This has been a tradition since the land before time and Snapchat. While I’ve taken a long break from pop music blogging (the commentary still very much lives on in Twitter), I’m usually tempted to come back to this increasingly unfamiliar Wordpress interface every year and rank, hyperlink and embed my personal favourite tracks of the last 12 months. This year for the first time, I will be blogging with emojis. #downwiththekids
I imagine it’d be nice to scroll back through the passage of time one day to see that once upon a time, Carly Rae Jepsen overtook Robyn as the gays’ new queen of Bubbling Under pop. Once upon a time, Halsey was the flavour of the moment. Popstar of the Future Troye Sivan made an album (how traditional!). They sent troops to Syria but couldn’t extract a record from MKS. Nobody has time for the games Rihanna‘s playing anymore. And two unfuckwithable singer-songwriters in their 20s called Adele and Taylor Swift scrapped everyone’s life force with their massive-selling, Spotify-shunning, numerically titled albums. And where you were when you heard Zayn had left 1D?
Never mind. Here are 30 songs that I really, really liked this year.
Spoiler alert: At some point you might say, this list is really crap. Why isn’t Lana on here?
#30 Alesso – If It Wasn’t For You
Swedish DJ/producer extraordinaire Alesso‘s had a hugely successful year with his massive global hit ‘Heroes (We Could Be)’ with Tove Lo but the track I gravitated to is one that’s slightly under the radar from his debut album: ‘If It Wasn’t For You’ – written by and featuring the uncredited vocals of Swedish songsmith Simon Strömstedt.
I love a well-formulated commercial electro house track backed with sentimental lyrics. Nothing wrong with bangerz about ‘drinking from the bottle’ or overcoming life’s struggles (‘Titanium’ was my everything for a little while) of course. But there’s just something so beautifully earnest and hopeful about Simon’s lyrics and vocal delivery that made this the wedding rave tune I didn’t know I needed until now.
#29 Aaron – Strong
I was instantly in love with Aaron‘s smooth, milky way synth-pop concoction the moment I heard ‘Strong’. Taken from her EP Letters to Jonny (DID HE EVER WRITE BACK? HAVE U TRIED CALLING A THOUSAND TIMES?), the wistful melodies with a nod to 80s electropop senses show great promise. She’s definitely one I’m checking for in 2016.
#28 Alex Maxwell – Drive (Monsieur Adi Remix)
British pop newcomer Alex Maxwell cruised into the scene with her first single ‘Drive’ five months ago, pulling up to your front door in the middle of the night with the lights out. While the original version gives you all kinds of noir-pop elegance, the dramatic orchestral-strings-and-sinister-bass of this Monsieur Adi remix takes it to new terrains. Category is: Crying At The Discotheque as Lana Del Rey.
#27 Giorgio Moroder feat. Kylie Minogue – Right Here Right Now
This hasn’t really been the year for Kylie fans now, has it? Regardless of what you make of the Christmas album (some of y’all would grasp at anything) and Pink Press-breaking disco duet with The People’s Minogue (SLEIGH, MAMA! Yasss!), we all just want her to get back to making v. good pop. ‘Right Here Right Now’ with Giorgio Moroder was just what Kylie’s last album needed. It’s a promptly-serviced, satisfaction-guaranteed dance record that delivers everything we’d expect from their union. Seismic synths transposed with a mischievous disco bass line and luxurious strings that soar with Kylie’s vocals – this is euphoria blasted through a glitter cannon with the strength of a thousand masc unicorns.
#26 Jazmine Sullivan – Stanley
Jazmine‘s Reality Show album is one of my favourite albums of 2015. It was actually impossible to single out a track but I had to go with ‘Stanley’ because Ms Sullivan was giving me all kinds of Stepford Wife digital disco fever. My favourite bit is when I spin around, pause with one hand secured on hip, and throw my head back to mouth, “Or maybe take a bitch to dinner”.
