Music is personal. It’s something that I’m never more aware of than I am at the end of every year, when best-of lists dominate the coverage at cultural publications. A wide-ranging voting body can help to suss out what many professional music lovers agree is worth a listen, but the idea of “best” is one that I’ve never quite been comfortable with. It seems too objective to take into account personal taste, not to mention the reality that there’s too much music out there for even the most ambitious listener to have heard everything, or even close to everything. At times, these lists can favor ubiquitous music, or buck against it in an aspirational effort to highlight acts people should be listening to. So let’s not use the word “best.”
Here are 124 songs released in 2014 that I would recommend to any music lover, and that together, paint a picture of what music was and where it went this year. The goal is to highlight not only the year’s biggest hits both commercially and critically (besides “Fancy,” which we know you heard on repeat all summer), but also songs that commented on what happened in our world this year, and songs you may not have heard but that you’ll hopefully love as much as we do. Click through for selective blurbs on our favorites, plus a Spotify playlist of the list.