Thursday, December 25, 2014

Top 20 Singles of 2014

1. "Chandelier" - Sia

With a voice exuding the force of a fired cannonball and unnatural pop music writing capabilities, Sia Furler was bound for a massive radio hit eventually. Earlier this year, she unleashed "Chandelier" and watched as the song climbed the Billboard Hot 100 and its twisted music video racked up over 360,000,000 views to date. The track masks haunted memories of alcoholism and depression with a heavy Greg Kurstin production and a chorus that would be great to sing along with... if the notes weren't so extraordinary far into the vocal stratosphere.

2. "Two Weeks" - FKA twigs

Say hello to FKA twigs, this year's sexiest singer-songwriter. She preceded this year's LP1 by capturing everyone's attention with "Two Weeks," a lusty track oozing with desire and clouded in a drug-induced haze. Deep ad-libs and heavy beats layer underneath twigs' fragile soprano voice as it turns into an ethereal whisper across the track. She has her eye fixated on a man and will stop at nothing to get him in between her sheets: from "Pull out the incisor, give me two weeks, you won't recognize her / Mouth open, you're high" to "My thighs are apart for when you're ready to breathe in / Suck me up, I'm healin' for the shit you're dealin'." 

3. "Fancy" - Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX

Last year, any mention of Iggy Azalea would have resulted in a response of "Iggy who? Who is that?" This year, on the other hand? A mention of Iggy Azalea will garner a happy response of "Who dat? Who dat? I-G-G-Y." With one booming synth line, a Clueless-inspired video, and a bratty Charli XCX chorus in tow, Iggy Azalea went from "no money, no family, sixteen in the middle of Miami" to one "Fancy" megastar. We all spent the summer memorizing all of Azalea's verses, and we'll remember them for a lifetime with glistening memories of the summer of 2014.

4. "Problem" - Ariana Grande feat. Iggy Azalea

Not only has it been the year of Iggy Azalea and the gluteus maximus, but also the breakthrough year for Ariana Grande. After making an average hit on pop culture with her debut album last year, she came back with a heavy-hitting pop spin. For her initial invasion of the Billboard Hot 100, she packed a punch with "Problem," a track that allows her to showcase her upper register over a heavy bass and horn track. To make things even better, Grande brought Iggy-Iggy-too-biggie in for a killer rap verse to further prove how much she doesn't need that ex-boyfriend. 

5. "Shake It Off" - Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift has turned a new page in her discography textbook as she turns her aim from country to the core of the pop music jugular. Max Martin helped propel her into her newfound battle ground as if she was a longtime staple of the genre with "Shake it Off," an ode that kindly tells her haters to seethe as she takes over the music industry once again. After some spiraling choruses, "'Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play / And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate / Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake / Shake it off, shake it off," we also get a "Hollaback Girl"-esque breakdown! To put the icing on the cake, the music video for the song is undeniably fun, as Swift tries (and fails) to master twerking, ballet, ribbon-dancing, cheer-leading, and more.

6. "West Coast" - Lana Del Rey

After her tour of Europe in support of Born To Die and Paradise, and dropped her miniature movie, Tropico, Lana Del Rey went mysteriously mute. She suddenly peaked her head back up in April to drop "West Coast," the lead single to this year's Ultraviolence. The song marks a departure from the lush, pop landscapes of her debut album to a rough-edged alternative rock vibe inspired heavily by her time with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, who produced most of Ultraviolence. The song doesn't follow a normal pattern, as it shifts down in tempo during its chorus as Del Rey's multiple noticeable vocal lines sing, "I can see my baby swingin' / His Parliament's on fire and his hands are up / On the balcony and I'm singing / Ooh, baby, ooh, baby, I'm in love."

7. "Heavy Metal & Reflective" - Azealia Banks

2014 is the year that Azealia Banks should have been having in 2013, on a bigger scale. However, she managed to wiggle out of a death-grip contract with Universal Music Group and triumph, starting with "Heavy Metal & Reflective." What's not to love about it? We get Banks rapping in full force over heavy, glitched synths, a beat that could bring back the dead, and a music video filled with big dogs and loud motorcycles. She emphasizes her seriousness by spitting out her verses in a purposely low-pitched and intimidating accent, setting it apart from many of the other tracks on her Broke With Expensive Taste album. 

8. "Habits (Stay High)" - Tove Lo

Between a extended play, debut album, and her feature on Alesso's "Heroes (we could be)," Swedish artist Tove Lo has had quite a good year. Her breakthrough track, "Habits (Stay High)," has skyrocketed her to new heights as she sings about living her life in a drug-induced haze after a break-up. While not ideal, the message this song spreads is devastating, but that melody line really makes the listener forget about any lyrical meaning. Lo's voice is quality and her songwriting skills are definitely not sub-par; she knows how to make a worthwhile pop song, which could easily make her a worthwhile pop star.

9. "Ghost" - Ella Henderson

While she has already been a huge success in the United Kingdom, the United States was only introduced to Ella Henderson as 2014 was coming to a close. "Ghost," her Ryan Tedder-assisted debut single, proves that Henderson could easy play with the big dogs of the industry. With the vocal warmth and strength of a well-trained reincarnate of Christina Aguilera and the writing credits on-par with many pop artists, I've already fallen in love with Henderson before her debut album has even dropped here (Chapter One will hit American shelves on January 13, 2015). 

