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49 songs I liked in 2014

I made a list of tracks I liked this year, and it was a bit more than 50 so I thought I’d winnow it down to 50, and then I remembered 8tracks only allows two tracks by any one artist in a mix so I had to drop a bunch of Taylor Swift and Charli XCX tracks and then there were only 49 tracks on the list. They’re organised in an order that makes some kind of vaguely coherent mix, rather than in order of how much I like them. You can listen to the whole thing as a mix above, or the individual songs through the links below. 

  1. Charli XCX – Sucker 
    I say these aren’t in order of how much I like them, but this might well be my number 1 song of the year. Charli XCX is so fully committed to the Shampoo aesthetic she’s double-tracked her voice here so it sounds like there’s two of her. Jacqui from Shampoo once said “We weren’t interested in boys, just in pop bands. And now we’re a pop band, we’re only interested in us,” which I think nicely captures the collectivist auto-eroticism of pop, the utopian generic.

  2. Shakira – Can’t Remember to Forget You 
    I love Shakira, and I love pop-ska, and of course everyone loves Rihanna, so this is playing very much to  my tastes, as did the whole Shakira album (many of the tracks on which were produced by the people behind “Rude,” which isn’t on this list although TBH I quite like it, too). Wikipedia insists that Shakira’s last album, Sale el Sol, was well received by the critics, which surprises me because I thought it was shockingly bland. On Shakira, Shakira thankfully regains her distinctive character.

  3. 2NE1 – Come Back Home 
    More unexpected skanking. 2NE1 released their second album early in the year and then seemed to more-or-less entirely disappear; I’m not sure why, as the album had plenty of great tracks on, including this and “Happy.”

  4. Taylor Swift – Blank Space
    Hard to choose my favourite tracks from 1989, but this is certainly one of the contenders, particularly when you take into account the fantastic video, which takes the lyrics’ conceit of Taylor inhabiting her tabloid image and runs with it, and then runs and runs some considerable distance further into #full #misandry. I read a piece which contrasted Swift with Katy Perry, and gave the “Blank Space” video as an example of Swift’s “earnestness,” which seems like an odd word to use for a video in which every scene is laugh-out-loud funny (I think my favourite bit is the stealth crafts at 2:38).

  5. Nicki Minaj – Feeling Myself (feat. Beyoncé) 
    It’s kind of confusing how fabulous Beyoncé is.

  6. Nicki Minaj – Want Some More 
    I count 12 great tracks out of the 22 tracks on the deluxe version of The Pinkprint, which is pretty good given the scattershot demographic base-covering of her previous albums. This is Minaj in her imperious mode, which is one of her best modes (my other favourite, goofy Nicki, doesn’t get much of an outing on this album except for “Anaconda”).

  7. Sasha Go Hard – Flashing Lights 
    It seems like it takes a comparatively large amount of effort to follow hip-hop these days, with its increasing fragmentation into local scenes and its distribution via a profusion of mixtapes rather than heavily promoted releases. But Chicago has at least intruded itself into my consciousness enough that I know to keep an eye out for a new Sasha Go Hard mixtape. I’m not sure this is a particular stand-out from her most recent mixtape, but it’s a good illustration of her charisma.

  8. Dreezy – Up and Down 
    On a scale of Chicago rapper mushiness, from Katie Got Bandz at the “not at all mushy” end, to Tink at the other, Dreezy would be somewhere in the middle.

  9. Angel Haze – Angels & Airwaves 
    The zone of non-being, or, the ontology of suicide and self-harm.

  10. Sia – Elastic Heart (feat. The Weeknd & Diplo) 
    Most albums have a Sia track on them these days, and sometimes its good and sometimes its bad, but TBH a whole album of Sia is a bit too much Sia. 1000 Forms of Fear has some good tracks, though; the most Sia of which is “Chandelier,” which is so Sia it’s largely incomprehensible. This track has a catchier beat, which provides a better counterpoint for Sia’s gigantic choruses (like most songs featuring The Weeknd, it would be better if it didn’t, but you can’t have everything).

  11. Taylor Swift – Out of the Woods 
    In an interview, Swift distinguished “evil pop” from her own pop music, which, she says, is “pure and good and right.” While this is a pretty dubious distinction, I was interested to hear her characterising her move to pop in these religious terms, because I think theology provides an interesting way of thinking about her musical development. Swift has always been interested in the world and in the moment, as can be seen from the small details that pepper her lyrics. In her earlier songs, though, this was always anchored by a very strong insistence that these details were part of a legible narrative; that is, the world had a transcendent support, as in “Our Song,” where the sounds of the “slamming screen door” and “tapping on his window” are conceptualised as a song played by God (and even that’s not secure enough – at the end of the song, Taylor makes sure she gets it down on paper). But many of the songs on Red show a greater comfort with the ephemerality of immanence, the “holy ground” which is “right where we stood.” Adopting a more overtly pop set of signifiers on 1989 can be seen as a further step on this road, from the erotic investment in brief images on “Style” (which adopts some of the melodrama tropes you might find in Harry Styles – or Karlie Kloss – fanfic, and I mean that in a good way) to the immersive pathetic fallacy of “Clean.”

  12. One Direction – Night Changes

  13. Lana Del Rey – Fucked my Way up to the Top

  14. Nick Jonas – Jealous
    If I was going to pick one of the Jonas brothers to do sexy-skeezy in a George Michael way, I’d have gone with Joe, but Nick nails it here.

