I'm not going to lie to you: 2014 was not exactly a banner year for music. Commercial Top 40 music, in particular, was fucking awful. Don't believe me? Just take a glance at this year's biggest artists and hits. At one point in the summer, five songs in the Top 10 had either Iggy Azaela or Ariana Grande on them in some form. Five! The music-buying public went crazy like they had never heard a terrible white "rapper" (Iggy is as much of a rapper as Ke$ha, which means not at all) or a generic teen pop starlet (Miley & Demi both have more personality AND better music than Ariana) before. Meghan Trainor spent about 20 weeks at number one with that "All About That Bass" song, a curves-loving anthem so generic no one will remember it in 18 months. In the same vein, Nicki Minaj had to resort to using the most obvious 90s rap sample to land a top 10 hit (although she redeemed herself with her Pinkprint album by the end of the year). The Sam Smith album sold by the boatload, although I suspect it was more of a "This will do until Adele releases her next album" thing rather than it actually being any good.
And don't even get me started about the new Taylor Swift album. Listen, I thought Red was a revelation when it came out two years ago: a pop-country hybrid that managed to push Taylor in a musical direction outside her comfort zone while retaining her talent for clear, precise and deeply resonant lyrics. Then "Shake It Off," easily the absolute worst song of the year, came out and people start losing their shit. "Oh my God, I can't believe how good the new Taylor Swift album is," I heard repeatedly, as if they deserved a big fucking medal for lowering themselves to listen to pop music. The problem with "Shake It Off," and 1989 in general, is that in completely ditching her country roots for pop, Taylor (mostly) lost what was special about her in the first place. "Shake It Off" is so generic, so cookie-cutter, so completely bland, any pop star could have sung it and it wouldn't have made a difference at all. What other Taylor Swift song can you say that about?
That minor rant aside, the year wasn't a complete waste. I did manage to find 100 songs I liked, after all. Lana Del Rey continued her string of successes with the best album about living and dealing with violence--physical, emotional and self-inflicted--since Rihanna's Rated R. After five years, La Roux snapped the sophomore slump that has plagued so many recent artists in their position after brilliant debuts and sky high expectations. G.R.L., 2NE1 and Fifth Harmony gave new life to the girl group in this post-Girls Aloud world. And a batch of new female artists (Ella Henderson, Tove Lo, Indiana, Kiesza, Tinashe, Charli XCX, Ella Eyre, FKA twigs) and female-led duos (BANKS, Broods) pumped out interesting, provocative, living, breathing music that point to bright futures down the road.
100. Dominique Young Unique "Throw It Down"
99. 5 Seconds of Summer "Long Way Home"
