The 14 Best Pop EPs Released In 2014
Album sales have dropped precipitously in the last few years, but the format isn’t dead yet, at least when our biggest stars like Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Justin Timberlake are concerned. But what about a stretch when most of those stars don’t release an album? In a year when Billboard replaced the album with “album equivalent units,” the biggest storyline in pop music was the absence of albums from the likes of Rihanna, Adele, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne. Think back to the buzziest pop moments of the year, and most of them were entirely separate from the album cycle: the “7/11” video, the Shmoney Dance. Hell, Drake dominated his genre by releasing a few loosies and features.
With this changing role of the LP, the EP has seen a boost in relevance. Once the realm of half-formed ideas, album session scraps, and stopgap material for diehards, the EP is more important than ever as a statement of artistic purpose. For acts fighting to reach that top tier, the EP can help refine an aesthetic or identity, while labels can invest in a viral star and test the waters with an EP instead of rushing to production on a full-length flop for a Kreayshawn scenario.
So big-picture, it may have been a down year for pop, but at the increasingly vibrant EP level, some stellar things happened. Here’s our list of our 14 favorite EPs from 2014.
14. Kitty, FrostbiteReleased: November 18 Kitty found herself at a career crossroads in 2014, at one point even tweeting about quitting music. Thankfully, she stuck with it, but basically ditched hip-hop for a cloud-pop hybrid in the process. On Frostbite — the second of two EPs she released this year — she improbably sings hushed hooks over dance tracks influenced by Deadmau5 and trance. It would be a jarring evolution if not for her continued reliance on the type of gorgeous little burbling soundscapes that make internet denizens fawn.
Kitty said Frostbite is her first release that she actually likes listening to, so while we’re hopeful that she won’t completely leave hip-hop behind, we can’t complain when she’s found her groove and delivered her most inspired work to date. — CARL WILLIOTT
13. Sabrina Carpenter, Can’t Blame A Girl For TryingReleased: April 8 Hollywood Records has an incredible track record of cultivating pop stars (Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez for starters), but Sabrina Carpenter could be the label’s first country queen. The 15-year-old launched her music career in earnest in 2014 with Meghan Trainor-penned single “Can’t Blame A Girl For Trying,” and immediately impressed with her sunny charm and cute twang.
The other tracks on the Girl Meets World starlet’s debut EP, also titled Can’t Blame A Girl For Trying, are equally cheerful. “The Middle Of Starting Over” is a perky throwback to early ’00s Shania Twain (i.e. a very good thing), while mid-tempo anthems “White Flag” and “Best Thing I Got” show depth and versatility. — MIKE WASS
12. Pia Mia, The GiftReleased: February 25 Guam-born pop princess Pia Mia shot to viral superstardom after performing an a capella cover of Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home” while seated at the dinner table with the Kardashians, Kanye West and Drizzy himself. (What’s weird about that? Completely normal and casual!)
And, after signing to Interscope, the up-and-coming teen diva is already promising great things: February’s The Gift EP supplies a consistently solid serving of melodic R&B, balladry and urban-pop tinged gems, including the swagger-ific “On My Mind” and the finger snap-coated “Complicated,” teaming with trap hi-hats and ominous tripping beats. And, lucky for us, her reimagining of the Drake smash is on there, too. A gift, indeed! — BRADLEY STERN
11. LIZ, Just Like YouReleased: February 27 The ’90s music revival was inescapable this year, from the UK house inspiration behind Kiesza’s tunes to FKA Twigs‘ chilling interpretation. But while many artists were tapping into the nostalgia of either bubbly synths or murky rhythms, there were a few who sought to bring back the decade’s pop-infused R&B. One such artist is LIZ, a California native whose Just Like You EP snuck under most people’s radar.
Released under Diplo’s Mad Decent imprint Jeffree’s, its sticky-sweet flair is a breath of fresh air (think if 2000-era Jessica Simpson was the fourth member of TLC). Songs like “Y2K” have a metallic syncopated beat that hails back to the brink of the new millennium, while “Do I Like U” will have you busting out your platform shoes and plastic choker. Don’t worry, we won’t judge. — BIANCA GRACIE
10. Austin Mahone, The SecretReleased: May 27 At eight tracks long, this short but sweet set plays like a collection of long ago shelved *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys cuts produced by Max Martin and the Cheiron crew…except that The Secret was released this spring, and RedOne was at the helm. Do not miss “Can’t Fight This Love,” in particular, which surely would have blown Carson Daly‘s wig off had it been released back during the TRL era.
Highly questionable Pitbull feature on lone single “Mmm Yeah” aside, The Secret is full of A-plus pop moments like “Till I Find You,” “Next To You” and “The One I’ve Waited For,” all of which find Mahone sounding like a one-man boy band. — ROBBIE DAW
9. Niykee Heaton, Bad IntentionsReleased: September 23 The old adage about not judging a book by its cover is particularly relevant when it comes to Niykee Heaton. So what if the gorgeous 19-year-old spends her days posting semi-nudes on Instagram? (You would too if you looked like her!) That doesn’t make the budding diva’s debut EP any less impressive. It just makes her completely awesome.
Bad Intentions confidently showcases the versatility and scope of Niykee’s songwriting. She jumps from the gut-wrenchingly confessional “Sober” — a track she penned about her dad’s struggle with alcoholism — to upbeat club-bangers like “Villa” with ease. “Rolling Stone,” the best track on the EP, is a country/folk-tinged anthem that finds the rising star in a particularly contemplative mood. If Lana Del Rey ever records a bluegrass album it might sound a little something like this. All Niykee needs to make the leap from social media celebrity to break-out pop star is a radio hit. — MIKE WASS
8. Movement, Movement EPReleased: May 2 The energetic jolt of pop music is always exciting, but sometimes you just need a break to mellow out. That is where Movement’s self-titled debut EP comes into play. The Sydney trio combines velvety vocals courtesy of Lewis Wade with shadowy rhythms that create a sensual vibe. Their EP blurs the line between dance and R&B, and plays with warm and cold elements with its production. The EP fits alongside artists like The xx and The Weekend, which comes as no surprise as the latter’s right-hand man Illangelo helped with mixing it.
