A lot of the songs we loved most in February illuminated some of life's darker or at least more complicated corners. Rapper Quelle Chris pondered America's love affair with guns, while hip-hop artist Mahawam released a vivid meditation on living with HIV. The Brooklyn-based rock group Charly Bliss explored millennial burnout, singer Molly Sarlé preached the importance of embracing disappointment, and Aldous Harding dropped a strangely alluring song called "The Barrel," all about a relationship falling apart. But there was also funk legend Chaka Khan's scorcher on sex and desire, "Too Hot," and rapper Tierra Whack's incredible kiss-off to an ex called "Only Child."
Below you'll find a complete, alphabetized list of NPR Music's favorite 11 songs for February and a Spotify playlist to hear them. Be sure to check out the 11 best albums we heard in February as well.
Charly Bliss, "Capacity"
Just as we've come to expect from Charly Bliss (the band behind one of our favorite songs of 2017), "Capacity" is deliciously fun: a sugary synth-pop track that's fuzzed-out around the edges, serving us a taste of millennial burnout and a promising hint about Young Enough, the band's follow-up album we've been eagerly awaiting. —Marissa Lorusso
Aldous Harding, "The Barrel"
"The Barrel" continues Aldous Harding's intense poetic journey. The New Zealand songwriter and singer paints imagery of a relationship breaking apart, in ways that feel open to interpretation and expands the imagination. A unique and intense artist. —Bob Boilen
Helado Negro, "Running"
Helado Negro is Roberto Lange. Which is crucial to absorbing the electronically tinged music from his newest album, This Is How You Smile. There is a strong autobiographical current in his music that reflects some universal themes and yet has a sound that is distinctly his own. --Felix Contreras
Chaka Khan, "Too Hot"
"Too Hot," the standout track from Chaka Khan's first album in 12 years, Hello Happiness, has the growl and swagger of her Rufus-era funk-rock set against the crisp, open production of Switch and Ruba Taylor. It's a thrill to hear Khan still at the top of her game, and it's danceable all the way through. --Lauren Onkey
Mahawam, "Michelle Pfeiffer"
Mahawam's full-blown meditation on living with HIV is as vivid as the imminent death sentence used to be before the nation decided to discard its marginalized victims in the trash heap of history. --Rodney Carmichael
Quelle Chris, "Guns"
America's gun addiction is all types of absurd. And somehow Quelle Chris makes perfect sense of it by posing a simple question: Why? --Rodney Carmichael
Rex Orange County, "New House"
Released on Valentine's Day, "New House" uses sentimentality to plea for commitment and structure in the wake of a young romance. It's layered in cinematic strings, punchy piano, synth-horn blasts and rich lyrics. --Jackie Reed
Molly Sarlé, "Human"
As one-third of the North Carolina folk trio Mountain Man, Molly Sarlé shares her debut solo single, "Human." It's a gorgeous reflection she arrives at: understanding everyone is flawed and finding joy by letting go and embracing disappointment. --Bob Boilen
SYML, "The Bird"
Recording as SYML, Brian Fennell began as an engaging folk-pop singer-songwriter. But "The Bird" takes him to glitchier and more soaring terrain, like some sort of gorgeous pastiche of Hozier and Sigur Rós. --Stephen Thompson
Jessie Ware, "Adore You"
A lovely, longing sigh of a song, Jessie Ware returns to quiet-storm electro with "Adore You." At once, it feels intimate and dizzying, a stuck-in-the-clouds headrush composed by someone still madly, deeply in love. --Joshua Bote
Tierra Whack, "Only Child"
A sick burn need not be applied with fire and brimstone. On "Only Child," Tierra Whack eviscerates a selfish, conniving ex with a perfect lullaby before she goes in for the kill: "Spiteful and malicious, hope that other chick got syphilis." --Joshua Bote