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25 Best Songs 2015: The Weeknd, Drake, Justin Bieber, Kendrick Lamar & More

by Music Times Staff   Dec 29, 2015 19:30 PM EST

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There was a lot of crap on the airwaves in 2015. From Silento’s viral hit “Watch Me” to ill-advised collaborations between the likes of Iggy Azalea and Britney Spears, it may seem like the music landscape was worse than ever.

But, among your “Pretty Girls” and Vine stars, you had real gems in 2015. From some surprise pop breakthroughs from the likes of Jason Derulo and The Weeknd to touching indie songs from Braids and Sufjan Stevens and some of the most fiery rap in years from Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West, this year was not wanting for great songs.

In the great masses of radio hits and more obscure finds, here are the 25 singles that Music Times has dubbed the best of the last 12 months. Happy listening!

25. "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)" - Jamie xx feat. Young Thug & Popcaan

Jamie xx demonstrated how to craft a complete electronic album with In Colour, but The most surprising and interesting collaboration was his song with Young Thug and Popcaan. Drawn straight out of the Caribbean, the combination of xx's steel drums, the soulful vocal sample, Young Thug's carefree vocals and Popcaan's dancehall hook created one of the songs of the summer. - Ryan Middleton

24. "Want to Want Me" - Jason Derulo

Jason Derulo may be best known for needing to whisper out his own name just to be remembered, but that all changed in 2015 with the release of his glitzy spring single "Want to Want Me." Though Derulo's catalogue remains incredibly inconsistent, this song is a hidden disco gem with a hook and falsetto you still can't resist months later.  - Carolyn Menyes

23. "Better" - Banks

Over the last few years, Banks has been able to transform the genre of pop mainly because of her covers, but her originals, especially "Better," have us believing in a bright future for the genre. Unique, brash and bold, Banks is taking names with this track, if you know what I mean. - Jon Niles

 22. "Pretty Pimpin" - Kurt Vile

I grew up right outside of Philadelphia and have lived in Fishtown, so the music of Kurt Vile is well engrained. The singer-songwriter is a local treasure and his 2015 single "Pretty Pimpin" off of the record b'lieve i'm goin down is too infectious not to soak up and tap your toes to. - JN

21. "Honeymoon" - Lana Del Rey

Listening to this song is a solid reminder of just what's so appealing about Lana Del Rey. Her sultry voice and the way she and her team constructs compositions are on full display with this track. The title, "Honeymoon," is quite fitting since we're all still in that phase of our relationship with her. ­- JN

20. "Problems, Problems" - Frankie

Frankie is the next voice to look for in pop music. With the same sort of spark that marked the early careers of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, this Los Angeles darling sings about heartbreak and coldness in her breakout hit "Problems, Problems." With intricate looping techniques, a gripping yet emotional vocal and just a touch of Spector-esque production, it's hard not to connect to one of pop's biggest hidden gems of 2015. - CM

19. "24 Frames" - Jason Isbell

Jason Isbell broke away from his Drive-By Truckers past with 2013's Southeastern and the help of country producer extraordinaire Dave Cobb. In 2015, Isbell once again tapped Cobb for Something More Than Free, a mature, introspective follow-up. At the center of it is lead single "24 Frames," a nostalgic song that injects more straight up indie rock than we've heard from Isbell thus far. The result is this lush, personal narrative that paints a picture in the way only Isbell can. - CM

18. "Backsell" - Desaparecidos

This was the first song and therefore the first taste of Desaparecidos' 2015 record, Payola, the band's first release since 2002's Read Music Speak Spanish. Conor Oberst's post-hardcore, political punk outfit held nothing back, and "Backsell" was clearly proof of this. It's loud, thoughtful and catchy, which is exactly the type of song that fans of the band fell in love with so many years ago. After over a decade of waiting, this was a successful payoff. - JN

17. "Gimme All Your Love" - Alabama Shakes

Alabama Shakes' Brittany Howard has a reputation for giving it her all, so fittingly she does so on "Gimme All Your Love," one of the most dynamic singles of 2015. This Sound & Color centerpiece starts off intimate and hushed, with Howard crooning painfully about heartbreak. Soon, though this song builds into an explosion of keyboards, soaring guitars and, of course, that signature wail. Desperate, pleading and emotive, "Gimme All Your Love" is one of the strongest Alabama Shakes songs to date, and that's really saying something. - CM

