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Year-End List 2011: 25 Songs

2011 definitely had its moments musically - moments of hope and genuinely excellent music - and I've collected 25 of them below. A collection of party starters, pop hits and somber ballads, plus a few that defy any and all definition.

Like last year, I decided to take a look back at 2011 and pick the 25 songs - mostly mainstream Top 40 - that I personally think represented the best music the year had to offer, from the top anthems I personally couldn't escape to the hidden gems I hope you'll seek out. So, let's celebrate the year that was - a year that generally wasn't all that bad.

Now, I'm absolutely sure I left out a few of your favorites. If I did, tell me about it in the comments section. Enjoy!

25.  Coming Home
Diddy-Dirty Money (ft. Skyler Grey)

Despite the hip-hop cred of Diddy, this, to me, is a flat-out pop song with a relaxed, mid-tempo feel - not exactly a bad thing. The tune kicks off with Skyler Grey's haunting and eerie vocals that makes you want to listen to the rest of the track. It also mirrors the chorus that is possibly best with the sedated piano part. Diddy's rap is nothing extraordinary, but the lyrics are above average - almost autobiographical.

24. Rocketeer
Far East Movement (ft. Ryan Tedder)

Compared to their previous hit, Like A G6, this track isn't so techno-heavy. That said, from the odd backbeat to the piano and even to the sweet melody, this one really grabs your ears. Ryan Tedder's soaring voice connects the rap verses with the hook perfectly, which gives it an intoxicating vibe to it. This song is like a hangover cure from the party favor that was Like A G6. Haha.

23. I'm Into You
Jennifer Lopez (ft. Lil Wayne)

Sure, On The Floor was Jennifer Lopez' comeback single, but between that and this less polarizing but equally catchy song, I obviously prefer this. I mean, insipid lyrics notwithstanding, this track has a hook that's compelling - in the same veins as Rihanna's What's Your Name - and the rap verses of Lil Wayne is relatively more focused than his other collaborations. Plus, Jennifer Lopez's vocals pop and bubble with this song. To me, one of my favorite summer songs of the year.

22. What's My Name
Rihanna (ft. Drake)

Some may look at this collaboration as pretty ordinary - given the simple melody - but the effortless tune is actually more than pleasing to the ears. Rihanna's Caribbean accent works well with this midtempo track and Drake's capable rap adds a good amount of dynamics to the whole proceedings. Oh, and there's something undeniably sensual about the song. Seriously. Haha.

21. Last Friday Night (TGIF)
Katy Perry

Fluffy. Amusing. Fun. The song may not be the finest pop song to EVER be produced, but it's a charming track that deserves attention. The strummy guitar gives it a different vibe, and then there's a freakin' saxophone solo. That, paired with the chanting and that infectious hook make the 'epic fail' lyric not only forgivable but actually ok. Haha. The song could jump right out of an 80's movie, which the music video exemplifies brilliantly, or just a tongue in cheek romp celebrating the weekend - contrary to Rebecca Black's infamous Friday. HAHA.

20. Born This Way
Lady Gaga

With the recent surge of self-empowerment songs this year from Kesha's We R Who We R to Pink's Fuckin' Perfect to Katy Perry's Firework, this Lady Gaga ditty is distinctly less modern compared to her competition. But while this song isn't exactly prodigial and some may claim that it's unoriginal - remember the Madonna comparison controversy? - pop is cyclical and the underlying message is praiseworthy. It has a pulsating beat with an almost disco anthem that's retro - in a good way. It's a good pop song and definite grower.

19. Till The World Ends
Britney Spears

I got to admit, this second single off Britney Spear's latest album is generic, but this is the generic I can't get enough of. With thumping beats, stuttering vocals, lo-fi fade in and outs, and brilliant production, what else do you want? It's a definite club banger with an insanely catchy hook - granted that it's just the “whoa oh oh ohs” Haha - that the larger than life sound mixed with an infectious beat takes this track to the heights of her other smash hit singles. Personally, one of her catchiest singles since Toxic.