“Like Lust” is an atmospheric downtempo that manages to saunter its way to your core, while the echoey lead single “Us” swims through the murkiest of waters. Movement even got an approval nod from fellow alt-R&B artist BANKS, who invited the group to be her opening act on her recently-wrapped Goddess Tour. If their debut EP is any indication, Movement is no doubt one to watch for 2015. — BIANCA GRACIE
7. GRL, GRL EPReleased: July 29 GRL suffered a tragic and devastating loss this year. That being said, it’s still worth noting the incredible promise of this up-and-coming girl group. After nearly a year-and-a-half of preparation, the hard-working troupe dropped their self-titled EP this summer, including their storming hit, “Ugly Heart.” With top pop production by Dr. Luke, Cirkut and Max Martin, the girls supply anthem after anthem on the underrated collection, including the rowdy, rock-laced “Don’t Talk About Love” and their unbelievably catchy ’90s-tinged throwback, “Rewind.” While the state of the group remains entirely uncertain at this time, their music should still be remembered as one of the year’s better pop offerings. — BRADLEY STERN
6. Little Boots, Business PleasureReleased: December 2 Little Boots’ music has always exuded the silvery sheen you’d expect from an electro-pop DJ, but on Business Pleasure, Victoria Hesketh chiseled down the club-friendly hooks and choruses into a crystalline shard, with sneering lyrics piercing through it all like an ice pick.
There’s no filler on this four-track release; whether it’s the tumbling single “Taste It,” the sleek house of “Heroine” or the Soviet synth strobe of the title track, Little Boots glides along like some elegantly disinterested Debbie Harry descendant, and it (pant)suits her well. — CARL WILLIOTT
5. Grace Mitchell, Design
Released: October 14 Grace Mitchell is the epitome of a “One To Watch” candidate: Armed with a poetic writing style and gorgeous, moody production value, the 16-year-old songstress is already bursting with potential, and could very well be the American answer to Lorde.
Her debut EP, Design, is a rich and introspective collection full of complicated feelings and sweeping pop melodies with a left-leaning indie-rock sensibility. The fact that the young songwriter is coming out of the gate with such emotional depth on tracks like “Broken Over You” or “Your Design” proves that she’s got plenty to offer, still — and we’re incredibly excited to see what she does next. — BRADLEY STERN
4. SZA, ZReleased: April 8 Along with BANKS, FKA Twigs and Jhene Aiko, SZA came along with 2014’s wave of alt-R&B ladies. But she proved she was not just a trending topic with her third EP, Z, which comprised 10 tracks of airy vocals and trance-like production strong enough to stand against some of the the year’s mainstream full-lengths.
Z spans across various decades of sound yet has a thread of hazy passion that makes it all SZA. “Julia” is a danceable groove that subtly pays homage to ’80s-era Madonna, “Babylon” is a wobbly head-bobber spiked with a feature from Kendrick Lamar and “Sweet November” has a jazzy blues flair thanks to a sampled deep cut from Marvin Gaye. The New Jersey native is currently signed to Top Dawg Entertainment (also home to K. Dot), so let’s hope that word of a debut album will drop next year. — BIANCA GRACIE
3. Duke Dumont, EP1Released: September 16 “Need U (100%)” helped usher in the current UK house music frenzy, and the single got an added cred boost when it nabbed a Grammy nomination last year. British producer Duke Dumont wasted no time following that floor-filler up with further singles “I Got U,” which just scored the producer his second Grammy nomination, and “Won’t Look Back.”
Throw a remix of the former in and stir with hypnotic house treat “The Giver” and you have this compact four-track collection, aimed mainly at a US audience not yet accustomed to Dumont’s standing as an overseas hit-maker. — ROBBIE DAW
2. Ferras, Ferras EPReleased: June 17 How’s this for a fairy tale? A small-town boy lands a record deal with Capitol and meets a kindred spirit while recording his debut album. There’s an unexpected twist when our hero gets dropped (despite said LP being awesome) but his BFF, who turns out to be the savior of pop, ultimately saves the day. That’s kind of what happened when Katy Perry signed Ferras to Metamorphosis Music earlier this year.
The comeback kid’s career might have taken a little detour, but his self-titled EP proves that the pop world is a much better place with Ferras in it. He sums up every stupid mistake you’ve ever made on the revelatory “King Of Sabotage” and brings sexy back on “Speak In Tongues.” The highlight is his epic duet with Katy, “Legends Never Die,” which would have been the best single of 2014, if they had bothered to release it. — MIKE WASS
1. Röyksopp & Robyn, Do It AgainReleased: May 23 The press materials announcing Do It Again described the Robyn-Röyksopp project not as an EP, but as a mini-album, and with two of the five tracks nearing the 10-minute mark, this release unequivocally has the scope of a long player. The trio crafted immaculate Scandi-pop, as expected, on the title track, but that gem is surrounded by curveballs and contemplative ballads, with the overall project focusing on atmosphere and ambition much like a concept album that forgoes easy singles.
But whether it’s the placid “Monument” and its adult contempo sax, the rabid throb of “Sayit,” or the instrumental intermission of “Inside The Idle Hour Club,” the girl and the robots nailed a sense of lush Nordic sprawl that’s anything but “mini.” Do It Again is a double-album’s worth of concepts packed into 3/4 of an album, yet it never sounds unfocused or crammed together. — CARL WILLIOTT