PopWatch: Why 2016 will be the Year of the Diva

We have already had a full album and single release from everyone’s favourite Barbadian-who-doesn’t-give-a-f**k, Rihanna. ANTI‘s shock release this past January sent fans into a spin with the set recently debuting at the top of the US Billboard Charts, despite previously being released as a free download. Lead single “Work” is currently ruling the charts worldwide.

Then we had a surprise gift from the ultimate noughties diva Queen Bey (a.k.a Beyonce). “Formation” was released last Sunday before her performance at the Super Bowl and received rave reviews for its strong political messages which has whet the public’s appetite even more for a new full album.

Noughties favourite Gwen Stefani has announced her first solo album in 10 years This Is What the Truth Feels Like is to be released this March with lead single “Make Me Like You” available to listen to from today!

So a strong diva showing already this year from RiRi, Queen Bey and Gwennie and we could possibly see new material from the following pop divas:

Lady GaGa

Mother Monster has been relatively quiet lately. For her, at least. She released ARTPOP way back in November 2013 and then Cheek to Cheek, her duet album with Tony Bennett in 2014. Although both sets topped the US Billboard Charts their sales were well below par for the chart conquering diva, which means she has a lot to prove on album number 5. Since then, she has recorded a song for The Hunting Ground soundtrack “Til’ It Happens to You”, which is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and she randomly popped up in season five of American Horror Story: Hotel. Here’s the good news, she says that her time on the gory show has influenced her latest studio album which can only be a good thing as GaGa is best when she is at her most theatrical. Let’s hope for another “Bad Romance” or “Monster”.

Anticipation Rating: 8/10

Christina Aguilera

Everybody’s rooting for Christina, but she hasn’t given us much to work with lately. In fact, since 2007 her success has been mostly limited to guest feature singles such as “Moves Like Jagger”, “Feel this Moment” and “Say Something” and she hasn’t released any singles since 2013 with her last full album Lotus coming out in 2012. That’s a long time in the world of pop! But the ever-competitive Xtina will be eager to prove that she can still hobnob with the current crop of popstar royalty (young whippersnappers!), so it’s guaranteed that she’ll be pulling out all the stops for album number eight. Its confirmed that that she will be returning for The Voice USA: Season 10, which should air in March or April, so it would be a smart move to coincide this return with some new music and a cheeky performance to get the ball rolling. Apparently she’s been doing a lot of yoga lately so perhaps we can expect some chilled house from the blonde bombshell.

Anticipation Rating:6/10

Taylor Swift

Swifty had a big 2014 and 2015 with a tirade of smash singles from her latest studio album 1989 but, according to the rules of the universe, Taylor Swift’s album releases must follow a 2 year cycle. She has released one every even year since 2006’s eponymous Taylor Swift. We got Fearless in 2008. Speak Now in 2010. Red in 2012 and 1989 in 2014. So if my calculations are correct 2016 should be another Swift year. However, I wouldn’t hold my breath as Swift has reportedly said that she is ready to take some well deserved time off. because she is afraid of people getting sick of her! Seriously no danger of that Taylor…

Anticipation Rating:3/10

Katy Perry 

The California Gurl’s album releases are a bit more erratic than Swift’s. One of the Boys was released in 2008, Teenage Dream in 2010 and Prism in 2013. Those stats make me feel a bit awkward as it seems like she’s taking longer and longer between albums…Couple that with the fact that she recently said that she might not release anything until 2018 and I’m in tears ripping up my Prismatic World Tour t-shirt on my bedroom floor.

Let’s not leave it that long Katy eh? Whenever it comes out, we might get a reply to Taylor’s “Bad Blood” which is secretly/not so secretly written about Perry and we could do with some “Left Shark” action. Perhaps a heartfelt ballad or ode to shark.

Anticipation Rating:4/10

 

Fergie

Eager to get all Fergalicious again, our favourite Black Eyed Pea has been readying a new album for a while now. She dropped “L.A Love” back in September 2014 which got us all excited but then promptly disappeared again when it didn’t perform as well as expected on the charts. Mega sad face. She then popped up again in summer 2015 claiming the album was almost finished which suggested a quarter 4 release but then silence on the Fergie front. She really can’t drag this out any longer so I would expect a new beat-heavy single before the start of May in hope of bagging a summer smash. Fergie’s been working with an interesting array of people, including Charlie Puth, Jean Baptiste Kouame, DJ Mustard, Rock City, Mike WiLL Made-It and RoccStar, so the album should be quite eclectic, which definitely worked on The Dutchess.

