Inflation. Drought. Long COVID. Six months in, 2022 appears eager to match the chaos of the last few years of the decade. Yet as always great songs have helped get us through — some old (Kate Bush’s resurrected “Running Up That Hill”), some brand-new (Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul,” which dropped just this week). We’ve seen hip-hop giants jump back into action and daring new acts connect with fans on TikTok. And the full-fledged return of live music seems only to have spurred appetites for the recorded variety.
Here, in alphabetical order, are our staff picks for the best songs of the year so far, with the caveat that any given artist is limited to a single entry on the list.
Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul, “Blenda”: This Belgium-based duo specializes in cerebral dance-pop for those who bravely boogie between cultures. “’Go back to your country where you belong’/ Siri, can you tell me where I belong?”
Anitta, “Envolver”: In her first international No. 1 hit, which made her the highest-ranking Latina on Billboard’s Global 200 chart, Brazilian bombshell Anitta serves “la combi completa,” or the complete package: There’s the audacious wordplay, the universally sexy reggaeton groove and the viral dance challenge that doubles as a full-body workout.
Villano Antillano, “BZRP Music Sessions #51”: Argentine producer Bizarrap has flooded Latino YouTube with one-of-a-kind studio sessions showcasing the finest MCs of the Spanish-language world, from Paulo Londra to Residente. It’s 10s across the board for his latest guest, Puerto Rican rapper and transgender luminary Villano Antillano: Featuring a shoutout to Jennifer Aniston in “Friends,” her fiery Spanglish flow, which blazes effortlessly through trap and diva house beats, is heating up the No. 13 spot on YouTube’s Top 100 Music Videos chart.
Kassi Ashton, “Dates in Pickup Trucks”: Like a prequel to Sam Hunt’s “Break Up in a Small Town,” Ashton’s winsome country-soul song savors the pleasures of a place where there’s nothing to do: “Getting my lip gloss all messed up/ Put a little something-something in a Sonic cup.”
Bad Bunny feat. the Marías, “Otro Atardecer”: In this enchanting indie-pop B-side from his new album, “Un Verano Sin Ti,” the Prince of Puerto Rico gets a dose of Cali cool from L.A. starlets the Marías.
Beyoncé, “Break My Soul”: A searing capitalist critique set to a furious jack-your-body beat? Pop’s deepest-thinking superstar is most definitely back.
Priscilla Block, “My Bar”: Top-shelf internal rhyme from Nashville, where the cheap stuff just won’t do: “Out of the corner of my eye/ I see the door guy checking your ID.”
Zach Bryan, “Whiskey Fever”: The ascendant alt-country troubadour picks up the tempo for a rip-roaring highlight from his 34-track “American Heartbreak.”
Dove Cameron, “Boyfriend”: Slyly gender-bending lyrics + a throaty post-Billie Eilish vocal performance = a long-sought pop hit for this former Disney Channel kid.
Doechii, “Crazy”: The L.A. label TDE will be left without its compass now that Kendrick Lamar is departing for independent pastures. Who knows when SZA will be back with new music, but until then, Doechii will hold the line for its excellence in hip-hop. “Crazy” is a deliciously feral performance, one of a range of styles she’ll bring to festivals and Rap Caviar soon.
Drake, “Sticky”: Whether you love or loathe Drake’s new album of Yuma Tent bummer-house, “Sticky” was the one track everyone agreed on. It’s one of two cuts on “Honestly, Nevermind” where he deigns to rap, and it captures all his current interests, which apparently include skulking around DTLA’s after-hours raves. It’s nice to hear from the late Virgil Abloh again too.
Duke Deuce feat. GloRilla, “Just Say That”: The crunk “Summer Nights.”
Sky Ferreira, “Don’t Forget”: The much-missed synth-punk siren follows her own advice in this reverb-soaked comeback jam, which sounds like it could’ve come from Ferreira’s decade-old “Night Time, My Time.”
FKA twigs feat. the Weeknd, “Tears in the Club”: Some R&B fans like twigs more in theory than in practice: Her music is beautiful but sometimes standoffish. Not so on “Caprisongs,” the most song-centric LP of her career. This Weeknd team-up proves she’s always had a pop-star gift under the shards of experimentalism.
Fontaines D.C., “Jackie Down the Line”: Fontaines D.C. — who in 2021 became the first Irish act to be nominated for a Grammy for rock album since U2 — received international acclaim once more this year with “Jackie Down the Line,” an oblique post-punk ramble on feeling rootless upon immigrating to England.
Gunna and Future feat. Young Thug, “Pushin P”: The fact that two of this track’s three artists are currently in jail on an array of conspiracy charges shouldn’t detract from how hard “Pushin P” still hits. It’s tough to hear it with the veil of Young Thug’s RICO indictment, but it’s still low-and-slow Atlanta trap magic, whatever comes next.
Jack Harlow, “First Class”: “I know what they like, so I just keep cheesin’,” Harlow raps over a perfect Fergie sample that proves he’s right.
Health x Lamb of God, “Cold Blood”: On this stellar cut from the L.A. trio Health’s collaboration album “DISCO::4,” the groove-metal veterans Lamb of God solder their riffs and growls onto Health’s grim ambient fog. The two sounds fit together like a car crash — violent, sad and guaranteed to turn heads.
