Hello, and welcome to Day 3 of Listmas 2014. Now that we have the ugliness of the worst of the year behind us, let’s look at the hits we enjoyed, hm?
Honorable Mention: Jeremih ft. YG – “Don’t Tell ‘Em”
Did you listen to any mainstream hip-hop this year? Did you hear someone grunt “Mustaonabeat” in the first ten seconds? Did you then notice said song, even if performed by an utter tool, was a little hypnotizing and pretty catchy? If so, you were probably listening to a beat made by DJ Mustard, 2014’s most prolific producer. Mustard’s 2014 credits include “Royal”, “Show Me”, “I Don’t Fuck With You”, “My Nigga”, “You and Your Friends”, “Nothin Like Me”, “No Mediocre”, “2 On”, and “Don’t Tell ‘Em”. He’s had a style that splits the difference between club-style electronics and G-funk smoothness; if you’ve heard a beat with deep bass pulse, a minimal synth, and “hey”s in the background, you’ve probably heard him. Not only has 2014 been a quantity year for him, it’s been a quality high mark, too: the guy’s gone from “Rack City” to being half the reason YG’s My Krazy Life‘s got the amount of buzz it has.
Anyway, “Don’t Tell ‘Em” gets the honorary nod for a great Mustard beat, a surprisingly melodic hook, and a hilarious YG guest verse (“I GOT A MISSED CALL FROM YO’ BITCH” makes me laugh every time; it’s one of the year’s best delivered punchlines). I honestly went in expecting to hate this one, and while I’m not sure it’s a good song, it’s too well-made to be a bad one. This is my second year with a honorable mention slot, and last year went to “Blurred Lines”, so I guess I should just call it the “Douchebag With a Great Beat” category.
10. Justin Timberlake – “Not a Bad Thing”
I appreciate what Justin Timberlake wanted to do with The 20/20 Experience. He was, probably not pop’s king, but a respected steward of the throne who could have announced his comeback, dashed out an album of dozen four minute crooners, gone on tour, and collected his millions with barely a word against him. But instead, JT wanted to challenge himself, and we got a pair of bloated albums that ran over an hour each, with self-consciously arty songs that frequently pushed the 7 and 8 minute mark. It didn’t go over well.
This is, I think, JT’s ultimate mistake: in trying to win over our brains, he forgot our hearts were here, still checking their dilapidated Razr phones for him to call back. “Not a Bad Thing” is that make-up call, the reassurance that for all the glitz and art pop experiments, he can still sell the shit out of a love song. It’s a sweet, simple song almost to the point of pandering; Justin plays the vocal equivalent of puppy dog eyes for all it’s worth, and Timbaland brings the most Timbaland beat ever to the table. And I can’t resist it. Listening to it now, I’m halfway tempted to hop on AIM, ask the pretty girl in class if she’s going to the mixer this weekend, and plan how I can slow dance with her despite the fact I’m fairly sure that she’s two states away and engaged.
9. Shakira ft. Rihanna – “Can’t Remember To Forget You”
With all respect to the efficient catchiness of “All About That Bass”, “Happy”, and “Bang, Bang”, pop could have afforded to color outside the lines a bit more this year. Shakira’s always cut a distinct figure when she’s on the charts, and “Can’t Remember To Forget You” is a proud continuation of her charmingly “wtf?” pop career. This song’s as odd in practice as it is on paper: overdriven, frantic upstroke guitars push the Latin-tinged verses into ska-punk territory, Shakira doubles down on her throaty vocals, and then the whole thing goes careening into a hard rock chorus. And then Rihanna shows up, sounding looser than she has on the last five club jams she’s done, and after a verse, the two criss-cross vocals for the song’s remaining half. Yet the whole thing actually works pretty well. “Can’t Remember To Forget You” is a sort of doofy pop song that matches its gonzo setup with credible, fun hooks and personality, and for a year in desperate need of the latter, it’s a success. It also gets points for making me realize how much I’m dying for a new Rihanna single.
8. Paramore – “Ain’t It Fun”
“Aint It Fun” could potentially be Paramore’s biggest hit, but it’s already the biggest they’ve ever sounded. I’ve written at length about my joy at Paramore’s transition to a deceptively heavy pop band, and “Ain’t It Fun” is perhaps the clearest demonstration of Paramore 2.0 in action. The song’s built on a surprisingly groovy rhythm section, while Hayley Williams gives one of her most controlled but rewarding vocal performances, and the song refuses to commit to a genre. There’s a lotta rock, synthed up New Wave, a dash of funk, and it ends with a fucking gospel choir, which is 1. immensely satisfying, and 2. purist trolling at its finest. I didn’t pick up on this until I saw “Aint It Fun” played live, but there are guitars all over this thing; that choked riff in the verses is brawny, and the outro is slathered in a Big Rock solo hiding in plain sight. Like most of Paramore’s strongest material, it has a gleeful defiance that makes it a blast to sing along to. And it was still only my like, sixth favorite song from their self-titled.
7. DJ Snake Ft. Lil Jon – “Turn Down For What”
Objectively speaking, I know there has to be an intellectual way to analyze “Turn Down For What”, but anytime I try, I black out, and come to with half my whiskey gone and a small, smoking crater in front of my home. I yield. So enjoy the song, watch the video, and pelvic thrust a rando’s tv. You deserve it.
6. Tove Lo – “Habits”
Would it surprise you to know that Tove Lo attended the same fancy pants music school as dance-pop heavyweight Robyn? Given the two’s shared affinity for synth-pop with excellent songcraft, maybe not, but ToLo’s cloudy electropop is thoroughly human, whereas Robyn tucks her heart away in robotic circuitry. On “Habits”, Love To deals with a break-up in the most relatable way possible: playing it off, going on an “I feel like shit” bender, giving zero fucks…and then admitting she’s a mess. It’d be a bit much if the song didn’t sound kind of spectacular; the sing-song verses where LotSo drops lines about eating in the bathroom and gorging on Twinkies while stoned come across as self-effacing and a little funny, and the cinematic sweep lifts the chorus to a higher place instead of sounding glum. All the melancholy from the lyric sheet creeps in at the edges; the way her voice cracks in the chorus, and being “trapped” in a haze instead of simply “stuck” or “lost” in one. Maybe this isn’t something she has control over. The song’s called “Habits” for a reason. The rest of her album, Queen of Clouds might be this year’s best slept-on pop record.
Also, just as a fun aside, “Habits” has been in circulation since March 2013. My girlfriend’s been stumping for it since at least last fall. I tell you, LeBron is less satisfied after a dunk than she is after it comes on the radio now.
And that’s it for today, come back tomorrow for, well, check the schedule.
December 16th: Worst Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 17th: Worst Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 18th: Best Hits of the Year (10-6)
December 19th: Best Hits of the Year (5-1)
December 20th: Favorite Albums of the Year
December 21st: The Gibby Fifty–50 Favorite Songs
December 22nd: Odds and Ends