In 2014, Pop Followed Beyonce's Lead : The Record Beyonce's 2013 self-titled album explicitly connected feminism to sexual confidence; it cast a long shadow over the female-led pop singles that dominated Top 40 this year.

In 2014, Pop Followed Beyonce's Lead

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's time to talk about the year in pop music, and NPR music's pop critic Ann Powers joins us from WUAL in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. And she says if you're talking about 2014 in pop, you have to start with one person, and that's Beyonce.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLAWLESS")

BEYONCE: (Singing) Momma taught me good home training. My daddy taught me how to love my haters. My sister told me I should speak my mind. And my man made me feel so god-damn fine. You wake up flawless. Post up - flawless. Riding round in it - flawless. Flossing on that - flawless.

CORNISH: And Beyonce, of course, is flawless, but this album also came out in 2013, so explain yourself. How is this the artist of 2014?

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Well, Audie, on a practical level, Beyonce set herself up for a great year by releasing this album in late December. She and her husband-partner-collaborator Jay-Z toured of all during the summer, and they also had an HBO special from the On the Run tour. And with her music everywhere, like that song "Flawless," which she released in a remix version with rapper Nicki Minaj - I mean, her message of sexual forthrightness, power and sisterhood really rang through the year, and other women had to answer to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "7/11")

BEYONCE: (Singing) Spinning while hand's up - spinning. Spinning while my hand's up - spinning. Spinning while my hand's up, then I'm tipping all my hands up.

CORNISH: And she set a really high bar, but there were a lot of women who dominated the charts this year, right?

POWERS: Yes, Audie. And it was a mix of women we've been seeing in the top 40 for a while, like Katy Perry, and a whole new generation who had huge hits - Meghan Trainor with "All About That Bass." Iggy Azalea had three or four hits this summer working with other artists like Charli XCX and Ariana Grande. We're seeing that shift generationally, but also, the veterans are sticking around.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FANCY")

CORNISH: Well, I want to talk about one artist, in particular - Iggy Azalea - because she represents something you've written about in terms of young women on the charts. You describe them as having a mercenary focus and intensity. We're going to listen to a little bit of that in the song "Fancy."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FANCY")

IGGY AZALEA: (Singing) I just can't worry about no haters. Got to stand my ground. Now, tell me - who that? Who that that do that, do that? Put that paper over all. I though you knew that, knew that. I be the I-G-G-Y. Put my name in bold. I been working. I'm up in here with some change to throw.

CHARLI XCX: (Singing) I'm so fancy. You already know.

CORNISH: And not just a pop song in your eyes, right? What's going on here?

POWERS: Iggy Azalea - controversial figure - definitely one of the figures of the year. She embodies both the promise and the problems of this new generation of women artists. She's been criticized. She's a white Australian woman who wraps in a black Southern style, so she's been accused of appropriation. At the same time, she's projecting this very strong, hard-working, determined persona. That song is a great example - "Fancy." You know, the verses are about how she worked. She learned her craft. And she now has power, money, influence - all because, you know, she can stand up with the boys, but she's also going to stand up with the girls. I mean, she worked with the songwriter Charli XCX on that song, so it's about teamwork. It's about doing it together and then being at the top, maybe by yourself.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BANG BANG")

JESSIE J: (Singing) Bang, bang - there's goes your heart.

ARIANA GRANDE: (Singing) There goes your heart. You know it.

J: (Singing) Bang, bang - seat of my car.

GRANDE: (Singing) Seat of my car.

POWERS: We're seeing women publicly display their friendship, their determination to work together to maintain power. You know, to use a current cliche, these women are leaning in, and they're doing it together. So in country, you had Miranda Lambert collaborating with Meghan Trainor at the CMA Awards this year. In pop, you have singles like "Bang Bang," which featured Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj all working together.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BANG BANG")

NICKI MINAJ: (Singing) B to the A to the N to the G to the - oh. B to the A to the N to the G to the - hey.

POWERS: It's a girl gang thing happening. It's not about sisterhood, exactly. It's more about consolidation, I think.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BANG BANG")

J: (Singing) Bang, bang - in the room.

CORNISH: So finally, Ann, we've heard about the artists of 2014. Give us a tip off - who's leading us into 2015.

POWERS: Audie, I think it's going to be a year very similar to this one, in terms of woman in mainstream pop, because Taylor Swift - one of the hugest - maybe the hugest star in pop right now - released a very influential, commercially successful, artistically accomplished album last month called "1989." And Nicki Minaj, the rapper, singer, comedian, body extraordinaire, has her album "The Pink Print." And that record is going to show us all different sides of this very talented woman - her comic side, her vulnerable side and her inimitable rapping skills.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THINGS GO")

MINAJ: (Singing) Yo, I had to reinvent. I put the V in vent. I put the heat in vent. Man, I been competing since. I look beyond what people saying, and I see intent.

CORNISH: Ann Powers, thanks so much for talking with us.

POWERS: Thanks for having me, Audie.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THINGS GO")

MINAJ: (Singing) Cherish these nights. Cherish these people.

CORNISH: Ann Powers is NPR's pop music critic. You can see more of her work at The Record, the blog at NPR Music. That's npr.org/music. And if you want to talk with us, hit us up on social media. Try us on Twitter at NPRATC.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL THINGS GO")

MINAJ: (Singing) Just yesterday, I swear in was '06. Ten years...

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