Before we crown our No.1 pop single of 2013 this afternoon, we obviously have to tip our hat to those other fine songs throughout the year that had us grooving, feeling, moving, dancing, singing in the shower at the top our our lungs to the chagrin of our neighbours… Yes, from ‘A’ to… well ‘T’ to be honest. So let’s do this, auspOppers… Let’s check out the list of also-rans… those glimmering pop gems that we deemed worthy of a place on our ‘Honourable Mentions’ roll call of 2013.
AGNETHA FÄLTSKOG : Dance Your Pain Away
It’s been quite the year for ABBA queen Agnetha Fältskog. Not only did she release her new album ‘A’, but she performed live on stage for the first time in more than 25 years alongside Gary Barlow in the UK and she dropped a disco-tastic piece of pop campery in the form of ‘Dance Your Pain Away’.
We weren’t even put off by the rather dreary fan-contributed official video, preferring instead to concentrate on the funky dance beats and slick production that featured more than a little nod to the singer’s ABBA-mazing past. A ball of fun.
ANNIE : Back Together
Who would have thought that a 2013 single could sound like it was 25 years old? That’s precisely what Norwegian pop songstress Annie served up as the lead single from her ‘A&R’ EP. ‘Back Together’ (along with the rest of the EP) was touched by the masterful pop genius of Richard X, who delivered a bubbling, PWL-sounding pop gem that married blissfully with Annie’s breathy vocal. It was straight out 1988 – right here in 2013. What’s not to love?
BASTILLE : Pompeii
We certainly made no secret of our love for British outfit Bastille throughout the course of the year, so no doubt many would have had money on our popping their breakout single ‘Bastille’ into the mix as part of our top ten. Well, almost. Yes, the band that had us all “cloosing” our eyes in 2013 went on to achieve further success with ‘Laura Palmer’ and more recently ‘Of The Night’, but it was their chant-filled Brit pop-leaning breakout smash that had us shouting ‘Vive La Bastille’!
BONNIE MCKEE : American Girl
Bonnie McKee’s time in the spotlight has been a long time in the making. Sure, she’s shone as a songwriter on tracks like ‘California Gurls’, ‘Teenage Dream’ and ‘Last Friday Night (TGIF)’ for Katy Perry, ‘Hold It Against Me’ for Britney Spears and Rita Ora’s ‘How We Do (Party)’, but ‘American Girl’, which admittedly sounded like it could’ve been ripped straight off a Katy Perry album, saw her finally entering the spotlight in her own right. It was a sure-fire airplay hit… uptempo, fizzy pop with a great hook. Perhaps 2014 could be Bonnie’s time to shine.
BRITNEY SPEARS : Work Bitch
For the last couple of years, we actually thought Britters was on cruise control. Her appearance on ‘The X Factor’ in the US was dull and uninspiring. Then earlier this year, she dropped her mortifying ‘Ooh La La’ from the ‘Smurfs 2’ soundtrack, so we thought she was on the dizzying helter skelter to chart oblivious. But then she dropped ‘Work Bitch’! It was like she was being reborn. She moved sexily and convincingly in the clip, she sounded fresh and almost back on top of her game. But then came the album. Let’s just take ‘Work Bitch’ for what it was then… an increasingly infrequent highlight in what’s now a 15+ year career.
DEMI LOVATO : Heart Attack
While Britney might have been a little bland for all and sundry on ‘The X Factor’ panel, fellow judge Demi Lovato has been quite the revelation. Sure she’s only young and probably can’t speak with quite the authority as her co-horts, but she’s charming, witty, articulate and refreshing; the latter probably a good word to describe the singer’s single ‘Heart Attack’, which dropped in February. It showed a more grown-up side to the former Disney starlet and while Ms Lovato’s transformation from puppet to poppet wasn’t quite as dramatic as Miley’s, ‘Heart Attack’ was an incredibly convincing next step in her grown-up pop career.
DIANA VICKERS : Music To Make Boys Cry
Aah Ms Vickers. The former British ‘X Factor’ finalist was carefully treading the independent artist waters this year and orchestrated a rather magnificent comeback to the pop scene after an absence of a few years. Though ‘Cinderella’ played the part of the lead single, it was the title track from her album ‘Music To Make Boys Cry’ that had us singing her praises. “Bathed in ’80s hooks and retro cool and like its predecessor, it’s impossible not to like,” we said of the single back in August and it’s remained on high rotation at auspOp HQ since. Not a hit – not by a long shot – but a super-smooth, clever and polished piece of pop.