Anticipation Rating:5/10

Britney Spears

Sure Britney has a devoted fanbase and enjoys a god-like status in the world pop, but there is only so much fans can take before we lose our faith in the divine. Between balancing her energies on her Las Vegas Residency Show and being a Soccer Mom to two young boys, she admits that new music hasn’t been her top priority recently. But seeing as her last studio set Britney Jean was such a bomb, containing only one noteworthy single “Work Bitch” we are really in need of some new Britney material to reaffirm our love for Godney. Luckily, she has been posting and dropping hints recently on social media so the outlook is good for a summer release. Let’s hope she does a double Beyonce by dropping two full albums without warning. We can dream can’t we?

Anticipation Rating:9/10

 

If we get new music from all these wonderful divas in 2016 I will probably have a meltdown and my brain will explode. So STAGGER people! Thanks for reading and please feel free to comment, share and like.

 

 

 

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The Best Pop Songs of 2015: 20-2

20) Florence and the Machine – Ship to Wreck

A song as chaotic and dramatic as the crashing waves which inspired it, “Ship to Wreck” managed to conclusively prove that Florence is best when she just let’s it rip. Apparently, when making her third studio album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful Florence was told off for making too many songs about water. Guess this one slipped the net then…

19) Taylor Swift – Wildest Dreams

Will 1989 ever stop producing hits I ask you? “Wildest Dreams” is the fifth single from her unfathomably popular album and represents a departure from the upbeat 80’s pop which we had previously heard. Taking her cue from the lazy, dreampop of Lana Del Rey, Swift transforms into a smokey eyed temptress cooing seductively over smoother-than-chocolate beats. Irresistible.

18) Chvrches – Leave a Trace

After their stellar debut, Chvrches must have been very acutely aware that the stakes were high for their comeback but, instead of trying to pander to anyone, lead single “Leave a Trace” sees Lauren Mayberry and the boys adopting a no-nonsense, “if ain’t broke don’t fix it” attitude. Too many bands now make music for their audience and not for themselves which limits their creativity. But thankfully not Chvrches. They always sounded like they don’t give a f**k and “Leave a Trace” reaffirms this with tremendous shade being thrown in every direction. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

17) The Weeknd – Can’t Feel My Face

“Uptown Funk” reintroduced the fun genre in a big way at the beginning of the year and several artists rode the wave in 2015 but none more successfully than The Weeknd with this delicious drug-fueled jam.

16) Jess Glynne – Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

Someone sprinkled fairy dust all over Jess Glynne’s luscious fiery locks this year. The Hampstead-born popstar racked up 3 number one singles in 2015 alone which added to her total of 2 in 2014, tying her with Cheryl Fernandez-Versini for the most number ones by a British Female Solo Artist. “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself” is a raucous, uptempo slice of pop with lyrics taken directly from a self-help book and Glynne’s powerhouse vocals soar over everything to create the ultimate empowerment anthem.

15) Skrillex and Diplo Feat. Justin Bieber – Where R U Now?

Nothing could have prepared us for this dramatic switch in direction in Bieber’s style of music when he launched gamechanger “Where R U Now?”. The track gave haters (including myself I should add) a serious case of whiplash and truly opened him up to an audience beyond the tween market. His vocals carry some lethal emotional weight and the Diplo/Skrillex production is relentlessly catchy. Leftfield is sometimes the best field.

14) Marina and the Diamonds – I’m a Ruin

Who would have predicted that Marina Diamandis was capable of such lyrical depth and vocal nuance. Songs like “I’m a Ruin” only come along once in a blue moon as it takes extraordinary self-awareness to create such a devastating song of self-loathing and, come to think of it, bravery to share it with the public. Marina has finally come of age and revealed herself as the true heir to Kate Bush’s introspective, dream pop throne. Hope she doesn’t listen to “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself” or we might be tragically deprived of future “I’m a Ruins”.

13) Jess Glynne – Hold My Hand

This was the moment we knew Jess Glynne could make the switch from beloved feature singer to solo super diva. From the opening bouncy piano to Glynne’s acapella style vocals, everything rings true about this joyful piece of soulful, discopop.

