14. Niall Horan – ‘Slow Hands’
It’s hard to write a blurb about ‘Slow Hands’ without bringing up Niall’s ex-bandmates – in part because we’re raised to exist in a competitive society but also because taking shots at Liam Payne is a special form of nourishment all on its own – but Niall deserves the effort, so here’s this: ‘Slow Hands’ is a quiet masterpiece from a quiet mastermind, and a great lesson in how self-awareness is possibly the handiest tool to have in your arsenal.
13. Jax Jones feat. Demi Lovato and Stefflon Don – ‘Instruction’
It’d be nice if we could do for Jax’s career what we did for Calvin Harris’s. Let’s pencil in sometime next year, eh?
12. Anna of the North – ‘Oslo’
“I hope you’ll still be here next year.”
GUT PUNCH OF THE MILLENIUM.
11. Dua Lipa – ‘New Rules’
No other career feels like a better showcase of how much can change in twelve months than Dua Lipa’s. The success ‘New Rules’ found was of course the result of years and years of toiling, but it’s still a small miracle when any rising star gets propelled to the top, and in a year that made headlines for charts being overrun with men, Dua’s dominance felt even more spectacular. ‘New Rules’ rumbles with the same intensity and confidence that confirmed her as a star in ‘Hotter Than Hell’ – but it’s amazing to see the rest of the world catch on as well.
10. Tigertown – ‘Warriors’
Pay extra attention to that post-chorus to experience the precise sensation of what it must feel like to rip your own heart out of your chest and hand it over to someone else.
09. Chelsea Jade – ‘Life of the Party’
Chelsea raises an excellent point in ‘Life of the Party’. Yes, we all have plenty of mildly unfortunate qualities that we can try to downplay in order to slot into each other’s worlds better – but isn’t life far more interesting, and maybe even easier, when we learn to just work with our quirks instead? ‘Life of the Party’ is self-acceptance that’s grounded in reality – somethings aren’t perfect, but somethings can’t be changed either.
08. Moment – ‘All This Time’
‘All This Time’ is the sound of a storm brewing, as emotions build and build until they finally lash out in action. And if its verses are representative of the dark clouds gathering, the song’s chorus – particularly Rasmus’ soul-splitting high note – feels like a bolt of lightning scorching the earth.
07. Kelela – ‘LMK’
‘LMK’ proved beyond doubt that Kelela is – amongst many things – a popstar in her own right. And while she’s always felt like a fully formed act, ‘LMK’ showcases Kelela as an artist who’s more than ready to step into the next phase of her career, with her sights set on bigger and better.
06. Rita Ora – ‘Anywhere’
‘Anywhere’ is a slow grower in a great disguise. While that post-chorus is instantly appealing, there’s a sense that a large part of its purpose is to facilitate enough repeat plays to let you discover the rest of the song as well, in all its comparatively understated wistfulness. In actuality, there’s no one hero in ‘Anywhere’ – just different forms of magic to be found at every turn.
05. Mabel – ‘Bedroom’
Mabel’s at her most remarkable when she’s at her angriest, because of her logic-defying ability to deliver these dramatic emotions while still maintaining her typically cool vocals. The entirety of ‘Bedroom’ bristles with rage, but even when she’s sending a baseball through all your possessions, Mabel’s still collected enough to know not to waste time on anything that’s insured.
04. Kesha – ‘Praying’
From its unexpected sympathy, to the sudden introduction of those crashing drums, to that heart-stopping, pain-purging whistle note, ‘Praying’ heralded one of pop’s most important comebacks, with the grace, rawness, and magnitude it deserved.
03. Carly Rae Jepsen – ‘Cut to the Feeling’
Imagine having so many amazing songs collecting dust on your laptop that you can afford to scrap a song like this from not one, but TWO albums, then throw it away on some minor animated film, and then service it with a D-grade music video a few months after that. Any other act would hinge the success of their entire era on something as effortlessly euphoric as ‘Cut to the Feeling’. Katy Perry would have flogged a track like this through this year and the next, and then ridden off into the sunset with a cartful of plaques and awards to show for it. Carly Rae Jepsen’s talent is, to put it politely, absolutely sickening, and here’s hoping for more examples of it in the very near future.
02. Vera Blue – ‘Mended’
Pop songs often romanticise situations – even the crap ones. Heartbreak is just the start of a new chapter, revenge sex is wrong but karma is a bitch to whom you need an introduction. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with doing that. There’s a lot of comfort to be obtained from justification, so all emotions and actions are given a reason and a purpose. But this also gives those feelings a sense of finality – by being explained, they’re also somewhat resolved. And that’s why ‘Mended’ cuts like it does, because it deals with feelings that have no sense of resolve in sight. Vera doesn’t have an explanation or a solution for how she feels – and the song progresses like a glitch in your brain, where thoughts swirl around over and over but can’t make sense of themselves or wear themselves out, and ‘Mended’ itself rips and tears under that stress, until the only thing that’s left is the hollowness that comes from feeling helpless and defeated.
01. Lorde – ‘Green Light’
Lorde described ‘Green Light’ as a song about that moment when you need to fall apart completely before you can begin to rebuild. And that’s what makes her – and ‘Green Light’ – so special; Lorde understands the power and necessity of every human emotion, both good and bad, and how they don’t exist in separate states but are forever intertwined. The sheer joy of ‘Green Light’ couldn’t exist without the desperation, and anger, and hurt that lives in it as well. It exists as a result of them, and is fuelled by them from the song’s opening verse up until that first explosive burst into its chorus. Lorde captures emotions in all their dizzying complexity and manages to play them off each other in a manner that maximises their intensity rather than take away from it, helping us relive the emotional contradictions and amalgamations that are so hard to put into real words. Happiness can be spiteful and sorrow can be fulfilling, and Lorde’s unmatched gift is not only that she gets that, but that she knows how to remind us of that. ‘Green Light’ is intensely human from start to finish, and it’s a beautifully overwhelming feeling.