#25 Ciara – Dance Like We’re Making Love
There has never been a better time to be Ciara. Her last two albums are probably her best yet and she’s now finally getting the love and respect she’s worked for. What drew me in to ‘Dance Like We’re Making Love’ is the restraint in the production and the strength of her vocals. It’s alluring and sultry, and, perhaps quite contrary to the two aforementioned adjectives, it also dominates the room.
#24 Janet Jackson – No Sleeep
Ms Jackson’s long-awaited comeback really didn’t disappoint. One of my favourite Janet slow jams is ‘I Get Lonely’ and it gives me all the right tingles to hear the Queen of Insomnia turn out something so plush. There will always be a side of me that yearns for the panting, furiously-krumping Janet of ‘All Nite (Don’t Stop)’ and the bangerz of 20 YO, but this speaks to the so-called grown up and classier Janet enthusiast in me.
#23 Grace – You Don’t Own Me
Grace is the sister of chart-topping ARIA Award-winning artist Conrad Sewell, which makes them the Australian version of the Bedingfields right now. Her cover of ‘You Don’t Own Me’ topped the Aussie charts earlier this year and recently made deep impact on the UK charts thanks to a feature in the House of Fraser Christmas advert. I adore her ‘very 2015’ reimagination of the Lesley Gore/First Wives Club anthem (reference depends on your age). The stalking grand piano, raspy Bourbon-kissed vocals, boudoir finger snaps, and volcanic release of strings in the chorus all sum up something of a modern soul-pop masterpiece.
#22 Selena Gomez feat. A$AP Rocky – Good For You
I think Selena Gomez has earned the right to do whatever the hell she damn wants now. We’re now toe-to-toe with her second studio album (fifth, if you count the ones she made as Selena Gomez and The Scene). ‘Good For You’ feels like an artistic awakening for an American pop sweetheart confidently embracing her womanhood, much in the way ‘I’m A Slave 4 U’ was to Britney. The same sultry vocal tones I’ve always enjoyed from Selena is now rendered with something so spine-tinglingly sexy, it has sauna reverb.
#21 Tamar Braxton – Catfish
Reality TV personality and iconic “dot com” abuser Tamar Braxton rebooted her career with a solid album Love and War a few years back. I still have major heart-eyes emoji for ‘The One’ and ‘All The Way Home’ but I’m not convinced this new album is giving me everything I need, which is a bit disappointing if you still buy albums. However, praise The Real, there’s a neat and sassy little number in the shape of ‘Catfish’ on Calling All Lovers. The Polow Da Don-produced track about dragging someone you used to know for ‘acting brand new’ is probably my personal surprise Song of 2015. I didn’t even know it was possible to surprise yourself.
#20 Fleur East – Sax
I don’t care if the creative process for ‘Sax’ had more calculations and mathematical formulas than the Tottenham Court Road Station renovations, it’s great. It delivers exactly what we wanted from Fleur since watching her blitz ‘Uptown Funk’ on the X Factor last year (can you name anything else she did?). ‘Sax’ – according to a tweet from Sony’s A&R – features TWO different types of saxophones and all the subtleties of a confetti shower in the Sao Paulo Pride Parade with two dozen RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants. Congratulations, Fleur, you’re the winner of this year’s silly season bop!
#19 Jason Derulo – Cheyenne
I’ve felt quite entertained by Jason Derulo‘s pop output for a while now (just like the rest of you). But nothing has convinced me that it’s probably time to pay closer attention than when ‘Cheyenne’ appeared. The tremoring synths and tidy electropop productions by The Monsters and The Strangerz on this nocturnal mid-tempo brings a level of ‘cool’ that’s been absent from Derulo’s oeuvre. Let’s lose all memory of ‘Talk Dirty’ and never let it find us again.
