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We’re halfway through 2023 and Consequence is looking back at the best pop culture has had to offer so far this year. Check out our list of the 30 best songs of 2023 below, and also take a look at our ranking of the best albums and best films of the year to date.
About 120,000 tracks are uploaded to streaming services every day; the number of choices is beyond overwhelming, effectively infinite. While some people might only tune in to a couple of playlists or radio stations, and a few big name artists seem to push their way into every earbud, beyond that lies an ocean of possibilities, and no two listeners can ever travel exactly the same musical waters.
Even as a staff, Consequence could hardly agree on a coherent list. We had so many more favorites we would have liked to include, tracks we geeked out about in Slack channels and passed around email chains. Our shortlist could have filled a full Zine without ads, and the 30 songs we wrote about could have very easily been 300.
More great songs will be released soon enough, and that makes it even more important to stop and celebrate the recent past. The music industry is moving faster than ever before, but here are 30 songs that made time stand still for at least a couple of minutes.
— Wren Graves
30. JPEGMAFIA, Danny Brown — “Garbage Pale Kids”
After teasing a full-length collaboration for quite some time, JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown finally joined forces on SCARING THE HOES. While each track fosters its own brand of off-kilter absurdity, perhaps no cut showcases the duo’s perfect collision of creative chaos better than “Garbage Pale Kids.” Over a shuffling, hard-as-hell beat that’s centered around an eerie sample of what sounds like children chanting, Peggy and Brown compete to see who can make such an incoherent sonic world a more fitting home. In the end, really, the winner of such a battle is any fan spinning the record. — Jonah Krueger
29. 100 Gecs — “Dumbest Girl Alive”
100 gecs waste no time in telling you exactly what they’re about. “If you think I’m stupid now/ You should see me when I’m high/ And I’m smarter than I look/ I’m the dumbest girl alive” sings Laura Les after a Josh Freese-aided thrash metal intro. “Dumbest Girl Alive” may be deeply silly, but don’t let the fried sonics and ironic lyrics fool you. Every destructive and delicious impulse is baked into “Dumbest Girl Alive,” allowing their reinterpretation of MySpace-era post-hardcore to blend with their hyper-online irreverence. Lines like “Put emojis on my grave/ I’m the dumbest girl alive,” only prove their uncanny brilliance. — Paolo Ragusa
28. Jessie Ware — “Pearls”
Disco didn’t die — instead, its spirit lives thanks to performers like Jessie Ware, whose blend of pop and old-school funk is at its best in this breakout track from That! Feels! Good!, her fifth studio album. Sometimes, a person just needs to listen to a song about getting your dance on: There’s no confusion about what the “it” in “Shake it ’til the pearls fall off” is meant to be. — Liz Shannon Miller
27. Killer Mike feat. El-P and thankugoodsir – “Don’t Let the Devil”
So much of the personal new album, MICHAEL, sees Michael Render set aside his longtime alter ego and rap as himself. But for one glorious moment, he brings Killer Mike back to the microphone, reuniting with his Run the Jewels partner El-P to unleash a nasty flood of flows. He raps: “Ayy, in the name of Jesus, the reefer, I serve a purpose/ My guy higher than the sky, as he fly over earth surface/ Flyin’ satellite height as I’m lookin’ at Earth’s circus/ Keep your eyes on the prize and don’t let the devil coerce you.” It’s a perfect distillation of the character Killer Mike, representing God, ganja, and his own unyielding moral code. — W. Graves
26. Arlo Parks feat. Phoebe Bridgers — “Pegasus”
“I think you’re special ’cause you told me,” is the anchoring line of Arlo Parks’ “Pegasus.” As she and Phoebe Bridgers sing it in harmony, they conjure a warm world of intimacy and care, relishing in the safety of those meaningful words. Though the timbre and qualities of Parks’ and Bridgers’ voices are far from similar, they meet in the middle on “Pegasus,” exchanging vocals so closely that they could almost reach out and hug you. Add in a skittering drum beat, twinkling electric piano, and radiant synths, and “Pegasus” becomes one of Arlo Parks’ most heart-melting creations. — P. Ragusa
25. Foo Fighters — “Show Me How”
On “Show Me How,” a highlight from Foo Fighters’ recent But Here We Are, Dave Grohl aces an unexpected pivot to dream pop and shoegaze. For those familiar with the band’s early output, this slacker rock-style is still in their DNA, but with a few small exceptions, most Foo Fighters songs these days find Grohl moving a hundred miles an hour at the very top of his range. So, it’s a treat to hear him enlist his daughter, Violet, on vocals and approach “Show Me How” with both intimacy and distance. They seem to reassure each other with every “I’ll take care of everything,” letting the warmth of the guitars envelop them in a familiar glow. — P. Ragusa
