My Week in Movies – December 3


A fantastic story with Rocky (Stallone) mentoring Creed’s child (Jordan). Donny fights his way through his childhood and eventually into the ring. The relationships and character growth in this movie a superb. I only wish the resolutions were cut so short to move the film into the final fight with Pretty Ricky Conlin. Otherwise a great movie even though I haven’t seen any of the other Rocky films.

Watch It: If you’re want to see an Oscar worthy performance from Stallone and a mostly fantastic screenplay.
Skip It: If you’re allergic to blood, but even then you can watch it.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Henry Cavil and Armie Hammer play American and Russian spies sent to help Alicia Vikander find her nuclear weapon scientist father. What a fun romp through Cold War Europe. The chemistry of the cast and the direction of the film are great. Not a top tier film for me but clearly a cut above.

Watch It: For a good water/oil team up action movie.
Skip It: If you’re looking for something more serious.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY (2014)

A movie I skipped in theaters last year, this turned out to be a very enjoyable family friendly film. It can be tough to adapt children stories into screenplays but this film does a good job of maintaining the message of the book. Every character in Alexander’s family gets a share of the bad day but they realize that family is what really matters.

Watch It: If you’re in the mood for a comedic family friendly film.
Skip It: If you can’t be bothered with a kid film.


Ryan Reynolds is really solid in this movie that deals with death, immortality and immorality. He plays two characters, the first has sold his body (and thus his life) to a corporation in exchange for treatment for his sick daughter. The second character is the transferred consciousness of Ben Kingsley a dying real estate mogul. The movie focuses on the cost and morality of exchanging someone else’s life for your own.

Watch It: If you want to watch a good thriller with an interesting theme.
Skip It: If you dislike Ryan Reynolds.

Song of Summer World Cup: Roll Call

You know the first time I heard 2014s Song of Summer declared? In October of 2013, when reviewers of Katy Perry’s Prism began calling “Birthday” a sure-as-heck Song of Summer.

While we admit that Prism is an album bankrupt of almost anything creative or interesting, let’s grant that Perry did in fact release “Birthday” as the album’s fourth single, with an accompanying music video in which she plays dress-up, and… it hasn’t done inordinately well. By Katy Perry summer standards, it’s performed execrably, peaking only at number 17 on the Hot 100.

We’re told a lot, like secretaries taking dictation, what is going to be big. You know what no one said would be big in Summer 2014 back in October 2013? “Am I Wrong,” by Norwegians Nico & Vinz. Or “Latch,” from Disclosure, featuring the golden voice of Sam Smith – a voice which is about to own your life.

By pure happenstance (no one planned this aside from maybe T.I.), an Australian rapper everyone downplayed for years has essentially wrapped up the Song of Summer crown in June, and she’s joined in the Top 10 by a Canadian reggae group, the aforementioned Norwegians, a Scottish DJ who has only sung on one of his own hits once before, and a French DJ who got Lil Jon to shout 12 words. The only person who could potentially dethrone Iggy Azalea? Herself, as the featured rapper on Ariana Grande’s “Problem.”

There are American acts in the top 10 as well, but for the most part, they are remarkable to this summer narrative for being hearty holdovers from months ago – a time that already feels like a bygone era. John Legend’s “All of Me” has been in the top 10 since early March. Pharrell’s “Happy” has been up there since February, soundtracking our lives, following us into dark corners and ordering us to feel jubilant. And, though “Birthday” has thunked off the goalpost, one Katy Perry song is aiming to be as ubiquitous in summer as it was in winter; “Dark Horse,” has been in the top 10 since January.

That’s some remarkable stagnancy!

Which brings me to the World Cup: Why is it so fun to follow, even in a country that is infamous for completely ignoring a sport the rest of the world loves? You could say soccer, I guess – there are, like, some people, in America who actually like it! (I see you on my Facebook feeds.) For most of us, let’s not front, we care about the World Cup because of the countries – there’s a certain fervent, almost insane nationalism that we get to watch from a fútbol-questioning distance (a heart-racing last second goal or too aside). Essentially, we get to see everyone lose their minds while draped in their national colors, and it’s so much fun.

The competition for Song of the Summer has never felt more like that than in 2014. I’m sort of ambivalent to what we ultimately designate the summer champion (“Fancy”… It’s going to be “Fancy”). See what feelings these past summer champs stir in you now: “Party Rock Anthem,” “Blurred Lines,” “California Gurls,” “I Gotta Feeling,” “Call Me Maybe.” Okay, I still love “Call Me Maybe.” The rest of that list isn’t exactly inspiring, right?

But I love trends. And this summer is trending distinctly Australian. And Scandanavian. But towards which is it trending more? Which Scandanavian country is leading the surge? (For once, maybe not Sweden…) And are they really crowding out the traditional U.S-U.K power dynamic like I think they are?

Well I didn’t just want to ask. I wanted to find out.

In Round 1 of the Song of Summer World Cup, 16 countries will face off. Each country has two players on its team (a player can be a solo artist or a band). In later rounds, to up the challenge and reward depth, we’ll add more players. I stuck with birthplaces to determine eligibility; if I’d used first-generation immigrants, there’d be a lot more Latin American countries on this list, but it became too difficult to justify. The teams are broken into four groups (Group A, Group B, Group C, and Group D). I seeded the teams by (rather unscientifically) looking at Youtube views for the artists in question, than attempting to account for collaborations and also the fact that “Happy” and “Team” didn’t get all those views this summer (and yes, if an artist has more than one song in play right now, they get all dem views.) Without further ado, here are the Groups, the players, and their eligible songs.

Group A:

Australia (Overall Top Seed)

Iggy AzaleaFancy (ft. Charli XCX); (featured on) Problem

5 Seconds of SummerShe Looks So Perfect; Don’t Stop

New Zealand



South Korea

PsyHangover (ft. Snoop Dogg)


Denmark (Overall Bottom Seed)

Say You’ll Be There (Spice Girls Cover); Pilgrim

Scarlet PleasureWindy

Notes on Group A: Australia is the number one seed overall? Over the U.S. and Britain? Yes, and it didn’t even need Sia’s millions of views for “Chandelier” to do it. Take this year’s boy band du jour and combine them with the supernova that is Iggy Azalea circa June 2014 and you get a maelstrom that even Pharrell can’t deal with. Australia finds itself in the easy breezy bracket thanks to its seeding. Fellow Oceania resident New Zealand has a problem: were it to come to an expanded team, the island nation has no one to back up Lorde and Broods; as it is, adding Lorde was pushing it, as none of her songs have been especially big this summer. South Korea would have been better off with two cream-of-the-crop K-Pop songs that had no real U.S. exposure – a truly terrible song by Psy is likely to kneecap any chances the typically effervescent pop powerhouse would have. Denmark is a complete afterthought, the Scandanavian country that’s here because of how good Scandanavia is at making pop music.

