Merry Christmas everyone! For this Top 10, I will be ushering in the New Year by taking a look back at the old one, but instead of talking about bands no one has heard of or everyone forgot about, I’m going to find out what everyone else is listening to. Bear with me as I venture into unknown territory: the musical wasteland known as hit radio!
Actually, I’m quite familiar with hit radio. Not because I actively listen to it, but because I’ve been in countless situations where it was inescapable and I was forced to listen to it against my will. In all honesty, if I had my way, I would never have to listen to anything from the Top 40, I would go my whole life without knowing who Katy Perry is, and quite frankly, I would be a happier, happier man. The past couple years in particular have been excruciatingly horrid, since 90% of hit songs are all about going to the club, and any shmuck can become famous if they’re lucky enough to have a song that becomes a hit on YouTube. (I’m looking at you Justin Bieber.) 2011, however, seems to be a year of change for pop music. While the club anthem craze isn’t completely dead, it’s showing signs that it’s finally going away, and other genres have been given a moment in the spotlight, giving the pop charts a much needed change in face. It’s because of this change that I have decided to make a list of the best hit songs of the year. Now I’m not saying you can expect to find any of these songs in my iPod, this just means they didn’t have me scrambling to change the station whenever they came on. There’s only one criteria: they have to come from Billboard’s Top 100 year end list, which can be found here. So here it is, the Top 10 Best Hit Songs of 2011 (in my opinion).
10. “Good Life” by One Republic
One Republic is one of those bands that seems like just another in a long line of Coldplay ripoffs. Despite this, I must begrudgingly admit that I do like a few of their songs; especially their breakthrough hit “Apologize”. (By the way, the original is a million times better than the Timbaland mix that everyone is familiar with.) This song is right up there, with its locomotive drum beat, its breezy instrumentation, and its positive lyrics. Now most cynics would just pass it off as Ryan Tedder bragging about all the different places around the world that he’s been to, I like to think of it as appreciating what you have and keeping a hopeful eye to the future, and we really need more songs like that in the future. And if Ryan Tedder’s happy with traveling around the world, let him.
9. “Stereo Love” by Edward Maya and Vika Jiguilana
Any Europeans reading this are probably a little baffled by this choice, but for everyone else, allow me to explain. “Stereo Love” is a dance song from Romanian artists Edward Maya and Vika Jiguliana that was released all the way back in 2009. It became a huge hit all over Europe, where it remained in the Top 100 for a staggering 47 weeks, but never caught on in America until two years later. Even then the airplay for the song has been a bit scarce, and I was actually kind of shocked it got onto the year end list at all. But I’m glad it did, because in all honesty, I kind of have a soft spot for that glassy, echoey, music playing in the room next door type sound you hear in a lot of European dance music nowadays (the beat from Rihanna’s “Only Girl in the World” being another good example). Besides, it’s got an accordion in the main hook! I know it’s kind of a shallow reason for picking it, but that’s why it’s all the way up here and not at #1.
8. “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes feat. Adam Levine
No, you’re not seeing double. Gym Class Heroes is a rap rock group that I don’t like as much as the Flobots or the Guano Apes, mostly because their songs keep flip-flopping between acceptable and obnoxious. On one hand we have very decent rap rock tunes like “Shoot Down the Stars” and “Peace Sign/Index Down”, but on the other hand are some pretty mind-numbingly stupid songs like “Cupid’s Chokehold” and “Cookie Jar”. “Stereo Hearts” lies somewhere in between since the lyrics aren’t as good and can even be a bit corny at times, but it does sound genuine and admirable in an adorably dorky way (I refuse to use that other word). I know that the success of this song is mostly because it features Adam Levine of Maroon 5, which is currently experiencing a resurgence in their career. I can see why that would be a turn-off, but in all honesty, Adam Levine’s voice doesn’t really bother me that much (more on that later). Besides, I love his line in the bridge: “I only pray you never leave me behind/because good music can be so hard to find.”