#18 Nick Jonas feat. Tinashe – Jealous (Remix)
I must confess, I had zero interest in any of the Jonas Brothers before this. Somehow, very gradually, Nick Jonas has worked his way into my line of vision, starting with a shirtless Instagram photo or two followed by a few greased-up magazine shoots. Then it climaxed at the ‘Jealous’ remix with new R&B siren Tinashe. The song brings the right balance of sexual tension and testosterone to the floor. It’s amusing to see how many have and will be imitating this sound in a bid to inject sex appeal to their image, including a certain Olly Murs.
#17 Fifth Harmony – Sledgehammer
I was worried they wouldn’t get there but Fifth Harmony actually released one of the most enjoyable pop albums of 2015. ‘Sledgehammer’, being the crown jewel pure pop bop of the album, naturally earned a spot on my list. The summery jam penned by Meghan Trainor (!!) describes all the symptoms of a critical anxiety attack with the melodic flourish of a Sesame Street song. It’s complex emotional state where the absolute worst is juxtaposed with giddying euphoria, which typically sums up how one feels around one’s crush. Someone remind me how that feels and while you’re at it, kindly check my wrist for a pulse.
#16 Ekkah – Last Chance to Dance
I discovered Birmingham ‘indie disco’ duo Ekkah’s music when I was doing some PR for British Summer Time Hyde Park this year (they played on Kylie’s headlining day and also dropped a cute cover of ‘Spinning Around’ in honour of the moment). ‘Last Chance to Dance’, although launched last year, will probably always bring me fond memories of summer in London in 2015. I love the groove, the silken vocals and especially, the sweet sentiment of dancing in your favourite club (“I’ve been coming here since 18!”). I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve danced til’ the lights came on – the few small memories of catching my reflection in the sudden harsh lights after hours of sweating through any remaining garment on my body is enough.
#15 Charli XCX feat. Rita Ora – Doing It
Charli XCX is an excellent popstar on several levels. I think we can all agree that she writes catchy tunes and love how she inhabits this space that’s ‘cool and fiercely independent’ yet still very ‘mainstream’. ‘Doing It’ has all the makings of a sweet, ageless summer bop. It was made to capture the faintly scratchy quality of a late 80s cassette being played through 92′ Honda Civic stereos. It was made for drives to the beach where the windows roll down to invite the scent of warm, salty waters and a faint whiff of sunblock lotion. ‘Doing It’ hits a spot that’s neither nostalgia nor present day pastiche – it could be an early-Madonna record or a Gwen Stefani demo from Love Angel Music Baby. Genius.
#14 Years & Years – King
The Y&Y boys have had an epic year – #1 album and single, tour stretching several continents, Olly a certified gay pop idol. ‘King’ is unquestionably one of the most deserving UK chart-toppers this year. The big, generous chorus that calls for swaying glo-sticks in the air, the deep emotional lyrics that reveal itself upon further listens… Years and Years have somehow gotten away with creating a vibrant summer floor-filler about force-quitting a romantic connection.
#13 Missy Elliott feat. Pharrell – WTF (Where They From)
When some of the younger inhabitants on this planet were tweeting ‘Who’s Missy Elliott?’ after the rapper appeared in Katy Perry‘s Superbowl performance, I was like miss_jay_shocked.gif. How has it been a decade since Missy dropped a studio album? How has it been over 12 years since we started twerking (before knowing what twerking was) to ‘Pass That Dutch’? How is it that when ‘Work it’ came out there was no ‘re-skinning’ of Missy’s social media accounts with the cover art and ‘available on iTunes’ plastered in the corner because there was no ‘social media’ or iTunes? All our ageing-related anxieties were finally put to rest when Missy returned with the comeback single of all comeback singles last month.
The Pharrell-produced ‘WTF (Where They From)’ shows she’s not playing around. This sounds like a classic Missy jam with rump-moving beats and an array of verses flowing so relentlessly there isn’t so much of a pause to check her fans for a pulse. Welcome back, queen.
