It’s that time of the year already! My favourite part of the year when I get to countdown the best songs of 2015. Let’s not lie…these countdowns are completely subjective and obviously depend on personal taste. For example, if you came here looking for grunge you will most likely be very disappointed. But the purpose of this list is just to celebrate some of the best (in my opinion) pop songs of the year. Giving kudos where kudos is due. So please feel free to disagree, comment and post your own lists. Full disclosure “Uptown Funk” does not…I repeat…not feature in the list. Before you bite my head off, please note that it came out in the UK last November and featured in my Best Songs of 2014. Ok now that’s out of the way, if you don’t mind, I’d like to kick off this years top 100 on a slightly sombre note:
After the revived success of her 2013 track “Wings” in the UK this year on the back of that Lloyds horse story advert, Birdy teamed up with Hertfordshire newcomer Rhodes to pen this haunting ballad. If you’re feeling like you want to feel some feels, I’d recommend watching this live version of “Let It All Go“. It literally is spellbinding!
When Miley dropped her Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz album at the end of August reactions varied from horrified stupification to dumb fascination. While the album could have done with some judicious slicing, this confessional mid tempo ballad is one of the moments that really works. The spoken verses sound like a conscious stream of thought which allows Miley to air exactly what she thinks of her overbearing lover (N.B. if it’s written about Liam Hemsworth, he could never be too overbearing!)
This stellar piano ballad starts subdued and eventually evolves into a powerhouse tearjerker. Not only does it show lead singer Olly Alexander’s vocals at their very best but it also caps off a stupendous year for the Years and Years boys.
Late in 2015 Cee-Lo decided to drop this uplifting tribute to New Orleans which celebrates life and sends a universal message about finding light in darkness. From anyone else it may have come across as cheesy, from Cee-Lo it’s gold.
The former Oasis frontman returned this year to remind us all why he is still the best. A classy and classic example of Noel Gallagher’s supreme songwriting “Riverman” stands tall among Oasis’ back catalogue.
Rudimental decamped to Jamaica to record most of their current album We the Generation and nowhere does it show more than on brotherhood anthem “Lay It All On Me”. It may not have been released in time to become a summer smash but its steel drums and keyboard synths have served to remind us all of those hot, lazy days all throughout quarter four.
Never since Alicia Keys has the world been more excited by a new R&B artist and it’s no wonder when the effortlessly smooth 19-year old Canadian dropped the slow-burning, introvert anthem of the 2015 as her first single. “Here” serves as the perfect antidote to all those Katy Perry and Rihanna party jams and has managed to make staying at home alone cool again (if it ever was before…)
As it turned out, Selena Gomez’ second solo studio album Revival was very aptly titled. Truth be told, she has never sounded more engaged with her music, especially after the samey Stars Dance. “Same Old Love” sees her experimenting with styles different to her typical EDM, incorporating a wonky-piano loop and finger click beat. It almost sounds like she’s talking about being sick of her old EDM style rather than an old flame.
18-year old Swedish pop star and former winner of Sweden’s Got Talent, Zara Larsson, has slowly but surely been positioning herself for world domination over the past couple of years, having already conquered Scandinavia and most of Europe. “Never Forget You” was a great introduction to the star-in-the-making and Larsson is my top tip to be massive in 2015. Expect big things.
Despite being cool for the summer, Demi Lovato brought on a heatwave with the first single from her fifth studio album Confident. She ensured we all had a hot, hot summer with this saucy comeback single, possibly the cheekiest, bi-curious jam since “I Kissed a Girl”.
As soon as I heard “Glitterball” I was instantly reminded of my summer holiday Croatia. Blue skies, crystal waters and beautiful, tanned people. “Glitterball” picks up right from where “Changing” finished in that it’s a colossal, drum and bass fueled holiday anthem with some hella powerhouse vocals from Henderson.
After the disappointingly generic “Body Talk”, Foxes made a proper comeback with the wistful “Better Love”. Her soaring, ethereal vocals make this one of her most effective and heartbreaking tracks to date.
Little Mix have gone from strength to strength since winning the UK X Factor and “Love Me Like You” is one of their poppiest and funniest efforts to date. This time round they went all retro with some ace syncronised dancing and tongue-in-cheek lyrics. It’s like a flashback to the good old days of Spice Girls. In fact you could say that it’s Little Mix’s “Stop”.
As already stated, Miley’s latest studio effort was a psychedelic, messy effort but it did feature one relatively sane track which stood out among all the madness. Oh and it’s apparently about Ariana Grande. Ain’t that sweet.
Simon Cowell’s Syco record label heralded the start of summer with this its first foray into Calypso tropical house. “When the Beat Drops Out” is as smooth as a margarita and features what seems like the vast majority of all the steel drums in Trinidad and Tobago.
Meghan Trainor proved she was onto a winner with her doo-wop stylings by continuing her winning streak all throughout 2015. “Dear Future Husband” may have come under fire for its “aggresively heteronnormative message” (good god…) but if you don’t take life too seriously like me, you’ll appreciate the catchiness of it all.
Right it’s here “can’t hold it back anymore”. The conclusion of Diary of a Pop Fan’s countdown of the best songs of 2014 is here! Let’s get straight into it:
20) Mark Ronson Feat. Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk
A late but great entry into the best of 2014 chart. “Uptown Funk” wasn’t even meant to be on sale in the UK until January but it was rush released after X Factor contestant Fleur East gave a stonking performance of the track on the UK show, sending her version soaring to the No.1 spot on iTunes. “Uptown Funk” shot straight to No.1 of course and is currently sitting at No.2 in the US. It also currently holds the title of all time most streamed song in a single week in the UK, having been streamed a total of 2.49 million times.
19) Paloma Faith – Only Love Can Hurt Like This
Before 2014 Paloma had been quietly getting by in the music industry, releasing two commercially and critically successful albums but had never experienced much success in the singles charts or on mainstream radio. “Only Love Can Hurt Like This” changed all of that. It quickly scaled the UK singles charts and became her breakthrough hit in Oceania, peaking at No.1 in Australia and No.3 in New Zealand. The Motown brassy production makes this a firmly throwback piece but her powerful vocal performance sets her apart from the pack.