24. Home Is Where — “Yes! Yes! A Thousand Times Yes!”
Florida emos Home Is Where want you to think more critically about the institution of marriage. “Yes! Yes! A Thousand Times Yes!” uses a copy-and-pasted Instagram caption into a scathing critique of holy matrimony. Desiring a life partner isn’t inherently strange, vocalist Brandon MacDonald argues, but she picks apart the possible toxicity of marriage as a societal norm in visions of soiled wedding dresses, mosquito bites, and “useless genitalia” between an ultimately incompatible couple who don’t even want to spend time together when their ceremony’s over. — Abby Jones
23. Willie Nelson, Billy Strings — “California Sober”
There’s no vagueness about the subject matter of this Billy Strings-Willie Nelson collaboration, a rollicking bluegrass tribute to giving up alcohol and hard drugs in favor of being “California sober” (which, if you’re not familiar, means saying no to everything except marijuana). There’s some regret lingering in the lyrics, as one might expect from a song about leaving behind substance abuse, and remembering the reasons why you quit. Yet there’s an optimism as well, because now, “I don’t get to acting mean when I keep my buzzes clean/And keep the hard stuff and the whiskey from my head.” — L.S. Miller
22. billy woods and Kenny Segal feat. Samuel T. Herring: “FaceTime”
Over a woozy Kenny Segal beat, billy woods drifts through a tour travelogue with a diarist’s attention to detail. He raps of feeling unmoored on the road, of Playboy Carti afterparties and FaceTimes declined with people back home. This standout track from Maps captures the pleasant dizziness of tour life, as Future Island’s Samuel T. Herring sings, “I ain’t seen my folks/ Strangely I feel right at home/ On my own.” And if you do get too lonely, you can still accept the FaceTimes. — W. Graves
21. Dog Race – “There’s a Mouse in My House”
“There’s a Mouse in My House” may only be Dog Race’s second single, but the English duo is already solidifying their sonic identity. Taking cues from the more earnest indie rock of the past two-ish decades, the song’s quivering vocal performances, buzzing bass, and relentless piano foster an anxious but inviting environment. It’s catchy, danceable, and emotionally charged — what more could an indie music fan ask for? — J. Krueger
20. Momma — “Bang Bang”
The members of Momma weren’t even born yet when one of their musical heroes, Liz Phair, put to tape what might be indie rock’s greatest declaration of feminine pleasure: “Every time I see your face/ I get all wet between my legs.” Three decades later on “Bang Bang,” Momma, like Phair, make being unabashedly horny sound unequivocally cool. It’s sleek and moody with a dash of playfulness — like all the best late-night rendezvous should be. — A. Jones
19. The Japanese House — “Boyhood”
Amber Bain returned this year with the spellbinding “Boyhood,” an ode to transformation, full of texture and character in every beat. Similar to her label mates and collaborators The 1975, she dresses her dance-friendly, funk-inflected instrumentation in a more naturalistic hue, rooting “Boyhood” in a quick acoustic guitar arpeggio and adding the occasional flourish of strings. It’s also one of her most compelling songs to date; she finds herself caught between the need to change and the paralyzing weight of that need, worrying that she’s going to “grow and get so old” before she lands on the request, “Will you hold me like you always do?” By the end of “Boyhood,” you feel like she’s already in your arms. — P. Ragusa
18. Jimin — “Like Crazy”
This track from BTS member Jimin is the perfect showcase of his alluring vocals, magnetic star power, and incredible dance skills. On the surface, “Like Crazy” is a dance-floor anthem, but a closer listen reveals a tension simmering under the surface in the lyrics: “I’m feeling so alive, wasting time/ I’d rather be lost in the lights/ I’m outta my mind,” he sings: “This is gonna break me.” Heavy synths and glittering instrumentals lift Jimin’s voice into even more transcendent territory, and the result is one of the most dramatic and riveting solo singles from BTS’s second chapter. — Mary Siroky
17. Janelle Monáe — Float
Monáe introduces this song by saying, “Floating in gratitude, feeling much lighter.” Listening to this single off The Age of Pleasure makes those feelings contagious; the song, delivered with Monáe’s singular confidence, encourages an air of freedom. Touches of horns from Nigerian artist Seun Kuti and his father’s band, Egypt 80, are what truly take “Float” to the next level. As we head into summer, may we all feel just a bit as alive and untethered as Monáe feels on this track. — M. Siroky
16. Caroline Polachek — “Blood and Butter”
Yes, a song called “Blood and Butter” could easily be… well, disgusting. But Caroline Polachek makes it sound like ecstasy. There’s a richness not just to the song’s title, but to the entire experience. She sings of an intense desire, the one beyond lust or physical pleasures, longing to be “closer than your new tattoo,” enveloped fully by the glow of her lover. It’s a perfect example of Polachek’s acute songwriting vocabulary (the song includes a killer bagpipe solo and the word “wikipediated”), but the glory of “Blood and Butter” can perhaps be summed up in one simple declaration: “And what I want is to walk beside you/ Needing nothing but the sun that’s in our eyes.” It’s an image that feels both rich and weightless, consuming and freeing — true intimacy spoken from one of pop music’s poet laureates. — P. Ragusa