12) Rudimental Feat. Anne-Marie and Will Heard – Rumour Mill

Rudimental’s sophomore effort We the Generation may have not caused the splash created by their first studio effort Home, but it’s still guilty of serving up some of 2015’s most potent tunes with the crisp deep dish house track “Rumour Mill” leading the pack. It’s quite a wordy song as songs go but, despite the lyrical abundance, the singers sound like they’re not making an ounce of effort at all. This “too cool for school”attitude could have been alienating if it weren’t for the simplistic noir video which sees singers Will and Anne-Marie throwing some mean shapes in the back of a car. We’ve all been there…don’t deny it.

11) Years and Years – King

Years and Years had already established themselves as one of the bands to watch at the end of 2014 with hits such as “Desire” and “Sunlight” but it wasn’t until “King” that they definitively burst into the mainstream. But if you’re going to take you’re time you may as well do it in style which is exactly what Years and Years did. “King” immediately arrests the listener with it’s whirling, arabic-influenced synth hook and lead singer Olly Alexander’s soulful vocals finish the job up nicely officially rendering us kings under his control.

10) Little Mix – Black Magic 

Until now Little Mix had been criminally underrated but thankfully they weaved some potent “Black Magic” this summer leaving us all at the mercy of the Mixers’ spell. We’re sure not complaining. Those handclaps, “heys” and sassy lyrics make this literally the perfect pop song.

9) Zara Larsson – Lush Life

This song may not have been released in the UK yet but it’s been dominating the airwaves in Europe, becoming the most played song of the summer in Sweden this year. “Lush Life” is “Rude Boy” mark two, paired with a similarly colourful video and a handful of hooks for good measure. Seriously, there’s like a million of them. Once it’s got you, you’ll be living the lush life forever.

8) Adele – When We Were Young

If anyone doubted that Adele is still firmly in possession of that “Someone Like You”magic I present to you “When We Were Young”. Only Adele could manage to get nostalgic about experiences she hasn’t had yet. In this soulful, ballad she imagines herself at a party in the far future surrounded by her friends and remembering all the good and bad times they shared. It’s like the prologue to “Wings” by Birdy.

7) Taylor Swift – Style

“Style”, Swift’s ode to being young and beautiful forever, is directly opposed to Adele’s “When We Were Young”. While the British singer willingly accepts her mortality and looks forward to her latter days, Swift’s foot is firmly planted in the present and her heyday. But she is self-aware enough to know that the love story between her and Harry Styles’ (about whom the song was supposedly written) was one which has been repeated throughout history. Good girls and bad boys will never go out of style. 

6) Justin Bieber – What Do You Mean?

Only a truly amazing song could have saved Bieber’s floundering career at this point but sadly/luckily that’s exactly what he managed to produce. Such is the brilliance of the tropical house influenced “What Do You Mean?” that it even managed to convert true non-Beliebers like me. I surrender.

5) Adele – Hello

The perfect comeback single with the perfect title. Adele gave us a little hello this autumn and the world went into meltdown. “Hello” instantly went to number one all over the globe smashing records in its wake, fueling the astronomical success of its parent album 25. All we can do is exalt.

4) Ellie Goulding – Love Me Like You Do

2015 was the year of grey. Fifty shades of it to be precise and “Love Me Like You Do” was as much part of the success of that mother-of-all-unguilty-pleasures film as Jamie Dornan’s chiseled face. It’s essentially a modern take on a traditional power ballad – the 2010s equivalent of a Celine Dion ballad if you will. All the ingredients come together beautifully to create a true pop masterpiece with Ellie’s celestial vocals being the ideal instrument to lend the song the mystique it needed to reach the rafters.

3) Major Lazer Feat. DJ Snake and MØ – Lean On

A little bit of cultural appropriation can go a long way as it did in 2015 with Major Lazer’s breakthrough single “Lean On”. The Indian themed dancing in the video created an internet frenzy and had millions of people around the globe changing their lightbulbs and feeling their inner Bollywood. Funnily enough, the chance to record vocals for the song was first offered to Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, who both turned it down, before eventually Danish singer  landed the gig. Guess their loss is her gain. All I can say is that RiRi’s Anti better be bloomin’ fantastic if this is the type of material she’s turning down.