18) Shakira – La La La (Brazil 2014)
Shakira’s career has been linked to the World Cup since 2006 when her hip-swivelling masterpiece “Hips Don’t Lie” became the unofficial anthem of the football tournament and went on to become one of the biggest selling of the decade. On the back of this success, Shakira was asked to write the official World Cup anthem for the World Cup 2010 in South Africa which resulted in the ludicrously catchy “Waka Waka” which even had its own dance moves. This too received critical praise and managed to become one of the most popular singles ever and the video to this day is still the 6th most viewed on YouTube having been viewed a colossal 684,000,000 times. So it was only natural that Shakira release another crowd-rousing anthem for the World Cup this time round. The single was originally released as “Dare (La La La)” and serves as the opener for her tenth self-titled studio album. This original version has already been a moderate hit in many European countries, but it wasn’t until Shakira released the reworked version “La La La (Brazil 2014)” that the song started turning heads. The secret to the success of most pop songs is simplicity and repetition. Both “Hips Don’t Lie” and “Waka Waka” have catchy repetitive earworm choruses and “La La La (Brazil 2014)” also puts a big fat tick in that box. You don’t even have to speak a word of English to understand the repetitive shouting of la la la la la in the chorus, which is reminiscent of a football chant. This also highlights another reason why FIFA relentlessly champion the gravity-defying belly dancer with goat-like vocals: her cross-culture multilingual appeal. Whilst other singers lend themselves better to certain markets, Shakira manages to sell record in every corner of the globe. In “La La La (Brazil 2014)” Shakira’s appeal is infinitely enhanced by the up-to-date production, which plays on the electronic trends which are currently prevalent in the music charts. This tune was everywhere this summer to such an extent that it almost qualifies as aural assault.
17) Ariana Grande Feat. Iggy Azalea – Problem
“Problem” marked the start of an amazing year for the Florida-born starlet but apparently she didn’t even want to include it on her album. Grande reportedly had to be convinced by studio producers to release it but such is often the way with megahits. Their sound is so fresh that some people are unwilling to take the gamble and release them for fear of a massive flop. Luckily, Grande grew a pair and “Problem” became a massive hit for her, peaking at No.2 in the US and at No.1 in the UK. The infectious saxophone loop juxtaposes perfectly with Big Sean’s whispered “I got one less problem without you” hook. The addition of woman of the moment Iggy Azalea, who contributes a snappy rap verse, is just the icing on this popalicious cake.
16) Taylor Swift – Blank Space
Taylor Swift’s foray into electropop has been a resounding success with her first two singles hitting No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and charting top 4 in the UK. She also became the first woman to succeed herself at the top of the US charts in all its 56 year history when “Blank Space” knocked “Shake It Off” off the top spot. The genius behind Swift’s sonic rehabilitation lies in the naturalness of it all. In the hands of a less skilled musician the move from country to pop to 80’s synthpop would have sounded forced or at least been a little clunky, but Taylor is such a master of her craft that she is able to make her continuous evolution seem so natural, even inevitable. “Blank Space” is simultaneously on trend and innovative and, what’s more, lyrically it satirises Swift’s image as a man-eater. It’s really the best thing that she could have done at this point in time.
15) Kiesza – Hideaway
Riding on the wave of dance/house infused No.1’s Kiesza arrived to the UK in early 2014 with her hypnotising debut single “Hideaway” which firmly channelled 90’s deep house and dance diva records. The minimal chorus consists mostly of yelps and oohs but is offset beautifully by the chunky verses which, driven along by the addictive bassline and trance-influenced backing beat, lend a certain urgency and drama to the song. Dance perfection.
14) Sia – Chandelier
It feels like Sia has been around on the sidelines for ages, lurking in the shadows while writing mega-smash after mega-smash for some of the biggest names in pop like Katy Perry and Britney. It was quite easy to forget that Sia actually produced solo material for herself before becoming such a prolific songwriter. That is until “Chandelier”. The track itself is genius. It details the highs and lows of an alcoholic party girl and is clearly autobiographical when you take into account Sia’s past troubles. “Chandelier” was originally written by Sia for Rihanna but she decided to keep it for herself when she realised how important and personal it was. The unique sonic combo of electropop, military drums and reggae influences really helps “Chandelier” stand out from the pack and Sia’s lack of cultivated public image (she refuses to face the camera when she performs the song) adds further to the intrigue, making “Chandelier” one of the most truly fascinating pop songs of our time.
13) Pharrell – Happy
Ok so this song should be a lot higher in the list if were talking about the songs that defined 2014 but to be honest it was hard enough for me to place it this high. Obviously there is something about “Happy” which connected with people on a very personal level. Why else would it have sold such a shedload and inspired so many parodies? But, for me, that connection is ruined when a song is played ad nauseum, which “Happy” undoubtedly was. When it came out would I have predicted that it would equal records held by the almighty Beatles? Never in this world. The idea of “Happy” being of that standard is frankly ludicrous but nevertheless it did manage to top the UK chart on three separate occasions and was literally unavoidable for the first part of the year. It is probably inevitable that people grow sick of such an omnipresent force and, really, it has nothing to do with Pharrell that I dislike it so much now. But it has reached the level of annoyance where, ironically, it makes me unhappy now.
12) George Ezra – Budapest
Sometimes simplicity is the best policy and George Ezra certainly took note of this fact when writing what has now become his signature hit “Budapest”. The obviousness of the “ooh” hook does nothing to diminish its effectiveness and the track quietly chugs along with soft guitar strumming and light instrumentation while Ezra’s bassy voice washes over you. Despite its deliciously infectious hooks, “Budapest” has an organic feel which opens up its appeal to indie kids as well as easy listening parents.
11) Robin Schulz Feat. Lilly Wood and the Prick – Prayer In C
I have no clue how Robin Schulz managed to hear the original version of “Prayer in C”, which is an innocuous little ditty by the low profile French/Israeli folk pop duo Lilly Wood and the Prick (interesting choice of name), but I’m very glad he did. While the original of the song is a slow, ponderous tune, the remix brings it to life and highlights the powerful, tragic lyrics. What a difference a light dance beat makes. The newly remixed “Prayer in C” became a massive summer smash all throughout Europe, reaching No.1 in over 25 countries.
