*Pop* Goes My Heart: The Top Tracks of 2012 January 11, 2013Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music.
Without further ado, here are the 25 songs that made the previous year sunnier and happier, the 25 songs between “Gangnam Style” and “Pusong Bato” that ruled the airwaves and the Internet, the 25 songs that lightened the world a bit and made everyone crazier than before. No guilt, all pleasure!
[The Truth About Love]
Although Robyn can make “Try” a much sultrier ballad, putting emotional twirls at the end of each line and turning “try try try” and “by by by” into something softer but more cutting, only P!nk can deliver its aches like a boxer: intense and livid, but also mindful of which rib to crack.
24. “TRIUMPHANT (GET ‘EM)”
Mariah Carey feat. Rick Ross and Meek Mill
Whoever thought of planning to release a Mariah single on which she happens to come out as the featured artist must receive 50 percent of this song’s royalties, because seriously, Rick Ross and Meek Mill may own “Triumphant” but Mariah, being the diva that she still is, is unfazed. She beams with self-confidence and is bent on showing that she can give Rihanna a run for her money with just a shiny chorus and an impassive repetition of hooks.
23. “AS LONG AS YOU LOVE ME”
Justin Bieber feat. Big Sean
The Biebz’s second single from his third studio album contains some of the most awful lyrics of the year—a cringe fest, to be honest, from the icky “As long as you love me, I’ll be your platinum, I’ll be your silver, I’ll be your gold” to the gross “I’ll be your Hova, you can be my Destiny’s Child on the scene girl”— but with the brilliant lo-lo-lo-lo-love hook, the giddy clapping, those freaking dubstep frills, and the revolting thought that Justin Bieber is still loveless (just broke up with Selena yo), how can it not be a pleasurable three and a half minutes?
22. “CALL MY NAME”
[A Million Lights]
At this point Cheryl Cole seems to be in the brink of exhaustion, trying to stay in the game despite the multiplying number of pop stars being born every year, but when she delivers “Call My Name,” a Calvin Harris-produced track armed with a chorus to weep for, a manic pixie earworm that spins restlessly, the dance floor is full of go once again.
No question this is JoJo in her finest form: slow and sexy R&B does not only suit her—it changes her. On “Demonstrate” she sounds at ease shifting from one falsetto to another, the classy way she hits the notes an indication of an interesting musical direction. She keeps up with the overwhelming stagger-step beats, sweeping the song clean with a subtle finish.
20. “THE BOYS”
Language doesn’t seem to be that much of a barrier, considering the English version of “The Boys” is able to take along the rapturous rhythm of the original, crammed with a range of whips and thumps that a feisty nine-piece group can offer. Although the military beats sound derivative, they provide the song an edge of familiarity, the flow of lines from one member to another as slick as the movement of their hips.
19. “SOVEREIGN LIGHT CAFÉ”
Unmistakable is the wistfulness of this song, the sentimentality it attaches to sights and experiences, the memories that singer Tom Chaplin are reminded of when he visits them on his mind while on a busy tour, the comfort they bring, those charming spots in East Sussex, that café on the Bexhill seafront, the changing city kept beautifully intact by an English band that continues to grow.
18. “WANT U BACK”
[Sticks + Stones]
“Want U Back” is not something a casual listener takes seriously upon first listen. It shares the vexing quality of Ke$ha’s singles, only Cher Lloyd’s youth displays itself up-front, allowing her bitter rants to explode into pieces. She’s so keen on making frustrated grunts that they turn out to be the song’s main highlight, making it a giddier and crazier ride.
17. “I LOVE IT”
Icona Pop feat. Charli XCX
No song released in 2012 can match the force and ferocity of this unexpectedly wrecking club jam from Swedish pop duo/bitches Icona Pop. Filled with knives and cannon balls—“I crashed my car into the bridge, I watched, I let it burn / I threw your shit into a bag and pushed it down the stairs”—the effect of its repetitions is nothing but exhilarating, and when their fury ends there’s no other option but to go through it all over again.
16. “SHE’S SO MEAN”
The funny thing about “She’s So Mean” is that it’s a work of forty-something dudes almost in the afterlife of their careers, yet it also sounds like something that The Click Five or The Cab, possibly at their most inspired, could come up with, the cutesy lyrics never getting in the way because Rob Thomas and company know how to woo a girl just by tickling their instruments, the drums and guitars in particular.
15. “NEXT TO ME”
[Our Version of Events]
This what makes the landscape of pop music so irresistible: the emergence of talents with amazing vocal gifts and songwriting chops. Emeli Sandé is definitely on top of many of them, and fortunately in the years of Adele’s reign the soar of her voice stands out. On “Next To Me” she sounds so poised and spirited that the man she’s singing about must be so blessed to have her on his side.
