4. Robin Thicke (ft. Pharrell and T.I.) -- Blurred Lines
Robin Thicke is an unbelievable douchebag. Blurred Lines wasn't simply the most divisive song of 2013, it was ground zero for the year's single most stupidly embarrassing pop culture moment. But put all the incidentals aside -- Thicke's ridiculousness as a human being, his unconscionable legal action against the family of Marvin Gaye, the feminist umbrage over the lyrics and the video full of naked girls, the fact that it was overplayed to death -- and what you're left with is this: Blurred Lines was a really great song. In an age where a submission to the strictures of political correctness is necessary if one doesn't want the wrath of the internet to descend upon one's head, the song was blatantly, shamelessly sexy. More than that, it was catchier than the common cold and a hell of a lot of fun. No one will ever make the argument that Thicke, T.I, and Pharrell changed the world for the better or explored new heights of imagination or artistry with it, but that doesn't mean Blurred Lines can't or shouldn't be recognized for what it was: a fucking blast. (No, I'm not putting up the NSFW video, because my reasons for appreciating the track have nothing at all to do with that.)
3. Lorde -- Royals
It's kind of staggering to think that at the beginning of 2013, no one outside of a handful of people had any idea who 16-year-old Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O'Connor was. Her debut track, Royals, was actually released in 2012, but it went global this year and with very good reason. Not only was it a spectacular song, with an almost too-simple processed beat and a vocal arrangement that dipped between seductively sultry and dazzlingly playful at equal intervals, but it became something of a cultural phenomenon for its subtle punkish denunciation of the excesses pop music seems to now wallow in and thrive off of. While I don't think anybody expected the song would be as huge as it was, least of all Lorde herself, there was admittedly something special about it right from the beginning. When you first heard it, you knew you were listening to one of the year's best tracks. The eventual popularity of it was just the icing on the cake.
2. Daft Punk (ft. Pharrell and Nile Rodgers) -- Get Lucky
It doesn't usually work this way. Typically, the best singles of the year aren't also the most popular, given that popularity has never dictated quality. But 2013 was different: the songs that were the biggest and most ubiquitous really were some of the best. And no song got more airplay or more cultural saturation, deservedly, than this one. Get Lucky took Daft Punk from a wildly popular niche act to the very height of global mainstream success and it did it by way of reviving the groove of the disco era, giving it an appropriately modern update, and letting the whole thing be put together by the guy who essentially invented the sound, Nile Rodgers. Add pop music midas Pharrell into the mix and what you had was an instant classic that cut across genres and audiences. There pretty much wasn't a soul on the planet who didn't love this song, and theres a damn good reason for that. It was without a doubt the song of the year, even if there was one thing preventing it from being the very best single of 2013.