2013 was the year that pop meant something different to everyone.
You could listen to Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake and 17-year-old Lorde on the same Top 40 radio station. If you checked out your friends' Facebook timelines, you'd get an even more splintered slice of music -- perhaps finding some Ellie Goulding, Imagine Dragons, OneRepublic, Avicii and a dash of the hit-making duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.
And, of course, everyone had an opinion about it.
With this Best-Of year-end list, we attempt to offer up our own vision of what this year meant for pop. Generally, the year was an overtly "indie" one, along with several blockbuster releases from royalty that simply could not go ignored. At times, there was a delightful balance of commercial viability and swelling creative energy.
Let's break it down:
Bizarrely catchy, this is Mother Monster's finest release since 2009's The Fame Monster. She straddles the weirdly chaotic and radio friendly quite nicely. She pushes herself without being overtly off-putting, even if her "art is pop" presentation is.
Appealing edgy and strewn with space-bound choruses, a healthy dose of contagious pop is all you need. "I love it!" is an apt summation here.
There is a reason this all-sister trio has landed on nearly every year-end list. This, their debut record, tunnels its way through the staticy pop noise and propositions the landscape with feathery, astute stories. The vibe is completely "indie" (that word has surely lost meaning this year) as could be expected. That doesn't make it any less eventful, though.
10. The Last Royals, Twistification
This Brooklyn-duo combine Bob Dylan idealism with Pet Shop Boys sensibilities. It might be the epitome of an indie release, but it cunningly braids folk-pop into accessible machinations. This is only setting the stage for further success into the new year. As indie is becoming less indie and more mainstream, this album could be the template moving forward.
As the album's cover indicates, this bloated 15-song set is eerily curious, offering a enthralling piece of, well, mosquito fabric. Sure, it doesn't fit well with Top 40, but their niche composition is admirable and never, ever disappointing. Each track's near-death intensity flits past our eardrums -- a mark of genuinely gripping journey.
Indie-folk-rock-pop zipped into a compressed 10 tracks. Thumping vocal strokes wrapped neatly against rhythmically spellbinding melodies leaves us drained and gasping for breath. We could say that we would stop listening after the first dozen listens, but that would be silly.
They made the dance floor come alive for us this year in a fresh, groovy way. This somewhat '60s-disco throwback mixes roots-y pop and indie rock into a vibrant collection that challenges everything you know about dance and house techno. The album soars between mountains of convulsive beats and valleys of subdued textures, leaving the listener satisfied (and maybe exhausted) by the end. We can life with that.
6. Lorde, Pure Heroine
We all can surely identify with an often-misunderstood 17-year-old. "Royals" is just a small taste of the bold concepts and themes this Lorde targets on her major label debut. She's been compared to Nirvana in the way she takes pop culture to task with its mundane and repetitive approach to music. She takes those notions and preconceived ideas of what should be and makes it what could be. She is a game changer.
5. Beyonce, Beyonce
Hype aside, this is truly one of the year's most ambitious and sexually-provoking releases. She tackles fame, fortune, beauty and her "boring" record label. She packs a punch and doesn't apologize. Her musicianship is a thing to be applauded, even if it isn't your cup of tea. Not a traditional modern-pop set, but her affections alone will make this a blockbuster hit well into 2014.
Sun-baked and jangle-y riffs are set over a New Girl backdrop. Charmingly quirky, Zooey Deschanel embarks on her own rite to self discovery with this latest release. At times, you can't be sure if the singer-actress is being mildly serious or eagerly tongue-in-cheek. It's bizarrely intriguing, and we can't stop listening and wondering.
Surging electro-pop that combines searing melodies with captivating and, often times, jarring instrumentation. They might have been influenced greatly by Kate Bush, Depeche Mode and Passion Pit -- opening for the latter on a slew of dates in 2012, but they have molded a truly great, stand-alone record that fits perfectly between fringe and mainstream.
Predominantly covers of popular hits, this fivesome breathes so much life into their vocal arrangements that it's like listening to completely new songs. These guys have done wondrous things with pop this year and are on the verge of a massive breakthrough in the next two years. This collection also features self-penned potential hits (like "Natural Disaster") that hold up against the biggest radio smashes. If they are this incredible on covers, can you imagine and entire album of originals?
As one of the most under-appreciated singer-songwriters of today, Sara crafted a perfectly well-rounded and interesting record. Decked out with catchy pop hooks ("Little Black Dress") and fist-pumping anthemic melodies ("Brave"), it isn't any wonder that this record landed Sara some major industry love at next year's Grammy Awards. For that alone, she deservedly earns the top spot.
Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience
Night Riots, Young Lore
Do you agree with our list? What were your top albums of 2013? Sound off below!
Although Justin's 20/20 Experience was not in the Top 13 of 2013, you can show your support by getting your Justin Timberlake tickets here and seeing him live on tour in 2014!