Putting together a best-of-the-year music list is hard, but putting together a best-of-the-year running playlist is even harder. All of the songs have to be up-tempo with the right groove to keep a runner going strong. Even though Chelsea Wolfe’s dark and doom-y “Carrion Flowers” was one of my favorite songs of the year, it’s a little terrifying to listen to while running. And as much as I adored the entire Wolf Alice album, none of the songs felt quite right for working out.
So what songs made the cut? You’ll find everyone from Jamie xx and Sleater-Kinney to Kacey Musgraves and JR JR on my 2015 mix. I’ve run to all 20 of these songs and, trust me, they’ll make you want to smile, strut and crush your mile splits. In no particular order, here we go…
Kendrick is topping most lists this year, so it’s only fitting to start with this funky, lyrical tour de force. It’s been on nearly all of my running mixes this year because it’s just plain powerful.
2. LION BABE, “Where Do We Go”
The only word to describe LION BABE’s music: fierce. Their latest song, released in November, is a pulsing dance anthem that’s sure to make you pick up the pace.
3. Colleen Green, “Pay Attention”
The ultimate cool girl, Colleen performs live with nothing but her electric guitar and a drum machine. This slightly beefed up studio version has the perfect pulse for a weekday run.
4. Grimes, “Kill V. Maim”
I’ve basically had this song on repeat since the album came out last month. Grimes’ manic screams and cheerleader chant of “B-E-H-A-V-E aggressive” makes me want to jump around and dance like mad—or run my face off.
5. Jamie XX (ft. ROMY), “Loud Places”
Like a good long run, this song builds and builds until it reaches an effortless rhythmic peak. Its tinkering beat and gradual swell feel right in a club or on a running trail.
6. Kacey Musgraves, “Biscuits”
I know, you’re thinking a country song is weird in this lineup, but I love Kacey’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics and no-nonsense message, and I can’t think of a better song to sing on a sunny day.
7. Empress Of, “How Do You Do It”
Poppy, dancey and heartfelt, this track has everything I love in a running jam. And the title… too fitting, considering that’s a question marathoners are used to hearing.
8. Sleater-Kinney, “Surface Envy”
When Carrie, Corin and Janet announced their reunion, I hyperventilated with many a Sleater-Kinney fan. Listen to this feisty anthem and hear them roar.
9. Diplo, CL, RiFF RAFF & OG Maco, “Doctor Pepper”
“It don’t get no fresher” than this collaboration, which produced one of my most-played songs of summer. It’s fun to listen to RiFF RAFF’s range of pop culture references, from Colonel Sanders to Michelle Kwan.
10. Palehound, “Molly”
I owe the discovery of this one to Robin Hilton at NPR Music. It’s Ellen Kempner’s angsty, guitar-riffy debut, and I really dig it.
11. Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, “Sunday Candy”
When I saw Chance the Rapper perform, I was blown away by this happy trumpet-filled tune about love and family. I dare you not to smile while listening to it.
12. Cayucas, “Moony Eyed Walrus”
Upbeat and beachy, this song is the perfect summer running jam. Heck, it’ll even bring those easy-breezy vibes to a frigid winter run.
13. JR JR, “Gone”
An indie-pop earworm, “Gone” is the kind of song that gets picked up in a million commercials—it’s just that infectious.
14. Shamir, “On the Regular”
I’m obsessed with Shamir’s sassy sing-songing in this track. While running my usual 5-mile route, the lyrics “This is me on the regular, so you know” are too fitting.
15. HOLYCHILD, “Barbie Nation”
Beneath this sugar explosion of a song are honest lyrics that poke fun at today’s society. It’s best blasted with the windows rolled down, but on headphones works, too.
16. Kero Kero Bonito, “Picture This”
Let’s keep riding that sarcasm train… this peppy little song is all about our selfie-taking, Instagram-posting world, and it’s twee-lightful.
17. Bully, “Milkman”
Spotify tells me that I listened to Bully’s album more than any other this year, so you can imagine how tough it was for me to pick just one track. This one starts with a bang, and frontwoman Alicia Bognanno rages on till the end.
18. Courtney Barnett, “Pedestrian at Best”
The Aussie guitar shredder led her album with this single. If you’re feeling angsty and volatile, this is the song to pound some pavement to.
19. Mates of State, “Staring Contest”
This husband-and-wife duo made a comeback and freshened up with a new electro-sound. I passed over most of their EP, but this standout track made my ears perk way up.
20. BØRNS, “Past Lives”
But really you could just run to the entire BØRNS album, which I adore. He puts a modern twist on glam rock, and I can’t get enough of it.