2015 In Review

The 50 Best Pop Songs Of 2015

That tingling feeling in your cheeks is not Abel Tesfaye’s supply kicking in. It’s the most wonderful time of the year — year-end list season — and the festivities continue today with the Week In Pop’s second annual rundown of the finest pop singles of the past 12 months.

What do I mean by The 50 Best Pop Songs Of 2015? This list is the 2015 finale of my weekly pop column, The Week In Pop, which means the picks are mine and mine alone, not something the Stereogum staff voted on together. It is not exactly a list of my personal favorites — you’ll note my own top 2015 track doesn’t crack the top 10 here — but my personal taste certainly shaped it. Nor is this an objective rundown of the biggest singles of the year — I still hate #1 summer smashes “Cheerleader” and “See You Again,” and I’m ambivalent about “Bad Blood” — though chart statistics, cultural impact, and general ubiquity certainly weighed on my choices. And as always, some of these songs were technically released in 2014, but their impact on 2015 was massive.

Like the parameters of pop itself, the ranking system was difficult to define but intuitive enough. Consider it my attempt to triangulate the biggest and best hits of 2015, to sum up this year’s most universal music at its finest. There were plenty of excellent singles to choose from — so many that Fifth Harmony, whose Reflection I proclaimed 2015’s first great pop album way back in February, couldn’t even land a track on this list. (Unfortunately, “Worth It” is no “BO$$,” and “BO$$” was already on last year’s list.) They say time’s supposed to heal you, and indeed, the 2015 pop mainstream marked a major step up from 2014’s sordid array of appropriation and/or saxophones and/or butts. Don’t believe me? Just watch.

50 Hailee Steinfeld – “Love Myself”

There’s really no reason for an Oscar nominee who holds the keys to the Pitch Perfect franchise to forge a career as a third-rate pop star. But if Steinfeld insists on it, she might as well do it with a titanic chorus as blunt and effective as its masturbation metaphors. [Listen here.]

49 Years & Years – “Shine”

Britain’s promising pop upstarts were doing the Justin Bieber “Sorry” sound months before “Sorry” even dropped, albeit with a much heavier house influence. The chorus absolutely soars. [Listen here.]

48 The Neighbourhood – “R.I.P. 2 My Youth”

A pop-minded rock band dabbles in the tropes of dark R&B and comes up with one of the stickiest hooks of the year. [Listen here.]

47 Calvin Harris – “How Deep Is Your Love” (Feat. Disciples)

The song title “How Deep Is Your Love” has a long and storied history. Miraculously, Calvin Harris does that history justice, turning in his most tasteful and beautiful production since “We Found Love.” [Listen here.]

46 Demi Lovato – “Confident”

Those “Beautiful People” drums, those triumphal horns, those finger snaps! Demi ain’t bad either. [Listen here.]

45 The 1975 – “Love Me”

In which the UK’s sleekest, catchiest pop-rockers lock into a groove so tight you could snap it in half and so funky you can smell it. [Listen here.]

44 One Direction – “Perfect”

Harry Styles’ rebuttal to Taylor Swift’s “Style” sonically mirrors that song’s dark synth ripples while offering this delightful kiss-off disguised as a come-on: “And if you’re looking for someone to write your break-up songs about/ Baby I’m perfect/ Baby we’re perfect.” [Listen here.]

43 Walk The Moon – “Shut Up And Dance”

Early this year, after emerging in 2014 to alternative rock radio success, “Shut Up And Dance” became the top-40 mainstay it was made to be. It’s proof positive that you don’t have to innovate or trendy to score a hit, you just have to write a hit. [Listen here.]

42 Ariana Grande – “Focus”

Neither the song nor the video approached the iconic status “Problem” instantly achieved, but goddamn, the rhythm hits hard. [Listen here.]

41 Selena Gomez – “Same Old Love”

Gomez and Charli XCX teamed up on the best Gwen Stefani song of 2015. [Listen here.]

40 Miley Cyrus – “Lighter”

The closest thing to pop on Miley’s zonked-out Dead Petz odyssey doubles as Mike Will Made It’s first chillwave song. [Listen here.]

39 Jason Derulo – “Want To Want Me”

Being a basic bastard has never sounded so good. [Listen here.]

38 Alessia Cara – “Here”

An introverted soul instant classic. [Listen to “Here” here.]

37 ILoveMemphis – “Hit The Quan”

I still prefer Rich Homie in a pinch, but this goofy hip-hop dance track’s existence still feels like a blessing. Kendrick Lamar feels the same way. [Listen here.]

