1.“Blank Space” — Taylor Swift

2014 was undeniably the year of Taylor Swift. Saying 1989 was a huge success is an understatement, largely due to the popularity of “Blank Space.” The song drives along with a ringing yet punctuated backbeat, while the lyrics, and awesome music video, perfectly capture and challenge the media perception of Swift’s “serial dater” persona. It is, on one level, entirely honest and real, and, on another, a perfect, fun pop song. After listening the first time, it is almost impossible to resist putting it on repeat. The combination of an infectious overall sound and unforgettable lyrical blurbs, like “Darling I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream,” make “Blank Space” the jam of 2014.

-Carly Snider

2. “Chandelier” — Sia

After all the writing invested in other artists, it’s only fair that Sia saves the cream of the crop for her own record. But what a shame it is that one of the year’s most hypnotic power ballads is also the year’s biggest lyrical buzzkill. In combination with an eerie modality and hovering electronica, Sia’s seemingly fatigued vocals fittingly narrate the self-destructive repetitions of a broken spirit. “Party girls don’t get hurt, can’t feel a thing, when will I learn? / I push it down, push it down.” And while the track’s “1, 2, 3, drink” pre-chorus hook is enticing on its surface, it’s a cry for help further below. Perhaps the only fault of “Chandelier” is that its repetition, heavy synth and rhythmic hip-hop production transform it into a jam-track worthy of overseeing its pointed lyrical core.

-Greg Hicks

3.“Take Me to Church” — Hozier

Fee-fi-fo-fum. Smell the blood of an Irishman? That’s just the brooding Hozier lamenting the self-deprecating power of his love all over the Billboard charts. Once every year or so, if we’re lucky, a really unexpected, pure and truly musical song sashays its way into the pop music atmosphere. It not only is critically adored; it’s played on almost every radio station, sung in the shower, on “The Voice,” in a Beats By Dre commercial. It’s a marvelous feat, maximum exposure, an accomplishment for the music industry and a testimony to the sheer beauty of the song.

This all happened most charmingly in 2014 with “Take Me to Church,” Andrew Hozier-Byrne’s eerie, metaphorical, somber and passionate religious ballad. Not only are the lyrics literal poetry (“If I’m a pagan of the good times, my lover’s the sunlight / to keep the Goddess on my side / she demands a sacrifice”), but Hozier’s voice is absolutely irresistible. Sonorous and pleading, he cries out the lyrics with more passion than most of his contemporaries. The song is both sexy and sad, loving and masochistic — but above all, it’s surprisingly catchy. Rightfully nominated for a Song of the Year Grammy, Hozier had an extraordinary year marked with a rapid ascension to fame. We can only hope this rookie is here to say, for the sake of ears, hearts, poets and minds everywhere. Amen.

-Melina Glusac

4. “i” — Kendrick Lamar

When I heard the Isley Brother’s sample at the beginning of Kendrick Lamar’s “i,” it was immediately clear that the Compton rapper had created something special in the TDE laboratory. With a smooth retro guitar track, and a peppier beat than a typical Kendrick song, “i” stands out in the Lamar anthology. The song divided fans – making some nostalgic for his older, darker material. But Kendrick isn’t looking to simply replicate his old work – “i” marks the beginning of a new, more socially meditative chapter for the writer. “i” delivered both in terms of lyrical substance and musical quality, while paying homage to Lamar’s musical forefathers. I can’t wait to see what Kendrick does next in 2015.

-Nick Boyd

5.“Red Eyes” — The War on Drugs

Few lines in The War on Drugs’s outstanding single “Red Eyes” register audibly. While this mumbling bumbling tactic is, so often in the world of rock, aligned with a too-cool-to-care persona among most larger-than-life musicians, in Adam Granduciel’s case it isn’t. He’s endured as much heartbreak and bitter love as any these last couple years, but instead of singing loudly and proudly to beat the bad emotions away, he seems to do the exact opposite: these emotions, experiences and sentiments are as much a part of him as the Neil Young-type resonance in his voice. When he sings phrases like “To beat it down / To get to my soul” that ring clear as a bell through a thick haze, he sings them not to demonstrate strength, not to outline any plan for healing, but rather, as a self-centering mantra. “Red Eyes” is rock music’s latest and greatest testament to what the Japanese call jishin, which is the synchronizing of one’s energy with belief. This song describes one of the greatest emotions of all, one we’ve all felt and one we hope to feel again: understanding. And when Granduciel belts a “whoo!” before returning to his guitar-meditation, we know his understanding is absolutely a celebration.

-Brian Burlage

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