Songs of the Year 2013
In 2013, it seemed music was finally devoured by the Internet, for better or worse. It was a year when memes became hits and vice versa, when a viral video could launch you to the top of the charts. And just like the Internet, weirdness was a commodity high in both supply and demand: Vampire Weekend contemplated death, Miley Cyrus duetted with a giant kitten, Versace … Versace’d. Join us on a look back at a year of Bugattis and Body Parties, as the Grantland staff shares their picks for the best songs of 2013.
A$AP Rocky ft. Skrillex, “Wild for the Night”
Steven Hyden: “Wild for the Night” is not the song I liked the most in 2013, but it is the one I liked the longest. Long.Live.A$AP came out in like the second week of January, which might as well be 1976 in Internet time. This song is so old that those Skrillex lasers shooting out of the chorus already sound dated. Remember when we all thought that guy was the future way back in 2012? Not saying he isn’t still, just maybe not the way we expect. Those drops are gonna be manna for the old-timey Mumford & Sons–style throwback act of 2083 seeking to re-create the oh-so-“real” early-21st-century blues. Me, I already feel nostalgic for the age of dirty-Sprite-fueled demonic wanderers going insane on behalf of the evening, fuck being polite.
Young Thug, “Nigeria”
Alex Pappademas: The first argument I had about rap music in 2013 was a conversation about the relative merits of Chief Keef’s “Citgo” that took place in my backyard in the early hours of January 1. Produced by a Polish teenager whom Keef discovered while searching “Finally Rich type beat” on YouTube, “Citgo” warped the dead-end kid bombast of the rest of Finally Rich inside out; it’s a melancholy, deserted ice-hotel of a song, through which young Keith Cozart wanders lonely as a cloud-rapper, droning swollen syllables in a preposterous Cockney-Hopelandic accent, mashing Lil Wayne’s immortal “Prostitute Flange” into “Who Will Buy” from Oliver! Most of the rap songs that made me feel some type of way in 2013 had some “Citgo” in them; even as leading Auto-Tune-smith Future showed worrisome signs of mellowing into this decade’s T-Pain, all kinds of quasi-popular termite-rap dudes from the mixtape world were using robo-filter FX to more torn-and-frayed effect. Young Thug’s anguished geography/horticulture lesson “Nigeria” (from the superbly bizarre 1017 Thug, the sound of trap music with bugs under its skin) is first among equals in this sub-subgenre, which (at least in my backyard) stretches from estranged Keef cohort Lil’ Durk’s “Callin’ My Phone” to Rich Homie Quan’s forlorn/affirmational “I Go in on Every Song.” The common thread is a druggy, sloshing emotionalism that does for boilerplate shit talk what the 13th Floor Elevators did for “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” Which I guess makes “Nigeria” guest star Gucci Mane this sound’s Roky Erickson, both a survivor and a casualty. Lean-age dreams, so hard to beat.
Sky Ferreira, “I Blame Myself”
Sean Fennessey: Sky Ferreira’s backstory is meaningless. Shuttled and shunted around the major label system, she is one of thousands. A footnote in a thousand-page catalogue of humiliation and wasted chances. Was she a naive pawn? A thoughtless pretty face? A suffocated artist? A too-strident loudmouth? All that matters now is what we can hear. And we can hear a world inside her.
Ferreira’s music feels like a freshly skinned knee, covered in gravel, its hemoglobin glowing. That “I Blame Myself” even exists — a half-sarcastic, half-self-aware reflection of a lost decade — is some kind of miracle. “I blame myself for my reputation.” The actualized cries of a model-actress-singer are rarely this chilling, this elegant, this sternum-shaking. But Ferreira is rare. Ariel Rechtshaid reaps a lot of credit for transforming Ferreira’s sound into a robotic Cerberus — this song’s hound of hell — howling at the moon and shining brighter than the night sky. But Ferreira’s the one in control of her punctilious persona. She is crafted and messy at once. “I Blame Myself” sounds like a million dollars poorly spent. A shit night out on the town. A streak of eyeliner, a broken high heel, a martini with a Winston stubbed out in it. She has no one to blame but no. 1. Thank our lucky stars for that.
