1. Usher - "Good Kisser"
For the last couple years I've been singing the praises of Pop & Oak as a couple of the most exciting producers in R&B, but it feels like this might be the one that gets them some proper attention (previous hits: Elle Varner's "Refill," Alicia Keys and Maxwell's "Fire We Make," K. Michelle's "V.S.O.P."). Just such a crisp, funky song that makes use of the vocal acrobatics that a lot of Usher's supposed contemporaries constantly attempt but never seem to sound as good doing. By the way as usual I put all these songs in my running Spotify playlist of favorite 2014 singles
2. Beyonce - "Rocket"
Officially the next single from Beyonce
after "Partition" is "Pretty Hurts," which I assume is aimed at pop radio, which has been ignoring her for years. Meanwhile, 93.9 in D.C. has been playing my favorite song from the album, "Rocket," in hourly rotation since like April, and there's little that's made me happier to listen to the radio this year. Plus it's nice that they have to play the whole epic 6-and-a-half album version, since the video version that shaves the last two minutes off hasn't been serviced to radio. Just an amazing song, though. From this interview
it sounds like Miguel provided the foundation of the song, but then there's the great segment of the YouTube mini-doc
where Beyonce talks about how "it was a moment in the studio where I didn't wanna stop singing it and I just kinda zoned out" and did all those amazing ad libs at the end, and you see Justin Timberlake and Pharrell in the studio with their jaws dropping. One thing I like is how she does all these random little riffs that include quotes from Thicke's "When I Get You Alone" and Ms. Jade's "Ching Ching," both minor hits from 2002 -- the year Beyonce started seeing Jay-Z, as well as the year Timbaland's other beatbox waltz masterpiece, Aaliyah's "I Care 4 U," was on the radio.
3. T.I. f/ Young Thug - "About The Money"
I haven't really become a Young Thug fan to the point that I make an effort to comb through all the mixtapes and see how many songs he has that I love as much as "Stoner" and "The Blanguage," mostly because those tapes are full of old stuff and it seems like he's just hitting his stride. But this song, man, this song is incredible. The fact that it basically has two choruses that are both indispensible, fuck. Annoyed that "No Mediocre" is getting more burn between T.I.'s two current singles.
4. Rae Sremmurd - "No Flex Zone!!"
I wouldn't go far as to call this derivative of Young Thug, but this definitely feels like an early sign of his growing influence, just the way these kids yelp and twist their voices, probably we'll hear more and more teen rappers adopt those kinds of vocal tics if they can get their voices up into Thug's range. Also really the banger Mike WiLL Made It has been needing in what's been a pretty quiet year for him outside of "Move That Dope."
5. Demi Lovato f/ Cher Lloyd - "Really Don't Care"
Demi's last album wasn't that great but it had a few strong songs and I'm glad that it's had the legs to keep spinning off singles for over a year, she's finally on the radio as much as she always deserved to be. This song sounds like it probably was Cher Lloyd's to begin with (and would've worked well on her very underrated recent album), but it works really well with Demi singing most of it and then Cher popping in for a goofy 8 bar rap.
6. Royal Blood - "Out Of The Black"
Despite the name, I had no clue that Royal Blood might be British when I started hearing this song on the radio -- they're probably the most American-sounding UK band since Bush, although that's not a very flattering comparison to make, because this song knocks. Definitely a really impressive standout in a rock radio climate where few of the heavy, guitar-driven hits are from new bands and even fewer are any good.
7. Adrian Marcel f/ Sage The Gemini - "2AM"
With all the samey DJ Mustard R&B productions on the radio this year blurring together, this similar track from a Minnesota producer name Chrishan has just enough of a different texture to really stand out in a good way. And this Adrian Marcel kid is mentored by Raphael Saadiq so he's probably got some potential do something more than just trendy ratchet R&B if this song gets his foot in the door.
8. Ne-Yo f/ Jeezy - "Money Can't Buy"
Ne-Yo and (no longer Young) Jeezy are two guys who took the world by storm back in the '05/'06 era, and both have been on a slow, gradual commercial decline ever since, even as they've pretty consistently made good and occasionally great music. This song really sounded like a perfect little jam to keep them on the radio when it dropped (especially compared to the much weaker Jeezy f/ Ne-Yo single that was big a couple years ago), but it's already losing steam on the charts, which is a shame.
9. Mariah Carey f/ Wale - "You Don't Know What To Do"
Me. I Am Mariah... The Elusive Chanteuse
was commercially DOA, but this song has really grown on me, and I hope the Wale factor helps it become at least an R&B radio edit, really just an awesome summery disco throwback.
10. Brett Eldredge - "Beat of the Music"
Eldredge's breakout his "Don't Ya" was one of my favorite country singles of 2013
, and the follow-up has been just as successful. But I didn't like as much, or at least I didn't think I did for a few months, until I recently had one of those experiences where I had this incredibly catchy tune in my head and couldn't place where I heard it, until I realized it was the chorus to "Beat of the Music." The song really got under my skin without me thinking about it, and I kinda love when that happens.
Worst Single of the Month: Ariana Grande f/ Zedd - "Break Free"
"Problem" is kind of aggressively lame but still retains a decent-sized kernel of what made Ariana Grande's debut album so refreshing. This song really feels like a full-on shark jump into the crowded field of Rihanna outtakes that "The Way" stood out from so well last year. It's a shame Zedd seems to be getting all the big opportunities off of the success from "Clarity" when he seems incapable of making anything else remotely that good, while the very slept on Foxes album I wrote about
recently totally hits that mark. I actually had to watch the official "Break Free" lyric video
to verify that the real words of the song are "I only wanna die alive, never by the hands of a broken heard / Don't wanna hear you lie tonight, now that I've become who I really are." Maybe the most incompetent and incoherent placeholder lyrics to make it into a pop hit in quite a while.