24 Dec 2014

The year in pop music 2014

8:49 am on 24 December 2014

Unless you have exemplary taste in pop music and rap, my year in music was most likely different to yours. According to Spotify, my top five artists this year were Drake, Taylor Swift, Kanye West, PARTYNEXTDOOR and The-Dream, and I listened to Miley Cyrus in the autumn and Bruce Springsteen in the winter. With that as context, here are some thoughts on the year in popular music in 2014.

The songs that you might associate with 2014 in the future might not have even come out this year. Many of 2014’s biggest bangers (Chris Brown’s ‘Loyal’, Pitbull and Ke$ha’s ‘Timber’, ‘Partition’, ‘XO’ and ‘Drunk On Love’ from Beyonce, Jason Derulo’s ‘Talk Dirty’, ‘Happy’ by Pharrell) were released in late 2013, but hit their stride here in January and February.

Lorde throwing goats and looking confused

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‘Royals’, too – which we can all admit to being heartily sick of by now, right? – was ubiquitous this year, as was the “Lorde pun”, which is now a dedicated round at the Herald. Pure Heroine might’ve come out last year, but with two Grammys, a Hunger Games soundtrack and now a Golden Globe nomination to her name, Ella’s star has easily eclipsed New Zealand’s previous global pop cultural high, which was Martin Henderson in the ‘Toxic’ video.

Even by the standards of music awards ceremonies, this year’s Grammy Awards was one of wackest in recent memory, with Queen Latifah, Macklemore and Madonna presiding over the mass, televised wedding of 33 same-sex couples and Macklemore winning Best Rap Album. Even he knew it wasn’t deserved, posting a screenshot of his grovelling text to Kendrick Lamar to Instagram with exactly the level of self-awareness you’d expect of someone who signs off with “Much love”.


A photo posted by @macklemore on

Iggy Azalea was to 2014 what Macklemore was to 2013 and Lana del Rey was to 2012, in so far as “problematic pop stars of questionable authenticity” go. She was written about and written about and written about some more, but kept selling records and winning awards. There’s a strong case to be made for ‘Fancy’ as song of the year. (Plus, she’s got a track with Britney in the works for early next year.)

The trend was signalled by ‘Thrift Shop’ and ‘Talk Dirty’, but the sax hook is well and truly back care of Ariana Grande’s sassy ‘Problem’, feat. Iggy Azalea. It’s just one of the incongruous pleasures of this banger, as well as a whispered Big Sean hook we would otherwise never have known we wanted to hear – and the evidence that has recently come to light of Ariana Grande being carried around like a little baby.

A gif of Rihanna in her 'naked dress'

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Everyone remembers where they were when Beyonce dropped last year (me: work drinks, which I left immediately). But despite fervent hopes that she’d follow suit with album #8 this year, Rihanna didn’t deliver. Though it feels like we saw a lot of her (a lot (no shade, she looks incredible, all the time), we didn’t hear much from her at all, and that which we did – her collaboration with Shakira, ‘Can’t Remember to Forget You’ – came too close to ska to be welcome news. But girl had her hands full with the Football World Cup.

As for Beyonce herself, she spent most of 2014 riding the wave of its success, even as her public relations ship entered stormy waters, to continue the metaphor with middling success at best. Despite rumoured infidelity and speculation of impending divorce, fuelled by a much-publicised fracas in an elevator, all seems well in camp Carter-Knowles, at least from where this consumer of online content is sitting in Wellington, New Zealand. And ‘7/11’ is proof that she can bring the internet to a standstill with a video that she knocked out on her iPhone of her larking about with her dancers. I would say we need more pop stars like Beyonce, if it wasn’t that there can only be one Beyonce.

A gif of DJ Mustard

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The success of DJ Mustard – was he on every beat? – this year is a compelling argument for finding a formula that works and sticking to it. At this point, few hip-hop stars haven’t put their hands up for his squelching beats and offbeat “Hey! Hey! Hey!”s. If he’s not behind your song of the year, (and in this commentator’s opinion, it could well be ‘2 On’), it’s only fair that it’s at least one that recognises his influence.