36 Twenty One Pilots – “Stressed Out”

The late-’90s revival is gonna be really weird. [Listen here.]

35 Taylor Swift – “Wildest Dreams”

1989’s show-stopping, smeared-lens ballad sounds exactly like the kind of nostalgic fantasy Swift imagines. [Listen here.]

34 Major Lazer – “Lean On” (Feat. MØ)

Former blog stars Diplo and MØ teamed up with the DJ behind “Turn Down For What” on a sideways groove with a contagious hiccuping hook, and it became the most-streamed single in the history of Spotify. What a time to be alive. [Listen here.]

33 Tori Kelly – “Should’ve Been Us”

Allow me to grind an ax here: I’ve seen numerous critics call Tori Kelly’s album a rare Max Martin misfire, but according to my ears this shit is on point. Kelly was shoehorned into just about every televised awards show this year, and although she might not be actually-popular enough to merit such treatment, her charmingly straightforward pop is better than 90 percent of the sonic refuse that made it on stage at the VMAs, AMAs, or whichever MAs you happened to be hate-watching on a given evening. “Should’ve Been Us” is rapturous, and there’s more where that came from on Unbreakable Smile. I will fight you about this. [Listen here.]

32 Tinashe – “Party Favors” (Feat. Young Thug)

This lurching, gelatinous dose of sexed-up, drugged-out R&B has me believing Tinashe’s next album might surpass even the heights of her last one. [Listen here.]

31 Natalie La Rose – “Somebody” (Feat. Jeremih)

That once-ubiquitous Mustardwave production suddenly sounds almost as dated as the Whitney Houston classic Jeremih liberally interpolates here. So what? “Somebody” already felt like a blast from the past, even when it was the most lively/immediate/refreshing party-starter on the radio. [Listen here.]

30 K Camp – “Comfortable”

One of those perfectly acceptable pop songs that’s elevated to genius level by doing the little things right. Everything about the production here is impeccable, especially that sonic twinkle that ghosts in and out of the mix. [Listen here.]

29 Hilary Duff – “Sparks”

Forget about the Tinder stunt and just focus on this brisk, whistling beauty. [Listen here.]

28 The 1975 – “UGH”

I’m already all-in on Matthew Healy’s Scritti Politti phase. [Listen here.]

27 Sam Hunt – “Take Your Time”

“Take Your Time” had already had quite a run at country radio throughout 2014, but it made the jump to top-40 stations this year, gaining a new life as the go-to country single for people who don’t really listen to country. [Listen here.]

26 Justin Bieber – “Sorry”

The most direct apology out of Bieber’s public restitution campaign was also the most natural fit for the club. Who would have ever predicted crunchy dubstep drop purveyor Skrillex breaking into pop radio by turning dancehall riddims into soda-can fizz? [Listen here.]

25 Echosmith – “Bright”

“Cool Kids” was the bigger hit, but this astrology-inspired ballad is the better song, a starry-eyed acoustic singalong to fill the void created when Echosmith’s pal Taylor Swift went synthetic. [Listen here.]

24 Jordin Sparks – “Right Here Right Now”

Never thought American Idol’s G-rated princess would be channeling Sade and pulling it off, but here we are. [Listen here.]

23 Demi Lovato – “Cool For The Summer”

A Katy Perry ripoff in concept and execution, save for the pop-rock edge that has become Lovato’s signature sound. But just as “I Kissed A Girl” jumpstarted Perry’s career rebrand, the parade of undeniable hooks on “Cool For The Summer” got Lovato’s next chapter off on the right foot. [Listen here.]

22 Ellie Goulding – “On My Mind”

Pro-tip for Goulding’s next LP: More Police worship, less big empty gestures. [Listen here.]

21 Taylor Swift – “Style”

“Style” charted lower than Swift’s other 1989 hits, and its video was by far the least memorable, but in terms of motherfucking craft, it’s miles better than some of her #1 smashes. That shift from minor-key darkness on the verses to major-key reverie on the chorus is flawless. [Listen here.]

20 Silento – “Watch Me”

The novelty dance song to end all novelty dance songs. In one sense, Silento will be forever ensconced in 2015, a fossil in amber; in another sense, he will be with us always, joining us at weddings and bar mitzvahs for the duration of eternity. [Listen here.]

