Top 100 Singles of 2014

Saturday, December 20, 2014

As I have done for the past couple years, I wrote about my favorite singles of 2014 in five top 20 lists for different genres: R&B, pop, rock/alternative, rap, and country. So here's everything poured together into one big list, more or less (85% of the list came from those five pieces, the bottom 15 are other pop/rap/R&B songs I threw in there in place of the lower placing rock and country songs). Here is the whole thing (or rather the 96 songs that were available) as a Spotify playlist

1. T.I. f/ Young Thug - "About The Money"
2. Phantogram - "Fall In Love"
3. Tinashe f/ ScHoolboy Q - "2 On"
4. Rae Sremmurd - "No Flex Zone"
5. Clean Bandit f/ Jess Glynne - "Rather Be"
6. Bleachers - "I Wanna Get Better"
7. Usher - "Good Kisser"
8. Maddie & Tae - "Girl In A Country Song"
9. Florida Georgia Line - "Dirt"
10. Katy Perry f/ Juicy J - "Dark Horse"

11. Paramore - "Ain't It Fun"
12. Bobby Shmurda - "Hot N***a"
13. YG f/ Drake - "Who Do You Love?"
14. Beyonce - "Partition"
15. DJ Khaled f/ Chris Brown, August Alsina, Future and Jeremih - "Hold You Down"
16. Young Thug - "Stoner"
17. Rich Homie Quan f/ Problem - "Walk Thru"
18. DeJ Loaf - "Try Me"
19. DJ Snake and Lil Jon - "Turn Down For What"
20. Jason Derulo f/ 2 Chainz - "Talk Dirty"

21. Disclosure f/ Sam Smith - "Latch"
22. alt-J - "Left Hand Free"

23. Taylor Swift - "Shake It Off"
24. Pitbull f/ Ke$ha - "Timber"
25. Drake - "0 To 100 / The Catch Up"
26. Jay-Z f/ Beyonce - "Part II (On The Run)"
27. Jeremih f/ YG - "Don't Tell 'Em"
28. Migos - "Fight Night"
29. Rich Gang f/ Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan and Birdman - "Lifestyle"
30. Ariana Grande f/ The Weeknd - "Love Me Harder"

31. Charli XCX - "Boom Clap"
32. Eli Young Band - "Dust"
33. Eric Church - "Give Me Back My Hometown"
34. Coldplay - "Magic"
35. J. Roddy Walston & The Business - "Heavy Bells"
36. Michael Jackson f/ Justin Timberlake - "Love Never Felt So Good"
37. Rico Love - "They Don't Know"
38. Babyface and Toni Braxton - "Hurt You"
39. Iggy Azalea f/ Charli XCX - "Fancy"
40. Vance Joy - "Riptide"

41. Bear Hands - "Giants"
42. Young Thug f/ Nicki Minaj - "Danny Glover (Remix)"
43. Kendrick Lamar - "i"
44. Fergie - "L.A. Love (La La)"
45. ScHoolboy Q f/ BJ The Chicago Kid - "Studio"
46. Jeezy f/ Jay-Z - "Seen It All"
47. Yo Gotti - "Errrbody"
48. Ed Sheeran - "Sing"
49. The Band Perry - "Don't Let Me Be Lonely"
50. Dierks Bentley - "Drunk On A Plane"

51. Demi Lovato f/ Cher Lloyd - "Really Don't Care"
52. Nick Jonas - "Jealous"
53. Ingrid Michaelson - "Girls Chase Boys"
54. Magic! - "Rude"
55. Mila J - "Smoke, Drink, Break-Up"
56. Little Big Town - "Day Drinking"
57. K. Michelle - "Can't Raise A Man"
58. T-Pain f/ B.o.B - "Up Down (Do This All Day)"
59. August Alsina f/ Young Jeezy - "Make It Home"
60. Snootie Wild f/ Yo Gotti - "Yayo (Remix)"

61. Future f/ Pusha T, Pharrell and Casino - "Move That Dope"
62. Kenny Chesney - "Til It's Gone"
63. Miranda Lambert - "Automatic"
64. Brett Eldredge - "Beat of the Music"
65. Keith Urban - "Somewhere In My Car"
66. Jason Aldean - "When She Says Baby"
67. Blake Shelton f/ Gwen Sebastian - "My Eyes"
68. Lorde - "Yellow Flicker Beat"
69. Arctic Monkeys - "Do I Wanna Know?"
70. Rae Sremmurd - "No Type"

71. 5 Seconds Of Summer - "She Looks So Perfect"
72. MKTO - "Classic"
73. Jennifer Lopez - "First Love"
74. Lil Boosie and Webbie f/ Kiara - "Show Da World"
75. Bando Jonez - "Sex You"
76. Janelle Monae f/ Miguel - "Primetime"
77. Sevyn Streeter - "nEXt"
78. Adrian Marcel f/ Sage The Gemini - "2AM"
79. Algebra Blessett - "Nobody But You"
80. Pharrell - "Happy"

81. Beyonce - "Drunk In Love"
82. John Legend - "All Of Me"
83. The Pretty Reckless - "Heaven Knows"
84. AC/DC - "Play Ball"
85. Foo Fighters - "Something From Nothing"
86. Ellie Goulding - "Burn"
87. Katy Perry - "Birthday"
88. Lupe Fiasco f/ Ty Dolla $ign - "Next To It"
89. Elle Varner f/ A$AP Ferg - "Don't Wanna Dance"
90. Tamar Braxton - "All The Way Home"

91. Maroon 5 - "Maps" 
92. Kim Cesarion - "Undressed"
93. Kiesza - "Hideaway"
94. Migos - "Handsome And Wealthy"
95. Ne-Yo f/ Jeezy - "Money Can't Buy"
96. Trey Songz - "What's Best For You"
97. Naughty Boy f/ Sam Smith - "La La La"
98. AJR - "I'm Ready"
99. Juicy J f/ Nicki Minaj, Lil Bibby and Young Thug - "Low"
100. BeyoncĂ© - "XO"

Thursday, December 18, 2014

I wrote an essay titled How Music Managers Became As Important As Artists for Complex.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

This week the Baltimore City Paper published its annual Top 10 issue, with lots and lots of year-end lists, and I contributed some things in the music section. I did year-end editions of my BPM column, with the best Baltimore club releases of 2014, and my Rap Sheet column, with the best local rap of the year. I voted in several other music lists, including Local Albums (where I wrote blurbs about Future Islands and Wye Oak), Local Singles (where I blurbed Lor Scoota), and Non-Local Albums (where I blurbed YG).

Also wrote The Short List this week as usual.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

I have a couple new pieces up on Complex, the top five LL Cool J videos and ten artist side hustles you haven't heard about yet.

