One thing's for sure: 2015 delivered a musical bounty. In the pop sphere, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez and Nick Jonas cemented their transitions from Disney tween idol to self possessed grown-up star. We fell in love with newcomers like Alessia Cara, and Tori Kelly's years-long YouTube buzz culminated in a Grammy nomination. And of course, as our list below reflects, Justin Bieber returned to pop with a string of undeniably catchy hits.
PopCrush readers already chose their song of the year, 5 Seconds of Summer's "She's Kinda Hot," in our Fan Choice Awards. Choosing our favorite songs was no easy task for our editors, given the wealth of strong contenders — our hearts and playlists are big enough to extol the virtues of one hundred more — but we've taken stock of our "most played" stats and attempted to explain why we love them so.
And now, in no particular order — because we sincerely feel that ranking artists from different genres is arbitrary as hell — we give you our 12 picks for Best Song of 2015.
A mega-infectious, mammoth pop song, “Sorry” further cemented Justin Bieber’s Top 40 staying power, ensuring his newfound musical maturity — exhibited beautifully on the previous "What Do You Mean?” — wasn’t just a fluke. The track’s tropical house beat combined with Bieber’s breezy vocals makes for one seriously welcome (and long overdue) apology. — Ali Szubiak
Carly Rae Jepsen, "Run Away With Me"
In a more perfect world, Carly Rae Jepsen's "Run Away With Me" would have been the undisputed Song of Summer 2015. It's undeniably the best us-against-the-world nostalgic pop anthem since Katy Perry's own 2010 summer anthem, "Teenage Dream." (That chorus alone certainly feels as huge — if not even bigger.) The song is a perfect representation of the breathless, '80s-tinged euphoria of Emotion, Carly's equally underrated 2015 record. Justice for Carly, please. — Bradley Stern
Marina and the Diamonds, “Blue”
A breakup anthem dressed up as a bubbly dance jam, you’ll be bopping along before you realize Marina Diamandis is singing about heartbreak, ambivalence and returning to sources of comfort when you know you shouldn’t: “Gimme love, gimme dreams, gimme a good self esteem / Gimme good and pure, what you waiting for?”
Co-produced with David Kosten, the second FROOT single is a disco-lite jam is one of the most “mainstream pop star” songs Marina has ever turned out, without sacrificing her typical wit. – Samantha Vincenty
Tinashe x Bleachers, "I Wanna Get Better"
Bleachers (Jack Antonoff) did something brilliant in 2015, opting to enlist some of his favorite female voices in music to provide their own interpretations of his 2014 album, Strange Desire. Of the many "Best Of"-worthysongs included, Tinashe's take on "I Wanna Get Better" is perhaps the most unexpected, pairing the rising superstar's melodic chops against the urgent melodies of the original. The result is one of those rare moments when the art of collaboration truly pays off. — Bradley Stern
Jack Ü feat. Justin Bieber, Where Are Ü Now
Jack Ü's entirely unexpected "Where Are Ü Now," fronted by a pre-Purpose Justin Bieber, was a highlight of our 2015 "Best Of...So Far" wrap-up. And as it turns out, the song remains just as much a standout as the year comes to a close.
Sure, Biebs went on to polish off the tropical house-pop sound of the collaboration in truly excellent bangers "What Do You Mean?" and "Sorry" by the end of 2015, but it was his stuttering, spacey oddball dance collaboration with Diplo and Skrillex that remains arguably the coolest thing he's ever done. — Bradley Stern
Rife with fuzzy guitar riffs, a leading bass groove and apathetic vocal affectations, “Trying” is nuanced in its grit: Lead singer Alicia Bognanno toes the line between nonchalance and frustration with seasoned ease. She hums, “I’m trying I am” before exploding into the second half of the chorus, “Trying to hide from my mind I am / Trying all the time.” It’s a frank exploration of coming to terms with all the world has to offer — both its good and its plenty of bad. — Ali Szubiak
Tringle, single, jingle, jangle: Call it what you will, but JoJo’s three-piece August release—a preview of her forthcoming album—discharged with the shellfire of a 17th century warship, and “Save My Soul” signaled the cannons.