16. "All Your Favorite Bands" - Dawes

Is there a more beautiful parting phrase than "May all your favorite bands stay together?" The title track off Dawes' fourth studio album brings a sense of childhood nostalgia, not just through its classic rock guitar solos but through Taylor Goldsmith's lyricism. Singing about El Caminos, old hats and all the music we grew up with, Goldsmith brings a small sadness to "All Your Favorite Bands" as he wishes only the best for his old friends. If you can listen to this without tearing up, all the power to ya. - CM

15. "Flesh Without Blood" - Grimes

Grimes had scrapped her previous album and seemed to be going nowhere, until she dropped her poppy album Art Angels, which still maintained the weird and well-crafted songwriting one expects from the Canadian experimenter. The album has a whole host of highlights like "Kill V. Maim" and "REALiTi," but "Flesh Without Blood" seemed to capture everything that Grimes was creating with its poppy, rock rhythms and her defiant and strong vocals. - RM

14. "What Kind of Man" - Florence + The Machine

Florence Welch finally explored her rock side on How Big How Blue How Beautiful, and "What Kind of Man" is just the sort of booming thesis statement she needed to make right out of the gate. Welch turns up the volume to 11 with some powerhouse vocals that play flawlessly against The Machine's orchestra of organs and guitars. The song starts off sultry and winding and eventually explodes into one of the year's biggest tributes to the power of love. - CM

13. "When We Were Young" - Adele

Adele's "Hello" and massive 25 album sales may have dominated the conversation surrounding the returned pop star at the end of 2015, but the real staple of her third studio album is her next single "When We Were Young." All at once, this song captures everything an Adele should be. It's pensive, nostalgic, heartbreaking, personal and wholly relatable. Of course, her vocal delivery is one of her best, with a big, loud high note that we can only really get from Adele. - CM

12. "Feeling OK" - Best Coast

Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino has never been the most celebrated songwriter, but this California Nights opening track will change the mind of even the biggest hater. It's bigger than what fans had become accustomed to, with plenty of layers and a singsong melody that is irresistible to any ear. Above it all, the songwriting is more nuanced with no simple rhymes in sight. Fans didn't get a completely different tune from the duo, but the subtle differences have expanded the Best Coast sound. - JN

11. "Making the Most of the Night" - Carly Rae Jepsen

Taylor Swift's 1989 may have gotten the majority of the '80s-influenced pop attention this year, but the real diamond in 2015's musical rough was Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" follow-up EMOTION. Her light vocals float just slightly above a rich layers of bass. That dichotomy mixed with lyrics of saving a lover from a rough time and making them happy again is the sort of urgent yet heartwarming message you want from Jepsen. - CM

10. "All Day" - Kanye West

2015 started with Kanye West shocking the world with his heartfelt collaboration "Only One" featuring none other than Paul McCartney. Everyone though this will bring about his new album, but it never came, though we did get his booming track "All Day" alongside Sir Paul, Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom and a dizzying number of co-writers and producers. After his powerful Yeezus, West showed he still has the thoughtful lyrical potency with lines like "Like a light skinned slave, boy, we in the mothaf*ckin' house." After two softer, folk-influenced instrumentals, fans were relieved to get another inventive and powerful hip-hop instrumental from the G.O.O.D. Music camp. To cap things off, the last 45 seconds show that Kanye had yet another trick up his sleeve with the complete stop and switch to a stripped back guitar and synth conclusion. - RM

09. "Lean On" - Major Lazer feat. MO and DJ Snake

It is hard to argue against Diplo for producer of the year with the hits he has put out under Major Lazer, Jack Ü and by himself. This was the year that Major Lazer went from being a niche dancehall, electronic crossover group with one distant hit and a great live show into a group ready for radio play worldwide, making weird EDM that translates to pop. The song that propelled them to this newfound status was their hit alongside DJ Snake and MØ, "Lean On," which occupied a niche of left-of-center electronic music that at first only slowly crossed over into pop music and then broke through in a big way. "Lean On" dominated this year as the most streamed song of all time on Spotify and landing some big commercial spots. The Grammys got it wrong not including this in their Best Dance/Electronic Recording. - RM

08. "S.O.B." - Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats

Before 2015, Nathaniel Rateliff was a folk singer, on the road and just bubbling under the line of success. That all changed this year with the addition of his soul group the Night Sweats and this stompin' anthem about screwing sobriety because sometimes you just need a goddamn drink. With a small sense of anger and a hook that would have been perfect for an Apple spot if it weren't for a prominent "son of a bitch" lyric, Rateliff finally broke out with his most raucous, urgent and hook-laden song to date. - CM

