Exclaim!'s 25 Best Songs of 2023

Photos (clockwise from top left): Flyana Boss courtesy of Live Nation, Mannequin Pussy by Millicent Hailes, Kylie Minogue courtesy of BMG, Bibi Club by Berthiaume & Delphine Snyers

BY Exclaim! StaffPublished Dec 1, 2023

In recent years, the music industry has become increasingly dominated by solo artists rather than bands — but, looking back at the best songs of 2023, collaborations provided many of the moments that rose to the top. Whether it was emerging up-and-comers lifting one another up to achieve their star-making moment, two cousins having an absolute blast on the year's summer rap banger, or three famously melancholic singer-songwriters joyfully reviving their supergroup, it was a pleasure to see artists share the spotlight.

It was largely a grim year for pop hits. With the singles charts dominated by blandly forgettable background music for waiting rooms ("Flowers," "Last Night") and own-the-libs campaigns spearheaded by conservative radio ("Try That in a Small Town," "Rich Men North of Richmond"), the best songs weren't world-dominating blockbusters, but rather esoteric surprises and subculture smashes.

These are Exclaim!'s 25 best songs of 2023. See our other year-end lists, including the year's best albums, here.

25. MIKE, Wiki and the Alchemist
"Mayors a Cop"
(ALC Records)

At the end of another prolific production year for the Alchemist, "Mayors a Cop" with MIKE and Wiki stands as one of his best beats. An ominous horn figure sets the scene for the latter rapper to point out the moral and political decay not only in his native NYC, but also the majority of metropolises on this continent. Listen then to how that horn melody is spun out into dreamier territory by vibraphone and harp, culminating in the two MCs trading 16s in the final verse, sticking together and leading with love.
Calum Slingerland

24. Spiritbox
"The Void"
(Rise Records)

If Courtney LaPlante is leading, one would be wise to follow. On "The Void," the Spiritbox vocalist sings of a fearless free-fall into "a hole that was made for me," finding strength in surrendering to the unknown. Just as spirited is the band's approach to this potent bit of pop-minded metal, spurred by ebullient, bouncy drums, dynamic juxtaposition of clear and distorted guitars, and the growling low-end of newly added bassist Josh Gilbert — all rendered that much heavier in the concluding half-time chorus.
Calum Slingerland

23. Nourished by Time
(Scenic Route Records)

On "Daddy," Nourished by Time mastermind Marcus Brown uses passive coyness to cope with an ambivalent lover. A four-on-the-floor beat pulsates as he connects the dots, while he flippantly admits, "I say I love you, you say whatever." Ironically joyful keys turn into an icy, Depeche Mode-esque breakdown, before circling back into itself. It reads like reluctant acceptance — as if having a fraction of what you want is better than not having it at all.
Sydney Brasil

22. Wednesday
"Chosen to Deserve"
(Dead Oceans)

Wednesday's Rat Saw God is one of the year's most sincere and well-written records, an inventive countrygaze (yes, that's a thing now) insta-classic, with "Chosen to Deserve" standing as its towering centrepiece. In five and a half minutes, the band packs in hungover guitar lines, yawning slide and a soaring wordless chorus, distilling teenage ennui through all those inglorious nights spent underage drinking, hooking up and pool hopping. Here, idleness is godliness, so get ready to feel sick with nostalgia.
Marko Djurdjic

21. NewJeans
"Super Shy"

For their second EP, Get Up, South Korean girl group NewJeans tapped an unexpected crew of collaborators, namely singer-songwriter Erika de Casier and producer Frankie Scoca, to infuse the project with a barrage of eclectic influences, ranging from Jersey club to UK garage. The result? The supremely catchy first single and EP highlight "Super Shy," which helps NewJeans to stand out from the increasingly crowded K-pop scene looking to make inroads among Western audiences. 
Scott Simpson