Group B:

United States (Overall #2 Seed)

Ariana GrandeProblem (featuring Iggy Azalea)

Pharrell WilliamsHappy (with an attempt to only count its impact on summer, and not the past… forever that it’s been the song); Come Get It Bae (ft. Miley Cyrus); (featured on) Move That Dope; (produced and is featured on) Sing


Nico & VinzAm I Wrong

RöyksoppDo It Again; Sayit (both are collaborations with Swedish singer Robyn)


TiëstoRed Lights; Wasted (ft. Matthew Koma); All of Me Remix

Mr. ProbzWaves (Robin Schulz Radio Edit)

Mexico (Overall #15 Seed)

Jesse & JoeyMi Tesoro

CamilaDecidiste Dejarme

Notes on Group B: If I counted every view for Pharrell’s hit “Happy”, the United States would be the first seed about twenty times over. That wouldn’t really be fair. Part of the key to this is going to be figuring out how much the U.S. main attractions like John Legend and Katy Perry (as well as New Zealander Lorde and British band Pompeii) factor in to the summer battle since their hits had much more sway in the spring. As it is, only one American artist has truly owned summer (and only summer); Ariana Grande. Is it a problem that she seems swallowed up on her own track by All-Star Iggy and Big Sean’s whispering? We’ll see. Normally Sweden would be our fiercest competitor in the dance sphere, but this year, both Norway and the Netherlands jumped into higher seeding than the Swedes based on the pretty predictable success of Tiësto and the completely unexpected Top 10 success of Nico & Vinz’s African-tinged “Am I Wrong.” On the Latin charts, even as a World Cup approaches in Brazil, it’s Mexico that owns some of the highest spots; both these songs sound great but can Mexico do anything without a lick of American airplay?

Group C:

United Kingdom (Overall #3 Seed)

Sam SmithStay With Me; Money On My Mind; Leave Your Lover; (featured on) Latch; (featured on) La La La

Ed SheeranSing (ft. Pharrell); One; All of the Stars


ShakiraLa La La (Brazil 2014) (ft. Carlinhos Brown); Empire

J Balvin6 AM (ft. Farruko)



ChromeoJealous (I Ain’t With It)

Ireland (Overall #14 Seed)

HozierTake Me To Church

The Riptide MovementAll Works Out

Notes on Group C: The United Kingdom is going to be fun to work with because it’s forming it’s own insular universe of new stars collaborating on each other’s songs. And while Sheeran has found incredible success moving away from balladry on “Sing,” it’s Sam Smith, who is the most popular kid in school right now (everyone wants him to hang out on their song), that will make Britain a fascinating contender. Canada is the most intriguing lower seed contender, riding a big chart hit and a big radio airplay hit into a field where an expanded field and a late-breaking Drake hit could only help them. Columbia gets the closest thing to an actual World Cup bump from Shakira; if I’d totaled it’s results one day later it would have likely been a top three seed, since Shakira’s World Cup song appears to have jumped millions of views overnight. And Ireland has one gorgeous song from Hozier that’s been very big on Spotify, which is unlikely to do much for them.

Group D:

France (Overall #4 Seed)

DJ SnakeTurn Down For What (ft. Lil Jon)



Charli XCXBoom Clap; (featured on) Fancy

RobynDo It Again; Sayit (both are collaborations with Norwegian DJs Röyksopp)


Milky ChanceStolen Dance


South Africa (Overall #13 Seed)

KONGOSCome With Me Now

Die AntwoordPitbull Terrier

Thoughts on Group D: I can say with confidence I did not expect France to have enough views to get a top seed. I underestimated two things – how much people love the video for “Turn Down For What,” and how many views European DJs can amass. I guess the one question France has to answer in a bracket where Robyn and Lorde would be more than happy to kneecap them is this: how much of DJ Snake’s success is his own, and how much of it is Lil Jon’s? Similarly, Germany features shockingly high YouTube views for two songs Americans will likely have never heard, showing that European acts get immense support from their constituencies. As for a country that usually has the most consistent constituency, Sweden has a deep bench of role players waiting for future rounds if it can make it out of a round where it’s two biggest hitmakers are putting out great songs that aren’t exactly… hits… yet… Having a bigger impact this summer, surprisingly, is the last World Cup host, South Africa. With a crossover hit from KONGOS, South Africa has the best chance to advance of the lowest seeds, even with a strange song like “Pitbull Terrier.”

Looking over all this, I’m not sure I can root for the United States. That would mean rooting for an album like Prism, and for Jason Derulo. That’s a tough ask. I’ve found myself much more partial to the dance hits I hear on BBC Radio 1, and to the perfect boy band confection that is 5 Seconds of Summer. I also find myself rooting for France and Canada to ride buzzy singles and quirky DJ-driven music to success. Pharrell may ultimately be able to single-handedly help the U.S. do what the U.S. Mens National Team can not (Jurgen Klinsmann said so…). But it’ll be an interesting journey, even if it does win the Song of Summer World Cup.

20 Best Songs of 2014 (So Far)

Why not 14 songs again? Because 14 songs is never enough when you’re trying to capture the best music bringing sonic joy to the people! And that 20 sitting next to the 14 looked way to appetizing. Bear with me: Contained within this slightly longer list is more musical pleasure than you can probably handle in one sitting, let alone the first quarter of a year.

“Completely Not Me” Jenny Lewis

“We Belong” by RAC ft. Katie Herzig

“Hundreds of Ways” by Conor Oberst

“My Silver Lining” by First Aid Kit

“Truck Stop Gospel” by Parker Millsap

“Coffee” by Sylvan Esso

“Water Fountain” by tUnE-yArDs

“Before” by Wye Oak

“Take Me To Church” by Hozier

“Seasons (Waiting On You)” by Future Islands

“Iota” by Angel Olsen

“Your Love Is Killing Me” by Sharon Van Etten

“Philosophize In It! Chemicalize With It!” by Kishi Bashi

“Unconditional Love” by Against Me!

