January is always an interesting month for new releases – it has the potential to spawn so many songs that will stay with you and shape your year, with two of my top five in the 2021 year end list dropping in January. Back then it was obvious that drivers license was going to have lasting impact on the year, and it really became the year of Olivia Rodrigo – so was there anything of that longevity and promise this early in 2022?
There are some strong contenders: if it’s anything like its predecessor, George Ezra’s newly announced third album is likely to soundtrack the summer months; The Weeknd hid some potential future hits on his new record, and TikTok upstarts like Lauren Spencer-Smith and GAYLE look likely to have a good year ahead of them if they can continue their current momentum.
Over on my newsletter (which I would love it if you subscribed to) I ran down my weekly top picks of the music’s hottest records. There were 87 songs in total throughout January that I thought were worth your time, and I’ve whittled it down to my ride or die top 20 songs released in the month of January 2022 for you to peruse – some you’ve heard, and some you might have missed. [Quick shout out to the phenomenal When I’m Gone (feat. Katy Perry) by Alesso which misses out on a top-five spot here because it actually came out at the tail end of December.]
As ever, I hope you find something you like and thank you for your continued support of this humble little blog.
Click here for the Spotify Playlist for this month’s top 20, and happy listening!
20. Don’t Lie To Me by Oscar Stembridge
Fourteen-year-old Swedish singer-songwriter Oscar Stembridge has changed gear dramatically since his playful little anti-bullying song Where Are You You Now? having written this moody little banger about the climate crisis. The frustration from the youngest generations who have arrived on this dying world of ours and had the wool pulled from their eyes about the reality of big corporations and Government lying about the gravity of the situation is evident in Don’t Lie To Me. The line ‘Cause a beautiful smile doesn’t mean anything in Hell’ when backed by a music video full of scenes of a burning world is particularly jarring.
19. 24/7 (feat. JC Stewart) by Billen Ted
A euphoric ‘I Love You’ banger – that opening hook is basically the whole song and as someone who basically goes to bed and wakes up singing internally (and often externally) ‘you’re my 24/7, 365′, I can vouch that it is incredibly fucking catchy.
18. Brave by Ella Henderson
It’s been a long slow burning road for Ella Henderson since her early exit on the X-Factor, this year marking ten years (!!) since she showed up on our screens crooning about her grandad – so many can and have been deterred by the post-talent show life, but Ella has clung on to a pop career with some low-level hits. Brave is the latest example of why she is so often featured on big EDM bangers and is just killing it in the soul-pop game. Another fantastic vocal showcase from a deserving pop star. Pre-save that new album of hers that’s coming on March 11th.
17. Wildfire by Against The Current
If raucous, rambunctious rock music is for you then you have come to the right place! Against The Current dropped Wildfire on January 10th and I’ve been head-banging (metaphorically of course) ever since. Genuinely though, it’s great to see that those still carrying the pop-rock flame of the 00s are burning bright with songs as good as this.
16. Fingers Crossed by Lauren Spencer-Smith
You have to give it to someone who has clung on to her three-fold beige pedestrian name to begin forging a pop career that’s doing so well in the charts – I suppose we have TikTok to thank for this one do we? There’s definitely something charming about fingers-crossed; it’s simplistic enough to be memorable, lyrically uninspired enough (particularly the way she lays into the delivery of ‘and all your daddy issues’) to tell a story that hits all the right notes, and her vocal is quite good.
15. Show Me Love by Tove Styrke
That opening ‘Show me love‘ is just exquisite. That’s all you need to know on this one.
14. drunk text me by Lexi Jayde
A lovely bit of angsty singer-songwriter pop, easily my favourite of all the angsty singer-songwriter pop that came out in January, perhaps the closest to a rival to Olivia Rodrigo yet. The whole song is dripping with devastation, at no point more so than in the final stretch when Jayde cries ‘Tell me I’m not like her/I made you happier‘ – more than a little heartbreaking.
13. Absolute by Foxes
Foxes has always been one a pop go-to of mine, she knows her way around a hook and she’s a killer live performer. Six years since her last record she’s finally geared up to drop her third album The Kick on February 11th. Absolute was the third pre-release single and probably the best so far: it’s a gorgeous, glittering bit of disco-pop that is about love and escapism, that feeling of losing control and letting loose. The way she delivers ‘Our time you can measure on a feeling/Feels like I’m looking at my body from the ceiling‘ is pop perfection.
