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2023 Was the Worst Best Year for Music Ever

A look at the year in music, complete with 2 playlists of the best songs, shared on the worst app.

10:58 AM CST on December 20, 2023

Photos provided|

Ber, MMYYKK, 100 Gecs

I’m a simple man. Any year when I can gather up 200 songs that enriched my life, 100 of them recorded by people who live within 10 miles or so of me, is, by my lights, a good one. If you don’t believe me, skim the two playlists I’ve gathered over the course of 2023 (here and here). Or just go hunting on your own. Anyone with even mildly adventurous tastes can find more new music out there than they can possibly hear. 

And yet, I compiled those playlists on Spotify, an app run by a company whose crimes against artists begin with reducing the economic value of recorded music to something approaching zero. I’m not apologizing—it’s the easiest way for me to share that music with you, and I hope you’ll search at least a few of the artists out. And if that sounds like I’m trading principles for convenience, well, welcome to 2023. 

So maybe what I’m trying to say here is that it was a great year for music and a terrible year for musicians. If Spotify has made music sales an unreliable income stream, the alternative way to earn a living, touring, has become less of a sure thing than ever. That’s what the Minnesota musicians I spoke to this year told me, and if they stay on the road it’s for the love of what they do. Or it’s because touring is a necessary way to promote themselves—making music in 2023 is also a matter of perpetual self-promotion, as I learned when I spoke with musicians about the uses and abuses of TikTok

In this context, listening to a band of old-timers like Yo La Tengo is bittersweet, because no one will secure a long, stable career like that anymore. Decades ago, indie music made a deal with capital—just let us operate on the margins and thrive in our small way. (Many were happy to break that deal, though, during the major label feeding frenzy of the ’90s or the buzz band boom of the aughts, when sync money and festival gigs were plentiful.) Of course, capital never agreed to this bargain; its sights were simply elsewhere for the moment. But as licensing firm Songtradr’s gobbling up of Bandcamp reminded us this year, there is no “outside” of capitalism; the big bad market’s gonna come for everything you love someday.

I hope that’s enraging and not depressing, energizing and not enervating. Someone much wiser and deader than I might say we’ve been at last compelled to face with sober senses our real conditions of life. Music and musicians will never return to a supposed golden age when our predatory economic system allowed it to survive in overlooked spaces. I don’t know what comes next, but it’s gonna be a fight. At least we know we’ll have a soundtrack.

And with all that out of the way...

Here are the year's 20 best local albums.

And here are the year's 25 best non-local albums.

The 10 Best Songs of 2023 (Local)

Ber, “Slutphase"

Blu Bone, “Wicked Womb”

Durry, “Who’s Laughing Now”

Greg Grease, "Can't Call It"

Laamar, "Home to My Baby"

KC Rae, "Blockbuster"

Spaceport, “Window Seat”

Shrimp Olympics, "Pierre's Gift"

SYM1, “Meet Me Online (MMO)”

Thank You, I’m Sorry, “Autonomy Shop”

The 10 Best Songs of 2023 (Non-Local)

The Beths, “Watching the Credits”

Flyana Boss, “You Wish”

Margaret Glaspy, “Act Natural”

Mannequin Pussy, “I Got Heaven”

Megan Maroney, “Sleep on My Side”

Mike, WIKI, & the Alchemist, “Mayor’s a Cop”

Victoria Monét, "On My Mama"

PinkPantheress & Ice Spice, "Boy’s a Liar Pt. 2"

Smokey Robinson, “Gasms”

SZA feat. Doja Cat, "Kill Bill (Remix)"

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