Pusha T ft. Kendrick Lamar, “Nosetalgia”
Chris Ryan: Black T’s over white T’s, black Avirex jackets, 2005 flows over ’80s Boogie Down Production samples, wailing ’60s guitar stabs, Dodgers hats worn in Compton by Angelenos walking with Virginians, 20-plus years of selling coke, two beepers, four lockers, and Rocky IV jokes.
If we’re talking L.A. crime writing, Pusha is the Chandler to Kendrick’s Ellroy. The former Clipse member bluntly jabs some of his best bars since his We Got It 4 Cheap, while Lamar flies off the handle with a story about an addict father. I know that we all listened to Lamar with awe this year, but Pusha’s performance on this song was probably the most gratifying feeling I got while listening to music this year. You could definitely say that Push is repetitive, contentwise. He has pretty much rapped about one thing his entire life. But he does that better than anyone else. The idea that you can do one thing, and practice it, and do it well, even in this day and age, I found inspiring.
I also like how there’s nothing you can do with this song. It’s bringing up the anchor leg of My Name Is My Name, it dropped in the summer of Drizzy, Hov, and Yeezy, and in the wake of Kendrick’s “Control” appearance. “Nosetalgia” popped up brightly and briefly, garnered a day of plaudits on Twitter, slid out the back door, and skulked off into the night. But for me, it is the Platonic ideal of what I want rap to sound like.
Vampire Weekend, “Diane Young”
Tess Lynch: The charms of Vampire Weekend were kind of lost on me for a while. Maybe it’s because I never wanted to have a knee-jerk soundtrack trigger when I drank a cup of icy rice milk (as someone commented under the video for “Horchata,” “Song plays in Hollister” — no good). But “Diane Young,” and the rest of Modern Vampires of the City, totally made me a Weekender after the band’s appearance on SNL.
There’s also the fun fact that the first music video stirred up controversy when people became concerned over mistreatment (via fire) of Saabs (the second, cameo-studded version placed Chromeo at the dinner table of The Last Supper). That was so, so weird. I am still thinking about the people who mourned the poor dead automobiles. This isn’t a music video roundup, though (if it were, I would have knocked out 50,000 words in 10 minutes on “Bubble Butt”); “Diane Young” may not have been conceived during the pop wars or have the poetic weight of a Kardashian bottom as its muse, but it’s a wickedly fun track that also reminds you of your own mortality as Ezra Koenig’s voice goes from squeaky mouse to aged, demonic bass. If you play it backward, all the Saabs come back to life. Really.
Majical Cloudz, “Bugs Don’t Buzz”
Emily Yoshida: Uuugghhhh, it is never fair to ask me my favorite song of the year at the end of the year, because without fail I am always a mushy sentimental mess by the end of the year. Ask me in July, or at any point during the extended April-to-October summer we enjoy here in Los Angeles, and I’m bound to offer you something punchier, something sillier, something infinitely more turnt. (Here’s a palate cleanser if you need it.) But this December, after months of resisting glowing reviews by pretty much the entire Internet, I finally had thin enough skin to fully submerge myself in Impersonator, the debut album from Devon Welsh and Matthew Otto, a.k.a. Majical Cloudz, a.k.a. the most invigoratingly sad music of 2013, at least that I’m aware of. What saves “Bugs Don’t Buzz” from becoming a mere pretty wallow is its wryly optimistic coda, echoing its foreboding introduction: “This might end with a smile, my love.” In a time of year when we’re trying to put a cap on all the things that transpired on this orbit of the sun, it’s nice to think that even in the last moments, something surprising could happen. (Hint: It’s probably a Beyoncé album.)