20. Dilly Dally
"Colour of Joy"

They've come a long way since "Purple Rage." After a decade together, Dilly Dally announced their farewell with a pair of new singles, "Colour of Joy" and "Morning Light," two crystalline treasures in a gleaming catalogue cut short only by circumstance. As "Colour of Joy" indicates, they've each grown so much since their 2010s heyday, and with that change, some pruning has needed to occur along the way. Unfortunately, the band didn't make the cut, but they couldn't have left fans with a better parting gift — Enda Monks's raw, visceral vocals paired with Liz Ball's soaring grunge-meets-punk melodies, propelled by Annie Jane Marie and Ben Reinhartz's iambic rhythm section.
Allie Gregory

19. Peggy Gou
"(It Goes Like) Nanana"
(XL Recordings)

Sometimes a song comes along that you'd swear you've heard before. Not because it sounds particularly derivative, but because it's so natural-sounding that it seems impossible it's never been done; how has this chorus, on this beat, in this time signature, never materialized before? Peggy Gou — armed with a boomeranging sample, a thumping 130 bpm, some twinkling keys and a "na na na" chorus — has crafted such an earworm, an instant body-mover and smile-widener that already feels like a late-night classic.
Kaelen Bell

(Arts & Crafts)

For an artist as bold as DEBBY FRIDAY, the lead single from her debut LP GOOD LUCK is an unexpected outlier from the outstanding outsider. Shedding her typically twisted, forbidding experimental sonics, "SO HARD TO TELL" presents seductive pop melodies and sage emotional support via lush, bubbly, dreamy alt-R&B — reflecting on youthful spells and struggles on the road to growth and grace, with FRIDAY's heartfelt vulnerability and grounded guidance the beacon for a new way.
Chris Bryson

17. Kylie Minogue
"Padam Padam"

Padam? Padam. More than three decades into her career, Kylie Minogue crashed back into the zeitgeist on a bolt of neon red. Minogue's simple needs — passion, release, shivers and butterflies — meet an equally simple Lostboy beat, an elastic 4/4 Eurobeat pulse. Strictly speaking, it's not the best that Tension has to offer (that's the euphoric title track), but it's the most important song of Minogue's recent career, a definitive gay anthem that helped reaffirm her reign as the Princess of Pop.
Kaelen Bell

16. Four Tet
"Three Drums"
(Text Records)

Kieren Hebden spent some of 2023 involved in an earth-rumbling blockbuster EMD collaboration with Fred again.. and Skrillex — but his lone solo single of the year went in the exact opposite direction, with an eight-minute expanse of head-nodding rhythms and swirling string pads that gradually dissolve into a sublime ether of hypnagogic ambience. Drifting sweetly away from the dance floor, this one's for the sleepy stumble home.
Alex Hudson

15. Big Thief
"Vampire Empire"

When Big Thief released the studio version of live favourite "Vampire Empire," there was a bizarre wave of criticism from the indie corner of the internet over the fact that the band had changed a few lyrics. Fittingly, on "Vampire Empire" lead singer Adrianne Lenker is navigating through obfuscatory expectations and the toxicity in her life. But Big Thief don't let this negativity drain them of energy. Instead, "Vampire Empire" is an intense rock track that feels like an impassioned call to break toxic cycles and seek out the light.
Laura Stanley

14. Fever Ray
"Even It Out"
(Mute Records)

"This is for Zacharias!" Karin Dreijer sings through a menacing grin. A revenge fantasy about methodically slicing their child's high school tormentor to bits, "Even It Out" shouldn't be so fun. And yet! Atop a beat from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Dreijer imagines a world where justice is a knife blade, no parent-teacher meetings required. It's violent and darkly funny, but there's an ember of devotion burning beneath the bloodlust — it's a love song between parent and child, a maniacal promise of protection no matter the consequence. 
Kaelen Bell

13. U.S. Girls
"Tux (Your Body Fills Me, Boo)"
(Royal Mountain Records)

The shimmering disco number embodies the excess of its protagonist — a tuxedo yearning to be put on. It's an elegant double entendre for Meg Remy embodying her motherhood, and the guile of the track's many parts mirrors her multitudes. Busy synths meet a remorselessly funky bassline, magnifying the desire to put on your very best.
Sydney Brasil

