Good news: we have brand spankin’ new columns to go with our shiny new year! Drews and Don’ts is a new weekly endeavor, wherein our very own pop-culture-and-list-obsessive Andrew Ratliff writes a bite-sized list for everyone to enjoy and/or argue over.
We’ve all experienced it before, albeit to different degrees: that immediate, gut-level reaction to hearing a fabulous song for the first time. “My lord!,” we exclaim, “this is a delight! I’ll cherish this song forever, and cannot envision a world in which this tasty jam does not give me the all-over tingles.” Were we living in a movie with overly on-the-nose joke cues, we’d then smash-cut to our wearied frame hunched over a dingy bar, bleary-eyed and grizzled. The song’s familiar intro clicks on the jukebox; our nostrils flare and we furiously whip our scotch glass against the wall with a feral howl.
Because the reality of the situation is this: even the best of songs can suffer from overexposure. I seem to remember my first car ride with Kings of Leon’s Only By the Night, grooving to “Use Somebody”‘s aching, reverb-y, U2-style expanse, thinking, “well, this is just fantastic!” Time ruined that song for me, as it ruins so many; as we enter 2013’s infancy, it’s time to celebrate the massive 2012 singles that were particularly delightful the first 100 times, and remember why we loved them so in the first place.
6. “Let Me Love You”, Ne-Yo
Modern pop/r&b songwriter Ne-Yo has no apologies to make: he lives in the obvious intersection of his two genres, bringing panache, emotion, and fun to a corner of pop music that the likes of Chris Brown and Jason DeRulo were unable to rescue from facelessness. Part of Ne-Yo’s appeal is his unparalleled way with a hook and a great lyric; “Let Me Love You” is a sentiment we’ve heard all too often in pop music, but Ne-Yo injects the thing with sincerity and, most importantly, a dynamite refrain that refuses to quit. (Also, points for the off-kilter, strangely-timed verses, which introduce some much-needed unpredictability into Ne-Yo’s brand of pop savvy.)
5. “Ho Hey,” The Lumineers
In a year where crossover folk-rock was all the rage (lest we forget, The Avett Brothers had a legit hit song in 2012), none were more folksy than The Lumineers; the bulk of their debut record is inoffensive, bluegrassy, campfire-singalong fodder, but the irresistible “Ho Hey” made waves by settling for a simple, heartfelt chorus and a couple of workaday major chords. It’s a universal crowd-pleaser, as comfortable on alternative radio as it is sandwiched between Rihanna and Bruno Mars on your local Top 40 station, uniquely tailored to soundtrack romantic movie trailers, and the single sweetest, most pleasant 2:30 pop radio had to offer this year.
4. “Gangnam Style,” Psy
Like most discerning music lovers, I actively tried to avoid this Korean import’s viral hit; it was one of those things that was name-dropped long before you actually heard it, and I’d just assumed it was a “Chocolate Rain”-esque unintentionally hilarious Youtube sensation, and that it would soon fade into the ether. And yet, on one lazy Sunday afternoon (there was no football on, so… yeah), I decided to subject myself to what I was sure would be a punishing experience; imagine my surprise when I discovered that a.) it’s basically Korean LMFAO, a feather-light slice of pulsating, goofy electropop, and b.) it’s primarily notable because its chubby, thirtysomething singer spents the duration of the video dancing like he’s on a horse. “Gangnam Style” is one of those flash-in-the-pan things that you can’t really pinpoint the appeal of, but it’s an addictive one: when the “sexy ladies” refrain kicks in, well, I’m not so sure a better argument for the no-frills glory of pure, indulgent radio-pop circa 2012 exists. Go ahead… listen again.
3. “Some Nights,” fun.
I’ve spilled enough ink here about why Fun’s Some Nights is THE pop album of the year, and there’s a compelling argument out there for “We Are Young” as the band’s primary overplayed masterpiece; what makes all the difference, then, is the quality of “Some Nights” taken on its own merits. “We Are Young” is nice, but full of drunken, end-of-night carpe-diem platitudes (and a wasted Janelle Monae cameo, who would be most compelling on a real duet with Fun’s Nate Ruess); “Some Nights” is a little more inexplicable as a massive pop hit. The intro and choruses are galloping, triumphant Queen refugees; there are two bridges, one of them a fairly depressing bit of spoken-word existentialism, the other a wordless series of Autotuned grace notes; there’s a descant nicked directly from a Simon & Garfunkel hit (“Cecilia”, if you’ve never been on the internet ever); and the lyrics, wracked with regret and confusion, are directly at odds with the big-hearted music vibes. I feel like there’s a chance it’s the single most timeless song on this list, but we’ll have to wait until 2032 to see if people are still slumped over in dive-y karaoke bars just before last call, attempting fruitlessly to match Ruess’s pitch after five beers.
2. “Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepsen
You: “I can’t believe you’re listening to… is that… is that ‘Call Me Maybe’? Seriously? The most manufactured, silly pop song of the entire year? See, this is what’s wrong with the music industry nowadays: people only care about this canned pop crap. It’s dime-a-dozen, and disposable, and disrespectful to all the real musicians, who toil their entire careers, never to see the kind of success this flash-in-the-pan tween-pop enjoys. You’re a sheep. You’re a sheep, and you should be ashamed of yourself.”
“It’s actually a remarkably earnest, sweet pop song in an era marred by ironic disaffect. We should all cherish the sort of enthusiasm with which Ms. Jepsen writes about puppy love… that sort of thing is the backbone of great pop music.” “Suck it.”
(Continues energetically bopping around to the best pure pop jam of the year.)
1. “Somebody I Used to Know,” Gotye feat. Kimbra
“Somebody” is an inescapably great pop song, the sort of song so immaculately written and performed that it really couldn’t not be a hit. What’s kind of peculiar about it is not that it’s an ostensibly “indie” song crossing over into the mainstream – that happens all the time, and “Somebody” boasts a catchy, lightning-in-a-bottle chorus that, again, would be weirder if it didn’t get stuck in the world’s collective brain – and it’s not even oddly structured, or formless, or anything like that. What’s weird is that this song – which clearly was teleported here from the heart of the 1980s, with its Sting lead vocals and “Don’t You Want Me” point-counterpoint-via-unreliable-narrator duet structure – managed to succeed on the most simple of merits: being a great song. All the acoustic Youtube covers, “SNL” parodies, and body-paint-fetish videos in the world can’t destroy that.
And so there you have it: the songs of 2012 that remain awesome, despite how many times you’ve heard them. Weigh in below, and don’t forget to tune in next week, when Drew probably gets unnecessarily angry about something petty!