14. “EVERYTHING IS EMBARRASSING”
This track is here because even though it’s not as mainstream as the others on the list, it suggests an interesting direction that pop music should take. “Everything is Embarrassing” is a piece of gem that seems to be stuck in its time, the melodrama of Ferreira’s words and delivery drowned in an ambiance of colorful and tuneful splashes, making it heavier but cooler, its presence like a brisk wind passing by.
13. “ROMAN HOLIDAY”
[Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded]
A provocateur par excellence, Nicki Minaj has successfully reached a point when she can create smash hits without stealing the limelight from someone else’s singles. Her second album is full of them, any of which could be on the list, but its irreverently outrageous opener happens to take a piece of everything, touching on the wild, baffling, crazy, and clueless. From the theatrical rap delivery to the stunning transitions between verses, it’s pretty much a display of zing and verve, putting in a famous Christmas tune and referencing a controversial pedophile in a matter of seconds. Only a brilliant artist can deliver a wrecking ball this sick.
Maroon 5 feat. Wiz Khalifa
How the hell did Adam Levine and the rest of Maroon 5 get away with something as ludicrous as this? Well, obviously, by stick-to-itiveness. Some of his sentiments are embarrassing—“Oh you turned your back on tomorrow, ‘cause you forgot yesterday / I gave you my love to borrow, but you just gave it away”—but when his face, body, and nasal singing are taken into consideration, it’s kind of pointless to resist. The guitars and piano conspire to create an arrangement that coats more sugar than needed, and the result is delicious.
11. “LOVE SEA”
“I was not looking for artsy-fartsy love,” sings Anders SG on “10,000 Nights of Thunder.” And Alphabeat’s singles, mostly cheery but also filled with longing, aren’t looking for anything artsy-fartsy either. Their lyrics are warm and relatable, carried by simple melodies that hang onto a sparkling chorus. “Love Sea” is a genial example of their ability to make platitudes sound refreshing, and at the same time it shares the glitters of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know,” the song like a bubble taking a long time to burst.
Julie Anne San Jose
[Julie Anne San Jose]
It’s a tough call. Julie Anne San Jose’s breakthrough hit “I’ll Be There” shares the sweet and novel wonders of Heart Evangelista’s “One,” Jennylyn Mercado’s “Kahit Sandali,” and Yasmien Kurdi’s “In The Name of Love,” but its lack of bridge, whose presence could have brought the song to wholly different heights, is too glaring not too notice. The follow-up single “Enough” makes up for this, leaving the mushy terrain of “I’ll Be There” and exchanging it for a bolder front, almost to the point of being too annoyingly driven, its glossy production values matched by San Jose’s confident singing. Her rap verse after the bridge is a risky move, but she pulls it off even without taking a deep breath.
9. “NATIONAL ANTHEM”
Lana del Rey
[Born to Die]
Like her other singles, “National Anthem” touches on obsession and loneliness, and here Lana del Rey is a lady with an insatiable greed for riches, clinging to her man and asking him to give her a Chevron and a standing ovation. Her self-centeredness is her strength: she loves herself so much she wants him not only to adore her but also to be patriotic to her, every time and everywhere, like a dying soldier to his country. She has earned the right to receive luxuries—at her best, she knows how to pretend emotion and make it appear regal, the foolishness of her words owing to her mania for success—but when it’s time to return the favor, she never disappoints. This song proves that.
8. “CATCH MY BREATH”
[Greatest Hits: Chapter One]
There’s a strain in Kelly Clarkson’s singing that is not supposed to work to her advantage, but surprisingly it does. Her set of pipes is her massive weapon, and on “Catch My Breath” she puts it to great use, standing out amid the EDM flourishes and becoming its focal point. She has written inspirational songs before about her journey, but this one sounds fresher than the first.
7. “GIVE YOUR HEART A BREAK”
As far as pop singles go, Demi Lovato has been easily eclipsed by her Disney contemporaries. But after the release of “Skyscraper” and “Give Your Heart A Break,” not to mention her stint in the second season of The X-Factor USA, she seems to have landed on a position that Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez have never been to, that distinct feeling of progression made evident by the kind of songs she takes on. While “Skyscraper” is a test of vocal vulnerability, “Give Your Heart A Break” challenges her with grander choruses, surrounded with a more complicated arrangement of strings, drums, and violin. There’s a fire in her voice that makes it a tad intimidating, but it’s infinitely better than anything with Auto-tune.
It’s hard to believe that The Killers could still come up roses after a terrible third album and a hiatus, but “Runaways” is nothing short of exhilarating, the effusive slushiness of it, instead of mashing the material, imposes a kind of emotion that requires a stadium full of people to feel. It’s the closest to a Hot Fuss euphoria that skeptical followers of the band have long wanted to experience again.
