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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The 10 Best Singles of 2014

I think this year in mainstream pop culture will be remembered for two things: that it was absolutely dominated by females artists (at least seemingly more than normal), and that it was a really bad year for music. Now don't get me wrong, the two are not mutually exclusive. It is absolutely NOT the case that because there was more mainstream female artists with popular songs that that was the reason music this past year has been bad. I think that's just coincidental (especially considering Adele and Lorde is going to dominate my half-end year in review). But the fact remains, the past 12 months have not been very good, especially at the top. There was no clear but #1 song of the year, and even creating a top 5 was difficult. But with all of that being said, there still was some quality nuggets among the garbage that are worth talking about and worth listening to over and over again. Here are those nuggets and my list of The 10 Best Singles of 2014:

10) "Word Crimes" by "Weird Al" Yankovic

2014 was a huge year for "Weird Al". After having almost a 40 year career without having one of his albums hit #1 on the Billboard charts, he finally accomplished that feat when Mandatory Fun hit number one during the first week in August. This was helped by his 8 Videos in 8 Days campaign. By far and away the best single he released during that campaign was his parody of Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines". By going into specifics about grammar when trolling on the internet, "Word Crimes" was "Weird Al's brilliant attempt to both mock people who troll as well as people who call out others for their bad grammar.

9) "Problem" by Ariana Grande f/ Iggy Azalea

While Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" was the true Song of the Summer by being #1 on Billboard's Hot 100 for 7 straight weeks, the better song was the OTHER Iggy Azalea song of the summer. To my surprise, "Fancy" never hit #1 on the charts, but that doesn't take away from the quality from this throwback pop song. By having the saxophone being the main instrument for the hook and having a catchy chorus with nod to The Whisper Song, "Problem" solidly creeps its way into my Top 10.

8) "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift

I tried so hard to make sure "Shake It Off" didn't earn a place on my list, but it might be the single catchiest pop song ever created. The song is literally everywhere, probably playing on your favorite radio station right now, and yet it still isn't old or overplayed. While "Shake It Off" is a huge step back creatively for T-Swift after "Trouble", it's a song that I can't get out of my heard- no matter how hard I shake it off.

7) "Hideaway" by Kiesza

My brother has a theory that music is cyclical. This theory really came into prominence after La Roux's "Bulletproof". The notion is that kids who grew up on 80's and early 90's music are now becoming recording artists and will try to recreate the music they love as a child. While my brother's theory really hasn't really born out in mainstream culture, you do see little pocket's of this. Case in point, Keisza's "Hideaway" sounding like a throwback to early 90's dance pop.

6) "Come With Me Now" by Kongos

When I first heard Kongos' "Come With Me Now" in early May, I just assumed it would be The Song of the Summer a la Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" in 2013. Little did I know I wouldn't hear the song on the radio again for weeks and months. In a way that helped "Come With Me Now" as it didn't become overplayed. With rock music being dead in Pop Music for a few years now, it's interesting what non-Maroon 5 rock music dances on Rock's grave. A few years ago we got folk music like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers, and now we have songs like "Come With Me Now" and Milky Chance's "Stolen Dance"- rock songs from foreigners with low key beats and catchy tempos.

5) "Bang Bang" by Jessie J f/ Ariana Grande and Nicky Minaj

Jessie J really knows how to create a great and catchy pop song. She was the writer of  Miley Cyrus' "Party In The U.S.A." and her hit singles like "Price Tag" and "Domino" are solid as well. But her greatest song, and hopefully the song that will make her a household name, is "Bang Bang". The song also, by far and away, has the best verse Nicky Minaj has ever sung (i.e. a verse that's actually not terrible).

4) "Chandelier" by Sia / "Habits (Stay High)" by Tove Lo

There will always be backlashes to Bubble Gum Pop. At one point it was singer/songwriters like Vanessa Carlton and Anna Nalick and now it seems to be artists like Sia and Tove Lo. Grantland's Steven Hyden calls what these artists are doing "Grunge Pop"- dark songs with debauched lyrics. Don't get it twisted, Grunge Pop is still pop music, but it music that you don't have to be embarrassed about liking to your hipster friends.

3) "All About That Bass" by Meghan Trainor

If there was ever any evidence about the all reaching power of My Girl Adele in pop culture, it's Meghan Trainor. Trainor is the poppy version of Adele- a thick white girl with the voice of a Black Motown singer who just makes great songs. "All About That Bass" is a catchy anthem about female empowerment that you also can't stop dancing to when you're out.

2) "Cool Kids" by Echosmith

Ultimately, music is led and moves forward by The Youth. It's the reason The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were so popular in their heyday, it's why Boy Bands will never go away, and why we get awesome songs like "Cool Kids". No matter who you are, you can relate to themes of the song about feeling like an outsider. It doesn't hurt this Echosmith song that the message is bundled in a package that makes you want to listen to the song for hours on end.

1) "Turnt Down For What" by DJ Snake & Lil' John 

This may be somewhat of a controversial selection, but in a weak year, I think this club anthem needs to be the number #1 single of 2014. It's a song, that when played, forces you to immediately get yourself on the dance floor. Even if your co-worker is playing it on his iPhone next to you at work, you need to start grooving, The music video is the perfect fit for this song, because it is the embodiment of everything it represents: forcing average Joes to get off their ass and start breaking floors. There's a great article on Grantland entitled The Year The Song of the Summer Became Self Aware about songs like Iggy Azelea's "Fancy" and Magic's "Rude" dominating the radio this summer which helped "Turnt Down For What" become not only the true Song of the Summer, but the best single of 2014. 


- "Pompeii" by Bastille: This song would be the clear #1 single of the year if I literally hadn't heard it played in heavy rotation for 8 straight months. A good song now turned absolutely horrific thanks to overplay.

- "Don't" by Ed Sheeren: It would have earned a spot on this list had I actually wrote it a few weeks later. Although, it is a song about a guy getting pissed at a girl for "cheating" on him when she explicitly told him they weren't dating and that they were only hooking up, so maybe not. 

- "Fancy" by Iggy Azalea: I think this is a catchy song and I do enjoy it, but I also agree with people like Q-Tip and think it's wrong to praise a whitey for stealing hip hop like what she's doing it. It's one thing when guys like Eminem and Macklemore are using hip hop to tell their specific story, it's another when someone like Iggy Azalea blatantly rips off the art form to give people what they think they want. 

- "Boom Clap" by Charli XCX: The song meant to be the pop song you listened to because you were sick of the overplayed songs became the song you were sick of in the first place. 

- "Happy" by Pharrell Williams: It's hard for me to consider this song a 2014 song when it was first released to a movie that came out in July of 2013 and was also nominated for an Oscar in 2013.

- "Yellow Flicker Beat" by Lorde: I can't tell if this is just a song that I really like right now but will forget about in 2 months, or a song that's really worthy of making a Top 10 list.



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