Two years after the world unexpectedly shut down, the period of isolation has proven that people need music more than ever before. As music festivals and tour announcements powered through our changing world, there had to be a healthy supply of music to meet such a powerful demand. 2022 delivered.
2022 saw new releases from modern icons Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. Drake made a shift to house music. Megan Thee Stallion stood tall in the face of unspeakable trauma. Charli XCX held our hands through the history of pop music and Rina Sawayama healed our inner child. Even Britney Spears made a triumphant comeback, aided by none other than Elton John. If none of these things were on this year’s bingo card, now you know how to prepare for 2023.
While so much music came out this year, there’s only so much that can be represented across countless year-end lists. PAPER continues to be a source of the new, the alternative, the strange and the groundbreaking. Check out our staff picks for our songs of the year below.
Related | PAPER's Favorite Albums of 2022
Bree Runway — "That Girl"
In a long lineage of cocky bangers, Bree Runway’s “That Girl” is a welcome addition, as she continued to bulldoze her own space in music this year. Between lines like “I can pronounce everything I wear” and “my ass thick, but my bank account thicker,” the London pop artist’s collaboration with PC Music signee Easyfun is abrasive and addictive. She further proves her affinity for fashion with a music video produced by industry heavyweights: Ruth Hogben on co-creative direction and Anna Trevelyan on styling, among others. That hot pink Fall 2022 Richard Quinn look, complete with matching frilly hood, is perfection.
— Justin Moran, Editor-in-Chief
AG Club feat. Sam Truth, Glen the Saiyan and redveil — "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
AG Club are fresh-faced trendsetters armed with the endless creativity of youthfulness and enough naïveté to go into the booth without any outside bias or influence. The Bay Area underground familiars are spearheaded by Baby Boy and Jody Fontaine, a brilliant duo with chemistry as far as the eye can see. They evoke fond memories of Odd Future, A$AP Mob and Flatbush Zombies for a new generation, and they’re breaking new ground just like their predecessors. Standout track “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” from their latest release IMPOSTER Syndrome finds the duo with Sam Truth, Glen the Saiyan and redveil for an almost tear-inducing meeting of some of the brightest young minds in hip-hop today. Over jazzy production and a perfect vocal loop sampled from Foals’ dizzying “The French Open,” the song transcends the standard posse cut and proves that AG Club can only go up from here.
— Jade Gomez, News Editor
I’ll always be partial to a hot fashion reference, but it’s not just “New Bottega’s” label-dropping lyrics that get me going. As Shereé famously said in a Real Housewives of Atlanta reunion, “I like the beat.” Plus, I’ll never forget shaking my ass to this at an afterparty in Copenhagen when it just came out and all the fashion girls instantly stormed the dancefloor. Very IYKYK energy of us at the time.— Mario Abad, Fashion Editor
Weyes Blood — "It's Not Just Me, It's Everybody"
The opener to Weyes Blood’s latest album is a six-minute dream, with orchestral swells to make even the most cold-hearted amongst us swoon. Here, Natalie Mering poses a relatively simple statement about the human condition — we’re all going through the same shit — and turns it profound. Catch me nodding along to this one (teary-eyed, of course) in the bubble bath until further notice.— Matt Wille, Managing Editor
Anxious — "Call From You"
While Connecticut’s own Anxious is sometimes dubbed as hardcore and/or emo, they exist within the margins of both of those things. Leading heart (and guitar)-first, the band’s excellent debut Little Green House scratches every itch for dreamy and poppy guitar riffs with vocals that must be sung at the top of your lungs. “Call From You” was the perfect single choice. Loud, impactful drums and vocalist Grady Allen’s soaring screams mellow out into a stunning harmony for a stunning sensory overload. Much like Turnstile, Fiddlehead and One Step Closer, in the last of which Allen plays guitar, Anxious is bringing heavy music to the mainstream, and they prove that pop melodies can't hurt anyone.
— Jade Gomez, News Editor
Jamie xx — "KILL DEM"
I wish I could say this was a tougher decision. Jamie xx’s addictive Caribbean-infused track “KILL DEM” had the impossible task of fending off a particularly stubborn case of post-breakup, post-pandemic hermit-itis. Didn’t feel like braving my friend’s roommate's birthday party? “KILL DEM.” It’s Saturday night but my bed’s the hottest club South of Houston? “KILL DEM.” I’ve thrice rain-checked a not-entirely-bad-looking Hinge date? “KILL DEM.” This tropical banger became my song of the year out of sheer necessity, and for that, I thank Jamie’s teenage years at Notting Hill Carnival that would inspire this choppy and frenetic twist on a percussive dancehall bop.
