The #FearOfMu21c selection struggle reaches its end – two years once again dominated by the pop polls and then bang up to date with the sounds of 2023. These have also been years of gradual personal improvement after 2019-2020 were bin-fires for more than the global reasons. The polls create a little bubble which overlaps with wider narratives of pop – but thinking about these years also bring home the fact that there don’t seem to be many wider narratives around, in the old sense of trends supplanting other trends – the stories told about contemporary pop are often tales of logistics: the platforms by which it reaches us. Is that down to the withering of paid criticism, a broader cultural stasis, a bit of both, or something else entirely?

WET LEG – “Wet Dream”: FIRE UP THE DISCOURSE FURNACE IT’S WET LEG. In fact there’s no need to rehash the many ways people on the internets got Weird About Wet Leg, let us simply note that “Wet Dream”, not “Chaise Longue”, is the better Wet Leg single, cos it takes the silly jokes, post-punk riffs, and repetition and pushes them somewhere odder before snapping back for the big hooks. (Also the Buffalo 66 joke is just better than the Big D joke). YES.

PEGGY GOU – “I Go”: It’s been so great to see Peggy Gou get a proper hit this year! Unfortunately not one as good as “Itgehane” or this, which really hit that sweet spot between a techno groove and a pop hook. YES.

PARQUET COURTS – “Walking At A Downtown Pace”: As much a groove record as “I Go”, especially when the riff comes scudding over the top of the loping rhythm like a stone thrown across a pond. An amazing walkin’ around record for a moment when walkin’ around felt pretty special honestly. NO.

CAROLINE POLACHEK – “Bunny Is A Rider”: Found this one really hypnotic at the time and probably have to downgrade it a bit: it’s good, and interesting, but it also feels like a ciricle of mirrors and I’m not sure there’s anything in the middle. NO.

BAD BOY CHILLER CREW – “Don’t You Worry About Me”: Total nonsense euphoria, like Shaun Ryder making Hixxy and Sharkey records. All Bad Boy Chiller Crew verses are functionally interchangeable, these ones seem to have nothing to do with the addictive chorus, a girl putting down some clubland nuisance offering to ‘help’ her home, which is the real joy here. YES.

GIRL K – “Girl K Is For The People”: Another Maura Johnston recommendation, this is the kind of big-room indie-pop the Go! Team make sometimes, big jangly riffs and cheerleader chants. Another highlight from a year where I went hard for upbeat, optimistic sounds. NO.

Onto 2022 – this is the year the wheels came off my Spotify virtual crate-digging: I overdid it, listening to vast numbers of tracks once, ending up with a 600-strong playlist of things I’d marked as good, most of them not in English, with no real idea where the actual highlights were. I ended up exhausted, awed by how much good music was out there, and completely unable to actually filter it well.

MEGAN THEE STALLION – “Her”: Beyonce’s album drawing on 90s house beats got all the plaudits, but for me Megan’s hip-house single stands up to any of it, the beat rippling and flexing under Megan’s take-no-shit rap. “I eat hate that’s why I ain’t got a waist”. NO.

REMA – “Calm Down”: Heartening to find that I’m still down for absolutely colossal worldwide hits sometimes – “Calm Down”‘s corny afrobeats love song jumped from Europe to the UK, and keeps bobbing around the charts here after a healthy run in the Top 10. Just coming off the cusp of “I’ve played this too much” into the happier “Oh actually this still sounds good” zone. YES.

ECKO BAZZ – “Mmaso”: One of the best labels around right now is Uganda’s Nyege Nyege Tapes, which puts out blood-curdling African hip-hop and dance music: they released probably the best LP of last year, by (deep breath) Lady Aicha & Pisko Crane’s Original Fulu Miziki Of Kinshasa. Rapper Ecko Bazz offers more straightforward pleasures – very fast, very shouty, very enraged rap over industrialised loops. (He reminds me a bit of America’s clipping.) Electrifying. YES.

RIGOBERTA BANDINI – “Ay Mama”: Feminist actress/singer Bandini makes catchy pop with a cutting lyrical edge – in this case (as I understand it!) about the lack of respect given to working/breastfeeding mothers. She performs it in front of a colossal plastic breast, just in case the words are too subtle. Could have been Spain’s Eurovision pick, but they went for some dork. NO.

HARRY STYLES – “As It Was”: Yes yes it was released in 1985. A candyfloss song on a borrowed hook but there’s something so watchable/listenable about Harry Styles as he very carefully navigates the narrowing paths for a male pop star in the 2020s. But also NO.

And finally, 2023. The backlash to my overdoing it last year has been a year where I’ve paid, once again, very little attention to current music. Maybe this is how it’s going to be from now on – phases of deep engagement, then fallow years where things move on and I can catch up later.

JEVON – “007”: The standout from my mid-summer “what’s the best track you’ve heard?” Twitter thread – probably the last useful thing I’ll do on that account. Jevon is a London-based rapper who makes filthy, joyfully queer electro-grime and “007” is the catchiest single of the year. YES.

NIA ARCHIVES – “Off With Ya Headz”: Nia Archives’ drum and bass bangers being back happy memories of the 90s without sounding dated – instead they’re fresh and thrilling, constantly throwing in new and crowd-pleasing ideas – in this case a Yeah Yeah Yeahs interpolation that booted the original off my longlist. YES.

OCTO OCTA – “Let Yourself Go!”: From her new EP, Dreams Of A Dancefloor, and yes, it’s too soon to say if this track, Octo Octa channeling the vibes of Omni Trio into soaring D’n’B, is one of my 50 favourite this century given I’ve only known it a couple of days, but it’s the principle that matters. Never stop listening (even if you take it easy for a bit). NO.

And that’s all – next comes the really hard part, and check my Bluesky account for what makes it into the Top 50 countdown. (Twitter will have the tracks and links but not the commentary.)