NPR Music's 36 Favorite Songs of 2022 (So Far)
This week we reach the actual halfway point of the year, which means it's finally the perfect moment to look back on the great music released in 2022 so far. The list of songs on this page isn't the result of consensus. There was no voting or petitioning or arguing involved in its creation. Instead, we asked 36 writers, editors, hosts, producers and other contributors to NPR Music to share the song they love most from the first half of this year. Some were tailor-made for the needs of this particular moment, in this particular corner of the multiverse. Others feel classic, as eternal as an embrace. All of them are presented here — one pick per person, in alphabetical order by artist — in the hopes that you'll discover something you love too.
(Follow NPR Music's ongoing coverage of new songs at our #NowPlaying blog. And you can stream the full playlist of these picks on Amazon Music, Tidal, Apple Music and Spotify.)
Beyoncé, "Break My Soul"
With "Break My Soul," the marching orders are simple: Dance. The unapologetic resurgence of house music amidst so much uncertainty is not lost on me, but delivers a much needed release all the same. Stomp, shout, scream, cry — do what you must. —Jerusalem Truth
"cbd" is a Gordian knot of production finesse, brakence's electronic squiggles spiraling and wrapping around each other like a Windows screensaver. Cutting through the noise is his glassy, almost operatic voice. Suddenly, the glitched-out architecture gives way to springy guitar and hip-swaying bass. "I'm chilling by death, cbd," goes the chorus, and then it becomes clear: This is what pop radio could sound like. —Mano Sundaresan
Charli XCX, "Sorry if I Hurt You"
What would a New Order song written by Charli XCX sound like? Now we know with "Sorry if I Hurt You," hiding in the deluxe edition of Crash. With its cuttingly simple chorus and a surprisingly naked vulnerability, I haven't been able to get this one out of my head all 2022. —Hazel Cills
Cisco Swank, Luke Titus & Malaya, "Joint 3"
"Joint 3" by Cisco Swank, Luke Titus & Malaya is a two minute lesson in experimenting with contrast. Off-kilter and kaleidoscopic, a distorted bass ostinato locks in with hypnotizing guitar courtesy of Swank and frenzied drums played by Titus. The lyrics allude to a dark trip down memory lane, adding fuel to the erratic groove. But in the chorus, gentle piano and synths emerge and swell while Swank and Malaya sing: "Hope you're doing better though." —Ashley Pointer
Conway the Machine, "Stressed"
Give this single from Conway the Machine a cursory spin, and you've got a sad banger for the millions of us barely holding it together this summer. More time and attention reveals a pathos that only an unfortunate few of us could fully comprehend. The vulnerability on display makes Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers sound like cosplay. —Otis Hart
Curse of Lono, "So Damned Beautiful"
Rarely have I heard a tale as haunting as "So Damned Beautiful." In a duet with Tess Parks, Felix Bechtolsheimer captures the story an ex-partner's wild, drug-filled affair that ends in tragedy, all amplified by Curse of Lono's chilling pulse and unforgettable chorus. —Bob Boilen
Ethel Cain, "American Teenager"
The phrase "coming-of-age soundtrack" gets thrown around a lot, but if you've ever known what it feels like to be in a dead-end town somewhere, suffocating under the weight of your own community, this song is for you. Through layers of reverb, Cain reckons with her upbringing and the harsh realities of the American dream. —Reanna Cruz
Sky Ferreira, "Don't Forget"
Sky Ferreira stormed into 2022 like she was taking the Liam Neeson role in a vengeance drama. She is a woman with a very particular set of skills: a voice full of flint and heat pushed to the brink of exhaustion, highly focused rage rolling off her like waves of feedback. "Honey, you can see that it's a rotten world," she sings. Listen to her burn it down. —Jacob Ganz
Robert Glasper, Q-Tip, esperanza spalding, "Why We Speak"
Every day I get happy when I dance to and sing this song out loud, butchering the French — "Ce qui n'a pas de prix, n'a pas de prix" — but hitting the high E♭5 ahs with surprising accuracy in unison with esperanza spalding's glorious voice. —Suraya Mohamed
