Having a discussion with a friend the other night, we concluded that 2013 has been a pretty good year for pop music. We’ve had the return of the giants and some surprise masterpieces.
Now, as the year closes, it is time to put together the top 13 pop records of the year.
11. Katy Perry – Prism
While at times Prism doesn’t quite match the immediacy of Teenage Dreams, Katy Perry has delivered a glossy follow up. Lead single, ‘Roar’, is the biggest smash this year, and deservedly so. Prism excels when it experiments.
CeCe Penniston inspired track ‘Walking On Air’ is inspired, taking the 90s dance sound and giving it a gloss of bubblegum. Likewise, the trap infusion on ‘Dark Horse’ is a welcome departure from Perry’s usual sound.
Prism’s introspective moments don’t really work, but Perry hits a goldmine with Ray Of Light-esque ‘Spiritual’, an ethereal and honest moment on the album.
10. Britney Spears – Britney Jean
While the big thing this year for Britney was the announcement of her two-year Vegas residency, she still had time to push out another album. Britney Jean is not her best work, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some gems. ‘Work Bitch’ has already become a Britney classic, with iconic moments such as “go call the police, go call the guv-an-ah”, giving the song and edge.
William Orbit produced ‘Alien’ is probably Britney’s weirdest song yet, while the Sia penned ‘Perfume’ is Brit’s best vocal performance in years. Likewise, ‘Passenger’, produced by Diplo, takes BriBrit in a rockier direction with glitching synths moving the song forward.
Will.i.am’s involvement aside, Britney Jean just about delivers, and from Britney, that’s enough for me. All hail the queen.
9. Lady Gaga – ARTPOP
Another of the big quarter four releases was Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP. Having spent the past year dropping hints, Gaga finally releasing ‘Applause’ over summer. While not an immediate success, Gaga didn’t stop; performing a set compiled entirely of album tracks the iTunes Festival in September she presented what ARTPOP would be.
When the album was finally released, it felt like an old friend. The suggestive ‘Sexxx Dreams’ is a sultry R&B song featuring signature GaGa production reminiscent of Janet Jackson. Likewise, ‘Artpop’ is a retrospective of the work as a whole, and ‘MANiCURE’ is a sassy, 80s rock track that features the best middle eighth this year. Collectively the album is too long, but moments like R-Kelly duet ‘Do What U Want’ are so worth it.
The rumour mill is already whirring about the possibility of a second part to the ARTPOP experience, and I for one can’t wait.
8. Lorde – Pure Heroine
Although it seemed that she burst out of nowhere, Lorde has been working on her music since she was just a tween. Now, at only 16, she’s been ruling the American music charts, as well as releasing a self-assured, sophisticated album.
Pure Heroine slides through hip-hop beats and glacial production; the sparse, uncomplicated tracks give Lorde’s outstanding lyrics space to shine. The grown up ‘Tennis Court’, as well as mega-smash ‘Royals’, highlights her song writing ability, as well as an ability to take the everyday and elevate it.
Pure Heroine is a delight from start to finish and as Lorde sings: “I’m little but I’m coming for the crown.”
7: Haim – Days Are Gone
Having won BBC’s Sound of 2013, it seemed that Haim’s album would never be released. Days Are Gone reinvents traditional guitar bands, highlighting how one group can cross over from the stabbing exclusivity of NME to the pages of Heat magazine.
The album has a bouncy 80s feel, not dissimilar to Cindy Lauper, with the now distinctive Haim percussion driving the songs forward. ‘If I Could Change Your Mind’ and ‘Days are Gone’ take the album to pure pop, while the grungier ‘My Song 5’ and ‘Running If You Call My Name’ add elements of darkness.
These differing elements of light and shade create versatility, as well as an exiting listening experience. With Days Are Gone, Haim have successfully made an album worth listening to in its entirety.
6. Ariana Grande – Yours Truly
What an utter surprise this gem was. Seemingly out of nowhere Ariana Grande has become the new princess of R&B. Serving some serious Mariah-like vocals, Grande effortlessly makes her way through the 90’s tinged collection.
