My Favorite Singles of 2015

Well, dear reader, December arrived quickly this year. As usual, I like to wind down the year by discussing my favorite music (including both albums and songs), as well as sum up my year as a reader and writer.

To kick things off, I want to talk about my top ten singles of 2015. Though many of my favorites did not make a big splash on the Top 40, they garnered lots of plays on my headphones. This year was strong on pure pop hits and ballads, making it one of the most diversely satisfying for pop fans in quite some time. You will also notice that two artists dominate this list, and that's because their singles dominated my year.

This lead single for Clarkson's seventh studio album, Piece by Piece, started 2015 off right in early January by dripping with early 2000s nostalgia and reveling in the pure pop the star has sold so well over the course of her career. Though it peaked at 21 on the Hot 100, it garnered positive reviews from critics and heralded the introspective and retrospective nature of Clarkson's newest album.

Miguel returned this year in seductive fashion. While the different versions of this tune ranged in quality, one thing remained consistent was Miguel's sensual, smooth delivery. Most contemporary male pop stars have a foot in mainstream pop and urban music, but few rival Miguel at sounding in tune with the past and present.

Sia's rise to mainstream success has been surprising but understandable. She's the mastermind behind some of the best pop tunes to come out in the last decade, and yet she's an unconventional pop star shy of the spotlight. She's also a master of the power-ballad, as we hear on "Alive." The tune adheres to her melodramatic formula--thank goodness.

After years in litigation hell with her former label, JoJo danced back to the spotlight with "When Love Hurts." Though I was initially lukewarm to the tune, it worked its way into my ears. Combining urban overtones, a dance structure, a strong hook, and JoJo's energetic delivery, this song a winner.

Yes: despite best intentions, a masterful hook, and spot-on pop structure, "I Really Like You" was not exactly "Call Me Maybe" part 2. It did crack the Top 40 and preview a remarkable pop record, but it fell shy of being a phenomenon. That said, it shows Jepsen's enduring appeal as a pop music presence and her knack for strong songwriting collaborations.

Madonna had an impressive run of pop singles in 2015. Though her first tune of the year, "Living for Love," played with nostalgic dance, it was bested by "Ghosttown," which was an adult contemporary hit. This song reminds us of how great the diva can be with mid-tempo ballads, and the slow-down dance beats, affectionate lyrics, and layered vocal help it rank among Madonna's best.

4. "Sorry"/"What Do You Mean"/"Where Are U Now" by Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber made his comeback this year, releasing three remarkable singles that play as suite about growing up and apologizing for mistakes. Though critics have been fair in criticizing the calculated promotion of Bieber's "reinvention," some of the music has been shockingly good. Of the bunch, "Sorry" is the strongest because it has the most texture, playing with dance, house, and latina music.

Yes: this is "Follow Your Arrow" part 2, but Kacey Musgraves' liberal yet old-school approach to country music is refreshing for a genre that has become shamefully pallid. Not to mention, "Biscuits" may have the sweetest chorus of the year.

Madonna returned to the Hot 100 with "Bitch I'm Madonna," a song I originally could not stand. However, its brilliance worked its way into my jaded heart. It is both aggressive and playful. Not to mention, the cheeky way it confronts Madonna's ageist critics is nothing short of catchy brilliance.

1. "Run Away With Me" by Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly Rae Jepsen ran away with my pop music heart this year. Though all of her singles are gems, the best is "Run Away With Me." With it's expansive power-ballad style chorus, quirky "cinnamon secret" lyrics, and attention to Jepsen's small but expressive voice, it's the pinnacle in romantic pop music. We haven't heard such a great love song since Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream."

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