More end-of-year lists! Never enough end-of-year lists! But seriously, end-of-year list-making season does provide an opportunity to revisit the best aspects of the year gone by, and one of our favorites to make here at Flavorwire is this one: the year’s best lyrics. It’s been a year in which, let’s be honest, a whole lot of terrible things have happened in the US and around the world — which, if nothing else, means there’s been plenty of subject matter to address directly, or to inspire more oblique takes on the world in which we live. Here are our 25 favorites.
“What’s the point of even sleeping?” — St. Vincent, “Digital Witness”
The digital world we’ve built for ourselves never sleeps, and it increasingly demands the same of us (cf. Douglas Rushkoff’s Present Shock, which is basically an entire book about this idea).
“So you played in Cuba/ Did you like it, brother?/ I bet you felt proud, you silly little fucker” — Manic Street Preachers, “The Next Jet to Leave Moscow”
The Manics: finally willing to admit that playing for Castro back in 2001 perhaps wasn’t the greatest idea they’d had.
“No family is safe when I sashay” — Perfume Genius, “Queen”
Beware the sea witch with penis tentacles!
“He toss my salad like his name Romaine” — Nicki Minaj, “Anaconda”
She’ll be here all week.
“I remember when you walked out of Garden State/ ‘Cause you had taste, you had taste/ You had no time to waste” — Spoon, “Outlier”
It would have been a sicker burn in 2004, but still, this proves that Spoon still have a way with a one-liner.
“Oh, my brothers and oh, my other comrades/ Let’s leave this place directly/ And go where the females congregate/ Perhaps they’ll let us fuck them” — Shellac, “Dude Incredible”
The title track to the new Shellac album recalls Pulp’s “Joyriders” in its utter contempt for its subjects: dudebros, or as Steve Albini called them, “Monkeys.”
“Black rage is founded on two-thirds a person” — Lauryn Hill, “Black Rage”
An opening line that recalls the infamous three-fifths compromise.
“All we wanted was a chance to talk/ Instead we only got outlined in chalk” — D’Angelo, “The Charade”
A concise portrait of American race relations that was all too perfect coming at the end of this godawful year.
“In the midst of worldwide abuses of power/ You never give a fuck about the twin fucking towers” — EMA, “False Flag”
EMA’s blistering one-off single was attention-grabbing from start to finish, but this line is striking both because, even now, it’s shocking to hear someone speak of not giving a fuck about the September 11 attacks — and more importantly, because it recalls just how quickly the Bush government pissed away the world’s goodwill in the years after those attacks.
“This night is missing people” — Parkay Quarts, “Content Nausea”
More digital-age angst, this time from the most unlikely of sources: Parquet Courts, who (sort of) renamed themselves to release the album that shares a title with this song. The lyric is a bit on the nose at times (“My friend stays at the home in the dark/ Never walks up to the park”) but this line is a blinder, evoking empty streets in hyper-modern cities.
“My advice to young girls would be: go home after school/ Pretend to go to sleep while your parents argue in the kitchen/ Put on some makeup and dress up/ Sneak out of the window and meet your friends on the corner/ Together you’re strong” — Copeland, “Advice to Young Girls”
Inga Copeland, as quietly subversive as ever.
“Carissa was 35/ You don’t just raise two kids, and take out your trash and die” — Sun Kil Moon, “Carissa”
All of Sun Kil Moon’s Benji was deeply personal, and this song was perhaps the most personal of all: it found Mark Kozelek struggling to find meaning in the life and death of his second cousin, and resolving that, “She was only my second cousin/ But that don’t mean that I’m not here for her or that I wasn’t meant to give her life poetry/ To make sure her name is known across every sea.”
“The nurseries and creches are heaving with lush lice/ Bubonic, blue-blankets, run ragged with church mice” — Sunn 0))) and Scott Walker, “Herod 2014”
Never change, Scott Walker.
“I was filled with poison, but blessed with beauty and rage” — Lana Del Rey, “Ultraviolence”
Lyrics have always been the weakest part of Lana’s aesthetic, and while Ultraviolence the album wasn’t exactly flawless in this respect, it was a big ol’ step forward from Born to Die — as exemplified by the title track, which was excellent.
“I wanna fall in love as fast as a body from a balcony” — Mitski, “Townie”
And the award for Tom Waits Lyric of the Year goes to… Mitski!
“You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress/ You want them to see you like they see every other girl/ They just see a faggot/ They hold their breath not to catch the sick” — Against Me!, “Transgender Dysphoria Blues”
As if the words weren’t powerful enough, the disgust with which Laura Jane Grace spits out the word “faggot” makes for one of those moments that really does send shivers down your spine.
“Break my legs so I won’t walk to you/ Cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you/ Burn my skin so I can’t feel you/ Stab my eyes so I can’t see/ You like it when I let you walk over me” — Sharon Van Etten, “Your Love is Killing Me”
In another pair of hands, these lyrics might sound more LiveJournal than anything else, but the way Van Etten sings them makes them utterly, brutally convincing.
“Fashion slave, you protested to get in a fucking lookbook/ Everything I scribble’s like The Anarchist’s Cookbook“ — Run the Jewels, “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)”
In which 2014’s favorite duo absolutely skewer dilettante activism.
“No black person is ugly, don’t say it one time” — Lil B, “No Black Person Is Ugly”
If there’s one thing no one’s ever doubted about Lil B, it’s his sincerity, and it found perfect expression in this ultra-positive and genuinely beautiful expression of black pride. Lil B being Lil B, it still had its lyrical, um, idiosyncracies (“Homeless people even give me money/ I’m too real for the game”), but the sentiment is both welcome and laudable.
“I love myself” — Kendrick Lamar, “i”
And in the same vein, it’s sadly more radical than it should be to hear a black man in 2014 singing the simple refrain “I love myself” (as the brief flurry of confusion and controversy that accompanied this song’s release only went to show).
“We build our own unfolding” — Grouper, “Holding”
Coming in the midst of a lyric about the death of a relationship, this seems like an expression of guilt and despair, but it also holds a note of hope: after all, “unfolding” can refer to the idea of making one’s own destiny as much as it can to the idea of being the architect of one’s failures.
“Don’t try me/ I’m not a free sample” — Shamir, “On the Regular”
“When I look at myself, all I can see/ I’m just another lady without a baby” — Jenny Lewis, “Just One Of The Guys”
A midlife crisis never sounded so bleak.
“And the day has come when we no longer feel” — Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, “What We Loved Was Not Enough”
The centerpiece of Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything contrasts increasingly apocalyptic predictions (“There’ll be war in our cities/ And riots at the mall”) with a refrain that evokes both short-termist blindness and the feeling of being utterly overwhelmed by what might be to come.
“She fuckin’ like a porn star, Jenna Jameson/ I slam dunked her, Antawn Jamison” — Young Thug & Bloody Jay, “Suck Me Up”
Anyone who knows anything about basketball knows that dunks aren’t exactly what Antawn Jamison was known for, but “I threw up an ugly improvised floater in the lane, Antawn Jamison” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. Anyway, A+ for the rhyme.