2014 In Review

The Week In Pop’s Top 50 Pop Songs Of 2014

Two weeks ago we looked at the year’s biggest pop songs; now let’s run down the best ones. There will be a lot of overlap, of course, partly because sometimes great songs get popular and partly because sometimes popular songs that initially strike you as insufferable end up wearing you down through sheer persistence. (“Bang Bang,” though it didn’t crack this list, earned a begrudging place in my heart that way.) This list, like this column, deals with “pop” as a cultural center point — the vaguely defined “mainstream,” if you will, or songs that are aiming to be part of it — even if pop as a concept “went on hiatus” this year, and a variety of radio formats means there are actually many mainstreams. Let’s think of it as songs you might hear on the radio, songs everybody knows, or songs that seem designed to be hits even if they didn’t quite make it. (There’s still hope for you, Jessie Ware! Look at “Latch”!)

There are several #1 singles in the mix, as well as songs released last year that reached peak saturation in 2014. (No “Latch,” though, because come on American radio programmers, that song is old.) There’s also a lot of music here that didn’t crack the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 — country songs (Eric Church, Maddie & Tae), R&B songs (Jeremih, Zendaya), and ostensibly “indie” songs that are nonetheless aiming to be part of the pop sphere (Ryn Weaver, Lana Del Rey). I opted not to include any straight-up rap songs — or at least no grimy street rap — because we already rounded up the year in hip-hop, albeit with an albums list rather than a songs list. That means no “Fight Night,” no “About The Money,” and no Bobby Shmurda, who I even wrote about in this column after he scored a top-10 hit; if that seems arbitrary, well, lists are arbitrary! Enjoy this one, and offer your own in the comments.

50. Kiesza – “Hideaway”

Even without the unforgettable video, “Hideaway” is a sinewy beast of a house track. [Listen here.]

49. Dierks Bentley – “Drunk On A Plane”

A gimmicky goofball story-song about one of those endless summer beach parties the likes of which dominate country radio, only with underlying heartache. [Listen here.]

48. 5 Seconds Of Summer – “Amnesia”

Every bit as melodramatic as a teenage breakup anthem should be. It perfectly captures a universal feeling; what more do you want from a song? [Listen here.]

47. Maddie & Tae – “Girl In A Country Song”

A clever rejoinder to bro-country, and at least as well-constructed as most of the songs it’s poking fun at. [Listen here.]

46. Zendaya – “My Baby (Remix)” (Feat. Ty Dolla $ign, Bobby Brackins, & Iamsu!)

The best DJ Mustard ripoff to somehow not hit it big this year. [Listen here.]

45. Calvin Harris – “Summer”

Behold a baldfaced but successful attempt at a summer smash. When Harris is popping, he’s really popping. [Listen here.]

44. Mariah Carey – “You’re Mine (Eternal)”

All of the Elusive Chanteuse singles bricked this year, but “You’re Mine (Eternal)” was the most exasperating miss. If this came out in 1995, it would have gone to #1. [Listen here.]

43. Jason Derulo – “Talk Dirty” (Feat. 2 Chainz)

Derulo’s a perfectly capable singer, but here he’s only the third most important factor here behind sassy brass a salacious 2 Chainz (“Sold out arenas/ You can suck my penis”). [Listen here.]

42. Mr. Probz – “Waves (Robin Schulz Remix)”

This one actually sounds like the ocean — those grizzled vocals, that graceful guitar riff, that effervescent whoosh — if the ocean contained the most melancholy dance club on Earth. [Listen here.]

41. Nico & Vinz – “Am I Wrong”

Speaking of graceful guitar riffs! If “Am I Wrong” didn’t bring you abundant joy this year, I’m sorry about your dead soul. [Listen here.]

40. One Direction – “Fireproof”

If the infamous pot-smoking video hadn’t already tipped you off to 1D’s encroaching adulthood, this did the trick. “Fireproof” is the sound of pop’s most prominent moppets growing up before our very ears. [Listen here.]

39. Taylor Swift – “Shake It Off”

Still pretty ambivalent about this song, but all these weeks later, it’s still undeniable. [Listen here.]

38. Luke Bryan – “Play It Again”

Country’s most insufferable cornball comes through with a hokey ballad for the pantheon. [Listen here.]

37. Sam Smith – “Money On My Mind”

Remember this song? It’s a lot better than “Stay With Me.” In retrospect, it was our last gasp of Smith the hipster cause célèbre before he became Smith the international superstar. [Listen here.]

36. Ingrid Michaelson – “Girls Chase Boys”

“Girls Chase Boys” boasts an undefinable swagger, an irresistible rhythm, and a handful of genius hooks that make full use of multiple octaves. With songs this good, imagine how much more famous Ingrid Michaelson would be if her name wasn’t Ingrid Michaelson. [Listen here.]

