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, Frostbite
Released: 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 Trying
Released: 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 Gift
Released: 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 You
Released: 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 Secret
Released: 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