1. “Wut,” Le1f
“I get guys the way straight rappers get girls,” New York rapper Le1f told Fader this summer, and watching his music video “Wut” you can see the truth he’s telling. The man’s got moves, a voice deep as a well, rapid-fire flow that careens and cajoles, and lyrics so breezy they take you sailing. “Came through in the clutch, stomping like I’m up in Loubitons / Boys they wanna paint me like I’m canvas to do sumi on,” he boasts, doing a kind of moonwalk shuffle in short shorts and a baseball cap. With bright horns and Le1f’s megawatt charisma, “Wut” feels effortlessly infectious. But that’s the mark of a master: they never let you see how hard they’re working.
2. “Anything Could Happen,” Ellie Goulding
The synthesizers powering “Anything Could Happen” make it a song you can lose yourself to on the dance floor, but it’s Ellie Goulding’s fearless lyrics that set this electro-dance-pop gem apart. “Baby, I’ll give you everything you need,” Goulding croons, and you think you’re listening to just another love song that promises vague and everlasting devotion. But in the next breath comes the twist, shouted suddenly as if she’s just realized it herself: “But I don’t think I need you.”
That isn’t a kiss-off. Goulding is singing about coming into a self-reliance that’s both scary and freeing. The world is a wide-open place; people lose each other in it all the time. Listening to her chant “Anything could happen,” you can feel the words burrowing into your skin, equal parts promise and warning and vow.
3. “Some Nights,” fun.
Some nights I don’t know why fun. decided to set their smash hit song in a Civil War video, but who cares? Wildly distracting Autotune prominence: Also who cares? Most nights I don’t know what I stand for, and I’m just grateful that this year fun. gave me a song to belt my confusion along to.
4. “Montauk,” Rufus Wainwright
Rufus Wainwright wrote “Montauk” for his baby girl Viva, who was born in 2011. Backed by a chiming piano and a carnival organ, he paints the future of their family with the tenderness of a father who’s already preparing himself for the moment he’ll have to say goodbye. When grown-up Viva comes to visit her parents in Montauk, she’ll find one dad pruning roses, one dad wearing a kimono; one dad at the piano, one dad wearing glasses. It’s a portrait of quiet domesticity, yet Wainwright’s already feeling vulnerable about how his daughter will see them: “Hope you won’t turn around and go,” he sings. The memory of Wainwright’s mother, who passed away from cancer in 2010, looms over “Montauk.” She isn’t mentioned till the haunting final verse, but when she appears, you understand that she’s the engine that’s been driving the song’s mournful beauty. Wainwright lost a parent, and then he became one. “And though we want to stay for a while,” Wainwright sings, “don’t worry, we all have to go.”