Exclaim!'s 25 Best Songs of 2022

Photos (clockwise from top left): Plains by Chris Gee, Julia Jacklin by Nick Mckk, Alex G by Atsuko Kobasigawa, DijahSB by Roya DelSol

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Dec 1, 2022

Thanks to TikTok and streaming services, all eras of popular music have been condensed into one, where young listeners rediscover and reappraise past generations — seemingly without any particular concern for where or when it came from. Mother Mother are suddenly famous, Charles Manson songs are associated with cozy fall vibes, and an obscure Pinkerton B-side is a bigger hit than any of the new music Weezer released this year.

With that in mind, the signature song of 2022 is almost unquestionably "Running Up That Hill" — the 1985 Kate Bush anthem that was featured prominently in Stranger Things 4 this summer, and subsequently became a bigger hit than it ever was upon its initial release.

For artists releasing new music in 2022, it sometimes felt like they were competing for attention against the rest of music history. How is a song supposed to cut through the noise when there are so many past songs being celebrated anew? This year never had a true "song of the summer," or a clear runaway for which song best captured the confused, conflicted tenor of 2022. (Unlike 2021, for example, when the song-of-the-year choice was easy.)

That being said, 2022 had no shortage of incredible songs — from a huge star who made up for his disastrous film roles with a classic pop hit, to Canadian indie upstarts who released under-appreciated gems, to a cryptic reflection of what separates humanity from the rest of the animal world.

Exclaim!'s 25 Best Songs of 2022 are below. All of our 2022 year-end lists, including Exclaim!'s 50 Best Songs of 2022, can be found here.

25. The Beaches
"Grow Up Tomorrow"

It's the ultimate way to rationalize any bad behaviour: I'll change tomorrow. Toronto four-piece the Beaches deliver a raucous pop rock anthem chronicling a lifestyle of perpetual partying, promising to change their ways "after I throw up tomorrow." In the meantime, though, singer Jordan Miller is watching her peers find success while she admits, "Haven't done my laundry in a million weeks / But I'm feeling so chic with my thong inside out." 
Alex Hudson

24. Caroline Polachek
(Perpetual Novice)

In the middle of winter's deep freeze, Caroline Polachek released "Billions"— an icy, glitch pop single that breathed fresh air into a room of stale circulation. Polachek proved once more that she is as ethereal as we all remembered; her vocals soaring to new heights in all their spatial brilliance. "Billions," co-produced by Danny L. Harle, is the artist's attempt to create something that "captured the afterglow of a reopening" — and what a reopening indeed. The lyrics, with stark phrasing like "Headless, angel / Body upgraded" and "Psycho, priceless / Good in a crisis," conjure visceral images devoid of intrinsic meaning that ultimately make room for individual interpretation — a choose-your-own-adventure of sorts.
Dylan Barnabe

23. Shygirl
(Because Music)

A musical aesthete who transports listeners for the sake of escape, Shygirl makes cool and cleansing '90s dance music, facelifted with hyperpop charisma. Her sound is a water world of calm and letting loose, and "Firefly" reflects this danceable tranquility perfectly. Reengineering Trey Songz's steamy "Ready To make Luv" with the ethereal touch of a fairy, "Firefly" is an emotional banger cast with serene blues hues and cold sweat droplets. It's a simple cut, but a bridge that leads uninitiated listeners to wade into Shygirl's unruly waters.
Kyle Kohner

22. Rachel Bobbitt

Those songs that make your heart feel like it's going to explode are ones to hold dear. With the debut single for her first EP for Fantasy, Toronto-via-Nova Scotia's Rachel Bobbitt unassumingly transforms her desire to not have kids into a driving, War on Drugs-esque anthem for feeling betrayed by your anatomy. "They say that the body's just a thing to house a life / But mine heaves in protest with the pressure of just mine," she sings in tendrils, with Justice Der's gripping arpeggios giving the content even more weight.
Megan LaPierre

21. The Beths
"Expert in a Dying Field"

Honeyed melodies and sugar-rush hooks sweeten singer Elizabeth Stokes's absolutely devastating breakup lyrics, which highlight the disappointment of putting years of work into a relationship only for it not to work out. "Love is learned over time," she plaintively observes amidst fuzzed-out alt-rock guitars, "Till you're an expert in a dying field."
Alex Hudson

