As anyone and they’ll agree that 2014 was one of the weakest years for music in recent memory. Most of the music I added to my library this year was either average or old music (keyword: “most”).
A good number of songs stood out from the pack; here are my top 20 favorite songs of 2014, starting with 20.
20. ”After the Disco” by Broken Bells
A single off Broken Bells’ album of the same name, it’s easy to disregard “After the Disco” as a bland alternative rock attempt at chart success. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming the chorus more than once; it may not be a unique sound, but it can be hard to forget.
19. ”Summer” by Calvin Harris
Scottish producer Calvin Harris leads the pack of DJs who broke out of the EDM world and into mainstream consciousness, along with the likes of Zedd and David Guetta. Blending elements of pop and dance music, “Summer” was destined for success from its release. The song’s one weakness lies in its vocals, provided by Harris himself.
18. ”Lionhearted (feat. Urban Cone)” by Porter Robinson
It’s been a landmark year for Porter Robinson. His debut album Worlds marked his official departure from mainstream EDM culture; single “Lionhearted” stands out as the album’s poppiest (and easiest-to-like) track. Swedish indie pop band Urban Cone provides guest vocals, sounding eerily similar to bands like Passion Pit, mixed with Robinson’s synthpop twist.
17. ”Anaconda” by Nicki Minaj
2014 has undoubtedly been the year of the butt. Although Jennifer Lopez and Meghan Trainor released curve-loving songs of their own, it was Nicki Minaj’s sample of the 1992 hit “Baby Got Back” that quickly became the booty-flaunting anthem of the year. The single cover features Minaj crouching with her back to the camera wearing nothing but a pink G-string; the music video was just as salacious. Media attention does not equal musical strength, however; the lyrics are lackluster and the song becomes no more than a simple shoutout to Sir Mix-a-Lot’s eternal love of the derrière.
16. ”i” by Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar shot to fame for his Compton-bred rhyming prowess, so it’s surprising to see him release an R&B outing like “i” as his upcoming album’s lead single. Sampling a 60s R&B song, “i” can be seen as Lamar’s demonstration of a budding talent in a different area of expertise. Hip hop embracing other genres is not a new concept, but it’s rare to see it from a hardcore Compton rapper like Lamar. If this single is representative of the album, blogs everywhere may soon be deeming him the male Janelle Monáe.
15. ”Shut Up and Dance” by Walk the Moon
The standout hit off Walk the Moon’s sophomore effort Talking is Hard, “Shut Up and Dance” is an infectious pop rock earworm about being smitten by a girl and forgetting all of life’s troubles to have fun. It may be one of music’s most beaten to death clichés, but Walk the Moon’s take on it is one of the more admirable ones we’ve seen in a while. Good luck trying to stop singing it to yourself.
14. “Black Widow (feat. Rita Ora)” by Iggy Azalea
2014 was the year trap infiltrated mainstream music and ditched its old status as a niche genre; “Black Widow” may be the most popular example of this. The claps and steel drum beat against Azalea’s faux AAVE twang and Ora’s chantlike chorus make for a surefire radio hit, despite lyrically being one of Azalea’s weaker entries. Another missed opportunity is Azalea not opting to sing the chorus herself; if “Change Your Life” showed us anything, it’s that it’s not impossible for Iggy Iggs to vocalize a little.
13. “Chasing Time” by Azealia Banks
In the years following her breakout hit “212”, Azealia Banks became more synonymous with public Twitter arguments than with her music, and it seemed like her long-awaited debut album Broke with Expensive Taste was no more than a pipe dream. “Chasing Time” serves as BWET’s standout single, showcasing her rhyming ability as well as some singing talent. It’s not spectacular, but one can’t expect most rappers to belt like Whitney Houston.
12. ”Bed of Lies (feat. Skylar Grey)” by Nicki Minaj
Nicki Minaj has repeatedly insisted that The Pinkprint is her most personal album yet, and if anything is representative of this, it’s the single “Bed of Lies”. Skylar Grey’s chorus is an absolute dream, and it’s refreshing to see Minaj’s private life—largely under wraps for many years—come to light in her verses. “Bed of Lies” succeeds as an era-defining song where “Pills N Potions” failed: an unforgettable chorus, a poppy beat, and a take-charge attitude.
11. ”L.A.LOVE” by Fergie
It’s been eight years since we’ve heard a solo outing from Black Eyed Peas frontwoman Fergie, so this love letter to her hometown was long overdue. Produced by the ubiquitous DJ Mustard, it starkly contrasts her Dutchess material by blending elements of hip hop and pop; unfortunately, this leads to some uninspiring lyrics. In a music landscape dominated by a “Nicki vs. Iggy” debate, no one should underestimate Fergie’s rapping ability. She may just fly under the radar when her second solo album is released next year.