“Leave Your Lover” by Sam Smith

This is it: your last possible chance to jump on the Sam Smith bandwagon before saying “I’m a fan of Sam Smith” is the same as saying “I’m a fan of puppies” or “I’m a fan of cake.” Today, Sam Smith is still our little secret. Tomorroe he’ll be… Well have you heard of Adele? (Stop answering! There’s never been a more rhetorical question.)

“I’m Torn Up” by St. Paul and the Broken Bones

“I know that you love me/ And I can love you too/ You just gotta step on up, step on up/ You just got to pull it through/ I’m torn up/ You know that I’m torn up”

The phone rings. You pick it up. It’s your grandfather. He died when you were a kid, twenty some-odd years ago. “Grandpa,” you whimper, “how?”

That’s what it feels like to hear the primordial wail of Paul Janeway, the sort of banshee scream that comes out of nowhere – both in the context of this slow jam and in the context of MAN this is the whitest kid in town! That wail shatters the relative calm of this plea that seems like a docile pond, maybe a ripple here or there, until the tidal wave is unleashed. This song gets down on it’s knees and begs for a second chance. When it drops to it’s knees, you feel the thud.

Janeway appears to be a young master – of shouts and grunts, and also, as if he weren’t a lucky enough bastard already, of soft entreaties and of subtlety. His opening “Hello sweetheart,” is an opiate. Are there still Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in this world? Otis Reddings? Sam Cookes? If there are, would they merely be legacy acts? Judging from the rapture you see in videos of live performances (like the one above) of St. Paul and the Broken Bones (whose horn section look like they just got pulled in from a high school jazz band festival and sound like they just time traveled from a Motown recording session), the answer is “Ha!” This band feels vital. Not to 1965. To 2014.

“Really Wanna See You” by Lydia Loveless

“So I went to a party someone gave me some blow/ Tears came right to my eyes and the phone was right there/ So I just thought I would call”

For those of you who don’t think you like country (I thought I was one of you): this totally isn’t a country song! This is a headbanger, a sick punk song with a mild twang. Country could never kick this much drum-filling, guitar-thrashin’ ass. Right?!? Right. Move on to the next song…

For those of you who love country: this is absolutely country! Country at its dagger-through-your-heart best. Our protagonist has realized she wasn’t exactly the best girlfriend in her previous relationship, and now that the guy is married, she wants to atone. And maybe rekindle something (“I was cleaning up my room, found a magic 8 ball/ asked if I’d ever get to kiss your lips again/ it said ‘I better not tell you right now.’/ So I had to call.“). Oh, and she just did some blow. It’s incredibly sad. But it doesn’t sound sad. It sounds like the party she went to. And if this is the music that was playing when she took that blow, it must have been an incredible party. Blow notwithstanding.

“You Go Down Smooth” by Lake Street Drive

“And I am too sober not to know/ That you may be my problem, not my love/ ‘Cause you go down smooth”

This rollicking track calls to mind most easily that moment in the Disney classic-only-to-those-of-a-certain-age, Oliver and Company, when Dodger, effortlessly cool in his sunglasses, rockets away from young Oliver on a piano, wondering why he, the ultimate charmer of all people, should ever worry. Imagine the dog that might be fortunate/unfortunate enough to fall for a slick animal like that responsing in kind (meaning over a shuffling beat that was built for swing dancing [or, short of that, shaking your butt in a jaunty fashion]): here’s why I should worry! You are way too easy to fall for, you scaliwag, and this infatuation might turn out to be an issue!

In December, I watched the HBO concert special that accompanied the Coen Brothers folk music movie Inside Llewyn Davis (yeah, I’m that kind of nerd; I’d reccomend it if you can find it, truthfully), and while I admired the collection of artists (including Marcus Mumford) doing their thing, it frequently felt like a museum piece. One moment woke me from my reverie: Rachael Price, flanked by an upright bassist and a drummer, broke into an incredibly fun, jazzy number with airtight harmonies that couldn’t have seemed farther from the Greenwich Village Americana the night was supposed to celebrate. I looked up Lake Street Drive immediately afterwards and am happy to report that their 2014 LP debut is a must-listen, just as fun all the way through as that first song I heard, the one that made me think of Dodger getting the whole New York canine scene to dance along.

  1. “Q&A” by Kishi Bashi

“You are the answer to my question/ You are my accomplice in a crime/ You are my wing woman and did I mention/ We were together in a life/ In that dreaming you probably were my wife”

Another Kishi Bashi song in the Top 10?!? How much more clear can I be: I love what Kaoru Ishibahi is doing with his music and couldn’t recommend any single record from 2014 more highly. It’s shimmering, psychadelic pop, looped so that it is saturated to the point of delirium with incredible violin licks, fascinating compositional ideas, and, of course, Kishibashi’s indelible falsetto. But for one song on Ligght, Kishibashi puts all that away – the loop pedals and virtuosic violin playing and high register cooing – pulling out a ukelele and a calming chest voice with a warmth and lilt that calls to mind nothing less than balladeer supreme Paul McCartney.

In the wrong frame of mind, you could totally dismiss this song as a twee trifle, an uncomplicated love song with nonsense words for a chorus. And because of that easy-listening quality, yes, you’re going to hear this song in commercials from here to eternity. But those nonsense choruses aren’t nonsense at all; they’re Japanese, and they (“with a pinch we’ll be awoken from the night of fireflies”), as well as later verses, hint at something a little more uneasy about the dreaming that seems so pleasant in the opening verse. Modern angels broke their wings, man and time flayed their minds, and they prayed for pain. How many love songs this gorgeous also bring up flaying? Very few.

  1. “Don’t Wait” by Mapei

“A friend indeed/ come build me up/ come share your light/ it makes me shine”

Click that play button above and imagine an alternate reality with me.

Instead of being dropped on Soundcloud in October of 2013 by Mapei (you don’t know who Mapei is, which is okay, no one outside Sweden does), imagine this song was released, with those 14 other Beyonce songs, on that random December night. The world would have lost its Bey-loving mind! I mean, it did anyway, but, with all the weight that a Queen Bey release carries, this song would absolutely conquer the world. (“Who run the world? ‘Don’t Wait'”) It would redefine how we think about the pop superstar. A song this perfectly conceived could redefine how we think about the career of any artist – it just so happened that it was the opening salvo in the burgeoning career of a young hip-hop artist, so it’s had a lower profile than it deserves.