Movie Diary

Saturday, December 13, 2014

a) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
My wife is a fan of the Hunger Games books and has taken me to all of the movies so far, and I'm happy to tag along since they started decent and have steadily improved from there. In fact I think I enjoy learning the story as the movies go along instead of having read the source material. Francis "Bad Romance" Lawrence is obviously a strong visual stylist but I thought the story was especially good this time, all the dry social satire stuff where the rebellion is as obsessed with imagery and media manipulation as the evil empire is. Also the funny meta scene where Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson are sitting around critiquing Jennifer Lawrence's screen presence, that was pretty great. And when J-Law stuffs a cat into her purse and shushes it, that was incredible.

b) The LEGO Movie
I'm totally into the idea of filmmakers being tasked with turning a pre-existing non-narrative pop culture product into an actual enjoyable story and succeeding beyond any reasonable expectations -- Clue is one of my favorite comedies just for that reason. Seeing this well after all the positive reviews kinda took out the element of surprise, though, I was almost disappointed by it. Or at least, I didn't think it was funny as what the writer/director team did with the Jump Street movies, something about the animation and voice work never totally gelled. Still pretty fun though.

c) That Awkward Moment
I regarded this movie with a lot of suspicion, both because it was a generic relationship comedy with a weak placeholder typo that ended up being renamed after a Twitter catchphrase, and because it seemed like one of those comedies where they placed a far higher priority on casting pretty people and not people with any kind of track record for comedy. And yet, I ultimately found it moderately charming. I'll chalk that up to first-time writer/director Tom Gormican, though -- if he gets funnier actors saying his dialogue and maybe some less boilerplate subject matter he could really have something.

d) Nebraska
I generally like Alexander Payne's movies, although I haven't seen them all and some definitely work better than others. I feel like he's almost managed some kind of weird trick of maintaining a pretty strong sensibility and style of humor through all his work while the perception of his movies varies widely in terms of whether they're considered broad and silly or poignant or whatever. This, his first black & white movie and the first one he didn't write, isn't even that much of an outlier when you get down to it -- oddly parts of it reminded me more of About Schmidt than anything else. I enjoyed Will Forte in it and there were a handful of really great scenes but overall I dunno if it totally held together or stuck with me.

e) August: Osage County
A Pulitzer Prize-winning play adapted into a movie with a cast full of big deal actors is a good recipe for Oscar noms but as a viewing experience it can get kinda shouty and overwhelming, if not stagey per se. Streep and Roberts get their big moments and a lot of other actors just kind of show up overqualified for some flimsy roles that practically consist mainly of reaction shots. But the only relative unknown of the whole bunch, Julianne Nicholson, who I mostly know from a recurring role on "Masters Of Sex," ended up kind of being the emotional center of the movie in a really compelling way.

f) Dallas Buyers Club
I like when movies based on a true story restrict themselves to a specific span of time and don't try to give you anyone's life story or make the scope too wide. But this one kinda felt too focused, too hellbent on giving you only moments that drove home the narrative and the aspects of the character that pertained to the story, that it just felt artless and heavyhanded. Like it was written so painstakingly towards good acting that it sacrificed any subtlety.

g) A Single Shot
A nice tense thriller where Sam Rockwell plays a hunter who accidentally shoots a woman in the woods and then things kind of spirals out of control. I was impressed by Rockwell, who I generally like but who usually does schtickier roles, and especially by director David M. Rosenthal, who I only knew previously for the absolutely terrible See This Movie. It kinda lost my interests eventually as it ramped up and got crazier, but it was still pretty good. I wish William H. Macy was in it more, he's great.

h) Fire In The Sky
I remember when this movie came out, when I was 11 -- it opened the same weekend as CB4, which is what my brother and I ultimately opted to see that night, which was totally the right decision, but I was always curious about this one and finally watched it on TV recently. Definitely one of the more interesting and unique depictions of alien abduction I've ever seen, both because it's based on one of the more compelling abduction stories, and because the way it imagines things is pretty visually fresh and unique.

The 20 Best Country Radio Hits of 2014

Friday, December 12, 2014

With or without the pervasive "bro country" tag, it's undeniable that country music is as male-dominated as it's ever been in 2014. Only 11 of the top 60 Country Airplay tracks of 2014 had a female vocalist, and Lady Antebellum's Hillary Scott is the only woman in the list of the 10 most played artists. With Taylor Swift making her official departure from the genre, Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert seem to be gearing up to take turns occupying a Nicki Minaj-like role among an otherwise all-male roster of A-list solo stars. But there are some good songs that bucked the trend this year, as well as some that firmly landed within the trend. Here are the lists I did in 2012 and 2013 and the Spotify playlist of this year's list.

1. Maddie & Tae - "Girl In A Country Song"
#1 Country Airplay, #54 Hot 100
Rob Harvilla's great Wondering Sound year-end country essay did a good job of explaining the state of the 'bro country' phenomenon in 2014 and why "Girl In A Country Song" stood out so much. I also think his description of the song, while funny and accurate -- "too clever by three-quarters (as though lifted directly from a rock critic’s brain), but to its infinite credit actually gets played on the radio occasionally" -- sells it a little short both artistically and commercially. It's currently the #1 song on country radio, and the chorus goes above and beyond simply stating the thesis with the beautifully knotty internal rhymes of lines like "like all we're good for is looking good for you and your friends on the weekend, nothing more."

2. Florida Georgia Line - "Dirt"
#1 Country Airplay, #11 Hot 100
Florida Georgia Line are bro country's Limp Bizkit, the undeniable skeevy poster boys who will bear the brunt of the backlash when it comes. But they did a good job of at least temporarily inoculating themselves against haters like me by making the lead single to their second album such an uncharacteristically beautiful and bittersweet power ballad. Sure, they didn't write it, and any number of acts could've made it a hit, but something about Tyler Hubbard's usually obnoxious voice really works well with it. And I have to admit that when one of my family's cats died a couple weeks ago, this was the song that kept running through my head as I dug a hole in our backyard and laid Harrison into the dirt, so it kind of has personal meaning to me now.

3. Eli Young Band - "Dust"
#15 Country Airplay, #79 Hot 100
Mike Eli has one of my favorite voices in country and pretty much every single they release is gold to me. It's a shame this one didn't get as big as some of their previous hits, though.

4. Eric Church - "Give Me Back My Hometown"
#1 Country Airplay, #36 Hot 100
The Outsiders is the highest selling country album released in 2014, although that seemed to be powered mostly by the fanbase Eric Church accrued with 2011's blockbuster breakthrough Chief. All four of its singles were great (even the title track, which I put on the 'worst' list last year before its brief run on Baltimore's 98 Rock helped me come around to it), but only one of them was a big hit. "Give Me Back My Hometown" has more Springsteen in it than Church's best single, "Springsteen," but it also has a certain eerie beauty all its own. And it has an endearing awkwardness to it, as Church tries to make small talk and dribbles out "man this year's team is stout" (who says that?) and hilariously sniffles "that was our place" when his buddies take him to his ex-girlfriend's favorite Pizza Hut.

5. The Band Perry - "Don't Let Me Be Lonely"
#2 Country Airplay, #59 Hot 100
2013's Pioneer spun off one of my favorite singles campaigns, in any genre, of the past couple years, going right into 2014 with this track's gorgeous guitar leads and the follow-up single "Chainsaw." 

6. Dierks Bentley - "Drunk On A Plane"
#1 Country Airplay, #27 Hot 100
Anyone could've had a hit with that title, but to Dierks Bentley's credit, "Drunk On A Plane" goes beyond its 4-word elevator pitch to actually fill in the details with a nicely sketched backstory that makes it more of a defiant heartbreak anthem than just the 8th song on the playlist about throwing back whiskey. Bonus points for the convincingly drunken-sounding guitar riff.

7. Little Big Town - "Day Drinking"
#2 Country Airplay, #40 Hot 100
Little Big Town have become one of country's best purveyors of drinking songs in the past couple years, from "Pontoon" to "Sober" to "Day Drinking," but it's really the harmonies and playful arrangements that make them one of my favorite groups to hear on the radio.

