Written by: Ariana Grande, Max Martin, Savan Kotecha and Ilya Salmanzadeh
Produced by: Max Martin and Ilya
UK release: April 2018
UK chart peak: 2
It’s so rare now that you get a massive sense excitement when an A-list popstar is about to release the first single from a new era. I can’t remember many other recent examples; certainly none that felt so huge and as widespread as Ariana Grande‘s return for the Sweetener campaign.
She’s putting out new tracks every couple of months now, but back in the spring of 2018, no tears left to cry (goddamn these lower-case titles) was her first all-new release for two years, and her first since the Manchester Arena tragedy eleven months prior.
I think I speak for most pop stans when I say that when the track’s release was being teased, we really, really wanted the next phase of Ariana’s career to be special: she deserved it after everything she’d been through, and even putting the events of May 2017 to one side, it felt like her first three albums had set her on a strong upward trajectory – like she was on the brink of a massive Imperial Phase, and just needed the right song to nudge her into the God-tier.
Sure enough, no tears left to cry was – is! – a triumph.
Beginning with that ethereal intro, it gives way to a bop that’s both sad and defiant; emotional yet optimistic. It’s trauma you can dance to. Max Martin and Ilya’s production deserves a lot of credit: the way the first few choruses keep things relatively sparse (juxtaposing a busy, toe-tappable drum loop with dark synths), the way the choral backing vocals gradually build… But the superstar is, obviously, Ari herself; proving once again that she’s one of the best singers in the business – not just for her technical ability but for the emotional depth too.
She’s had a lot to deal with over the last few years, but this song really did cement her as one of the best people in music. Protect her!!
Top 25 albums of 2022
I’ve been more of a Singles Guy this year (something something, decline of the album, something something) but there have still been more than enough great LPs to fill a year-end Top 25! And they follow below.
This is my 13th annual album round-up, and the previous No1s were:
2010: Lights – Ellie Goulding
2011: 21 – Adele
2012: Electra Heart – Marina and the Diamonds
2013: Salute – Little Mix
2014: 1989 – Taylor Swift
2015: Breathe In Breathe Out – Hilary Duff [blog]
2016: Lemonade – Beyonce [blog]
2017: About U – Muna [blog]
2018: Golden Hour – Kacey Musgraves [blog]
2019: thank u, next – Ariana Grande [blog]
2020: Sawayama – Rina Sawayama [blog]
2021: Magic Still Exists – Agnes [blog]
The Top 50 singles list came yesterday – that’s here. And there’s a playlist of one of my favourite songs from each album here.
25. Humble Quest – Maren Morris
Beautiful, occasionally witty, with a bonus ode to tall guys… Maren was comfortable and confident on this really lovely album. Top hint: play Background Music if you want to see me weep!
24. HOLY FVCK – Demi Lovato
While initially I found lots of this to be a bit of a racket, HOLY FVCK is Demi at her most lively. Deep, honest and bold; but at its best when it’s a bit more playful, as it is on stuff like City Of Angels.
23. Harry’s House – Harry Styles
Not skipless! But Harry’s House is very definitely the sound of someone properly finding their stride as a singer-songwriter; and while Fine Line probably edges it for me as an album, it’s still a lot of fun to hang out at Harry’s House.
22. Night Call – Years & Years
Olly’s first album as a solo Year & Year, Night Call doesn’t feel quite as boxfresh as its predecessors but there are moments of pure pop perfection, peppered with singles like Crave that deserved far more attention.
21. Being Funny in a Foreign Language – The 1975
It’s the sound of the group doing what they do best, at their best: huge hooks, clever and insightful lyrics, melodies that are infuriatingly hard to forget… I imagine it’ll be great live.
20. Special – Lizzo
Just a brilliant pop album: big-hearted, witty and radio-ready from start to finish. Everybody’s Gay is brilliant, Special is the stuff of merch slogans, and I Love You Bitch is a midtempo ballad done the quintessentially Lizzo way.
19. Unwanted – Pale Waves
For some reason this passed me by a little bit, whereas their last album really didn’t – but Unwanted is Pale Waves really getting into the swing of things: bigger, bolder and more concise than Who Am I?, and by this point the group really feels like it has its own clear identity.
18. The Loneliest Time – Carly Rae Jepsen
It’s still Carly as you know her, but trying out a few slightly different directions: see the breezy Western Wind, funny Beach House and the gorgeous Bends. Not her best – but when your best is so fucking iconic, even a solid album is fantastic.
17. Circles – LÉON
I feel like I’ve slept on this album too much: I heard it earlier in the year and LOVED it, then totally forgot about it until very recently. The production, the songwriting, the general ~vibe… all stellar. This is an excellent one to just get lost in.