10. ”Chandelier” by Sia
Sia Furler is just as remarkable a singer as she is a songwriter. Her pop ballad “Chandelier”, off her latest album 1000 Forms of Fear, has been her most successful solo work to date, garnering platinum certification in numerous countries. What she may lack in vocal range she makes up in pure emotion; even though the song is about a life of debauchery, the words are far more powerful than songs like “We Can’t Stop”.
9. ”Four Door Aventador” by Nicki Minaj
They say things don’t really disappear, but merely reappear in a different form. Many music blogs have rushed to christen “Four Door Aventador” as the best album cut on The Pinkprint, and with good reason: it very closely resembles the type of music on Minaj’s mixtapes, prior to mainstream success. Her Queens attitude coming to life through her words is what jettisoned her to fame in the first place, and “Four Door Aventador” serves as a reminder that Onika from the block is not dead, but rather working behind the scenes.
8. ”Feeling Myself (feat. Beyonce)” by Nicki Minaj
Following the success of the remix of “***Flawless”, people were eagerly awaiting the next Nicki and Bey collaboration that they were promised. Truth be told, Beyoncé’s chorus and bridges in “Feeling Myself” are nowhere near stellar— though hard to forget because they’re so repetitive. Minaj’s verses, however, save the song; they’re without a doubt some of her best to date (“Bitches ain’t got punchlines or flow / I have both and an empire also”). Because of its marketability as a radio hit, it’s no surprise that “Feeling Myself” has been announced as The Pinkprint’s next single.
7. ”Bang Bang” by Jessie J, Ariana Grande, & Nicki Minaj
Upon first listen, “Bang Bang” sounds like three different verses from three different genres by three different artists clumsily stitched together into one song. That ultimately proves to be its selling point: Jessie, Ariana, and Nicki each provide one verse that each represents them as an artist. Jessie and Ari’s signature brands of pop shine through in their parts, while Nicki’s tendency to blend hip hop and pop is easily apparent in hers. With this kind of star power and catchy lyrics, the song was destined for popular success from the start.
6. ”FROOT” by Marina and the Diamonds
The first single off her upcoming third album of the same name, “FROOT” is Marina’s longest yet—a strength for some and a weakness for others. This psychedelic pop song is undeniably catchy from first listen, and its chorus is one of her best yet. Will “FROOT” be her best album to date? Only time will tell.
5. ”Rather Be (feat. Jess Glynne)” by Clean Bandit
Although Clean Bandit has been around for a few years, “Rather Be” is their mainstream breakthrough. The song captivates the listener with strains of violin and the ethereal voice of Jess Glynne, and is suitable for any type of listener. Watch out, Disclosure.
4. ”Only” Nicki Minaj, Drake, Lil Wayne, & Chris Brown
It’s THE hip hop collaboration of the year: Lil Wayne and his two Young Money protégés, Nicki Minaj and Drake, with a chorus provided by amateur pugilist Chris Brown. Each MC’s verse in “Only” begins with clarification that they did not sleep with each other, then continue talking about themselves and their success. Nicki and Drake’s parts make the song; Wayne’s part is particularly sleepy for someone who is known for performing with energy. “Only” is undeniably The Pinkprint’s best single.
3. ”2 On (fear. ScHoolboy Q)” by Tinashe
2014 has been kind to R&B newcomer Tinashe. At first, “2 On” seems like another mindless Mustard track about partying, but her debut album Aquarius proved that she has much more to offer, vocally rivaling the likes of Rihanna and Jhené Aiko. Even when bogged down by repetitive DJ Mustard trademarks and a verse by ScHoolboy Q, Tinashe’s potential shines through.
2. ”Uptown Funk (feat. Bruno Mars” by Mark Ronson
What would happen if the Motown sound came back to life today? Producer Mark Ronson set out to answer that question with “Uptown Funk”, with guest vocals by retro showman Bruno Mars. The song’s doo-wop bassline and rock melodies against Mars’s transcendent voice come together to form one of the best revivals of Motown sound we’ve ever seen, with a bit of a 21st century electronic twist.
1. ”***Flawless (Remix)” by Beyoncé & Nicki Minaj
If Nicki Minaj’s verse on Kanye West’s “Monster” in 2010 was a declaration that rap’s new queen had arrived, her verse on the remix of Beyoncé’s token feminist anthem “***Flawless” is a confirmation of that position. Beyoncé’s admirable opening and an OutKast saxophone sample lead up to Minaj’s commanding rap, deemed by many to be her best verse since “Monster”. She covers everything, from her meteoric rise to success (“I know they hope I fall / But tell ‘em winnin’ is my motherfuckin’ protocol”) to her reign of the hip hop soundscape (“The queen of rap slayin’ with Queen Bey / If you ain’t on the team you playin’ for team D”), all with the Queens attitude we first fell in love with at the turn of the decade.