Welcome to the closing day of Listmas 2016. It has, as always, been a lot of fun to do this for everyone, and I appreciate you reading and keeping up with our end of the year coverage. Today’s going to be a briefish take on this year’s pop chart, followed by the annual superlatives.
Getting to the Chart of Things
Working on the worst and best hits lists means spending a lot of time with Billboard’s Hot 100 for year, and you end up noticing a few things with that kind of repeated exposure. This year’s chart largely struck me as being…fine? Like, at least for me, a top ten with “One Dance,” “Panda,” and “Stressed Out” all in it doesn’t inspire much either way, and I felt pretty similarly going up and down the chart overall. Most of it ranged from pleasantly okay to kinda dull. As a result, the worst hits tended to be the incompetent ones, while the best hits list skewed a little singular in massive sound that married texture and emotional heft. They were still my honest picks, but I was aware of the trappings on both sides as I was writing.
The most lasting impression I got from the year-end Hot one hundo is that it already feels like I’ve known these songs forever. It’s felt this way a little more with each passing year, but 2016 marked the first year where “stagnant” felt like the default descriptor of the weekly top ten. Songs are not only holding number one for longer, but the whole top five has become routinely entrenched by the same songs in the same positions for weeks at a time with only a minute week to week change. This is reflected in the year-end chart by something like, well, “Love Yourself,” which was number one for 2 weeks, but held in the top ten so long that it beat “One Dance” and “Work” cumulatively. It works in the opposite direction, too; “Closer” came in at number 10 for the year, despite being the longest running number one. Part of “Closer” underperforming on the year-end could be due to its run not being complete yet, but it still placed lower than “All About That Bass” did in 2014 despite their similar peak times.
The long hit dovetails into another 2016 pop trend: the disappearance of the pop middle class. I worked this idea into an album review last month, but this is a good place to discuss how it applies to pop specifically. Effectively, you’ve got a situation where 5ish zeitgeisty pop superstars are calling the shots, and everything else feels either inconsequential or consciously in the stars’ shadows. This year, you saw so many different spins on Bieber and/or Diplo’s tropical house, Rihanna-esque dancehall, and Drake, and with so many of these guys and their imitators charting (and again, for so long), the non-pop stuff got stiff-armed. The genre fair got pushed to the edges: the usual country subset was limited to Florida Georgia Line and a schmaltzy Tim McGraw number, while rock’s only showing was Imagine Dragons knock-off X Ambassadors (the ascendant Twenty One Pilots aren’t rock, even though they’re on Fueled By Ramen–don’t @ me). And there’s no reason not to think this monopop trend will continue.
What caused all this? Well, the nicheification of popular culture at large, the breakdown of genre radio stations…oh yeah, and streaming. Definitely streaming. Billboard started counting streams toward the Hot 100 in 2012, and with the proliferation of streaming platforms this year, it’s gotten easier to keep a replayable song higher in rotation for longer. It creates a feedback loop where popular songs stay popular, and unless something breaks through on the power of sheer will (“Stressed Out”) then, well, at least “One Dance” sounds nice? I don’t know, we’re all learning as we go in making a better, smarter pop world, one overplayed hit at a time.
And now, for the sake of tradition, here are some superlatives!
Favorite Albums That Barely Missed the Da List
Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
Joyce Manor – “Cody”
Mitski – Puberty 2
Bruno Mars – 24K Magic
Albums I Meant to Listen To But Never Got Around to This Year, So Watch Me Get Into Them in March
Young Thug – JEFFREY
Kaytranada – 99.9%
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Sleeper Album: Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool. I don’t know why Radiohead, of all bands, released an album in spring that’s tailor-suited for fall and winter.
The “It’s Not You, It’s Me” Album: Angel Olsen – My Woman
“Punk in 30 Minutes Or Less” Ranking
5. Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost
4. G.L.O.S.S. – Trans Day of Revenge
3. Beach Slang – A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings
2. Joyce Manor – Cody
1. Mannequin Pussy – Romantic
Honorable Mentions (Considered for the Best Hits List)
Selena Gomez – “Hands to Myself”
Twenty One Pilots – “Heathens”
Kiiara – “Gold”
Jeremih – “Oui”
Dishonorable Mentions (Considered for the Worst Hits List)
Adele – “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”
Meghan Trainor – “Me Too”
Charlie Puth – “One Call Away”
Coldplay – “Hymn For the Weekend” (Chris Martin should never say “Drinks on me”)
Best Number 1 Hit: Rae Sremmurd – “Black Beatles”
Best Number 1 Hit That Wasn’t on the Best List: Sia feat. Sean Paul – “Cheap Thrills”
Worst Number 1 Hit: Justin Bieber – “Love Yourself”
Worst Number 1 Hit That Wasn’t on the Worst List: idk, “Pillowtalk” by Zayn?
Most 2015 Number 1 Hit: Justin Bieber – “Sorry”
Pop Star Who Was on the Bubble Who Made 2016 Their Own: Ariana Grande
“Sorry About the Comeback Attempt” Award: Lady Gaga. =/
“Congratulations on Crossing Over With Your Weakest Album” Award: Drake
There might be a thing up next week, but otherwise we’ll see you at the start of next year. Thanks again for reading!
12/14: Favorite Albums
12/15: Worst Hits of the Year (10-6)
12/16: Worst Hits of the Year (5-1)
12/17: Best Hits of the Year (10-6)
12/18: Best Hits of the Year (5-1)
12/19: The Gibby 50 and Over/Underrated Albums
12/20: The Year in Rant: Odds and Ends