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Katy Perry
Photograph: Courtesy AEG Live

The best pop songs of all time

The best pop songs are groundbreaking, chart-topping hits that’ll have you singing at the top of your lungs

By Alyssa Ammirato

The best pop songs of all time are as varied and attention-grabbing as the artists who sing them. Topically, the cover everything from love and sex to heartbreak and survival—and just about every topic in between. We went back more than three decades (note those sick ‘80s songs) and found the very best of the genre. There are plenty of party songs to dance to, as well as the top guilty-pleasure karaoke songs, some unforgettable one-hit wonders and more.

Listen to the best pop songs

Best pop songs of all time

“Thriller” Michael Jackson

1. “Thriller” by Michael Jackson

From that instantly recognizable intro note to the eerie Vincent Price interlude—and that’s not even considering the epic and groundbreaking accompanying mini-movie music video—“Thriller” was an instant classic and remains as popular today as it was in 1982. The moonwalk never goes out of style.

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“Like a Prayer” Madonna

2. “Like a Prayer” by Madonna

The queen of pop’s 1984 hit and album of the same name were hugely popular and gave the singer serious credit as a music icon. It reached the Billboard Hot 100’s coveted No. 1 spot and has been covered countless times, though Madonna’s vocals still rock the radio and dance floor today.

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“When Doves Cry” Prince

3. “When Doves Cry” by Prince

The Artist Formerly Known as Prince raged against music copyright infringement his whole illustrious career, so no YouTube knock-off will do. This 1984 track returned to the chart following Prince’s death in 2016, cracking the top 10 and reminding everyone of the legend whose light will never truly fade.

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“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” Whitney Houston

4. “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” by Whitney Houston

This club-shaker led the string of hits that came off Houston’s sophomore album, Whitney, and landed at the top of the Billboard chart, making it the singer’s fourth song to do so. Despite critics’ dismissal of the tune as too safe and similar to her previous “How Will I Know,” the song won Whitney a Grammy and an American Music Award.

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“Baby One More Time” Britney Spears

5. “Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears

The 1998 song that launched a thousand teenage girls’ makeovers, “Baby One More Time” catapulted the 16-year-old former Mousketeer to stardom, and she hasn’t quit since. (See: this year’s VMAs.) It remains one of the best-selling records of all time at over 10 million copies, and its accompanying music video continues to inspire everything from copycat artists to Halloween costumes to relevant cultural satire.

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“It’s Gonna Be Me” ’N Sync

6. “It’s Gonna Be Me” by ‘N Sync

Not a year goes by that all of the internet is not reminded of this epic second single off the boy band’s mega-hit sophomore album. (You know the meme we're talking about. Hint: It comes around every May.) Despite JT and the gang’s status in the hearts of girls everywhere, this 2000 track was actually the only one to nab Billboard’s top spot.

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“Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” the Backstreet Boys

7. “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” by the Backstreet Boys

As if we could have lived without them! The Backstreet Boys returned with a second album and this lead-off single in 1997. The fan-favorite music video—paid for out of the singers’ pockets after a label dispute—parodied “Thriller,” and the song was an insta-hit. (Feel free to argue amongst yourselves whether BSB should be above ‘N Sync or not.)

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“Rolling in the Deep” Adele

8. “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele

The English sensation exploded to international fame with this tune, released when she was just 21 years old—though her voice carries the expertise of a woman decades older. High-reaching vocals, a bone-chilling opening note and ever-relatable subject matter of tarnished love scored Adele two Grammy Awards as fans around the world cried to the breakup anthem.

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“Don’t Stop Believing” Journey

9. “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey

Though it originally debuted in 1981, Journey’s uplifting tune became a late-2000s karaoke classic after being featured in the Sopranos series finale, covered by the Glee cast (multiple times) and re-embraced by cover bands everywhere. Seriously, it was one of the top 100 most downloaded iTunes songs in 2008 and 2009, nearly three decades after its first release.

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“Billie Jean” Michael Jackson

10. “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson

There’s only one name we’d allow on this list twice, and it’s obviously the King of Pop’s. The foot-tapping, finger-snapping, head-tilting beat of “Billie Jean” incites a rush to the dance floor every time it hits the speakers.

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