When writing about music from 2014, it’s very easy to come to the conclusion that you just hate it all. And that’s fine - a lot of it was really, really bad. There were also some really cool releases from people like St. Vincent, Damon Albarn, Beck, The Black Keys, but the smart, thoughtful music is never the stuff that plays everywhere and is heard by everyone. No, that's the lethal stuff, the earworms that make you sing along and chair dance before you’ve even worked out the name of the song.
The obvious earworms for 2014 were by Beyonce, Pharrell and "Let It Go", but they weren't the only ones. Here are a few of my own favourites (or... at least the ones I found wormiest) from 2014. I do not claim they are all fantastic pop songs - only that they dig their long sparkly highly manicured nails deep in your brain.
So here they are, my 2014 ear worms, in no particular order. Oh, who am I kidding? Of course Tay-Tay goes first.
Taylor Swift - "Shake It Off"
Taylor Swift and the Cult of the Awkward White Girl, they called it. Taylor Swift the Hurricane, they said, as she stormed up the charts with "Shake It Off", the first single from her fourth studio album, and the very first to be overtly stated as a pop album. The country super star had been a crossover hit before but never like this. And finally, all those thinly disguised confessional lyrics from her previous albums gave way to a cool, pure, from-the-heart bird-flip to everyone who ever made fun of Taylor Swift, while drawing her fans in closer than ever before. This isn’t Taylor lashing out in anger or resentment, this is Taylor beyond anger and resentment, this is Taylor rising above, while accepting that America’s sweetheart is a great big goof and it’s okay.
And the video. Oh the video. It doesn’t matter who else was in the video or how great the other dancers were, this is a video about Taylor Swift being Taylor Swift. In that sugary adork-able way of hers, she’s unstoppable, whether she fits in with your crew or not. Shot over three days on a soundstage so secret that it had boom boxes blasting metal outside it to ensure no one could hear any of the actual song being filmed, the video has been directed by Mark Romanek, the man behind iconic music videos such as Johnny Cash’s "Hurt" and Michael Jackson’s futuristic "Scream", and films like "Never Let Me Go". Of course both he and Taylor Swift were called out for the twerking segment by those who felt it was dehumanising to the black dancers but Romanek insists that each dance troupe used in the video simply represented current pop dance culture, nothing less, nothing more.
Plus Tay became the first female artist to replace herself at the number one spot. What could possibly take over "Shake it Off", if not "Blank Space"?
Chromeo - "Jealous (I Ain’t It)"
Chromeo, comprising of Dave 1 and P-Thugg (who have always claimed to be ‘the only successful Arab/Jewish partnership since the dawn of human culture’), are are the funnest band to have come out of Montreal since Bran Van 3000 did "Discosis". "Night by Night" was an instant classic and now with the new singles from White Women, they keep proving how they can still put together addictive choruses and solid rhythms with the fine art of not taking themselves too seriously. The thing about Chromeo is, they’re really solid songwriters - great with clever hooks and lyrics, great with retro dance beats - but they’re funny and tongue in cheek with their delivery and their videos and that makes them just so much more fun. They told Rolling Stone a few years ago that their style was ‘a combination of sexy, funky, macho music with neurotically love-torn lyrics’, and that’s really a perfect description to this day.
"Jealous (I Ain’t It)" is song about what it’s like when you’re too cool to admit you’re actually pretty jealous of your girlfriend talking with other guys, so jealous, that it makes you want to commit a crime. Originally rejected by the duo for sounding too much like a potential Katy Perry track, Dave 1 later explained the lyrics by saying ‘guys are all schmucks, let’s face it. I don’t know why music constantly extols this fictitious macho fantasy persona — we’re all just puny insecure oversize children. And it would be funnier to embrace it.’ And it’s not just puny - it’s also a really addictive groove, especially the bits that sound achingly like the Ghostbusters synth. Is it a sample? Is it a coincidence? After the song was released someone tweeted the band to say they should cover the Ghostbusters theme song and they tweeted back: They tweeted: ‘We did. It's called "Jealous".’