19 Miguel – “Coffee”

One more ax to grind: The prevailing narrative that WILDHEART is Miguel’s best album is pure insanity. The project had its moments, but it’s sloppy, uneven, and poorly sequenced, especially compared to 2012’s exquisite and basically perfect Kaleidoscope Dream, one of the 10 best albums of the decade so far. Even WILDHEART’s gem of a lead single, “Coffee,” cannot match the glory of “Adorn.” Still, “Coffee” is Peak Miguel, shimmering psychedelic R&B future music that blends disparate genres as effortlessly as Miguel’s persona blurs the line between suave, tender, and corny as hell. [Listen here, and avoid Wale at all costs.]

18 Selena Gomez – “Good For You” (Feat. A$AP Rocky)

Selena Gomez has been a bit of a chameleon since making the leap from the Disney Channel to adult pop stardom, but the sleek, sad-eyed, post-Lana noir she stumbled upon with “The Heart Wants What It Wants” has become a nice lane for her, and “Good For You” only intensifies the smolder. [Listen here.]

17 Ciara – “I Bet”

By the end of the year, Future had reclaimed the upper hand in the post-breakup musical sweepstakes, but this expert throwback to the days of Brandy and Monica was a painfully gorgeous reminder of which half of the former couple retains the moral high ground. The last line is the killer. [Listen here.]

16 Usher – “I Don’t Mind” (Feat. Juicy J)

The finest Usher single since “Climax” finds him professing his unconditional love for a pole dancer over a minimal bed of keyboard chords, booming 808s, and inspired Juicy J ad-libs. This was a late 2014 release, but it rightly ruled urban radio throughout the early months of 2015. [Listen here.]

15 Jeremih – “Planes” (Feat. J. Cole)

We still need an official version of this song without J. Cole, but even all his blabbering about spraying semen on the couch couldn’t ruin this neon elastic bedroom slow jam. It’s further evidence that Jeremih is a timeless talent who should be much, much bigger than he is. [Listen here, and try the Social Experiment remix too.]

14 Carly Rae Jepsen – “Run Away With Me”

I wasn’t sure how to handle Carly Rae Jepsen on this list. Stereogum’s love for E•MO•TION is well documented, but none of the songs really made an impact on pop culture this year beyond its near-unanimous critical acclaim. When I polled the staff on which CRJ songs to include here, I got about 10 different suggestions, and while any of them would have made sense here, including all 10 of them would not. So consider this pick representative of the whole album.

13 Rihanna – “Bitch Better Have My Money”

I like to think the jolt this one sends through my body is a feeling of empowerment, but seeing as I’m a man, it’s probably paralyzing fear. [Listen here.]

12 Justin Bieber – “What Do You Mean?”

“What Do You Mean?” rides the line between man and machine, between ancient (that ticking clock sound) and modern (the LCD-display piano chords). Whereas indecisiveness is what drives Bieber mad here, that push and pull between poles is what renders this song such a gorgeous glide. [Listen here.]

11 The Weeknd – “The Hills”

With “Earned It” and “Can’t Feel My Face,” Abel Tesfaye climbed the charts by moving his sound toward the center. What’s crazy is that after he got his foot in the door, “The Hills” became an even bigger hit without compromising his illicit, art-damaged aesthetic in the slightest. [Listen here.]

10 Tove Lo – “Talking Body”

When Tove Lo sings about fucking around, she does not fuck around. [Listen here.]

09 Jidenna – “Classic Man” (Feat. Roman GianArthur)

Shout out to the Kendrick remix. Now here’s Tom Breihan dancing to this song while former Stereogum writer Corban Goble turns up in the foreground:

See you next year, Internet. #Shaqfork

A video posted by Ernest (@ernestwilkins) on

[Listen here.]

08 The Chainsmokers – “Roses” (Feat. Rozes)

How do you transform an EDM banger into a ballad? Turn it inside out. [Listen here.]

07 Fetty Wap – “Trap Queen”

When all was said and done, even Taylor Swift was in the kitchen cooking pies. [Listen here.]

06 Drake – “Hotline Bling”

Though it failed to reach the top of the charts, Aubrey Graham’s mainsplainy meme farm will always be #1 in our hearts. [Listen here.]

05 Rihanna, Kanye West, & Paul McCartney – “FourFiveSeconds” + Kanye West – “Only One” (Feat. Paul McCartney)

Cheating? Maybe. But these two tracks will always be linked in my mind, calling back to a breathless anticipation that never quite panned out. Back when Anti was known as R8 and SWISH wasn’t even So Help Me God yet, the world’s music geeks were entranced at the prospect of our greatest living songwriter helping these maximalist titans strip their sound back to almost nothing to communicate the kinds of everyday emotional struggles our pop superheroes are supposed to be immune to. What kind of weirdness did Rihanna and Kanye have in store? We still don’t know, but returning to these two scrappy bursts of inspiration is rejuvenating my desire to find out. [Listen here and here.]