There’s a line in here that gets me every time, “I respect you with my all.” In these days where every Jason Derulo song is about the mythic proportions of the butt of an anonymous woman-as-object, and every song like that is a certain Top 10 hit, it reassures me each time I listen to this song (which has easily been hundreds of times) that it is so sweetly sentimental about what it is that staves off loneliness, keeping us connected to those we love and care for. As elementally simple, as quietly (to the point of being almost melancholy) and resolutely strong, as powerful, and as singable as James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” Mapei’s “Don’t Wait” is a friendship anthem for the ages, the one song making the rounds this year that I’d happily preserve in a time capsule so future music listeners could listen in and hear, autotuned backing vocals and all, “Oh, they really did know what they were doing in 2014.”


What?!? (Heh. Heh.)

“Real Estate” by Atlas

“Better Than It Could Ever Be” by The Preatures

“Stranger To My Happiness” by Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings

“Turtles All The Way Down” by Sturgill Simpson

“Every Girl” by Allah-Las

“Morning” by Beck

“Collard Greens” by Schoolboy Q ft. Kendrick Lamar

“Love’s On Fire” by Nikki Lane

“Love Never Felt So Good” by Michael Jackson ft. Justin Timberlake

“Banks of the Ohio” by Dolly Parton

“Gone” by Supreme Cuts ft. Mahaut Mondino

“Divisionary (Do The Right Thing)” by Ages and Ages

“Thunder Clatter” by Wild Club

14 Songs That Need to Be Hits in 2014

If we can make “Dark Horse” and “#SELFIE” massive, cross-genre hits, surely we can give these 14 inspired pop songs a week or two (or twenty?) in the spotlight? Clear out some room for some songs that need to be hits in 2014! Here we go:

I Wanna Get Better

Bleachers, Identify Yourself: You like Fun., right? I’m in Fun.! No, I’m not Nate Ruess. It’s me Jack Antonoff, the lead guitarist! I’m dating Lena Dunham, and she directed the video for my side project band Bleachers (made up of the members of my pre-Fun. band, Steel Train [in Fun., we all have sorta-famous-not-really pre-Fun. bands]). I’m buds with Taylor Swift and Hayley Williams. And Nate. We’re still cool, don’t worry, there’ll be more Fun. music.

The Song: You are going to be hearing a lot about Jack Antonoff through 2014 and for many years to come if this song is any indication. If you love the album Some Nights (who wouldn’t?), you’re going to love this opening salvo from Antanoff’s side project. “I Wanna Get Better” is glorious, soaring pop very much in the mold of what Fun. does so so well, but with a more low-key vibe. Without Ruess’s absurd Freddie Mercury-esque tenor, Antanoff opts for a fast-paced, almost spoken-word verse structure and a deliriously fun sing-along chorus. Of all the songs on this list, this is the one most likely to blow up when a full Bleachers album comes out and we all fully realize what a pop visionary Antonoff is. America, we don’t really need your help to turn this into a smash, it will be, I’m sure of it. Just don’t stand in its way.


Martin Garrix, Identify Yourself: First off, I am 17. How old are you? Oh, are you older than 17? I’m sorry… I guess they just feed us Dutch kids our veggies and help us grow into internationally famous DJs at the same age you were trying to mack on your junior year crush. Me, I’d be the coolest 17 year old in the world if not for Lorde. Damnit Lorde! And how’d I get here? Well it all started when I saw DJ Tiesto at the Athens Olympics and knew I wanted to do what he does. This was when I was 8. (That story must make Tiesto feel so old every time he hears it. Poor guy…)

The Song: Lest you think I could never care for EDM because I dismissed “#SELFIE” and “Turn Down For What”, I believe “Animals” is a downright electronic symphony. Not just compared to those insipid songs. Generally. It’s just great. Garrix understands that, even without lyrics, music can and should tell a story, and his composition ebbs and flows, builds and releases, bringing in and out various arrangements of instruments and beats that introduce and play with a variety of interesting musical themes and motifs. This track has been kicking around the world music scene for almost a year, and has topped or nearly topped just about every other country’s charts, and it’s always threatening to break out in a big way stateside. And boy should it!

Rather Be

Clean Bandit, Identify Yourself: Are you sure you want to talk to us? You don’t want to talk to Jess Glynne? She sings the song, and she’s really good! No, you want to talk to us? Okay, that’s fair; no one actually knows that much about Jess even though she’s the voice on two huge dance hits in Britain right now. We can certify that she is female, that’s about it. As for us, we are a quartet that combines proficiency on orchestral strings (two of us met in a chamber ensemble at university) with electronic music chops. For a good idea of what we’re all about, check out this killer cleanbandit.

The Song: Platonic ideal of dance music right here. Reminiscent of Ariana Grande’s breaktrough album last year in its use of pounded piano chords, soaring strings, and, oh yeah, a superior vocalist with quirky inflections that take you back to listening to party jams in 1995. There’s something about the way Jess Glynne sings “Kyoto” that will never stop charming me, and Clean Bandit does everything it can to back up Glynne’s vocal workshop. They pull out all the stops, creating an instrumental/electonic mix that is so infectious it deserves the right to spread like a contagion from Britain, where it’s number one, to right here in the U.S.A.

Jealous (I Ain’t With It)

Chromeo, Identify Yourself: If it gives you some idea of where we’re coming from, we like to describe our collaboration as the only successful Arab/Jewish partnership since the dawn of time. Kidding, not kidding. We are Patrick Gemayal and David Macklovitch, a Montrael electro-funk duo that’s sort of serious about evoking the funky soul of Hall & Oates, but cuts that with some Lonely Island-style irreverence.

The Song: If you can believe it, the boys from Montreal passed up on this one for a while because it sounded too Katy Perry. Those opening chords may evoke Teenage Dream, but if we’d had to lose out on this absurdly catchy ditty about jealousy because of their similarities, I would have taken this and ditched Katy in a second. And Teenage Dream is good album! I love the way these guys say “Back in 2011,” rushing the “eleven” as if the year itself doesn’t matter because it is absurdly close to our current date. As a song, it works as both irony and genuine emotional storytelling in ways that “#SELFIE” could only dream of. I’ll be really upset with America if this isn’t a hit.