8. Kenny Chesney - "Til It's Gone"
#5 Country Airplay, #73 Hot 100
I absolutely loathed Chesney when he was the biggest star in country for a few years there. But now that he's not so ubiquitous, I can relax and enjoy some of his songs a little, and this one surprised me as one of the hardest rocking things I've heard on country radio in recent memory.

9. Miranda Lambert - "Automatic"
#3 Country Airplay, #35 Hot 100
This year, Miranda Lambert released Platinum, her fifth album and shaping up to be her first to not reach platinum sales (to be fair, nobody's sold a million copies of a country album this year). I've always felt out of step with other critics who adore Lambert, and sure enough a lot of them hated this song, which I thought was pretty great. The gear shifting sound effects at the end are a bit much, but other than that it's a really thoroughly executed metaphor song that resonates with me even if I don't agree with its thesis on all levels.

10. Brett Eldredge - "Beat of the Music"
#1 Country Airplay, #44 Hot 100
Eldredge's breakthrough "Don't Ya" was one of the best surprises of 2013 country radio, and its follow-up single quietly became the biggest airplay hit of 2014, possibly one of the least obnoxious songs to ever be the biggest country song of its year.

11. Keith Urban - "Somewhere In My Car"
#1 Country Airplay, #49 Hot 100
There's a lot of Americana signifiers and boilerplate country song topics that the genre's biggest star born on another continent probably doesn't feel completely comfortable working into his lyrics. But they got cars in Australia, and they sure as hell got cars in Keith Urban songs, lots of 'em.

12. Jason Aldean - "When She Says Baby"
#1 Country Airplay, #38 Hot 100
It sounds stupid to say, but there are voices I love when they're singing good songs and hate when they're singing bad songs. And a prime example is Jason Aldean, who sounds goofy and ridiculous on athems like "My Kinda Party" but has a tender soulful tone that comes out really well in romantic songs like "When She Says Baby."

13. Blake Shelton f/ Gwen Sebastian - "My Eyes"
#1 Country Airplay, #39 Hot 100
If you're a contestant on "The Voice," you'll probably never have a hit of your own. But if you're lucky, your celebrity mentor will make their duet with you the 5th single and it will actually be good enough to go to #1.

14. Blake Shelton - "Neon Light"
#1 Country Airplay, #43 Hot 100
Blake Shelton has a hell of a Q rating thanks to his primetime TV gig and power couple marriage, but he always seemed to me like a minor star who had the charm and luck to stumble into the big time. 13th straight airplay #1s make a strong argument for his songs, though, which are mostly okay or better. And this is one of his best vocal turns, actually reminding me a little of my country idol, George Jones, in spots.

15. Sara Evans - "Slow Me Down"
#17 Country Airplay, #89 Hot 100
Her best and most enduring hit, "Suds In The Bucket," is also her most country. But for the most part, Sara Evans sings adult contemporary songs with a charming Missouri twang, and this is one of the most enjoyable ones she's done in the decade since "Suds."

16. Thompson Square - "Everything I Shouldn't Be Thinking About"
#4 Country Airplay, #69 Hot 100
Thompson Square is one of those married duos who mostly sings disgustingly lovey dovey duets about how in love they are. But "Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not" was sublimely saccharine, and this one is close to it.

17. Justin Moore - "Lettin' The Night Roll"
#1 Country Airplay, #49 Hot 100
Of all the young guys dominating country right now, Justin Moore has by far the best voice, a warm and rich instrument, and I was happy to see him get his third big hit this year. I love the little arrangement details in this song, like the blasts of organ and crash cymbals between lines on the second verse.

18. Luke Bryan - "Roller Coaster"
#1 Country Airplay, #43 Hot 100
Luke Bryan is the new Kenny Chesney, in terms of being the biggest star of the moment who just sums up everything that sucks about the era and very little of the good. But being that big in Nashville means you inevitably get sent some good songs, and this is one he managed not to ruin with his Gomer Pyle voice. Good for you, bravo, now get out of here before I change my mind, kid. 

19. Big & Rich - "Look At You"
#7 Country Airplay, #73 Hot 100
In the decade since Muzik Mafia's divisive blitz of initial fame, Big & Rich and Gretchen Wilson and all have pretty quickly sunken from prominence. And even though "Save A Horse (Ride A Cowboy)" now looks like an influential example of proto-bro country (while being far better than pretty much all the recent hick hop hits), their biggest hit in years was a sweet midtempo song, trading on the duo's distinctive harmonies.

20. Lady Antebellum - "Compass"
#1 Country Airplay, #46 Hot 100
A lot of Lady Antebellum's recent singles have a chirpy chipper quality that seems totally at odds with the smoldering romantic side shown on "Need You Now" and other singles from their commercial peak a few years ago. But this folksy upbeat song works pretty well for them, uses both lead singers' voices to better effect than the more anonymous stuff like "Downtown" or "Bartender" that they've done lately. 

The 10 Worst Country Radio Hits of 2014: 
1. Luke Bryan - "Play It Again"
2. Jerrod Niemann - "Drink To That All Night"
3. Dustin Lynch - "Where It's At (Yep Yep)"
4. Miranda Lambert f/ Carrie Underwood - "Somethin' Bad"
5. Garth Brooks - "People Loving People"
6. Chase Rice - "Ready Set Roll"
7. Frankie Ballad - "Sunshine & Whiskey"
8. Dan & Shay - "19 You + Me"
9. Brad Paisley - "River Bank"
10. Tim McGraw f/ Faith Hill - "Meanwhile Back At Mama's"

Thursday, December 11, 2014
This week's Short List.

The 20 Best Rap Radio Hits of 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

In 2013, big name albums drove the mainstream rap conversation and generated most of the radio hits, resulting in playlists that were heavy on Wale/Cole/Kendrick/Drake/Octogenarian Hov/etc. songs with R&B hooks or Future in a melodic mode. In 2014, rap radio was full of actual rap singles, often attached to mixtapes or EPs or no full-length project at all, with multiple verses and rapped hooks (or no hook at all). I'm not placing these songs or these broad trends on a spectrum of whether they're more or less "real" or more or less "lyrical" than this or that, I'm just stating a fact: I heard more rapping in rap songs on the radio. A lot of the rappers I heard were new and divisive and easily dismissed as flashes in the pan, but they brought a new energy to the airwaves that hopefully won't dissipate as we enter a new cycle of Wale/Cole/Kendrick/Drake/Kanye albums over the next few months. Here are the lists I did in 2012 and 2013, and the Spotify playlist for this year.

1. T.I. f/ Young Thug - "About The Money"
#6 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #42 Hot 100
Young Thug came up under Gucci Mane and idolizes Lil Wayne, so it's a little counterintuitive that the greatest song he's made with an established southern rap superstar is a guy like T.I. who he has little shared past or audible influence from (there's a great T.I. interview where he notes that he was slow to work with any Gucci disciples "because he's, you know, a diarrhea mouth"). But "About The Money" is a great song partly because it's two very different voices, from different generations of Atlanta rap, bouncing off of each other for the first time and finding a weird compatible energy. You can hear it in how they split up the chorus, in how Tip reverts to his old style of twitchy ad libs over Thug's half of the chorus, in how Tip references UGK because Thug's producer London On Da Track's organ riff so clearly reminds him of Pimp C beats.