15. The National — “Tropic Morning News”
For a band famed for sorrowful musings, it’s pretty refreshing that the best track on The National’s new album, First Two Pages of Frankenstein, is one of their peppiest. Sure, the lyrics are definitely still about self-effacement and world-weariness, but as the song that actually got frontman Matt Berninger out of his real depression, “Tropic Morning News” is rightfully a bright spot on the LP. Taking a relatively basic despair — doomscrolling — Berninger and his wife/writing partner Carin Besser’s trademark poetics explore how absorbing darkness through a bright screen is both a personal and interpersonal struggle. The Devendorfs and Dessners run with the contrast, delivering an uplifting composition equal parts driving and haunted. — Ben Kaye
14. Indigo De Souza — “You Can Be Mean”
Self-proclaimed independent women love acting tough until one dude whittles their self-worth down to a fine powder. Forget standards, boundaries, and introspection — on “You Can Be Mean,” Indigo De Souza uses sticky indie rock melodies to confess her all-too-relatable habit of falling for shitty partners. But it’s not entirely hopeless; when she chants , “When will it ever get any better?” you begin to see her finally accept that she does deserve better, after all. — A. Jones
13. Ice Spice — “In Ha Mood”
“In Ha Mood” is perhaps the most memorable song on Ice Spice’s debut EP, Like..? The New York rapper delivers another catchy single about embracing being carefree over a drill beat. The track only hits the two-minute mark, which doesn’t take away from its replayability factor, and in fact, may have you spamming the repeat button because just one listen somehow never feels like enough. Although the project was released back in January, “In Ha Mood” remains a strong contender for song of the summer. — Sun Noor
12. Chat Pile — “Cut”
By design, Chat Pile’s music makes you feel like something is deeply wrong. And while “Cut” might not be as noisy and chaotic as some of the tracks from last year’s God’s Country, it sure as hell still manages to trigger a fight or flight response. Heavy and filthy, brooding and unhinged, the tune’s slower pace and blood-curdling vocal performance result in a cut that’s destined to be a non-album essential. — J. Krueger
11. Jason Isbell — “Death Wish”
While it’s a pleasantly difficult task to select a standout track from Weathervanes, the excellent new album from Consequence Cover star Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, “Death Wish” certainly has to be in the conversation. The concept of loving someone struggling deeply with depression is a nuanced subject; here, Isbell uses repetition to his advantage, laying parts of the song on top of each other until they coalesce into a symphonic promise. There’s a gritty desperation to “Death Wish,” making it feel particularly well-suited for Isbell’s raspy vocals. Life is fragile; nothing lasts forever, but we can do our best to support one another while we still can. — M. Siroky
10. Joy Oladokun feat. Noah Kahan — “We’re All Gonna Die”
For her fourth studio album, Joy Oladokun brought in a number of collaborators, with the standout single featuring indie-folk-pop star Noah Kahan. He chimes in at the perfect moment for this surprisingly upbeat song (given its title), but it’s Oladokun’s driving vocals and guitar-heavy instrumentals which make sure the message sinks in: We may never figure out what it means to be here, and that’s okay. — L.S. Miller
09. Ratboys — “Black Earth, WI”
It’s pretty amazing how much Ratboys accomplish on “Black Earth, WI” — doubly so knowing it was recorded straight to tape and the eight-and-a-half minute single is only take number two. Opening at an amble, it follows an indie/country combo rhythm that gets bent on jammy guitars taking over entirely only a quarter of the way through. Utterly smooth bass keeps your head bobbing as the guitar goes on a winding trip towards an unexpected, invigorating crowd chant of “da-da-da”s. It coasts in for a landing on the back of more tasty low-end and Julia Steiner’s sweet, twanging vocals. Okay, so saying songs take you on a journey is a cliché, but just let this one take the wheel for a bit and you’ll see why the platitude fits the beauty. — B. Kaye
08. Yves Tumor — “Heaven Surrounds Us Like a Hood”
At this point in their career, Sean Bowie of Yves Tumor is a rock god for the weirdos (one who chews but does not consume). Supplementing their wonderfully creative production and willingness to experiment with more guitars than ever, “Heaven Surrounds Us Like a Hood” puts Bowie’s idiosyncratic artistry on full display. It comes across with such brazen uniqueness, in fact, that it’s almost dizzying. Is it a banger to mosh to or a cathartic bop for when you’re in your feelings? A heater for the world’s most out-there dance club or a ripper for the rock show? Somehow, it’s all of these at once — and much more. — J. Krueger
