Every year delivers a fresh crop of different sounds and now that we’re exiting 2015, it’s safe to say this year has ultimately been the year of the anti-“It” girl. Female artists have long stolen the pop spotlight, but these days they’re super-charged, at the ready and changing things up with darker lyrics and a new sense of assertive confidence that’s served to revamp pop in a major way.
Two major newcomers this year, Halsey and Alessia Cara, embody the spirit of this year’s pop scene. It’s no surprise newcomer Halsey was the most-tweeted-about artist at SXSW; her alt electro-pop debut, Badlands, is full of wrenching, emotive vulnerability. The opening track “Castle” is rife with dark, ominous beats and discontented dagger-sharp lyrics. Cara speaks up for the outsiders with her shimmering lead single, “Here,” off her album Know-It-All. Casually layering a cocksure dismissal, she uses her soulful voice to curl around the words.
Former contestant from The Voice Melanie Martinez, also made her debut late this summer with her concept album Cry Baby. Martinez’ dark and twisted take on pop, accentuated with her Lolita-dollhouse energy and unforgettably winsome voice, are best illustrated in “Soap,” a seamless pop venture accented with an unexpectedly bubbly bass drop.
Polarizing lyrics paired with heavy echo and dramatic build-ups define Ellie Goulding‘s sensually synth-heavy “Love Me Like You Do”; featured on the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack, the song immediately shot up the charts. The Staves tugged at our heartstrings in a different way: the nearly achingly beautiful “Steady” from If I Was, with its delicate, folky guitar melodies and stunning, yet powerful, harmonies swept you up.
Wildly successful female pop groups Fifth Harmony and Little Mix delivered this year with “Worth It” and “Black Magic,” respectively. Fifth Harmony’s “Worth It” features catchy brass instruments paired with the quintet’s sassy, empowering vocals to create an impossibly infectious song that’s guaranteed to be a party favorite. This was followed by Little Mix’s “Black Magic,” which put us under a spell by fusing together fierce panache with soulful R&B.
Grimes returned with her highly-anticipated album Art Angels, a collection of dreamy dance-pop complete with unusual textures and her trademark dark, introspective lyricism. With her newly mastered track “Realiti” (it was released as a demo earlier this year) Grimes harnesses J/K-pop influences to create an otherworldly, incredibly danceable pop anthem.
This spring gave us Marina and the Diamonds, who tossed aside her alter ego of the bubblegum-drama pop star Electra Heart to release her third album, Froot, a huge deviation from her previous work. It’s a heavily eclectic album, but between rock ballads and sparkling disco is a true pop gem in “Blue.” A sonic treat, “Blue” is reminiscent of the Electra Heart-era as Marina effortlessly croons over effervescent, glossy beats. Longtime pop giant Rihanna released “Bitch Better Have My Money,” a trap-infused, tongue-in-cheek club banger that goes hard. The song is paired with a shockingly unforgettable NSFW music video that’s so violent it’s almost comical, giving a nod to the notorious femme fatale that is “badgalriri.”