As 2015 comes to a close, I reflect on 55 of my favorite pop releases of the year (including K-Pop!)*. Despite a slow start to solid releases in the first quarter of the year, it eventually became quite a year for female solo artists (Hello, Adele), debuts of newcomers (The X Factor finalists), and the comeback of girl groups (Fifth Harmony? Called it).
*Release dates must have fallen between January 1st, 2015 and December 18th, 2015 to qualify for this list.
#55. Enya – “Echoes in Rain”
After a six-year absence, Enya returned with a slightly modern twist on her classic sound.
#54. Bonnie McKee – “Bombastic”
Anyone craving new Kesha music should check out this pop-rock stomper by the similar-sounding McKee.
#53. Iyaz – “Believe In Love”
This vocally impressive track is the standout from Iyaz’s quietly self-released sophomore album.
#52. Amber feat. Taeyeon – “Shake That Brass”
Many critics panned this solo debut of the rapper from K-Pop girl group f(x) as immature, but the singable chorus and brassy undertones are too catchy to be ignored.
#51. Prince Royce feat. Tyga – “Double Vision”
This is a hidden gem on the Latin singer’s predominantly English fourth album.
#50. TroyBoi feat. Nina Sky – “Afterhours”
This trap producer has a uniquely distinguishable sound, and dropped his Nina Sky-assisted Mad Decent debut single in September.
#49. Timeflies feat. Natalie La Rose – “Worse Things Than Love”
The underrated Timeflies teamed up with one of the year’s early breakout stars to deliver this catchy ode to accidentally falling in love.
#48. Gwen Stefani – “Used To Love You”
After two failed comeback singles in 2014, Gwen used her recent divorce as the driving force behind her new ballad with excellent critical reception.
#47. Taeyeon – “I”
The leader of K-Pop royalty super-group Girls’ Generation stepped out solo to show off her incredible vocal prowess.
#46. Selena Gomez – “Me & The Rhythm”
Selena finally seems to have found a niche sound that is compatible with her breathy vocals, as shown by this standout track from her sophomore solo album.
#45. Rudimental feat. Ed Sheeran – “Lay It All On Me”
The UK drum & bass group utilizes Sheeran’s soft vocals to deliver this laid back electronic track.
#44. Deorro feat. Chris Brown – “Five More Hours”
Combine a thumping beat with a dash of signature auto-tuned Brown vocals, and you have an undeniably catchy electronic hit.
#43. Ben Haenow feat. Kelly Clarkson – “Second Hand Heart”
How 2014 X Factor UK winner Haenow secured Clarkson to duet on his debut single remains a mystery, but one better left in Simon Cowell’s closet. This track was a screaming hit that should have been bigger.
#42. Meghan Trainor – “My Selfish Heart”
Despite debuting in mid-2014, many people forget that Trainor did not release her debut album until January of this year. This track, written solely by Trainor, showcases her signature songwriting, sound, and vocal style.
#41. Kelly Clarkson – “Take You High”
Throughout seven studio albums, Clarkson has proved she can tackle any genre, and this EDM-inspired positivity jam is no exception.
#40. Jake Miller – “Rumors”
Up-and-coming rapper Miller uses a laidback beach-y vibe to diversify his artistic portfolio.
#39. The Vamps feat. Silentò – “Volcano”
If The Vamps keep making tracks like this, they may slowly rise up past 5 Seconds of Summer on the boyband scale.
#38. T-ARA – “So Crazy”
After spending some time in Japan and China, the once disgraced K-Pop girl group made their Korean comeback with this bubbly party track.
#37. Fifth Harmony – “I’m In Love With A Monster”
Despite being a soundtrack single, fans were impressed by the girls’ experimentation with a throwback sound. The even vocal distribution also made this track rare for Fifth Harmony.
#36. Becky G – “Break A Sweat”
With Becky booking more acting roles, it seems a debut album is not forthcoming and fans will need to be satisfied with these sporadic single releases. As long as they are as catchy and vocally solid as “Break A Sweat,” it should not be a problem.
#35. A Great Big World feat. FUTURISTIC – “Hold Each Other”
Masters at storytelling through song, the duo released this melancholy track with a surprising-but-shouldn’t-be lyric twist on the second verse.
#34. Girls’ Generation – “Green Light”
Fun, bubbly, catchy…and as far as singable choruses in K-Pop songs go, this track should be towards the top of the list. Fans will also appreciate that serially underrated member Hyoyeon is prominently featured here.
#33. R. City feat. Chloe Angelides – “Make Up”
Reggae duo Rock City serve up a sexy vibe disguised as a summer jam with help from newcomer Chloe Angelides.
#32. Yellow Claw feat. Becky G – “For The Thrill”
The versatile Becky G shows off her vocal ability on this trap banger.
#31. Little Mix – “Love Me or Leave Me”
Anyone skeptical of Little Mix’s vocal ability should take a listen to this heartfelt plea for their hearts to be loved or left alone. The last chorus led by member Leigh-Anne is the standout.
#30. Adam Lambert – “Things I Didn’t Say”
Despite switching record labels and spending months in the pop capitol of the world recording tracks, many people overlooked the polished pop perfection of Lambert’s third studio album, including this album standout.
#29. Fleur East – “Sax”
2014 X Factor UK runner-up East proved that second place can be the true winner when you are able to fiercely serve a brassy pop stomper to rival “Uptown Funk.”
#28. Galantis – “Runaway (U&I)”
An unsuspecting vocal mixed with a chorus falsetto created crossover appeal and earned this duo a Grammy nomination.
