2015 was another great year for pop music but I found that a lot of the songs this year had a very similar sound and stuck to a very similar formula. As a result, I found myself changing songs very often when listening to the radio in my car or just listening to radio stations that played music that still sounds great today regardless of when it was created. Nevertheless, in terms of pop music, I really enjoyed the following songs for a variety reasons but mainly for the great melodies, arrangements and production. I hope you like these songs the way I do.

Love Me Like You Do – Ellie Goulding
Writers: Max Martin, Savan Kotecha, Ilya Salmanzadeh, Ali Payami & Tove Nilsson

Elli Goulding gives a beautiful vocal performance in this song but I really love the melody and arrangement in this song. Co-written and produced by pop songwriter genius Max Martin, the song starts with a simple synth pad that gradually builds into a powerful and lush piece of pop music with a fantastic arrangement full of synth sounds and large anthemic drums. The 2nd chorus of the song and the build-up in the bridge leading to the ending chorus are brilliant in terms of dynamics and arrangement.

Shut Up and Dance – Walk The Moon
Writers: Ben Berger, Eli Maiman, Ryan McMahon, Nicholas Petricca, Kevin Ray & Sean Waugaman

When I 1st heard this song I was sitting in my car enduring a frustrating traffic jam. By the time this song had finished, I only moved a few metres but I was feeling really good. The song has a great 1980’s vibe and the opening guitar progression sounds like something that The Edge from U2 would have written. The pre-chorus has a tight rhythmic feel that leads into a killer chorus that is so memorable and energetic. I also love the instrumental featuring the 1980’s sounding synthesizer. This song has a great blend of rock guitar and synthesizers and of course the clever lyrics only enhance the song.

Good For You – Selena Gomez
Writers: Julia Michaels, Justin Tranter, Nick Monson, Nolan Lambroza, Rakim A. Mayers, Hector Delgado & Selena Gomez

I did not hear any of the lyrics the 1st time I heard this song. My focus was purely on the keyboard/synth arrangement. I was transfixed by the interaction of the synthesizer sound, the kick drum, finger snaps and the vocal performance. The arrangement in this song is so simple and yet it is hauntingly beautiful and captivating. Only after listening to the song at least 10 times did I then start to listen to the lyrics. This is a great song.

Nobody Love – Tori Kelly
Writers: Tori Kelly, Max Martin, Savan Kotecha, & Rickard Göransson

Tori Kelly has an amazing voice and easily proves it in this song. The verses contain a Motown soul arrangement (listen to the horns arrangement) and then switches to a modern sound in the chorus with a synth bass and finger snap. What makes the chorus really interesting and fresh is that the chorus is more subdued compared to the verses. The opposite is usually the case in pop music. Furthermore, Tori Kelly’s vocal crescendo is outstanding and beautifully leads in to the final chorus with its full sounding arrangement. This is a positive and joyous song.

Where Are U Now – Skrillex and Diplo featuring Justin Bieber
Writers: Justin Bieber, Sonny Moore, Thomas Wesley Pentz, Karl Rubin Brutus, Jordan Ware, & Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd

The lyrics in this song are brilliant and sung in a conversational way that you instantly understand what the song is about on the 1st listen. To my ears this song is a hybrid of a pop ballad and a dance song and it works. Like many people I was captivated by the sound in the main instrumental hook. Was it a traditional African instrument? Was it a new synthesizer sound? No…its Justin Bieber’s voice after it was processed using studio technology. I also love the sound and pattern of the percussive instruments in this song. This is a great song with amazing production.

Love Yourself – Justin Bieber
Writers: Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran & Benjamin Levin

This song has a simple guitar progression, great lyrics, fantastic vocal performance and a chorus that grabs you on the 1st listen. On top of that the song has a trumpet solo. Now when was the last time you heard a trumpet solo on a pop radio station? All the key ingredients needed to have a hit song are here…even with the simple arrangement. I never get tired of listening to this song and I predict this song will be a highlight in all future Justin Bieber concerts.

Jealous – Labrinth
Writers: Timothy McKenzie, Josh Kear & Natalie Hemby

This is one of the most moving songs I have ever heard. The song begins with a simple arrangement with vocals and piano that gradually builds with the addition of an organ and then strings in the bridge. While the arrangement is beautiful and simple the main elements that make this song so special are the wonderful, emotional lyrics and the vocal performance. Even though this song was released late in 2014, this song was played a lot on radio in 2015. A truly beautiful song that people will continually appreciate and fall in love with.

Downtown – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Writers: Ben Haggerty & Ryan Lewis

The 1st time I heard this song I was watching The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and Macklemore & Lewis performed the song. Immediately I was blown away by the highly energetic performance and fell in love with this song immediately. The song has a fantastic arrangement that is dynamic and constantly moving forward which perfectly suits the narrative of the song. I love the use of percussion in this song and the various horn parts. Is it just me but can you also hear the saxophone part mimic the melody of the chorus in the Bee Gee’s song ‘Stayin Alive’? I also love the sound of the various vocalists in this song. It’s a bit like an opera in that each vocalists has a specific part to play in this song. I’ve listened to this song so many times and every time I do, I hear something new. The production on this song is fantastic. Downtown is simply a brilliant song that I will never get tired of listening to.

So there you have it. My favourite pop songs for 2015. As always, I’m looking forward to hearing more great music in 2016.

By STEVE YANKO
© STEVE YANKO 2015

About the Author


Steve Yanko is a Music Teacher, Musician, Song Writer & Consultant who loves working in the world of music.