2. Rae Sremmurd - "No Flex Zone"
#8 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #36 Hot 100
Mike WiLL Made It's crawling tempos and spacey low pass filter synths seem kind of like Atlanta rap's pendulum swing in the opposite direction of the snap music era, when drums and synths and voices were all kind of high and clipped and attention-grabbing. So I didn't expect the first new act he's really taken under his wing and introduced his public to be a couple of teenagers whose debut single sounded like the best ringtone rap single in 5 years. Once I realized "No Flex Zone" was a Mike WiLL beat, I started to recognized some of his signature textures, but those bleepy keyboards and yelping voices still sound quite a bit different from what I considered the Mike WiLL sound when it dominated 2012 and 2013.

3. Bobby Shmurda - "Hot N***a"
#3 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #6 Hot 100
A 20ish kid spits some bars over a beat from an established artist's song, raps it to a camera in his neighborhood, and uploads it to YouTube: something that has happened literally thousands if not millions of times over the last decade, and has only on a handful of occasions played even a tiny role in that artist eventually becoming famous. And then, this year, lightning struck and one of those videos went viral because the rapper did a goofy dance for a few seconds. And, even more improbably, that attention snowballed into a gangsta rap song with a stolen beat and no chorus becoming a daytime radio staple, New York's biggest non-Jay/non-Nicki since, what, "We Fly High"? It was all just so astronomically unlikely and entertaining to see unfold. And really I love anytime something from a verse becomes so catchy that people treat it like a chorus.

4. YG f/ Drake - "Who Do You Love?"
#16 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #54 Hot 100
My Krazy Life was the undisputed champion of a legendarily tepid year for major label rap albums, and in a more just world that would've meant a whole parade of hit singles following in the wake of "My N***a." Instead, the immediate follow-up featuring Drake managed to get less spins than pretty much every Drake collaboration ever attached to a major label album. Still, pretty fantastic song.

5. Young Thug - "Stoner"
#10 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #47 Hot 100
One of my favorite experiences as a music listener is to be proven wrong, to hear a song that makes me suddenly love an artist I'd previously disliked. And it's hard to think of an example in recent memory more dramatic than my eye-rolling impatience with 1017 Thug and my instant adoration of "Stoner." Just an incredible beat and perfect showcase for how his oddball vocal contortions can work in the service of both agile rapping and hugely catchy melodies.

6. Rich Homie Quan f/ Problem - "Walk Thru"
#9 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #74 Hot 100
It's reductive to both Rich Homie Quan and Future to compare them to each other more than necessary, but it really did surprise me, even after the success of "Type of Way," that Quan would be the more frequent radio presence of the two in 2014. Future just had "Move That Dope" and a few seconds of shine on a DJ Khaled track, while Quan had "My N***a" spilling over from 2013 plus "Lifestyle," "Walk Thru," and Yo Gotti's "I Know." Quan keeps coming with some of the best ad lib rebuttals in the game, my favorite on "Walk Thru" is "who got more money, you or me? (ME!)."

7. DeJ Loaf - "Try Me"
#10 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #46 Hot 100
One of those left field hits from a complete unknown that takes a minute to get used to, and then sounds amazing. A lot of more famous MCs jumped on the track and just didn't sound as good as DeJ Loaf did (and huge gasface to the stations that play this with a terrible Wiz Khalifa verse tacked on).

8. Drake - "0 To 100 / The Catch Up"
#4 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #35 Hot 100
Ever since scoring a huge hit off of a free mixtape before he was technically signed, Drake has always been at the forefront of getting radio to play songs that aren't perfectly affixed to an album campaign. And in 2014 he seemed intent on pushing the singles from Nothing Was The Same off the airwaves just 3 months after it was released with newer music, first "Trophies" (repurposed as the single from a terrible Young Money compilation), then an avalanche of Soundcloud loosies that will probably be too old to include on Views From The 6 by the time it drops. That "The Catch Up" part can fuck off, but "0 To 100" is a great beat, maybe even worth Drake getting his ass kicked by Diddy over, the first time a Drake song has sounded like anyone who made it has heard Wu Tang (unlike "Wu Tang Forever"). It's still full of embarrassing moments like any Drake song, though, my least favorite being when he says "that's my n***a" in reference to his white friend whose name is Noah.

9. Jay-Z f/ Beyonce - "Part II (On The Run)"
#5 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #77 Hot 100
One of the only rap hits featuring an R&B singer of any real value this year, it feels out of place to even acknowledge it here, especially since it was generally Exhibit A in Beyonce reaching her artistic pinnacle while her husband is getting too old to keep up. I do like hearing him do the Juvie flow on this, though, easily my favorite Timbaland beat of the last few years.

10. Migos - "Fight Night"
#6 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #69 Hot 100
The smarmy "better than the Beatles" memes are even worse than the weak stretches of their overrated mixtapes, but it's undeniable that Migos had a pretty good year, coming out of the shadow of their Drake co-sign with two songs that got more airplay than "Versace" ever did. I like when the guy who sounds like Rick Ross raps more than the Gucci Mane/Mike Jones hybrid guy.

11. Rich Gang f/ Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan and Birdman - "Lifestyle"
#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #16 Hot 100
Even without Birdman hovering over it, this song would feel to me a bit like Thug and London On Da Track's version of one of those sunny happy later Big Tymers singles. It also tends to make me laugh uncontrollably, whether I'm trying to sing along with the chorus or just remembering one of my finest tweets. Quan's verse is some genuinely great rapping, though.

12. Young Thug f/ Nicki Minaj - "Danny Glover (Remix)"
#41 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
When "Stoner" and "Danny Glover" started building buzz at the same time, I actively rooted for the former and against the latter. Once "Stoner" arose the undisputed airplay victor, though, I came around to the charms of "Danny Glover," which reached its chart peak many months later, when Asylum/Atlantic worked it and tried to tell everyone the title was "2 Bitches." A lot of songs by newer artists blew up this year with stations tacking on an unnecessary verse by an established MC, and Nicki's "Danny Glover" verse was the only one that grew on me enough that I'm willing to think of it as part of the song.

13. Kendrick Lamar - "i"
#11 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #39 Hot 100
The overreaction on both sides about this song has become kind of entrenched to the point that it's hard to talk about it. But I think it's a good song that got treated as a sellout ironically because it wasn't a safe familiar sequel to good kid (or "Control" or whatever people were expecting from a new Kendrick record). It seems like if a street single dropped at the same time, or if this was the single he moved with after the album was out like "Crooked Smile" or "I Can," it wouldn't have caused all that drama, so maybe it was just a strategic error. Still, it deserved better.

14. ScHoolboy Q f/ BJ The Chicago Kid - "Studio"
#1 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #38 Hot 100
TDE started the year with a lot of bluster about releasing 6 albums, and wound up with 3 albums and an EP, only one of which was a commercial success. And even ScHoolboy Q's #1 album kind of had a weird defeated air to it, after two really good singles ("Man of the Year" and "Collard Greens") stalled out as minor radio hits and Q started giving all these whiny interviews about regretting signing with Interscope. And "Studio" and "2 On" took off and dude had two songs all over the radio, although both were driven by R&B singers, even the one that was technically his record. Not since Lupe went pop has someone rapped so half-heartedly on their biggest hit. And yet it just sounded great on the radio even when you couldn't ignore the "cause ya girl...cause ya girl" trainwreck endings to the verses.

