best of 2022

The Best Songs of 2022 (So Far)

Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos: YouTube

Contrary to popular belief / Top 40 radio / your ever growing collection of used Rolling Stones vinyl, there is still plenty of great new music being released on the regular. The first months of 2022 have shown as much: everything from grungy garage rock to funky self-worth anthems to sun-bright Afrobeats-indebted rhythms to emotional electropop. This regularly updated monthly list, from Vulture staff writer Justin Curto and music editor Alex Suskind, runs down the best we’ve heard so far this year — a mix of fun, challenging, cathartic new singles that we’ll be playing on repeat throughout 2022.

“Fruit,” Oliver Sim

Oliver Sim was the final member of the xx to go solo (after bandmates Jamie xx and Romy), and it took him a second to find his space. Debut single “Romance With a Memory” sounds like an outtake from 2017’s I See You, with its swaying verses and piano-and-synth backing, courtesy of Jamie xx. But his follow-up, “Fruit,” makes Sim’s case as a solo artist. The song is more personal than anything he’s written for the xx, about reconciling his gay identity with his family. “What would my father do?” he asks. “Do I take a bite, take a bite of the fruit?” (The expert double entendre, repurposing fruit as a gay slur, only adds to the song’s power.) Sim sings with a commanding presence here, his often subtle voice hitting high against the churn of a dark dance beat (once again from Jamie). Watching him in the music video, out from behind his bass guitar and dancing around the stage, showcases just how freeing this song truly is. —Justin Curto

“La Buena Vida,” Camila Cabello

Past bouncy single “Bam Bam,” Camila Cabello had an even better breakup kiss-off on her new album Familia. That’s “La Buena Vida,” the punkish mariachi song she first debuted live in October 2021. The lyrics are cutting: “I woke up happy by accident,” she opens, going on to tell her lover (all but certainly ex-boyfriend Shawn Mendes) she’s “forgetting what it’s like to wake up next to you.” Cabello’s delivery is poised and poisonous, with the former Fifth Harmony singer wrapping her voice around her lyrics and flawlessly slipping into rapping into the second verse. She plays off the energy of the live mariachi band, especially as the final chorus reaches a fever pitch to punctuate her attacks. But that’s not the only source of Cabello’s passion in “La Buena Vida” — the mariachi song pays homage to the music she grew up around in her family, and her father even guests in the studio for the song. It’s a heartfelt performance, through and through. —J.C.

“Kind of Girl,” Muna

On older Muna songs, Katie Gavin lists the things she feels like she can’t do: get the girl, advocate for herself, be happy. That changes on “Kind of Girl,” the keystone of Muna’s newly confident, self-titled third album. The single sees Gavin and her band finding power in declaration, realizing that the first step toward making change is reorienting your mind. Muna’s music has always been empowering, but here it holds new weight as Gavin works through her issues in real time. After two albums’ worth of songs about fucking up relationships, hearing Gavin say she could “Go out and meet somebody / Who actually likes me for me / And this time, I’ll lеt them” packs a punch. “Kind of Girl” is also Muna reevaluating what sort of band it wants to be: a lush country-inspired ballad from musicians who made their name on synthpop. It would sound like a dream, if the lyrics weren’t so believable. —J.C.

“Leave You Alone,” Ella Mai

Ella Mai followed up her runaway 2018 success — which included a chart-topping debut album, a Song of the Year Grammy nod, and the definitive onomatopoeic romance anthem in “Boo’d Up” — by keeping a low profile. “Leave You Alone,” the first single from her forthcoming sophomore LP, picks up where she left off — attached, love-drunk, and questioning whether the physical attachment she’s currently feeling will lead to something more substantial. (In short: Nope.) “I be hoping that it’s more than just my body that you wanted / Shoulda left you on read / I blew it, so stupid,” she sings over slinky production and that slick vocoder effect that used to pop up in every ’90s slow jam. One of Mai’s strengths is her ability to center the internal tension we all feel in the beginning of a relationship (“I just can’t stop / Falling, for you,” she sings in the chorus). Few can pull it off as eloquently as she does here. — Alex Suskind

