The Week In Pop

The Week In Pop: The Cold Hard Facts On The Year In Pop

Now that December is upon us, publications are starting to roll out their year-end lists. In the preface to our own countdown of the year’s best albums, we noted how subjective that pursuit is, but there is a more objective way to determine what music ruled 2014: cold hard facts. And what do you know, lots of those kinds of roundups emerged this week too. We’re still a few weeks from Billboard releasing their official stats, but everyone from Spotify to Shazam to Vevo released lists of the most popular music of the year according to their user data. Suffice it to say that even in the age of poptimism, there’s still a significant gulf between the critical consensus and what’s actually popular. (Other than Taylor Swift, who seems to have wormed — or shaken, I guess — her way into both commercial and critical success.)

So what do these stats tell us? In the case of Spotify, Vevo, and Rhapsody, we get a simple, meaningful metric: Whose songs and videos were played the most? On Rhapsody, that was Eminem. On Spotify, it was Ed Sheeran followed closely by Em. This goes to show that Em is still extremely popular, even as his unrepentant misogyny drains his critical cachet in middle age. And it proves that Sheeran, despite only just now scoring his first U.S. top 10 hit with “Don’t,” deserves his place on pop’s A-list. Sheeran’s x was Spotify’s most streamed album worldwide and here in America, but none of his individual songs was a top-10 track on Spotify, nor did he crack Vevo’s top 10 videos of the year. So Sheeran and Eminem, despite their continued radio presence, are better known for their albums than their singles these days. So are Coldplay, Spotify’s #3 most streamed artist of the year, though it’s hard to say the same for #4 (Calvin Harris) and #5 (Katy Perry).

Harris and Perry both landed songs on Spotify’s global top songs lists, with “Summer” and “Dark Horse” respectively, though “Summer” didn’t make Vevo’s top 10 list, surely due to its lack of a viral video. The singles that did make it onto both lists — “Dark Horse,” Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass,” and Ariana Grande & Iggy Azalea’s “Problem” — all had the benefit of colorfully memorable visuals, which makes it even more incredibly surprising that Pharrell’s “Happy,” Spotify’s most-streamed song of the year, didn’t qualify for Vevo’s top 10 because that video was everywhere. I’m also a little bit shocked that Iggy Azalea & Charli XCX’s “Fancy,” Vevo’s most-streamed video of the year, wasn’t among Spotify’s global top 10 songs (though “Fancy” was Spotify’s US #1; turns out Iggy isn’t nearly as popular outside the States). Nor did Vevo’s #4 video, “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift, make Spotify’s list — but, well, you know. Unsurprisingly, I’m surprised Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” which had Vevo’s most views ever in its first 24 hours, only made it to #5 on the 2014 list. Sia’s “Chandelier” at #7 shows the power of a viral video, while Rich Gang’s “Lifestyle” at #8 shows that if a song is popular enough, it doesn’t need a particularly good video.

Spotify also tracks shares, which is perhaps a more insightful way to measure artist popularity; anyone can listen to a song, even somebody who hates it, but you’re more likely to share something you really love. So congrats to Hozier, whose “Take Me To Church” was Spotify’s most-shared track in the US this year — and to Glass Animals’ “Gooey,” MisterWives’,” Sylvan Esso’s “Coffee,” and MØ’s “Say You’ll Be There,” all of which were hot on Hozier’s heels. Similarly, Tumblr released its lists of the most reblogged bands and solo artists of 2014, though those were dominated by far more famous names: Beyoncé, Lana Del Rey, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and Kanye West comprised the solo top 5, while 5 Seconds Of Summer, One Direction, Fall Out Boy, All Time Low, and the long-defunct My Chemical Romance were the most reblogged bands; I guess pop-punk still does really well on Tumblr, although it’s only the fifth-most reblogged genre after “hip-hop,” “punk,” “k-pop,” and “rap.” (Although it’s hard to determine the veracity or value of those numbers: Lots of Tumblr users probably don’t make a distinction between “punk” and “pop-punk” — or “hip-hop” and “rap,” for that matter.) Tumblr’s most reblogged song was “Anaconda,” while both 5 Seconds Of Summer and the Frozen soundtrack had two songs apiece in Tumblr’s top 10.

