The 100 Best Songs Of 2022 (100-81)
It took 50 people to make this list of 2022's 100 best songs. Why put in that much effort, when algorithmically generated playlists can give a listener what they already know they want? Because there's more to a year than the insulated corners that, in the streaming era, can feel so cozy. That's especially true in a year like this one, whose thrills, even with hindsight, are tough to organize into neat categories or hierarchies. For the staff and contributors of NPR Music, making this list felt messy, but there's an upside to the effort: We got together. We talked. We listened. We ended up making a ranked list of 100 songs that reflects the sprawling, energetic messiness of 2022. Because the end of a year is a nice moment to celebrate what you love, but it's the perfect time to listen to something outside your comfort zone. A guarantee: You'll find something here that does the trick. (And while you're at it, be sure to check out our 50 Best Albums of 2022.)
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The North London-based rapper Little Simz knows her worth. She may be an introvert, but she isn't faint-hearted, and on "Gorilla" she's keeping score: "Name one time where I didn't deliver," she assuredly raps on over a laid-back, plucking bassline. Over producer Inflo's steady break beat and surging streaks, she displays command of her punchy rhymes with a cadence so casual it feels as if she could deliver them in her sleep. The track closes the same way it starts: with the pomp and circumstance of booming brass notes. It's a declaration — Little Simz is here and she wants you to feel it. —Teresa Xie
Ian William Craig
"Attention For It Radiates"
The sonic shifts in this nearly nine-minute ambient piece are faint and fractured, disrupted by squelches of static and distant alien voices. The effect of the track — composed to accompany an online puzzle inspired by quantum mechanics — is as beguiling and wondrous as the cosmic mysteries it endeavors to understand. —Robin Hilton
Viking Ding Dong x Ravi B
"Leave It Alone (Remix)"
While some of us were drinking water and minding our business, the self-declared "sexiest big belly man in soca" was reminding listeners that everything is not for everybody. Viking Ding Dong's soca hit "Leave It Alone" is a gleefully matter-of-fact anthem touting common sense and responsible partying over the infectious, waist-whining "Big Joy Riddim" produced by The Great Zeee. As you pull up to your holiday fêtes, remember, "If you know you cannot handle de people rum / When you see de people rum, leave it alone." —Nikki Birch
Adeem the Artist
"Middle of a Heart"
Adeem the Artist knows their way around a good-time country jam — the singer-songwriter's debut album is called White Trash Revelry, after all — but "Middle of a Heart" pauses for a hard, wrenching examination of military service, gun culture, working-class romance and the weight of the choices we make. —Stephen Thompson
Zahsosaa, D STURDY & DJ Crazy
Every rap generation gets the dance trend it deserves. The Philly Goats, a teen trio as viral for their moves as their raps, has been at the center of the club-rap movement emerging from Philadelphia in recent years. One of the group's members, D STURDY, linked up with Jersey transplant DJ Crazy in 2021 for a run of singles that culminated in "Shake Dhat" with the rapper Zahsosaa. Constructed out of gun sounds, the song has an almost hydraulic bounce that its performers navigate like kids flipping on a trampoline. "Shake Dhat" comes with its own dance, of course, but it's the song's tensile power that makes you want to learn it. —Sheldon Pearce
"If You Only Knew"
"If You Only Knew" is an exercise in holding your breath; it builds from a devastating piano ballad to a powerful and all-encompassing choral release. Jacob Lusk's vocals can be as intense or quivering as you need them to be, and in one of this soulful trio's most astonishing songs, he uses them to inspire hope — drowning you in sorrow before pulling you into the light. —Teresa Xie
DOMi & JD BECK
The prodigal jazz-adjacent keys-and-drum duo's "SMiLE" is a buoyant tune that beams you into a Nintendo game of Super Mario. As DOMi unleashes a number of punchy, bright, colorful melodies that shimmer with every harmonic shift, BECK gracefully oscillates between meters of 4/4, 3/4 and 5/8, keeping every section of this song fresh and interesting. —Ashley Pointer