Sia, Identify Yourself: Fool, YOU KNOW ME! You just may not know you know me. Maybe you know me as the Australian singer-songwriter who wrote one of the most beautiful songs of the 21st century, which famously underscored the conclusion of one of TVs most beloved finales. Or maybe you know me as the big voiced belter that makes the hooks of otherwise ordinary David Guetta and Flo Rida tracks soar. You’ve definitely heard some pop hits I’ve written. “Diamonds”: that was me. (I emailed it to my BFF Katy Perry, but she didn’t check her mail, so Rihanna got it.) “Let Me Love You”: also me. My transformation from foreign-born balladeer into R&B muse has been downright Furtadoesque, but Nelly Furtado ain’t got nothing on me. That said, I’ve never had a hit that was purely a “Sia song.”

The Song: UNTIL NOW! (Fingers crossed.) No, Sia is not Rihanna. She’s just trying to sound like her for half of this song for some reason. The verses of this song are actually pretty pedestrian, sounding like anything that could have been churned out of the lucrative RiRi hit factory. I mean… “1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, Drink…” Was that a placeholder for lyrics that never got written? Is this actually a skilled Rihanna parody? (Turns out she wrote it for Rihanna and then said “You know what, this one’s for me!”) All that matters is the hook, which (as evidenced by her work on “Wild Ones” and “Titanium”) Sia is the Da Vinci of. A Sia hook is bigger, bigger than life, bigger than Ri or even (gasp) Bey (don’t send the Beygency after me); Rihanna could never convince me of those swoops into those high F#s on “chan-da-la-ee-er” and “exist.” I’m not sure we’ll hear a better chorus all year. America, it’s time Sia had a hit to call her own!


Magic!, Identify Yourself: We’re the new kids on the block, fronted by (recurring theme) a writer most famous for making hits for others (both tolerable and intolerable) and for reuniting the actual New Kids on the Block in 2007. Our frontman, Nasri Atweh, wanted to make some music of his own, pulled us together, and heck, we found the process of writing this neo-reggae ditty so fun and easy, we named our band after the feeling: Magic! (Respect the exclamation!)

The Song: Alright, “Rude” is a little bit Kidz Bop Sublime, sure, but if you’ve been thirsting for that “Santeria” sound, here it is. You’ll notice that a lot of the songs on this list have one really strong component (a strong intro, a killer chorus) but are lacking in other areas (the verses are dull, the bridge is tedious). No such problem with “Rude.” I love the A section (the verse), the B section (“Can I have your daughter…”), the C section (“Why you gotta be so rude?)”, the D section (“Marry that girl!”), and the E section (Roo-ooo-ooo-oode”). From start to finish, this is a perfect pop song, even finding time for a chill, crunchy guitar solo. The story is clear-cut too, one of those rare pop songs that isn’t some ambiguous romantic entreaty, but actually has a narrator and a conflict. Not sure if that benefits the song or not, it’s not exactly nuanced. But who needs lyrical nuance when you have a composition like this one? America, help Nasri out, make this song a hit!

I’m Ready

AJR, Identify Yourself: We’re three brothers from New York who love tight harmonies but aren’t afraid to distort that doo-wop sound with some electronic futzing here and there. But that doesn’t get in the way too much; it’s a proven fact, bands made up of three brothers just make the catchiest jingles. They just do. Oh, and thank Sia for our being here. She saw one of our videos and passed our music along to our manager. She’s seriously everywhere.

The Song: A Spongebob sample… A Spongebob sample! This song is repetitive millennial pandering without an original thought in its head! It’s production is grating, with an overbearing bass groan. It’s… It’s… “Oooo-weee-eee-eee-eee-eeeee… Oh-wo-o-o-o-oh.” Dammit. I realize that, by every possible marker, this song should be irritating. Intolerable. I love it. With all of my being. Hand-clapping, nonsense lyrics, the freaking sponge with the square pants. It tickles every pleasure center in my brain, and I both hate myself for it, and love myself for admitting that I don’t really care if you like this song or not. America, if you can bear it, make this song a hit?


Iggy Azalea, Identify Yourself: Well, first things first, I’m the realest. That’s the opening line from my single “Fancy,” and in it I imply that I am the most real (and not that I am the realist, as in “the one who doesn’t go in for all that idealism,” though, hey, either could work). Which is an interesting way to start the song, my first major crossover hit, because questions about authenticity make up anywhere from 98% to 99% of the conversation about my burgeoning music career. Why? Because my story is pretty startling in that it really happened but seems like something that only an imaginative writer could have dreamed up; it is much discussed in the relatively small circle of rap fans that knows about me and about my beef with Azealia Banks (and knows that we are not the same artist), a female MC who is also more famous for being a female MC with potential to break out than for actually rapping anything anyone knows. See, thing is, I am white. And Austrailian. Not that you’d know it from my Southern-inflected rapping style. After working low-wage jobs with my mom to save up, I left home at 16, telling my parents I was going on holiday in Miami, and, yeah, I never came back. In Miami, Houston, and Atlanta, I’ve started both a modeling career and, under the tutelage of T.I., a hip-hop career. Now my first album has dropped, and while New Classic was better received than the debuts of my rivals, it still hasn’t exactly been hailed as, per its advertising, a new classic.

The Song: How do I get into my feelings on Iggy without diving into the murky waters of race and appropriation everyone else seems more than happy to dive into when anything Iggy comes up? I like half of New Classic. A lot. The other half falls into the trap of so much of the hip-hop done by female artists that is asked to conform to an industry appropriate standard: it must aim for the mainstream, taking the form of disposable trend-chasing pop, with a focus on inspirational anthems and songs about the acquiring and loss of men, with not a lot of concern for notions of sisterhood. (For instance, on New Classic: “New Bitch.”) It’s the personal stuff that sneaks through there that impresses me, and I feel like, in a rush to offer a referendum on Iggy’s viability as a white female rapper, music critics have stated unequivocally that Azealia plays it safe, only offering up her utterly unique perspective in platitudes. That’s not true. On the better half of the album, Iggy leans on her own fascinating story (“Walk the Line,” “Don’t Need Y’all,” “Work”). And then there’s the one song that is neither hip-pop drivel nor “how I got here” storytelling. “Fancy” just exists to be crunk, and from the first bass riff, it is that. “Fancy” may not be the best track on New Classic (for my money, the best track associated with the album is “Rolex” from the Deluxe Edition), but it’s the one that has does have “new classic” written all over it. With that minimalist bass beat, a catchy Charli XCX hook, just the right amount of Iggy spelling out her own name (I-I-I-G-G-Y, and yes, she can overdo it, so restraint is imperative), and a great Clueless inspired video (yes, Complex, it is basically a musical Buzzfeed article…), America, this could be one of 2014s most enduring jams if we let it!