“This Is a Photograph,” Kevin Morby

Lately, Kevin Morby has been fascinated by death. The singer-songwriter contemplated the afterlife on his 2019 opus, Oh My God, and wrote his 2020 follow-up, Sundowner, after three deaths (the musician Jessi Zazu, his former producer Richard Swift, and his hero Anthony Bourdain) impacted him. “This Is a Photograph,” the first single off his new album of the same name, turns that motif into a song that feels distinctly alive. Morby found the titular photo after his father collapsed at a family gathering: a picture of their family when his father was around his age. “Got a glimmer in his eye,” Morby notices. “Seems to say this is what I’ll miss after I die / And this is what I’ll miss about being alive.” As the song grows from a twangy acoustic guitar to incorporate a full band, choir, and horn section — clearly influenced by the time Morby spent working in Memphis — that line becomes a rallying cry, with Morby sounding more urgent than ever before. His father ended up being okay, and the event gave Morby more life, too. — J.C.

“Baby,” Charli XCX

Sorry, but the stans were wrong: “Baby” is the best track off Charli XCX’s new album, Crash. The album’s tightly wound fourth single is one of the most polished songs Charli has ever made — and one of the most fun, a balance earlier offerings from Crash failed to strike. On an album that pushes for pop maximalism, “Baby” cuts all the fat, from its breakneck dance beat to that one-line hook, such an earworm that it deserves to be repeated into oblivion. Producer and True Romance collaborator Justin Raisen condenses Crash’s ’80s-meets-’10s sound into a single track with astute touches such as those opening strings. Like a true pop star, Charli makes the song hers with a dominant vocal performance. — J.C.

“Ice Cream,” Freddie Gibbs and Rick Ross

Freddie Gibbs channels his Power Book drug kingpin alter ego Cousin Buddy in “Ice Cream,” effortlessly rapping over a Kenny Beats production — which flips the same Earl Klugh sample RZA once used in Raekwon’s 1995 single “Ice Cream” — like it’s a second appendage: “I was pushin’ on the interstate / Trunk full of weight when my dawg woke up / Told him I just did a whole thing of the Fetty Wap, no dog, all cut.” Ross, up to his usual antics, hops in for a short but powerful second verse, blending braggadocio (“Put a chopper on you pussies with the GPS”) with Robin Hood wealth redistribution (“Couple mill a duffle bag, I got a block to feed”). It’s Gibbs’s first offering of 2022 and hopefully a taste of what’s to come. — A.S.

“Boys Back Home,” Hailey Whitters

Many country singers have their own version of “Boys Back Home,” Hailey Whitters’s song about the truck-driving, beer-drinking, girl-flirting men she grew up around. Yet none of them have made one nearly as moving as Whitters’s version, the emotional center to her nostalgic third album, Raised. Unlike other retreads, “Boys Back Home” is specific and intimate — Whitters’s strength as a songwriter since her breakout, lived-in song “Ten Year Town.” The song takes place in her 700-something-population hometown of Shueyville, Iowa, on chert-rock gravel roads and around alcohol-fueled bonfires. “Well I left that town, and we all grew up,” Whitters belts in the bridge. “But sometimes I still miss the girl that I was / When I was a shotgun seat in their trucks.” In the song’s specificity, she strikes something universal. — J.C.

“Hentai,” Rosalía

There’s nowhere to hide on “Hentai,” the final single off Rosalía’s Motomami and one of the year’s most gorgeously seductive tracks. The Catalan singer spends all two-and-a-half minutes expertly curving her voice around plaintive piano chords, taking the time to patiently linger over each syllable (“So, so, so, so, so, so good,” she sings on the hook). The minimalist, vocal-first approach only elucidates the explicit subject matter: of sexual freedom, of diamond-encrusted genital piercings, of pornographic animation (also, somehow, a hilariously random nod to Spike Jonze). Pharrell cranks the production up in the last 20 seconds, throwing in a steady churn of crunchy machine gears, but Rosalía keeps her cool. — A.S.