10. "Hideaway" - Kiesza

Kiesza has been a leading force this year in the revitalization of '80s and '90s house, and it all started with the release of "Hideaway." With a unique red hairdo, an overemphasized vocal technique, a strong beat, and killer dance moves, Kiesza managed to execute one of the best dance tracks of the year. I think it is also worth mentioning that the music video was shot in just two takes and that Kiesza had a broken rib while doing all of those dance moves; pretty impressive, eh?

11. "Break Free" - Ariana Grande feat. Zedd

After packing a heavy punch on "Problem," Ariana Grande followed-up with another hit in collaboration with electronic dance producer Zedd, titled "Break Free." While some of the lyrics remain ridiculous ("I only wanna die alive, never by the hands of a broken heart," "Like a deadly fever, yeah, babe, on the highway to hell, yeah"), the vocals and production remain the true gleaming stars here. The extended edit of the song in particular concretes Zedd's skills behind the soundboards, while Grande's voice easily fits in the electronic dance genre just as well as other genres she has done previously.

12. "Hunger of the Pine" - alt-J

alt-J's sophomore album, This is All Yours, was surprisingly a downgrade from their exemplary debut, as the band managed to crank out four quality songs form the set and turned to an indie static for the rest. Luckily, their best songs from the album have been released as singles, including the Miley Cyrus-fueled "Hunger of the Pine." The song commences with one single beat pattern and builds Joe Newman's wobbly vocals, horns, drum machines, and Cyrus' echoing "I'm a female rebel" vocal sample on top of it. The band's "Left Hand Free" and "Every Other Freckle" were also strong candidates for this countdown, but "Hunger" was ultimately the strongest song.

13. "Up We Go" - Lights

In the dog days of summer, Lights dropped the song that we all needed: a bubbly, warm synthpop anthem and the announcement of her third studio album. The single, "Up We Go," marks Lights' departure from dark dubstep infusions in favor of light synthpop. The song's uplifting mood effortlessly transfers to the listen as Lights' shouts, "Everyone here is ready to go / It's been a hard year with nothing to show / From down this road, it's only on we go, on we go" over a sparkling synthpop production.

14. "A Sky Full of Stars" - Coldplay

Holy mother of experimentation from the tag team of veteran alt-rock band Coldplay and electronic dance artist Avicii. While 2011's Mylo Xyloto was the furthest Coldplay ever drifted from their home in pop-rock, it was never expected of them to go full-on EDM, but the layers of twinkling synths and driving pace welcome Chris Martin's vocals with open arms. Much like notable dabbles in EDM from Florence Welch, Ariana Grande, and John Newman, Coldplay's quick stunt with dance music was both unexpected and high-quality.

15. "Beggin for Thread" - Banks

Of all of her singles, "Beggin for Thread" is arguably Banks' most radio-friendly track to date with its vulnerable verses and explosive choruses. The song was picked up by SiriusXM's Alt Nation station and it still brings me joy to hear it on the radio. Her lowest croons barrel through the dark production as she threatens, "My words can come out as a pistol and I'm no good at aiming, but I can aim it at you." 

16. "All About That Bass" - Meghan Trainor

Yes, many people find it annoying. Yes, it was overplayed for a few months. Yes, I still love it. "All About That Bass" quickly made Meghan Trainor a household name when it exploded on the charts this summer, introducing us to a new generation of doo-wop and pop. While overly-sensitive Facebook users have gotten into heated discussions over the meaning of the song, most can agree that it is a harmless, fun song promoting a higher self-esteem.

17. "Yellow Flicker Beat" - Lorde

Lorde and producer Joel Little deliver her most explosive chorus yet on this track. While many of her choruses on Pure Heroine are subtle, yet effective, blooms in sound, "Yellow Flicker Beat" explodes with emotion with each chorus with a forest of synths, beats, and vocal harmonies. Her position as the sole curator of the soundtrack to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part One allowed Lorde to spill her influence all over the set, and "Yellow Flicker Beat" is the pièce de résistance.

18. "Happy Little Pill" - Troye Sivan

The YouTube community has had its fair share of musical stardom. This year, Troye Sivan jumped from his spot as a YouTube personality to add a music career to his resume. The product? "Happy Little Pill" and the TRXYE extended play. Sivan perfectly encompassing the struggles of today's youth and the fascination with drugs and alcohol as he floats through the song with his smooth tenor range. This is a different side to Troye Sivan that we don't normally see in his YouTube vlogs and videos, but it's definitely a likable façade.

19. "Girls Chase Boys" - Ingrid Michaelson

She may be on her sixth album cycle, but Ingrid Michaelson is now getting more recognition than she ever has before. "Girls Chase Boys" has been a bug in the ear of contemporary pop all year, with its universal message of love for all genders and sexual orientations causing its viral outbreak. A cool melody line and "oh, oh, oh" flutters in its chorus make "Girls Chase Boys" one of the cutest pop songs of the year.

20. "Outside" - Calvin Harris feat. Ellie Goulding

After the success of "I Need Your Love," the dream team of Calvin Harris and Ellie Goulding has reunited for this year's "Outside," another successful outing for the duo. This new track opens with a sound that is quite similar to the Harris' handiwork on ex-girlfriend Rita Ora's "I Will Never Let You Down," but later expands to a booming electronic-dance track that screams influences from earlier tracks such as "Sweet Nothing." Meanwhile, Goulding delivers a great product as she spits out, "There’s a power in what you do / Now, every other day I’ll be watching you / Show you what it feels like, now I’m on the outside / We did everything right, now I’m on the outside."

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