The song builds on leery piano chords until a single strike at the snare provokes a firestorm. The result is a contained mushroom cloud—powerful enough to inspire caution, but beautiful for its preserved shape. Not a single key or chord feels superfluous, and though pop has mutated since JoJo’s last album release in 2006, she’s on an apparent mission to make showy vocals timeless. - Matt Donnelly
“This Time (Serious Symptoms, Simple Solutions),” Jarryd James
It was “Do You Remember,” a gloomy, pert postcard to an ex, that landed Jarryd James on the map after years of entrapment off the grid. But “This Time,” his eponymous EP’s revisit to grief, makes his hurt completely transparent: no frills, no thrills, no riposte-for-show.
“Hold me back, tell me something / Tell me something that will bring me closer to you” he pleads to the cadence of a drained, unflappable EKG. Med students who sit in on angioplasties don’t have clearer views of the heart; drifters don’t look as lost. - Matt Donnelly
A genial, one-eyed New Jersey rapper delivered one of the year’s biggest hits with “Trap Queen,” a 2014 SoundCloud track about a fruitful male-female business relationship that’s broad enough for people to embrace as a love song. He went on to score three more Top 40 hits (his lack of a Best New Artist nomination was a Grammy snub), and “Again” reflects the reasons for his mass appeal.
“I want you to be mine again, baby / I know my lifestyle is driving you crazy / I cannot see myself without you,” Fetty sings in his trademark wail-warble, and the ever-present plaintive quality in his voice evokes a visceral response in many listeners (this one included). He’s more of a singer than a rapper, but the 2015 XXL Freshman arguably delivers one of his best verses to date here too. –Samantha Vincenty
Carly Rae Jepsen, "Your Type"
“Your Type” is a shimmering electro-pop song, all ‘80s synths and warm, pulsating percussion. Jepsen’s knack for writing about unrequited love in all its sad-sack desperation is at its finest here, as she pleads, “But I still love you / I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I love you.” Heartbreak sucks, but Jepsen makes it sound good. — Ali Szubiak
Major Lazer feat. Ellie Goulding and Tarrus Riley, “Powerful”
Major Lazer’s “Lean On” was the clear hit from their Peace Is the Mission album: Spotify announced it was their most-streamed song of all time. “Powerful” peaked at a perfectly respectable No. 83 on the Billboard Hot 100, but should have soared next to “Lean On” on the charts.
Ellie Goulding’s voice is romance incarnate as usual, and Jamaican singer Tarrus Riley’s rasp is the perfect counterbalance to her honeyed vocals. Ellie gets playful toward the track’s end, injecting a slight patois (“burns like fi-yah, e-lect-ricity”), because any good love affair needs some spontaneity. “Powerful” is peak ESDM — Electronic Slow Dance Music. – Samantha Vincenty
Fifth Harmony, "Worth It"
Fifth Harmony's had one of the most passionate fan groups around since their formation on The X Factor Season 2, and rest of the world finally caught on to the singers' charms with the rise of their third Reflection single. The group's first 3x platinum hit features a Middle Eastern riff and frisky sax loop that makes it a cousin to Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty" (producer and saxophonist Ori Kaplan has a credit on both). But "Worth It"'s through-the-roof sass levels are pure Dinah-Jane, Lauren, Normani, Camila and Ally. – Samantha Vincenty
“Can’t Deny My Love,” Brandon Flowers
In an alternate universe, Run Lola Run sets its titular character’s cross-city sprint to the lead single off of Brandon Flowers’ The Desired Effect. Urgent, desperate and armed with synth typically sanctioned by Pet Shop Boys, the lead single off of The Killers vocalist’s sophomore solo album does away with Mr. Brightside and ushers in a jittery, sleepless nightcrawler.
A truly undeniable love? Sounds unlikely, but nothing that’s travelling at a freight train’s speed is easily stopped. - Matt Donnelly