10. CELINE DION, “LOVED ME BACK TO LIFE”
Céline Marie Claudette Dion: The powerhouse vocalist is responsible for some of the greatest classics of our time, from “The Power of Love” to “My Heart Will Go On.” Obviously, then, the pressure was on to sculpt a song of Celine proportions for her 2013 studio album — and she did it. The Sia-penned production flaunts the Canadian crooner’s chops effortlessly, as the singer belts out above gorgeous orchestration and a stumbling, modern beat. Almost impossibly, the 45-year-old vocalist found a way to slip into Top 40-friendly musical territory without treading into #SomethingMoreUrban territory, staying true to her powerhouse pipes. The melodies are beautiful, the lyrics are haunting — but, as always, it’s all about that voice.
9. TONI BRAXTON AND BABYFACE, “HURT YOU”
The return of Toni Braxton to music in 2013 couldn’t have come soon enough: The iconic contralto’s husky vocals have been deeply missed in R&B. After a brief turn on the dance floor with “I Heart You” last year and briefly tempting the idea of retirement (never do it to us again, Toni), the singer returned with her constant collaborator Babyface for “Hurt You,” the first track off of their upcoming love songs duets record Love, Marriage & Divorce (amazing album title, still). The electro-R&B ballad is a serious chill-inducer, as the two trade off anguished verses. It’s a R&B classic in 2013 that still manages to sound modern. (Also, hearing Toni Braxton sing “God knows I never meant to turn you out”? Amazing.)
8. SIA, “ELASTIC HEART (FEAT. THE WEEKND & DIPLO)”
Secretly (or, well, somewhat secretly), Sia‘s been one of the top pop stars of the past three years, having written smashes for everyone from Beyoncé to Britney to Rihanna. But while quietly killing the game and preparing for upcoming studio album in 2014, she did provide the world with one major gem of her own: “Elastic Heart,” a stunning collaboration included on the Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack. The heart-wrenching power ballad layers the singer’s soulful crooning atop Diplo‘s wonderfully weird, tripping electronica, complimented further by a falsetto-heavy feature from Canadian spook-R&B crooner The Weeknd. The lyrics are simply devastating (“Now let’s be clear, I trust no one”), and by the crashing finale — as the two scream and cry and soldier their way through to the bloody finish — there’s nary a dry eye in the entire arena. May the odds be ever in your favor.
7. SAY LOU LOU, “BELOVED”
Swedish-Australian sister act Say Lou Lou have stayed slay lou lou’ing for well over the past year now with their heavenly dream-pop productions. But this fall, the duo truly achieved maximum lushness with “Beloved,” an utterly stunning, heartbreaking blend of airy electronica and soaring melodies, crafted alongside legendary pop scribe Hannah Robinson (Kylie Minogue, Rachel Stevens) and Liam Howe. “To whom do you compare me? Recreate to mold me?” the girls whisper above the chilly electronica. And by the time it hits that frustrated ending — “Take, take, twist, shake/Tell me what you want from me!” — there’s no denying the sheer majesty of this production. If this is any indication of what’s to come from the duo’s debut in 2014, we very well might be listening to a preview of next year’s best pop record.
6. MILEY CYRUS, “WRECKING BALL”
Forget the tongue, forget the sledgehammer, forget the giant pussycat: “Wrecking Ball” is still a genuine smash. For all the shit that people gave Miley for twerking her way into the public consciousness with her barely-there ass at the VMAs, “Wrecking Ball” supplied the Artist Formerly Known As Hannah Montana with a much needed moment of “but really, y’all — I can sang.” That Heart-like, arena-sized ’80’s rock ballad yelp — “I came in like a wrecking ball!” — is tailored perfectly for Miley’s gritty southern drawl, and has already become one of the most iconic phrases of the year. But there’s real vulnerability, too: That trembling bridge (“I just wanted you to let me in…”), especially, is enough to produce a lump in your throat (and no, not from gagging). Considering the only ballads radio heard in 2012 were by Adele and Bruno Mars, Miley managed to overcome the festival EDM and Robin Thicke onslaught and joined RiRi in making pop balladry happen in 2013.
5. BRITNEY SPEARS, “WORK BITCH”
As a noted labor enthusiast and tireless LGBT warrior, the legendary Miss Britney Spears decided to bless her “boys” with the ultimate motivation in 2013: “Work Bitch,” a call-to-arms for the unmotivated and uninspired. Rattling through endless enticements, the sensual seductress kept us wanting more (MOAH?) in her native language: BRIT-ish. “You wanna hot bo-deh? You wanna mas-ah-rah-teh?” The song gave us endless phrases (“Here comes the smash-uh!”), recorded specifically for her adorable and hilarious gay boys. (#Blessed.) There are endless moments throughout — the Spearitual “Ah-AH!,” that fingers-to-the-sky bridge, that “Work, work, work” vogue-off — that keeps the song feeling endlessly cool, funky and urban. Even the EDM production is something more interesting, pulsing like an early ’90’s acid House production. And the shark-filled video in the desert, of course, remains one of her best in years. The Holy Spearit had us all putting in extra work at our pro-fesh-shuns this year.
