Whether you’re willing to admit it or not, every music fan has a few guilty pleasures. While we’d love to lie and say we spend every waking hour listening to cool and obscure punk records, the truth is that we, like many of you, enjoy a Top 40 pop tune every once in awhile. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with liking what you like. It’s no secret the radio landscape is utterly dominated by glossy, auto-tuned, pop nuggets these days, for better or for worse, and, below, you’ll find the ten we caught ourselves singing along with throughout 2014.
10. Meghan Trainor – “All About That Bass”
Promoting positive body image and boasting a tastefully retro, R&B-tinged sound, Meghan Trainor exploded over the summer with her undeniably catchy smash hit “All About That Bass,” a track originally offered up to (but ultimately passed over by) Beyoncé. Will anyone remember it in 10 years? Doubtful, but, for 2014, it stands as a geeky play on words, career-launching single with a positive message.
9. Nick Jonas – “Jealous”
Baby Jonas grew up. Branching out from his brothers, Nick Jonas has spent 2014 making a concentrated effort to shed his Disney image, crafting an adult pop album with more provocative themes than the House Of Mouse would have allowed, and flexing his buff new bod on the mixed-martial arts TV drama Kingdom. His breakout single “Jealous,” is largely responsible for his image overhall, which showcases a mature side to the singer in an unbelievably smooth R+B-light package. No other Top 40 hit inspired quite as many men to strain towards their falsetto.
8. Ed Sheeran ft. Pharrell Williams – “Sing”
Anytime superstar producer Pharrell Williams stamps his producing skills on a track—and lends himself as guest artist on the song to boot—you know it’s destined to become a hit. When it’s an Ed Sheeran song, that rule applies doubly. Sheeran’s latest album, X, has spawned a seemingly endless barrage of charming, lyrically dense pop. It’s almost hard to pick a favorite, but it’s lead single “Sing” that stands out most fondly as the year comes to a close. Combining borderline industrial beats, pulsing riffs, and hypnotic falsettoed hooks, the track exemplifies everything that makes Sheeran one of his generation’s most successful songwriters. Just try not to sing along.
7. Sam Smith – “Stay With Me”
The first introduction most people got to English soul singer Sam Smith was Disclosure’s 2012 sleeper electronic/dance hit “Latch.” And, while that single might be a top contender for one of the best pop songs of the last decade, Smith spent 2014 proving himself a formidable artist in his own right. His debut album, In The Lonely Hour, has already produced multiple, memorable hits, but it’s gospel infused ballad “Stay With Me,” a song which recently racked up multiple Grammy nominations, that stands the best chance of becoming a classic. It’s not exactly “pop,” per say, at least not in the disposable Top 40 sense. Nonetheless, it serves as one of most stirring tracks outside of our scene to emerge this year.
6. Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX – “Fancy”
From the first note of its synthy, bouncing bass line, it’s clear that “Fancy,” the single that put Australian rapper Iggy Azalea on the map, is a gigantic song, both in effectiveness and commercial appeal, the kind that every single artist in the pop world spends countless years and countless hours hoping to craft. It’s also so 2014. Though Iggy’s rap skills (which are actually better than she gets credit for) and the rest of her catalogue may not be especially future proof, this track, and its inescapable reach, are always going to be inextricably linked with this year in music, and, as it wholeheartedly succeeds in its ambitions, it absolutely deserves to be. As much as Iggy’s delivery and image contributed to its success, the unbearable appeal of Charli XCX’s perfectly bratty hook is what really helps seal the deal. Plus, that “Clueless” video is classic.
5. Sia – “Chandelier”
While most of the attention surrounding Australian singer Sia’s smash hit “Chandelier” has centered around its video—a gorgeous, Grammy-nominated, evocative performance, impressive choreography and performance art—the song itself is hauntingly beautiful. Juxtaposing Sia’s powerful, earnest reflections on her alcohol addiction with thumping, electropop production, “Chandelier” is more daring than most of the Top 40. At once tragic and empowering, the hit begs to be bellowed in the car or at stadiums.
4. Charli XCX – “Boom Clap”
For the last few years, English dance pop singer/songwriter Charli XCX has been quietly and cleverly laying down the foundation that will allow her to become a breakout star, first with 2012’s infectious Icona Pop collaboration “I Love It,” and then with Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy.” Charli released her biggest solo single to date, “Boom Clap,” as part of the soundtrack for The Fault In Our Stars, and, while it hasn’t quite catapulted her career to the level of recognition she deserves, it remains one of the year’s best (and perhaps most criminally underrated) pop tracks. The singer’s clever new album, Sucker, is influenced by Joan Jett as much as Britney Spears, and, due to its December release, it unfortunately seems to be getting snubbed in a lot of year-end coverage.
3. Clean Bandit – Rather Be (ft. Jess Glynne)
One of the year’s unexpected hits came from orchestral house group (yeah, you read that right) Clean Bandit, who produced this unabashedly joyful single that recalled early ‘90s club hits. When’s the last time you grooved so hard to a violin, dudes? It remains to be seen whether Clean Bandit can bolster their success with another strings-driven hit, but this one will live on, through your iPod and countless Coca-Cola commercials.
2. Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea – “Problem”
Former Nickelodeon star Ariana Grande broke out this year in a real, legitimate way with surprisingly mature sophomore release, My Everything. Somewhat ironically, Ariana’s Nickelodeon fanbase are probably the wrong demographic to wholeheartedly enjoy her nostalgic, pop-infused R&B sound, and the crowd that would love her are less likely to listen because of the Nickelodeon connection. Still, she managed to find an audience this year, propelled in a huge way by 2014’s horn-driven single, “Problem.” Though Iggy Azalea feels shoehorned in to sell records, her presence still works; Grande’s insane voice is the real star, however, as is the classy, glossy production from Max Martin and Shellback.
1. Taylor Swift – “Blank Space”
There’s the music industry, and then there’s Taylor Swift, a certifiable, independent economy. Not only is Taylor the only recording artist to sell more than a million albums in 2014, but she did so in the span of one week (the highest sales week in over 12 years). Defying conventional wisdom, Taylor only gets more and more popular with each passing release, and her latest, a total pop reinvention, 1989, has become a certifiable crossover super-hit. Sure, she has plenty of detractors, but the numbers and the positive press don’t lie: The world loves Taylor Swift, and, where pop songwriting is concerned, she’s the reigning queen of 2014. 1989 has several strong tracks, notably lead single “Shake It Off” and the Jack Antonoff-helmed “Out Of The Woods,” but it’s the more subtle “Blank Space” that has remained burned into our brains for weeks on end, slowly shifting from “nice song” status to “biggest guilty pleasure of 2014.” Poking fun at her public image, Swift relishes spoken word come-ons like “Daring, I’m a nightmare dressed like a day dream.” Another Max Martin and Shellback track, “Blank Space” is an example of a song that has both radio appeal and a predisposition for a long shelf life: not Swift’s best ever, perhaps, but best yet.