#12 Jess Glynne – Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself
London singer-songwriter Jess Glynne has somehow emerged as the nation’s new one-woman hitmaker this year. I don’t think any of us, including Jess, saw this coming. She’s bagged herself three UK #1 singles in half the time it takes to gestate a baby cow, so she must be doing something right. ‘Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself’ followed the inescapable ‘Hold My Hand’ and ‘Not Letting Go’ (with Tinie Tempah) to the top, and although I’m quick to tire of Glynne’s excessively-flogged hits, this one felt different. This one spoke to me every time I felt like I didn’t have my shit together or wasn’t good enough, and was terrified everyone would find out, which was quite often.
#11 Tom Aspaul – Good Together
I’ve been checking for emerging singer-songwriter Tom Aspaul‘s next moves ever since ‘Indiana’ (which Kylie covered and renamed ‘Feels So Good’ on her Kiss Me Once album). And to our delight, the tracks he’s dropped so far have all been like a prima ballerina, always on point. ‘Good Together’ is a twinkly-eyed, early-AM jam that glides between R&B and celestial electropop. Although it premiered in December last year, it would be ridiculous to not include it in this year’s list considering how much I’ve enjoyed it this year. Hands down it is without any flaw.
#10 Karen Harding – Say Something
Often the songs I find myself playing on repeat for several months aren’t necessarily the ones I feel a deep emotional connection to. They’re ones that soundtrack a fantasy. When I’m wedged between three different moistened armpits on the Central Line in peak hour, my mind clings onto these fantasies to pull me out from the hell my body cannot writhe out of. Fantasies like strutting on a mirrored stage before a room full of sweaty shirtless gay men in a gold latex catsuit and matching metallic headpiece, and vogueing to ‘Say Something’.
#9 Little Boots – No Pressure
When I was preparing to bundle up my life and move to London two years ago with no work or real plans lined up, I made a playlist called Songs To Start A New Life To. It’s meant to be a series of songs to inspire one to take a leap, ‘start over’, and to soundtrack moments of longing for the familiar and also, excitement for the new. If there was a song made for the chapters ahead where I was working my way up as a little music PR bee in this competitive city of opportunities and new faces, it would be ‘No Pressure’.
#8 Little Mix – OMG
Little Mix have truly outdone themselves this year. Their third album Get Weird is a colourful array of animated pop and R&B with loud gestures, finger snaps and hair flicks galore. Naturally, served with the signature A-grade vocals and harmonies that continue to put them above the rest (not that there’s much competition in the female pop groups category right now). While there are loads of few obscenely good tracks on Get Weird, ‘OMG’ grabbed me by both shoulders from the first listen and hasn’t let go. For me, this song is the album’s winner for Best Performance – everything from the teasing ‘Oops… I Did It Again’-esque chorus to the 💅💅💅💅 vibez they serve in the verses is LIFE. “I don’t even know how I did that… need a round of applause!”
#7 JoJo – Save My Soul
JoJo‘s been tangled in some grotesque record label mess for years that has essentially stopped her from releasing music. Isn’t it startling that if JoJo auditioned for this year’s X Factor, she’d still qualify for the Girls category, not Overs? The emancipated former-teen pop sensation came back into the spotlight this year with three singles (I hate the word ‘tringle‘ please don’t make me use it). ‘Save My Soul’ is a dark, gospel-tinged ballad about addiction, snatched from the gates of hell. There is no questioning the seismic immensity of JoJo’s vocals once the chorus hits. The girl is back with a vengeance and a real hunger to claim her corner of the pop market.
#6 Lady Leshurr – Queen’s Speech 4
I think Birmingham MC Lady Leshurr will snatch lacefronts in a really big way next year. She’s overdue. The time is now. The rapper has been around for minute but I admittedly only came across her when the video for ‘Queen’s Speech 4’ appeared on my Facebook feed. The freestyle track is loaded with quick-witted one liners, served with a flow so 🔥🔥🔥 and a ridiculous hook. Just for the #bantz, all for the #bantz. You’re gonna love her!