18. Jar Of Hearts
Christina Perri

I love myself some good sweeping ballads with strings and piano chords. Really. I'm the first one to admit that slow tempo piano ballads about love gone wrong are a dime a dozen, but this beautifully arranged track somehow creates that genuine emotional connection to its listeners. Christina Perri's voice just reaches your core, twists it, and then releases it fully exposed. I guess, no matter what kind of mood you are in and no matter which musical genre you prefer, I bet that you will simply adore this song.

17. Best Thing I Never Had
Beyonce Knowles

Powerful. Reflective. Retrospective. Driven mostly by a piano melody with some slick polished production, this track is like a cousin of her other acoustic guitar-led kiss off, Irreplaceable. I like that it has that self-empowering anthem that's bordering on a classic insult to past relationships. Haha. Beyonce's vocals are divine, her runs have that over-the-top goodness and that vocal range wears a certain emotional weight. I'm a guy, and I think this song is splendid.

16. How To Love
Lil Wayne

Not a fan of Lil Wayne, but this song is just so stirring. Who knew he could actually pull off a gorgeous track like this? At one point, I seriously believed all rappers were just that, a rapper. Lil Wayne, on the other hand, has done what most rappers wouldn't think of doing - sing and play an acoustic guitar. It's a bold move, but it paid off tremendously as he has been able to transcend many types of music in this totally unexpected, stripped down acoustic R&B inflected jam.

15. Don't You Wanna Stay
Jason Aldean (ft. Kelly Clarkson)

In the hands of less talented singers, this pleading romantic ballad could sound less powerful - even hokey.  But thank God for Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson, who's beautiful and harmonious voices soar and give justice to this stunning song - a plea about the way a goodbye kiss should be more than just that moment, trying to hold on to that feeling for "a little while".Of course, the impressive production complete with an orchestra helps create an atmosphere of longing and makes the music linger on in your head long after the song has ended. If you're a fan of sweeping, almost epic heartbreak song, which I am, this is the song for you.

14. We Found Love
Rihanna (ft. Calvin Harris)

Rihanna may not be the strongest vocalist out there, but with her relaxed and almost luxurious vocals in this track coupled with euphoric beats and pulsating club rhythms, there's nothing to complain really. Plus, We found love in a hopeless place, while that's all there is to it as a chorus, is definitely one of the most recognizable hooks of the year. Right? Right!

13. Super Bass
Nicki Minaj

An impossibly addictive confection! I'm not a big Nicki Minaj fan, but the girl has got some catchy beats and the effervescence of this track actually won me over. The song in itself has Nicki interspersing the brilliant verses with her trademark rapid-fire rapping that is arguably pristine, and a bubble gum pop chorus that easily morphs the whole number into a total earworm. Believe me, once the "boom badoom" chorus is in your end, it's pretty impossible to remove.

12. If I Die Young
The Band Perry

Sure, the words on this track is a tad depressing, but for such a young band, this actually shows maturity beyond their years. The lyrics are surprisingly poetic, there's a certain authenticity to the song, it's beautifully produced with some nice touches of fiddle and banjo,and the vocals are pretty solid. Kimberly Perry delivers the song brilliantly with just the right amount of restraint and nuances. Her tone adds personality to the tune, as well as the subtle yet prominent harmonies from her brothers.

11. Fuckin' Perfect
Pink

In a time where the pressure put on by society is absurd, Pink has a way of sending a message to the world and this is obviously it. In a softer, down-tempo power ballad that has a hefty subject matter, Pink's delivery has a distinct rawness and honesty to it. It's startlingly poignant with her vocals showing an unusual vulnerability. The production is focused, with a surprising progression from a generic melody to an instrumentation that pulsates - thanks to the strings that come in after the second repetition in great effect. The song is confrontational and crude, but it's also comforting at the same time.

10. E.T.
Katy Perry (ft. Kanye West)

Despite the lack of distinct hook and somewhat silly lyrics, this metaphor-driven track is another welcome addition to her repertoire of chart toppers. From the electro-pop laden beats to the interesting layer of instrumentation to chilly bleeps and even to the retro-techno vibe, this formula always works surprisingly well for Katy Perry. Kanye West sort of phoned it in, but just like any other collaborations, his rap adds a bit of variety to the mix.

