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!!