The 19 “97” Songs of 2014!

Vincent Anthony
19 Min Read

Looking back, it’s been quite the year for popular music. Since the early 2000’s, the industry has been ever-changing, drastically, in response to the effects of technology on the consumption of music. However, artists are pushing through to produce hit singles and quality songs through various means. Whether it be promoting their project through a number of sexy, shirtless and pant-less photos (ehem, #19), by the sheer excitement of being an awesome newcomer, surprise releases, challenging industry norms, doing things on their own terms, or shamelessly milking the industry machine for all it’s got… the artists behind these 19 songs below did just that.

At EST. 1997, we chose the 19 “97” songs of 2014, which simply means the 19 best songs of 2014. If you’re familiar with the way we review songs/albums, then you know that “97” is our top score. We love every song on this list, ranked them according to how much, and weighed in with a few thoughts about each. Please feel free to comment with your thoughts, as well! We’d love to hear from you and engage in any discussion.

The 19 “97” Songs of 2014

19. “Jealous” by Nick Jonas

Following older mid-Jonas bro Joe’s 2011 shot at Pop R&B solo superstardom, chances weren’t looking too good for remaining Jonas bros.  However, 2014 saw Nick Jonas take his stab at a more mature sound, image, and persona with quite different results.  With a large Pop fan base, Urban Pop appeal, and relatable lyrics, Nick found his first major solo hit with “Jealous.”  With a rocky public Jonas Brothers disbandment in 2013 behind them, lets just hope newfound solo heights Nick’s music and acting has seen doesn’t leave fellow JoBros Joe and Kevin slightly jealous too! –Keenan


18. “2 On” by Tinashe, featuring ScHoolboy Q

Back in the early 2000s when the Lil Jon’s Crunk genre was blowing up for the male acts like Usher, Petey Pablo, and Trick Daddy along came a young female R&B act, Ciara, to take the sound to the next level with her debut single “Goodies.”  In 2014 it was Tinashe’s turn, becoming the first female to achieve a big hit along with current go-to Hip-Hop producer DJ Mustard. The Westcoast influenced Hip-Hop beat paired with airy light hearted vocals was exactly what Tinashe needed to “turn up with the big boys.” Following in Tinashe’s footsteps don’t be surprised if more female artists begin to utilize Mustard’s beats (à la Fergie “L.A. Love (la la)”) in 2015. –Keenan


17. “Chandelier” by Sia

Few choruses hit as hard in 2014 as the titanic one on Sia’s “Chandelier.” The song was written about Sia’s battle with alcoholism and somehow captures both the woozy release and the lonely downfall of the disease. Sia delivers an unhinged vocal, matched by swelling strings, that becomes a battle cry. –Jason


16. “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars

Funk is back with style! But, the great thing about it is that it is back with the true influences and the real throwback nods to the real masters of the early 80s who made the genre great. Mark Ronson did a masterful job to re-create the funk vibe and he made a great choice with the perfect Bruno Mars feature. The song is an explosion of energy, catchiness and just makes you want to get up and dance! –Mario


15. “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith

Following the massive success other soulful English acts like Amy Winehouse and Adele achieved stateside, it’s no surprise a male counterpart would soon follow.  After being featured on two big Dance hits, Disclosure’s “Latch” and Naughty Boy’s “La La La,” Sam Smith released his solemn, Soulful tune “Stay With Me.”  With relatable lyrical content, vocal skill on display, and a timeless musical arrangement there’s no surprise that “Stay” topped multiple U.S. charts and Smith’s solo reign continued well into 2014. –Keenan


14. “Something in the Water” by Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood’s fifth studio album was delayed due to her pregnancy, but she still treated her fans to two new songs on her first greatest hits collection. Religious tale “Something in the Water” managed to both recall her debut single “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and heighten its impact with a personal narrative and vocal gravitas. –Jason


13. “Roller Coaster” by Toni Braxton and Babyface

The combination of smooth production and lush vocals from Babyface and Toni Braxton are completely front and center on Love, Marriage & Divorce‘s opener, “Roller Coaster.” As the first track on the record, its subject matter is that of relationship turmoil, something many people can relate to. “Roller Coaster” captures exactly the atmosphere of the 90s, a time when Toni and Babyface defined the sound of R&B music with their collaborations. –Mario


