The most unexpected hit of 2013 finds itself in my top 10 of 2013. A 16 year old girl from New Zealand, Lorde defied all expectations when Royals topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. The message is simple, we don’t need all your fancy things to have a good time, and yet Royals seems to sum up celebrity culture more eloquently than any other pop hit in recent memory. The best aspect of the record though is that Lorde isn’t attempting to defy pop conventions, the chorus has you singing along a couple of listens in, instead giving a much more classy take on the young female pop hits of 2013.
As I’ve mentioned before, there is no artist I am more happy to see on my 2013 list than Ciara. One of the most underrated artists of the last 10 years, Ciara has to work extra hard to keep her songs on radio and her videos in rotation, which means she’s never released a half arsed single. Overdose is no different, possibly her best song since Justin Timberlake duet Love Sex Magic, a storming pop tune that manages to be understated and still dominant. The ‘Don’t let, don’t let, don’t let, don’t let go’ hook is the catchiest of her career; it sounds like the sort of song that should be #1 across the world. Sadly for Ciara it isn’t, but that doesn’t take away from the best track on her incredible 5th album.
An X Factor act making it into the top 10? There’s something not many people anticipated, but if an act could do it Little Mix were sure to be the ones. Last year I wrote that Wings was ‘the sound of Little Mix marching to claim the girl group crown for their own’. If that’s the case then Move is the girls storming straight past the other girl groups vying for the title and setting their sights on the entirity of UK Pop music. Move is an incredible record. It’s full of attitude but not in the usual British Girlband style of shouting their lyrics a bit louder over the same cutesy production. This is the sort of record that people actually dance to in clubs, RnB beats emerge from behind the initial clicks and stutters of bass, the slinky chorus exploding into one that’s even more commanding in the closing minute. Move has that unique quality to it where the song is so richly dynamic, building up and then suddenly ending that it still sounds just as fresh 50 listens later. By far the best record to ever emerge from The X Factor.
Q.U.E.E.N. is the funkiest song of 2013. Those are big words in a year which contains songs as big as Blurred Lines and Get Lucky, but no song got me strutting around as much as Q.U.E.E.N. did this year. It’s an empowering record that actually empowers you through feel good music rather than hitting you in the head with metaphor. By the time Erykah Badu chimes in about how ‘The booty don’t lie’ you’ll be so lost in the music you’ll be singing along without realising it. When Janelle Monae delivers the rap verse of her career moments later you’ll never look back. There’s far too many incredible lyrics to choose just one, ‘They keep us underground working hard for the greedy, but when it’s time to pay they turn around and call us needy’ has to be one of the best of 2013. It flips your view on what it means to be a Q.U.E.E.N. seen no clearer than in the final lyric ‘Will you be electric sheep? Electric ladies, will you sleep? Or will you preach?’.
The final ‘throwback’ hit of the year to make the list comes from an artist who’s no stranger to this blog, the regularly amazing Drake. Hold On We’re Going Home sees him delivering the vocal performance of his career, an RnB jam that sounds like the Marvin Gaye hit that never was. From that opening drum riff and the ‘oh ohh’s of guest feature Majid Jordan you know this is something special. Drake follows the trend of recent songs such as Solange’s Losing You and his own Find Your Love in sounding instantly relevent and yet totally old school at the same time. I totally didn’t expect an RnB Pop crossover record from Drake following the huge Rap hit Started From The Bottom, but I was pleasantly surprised when Hold On We’re Going Home was what we got. One of his best songs to date.
It feels totally wrong placing The Saturdays ahead of Little Mix on this list, but unlike just about every song on this list the majesty of Disco Love has absolutely nothing to do with the artist. I’m not saying that The Saturdays do a bad job of performing this infectious, storming pop hit, but that this song is so much better than anything else they’ve released and is a little above them in the scheme of things. Much like my #1 pick last year, Karmin’s Brokenhearted, you just can’t keep a banging pop tune down, and Disco Love is exactly that. Do I wish that an act with a bit more personality could have had a huge hit with this? Probably. Do I also sort of wish this had been the lead single from Britney’s latest album, self references in tact? Definitely. Either way, Disco Love is on my iPod and I can’t imagine it leaving any time soon.
If you’ve paid attention to my twitter timeline at all this year, you’ll know that 2013 was about the comeback of one artist and one artist alone. I was and continue to be questioned why the return of Justin Timberlake was such a big deal in 2013, but I’m always baffled that it needs explanation. One listen to his singles discography so far is explanation enough, and Mirrors gave us one huge 8 minute reason why Timberlake is on his way to becoming the new King Of Pop. It’s about as huge as a midtempo Pop song can be, the Middle 8 hand claps and all. I remember the first time I heard Mirrors I knew it was everything I had wanted from a new Timberlake track from the off, but it wasn’t until the chorus hit that I knew it was extra special. The moment that has made every one of my 90 listens worth it is the tiny gap before ‘It was easy’ that hits me right in the chest every time I hear it. Small enough to keep the flow of the song going, but big enough to get me every time it appears, one of the many reasons why Mirrors is one of 2013’s best songs.
If anyone is going to claim the crown for King Of Pop before JT surely it will be Calvin Harris, his ever-expanding discography is near perfect, with Thinking About You becoming my all time favourite production of his at some point in 2013. Like the shy younger sister song to last year’s Cheryl hit Call My Name, Thinking About You never really pushes itself past the initial tease of synth, this restraint making it surprisingly more arresting than say We Found Love or Sweet Nothing. Included on last year’s compilation of sorts 18 Months, seeing Thinking About You become the 9th top 10 hit from the album earlier in the year made me very happy indeed. It’s a song I’ve been playing on repeat from January 1st, and I’m sure I’ll be seeing in the new year to it in a few days time.
Following its release back in 2009 I never expected Jay Z to release a song as good as Empire State Of Mind. N***as in Paris was amazing yes, but I think of that more as a Kanye record. Holy Grail comes as close as we’ll ever see, which is part of the reason you see it so high on this year’s list. Jay Z delivers two verses worthy of his legendary status, riffing off his usual muses of the Michael’s and his newborn daughter he does what he’s supposed to do. But it’s Justin’s massive vocal performance that pushes the song as high as it is here. From the opening lines he sings with a free and unflinching quality we’ve never heard from him before. His voice soars above the minimal production, he’s taking the listener to church, and it’s hard to say no. I feel like Holy Grail is the most obvious inclusion for me here, it has all the elements of songs that have appeared at the top before and it’s easy to see why Jay Z held onto this record for years. The main reason why I’m glad that Justin Timberlake is back, which also happens to be the best Jay Z song in years, what could beat that?
I decided on the songs to make this list on the day I posted the first part, but I’ve pretty much known which track would be #1 since I heard Falling on the radio back in February. I literally stopped in the middle of my room and had to sit down to properly listen to what I was hearing. I had to make sure it was a new song and not an album track from one of Kate Bush’s albums. The similarities with a track like The Big Sky and Falling is obvious to hear, the layered production of rolling drums, the echoes of distorted vocal and guitar; it’s a monumental record. No other song in 2013 sounded as thrilling as Falling, in fact no other song in 2013 sounded at all like Falling. In a year where ‘throwback’ was the name of the day, who thought a Fleetwood Mac/Kate Bush inspired record from three Californian sisters could sound as good as this. A song that seemed to appear out of nowhere took over my life in 2013, I couldn’t imagine my year without it.