Fresh from nearly two years in an out-of-studio vortex, most artists were prevented from proper recording time in 2020 and most of 2021, with 2022 shaping up to be a coming-out party of new music. From R&B and rock to hip-hop, country, and more alternative compositions, this year, music has returned to its fuller form, introducing the masses to some earworms (and candy) within pop, from the long-awaited pulses around the entryway into Harry’s House (Harry Styles), a more empowered Lizzo singing I’m not the girl I was or used to be on the hit “About Damn Time” to Doja Cat’s homage to Big Mama Thornton on her Elvis soundtrack offering “Vegas.”
Throughout 2022, pop has welcomed the experimental—everything from Charlie Puth’s TikTok assemblage of songs on his upcoming third album, Charlie, the fictitious Disney-Pixar boy band 4*Town, and the epic Renaissance return of Beyoncé, along with the re-emergence of Kendrick Lamar, Lauv, Maggie Rogers, Sky Ferreira and more.
Celebrating all the moving elements of pop, here’s a listen to 10 songs that caught our attention in 2022… so far.
Features contributions from Tina Benitez-Eves, Alex Hopper, Hal Horowitz, Alli Patton, Jacob Uitti, and Catherine Walthall.
1. “Nobody Like U,” 4*Town
The hit track from the recent Pixar film, Turning Red, this song is not only reminiscent of the boy band craze of the late ’90s and early 2000s but it’s written by current pop stars Billie Eilish and brother FINNEAS. In the animated movie, which is all about a young girl turning into a red panda and the trouble that ensues, the song occurs in a particularly important movie that, if you’re wrapped up in the story, a tear may even come to your eye (don’t judge us!). —Jacob Uitti
2. “Mother I Sober,” Kendrick Lamar, featuring Beth Gibbons (Portishead)
What a masterpiece. The song, the album, the artist, everything. Kendrick Lamar is literary. He’s a party. He’s a buffet of sounds that is actually healthy for you. He’s a marvel, a modern miracle. His latest LP, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, is an instant classic and this single is emblematic. It sends shivers. It makes you think and it entertains with seamless production, nuance, and human behavior. Devour. —J.U.
3. “Light Switch,” Charlie Puth
Charlie Puth can make music from anything. On “Light Switch,” released earlier in 2022, Puth used the actual sound of a wall switch flipped on and off on the danceable track. Following up his 2018 release Voicenotes, Puth fleshed out the songs of his upcoming third album, Charlie, out Oct. 7, on TikTok, right down to sound effects (i.e. the light switch) demonstration on the keys used and other musical tutorials in the hope of showing followers that anyone can make music.
“This album was born on the internet, and I’ve had so much fun making it in front of all of you this past year,” Puth recently said on Instagram. Puth, who also released Charlie singles “That’s Hilarious,” and most recently, “Left and Right,” featuring Jung Kook of BTS, added that “2019 me used to think that in order to be an artist, you had to hide away and talk to nobody to make your art. Turns out you make MUCH better art when you involve millions of people in the process.” —Tina Benitez-Eves
4. “Cuff It,” Beyoncé
Beyoncé’s Renaissance was born from a disco daydream of getting back to the club amid the pandemic. Delightfully experimental and deeply referential, the album is 16 tracks of pure vibes that can’t live anywhere else besides a sticky-floored, sweaty club, around 1 a.m.—when things are just getting started.
Though the album is wall-to-wall, floor-filling anthems, the track that takes the crown is “CUFF IT.” Featuring lyrics from Nile Rodgers and production via The Dream, the song squeezes as many insatiable disco grooves as one possibly can into four minutes. You can’t help but dance when this one comes on —it’s the theme song for our summer of freedom. —Alex Hopper
5. “Daylight,” Harry Styles
Harry Styles left his classic rock pastiche behind for his third album, Harry’s House. Instead, he pulls from more contemporary pop sources, giving fans a taste of the new, more blithe Styles. “Daylight” leads the push towards serenity with Styles floating on air during the verses before crashing back down to earth for a hammering guitar line in the chorus. It bridges the gap between old Styles and new and is unbridled fun to boot. —A.H.
