Now that we’ve gotten that bit of unpleasantness behind us, let’s look at what was good on the radio/YouTube/Spotify/iTunes this year. Same perimeters as the worst list: this chart, this year, and numbers 10 through 6 coming to you right now! But first, there are two things I need to say. The first is that I’m sorry. I am sorry.
I am so, so sorry.
E’RYBODY GET UP!
Honorable Mention (11.): Robin Thicke (ugh) ft. T.I. and Pharrell – “Blurred Lines” (#2)
I know, I know. Just yesterday I did everything short of calling “Blurred Lines” the worst song of the year, and a borderline reprehensible four minutes of bro doucheiness, and here it is getting the honorable mention on the best-of. That’s mostly due to two artists, and only one of them’s actually in the song. Pharrell’s beat is, like I’ve mentioned just about every other time the song’s come up, an untouchable throwback groove that you could loop for days without noticing. The other artist that made me appreciate “Blurred Lines” was Vampire Weekend and the batshit awesome backup singers who joined them when they covered the song for BBC Radio Lounge. It’s a note for note cover, but VW do it without the asshole factor of the original, letting the fact that it’s an insanely fun song shine through. I know “I only like the beat” is a chickenshit apology, but give it a listen for yourself.
10. Taylor Swift – I Knew You Were Trouble. (#16)
God, first Robin Thicke, and now Taylor Swift. I can feel my credibility disappearing. Then again, “Trouble…” is part manic guitar pop and part nothing-but-the-drop dubstep, which are two of my biggest soft spots, so I didn’t even have a chance to fight back. It also does both of those things pretty well; the verses twitch and build in just the right way that the big, EDM chorus sounds satisfying and still somehow a little surprising. The song also sounds a little dorky at the same time, though, like T.Swift knows how inherently ridiculous it’s going to sound, but still performs the hell out of it. I can’t for the life of me remember where, but one blog commented that “Trouble…” is the kind of thing the girl Swift plays in her “You Belong With Me” video would totally jam out to, and I think the rest of us did, too. Still can’t explain the video, though.
9. Macklemore & Ryan Lewist ft. Ray Dalton – “Can’t Hold Us” (#5)
A$AP Rocky ft. 2 Chainz, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar – “Fuckin’ Problems” (#41)
Alright, these share the “best pop-rap for a party” slot. Let’s look at “Can’t Hold Us” by Big Macklemore Truck & Ryan Lewis first. As part of his wildly successful year, Macklemore’s been on a campaign to solidify his place as The Nicest Guy Anyone Has Ever Met, and part of that is how much he champions producer Ryan Lewis for his mainstream fame. In reality, that decision has much less to do with Macklemore’s sense of being a Good Guy, and a lot more to do with the fact that without Lewis, he’d still be bussing it halfway across Seattle with a backpack. The ‘More does an ok job, but it’s Ryan’s ability to cram the epicness of an entire film score’s worth of galloping drums, stabbing piano, Western-style trumpets, and club synths into four minutes that really sells “Can’t Hold Us”.
Finally, a cool song! “Fuckin’ Problems”, is just a blast to listen to; this is what a pop-rap single should sound like. 2 Chainz supplies the simplest, dumbest, and most fun hook he’ll ever come up with, and A$AP, Drake, and Kendrick don’t miss a beat between the three of them during their verses. No one’s trying to sound like they’re anything they’re not; who else but Drake is going to suggest laying under the stars and listening to the Beatles? The beat’s catchy as all get out, but still textured, and “Fuckin’ Problems” is the rare time that a group take actually feels and sound balanced. No problems there.
8. Fall Out Boy – “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light’em Up)” (#40)
Aaaaaand right after gaining credit for half of that last one, I had to bring Fall Out Boy into this. I didn’t go to a staggering number of sporting events this year, but every single one of them played “My Songs Know What You D–yeah, no–“Light’em Up” at least twice. And they should have, because “Light’em Up” is shitty pop-punk, but excellent arena rock. It has that big, stomping “We Will Rock You” style beat, guitars to punch the air to, and Patrick Stump sounds like he’s out for…whatever the hell this song’s actually about–I never know what the hell Pete Wentz’s lyrics are about. In any case, he doesn’t sound like someone to be fucked with, and that little “I’m on FIIIYAH” riff on the chorus is the perfect singalong. Save Rock and Roll tanked as an album, but at least we got “Light’em Up” out of it. Better than nothing, I guess.
7. Of Monsters and Men – “Little Talks” (#65)
This one is stretching the rules a little: “Little Talks” was released as a single in December of 2011, got a video in February of 2012, and finally became a slowburner this year. I don’t know if alternative radio exists as a widespread format anymore, but, if it does, “Little Talks” does a great job catering to it. Folk-influenced indie rock blew wide open this last year, but Of Monsters and Men are more fully formed than, say, The Lumineers, and the “hey!”s in “Little Talks” sound anthem-sized without losing any of their rabble-rousing jaunt. Add in the boy-girl vocal trade-offs, some massive rise and fall dynamics, a bit of drama, and you’ve got a winner. “Little Talks” still sounds a bit like early Arcade Fire to me, but I finally really like it on its own.
6. Lorde – “Royals” (#15)
It’s a testament to “Royals” that the message behind the song and performer can be annoying as all get out, but I still really enjoy it. For how much people play up Lorde’s identity as a “real” artist as her trump card, I think her best strength is in her subtlety. The best parts of “Royals” are its most minor features, like the massive harmonies in its second chorus, or the bassline anchoring the song from the background. Hopefully, it’s something that she gets perfects over time, since of the new pop crowd, I think Lorde has the most potential moving forward. Aside from that, it’s hard to say much on “Royals” these days; it’s been number one on the charts since October, and it had a long gestation both on and off the charts since before that. Still good, though. Now, release “Glory and Gore” as a single!