09. California King Bed
Rihanna

Ironically, out of all her releases this year, the underrated California King Bed is my favorite. It didn't get enough airplay and it's probably Rihanna's least successful single in her Loud album, but this is definitely a nice change of pace from her usual hectic dance beats. The gentle acoustic guitar strumming at the beginning gives the song a sense of familiarity that's almost comforting. Then, when the electric guitar and drums kick in, the sudden shift in dynamics give this track a striking punch. Oh, and let me also mention that it's refreshing to hear a song that's built around her voice and not the other way around. This, to me, is her best vocal performance to date and that's saying something.

08. Someone Like You
Adele

Hurts so good!! This piano-driven track is brilliantly heartbreaking. From the simple production to Adele's impeccably nuanced vocal performance down to her impassioned delivery - the way her voice cracked somewhere towards the end is chilling - this song is a glaring testament that there's no need for theatrics or any blinding strobe lights to struck a cord and connect to the listeners. Outstanding lyrics. Incredible Vocals. Stunning melody. Enough said.

07. Pumped Up Kicks
Foster The People

You want a bubble gum pop music with an amazingly messed up lyrics? Pumped Up Kicks is for you then! Haha. Not that I'm glorifying violence - the lyrics are pretty obscene and disturbing - but the underlying irony given the easy listening beat and tone of the whole track is brilliant. The super slick production suggests a fun escapism with hushed vocals and dainty percussion, but the lyrics tell otherwise. Schizo? Maybe, but it's, arguably, an immaculately constructed song! Very nice.

06. Party Rock Anthem
LMFAO

I must admit, it took some time for me to warm up with the song, but when I got into it, this I dare say is one of the catchiest dance tunes to come along in a while. Yes, it lacks a certain amount of depth, but the song is all about having a good time - and this song delivers. It's goofy, it's infectious, an absolute club banger and indeed, everyday I'm shuffling! Haha.

05. Give Me Everything (Tonight)
Pitbull (ft. Ne-yo, Afrojack)

The song that has a European house flare with a perfect blend of Pitbull's sharp rap and Ne-yo's smooth R&B vocals. I like that it has that madly infectious appeal that could transcend to both the club and rap enthusiast. Indeed, a cool little club tune that will surely get the energy moving on the dance floor.

04. Firework
Katy Perry

A straight up anthem of empowerment! It has an instant hook, a driving beat, a simple yet catchy melody, a soaring instrumentation and Katy Perry's vocals that, even though not the strongest, are stretched to positive effect. What else to ask for?

03. Grenade
Bruno Mars

Just when I thought Bruno Mars is just another schmaltzy type of crooner, he released this song and once again, proved me wrong. His song writing remains top notch if a lot edgier than his previous overplayed hit, Just The Way You Are, the transitions are seamless, his vocals are stunning, his phrasing is sublime and the emotions he poured into the song, especially towards the end, is downright exceptional. No glaring flaws with this track.

02. Moves Like Jagger
Maroon 5 (ft. Christina Aguilera)

From the funky guitar lead to the whistle - which, to me, adds an interesting layer of instrumentation to the song - this song is anything but boring. Sure, it's not ground breaking by any means, but it's extremely infectious beat makes this THE perfect ear candy that can make anyone move. Oh, and the vocal chemistry between Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera is a pleasant surprise - with the latter keeping her riffing to a minimum. Haha.

01. Rolling In The Deep
Adele

This flawlessly produced and incredibly written track started with an acoustic guitar that suddenly swells into an explosive chorus with bass drums and piano and gives the song an unexpected sense of urgency. Add to that Adele's impeccable vocals with a powerful, barely controlled abandon that makes for this beautiful sound. So yes, I'm not surprised that this is the most covered song of the year - and deservingly so - from the surprisingly stripped down version of Linkin Park to Mike Posner's riveting remix to an almost gospel a capella rearrangement by John Legend to the awesome renditions of American Idol's David Cook and Haley Reinhart - and the song to top my 2011 list.


NEXT: 20 Best Movies of 2011
Year-End List 2011: 25 Songs Reviewed by DAM on 11:04 PM Rating: 5

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