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Looking back at the rising heat in 2015 pop

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(Grimes Official Facebook)

(Grimes Official Facebook)

I wore a light jacket this Christmas. People were playing outside with their families for the holidays because it was so warm, but that warmth wasn’t just in the temperature. It was in the music. We saw cold dark hits in 2014 like Tove Lo’s “Habits” and Sia’s “Chandelier.” The brightest was probably Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass,” but that only ranks in at a soft pink.

Even though Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” was released in November 2014, the boogie-in-the-street jam saw a rise in its popularity once it hit No. 23 on the Billboard top 100 in January 2015. Since then, the hot songs of the year stayed on the burner from last winter until this one.

On my first ride home from my nine-to-five job at the end of December, Justin Bieber’s tropical dance hits “Sorry” and “What Do You Mean” played on the radio alongside his new stripped down ska anthem, “Love Yourself.”

Next came Bieber’s ex-girlfriend Selena Gomez’s steamy new songs “Good For You” and “Hands to Myself,” spun around Ellie Goulding’s reggae-rock rip-off, “On My Mind” and Diplo’s bouncy summer track “Lean On.”

Along with all of these hits, 2015 had some great albums that kept this heat going and created plenty of nostalgia. Our generation is all about bringing everything back from the ‘90s in terms of style, music and culture, but a lot of artists this year got their nostalgia from elsewhere.

Carly Rae Jepsen released “E•MO•TION,” an album that did everything Taylor Swift claimed “1989” would do with ‘80s music and more. Following her success with 2012 single “Call Me Maybe,” Jepsen found her comfort in catchy pop and her record explores the musical tropes of 30 years ago with contemporary songwriting and technology.

Her hit single “Run Away with Me” sets off the album with a saxophone intro more concise, but just as sexy as Wham!’s “Careless Whisper,” but warrants dancing in the street as opposed to “guilty feet that got no rhythm.” The album is filled with moments like this and the rolling of the synths that you would hear from Depeche Mode.

“Let’s Get Lost” could fit in on my mom’s preset Lite Rock station with its dreamy layered vocals and string synths hanging on pedal notes on top of the chorus. These ‘80s jams work perfectly in a current sense with Jepsen’s prosperous melodies that seemingly played every 10 minutes on the radio in 2012.

To keep the dancing going, Madeon finally released his debut album “Adventure” this past year. The 21-year-old French producer has been releasing remixes since age 11. He released his song “Icarus” at 18 in 2012 and worked in part on Lady Gaga’s “ARTPOP” in 2013.

Madeon was definitely forgotten about on everyone’s year-end list, but his album takes dance music for a ride with a full concept rather than just a collection of disparate singles. He creates a soundtrack to a futuristic utopia as can be seen through his music videos and factory manipulation of sounds. His synths will often sharply change in resonance within a phrase.

“Adventure” has plenty of vocal samples that do this while glitching to catchy rhythms like robot backup singers. Madeon seems to vamp on what Daft Punk’s album “Digital Love” did – create Eurodisco for clubs 100 years from now – but his interpretation was less repetitive to achieve the techno future feel. His mechanical beats constantly change, adding and removing parts as if the robot musicians were being turned on and off throughout the tracks.

Grimes, the Canadian singer-songwriter-producer who signed with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, released her fourth album “Art Angels,” this past November. The alternative pop record is a radio-friendly shift for the artist who usually goes for a darker ambient sound.

In Will Butler’s review of the album, he pointed out the fact that it was a reimagining of 2000s pop. But, with Grimes at the helm – as sole writer, musician, and producer – this theme can’t go without a twist.

Her hit single “SCREAM” features a Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, whose vocals are the only thing heard on the song besides screams from Grimes as part of the punky guitar-driven beat, reminiscent of Linkin Park.

The guitar is an essential instrument throughout the album from songs like “Kill V. Maim” and “Pin” that sound like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ pop hits. Everything from the Spice Girls fun-in-the-sun feel on re-stylized title song “Artangels” to the pop-punk inspired “Flesh without Blood” makes it on this album. The early 2000s was when pop was made up of so many genres and Grimes does a great job of pulling them all together on a cohesive album that’s also full of hits.

The past year in music dropped the chilly, broody sounds of 2014 in favor of something sweatier and more energized, and it will be interesting to see what the next 12 months bring.

John Stapleton can be reached at [email protected].

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