10) Sam Smith – Stay With Me
“Money on My Mind” may have been his first solo UK No.1 single but “Stay With Me” is undoubtedly the song which raised his profile to stratospheric proportions. It was his first international hit, peaking at No.2 in the US and top ten in 12 countries. “Stay With Me” also helped cement Smith as a male soul diva who is comfortable in showing his fragility. The song is about pleading with a one night stand to stay with him which, if done by anyone else would be pretty creepy, but because its Sam Smith its ok for some reason. He’s the sensitive type don’t you know? The clincher is the soulful gospel choir crescendo which lifts the song towards the end to its dramatic conclusion. Gospel choirs can either do one of two things: make a song more epic or make it camp and corny. Smith’s sincerity ensures that it is the former.
9) Katy B – Crying for No Reason
Katy B’s “Crying for No Reason” stood out in the first quarter of 2014 as one of the strongest ballads release in years for several reasons:
a) It’s lyrically very strong – “I never faced all the pain I caused, now the pain is hitting me full force”. The lyrics sound more like poetry than those of a pop song. She really poured everything into making “Crying for No Reason” one of the most truthful and relatable songs in recent memory.
b) It’s fantastically produced – the track builds and builds into a mammoth crescendo combining stomping beats and crashing drums with slinky synths. With different production this could have been a Celine Dion-esque snoozefest but instead it sounds thoroughly contemporary and unique.
c) Katy’s vocals are amazing. I’d never actually taken that much notice of her singing before this but she really delivers the track with feeling and powerful vocals.
Basically it’s just awesome.
8) Katy Perry Feat. Juicy J – Dark Horse
After purchasing Prism last year I immediately picked out “Dark Horse” as one of my highlights from the album. There was something special about this track with its sleazy beat and trap influences. It didn’t sound like anything else in the charts, heck it didn’t even have a proper chorus. It wasn’t just something new for Perry, but something entirely progressive and different altogether. I love it when pop stars take a risk but I wasn’t sure whether Perry would be brave enough to release it as a single. But after the relative flop of “Unconditionally” she didn’t have much else to lose and decided to gamble on a “Dark Horse”. Luckily for her, the track was just that and became a massive shock hit, peaking at No.1 in the US and finishing the year as the second best seller of the year. I personally think it would have been even bigger if the video different. Quite frankly it’s just stupid and the song has nothing to do with Ancient Egypt anyway. A more witchcraft themed video would have been so much better, but who am I to question the almighty California Gurl?
7) Taylor Swift – Shake It Off
Even though she really hasn’t been country for several albums now “Shake It Off” was just so pop it was impossible to deny that Swift had abandoned her roots, so she decided to make a statement of it. Declaring 1989 as her “first documented pop album”, she launched the feisty “Shake It Off” as the lead single pre-empting the backlash from her country puritan fans and simultaneously shrugging off the haters who had been accusing her of being a maneating hoebag over the past year. What’s good about “Shake It Off” is that it is a straightforward pop song with a catchy beat and an on-trend sax line. However, on closer inspection it has several layers and the seemingly bland lyrics manage to resonate more and more with every listen. This is just a masterclass is good pop.
6) Meghan Trainor – All About that Bass
Wow this year has been varied! Here’s another genre for you: doo-wop calypso rock ‘n’ roll. Yeesh these names are just getting longer and longer. But really the success of “All About that Bass” was assured from the word go due to its positive message about body image inspired by Trainor’s own struggles with self-acceptance. Sure enough “All About that Bass” managed to spend eight straight weeks on top of the US Billboard chart and holds the joint longest stint at No.1 in 2014 in the UK at four weeks. “Every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top” wins the award for most uplifting line of 2014.
5) Ed Sheeran – Thinking Out Loud
A fan favourite from the start “Thinking Out Loud” managed to chart in the UK top 30 well before its eventual release in November. It first entered at No.26 and stayed in the top 40 for 19 straight weeks before topping the chart which earned it the record for the slowest climb to No.1 ever. It has also since become Ed Sheeran’s highest charting single in the US to date, having peaked at No.4 so far, but I think we all know that it’s going to be a number one once it catches on with a bit more airplay. This is the type of song which lives on forever and will be played at weddings for years and years to come.
4) Enrique Iglesias Feat. Descember Bueno and Gente de Zona – Bailando
Every year usually has that one big exotic track which transcends all culture and language to become a truly global smash. “Bailando” was that hit of 2014. Obviously not even Enrique expected it to be that successful, releasing it as the sixth single from his current album SEX + LOVE. If anyone gets to a sixth single it’s usually a pretty tepid affair, but it seems that he saved the best till last and it really is his best song since “Hero”. It handily sums up all the fun and sexiness of Latin music in three and a half dynamic minutes of pure Latin pleasure. Songs that are powerful enough to overcome language barriers are definitely few and far in between but it helps that Enrique looks incredibly swoon-worthy in the sultry video which has now been viewed over 644 million times. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that it features an all-female Flamenco and a modern street dance troupe in an epic dance off which would only happen in 2014 Spain where, incidentally, “Bailando” was No.1 for 20 straight weeks! DAAAAAAMN!
3) Ella Henderson – Ghost
On the X Factor 2012 Ella Henderson was one of the talent show’s most promising alumni but she got majorly screwed over, finishing in sixth place despite being favourite to win. Most would have written her off there and then but if pop teaches us anything it’s to expect the unexpected. Ella signed to Cowell’s record label and started writing songs with none other than Ryan Tedder from OneRepublic who was behind a lot of Adele’s last album. Perhaps for that reason the bluesy, rootsy vibe of “Ghost” echoes some of Adele’s previous singles and fills the gap left by her absence. The dark, brooding lyrics combined with elements of mysticism helped propel this fantastic single to the top of the charts and solidified it as a classic, unforgettable debut.
2) Idina Menzel – Let It Go
Sometimes you can’t predict when a simple song will turn into a phenomenon. Something about Frozen captured people’s imaginations and, ironically, warmed their hearts. “Let It Go” is the main song on the Frozen soundtrack and is sung by Queen Elsa after everyone discovers that she has mystical icy powers. The song really touches people’s hearts because of the deeper meaning within its lyrics. The message of “Let It Go” is one of liberation and self-acceptance which is very relevant in today’s society which has helped it transcend the boundaries of being on an animated film soundtrack. The universal appeal and enduring popularity of the song is also due to the fantastic voice of Idina Menzel who uses every inch of her theatrical experience and talent to squeeze every last piece of emotional depth out of the lyrics. For all these reasons it’s fitting that it won an Oscar for Best Song and became the most successful Disney song ever, selling over 3.5 million copies in the US alone. 2014 was definitely a Frozen year.
