[END OF YEAR] Our Top Picks For Best Mainstream Pop 2016

[END OF YEAR] Our Top Picks For Best Mainstream Pop 2016

[END OF YEAR] Our Top Picks For Best Mainstream Pop 2016


In spite of the uncertainty, disappointment, and tough learning lessons that was 2016, the one thing that remained consistent throughout the year was pop music. Judging from the charts and radio, it’s pretty clear that when the going gets tough the sounds get… softer. People want music to be an escape and not another stressor to add to their already long lists of problems. Gone are the hard-hitting EDM bangers that dominated the charts earlier this decade and incoming are softer, happier sounds including the ever-expanding tropical house, trap, and acoustic pop. While on the production side, modern computer-generated gimmicks became the norm, traditionally talented singers prevailed on the vocal end of the spectrum, nevertheless. So without further ado (and without any political cliches) here are the ten best pop songs of the year!

Photo by: Kris Kish – Flume, Lightning In A Bottle 2015

“This Is What You Came For” – Calvin Harris featuring Rihanna

In spite of EDM no longer being a radio staple (and all of the Taylor Swift drama) Calvin Harris remained triumphant in 2016. Aided by his pal Rihanna on vocals, he stuck to what he does best: crafting an instantly memorable hook aided by four-on-the-floor beats with some euro flavor thrown in for a good measure. Perhaps not as timeless as We Found Love, but flawlessly executed, nevertheless!

“Just Say” – KDA featuring Tinashe

In a perfect world this would have been an enormous hit it deserves to be, but in the shit year that was 2016 brilliant dance music was mostly ignored by the mainstream. London based producer KDA proved that creating original-sounding dance music is still possible in this day and age while employing the talents of the very genre-versatile Tinashe. Blast this in your car, gym, or shower, or while enjoying a wild romp with your significant other!

“Into You” – Ariana Grande

Yes, she may indeed be a ‘Dangerous Woman’ who won’t take your shit but will take it so hard from her man (currently rapper Mac Miller) that she’ll walk from ‘Side To Side,’ but it was this summer gem that stood out above all things ‘Grande!’ Co-penned by pop mastermind Max Martin, this infectious and sexy number was made in pop music heaven!

“Never Be Like You” – Flume featuring Kai

The Australian city of Melbourne not only gave us Kylie Minogue, but it is also the hometown of Harley Edward Straten, otherwise known to millions simply as Flume. Discovered and signed back in 2011, he finally conquered the mainstream in early 2016 with his infectious stroke of electronic genius. Capturing a spectrum of emotions with the help of Canadian chanteuse Kai, Never Be Like You was a rare moment when abstract artistic excellence was met with universal seal of approval from critics and the public, alike.


Former One Direction member Zayn Malik followed the path paved for him by the likes of Robbie Williams and Geri Halliwell by leaving behind his bandmates (and his steady bread and butter) at the height of their success. Similarly to Williams (and unlike Halliwell) this turned out to be a very wise move, indeed. Shedding the clean cut, pre-teen image and lyrics dictated to him by the likes of Simon Cowell, he emerged on his own by going straight for the jugular lyrically and sonically. Raunchy, emotional, and aggressive, the ballad about fucking so hard it will “piss off the neighbors” hit the perfect balance between hard and soft and light and dark on all fronts.

“I Feel It Coming” – The Weeknd featuring Daft Punk

Luckily for us, The Weeknd’s ditching of his famous hairstyle was not synonymous with a loss of artistic creativity. Taking a break from all of the lamenting about how he sold his soul for money and fame that permeates a good half of his album Starboy, he fills the seven year-strong void left behind by Michael Jackson so flawlessly that even the King of Pop himself would be jealous!

“Sexual” – Neiked featuring Dyo

Swedish producer Neiked conquered the world’s ears (and Spotify) with this one hell of a dance pop ear worm proving that sometimes lyrics really don’t matter, after all. English singer Dyo soars as she sings about finding the man of her dreams that has got her “feeling sexual” with so much joy that you would think that she’s already orgasmed, but in spite of the lyrics, it’s the production here that screams ‘dance floor’ and not ‘bed.’ If being ‘sexual’ feels as good as this sounds, please don’t let it stop!

“Don’t Let Me Down” – The Chainsmokers featuring Daya

The Chainsmokers may have hit new heights with everyone’s favorite summer sing-along Closer, but it’s their collaboration with 17-year old singing sensation Daya that hit all of the right notes. Daya’s stirring vocal during the bridge as she begs “Don’t let me, don’t let me, don’t let me down” set against Andrew Taggart’s and Alex Pall’s trap production is one of 2016’s finest pop moments assuring the listener that he or she will NOT and CANNOT be ‘let down!’ Mission accomplished!

“One Dance” – Drake featuring Wizkid and Kyla

Much has been written about this impeccable marriage of musical genres, however, the formula here is simple: Drake’s perfectly soothing and gentle vocal combined with the sample of Kyla’s 2008 UK hit Do You Mind? laced with background accentuation from Afrobeat artist Wizkid, set against a soft, dancehall beat and piano melody. The result is so effective that it was impossible to escape in 2016; and for a change, unarguably, deservedly so.

“Rockabye” – Clean Bandit featuring Sean Paul and Anne-Marie

British singer Anne-Marie may have struck pop gold on her own in 2016 with her hard-punching hit Alarm, but her contribution to Clean Bandit’s ode to hard-working single mothers everywhere, aided by the ongoing career-revival of Sean Paul, surpassed all expectations. Although, not everyone can relate to the song’s subject matter, no one can disagree that it simply is one of the year’s catchiest and finest pieces of pop music. Grammy-winning collective, Clean Bandit, may have lost a member this year, but they certainly haven’t lost their ability to craft blissfully perfect pop music!


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James Kabat Editor, based in Chicago specializing in pop, dance, and underground club culture. I have interviewed some of the world's biggest DJ's and I enjoy diving deep into the minds of my musical heroes.