As for the five-headed colossus that’s loomed over this landscape for years, this was the year it became four-headed, as One Direction parted with Zayn Malik. He quit because “I want to be a normal 22-year-old,” then spent the rest of the year bragging about all the cool stuff he’s gonna do someday, once he gets around to, you know, actually doing any of it. (That’s all I did when I was 22, so mission accomplished, Z.) In the George Michael script, Zayn has reached “burning leather jacket” phase, though without the solo hits to show for it. Meanwhile 1D did yet another great tour and made yet another great album, before taking a well-deserved (though hopefully temporary) hiatus. Made in the A.M. bid goodbye while extending their deeply eccentric claim on the pop tradition. (Love that “Lucy in the Sky” drum hook in “End of the Day.”) MITAM may or may not be the final 1D album, but if this is as far as they get, what a run.
When I interviewed 5 Seconds of Summer last year, they praised Duran Duran as role models — drummer Ashton Irwin said, “I love how Duran Duran had the female fan base in the beginning and it grew until males started to like them, too. That’s what we aspire to. It’d be cool even if we had a five percent male fanbase.” So 5SOS took action — they jacked DD’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” for their own “Hey Everybody!,” which hopefully they ran past their legal team. (Hey, the Durannies had a huge year too.) These guys crack me up on every conceivable level, an Australian foursome playing Blink-182-style brat-punk, using the same logo as Hüsker Dü, fulfilling the promise of “She Looks So Perfect” (the finest pop hit of 2014) with their second album, Sounds Good Feels Good. 5SOS have zero to do with stereotypes of what the boy-band sound is, yet everything to do with the boy-band audience. And Ashton is undoubtedly the only dude who has worn a Sonic Youth “Confusion Is Sex” T-shirt onstage while opening for One Direction.
Carly Rae Jepsen, a full-fledged adult who hit the big time in 2012 with “Call Me Maybe,” pioneered artisanal teen-pop with Emotion, wooing aesthetes who treasure mall-disco as a musical form regardless of whether anyone’s actually buying it IRL (which sadly they weren’t). Demi Lovato came back strong with “Cool for the Summer,” about making out with women, while Hailee Steinfeld did “Love Myself,” about making out with herself. Fifth Harmony’s “Reflection” took autoerotic feminism even further: “Boy I ain’t talking about you/I’m talking to my own reflection.” Ariana Grande had a relatively quiet year, apart from a hysterical Scream Queens cameo and wearing her hair down for once and pop’s all-time most controversial donut-licking scandal … OK, maybe not that quiet.