35. Nicki Minaj – “Anaconda”

“He can tell I ain’t missin’ no meals” = 2014’s greatest humblebrag. “Anaconda” had a half-dozen of the best innuendos. [Listen here.]

34. Charli XCX – “Break The Rules”

Juvenile delinquency never sounded so good. [Listen here.]

33. Nick Jonas – “Jealous”

“Adore,” Muppet Babies edition. [Listen here.]

32. Shakira – “Empire”

2014’s best musical approximation of an orgasm. [Listen here.]

31. Lana Del Rey – “West Coast”

“If you’re not drinkin’ then you’re not playin’.” I’m not sure if they really say that down on the West Coast, but I’ll take Lana’s word for it. [Listen here.]

30. Kendrick Lamar – “i”

The sound of a man who knows exactly what he’s doing and who believes in it absolutely. [Listen here.]

29. Bleachers – “I Wanna Get Better”

Jack Antonoff’s triumphant lead single was the most optimistic nervous breakdown of 2014. [Listen here.]

28. The 1975 – “Girls”

Every one of this band’s songs sounds so shiny. [Listen here.]

27. Michael Jackson – “Love Never Felt So Good” (Feat. Justin Timberlake)

It was good to have him back, though we all could have done without Hologram Michael. [Listen here.]

26. Tove Lo – “Habits (Stay High)”

For a song that derives much of its appeal from being out-of-control and over-the-top, “Habits” is a work of extreme poise and precision from a pop songwriter with a blindingly bright future. [Listen here.]

25. One Direction – “Steal My Girl”

I’m glad we’ve arrived at a place as a culture where we can unabashedly appreciate a boy-band song that unabashedly rips off Journey. [Listen here.]

24. Chris Brown – “Loyal” (Feat. Lil Wayne & Tyga)

The year’s most confounding hit is an effervescent blast of neon swirls with a rotten core. Conceptually, it’s despicable, but musically, it’s remarkable. [Listen here.]

23. Pharrell – “Happy”

It really does make people happy. [Listen here.]

22. Katy Perry – “Dark Horse” (Feat. Juicy J)

The trap-rave sound that represented electronic party music’s leading edge throughout the early part of this decade found its mainstream anthem courtesy of Perry, pop’s savviest chameleon, and Juicy J, rap’s elder statesman party monster. [Listen here.]

21. Hilary Duff – “All About You”

No way I’m beating my previous description of this song as “banjo ‘Boom Clap’.” I’m still all about it. [Listen here.]

20. Tinashe – “2 On” (Feat. Schoolboy Q)

Tinashe had been bubbling up through the R&B underground. Then “2 On” dropped, and a star was born. [Listen here.]

19. Sia – “Chandelier”

A song about your spirit descending into a bottomless pit with a chorus that goes up, up, up into infinity. [Listen here.]

18. Iggy Azalea – “Fancy” (Feat. Charli XCX)

“Fancy” may be the most “2014” of all 2014 hits: Female camaraderie, somebody’s best DJ Mustard impression, Iggy being the worst part of a song, Charli’s spiked-soda melodies piercing the groove, #1 for weeks and weeks despite widespread ambivalence, and a video reclaiming some ’90s pop-cultural totem. [Listen here.]

17. Ryn Weaver – “OctaHate”

“OctaHate” was so instantly likable because it sounds like pop music’s past, present, and future all at once. Looking forward to finding out if Weaver has more aces up her sleeve and whether she can make a splash at radio next year. [Listen here.]

16. Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”

The best song on 1989 is also the most self-aware. [Listen here.]

15. DJ Snake – “Turn Down For What” (Feat. Lil Jon)

A meme, an anthem, a jock jam for a new generation. [Listen here.]

14. Jessie Ware – “Say You Love Me”

In which the queen of subtlety lets it all hang out. [Listen here.]

13. Beyoncé – “XO”

While Coldplay mostly busied themselves with sad, small music this year, Beyoncé pulled off 2014’s most titanic stadium anthem. [Listen here.]

12. Fifth Harmony – “BO$$”

From the infectious percussion to the flamboyant horns to the booming bass to the triumphant vocal performance to the every-lyric-is-a-meme quotability, every part of “BO$$” is so fucking excellent that it doesn’t matter they’re basically jacking Destiny’s Child’s swag. [Listen here.]