When your tag is "another banger," you better bring the heat, and the young Nigerian superstar was a living breathing fire emoji in 2022, largely due to this earworm of a love song about keeping it cool around a young lady. The West caught wind when Selena Gomez jumped on the remix, but we'll stick with the original. —Otis Hart
On the first day of this perpetually bruising year, Pigeon Pit offered an irrepressible folk-punk anthem that bears witness to exhaustion, isolation and grief but still barrels toward freedom, believing that a "world worth living in," as Lomes Oleander sings, is just over the horizon. —Marissa Lorusso
"Angel Band (Jubilee Version)"
Tyler Childers' latest roots-country album expounds on grand themes of life and death, damnation and salvation, and the forces that divide and unite us. "Angel Band" gives the record its rousing centerpiece: a grand song of unity that heads to church as a stopover on the way to heaven. —Stephen Thompson
Straw Man Army
Punk, at its heart, is political, but in its most vulnerable state, punk is a meditation — a tough-loving mirror to life. In a taut, sparse arrangement that nevertheless floats like fog, Straw Man Army stares down the scale of our own devastation, yet still clings to the oars of hope. —Lars Gotrich
"Quien encendió la luz"
Clamoring voices and a pulsating rhythm capture burning passions as Valencia's Álvaro Lafuente Calvo draws from the sounds of Spain, Cuba and even Brahms to create a feverish melodrama about the specific human misery of being left behind. —Fi O'Reilly
The annunciatory flourish and stutter-step cadence of "Night Shift" signal more than just the latest wily provocation from Mary Halvorson, a brilliant guitarist and composer rightly hailed for carving her own way through the millennial jazz avant-garde. This forward-tilt piece also consolidates a peer group worthy of close attention on their own steam — notably trombonist Jacob Garchik and vibraphonist Patricia Brennan, who each command a solo turn that feels like a highwire act. —Nate Chinen, WRTI
This rollicking highlight from Leyla McCalla's theatrical tribute to Haitian freedom fighters, Breaking the Thermometer, is a song of resistance from the 1980s that she and her band takes to new polyrhythmic heights. —Ann Powers
The Mountain Goats
The Mountain Goats' highest-energy record in years closes out with this sauntering slow burn, in which our narrator confronts his inevitable mortality with the wisdom of a sage and the smart-ass humor of an action-movie star. —Marissa Lorusso
Assembled by the label that brought the world BTS, the quintet NewJeans stunned out of the gate with the starry-eyed, Y2K R&B of its debut, "Attention," but the full breadth of the vision was revealed a day later with "Hype Boy." The members of this girl group are more than simple revivalists: The second single from the unit's self-titled EP is transformative, precisely and gently blended, subtle in its nods to electronic music, shimmering synthpop and moombahton rhythms. With stripped-down vocals rarely heard in K-pop, NewJeans announced itself as part of the 4th Gen vanguard. —Sheldon Pearce
Originally recorded in 1977, this unearthed 11-minute version of Joyce Moreno's signature song is a gift to Brazilian music lovers and historians. Moreno, in her featherlight voice and aerobic guitar work, is the master of ceremonies over an exhilarating jam session that gallops on the wind. —Lars Gotrich
Ayra Starr isn't rushing her come up. After being positioned as a new fresh face for the Afropop genre, uplifting reprise and the singer's resplendent vocal tone and delivery, "Rush" is less a single and more like a mantra; a reminder to work hard, grant yourself grace and smile extra big at haters who're clocking your every breath. —Sidney Madden
Disclosure feat. RAYE
This melodious, summertime groove gets your whole body moving. The British electronic duo brings the two-step rhythm of garage from across the pond — mixing airy synths with eccentric drums. British singer-songwriter RAYE hops on the track with her powerful vocals, edging you to belt with her as she pours out her love ... like a waterfall! —Sofia Seidel
The opening track of Ari Lennox's latest album, age/sex/location, "POF" effectively transitions us from the lovelorn woman of her previous releases. An initialism for the worn-out idiom "plenty of fish," and the dating app named after it, "POF" is Lennox's opportunity to inform admirers of her unwaning self-love, and lay bare her (many) qualms with the dating landscape. —Kiana Fitzgerald
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