7. “All of the Lights” by Kanye West
Oh Kanye, Kanye, Kanye. You’re such a fish stick it’s almost nauseating. Yet somehow, I keep coming back to you. Say what you want about Kanye West as a person, but I still think he’s pretty talented. He’s a top notch producer, and while he’s not as good of a rapper as Mos Def or Aesop Rock, he can be pretty good when he wants to be. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is an outstanding album, but I don’t think it’s the greatest album of the past ten years like everyone and their grandmother has been raving. “All of the Lights” isn’t even the best song on it. If “Power” or “Monster” were on the year end list, I’d be talking about them instead of this song. But the production here is tight, the beat is amazing, the lyrics, while not his best by a long shot, seem to come from a personal place, and the guest verses themselves aren’t that bad. Seriously, this is one of the most star studded songs I’ve eve heard: Rihanna, Kid Cudi, Fergie, Alicia Keys, John Legend, hell, even Elton John lends his voice to this! All in all, not Kanye’s best, but still worth checking out.
6. “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People
Those three people out there reading this with the knowledge that I’m a fan of indie rock are probably surprised that this isn’t higher up. This would’ve been much higher on my list if not for the extreme overplay, but its presence of the charts is still a large breath of fresh air. It seems that over the past ten years, they’ll thrown in an indie rock song by the likes of Modest Mouse or Franz Ferdinand to satisfy the hipsters, only for them to get dropped off and never be heard from again (at least in the Top 40). This year, that spot goes to Foster the People, a band that does little to distinguish themselves from bands like MGMT or The Flaming Lips, but still holds their own somehow. While the hipster baiting indie rock is something I tend to go for, what gets me the most is what they’re singing about. I can’t quite explain it, but I’ve always had a thing for songs that are shiny and upbeat, but have lyrical content that completely contradicts the tone (which kind of explains why I like Lily Allen so much). And I think it’s hilarious that the summer anthem of 2011 is about a psychotic kid who fantasizes about going on a homicidal killing spree, yet people sing along anyway. I think this song goes up there with classics like “Semi-Charmed Life” and “Brick” as proof that people don’t listen to the lyrics. Either way, the presence of this song is a good thing, and I’ll be more than happy to hear more from them in the future. ….Oh who am I kidding, we’re never going to see them again, are we?
5. “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5 feat. Christina Aguilera
I’m probably going to lose a lot of people by making this confession, but I like Maroon 5. I understand that Adam Levine’s voice isn’t for everyone, and I get that there are other bands that deserve their fame more, but I simply enjoy their music and don’t really think they’re that offensive. Besides, “Sunday Morning” is one of the greatest pop songs of the last ten years. “Moves Like Jagger” is a strange specimen in that I love it despite all logistics saying that I should hate it. For one, it’s cashing in on the trend of name-dropping Mick Jagger that Ke$ha started two years ago, although I must commend them for not rhyming it with “swagger”. Then there’s Christina Aguilera’s verse which seems a bit tacked on and forced, especially when you consider the connection between her and Adam, and the fact that she’s in a really convoluted part of her career. Despite all this, I can’t really help but whistle along when it comes on. It’s got a good drive, the instrumentation’s good, and it’s just a fun song. And in the end, that’s just what it’s meant to be: fun.
4. “The Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga
I have a very divided opinion on Lady Gaga. Never have I seen someone so original and unoriginal at the same time. Sure, she’s got the crazy costumes and she can actually sing and whatnot, but at the same time she’s not really doing anything musically different from Katy Perry and Rihanna. And there are times where I think she’s just trying way too hard (case in point: “Judas”). But in The Edge of Glory, she walks that tightrope with great care. The beat is perfectly tuned and not as distractingly loud and clattery as other tracks on Born This Way, her voice is at her finest, and the video shows a record low in costume changes: none. (The video for Bad Romance has her wearing 13 different outfits, I am not kidding.) On top of all that, she was able to snag a sax solo from the late great Clarence Clemens before his death, forcing Katy Perry to settle with Kenny G. You probably don’t think that’s funny, but I think it’s hilarious! I still think Lady Gaga is incredibly talented and I think her presence on the pop charts is a good thing, but if she can find that perfect balance, maybe, just maybe, she’ll force me to call myself a fan one day.