And the number one is……
1) Clean Bandit Feat. Jess Glynne – Rather Be
It’s rare that the song of the year is released so early in the year but “Rather Be” managed to brighten up everybody’s January and get the year off to a flying start. It dominated the apex of the singles chart for four straight weeks, the joint longest stint atop the charts of 2014 and sold over 1.25 million copies in the UK alone, finishing the year as the second best seller behind “Happy”. It also became a crossover hit and cracked the top ten in the US, demonstrating the songs universal appeal. The unique fusion of classical and dance genres make “Rather Be” the defining sound of 2014, combining joyous strings and potent synths. Essentially Clean Bandit have redefined the love song in a way which doesn’t make you want to puke. The lyrics are extremely straightforward but they are brought to life by Jess Glynne’s powerful vocal performance and the impeccable production. The true revelation of 2014.
Thank you for checking out my Best Songs of 2014 list. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did making it. Here’s hoping for a few “Rather Bes” and “Ghosts” in 2015!!
September has been kind to us and here’s 11 of the hottest tracks at the moment:
11) One Direction – Fireproof
Sorry for the rant but One Direction are one of those annoying boy bands whose careers are primarily fuelled by hysterical teenagers who are in love with at least one of the members of the band. I didn’t like them on the X Factor and I like them just as much in real life. Of all the acts which have emerged from the X Factor in 2010 (let alone from all the other series) One Direction are one of my least favourite. However…..despite my frank disdain for all things One Direction I do believe that they have been very well managed. This is one of the times when Simon Cowell has managed to tune into the public psyche very well. The world was missing a soulful boy band à la Take That and One Direction fit the bill perfectly. Songs like “Story of my Life” did actually manage to give the band a shred of credibility and even made hardened haters like me begin to take notice. So for their fourth album, which is imaginatively titled Four, One Direction have decided to pursue the “Story of my Life” avenue further with the first promotional single “Fireproof”. Although essentially it has only been released to whet the public’s appetite before the release of the lead single proper “Steal My Girl”, I’m betting “Fireproof” turns out to be much better quality. For one thing the group’s harmonies on “Fireproof” are the best they have ever been and the chorus is immediately catchy. The whole piece has a chilled out ghostly feel to it It has made me slightly rethink my attitude towards One Direction. Might have a sneaky snoop at the album when it comes out and decide whether 1D are worth bothering with after all.
10) Meghan Trainor – Dear Future Husband
I did want to put this one higher in the list because it is undeniably a stonking jam of epic proportions. However, I’ve been slightly put off because of the backing beat’s creeping similarity to Olly Murs’ UK No.1 single “Dance with Me Tonight”. It’s such a shame because the lyrics are witty and well written, but the similarity is too clear to overlook. If no-one picks up on this one I’ll be very shocked as its much more obvious than, say, the similarity between “Blurred Lines” and “Got to Give It Up” or “Brave” and “Roar”. This is literally the same beat. I’d be willing to give Meghan the benefit of the doubt as she may not have ever heard of Olly Murs, he has only had the one hit with “Troublemaker” in the US after all. Plus she clearly doesn’t need to copy other people as demonstrated by the success of “All About that Bass”. I’ll let you decide whether she should be condemned and cast asunder.
9) Jennifer Lopez Feat. Iggy Azalea – Booty
What do you do when your album takes a massive belly flop and disappears from the charts only a few weeks after release? What do you do when your last couple of singles failed to garner any radio airplay or chart success? You pull out the big guns, that’s what! And we all know what JLO has got some pretty big ones that she ain’t shy about showing off. Oh yes and you ditch Pitbull because, well been there done that three times (“On the Floor”, “Dance Again”, “Live It Up”), and rope in popstar of the minute, the generously proportioned Iggy Azalea, to add some extra jelly for shakin’. As if JLO didn’t already have enough. The thing is that JLO didn’t even want to include “Booty” on her album in the first place. She thought that the title was too crass and was only persuaded to include it by her children after playing it to them in the car. But really she should be very glad she did record it because it’s the only single on the album that is capable of reviving the flagging sales. “Booty” is, of course, lyrically on trend and acts as the successor to Miley Cyrus’ twerking-inspired hits of last year while she is busy preparing another horrifyingly fascinating LP for us all to enjoy. It also follows on from Jason Derulo’s middle-eastern inspired sound, particularly “Talk Dirty”. Basically, should you choose to look beyond the tacky glitz of “Booty”, you will undoubtedly see that it is nothing more than a cold and calculated career move, but with both JLO’s and Azalea’s booties in the way now, who is going to bother looking past when the view is so good.
8) Jessie Ware – Say You Love Me
Jessie Ware is one of those artists who might have slipped under your radar if you haven’t been paying close attention to the British music scene over the past couple of years. Her debut album Devotion managed to peak top 5 in 2012 despite failing to yield a top 40 single and was heralded by critics as one of the best releases of the year. Now Jessie is back and has been slowly teasing the release of her latest soon-to-be masterpiece Tough Love throughout 2014. The campaign started with the release of the fantastic lead single “Tough Love” which managed to peak at No.34, becoming Ware’s first top 40 single, and now she has released the video for the ethereal “Say You Love Me”. The sparse styling of the single lets Jessie’s measured song writing breathe like a fine wine and the Ed Sheeran-assisted epic choral line around the 3:15 mark gives me some hope as to the single’s commercial appeal. This could be the breakthrough Jessie’s been looking for.
7) La Roux – Kiss and Not Tell
“Kiss and Not Tell” is the second single from La Roux’s already underappreciated sophomore effort Trouble in Paradise and probably the only song on the album which is capable of reviving the album’s flagging sales. “Kiss and Not Tell” boasts a warmer and sunnier disposition in comparison with, say, “Bulletproof” or “In for the Kill”, but manages to retain La Roux’s quirky signature style. In fact, “Kiss and Not Tell” is an indisputable pop gem which is more than capable of standing on its own two feet. The perky 80’s synth line froths and bubbles throughout the track resulting in a peppy, uplifting bounciness which should provide for perfect radio fodder. After all, in a music world dominated by crashing beats, drops and overproduction, La Roux stands out for their uncomplicated hooks. Sometimes the simplest tracks are the best.