2) Kygo Feat. Conrad – Firestone 

Anyone who went to a festival this summer will know the power of “Firestone”. Having already found mainstream success with remixes such as “Sexual Healing” and “I See Fire” previously underground DJ Kygo finally decided to unleash original music on the world in 2015 and the world went mad. I went to Ultra Festival, Croatia this summer with a massive group of friends and “Firestone” epitomized those epic, hands-in-the-air moments when everyone loved each other and world peace was achievable. Please let me live in those moments forever

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You can also listen to The Best Pop Songs of 2015 playlist on Spotify:

spotify:user:1151803087:playlist:7fcwgDNbrmE4WWjkoRYAo1

 

The Best Pop Songs of 2015: 60-41

Part 3 of the epic countdown of the Best Pop Songs of 2015. Please bear in mind that if you want to listen to any of the tracks there is a hyperlink in the title of the song which will take you directly to YouTube. 🙂 You’re welcome:

60) Janet Jackson – No Sleeep

This quiet storm of a lead single proved Janet has still got whatever “it” may be in spades. A sultry, sensual, slow jam which is so personal it almost feels like we are intruding on a private love scene. Saucy….

59) Enya – Echoes in Rain

Enya returned in style this year with “Echoes in Rain”, the rousing lead single from her latest album. The song has a refreshingly religious sentiment which acts as the perfect antidote to the loose-moraled popstars of today.

58) Drake – Hotline Bling

Mostly just for the moves….

57) Justin Bieber – Love Yourself

Justin’s third UK No.1 single in a row after turning from pantomime villain to respectable artist (well…semi respectable). This Ed Sheeran co-write is a surprisingly bitchy kiss off to a former lover who spent a little too much time looking in the mirror.

56) Galantis – Runaway (U & I)

This euphoric anthem of a track comes courtesy of some of the hottest Swedish producers of 2015. The shout-along chorus is undoubtedly one of the catchiest of the year.

55) James Bay – Let It Go

It’s not always all about the bells and whistles in pop you know and James Bay more than proved that with this moving, delicate ballad packed with loads of heart. The emotional complexity of Bay’s songs is astounding and on “Let It Go” he proves that fragile and strong are not mutually exclusive.

54) Walk the Moon – Shut Up and Dance

The spiritual heirs to Alphabeat’s throne. Fun, sharp, shamelessly poppy “Shut Up and Dance” was the hit that wouldn’t get out of your heads in 2015.

53) Lana Del Rey – Music to Watch Boys To

Over the years Lana Del Rey’s commercial appeal may have diminished slightly but, in terms of songcraft and lyricism she has definitely upped her game. “Music to Watch Boys To” is a typical Lana-esque track which effortlessly succeeds in painting an otherworldly dreamscape like only the Queen of Despair can.

52) Coldplay – Adventure of a Lifetime

I honestly think Coldplay should have gone disco years ago if “Adventure of a Lifetime” is anything to go by…And it had better not be there last album or there’ll be hell to pay!

51) Florence and the Machine – What Kind of Man

This was just the Florence comeback we needed! First she draws you in with the slow, controlled beginning before descending into full hollering mode with more drama than a Pretty Little Liars episode. “What Kind of Man” is a out and out triumph of a pop song.

50) Jason Derulo – Want to Want Me

He’s been knocking at the door for a few years now but with the slick, poised elegance that is”Want to Want Me” Derulo finally inherited Usher’s throne as the King of Smooth. Long may he reign.

49) Carly Rae Jepsen – I Really Like You

Like her or not, Carly Rae Jepsen knows how to write a damn good pop song. She doesn’t try to be cool at all, in fact she is probably the antithesis of the concept, but therein lies the charm. I am genuinely chuffed to bits to declare that “I Really Like You” restored Jepsen to top ten glory worldwide. Just where she should be!

48) Taylor Swift Feat. Kendrick Lamar – Bad Blood

This poison-pen banger earned old Swifty a third US No.1 off 1989 fueled by the explosive, star-studded video featuring the likes of Cara Delevingne and Cindy Crawford to name but a few. Just don’t get on the wrong side of Taylor or you might find out first hand that band aids really don’t fix bullet holes!