15. Jeezy f/ Jay-Z - "Seen It All"
#18 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #85 Hot 100
Jay-Z almost never shoots videos for guest verses for anyone besides Beyonce, so if he gives you a verse for a song that isn't especially radio-friendly it seems kind of stupid to make it your lead single. But this year Rick Ross, DJ Khaled, and Jeezy all did just that, and only the latter was a particularly good song that got a decent amount of airplay. It helps that it's one of Jay's verses in years.

16. Yo Gotti - "Errrbody"
#23 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #98 Hot 100
It feels weird to say this about an undistinguished perpetual also-ran like Yo Gotti, but the guy has been on a really impressive, underrated run lately. His 2013 album I Am kept spinning off singles well into 2014, ending up with four medium-sized radio hits, and then he released a new song off the back of those that features perhaps his best rapping and most fully realized concept to date.

17. Snootie Wild f/ Yo Gotti - "Yayo (Remix)"
#27 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
Just as 2013 was turning into 2014, I started hearing this "all I know is yayo" song that was kind of goofy but outrageously catchy and had some pretty great flows. Now, almost a year later, a similar song that goes "I'm in love with the coco" is even goofier and far more simplistic and charmless, and will probably go on to be much bigger. Not gonna cry for Snootie Wild or anything, but this song was definitely the better of the two.

18. Future f/ Pusha T, Pharrell and Casino - "Move That Dope"
#3 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #46 Hot 100
In the protracted run-up to Honest, as the momentum rapidly drained from Future's career, this song seemed like an odd single to push as they finally released the album. It worked from a radio standpoint, although at the moment it's still kinda looking like Future's last big hit until and unless he gets another one. And it was cool to hear Pharrell rap maybe his best verse ever in a year when he dropped a solo album with barely any rapping. I still can't believe that, after the trouble Wayne got in for what he said on "Karate Chop," Future thought it was a good idea to say "beating that china like Kunta Kinte," but nobody seemed to notice.

19. Rae Sremmurd - "No Type"
#4 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay, #17 Hot 100
I'm clearly a "No Flex Zone" partisan, and given how this song has quickly eclipsed its success on the charts, I'm on the wrong side of history. I don't care, this song is just okay, but I'm glad it's so big that their EP just got upgraded to an album and given a release date.

20. Lil Boosie and Webbie f/ Kiara - "Show Da World"
#20 R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay
I'm glad that the artist currently known as Boozie Bad Azz just released a great mixtape, Life After Deathrow, because it was starting to get odd that the most significant music he released the year he got out of prison was an old pre-sentence track released as a radio single. I hope he's got more hits in him, but this was a nice one to hear while he was getting out, did a good job of capturing the earnest soulful side of Boosie that his detractors never seem to notice.

The 10 Worst Rap Radio Hits of 2014:
1. K. Camp - "Cut Her Off"
2. T.I. f/ Iggy Azalea - "No Mediocre"
3. Ca$h Out - "She Twerkin'"
4. Lil Wayne f/ Drake - "Believe Me"
5. Nicki Minaj f/ Chris Brown, Drake and Lil Wayne - "Only"
6. Kid Ink f/ Chris Brown - "Show Me"
7. Wiz Khalifa - "We Dem Boyz"
8. Future f/ Kanye West - "I Won"
9. iLoveMakonnen f/ Drake - "Tuesday (Remix)"
10. Big Sean f/ E-40 - "I Don't Fuck With You"

The 20 Best Rock/Alternative Radio Hits of 2014

Sunday, December 07, 2014

After years of dwindling cultural relevance, alt-rock radio had a little resurgence in 2011-2013 where suddenly acts who broke through on modern rock stations were crossing over to pop radio and climbing up to the top of the Hot 100 and getting platinum plaques for their albums: Foster The People, fun., The Lumineers, Imagine Dragons, Lorde, and so on. There wasn't really a success story on that scale in 2014, although Hozier might be on the verge of it, and some superstar bands dropped some of their least successful albums ever (U2, Coldplay, Nickelback). But it was still a pretty strong year, with alternative radio leaning further and further away from guitar/bass/drums rock and hard rock radio doubling down on the same old same old. I included chart peaks for Billboard's main Rock Airplay chart but also the airplay for the two main charts that feed into it, Alternative Songs and Mainstream Rock Tracks (although you'll notice that the so-called 'Mainstream' chart has a lot less impact on overall airplay than the so-called 'Alternative' chart in 2014). Here are the lists I did in 2012 and 2013, and the Spotify playlist of this year's songs.

1. Phantogram - "Fall In Love"
#3 Alternative Songs, #10 Rock Airplay
Phantogram is an electronic duo who I hadn't really heard of before 2014 outside of a couple of appearances on Big Boi's last solo album, and they just blew me away with the lead single from their major label debut. Dramatic string loops, huge nasty bassline, gorgeous vocals, really just sounded so fresh and fully realized compared to a lot of the warmed over indie electro pop that usually crosses over the alt-rock radio. My friend Jordan Sargent says that when he interviewed Ty Dolla $ign, he played "Fall In Love" and said "this is the hardest shit out," which is a pretty accurate endorsement.

2. Bleachers - "I Wanna Get Better"
#1 Alternative Songs, #6 Rock Airplay
After Jack Antanoff's supporting role in fun.'s reign of terror, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the debut from his new project as a bandleader. Just a great melding of dinky bedroom synth pop and bombastic alt-rock, love the stuttering piano riff and the way the guitar solo screeches into a crash landing, lot of brilliant sound design in this song.

3. alt-J - "Left Hand Free"
#2 Alternative Songs, #5 Rock Airplay, #99 Hot 100
One of those big British bands that even British critics and American anglophiles don't seem to have any defense for, possibly because they bizarrely sound like a cross between Southern Culture On The Skids and Primus. This song is killer, though, I love the way it zips through everything with no wasted time, one of the the only tracks on this list that's under 3 minutes long (brevity has not been a prioritized virtue in mainstream alt-rock in a long time if it ever was).

4. Coldplay - "Magic"
#6 Alternative Songs, #6 Rock Airplay, #14 Hot 100
With most Coldplay albums, I tend to love one of the singles that wasn't the big ubiquitous pop hit ("Shiver," "Princess of China," "Lost!" etc.), and that was definitely the case with Ghost Stories. "Sky Full of Stars" bored me, as did most of the album, but to me "Magic" was a slinky, slow-burning masterpiece that disappeared from alt-rock playlists way too quickly.

5. J. Roddy Walston & The Business - "Heavy Bells"
#13 Alternative Songs, #31 Mainstream Rock Tracks, #22 Rock Airplay
J. Roddy Walston & The Business formed in Tennessee and are now spread out across a few different states, but for the better part of a decade they called Baltimore home and are one of the best live bands I've ever seen. So I was really happy to see them keep climbing the ladder, jumping from Vagrant Records to ATO, and getting their first radio hit this year, with a follow-up single also doing pretty well (Baltimore indie's big breakout song of 2014, "Seasons" by Future Islands, just grazed the Alternative chart at #37).

6. Vance Joy - "Riptide"
#1 Alternative Songs, #1 Rock Airplay, #32 Hot 100
I remember a few months ago feeling very confused when I looked at the Alternative chart and the top 3 songs were Vance Joy, Big Data and Milky Chance. I was only dimly aware of any of them and whether I had heard their songs once or twice at that point, or even if those were the names of the artists or the songs. And surprisingly, the one that ended up growing on me big time was a guy from Australian playing ukulele and singing in a silly high nervous voice, song just has a great hook and some amusing lyrics.