[Looking 4 Myself]
Comparisons have already been made, so one might as well be blunt about it: “Climax” is better than all of The Weeknd’s songs combined, and that’s because its brilliance isn’t daunting. It’s a dashing single in an elegant tux, Usher’s best in years and producer Diplo’s first marvelous stab, a four-minute bruise-cruise packed with exciting highpoints. Of course, there’s no way Usher will let go of being sexy, but he is careful with his transitions as he comfortably moves in and out of falsetto. The moment he yells “at all” and Diplo accompanies it with escalating synths and a heavenly second voice, the song rips in a fraction of a second, and then some islands begin to form.
4. “LIVE WHILE WE’RE YOUNG”
[Take Me Home]
Insanely good-looking faces and sexy voices aside, the success of One Direction owes to songs that tease about wanting to get laid. Some of them are easily achieved, thanks to their music videos and live performances, but the most successful efforts, the trio of “What Makes You Beautiful,” “One Thing,” and “Live While We’re Young,” are subtle invitations to sex, their lyrics carefully worded so that pre-pubescent girls and gays (even adults) will still be allowed to hear and enjoy them. The first single from their sophomore album is built on sexual nudges, a collection of come-ons introduced by a cleverly used Clash guitar riff and pulled together by a blissful chorus, the boys basking in the hedonism of youth and the shortness of it. At one point they say, “I know we only met but let’s pretend it’s love,” and it feels like an ordeal because pretending to love them is rather difficult.
3. “I LOVE YOU”
The sky’s the limit for 2NE1, their brilliance somewhat reminiscent of Girls Aloud’s in the first half of the 2000s, loved not only for their consistent placement in the charts but also for their innovations in the pop scene, delivering songs that expand and go outward, awe-inspiring compositions that take risks and produce breathtaking results. Like “Biology,” “I Love You” has more than three hook verses, and the four ladies travel from one to another with oomph and ease, the listener lost in the seamless intricacy of it all. By the time it reaches its loudest at 2:45, it lands on its most elegant part and emits sparks.
2. “CALL ME MAYBE”
Carly Rae Jepsen
It’s only more than a year old by now, but it seems that everything has already been said about “Call Me Maybe.” Is there any stone left unturned? Any nook as yet undiscovered? Perhaps. But any kind of fumbling only adds to its composite quality. No one can say how time will treat it, but as early as now it’s easy to tell that it will age well, people will look back and say, “That’s it!” with a silly smile, because the moment “Call Me Maybe” came and conquered, it rolled like a snowball trundling across the globe, getting bigger and bigger every time it’s played and parodied, a phenomenon of staggering proportions so enormous that months later even its bloated state is a charming sight. It’s a piece of manufactured merchandise that listeners have embraced and endorsed, but more than just a commercial item it’s a cultural product, a huge and unmistakable one, which intimidates only the snobbish. This song has reserved its place on radio for more than 50 years, but in the heart of its generation, it knows no expiry date.
Possibly the only presence that’s bigger than “Call Me Maybe” in 2012 is Taylor Swift, and for good reasons. Her fourth studio album is her best to date, filled with tracks that flirt with perfection, neck and neck with Kiss as the top pop record of the year. She did not cross over from country to pop-rock—she owned both. She pulled it off the way she parted ways with her boyfriends, sharp and self-assured, and there’s no denying that she uses these highly publicized break-ups to market herself better. She has created an indelible image that teens can easily relate to, giving the impression that she has actually learned from these experiences. She’s a clever bitch, but one that’s hard not to love.
“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” is too snarky, and it’s the kind of cheery derision that she must put to rest from time to time (it’s a fan bait, of course) considering she’s capable of doing something grander and more expansive like “State of Grace” and “Red.” The latter, which finds her playing with a bunch of crayons and similes, puts together one of her best songwriting efforts in many years. She knows that as much as she aspires to be Joni Mitchell or Carly Simon, she can never be either of them, but she has reached a point where her two idols, no offense to both, have become irrelevant to her accomplishments, creating an impact on a significant group of listeners that Joni and Carly didn’t in their heyday.
“Red” is the finest pop song of the year because it does not only make use of physical triggers—apart from its catchy hooks and lyrics, it boasts a bridge that gleams with seemingly nondescript brilliance, allowing the song to soar and alight on the ground in seconds, and a post-chorus that proves an abundance of thought, an excess that doesn’t feel like one—it also shows a deep affection for the genre that’s been easily taken for granted by listeners and critics alike, its singer completely aware of her massive influence, and instead of competing with her contemporaries, she does something that most of them are loath to do, and that is, to make a return to basics. Without a doubt, the pop throne is now hers.