20. Carly Rae Jepsen
"Surrender My Heart"

At her best, Carly Rae Jepsen channels unadulterated bursts of feeling into mantra. Though The Loneliest Time's release may have been overshadowed by Taylor Swift's Midnights, none of the F-bombs Swift drops are nearly as impactful as Jepsen's opener's quivering first-verse "I'm trying not to fuck this up." Punctuated by twinkling synths and static-kissed '80s drum machine fills reminiscent of M83, the Queen of Everything is the most vulnerable she's ever been as she pleads with herself to put down the sword and embrace openness.
Megan LaPierre

19. Earl Sweatshirt feat. Armand Hammer
"Tabula Rasa"
(Tan Cressida / Warner)

While they're one voice short of the form's usual definition, Earl Sweatshirt and Armand Hammer (the duo of Billy Woods and Elucid) hold one of the most powerful posse cuts of 2022 in "Tabula Rasa," the crown jewel of Sweatshirt's gem-laden SICK! As dim a scene as the contemplative, chopped piano evokes, the vocalists' three-man weave electrifies with its gripping lyrical intro and extroversion, leaving Earl's steadfast spirit to wipe the slate clean.
Calum Slingerland

18. Nilüfer Yanya 
"midnight sun"

Nilüfer Yanya is a master of the quiet seethe. Her already impressive and always stylish body of work is defined by a flinty reserve, the kind of quietude that would read as apathy were it not so blistering to the touch. When Yanya does erupt, it's with an incandescent and unnerving focus; a long-dormant volcano hurling ash and fire, its targets predestined. On "midnight sun" — the towering centrepiece of Yanya's spectacular sophomore record PAINLESS — she makes love sound like cataclysm, laying waste with enormous magma flows of guitar after three and a half minutes of rumbling slow-burn. Even standing amid the swirling embers, she's cool and collected as ever.  
Kaelen Bell

17. Wet Leg

We all know an Angelica. An effortless socialite that never arrives empty-handed, commands the room with grace and never shows any apprehension. On the other hand, our narrator plays the unenthused wallflower who seethes when another music bro tries to get her to come to his show. Wet Leg offers poignant commentary on the satellite parties of art scenes with "Angelica," as they allude to internalized misogyny, social hierarchy and transactional relationships — as they put it, some people are only here for the free beer.
Sydney Brasil

16. Aquakultre feat. Trobiz
"Africvillean Funk"
(Forward / Black Buffalo)

Twice removed from its source material, Billy Garner's "I Got Some" hook becomes the sound of Haligonian neo-funk as Aquakultre and Trobiz set it to the beat of a communal get-down on this speculative party joint. Interpolating the DJ Premier flip of Garner's track from Gang Starr's "B.Y.S.," the piano is plunkier and more ecstatic here, wah guitars lending psychedelic looseness while an organ calls for celebration, rapped bars poured out for ghosts of Africvilles past and future.
Tom Beedham

15. Angel Olsen
"Big Time"

While Angel Olsen's illuminative country record Big Time is full of incredibly sad songs, coming after the death of both Olsen's parents, the album's title track is a joyous celebration of love. Co-written with Olsen's partner Beau Thibodeaux, "Big Time" has a gorgeous glittery twang to it — but what's most staggering is how well it captures the feeling of finally being free to be yourself. It also has one of the best lines of the year: "Guess I had to be losing to get here on time."
Laura Stanley

"Cherry Coke"
(Arts & Crafts)

Channelling the most heart-tenderizing aspects of Status/Non-Status's Adam Sturgeon and Zoon's Daniel Monkman respective projects, the two bandleaders came together to form OMBIIGIZI, introducing their Kevin Drew-produced debut collaborative album with "Residential Military" back in 2021. But it was with the transcendental offering "Cherry Coke" that it became clear this was no side project — Monkman and Sturgeon's voices undulating in perfect harmony, aptly employing their self-described "moccasin-gaze" to recount glossy memories of childhood, recounting the empathetic nature of Monkman's father. 
Allie Gregory

13. Chat Pile
(The Flenser)

With their grimy, grisly sludge metal, Chat Pile excel at exposing America's toxic, festering underbelly. A standout from the Oklahama band's debut album God's Country, the gruesomely literal "Why" portrays poverty, houselessness and wealth inequality as the horrors they are. Vocalist Raygun Busch confronts us with questions that have obvious answers, and he presents that frustrating reality with matter-of-fact stoicism that inevitably erupts into desperate, guttural screams. If watching cops beat the piss out of people in encampments and seeing politicians applaud them for it already makes you angry, then this song is designed to push you over the edge.
Adam Feibel

