The thing about "best of" lists is that there's only so much you can do before your eyes start crossing and your opinions start blurring into one confusing mass of doubt. Did you see/hear/critique enough to know what was best? Do you remember it well enough? And what does "best" mean, anyway?
As far as 2015's music goes, we decided to go in a slightly different direction. Rather than sussing out what was best, or best adjacent, or deserving even if we didn't want to admit it, we decided to go with our instincts.
So in the spirit of having fun — and making arguments against this list much more difficult to mount — here are our favorite pop songs of the year.
"Trap Queen" by Fetty Wap
Fetty Wap's "Trap Queen" is one of America's greatest love songs. The soaring synth bash is equal parts sonic champagne, savvy personal finance advice, street opera, and cocaine fever dream. But the true success of "Trap Queen" is that it's so good at creating a yearning and sickness for an experience we'll never have and perhaps never understand. Fetty is willing to give up everything for a woman, and everything to this woman, and we don't care how he does it. "Trap Queen" lionizes an ideal of American survival in a way that no other song this year has. —Alex
"Run Away With Me" by Carly Rae Jepsen
Carly Rae Jepsen's Emotion was the best pop album of the year. The 30-year-old Canadian woodland creature put together one of the best pop albums of the past 10 years, each song more aggressively pleasant and singable than the last. The best of these is "Run Away With Me." By the seventh second, the second flexing sax solo, you know you're in for something grand. It's like a tornado siren of pure pleasure.
Jepsen cashes in on that crescendo, taking you to the suburbs to sing about driving all night, a golden weekend.
"Run Away" is desert thirsty. It's all about infatuation and wanting to be with someone so much that you're willing to buy new clothes, trade in your old Isuzu, wipe down your bathroom sink, and get your life together so that someone will hang out with you. We might not have all had embarrassing Japanese midsize SUVs or a terrible maxi dress, but we've all felt that way about someone. And "Run Away" is a song that perfectly captures that. —Alex
"Blank Space" by Taylor Swift
Alex: This wasn't my vote. If there were one Taylor Swift song that deserves to be on this list, it's "Style." I much prefer my Swift to be completely unaware and not in on the joke. There's something devious and almost self-serving in the music she makes — this idea that she's vulnerable and that someone is daring enough to cheat on her with another girl is the zenith of it. I know this isn't the case. I know she isn't vulnerable. I know Calvin Harris clutches a rosary every night, praying that Taylor won't dump him for Zayn Malik. He probably has a vision board of their wedding stashed in the closet. But I love the fairy tale she's spinning.
Caroline: I know this song came out in 2014, but I still associate it so much with this year. And unlike you, Alex, I think I like this song exactly because it's Swift trying to get in on self-referential mockery — and it never quite fits. When the song takes its turn from the fairy-tale romance to a wild-eyed horror movie, she plays the part of a vicious bitch like she's a kid clomping around in her mom's heels. Before 2015 reached critical Swift saturation levels, "Blank Space" was my favorite song to scream to, even though it's completely nonthreatening. Where "Bad Blood" takes itself too seriously, mistaking leather pants for attitude, "Blank Space" has just the right amount of camp and grinning mania. It might not shock anyone, but it still sparks.
"Bitch Better Have My Money" by Rihanna
"Bitch Better Have My Money" struts into the room from its very first discordant notes, which clang up against each other like the inside of a broken music box. And then Rihanna's voice cuts in, a sharp smirk slicing through the diagonal beat to remind you just who's in charge.
(It's Rihanna. It's always been Rihanna.)
Rihanna's built a career on her seemingly untouchable cool and ability to take down lesser beings with just a glance, but no song has ever embodied her magnetic draw quite like "BBHMM." The song moves at its own pace, sliding and halting whenever it damn well feels like it. It's stark but lush, slick but sudden. Most of it rests on just a single note. "BBBHMM" is so good that even though it makes waiting for Rihanna's long-promised eighth album excruciating, it's such a spectacular promise for the tracks to come that it justifies the wait. —Caroline
"Sorry" by Justin Bieber
No matter how much you dislike Justin Bieber, you cannot resist the TropEmo jam that is "Sorry." I'm not sure whom he wronged — just kidding, it's Selena Gomez — but please, whoever it is, do not accept this man's apology. Because Justin Bieber needs to make another song like this.