7. Bear Hands - "Giants"
#8 Alternative Songs. #15 Rock Airplay
Another band with a silly name and nonsensical placeholder lyrics who knows how to write great catchy riffs. They're a dime a dozen, but I still appreciate all of them.

8. Lorde - "Yellow Flicker Beat"
#10 Alternative Songs, #13 Rock Airplay, #34 Hot 100\
I had mixed feelings about "Royals," and the Pure Heroine follow-up singles that played on alt-rock radio throughout 2014 really made me start to outright hate Lorde ("Team," "Glory And Gore," "Tennis Court"). But the soundtrack she assembled for the latest Hunger Games movie, and her single for the album, really gave me a new respect for her and gave me some hope that she's got a decent future ahead of her. The trade up to Paul Epworth for production on this song really gives it a huge epic sound that was missing from the minimal beats on her album, hopefully he'll work on her next record.

9. Arctic Monkeys - "Do I Wanna Know?"
#1 Alternative Songs, #12 Mainstream Rock Tracks, #1 Rock Airplay, #70 Hot 100
Arctic Monkeys charted American rock radio exactly once earlier in their career, 8 years ago, when their debut single "I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor" hit #7 on Alternative Songs. They then went about their business, releasing 5 albums that topped the charts in the U.K. while remaining a fringe concern in the U.S. And then, long after anyone ceased to care whether they'd 'break' America, "Do I Wanna Know?" went and became one of the biggest rock radio hits in recent memory (it's currently the 2nd-longest running Alternative Songs hit of all time, after Muse's "Madness"). It's got a nice brooding groove, and seems a lot less annoying than anything else I've heard from them, but still kind of an odd turn of events.

10. The Pretty Reckless - "Heaven Knows"
#20 Alternative Songs, #1 Mainstream Rock Tracks, #10 Rock Airplay
Another odd belated Cinderella story in 2014 rock radio: Taylor Momsen, briefly famous a million years ago as a co-star on "Gossip Girl," decided to focus on music over acting, and this year wound up with the 2nd-longest running #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart (and another #1 a few months later). It's kind of like DeJ Loaf's "Try Me," where the first couple times I heard it I had no idea if the vocalist was a woman or an adolescent boy.

11. AC/DC - "Play Ball"
#5 Mainstream Rock Tracks, #21 Rock Airplay
AC/DC were the oldest band to show up on rock radio in 2014 (and would be in pretty much any year that Aerosmith or the Rolling Stones didn't release anything), and it seems likely this will be their last hurrah. "Play Ball" may not be all-time classic AC/DC, but I was impressed with the funky little riff in the verses, probably my favorite single they've released since at least 1993's "Big Gun."

12. Foo Fighters - "Something From Nothing"
#1 Alternative Songs, #1 Mainstream Rock Tracks, #1 Rock Airplay
Foo Fighters have slowly climbed to the top of the rapidly shrinking heap of mainstream rock bands mainly through downright AC/DC-like efficiency as a singles band. All of their lead singles have been big memorable hits (and I can only name a couple I didn't particularly like) and the multimedia bluster of Sonic Highways pretty much ensured that this would be no exception no matter what the song sounds like. As it happens, it's easily their weakest lead single to date, following the "All My Life"/"The Pretender" formula at a slower pace with less of a payoff. It's still pretty good, and the funky clavinet bit is a nice touch, but there's much better songs on the album.

13. Hozier - "Take Me To Church"
#2 Alternative Songs, #3 Rock Airplay, #3 Hot 100
This song kinda came outta nowhere, at least to me -- I remember hearing it once and finding it striking enough to at least Google the lyrics and figure out who it was by before prompting forgetting it. And then a number of weeks or months later, suddenly the guy was on "SNL" and the song was climbing the charts and the stark, provocative video, which was oddly directed by Brendan Canty of Fugazi, now has about 40 million views. Again, it's not the first time an alt-rock hit has crossed over like this in recent years, but it's certainly a lot gloomier and downtempo than "We Are Young" or whatever. The other day I heard a Top 40 station play an awful dance remix of it, the same way they put a house beat on John Legend's "All of Me" or whatever.

14. Royal Blood - "Out Of The Black"
#31 Alternative Songs, #2 Mainstream Rock Tracks, #13 Rock Airplay
Their follow-up single "Figure It Out" seems to be quickly getting bigger, but I really enjoyed this band's first hit, just a nice simple by-the-numbers hard rock track. Really would not have guessed they were British, though.

15. Fall Out Boy - "Centuries"
#4 Alternative Songs, #35 Mainstream Rock Tracks, #9 Rock Airplay, #22 Hot 100
I never thought the poster boys for guyliner would become one of rock's most reliable suppliers of jock jams for sports broadcasts. But a mere 17 months after "My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up)" became their big comeback hit, Fall Out Boy released the lead single to another album and kept with the fist-pumping anthem thing. This song sounded pretty ridiculous and calculated at first, but it has grown on me really quickly, even the "Tom's Diner" riff works pretty well.

16. Lana Del Rey - "West Coast"
#29 Alternative Songs, #26 Rock Airplay, #17 Hot 100
Lana Del Rey's first album went platinum without a whole lot of support from any American radio format before a late-breaking dance remix blew up on pop radio. So I was surprised that the first thing she released from her slower-selling second album was a mellow guitar-driven track produced by the guy from the Black Keys. It was really pretty great, though, surprised me and made her whole weird deal sound good to me for the first time, wish it got played on the radio more than it did.

17. Bastille - "Bad Blood"
#2 Alternative Songs, #4 Rock Airplay, #95 Hot 100
I really hated Bastille's first big crossover hit, "Pompeii," it sounded like a Josh Groban dance mix or some shit. But the guy's weird old timey vocal style doesn't bother me as much on the couple of radio hits they've had since then, and this one in particular has a nice synth pop reggae groove to it.

18. Jack White - "Lazaretto"
#9 Alternative Songs, #25 Mainstream Rock Tracks, #9 Rock Airplay
I'm happy that people appear to be pretty good and over Jack White and aren't trying to raise his solo records to the same stature the White Stripes enjoyed. But they were always good for an occasional song, and I liked how this one was a cool gnarled, skronky track in the vein of my favorite White Stripes song, "Icky Thump."

19. Meg Myers - "Desire"
#17 Alternative Songs, #35 Rock Airplay
Very odd song song with some really cool production. Not sure entirely what Meg Myers is going for but I feel like she could blow up in the next year or two if she's got more songs like this.

20. Neon Trees - "Sleeping With A Friend"
#12 Alternative Songs, #18 Rock Airplay, #51 Hot 100
Neon Trees scored huge pop crossover hits with the lead singles to their first two albums, and I thought they really had it in them to pull a hat trick with the third. Didn't happen, but the song was still pretty great.