— Alessandra Schade, Editorial Assistant
Two Shell — "Home"
Between self-destructing interviews and password-encrypted websites, not much is known about Two Shell, but fortunately their music more than makes up for this scarcity. Easily one of the most exciting and enigmatic electronic acts to really break out this year, the anonymous duo’s blend of GLaDOS vocals, glitchy hackermans-type beats and club gloss feels like a lost transmission from some cyber utopia, and “home” is no exception. Featuring a nightcore R&B vocal, a skittering jungle loop, a wash of iridescent synths and bassline bouncier than a bounce house at a first grader’s birthday party, “home” would have easily been a hyperpop classic had it been released five years ago — but I’m more than happy to settle for having the bubbly confection to energize dancefloors today.
— Matt Moen, Writer
Ghais Guevara — "I Personally Wouldn’t Have Released John McCain"
Ghais Guevara means what he says. While a lot of the press surrounding the Philadelphia rapper focuses on his left-leaning politics, there are endless layers to his artistry. Nestled in eye-catching song titles are his sharp-witted sense of humor, mesmerizing wordplay and an incredible ear for samples. “I Personally Wouldn’t Have Released John McCain” is built around a slowed-down sample of *NSYNC’s “I Want You Back” that sets the perfect backdrop for Guevara’s razor-sharp commentary on rap beef and fighting back against colonialism. “I’m dappin’ up with the rebels and reformed dope peddlers,” he boasts, digging down to the essence of what makes Guevara so bold, unique and refreshing: he’s for the people.
— Jade Gomez, News Editor
Pretty V — "Beverly"
“Beverly’s” beauty lies in its simplicity. Through words sung more to himself than an audience, Pretty V’s voice raises dust from the crevices of another year gone by with bemused nostalgia. Closing an album that spans trap, grime, and bouncy SoundCloud beats, “Beverly’s” dull guitar, muttered vocals and sparse lyrics bring outsider music into a new era. Following the ‘sped-up’ single released over summer, Forever’s closing song becomes a reverie of itself. 2022 passed like the memory of a dream upon waking. “You were my everything.”— Kenna McCafferty, Writer
Shygirl — "Coochie (a bedtime story)"
If you get it, you get it — if you don’t, you don’t.— James Krolewski, Social Media Editor
Ethel Cain — "American Teenager"
Even Ethel Cain was surprised that her song ended up on Barack Obama’s 2022 picks, given that the song is a cautionary tale about nationalism and the great American myth. Emerging out of Perry, Florida, the 24-year-old, born Hayden Silas Anhedönia and known by her fans as “Mother Cain,” has commanded a cult following for her raw yet dreamlike interpretation of middle American life, particularly Southern Gothic themes. Steeped in wistful nostalgia and ethereal production, “American Teenager” juxtaposes subtle memories — standing alone in a football stadium light — with the dread of a “long cold war with your kids at the front.”
— Dan Q. Dao, Weekend Editor
Sada Baby — "Saynomo"
Detroit rap heavyweight Sada Baby encapsulates everything that makes the city’s greatest export since automobiles so special. His hilariously disrespectful boasts and disses hit as deep as a middle schooler dissecting every imperfection and insecurity without shame or filter. The juxtaposition of his gangster talk with his infectious dance moves is intentional, drawing upon the rich history and groove that has existed within Motor City’s musical lineage.
For the third installment of his Bartier Bounty series, Sada continues his no-bullshit streak delivering what he knows best: bars. “Saynomo” is perhaps the perfect thesis for Sada Baby’s ethos. A twirling piano evokes the same anxiety as the iconic Halloween theme, but this time it’s Sada and his squad knocking on your door. “I can press a button have a n***a in the dumpster,” he menacingly whispers in the song’s unrelenting “chorus,” if you can even call it that. He eases into his raspy scream in the verses, kicking your door down and making a ruckus. Sada Baby continues to deliver excellent work as one of the kings of Detroit rap, aided by a sharp sense of humor and willingness to go to the extreme without losing his edge.
— Jade Gomez, News Editor
Photos courtesy of Getty
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