47) The Weeknd – Earned It

The Weeknd properly burst into public consciousness in a big way this year with this sultry, slow-burner which featured on the Fifty Shades of Grey Film Soundtrack. Drawing on classical influences and tied up together with some potent strings, “Earned It” was so naughty it was nice.

46) Kygo Feat. Parson James – Stole the Show

Quick to capitalise on the success of his first original single”Firestone” earlier in the year, Kygo managed to score a second worldwide hit and establish himself as one of the most exciting DJs of recent times with this infectious summery jam. He truly “Stole the Show”.

45) Sia – Alive

If there was any shadow of a doubt that Sia is one of the best vocalists of her generation there isn’t anymore. Originally penned for Adele’s comeback album “Alive” is the power ballad to end all power ballads. The world just can’t get enough of Sia’s killer pipes and rightly so.

44) Elle King – Exs and Ohs

Rock ‘n’ roll newcomer Elle King bagged herself a US smash hit with her debut single “Exs and Ohs”towards the end of the year. This gritty little ditty about her ex boyfriends haunting her is the perfect contrast to the overwraught love song. Could even be the new “Independent Women”!

43) Ellie Goulding – On My Mind

Talking about her upcoming third studio album Delirium, Ellie Goulding promised us full blown pop and that’s exactly what delivered in spades. lead single “On My Mind” was another international smash and, whether or not it is a dig at Ed Sheeran, it’s clear that sassy definitely suits Ellie.

42) Rachel Platten – Fight Song

Boston-born singer Rachel Platten finally broke through to the mainstream after years of trying with the truly sincere and empowering “Fight Song”. Her lyrics are so honest and autobiographical that you can’t help but root for her. Never stop fighting love.

41) Jess Glynne – Take Me Home

After a slew of upbeat, joyful singles Jess Glynne let us see her vulnerable, side in this candid ballad which solidified her status as one of today’s most versatile and exciting artists.

Please feel free to comment and share. Thank you for reading!

You can also listen to all the tracks on The Best Pop Songs of 2015 playlist:

spotify:user:1151803087:playlist:7fcwgDNbrmE4WWjkoRYAo1

 

The Top 20 Songs of 2015 So Far – The Conclusion

The final part of my 2015 countdown of the best songs from January until June:

20) Skrillex Feat. Diplo and Justin Bieber – Where are U Now

“Where Are U Now” is without a doubt one of the least likely collaborations ever but just serves to show that anyone is redeemable, even the notoriously annoying Bieber. It’s is definitely one of the most interesting songs released this year and for that we have to give some kudos to the Canadian popstar, even though I suspect it has more to do with Diplo…

19) Olly Murs Feat. Demi Lovato – Up

olly murs demi lovato up

I really don’t know how Olly Murs does it. By all rights he should be washed up by now like so many X Factor contestants who got a bit of success after the show and then realised it wasn’t a lifetime gig (Shayne Ward, Alexandra Burke, JLS, Cher Lloyd….poor things). But somehow he has managed to keep plugging away producing chart topping albums and quality singles. His story has been one of quiet success, rather than the furore surrounding One Direction right now or Leona Lewis when she first came out. And that, my friends, is the secret to longevity. “Up” is the second single from Murs fourth (already??!!!) album Never Been Better and, seeing as the hits keep coming, it does really seem that the only way is up.

18) Madonna – Ghosttown

ghosttown madonna

Another quality Madonna single doomed to fade into obscurity due to the disaster that has been the Rebel Heart era. Madonna’s vocals have never sounded better or more emotive than on “Ghosttown”. It has even drawn comparisons with the legendary vocalist Karen Carpenter. It’s just a shame that it failed to make an impact on the UK or US singles charts. A lot of crap does. The video for “Ghosttown” had the right idea but Madge definitely went a bit too far with the melodrama, rendering it practically unwatchable. Sigh…

17) Wiz Khalifa feat. Charlie Puth – See You Again

wiz khalifa charlie puth see you again

It’s songs like this and Pharrell’s “Happy” that make me wish that radio didn’t exist. Every time I hear this song on the radio now I have to switch it off which is a massive shame because, actually, I remember hearing this song for the first time and liking it a lot. It’s just radio has used and abused this single which has made it impossible for me to place it higher on my list. It’s also a wee bit overrated. It’s a good song but not good enough to be No.1 for weeks and weeks and weeks. “Uptown Funk” was that good. Still, it remains a lovely blend of soulful vocal matched perfectly with gritty rap lyrics. Gotta take the rough with the smooth.

