The 20 best songs of 2022

(From left) Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Steve Lacy and Megan Thee Stallion.
(From left) Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Steve Lacy and Megan Thee Stallion. Illustration: Guardian Design; David Levene; Mark Horton/Getty; Matthew Baker

Alongside landmark records from Kendrick and Beyoncé, the year saw standout tracks from Steve Lacy, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and more

More on the best culture of 2022
More on 2022’s best music


Flo – Cardboard Box

The debut single by London girlband Flo is a time machine. For three minutes, it’s 2000 again: The Writing’s on the Wall is the world’s biggest album, Darkchild reigns supreme over pop, and no pair of trousers is complete without five superfluous pockets and a dangerous array of straps. Flo weren’t even born then but they’re a great study: this effervescent No Scrubs for the TikTok era was one of the freshest pop launches in recent memory, palpably floating on a sigh of relief as Jorja, Stella and Renée kick some bug-a-boo back to Y2K where he belongs. LS


Confidence Man – Holiday

Holiday sees Confidence Man doing what they do best: toeing the line between cheesy and calculated, cutting anthemic vocals and a bouncy groove with radiant synths and filtered interludes. Connecting the dots between 2022’s indie sleaze and Y2K revivals while also nodding to 2010s EDM, Holiday is warm, nostalgic, and prioritises pure joy over pretension. SB

Janet Planet and Sugar Bones of Confidence Man.
Pure joy … Janet Planet and Sugar Bones of Confidence Man. Photograph: Josh Hourigan


Alan Braxe/DJ Falcon – Step By Step ft Panda Bear

French touch icons Alan Braxe and DJ Falcon reunited to figure out how their pioneering 90s house might have mellowed into middle age. Step By Step turns down the aggressive filtering of their heyday (an evolution akin to how our hearing range fades with age, maybe) for wistful soft rock that sails, Christopher Cross-style, into a hazy horizon with no division between sea and sky. “As I try to find a new way forward / Feels like there’s something in the air,” sings Panda Bear (AKA Noah Lennox), his voice evanescing into their limitless pop future. LS


Kendrick Lamar – The Heart Part 5

Kendrick Lamar.
Fractious comeback … Kendrick Lamar. Photograph: Dave Free

Before he even shared a single note of his fifth album Mr Morale and the Big Steppers, Kendrick Lamar was priming the world for what would be a fractious comeback. The Heart Part 5 – the fifth in his long-running pre-album single series – opens with what is essentially Mr Morale’s thesis statement: “As I get a little older, I realise life is perspective, and my perspective may differ from yours.” Over the next five minutes, as he rides a luxurious, funky Marvin Gaye sample, Lamar unpicks ideas of unity and equality, laying bare the fallacy of “community” in a greedy, money-hungry world. It’s a prickly return, and, make no mistake, Lamar’s intent is to sting: “In the land where hurt people hurt more people, fuck callin’ it culture.” SD


Megan Thee Stallion – Plan B

Since she was shot in 2020, Megan Thee Stallion has faced some of the most brazen misogyny the music industry has to offer, with male rappers and industry figures coming out in droves to support her alleged shooter. Plan B was Megan’s perfect rejoinder: rapping over a beat that samples Jodeci’s Freek’n You remix, the Houston rapper unleashes a perfectly calculated callousness, cutting her ex down to size with a hardened, devastating wit. Throughout, she lands justifiably low blows (“The only accolade you ever made is that I fucked you”) before offering a feminist rap pearler: “Ladies, love yourself – ’cause this shit could get ugly.” SD


Tiësto and Charli XCX – Hot in It

Released in Charli XCX’s pop star sell-out year, bimbo anthem Hot in It would be a fairly rudimentary slab of Eurodance sex hokey-cokey (“rocking it, dropping it”, etc) if it weren’t for Charli’s impressive blunt weapon of a voice. Pretty much denatured of flesh and blood, she goes through the motions of her revenge kiss-off with metronomic efficiency that’s barely extricable from Tiësto’s relentless cymbals. Yet it winds up surprisingly human: burning with the monomania of getting one over on your ex, not to mention Charli’s menacing brand of sexuality. LS


Rina Sawayama – This Hell

How do you follow up a maximalist blast out of the pop leftfield loved by everyone from pop Twitter to pop royalty? Go bigger, crank the processors and dial up the lyrics to Broadway musical pitch. This Hell is a declaration of intent from someone fearlessly willing themselves into pop’s valkyrie frontline. Mainlining early-2000s energy to the point of overdose, here’s where the high-drama, don’t-spare-the-key-change, everything-all-at-once fusillade of Rina Sawayama’s patchy second album came into focus. LS


Mitski – Love Me More

High-glamour … Mitski. Photograph: Ebru Yildiz

No one wants to hear musicians wanging on about the difficulties of fame, but if more of them pulled it off with the addled desperation Mitski brings to Love Me More, things might be different. After TikTok made her song Nobody (from 2018’s Be the Cowboy) into an unwitting hit, Love Me More finds the once-underground songwriter going “well alright then” and proving that she can do high-glamour self-loathing quite as well as the Weeknd, thanks very much. Are the audience’s screams feeding her soul or killing it, she wonders in a chorus so delirious and rafter-tickling it probably counts as an act of masochism. LS


Kendrick Lamar – N95

N95 is all sinew – it writhes and slithers like no other Kendrick Lamar song ever really has, playing like 2017’s Humble with all the fat scraped away. As with so much of Mr Morale, it eschews coherent moral for snarky, crystalline realpolitik; the song’s jagged, electrifying bass line, punctuated by Lamar’s cry of “bitch, you ugly as fuck!” roils in the song’s bowels, threatening to crack its surface like a tectonic event. SD


Arctic Monkeys – Body Paint

Arctic Monkeys from left: Nick O’Malley, Alex Turner, Matt Helders and Jamie Cook.
Spectacular … Arctic Monkeys from left: Nick O’Malley, Alex Turner, Matt Helders and Jamie Cook. Photograph: Zackery Michael

The sly, tense Body Paint is like a number from some lost Cassavetes musical, a narrative that turns mutual deception in a relationship into a surrealist game of cat and mouse. Alex Turner prowls around his set trying to uncover the truth he already knows, while refusing to show his own hand: “I’m keeping on my costume and calling it a writing tool.” The song’s grand instrumental denouement might be a blowout or it might be sex; either way, it’s spectacular. SD


Eliza Rose – BOTA

Women have always been intrinsic to UK garage, but its most recent revival has too often centred DJ bros. This summer, London DJ Eliza Rose brought the sound to the mainstream and the baddies to the front with Baddest of Them All, a surprise No 1 that combines feelgood 90s house with the slightest shade of cheesy Euro sensibility. Featuring one of the year’s most unforgettable refrains, it was a unifying floor-filler. SB

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