16. Islands – Josef Salvat
Josef is going THROUGH IT on this record, but the result is another stunner. Particularly the second half is just gorgeous: Happy, Changes – Without You, Honey on the Tongue… he just gets it!
15. Life In Plastic – Tom Aspaul
Tom really dove deep into the Y2K vibe for the follow-up to Black Country Disco, and it’s so much fun: gloriously gay, packed with wall-to-wall bangers, and with plenty of depth behind the irresistible, glossy production. Effigy is a real standout.
14. How To Let Go – Sigrid
Singles Mirror, Burning Bridges and It Gets Dark were great indicators of what the album has in store: A Driver Saved My Night is a right toe-tapper, Thank Me Later makes a break-up sound euphoric, and High Note is simply a very well-sung ballad. We must treasure Sigrid!
13. Dawn FM – The Weeknd
Nobody does manpop quite like The Weeknd, and the fluorescent Dawn FM was the first great album of 2022. It feels like he’s covering slightly different ground lyrically compared to his last couple of releases, but the production (much of it still with HRH Max Martin) remains perfection and the highlights (Sacrifice, Gasoline, Less Than Zero) are 11/10s.
12. Tilt – Confidence Man
I got into Confidence Man purely by word of mouth, and while I wasn’t that fussed to begin with, I was soon powerless to resist!! Tilt nails the joy and escapism of the dancefloor, with a bonus dose of fun and ridiculousness.
11. 5SOS5 – 5 Seconds of Summer
The deluxe version (19 tracks!!) is almost overwhelmingly long, but the boys have really entered a more introspective phase (much of this is produced in-house by their own Michael Clifford) and I love it. The highlights are the more wistful, emotionally-charged songs (Take My Hand, Complete Mess, Carousel, Easy For You To Say), but they can still have fun too (Best Friends, Blender).
10. About Last Night… – Mabel
Look, I Love Your Girl is doing a lot of the work here – but About Last Night has plenty of other bangers to make it worth a visit: Animal, Definition, Let Love Go, Overthinking and Let Them Know among them. More please!
9. SOS – SZA
Feels weird to judge this based on only a couple of weeks’ worth of listening, but SOS feels epic already – granted, perhaps not an instant classic in the way of Ctrl, but still a triumph. I like how… almost messy it is?! Like, almost exhaustingly so? She’s so good at laying! it! all! out!, and there’s plenty of variation on this very long album to stop it dragging. Shout-out to F2F!
8. Love Sux – Avril Lavigne
It’s a back-to-basics Avril album, and I mean that in the best possible way. The lyrics are on-the-nose, the songs sound like they’ve been transported from 20 years ago… and yet! I lapped up every single one of the 33 brief minutes. All I Wanted, Bois Lie, Love Sux… Avril doesn’t sound like she’s had this much fun in the studio in years.
7. Hold The Girl – Rina Sawayama
If on the one hand it’s not quite as slap-you-in-the-face as 2020’s Sawayama, on the other it’s a confident pop album that sounds totally mainstream and also fantastically queer. This Hell is one of the singles of the year, Imagining has a real bite, and To Be Alive is a beautiful, sweeping, extremely moving closer. A megastar!!
6. Dirt Femme – Tove Lo
Finally free of major label interference, Dirt Femme proves Tove remains one of our most interesting popstars even when left to her own devices without big budgets. Grapefruit is her most emotionally arresting song yet, Call On Me is a banger of colossal proportions, and No One Dies From Love is the kind of cry-dance gem that she’s always done best.
5. Crash – Charli XCX
It could be her best or worst album depending on which die-hards you talk to – but to this basique pop fan, Crash is a whole lot of fun from top to bottom. Charli was trying to make a big, commercial record with all the trimmings, and she succeeded – the bangers bang, the collabs feel properly exciting, and the more emotional moments hit hard. Shout-out to the 10/10 deluxe edition bonus tracks, too.
4. Midnights – Taylor Swift
Taking Folklore and Evermore’s sensibilities and mixing them with the more introspective moments of Reputation and Lover, Midnights is lacking in !HITS! – but such is Taylor’s fame that she doesn’t need to try in that department anyway (she filled the entire Top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 on release week). Some of this takes a few listens to get to grips with (the 3am edition is 20 songs long) but once it’s in, it’s in. Beautiful, heartfelt, immaculate. Now release Hits Different on streaming!
3. The Kick – Foxes
Foxes’ first full album in six years was a glistening, sparkly-eyed masterpiece, if you ask me!! God, it was so good to have her back. From the pounding beats of Sister Ray to the understated beauty of Too Much Colour, The Kick was straightforward electropop at its brightest – Louisa is an ever-likeable presence, and she sure knows her way around a chorus.