98. Justin Bieber featuring Chance the Rapper "Confident"
97. The Ting Tings "Wrong Club"
96. Ola "Maybe"
95. Mariah Carey featuring Wale "You Don't Know What to Do"
94. White Sea "Warsaw"
93. Britney Spears "Til It's Gone"
92. Jesse McCartney "Back Together"
91. Zara Larsson "Rooftop"
90. Eagle-Eye Cherry & Darin "Dream Away"
89. Bondax "All I See"
88. Keyshia Cole featuring Juicy J "Rick James"
87. Foster the People "Coming of Age"
86. Strange Talk "Young Hearts"
85. Hozier "Take Me to Church"
84. Neon Jungle "Welcome to the Jungle"
83. Tove Lo "Timebomb"
82. The Saturdays "What Are You Waiting For?"
81. Porter Robinson "Sad Machine"
80. Kleerup featuring Susanne Sundfør "Let Me In"
79. Jennifer Lopez featuring Jack Mizrahi "Tens"
78. RAC featuring Tegan and Sara "Hard to Hold"
77. Lykke Li "Love Me Like I'm Not Made of Stone"
76. Charli XCX "Boom Clap"
75. Alison Valentine "Curious"
74. Tove Lo "Not on Drugs"
73. Austin Mahone "Till I Find You"
72. Pitbull featuring G.R.L. "Wild Wild Love"
71. Becky G "Shower"
70. Clean Bandit featuring Jess Glynne "Rather Be"
69. Lana Del Rey "Money Power Glory"
68. Disclosure featuring Mary J. Blige "F For You"
67. Cher Lloyd "Killing It"
66. Selena Gomez "The Heart Wants What It Wants"
65. Chelsea Lankes "Secret"
64. Brett "Golden"
63. The Fooo Conspiracy "King of the Radio"
62. Lana Del Rey "Ultraviolence"
61. Rebecca & Fiona "Holler (Fred Falke Club Mix)"
60. MØ "Say You'll Be There"
59. Nicki Minaj featuring Skylar Grey "Bed of Lies"
58. Clean Bandit & Jess Glynne "Real Love"
57. Shakira "Broken Record"
56. Marina & The Diamonds "Froot"
55. Beyoncé featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche "***Flawless"
54. Neon Jungle "Braveheart"
53. Lana Del Rey "Brooklyn Baby"
52. 2NE1 "Gotta Be You"
51. Ariana Grande "One Last Time"
50. Lana Del Rey "Black Beauty"
49. Danity Kane "All in a Day's Work"
48. Broken Bells "After the Disco"
47. A-L-X "Allure"
46. Sam Smith "Like I Can"
45. La Roux "Sexotheque"
44. Tove Stryke "Even If I'm Loud It Doesn't Mean I'm Talking to You"
43. Mr. Probz "Waves (Robin Schulz Radio Edit)"
42. Foster the People "Best Friend"
41. Jessie Ware "Want Your Feeling"
40. Ella Henderson "Pieces"
39. Walk the Moon "Shut Up and Dance"
38. La Roux "Uptight Downtown"
37. Kylie Minogue "Mr. President"
36. Nick Jonas "Teacher"
35. Calvin Harris featuring Ellie Goulding "Outside"
34. One Direction "Fireproof"
33. Jennifer Lopez featuring French Montana "I Luh Ya Papi"
32. Aretha Franklin "Rolling in the Deep (The Aretha Version)"
31. Sia "Hostage"
30. 5 Seconds of Summer "Don't Stop"
29. Tove Lo featuring Hippie Sabotage "Stay High (Habits Remix)"
28. Paloma Faith "Only Love Can Hurt Like This"
27. Lana Del Rey "Cruel World"
26. Röyksopp & Robyn "Do It Again"
25. Ace Wilder "Busy Doin' Nothin"
24. La Roux "Let Me Down Gently"
23. Idina Menzel "Let It Go"
22. Charli XCX "Break the Rules"
21. Ella Eyre "Comeback"
20. Rixton "Me and My Broken Heart"
Hold me so I'm not falling apart
Me: "'Me and My Broken Heart' contains the best Rob Thomas sample we're ever likely to hear."
will.i.am: *out of nowhere* "Is that a challenge?"
Me: *remembers "The Time (Dirty Bit)"* "JESUS SHITTING CHRIST, NO."
19. FKA twigs "Two Weeks"
Higher than a motherfucker, dreaming of it, it's my lovin'
I first heard an FKA twigs song last year and let's just say that her spacey, avant garde sound wasn't my cup of tea. So, imagine my surprise when "Two Weeks" came on my co-worker's internet radio station, and I was immediately smitten with it. "Two Weeks" is still spacey and avant garde (at least in comparison to what I usually listen to), but it somehow comes together and works.
18. Tinashe featuring ScHoolboy Q "2 On"
Get money, get money like an invoice
How pissed is Ciara that she couldn't get her hands on this jam?
17. Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z "Drunk in Love"
Graining on that wood, graining, graining on that wood
A song that white people will ripoff and ruin for years to come. Still, "Drunk in Love" is a stunning achievement for Beyoncé and pop music in general: a song about sex sung by a woman who clearly enjoys sex but doesn't reduce it to clichés or ridiculous entendres.
16. BANKS "Beggin for Thread"
You should have known, secretly I think you knew
This is what the second Hurts album should have sounded like: dark, emotive, dramatic yet outlined with pop sensibilities.
15. Kiesza "No Enemiesz"
Why stop when there's so much more
Kiesza's first two singles were fine 90s house throwbacks (was there anything released last year that wasn't a 90s house throwback?) but ultimately did little for me. "No Enemiesz," however, is in a completely different league. Great beat, clever wordplay and a chorus that takes a shit on most choruses of this decade.
14. Taylor Swift "Blank Space"
Got a long list of ex-lovers/They'll tell you I'm insane
You think Taylor's crazy? She'll show you crazy. Unlike "Shake It Off," this is a brilliant, Swift-specific takedown of the psychotic maneater the media portrays Taylor to be.
13. Indiana "Solo Dancing"
The music stops/The spell is broken
The Robyn song that was supposed to save pop music in 2014. The swerve at the end from quiet electropop to club banger is one of the year's finest musical moments.
12. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart "Eurydice"
I'll never stop losing you
Despite its depressing subject matter, "Eurydice" is the best shopping mall, "let's try on every outfit in this store" movie montage song since Alphabeat's "Fascination."
11. Fifth Harmony "BO$$"
Michelle Obama/Purse so heavy, gettin' Oprah dollars
How easy would it have been to mention Beyoncé or Rihanna and be done with it? Too easy. The beautiful thing about "BO$$," above and beyond its inherent catchiness, is the fact that the Fifth Harmony ladies are celebrating African American women--Oprah and Michelle Obama--who got ahead on their smarts and aren't pop stars. Nice touch, ladies.
10. Ryn Weaver "OctaHate"
From the day I saw my heart start breaking/No one saved me
Charli XCX had a major year with two U.S. Top 10 hits (Iggy's "Fancy" and "Boom Clap") and another brilliant single "Break the Rules," but her co-writing credit on this song is her finest contribution to 2014's music scene. And let's not forget newcomer Ryn Weaver, whose interpretation of this song is nearly as nutty as Sia's "Chandelier" yet works in much the same way.
09. G.R.L. "Ugly Heart"
I wonder does it stop your heart to know/You're not my sunshine anymore
Go figure that even with the majority of G.R.L.'s output co-written by Max "God" Martin, this non-Martin tune is the one that showcased just how wonderful they truly are. I sincerely hope that after member Simone Battle's tragic passing back in September, G.R.L. is able to regroup and continue on because it would be a shame to lose a girl group with this much potential.
08. 5 Seconds of Summer "She Looks So Perfect"
I got your name tattooed in an arrow heart
The boys of 5SOS positioned themselves perfectly in the pop realm this year: loads of personality, a tad rebellious but harmless enough to get parental approval, room to mature in next few years, and clever songwriting that will serve them well whether they decide to toe the pop-punk line or become full-on punk in the future.
07. Ed Sheeran "Sing"
Then she handed me a water bottle filled with tequila/I already know she's a keeper
I never thought in a million years that I'd have an Ed Sheeran song in my year-end Top 10. I was wrong.
06. Broods "Mother & Father"
I don't want to be just fine
A simple, straight-forward song--it's barely three minutes long--about early adulthood that nails the confusion of the age, the dichotomy between wanting the comforts and security of home and not settling for less than your ideal life.
05. Rita Ora "I Will Never Let You Down"
You know how to love only when you're holding me
I never thought in a million years that I'd have a Rita Ora song in my year-end Top 10. I was wrong.
04. Katy B "Crying for No Reason"
I can lie to everyone but not to myself"
Who else was not expecting this emotional wallop from Katy B? Good Lord. This is what dancing through the tears is all about.
03. Sia "Chandelier"
Help me, I'm holding on for dear life/Won't look down, won't open my eyes
The first time I heard "Chandelier," I couldn't believe it. The bonkers vocal arrangement should push this dark song into drag queen camp, but Sia uses it to add even more emotional depth to an already rich song. Who else but the drunken, on-the-edge protagonist of "Chandelier" would teeter between shouting and running up and down scales to give a voice to her desperation?
02. Ella Henderson "Ghost"
I keep going to the river to pray
Based on the blandness of his own band's music, it's easy to forget that Ryan Tedder is often one of the premier songwriters in the business. "Ghost" is his best songs in years, maybe even since his magnum opus "Bleeding Love." From the opening line, the song casts a spell, alternating between larger than life gospel and haunted blues. And who better than newcomer Ella Henderson, positioned as the reincarnation of Dusty Springfield, to bring grit and soul to Tedder's words and music? Mark my words, by album two or three this woman will be unstoppable.
01. Sky Ferreira "I Blame Myself"
How could you know what it feels like to fight the hounds of hell
I first noticed Sky Ferreira and her song "One" all the way back in 2010. As she moved away from that electropop sound toward something a little more indie, I grew less interested. But then came this monster of a track from her first full-length album Night Time, My Time, and she won me back immediately. Technically, I'm cheating by including it on this year's list since it came out last year. But I didn't really get into it until the beginning of this year, and she released it as a single soon after, so I'm counting it. Besides, how could you expect me to ignore a song like "I Blame Myself," a song that's as raw and painful as anything Lana Del Rey does on a regular basis but wrapped up in an uptempo beat different than anything commercial Top 40 was producing this year. Sky clearly knows who she is; now we just need to get everyone else to discover it for themselves.