2014 was a strange year in pop music.
We entered the new year still shocked at Beyoncé‘s industry-shattering surprise album drop, à la Bowie, with hopes of a Bey-filled year, a promising line-up of comeback albums (R.I.P Danity Kane) and a general feeling that 2014 was going to be miles better than 2013 for pop.
What actually happened was much different: Beyoncé spent the year on the road and did little to promote her self-titled LP, whilst the general public didn’t seem to care about the return of many music legends and Jennifer Lopez, Shakira and Mariah Carey‘s albums were released to a sore mix of critical praise and commercial failure, and Taylor Swift delivered one of the best albums of the year.
However, the year did introduce us to tomorrow’s biggest stars as a slew of up-and-coming artists released their debuts and outshone pop veterans from all around the world. Meanwhile, 2014 was also the breakthrough year for many former “ones-to-watch” as Ariana Grande, Charli XCX and Iggy Azalea became the most popular acts of the year.
In the midst of Jessie J‘s yelling and Meghan Trainor‘s baffling success, there was some very good albums this year. Take a look at my top 10, below…
Spoiler alert: there’s no Sam Smith to be found.
10. Taylor Swift – 1989
We all know how this one went down. The biggest shock of the year, and perhaps my life, was Taylor Swift’s excellent transition into pop. It got off on a shaky start (excuse the horrendous pun) but 1989 is truly one of the best pop records of the year. Besides Welcome To New York, This Love (snooze) and the absolutely unbearable, child-like Bad Blood, this album has been on every playlist since it dropped – and I am no longer ashamed.
Skip-to: All You Had to Do Was Stay, Style, Wildest Dreams
9. Nicki Minaj – The Pinkprint
Traditionally end-of-year lists do not feature any December releases, and technically this album has not even been released yet, but The Pinkprint has been this year’s second most-anticipated release (hurry the phuck up, @Rihanna). After just two days of listening to the leaked album I am confident to say it is also one of the year’s best. Do not take Anaconda as a starting point for the rest of this album because Nicki Minaj has a lot more to offer.
Skip-to: The Crying Game (featuring Jessie Ware), Get On Your Knees (featuring Ariana Grande), Buy A Heart (featuring Meek Mill)
8. Calvin Harris – Motion
Summer was weak, Blame is painfully generic, yet their housing album is absolutely brilliant. Motion is yet another impressive collection of future greatest hits from Calvin Harris and will surely be the soundtrack to all four seasons of 2015.
Skip-to: Love Now (featuring All About She), Pray To God (featuring HAIM), Outside (featuring Ellie Goulding)
7. Kylie Minogue – Kiss Me Once
It was never going to be easy for Kylie to follow up 2010’s immaculate Aphrodite but her twelfth LP, Kiss Me Once, marked her effortless and grand return to pop’s dancefloor. Unfortunately the album wasn’t as successful as her previous releases because of poor single choices (it’s true) but that doesn’t take away from its brilliance.
Skip-to: Les Sex, If Only, Fine
6. Tove Lo – Queen of the Clouds
Swedish newcomer Tove Lo came to the attention of the mainstream scene this year when the Hippie Sabotage remix of her single Habits (Stay High) became a UK Top 10 hit. Since then, she has released her debut album Queen of the Clouds which makes her breakout hit seem pale in comparison to some of its pop gems, such as the Klas Åhlund-produced Timebomb.
Skip-to: Not On Drugs, Timebomb, Moments
5. Lily Allen – Sheezus
The UK basked in Lily Allen’s comeback in the last few months of 2013 and she proved the hype was for good reason when she dropped her long-awaited third album Sheezus in May. The witty social commentary and frank storytelling of her sex life found on her first two albums returned to open arms as she offered a much-needed helping hand to the generic pop scene that formed during her hiatus.
Skip-to: L8CMMR, Take My Hand, URL Badman
4. Jessie Ware – Tough Love
Nobody does sophisticated pop quite like Jessie Ware. On her second album, Tough Love, the singer elevates her soulful sound to great new heights. If you’re not already familiar, just listen.
Skip-to: Tough Love, Say You Love Me, Champagne Kisses
3. Ariana Grande – My Everything
This album was easily the most well-executed mainstream release that established Ariana Grande as a pop star that will be around for many years to come. Combining her powerful Mariah-lite voice with pop’s biggest producers, My Everything delivered some of the year’s biggest hits and most unlikely, yet brilliant, collaborations that will certainly continue to be heard in 2015.
Skip-to: Break Your Heart Right Back (featuring Childish Gambino), Love Me Harder (featuring The Weeknd), Problem (featuring Iggy Azalea)
2. Tinashe – Aquarius
This year introduced many of the world to the previously-unknown Tinashe but she has been preparing for her big moment for years. The triple-threat singer-songwriter got a taste of the music industry as a member of the short-lived girl group The Stunners but when the band went their separate ways she pursued a solo career and released three critically-acclaimed mixtapes between 2012 and 2013. However, after releasing her slow-burning hit 2 On in January, she released her highly-anticipated full-length debut Aquarius; a cohesive collection of smooth R&B grooves and club thumpers, all tied together with Janet Jackson-esque interludes.
Skip-to: Bet (featuring Dev Hynes), 2 On (featuring Schoolboy Q), Wildfire
1. Azealia Banks – Broke With Expensive Taste
Just like 2013’s best album, this came as a surprise. When Azealia Banks dropped her long-awaited debut album two years after its initial release date the blogosphere almost lost their minds: “Has hell frozen over?” was tweeted a thousand times over. All shock aside, Broke With Expensive Taste is the most innovative rap album of recent years, as Banks combines hip-hop, house and UK garage to create her own eclectic, vogue-worthy genre. Worth the wait? Absolutely.
Skip-to: Ice Princess, Miss Amor, Soda