Tumblr also offered up its picks for musicians to watch in 2015. The alphabetized top 20 included some already-huge names such as Frank Ocean, A$AP Rocky, Mark Ronson, and Charli XCX, plus indie staples such as Grimes, Father John Misty, Ariel Pink, and Panda Bear. A few acts that could pass for new did make the cut, such as Raury, ILoveMakonnen, Banoffee, and Adult Jazz. Shazam, the app that allows users to identify a song that catches their ear, released its own prognostications for 2015 dominance, and it seems like a more trustworthy barometer of rising stardom. Young Thug, Echosmith, Rae Sremmurd, Oliver Heldens, DeJ Loaf, Sam Hunt, James Bay, Maddie & Tae, Years & Years, and Tchami were all Shazam’d so often this year that the service predicts big things for them next year; it’s hard to disagree with that list.

Speaking of Shazam, they offer us an even more intriguing way to measure music’s popularity: Which songs most often caused people to say, “What is this?” The most Shazam’d artist in America this year was John Legend, followed by Perry, Sheeran, Azalea, and Lorde. Worldwide, the top 5 were Avicii, David Guetta, Sheeran, Perry, and Jason Derulo. As for songs, the US top 5: Legend’s “All Of Me,” Disclosure & Sam Smith’s “Latch,” MAGIC!’s “Rude,” Nico & Vinz’s “Am I Wrong,” and Clean Bandit & Jess Glynne’s “Rather Be.” Worldwide, “Rather Be” was #1, followed by “All Of Me,” Lilly Wood & The Prick’s Robin Schulz collab “Prayer In C,” Mr. Probz’s “Waves,” and “Am I Wrong.”

One more interesting stat: Instagram released its list of the most tagged American music festivals and venues of the year. Coachella, Outside Lands, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, and Governor’s Ball were the five biggest fests. (Poor Lollapalooza was down at #6, but we all know their lineup was underwhelming this year.) As for venues, the Hollywood Bowl, Colorado’s Red Rocks, New York’s Radio City Music Hall, the Bay Area’s Shoreline Amphitheatre, and DC’s 9:30 Club were the top 5, which seems about right.

CHART WATCH

Time for even more stats! The week’s biggest chart news has to be the debut of the revamped methodology for the Billboard 200 — though, as Billboard notes, Taylor Swift’s 1989 would have returned to #1 under the new or the old system. It sold 281,000 and racked up 339,000 equivalent units (album sales plus streams) to unseat last week’s #1, One Direction’s Four. 1989 has now sold 2.5 million this year and could feasibly still surpass the Frozen soundtrack as 2014’s best-selling album. A cappella group Pentatonix climb to #2 with 227,000 units (217,000 in sales) of That’s Christmas To Me. Eminem’s Shady XV compilation enters at #3 with 148,000 units, 138,000 of which were album sales. Appropriately enough, Four is down to #4 this week with 125,000 units (105,000 sales), followed by Sam Smith’s enduring In The Lonely Hour at #5 with 123,000 (97,000 sales). So basically the top 5 would have been the same under the old system. OK, then.

Rick Ross’ second LP of 2014, Hood Billionaire, debuts at #6 with 79,000 units (74,000 sales), well below Mastermind’s #1 debut with 179,000 in sales. Ariana Grande’s My Everything is the first album to really benefit from the new system, shooting up from #39 to #7 on the strength of 72,000 units, only 47,000 of which were sales; it still would have risen to #16 under the old rules, but still, she definitely benefitted from the new method. Beyoncé also benefits; Beyoncé: More Only EP, the extra disc of Bey’s deluxe self-titled reissue, debuts at #8 with 71,000 units, only 43,000 of which were sales. (Beyoncé itself rises from #199 to #39). Our long-lost friend the Frozen soundtrack climbs back to #9 with 71,000 units, and Maroon 5’s V rounds out the top 10 with 68,000 units.