“Happy New Year,” Let’s Eat Grandma

Let’s Eat Grandma knows the power of a straightforward lyric. That’s the key to “Happy New Year,” the thrilling opening cut off new album Two Ribbons, which details changes in the duo’s dynamic as best friends. The song is colored by vignettes from the pair’s shared history, recounted over synths that pop like fireworks. The emotional punches, though, come from single lines: “There’s no one else who gets me quite like you,” Rosa Walton declares to Jenny Hollingsworth, who she’s known since age 4. Other songs on Two Ribbons chart the ways the two have had to reconfigure their friendship, but the end of each “Happy New Year” chorus centers the project: “Because you know you’ll always be my best friend / And look at what I have with you.” What more do they need to say? — J.C.

“You Will Never Work in Television Again,” the Smile

There’s a tight propulsion to the first single from the Smile, a new Radiohead spinoff project starring singer Thom Yorke, guitarist Johnny Greenwood, and Songs of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner (Yorke’s explanation for the band’s name: “Not the smile as in ‘ahh,’ more ‘the Smile’ as in, the guy who lies to you every day.”) “You Will Never Work in Television Again” unloads like a precision drop: eight seconds of ambient feedback before you’re thrown into a quick and dense guitar riff, harkening back to Bends-era Radiohead. Yorke’s lyrics are especially gnarly, as he sings of bones being spat out, unpicked stitches, and gangster trolls. By the end, some dissonance gets tossed in the mix, but the trio always keeps the rhythm steady. — Alex Suskind

“Wild,” Spoon

Nearly three decades in, Spoon is still one of rock’s most suave and consistent bands. The proof is in “Wild,” a swaggering, explosive track where everything falls exactly into place — a push-pull between restraint and passion that always moves forward but never fully bursts. Frontman Britt Daniel is the song’s driving force, stretching his voice to its raspy extremes. The second single off the classic-rock-indebted Lucifer on the Sofa, “Wild” is big enough to fill an arena, with layers of guitars and a victorious piano line lifted straight from the U2 playbook. Fittingly, it’s a song about feeling like you have more to find in the world — and one that shows Spoon isn’t done reaching yet, either. — J.C.

“Surround Sound,” JID featuring 21 Savage and Baby Tate

“Surround Sound” blends a handful of elements that would be fun to listen to on their own into a fantastic collage. There’s the adeptly cut Aretha Franklin sample; 21 Savage’s effortless guest feature, which builds momentum with each bar; a slick four-line bridge from Baby Tate, the keystone to the song’s two-part gambit; and, most importantly, the wildly fun JID verse, full of street talk, distinctive wordplay, and more flows than some full albums. It’s the sort of verse that will have you replaying single lines like “I’m a, I’m a, I’m an, I’m an anomaly / I turned into a rapper ironically” on loop. — J.C.

“Bliss,” Amber Mark

“Oh, didn’t know what love is / ’Til I found my bliss,” sings Amber Mark on the funky penultimate track off her long-awaited debut Three Dimensions Deep. Structured over three sections, the album starts with a deep dive into Mark’s own self-doubts, shifts into recovery mode, then, in the final act, arrives at a place of peace and joy. As she sings on the part-three single “Bliss,” “You teach me things I never knew / A crush don’t have to leave a bruise / My soul is shining, changed my life with perfect timing.” Mark’s delivery over the song’s soupy bassline is a marvel, as she dips in and out of the groove, taking brief pauses for dramatic effect, and using her impressive range to showcase the triumph she’s feeling. It’s the kind of approach that can’t be taught. — A.S.

“YEET,” Yung Kayo featuring Yeat

Yung Kayo might be the weirdest rapper on the Young Stoner Life roster, delivering braggadocios trap bars over tracks that draw more from PC Music than Atlanta. See: the intoxicating “YEET,” which works best when you fully give yourself over to it. (Another thing to give yourself over to? The fact that “YEET” happens to feature a fellow up-and-comer actually named Yeat, whose name is a blend of “yeet” and “heat.”) Kayo squares off against an unrelenting wall of bass and synth lines for one of his most technically skilled performances, rapping one verse at a rapid-fire clip before taking a breather in the second. And sure, you could say his writing is surface-level and basic, but it’s better to enjoy Kayo while he’s flexing about Goyard dreams and dropping lines like “I’m ‘bout to float like I’m elevate, I’m ‘bout to float like a BRB.” — J.C.