Joji, “Glimpse of Us”: So pretty it hurts, which is precisely the point.
Lady Gaga, “Hold My Hand”: No, it can’t hold a Bic lighter to “Shallow,” from “A Star Is Born.” But as experienced against the meta-blockbuster delirium of “Top Gun: Maverick,” Gaga’s thunderous ’80s-style power ballad achieves a kind of popcorn nirvana.
Kendrick Lamar feat. Summer Walker and Ghostface Killah, “Purple Hearts”: Words to live by: “Shut the f— up when you hear love talking.”
Miranda Lambert, “That’s What Makes the Jukebox Play”: A beautifully bummed-out drinking song about beautifully bummed-out drinking songs.
Lizzo, “About Damn Time”: Lizzo has sometimes struggled to create songs worthy of her prodigious star power. This blissful disco-funk banger — set in the narrow window of time between “bad bitch o’clock” and “thick-thirty” — gives her a hook and a groove to work with.
Muni Long, “Hrs & Hrs”: A slow, slinky, D’Angelo-ish R&B jam from a singer finally breaking out on her own after more than a decade of behind-the-scenes songwriting work for the likes of Rihanna and Ariana Grande.
Lucius, “Heartbursts”: Having sung backup for everyone from Brandi Carlile to Ozzy Osbourne to Harry Styles, the women of L.A.’s Lucius drafted Carlile to produce their latest LP, which climaxes with this sparkling ’80s-pop bop.
Megan Thee Stallion and Dua Lipa, “Sweetest Pie”: Why this veritable buffet of sexual metaphors didn’t become the smash it was clearly cooked up to be is one of 2022’s great mysteries.
Mitski, “The Only Heartbreaker”: Mitski scales the peak of pop melodrama in her fashionably ’80s synth-rock jaunt. For an otherwise sobering song about taking the blame to keep romance afloat, “The Only Heartbreaker” hits your body like a shot of vitamin B12.
Muna feat. Phoebe Bridgers, “Silk Chiffon”: Gossamer dream-pop for girls who like girls who might have been profiled in a “Chickfactor” zine circa 1992.
My Chemical Romance, “The Foundations of Decay”: Twenty years after My Chem debuted with their post-9/11 lament, “I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love,” the New Jersey emo legends resurface with their first recorded release since 2014’s “Fake Your Death,” a thunderous goth-rock elegy for an empire in flux.
Angel Olsen, “All the Good Times”: Record nerds will dig the spot-on “Dusty in Memphis” horn stabs; humans with feelings will marvel at the empathy with which Olsen details a breakup.
Pharrell Williams feat. Tyler, the Creator and 21 Savage, “Cash In Cash Out”: Who makes more out of less than Pharrell? This track is just a red-lined 808 and a mean little sample stutter, but it gives 21 Savage and Tyler, the Creator more than enough space to play on their verses.
Pusha T, “Let the Smokers Shine the Coupes”: Pusha raps about cocaine like Jiro dreams of sushi — he does one thing perfectly, every time. His LP “It’s Almost Dry” has uncommon precision and panache, and he absolutely fillets his verses on the slinky “Let the Smokers Shine the Coupes,” a high point on an album with no low ones.
Adrian Quesada feat. iLe, “Mentiras con Cariño”: Grammy-winning guitarist Adrian Quesada, best known for his riffage in Texas bands Black Pumas and Grupo Fantasma, ventured out on his own this summer with the release of his Latin soul album “Boleros Psicodélicos.” In the hypnotic tropical noir of lead single “Mentiras con Cariño,” or “Lies With Love,” Quesada shares the spotlight with Puerto Rican chanteuse iLe and her quietly arresting alto.
Rosalía, “Saoko”: In her inspired callback to rappers Wisin and Daddy Yankee — who delivered a hype song for the ages with their 2004 reggaeton classic “Saoco”— the Catalan avant-pop star Rosalía revs it up with a frenetic, jazz-fueled kick.
Bartees Strange, “Mulholland Dr.”: Signs of life in indie rock.
Harry Styles, “Boyfriends”: Point: “Our house is a very, very, very fine house.” Counterpoint: “Boyfriends — are they just pretending?”
Carrie Underwood, “Denim & Rhinestones”: There’s nothing country about the synth-slathered title track from Underwood’s latest album. But like any “American Idol” alum, she’s studied enough Whitney and Mariah to make the pop-soul costume fit.
The Weeknd, “Out of Time”: On the Weeknd’s “Dawn FM” album, this tender ballad follows a spoken-word appearance by Quincy Jones — one way to acknowledge (and to boast about) “Out of Time’s” debt to “Off the Wall.”
Wet Leg, “Ur Mum”: Isle of Wight duo Wet Leg evoke echoes of Van Halen and ELO in this antisexist slacker-rock missive. May you never be on the receiving end of a line so withering as, “When I think about what you’ve become/ I feel sorry for your mum.”
Yahritza y Su Esencia, “Soy El Unico”: Guided by the vocal dynamite of 15-year-old Yahritza Martinez, the Yakima, Washington, family band Su Esencia first captivated audiences on TikTok; now their star has risen across the Americas, thanks to their heartrending corrido “Soy El Unico.” What’s most shocking is not that the Martinez siblings cracked the No. 1 spot on the Hot Latin Songs chart — but that it’s the first song they ever wrote.