11. Jeremih – “Don’t Tell ‘Em” (Feat. YG)

To be honest this song deserves the same kind of “wretched content alert” disclaimer as Chris Brown’s “Loyal.” In fact, had Brown released this song instead of critical darling Jeremih, I imagine the outrage would have been off the charts. Urban radio played host to a disconcerting number of songs glamorizing infidelity this year, including Rico Love’s “They Don’t Know” and Teyana Taylor’s “Maybe” (especially Pusha T’s verse). “Don’t Tell ‘Em” is better than those songs in every way; it’s a gem among gems where DJ Mustard’s 2014 output is concerned, it brought Jeremih back to pop radio, and it gave YG a top-10 hit in his banner year. But lying to people you supposedly love is not cool, and it will never be cool. Note: Stealing somebody’s lover before their very eyes is way different than doing it in secret, and “I got a missed call from your bitch!” remains 2014’s funniest lyric. [Listen here.]

10. Clean Bandit – “Rather Be” (Feat. Jess Glynne)

A singular sound plus a classic feel added up to an unexpected delight from out of nowhere. [Listen here.]

09. Tove Lo – “Not On Drugs”

Tove Lo’s first hit was about getting fucked up to deal with heartbreak, so logically, her second hit is about how she doesn’t need substance abuse when she’s in love. Dependency issues aside, she made the year’s best pop album in this columnist’s estimation — better than Taylor Swift, One Direction, Ariana Grande, 5 Seconds Of Summer, and Jessie Ware — and I heartily advise you to hear the whole thing. [Listen here.]

08. Beyoncé – “Drunk In Love” (Feat. Jay Z)

Say it with me now, one last time: “Surfboard!” [Listen here.]

07. Charli XCX – “Boom Clap”

Between Charli XCX and the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, this was a banner year for songs about budding romance. To quote eminent music critic Jayson Greene, “Goddamn ‘Boom Clap’ is so good.” [Listen here.]

06. 5 Seconds Of Summer – “She Looks So Perfect”

Pop-punk’s boy-band evolution culminated in this convergence of military-grade hooks and hair product, and I know now that I’m so down. [Listen here.]

05. Eric Church – “Give Me Back My Hometown”

Put your lighters in the sky and bawl your eyes out thinking about Pizza Hut. [Listen here.]

04. Beyoncé – “Flawless (Remix)” (Feat. Nicki Minaj)

“Flawless” was already flawless in its first incarnation, a signature song for a year pop was ruled by badass females. “I woke up like this!” is more than a hook — it’s a mantra. The remix did the impossible by improving upon the original, Beyoncé forging an unstoppable partnership with Nicki Minaj to remind us there’s more power in solidarity than solitary rule. Those OutKast horns didn’t hurt either. [Listen here.]

03. Coldplay – “Magic”

“Magic” is a sleek, smooth, impeccably executed song about some very messy emotions and — as with every Coldplay song — a flicker of hope in the midst of hopelessness. Dismiss it as hollow rom-com fodder if you must, but peer into Chris Martin’s wistful ballad and you’ll probably see your own relfection, be it because of the gleaming exterior or the authentic emotional grappling contained therein. [Listen here.]

02. Paramore – “Ain’t It Fun”

Yes, it is fun. [Listen here.]

01. Ariana Grande – “Problem” (Feat. Iggy Azalea)

“Problem” never made it to #1. When filmmakers of the future want to conjure a 2014 vibe, they’ll probably turn to “Fancy,” “Rude,” “Shake It Off,” “All About That Bass,” “Happy,” or “All Of Me” before they turn to Ariana Grande’s biggest hit. Subjectively it feels less zeitgeisty than most of the year’s mega-hits, although from an objective standpoint it checks off almost every 2014 trend short of Taylor Swift and DJ Mustard, from Grande and Azalea themselves to sax trills, ’90s nostalgia, and female camaraderie. It certainly works as an avatar for The Year In Pop if you need it to. But that’s not why it’s on top of this list, or at least not the whole reason. It’s up top because it was the most instantly lovable, compulsively listenable pop single of the year, a song so fun it even made Azalea’s mic skills seem admirable. In a weird year for pop, “Problem” was a beacon of excellence in the upper echelon of the Hot 100. We’d be much worse off without it. [Listen here.]

ALTERNATE SUMMARY OF 2014 POP

So this is being 25….. #WHAT #bestbirthdayEVER

A photo posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

CHART WATCH

J. Cole scored the biggest rap debut of the year — and one of the biggest debuts period — moving 375,000 equivalent units of 2014 Forest Hills Drive (354,000 in sales) to enter at #1 and knock Taylor Swift’s 1989 out of the #1 spot for the second time since its release. That’s good for Cole’s third #1 album, his best sales week ever, and, per Billboard, the fifth-largest sales week of the year for any artist. 1989 still moved an extremely impressive 324,000 units to stay at #2, while Pentatonix’s That’s Christmas To Me downshifts to #3 with 218,000 units.