16) Taylor Swift Feat. Kendrick Lamar – Bad Blood

taylor swift kendrick lamar bad blood

Swift’s star-studded video for “Bad Blood” not only proved her celeb pulling power, but also ensured her another smash single off her already classic fifth album 1989. The remixed version featuring Kendrick Lamar improves the original’s production and adds some killer rap sections. The result is a brutal, stadium-ready war cry which features some of Swfit’s best lyrics to date. “Band aids don’t fix bullet holes”. Indeed.

15) Tove Lo – Talking Body

tove lo talking body queen of the clouds

This is just one of those songs that makes you feel all dirty and sexy. Tove had already established as a force to be reckoned with, producing the global smash “Stay High (Habits)” last year and lending vocals to Alesso’s “Heroes”, but “Talking Body” was her make or break single. And boy did it make. It’s reminiscent of Rihanna at her best in that both singers surround themselves with a dark, brooding persona of party girl gone wild. Tove’s ascendance to the clouds has already begun.

14) Echosmith – Cool Kids

cool kids echosmith

Sorry Americans, you may be wondering why this song is included in a best of list from 2015 and not 2014, well it’s because this song hit the UK a bit late I’m afraid. We only just got it at the start of this year but we love it a lot too so I had to include it on this list. For me, the magic of “Cool Kids” special quality lies in the fact that it takes you back to high school (unless you’re still there) where you were insecure and just wishing to be someone else. It taps into those old feelings which is a powerful feat for a little ditty about being cool. The melody is also tremendously catchy with some interesting instrumental choices. Does the lead singer’s voice sound a bit like Katy Perry to anyone else or is it just me? And she looks a bit like Anna Kendrick.

13) Calvin Harris Feat. HAIM – Pray to God

haim calvin harris pray to god

No-one seems to love this song as much as I do so I compromised and put it further down the list than I would have it. Please guys tell me why this was not a worldwide smash? The HAIM sisters are devilishly delicious as satanic enchantresses in the striking video. This is without a doubt one of Harris’ most satisfying drops and the sister’s to-die-for harmonies are reminiscent of Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac fame. What’s not to like? Maybe I’m just partial to a good bit of witchiness.

12) James Bay – Hold Back the River

james bay hold back the river

James Bay has timed his ascendance to pop stardom to perfection. Just as last year’s golden boys Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith and George Ezra were winding up their album campaigns he decided to launch into the pop-o-sphere. Flooding the radio waves “Hold Back the River” is a masterclass in understated, contemplative pop. From the quiet, restrained beginning “River” builds and builds with the drama of a Celine Dion power ballad (but with much more attitude) until it becomes a powerful maelstrom of emotional turmoil. James Bay conveys such emotion with his voice that you cannot help but be moved.

11) Taylor Swift – Style

taylor swift style song

Taylor Swift is just a goddess. She has cemented her place as the top female in music right now with her current album 1989 which is full to the brim with genius hooks and playful lyrics. “Style” is one of the more superior cuts of this already superior album. It may have failed to match the success of the Billboard number ones “Shake It Off”, “Blank Space” and “Bad Blood”, only peaking at No.6 in the US, but it is just as good as any of them. It’s more subtle and less in your face, which means that it takes longer to grow on you but, when it does, it never goes out of your head.

10) Sia – Elastic Heart

elastic heart sia shia le boeuf

I had all but given up on Sia releasing another single from 1000 Forms of Fear. It seemed that she forgotten about the album after the release of “Chandelier”, despite the single’s overwhelming success. But lo and behold the unpredictable, fame-shy Sia dropped a bomb of a video on us early in 2015!

Sia is the whole package, even if she doesn’t know it. She’s got the knack for writing intelligent, sensitive lyrics and to inspire without being cheesy. It’s the vulnerability, combined with the powerful vocal that really . It seems at points that her voice is cracking, but then it soars. She is truly one of the great vocalists of our time and when the production quality matches the quality of her songwriting and voice, she is unstoppable. And Shia LeBeuf…What was that all about?