6) Chris Brown Feat. Ariana Grande – Don’t Be Gone Too Long
I did swear that I’d never listen to another Chris Brown song after “the Rihanna incident”, but seeing as pop-starlet of the moment Ariana Grande has a prominent part on this one I can just ignore Brown and gorge on the Grande goodness. “Don’t Be Gone Too Long” grabs you from the very beginning with that throbbing 808 and Grande and Brown’s perfectly blended voices. Hold that thought, bloody hell their voices blend so well. That’s disturbing. It’s as if they were the male and female counterparts of the same person. Erm…tangent alert. Sorry. Anyway, “Don’t Be Gone Too Long” confirms my belief that anything that Grande is on currently is going to be ridiculously good. Plus, the Game of Thrones-inspired video is pretty exciting. “Don’t Be Gone too Long” is a moody, pensive affair which manages to stay the right side of epic without straying into emo territory. Good for them.
5) Mary Lambert – Secrets
Best known as the female singer in hip-hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ same-sex marriage themed hit single “Same Love”, Mary Lambert is now on the verge of releasing her first major label album Heart on My Sleeve. On lead single “Secrets”, you can’t fail to notice Lambert’s barely-concealed glee in revealing all her deepest darkest secrets in her Lily Allen-esque sing-song voice. This refreshingly candid attitude is reminiscent of Meghan Trainor’s recent booty-themed “All About that Bass” which could be a good move for Lambert as it seems like self-acceptance tracks of this ilk are the order of the day for late 2014. I don’t know what’s so wrong about using an analogue clock though. Still the cheerful trumpeting and good dose of comic relief will surely help this become a breakthrough smash for Lambert. Diary of a Pop Fan likes a popstar with humility and as long as her tracks stay this smart and catchy, Lambert could become a permanent fixture in pop, especially with a video that features her dressed as a Nordic opera singer reaching notes that only bats can appreciate.
4) Nicole Scherzinger – On the Rocks
First things first, the title of Nicole’s new album has been announced as being Big Fat Lie, which is possibly one of the most ridiculous album titles I’ve ever heard and suggests that man-celebrating lead single “Your Love” was pretty misleading as to the lyrical direction of the album. Sounds like it’s a bit more heartbreak-centric than “Your Love” would have us believe. And, if second single “On the Rocks” is anything to go by, our Scherzy has been having a pretty rough time of it. “On the Rocks” is a mid-tempo ballad with a prominent, thumping drum line which lyrically relies on the repeated use of the line “serving a break-up on the rocks”. Now correct me if I’m wrong but is our Scherzy trying to make a pun here? A relationship can be “on the rocks”, meaning going through a rough patch, and a drink can also be “on the rocks”, meaning with ice. Oh Scherzy you’re such a wit! Joking aside, “On the Rocks” is a solid piece of R&B pop which will hopefully give Nicole’s career some badly needed street cred. I’m slightly doubtful of its ability to light up the charts though as I don’t think it’s showy or annoying enough, which is a very good thing in terms of quality but not so good in terms of chart position.
3) Mary J. Blige Feat. Disclosure – Right Now
This much is clear. Someone obviously sat up and took notice of Mary J’s collaboration with Disclosure on the exhilarating club smash “F for You”. And thank god they did! That’s why Mary has decided to collaborate with Disclosure again to produce the lead single from her upcoming 13th studio album The London Sessions. However, “Right Now” isn’t the “F for You” rehash that it could have been. For one thing it’s heavier on the lyrics (Mary certainly had something to do with that) and there’s much more personality, something which can easily get diluted amidst the overpowering Disclosure-y synths and effectively convert the singer into a robot. Luckily, if anyone has enough personality to withstand such an onslaught, it’s Mary J. “Right Now” is the most exciting lead single she has released since “Family Affair” and proves that Blige is still as relevant today as she was in 1992 which makes us very excited for The London Sessions.
2) Charli XCX – Break the Rules
Having already had a hand in two of the biggest hits of the year “Fancy” and “Boom Clap”, as well as on Icona Pop’s smash hit “I Love It”, anything Charli XCX releases now is sure to be a massive hit. Luckily, “Break the Rules” is pretty awesome so I can definitely make my peace with hearing this on repeat for the whole winter. I think “Break the Rules is much more representative of who Charli XCX is than “Boom Clap” as well. She has a very British rough-around-the-edges attitude going on which has obviously translated well into record sales across the pond as well as on her home turf. “Break the Rules” is also infinitely more fun than “Boom Clap” and plays on the classic bad girl rebel at school persona which has become almost a stock character in pop culture. This has all the hallmarks of a huge global smash and that sick, throbbing backing beat would make even a nun feel like grinding up and down on a pole. Fact!
1) Ella Henderson – Glow
The past couple of months have seen X Factor finalist Ella Henderson transcended her roots and become a bonafide popstar in her own right which is all down to her dedication, songwriting skills and admirable pipes. Now, as she is looking to solidify her position as the new Leona Lewis, she sneaks into epic ballad territory with latest single “Glow” which will almost certainly keep her from descending into one-hit-wonder territory. This one is more of a grower than “Ghost” and features a weird sighing sound playing during the verses which is slightly reminiscent of a pedophile deep breathing at the other end of the phone. Despite all that however, it works. And very well at that. After a few listens the crashing, bombastic chorus will get lodged in your cranium. In fact, you can even see her performing it in a long flowing dress with moody, spectral lighting (in reference to the name “Glow”) on the X Factor in a few weeks. It’s also kind of Halloween-y in so far as it’s got a spooky vibe going on. Basically, it’s a great song and its release has been time to perfection. All hail the new X Factor queen (sorry Cheryl).
And, seeing as it’s No.1 on Diary of a Pop Fan’s list, here’s a bonus acoustic version:
Here is the long-awaited conclusion to the Top 32 songs of April to June this year. Get ready for the big leagues. It’s 20-1!!!
20) Lily Allen – Our Time
Lily Allen was back with a bang this year with her hit and miss third studio album Sheezus. The gobby Londoner’s new musical offerings turned out to be even more hard-hitting than before, which meant that third single “Our Time” stood out as one of the more straightforward pop songs in a sea of social criticism. But “Our Time” is much more than a simple piece of pop nonsense, it’s a glimmer of the old Allen who used her lyrical sing song style to tell stories about scenarios that everybody has experienced at one point in their lives. This Allen was instantly relatable and likeable due to her down to earth attitude. “Our Time” proves that the Allen, who we all loved and admired, is not dead. She’s alive and well on this euphoric celebration of life which serves as an instant pick-me-up after a hard day at work. The track is also infinitely enhanced by Lily’s spaced out vocals which meld together with the synth-driven backing beat to create a relaxed trippy feeling.