04 The Weeknd – “Can’t Feel My Face”

I’m still not convinced Abel Tesfaye will be this generation’s Michael Jackson, but he does an extremely good impression. [Listen here.]

03 Jack Ü – “Where Are U Now” (Feat. Justin Bieber)

Justin Bieber’s comeback began here, buried at the end of an album a pair of superstar DJ/producers released by surprise one February night. “Where Are U Now” portended a bright future — specifically for America’s most ridiculed brat and two of EDM’s most contentious, influential figures, but also for the rest of us if these space-age squiggles are a bellwether for the top-40 radio of tomorrow. [Listen here.]

02 Adele – “Hello”

The all-conquering force that is Adele re-emerged late in the year to conquer all. Before 25 began its record-smashing reign, lead single “Hello” racked up some unparalleled figures of its own, becoming the fastest-selling download of all time, the first song to sell a million downloads in a week, and one of only 24 songs to ever debut at #1. Seven weeks later, it has yet to relinquish its place atop the Hot 100. It’s easy to marvel at numbers like that, but what’s more impressive about “Hello” is that its emotional power matches or surpasses its statistical impact. Speaking as someone who often finds Adele’s music bland and overcooked, ballads just don’t come better than this. It’s a simple, sweeping, relatable story of heartbreak and regret brought to life by one of the most miraculous voices of our lifetime. [Listen here.]

01 Mark Ronson – “Uptown Funk” (Feat. Bruno Mars)

I can’t remember the last time a song possessed me with such elation, or the last time such a crowd-pleasing track was also so obviously excellent, or any time Bruno Mars came off so brazenly, undeniably cool. “Uptown Funk” emerged in late 2014 and spent the early months of 2015 threatening to become the longest-tenured #1 single of all time. And holy hell did this song deserve it. Channeling Morris Day by way of Trinidad James, Mars and Mark Ronson crafted the year’s most universal hit, one that will live on for decades at all kinds of jubilant public gatherings. It flaunts its sexiness and owns its freakiness. It’s so hot that it probably sent several dozen dragons into early retirement. It feels utterly, ebulliently effortless, but as Ronson explained to the late, great Grantland (R.I.P. Grantland!), it didn’t come easy:

It nearly self-destructed, like, 18 times because, you know, you get the seed of something that seems so magical and every time you go in to try and finish it or write the second verse, it never feels genuine or like the way it worked when you were doing it the first time. And the song would have these kinds of sessions, like two days straight, and, man, I’m just exhausted. Bruno would be like, “Shit, man, it breaks my heart, but maybe this song just wasn’t meant to be.”

But “Uptown Funk” was meant to be, and 2015 was better for it. We’re all better for it. A lot of horrendous shit happened this year on planet Earth, and there’s no doubt that we need sad songs to cope with global crisis and personal trauma (item #2 on this list, for example). Even more, though, we need songs to help us celebrate again, that inspire involuntary joyous contortions, that make us shout “Hallelujah! (Woooo!)” For the rest of your life, whenever you need a pick-me-up, “Uptown Funk” gon’ give it to you. [Listen here.]

CREDIT: Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images


You’ll never believe this, but Adele continues to dominate both the album chart and the singles chart. On the Billboard 200, 25 rules for a third straight week, recording a whopping 728,000 equivalent units (695,000 in pure sales) to rightfully keep Coldplay’s atrocious misstep A Head Full Of Dreams out of the #1 spot. Chris Martin’s crew notched 210,000 units (195,000 in pure sales) on the way to a #2 debut, the band’s first non-#1 since 2003’s #5-peaking A Rush Of Blood To The Head not to start at #1. Other top-10 debuts: G-Eazy’s When It’s Dark Out (#5, 132,000), Rick Ross’ Black Market (#6, 65,000), and Troye Sivan’s Blue Neighbourhood (#7, 65,000).

But back to Adele: Billboard shared many amazing stats about 25’s continued dominance. For instance, it’s the first album of the SoundScan era (since 1991) to sell more than 650,000 copies in its first three weeks; four other albums managed three weeks above 650K, most recently the Beatles’ 1 and Backstreet Boys’ Black & Blue, just not their first three weeks on the market. Having risen to 5.19 million as of last week’s sales frame, 25 is one of only 11 albums since 2005 to sell 5 million copies, and it’s the highest selling album of any calendar year since 2011, when Adele’s previous album, 21, sold 5.82 million. But 21 was released in January 2011 and had all year to accumulate those sales, whereas 25 seems primed to surpass that 6 million in less than two months on the market. Usher’s Confessions was the last album to surpass 6 million in a year, tallying 7.98 million in 2004.