9) Galantis – Runaway (U & I)

galantis runaway u and I

Galantis are one of those bands that have been hanging around on the periphery for a while on the cusp of stardom, searching for that big breakthrough hit. Well, they sure found that. “Runaway” is bold, brash and in your face. It’s no wonder it’s been making massive waves in the UK, where it has already peaked in the top 5. Released just in time for festival season, this is definitely one you’ll be hearing all summer.

8) Kygo Feat. Parson James – Stole the Show

kygo parson james stole the show

Kygo is fast becoming one of the premier DJs in the world and a lot of the praise should be heaped upon this stellar collab between the Norwegian and singer Parson James. Anything with panpipes is just guaranteed to win me over but when it also has a drop like this and passionate lyrics there is literally no escape. There is something ethereal and even sad about the track. It’s another big hit for the unstoppable Norwegian.

7) Years and Years – King

years and years king

Dance floor ready and box fresh Years and Years are one of the biggest revelations of 2015. Despite achieving chart success with previous single “Desire”, it was “King” which proved to be their big breakthrough, peaking at No.1 in the UK in its debut week and selling over 100,000 copies. The effortless, soaring vocals are definitely enough to capture your attention but it’s the nuanced production that really makes “King” a winner.

6) Jess Glynne – Hold My Hand

hold my hand jess glynne i cry when i laugh

Not satisfied with her two previous number one singles with Route 94 and Clean Bandit, Jess Glynne concocted a formula to invade our brains all by herself this time. Just as Meghan Trainor is all about the bass, Glynne’s “Hold My Hand” is all about the voice which she uses to great effect on the track. Each line of the verses starts goes from low to high which Glynne navigates deftly and with joyous aplomb. This is her vocal tour de force and her muscled voice is the star of the show. Anticipation could not be higher for her debut album coming out in August I Cry When I Laugh.

5) Omi – Cheerleader

omi felix jaehn cheerleader

Here’s a piece of advice for every wannabe popstar out there. If you ever want to have a sure fire hit in 2015 just add a bit of trumpet or sax to your track on a loop and bobs your uncle. You have a hit on your hands. I’ve seen it time and time again with Cheryl’s “Crazy Stupid Love” and Faul’s “Changes” to name but a few! Poised to one of the biggest tunes of the year, the bright and breezy “Cheerleader” is a breath of fresh air and one to be turned up to the max while riding in a drop top down an endless road with your friends.

4) Alesso Feat. Tove Lo – Heroes

tove lo alesso heroes

Alesso’s remake of David Bowie’s now classic “Heroes” may have stripped the original of all its pithy irony, but it more than makes up for it with its uplifting message pushed to infinity by Tove Lo’s soaring vocals. The song emanates a pure and beautifully exuberant naivety together with an youthful innocence. This is one for the festivals and I can see 100,000 “heroes” bouncing up and down in harmony all summer long.

3) Major Lazer Feat. DJ Snake and MO – Lean On

major lazer dj snake mo lean on

This has already been one of the biggest songs of the summer, nay of the year. It has taken over the UK completely and mercilessly, monopolising radio play and peaking at No.2. It is also fast scaling the US charts, nestling nicely into the top 10 already. Why you ask? Well it’s because by fusing reggae and dance music Major Lazer has created a completely unique sound which has struck a chord all around the world and has turned into a formidable epidemic. It was played about 500 times at Ultra Europe festival this year.

2) Ellie Goulding – Love Me Like You Do

 

Ellie Goulding has gone from strength to strength ever since her debut single “Starry Eyed” introduced us to her ethereal, magical voice. Time and time again she has proved herself to be capable of musical greatness, even managing to conquer the American market, which is no mean feat for British artists. Unlike some of her contemporaries, Goulding deftly avoids pandering to the sex crazed teen market who above all else crave flesh shows (Rihanna, Shakira, Tove Lo etc.). Let me just say that there is nothing wrong with this. Everyone loves a bit of Shakira. But it’s just not Ellie’s style that’s all. On the whole, it’s probably a smart move. Goulding clearly has her sights set on career longevity and she is definitely going the right way about it. Her brand of mystical, vulnerable pop falls somewhere manages to appeal to everyone which is exactly what makes her one of the biggest popstars on the planet right now. “Love Me Like You Do” came out of the blue at the beginning of this year and immediately shot to the top of the UK single charts, retaining this positions for a massive 4 weeks and becoming a constant fixture on mainstream radio. Of course, the song’s place in the 50 Shades of Grey film soundtrack did nothing to harm its commercial appeal, but it definitely would have been a big hit either way. Ellie is a force of nature.