Memphis rapper GloRilla ignites the summer early with an anthem of autonomy. With a spell-it-out chorus and evocative scenes of "at the red lights twerkin on them headlights," "F.N.F," short for "F*** N**** Free,'' is a breakup rallying cry of beautifully ratchet, rousing portions. At this point, we have to celebrate any and every sliver of freedom we got. —Sidney Madden
S.G. Goodman, "If You Were Someone I Loved"
S.G. Goodman brings keening, cutting urgency to the hypothetical that opens this song over a sinewy, droning thicket of guitar: "If you were someone I loved, I'd see your pain and that, that'd be enough." She's focused on the opioid crisis devastating the rural people and places that she knows well. Each line lands with the radical immediacy of confession, as she interrogates our insulated detachment and leaves no room for abstraction. —Jewly Hight
Brian Jackson, "All Talk"
"All Talk" is an incredibly buoyant 1970s-esque populist credo, laced with Fender Rhodes, groovy guitar, hand claps, keys, flute and percussion. The man who gifted the world's dance floors with the sonic underpinnings of Gil Scott-Heron's "The Bottle" thankfully sent us another love offering. —Ayana Contreras
Jensen McRae, "Happy Girl"
When I find myself looking for a song that validates my grief about the past two years and all of the tenderness I've lost, I look to "Happy Girl." McRae's honey-sweet voice and heartbreaking lyrics, about feeling pressure to appear joyful when you're battling loneliness, contain a sadness that cuts right to the bone. —Cat Sposato
Kehlani, "Wish I Never"
The Slick Rick (via Montell Jordan) sample might draw you in, but you'll find yourself tuned in to Kehlani's storytelling. Memories of regrets and hot sex swirl in this catchy track full of mixed emotions, where Kehlani makes sense of a hookup-turned-power-play that left her feelings slightly bruised. —Nastia Voynovskaya
Khruangbin & Leon Bridges, "B-Side"
On the shadier side of the Lone Star State, "B-Side'' captures this Fort Worth-Houston collaboration at its finest. Bridges' honeyed vocals collide with Khruangbin's reverbed riffs for a groove straight out of an acid Western — it's impossible not to dance along. —Isabella Gomez Sarmiento
Steve Lacy, "Mercury"
The Internet's Steve Lacy returns with "Mercury," a catchy foot-stomper that feels like the lead track for this year's summer soundtrack. Filled with Spanish-influenced guitar chords, horn stabs, a hypnotic but playful chorus and Lacy's hazy vocals, "Mercury" gives us a succulent taste of what to expect from the prolific artist's forthcoming album, Gemini Rights. —Tarik Moody
Lizzo, "About Damn Time"
Jockeying for the unofficial title of Song Of The Summer is still underway, with Kate Bush circa 1985 somehow assuming pole position. But don't sleep on "About Damn Time," an unimpeachable banger that hangs a spangly disco ball over the roller rink of your mind. —Stephen Thompson
Lord Kayso, "Uncle Mark"
Brooklyn rapper Lord Kayso's "Uncle Mark" is a warm yet harrowing detailing of a family member's struggle with schizophrenia. Over Chris Decastro's rich, piano sampling beat, Kayso hits you in the heart with this song about loving a person in both their best and worst moments. —John Morrison
The Lumineers, "Where We Are"
My nerves and emotions have been an impossibly tangled mess for about two years now. I never know what's going to trigger me in some way. But I remember that when I first heard this song at the beginning of the year, I almost immediately burst into tears. Perhaps it's just the recurring group chorus insisting that everything really will be OK, even if we can't take the measure of the mess we're in. Or it's the gently rolling piano line set against the foggy scenes of devastation. But it all taps directly into that point where joy and sorrow collide and come pouring out. —Robin Hilton
Kevin Morby, "This Is A Photograph"
I always get anxious at my parent's house because that's where I most acutely feel the passage of time and the inevitability of change. That inevitability is acknowledged by Morby here — but then the song builds into a frenzy under the looping lyrics, "This is what I'll miss about being alive." It's a reminder to truly live in the passing moments we are afforded, and not to fear them. —Raina Douris
Molly Nilsson, "Pompeii"
"Pompeii" is Nilsson's invitation to a party at the end of the world, where two lovers seal their fates to the sound of colossal synths and drum machines. The track combusts until burning down to a flicker, making us relish the last dance before the sudden blow of the afterlife. —Vita Dadoo Lomeli
OHYUNG, "my torn cuticles!"