12. Shut Off The Lights by Bastille
Dan and the Bastille boys actually did something surprising on their latest single and made a song that is both good and not a carbon copy of one of their past singles – this one is a moody, dancy little number that has to be their best song in ages.
11. Running with the Hurricane by Camp Cope
Something about lead singer Georgia Maq’s voice that really lands for me, I think because she has one of those 00s voices from all those bands that would show up on the soundtrack to teen dramas. She sounds incredible here and that little bassline that carries through the track is so satisfying.
10. redruM by Sorana + David Guetta
The sign of a good pop song to me is one that has a hook which lodges itself in your head. Here Sorana plays on Stephen King’s iconic redruM (that’s murder backwards) from The Shining, and builds one of the year’s catchiest hooks so far around it – that ‘Redrum, redrum/look what I did/look what I’ve done’ is so simple and so good.
09. Jigsaw by Conan Gray
Conan’s ability to pivot between bangers like Telepath and Wish You Were Sober to moody emo-pop songs like this and have it all be on brand is a big achievement. I’ll be honest, I’m more of Conan-banger fan than his other stuff, but I appreciated a bit of angst from time to time and after spending the best part of a year with Dan Nigro’s other musical protogé Olivia Rodrigo, you can hear all the signature little touches of his production and how the song is stitched together, particularly on the pivotal ‘All I did just to make you happy/Still, you don’t even fuckin’ love me’ before Conan’s screams of ‘Jigsaw, jigsaw, jigsaw, jigsaw’. It’s easy to appreciate just how good a song this is.
08. Light Switch by Charlie Puth
Light Switch started as a TikTok clip last year – at the time I wasn’t fully convinced, but pop master Puth really manifested it into a fully realised banger from Puth. It’s fast, fun, incredibly catchy, and proof that TikTok is a good sounding board for new music, if for no other reason than through repeat exposure.
07. Head on Fire by Griff + Sigrid
Pop excellence collaborating with pop excellence produced – you guessed it – pop excellence! My initial reaction to this song was positive if a little underwhelmed as if it lacked something, but not all great songs need to smack you over the head from the get-go. Head on Fire has proven to be a slow burner (no pun intended) and is one of the best collaborations I think we’ll hear in 2022.
06. Purity by Lilyisthatyou
A short sharp rush of sex-positive pop-punk brilliance. Everything about this song is great apart from the fact it’s too damn short – will definitely be looking out for what Lilyisthatyou does next.
05. Bliss by Amber Mark
After several years and a whole lot of singles, Amber Mark finally arrived with her debut album Three Dimensions Deep, featuring the pure-ecstasy that Is Bliss. It’s three minutes of bite-your-lip inhale-deeply send-shivers-down-your-spine RnB perfection
04. midnight sun by Nilüfer Yanya
midnight sun is a bit of an enigma to me, coming out of nowhere and hitting none of the notes that I usually look for in music… there’s just something so brilliant and magical about the guitar that comes in around the 1:45 mark that drew me in and Yanya’s breathy vocals kept coming back to this song. A real work of art.
03. Boys Don’t Cry by Anitta
Just when I thought we were ready to close the door on the Future Nostalgia / After Hours era, Brazillian’s latest pop export Anitta stuck her foot in the gap and forced it back open with the insta-banger that is Boys Don’t Cry. Every single second of this is a rush of dance/synth-pop adrenaline, the hook is absolutely killer – this fully deserves to be the latin-pop star’s break through onto the world stage.
02. Anyone For You by George Ezra
George Ezra is back with on the attack with the follow up to his 2018 sun-kissed summer smash album Staying at Tamara’s with Anyone For You, the lead single from his third record due out in June, which if it’s anything like its predecessors will be absolutely everywhere. I love George, I’ve been a fan since his debut EP back in 2013, so I’m delighted that he’s back and am buzzing about the new album. Anyone For You is exactly the sunny, easy hit that we all need to blast away those wintery cobwebs.
01. Less Than Zero by The Weeknd
If there’s one future hit on the new Weeknd album, I’m calling it now as Less Than Zero. It’s a great bit of confessional pop, it’s much more commercially leaning than a lot of the record, and its absolutely screaming for Ariana to jump on for another collab. The softness of the final lines is gorgeous and the hook of ‘But I can’t gеt it out of my head/No, I can’t shake this feeling that crawls in my bed’ has been in my head for weeks; this has to be one of his all-time best.