19) Kylie Minogue – I Was Gonna Cancel
Kylie jumped on the Pharrell-bandwagon this year with the second single from her twelfth studio album Kiss Me Once. “I Was Gonna Cancel” is a funky slice of disco inspired pop with squelchy beats to boot. However, sadly it failed to become a hit for the Australian pop veteran, peaking at a disappointing 59 in the UK charts. I have no clue why everyone seems to be hating on Kylie at the minute but it’s sad to see music of this quality go unappreciated. Don’t worry Kylie! Diary of a Pop Fan loves you
18) Lady Gaga – G.U.Y (Girl Under You)
Another example of a former all-conquering global star who has been going through a rough patch recently. “G.U.Y” was selected as the third single from Gaga’s ARTPOP with the view of rejuvenating the current album campaign after the tepid reception received by former singles “Do What U Want” and “Applause”. Unfortunately, “G.U.Y” was unable to help Gaga’s career and actually became her lowest peaking single worldwide. On paper however, “G.U.Y” seems like a sure-fire hit: the song was co-written by producer of the moment Zedd, it’s actually one of Gaga’s cleverest songs in so far as it manages to celebrate the subversion of sexual and gender norms and it features some killer synths and a grinding, dirty, dirty bass. But sadly the record buying public is often very unpredictable and it seems that Gaga’s once Midas touch has turned to poison.
17) Iggy Azalea Feat. Charli XCX – Fancy
24-year old Sydney-born rapper Iggy Azalea had been knocking on the door of utter world domination for over a year and had even managed to bag herself 3 consecutive UK top 20’s before she went stratospheric with mega-smash “Fancy”. Upon its release, the US instantly fell in love with Azalea’s swag fiercely-real sass and the song quickly soared to the top of the Billboard Chart. It’s no surprise that “Fancy” has become the all-conquering hit that it is, seeing as it’s basically Fergie’s “Glamorous” mark 2, which notably also reached No.1 in the US. However, Iggy has succeeded in updating the sound and the chemistry between her and Charli XCX only adds to the mix. But what really sells “Fancy” is the pulsing backing beat, which requires actual brain surgery to remove from your head.
16) Sky Ferreira – I Blame Myself
With the second single from her album Night Time, My Time Sky Ferreira proved that the ridiculously amazing “Everything is Embarrassing” was more than just a fluke. Fuelled by a stomping backing beat and Ferreira’s confessional, gritty lyrics, “I Blame Myself” stands out amongst the backdrop of superficiality for which the pop music industry is famous. On the electro synth track Sky faces her demons by admitting that she alone is responsible for her less than respectable public image. Honesty is all too rare in the music business, especially if it involves self-criticism and that’s part of the reason why Sky Ferreira is such a fascinating artist. There is no Beyoncé- esque aura of invincibility or Gaga-like illusions of grandeur. Sky Ferreira is simply a real person using music as her therapy and, as long as it remains such good quality, may the healing process continue.
15) Wisin Feat. Ricky Martin & Jennifer Lopez – Adrenalina
This high-profile collaboration might not be familiar to English-speakers, but has so far ruled the summer in Spanish-speaking territories. Puerto Rico met America when rapper Wisin teamed up with reliable hitmakers Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin on this irresistible fist-pumper and the result is the undeniable soundtrack to the ultimate summer holiday. You don’t have to speak a word of Spanish in order to be caught up in the infectious energy and adrenaline of the track. I defy you not to throw shapes immediately.
14) Sia – Chandelier
After spending the past couple of years writing for other artists and collaborating on big dance tunes, Sia finally rebooted her solo career this year, kicking off with the bombastic first single “Chandelier” from her forthcoming sixth studio album 1,000 Forms of Fear. The Australian songstress made good her return with this epic electronica-reggae fused jam which is impossible to ignore. Sia sounds like a wounded wolf on “Chandelier” as she howls away the pain inside over booming synths. If party girls needed a self-destruction anthem, here it is.
13) G.R.L – Ugly Heart
G.R.L are currently known for their guest appearance on the recent Pitbull single “Wild Wild Love”, but one listen to “Ugly Heart” proves that they are so much better than Pitbull’s corny lines. “Ugly Heart” was produced by Ke$ha collaborator Dr. Luke who chose to capitalise on the country EDM trend started by Avicii last year by knitting together the production with a prominent guitar line. The stomping beat lends pace to the track and the girls’ no s**t attitude turns this into a semi-feminist anthem. But what really makes this track stand out and gives me hope that G.R.L will have a bright future are the groups powerful, unique vocals which convey all the kick ass, sassy attitude of a woman who is calling out a no-good ugly hearted ex-boyfriend and reasserting the old adage that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
12) Mei Feingold – Same Heart
Billed as the Israeli Lady Gaga, Mei Feingold, who finished third on the Israeli Pop Idol, was immediately lauded as one of the favourites to win Eurovision this year. Her soaring, power-house vocals, the slick choreography and slow-burning, lazy guitar riff won over supporters in droves and the song was predicted to finish within the top 5 at the very least. However, in a shock result “Same Heart” went crashing out of the competition way before its time, not even reaching the Final and leaving Europe flabbergasted. One can only speculate as to why such an injustice was done to such a quality song and artist. Perhaps Feingold’s intense performance was not to Europe’s tastes (and Lady Gaga is the new Norah Jones). Maybe the bitter arsenic oozing from her voice left viewers intimidated, rather than moved. Maybe they felt overpowered by the rising, dramatic climax and melodrama. Maybe Mei’s uniquely deep voice made them believe that Eurovision had one Conchita too many this year. Either way, “Same Heart” will go down as the best Eurovision song never to reach the finals.
11) Ed Sheeran – Sing
Ed Sheeran could have gone one of two ways with the first single from his much-awaited second studio album: “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You”- esque rap mixed with R &B funk or soulful balladeering in the style of past hits such as “The A Team” and “Lego House”. The form Sheeran is on at the minute suggests that either would have worked, but in the end he decided to take a bigger risk and opted for the Pharrell-assisted “Sing”, which shot straight to the top of the charts earlier this month. Luckily for Sheeran, his Pharrell collab ended up being much more successful than Kylie’s and the rowdy chorus will no doubt have you singing your lungs out before too long.