4. CIARA, “OVERDOSE”
Let it be known: Ciara‘s “Overdose” is not only the best song on Ciara, but one of the greatest pop songs of the year. CiCi was gone for far too long following 2010’s (unfortunately titled) Basic Instinct, but at long last, she brought it back this year with her long-awaited Epic Records self-titled debut. And while the bedroom romp “Body Party” managed to reintroduce the underrated R&B diva to the scene (with an almost weird amount of praise from the indie scene), it’s “Overdose” that ultimately deserves to wear the crown in 2013.
The track is a Britney/Janet-level stomper, with one of the most immediately infectious choruses evah that’ll have you sweating, shaking and freaking out. (Do-le-do-le-do-le-do-let-go!) I’ve tirelessly campaigned for the song to become a single. And at one point, it was apparently released in October. (It debuted at #20 in South Korea.) Yet there’s still no video, no radio play and no real acknowledgement from the singer herself ever since it was announced. CiCi, girl. I know Future‘s your world, but come on. “Overdose” could have been so, so much bigger — and likely responsible for a massive uptick in medical school enrollment.
3. SKY FERREIRA, “YOU’RE NOT THE ONE”
Another year, and Sky’s still not alright: After dominating last year with “Everything Is Embarrassing,” the scowling songstress returned to us this year with the lead single from her long-awaited debut, “You’re Not The One” — a power-pop kiss-off track wrapped up in razorblades. It’s a frustrated, fuck-off anthem for that special loser in your life, playing something like a guitar-laced answer to Robyn‘s “Dancing On My Own.” “It’s the middle of the night and I’m so gone/And I’m thinking about how much I need you, but you really want somebody else,” she angrily murmurs. Sky’s angst-filled yelps (“You’re not the one!”) cut extra deep, easily making this late night fit of rage one of the most unforgettable tracks of 2013.
2. DISCLOSURE, “WHITE NOISE (FEAT. ALUNAGEORGE)”
No dance song in 2013 sounded quite as fresh or innovative as “White Noise,” the buoyant, space-age collaboration between UK dance duo Disclosure and alt-R&B-dance-whatever-ya-wanna-call-it duo, AlunaGeorge. The track bumps and grinds with a kind of straightforward disco ferocity that’s seriously lacking in today’s drop-dominated, testosterone-laden frat boy EDM. “Lately, I’ve been thinking if you wanna get tough, then let’s play rough,” Aluna coyly teases above a bubbly, bursting early ’90’s House-meets-21st century pulsation. The song’s swirling production, mixed with Aluna’s child-like airy vocals, simply doesn’t get old — it’s ready for replay time and time again.
1. MUTYA KEISHA SIOBHAN, “FLATLINE”
First of all, yes: “Flatline”…well, flatlined. After over a year and a half of build up, the (re-)debut single by UK powerhouse trio Mutya Keisha Siobhan — or MKS, otherwise known as the original line-up of the Sugababes — stalled on the UK charts at #50. Enthusiasm for new music from the troupe, it seemed, was slightly overestimated. Or was it? Perhaps premiering the song on a SoundCloud in July and waiting to release the song iTunes two months later in September (!!!) was just the dumbest move in pop music this year. Yes, probably that.
That being said, “Flatline” is no less incredible just because the general public missed out.
Crafted alongside Dev Hynes (who also co-produced my favorite song of 2012, Sky Ferreira‘s “Everything Is Embarrassing”), the girl group’s comeback single is everything that the song should be: It’s smart, soulful pop music for grown ups. Like his new album Cupid Deluxe, as well as Sky’s “Everything” and Solange’s True EP, Dev’s signature ’80’s-leaning production provides the track a nasty strut. But truthfully, it’s all about the vocals: Each girl shines individually (although Keisha‘s “the change was obvious, so miscellaneous” is obviously the best part), and the harmonies are as rich and melodic as the stuff of their 2000 debut. And then, there’s that soaring finale — as the girls angelically croon, and the drums beat harder, and the background male chorus grow louder in one heaven-sent crescendo, which easily makes this the most gorgeously crafted pop song of the year.
While the fate of MKS seems somewhat dubious at the moment, “Flatline” provided the purest proof that the Sugababes, in every reincarnation, are truly one of the greatest modern girl groups of all time.
(Naturally, this one never hit Spotify stateside — so listen above.)