25. Katy Perry, “Roar”
Hooky as all hell without ever being intrusive, Katy Perry makes the best treadmill music. “Roar” is her signature gym song. It’s got “Survivor”-inspired lyrics and a chorus that makes you want to run for an extra five minutes. And yeah, it sounds like other songs, like the equally perfect “Brave” by Sara Bareilles and Robbie Williams’ “Something Beautiful.” Put them all on a playlist and you’ll never hate working out again. —Myles Tanzer
24. Charli XCX, True Romance
Charli XCX’s moody, glitchy indie-pop sophomore album has been years in the making (opening track “Nuclear Season” was released in 2011 and featured in a 2012 episode of Gossip Girl), but its timing was perfect for a year with its fair share of uninspiring pop. Songs like “You - Ha Ha Ha” and “Take My Hand” exhibit the kind of optimistic bounce you’d expect from the co-writer of and featured artist on Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” while “Stay Away” and “How Can I” are darker, like a goth Ellie Goulding meets Marina and the Diamonds. —Hunter Schwarz
23. Jason Derulo featuring 2 Chainz, “Talk Dirty”
In a year when the popularity of futuristic EDM pop continues to wane, Jason Derulo smartly looks to the past on “Talk Dirty.” The hook employs horns that are downright klezmer. The brassy beat is perfect for 2 Chainz to confidently bark, “Sold-out arenas, you can suck my penis.” The beat is the key here, though, because it makes you want to grind like you’re at an eighth-grade dance. —M.T.
22. Betty Who, The Movement
Australian-born, New York–based Betty Who makes irresistible, subtly wistful pop music. There’s something of Katy Perry’s yearning earnestness in her vocal delivery, but the music on The Movement is more slyly delivered. With its tasteful electro flourishes, songs like “High Society” are somehow simultaneously propulsive, weepy, and incredibly fun. —Alex Naidus
21. Britney Spears, Britney Jean
Despite the sexed-up music video for lead single “Work Bitch,” Britney Jean finds Spears moving away from her racy temptress persona. There are still plenty of traditional Britney dance jams — if Abba had dubstep, they’d make music like “Til It’s Gone,” and the video game bleeps of “Tik Tik Boom” would have fit well on Femme Fatale. But quasi-spiritual songs like “Alien,” “Passenger,” and bonus track “Now That I Found You” are a reminder that the woman dusting off the catsuit for a Las Vegas residency is also a churchgoing mother of two. She touted the record as one of her most personal, and she delivered. —H.S.
20. Sophie, “Bipp”
Not a lot is known about this British producer, but Sophie’s debut single is one of the most fascinating and nearly unclassifiable pop singles of the year. “Bipp” is essentially a super-catchy R&B pop tune, but the arrangement is unusual, with every sound seeming as though it’s being stretched and bounced like it’s all made of rubber. —Matthew Perpetua
Pink and Fun. singer Nate Ruess’ teamed up to give us “Just Me a Reason,” a truly great pop ballad in a time when those are few and far between. It’s basically like a cross between something from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and Celine Dion at her finest, and is exactly the sort of tune that always sounds best when you’re hearing it randomly at a supermarket or just flipping through the dial on a car radio. It just feels better as a surprise somehow. —M.P.
18. Brown Eyed Girls, Black Box
While our airwaves were obsessing over JT’s 20/20 or Miley’s Bangerz, we blinked right past K-Pop’s Brown Eyed Girls’ Black Box. The fifth studio effort from the South Korean girl group received roaring global attention for its genre-bending sound. Black Box pulls unlikely references from Quentin Tarantino (found on its obvious lead single, “Kill Bill”), tight punch line rap, and familiar Top 40 riffs, making it one creative collapse of pop culture. —Tanya Chen
17. Coco O.’s “Where the Wind Blows” from The Great Gatsby
The soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is overflowing with big-name artists and producers, but the best track on it is something of a dark horse. “Where the Wind Blows” is written and produced by veteran R&B songwriter Andrea Martin and sung by Coco O., the vocalist from the Danish R&B group Quadron. It’s a deceptively simple song, with Coco singing a neatly linked chain of hooks built around a snippet of jazz-age piano. That sample is our tether to the setting of the film, but also a tip-off that our singer is yearning for a sort of glamour and excitement that mostly exists in books, movies, or the past. —M.P.
16. Ciara, Ciara
Aside from being a stellar dance album with cuts like “I’m Out” and “Overdose,” Ciara is 2013’s best album about love. “Body Party,” her slinky Ghost Town DJs–infused banger, is without question the most romantic song of the year. Her breathy delivery alongside her fiancé Future’s Auto-Tuned soft coos conjures visions of two mermaids swimming in perfect swirling harmony. When she earnestly sings “I’m having so much fun with you,” with a little extra oomph put on the word “fun,” you simply have to just smile back at her. This is Aphrodite slyly killing the game — all hail Ciara. —M.T.