The 10 Worst Rock/Alternative Radio Hits of 2014: 
1. Milky Chance - "Stolen Dance"
2. Weezer - "Back To The Shack"
3. Dirty Heads - "My Sweet Summer"
4. KONGOS - "Come With Me Now"
5. Godsmack - "1000hp"
6. Big Data f/ Joywave - "Dangerous"
7. The Black Keys - "Fever"
8. Fitz & The Tantrums - "The Walker"
9. Foster The People - "Coming Of Age"
10. Rise Against - "I Don't Want To Be Here Anymore"

Deep Album Cuts Vol. 29: Mary J. Blige

Saturday, December 06, 2014

A lot of honorary titles in pop music seem kind of obnoxious and unearned, or at the very least unnecessary even when earned, but you can't really fuck with Mary J. Blige being the Queen of Hip Hop Soul. She basically helped invent the style (with the assistance of Puff Daddy and the parallel efforts of Jodeci and R. Kelly), which has become the default most of the R&B singers to follow her to stardom, some following her blueprint more explicitly than others (cough Keyshia cough). For her first 8 or so albums, she was hugely successful and important to the genre, with all of them going platinum or better, always in a pattern of the odd-numbered ones selling better than the even-numbered albums before or after.

In the last few years, Mary has remained an honored elder stateswoman of R&B while starting to flail around a little in search of the right project or creative direction. She released a sequel to her best album, My Life, a Christmas album, a whole album of new music for the Think Like A Man Too soundtrack, and then, this week, The London Sessions. Aligning herself with new British hitmakers like Sam Smith and Disclosure is a shrewd move that will probably get her the best reviews or sales she's seen in a while, although honestly I liked the The-Dream/Tricky Stewart productions on the Think soundtrack earlier this year.

Mary J. Blige Deep Album Cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Be With You
2. Changes I've Been Going Through
3. Get To Know You Better
4. Memories
5. PMS
6. Mary's Joint
7. Cargo
8. What's The 411? featuring Grand Puba
9. Roses
10. Keep Your Head
11. Ultimate Relationship (A.M.)
12. In The Morning
13. No Happy Holidays
14. I Don't Want To Do Anything featuring K-Ci Hailey
15. No One Will Do
16. I'm The Only Woman
17. Need Someone

Tracks 2, 8 and 14 from What's The 411? (1992)
Tracks 1, 6 and 16 from My Life (1994)
Tracks 3 and 10 from Share My World (1997)
Tracks 4 and 13 from Mary (1999)
Track 5 from No More Drama (2001)
Track 11 from Love & Life (2003)
Track 15 from The Breakthrough (2005)
Track 9 from Growing Pains (2007)
Track 12 from Stronger with Each Tear (2009)
Track 17 from My Life II... The Journey Continues (Act 1) (2011)
Track 7 from Think Like A Man Too (Music From And Inspired By The Film) (2014)

I had to go heavy on the first two albums, although the What's The 411? title track and the duet with then-boyfriend K-Ci were practically hits in their own right without being released as singles. The later albums are less consistent, usually leaning too far one way or the other -- boomer-baiting Eric Clapton and Elton John collaborations on Mary or ill-fitting modern rap production on Stronger with Each Tear, etc. But pretty much every album has at least a handful of tracks of Mary J. being Mary J. at her best. And there's a good amount of songs with interesting cutting edge production ("Memories") or acoustic tenderness ("Need Someone") that give her catalog a little welcome variety. The mood ring updates on How Mary Is Feeling have gotten a little ridiculous over the years, and most of her singles work the same vein of unbearable sadness or cautious optimism, but I like hearing her express other moods, whether she's feeling pissed off ("Roses") or romantic ("No One Will Do").

Previous playlists in the Deep Album Cuts series:
Vol. 1: Brandy
Vol. 2: Whitney Houston
Vol. 3: Madonna
Vol. 4: My Chemical Romance
Vol. 5: Brad Paisley
Vol. 6: George Jones
Vol. 7: The Doors
Vol. 8: Jay-Z
Vol. 9: Robin Thicke
Vol. 10: R. Kelly
Vol. 11: Fall Out Boy
Vol. 12: TLC
Vol. 13: Pink
Vol. 14: Queen
Vol. 15: Steely Dan
Vol. 16: Trick Daddy
Vol. 17: Paramore
Vol. 18: Elton John
Vol. 19: Missy Elliott
Vol. 20: Mariah Carey
Vol. 21: The Pretenders
Vol. 22: "Weird Al" Yankovic
Vol. 23: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Vol. 24: Foo Fighters
Vol. 25: Counting Crows
Vol. 26: T.I.
Vol. 27: Jackson Browne
Vol. 28: Usher

Friday, December 05, 2014

I wrote about the recording engineers behind some of your favorite artists for Complex.

The 20 Best Pop Radio Hits of 2014

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The pop/"top 40" radio format in America has always been this odd place where other genres get filtered through the prism of what will appeal to the broadest possible audience, the proverbial "8 to 80." In certain eras, that meant that what was most popular in those genres simply got upstreamed to pop stations and crossover success. And in other eras, like the one we're in right now, it more frequently means that pop radio curates its own alternative vision of those genres. For instance, a decade ago, when southern hip hop was reaching the peak of its commercial powers, pop radio would play the same Ludacris or Outkast songs that were being played on hip-hop radio. In 2014, rap radio hits by Young Thug or Rae Sremmurd get nowhere near pop radio. But top 40 stations have embraced a weird funhouse mirror version of southern hip hop: Juicy J on a "trap" Katy Perry song, Lil Jon shouting on an EDM track, 2 Chainz getting his biggest Hot 100 hit with a goofy Jason DeRulo song, Pitbull's continued transformation from crunk also-ran to dance pop superstar, and of course the year's big breakout star, an Australian woman rapping in an Atlanta accent. And perhaps the most infuriating thing about this development is that these were actually the good things on pop radio this year. Here's the Spotify playlist of all the songs (minus Taylor, of course), and the pop radio lists I did in 2012 and 2013.

1. Clean Bandit f/ Jess Glynne - "Rather Be"
#6 Pop Songs, #10 Hot 100
A charmingly simple tune with disarmingly ornate production, "Rather Be" was an international phenomenon that went top 10 in seemingly every major market (except, amusingly, Japan, which is both referenced in the lyrics and is the setting of the video). The dropped snare in the second half of the chorus is everything to me.

2. Katy Perry f/ Juicy J - "Dark Horse"
#1 Pop Songs, #1 Hot 100
Katy Perry's umpteenth pop smash and first real crossover to R&B radio knowingly mimics the Fairlight vocal samples of Art Of Noise's "Moments In Love," another track by a white act that crossed over to black radio three decades earlier. It was also her only major hit in a year in which she saw three singles completely miss the top 10, suggesting that (dare I hope) the millennial Paula Abdul is now in the Spellbound phase of her decline.

3. Paramore - "Ain't It Fun"
#2 Pop Songs, #10 Hot 100
"Ain't It Fun" was a standout on my favorite LP of 2013, and it was maddening to wait nearly a year after the album's release for it to finally, inevitably hit the charts and become the band's biggest hit to date. Delayed gratification is still gratification, though, and I still geek out every time I hear it on the radio, even in that weird edit that abbreviates the outro and first pre-chorus and turns up the guitar on the first chorus.

4. DJ Snake and Lil Jon - "Turn Down For What"
#5 Pop Songs, #4 Hot 100
When a catchphrase starts to reach critical mass in hip hop (and, now, on social media), there's often a gold rush as stars and no-names compete to have the defining song named after it. And lately the old guys have been winning -- Prince has the most famous "this could be us but you playin'" song, and Lil Jon stole "turn down for what" out from under a bunch of other Atlanta rap dudes half his age. There's something depressing about Lil Jon reaching his final form as a Crazy Frog sound effect on a techno song, but at least the remix with Juicy J and 2 Chainz demonstrates that the song works equally well as just another rap song with a Lil Jon chorus.