12. Big Thief
"Simulation Swarm"

On their most ambitious, far-reaching and unsuppressed 20-song album Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, it's difficult to pin down just one as the quintessential Big Thief song from 2022. Yet somewhere during the onset of the record's wavering fourth and final act, "Simulation Swarm" ticks off many of the boxes the four-piece has become known for. Not unlike their previous albums' familial centerpieces like Capacity's "Mythological Beauty" or Two Hands' "Shoulders," the lucid, asymmetrical guitar work on "Simulation Swarm"  illuminates Adrianne Lenker's instinctive mysticism as she subconsciously verbalizes a dream of an inherited broken connection.
Chris Gee

11. Alvvays
"After the Earthquake"
(Celsius Girls)

Tracing the squiggly fault lines in the rubble, "After the Earthquake" is the tightly wound highlight of Blue Rev, encapsulating much of what makes Alvvays's third album their most energized work to date: trying to climb one's way out of a seismic wake, the magnitude of its impact still revealing itself between commercials on a waiting room TV. The tonic of Alec O'Hanley's syrupy, buzzing riffs in conversation with Molly Rankin's dynamic delivery nearly comes to an abrupt halt in the subdued bridge, before a convulsing aftershock brings the chorus back to its boppy epicentre.
Megan LaPierre

Click "Next" to continue reading.10. DijahSB feat. Terrell Morris
"Green Line"

Sure, the title and chorus speak deeply to Torontonians slogging commutes on the TTC's green line. But working-class transit hoppers anywhere will relate to the rest of DijahSB's rhymes on this melancholy-funk sounding anthem that rumbles like a train on worn, but sturdy, tracks. The rapper's bars about condos crowding out the disenfranchised, not to mention the line "none of our rappers get to grow up," are universal and, sadly, ever-timely. And as featured fellow Toronto rising star Terrell Morris brings his Molasses-catchy voice to bear on rhymes about being a "product of my environment," commuters of all stripes will be glad to listen to these civic minded MCs on the long ride home after a long hard day.
Kyle Mullin

9. Haley Blais
"Coolest fucking bitch in town"
(Tiny Kingdom)

The self-assuredness of the title "Coolest fucking bitch in town," the first of two singles Vancouver singer-songwriter (and sometimes YouTuber) Haley Blais released this year, certainly grabs your attention. But underneath the bravado of the song's name, Blais is startlingly forthright about how uncool she feels, despite her outward confidence, and the anxieties that come with growing up. The loose layers of pop-rock instrumentation wander and feel almost unsteady as Blais comes to the realization that we're all going through shit and sings, "I'm not the only one who's split in half." Ironically, because the song is so good, by the end you are left feeling that Blais really is the coolest fucking bitch in town.
Laura Stanley

8. Harry Styles
"As It Was"

As the first piece of material released ahead of Harry Styles's bombastic third album, Harry's House, "As It Was" kicked off a newly imaginative creative direction for the British heartthrob. Throughout the timeless '80s indebted synth-pop track, Styles works through a web of self-deprecation, regret, melancholic self-awareness, and bittersweet memories. "Nothing to say / When everything gets in the way / Seems you cannot be replaced / And I'm the one who will stay," sings Styles intimately through shimmering chimes and striking backbeat. What makes "As It Was" such a special song — beyond the lively, technicolor production — is Styles' uncanny ability to effortlessly and confidently accept the inevitability of change.  
Myles Tiessen

7. Plains
"Problem with It"

"If you can't do better than that, babe / I got a problem with it" — sometimes it's just that easy, isn't it? On "Problem with It," Waxahatchee's Katie Cutchfield wields her heroic, hard-won dignity like a scalpel, carving vivid patterns in the skin of an unavailable and deadbeat love. Backed by Plains co-conspirator Jess Williamson, the song is the crown jewel of their sterling collaborative album I Walked with You a Ways, a further refining of the empathetic, so-simple-it-must-be-true wisdom that Crutchfield dispensed on 2020's Saint Cloud. Dressed in swaggering country pop and a carefully plucked banjo, Crutchfield stands tall over her life and decides for herself — If this is all there is, it's time to hit the road. 
Kaelen Bell

