You know the artists, and you know their hits, but you might not know the songs on this list. And trust us, they’re worth knowing.
6. “Lolly” by Maejor Ali feat. Justin Bieber & Juicy J
It was one of the many songs released during Justin Bieber’s “troubled” phase, and thus “Lolly” didn’t exactly pop on the charts. But the music video, which boasts a shirtless, drool-worthy J.B., performed exceptionally well on YouTube with nearly 130 million views at press time. If Bieber hadn’t been so ferociously off-turning at the time of its debut, the song could have landed more radio airplay and consequent fame for its relatively unknown headliner, Maejor Ali (who has since dropped “Ali”). In an effort to reduce some of his bubblegum appeal, and add a more grown-up edge, it was Bieber’s first notable rap verse on a track — despite a few prior freestyle sessions. Even to a non-Belieber, the verse is surprisingly decent — albeit PG-13 — as the then-underage star delivers visions of baller lifestyle #goals, like poppin’ Pellegrino, drivin’ an El Camino, and the luxuries of always being on the guest list, among other things. If you like this side of Bieber, allow us to also suggest “Twerk,” his little-known collaboration with Miley Cyrus. And that brings us to our next song…
5. “Do My Thang” by Miley Cyrus
It’s hard to believe it’s been less than two years since Miley Cyrus released her last album, “Bangerz,” given how much has happened, and changed, during that short timespan. Though the 22-year-old’s previous album, “Can’t Be Tamed,” warned us about Miley’s natural inclinations and secret desires, nothing could have foreshadowed the utter upside-down-turning of Miley’s image, sound, and attitude that evolved with the former Disney star’s third studio album. The psychoactive drug-inspired party jam, “We Can’t Stop,” and conversely sincere break-up ballad, “Wrecking Ball,” skyrocketed on the charts as Miley’s first and second single, respectively. There was also the underwhelming “Adore You” that barely demands remark. But no song on the album captures Miley’s #IDGAF chutzpah quite like the contagiously self-confident “Do My Thang.” Our favorite part is:
Don’t worry about me
I got it all arranged
Mind your business
Stay in your lane, bitchhhh.
Damn, that feels good. It’s also the perfect anthem for a liberally progressive generation full of twenty-somethings who refuse to do anything, or be anyone, that doesn’t fit into the strict confines of their self-image and aspirations. It’s a darn shame this song didn’t receive more acclaim than the occasional instagram video [usually] of a gay dude fiercely lip-syncing the lyrics.
4. “Speechless” by Lady Gaga
On an album chock-full of Euro-inspired dance tracks, “Speechless” hardly fits in. Especially after rising to stardom from an uber poppy, I-drank-too-much-tequila anthem like “Just Dance,” listeners are understandably thrown off by the Broadway-esque power ballad. But the seemingly misplaced track on “The Fame Monster” is a glimpse at a truer, less commercialized artist, tapping into Gaga’s theater-heavy roots and tortured soul. It’s also a likely preview of who the once-upon-a-time NYU Tisch School of the Arts student would like to be, were it not for album sales, oppressive record label demands, and mainstream pop music protocol. Regardless — we see you, Gaga.
3. “Dark Fantasy” by Kanye West
Some Kanye West fans would call “Dark Fantasy” one of the hip-hop prodigy’s greatest works to date. The sophisitcated production, which includes an utterly dope piano accompaniment and a brief British interlude by Nicki Minaj, serves up some of Yeezy’s keenest commentary yet on the mixed curse of fame and fortune. There are stylistic choices and moments that forecast “Bound 2,” theatrical elements reminiscent of “Jesus Walks,” and philosophical echoes of “Welcome to Heartbreak.” It’s an unbeatable first impression, previewing what’s to come on Yeezy’s critically-acclaimed album, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” which produced hit singles like “Runaway,” “Monster,” and “All of the Lights.” The aforementioned tracks performed exceptionally well on the charts, but for whatever reason, “Dark Fantasy” peaked at No. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100. For that reason, it’s something of a hidden gem.
2. “All Things Go” by Nicki Minaj
She’s six singles deep into The Pinkprint, but “All Things Go” remains veiled in the un-promoted shadows — probably because the track lacks Nicki’s usual upbeat, Barbie/Roman-infused bravado. And it’s a shame that this low-key, rawly emotional peek behind the curtain — and lamenting recount of the loss of her cousin (“to a senseless act of violence”) — reveal a rarely seen, unstripped Onika. It’s a bit tragic that we don’t see more of this, and less of the “Truffle Butter” garbage. Because, in fact, Nicki Minaj is a tremendously talented and deeply expressive artist. And while no one can deny the contagious nature of her bubbly pop hits, I hope we begin to see tracks like this secure as much promotion as their inferior counterparts (I’m talking to you, “Anaconda”).
1. “I Know Places” by Taylor Swift
I suppose it’s too early to throw in the towel with any of the songs on Taylor Swift’s “1989.” The formidable superstar has already had three No. 1 hits, and “Bad Blood” is just getting started. But “I Know Places” takes on a different sound from what T-Swift has showcased thus far on her fifth studio album. The mystical intro is certainly T.S. post-pop crossover, with its layered auto tune and electronic flare. But then, something unexpected happens. The chorus smoothly reverts back to a Taylor from another time — not so much 1989 as 2009. There are distinct sonic and thematic similarities between “Love Story,” one of Country Taylor’s first hits, and “I Know Places” — both conveying visions of a romantic great escape. We’re comparing: “Baby, I know places we won’t be found and they’ll be chasing their tails trying to track us down” to “Romeo, take me somewhere we can be alone. I love you and that’s all I really know.”
The difference, however, is that “Love Story” details a young girl’s cinematic delusions of a fairytale escape from overbearing parents who ~just don’t understand~, while the latter serves as a darker, jaded, all-grown-up sequel from a woman who’s experienced true heartbreak. In “Love Story,” Taylor is a helpless victim. In “I Know Places,” she has taken control, unwilling to be a victim any longer. The “1989” track is no doubt a reference to being burned by all the hot, flashing lights and prying journalists of T’s industry — the irony, of course, being that the very entity burning the starlet is the same source extinguishing her flames.