The album is a refreshing change from the dance-pop heavy sound that most young starlets follow. Complete with nostalgic pianos and scattering percussion, songs like ‘Right There’ and ‘Baby, I’ showcase what a vocal powerhouse Grande is.
With riffs and whistling vocals, Yours Truly is an exciting debut from an even more exciting artist.
5. The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars
Having announced an indefinite hiatus at the tail end of 2012, things weren’t looking promising for The Civil Wars. Citing internal discord, the country duo cut their world tour short and things went quiet.
However, in the middle of 2013, news filtered in about a new album, one that was created out of the chaos of their personal problems. Lead single ‘The One That Got Away’ is a difficult listen, especially knowing that singers Joy Williams and John Paul White don’t speak to each other.
Despite the lack of communication, musically the two blend together effortlessly, their harmonies undisturbed. Powerful country ballads like ‘Dust To Dust’ and ‘I Had Me A Girl’ give strength to their success.
Whether we get a follow up to The Civil Wars is undeterminable, but if we don’t what a way to go out.
4. Little Mix – Salute
After an average debut album, the former X Factor winners popped out the single to launch their new campaign. With ‘Move’, Little Max had achieved something that others only dream; the song’s distinct lack of chorus, and real structure made it an instant winner.
The album followed suit with surprising references to girl groups through the ages. This retrospective not only saw Little Mix paying their dues, but also extenuated their talent to keep it sounding fresh.
From vocal runs that Beyoncé and that gang would be envious of on ‘Boys’, to the catchy vocal riffs that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Spice Girls album, Salute delivers on nearly every angle, propelling Little Mix to superstardom.
3. Betty Who – The Movement EP
It may seem like cheating to include an EP on what has otherwise been an album list, but Betty Who’s The Movement EP has is a worthy exception.
Seeming to appear out of nowhere, Betty Who is pop in the best possible way. Her knack at writing a great pop song is undeniable, and throughout the four track EP, Who showcases how pop should be done.
Having been used in a viral video, Who has inked a deal and is working on a follow up to The Movement. With songs like ‘High Society’ and ‘Somebody Loves You’, Betty Who excels herself, setting up the foundations of, what is bound to be, a long career.
2. Beyoncé – Beyoncé
It seemed that Beyoncé would never release an album this year. The never-ending promo for nothing was beginning to grate, as people began to get fed up. That was until she changed the game releasing her fifth album, BEYONCÉ, on iTunes as a surprise.
And, what an album it is. With BEYONCÉ, Mrs Carter shows how pop music should sound in 2013. The exciting production elements in ‘Haunted’ and the dual-song ‘Partition’ are modern in every sense. Beyoncé allows her voice to express every emotion, giving it an uneven, often disturbing, tone.
The album’s introspective and honest themes are concurrent and executed successfully. There is nothing contrived about BEYONCÉ, rather Mrs Carter has cemented herself amongst the greats, and having sold over a million copies in America in under a week, she is changing the rules about how pop stars release new music.
1. Tegan & Sara – Heartthrob
What and album Heartthrob is. Every song is amazing, the production is solid and they are catchy as hell. Tegan and Sara have essentially rebooted their career as pop masters.
Collaborating with Greg Kurstin, the Canadian duo took a giant leap of faith in a new direction. Melding their traditional angst ridden lyrics with glossier, tighter production, Tegan and Sara deftly navigate melancholic pop music. It is an album that should be listened to in its entirety.
From the wonderfully bratty ‘Closer’ to the desperate pangs of ‘Shock To Your System’ and ‘Now I’m All Messed Up’, Tegan and Sara have shown how to make a solid, grown up, pop album. The fact that old fans love the new material highlights how musically an act can grow but retain their authenticity.
Heartthrob will go down as one of the best pop records ever recorded, and it deserves to.
Some very notable and cracking records also include: AlunaGeorge’s Body Music, V V Brown’s Samson and Delilah, Natalia Kills Trouble, CHVRCHES The Bones Of What You Believe, Icona Pop’s This Is…Icona Pop, Miley Cyrus’ Bangerz, Demi Lovato’s Demi, Avril Lavine’s Avril Lavinge, Cut Copy’s Free Your Mind, Rebecca Freguson’s Freedom, and Blood Orange’s Cupid Deluxe.