By Jay Rosas
2014 would probably go down as the year where everybody tuned in to music via Spotify. Taylor Swift row aside, it gained more popularity with music listeners making the app one of the more prominent brands of the year. While infectious hits like Magic’s Rude and Ed Sheeran’s breakout track Thinking Out Loud provided major LSSs (last song syndrome), the year’s charts were still dominated by women - even if they are still incessantly singing about their behinds (Meghan Trainor’s Call-Me-Maybe-esque hooks on All About That Bass, Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda and J. Lo and Iggy Azalea’s Booty) or love’s endless brouhahas (Tove Lo’s Habits, Ingrid Michaelson’s Girls Chase Boys, Swift’s Blank Space and Selena Gomez’s The Heart Wants What it Wants).
Electronic dance music, or EDM as it is now conveniently called, still commands this generation’s attention, sustaining rave parties everywhere with steady hits from the likes of Zedd and Calvin Harris. But pop music still constantly obsesses with the past as big pop stars like Taylor Swift and One Direction released albums that allude to pop music’s “retromania”. At the local scene, some of the memorable hits come from two women linked to two guys each at some point in their showbiz lives, providing an interestingly colorful shade to the musical outcomes.
At the threshold of a new year, these are the pop songs of 2014 that we still come back to.
14. Free – Kidwolf feat. Bea Valera. Produced as an official anthem to the Summer Siren Music Festival, the track may not be massively popular but it boasts of a sound that can rival any track released by any foreign EDM acts this year. It’s a summer anthem everybody has not caught up with because they were busy waving their hands to Calvin Harris’s Summer.
13. Mahal Kita Pero – Janella Salvador. Perhaps the brightest spot in this year’s Himig Handog Pinoy Pop Love Songs competition, the song wonderfully captures the limitations of young love without taking away the youthfulness of its pronouncements and basking in misery. Janella Salvador sings it with an optimistic fervor that will make any suitor believe in the promise that true love can wait.
12. Rather Be – Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne. With an infectious chorus and an even more infectious hook at its center, the most danceable track of the year goes to… surprisingly not a purely rave-party-rousing EDM anthem.
11. Halikana – Maja Salvador feat. Abra. Maja’s sweet cooing, which recalls the Manilyn Reynes tracks of yesteryears, almost makes you forget it’s actually a hook-up song, with the curious omission of the space in its title adding to the immediacy of its call. The disco-tinged flavor, coupled with Abra’s infallible verses, adds to the track’s irresistible swag.
10. Come Back Home – 2NE1. The quintessential K-pop act’s album Crush, released early this year, is so satisfyingly good (that I had to learn how to read Korean lyrics fast) and indicates the group’s musical growth. Alongside Gotta Be You, Come Back Home represents the best of the album, effortlessly mixing R&B, hip-hop and EDM influences with a confidence and aggressiveness other K-pop acts can only hope to match.
9. No Erase – James Reid feat. Nadine Lustre. To focus on its auto-tune aspects is to deny oneself of the pure pop goodness of this track. Its lyrics reveal an assured OPM songwriting attuned to Pinoy pop sensibilities, matched by the bouncy delivery of its verses and melodies. Who would've thought one can make an even more playful hook out of “wala ng bawian, mamatay man. Period, no erase.”
8. Fireproof – One Direction. It feels like a song written by John Mayer with a Beach Boys’ youthfulness. The lads’ fourth album may not be as memorable as Midnight Memories, but it’s this track, that makes us look forward to where they're heading.
7. Jealous – Nick Jonas. The one-third of the JoBro is obviously riffing on Miguel from the opening beats to the sexy-cool vocals. But Nick knows where to play his cards – seemingly aware of this riffing he reaches for the notes that aim for his voice’s trademark gruffness. When he reaches the chest-thumping chorus, the song already feels like a tight shirt getting ripped apart gradually.
6. Boom Clap – Charli XCX. The British songwriter behind hits like Iggy Azalea’s Fancy and Icona Pop’s I Love It can kiss the Hilary Duff-rejection blues away. With its thunderous thumps, Boom Clap's catchy chorus strikes you like the electrifying jolt of first love. It also sounds like the arrival of a pop music icon.
5. Not a Bad Thing – Justin Timberlake. Released early this year, almost everybody forgot this worthy single off the second volume of JT’s The 20/20 Experience. It’s not as massive-sounding as any previous Timbaland-produced track, but the cheerful mood and easy melodies is a delightful throwback to JT’s boyband heydays. Not a Bad Thing is what you would call a Hollywood harana, begging and wooing the “worth-it” girl to fall in love with every straightforward declaration of reverence and love.
4. Out of the Woods – Taylor Swift. Shake It Off may be the first single off Taylor Swift’s 1989 album, but it is actually Out of the Woods that tells us what it is really about. With its loud, over-the-top synth-pop hooks, the track captures the retro-energy of the entire album. When she repeatedly chants “out of the woods”, it’s like a symbolic embracing of her unstoppable rise to pop music stardom.
3. Take Me to Church – Hozier. With every weighty line, Hozier delivers the song with a theatricality of an oratorical piece accompanied by the aggressive clang of a grand piano. Hozier writes like there’s blood to be shed – from the cuts made by lines like “I'll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies. I'll tell you my sins so you can sharpen your knife”. The allusion to religion really speaks more of passionate songwriting. The runaway song of the year.
2. Kilometro – Sarah Geronimo. Definitely the most accomplished OPM pop song of the year, Kilometro garners every bit of respect just by unearthing long-unused Tagalog words like laot, tala, and daluyong in one towering piece of pop goodness that echoes similar elements which made last year’s Ikot-Ikot a success. Songwriters Thyro and Yumi could've used the word milya, but no, it wouldn't have achieved the same power that matches the staggering oomph of Sarah’s vocals and hypnotic word-mincing. In Kilometro, Sarah aims for the unreachable and she surpasses the journey’s (and love’s) trials fiercer than ever.
1. Chandelier – Sia. Like Charli XCX, Sia seems to have saved the best for her own. As soon as the “1-2-3, drink” is over and done with, she soars for the chorus and sings the hell out of it as if she is really hanging on to that delicate piece of ceiling decoration. The relentless energy of the song almost makes us unwary of the song’s darker undertones. It’s a party anthem that isn’t quite a party anthem - with the central figure of the song enveloped by an aching, which can only find release in the temporariness of the YOLO mantra, and the reckless abandon of the generation clinging to it as their battle cry.