Deerhunter, “Back to the Middle”
Mark Lisanti: If Arcade Fire’s Reflektor were the only rock record you listened to this year, you might very honestly come to the conclusion that to make a rock song “danceable” requires the importation of a James Murphy–level genius and a seemingly infinite number of layers of production. And, in the end, you might still get a product that manhandles you as it attempts to move you, all cinder-block hands whaling away on your stiff hips and too-intense eye contact wondering why you aren’t grooving the way you’re supposed to. You may also be put off by your dance partner’s insistence on wearing an enormous papier-mâché death’s-head and inviting over 15 of his similarly costumed best friends to menace you with tambourines. It’s going to be that kind of night.
Really, though, it doesn’t have to be that hard. All the sweat should be left on the dance floor, not in the studio. Here’s your hooky riff. Here’s your bass thump laid underneath. Here’s a catchy chorus, burrowing deep into your head. You want a little organ underneath the bridge? You got it. Repeat for two and a half minutes. You are moving. You are swinging. Maybe you pick up one of those tambourines the mask gang left behind. It’s one of those songs. This is easy.
Ace Hood, “Bugatti”
Amos Barshad: There are certain dance-floor playlist songs — your “Pony”s, your “This Is How We Do It”s, your “Return of the Mack”s — that exist on some perfect plane between obvious and novelty, between overplayed and “but I don’t know the words,” between timeworn classicism and greenhorn GTFOH. They are “great call” records; drop them in, at any point, and it’s a great goddamn call. They’re about achieving mass popularity without being suffocating about it; they’re about feeling like, every time you hear them, it’d been too damn long since you last heard them. But they are also, at least a little, ineffable: There is just something about Mark Morrison chopping through his broken heart — just like there’s something about Future warbling about murdering you with Haitians — that’ll always get my heart skipping. And so, to this grouping, I now humbly nominate “Bugatti.” Congratulations, Ace Hood: You will, I believe — I hope! — be with us in our times of merriment for years to come.
Migos ft. Drake, “Versace (Remix)”
“Versace. Versace, Versace. Versace, Versace.”
—All of the guys from Migos, and then Drake, and then also everyone else on the planet for like a month, basically
Migos are a rap group, not a singular person, which is basically what everyone who wasn’t a rap blogger (and even a few who were) thought as they turbo-rocketed into fame in June. Prior to then, the threesome had already built up a fair amount of buzz, their swirling, unironic enthusiasm advancing the trap-rap sound that Gucci Mane droned into prominence. And they likely would’ve continued on that trajectory toward niche celebrity without any real outside influence. But then Drake stepped in. And the Internet fractured into an infinitely looped spider web of virtuoso ad-libs and Versace print.
Drake touched “Versace,” an already unstoppable track from the group’s already impressive Young Rich N----- tape, and turned it into the best, most dominant rap song of the year. (It beat Ace Hood’s thunder hammer “Bugatti” by two steps and beat J. Cole’s everything by 600 miles, if you’re looking for comparisons.) There were no changes made to the production for Drake’s remix. It stayed tinking and squeaking and squeaking more, and it still aspired to swell into a very special brand of charming arrogance. But everything was different. Because with Drake’s verse came clout, legitimacy, affluence for loan, his “this is a gated community, please get the fuck off the property” line a searing end-all subtweet.
Fact: There were a couple times this year when I wore the same pair of pants to work for, like, a week straight. That’s just a thing that I do because I am 32 years old and have three children and whatever, they’re just pants, bro. I’m interested in clothes like I’m interested in setting my penis on fire, but when the “Versace” remix popped I was like, “OOOOHHH FUUUUUUUU I AM NEVER WEARING ANYTHING BUT VERSACE AGAIN.” That’s a little thing called true influence. That’s a little thing called first place.
Ciara, “Body Party”
Rembert Browne: In 2013, producer Mike Will Made It practically became a genre unto himself. His hits were numerous, and while plenty of credit goes to the singers and rappers he collaborated with, the success was largely related to his knack for infectious, upbeat-yet-syrupy beat constructions.
