Similarly, pop music in 2013 was composed of a multitude of songs that were rewarded for their brazen originality with millions of spins. From French robots busting disco moves to a New Zealand teen spitting bars against opulence, the most successful artists in 2013 were many things, but never generic.
This year found the biggest artists in pop music staying on top through risk-taking and innovation, with Miley Cyrus most assuredly leading the charge. Lest we forget after months of twerking and tongue-wagging that "We Can't Stop" -- a snapping, big-butt-praising club track with a wonky tempo and a Mike WiLL Made-It beat -- was a daring choice of a lead single, and a marked departure from the clean pop of Cyrus' "Party in the U.S.A." days.
"We Can't Stop" was a hit, clocking in at No. 17 on Billboard's year-end Hot 100 chart and erasing the memories of Cyrus' lackluster "Can't Be Tamed" era. Similarly, Justin Timberlake returned from a seven-year album break not with more electronically charged bangers from his "FutureSex/LoveSounds" days, but instead with slick love songs delivered with blue-eyed sincerity; the approach paid off, as "Mirrors" became a Top 40 staple and finished at No. 6 on the year-end Hot 100.
Meanwhile, Rihanna's biggest hit of 2013 wasn't a breathless dance song like "We Found Love," but a somber ballad that showcased her vocal power: "Stay," featuring Mikky Ekko, was an incisive change-up, and a Top 5 hit with legs. And while Taylor Swift turned ever-so-slightly to the dubstep world for the enduring "Red" single "I Knew You Were Trouble," EDM maestro Avicii nodded to the country world with "Wake Me Up!," his Aloe Blacc-assisted single that proved to be the biggest of his career thus far. In 2013, superstars changed lanes without losing an ounce of their mojo.
|Billboard Went For Pop in'13 (Click for Cover Stories)|
As for the breakout artists of 2013, how exactly does one predict that a wacky thrift-shopping ode with the phrase "Damn, that's a cold-ass honky" included would become the No. 1 Hot 100 song of the year? Love it or hate it, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' "Thrift Shop" was undeniably singular, but the duo was hardly the only outlandish new act scoring No. 1 singles on the Hot 100 chart this year. The sparseness at the heart of Lorde's debut single, "Royals," made the song sound unlike anything else on radio -- one of the reasons why the anti-luxury anthem dominated so many formats, from Alternative to Top 40. Baauer unwittingly rode the viral phenomenon of "Harlem Shake" to a multi-week stay atop the Hot 100, despite the kinetic dance song's utter lack of anything resembling a hummable hook. Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive" possessed a refrain, but the chorus was coiled tightly around stuttering techno, soulful backing vocals and twinkling piano… making the song the biggest rock hit of the year.
Of course, there were some trends snaking around the oddball jams. 2013 was a huge year for sumptuous R&B, from Robin Thicke's inescapable summer single "Blurred Lines" to Timberlake's "Suit & Tie" to Daft Punk's pristine comeback single "Get Lucky." Also, songs like Zedd's "Clarity," Swedish House Mafia's "Don't You Worry Child" and Calvin Harris' "Sweet Nothing" demonstrated that the EDM explosion of the past half-decade is still causing serious ripples. If one were to squint, more dots can be connected between wrecking balls and holy grails, between diamonds and mirrors, between most of the biggest songs of 2013. But then again, how exactly does one try to lasso Anna Kendrick's "Cups (Pitch Perfect's When I'm Gone)" into a tidy category? Once a 76-second song in a throwaway scene in "Pitch Perfect," a film that did not top the box office upon its September 2012 release, Kendrick's elongated version of the song climbed into the Top 10 of the Hot 100 in its 28th week, and (rather amazingly) ranks at No. 21 on the year-end Hot 100 chart. If the rise of "Cups" demonstrates anything, it's that this enjoyably bizarre year in pop music was defined by the undefinable.