As we noted yesterday, Jennifer Lawrence has become the 13th Oscar-winning actor to score a Hot 100 hit. “The Hanging Tree,” the haunting folk song Lawrence sings in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, made it all the way to #12 thanks to 200,000 US downloads and 2.1 million US streams. Up at the top of the chart, Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” is #1 for a third straight week. Per Billboard, “Blank Space” is actually gaining sales, moving 342,000 this week to become only the second song this year (after Pharrell’s “Happy”) to sell more than 300,000 copies for three straight weeks.

Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” holds at #2, and she may soon have a second top 10 hit as “Lips Are Movin” moves up to #13. Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” holds at its #3 peak, too. Swift’s “Shake It Off” jumps back up to #4, knocking Maroon 5’s “Animals” down to #5. Selena Gomez’s solid ballad “The Heart Wants What It Wants,” which moved Swift to tears at the American Music Awards and which may or may not be about Justin Bieber, shoots up from #20 to #6, trying last year’s “Come And Get It” as her highest-charting hit. Sam Smith’s “I’m Not The Only One” stays at #7, while Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk!” hits a new peak at #8. It’s Ronson’s first top 10 hit as an artist, though two songs he produced — Amy Winehouse’s #9 “Rehab” and Mars’ #1 “Locked Out Of Heaven” — have hit the top 10. Tove Lo’s “Habits (Stay High)” and Ariana Grande & The Weeknd’s “Love Me Harder” round out the top 10.

TRACK CITY

Madonna – “Rebel Heart” & “Wash All Over Me”
Madonna teamed with Diplo for some of her new album because she still wants to be cool, but she also teamed with Avicii because she still wants to make hits. “Rebel Heart” and “Wash Over Me,” the pair of Avicii collabs that leaked this week, sound like hits. They’re the best Madonna songs I’ve heard in a while — for that matter, they’re the best Avicii songs I’ve heard in a while, too. That’s not saying much on either account, but still: Should we be getting excited about this new Madonna record? (Listen here.)

BTW…

Trey Songz – “Touchin, Lovin” (Feat. Nicki Minaj)
“Get ready to interact,” says the interactive video, which promises a window into Trey Songz’s fantasies and which is reason enough to post this quality R&B single. The video is whatever, but seriously, Trey Songz knows how to make R&B singles. Behold his workmanlike mastery of the form (and his fantasies)!

Guy Sebastian – “Linger” (Feat. Lupe Fiasco)
Imagine if Frank Ocean and Kanye West linked up for a song, and we all got super stoked to hear it, but it never saw release, then Maroon 5 and MAGIC! teamed up on a cover version and that came out instead.

Naomi Pilgrim – “It’s All Good”
I liked Pilgrim when we premiered her “House Of Dreams” earlier this year, and I might like her even more after hearing “It’s All Good,” which hits like a moodier version of “Maniac” from Flashdance.

NEWS IN BRIEF

  • Azealia Banks says Iggy Azalea doesn’t care about black people because she’s not speaking out about the Michael Brown and Eric Garner killings. [Gawker]
  • Azalea, in turn, fired back at Azealia. (Gotta love the assonance, consonance, and overall alliteration of this feud.) [NME]
  • One more thing about Azalea: Nick Jonas will open for her on tour next year. [Idolator]
  • Ariana Grande got smacked in the face by an angel at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. [Refinery29]
  • Lady Gaga opened up this week about being raped by a record producer at age 19 but squashed Kesha’s lawyer’s assertion that the producer was Dr. Luke. [TMZ]
  • Country hitmakers Brooks & Dunn have reunited after just four years apart for a Vegas residency with Reba McEntire. [Rolling Stone]
  • Backstreet Boys will release a documentary next year. [BSB]
  • K. Michelle’s album Anybody Wanna Buy A Heart is streaming, and it certainly deserves a few spins. [MTV]
  • “I Dreamed A Dream” singer Susan Boyle has her first boyfriend at age 53, which has to warm your heart a little bit. [Just Jared]

HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME

HOLD ON, WE’RE STILL GOING HOME