But he does not deserve top billing across the board. The outlier in his exceptional year’s production discography: Ciara’s “Body Party.”
Yes, the production is flawless, including a sample from 1996’s Ghost Town DJ’s classic “My Boo,” and, yes, Ciara looks incredible wearing next to nothing as well as bags for pants, and, yes, the video tells the origin story of Atlanta’s POTUS and FLOTUS, Future and Ci, but none of that is what makes “Body Party” one of the best songs of the year.
In a surprise twist, it’s the lyrics. And not even all of the lyrics, just two iterations of a single phrase.
“My body is your party.” And, of course, “Your body is my party.”
Think about that for a second. A party. On your body. Or, conversely, attending a party on someone else’s body. Both scenarios: just wonderful. Who doesn’t like having people over? But sometimes it grows tiring, with all the preparation and the invites and the constant checking to see if your guest(s) are having a good time and the dreaded cleanup, and occasionally you’d rather just attend someone else’s party.
They’re the ultimate win-wins, body parties, even more than regular parties.
When you go to someone else’s body party, I’m pretty sure it’s also your party. But then, if you’re the body-party host, and someone comes over to party, the big winner of that party somehow is still you, the body-party host.
What’s better than this? Nothing. Nothing is better than duality of body parties. The message is simple, but excruciatingly effective. The visual nature of it all, coupled sex and inclusivity, makes it very hard to stop thinking about body parties. Especially Ciara-narrated body parties.
There was a time in which R&B always made listeners feel some type of way through the lyrics. In the early ’90s, I’ve been told, everyone was having body parties. Jodeci’s second album, for example, is a 62-minute, 59-second body party. But over time, as songs have given way to beats that happen to have people’s voices over them, very rarely does a song make you want to party on a body. Or have a party on your body.
But in Ciara’s world, which is now our world, you can do both. And either way, it’s a party. On a body.
A$AP Ferg, “Let It Go”
Hua Hsu: Drop-crotch pantaloons and ambient zaniness notwithstanding, A$AP mob is hardly a fount of charisma. The great exception is A$AP Yams, the uptown crew’s crowing, scheming Yoda. He’s the gilt-edge of a book we’ve read before. He’s the one who heard Dame petitioning over the beginning of “Champions” and aspired to be that guy. Here, he’s the adlib in parentheses you remember more than the song. Minus Yams’ bling-blaow speechifying, “Let It Go” still would have been a nice, calm simmering of an intro to Ferg’s classic of nagging and negging, Trap Lord. But Yams made “Let it Go” one of the few tracks that never failed to make me cackle whenever I heard it. As Ferg tried on different permutations of robe/rings, Yamborghini invented newer, stranger put-downs. He cackled at your “wrinkled silks” and delinquent dry-cleaning bills before channeling Bad Boy-era Puffy (“Pay that, pay that”). He guffawed at your lack of hang-glider. He laughed himself toward kiddo lunacy shooting eyes-closed, half-court fade aways (“Swish!”) while you practiced dribbling with your left hand. At the end of the movie: Yamborghini, leaning back in his Scarface throne, scrolling through names on his phone, mounds and mounds of shrimp getting cold on a fake marble table (explosion of giggles).
Josephine Foster, “My Wandering Heart”
Brian Phillips: One thing about any given year is that sometimes you don’t want to feel like you’re in it. Josephine Foster’s I’m a Dreamer advanced no trends, participated in no conversations, and existed about as far from the war zone of the moment as anything you can stream on Spotify. It wasn’t so much 2013 as a cracked-glass vision of 1913, a laudanum dream in the parlor of a Cartilage Head show. Which, OK, kind of makes it sound like any number of musical goods currently being jellied by earnest railroad conductors in Brooklyn. But Foster — who’s based in Colorado, and whose previous records include an album of Spanish folk songs and a set of Emily Dickinson poems put to music — writes songs too weird and too personal to sound like century-slumming revivalism. She’s not interested in absinthe for its nostalgia value; she’s interested in absinthe because it fucks you up. She’s not interested in the workmanship of her ragtime-influenced, early-jazz-influenced, out-of-tune-piano-in-the–Wild West–bar-influenced compositions except as a flashlight by which to see ghosts. She is making her way through an America — old, busted, coal-stained, crinoline-edged — that’s gone eerie green and half-translucent. Listening to the album all at once feels like walking through a creaky house and catching glimpses of everyone who’s died in it.
