20 Best Pop Albums of 2014

From Taylor Swift’s platinum victory to Kitten’s under-the radar triumph, the year in huge hooks

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Taylor Swift, '1989'
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2. Taylor Swift, '1989'

Country bequeathed Taylor Swift a devoted fanbase and grounded her will to power; but as a maturing songwriter, she was destined to reject the faux-smalltown party. On 1989, her vision fully blooms in a pop landscape unbound by demands of authenticity. The album's sound draws from an Eighties moment when heartland pop-rock meant vistas of keyboards, reverb and synthetic drums; on masterful songs like "Blank Space," "Style," "Out of the Woods" and "Clean," Swift storifies clichés to imply intimate, dramatic narratives; and producers Max Martin and Shellback ensure that every sonic space hooks you in. Infectious lead single "Shake It Off" is a rare slip, calling out haters in a goofy cheerleader chant, while the video positions Swift as a normcore naif. But otherwise, 1989 pulls off a rare trick: It portrays a glossy reinvention as finally coming home. C.A.

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