Me and My Broken Heart

Rixton, Identify Yourself: We’re four affable British hunks who straddle the increasingly blurred line between rock band and boy band. We all play instruments in our video, and are more than happy to take the piss out of the pop world (check out this makeout in which we parody all sorts of famous music videos), but ever since we were plucked from YouTube cover fame, we’ve been pretty much marketed as a cheekier One Direction.

The Song: I find myself breaking out into this chorus all the time. And why not? It’s a freakin’ brilliant chorus, the kind of chorus that’s so classic, so melodic, that it instantly dwarfs any accomplishments of the boy bands of recent vintage. Seriously, the JoBros would have torn each other limb from limb for this chorus. Even when they still liked each other! But you know what happens every time I get to the end of the chorus? I can’t remember for the life of me what comes next. And sure, the rest of the song bops along satisfyingly on those 2s and 4s, but really there’s nothing all that special about everything in the song that doesn’t open with “All I need’s a little love in my life” and end with “me and my broken heart.” Can we make half of a song a hit, America? If the answer is “technically no,” than I’ll allow the whole song through on a technicality.

She Looks So Perfect

5 Seconds to Summer, Identify Yourself: Psssh, those four British lads think they can be the next One Direction?!? We four Australian blokes (Australia again, it’s a full-on invasion!) got discovered by Sony based on our YouTube videos, and now we open for One Direction on tour! We’ve been personally blessed by the hands of the chosen ones!

The Song: If I found out tomorrow this song was the product of an unholy product placement deal whereby American Apparel promised these four Aussies free underwear for life in exchange for a pop hit that memorialized their product, y’know what? I wouldn’t care! This is an all-quadrants brain-pleaser, from start (a guitar note that hangs there until the start of the best chant this side of Bastille) to finish. You can sell my boy band pop-punk to the highest corporate bidder anytime you want when it’s this effervescent.

Move That Dope

Future, Identify Yourself: At age 30, I’m releasing my second LP, Honest. I’m an Atlanta-based, Haitian-American rapper who gained wide acclaim for my artful use of Auto-Tune, which turns my raspy bellow of voice into an instrument that is alien-sounding and haunting. My stage name is Future because I’ve been called “the future of hip-hop,” and, you know what, many people think that might very well be the case.

The Song: “Move That Dope” abandons all that hype about the Autotune, as Future comes at this one with a whispered Salt n’ Pepa call-out, a slinky syncopated hook, and a Mike WiLL Made It beat over which he can trade verses with his buds Pusha T, Casino, and Pharrell. Awww, shoot, Pharrell’s here?!? Well this has got to be a hit, because Pharrell doesn’t collaborate on any darn thing that isn’t going to blow up. It’s fun to be reminded, after a year of seeing him hang with Alan Thicke’s son, French robots, and Gru, that Pharrell has street cred to spare. Actually, he has cred everywhere. There’s not a place on earth where Pharrell doesn’t have cred, which is why he can get away with his, as he calls it in his verse on “Move That Dope,” “Gandalf hat.” Lest we forget, Pharrell has made DISCO POPULAR AGAIN, so surely he can help turn this vibrant Future song into a hit.

Be Okay

Oh Honey, Identify Yourself: You might associate Brooklyn, and Williamsburg in particular, with a certain brand of skinny-jeaned disaffected irony. Well, we may look the part of the prototypical Brooklyn hipster duo, but our music is pure distilled sunshine, and there are no dark rainclouds of irony in our blue sky. See, even saying that, we weren’t being ironic! It’s just true! Namaste, and you are beautiful. Would you like a meaningful hug?

be my forever

Christina Perri, Identify Yourself: Since I broke through with “Jar of Hearts,” I’ve been the go-to-girl when someone needs a ballad about eternal love or heartbreak. It’s likely that most of America has never seen me smile or even thought I was capable of smiling. Right now the song you’re likely to hear on the radio is my big single “Human,” which is, true to form, achingly tender and melancholy. But, hey, I’ve brought in Ed Sheeren to help me out (it’s hard not to smile from ear to ear just looking at him, with his adorable mug!), and now I have a genuinely cheerful song out on the market. I swear we didn’t steal it from Jason Mraz and Colbie Callait. I swear!

The Songs: I’m lumping these two songs together because, while there’s not much substance to them, I cannot deny that I am a sucker those things which are twee and full of unchecked adorableness. I’ll give the nod to “Be Okay” as the superior song and the more likely hit, because on top of its propulsive drums and jaunty, folk-tinged strumming rests the perfectly melded vocals of Danielle Bouchard and (an octave below) Mitchy Collins. In comparison, Sheeren seems like an afterthought on “be my forever,” a Mraz clone non-entity outside of one or two solo moments where his distinct personality shines through. That said, as an arrangement, “be my forever” never fails to warm my heart. If there’s room for two doses of unfiltered sunshine on the charts, can we make them both happen?

Over You

Ingrid Michaelson, Identify Yourself: Remember this? And this? I know, awwwww! When you think of “girl who sings in coffee houses with ukuleles,” I’m what you think of. For better or worse. But it should be for better! I am a versatile singer-songwriter who initially found major crossover success thanks to Shonda Rhimes, who really loves to use my songs on Grey’s Anatomy. Unlike my buddy Sara Bareilles, I haven’t had a major hit since that first breakout, and unlike Regina Spektor, who I’m also frequently compared to, I’m not a critical darling, but I am, rightly, adored in certain circles for my songcraft and my powerful but gentle vocals, which I like to layer in rounds.