ELLIE GOULDING : Burn
Speaking of clever, polished pieces of pop, how about a big hand for Ellie Goulding and her biggest hit to date… ‘Burn’. While 2012’s ‘Anything Could Happen’ was arguably the superior song from the ‘Halcyon’ project, in 2013 ‘Burn’ took her career to a whole new level. It was a lot more commercial in its appeal, so it stands to reason that the catchy song with its repetitive chorus gifted the British starlet her first ever top ten single here in Australia and helped pave the way for further success across the globe with its follow-up ‘How Long Will I Love You’. Bravo, Ms Goulding.
FREEMASONS : Tears
It’d been a little while between drinks for the boys from Brighton in the UK, but the Freemasons didn’t disappoint with ‘Tears’, the third of three singles the boys dropped across the course of 2013. Reuniting with serial collaborator Katherine Ellis, ‘Tears’ was trademark Freemasons… beefy, commercial house beats and the big diva vocals they’ve become famous for. To be honest, we’ve not heard this one in the clubs much across the course of the year, but it’s arguably their best Freemasons-branded tune since 2009’s ‘Heartbreak (Make Me A Dancer)’ with Sophie Ellis-Bextor.
JESSICA MAUBOY : Pop A Bottle (Fill Me Up)
Yes, it was a promotional single and all, but after the shocker of ‘Something’s Got A Hold On Me’ and the wishy-washy ‘To The End Of The Earth’, Jessica Mauboy was due for a decent single. And ‘Pop A Bottle (Fill Me Up)’ was it. Far and above the Jess highlight from calendar year 2013, it deservedly became a hit, very nearly gifting her a long-overdue second No.1 single. Confident, fun, up-tempo pop with a great hook, ‘Pop A Bottle’ was one of our personal highlights from the Sony Australia stable this year.
JESSIE J : Wild
Jessie impressed everyone with her powerhouse live vocals at the 2012 London Olympics, so it was a safe bet that she wouldn’t keep the world waiting too long for new music. It came this year in the form of ‘Wild’, the lead single from her latest album ‘Alive’. Pop with hip hop overtones, various versions were released, including some with Big Sean and Dizzee Rascal in feature mode. But as always, it was Jessie’s vocal that was the star here (not to mention that fabulous new cropped blonde do); fine, powerful, clean. Another multi-platinum Aussie hit in the bag then…
JESSIE WARE : Imagine It Was Us
Though she may not quite have broken into the mainstream singles charts just yet, British singer songwriter Jessie Ware is well on her way. The starlet dropped her album ‘Devotion’ late last year, but had it repackaged in 2013 with four new songs, one of which was the gorgeous ‘Imagine It Was Us’. We said of it in April that it was a “gorgeous slightly left-of-centre track that sounds like it may have been ripped straight from the Roisin Murphy book of pop.” Smooth, shuffling dance/pop beats, breathy vocals, slick production… This is precisely the kind of music we’d love to be listening to in the cab home at 4am. Super-stylish.
JOHNNY RUFFO : Untouchable
You know what? Big props to Johnny Ruffo this year for his single ‘Untouchable’. Though it wasn’t a hit (not by a long shot), we’ve got to hand it to him for bravely trying to take things to another level. Yes, there was plenty of MJ in it. Yes, there was also plenty of JT. But if anything, ‘Untouchable’ showed that Johnny was keen to move away from the $2 pop of ‘Take It Home’ and ‘On Top’ and deliver something a little more credible. And if the step up from ‘Take It Home’ to ‘Untouchable’ was any indication this year, we can’t wait to see what JR has up his sleeve in 2014.
KATY PERRY : Roar
We can’t let a look back at the best pop songs of 2013 go by without including Katy Perry in the list. After ceremoniously killing off her blue-haired ‘Teenage Dream’ persona, Katy came back with a roar in August this year with a new look, a jungle-themed video clip and a big gold semi trailer that trekked across the States announcing the impending arrival of new album ‘Prism’. Though ‘Roar’ didn’t really deliver on the promise of a fresh new beginning for Katy’s pop career, it did kick off the next chapter of it in impeccable style, quickly bulleting to or debuting in the No.1 spot across the globe.
KODALINE : High Hopes
Proof of what an appearance on ‘The X Factor’ can do for a band and a song… Irish outfit Kodaline released their spectacularly beautiful single ‘High Hopes’ way back in March this year, but it took an appearance on Channel 7’s hit TV show to get the ball rolling for it down under. It premiered on our charts in late September, peaking just outside the top 20 and introducing the wider Aussie public to a stunning piece of balladry that couldn’t have showcased lead singer Steve Garrigan’s goosebump-inducing range better. Simply beautiful.
LADY GAGA : Applause
Aaah Gaga. Seems the global pop-loving community has really started to tire of your bonkers-ness. Which is a shame, because for our money, ‘Applause’ was by no means a bad pop song. It wasn’t given the best head-start chart-wise; leaked in the days before its intended release, but after the lead single from the previous album was criticised openly for its derivativeness (some might say “reductive”), it was heartening to see Gaga come out with a song that was original and impossibly catchy. Sadly, it would appear the ‘Artpop’ experiment is over before it’s begun, being relegated to pop history as less ‘Artpop’ and more ‘Artflop’.
