So nice, they named it twice, then proceeded to write countless songs about it too. Clearly the greatest city in the world, New York’s decades’ worth of cultural prominence has led to hundreds of odes to the city, describing its wonder and glory, the hustle and bustle it’s so famous for, and sometimes the loneliness of it all as well.
From the biggest bangers to the unforgettable classics, here’s twenty of the best songs about New York.
1. Taylor Swift – ‘Welcome To New York’
Somewhere during her transition from country darling to global superstar, Taylor Swift started living in New York. And what better way to kick off her first proper pop record than with this synthy, sparkly number about her new stomping ground?
2. Jennifer Lopez – ‘Jenny From The Block’
Born in the Bronx, JLo will never forget her roots, and made that promise in 2002 when she released ‘Jenny From The Block’. Despite all the glitz and glamour of the city, it’s her upbringing there that keeps her grounded.
3. St Vincent – ‘New York’
This aching ballad captures the loneliness of the big city and that of missing a loved one who’s left you behind there. Naming every other street and claiming no other motherfucker could handle her, it’s that New York attitude that sets this tearjerker apart.
4. The Strokes – ‘New York City Cops’
New York legends The Strokes wrote this track about police brutality after news about the death of Amadou Diallo. It was removed from their 2001 album ‘Is This It’ after the events of 9/11 because the group felt it was too political at the time, but twenty years later, its message still rings true.
5. LCD Soundsystem – ‘New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down’
On this slow-burning ballad, James Murphy reels off everything he hates about New York, and how despite it all, it’s still the city he loves the most.
6. Azealia Banks – ‘212 (feat. Lazy Jay)’
Azealia’s explosive breakthrough single featuring its very NSFW chorus kicked off a career of far more controversial moments. It’s testament to this song’s greatness that it supersedes all of them, and nearly a decade on will still have you screaming “bitch I’m in the 212” regardless of where you are in the world.
7. Lana Del Rey – ‘Brooklyn Baby’
An artist with equal devotion to the East and West Coast, Lana’s declaration of being a ‘Brooklyn baby’ comes complete with references to beat poetry, Lou Reed and extensive jazz collections.
8. Sharon Van Etten – ‘Seventeen’
On ‘Seventeen’, Sharon sings of the ways New York has changed in her time living there. Reminiscing her teen years and, in her words, the places she’s “lived, lost and found myself, let go of and embraced”.
9. Nas – ‘N.Y. State of Mind’
This track from Nas’ iconic debut album ‘Illmatic’ solidified his place as one of New York’s best rappers. Sampling the chorus from Rakim’s ‘Mahogany’, it also signalled the passing of a baton from one great to the next.
10. Beastie Boys – ‘No Sleep Til Brooklyn’
This Beastie Boys classic sees the trio parody the glam rockers of the era, and details their experiences touring. Allegedly written about being so fired up after a gig in Philadelphia they couldn’t sleep on the ride back to New York, it’s raucous fun.
11. Le Tigre – ‘My My Metrocard’
Le Tigre nod to escapism and adventure on this track about New York’s subway system. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Kathleen Hanna affair without calling someone out – this time it’s then-mayor Rudy Guiliani, such a fucking jerk!
12. Prince – ‘All The Critics Love U in New York’
An ode to reinvention, individuality and the spirit of the city, ‘All The Critics Love U in New York’ is as jittery, bustling and exciting as New York itself.
13. The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl – ‘Fairytale Of New York’
The Pogues’ 1987 track took years to write and tells the story of an Irish couple who moved to New York to pursue careers as entertainers. Though not without its own controversies, the single now stands as a Christmas staple and the story still resonates today.
14. Fleetwood Mac – ‘Empire State’
Another tribute to the glory of the Big Apple, Fleetwood Mac’s short and sweet soft rock track is a view of New York through a group of foreigners’ eyes.
15. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – ‘The Message’
Often described as one of the first conscious rap songs – and long heralded one of the greatest rap songs of all time – ‘The Message’ clocks in at over seven minutes and uses every single one wisely, detailing the ugliest sides of the city and its effects on the residents.
16. Pet Shop Boys – ‘New York City Boy’
This raging disco anthem from the London duo is proof that more is always more, especially on a track about the most extra city in the world.
17. Madonna – ‘I Love New York’
“I don’t like cities, but I like New York” Madonna declares at the start of this track. She moved to the city in 1978 to pursue her career, but it took her until 2005 to write a proper appreciation. This thumping dance banger is spot on for the NY nightlife it describes.
18. Kim Wilde – ‘Kids In America’
Another track from the perspective of an outsider, Kim Wilde perfectly captures the rush of being in the big city for the first time in this 80s classic.
19. Jay Z – ‘Empire State Of Mind (feat. Alicia Keys)’
An East Coast rap legend, Jay Z’s written many a verse about his home city, but his most blatant dedication arrived in 2009 on this collaboration with Alicia Keys. Jam packed with every New York reference you can imagine – a nod to every notable district and landmark, Frank Sinatra, Robert De Niro, Notorious BIG, the Yankees, yellow cabs – and Alicia’s iconic ‘Newwwww Yoooooooork’ refrain, it’s a modern classic.
20. Frank Sinatra – ‘Theme from New York, New York’
Perhaps the most iconic track about New York, this one couldn’t be missed. Originally the theme for Martin Scorsese’s film of the same name, the song has a life of its own, bottling the sentiment of the American dream and delivering it with as much swagger and confidence as you’d expect from the legend.