Admittedly, Chromeo’s nerdy-cool vibe wins be over really easily. Plus, did you ever see their inflight safety video? Disco aisle path lighting, yo!
Jessie J featuring Ariana Grande & Nicki Minaj - "Bang Bang"
The song of the summer: a powerful, all-female anthem of lustful promises and hair flipping bouncy attitude. Jessie J calls in the big guns here, collaborating with two of the most popular mainstream female artists around and neither Ariana Grande nor Nicki Minaj disappoint. Half the artistry in the song is balancing these three powerhouses, letting each have their moment and letting each’s moment give rise to one massive hit - which it was. Big hand clap rhythms, horns blasting and loud, proud vocals make this one of the songs that lingered the longest, even before I knew what I was hearing. It’s if it makes you suddenly want to sing ‘You put the boom boom into my heart’, it’s because it’s sampling Wham’s "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go" somewhere in there.
Incidentally, this song and Shake it Off share a producer - Max Martin, who has also written and/or produced some of Britney Spears & Katy Perry’s biggest hits.
Meghan Trainor - "All About That Bass"
This was the year of the twerk, wasn’t it? Meghan Trainor’s "All About That Bass" doesn’t go there physically, but she’s really ‘bringing booty back’, which is a bit confusing, since I didn’t know it had left. Still, this is one of those clingy songs that you sing along to the chorus of, a weird mash up of bubblegum pop and 50s/60s retro styling (yeah, this year was big for retro throwback sounds).
The song was written with the idea of the bass being the thick support at the bottom of a song being comparable to ‘your booty’. It’s a fun, really catchy number about accepting yourself and who you are, and while you’re at it, ‘shake it like you’re supposed to’. It’s not a ‘good’ song per se (annoyingly bright and a bit repetitive, right?) but really, how do you get that bass, that bass, that bass (no treble) out of your head?
Charli XCX - "Boom Clap"
This was also the summer of The Fault in Our Stars, wasn’t it? And with it, "Boom Clap" spread like teenage tears across the pop music landscape. What a chorus - there’s just no getting away from it. Lots of synthesisers, some great percussion and some serious gothic-pop attitude proved that the extremely young (22! She was born in 1992…NINETY TWO!) Charlotte Emma Aitchison wasn’t just a song writer for others’ hits (like Icona Pop’s "I Love It" and Iggy Azalea’s "Fancy") but could hold her own too. Here is a song that’s got an almost cheesy hook, that’s full of angst and melodramatic lyrics about love - ‘you’re the magic in my veins’, for example, the song manages to be a perfect fit for a story about two terminally ill teenagers in love.
Ariana Grande featuring Iggy Azalea - "Problem"
Honestly, it’s like a few women basically ruled the pop charts this year, isn’t it? And if you leave Queen Bey aside (how could I, I know, I’m terrible), you’re left with Bey-lite, Maria-lite Ariana, who is a graduate of Nickelodean, I believe. Also crazy young. Here, she’s got rapper Big Sean providing the main hook to the hypnotic little chorus to the funky, persistent horns alongside her own breathy vocals. Throw in Iggy Azalea’s Nicky Minaj-lite rap and retro stylings of the video (no one forgot the retro stylings this year!), and you’ve got an ear worm of particularly annoying wriggle. I have to be honest - I basically like this for the horns. And hey, look at this - Max Martin produced this song too.
Hey, maybe I should have just written about Max Martin instead?
Katy Perry - "This is How We Do"
Here’s a bonus song because my editor kept saying KATY PERRY randomly [Editor's note: This is true]. For the record, it’s kind of terrible. I’m only putting it here so Jared accepts that Katy is a fad. [Editor's note: Not happening.] And a terrible one, like those ugly little naked troll dolls with many rainbow hair. Maybe a bit longer lasting, but she’ll never have my heart like Tay-Tay does.
What were some of your earworms from 2014? What will you be humming uncontrollably until 2015?