Best pop music of 2014
In 2014, inexorable music-industry trends continued apace. Revenue from the streaming of songs surpassed CD sales for the first time, and after an initial downturn in 2013, sales of music downloads also continued to fall. It all led Billboard belatedly to revamp the way it computed its album chart to incorporate streaming data.
In 2014, inexorable music-industry trends continued apace.
Revenue from the streaming of songs surpassed CD sales for the first time, and after an initial downturn in 2013, sales of music downloads also continued to fall. It all led Billboard belatedly to revamp the way it computed its album chart to incorporate streaming data.
In terms of music salesmanship, the derriére-shaking-trend of 2013 also expanded, with last year's Miley Cyrus twerk giving way to bottom-heavy videos such as Nicky Minaj's "Anaconda" and Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea's "Booty."
The Australian rapper was also the 2014 artist most frequently charged with artless cultural appropriation, an accusation that did not prevent her from scoring two of the year's biggest hits, in the summer smash "Fancy" with Charli XCX and as a guest on Ariana Grande's more pleasurable "Problem."
But wait - revolt was also in the air. Protest, to be sure, as J. Cole, Ms. Lauryn Hill, and a precious few others spoke out after August's police killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
But also a movement starting to look like the album's last stand. Vinyl sales continue to grow - up an additional 40 percent in the first half of the year. Big-name acts - Taylor Swift, the Black Keys, Beyoncé - are increasingly pulling some or all of their music off streaming services such as Spotify in protest of low artist payouts and in support of the sanctity of the album, as opposed to the original song, as an artistic statement.
Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy wrote a "Why the Album Still Matters" editorial in the Guardian, and Swift penned one of her own in the Wall Street Journal. In picking up an American Music Award last month for being the most popular music-making person in the United States if not (yet) the world, Swift thanked fans for investing in albums, because "music is valuable and music should be consumed in albums and albums should be consumed as art and appreciated."
A list of the year's 10 best albums follows. What all 10 have in common is that each was conceived and executed as more than a random group of songs. All deliver intentional artistic unity, a unique personal voice sustained for more than a few minutes out of time. That sort of ambition may well be going out of style - or even be already passé - in a no-attention-span age, but it is most assuredly not dead yet. And if you don't have the patience to listen to any of them all the way through, there's an annotated "Songs of the Year" playlist, too.