A gif of Drake lint-rolling his pants

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Drake didn’t even release an album in 2014, but still managed to dominate radio, TV, the internet, concert venues, conversations, my heart, etc. When he lint-rolled his pants, it made headlines (because he did it courtside, but w/e). ‘Trophies’, ‘Draft Day’, ‘Days in the East’ and ‘0 to 100 / The Catch Up’ are all better than most artists’ first singles, and you know they won’t even make Views From The Six. What a guy. Can’t wait to hit that in February.

In a depressing example of the entertainment industry’s readiness to enable criminal behaviour and violence against women, Chris Brown is back – if he ever really went away. With ‘Loyal’, ‘Love More’, ‘New Flame’, ‘It Won’t Stop’ with Sevyn Streeter, and a number of other solid tracks on his new album X (including the title track, on which he worked with Diplo), he continues to nab banger after banger, even as he proves himself to be a reprehensible human being.  

British music had a stronger year than it has in a while, with Sam Smith flying the flag for St George at next year’s Grammy’s with six nominations (and all the big ones, too, none of this “best arrangement” nonsense). With all three singles from his debut album In The Lonely Hour performing well in the US and the UK, he’s had maybe the biggest year of anyone who was born in 1992. FKA Twigs also cracked America this year, helped along by her relationship with Robert Pattinson and a couple of “air sculptures” on Fallon.

A gif from One Direction's 'Steal My Girl' video

Photo: Unknown

But who needs critical acclaim when you’re young, you’ve got four good mates, and you’re all really, really, really ridiculous good-looking? One Direction, it turns out, because bloody hell Four is good! My picks are ‘Night Changes’, ‘Fireproof’, ‘Ready to Run’, ‘18’ and of course ‘Steal My Girl’, the best song Robbie Williams never got his lad-hands on. Seeing three of them at Sydney International Airport was maybe the highlight of my entire year, even though one was the one that no one cares about because he is objectively three points less good-looking than the others (the customs officer told me they “stank of pot”).

Habitual over-achiever Taylor Swift knocked it out of the park with 1989, but in doing so burned bridges once and for all with the country fans who felt alienated by Red, which at least had, like, real guitars. Still, she probably sleeps pretty well at night, on that big pile of money and fancy cats. This year’s answer to ‘Call Me Maybe’ (both in terms of its being catchy like a virus, and the number of average YouTube parodies it prompted), ‘Shake It Off’ is easy to hate, but hard to hate for long, even with that spoken word section – and more than half the songs on the album are stellar. Though ‘Welcome to New York’ and ‘How You Get The Girl’ are among the worst she’s ever written, so swings and roundabouts.


Spotify’s “most viral” song was ‘Take Me to Church’ by Hozier. As you’d expect of a song named the “most viral”, it gets pretty annoying, pretty fast, but in this journalist’s opinion, by no means did it near the potential for irritation of either ‘Happy’ or ‘All About That Bass’ by Meghan Trainor, both sugary-sweet and hugely successful opiate for the masses.

Between ‘All About That Bass’ and ‘Anaconda’, 2014 was a good year in which to have an arse

Between Trainor and Nicki Minaj’s ‘Anaconda’, 2014 was a good year in which to have an arse. Cue a very predictable backlash from all the “skinny bitches”. But Minaj failed to live up to the promise of ‘Lookin Ass’ and ‘Boss Ass Bitch’ with the much-anticipated Pinkprint, which was released earlier this month and by all accounts kind of sucks. Conversely, Azealia Banks finally put out Broke With Expensive Taste, and it wasn’t awful! No one was more surprised than the 544k who follow her on Twitter, who doubted that she’d ever get her foot out of her mouth long enough to lay a few tracks down.

In conclusion, I’d say 2014 was a solid year for pop music, with DJ Mustard carrying more than his fair share of the banger burden. It won’t be remembered as as fine a vintage as 2013, though all it would take would be a last-minute banger from Rihanna to push it over the edge, and there’s still time for that. Come thru Rih!

Anyway, here are a selection of the songs I’ve been listening to this year while writing important journalism, crowdsourced with the help of the pop squad on Twitter (s/o to Duncan, Sam, Eddie, Joseph, Joe, James, Tom Josh, et al). I don’t work at The Wireless anymore so be sure to tell me what I’ve forgotten and what I’m wrong about! It’s been a pleasure and a privilege being your pop correspondent.

A gif of Kanye West dropping the mic

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