07. Miley Cyrus — “Flowers”
The quickest song to reach 1 billion streams in Spotify history, Miley Cyrus’ comeback anthem, “Flowers,” absolutely made its mark. Hypnotic, pulsing, and airy enough to match the freeing energy of the lyrics, it’s easy to get lost in “Flowers” — while not at all a reinvention of the Miley we’ve known over the past decade, the song did show the artist shining in a space where her vocals get to lead the way, which is where she’s consistently at her very best. — M. Siroky
06. Pinkpantheress feat. Ice Spice – “Boy’s a Liar Pt. 2”
The intersection of TikTok and Y2K nostalgia may have reached a zenith with “Boy’s a Liar Pt. 2,” where Pinkpanthress and Ice Spice join forces to drop one of the catchiest songs of the year. Although the track barely exceeds two minutes, these artists make use of every second, and the result of the team-up is a pop-tech earworm that exploded to instant viral fame. Cross Pinkpanthress’ airy vocals with the cheeky groundedness of Ice Spice’s flow and you’ve got a song that was absolutely for the girls. — M. Siroky
05. Wednesday — “Chosen to Deserve”
“Chosen to Deserve” is a fantastic country tinged, guitar-driven single off CoSigned artists Wednesday’s latest album, Rat Saw God. Vocalist Karly Hartzman reminisces about chaotic adolescent experiences through vivid lyrics and sentiments of longinging. “I used to drink ’til I threw up on weeknights at my parents’ house,” she sings, “My friends all took Benadryl/ ‘Til they could see shit crawlin’ up the walls.” The moment is simultaneously funny, frightening, and a damn good time. Few bands evoke such vivid emotions over the course of a full song, let along a few short lines — S. Noor
04. Lana Del Rey — “A&W”
Instantly one of Lana Del Rey’s most interesting songs, “A&W” sees the singer-songwriter skillfully mourning the American dream. It’s no secret that Del Rey is obsessed with this kind of iconography, whether it be from allusions to JFK or her insistence on immersing herself in the malaise of Venice Beach, and the introductory line here — “I haven’t done a cartwheel since I was nine” — pairs that exact tendency with her ruminations on the loss of youth and innocence. Then, at the five-minute mark, the song shifts into something else entirely as a beat drop opens up a veritable second chapter. “I’m invisible,” she whispers, confirming that this is seven minutes of a woman begging to be seen. — M. Siroky
03. boygenius — “Not Strong Enough”
Having three distinct songwriters in one band is certainly ambitious, but each member of boygenius — Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus — has seemingly mastered the method. “Not Strong Enough” revolves around three different perspectives of the same feeling, epitomized by the lines in the chorus transition: “I don’t know why I am the way I am/ Not strong enough to be your man.”
Each vocalist takes their moment with their own personal songwriting style, resulting in a collage that depicts just as much light as there is darkness. Individually, they may claim to not be strong enough in their respective relationships, convinced that no one can really understand them, destined to be on their own islands. But with anthemic harmonies and a barnstorming bridge, “Not Strong Enough” also demonstrates just how unified these three are. In a way, the song is them telling each other, “You will always be strong enough for me.” Sometimes, that’s all we need from the friends we hold close. — P. Ragusa
02. McKinley Dixon — “Tyler Forever”
Every shade of grief feels contained in “Tyler Forever,” the rumination on loss from Chicago rapper McKinley Dixon. The track arrived ahead of his 2023 project, Beloved! Paradise! Jazz?!, and what begins as a bombastic tribute to a fallen friend peels back to reveal a more vulnerable underbelly.
“All that glitters ain’t gold/ You can still hobble pieces to make something that holds,” he raps, as a horn section initially fit for a full-scale marching band cascades into a single, lonely trumpet. The song feels like a moment of trust between Dixon and the audience, and a graceful examination of the fact that the pain of losing a friend or loved one comes in so many different shades. — M. Siroky
01. Blondshell — “Salad”
Only one album in, and Sabrina Teitelbaum is already proving herself to be one of the most interesting up-and-coming songwriters of the 2020s. Her style of alternative rock fuses modern pop sensibilities with the classic sounds of ’90s indie and grunge, resulting in music that’s at once grounded in rock history and looking towards its future. “Salad,” the centerpiece of Blondshell’s debut and her most otherworldly effort to date, displays everything that makes Teitelbaum such an impressive new voice.
“I don’t feel the need to explain,” the singer said of “Salad” in her Consequence Track by Track breakdown of her self-titled LP — and she couldn’t be more right. The song requires no explanation of its brilliance, from its dramatic instrumentation and dynamic structure to the self-dissecting revenge fantasy presented in the lyrics, the song pins you down from its opening melody line and doesn’t let up until the climactic final refrain. At least thus far in 2023, no other song has been so utterly gripping. — J. Krueger