6. Kendrick Lamar feat. Beth Gibbons
"Mother I Sober" 
(Aftermath / Interscope / pgLang / Top Dawg) 

The penultimate track from Kendrick Lamar's Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers is a poignant ballad on family trauma that sees the Compton rapper share vocals with Portishead's Beth Gibbons. Over a soft piano, Lamar details his mother's sexual abuse, while also highlighting his own faults as a lover and a father. This is one of Lamar's most personal songs, and yet it is Gibbons who delivers the most crushing line: "I wish I was somebody / Anybody but myself." With its slow crescendo and beautiful string orchestrations, "Mother I Sober" is a powerful statement on how trauma can only be overcome by sharing our experience. 
Bruno Coulombe

5. Men I Trust
"Billie Toppy"

Having found a large audience while remaining resolutely DIY, Montreal trio Men I Trust spent 2022 enjoying the spoils of their success, touring as an opener with Khruangbin and Jack White, respectively, and backing up Joey Bada$$ on network TV. And while they didn't release an album, they did drop a few loosies — including this absolute banger, which grafts wobbly new wave riffs onto a driving motorik surge. "Billie Toppy" sounds totally badass, until singer Emmanuelle Proulx's feather-light voice lifts the song into dream pop airiness, her abstract lyrics painting a slightly sinister picture of devotion that creates an addictive push-and-pull between anxiety and bliss.
Alex Hudson

4. Julia Jacklin
"I Was Neon"

There's almost nothing to it and yet, once it's inside of you, it never leaves. "Am I going to lose myself again?" Julia Jacklin asks herself, seemingly forever. The song starts unassumingly, but strong — a post-punk rhythmic bounce luring us into a pattern that barely shifts under Jacklin's sparse narrative that is so certain about her being uncertain. The vocal is a spirited and haunting exhalation. The package is rather Land of Talk in its resolute vulnerability, little details poking out to stir you from an exhilarating stupor. Get lost in it; stay there.
Vish Khanna

3. Beyoncé
(Columbia / Parkwood)

RENAISSANCE is a grand rebirth for Beyoncé and the many artists, communities and eras of dance music it pays homage to while celebrating pleasure, self, perseverance and liberation. On powerfully jubilant lead single "BREAK MY SOUL," vocals from Big Freedia's bounce track "Explode" stutter over a burbling synth beat echoing Robin S.'s influential remixed house classic "Show Me Love." Beyoncé revels in resilience, growling at the word "break." Despite superstar status, lyrics about stressful work, falling in love, and getting motivation and a new foundation resonate with empowering affirmations: "We go up and down, lost and found / Searching for love / Looking for something that lives inside me."
Chris Bryson

2. Steve Lacy
"Bad Habit"

Musically evoking bits and pieces of Mac DeMarco, Blood Orange and Prince, "Bad Habit" is the sound of this young Compton wunderkind blending neo-soul, slacker rock, bedroom pop, funk, and jangle pop into one delicious, vacuum-sealed package. Not a surprise, then, that the song topped the Billboard hip-hop, R&B and alternative charts all at once — the results of the song's stylistic mélange are utterly seamless. In it, Lacy laments a missed opportunity for love after discovering his crush liked him back the whole time. It's a feeling he delivers with impassioned, unflinching earnestness, all while remaining cool as a cucumber (despite his pained bargaining for ways to make up for his missed cues). The theme is a wholly relatable one, and "Bad Habit" reaching the summit of the Billboard Hot 100 for three straight weeks has arguably cemented it as 2022's most unexpected — but wholly welcomed — pop music success story.
Dave MacIntyre

1. Alex G

After the plea of Alex G's latest album title, God Save the Animals, has been shouted to the heavens, an implication lingers: we, the humans, might be beyond saving. It's a prospect that slips out of focus almost as soon as one resolves to face it, but Alex G starts "Runner" from a humble place, building a defense for our species out of tiny redeeming details. "I like people who I can open up to" is his first thought, vague and almost inane. He keeps ruminating for a moment, trying to capture the essence of a good human, but his attention is suddenly yanked by something more immediate. "My runner, my runner, my man," he effuses on the chorus, a cheer that also sounds strained by desperation, buckling with its final word. Whoever's running, he wants them to keep going. You could see an athlete dashing for the end zone, a dog barrelling toward your open arms, or more cynically—yet in line with the song's shiftier allusions—you could see a drug peddler, someone who's done a couple bad things like the rest of us. "Runner" doesn't make its subject clear — an Alex G song rarely does — so it invites you to see the human in the animal and the animal in the human, and to imagine that some form of salvation could be found in admiring the fact that we all keep running.
Noah Ciubotaru

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