12. Ratboys
"The Window"
(Topshelf Records)

Those in the know had a feeling that Chicago's Ratboys had yet to realize their true promise — and on their latest album, The Window, they got there. The title track is a dynamic song that perfectly captures the group's mix of folksy Americana and spunky, wiry indie rock. It starts quietly and finishes with a bang as singer Julia Steiner narrates her grandfather's final goodbyes to her dying grandmother through the window of a nursing home: "I'll always have the memories of our life together." "The Window" is tender, heartbreaking, life-affirming and exhilarating.
Adam Feibel

11. boygenius
(Interscope Records)

Whatever the merits of boygenius may be to an individual listener, their existence is worth it for the trio's harmonies alone. On the Baker-led "$20," pop punk-ish guitar undergirds a song all about the road to self-destruction. But it's much more than one might expect from three solo artists who are often pigeonholed as making "sad girl music," whatever that means. Its carefully constructed catharsis, courtesy of Bridgers shrieking the song title ragged over crashing drums, comes after a measured build-up of those same harmonies swirling around in equal parts passion and hysteria.
Nicholas Sokic

Click "Next" to continue reading.10. Yaeji
"For Granted"
(XL Recordings)

Contemplating gratitude has never sounded so hypnotic and groovy. Brooklyn-based eclectic electronic artist Yaeji dropped her catchiest track yet near the top of 2023, and it has stuck with us all year. "For Granted" is an indelible dance floor workout for thoughtful head bobbers, with a constantly evolving beat that builds from an understated ambient groove that references '90s techno and trip-hop all the way to a frenetic, cathartic jungle-IDM climax. With the silky, mantra-like quality of her vocal delivery, the Korean-American producer has managed to make an outright banger that's as calm and soothing as it is intense, sublimely expressing the paradoxical nature of introspection in first-world culture: recognizing and being thankful for how magical it is that we live in such rich conditions, and frustrated by the horrors of history that still permeate the lives of so many around the world. 
Scott A. Gray

9. Björk and Rosalía
(One Little Independent)

"Your mouth floats above my bed at night / My own private moon," a 30-something-year-old Björk murmurs in the first seconds of the recently recovered "Oral." The line instantly places itself in the pantheon of classic Björk-isms, and that's all before Rosalía even shows up. Two sonic pioneers who splice genre, technology and culture in ways both thrilling and controversial, the pair dance atop Björk's decades-old dancehall beat (updated by Sega Bodega) and lose themselves in a reverie of strings and woodwinds. The song was released to aid the fight against foreign commercial farming in Iceland, but its opalescent sensuality and shivering tension wrestle with a more intimate sort of righteousness.
Kaelen Bell

8. Flyana Boss
"You Wish"
(vnclm_ / Atlantic Records)

"Hello, Christ? / I'm about to sin again" will never not be a worthy soundtrack to the practice of opening up TikTok. Even the clock app-averse quickly found themselves acquainted with the vision in bright purple sweatpants that is Folayan running through the streets in her highlighter-pink braids, leaping through the air while singing the instantly-memorable mantra: "I'm made of sugar, spice, Kanekalon and cinnamon." Teeming with irresistible personality, she and musical bestie Bobbi LaNea managed to make the mysterious algorithm their bitch with a bouncy, strutting piano melody and their endlessly quotable braggadocio. Dividends at last!
Megan LaPierre

7. Bibi Club 
"Le feu"
(Secret City Records) 

Since the release of debut album Le soleil et la mer in 2022, Montreal duo Bibi Club have established themselves as one of the most innovative indie pop acts in the country. And if their single "Le feu" is any indication, the future looks even brighter for Adèle Trottier-Rivard and Nicolas Basque. Fuelled by bright electric guitars, spacey synths and a driving rhythm, the track beautifully bridges the gap between post-punk and dream pop while Trottier-Rivard's vocals delicately float over the music.
Bruno Coulombe

6. Mannequin Pussy
"I Got Heaven"
(Epitaph Records)

Mannequin Pussy roared back onto the scene, quite literally, with "I Got Heaven." Marisa Dabice's impassioned vocals let it rip in a way that obliterates anything they come into contact with: so searing and raw it feels like you're nursing a wound from the snarling jaws of a Doberman as she yells, "I am biting at their knees!" Both a critique on the weaponization of Christianity and a reverent celebration of the world's heavenly beauty, the song is the ultimate assertion of choosing love over profit, violence and corruption. Amid all the noise of today's misinformation and misdirection, Mannequin Pussy offer the right noise to tune into.
Dylan Barnabe

