Ariana Grande, “Honeymoon Avenue” Ariana Grande’s debut Yours Truly is the surprise of the year: a uniformly excellent, unapologetically nineties-ish pop/R&B album, by a kiddie sitcom star who turns out to have a singing voice capable of shattering all the stemware in Mariah Carey’s china cabinet. You didn’t realize you missed Mariah this much, did you? And now you don’t have to.
Blake Shelton, “Mine Would Be You”
In Nashville, they churn out the schmaltz by the barrel, and this had-it-and-lost-it ballad, No. 13 and climbing on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, is swimming in the Grade A stuff. It has a typically sentimental but sharp Music Row lyric, which builds to a third verse payoff: “What's the one regret you can't work through?/You got it, baby, mine would be you.” What sets this song apart is the chorus: huge, wind-whipped, and as beautiful as it is tacky, delivered by Shelton with the fearless corniness of Kenny Rogers in his prime. Noteworthy also for putting the phrase “Hands-down best-ever make-up sex” into the Country Top 20 — and for ramrodding that lyric into the song’s first twenty seconds.
Stein, “Body Nuh Dead”
One my favorite beats of the year is the “Swag Valley Riddim,” cooked up by the production crew at Trainline Records, a Miami-based label that specializes in Jamaican dancehall. “Swag Valley Riddim” is a seductive mix of earthy and eerie: There’s a rubbery bassline at the bottom end, some spooky synth chords that simulate vocal chorales on top, and a bunch of skittering rhythms and sleazy keyboard lines floating and ricocheting in between. As usual in dancehall, the beat has gotten passed around; you can hear a bunch of different artists toasting over the beat on this mix. My favorite is “Body Nuh Dead” by Stein, whose flow is as suave as his rhymes are filthy.
Ylvis, “The Fox”
In fact, the vocalizations of the fox aren’t an “ancient mystery”: Foxes yelp, or howl, a bit like dogs do when they’re really pissed off. But let’s not get technical. This is the greatest music ever to come out of Norway — a-ha and Edvard Grieg and everyone else can go lump it. The poet put it best: “Joff-tchoff-tchoffo-tchoffo-tchoff!/Tchoff-tchoff-tchoffo-tchoffo-tchoff!”