15. G-Dragon “MichiGO”
What a year it’s been for K-Pop’s pretty tastemaker G-Dragon. His Western-crossover hit “MichiGO” proved his image was as malleable as his sound. In the M/V, GD spits over heavy bass claps as his sleek bob rides a pink elephant. It’s official: GD has michigone out of his beautiful mind. —T.C.
14. Janelle Monaé, The Electric Lady
The Electric Lady, Janelle Monae’s second album, succeeds because the music is finally as brilliant as the project’s concept. Monae has never had trouble getting people excited about her Afro-futuristic aesthetic but, as was the case with 2010’s ArchAndroid, her cinematic vision often inhibits her songs’ ability to stand on their own. Not anymore, though. “Givin Em What They Love” with Prince scintillates, “We Were Rock & Roll” just might make your eyes shine, “What an Experience” is exquisite, and if “Q.U.E.E.N” doesn’t make you get up and dance, you just might be a cyborg after all. —Saeed Jones
13. Daft Punk, “Get Lucky”
This song is not that annoying. The reason it was played to death at every barbecue, Bar Mitzvah, and baseball game of this summer is because it is an undeniably great song. Just try not to at least tap your foot to that earworming Nile Rodgers riff. Oh, and Pharrell’s voice is also pure disco perfection. Now that everyone is sick of this song, it’s the time to go back in. Disco wasn’t made to live forever, so put that record on one more time before the ball drops. —M.T.
12. Robin Thicke featuring Pharrell and T.I., “Blurred Lines”
With one of the funkiest bass lines of all time, Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” is the ideal party song. Its spiritual cousin can’t hold a candle, but it can certainly be added to the birthday playlist. The song has taken a lot of heat for its misogynistic lyrics, but it’s undeniably catchy. Plus, T.I. delivers one of his liveliest verses in recent memory. No need to figure out what rhymes with “hug me,” just dance it out. —M.T.
11. One Direction, Midnight Memories
I know what you are thinking — that One Direction and this album can only be enjoyed if you are a 16-year-old girl, but I am here to tell you that you are wrong and to go sit in a corner. This is the kind of album you play from start to finish on your morning commute every day (I know this because I do just that) and enjoy every one of its songs. The boys have matured and are showing their musical abilities both with lyrics (“my hands / your hands / tied up like two ships” — awwwwww) and melodies. Try to not enjoy “Happily” or “Why Don’t We Go There”: They will make you want to play air instruments and belt out loud throughout. Also, I like to imagine Harry passionately singing the bridges, and feel emo about how adorable the guys are when they sing about their moms. IT’S SO GOOD. —Lauren Yapalater
10. Lady Gaga, ARTPOP
For all that Gaga is promoting the hell out of ARTPOP, parading it around town with elaborate “artraves” and “flying dress” demonstrations and aligning herself with some of the biggest names in the art world, the album really is just a feel-good, straightforward pop record. And it’s a welcome change; where Born This Way had its grand manifesto of accepting yourself for who you are and throwback ’80s rock influences, ARTPOP is slinkier, cheekier, and more R&B-influenced. From the brilliant duet with R. Kelly (“Do What You Want”) to the bouncy “Sexxx Dreams” and the ecstatic “Applause,” it just sounds like she’s finally having fun. —A.Z.
9. Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob
The bleak days of January have cycled through to the almost snowy weeks before Christmas, but Heartthrob is as breezy and delightful, lovelorn and wistful as it was upon first listen in those early days of 2013. From the staccato promise to get a little bit “close-er!” to the thudding dismay of “Shock to Your System,” Tegan and Sara’s seventh album is a synth-pop addiction. —Erica Futterman
8. Sky Ferreira, “I Blame Myself”
Sky Ferreira’s “I Blame Myself” somehow manages to be defiant, defensive, self-recriminating, and triumphant all at once. It doesn’t quite add up in that way, but the contradictions are exactly what make it so fascinating and emotionally powerful. Sky is specifically dealing with a very low level of fame — not big enough to be a real celebrity, but famous enough to have a reputation that gets in the way of how people perceive you. Though she sings specifically about her experience, the sentiment of this song — “I blame myself for my reputation” — is something that pretty much anyone can relate to, even if it’s just being the subject of school or workplace gossip. —M.P.
7. Haim, Days Are Gone
The California sisters proved their buzz true with a debut album full of intricately crafted tunes that draw on the laid-back vibe of their home state, paired with an affinity for ’70s and ’80s pop sounds. “Running If You Call My Name” and “Go Slow” gut-punch you with heartbreak, while “My Song 5” and “Let Me Go” come at you full force with aggressive drums and guitar and lyrics that punctuate the attitude in the lyrics, and “The Wire” was a late-breaking contender for song of the summer. By the time these 11 songs are through, you’ve run the gamut of a relationship — but you’re all the better for it. —E.F.