  15. Lucy Hale – That’s What I Call Crazy 
    Lucy Hale is an actress on Pretty Little Liars, I think? Anyway, she made a pretty creditable pop-country album; this was co-written by Kacey Musgraves, and is as good as that would lead you to believe.

  16. Mogwai – No Medicine for Regret

  17. Kitten – Like a Stranger

  18. Katy B – 5 AM

  19. K. Michelle – Love ‘Em All 

    K. Michelle is very much one for the big R&B belter, which is not necessarily my favourite genre, but she’s very good at it. What I mean by “good” here, I think, is that Michelle’s vocals, no matter how powerful, always also seem controlled. There’s always a tension in music between the representation of emotions and the fact that they are representations, performances, they aren’t and can’t be unmediated presentations of these emotions. I hate songs that seem unaware of this tension and imagine themselves directly authentic, and so I’ve tended to prefer stuff that’s either self-consciously artificial or restrained in its performativity (or both, which is why I appreciate Britney’s desire to express her innermost subjectivity through the medium of dance bangers). But there’s no reason why self-awareness and control can’t coexist with emoting, and that’s what K. Michelle does so well. This is a stand-out on her very good album.

  20. FKA twigs – Two Weeks

  21. Jessie Ware – Tough Love 

    “So you want to be a man about it / Do you have to?”

  22. FKA twigs – Pendulum

  23. Gorgon City – Lover Like You (feat. Katy B)

  24. Jessie Ware – Champagne Kisses

  25. ♡kitty♡ – BrB ( ˘ ³˘)❤
    I’m really enjoying Kitty’s new music, which is a kind of whispered bedroom house.

  26. Kelis – Breakfast 
    I love Kelis’s voice, and it turns out the dreamy, folky music of Food really allows her voice to shine (or perhaps it would be better to say, it allows her voice to croak and whisper and thrum, because that’s what it does so well).

  27. Michelle Williams – Say Yes (feat. Beyonce & Kelly Rowland) 
    After a brief flurry of publicity when this came out, due to the reunion of the Destiny’s Child members, this seems to have dropped off the radar, which is weird because it’s such a good song, and I would have thought, being based on a Nigerian song, would have been pretty on trend given the continuing popularity of afrobeats. Even more overlooked was Michelle Williams’s album, which is a pretty good collection of Christian bangers, by which I mean songs you might think were just regular dance bangers until you realise they’re technically about God. Which reminds me that when I first saw the title of K. Michelle’s “God I Get It,” I misread it as “God Could Get It,” which I thought was a particularly bold case of adapting love song tropes for gospel songs.

  28. Nicole Scherzinger – Your Love 
    Great lead single from a sadly terrible album.

  29. Terrence Parker – Open up your Spirit

  30. Kylie Minogue – Kiss me Once

  31. Lucy Hale – Kiss Me

  32. One Direction – Fireproof 
    Who would have thought a boyband in 2014 would release a song that sounds like “Forever Autumn” from Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds?

  33. Shakira – Chasing Shadows

  34. Becky G – Shower

  35. Sabi – Cali Love (feat. Tyga)

  36. Tink – Dirty Slang (feat. Rockie Diamonds)
     Tink has a small voice, or anyway has adopted a vocal style which emphasises smallness, and this doesn’t always work in R&B. It works here, though, where her voice gets lost in the twinkly production as she gets lost in her fantasy. Tink’s vocal style also works well in the hesitant and introspective “Treat me Like Somebody.”

  37. Tinashe – 2 On (feat. Schoolboy Q)

  38. Charli XCX – Break the Rules

  39. Neon Jungle – Future X Girl 
    Neon Jungle seem utterly charming in their YouTube videos, which is a good start for a girl band, but they don’t quite have the songs yet. Their first single, “Trouble,” would have been a pretty good Girls Aloud B-side, and followup “Braveheart” wouldn’t have been a bad Saturdays album track; which shows that they have the right aspirations, anyway.

  40. Cher Lloyd – Dirty Love

  41. Florrie – Free Falling

  42. Röyksopp & Robyn – Do it Again

  43. Kiesza – No Enemiesz 
    Hideaway” was pretty great, this is better, largely because it kind of sounds like old skool hardcore classic, “Some Justice.”

  44. Cheryl – Crazy Stupid Love

  45. Javiera Mena – Esa Fuerza

  46. Ariana Grande – Break Free (feat. Zedd) 
    Ariana Grande experimented with a bunch of different styles on her last album. I think this is one of the ones that works best (though I think most people disagreed); breathy, fluttery vocals and crunching EDM are an obvious contrast, but still a pretty satisfying one.

  47. Calvin Harris – Under Control (feat. Hurts) 
    People enjoy the Calvin Harris song, but radio will only play recent releases, so Harris releases the same song under a different title, satisfying the two apparently contradictory demands. I enjoyed the Calvin Harris song in 2014, and, while I won’t be listening to “Under Control (feat. Hurts)” in 2015, I’ll doubtless enjoy whatever minor-version upgrade Harris puts out next year.

  48. The Saturdays – What are you Waiting For?

  49. Girls’ Generation – Beep Beep 
    Girls’ Generation do Bassline.