20. Charli XCX "Set Me Free (Feel My Pain)"
Album: True Romance
Label: IAMSOUND, Atlantic
Charli XCX manages to blend goth and pop in a way that isn't revolting—that in itself feels like a miracle. On "Set Me Free (Feel My Pain)" the British singer-songwriter marries traditional pop structures with wrenching, it's-the-end-of-the-world despondency. In this '80s pop-rock anthem Charli narrates a story almost everyone is familiar with: that one person who uses your blind attraction to them in a way that leads to heartbreak and tears. Love hurts. Pretty standard fare.
What distinguishes this song from the countless others before it is the gorgeous control Charli exerts over her vocal performance. She modulates the key words on the chorus, sliding up to the note in a subtly auto-tuned stretch that increases her power—it's the sound of the difficulty of ending a dysfunctional relationship. There's also a certain magic to songs that are inherently sad lyrically but still sound as though they could be party anthems, "Set Me Free" combines dissonant elements with an ease that makes the hair on your arms stand up. —Caitlin White