The Song: Ingrid is great. Ingrid is always great. Can we talk about the X-factor here, the make or break component? The boys from A Great Big World, who broke out big with “Say Something”, are divisive. The primary thing A Great Big World has been associated with is the plaintive singing of Ian Axel. To many, Axel is a nasal-whiner, a Broadway belter wannabe, but I enjoy his non-vibrato expressiveness, and hear in his voice notes of Rufus Wainwright and Ben Folds. Do I kind of wish this were just an Ingrid song? Maybe at times (she does outclass Ian by direct comparison on the verse/chorus), but as the three voices build on each other and harmonize on one of Ingrid’s signature rounds, I grew to appreciate this collaboration on a very powerful arrangement. I hope having A Great Big World helps this low-key ballad to crossover success, and doesn’t hinder it too much because of Great Big Haters.

Still to come, my top songs of 2014 thus far. (I know, these weren’t even the top songs! They’re just songs I admire and hope will find a bigger pop audience than they already have. So imagine how good the best ones will be!) If you haven’t yet, check out my post on 14 songs to know to be fluent in 2014.

14 Songs to Know to be Fluent in 2014

Want to be conversant in the pop landscape circa early 2014? These 14 songs are your homework. They’re not the best songs in the land (expect a seperate post on those), but they are the most unavoidable. Here they are, from lowest in quality (subjectively, of course) to highest:

#SELFIE: This is vapidity distilled into a composition. Call it The Vapid Symphony, Movements I-V. You know what it reminds me of? “Baby Got Back.” It’s got that Valley Girl talk intro, and immense amount of repetition, but it’s missing the one thing that “Baby Got Back” has in spades: charm. Whatever you think Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s clever wordplay was pushing towards – innocent objectification, outright sexism – you have to admit, it’s clever wordplay. If #SELFIE (no MORE HASHTAGS!!!) is a parody – and obviously it is to some extent, the writers of the song think the girl talking about her selfie is absurd – it’s not a funny one, and it’s so unbarbed that it has inevitably become adopted by the culture it mocks. And outside of the selfie soliloquy that sells this song, #SELFIE is the blandest of compositions. utter and complete least-common-denominator EDM with no peaks or valleys, just an incessant drone.

Dark Horse: Katy Perry the vengeance wiccan is not as fun as the chibi princess whom we all came to know and kind of love. We can all agree to this, right? Understandably, something big delineates the former from the latter, and while a very public divorce may have emboldened the pop queen to explore her true inner self, all the power to her, her music has suffered and can now be pretty easily reduced to two modes: “empowerment for girls” (the insipid “Roar”) and “screw you men” screeds. “Dark Horse” defines the latter camp and boy is it something I want to turn off the second it comes on – from that inexplicable baby coo that opens the song to the unwelcome return of absurd voice modulation on the “There’s no going back” gurgle, there is nothing keeping me hooked on a production-level to a song that also features clichéd lyrical content and a color-by-numbers rap break, least of all Perry’s vocals, incapable of anchoring a dark dance track in the way that they floated above a more effervescent jam like “Walking on Air.”

Turn Down for What: Not much point in putting a tremendous amount of thought into this one. For me, 99 times out of 100, I wouldn’t be in the mood to hear this. I guess it’s because I’m never turned up and therefore never need to, in the songs parlance, reject any and all means of turning back down. Even I have to admit, sobriety notwithstanding, that hook is pretty infectious. Got anything else for us, DJ Snake and Lil Jon? Seems not. I can’t see the benefit of championing a song with this little to say lyrically (“Fire up you’re loud, another round of shots… TURN DOWN FOR WHAT!” And… repeat.) and compositionally (Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz… And repeat.) Not much point in damning it either. It’s sort of fun.

Can’t Remember To Forget You: That ska beat comes in and this sounds like it should be fun. Shakira is fun and bubbly. Rihanna finds hit songs under her couch cushions when she’s searching for change. We can’t go wrong, correct? This track – which is Shakira’s big post-Voice play for relevance a la Adam and Christina’s “Moves Like Jagger” – dashes just about all those expectations, proving to be a better composition than “Moves Like Jagger,” probably a little, but failing to be even a quarter as mind-arrestingly catchy. The ska opening is more of an empty promise than anything, as the chorus and bridge and just about everything but the verses is straight 4 guitar thrumming. Also, what is Rihanna doing here? This is a love song to a guy, right? (At least I don’t think this is some Shakira/Rihanna slashfic where they’re singing to eachother, not that there’s anything wrong with that if that is what’s going on here. [It’s not…]) Shakira’s voice is the only voice on the planet that sounds like Shakira’s voice, so why give some of its real estate to someone else? It’s not like Rihanna has a guest verse or sings the hook. Sometimes she just sings the lines Shakira would sing. No artistic reason for her to be here at all. Her name just sells more records.

Talk Dirty: I have to admit, on a production level, this sounds great. It’s all about that saxophone, 200%. The longer edit of the song even gives that raspy sax a chance to break down in a full solo which, I mean, what is this, a 1960s Christmas record? Bring that sax! But, if we’re going to be sticklers (and, you know what, let’s be) and delve into what this song is about… Jason Derulo, could you be more of a Caveman? (Sorry Geico Cavemen.) “Been around the world, don’t speak the language, but you’re booty don’t need explaining.” No, but your retrograde, ugly American, sexist braggadocio might require a brief explanation (sings autotune-ily) Jayy-sahnn Derulo.

West Coast: After the debut of the walking authenticity-debate known as Lana Del Rey, Lana the media figure kind of sublimated her controversial “sexy bad girl” image, instead contributing to soundtracks (The Great Gatsby’s “Young and Beautiful,” a “Once Upon a Dream” cover for Maleficent, both magnificent). Also the anti-Lana camp lost some of its basis for argument when a young teenager from New Zealand whose real name is distinctly not Lorde became a media darling and everyone managed not to lose their ever-loving minds. Still there seems to be a conscious attempt to give Lana a more mature sound on this, her return to the spotlight as THE lightning rod Lana Del Rey, and you know what? It’s really dull. I liked the overblown bombast of “Video Games.” The Lana of “Video Games” knew who she was, even if “she” was fictional. This artist… Not sure who she is. Since Lana only has one setting – cooing sensually – and since the lush symphonic backgrounds that justified that cooing have abandoned her, replaced by a lazy surf rock vibe (or actually about four different lazy surf rock vibes, since the track can’t pick just one and crashes from one to the other abruptly), Lana might just be stranded on that beach with the tide rolling in.