3. “The Show Goes On” by Lupe Fiasco
It’s almost like this song was tailor made for me. A rapper in the Top 40 that’s actually respectable? Cool. A beat that samples Modest Mouse? Awesome! A rap song that’s NOT about bitches in the club? Holy Testicle Tuesday where has this song been? I know it sounds like I’m generalizing and I’m probably going to sound like a prude, but a lot of the misogyny and gloating that happens in a lot of hip hop just rubs me in the wrong way, especially when I know it can be used for good. Lupe Fiasco and “The Show Goes On” are most indefinitely forces of good in the hip hop world. According to him, the song was only made because his record deal demanded a single, but instead of making a half assed, sell-out club banger like everybody else, he chose to take this chance to represent his people and let the world know they are united under one flag. If hip hop followed his example more, perhaps I would listen to it more. But for now, I’m happy that this song is getting airplay.
2. “Fuck You!” by Cee Lo Green
The most shocking thing about “Fuck You” isn’t the title, it’s the fact it didn’t catch on sooner. Everybody loved “Fuck You!” when it came out, yet for one reason it never got that much airplay when it came out in 2010. It especially makes no sense considering the success Cee Lo had with Gnarls Barkley. My only guess would be that it had a swear word in the title, but I could write a whole book on how convoluted that would be. Thankfully, in 2011 it started making up for lost time and really started catching fire. My only complaint about that, however, is that it had to rely on Glee to happen. Aside from that, I couldn’t be happier that this song is as successful as it is. It’s as sunny and soulful of an old Motown hit, and all the explicit humor you’d find in an early Eminem hit. And I love how straightforward this song is. There are a lot more poetic and civil ways of telling someone off, but Cee Lo doesn’t beat around the bush. He tells that girl exactly what he wants to say, and instead of writing a passive-aggressive sonnet, he cuts to the chase and outright says it: “FUCK YOU!” So yeah, Cee Lo’s voice is amazing, the instrumentation is great, the production’s great, the lyrics are funny as hell, it’s a godsend. So what could possibly top it? If you don’t know by now, then gird your loins, cuz here it comes!
1. “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele
If “Fuck You!” was a godsend, then “Rolling in the Deep” is an absolute miracle. I was never that big of an Adele fan, but I always acknowledged her talent and she has my respect. And on a different note, I really like the fact that she’s not super skinny, especially since a lot of women in pop either look like supermodels or stick figures. POWER TO THE FAT GIRLS! …Ahem, as I was saying, my first reaction to “Rolling in the Deep” reaching number 1 was a mixture of “Hell yeah!” and “Is it April Fool’s Day?”. Because, let’s face it, NOBODY thought music like this would ever be popular again. And thank God it wasn’t a cruel prank, because you have no idea how badly the world needs this song. When this song and album came out, I was convinced it would do to the club craze what Nirvana and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” did to hair metal. Obviously that day has yet to come, but hopefully it’ll open some new doors. Maybe this will giveFlorence& the Machine a chance to get noticed. Maybe this will inspire a new blue eyed soul and jazz movement in a way that Amy Winehouse couldn’t. Or maybe it will just be a one-off thing and we’ll never hear from her again. Either way, this song has inspired an optimistic hope for the future of pop music, even though I’m not sure if it will happen. But you know what they say; the only certainties in life are death and taxes. So I’m not giving up yet. You go Adele!
Well that’s my list and I’m sticking to it. If you’re still convinced that all mainstream music is crap, then join me next week when I count down the worst songs of the year.