Bieber's smoky, affected accent; Skrillex, Yektro, and Blood Diamonds' tropical thumps; the dancehall tinkles — it makes me want to be in a caftan at a white-sand beach with a bird. This song is perfect even if Justin Bieber is not. —Alex
"Love Me Like You Do" by Ellie Goulding
The best thing about the dumpster fire that is 50 Shades Of Grey is that it brought a sterling soundtrack into the world. Featuring a wicked remix of Beyoncé's "Haunted" and the Weeknd's "Earned It," this collection of tracks was wonderful. But it was the cupcake-scented halfling known as Ellie Goulding who stole the show.
Goulding's "Love Me Like You Do" is like getting a hug from a miniature golden retriever who smells like chocolate chip cookies. It's a sly love song that eventually soars into an anthem, then morphs into a picky, declarative command to be touched in a certain way. "Love Me Like You Do" is basic personified. It should be listened to while wearing yoga pants and sipping a venti pumpkin spice latte. And it is wonderful. —Alex
"Hotline Bling" by Drake
Drake did his best to make a mark with his surprise album, If You're Reading This It's Too Late, but as "Hotline Bling" later proved, all he needed was one incredibly smooth jam. And whoa is "Hotline Bling" just the smoothest.
This song isn't going to revolutionize hip-hop, nor is it trying to. It's just a slick beat with Drake's most buttery vocals, crooning his grumpy goodbye letter to whomever used to call him on his cellphone: "Ever since I left the city you / started wearing less and goin' out more / glasses of champagne out on the dance floor / Hangin' with some girls I've never seen before..."
Let's be real: As far as transitioning to a new year goes, there's hardly a more inspirational life than the one Drake's ex-girl is living. —Caroline
"Want You to Want Me," Jason Derulo
There's a gulf between a pop music video and the actual song more often than not, but one of this year's starkest contenders was Jason Derulo's "Want You to Want Me." The video is all neon lights and sex, tortured glances and glistening abs. But the song itself is just straight-up delirious fun. "Want You to Want Me" might not stand the test of time, but it's catchy as hell, and the most fun to blast in your car during a traffic jam — two very important characteristics of a great pop song. –Caroline
"WTF (Where They From)" by Missy Elliott ft. Pharrell Williams
After setting the Super Bowl stage ablaze during Katy Perry's halftime set, Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott bided her time and came roaring back in November with her electric new single "WTF (Where They From)." And in true Misdemeanor form, the video is equally good, with lines of cocky backup dancers, Elliott's glittering disco hoods and harlequin makeup, and a marionette Pharrell Williams bobbing along. The beat is brash, sexy, a little grimy, and a lot joyful. In other words, "WTF" is pure, unadulterated Missy Elliott. —Caroline
"Jealous (remix)" by Nick Jonas ft. Tinashe
Caroline: Nick Jonas had a great 2015. He was the best part of Scream Queens (a low bar to clear, but still), and his solo music was one of the year's best surprises. "Jealous" shows off his falsetto with a thumping chorus and a ridiculously catchy hook. When combined with the powers of Tinashe's voice on the remix, "Jealous" was one of the best pop offerings this year, period.
Alex: When going over this list, we had our choices set when Caroline messaged me. She was typing frantically in a staccato-like manner. Here is a reenactment:
Caroline: "Oh shit, did 'Jealous' come out this year?"
Alex: "Yeah, I think so."
Caroline: "Oh, fuck 'The Hills' then. Bye."
Alex. "Yeah. And Adele too."
(To be clear: Even as this list vacillated between "best" and "favorite," Adele was never on either.)