6. “Anywhere With You,” Maggie Rogers
Maggie Rogers has us convinced we can go anywhere and do anything with her summer 2022 full-length release, Surrender. The album is a stunning follow-up to her 2019 debut and had to have been divinely inspired. (Interestingly, Surrender is also the title of Rogers’s divinity thesis written for her Harvard Master’s Degree in Religion and Public Life.) And since we must be held to picking just one song, a standout track from this record is the brutally elegant “Anywhere With You.” The tune somehow seems utterly specific and all-encapsulating all at the same time. “Anywhere With You” is just what we needed on all of our playlists. —Catherine Walthall
7. “All 4 Nothing (I’m So In Love),” Lauv
Coming in hot with one of the most effervescent love songs this year (and possibly in several years) is Lauv with “All 4 Nothing (I’m So In Love).” Unabashedly in love and shouting it from the rooftops, this song possesses the ability to chase away any whisper of grey clouds. Did you know that you’re my whole heart? Lauv sings, did you know that I never stop? There is a quick moment of hesitation, though, when he sings, I don’t ever wanna say goodbye/ Then all of those nights, they would just be all for nothing. That line is part of the song’s humanity and why we adore Lauv the lyricist. —C.W.
8. “Don’t Forget,” Sky Ferreira
Sky Ferreira delivers a deeper shade of synth ’80s pop and rock on the sneering anthem “Don’t Forget,” singing I’ll catch your disease / It’s such a raw deal world / I don’t need to deceive you / I’m the real bad girl. Co-produced with Jorge Elbrecht and co-written with Tamaryn, “Don’t Forget” is Ferreira’s first new music since “Downhill Lullaby” in 2019, and the first plunge into her much-delayed second album, Masochism. On “Don’t Forget” Ferreira is walking right into the fire of a semi-dystopian world—Little troubled girl, you see / Burnin’ down your house of certainty … Tears of fire in the sky, makes me feel good to be alive/ Big dream, sick dream, used to think God’s inside us all.
“It wasn’t supposed to be apocalyptic, but in some ways it is,” said Ferreira of the song when it was released in May. “I did see fire and I also saw a place between heaven and hell, that sort of vibe, but not in a biblical sense. I felt very stifled for a long time, and I still do.” She added, “It’s not that I wanted to burn people’s houses on fire or something; it is a little more symbolic. It’s about being put in these situations for a long time. It’s a bit of freeing myself, but not in the most conventional way. Because I don’t feel free, necessarily.” —T.B.E.
9. “Vegas,” Doja Cat
Pulled from the soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, “Vegas” is much more than just a summer blockbuster banger. Backed by a beat reminiscent of blinding slot machines and glittery showgirls, Doja Cat raps in her signature style— technically skilled, exuding energy and confidence, all the while having a wonderfully melodic quality. The rapper pays homage to the fiery-voiced Big Mama Thornton, featuring samples of her 1952 songs “Hound Dog,” and “Vegas,” which fits in with the Luhrmann brand of history-meets-hip-hop, though the track has everything to be a 2022 pop hit, movie or not. —Alli Patton
10. “About Damn Time,” Lizzo
Lizzo returns and she’s taking us back to bad bitch o’clock. The shoulder shrug mirroring a contagious bouncy bass line opens Lizzo’s first top charting single since 2019 as she goes full ’70s disco. This retro Chic-styled zinger brings the heavy funk and also takes its cues from Diana Ross’ gay anthem of the time with its I’m comin’ out tonight/it’s about damn time repeated refrain. It’s pure pop and dance floor ear candy and one of the year’s most impossible-to-ignore songs. — Hal Horowitz.
Photo: Harry Styles (Lillie Eiger); Lizzo (Special album cover)