It may look like dance-pop towered over 2014 — Ariana Grande made us love her hard, Taylor Swift boldly defected from country, and even her acoustic-guitar wielding buddy Ed Sheeran injected ample doses of synths (among other things) into his stellar second effort — but think again. With her infinitely captivating fifth effort, native Texan Miranda Lambert made the strongest case that Nashville is the center of this music universe and Luke Bryan backed her up with record touring revenues and a single you couldn’t help but, well, play again and again and again.
Meanwhile, Bruce Springsteen reminded us there’s only room for one Boss in rock & roll and Nicki Minaj let it be well-known that she has zero competition in the rap realm (although nice try, Iggster). So, who else is behind the sounds that made the year spin right round like a record, baby? Take a listen to Us Weekly's annual list from Entertainment Director and music critic Ian Drew.
Best Albums of the Year
Miranda Lambert – Platinum – Don’t mess with Texas! No album this year was as start-to-finish enjoyable as Longview-born Mrs. Shelton’s career-crowning spectacular. Girl power barnstormers (“Girls”), classic Texas swing charmers (“All That’s Left”), smoldering ballads (“Holding On To You”) and gunpowder-charged team-ups (“Somethin’ Bad” with Carrie Underwood) amounted to one hell of a good time.
Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes – Because even The Boss’ relics and rarities were way better than no Boss at all. Freshened-up nuggets from Bruce's treasure chest, such as “High Hopes” and “Frankie Fell In Love,” carried the feel of being front row at an E Street jam session while a fresh spin on “American Skin (41 Shots)” resounded with new relevance given an upswell of racial protests.
Taylor Swift – 1989 – Later, Nashville: Swift’s full-tilt boogie into pop sank its teeth in and didn’t let go — like an insane ex-girlfriend. The reformed country superstar’s gamble — flooded with guilty-pleasure earworms and vivid stories that may or may not be about one Harry Styles — more than paid off.
D’Angelo and the Vanguard — Black Messiah – Rejoice! Out of nowhere, the R&B enigma dropped his 15-years-in-the-making bombshell, which juggled an array of musical styles (funk, ’70s soul, flamenco) with poignant topics (politics, race, sex). Blame this for any spike in 2015’s birth rate.
Sam Smith – In The Lonely Hour – A voice for the blue generation. In Adele’s absence, another Brit emerged and stunned us with 14 songs that made the whole world cry. Though the gut-punching “Stay With Me” dominated the airwaves, the 22-year-old's soul-searching debut reverberates with unbridled honesty and haunting grace through every note.
Best Songs of the Year
Sia — “Chandelier” – She’s not into showing her face but the Aussie pop songsmith (she’s penned mega smashes for David Guetta, Beyonce, you name it) has nothing to be ashamed of. Her enchanting, rafters-shaking dazzler was ostensibly about her battle with substance abuse though the words could easily apply to any relationship gone awry. It’s also the best Rihanna song Rih Rih never recorded. Smart thinking on Sia’s part in keeping this one for herself. Swing on, child.
Beyonce featuring Jay Z — “Drunk In Love” – Ever wanted to be a fly on the wall in Bey and Jay’s bedroom (or, kitchen rather)? Wondered how ridiculously hot their sex life must be? Queen Bey and the hubby gave us the ultimate insight with their latest intoxicating pairing. Word of warning: You'll never look at a surfboard the same way again.
Tove Lo — “Habits (Stay High)” – If Lorde and Sky Ferreira had a baby, and said offspring sang a balls-to-the-wall, atmospheric anthem about a night most 20-something women are all-too-familiar with, here it is. Take two of these and call him back in the morning.
Luke Bryan — “Play It Again” – We’ve heard the story 1,000 times by now. It’s Friday night. Luke Bryan scores his kiss in the headlights by strumming his woman’s favorite song. Bryan’s simple road map to seduction was country's unavoidable aphrodisiac and it was impossible not to hit repeat over and over again.
Nicki Minaj — “Anaconda” – Even "skinny bitches" can’t deny getting down to Minaj’s incessantly astounding rump-shaker, a glorious revamp of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s timeless 1992 classic “Baby Got Back." And don’t get Us started on the jaw-dropping video, which broke the Internet months before Kim Kardashian made us say, “Oh my God. Look at her butt!"
Tell Us: What were some of your favorite songs and albums this year?
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