The best 1-2 punches.
TOM JOBIM & ELIS REGINA – “Águas de Março” – as described by nick burns
It’s the most pure and otherworldly of all the bossa nova standards, the catchiest (“Girl from Ipanema” notwithstanding) and the most happily inscrutable, seeming to exist—not unlike Dylan’s “Mr Tambourine Man”—outside the boundaries of genre, mood, lyrical convention or meaning: is it a sad song? a happy one? Elis and Tom are certainly cute, playing cat and mouse with the mic, but the words and the notes mix melancholy and joy: the titular rains of March, Regina sings, are the “end of the road,” and they wash away the Southern-Hemispheric summer–but they also bring the “promise of life in your heart” (“a promessa de vida no teu coração”).
OH WONDER – “Dazzle” – noah toyonaga
Oh Wonder started as a project between two artists trying to write a single song each month for a year. There is something quietly melancholic about a duet between two people aware with every song towards artistic intimacy is also one closer to an intended end. In “Daze”, they seem almost hesitant to finish the song, voices hanging onto the ends of phrases, a sense of having already missed something they are still living, of regretting something not yet come to pass.
INGRID MICHAELSON & SARA BAREILLES – “Winter Song” – zane hellmann
When the weather inevitably turns from warm and sunny to chilly and cloudy and when we turn back our clocks for that extra hour of sleep, this is the song I like to curl up in bed with and play on repeat. It’s about longing for those warm summer days that you know are coming but still feel like they are an eternity away. Those days will be back sooner than you realize.
TIMBALAND feat. KERI HILSON – “The Way I Are” – as described by david schmitt
Timbaland, known for his production, lends his vocals in an effort to swoon then up-and-comer Keri Hilson. While there are other male verses, we all know the Timbaland is the focal point of this middle school dance classic, convincing Hilson that money doesn’t matter when love is involved.
QUEEN & DAVID BOWIE – “Under Pressure” – as described by annabel ostrow
For that moment when you realize week two of junior year is not the same as week two of freshman year. And when you’re shocked that all your frosh residents think they’re listening to “Ice Ice Baby” for the first 15 seconds.
JASON MRAZ & COLBIE CAILLAT – “Lucky” – as described by loralee sepsey
Tbh I miss my cat a lot and this song reminds me of her. I left her in Vancouver with my boyfriend. I guess this song reminds me of him too, but mostly our cat. Follow me on IG @lsepsey119 for the highest quality pictures of the most purr-fect kitten in the world.
R. KELLY feat. USHER – “Same Girl” – as described by phill giliver
Think a fire fighting another fire, except the fires can sing. The music video starts with 110 seconds of the worst improv scene ever imagined, at which point R. Kelly (a demigod) and Usher (another demigod) realize that — uh oh! — they’re in relationships with the same girl (who happens to have a very normal life, by the way. She works at TBS, went to Georgia Tech, and loves Waffle House). You read that correctly. The Same Girl. But the best part of this song, hands down, is this plan created by Usher, a singer, to entrap his and R. Kelly’s girl: “Man just ask her to meet up with you and I’m gonna show up too // And then she won’t know what to do // We’ll be standing there singing.” This video should be played on loop at the Smithsonian.
DONNIE TRUMPET & THE SOCIAL EXPERIMENT feat. JAMILA WOODS – “Sunday Candy” – as described by nikki tran
The Chitown dream team of Chance the Rapper and Jamila Woods has delivered some of this year’s most spirited tracks (see: “Blessings” and “LSD”), but time and time again I come back to this earlier collab by the two. Here, Chance’s boyish verse jells with Woods’s calming, choral gushes, showering us with a childlike bliss, bringing us back to a time of being carefree and full of cavities.
SOLANGE feat. LIL WAYNE – “Mad” – as described by anthony milki
Far too often, pop acts lean on a big-name spitter to give their track an extra oomph, and far too often, it comes off as stale and unfitting. Solange uses Wayne perfectly – a Wayne we desperately need back after years of misses and label screw-overs – and they go back and forth in a perfect marriage of rap and R&B.
METHOD MAN feat. MARY J. BLIGE – “I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By” – as described by alejandra salazar
A rapper, a singer, and producer RZA all walk into a studio, and the 90s were never the same again.
OF MONTREAL feat. JANELLE MONÁE – “Our Riotous Defects” – as described by katie nesser
Somewhere between a singalong pop song and a stand-up comedy routine lies this song, pretty typical of the of Montreal discography in its hyper-specificity and high percentage of SAT words. But what really elevates it above most of frontman Kevin Barnes’ work is the guest spot from the unrivaled Janelle Monáe, which brings the song from silly to sublime.
Image from here.