“Jealousy,” FKA twigs

“I learned to write a hook,” admitted FKA Twigs in a statement accompanying her intimate 2022 mixtape, CAPRISONGS. That maturation is readily apparent on “Jealousy,” a bouncy Afrobeats-indebted single that explores two sides of a story: a woman suspecting nefarious actions of her partner, while her partner — played by Nigerian star Rema — tries to convince her otherwise (“Girl, I’m sick and tired of your drama,” he sings, “Don’t let me take you back to your mama”). Twigs is looking for a tension break, and she finds it in the chorus, pouring her desperate need for a reprieve into an infectious melody: “I just want to go outside / and feel the sun is shining on my better side.” — A.S.

“One Way, or Every N - - - - With a Budget,” Saba

Saba’s “One Way” is a snapshot of success — the double-edged sword of being the one friend in your group who broke big and started making money. For now, the 27-year-old rapper is ordering “pasta that I cannot pronounce properly,” netting a million after taxes to spend on fashion, and hiring an accountant to manage it all. “We all splurgin’ on this dumb shit, ’cause we careless and we youngins,” he spits over a jangling beat and nervy guitar riff. But caution still lies around the corner, both from his white neighbors eyeing him and his friends suspiciously and for the bottom that could fall out at any moment. As Saba says, “It’s a one-way street.” — A.S.

“Bites on My Neck,” yeule

Stay with me here: The most beautiful pop song of 2022 so far is called “Bites on My Neck,” off an album called Glitch Princess. It’s by yeule, a performer from Singapore who plays with electronic dissonance while still making extremely polished, often poignant music. “Bites” is one of their most straightforward tracks — a love song that soars in the truest sense of the word. While other cuts off Glitch Princess consider online life, this one simply faces the overwhelming feeling of love, building on a tradition of emotional electropop that spans from Robyn to Charli XCX. But “Bites on My Neck” is less crying-in-the-club and more life-affirming, thanks to a radiant synthesized siren in the chorus. It’s music that’s meant to be shared. — J.C.

“Porta,” Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten pivoted to electronics to superb effect on her last album, 2019’s nostalgia-fueled Remind Me Tomorrow. Where that record leaned into darkness, her latest single, “Porta,” uses those same tools to make a burst of synthpop-lite. Not that it’s easy subject matter — Van Etten confronts her anxiety and depression head-on here, personifying those thoughts into a stalker that wants to “steal” her life. It’s a concept that might come off as too heavy-handed from another artist, but Van Etten makes it work thanks to those synths, which take “Porta” from wallowing to motivating. (The music video of Van Etten doing pilates with an instructor friend is surprisingly fitting and moving.) Once the churning track behind Van Etten climaxes, the song turns too: “Stay out of my life!” she declares to what’s been following her. It sounds like freedom. — J.C.

“Red Moon,” Big Thief

The cover of Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, the transcendent double album from folk-rock heroes Big Thief, is a graphite sketch of four animals playing guitars, sitting around a campfire. It’s a perfect expression of some of Big Thief’s best traits: casual, playful, communal. And if that picture had a sound, it’d be “Red Moon,” the country toe-tapper that kicks off the second disc. It’s one of the most laid-back songs the band has ever made, like an impromptu jam session that just happened to get recorded. It’s also the album’s best showcase for the lively fiddle playing by unofficial fifth member Mat Davidson and features some especially clever writing from Adrianne Lenker (“I got the oven on, I got the onions wishing / They hadn’t made me cry”). Oh, and it’s got a shoutout to Lenker’s own grandmother on top of it all. — J.C.

The Best Songs of 2022 (So Far)