#5 Shura – White Light (Extended Mix)
There’s always some fresh-faced mononymed new artist being hyped on blogs. There’s new faves to be slayed by everyday. New BBC Sound of… contenders, new discoveries on Spotify (Ohhh…. there’s an Elliphant in the room??), new tracks shared on Soundcloud, premieres on Fader, new Wonderland shoots… it can be too much to keep up. So I really appreciate British indietronica talent Shura getting it right every single time I’ve clicked since ‘Just Once’. ‘White Light’ is a lush, moon-lit indiedisco delight, which needs to be experienced in its full, unbridled 7-minute long form. That’s the only way I will have it. Shura feels like the second coming of Patrice Rushen for the Coachella crowd, and I’m all for it.
#4 – Samantha Jade – Show Me Love
While there are a few decent tunes on Samantha Jade‘s long awaited album, Nine, this is the only one you want to push up on against a club bathroom wall. The sweaty dance-R&B banger hears the angelic X Factor Australia winner, who annually emerges to sing carols on Channel 7, transform into some kind of super nympho-feline. The kind with a very specific taste in men. Your man.
#3 Carly Rae Jepsen – Emotion
Carly Rae is the popstar people who are tired of seeing endless Buzzfeed posts about Taylor Swift love tweeting about. Which includes me. The landmark pop release of 2015 – E.MO.TION – is testament to Carly Rae’s greatness. Fifteen fluorescent, emotive bops for moments alone with a bottle of Cava or with your best gay friends and even more bottles of Cava. The title track reminds us all that she truly is the quintessential Stock Aitken and Waterman-style songbird of this generation, possessing a specific skill set (gift, if you will) of delivering bittersweet lyrics with bubbly melodies at a high standard. And, shit, does she do it well.
#2 Sia – Alive
Sia is like the McDonald’s Pop Songwriters (no T, no shade, no pink lemonade). She’s massively successful at what she does. There are people queueing up around the block to get to her window. You know what you’re going to get when you order at Sia’s. She has her craft honed down to a proven working formula and she bangs it out with great efficiency without overthinking it. Perfect. In a time where so many OK popstars are getting away with safe, homogenised pop that blatantly tries to replicate what’s already on Top 40 radio, I’ve come to really rate the individual’s performance. What can they bring to the song? Actors don’t write their own scripts, and what are they earning praise and winning awards for? Why should we rate a popstar’s performance any different?
Take ‘Alive’ for instance, co-written with Adele for Adele’s album. So thoughtfully designed with the familiar furnishings and ominous guitars we’d recognise from the singer’s monster hit ‘Rolling In The Deep’. But it was Sia’s own performance of the track that took centre stage. The guttural screams (you can almost hear the snot and tears mingling in the middle-eight), the way she conveyed bruised defiance in the verses… If This Is Acting, then Sia should be up for an Oscar for ‘Alive’. She just Meryl Streeped us all, mate.
#1 Delta Goodrem – Wings
Sorry if the #1 song isn’t what you expected. Pls don’t @ me if you hate this. 😒✋ ‘Wings’ is a triumphant return to the top for Australian pop deity Delta Goodrem so I’m sure this would be #1 on Delta Daily or something anyway. For me, it inadvertently became an appropriate soundtrack to a lot of the internal noise in my head this year, albeit packaged with a persistent guitar-driven pop beat and a video with a lot of good side-boob (I take after her). There are times when I look back on this year and see all the amazing opportunities and the small personal triumphs I’ve had and think, ‘how the fuck did I get away with that while I was shitting myself constantly?’ If there was ever a pop bop this year to remind me to breathe out a little every now and then, it ought to be this. Here’s to toe-tapping and side-boob flashing my way through the next 12 months.
You can listen to all of my Top 30 Songs of 2015 now on one playlist:
If you’re keen, I’ve also made these playlists that might be of interest.
Have an amazing 2016 and I’ll see you next year – or you can hassle me on Twitter in the meantime, if that’s your thing.