6. Icona Pop, This Is…Icona Pop
Try listening to This Is…Icona Pop without imagining yourself in the middle of a glistening dance floor, bumping against a crowd of hot, shirtless men covered in glittery paint, everybody’s throats burning from shots of vodka, the crowd parting to reveal a glittery runway, you gliding down it, glistening yourself in nothing but eight-inch heels, the shirtless men cheering you on, GIVING YOU LIFE, lifting you up on their shoulders as you reach the end of your runway walk, fireworks exploding, lights flashing, lions roaring in the distance, a unicorn getting its wings and flying above your head, brushing your outstretched hands with the tips of its bright, magical wings. Try listening to Icona Pop without imagining that. You can’t. —Matt Bellassai
5. Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience 1 & 2
JT didn’t have to make an album this good. 20/20 could have been a complete train wreck and it would still have sold many thousands of copies. But these two albums mark a departure for the former teenybopper heartthrob, one that has him all suit-and-tied up, on his Frank Sinatra tip. Vol. 1 showcases Timberlake in full-on crooner mode, wooing us with throwback jams like “Pusher Love Girl” and the doo-wop-inspired “That Girl,” in addition to his grown-man anthem with Jay Z. Vol. 2 is closer to what most people would have come to expect from the man who once brought us an album called Futuresex/LoveSounds — more uptempo beats, more of Timbaland’s signature zany sounds and touches. It’s hard to live up to the kind of hype the public set him up for after he decided to take a break from music, but he did an excellent job in reinventing himself. And by operating outside the need to be relevant to current trends, he’s ensuring the longevity of his brand and widening his appeal — so that even Jessica Biel’s grandparents will want to bump his music around the house. —A.Z.
4. Chvrches, The Bones of What You Believe
The Scottish trio Chvrches come out of an indie, blog-centric scene, but their music is pure, undiluted, and utterly unapologetic electro-pop. The Bones of What You Believe is a relentlessly catchy record that only gets better with repeated listens, with hooks that sink deeper into your mind all the time. The main attraction here is singer Lauren Mayberry, who somehow delivers every song with a tone that is both youthful and authoritative. There’s a toughness and sensitivity in the very best cuts, like “Gun” and “The Mother We Share,” and it never feels like some kind of contradiction. —M.P.
3. Ariana Grande, Yours Truly
Before this year, Ariana Grande was best known for her role on the Nickelodeon show Victorious, but with this astonishingly confident debut album, she’s revealed herself to be the second coming of Mariah Carey. Yours Truly is basically the best Mariah album since the mid-’90s, and it delivers the sort of euphoric, innocent pop tunes the real deal has mostly abandoned as she’s progressed through her career. The hit singles “Baby I” and “The Way” are fantastic, but the song you absolutely need to hear is “Honeymoon Avenue,” a showstopping ballad with slightly off-kilter production, clever lyrics full of extended driving metaphors, and a truly heartbreaking vocal by Grande that proves that she’s a worthy successor to Mariah’s crown. —M.P.
2. Lorde, Pure Heroine
Lorde went from total unknown to cult favorite to chart-dominating pop star in the span of about eight months this year. A lot of her success comes from her being positioned as an underdog, and pretty much every song on her debut Pure Heroine comes from the point of view of an outsider looking in on American pop culture. She’s the pop star for everyone who feels like everyone else on the radio isn’t really singing for them, and she especially reps hard for working-class people from small towns and far-flung places. Even when she sings songs about love and romance, the details are pointedly small in scale and low-key in sentiment, as if to highlight that she’s just a normal person. A normal person like you. We definitely needed someone like that. —M.P.
1. Miley Cyrus, Bangerz
Face it, this was the Year of Miley. She was the world’s most controversial and omnipresent star, and dominated pop in a year with some pretty intense competition. Miley’s videos and awards-show antics are one thing, but she just wouldn’t be the phenomenon that she is if Bangerz was not a massive leap forward for her on a purely musical level. She never gets enough credit for being a fantastic and highly emotive singer — “We Can’t Stop” and “Wrecking Ball” are so good that they’d definitely be hits if other people sang them instead, but Miley brought a touch of melancholy to both that made them far more emotionally resonant than your average bit of bubblegum. Bangerz is terrific from top to bottom, and easily the year’s most adventurous mainstream record, full of tunes that hop from genre to genre every few seconds without seeming the slightest bit incoherent. It’s an album that sounds very much like a harbinger of things to come, and if that’s true, 2014 is going to be pretty excellent year for pop. —M.P.
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