10) Enrique Iglesias Feat. Descemer Bueno and Gente de Zona – Bailando
Despite falling slightly flat with his English language comeback this year, Enrique has been ruling the Spanish-language charts this summer and even managed to achieve his 26th Latin Airplay No.1 with “Bailando”, the sixth single of his tenth studio album Sex and Love. The track has also managed to find success in English-language charts as well, becoming one of the highest peaking Spanish tracks on the Billboard Hot 100 ever, having peaked at No.35 thus far. And it’s no wonder when Enrique so effortlessly channels fresh summery beats and generously spreads the warm, Latin rhythms across the globe. Also, don’t miss the sultry flamenco troupe dancing in the video. Spain’s tourist board will be sending flowers.
9) Kiesza – Hideaway
Canadian new-comer Kiesza appeared out of nowhere in April 2014 and managed to grab herself a UK No.1 record when “Hideaway” shot straight to the top of the charts and became the third fastest selling single of the year. Kiesza was apparently influenced by her mother’s love for 90’s dance when she was growing up, which ultimately led to the development of the deep-house flavoured “Hideaway”. The song has already stormed the charts worldwide and catapulted the Calgary-native to instant stardom. It’s not hard to see why either. With “Hideaway” Kiesza has managed to craft something that sounds simultaneously familiar and innovative. It’s one of those rare moments when the stars align, lightning strikes and pop perfection is created.
8) Rita Ora – I Will Never Let You Down
Rita Ora made good use of her former boyfriend producer and singer Calvin Harris on the first cut from her sophomore album. “I Will Never Let You Down” features the guitar-riff of the summer and a bouncy breakdown to boot, which helps to create a fresh smooth new sound for the Kosovo born starlet. The electro synth style suits her to a T as she purrs over the boisterous beat which is full to bursting with hooks. If there was ever a sure fire No.1, this was it.
7) Sam Smith – Stay With Me
Sam Smith managed to capitalise on the media attention surrounding his burgeoning career by providing the world with one of the most emotive ballads of the year. Sam’s voice has never sounded so rich and soul-drenched. Lyrically and sonically “Stay with me” is definitely back to basics, but instead of being a hindrance, the simplicity only enhances the beauty and effectiveness of the track. The stripped back backing drumming and the gospel-esque chorus helps make “Stay With Me” one of the most emotional tearjerkers of the year. The man can do no wrong.
6) Paloma Faith – Only Love Can Hurt Like This
Paloma Faith has never really been a singles artist, but people seem to buy her albums by the bucket load. However, this time something clicked and she finally managed to secure two top ten singles off one album with the sassy “Can’t Rely on You” and now “Only Love Can Hurt Like This”. In fact, the latter managed to out peak the former in a rare twist of events and became her biggest hit to date, peaking at No.6 on the UK charts. Obviously the public have taken a shine to Faith’s new Motown influenced sixties-style. After all, who could resist the combination of those power-house vocals with the stomping drumming and brassy instrumentation? Pure Bliss.
5) The Common Linnets – Calm after the Storm
The true winner of Eurovision 2014 and the most unique song in the competition this year. The Common Linnet’s country-bluegrass ditty stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the glitz and glamour of this year’s Eurovision entries and was the indisputable dark horse of the competition. It became a shock success and the Netherlands’ highest peaking entry since 1975, picking up an astonishing 238 points and finishing second. What’s more, immediately following Eurovision, “Calm after the Storm” managed to peak at No.9 on the UK singles chart, well out-peaking the winner Conchita Wurst, who entered at No.17 with “Rise like a Phoenix”. The key to the tunes’ success lies in the singer’s sincerity and the song’s authenticity. “Calm after the Storm” sounds like a genuine country hit and not just a flashy Eurovision show tune. In fact, it’s a shock that the Common Linnets even decided to enter Eurovision when “Calm after the Storm” would have most likely become a hit in Europe even without the publicity provided by the song contest. It has a classic feel to it, enhanced by the unassuming, plodding beat, warm gritty vocals and serene simplicity that are as welcome as a big warm hug when you come home after a hard day.
4) Mr Probz – Waves
It’s shaping up to be a good year for the Netherlands, with back to back Dutch tunes assaulting the top 5 of this chart. Mr Probz burst practically out of nowhere earlier this year after his song “Waves” was remixed by German producer Robin Schulz, which propelled the single to instant success across all of Europe. “Waves” has managed to peak at No.1 in Austria, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Switzerland and the UK as well as in many others and became a club smash worldwide. However, the genius of “Waves” is that Mr. Probz somehow managed to create musical onomatopoeia in so far as the relaxing, ensnaring dance beat and his soulful vocals wash over you like waves across the shore. Get smart people, it’s clearly the way forward.
3) Coldplay – A Sky Full of Stars
Coldplay never fail to deliver. Six albums in and they are still managing to rule the world with innovative tunes of relentlessly epic proportions which somehow succeed in appealing to every gender, age group and musical taste. “A Sky Full of Stars” shows the band at their stadium-filling best and proves that they can pull off songs that aren’t completely miserable as well. Chris Martin’s soaring vocals and piano-riffs never get old, especially when infused with some of producer-extraordinaire Avicii’s magic dust. However, Chris’ voice is definitive enough to not get washed away amidst the heavy production and the EDM festival-ready chorus. This is what bottled euphoria sounds like.
2) Ella Henderson – Ghost
What do you do when you fight through the stages of the X Factor each week, constantly being championed as a favourite, only to crash out in week 7? Do you crumble under the disappointment and fade away into obscurity never to be heard of again? Oh hell no! You immediately rope in unfailing hit maker Ryan Tedder to provide you with one of the best tracks of the year and prove that you were the rightful winner. Tedder’s gothic lyricism, storming piano line and thumping percussion are rife on “Ghost”, which is no bad thing, but can overwhelm certain artists. When you’re song contains words such as “creeping, sin, pain, hell, saint, pray, wash the pain, haunting, and demons”, it’s easy to fade under the melodrama. Not Ella though. She makes her own luck with “Ghost” and the track would be nothing without her bellowing, bluesy tones and the subtle bruised tone which lends the 18-year old a conviction well beyond her years. “Ghost” is a slow burning fireball which grows into a raging inferno and I have no qualms in saying that it is the best X Factor song since “Bleeding Love”. Possibly even better. After all, she even manages to fit in a sneaky pun thinking we wouldn’t notice. Give up the ghost. You’re too much Ella! Go on lass.