1) Kygo Feat. Conrad – Firestone

kygo conrad firestone

I remember there was a time when dance music did nothing for me. Good for a quick sweaty dance but it left me feeling cold afterwards (literally and physically!). The sentiments just weren’t there like in a good emotional pop song (Whitney and Mariah come to mind). But over the past five years dance music has had an injection of life. Somewhere along the line dance music got its soul back and nowhere is this more present than on Kygo’s recent smash “Firestone”. I had liked Kygo for a while before “Firestone”, which is, to all intents and purposes, his debut single, but by far from his first production. He has a chilled out style which stands out amongst the David Guettas and Afrojacks. “Firestone” was the moment when Kygo went from an underground artist to the next biggest thing. There’s something magical about the feather-light piano line and breezy vocals provided by Australian singer Conrad Sewell. Everything is just effortlessly comes together to create a truly inspirational, beautiful song.

Thank you for reading and feel free to leave any comments or suggestions. I love hearing from you!

The Best Songs of 2014: 20-1

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!!

Diary of a Pop Fan’s Top Twenty

20) Breach Feat. Kelis – The Key

19) Years & Years – Desire

18) Iggy Azalea – Beg For It

17) Olly Murs – Wrapped Up

16) Avicci Feat. Robbie Williams – The Days

15) Jungle – Busy Earnin’

14) The Veronicas – You Ruin Me

13) Ella Henderson – Hard Work

12) Chvrches – Dead Air

11) James Bay – Hold Back the River

10) Meghan Trainor – Lips Are Movin’

9) Kiesza – No Enemiesz

8) Ariana Grande – Santa Tell Me

7) Calvin Harris Feat. Ellie Goulding – Outside

6) McBusted – Air Guitar

5) Taylor Swift – Blank Space

4) Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne – Real Love

3) Take That – These Days

2) Lorde – Yellow Flicker Beat

1) Mark Ronson Feat. Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk

Taylor Swift Shakes off the Haters

Something amazing happened last night. During a live Yahoo web stream Taylor Swift decided to give us all a near heart attack by premiering a new song and the lead single from her new 80’s inspired album 1989, which will apparently be “her very first documented, official pop album”. The album is titled after her year of birth and will be her first album release in two years since 2012’s Red. “Shake It Off” is a massive change of direction for the country singer who has been getting progressively less country for years now. Well, it seems that now she is declaring independence and it don’t matter what the haters say ‘cos she just gonna shake it off.

taylor swift shake it off
That’s some good shakin’ there Taylor

 

In the hilarious video Taylor is plonked in the midst of several different troupes of performers and tries vainly to keep up at cheerleading, modern dance, ballet and (no don’t say it, please!) twerking to name but a few. Miley Cyrus has a lot to answer for. “Shake It Off” was produced by Max Martin and Shellback who are responsible for past Taylor smashes such as “22” and “We Are Never Getting Back Together”. Apparently, Taylor’s goal with this new musical project was to produce something that sounded like nothing she’d ever done before. Well, she definitely achieved that one didn’t she?

Taylor Swift 1989
Taylor no longer has need for eyes

The saxophone-led backing beat is as bouncy as a beach ball and will no doubt fill dance floors for the rest of time. But what it does show is that Taylor has been taking note of pop trends by including a prominent brass section which has been employed this year by acts as diverse as Cheryl Cole, Faul & Wad Ad and Paloma Faith. I’m sure that it will bring Taylor as much success as it did to these acts. Perhaps the best part of “Shake It Off”, however, is the midsection breakdown when Taylor chants that we should be getting down to /this sick beat/. Never thought you’d hear that from little innocent Taylor eh? Oh if Teardrops on my Guitar could see her now. As always Britney has some wise words to say:

Im not that innocent

britney spears haters gonna hate

Thanks Britney. So, despite Taylor ditching her more thoughtful lyricism in favour of pop hooks and repetition, we’re willing to let that slide as long as 1989 contains more variation and a bit more of the old Taylor. For now, we can just enjoy this sick beat provided by Miss Swift until the album comes out on October 27th. Officially, can’t wait!

‘Cos the players gonna play, play, play, play, play…