The Best and Worst Songs of 2023 So Far

In this episode of the Pitchfork Review podcast, our critics highlight the tracks from the first half of the year that we have on repeat—and the ones we never want to hear again.
Miley Cyrus PinkPantheress and Ice Spice and Christine and the Queens
Miley Cyrus photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images, Ice Spice and PinkPantheress photo by Dowan “Star” Wilson, Christine and the Queens photo by Jasa Muller. Image by Marina Kozak.

Our weekly podcast includes in-depth analysis of the music we find extraordinary, exciting, and just plain terrible. This week Editor-in-Chief Puja Patel hosts Associate Editor Cat Zhang and Features Editor Ryan Dombal for a mid-year chat about some of our favorite tracks of 2023—by PinkPantheress and Ice Spice, TisaKorean, Christine and the Queens, and more—along with the megahits we can’t escape, for better or worse.

Listen to this week’s episode below, and follow The Pitchfork Review here. You can also check out an excerpt of the podcast’s transcript below. 

Puja Patel: Can we talk about some of the gigantic pop songs that have been taking over this year?

Ryan Dombal: On a Billboard level, it seems like the biggest song of the year is Morgan Wallen’s “Last Night.” Wallen is the infamous country artist who was caught on video saying the n-word a couple of years ago, and it’s been very awkward ever since, to put it generously. “Last Night” is the biggest hit from his recent album One Thing at a Time, and there’s probably around 10 songs from it on the Hot 100 right now. But “Last Night” is just the laziest country song, a jumble of every kind of dumb cliché that people say about country. 

Patel: Can I guess what it’s about? 

Dombal: Go ahead…

Cat Zhang: Beers in a truck and girls in shorts? [laughs] That’s my guess. 

Patel: Is it an apology song? 

Dombal: It is an apology song, you nailed it. You see, last night he let the liquor talk—and it goes on from there. A lot of his new songs are these very vague apologies. And the only thing worse than not apologizing is apologizing in the most rote way. It feels like he’s a little kid, and his mom is forcing him to apologize.

Patel: Also, “blame it on the alcohol” is not how we’re doing things in 2023.

Patel: Let’s talk about what may be one of the most polarizing pop songs of the year as far as our staff goes, which is Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers.”

Zhang: It’s not interesting enough to be polarizing. 

Dombal: Yeah, I agree with Cat. It is kind of #empowering with a lowercase “e.”

Patel: Don’t be demeaning about someone’s empowerment anthem! [laughs] I think it’s an earworm in a way that I don’t mind—as opposed to something like the Bebe Rexha hit “I’m Good (Blue),” where I’m just like, “Get out of my head!”

Zhang: This is not me mounting a defense for that Bebe Rexha song, but it’s just so brazen that at least it’s kind of funny, or commands my attention. For Miley, that idea of “I can buy myself flowers,” I’m just like, “Yeah, yeah, good for you. You have a credit card and you use it, I guess.”

Patel: Not the Pitchfork editors hating on women who buy themselves flowers! [laughs]

Zhang: Maybe I’m saying Miley could do more with the conceit, like buying yourself flowers in and of itself is not interesting enough. 

Patel: I mean, it’s a song about Liam Hemsworth. 

Zhang: They broke up a bajillion years ago!

Patel: Let’s move on some good music that has come out this year that we really loved. 

Dombal: The rapper billy woods put out a great album, Maps, and my favorite song from that is called “Year Zero.” It features Danny Brown, who gives us what is, for my money, the best rap verse of the year. It’s is a post-apocalyptic track with a lot of bulging distortion and eerie production, and Danny Brown comes in hot. This is everything I want from a rap verse. He rhymes Good Will Hunting and Cool Runnings—amazing. There’s a joke about how the McDonald’s ice cream machine is always broken. He offers a Danny Brown workout plan. He’s just ripping it, and it’s such a joy to hear.