1) Ariana Grande Feat. Iggy Azalea – Problem
For those of you who haven’t heard of Ariana Grande, she is a 20 year old Florida-born singer who rose to fame in 2010 after portraying Cat Valentine on the Nickelodeon sitcom Victorious. The singer released her debut album Yours Truly in 2013 which peaked at No.1 in the US and produced several hit singles, including the easy-breezy “The Way”. The singer made a triumphal return earlier this year with her comeback single, the 90’s influenced “Problem”, which is currently sitting at No.2 in the US, just behind Iggy Azalea’s Fancy (a feat which allowed Azalea to become the first act since The Beatles to occupy the top 2 spots on the Billboard Chart with her first two releases). “Problem” has also already been a hit in Australia, Canada and most of Europe and is indisputably the song of summer 2014. Here’s why:
1) Grande’s power-house vocals – Contrary to many TV star-turned-musicians, Grande has an amazing voice which has the ability to soar higher than the empire state and does so freely on “Problem’s” bridge section.
2) The sexy saxophone loop – It’s official. Brass is back! Grande cleverly manages to cash in on this current pop trend on “Problem”, which gives the single a slightly sleazy sexiness.
3) Iggy Azalea’s short but sweet feature rap – Despite having been around for years, Iggy has only just achieved success in the US, meaning that Grande’s “Problem” couldn’t have come at a better time. Pop is in love with the way she spits out her syllables and anything she is on is destined for success.
4) Attitude – Grande’s got bags of it. Iggy’s got bags of it (must be 2 for 1 somewhere) and they got one less problem without you. No hanger-on loser man can bring them down. It’s practically a feminist rallying cry!
Basically “Problem’s” brilliance is a combination of all of the above and then some. Move over “Blurred Lines” there a new soundtrack of the summer in town.
So that’s it for the Top 32 of the Second Quarter of 2014. As always feel free to leave any comments on facebook or on this blog and thank you very much for reading.
Gather round dearies as Diary of a Pop Fan’s resident Pop Fortune Teller predicts five brand spanking new pop hits specifically for you lovely readers. I can read your palm afterwards if you want as well (so it’s a win-win situation):
1) Paloma Faith – Only Love Can Hurt Like This
After the Pharrellicious “Can’t Rely On You” Paloma is back with the second single off her album A Perfect Contradiction, which was just confirmed as having gone Gold for sales of over 100,000 copies in the UK alone. “Only Love Can Hurt Like This” is an immediate standout track from the album so it’s no wonder Paloma wanted it as her second single, and to top it off, the single has already entered the charts at No.50 well ahead of release. On “Only Love Can Hurt Like This” Paloma shows us the meaning of subtlety. She does have a tendency to over-sing slightly so it’s nice to see her giving a restrained vocal performance. In fact, it’s only at the two minute mark when Paloma ramps up the volume and shows us what she can do, with her vocals soaring over the brass accompaniment. The production of the song is very throwback, channelling Mowtown classics and making good use of horns and trumpets. Ladies and Gentlemen Miss Paloma has done it again.
2) Ella Henderson – Ghost
Little Ella Henderson has come a long way since she crashed out of the X Factor in the 7th round after losing the sing off to future winner and now-banned-from-Twitter loudmouth James Arthur. For starters she’s taken time to grow up a bit (when we saw her on the X Factor she was but a mere girl of 16) and chosen to take her time over her debut. Now she has matured into a confident 18 year old and has come back all guns blazing. There is a very epic Adele-ish vibe about her single “Ghost”. Perhaps it’s the soulful vocals? The Ryan Tedder production (he also co-wrote Leona’s “Bleeding Love”)? The gospel-inspired sing-a-long chorus? Or maybe it’s just one of the rare times when lightning strikes, everything comes together and an amazing song is born. One listen to that “Give up the ghost/ no more haunting” breakdown is all the confirmation you need! Friggin’ awesome.
3) G.R.L. – Ugly Heart
G.R.L is an American, Canadian, British girlband who are set to be big in 2014 having bagged a guest feature on Pitbull’s new single “Wild Wild Love” (which is also worth a look). I came across this “Ugly Heart” on my beloved PopJustice (which is a great source for any dedicated pop fan) and fell in love with it almost immediately. It’s ever so slightly country tinged, which is perfect in this post Avicii poposphere and it manages to recreate the urgency of the Swedish megastar’s hit “Wake Me Up”. This group is definitely one to watch. “Ugly Heart” is at the top of the Pop Fortune Teller’s playlist at the minute!
4) Lily Allen – Our Time
Lily Allen is back with her third single from her upcoming album Sheezus, which is out 5th May. “Our Time” is certainly a change of tact for the typically outspoken songstress and it’s a gentle reminder of Lily’s softer side, which has been pushed to one side following in-you-face singles “Hard out Here” and “Air Balloon”. It’s a welcome change as Lily has been coming off a bit crass for a while on Twitter and other social media and, as a result, her album campaign was in danger of sinking before it had even begun. Luckily, “Our Time” is just the life preserver she needed. While it’s unlikely to set the charts on fire as its one of her more understated efforts, it probably will be another top 20 for Allen and might give her album the breath of life it needs ahead of release.
5) Sky Ferreira – I Blame Myself
This woman seems to be going from strength to strength and her profile is increasing by the day. For those of you who do not know, Sky Ferreira is an American singer songwriter from Los Angeles, California who just released her debut album Night Time, My Time in the UK a few weeks ago. “I Blame Myself” is the second single off the album and shows off the singer’s best qualities: her knack for a catchy hook, her gritty vocals and self-recognition (on the track she acknowledges that she is responsible for her public image, such as when she was arrested for a drug incident in late 2013). “I Blame Myself” will hopefully manage to give Sky and her music some well-deserved exposure and with tunes of this quality, who could argue with that.
So that’s it for the Pop Fortune Teller’s Weekly Predictions this week. I warn ye to take heed of her words because if you don’t, it may be the last thing you do.