5. Caroline Polachek
"Welcome to My Island"
(Perpetual Novice)

The fourth single — and de facto title track — from this year's best album is described by its singer as the "brattiest" song she's ever made, and she's right; looking back on the music of 2023 will forever be synonymous with Polachek's chorus-opening call to "Desire." It harnesses the power of '80s pop, Polachek's vocal acrobatics and the dream production team of PC Music boss A. G. Cook and frequent collaborator Danny L Harle to create a blueprint of maximal, operatic pop with a foot in both innovation and reverence for its forebears. Polachek is her own sacrificial lamb on the track; "Welcome to My Island" is the door to her slaughterhouse.
Allie Gregory

4. Baby Keem and Kendrick Lamar
"The Hillbillies"

Family-tied rappers Kendrick Lamar and Baby Keem united for one of the jiggiest tunes of the year. The two exude fun, interweaving their verses as they rap about their extravagant fashion, exquisite meals, world travels and beautiful women, all over elegant production that samples Bon Iver's "PDLIF." To spice things up, the duo borrow Drake's "Sticky" flow, a sneak diss to demonstrate their rap prowess and prove that anything he can do, they can do better. As cousins, these two share undeniable chemistry, going so far as to liken themselves to some of the best soccer players in the world: "They gon' think that you rep me, girl /  5' 7", I'm Messi, girl / I'm a pass you to Neymar, he got time for your bestie, girl." With "The Hillbillies," they proved that they are indeed on top of their game.
Papa Minnow 

3. Lana Del Rey
(Interscope Records / Universal Music)

The seven-minute epic "A&W" entwines Lana Del Rey as song-level character and real-world artist. A lyric like "I won't testify / I already fucked up my story" speaks from the perspective of the archetypal "whore" who spins the record's tale, and captures Del Rey's attitude toward fame: a refusal to pointlessly pursue an untainted image. The song balks at maintaining a prim facade or consistent narrative: she's at the Ramada, not in Rosemead like she claimed; she's a princess having sex on the hotel floor; she's reflecting on childhood as a piano cascades down the corridors of her mind. And then, once the track transmogrifies into a gurgling beat, bass synths violently ripping its fabric, she's flipping a '50s doo-wop song into a schoolyard chant. It's gaudy and glitzy, sleazy and sinister — an amalgam of the American imagination and its underbelly, the rightful land of Lana Del Rey.
Noah Ciubotaru

2. Avalon Emerson
"Astrology Poisoning"
(Another Dove / One House)

Global warming, nihilism, social alienation and "another day of glamorous euphoria in spite of it all" — it's hard to imagine a song that better conveys the strange contradictions of life in the 2020s than this one by Berlin-based dance DJ turned dream pop enchanter Avalon Emerson. Amid burbling bass octaves and playful, pillow-soft synths, Emerson coos bleak lines about crumbling cities and distant relationships, while a clever line about "heat death" blurs the line between the heating of the earth and the eventual freezing of the universe. Grim stuff, but with Emerson impassively deadpanning a transcendent pop chorus, it's possible to join her in a fleeting moment of glamorous euphoria.
Alex Hudson

1. PinkPantheress and Ice Spice
"Boy's a liar Pt. 2"
(Warner Music)

At a time when both PinkPantheress and Ice Spice were on the verge of superstardom with inescapable TikTok bops like "Pain" and "Munch," the pair joined forces and delivered a generational hit with "Boy's a liar Pt. 2." An update on PinkPantheress's 2022 single, the collaboration sees both artists at the height of their abilities, uniting against duplicitous dudes over catchy-as-can-be production that plinks and bloops like an SNES soundtrack. Despite its emotional subject matter, it's light and airy, clocking in at just two addictive minutes and playfully pitting PinkPantheress's soft, sparkling vocals against Ice Spice's swaggering Bronx flow. It's a star-making moment from two of this generation's most promising artists — and it's almost impossible to listen to just once.
Wesley McLean

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