The Man: The main question here is this: Aloe Blacc, who are you? (Apperantly, you’re the man, you’re tha man, you’re the maaaan.) Without Avicii’s beats swirling behind your Southern growl (heard by everyone on the planet in “Wake Me Up” on those singy parts between Avicii’s electronic banjo melody), what is your artistic persona? Judging from the video and the soul-fanfare swagger of the composition, one thing he wanted to clear up immediately with “The Man,” his big solo breakthrough, is that he is African-American, which will probably surprise a lot of people who heard his country twang on pop radio. This is a song that evokes the notion of “swagger,” and has been used in a lot of “swagger” commercials for athletes and brands that are all about owning your superiority, but, once that fanfare pumps me up, I always get a sense of deflation listening to this song. Apparently Blacc composed it to impress Dr. Dre, who was curious about the singer after his “Wake Me Up” breakout but hated his old folky stuff. So Blacc aimed to write a song that Dre would want to blast from his car windows on a drive around L.A. And I while I could see that, I don’t feel like Dre would be speeding down the highway with this playing. I feel like he’d be cruising along to that opening wave of trumpets, and then get caught in mild traffic for the rest of the song.

Sing: Ed Sheeren is essentially the offspring of Jason Mraz and Ron Weasley. He’s adorable and a fantastic, smooth singer. One light I had never thought of him in, however, was the funky, hip-hop, blue-eyed soul mode inhabited, now and forever, by Justin Timberlake. “Sing,” the Pharrel-produced attempt to make Ed Sheeren as viable of a Justin Timberlake substitute as we can get between the biyearly releases of the outtakes of Justin’s jam sessions (also known as albums), is a fair reminder that not everyone can sing “Senorita.” There’s nothing wrong with “Sing,” per se; Sheeren has the falsetto and pseudo-wrapping chops to back up the production. Yet the fact that Pharrell – Pharrell, who could make Robin Thicke sound edgy – could not draw out of Shereen a song stronger than most of the material on either 20/20 Experience record (which is sayin’ something) is a fair indication that Shereen might be better off sticking to balladeering. Which is fine. I love his balladeering.

Magic: I don’t buy into the line of reasoning that Coldplay is uniformly dull. Coldplay is sporadically dull. I crave a soaring, melancholy Coldplay melody when they can give it to me. “Magic” scratches that itch a little bit, but, for a grand pronouncement of love, it’s truthfully a rather sleepy affair that doesn’t really get anywhere. Which, considering lead singer Chris Martin’s recent conscious uncoupling from his wife Gwenyth Paltrow, seems sadly apt. There’s something extremely soothing about the low-key way Martin almost mumbles “Call it magic, call it truth,” but the climax of the song is neither big enough nor melodic enough. It’s not the tuneless noodling of the post-“Viva La Vida” Coldplay, but it’s not “Viva La Vida” either.

Best Day of My Life: Woo, woo-oo-oo-oo! Is there much else to say really? I’ll give The American Authors, who sound like just about every other Neon Trees/Imagine Dragons aspirant out there, this – their lead singer shouts the heck out of those verses. He does not believe in easing you into a song. For such a gentle little sing-along, it adds a not-unpleasant sense of urgency.

All of Me: In his less than favorable review of “All of Me,” Todd in the Shadows (great reviewer of pop music!) calls this latest pop breakthrough by soul singer John Legend his “Three Times a Lady.” What can I say? Cheesy ballads are great. I’d say it’s more “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” I’m pretty deeply invested in “All of Me.” Admittedly, it’s hokey, cliched, and really, really melodically simple for such a virtuosic talent. Yet I find it beautiful, its simplicity belying an economy of expression that moves me to both sing along and sigh contentedly. Legend’s voice is velvet and his piano arrangement, while not complex (and while using those four chords, I know), registers emotionally and builds in all the ways that “Magic” fails to. No, Todd, you’re right, it is no “Ordinary People,” the masterwork of a composer at the top of his game. But it is the best love ballad of the year so far.

Let It Go: The most extraordinary thing about “Let It Go” (and to be clear, there are a lot of extraordinary things about this song, from Idina’s iconic performance, to Lopez’s immaculate songcraft, to the film the song hails from which is just, you know, the biggest animated movie of all time, but this is the MOST extraordinary thing) is that it is a pop hit. A mega pop-hit. That the album is the country’s best-selling album for so many weeks running it hurts to comprehend isn’t that surprising, but to see Idina Menzel – not Demi Lovato – on the Billboard Hot 100, setting up a permanent camp at #5 is a veritable shock. The days when popular movie songs ruled the Billboard charts are long gone, and those that have had recent chart success, like “Happy” and “Skyfall,” have been pop songs from massive radio artists. This is Idina Menzel – she is our Broadway goddess, yes, but you never thought you’d hear her introduced by a DJ. When Frozen debuted, I knocked “Let It Go” for sounding a little too radio friendly in the context of the film, but that didn’t mean I thought I’d ever hear it on the radio. Let alone that I’d hear it all the time. And shout along with it in the car. Thank the Internet’s obsession with covering and satirizing (lovingly) this song for its incomparable popularity. The cold never bothered me anyway. It’s our new credo. Welcome to the new world.

Happy: Are you happy yet? Pharrell wants you to be happy… You will be happy! It’s alarming how prophetic the 24 hour music video for this song was, predicting as it did what has essentially become a police state in which the only enforced law is that we all must listen to Pharrell all the time. And you know what? If any song can stand up to that immense amount of scrutiny, it’s this jam that the phrase “This is my jam!” was made for. What Pharrell understands so well, better than anyone else in the music industry, is that the space between music is as important as the music itself. That space is the music. No arrangement allows more space than “Happy,” which syncopates and drops in and out with absolute, unceasing glee.The hicuppy, descending “Happy, Happy, Happy, Happy” bridge will be the progenitor of Soul Train dance lines at weddings for generations to come.

Pompeii: As it reaches “Happy” levels of ubiquity, we have to question whether this out of nowhere hit by an out of nowhere British band stands up to the same test – if you hear it on what essentially amounts to a loop, do you want to punch those chanting monks in the face? I do not. I want to hug them. From the chant that announces the song’s arrival on your dial or your playlist, all the way through to the somber bridge (“where do we begin/the rubble or our sins”), you could make the argument that Bastille is being pretentious even as you chant along. I wouldn’t disagree – the primary mode here is uninhibitedly bombastic. Yet that bombast is leveraged in all the right ways. Of all the big hits of 2014 so far, this is the one I hope stands the test of time.