first verse, to a raucous chorus, Lightning feels like you have emerged from a foggy woodland and discovered a luminous industrial rave. To my ear its production sounds like bricolage percussion, like they were using available tools from a construction site (in a good way! Charli boldly asked: what if clanging machinery slayed?). “You struck me down like lightning, lightning / My stupid heart can’t fight it, fight it electrified by love, Zeus’ bolt has destabilised her and now she’s head over heels. Signing off, Charli employs her knowing tone, present throughout the Crash album, in the clear directive “So tell me what you want and I’ma give it to you”.

  1. Hot Girl by Charli XCX

It’s self explanatory, really: her currency is being hot and she enjoys banking it.  Zippy, asset-flaunting, and bubble gum-popping, never has a song had such a strong fancam sensibility. In Charli’s dolly and ditzy facade, she relishes in materialism (“Rodeo Drive is where I like to shop (ha) / And I can race you there in my Bentley truck (vroom-vroom”) and smalls to a deliciously intimidating whisper “Who the fuck are you girl?You just wanna be me”. This isn’t one night of confidence, this is a lifestyle. And she never said she was virtuous! She’s here to have a good time. 

Choosing nursery rhyme cadence and child-choir ring to sing “cos I’m really hot! Dancing in Stilettos on the table tops” and following it by flirting with drug lord Scarface himself: “I’m Tony I’m cutting the line (hi tony!)” is simply iconic. As the soundtrack for Bodies, Bodies, Bodies (2022), Hot Girl would be the DJ’s rallying anthem at an A24 girls-and-gays alumni event, with the Spring Breakers and Bling Ring squads descending upon the dancefloor to obnoxiously throw gun fingers to the lines “Pull up to the mansion, but you are not invited / Lip gloss on, and I look good”. This song is for the girl who dances provocatively in front of CCTV cameras and has coke in her acrylics; raised on Bratz nots Barbie, her slut drop is weighted by an ankle monitor. 

  1. Symphony by Maggie Rogers

My favourite edgy pop chick mixes a rocky bass, reluctant drum and piercing keyboard in this quietly volatile track. With Symphony’s instrumentation spiky and sprawling vocals hymn-like, this is what I call great tunnel music. I am content as its plaintive moodiness washes over me as I sit and ruminate in the dark liminal space. With Symphony you can self-therapize in transit. As you re-emerge from the underground its humming outro helps your senses gently readjust and the steady rallentando beckons you back into the real world, ready to face the music.

  1. Here we go … Again by The Weeknd ft. Tyler The Creator

Atmospheric and textured, Here we go … Again conjures the vibe of standing on a rooftop overlooking glittering skyscrapers at dusk. The Weeknd lends us his current perspective. It’s a check in: he is measuring his professional success (“Catalogue looking legendary”) and romantic conquests (petty to his former lover “But you ended up with someone so basic, faceless” as he gloats about his new Mrs Smith flamecause baby girl, she’s a moviestaaaaar”). He’s embracing a new lease on life, but sparing in his optimism as he knows too well the cyclical highs and lows of finding all consuming love in the doomed City of Angels. From the brooding and beguiling Dawn FM, this is an at once dreamy and macabre highlight.

  1. There’d Better Be A Mirrorball by Arctic Monkeys

At their best when pensive (think Cornerstone), Arctic Monkeys open this baroque pop number with an almost comical edict: Don’t get emotional”. Aye Alex, very good. Turner’s lyrics have a history of devastating. In curious pursuit, he rips apart niceties and poetically articulates his love of a woman like no other straight man in the industry, as vulnerability, quirks and frustrations are explored with understanding and humour. The reliably confounding flowery imagery is always a treat; as a listener you still get to swim in interpretive pools years after your first listen. 

With syrupy enunciation and expansive strings, There’d Better Be A Mirrorball taps into jaggy sensitivities, as long term lovers approach a difficult juncture of separation. The suaveness of the band’s recent lounge-act aura works to make the song’s inherent sadness a little lighter, but deep sorrow cannot help but weigh on Turner’s falsetto. No longer able to feign stoicism as he pleads “can we please be absolutely sure”, melancholy metastasises as he swirls the remaining ice cube in his tumbler. 

  1. Lavender Haze by Taylor Swift

Glamour and moodiness govern Lavender Haze as Taylor debunks marriage rumours with acidity. A sultry motor drives the track; indeed, the entire Midnights album has a grown-up confidence, a maturity that has only previously been teased in previous songs such as: Call It What You Want, Dress, and Style (her magnum opus!). The song title’s secondary meaning – a strain of weed – is fitting, as the song projects the ambience of a smoky private member’s club, one in which desire is voiced from the comfort of velvet chaise lounges. As Jack Antonoff compliments the song’s sensual energy with punchy electronic drums, Swift all but arches her back in those panting refrains (lol).

And my final entry, Jack Harlow’s — just kidding.


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