12. “Apparently” by J. Cole

Cole arrived in December with the last minute, all-at-once drop of his album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive (which also appears on our Top Albums list) but by no means was his material “least.” Though it had no singles in the conventional sense, “Apparently” was sent to radio and had a video that dropped on album release day. Cole explained the reasoning behind this being that he didn’t want the song to go unnoticed, and video/radio treatment no doubt would bring it more attention. Rightfully so, the track, as I mentioned in my review of the album, is one of the album’s standouts, and one of Cole’s best. It likely won’t go on to become a huge hit single by any means, but that is not where his ambition lies. J. Cole makes quality music, and that is why this isn’t the last of his tracks on our list. –Vincent


11. “Partition” by Beyoncé

Beyoncé fully owned her sexuality with her visual album, and “Partition” is the pinnacle of her sexual awakening. On the sparse but sensual track, Beyoncé takes her lyrics to an explicitly sexual height. However, as I noted in my write up about the song, there is more to “Partition” than meets the ear. While it caused quite the stir and garnered Beyoncé plenty attention for being so provocative, the public failed to look beyond the sexual front of the track. “Partition” is actually more vulnerable than it appears. Regardless, it was one of the year’s most noteworthy moments… visually, lyrically, musically and culturally. –Vincent


10. “You Don’t Know What to Do” by Mariah Carey, featuring Wale

In the years of the Disco throwback, Mariah couldn’t resist delivering a jam herself. Though, for her, it’s not exactly something new nor is it trend chasing. Mariah was bringing hints of Disco back as early as 1991 on the Emotions album (check out “To Be Around You”). Aided by Jermaine Dupri on production, Wale with a guest verse and the Love Unlimited orchestra on instrumentation, Mariah is going in on a lover who can’t make up his mind. Her voice is full and crisp over the sample of “I’m Caught Up in a One Night Love Affair.” “You Don’t Know What to Do” was such a missed opportunity at a global and defining hit from this album, but at least we know Mariah is still capable of delivering these big upbeat numbers that helped define her in the 90s.  –Mario


09. “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift. I have a hate-love relationship with her. I really don’t want to like her, but I can’t help but enjoy some of her songs. “Blank Space” is one of those.  From Red, I enjoyed “Trouble,” but “Blank Space” is on a whole different plane. With “Blank Space” (like on the horrid “Shake It Off”) she addresses the public’s perception of her with this tongue-in-cheek song about her own love life. Ironically, the most crucial line to understanding the song, though, is often misunderstood for her saying something about “Starbucks lovers” which miraculously translates into “got a long list of ex lovers.” The song is infectious and anthemic pop-perfection that you can’t help but sing-a-long with. It is truly one of the year’s best songs, and will no doubt go down as a classic pop record from this decade – on par with, say, “…Baby One More Time” (not-so-ironically helmed by the same producer, Max Martin). The list of pop royalty had a “blank space,” and in 2014, T. Swift wrote her name in permanent ink. –Vincent


08. “Say Yes” by Michelle Williams, featuring Kelly Rowland and Beyoncé

Since early 2013, the ladies of Destiny’s Child have reunited on a number of occasions. First with a new song called “Nuclear,” tucked away on a compilation album of their Love Songs, then during Beyoncé’s iconic Super Bowl performance. A few months later, they appeared again for a collaboration on Kelly’s album, and finally in the background vocals and music video for Beyoncé’s “Superpower.” As exciting as all that was, none of their musical reunions packed quite as much punch as when Michelle Williams unexpectedly dropped “Say Yes” in June of 2014, featuring vocals from Kelly Rowland and Beyoncé. The Nigerian praise song, featuring a hard, calypso-inspired beat, was the kind of Destiny’s Child reunion one would expect: fierce, empowering, and ready for the club! Sure, it might be a gospel song, but that didn’t stop anyone from getting their good and holy twerk on to it. Having racked up close to 13 million views since its release, its video found the ladies reunited as well, and helped the song to become Michelle’s biggest solo hit to date. While it’s definitely a collaboration, Michelle still owns the track and holds onto it as her own. Together, though, Michelle, Beyoncé and Kelly delivered flawless vocal performances and those harmonies we all miss. “Say Yes” definitely gave fans a reason to praise, and made for one of the most exciting moments of 2014. Looking forward, it has also left fans wanting more, anticipating what 2015 may have in store for the ladies of Destiny’s Child. –Vincent


07. “i” by Kendrick Lamar

2014’s anthem for self-love, “i” is a true confidence booster. Kendrick chose this upbeat single to anticipate his new album. Built over a groovy sample of The Isley Brothers’ “Who’s That Lady,” the track recalls Outkast and even a bit of Lauryn Hill. Kendrick is letting everybody know that he’s paying no mind to the negativity and he’s willing to stay positive and spread that vibe because he believes in himself and what he can do. It’s refreshing to hear such a positive and relatable message in Hip-Hop again. –Mario


