Best Songs of 2011
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The 75 Best Songs of 2011

Nostalgia Alert! Jump back a decade and enjoy the best songs of 2011. They are headlined by a synthpop classic, a massive hit from a hot diva, pristine harmonies of a young band headed for greatness.

15. Lana Del Rey – “Video Games”

When “Video Games” began doing the rounds online, speculation from bloggers and twittering types was immediate. Was Lana Del Rey an genuine new indie talent or a product manufactured by a label? As it turns out, she is both in equal measure. But who cares about questions of authenticity when her debut single sounds this good? At its core, “Video Games” might be a simple piano ballad, but Del Rey imbues it with a fragile tenderness that elevates it to something rather special. — Alan Ashton-Smith

14. Frank Ocean – “Novacane”

Frank Ocean’s presence justifies the entire existence of the over-hyped, style-over-substance rap collective, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. “Novacane” became a surprise hit this spring, and rightfully so. Funny and evocative, Ocean’s tale of Coachella love gone wrong purrs and soothes, its huge beat giving a boost to Ocean’s rich vocals. He sings with confidence but not braggadocio, favoring texture over pyrotechnic vocal runs, and he’s got the lyrical game to match. Kudos to Def Jam for finally realizing they were sitting on something great. — Corey Beasley

13. Bon Iver – “Holocene”

There is nothing “magnificent” about the first few moments of “Holocene,” when the simple chord progression repeats but then is flanked by Justin Vernon’s voice, providing a warmth as familiar as your favorite blanket. This song feels akin to inhaling a deep breath of fresh air in the middle of winter. The trick here is how effortlessly he conceals the numerous layers at play throughout this composition- hear that bass sax? Those wind chimes? Not likely. Because with this one you aren’t listening with your ears as much as your heart. — Eddie Ciminelli

12. The Strokes – “Under Cover of Darkness”

The Strokes have never been able to recapture the acclaim that followed the band’s debut, but, as a song, “Under Cover of Darkness” bears all of the hallmarks that made Is This It such a success. It comes in the same package of world-weary attitude and effortless cool. Its lyrics tap into the same universal anguish — the band’s lyrics were never poetic so much as they were relatable — and include phrases you might hear outside of any dorm in America. (The lyrics to the big, rousing chorus are “Don’t go that way, I’ll wait for you.”) “Under Cover of Darkness”, however, surpasses its predecessors by moving beyond the droning guitar sounds and allowing for more playful melodies, keeping the Strokes from, as they put it, “singing the same song for ten years”. — Marisa LaScala

11. Fucked Up – “Queen of Hearts”

What better way to open a gleefully bombastic punk rock opera than a song as rousing, life-affirming, and sweet as “Queen of Hearts”? The catchiest song Fucked up has ever written, it works brilliantly on two levels, a vivid, effective opening scene in the ambitious David Comes to Life storyline, and at its simplest, an adorable boy-meets-girl love song featuring Damian “Pink Eye” Abraham and Cults’ Madeline Follin in the coolest duet of the year. — Adrien Begrand

10. tUnE-yArds – “Bizness”

The video for “Bizness” opens with tUnE-yArds as a child, resembling a prowling lioness. This encapsulates her; she’s ferociously childlike—tenaciously joyous. After two years of slowly building buzz, “Bizness” hit like a shotgun with everything special about her—the singular voice, the harmonic use of loops, the African polyrhythms, the inability to be pinned down, the confidence—turned up to 11,000. It was a large step from her humble, lo-fi roots and a declaration of uncompromised music badassery. — Jesse Fox

9. Florence and the Machine – “Shake It Out”

While Florence Welch set the bar high for herself with a first impression as memorable as “Dog Days Are Over”, her triumphant single “Shake It Out” isn’t just on par with that signature art-pop number, but actually trumps it. Rather than playing it safe, Welch throws caution to the wind and goes all out on “Shake It Out”, a grand pop composition that’s a showcase for her even grander voice. More than anything, the song’s desperate tone and soaring orchestration show that Welch isn’t resting on her laurels, but pushing herself to bigger and better things. — Arnold Pan

8. Kanye West and Jay-Z – “Otis”

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, Mr. West has an uncanny knack for flipping samples — see his productions “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”, “Lucifer”, or “Stronger”. For “Otis”, he sliced up the keys, drums, and vocals of Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” to create one of the warmest beats of the year (“Sounds so soulful, don’t you agree?” says Jay about 30 seconds in). Join that with Yeezy and Hova’s unique rapport and you get one of the greatest moments of their storied collaborative career, despite the complete absence of a chorus. Yeah, these guys are kings. — Mike Madden

7. James Blake – “The Wilhelm Scream”

“The Wilhelm Scream” is at once a startlingly adept cover and, paradoxically, Blake’s own haunting composition. The song borrows its vocal refrain (“I don’t know about my love…”) from “Where to Turn”, a minor 1970s soft-rock hit by Blake’s father, James Litherland, but uses it as more of a sample than a chorus — a distant, winding loop to be twisted, warped, and submerged beneath thick synth textures and icy echoes of drum loops. So goes Blake’s approach to recording. Much as he reappropriates elements from an eclectic grouping of contemporary genres (dubstep, soul, electronica), what results is indisputably his own. — Zach Schonfeld

6. Nicki Minaj – “Super Bass”

Let us think about what could have happened had “Super Bass” had never graced the airwaves: Katy Perry’s cheesefest, “Last Friday Night (TGIF)”, would have had no competition for Best Summer Song 2011, the little British girl who famously belted “Super Bass” on YouTube would be just another precocious child, and Minaj would continue to be known more for her stellar guest appearances than her own material. So, thank goodness someone had the savvy to release “Super Bass” as Minaj’s seventh single, thus gifting the listening public with a deliriously hooky chorus and jackrabbit rhymes. Pelican fly, anyone? — Maria Schurr