2. Renaissance – Beyoncé
My God, what a moment. And this is only Act 1! Renaissance is a rich tapestry of disco/house/dance-inspired music, packed with clever samples that always add to the songs rather than distract from them. It’s clever and important and stunning but it’s also FUN! Beyoncé sounds like she’s having the time of her life, and it’s so brilliant to hear. Every song earns its place; every line, every bar, every second is meticulously thought-out. Visuals now!
1. MUNA – MUNA
Anyone who saw my singles list won’t be surprised by this placement – but MUNA’s third album is truly the record of the year for me, the perfect amalgamation of, and progression from, everything they brought to the table with their first two. Katie Gavin’s songwriting is just gorgeous all the way through; from the determination of What I Want to the introspection of Loose Garment; the horniness of No Idea to the pure queer joy of Silk Chiffon. Their first independent release and their first to actually chart? It’s what they deserve.
Top 50 singles of 2022
My 15th year-end singles list! Time is brutal.
This year, I think, has been pretty good for music – and yet! I found this list quite hard. Am I, an extremely online gay man, losing the will to rank things? Surely not!
Anyway, I really enjoyed doing the third annual poll of your favourite songs of the year – now here are mine.
Here we go. Albums to follow.
50. Bad Life – Sigrid feat. Bring Me The Horizon
Sigrid’s very good album felt like it didn’t really get the love it deserved – make up for it by indulging in this excellent cheer-up-hun ballad with manly howls from Oliver Sykes.
49. Who’s Gonna Love You Tonight? – Snakehips feat. Tinashe
Tinashe put her name to a few excellent songs this year (my other fave being Scandalous with Gryffin) but the heartfelt vocal on this one just edges it for me.
48. Run – Becky Hill & Galantis
Pass me a blue WKD – after Heartbreak Anthem and Sweet Talker, Galantis teamed up with Becky Hill for a safe-pair-of-hands banger that gave me everything I needed back in deepest, darkest February.
47. Boyfriend – Dove Cameron
Dramatic, dark, delicious… I’m not surprised this became a huge breakout hit for Dove, and I’m excited for more!!
46. Taste So Good (The Cann Song) – VINCINT, Hayley Kiyoko, MNEK, Kesha
Would this be quite as iconic if the context of its release wasn’t so… random? Probably not, but it is, so here we are!
45. Overthinking – Mabel feat. 24k Golden
All she had to do was make I Love Your Girl a single and she’d easily be Top 5 on this (nay every) list – but she didn’t, so No45 with this one will have to do.
44. Ghost of You – Mimi Webb
Accepting that a lot of great popstars these days were born post-2000 isn’t getting any easier to swallow, but goddamn I thought the big ~mainstream Capital-FM-ready popstars didn’t make songs like this anymore.
43. Hot In It – Tiësto feat. Charli XCX
Blink-and-you-miss-it at 2:10, Charli’s brilliantly droll vocal adds a darker edge to what could have been a pretty basique dance hit, and it’s so damn addictive.
42. Adult – Sasha Alex Sloan
‘I used to hope one day I’d be rich, but now I’m happy if I have somewhere to sit.’ These, friends, are what they call relatable lyrics.
41. Kiss It – Tom Aspaul
I tossed and turned over whether to have this one or Listen 2 Nicole – both, at the end of the day, are gay-as-hell Y2K-esque belters with sublime choruses. 10/10.
40. Breathe – Grace Davies
I’ve become obsessed, for some reason, with pointing out when David Sneddon has a writing credit. And here, David Sneddon has a writing credit! But obviously the star of the show is Grace; our ever-reliable Queen of EMOTIONS.
39. THAT GIRL – Bree Runway
Bree released three tracks this year that all deserved to be huge; this one was arguably the biggest serve. World domination must surely be imminent.
38. Let It Die – Ellie Goulding
This year there have been numerous reminders that when Ellie’s great, she’s great. Let It Die makes me very excited for her new album.
37. As It Was – Harry Styles
Did pretty well, this, didn’t it?
36. Slow Song – The Knocks with Dragonette
I can’t imagine anywhere I’d fare worse than at a rollerdisco, but if that wasn’t the case, this would be my first song request.
35. I’m In Love With You – The 1975
I swear ‘the boys’ deliver a song or two like this every single era, but I am very happy to lap it up every single time. An earworm!
34. Sometimes – MUNA
Gonna need a whole ABBAMANIA-style album of sadpop Britney covers, stat.