06. “Part II (On the Run)” by Jay-Z and Beyoncé

As a sequel to “03 Bonnie & Clyde” this is an even better song. The production with the Electronic elements is more mysterious and atmospheric and fits the lyrical theme of danger and rebellion better. Beyoncé’s subdued and almost dark vocals add a lot to the vibe of the song as well. “Part II (On the Run)” was easily the best song on Magna Carta… Holy Grail and proved that Bey and Jay together are still the hottest couple in music. Their work together continues to reach new heights.  –Mario


05. “West Coast” by Lana Del Rey

Lana introduced “West Coast” with a repeating clip of her spiraling on a west coast beach, taken from its full length video (which offers little more of note beyond the spiraling) and that just about embodies my relationship with the song. “West Coast” is a vibe-y, mood song with lush production and vocals. I’m still not really sure of what she’s going on about, but it doesn’t really matter. The song just feels good… better than most other songs to be released this year. –Vincent


04. “The Worst” by Jhené Aiko

This is the song that put Jhené on the map after years on the come up. “The Worst” is a song about a dangerous relationship with the kind of person you want to keep far but, at the same time, cannot help but staying with. The cold quality of Jhené’s soft vocals over the synths of the production give it a great effect and Jhené’s choice to interpolate lyrics from Jay Z’s “Excuse Me Miss” is also clever in the context of the song. One of the best R&B tracks of the year for sure. –Mario


03. “***Flawless” by Beyoncé, featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Nicki Minaj

I wonder if Beyoncé knew when she decided to put it on her album that “***Flawless” would cause such a stir. Regardless of whether or not she expected it, she certainly owned all of the buzz it brought. Why did “***Flawless” incite such passionate reactions? Because Beyoncé asserted herself as a “feminist,” or at least seemed to by including clips from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in this female empowerment track. However, any questions of whether Beyoncé considered herself a “feminist” or not were answered by her performance at the 2014 MTV VMA’s where she stood proudly in front of a screen reading “FEMINIST” as she performed “***Flawless.” Dropping the remix with Nicki Minaj didn’t hurt, either. Like “Partition,” “***Flawless,” too is deeper than it seemed, but more on that here. Though it was released at the tail end of 2013, “***Flawless” took off fully in 2014 thanks to being serviced to radio in conjunction with its remix shortly after the infamous “elevator incident.” For that, and the innumerable “I woke up like this” selfies and t-shirts, “***Flawless” takes the cake as one of the year’s most culturally influential tracks. –Vincent


02. “Dedicated” by Mariah Carey, featuring Nas

Mariah Carey has always been fond of nostalgia, both lyrically and musically. “Dedicated” off her 2014 album Me. I Am Mariah may be her nostalgic pinnacle, though. Lyrically the song is a “fuck letter” to hip-hop that cleverly incorporates references to 80s and 90s urban music by artists like Eric B and Slick Rick, while musically incorporating Wu-Tang Clan (with its “Carey like Mariah” sample). That it manages to be both longing and upbeat, vintage and fresh is a minor miracle. –Jason


01. “Be Free” by J. Cole

No song is quite better suited to be named the best of 2014 than J. Cole’s “Be Free.” While never commercially released, “Be Free” transcends the more common goals of the “single.” It was released in August as a reaction to the murder of Michael Brown, and unfortunately continued to be an anthem for the remainder of the year in light of other events in America. Cole appeared on David Letterman in “promotion” of his album, but instead opted to perform only “Be Free” (which isn’t on his album) and added a third verse. The original track and live performances are extremely emotional, and even a bit hard to listen to, but Cole’s honesty and willingness to share his emotions with the world deserve the utmost respect. His emotions are not his alone, but shared by millions of other people worldwide who are also horrified at the state of the world. “Be Free” is the best song of 2014 because it embodied the collective thoughts of any living, breathing human being with a conscience in 2014. For some time, music has been void of a voice like Cole’s, and if this is the role he’d like to fulfill, well, then, a role well chosen indeed. And I can’t quite think of anyone better. –Vincent

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Vincent is the founder of the magazine and has had a strong passion for popular music since, well, 1997! If it's not obvious, his favorite artists include Destiny's Child, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Michael Jackson, P!nk, and many more. Vincent lives in New York, where he is a high school English teacher, and currently he is pursuing a Master's in Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.