5. Jason Derulo f/ 2 Chainz - "Talk Dirty"
#1 Pop Songs, #3 Hot 100
In 2012, I saw members of the Balkan Beat Box saxophonist saxophonist Ori Kaplan perform with the rock band Firewater in the little downstairs bar at the Black Cat in D.C. In 2014, the sax riff from a Balkan Beat Box track was sampled for an enormous worldwide pop hit. I hope those guys got some nice fat royalty checks.

6. Disclosure f/ Sam Smith - "Latch"
#3 Pop Songs, #7 Hot 100
Sam Smith became the big Transatlantic sensation of 2014 with a bland record of "soulful" ballads. But his success in the U.K. was paved by a pair of guest appearances on dance hits by Disclosure and Naughty Boy that put his voice in a completely different context than on his album, and his label seemed to acknowledge the necessity of those songs when they were pushed to American radio right alongside "Stay With Me." For dance music critics and fans, it was odd to see Disclosure break through to U.S. pop so long after the 2012 U.K. single release and 2013 album release. But as it spread to alt-rock and R&B radio over the course of 2014, it seemed to simply remind people of the drum machine shuffle and dramatic vocals of Soft Cell's "Tainted Love," another British hit with far-reaching appeal.

7. Taylor Swift - "Shake It Off"
#1 Pop Songs, #1 Hot 100
Like a lot of songs about "haters," this song gets some fairly deserved hate, for the video, for the "this sick beat" break. But, true to the song's ultimately upbeat message about transcending the haters, I find it pretty irresistible. The beat really is sick. And I think it's a much better fusion of Swift and Max Martin than the truly backlash-deserving "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together."

8. Pitbull f/ Ke$ha - "Timber"
#1 Pop Songs, #1 Hot 100
I was ready to detest this song from the first listen like anyone else. But Pitbull only seems to be at his best at his most shameless, and this screwy "Cottoneye Joe" country techno track got the best of me pretty quickly.

9. Ariana Grande f/ The Weeknd - "Love Me Harder"
#9 Pop Songs, #7 Hot 100
Ariana Grande's breakthrough was one of my favorite things in pop in 2013, but everything about her 2014 surprised me: that she'd have four top 10 hits, that I'd only enjoy one of them, and that it would feature The Weeknd.

10. Charli XCX - "Boom Clap"
#1 Pop Songs, #8 Hot 100
Charli XCX only had critical cachet in America before she became suddenly famous this year, and I've heard dissatisfied grumblings from her early supporters about this song, but I think it's absolutely killer.

11. Iggy Azalea f/ Charli XCX - "Fancy"
#1 Pop Songs, #1 Hot 100
Before "Boom Clap," Charli blew up with "Fancy," and a lot of people made a point of saying she was the only good thing about it. But I always thought that braying hook was the worst thing about the song, and that Iggy really deserves more credit for a solid pop rap song where the verses didn't sound at all below par when the song crossed over to rap radio (pretty much the only white rapper hit to actually do well on black radio lately, compared to Macklemore and recent Eminem hits).

12. Fergie - "L.A. Love (La La)"
#20 Pop Songs, #27 Hot 100
Fergie and Gwen Stefani were white girls copping black girl swag about a decade before it became one of the defining pop trends of 2014. So it was fitting that they both attempted comebacks this year, although neither has really taken off yet. Fergie deserves big points for getting an actual DJ Mustard track, instead of a copycat job by British producers like Iggy did for "Fancy."

13. Ed Sheeran - "Sing"
#6 Pop Songs, #13 Hot 100
One of Pharrell's more underrated tracks of his recent comeback harkened back to his early Justin Timberlake solo hits, although I think what really makes the song pop is Sheeran's percussive guitar work, which reminds me as much of "Long Train Runnin'" by the Doobie Brothers as it does "Like I Love You."

14. Demi Lovato f/ Cher Lloyd - "Really Don't Care"
#7 Pop Songs, #26 Hot 100
Demi Lovato topped album charts without breaking out of the Disney Radio niche earlier in her career, but she's slowly and surely become a regular and welcome presence on Top 40 radio, with her latest album scoring three good-sized radio hits. One of my more surreal experiences as a nerdy 30-something music critic happened this year, when I met Demi for my day job and teleprompted a speech she gave at an event in D.C. It was just too awkward a situation for me to tell a pop star ten years younger than me that I'd been a fan of her music for years, so I just shook her hand and did my job, but I wanted to tell her that "Really Don't Care" is my jam.

15. Nick Jonas - "Jealous"
#7 Pop Songs, #8 Hot 100
Nick Jonas co-wrote a lot of my favorite Demi Lovato songs, and worked as the musical director on her last tour, but he never really did much music of his own that I liked until his surprised solo success this year. This song's lyric is pretty embarrassing, but the hook is just massive and the remix with Tinashe at least has an equal opportunity vibe.

16. Ingrid Michaelson - "Girls Chase Boys"
#25 Pop Songs, #52 Hot 100
Ingrid Michaelson has been doing well on the album charts and making adult alternative hits for years, but this year was the first time she made an upbeat song that really started to catch on with Top 40 radio, really great little sleeper hit.

17. Magic! - "Rude"
#1 Pop Songs, #1 Hot 100
It really says something about 2014 that a reggae song by Canadians is only maybe the 4th-most embarrassing thing to hit #1, but whatever, this song jams in spite of everything. And the Zedd remix is pretty incredible and pretty much removes all the reggae elements to let it just be a pop song.

18. 5 Seconds Of Summer - "She Looks So Perfect"
#19 Pop Songs, #24 Hot 100
5 Seconds Of Summer opened for One Direction on tour this year, and followed in 1D's footsteps of being a minor presence on American radio while moving serious units; they have no top 10 hit in the U.S., but their album outsold pretty much every artist on this list besides Taylor and Katy. Their appeal mostly alludes me, but this song is pretty dope aside from hinging the chorus on a shoutout to American Apparel.

19. MKTO - "Classic"
#8 Pop Songs, #14 Hot 100
Like Childish Gambino, the kid who played Walt on "LOST" has leveraged his minor TV fame into minor rapping fame, scoring a hit as part of the pop duo MKTO. It's weird how a song that pays lip service to pop icons of the '60s, '70s and '80s sounds like that Hot Chelle Rae song that was big in 2011, though.

20. Jennifer Lopez - "First Love"
#21 Pop Songs. #87 Hot 100
AKA was one of my favorite pop albums of 2014, but it was unfortunately the commercial nadir of J.Lo's career, and got its two biggest Hot 100 hits thanks to YouTube views for the divisive singles "I Luh Ya Papi" and "Booty." Meanwhile, the album's biggest radio hit was more representative of the high quality of the other songs on the album. 

The 10 Worst Pop Radio Hits of 2014: 
1. Sam Smith - "Stay With Me"
2. American Authors - "Best Day Of My Life"
3. Sia - "Chandelier"
4. Echosmith - "Cool Kids"
5. The Chainsmokers - "#SELFIE"
6. Ariana Grande - "Break Free"
7. Meaghan Trainor - "All About That Bass"
8. Calvin Harris - "Summer"
9. Becky G - "Shower"
10. Aloe Blacc - "The Man"

Tuesday, December 02, 2014
This week's Short List.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

I wrote about 10 careers that wouldn't be possible without Pharrell for Complex.