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In no particular order. And not including the Frozen soundtrack, because it came out in 2013.
1. Taylor Swift, 1989
1989 was, without question, the biggest album of 2014. It sold 1.287 million copies in its first week out, making it the highest-selling album released this year and giving it the highest debut week for an album since 2002. But numbers aside, it was actually pretty good. T-Swift’s first official attempt at pop was full of sugary ’80s beats and choruses that refused to leave your brain no matter how many times you tried to get them out. Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, though, you know?
2. Ariana Grande, My Everything
If you still think Ariana Grande is nothing but a kid-friendly copy of Mariah Carey, then you haven’t been paying attention. Sure, they both have that breathy high-register thing going on, but the comparisons end there. From the EDM-pulses of “Break Free” to the inescapable sax loop of “Problem,”My Everything proved that Ariana has finally become her own woman, cat ears and all.
3. Azealia Banks, Broke With Expensive Taste
After years of label drama and Twitter rants, Azealia Banks finally, finally released her debut one random Thursday afternoon, Beyoncé-style, and it turned out to be worth the wait. She’d already shared more than half the songs on it in some form or another, but you would too if you’d ever made anything even half as catchy as “212.” New songs like the salsa-tinged “Gimme a Chance” and the Ariel Pink collaboration “Nude Beach a Go-Go” make it clear that Azealia has a lot more to give than just raunchy, flavor-of-the-week rap songs (which might explain why she had so much trouble getting her label to finally release BWET).
4. Miranda Lambert, Platinum
This is country music for people who don’t like country music (and people who do, of course, but they don’t need convincing). Plenty of pop songs could benefit from whatever magic makes the title track as catchy as it is, and “Somethin’ Bad” (featuring Carrie Underwood) stands out as one of the greatest duets of 2014 in a year full of truly fabulous duets.
5. First Aid Kit, Stay Gold
The hardest thing to understand about First Aid Kit is that they’re just two sisters in their early 20s and not a couple of grizzled old hippies still hoping to see a Green Party candidate elected as president. Maybe they just have old souls or something. Anyway, their folksy harmonies are positively mesmerizing, as is their ability to make old-fashioned Americana sound cool and new again.