The week’s second-highest debut belongs to Carrie Underwood, whose Greatest Hits: Decade #1 starts at #4 with 103,000 units, becoming her fifth straight top-5 album and the highest-charting greatest hits collection since an Amazon MP3 sale helped put Frank Sinatra’s Nothing But The Best at #3 in 2012. AC/DC’s Rock Or Bust is down to #5 with 94,000, while K. Michelle’s Anybody Wanna Buy A Heart? enters at #6 with 88,000. One Direction’s Four falls to #7 with 82,000 units despite an increase in sales from last week. Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour is at #8 with 81,000, followed by Ed Sheeran’s x at #9 with 65,000. Garth Brooks’ Man Against Machine rounds out the top 10 with 62,000.

Over on the Hot 100, “Blank Space” becomes Taylor Swift’s longest-running #1 hit with its fifth straight week on top. (“Shake It Off” was on top for four nonconsecutive weeks this year, and “We Are Never Getting Back Together” ruled for three nonconsecutive weeks in 2012.) Billboard reports that women topped the Hot 100 for 28 out of 52 weeks this year, or 53 percent, which seems low for a year when females often dominated the singles chart. (You can chalk most of those other weeks up to Pharrell and John Legend.) Like “Blank Space,” Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” benefits from a performance on the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and stays at #2.

Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” reaches a new peak at #3, while Meghan Trainor’s “Lips Are Movin” soars to #4, her second top-5 hit. Sam Smith also has a second top-5 hit this year as “I’m Not The Only One” rises to #5. Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” shoots from #24 to #6, becoming Sheeran’s highest-charting single in the US after “Don’t” made it to #9. Trainor’s “All About That Bass” falls to #7, followed by Maroon 5’s “Animals” at #8. Ariana Grande & the Weeknd’s “Love Me Harder” is back up at #9, and Swift’s “Shake It Off” closes out the top 10 at #10; it’s been in the top 10 all 17 weeks since its #1 debut.

TRACK CITY

Imagine Dragons – “I Bet My Life”
On their first single from their second album, the world’s biggest rock band — if we’re speaking purely from a kings-of-the-moment, top-40-saturating, winning-all-the-Grammys standpoint — sound more like the world’s biggest folk-rock band. “I Bet My Life” is like KONGOS’ “Come With Me Now” gone full Mumford, and it somehow adds some retroactive polish to world-conquering turd “Radioactive.” (At least that turd sounds great when adapted for marching band.)

French Montana – “Bad Bitch” (Feat. Jeremih)
Kind of amazing hearing Todd Terje/Giorgio Moroder laser-light-show synthesizers elevate what would otherwise be a standard B-minus radio hit.

Maroon 5 – “Animals (Remix)” (Feat. Big Boi)
“Animals” is not bad where Maroon 5 songs are concerned (grading on a curve here), but it’s still a bummer to hear one-half of OutKast jumping on the remix, especially since Big Boi’s verse here is a total turd.

Jordin Sparks – “It Ain’t You”
There’s kind of a Beyoncé Jr. thing going on throughout Jordin Sparks’ new Bye Felicia mixtape, but the formerly saccharine American Idol winner seems to have found some kind of fire since her split from Jason Derulo. (Check her rework of Drake’s “How Bout Now” for further evidence.) This isn’t exactly elite quality material, but she’s going somewhere interesting.

Ne-Yo – “She Knows” (Feat. Juicy J)
Ne-Yo’s appeal used to be the way he shrugged off current trends and made charmingly anachronistic R&B romance tracks, but he’s spent the years since 2008’s fantastic Year Of The Gentleman slowly, surely immersing himself in the sounds of now. The EDM synth line and Juicy J guest verse here aren’t as in-your-face and of-the-moment as “Let’s Go,” Ne-Yo’s ubiquitous Calvin Harris collab, or “Time Of Our Lives,” his surprisingly listenable recent Pitbull disco-funk party track. Still, I miss the days when this guy sounded so comfortably out of step.

Crazytown – “Megatron”
You read that right: The “Butterfly” boys are back, and you might be physically startled at how awful their new single is.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • The most popular words in song titles this decade: “HELL YEAH WE FUCK DIE.” [Animal]
  • Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel are having a baby, says Joey Fatone. [In Touch]
  • A Beyoncé sex doll got the Phi Delta Theta fraternity’s activity suspended at Penn. [The Daily Pennsylvanian]
  • Incubus — who used to be really good, I swear — are returning with two EPs for Island next year. [Billboard]
  • Parents used to thank Frozen director Jennifer Lee, but now they just complain that their kids won’t stop singing the songs. [The Hollywood Reporter]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME

HOLD ON, WE’RE STILL GOING HOME

STILL GOING…

OK, WE’RE REALLY GOING HOME THIS TIME

Running truuuu deeeez stweeeeetz till we pass out

Una foto publicada por Miley Cyrus (@mileycyrus) el

See you in 2015!