33. Me, Myself & I – 5 Seconds of Summer
5SOS5 was full of gorgeous songs (shout-out also to Take My Hand) but this was the standout for me. Those falsetto bits over the climax? Oh they just do something to me!
32. Maybe You’re The Problem – Ava Max
How absolutely typical that Ava’s chart performances should start to suffer just as the music becomes immeasurably better?!
31. Treat Me – Chlöe
Manifesting Halle becoming one of the world’s biggest movie stars and Chlöe becoming one of the world’s biggest musicians in 2023. Treat Me was yet another sign that the latter’s upcoming solo debut is going to SLAP.
30. Closer – Saweetie feat. HER
HER’s luscious choruses and the bouncy production really elevate this – and the best thing is, it sounds like another Dr L*ke song without actually being a Dr L*ke song song!
29. 2 Die 4 – Tove Lo
There was a lot of talk about how baffling it is that one of the year’s biggest songs sampled Eiffel 65’s Blue, but a moment also for the fact that one of the best bangers of 2022 utilised Crazy Frog’s 2005 cover of Gershon Kingsley’s Popcorn. Wild! But also extremely Tove Lo.
28. Black Mascara. – Raye
Escapism. could, with all fingers and toes crossed, be the first non-Xmas No1 of 2023, but a shout-out too to Black Mascara; the detached, matter-of-fact delivery of the verses making the scathing lyrics all the more brutal.
27. Summer Really Hurt Us – ALMA
Was there a more perfect way to end the summer months than with a shimmering little bop about how crap it was? I mean I didn’t have a crap summer, I had a great one, but that’s never stopped me having a good angst-a-long before.
26. Don’t Say – Gabrielle Aplin
Her best song since Waking Up Slow; Don’t Say is a euphoric masterstroke that really does sound like the first glimmers of hope after a rough patch. First time I heard those repetitions of ‘I can feel it, I’m getting better’, I could have sobbed!!
25. Catch Me In The Air – Rina Sawayama
Not a million miles away from 2000s-era Kelly Clarkson, and for that it must be treasured and celebrated.
24. Something About Your Love – SG Lewis
SG Lewis could well be en route to becoming an A-list pop super-producer and I for one welcome our new overlord. This was the perfect little summer song.
23. Beg For You – Charli XCX feat. Rina Sawayama
If at first it feels like it wraps up before it really gets going, Beg For You – with its yearning vocals, slick production and well-deployed September sample – soon embeds itself at the front of the brain and refuses to budge for weeks and weeks and weeks.
22. About Damn Time – Lizzo
‘It’s bad-bitch o’clock, yeah, it’s thick-thirty’ – and lo, the idea of Lizzo being a one-era-wonder properly went up in flames.
21. Cardboard Box – Flo
With honourable mentions to Not My Job and Losing You, Cardboard Box soundtracked the most promising girlband launch for years – and with Little Mix now officially on hiatus, we’re in safe hands going into 2023. More, more, more!
20. Kind of Girl – MUNA
The melodies are nice and the production beautiful, but – as is often the case with MUNA – it’s the lyrics that’ll sucker-punch you right in the face: this is a gorgeous ode to evolving – or at least trying to evolve – past being a calamitous emotional wreck, and it’s just perfect.
19. Her – Megan Thee Stallion
One of the simplest choruses of the year, and one of the most impossible to resist.
18. Free – Florence + The Machine
Oh it’s been YEARS since I’ve stanned a Florence track this hard. Her lyricism and vocal stylings marry beautifully with Jack Antonoff’s knob-twiddling, and this song about finding escapism in music is just wonderful.
17. Western Wind – Carly Rae Jepsen
Potentially Carly’s least… hooky lead single so far? And yet, Western Wind is a beaut of a sway-along-able little treat, and frankly – even from the most vocal of pop stans – it deserved more love.
16. Head on Fire – Griff and Sigrid
It sounds exactly how you’d expect a Griff and Sigrid duet to sound, which essentially means it’s really really good.
15. Cupid – Rose Gray
Piano on an uptempo pop-girl electro-banger? Truly the fast-track to my heart.
14. 2 Be Loved (Am I Ready?) – Lizzo
Excellent deployment of 1) call-and-response backing vocals, and 2) brackets in a song title.
13. Nothing Lasts Forever – Dylan
One of my favourite lyrics of the year: ‘You think that we’re falling into love. I’m not. So get off.’
12. No One Dies From Love – Tove Lo
No one gives you a cry-dance quite like Tove Lo, and No One Dies From Love was one helluva way to properly launch her first independent era. An all-time great popstar tbh!!