A big part of ambient music's beauty is its capacity to softly impose on and collaborate with me — it holds my hand, gently bushwhacking a path towards a shared mental space and being fully in-the-feeling there. OHYUNG's nearly 16-minute piece "my torn cuticles!" makes that journey feel wide, mundane and hopeful, crackling with activity in its periphery. The magic trick, I realize later: This wasn't a collaboration. —Andrew Flanagan
Pigeon Pit, "Milk Crates"
On the first day of 2022, this song found me. Sure, folk-punk nostalgia spoke to a younger version of me, but Pigeon Pit's "Milk Crates" — with its train-chuggin' rhythm, fiddle scrawl and rowdy gang vocals — hits hardest when I push past what isn't and wonder about a "world worth living in" and how to make one. —Lars Gotrich
Princess Nokia, "No Effort"
If you're preparing to touch grass for the first time in way too long, let this song remind you that you don't owe the world a damn thing. Don't put on a shirt with buttons when you can rock a "ponytail, ripped jeans, no effort / Face clean, gold ring, no effort." Go ahead and pay too much for the rebranded Uber pool even when you know it's time for your daily hot girl walk. Nokia knows the key to turning doing the least into a power move is having the confidence to back it up: "You could never, b**** / You see me? / And you see you? / Brrat-tat-tat-tat." —Gabby Bulgarelli
Pusha T, "Diet Coke"
Pusha T's official, triumphal return was one of the more fortuitous developments of 2022, and no track distills it better than this one — a thrilling ode to problematic expertise, crafted by Kanye West and 88-Keys to showcase the specific brand of free-market disquisition that Pusha has made his trademark. —Nate Chinen
Mireya Ramos ft. Haydée Milanés and Gaby Moreno, "Canción Mixteca"
"Canción Mixteca" is a tearjerker that also happens to be my favorite call-out to strolling mariachis. Mireya Ramos shares a breathtaking turn at the vocals with Cuban vocalist Haydée Milanés and Gaby Moreno from Guatemala, all of whom find their place in the lyrics about missing home and those that love you. —Felix Contreras
Complete with jazz piano breaks and nods to reggaeton clásicos, the sonically diverse ambition Rosalía had in creating this track is felt in its strikingly cohesive pandemonium. It's as danceable as it is memorable and is sure to be played in discos and cafes alike for years to come. —Anamaria Sayre
Saba, "Few Good Things"
Saba sums up the sentiment of the gripping Few Good Things with lots of heart. As the drums drop out and switch, Black Thought steps up and delivers introspective bars dedicated to his late mother. —Bobby Carter
This indie-folk gem is essentially a love song, but it doesn't depict romance as something flashy or dramatic; instead, it's a moment of reflection, a long drive, the pull of a tide — striking images, sung in Genevieve DeGroot's sweet, delicate voice, that show how love can both humble and strengthen us. —Marissa Lorusso
Saucy Santana feat. Latto, "Booty"
Choosing to sample the Chi-Lites "Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So)" is a bold choice during the summer of Beyoncé's return, but Saucy Santana is no stranger to bold choices paying off — and "Booty" is no exception. Short and fructose sweet, I bet you can't listen to this single just once. (And, if Beyoncé said to leave your trade at home, then you can bet this track will be bumping on the way to the club.) —Sam Leeds
Shamir knows how to wield a knife — a sonic one, of course — and it absolutely guts you on this track. "Nuclear" is set to a lounge-y, bossa nova beat, but you'll soon realize this is a song about living with that one emotional wound that will never heal, and how to keep breathing even when it hurts. —Nisha Venkat
Snow Ellet, "19"
A block rockin' drum break cranked too hot for laptop speakers, guitars that bleed teen-movie-end-credits energy, a critical case of Tom DeLonge vowel-rounding and a Britpop-burnished finale with the hooks to fill a double-decker bus. The reference set here is just irresponsibly sweet, like the chaotic thrill you get dragging your cup across every spout on a soda fountain. —Daoud Tyler-Ameen
Leave it to the chanson singers to bring the heat while staying dazzlingly cool. Belgian polyglot Stromae embeds his unvarnished lyrics about suicidal ideation and other inner torments within a spare yet complex arrangement that invokes both a call to prayer and a march to the gallows. Nothing is resolved; the track's intensity lingers long after its subtle beats fade. —Ann Powers
Third Coast Percussion, "Derivative"
What's not to love about 161 beats per minute and a woozy groove that gets your head all in a rush? It's those metal water bowls, bongos, woodblocks, car parts and the bamboo "devil chaser" that fuel this romp through a funhouse of percussion, an ingenious collaboration with composer and electronic wizard Jlin. —Tom Huizenga
Donia Wael and El Waili, "Bekya"
I have nothing but very earnest things to say about "Bekya." This song was gentle to me when I needed care, قلبي بقى خردة (this translates as: My heart remains scrap), it invited me to think deeply about my desires, اسمحلي افكر معاك بصوت عالي (Let me think out loud with you), and gave me permission to want something different, حلم بعالم موازي الكون فيه مش قاسي (I dream of a parallel world in which the universe is not cruel). "Bekya" is a meditation full of compassion. —Soraya Shockley
Yawners, "Rivers Cuomo"
Taking the once and future hero and antihero of geek rock as its subject, "Rivers Cuomo" encapsulates what makes Madrid's Yawners so special: a legendary riff and Elena Nieto's simple refrains expanding to fill an afternoon spent noodling on creative ideas in a bedroom. Its chatroom-sized chorus: "Rivers Cuomo / I want to give it all!" —Stefanie Fernandez
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