Over on the Hot 100, Adele’s #1-debuting, record-smashing “Hello” moves into a tie as her longest-running #1 single, matching her seven-week run with “Rolling In The Deep” in 2011. As Billboard notes, only four songs have stayed on top longer after entering at #1: Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” (eight weeks, 1995), Puff Daddy/Faith Evans/112’s “I’ll Be Missing You” (11 weeks, 1997), Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind/The Way You Look Tonight” (14 weeks, 1997-98), and Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day” (16 weeks, 1995-96).

Let’s not let Adele’s achievements obscure the crazy success Justin Bieber is enjoying on the singles chart right now. For the second time in four weeks, Bieber boasts three songs in the top 5, with “Sorry” at #2, “What Do You Mean?” at #4, and “Love Yourself” at #5. Only 50 Cent and the Beatles managed the same statistical feat in multiple weeks, though we should note that the Beatles did it eight times throughout 1964 including one week — April 4, 1964 — in which Beatles songs comprised the entire top 5. Notably, Bieber also has three of the top four songs on Spotify, where #1 “Sorry,” #2 “Love Yourself,” and #4 “What Do You Mean?” sandwich #3 “Hello.” So in that venue, at least, Bieber triumphs over Adele.

Also continuing to pull off impressive chart feats is the Weeknd. At #6 this week, “The Hills” gives Abel Tesfate his 43rd straight week with a song in the top 10, pulling him past Santana and into sole possession of the third longest such streak. Tesfaye has a realistic chance of surpassing Ace Of Base’s 48 weeks to attain the second-longest top-10 presence. “The Hills” still has legs, plus “In The Night” leaps from #37 to #19 this week, so it may well arrive in the top 10 before “The Hills” even drops out.


Ariana Grande – Christmas And Chill EP Despite usually comprising timeless classics, most Christmas albums tend to be padded out with filler. So I heartily welcome six original holiday-themed love/sex tunes in 13 minutes, topped off with a stupid/genius title, inessential though Christmas And Chill may be.

Ellie Goulding – “O Holy Night” Goulding’s digital trills and English accent do not lend themselves to “O Holy Night.” If you’re looking for a blonde superstar’s take on the best Christmas song ever, try the Carrie Underwood version instead.

Hozier – “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” Something me dismays.

Pentatonix – “The First Noel” A cappella and Christmas music go together really well — Straight No Chaser’s “12 Days Of Christmas,” for instance, is reliably entertaining every holiday season — so those lovable cornballs Pentatonix should knock “The First Noel” out of the park. But this rendition strikes me as surprisingly lifeless, even when the beat drops.

Mariah Carey – “All I Want For Christmas Is MIDI” Now we’re talking! At least I think those muffled fragments of human voice qualify as “talking.”



  • Skrillex turned down producing that Meghan Trainor Peanuts song. [The Guardian]
  • Kacey Musgraves covered Coldplay in London. [Rolling Stone]
  • Fetty Wap followed up his private gig with Martin Shkreli by making it rain for a Bar Mitzvah boy. [TMZ]
  • Madonna issued a statement about why she started her Manchester show late, which angered many fans. [Facebook]
  • Rita Ora is suing Roc Nation. [NME]
  • Years & Years mashed up “Hotline Bling” with “Dark Horse.” [Spin]
  • Speaking of Katy Perry, she launched a new mobile game a la Kim Kardashian’s popular app. [Variety]
  • More Perry: She was not allowed to read Harry Potter as a young teen. [People]
  • Niall Horan insists One Direction’s hiatus is really just a hiatus. [Billboard]
  • In other 1D news, Liam Payne read what Noel Gallagher said about him and thinks it’s pretty sad. [Mirror]
  • The dude from Coheed And Cambria covered Adele’s “Hello.” [YouTube]
  • Michael Jackson’s Thriller is the first album to sell 30 million copies in the US. [CBS]
  • Here’s a recap of all this year’s #1 albums. [Billboard]
  • Justin Bieber was baptized in NBA star Tyson Chandler’s bathtub. [Complex]
  • Drake invested in an app to catalogue your sneakers or something. [TMZ]
  • And in Drake/Bieber news, Drake’s dad teased some kind of surprise with the Biebs. [MTV]
  • Chris Brown has a new video and Scott Disick and A$AP Rocky are in it. [DirectLyrics]
  • Hilary Duff did an EDM Fleetwood Mac cover. [YouTube]