I could have picked almost any song from I’m a Dreamer, which I’ve been playing semi-constantly since it arrived in November, but this might be my favorite: haunted and lusty at the same time, simultaneously reveling in the freedom it’s describing and batshit terrified of it. I haven’t even mentioned Foster’s beautiful, over-bloomed voice, like Karen Dalton channeled through the Moncrieff translation of Proust. For the whole last minute here it’s a desperate burlesque high-wire act, as Foster realizes she’s helpless to resist whatever bad idea her heart wants to wander toward. “Where should I go from here?” she sings. 2014 or 1875 — it’s not safe anywhere. Take your pick.
Eels, “Wonderful, Glorious”
Zach Dionne: Plenty of songs got more spins this year than anything on the new album by one of my all-time top-fivers, the Eels. (Those tracks, chronologically: JT’s “Pusher Love Girl,” the Strokes’ “Tap Out,” Kendrick and Jay’s “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” remix, Drake’s “Girls Love Beyoncé,” the Shouting Matches’ “Seven Sisters,” Iron & Wine’s “Caught in the Briars,” Chance the Rapper’s “Favorite Song” and “Interlude (That’s Love),” She & Him’s “Together,” Ciara and Nicki’s “I’m Out,” Run the Jewels’ “A Christmas Fucking Miracle,” Volcano Choir’s “Tiderays,” Janelle Monáe’s “What an Experience,” Dr. Dog’s “The Truth,” Pusha T’s “King Push.”) But none of ’em meant as much as “Wonderful, Glorious.”
Anyone who has so much as brushed up against 1998’s Electro-Shock Blues knows Mark Everett’s whole family died (dad: heart attack; sister: suicide; mom: cancer), leaving him as a loner artist with a single letter for a name and a revolving-door band with which to work out his issues. Wonderful, Glorious is the 10th try. It’s not the strongest, but it’s an essential chapter in the story. No moment is more affecting than the triumphant finish on the title track, the album’s closer: “My love is beautiful, it’s here for the taking / It’s strong and pure and utterly earthshaking / My love has brought me here to show you it’s true / A wretch like me, can make it through.” Sappy? Definitely. But if you’ve ridden with E since his days of singing about injecting Novocain into his bedraggled soul, it’s huge.
John Lopez: Being hopelessly not a music nerd, I rely on my cognoscenti friends to refresh my stale diet of Led Zeppelin studio sessions and Michael Jackson covers. As a result, weird things happen: Despite myself, I own every Arcade Fire album. But occasionally fun stuff happens, too, like watching the unfurling of a phenomenon like Haim burst onto the scene this year with its debut LP.
In late 2012, one of my aforementioned music-ista friends forwarded me the sisters’ “Forever” with the winking nod that they would “be big.” Maybe it was the fact that I’m also a byproduct of the San Fernando Valley and a crypto–Stevie Nicks fan (too many Fleetwood Mac albums growing up), but the song’s nostalgic echoes of exuberantly dramatic suburban L.A. summers quickly made it my go-to coffee-break song. Then, Haim was on KCRW, at SXSW, and soon I heard them everywhere: hipster bars lit by forests of Edison bulbs, backwoods Sacramento breweries, the East Coast. When “The Wire” popped up close to home, I knew they were one step short of a Colbert parody. I lack the critical vocabulary to lionize my fellow Valley brats — others have done it far better — but for all these reasons, “Forever” has been the soundtrack to my 2013.