5. Drake – “0 to 100/The Catch Up”
Calling Drake a rapper still feels vaguely misleading. It’s not that he isn’t a rapper, but the Drizzy canon lacks a singular rap performance, and whenever he tries to spit, it sounds competent, but kind of adorable. “0 to 100” fixes this by meeting him where he’s at; the beat’s a got a laid back vibe that doesn’t push him too hard, and he sounds much better for it. Drake’s talking about his favorite subject–Drake’s story and as many “Oh Lord!”s as he can cram in–without any singing or a defined hook. It’s basically an improved “Started From the Bottom”, and I’m alright with that. “The Catch Up” boils Nothing Was the Same to its base components, and however I felt about the album, it’s a solid 2 and a half minutes. It’s Drake at his Drake-iest, and his finest. Damn shame about that shot, though.
4. Sia – “Chandelier”
The most disarming moment in pop this year occurs thirty three seconds into “Chandelier”, when massive drums and Sia’s howl of “I’m going to swing from the chandelier” blow the hinges off the song. It’s a huge sonic leap, and the production matches massive scope with tension and dread; it’s a subverted twist on pop’s flights of “party like there’s no tomorrow” fancy. We’ve had songs written about wanting to die young, but Sia throws herself into the song with the intensity of someone with a death wish. Swinging from the chandelier sounds almost like a threat. She’s written hits for other people–you can almost hear them channel her in “Diamond” and “Perfume”–but this is a class all of her own. It’s a great listen, and somehow fit the charts while sounding jarring at the same time. Hell of an accomplishment.
3. Charli XCX – “Boom Clap”
Almost year, we get at least one song that perfectly captures that head-over-heels in love feeling in a new way. Last year, my pick was Paramore’s “Still Into You”, which marveled at how you could feel the elation of falling for someone almost every day after seeing them for forever. This year, that dizzy, headstruck, slowly-and-then-all-at-once feeling was summed up in two words: “Boom, clap”. Charli XCX is (hopefully) done playing second string to one hit duos and inept headlines; “Boom Clap” hits the pop sweet spot with its infinitely loopable melody and surprisingly textured production. It’s just a flat out great pop song from a source no one was expecting.
2. Disclosure ft. Sam Smith – “Latch”
Someone tell Sam Smith he doesn’t have to be boring. Do it soon, before the Grammys get ahold of him. Smith has potential as an Adele stop-gap, but as “Latch” shows, he could do so much more. Of course, Disclosure’s incredibly slick production, where dreamy synths, looped effects and samples, and bass swells are grounded by a resolute beat that barely registers as more than a click track, wins half the battle (the risingpre-chorus even, as an instrumental, is gorgeous). The album that houses “Latch”, Settle, came out last year, and it’s pretty great; it’s basically the Daft Punk album everyone wanted that Random Access Memories refused to be. Anyway, both Disclosure and Smith bring their A game here: Disclosure’s beat is top notch, and Smith doesn’t just bring octave skipping vocals, but a human heart as well. He sounds fully comfortable emoting on a dance track, where singers run the risk of being froze by the beat (see: his riffs over the last chorus). C’mon man, ditch that gospel choir for a turntable.
1. Michael Jackson (ft. Justin Timberlake, kinda) – “Love Never Felt So Good”
A song that’s technically 31 years old topped my list. Lemme explain.
When Michael Jackson recorded a piano and vocal demo written with standards singer Paul Anka in 1983, he probably didn’t know he was writing the blueprints to his finest posthumous tribute. First of all, credit to Anka for writing a song that could be a hit by anyone at almost any time. Credit also goes to producers John McClain and Giorgio Tuinfort for producing a “solo” version of “Love Never Felt So Good” that sounds like an Off The Wall outtake, and to J-Roc and Timbaland for producing what sounds like the 2014 approximation of an Off The Wall outtake as a Justin Timberlake duet (if you think I’m getting hero worship-y here, listen to JT). But y’all know it’s Michael that’s the heart and soul of this song. In day to day listening, I prefer the fully produced versions, but please listen to the original demo at least once. Michael puts in a performance only he could; it’s a remarkably pure take, full of his vocal tics and flourishes in all the right spots, and encapsulates everything people love in Jackson.
1983 is an oasis in Michael’s career: he’s already released Thriller, but it hasn’t become THRILLER yet, and he’s at the top of his game. For at least one take, he isn’t Michael Jackson, complicated, conflicted world megastar; he’s a phenomenal singer performing the shit out of a song like it’s the third most important thing he did that day. And that ease translates to every version. It’s the kind of pop song that gets other people singing pop songs, and my pick for best of the year.
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