(click the song titles to see the Songfacts entries)
10) "Blank Space" - Taylor Swift
Taylor Swift has a way of absorbing criticism and turning it into a kind of musical death ray, kind of like the Starkiller Base of the First Order. "Blank Space" finds her playing up the persona of the crazy ex-girlfriend, using overwrought media stories of her Jezebel behavior to drive the story. The song took a lot of folks by surprise, since Swift is a confessional songwriter who doesn't take on characters very often.
The lyric was comprised of bits she accumulated over the years, including one gem that lived in her notebook for a while: "Darling I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream."
It quickly went to #1, replacing her previous single, "Shake It Off."
9) "Uma Thurman" - Fall Out Boy
This retro romp from a resurgent Fall Out Boy is built on a chorus that recalls the famous scene in Pulp Fiction where Uma Thurman dances with John Travolta after ordering a five-dollar shake and discussing her failed pilot, Fox Force Five. It also borrows from Kill Bill, and incorporates the theme song to the '60s TV show The Munsters. Just your typical, paint-by-numbers pop song, right?
The Munsters sample came first: When they started working with it, feedback was that it sounded like a Quentin Tarantino movie, which led to the Uma Thurman idea.
8) "Photograph" - Ed Sheeran
When your girl is gone, sometimes all you're left with is a photograph. It's a heartbreak archetype bordering on cliché - Ringo Starr, Def Leppard and Nickelback all recorded hits called "Photograph." Sheeran's song is a little different though, as he's the one in the photo, and he wants his girl to use it as a totem of their love. Sounds like pure cheese, but Sheeran pulls it off with a poet's touch:
You can keep me inside the pocket of your ripped jeans
Holding me closer 'til our eyes meet
You won't ever be alone, wait for me to come home
He wrote the song with Snow Patrol guitarist Johnny McDaid while building a Lego set.
7) "Riptide" - Vance Joy
This is one of two songs on the list that mentions Michelle Pfeiffer (the other is at #5), a childhood crush of Vance Joy from when she suited up as Catwoman. A "rip tide" is a strong current that can drag you into the ocean, but it was also the name of a motel Joy visited when he was younger. He cites divine intervention for the song, as it just came to him one day, earning him a record deal and launching his career.
We were surprised that this was the first Hot 100 hit called "Riptide." Somehow The Ventures, The Surfaris and all those other surf-rock groups from the '60s never charted with the title.
6) "Thinking Out Loud" - Ed Sheeran
With a guitar solo and a running length of 4:41, "Thinking Out Loud" bucked the trend of compact, EDM-influenced songs. The musical inspiration was Van Morrison, and Sheeran's girlfriend at the time, Athina Andrelos, was the muse for the lyric.
The video got lots of attention thanks to Sheeran's ballroom dancing, which is kind of a reverse Dirty Dancing, with Sheeran in the Baby role, gamely following the lead of an experienced pro (his Swayze is Brittany Cherry, who appeared on Season 10 of So You Think You Can Dance).
In the US, the song spent eight weeks at #2, held off the top spot by...
5) "Uptown Funk" - Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars
This party jam has plenty of storylines. Structurally, it's off the chain - rhyming "minute" with "liquor in it" is one of the many discrepancies that make the tune so intoxicating. There is clearly a method to this funky madness, which is why the entry is so popular (that and it was the biggest hit of the year).
One key detail: the line, "Girls hit your hallelujah." This brings the ladies on board and also adds a church vibe, something that can make a song very intriguing (see the #1 entry).
4) "Lay Me Down" by Sam Smith
This entry was more about the artist than the song. "Lay Me Down" was the breakout hit for Sam Smith, he of the yearning, etherial voice that drips with emotion. Like many of the songs on the In the Lonely Hour album, "Lay Me Down" deals with a love interest that didn't pan out - turns out the guy was straight. In an inspiration emblematic of the social media age, Smith wrote the lyric after deleting him from his WhatsApp account.
3) "Girl Crush" by Little Big Town
This one got plenty of attention thanks to its title. The "girl crush" in this case is a matter of jealousy over the girl who got the guy (probably not what you thought on first glance).
It was co-written by Lori McKenna, our favorite songwriting mother of five. She came up with the title, which was a hard sell: her co-writer Liz Rose dismissed the idea before the third writer, Hillary Lindsey, brought her around.
The band loved it at first listen. "The first time we heard it, we were like, 'Wow, we've got to cut that,'" Jimi Westbrook of LBT said.
2) Elastic Heart by Sia
Sia is a reluctant hitmaker. In 2015, she admitted that many of the pop hits she writes for the likes of Rihanna ("Diamonds"), Kelly Clarkson ("Invincible") and Rita Ora ("Radioactive") are her version of task work. If she has a real emotional connection to song, chances are she'll record it herself. Other times, she records a song because she can't find a taker.
"Elastic Heart" she pitched to Katy Perry, who passed on it. With a track by Diplo, Sia knew it had plenty of commercial appeal, so she added the vocal herself and got The Weeknd on board to pitch in falsetto. It made The Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack and got a video starring Shia LeBeouf and Sia's child dancer of choice, Maddie Ziegler.
1) Take Me to Church by Hozier
The most popular Songfacts entry this year was perhaps the most mysterious hit of 2015. Originally released in 2013, "Take Me to Church" was a slow burner, finally charting at #2 in America in April 2015. It intrigued us with lyrics like:
I'll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life
What's going on here? Hozier says it's about being in love. You see, when he falls in love, he falls right through the floor. Love = Death in this scenario, but it's a beautiful death - the kind that washes away all but beauty and grace. A rebirth, in a way.
This isn't the first holy song to become wildly popular on Songfacts: the secular hymn "Hallelujah" has been one of our most popular entries for years. There's something about these intensely spiritual songs that makes us yearn to learn more about them.
Top Songfacts of 2014
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