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The Year In Pop Music


Let's talk about pop music, where the biggest story of 2015 was this.


ADELE: (Singing) Hello, it's me.

INSKEEP: Adele's "25" may have outsold everything, but it was not the only story. Here is NPR Music's Ann Powers and Jacob Ganz.


SILENTO: (Singing) Now watch me whip. Kill it. Now watch me nae nae.

JACOB GANZ, BYLINE: Ann, I have to ask you, did you whip in 2015?

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: I whipped and nae naed last week in my living room with my family while the video for "Watch Me" by the 17-year-old Atlanta rapper Silento was playing on my daughter's computer.


SILENTO: (Singing) Oh, watch me. Watch me.

POWERS: In a lot of ways, that song captured what pop was about in 2015. It's completely interactive. It's something that you might listen to in your car, but you're just as likely to be taking that song and making your own video out of it or cutting it up to create, you know, a gif, a meme, a Vine, all of those magical things you can make on the Internet.

GANZ: That's sort of the same thing that happened with Drake this year.


DRAKE: (Singing) You used to call me on my cell phone.

GANZ: Drake made this song, "Hotline Bling" that had this video where he's basically standing in a white box doing goofy dances. But then what happened?

POWERS: Well, people used that very blank slate of the video to create many, many different versions of the video or lifted Drake out of it and made little very short Vine videos. My favorite viral video of late 2015 is one in which President Obama is quote-unquote "performing "Hotline Bling." Someone took words from all of his speeches and strung them together so that he's basically doing the rap of "Hotline Bling."


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Because ever since I left this city you started wearing less and going out more. Glasses of champagne out on the dance floor.

POWERS: It's about creating something new from that not-quite-raw but not-quite-completely-cooked material of the pop song.

GANZ: One of the places where this didn't happened as much as I maybe expected it to was in just straight-ahead radio pop.


CARLY RAE JEPSEN: (Singing) In your fantasy dream about me and all that we could do with this emotion.

GANZ: Carly Rae Jepsen, who had a massive YouTube hit a couple of years ago with "Call Me Maybe" put out, I'll say it, my favorite pop record of the year. It's full of songs that are incredibly well-written and would sound amazing on the radio. And it didn't get played. And part of this is just, I'm sure, the whim of the pop moment. But some of it also really feels like it has to do with building your audience through these social channels. Somebody that you have paid a lot of attention to put out a record at the end of this year that really has done that.


TROYE SIVAN: (Singing)What if, what if we run away? What if, what if we left today?

POWERS: Troye Sivan is a 20-year-old South African actor-musician who really lives on YouTube. He became most famous for creating these goofy home videos with friends of his who are also YouTube stars in which they do things like stuff their mouths full of crackers or try out different kinds of makeup. But "Blue Neighborhood" is just a perfect pop album.


SIVAN: (Singing) My youth is yours. Tripping on skies, sippin' waterfalls.

POWERS: It is in and of itself a beautiful listening experience. But because he was a YouTube star we all know who he is - or his fans do. And that means his music comes already ready for people to take up. There doesn't have to be a marketing push. He's done it himself. And to me, that's very much pop in 2015 and how it's going to continue into 2016.


SIVAN: (Singing) My youth, my youth is yours.

INSKEEP: That's Ann Powers and Jacob Ganz of NPR Music. You hear them on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.
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