#27. Crayon Pop – “FM”
Few artists – whether in K-Pop or any other genre – are able to consistently reinvent themselves with every new release. Quirky girl group Crayon Pop are an exception, as evidenced by their flawless execution of their superhero concept for this ridiculously catchy EDM track.
#26. Empire Cast feat. Yazz & Serayah McNeill – “Drip Drop”
The undeniable television breakout hit of the year, Empire delivered us this urban hit that could have smashed harder than many of its contemporaries’ major-label releases.
#25. JoJo – “When Love Hurts”
Following an almost decade-long battle with a literally nonexistent record label, and four years after her last mainstream release, JoJo blessed our ears once again with the powerful lead single off her “tringle” (three single) Atlantic Records debut.
#24. Jason Derulo – “Want To Want Me”
Derulo sticks to what he knows using his formula of catchy falsetto-laced power-pop love songs.
#23. Demi Lovato – “Confident”
As far as empowerment anthems go, this one is top notch thanks to production from pop heavyweight producer Max Martin.
#22. Ellie Goulding – “On My Mind”
While still signature Goulding in terms of vocals, this track was stylistically and sonically different for the pop star, again thanks to production from Martin.
#21. CL – “Hello Bitches”
The fierce South Korean leader of K-Pop group 2NE1 offers this mostly-English trap banger to hold fans over until her oft-delayed official American debut.
#20. Tove Lo – “Talking Body”
Not one to shy away from topics that would make everyday people blush, Tove Lo shows she can hold her own outside being a feature artist with this electropop jam.
#19. LunchMoney Lewis feat. Chloe Angelides – “Whip It!”
Addictive from the start, newcomer Lewis delivers yet another feel good track with a vocal assist from Angelides on the powerful chorus.
#18. One Direction – “Perfect”
1D has always shined the brightest on their midtempo ballads, and this track is a “perfect” example of that shine.
#17. Girls’ Generation – “You Think”
The girls have always been strongest when portraying a powerful concept, and this is possibly one of their best deliveries yet. Member Sunny’s usually bubbly vocals are swapped for a gritty realness, which makes her the star of this trap-laden song.
#16. Demi Lovato – “For You”
Lovato proves she can hold her own vocally against her contemporaries and takes her vocals to places we usually do not get to hear on her more radio-friendly hits.
#15. RaNia – “Demonstrate”
After a two-year hiatus and several lineup changes including the loss of their two main vocalists and their group leader, this sexy K-Pop girl group returned with three new members, one of who is an African-American rapper, a first for any K-Pop group. Along with their new image was a newfound confidence to accompany this catchy smash.
#14. G.R.L. – “Lighthouse”
Released as a tribute to their lost bandmate who committed suicide in September 2014, this powerful ballad also turned out to be the last official release for G.R.L. who disbanded in March of this year.
#13. Hilary Duff – “One In A Million”
In similar fashion to Adam Lambert, Duff released an underrated album packed with radio-ready pop hits, including this EDM-influenced banger that could have been huge if given the chance.
#12. Kalin and Myles – “Out of My Mind”
Relatively unknown rap duo Kalin and Myles combine rap, pop, and EDM to create a perfect hit mixture that today’s biggest artists would kill for.
#11. Demi Lovato feat. Iggy Azalea – “Kingdom Come”
Hopping on the mainstream trap bandwagon – but with great results – is this dark album track from Lovato with a surprisingly solid guest verse from the now elusive Azalea.
#10. One Direction – “Infinity”
Another outstanding midtempo ballad with soaring vocals that serves as a great bookend to the biggest boyband of the decade now on indefinite hiatus.
#9. Jack Ü feat. Justin Bieber – “Where Are Ü Now”
An unexpected collaboration with Skrillex & Diplo in February allowed Bieber to give his legions of fans a teaser of what was to come with his third studio album on this EDM track.
#8. Little Mix – “Black Magic”
This piece of pop perfection played to Little Mix’s fun side, allowing them to show off their strength as great performers. As such, it went to #1 in their native UK and became their highest charting song in the States.
#7. Years & Years – “Shine”
It is hard to describe exactly why Years & Years are so amazingly underrated; However, if you are a fan of laidback pop music, check out their debut album, including this gem.
#6. Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars – “Uptown Funk”
It was one of the biggest pop hits of the year, reminiscent of an era where doo-wops and horns were all you needed for a hit song.
#5. Fifth Harmony feat. Kid Ink – “Worth It”
Succeeding where Little Mix failed and G.R.L. were never able to reach, this is the type of music The Pussycat Dolls would be serving if they were still together. If Fifth Harmony can overcome their internal issues, they are set up for a huge year in 2016.
#4. 4minute – “Crazy”
This K-Pop girl group moved their status up a level on the girl group tier with the release of this brassy, trap-infused stomper. Powerful visuals, rapping, and choreography made this one of K-Pop’s most surprising and talked about hits of the year.
#3. Girls’ Generation – “Catch Me If You Can”
Still feeling the effects of losing their second main vocalist amidst a dismissal scandal, K-Pop’s reigning queens dropped their first ever EDM track. Its powerful vocals and choreography proved that being down a member was not going to slow the group down.
#2. Justin Bieber – “Sorry”
Bieber once again teamed up with Skrillex to deliver one of the year’s biggest and most left-field hits, turning legions of people who once mocked him into Beliebers and proving to everyone that it most definitely was not too late to say sorry.
#1. Adele – “Hello”
Hurricane Adele truly has no limits. One listen to this track and you will understand how in less than a month, her latest album, 25, has been obliterating sales records left and right, and setting the industry standard so high that only Adele herself will ever have the ability to come anywhere near the threshold again.