07. "Alright" - Kendrick Lamar

K Dot turned the rap world on its head with his album To Pimp A Butterfly. It is tough to choose one song from an album this complex, but the song that we kept on coming back to and most listeners seem to come back to for a listen is "Alright." The song embodied the hopeful yet real struggle that many in his community face touching on the issues of poverty, racism and inequality with lyrical potency, intelligence and dexterity found on TPAB. "Alright" also came to political prominence this year, as it was adopted by the Black Lives Matter movement and sung as an unofficial anthem of protests against police brutality. This powerful and moving song represented the higher place that hip-hop could go to in 2015 when social movements needed music to match. - RM

06. "Miniskirt" - Braids

Braids' "Miniskirt" is such a trip. It starts off as a feminist ballad about rape culture and double standards but transitions into an autobiographical anthem about a tumultuous upbringing that resolves in the Great White North. As the first single off of the impressive Deep in the Iris, "Miniskirt" laid the foundation of Braids' next evolution. The title itself catches your attention, but soaring vocal melodies and lyrics of frontwoman Raphaelle Standell-Preston brings you deeper into this very personal song and its message. Strong words like "slut," "bitch" and "whore" jump out early on in the track, adding a taste of taboo, but the second layer's dizzying drum beat takes over until we're ready to rewind the track for countless repeats. - JN

05. "Where Are Ü Now" - Jack Ü with Justin Bieber

No song exemplified the barriers crashing down between pop and EDM this year like "Where Are Ü Now," combining Skrillex and Diplo's Jack Ü with teen pop star Justin Bieber. Before this hit, Beiber's career was a mess of tabloid headlines and lawsuits and in an unlikely turn of events, it was the two producers who turned his life around. This track served as the launching pad for both Skrillex and Diplo's debut album as Jack Ü and put them on the radio and in mainstream media in a way they had never experienced before while also opening up Bieber to a whole new audience that suddenly accepted him. The "flute" sound later revealed to be Bieber's voice heavily distorted became an iconic piece of the puzzle as the singer's vulnerable voice contrasts beautifully alongside the robotic instrumental from Skrillex and Diplo, ushering in a brave new era for both artists. - RM

04. "River" - Leon Bridges

There has to be a word for describing a song that transports a listener back to a time period that they never experienced. It isn't retro, a revival or anything like that but transformative. Leon Bridges' "River," can take you back to a time before you were even born while still feeling wholly modern. Whatever the word is, that's the only one to describe this song. It has that '60s folk/gospel feel to it, embodying so much more than music, voice and lyrics. Bridges proves he's one of a kind in 2015, and is possibly starting a music movement bigger than we can imagine. - JN

03. "Should Have Known Better" - Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens' life and new album Carrie & Lowell was marked by his mother, who floated in and out of his life. In this integral track, Stevens reminisces first about his strained relationship with his deceased mother and how to mourn her as well as her failings as a parent. But, midway "Should Have Known Better" takes an optimistic turn about his brother's daughter. Both lyrically and musically, "Should Have Known Better" is about the hope of being better for the next generation. This personal song is full of optimism and beauty among the pain. - CM

02. "Hotline Bling" - Drake

It should be clear that without the video and Drake's "man dancing" the hype surrounding this song wouldn't have even come close to what it is now. But, that doesn't take away from the allure of "Hotline Bling." As a standalone single, which won't appear on Views From The 6 or any other full-length project, "Hotline Bling" was unique for Drake. It was more vulnerable than the braggadocios lines on "Legend" as he lashed out at an ex-lover in ways that everyone can find ways to relate to. Sampling issues have dogged the song, but the infectious beat takes this from being yet another Drake love tale to the radio and beyond with his meme-ready dancing in the video. - RM

1. "Can't Feel My Face" - The Weeknd

2015 was the year that The Weeknd went from being the sexual R&B artist that your emotionally darker and "cool" friends loved to a global superstar. While songs like "The Hills" and "Earned It" may embody the daring and brash side of Beauty Behind The Madness, it was his infectious Max Martin-produced smash hit "Can't Feel My Face" that was about as big as any track this year. The beat is impossibly funky, evoking a 1980s Michael Jackson-era style of pop, soul and funk that The Weekend easily adapts as his own. He uses that carefree environment to build out his own drug-fueled fantasy or drugs, sex and partying that are all too common for those wild Los Angeles nights.

"Can't Feel My Face" easily became one of *the* songs of 2015, embodying the need for his generation to escape their overburdened regular lives of crushing debt, long hours and The Weeknd found himself in a lot of bedrooms this year, but most importantly, he was soundtracking the nightlife for many more with "Cant Feel My Face." - RM

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