17. Justin Bieber f/ Big Sean - As Long As You Love Me
"Boyfriend" was cute and all. It proved the point that Bieber is still a heartthrob and the heir apparent to the greater Justin's throne. Please, Mr. Biel, we love this Justin a lot but there is room for you both! But with "As Long As You Love Me", Bieber decided to go for a more epic feel and it resulted in his best single so far. Lyrically, it's a nice sentiment, that as long as his girl loves him, that's all he really needs but when the end of the chorus comes and he sings "As long as you lo-lo-lo-lo-love me", the production takes a turn for the intense and it turns from a nice sentiment into a desperate plea. Biebs' falsetto is on point. Big Sean turns in a memorable rap. But the production is the undoubted star of this show. Moving from intense to sinister to near explosion, only allowing the listener enough time to breathe and get ready for the next chorus eruption, the trusty Rodney Jerkins (Darkchild if you're nasty) did everything right with this one.
16. Mumford & Sons - I Will Wait
Mumford & Sons really need to be seen live to understand the breadth of their talent and appeal but obviously something is clicking. This, the lead single from their sophomore album, Babel is pretty similar to many of their other songs but with just enough difference to note at least a little bit of forward movement artistically. Lyrically, there is still a lot of symbolism that could be speaking of a romantic relationship, but seems much more likely linked to the spiritual. The banjos pluck and the guitars pick. The guys have really perfected the rise and fall of a song, using only acoustic instruments to build real drama and climax, like most great rock songs. But here, they also incorporate brass and piano and a sense of world-weariness that many in my generation relate to all too easily. "So tame my flesh/And fix my eyes/A tethered mind freed from the lies". It's a cry for something more. Something beyond the everyday and mundane and that is worth waiting for, indeed.
15. Kacey Musgraves - Merry Go Round
It is nearly impossible for a female artist who isn't named Taylor, Carrie, or Miranda to break through and have a hit and even harder when said female is a new artist. Enter Kacey Musgraves with the surprise country sleeper hit of the year. "Merry Go Round" is the kind of song only Country music can pull off. At once wistful and depressing; heartbreaking and unflinchingly honest. The production is beautiful and simple to match Kacey's lovely, understated vocal delivery but it's really all about the lyrics. The song is a portrait of small-town life, a subject often addressed in Country songs, but there is so much in the details and structure of this song, it grabs you immediately. On the chorus, she sings "Mama's hooked on Mary Kay, Brother's hooked on Mary Jane, and Daddy's hooked on Mary, two doors down. Mary Mary, quite contrary, we get bored so we get married. And just like dust, we settle in this town, on this broken Merry Go Round." This is the beginning of a potentially huge and important artist. Hopefully, there is more where this came from.
14. Miguel - Adorn
A lot has been said about this song, including calling it the best song of the year and comparing Miguel to Marvin Gaye. I won't go that far, but I will say this is the best baby-making jam I've heard in years and is the kind of R&B we have been missing for a while now on the radio. Miguel praises and lavishes his lady without objectifying her or calling her a rude name. What woman doesn't want to hear her man pledge to always protect her and never neglect her? Plus, Miguel sings this with the kind of yearning and passion that has been severely lacking from the airwaves of late. The way he sings "l-l-l-let my love adorn you" is infectious. He flips from rich chest voice to gorgeous falsetto, often in the space of one line. Now that I think about it, maybe those Marvin comparisons aren't as far off as I initially thought.
13. Carrie Underwood - Blown Away
Here's what everyone knows about Carrie Underwood. This chick can sang! I'm talking, lean back and peel the paint off the walls. I think her lungs might be made of titanium. But what thrilled me most about this song is that she took an artistic risk. The song is a much darker look for Carrie and it works magically. A voice that big and full was meant for big, dramatic songs like this. "Blown Away" is the tale of a girl in the path of a tornado who takes shelter but leaves her alcoholic, abusive father passed out on the couch in the storm's path. As she puts it, "Some people call it taking shelter/She calls it sweet revenge." Carrie has never sounded so convincing and the production mirrors a storm with wind swirling and guitar lines that recall something simmering or brewing in the distance. More of this please, Carrie!
12. Coldplay f/ Rihanna - Princess of China
To be honest, I almost didn't want to listen to this song because of all the hype surrounding it. Chris Martin said it was the band's best work and that he had to have Rihanna on it because she was one of the top 5 singers alive...now, I love Rihanna. A lot. More than most. But...top 5 singers alive?!?!?? This dude is good friends with Beyonce! Has he ever heard Brandy? Or India Arie? Or Grace Potter? I could go on but I won't. When I did hear the song, I was shut up quickly though. I do believe this is the best Rihanna has ever sounded on record. The production samples a Sigur Ros song brilliantly. It's driving, moody, insistent, and immediate. The lyrics are concise and straightforward but they relay so much hurt and betrayal. By the end, when Chris and Rihanna are singing together "Cause you really hurt me", it is not only believable but it's really cathartic. And what do you know? It might just be my favorite Coldplay song.
11. Lana Del Rey - Born to Die
Lana Del Rey has had a really interesting year. She started off huge, her album debuting with big sales and "Video Games" becoming a sizable hit, rolling her indie cred into newfound fame. Then, one off SNL performance later, a lot of people wrote her off, a la Ashlee Simpson. It's really a shame too, because the title track to her major label debut is a dark, sumptuous beauty, dripping with desperation but at the same time, seeming totally aloof. This is Lana's magic. Her delivery ranges from low, slow, and almost lazy to a high-pitched girly squeak but somehow, it all comes together and really works, especially on this song. Jeff Bhasker, who also produced "Some Nights" backs the sweeping, cinematic strings with big, echoey percussion and a sinister guitar lick that hints at the thinly veiled darkness in the lyrics. "Don't make me sad. Don't make me cry. Sometimes life is not enough and the road gets tough, I don't know why." Lana really does her best work when turning inward, noting that she "was so confused as a little child, trying to take what I could get, scared that I couldn't find all the answers, honey". There's untapped depth here yet. Let's hope the public and her label give her the chance to keep digging.
10. Carly Rae Jepsen - Call Me Maybe
That this song is this low on my list says a lot about the caliber of singles released this year, because I believe almost any other year, it would have at least been top three. At any rate, this may be the most perfect little pop song ever written, and if anyone knows anything about me, they know that I LOVE pop music, especially the unabashedly giddy kind of love song sing-along that comes along every few years. This is that to a tee. The fact that Carly Rae is actually my age throws me off a little, but I'm gonna let that slide because I'm too busy singing along for the thousandth time. Seriously, does this song not get old? It is the ultimate earworm. It inspired many a dance party this year, despite not being filthy or having a massive dubstep breakdown. Armed with strings, innocence, and the most incessant hook possibly ever written, Carly Rae rode this one to the top of every chart imaginable and I couldn't have been happier.Plus, the video is hilarious! Please, if you have not seen it, click the link above. It makes it even better...as if that's possible.