LANA DEL REY : Young And Beautiful
From one of the soundtracks of the year came one of the year’s most convincing ballads. Penned for ‘The Great Gatsby’, Lana Del Rey’s ‘Young And Beautiful’ was simply gorgeous. Lana’s echoed vocals delivered her own words with honesty, heartbreaking beauty and poise. There was a remix, of course, so the club kids could get their groove on to it, but it was the original soundtrack ballad version that will stand the test of time. Ms Del Rey ought be incredibly proud of this song.
LILY ALLEN : Hard Out Here
You know? Lily reportedly said a couple of years back that her years as a recording artist were over and that she’d no longer be troubling the charts. Well she sure showed herself! Yes, Ms Allen re-emerged as a solo star late this year with her cheeky single ‘Hard Out Here’, which pretty much took the piss out of the treatment and use of women in modern day video clips… specifically of the rap/urban variety, it would seem. Fun, bright and incredibly tongue in cheek, ‘Hard Out Here’ proved to us that Ms Allen had lost none of her wit and charm – and surprise, it became a hit!
LITTLE MIX : Move
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again… Though Little Mix’s single ‘Move’ might not have been the most commercially friendly tune on the pop block this year, it did prove to the world that the girls weren’t afraid to take some risks and push some boundaries stylistically. Very beats-orientated, ‘Move’ also allowed the girls to showcase their vocal ability – and whenever they performed the track live, we were mightily impressed. So we tip our hat to you, Team Mix. Good on you for trying something a little different!
MARIAH CAREY : Almost Home
We decided to give props to Mimi and her single ‘#Beautiful’ as part of our top ten countdown of the singles of the year. And we’ll do it again with her single ‘Almost Home’ from the soundtrack of ‘Oz : The Great And Powerful’. The brilliant thing about both of the songs was that they were both Ms Carey getting back to what she does best… Great pop melodies, soaring vocals and not a rapper in sight. We’re hoping to hear plenty more of this kind of tune when her new album drops hopefully sometime early in the new year.
NATHANIEL : You
Another former ‘X Factor’ star delivering the goods in 2013 was Nathaniel Willemse. The 2012 finalist released his debut Sony single ‘You’ late this year to immediate acclaim. Super-smooth and stylish, it’s hands down one of our favourite tracks to come out of the DNA stable so far and those vocals… well if there was any doubt Nathaniel wasn’t a star beforehand, it quickly dissipated after the single dropped. Top five, platinum smash. This is merely the beginning…
ONE DIRECTION : Story Of My Life
It must be tough being One Direction. Or even a member of One Direction. Because clearly there’ll be more than a few stylistic ideas being bandied about by each of the boys, their management, their producers and their teams. And settling on something that’ll appease both them and their fans would be no easy feat. ‘Best Song Ever’ was okay. It was what we expected from them really, but ‘Story Of My Life’ showed a real progression for the band… a willingness to mature their sound slightly and try something new. Props.
SAMANTHA JADE : Firestarter
We can’t not mention Samantha Jade. ‘Firestarter’ (another DNA tune) was a cracker. A simple yet stylish video clip combined with a fabulous melody, catchy chorus and cutting-edge production for what was one of our finest Australian pop moments of 2013. And with a spot in Channel 7’s INXS series ‘Never Tear Us Apart’, another single and album to come in the next couple of months, 2014’s going to be one hell of a year for Ms Jade. And we’ll be listening.
TINA ARENA : You Set Fire To My Life
Tina Arena is all class. After an English originals album hiatus of almost a decade, she returned this year with ‘Reset’. And though the album found favour with the Australian public, already surpassing platinum sales, the lead single ‘You Set Fire To My Life’ didn’t set the charts on fire, mainly due to radio’s refusal to play it. But gosh, what a pop tune. Organic, polished, grown-up pop with a killer chorus and those trademark diamond vocals that continue to sparkle song after song, album after album. 2013 was the year Tina Arena danced her way back into our pop hearts.
TYLER TOUCHE : Heart In Motion
And there is no way in the world we’re going to let our honourable mentions list go by without mentioning the brilliance of Brisbane teenager Tyler Touché. Yes, he might be young, but Tyler is crafting grown-up funk-filled pop that would have the ilk of Daft Punk popping him on speed dial. A “bubbling piece of funkalicious electro goodness”, ‘Heart In Motion’ paved the way for his funkafied debut EP ‘Technicolour Symphony’. He spelled it without the ‘u’, yes, but we’ll let that slide. With national broadcaster Triple J also singing his praises, we can’t wait to see where 2014 takes Tyler Touché.