11. Free Yourself – Jessie Ware
This debuted on one of those absurdly hot heatwave days, and brought me a brief four minutes of respite from wanting to melt down to a sludge.
10. Anti-Hero – Taylor Swift
First time I heard this, I was like, ‘oh, okay.’ Then suddenly I’d played it a billion times. Like most Taylor lead singles, it’s catchy as fuck – but it’s also a deceptively neat encapsulation of what it’s like to lie awake at night and think everything’s a blazing mess because of your own clownery. This one’s for the monsters on the hill!
9. SloMo – Chanel
Would it feel like such a Big Song without those epic performances in Turin? Perhaps not, but SloMo was pretty much all I was listening to for the early months of the summer, and playing it while DJing – seeing a packed room full of gals, gays and theys attempting that dance break – remains an unmatched joy. Not quite Fuego, but pretty damn close.
8. Circles Around This Town – Maren Morris
Post-The Middle, I wanted everyone’s favourite transphobe-battler to go Full Pop, but actually I’m glad she didn’t. Circles… is a glorious little song about never really feeling like you’ve ‘made it’, and it was one of my first favourites of the year when it landed way back in early January.
7. What I Want – MUNA
A huge, huge song about getting out there and living your unabashed best life (‘I want the full effects, I wanna hit it hard’), What I Want is about seizing liberation, refusing to live in shame, and drinking/dancing/shagging to your heart’s content. Where are the remixes?!
6. Call On Me – SG Lewis and Tove Lo
I first heard this on a rainy morning in Liverpool and listened to it more-or-less non-stop all the way back to London. Tove’s latest album may be slightly more low-key than we’re used to, but on this song she just wants to ‘grab your chain dangling from above’ – and it’s an E-N-O-R-M-O-U-S banger that I hope gets more of a push in the next few weeks/months.
5. Hold Me Closer – Cornelia Jakobs
SloMo and Space Man may have been bigger ~moments in performance, but – on record, at least – it’s Hold Me Closer that truly stands out as the best of Eurovision 2022; and one of the most affecting tracks of the year. Keep these angstballads coming, Cornelia my love!
4. Break My Soul – Beyoncé
Easily the song of the summer, and comfortably one of the most euphoric floorfillers of the year, Break My Soul launched the Renaissance era with energy, power and hope. Big Freedia is an exceptional cheerleader, the Robin S sample is sublime, and the fact this *just* missed No1 in the UK will forever be a stain on our history. Release your motherfucking wiggle!
3. This Hell – Rina Sawayama
Her 2020 era brought a whole new wave of fans on board, so in 2022 a lot more eyes and ears were on the Hold The Girl campaign from the word go – and This Hell has huge Lead Single Energy. A masterful queer enormobop with nods to early-2000s Shania Twain, it just doesn’t get any less galvanising, no matter how many times it’s played. Get in line, pass the wine BITCH!
2. Home By Now – MUNA
Listen properly to Home By Now and it might just reduce you to a wailing wreck. An exceptional semi-ballad about looking back on someone who’s no longer in your life – and questioning whether parting ways really was the right thing to do (spoiler, it probably was) – it pairs restrained, low-pitched vocals with a heartbreaking chorus and deceptively buoyant instrumentation. Absolutely devastating.
1. Anything But Me – MUNA
By the end of the first verse (‘you’re gonna say that I’m on my high horse, I think that my horse is regular sized’) I knew this was one of the best songs of the year. But the end of the second verse (‘you’re gonna say I asked for the moon, I…’) I had a very strong feeling it was the best song of the year. How can a parting-of-the-ways song sound so optimistic, so assured, so hopeful, so glistening? Because it’s MUNA, that’s fucking how!!! What a moment, what a triumph, what! a! song! from truly the best band in the world.
POLL: Top 40 Beyoncé
Let me hear you say heeeey Ms Carter
The Top 40 Beyoncé poll aired on Sunday, 18 December 2022, with 254 ballots cast.
Voters could back up to 10 songs: one to receive 3pts, three to receive 2pts, and six to receive 1pt.
And the Top 40 was:
- Crazy In Love
- Love on Top
- Deja Vu
- Break My Soul
- Sweet Dreams
- Cuff It
- All Night
- Alien Superstar
- End of Time
- Beautiful Liar
- Drunk In Love
- Baby Boy
- Pure / Honey
- Green Light
- Naughty Girl
- Hold Up
- Run The World (Girls)
- Daddy Lessons
- Schoolin Life
- Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)
- Freakum Dress
- Upgrade U
- Summer Renaissance
- Don’t Hurt Yourself
- Get Me Bodied
- Ring the Alarm
- Best Thing I Never Had