Steel’s Bottom/Top 10 Hit Songs of 2012
You know, for a pretty iconic year in pop, I can’t adore this year more than I should. The good stuff that year was really spectacular, but…the bad stuff that year was also really, really bad. And I’m not saying this just towards the year-end list, I’m also saying this towards every other notable song that charted during the 2012 chart season. For every gem like “Midnight City,” “Dark Side,” “Lonely Boy,” “No Church in the Wild,” “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You,” “Love on Top,” “Safe & Sound,” and “Skyfall,” you also have trash like “Sorry for Party Rocking,” “The Hardest Ever,” “Faded,” “Turn on the Lights,” “Princess of China,” “Give Me All Your Luvin’,” that disappointing comeback single from No Doubt, and “Truck Yeah…” by Tim McGraw. Back on the topic of the year-end list, one thing I should say is expect some hot takes as I go through my choices for the best and worst hits from that list.
10. Feel So Close / Calvin Harris
As much as I’ve grown to like Calvin Harris’ music since the times where I’ve expressed that I’ve hated his music, I still stand by my feelings towards this song, but they have softened enough for me to give a respectable #10 rank. This isn’t even the worst song about feeling so close, mind you. So, what is it about the song that I absolutely dread? I just don’t see myself dancing to this, ‘because once you’ve heard the first part of the song, you’ve heard the entire song. “Feel So Close” plays like an endless loop to the point where it annoys me and it sucks away the energy that it could’ve had. Surely, Daft Punk sometimes gets flack for their repetitive songs, but they usually make up for it with their signature vocals and production work. “Feel So Close,” on the other hand, I’m not a fan of Harris’ vocals and the drop in his respective song. “Let’s Go” may be a clichéd club song, but Calvin Harris and Ne-Yo at least gave it some energy.
9. One More Night / Maroon 5
While going through Maroon 5’s discography more, I’ve made myself an unusual realization: the 2010s to Maroon 5 were what the 80s were to Chicago. It wasn’t until the band’s Overexposed days that I felt that way, but still, I think most people can agree that a majority of post-2000’s Maroon 5 sucks. This was the very song in which I’ve started to have a strong hate relationship with the band’s music. I couldn’t stand Adam Levine’s high-pitched vocals, I dread Levine’s constant relationship tensions that he expresses in most of his songs, and both of these factors are present in “One More Night.” Some critics have pointed out that they can’t tell whether Levine is feeling upset, or angry, but I can make the assumption that Levine sounds pissed in this song: he’s emotional and frustrated at the same time, which really gets on my bad side. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the pseudo-reggae production. The song is too catchy for me to put it any lower, though.
“Boyfriend” is the closest that I’ll ever get into putting a song by Justin Bieber on my bottom 10, and if it were on my list, that’ll please no one besides the ones that apparently still have a massive hate boner towards the guy. I’m never willing to pass up a song whereas Justin Bieber feels like such a hollow shell, but keep in mind that “Boyfriend” narrowly missed my list proper. Besides Bieber, you know who else is an easy target? Cher Lloyd, at least for “Want U Back” and…that other song of hers. “Want U Back” missed my list proper as well. In fact, here’s a big hot take I have to share: looking back on that song, I can’t bring myself to hate it as much as I used to. Yes, Cher Lloyd’s self-indulgent attitude is hard to get behind, but having some personality and groove is better than abandoning it, like this next song from another notably easy target…
8. Starships / Nicki Minaj
I can also never bring myself into loathing Nicki Minaj’s music like most others, but when she makes the most cookie-cutter pop song imaginable, she’s lost on me. Let me just say right off the bat that I do like the beginning of the song, it has Minaj’s usual spunk, and it has a serviceable groove to it…and then there’s the pre-chorus and the chorus, where Nicki Minaj sounds almost indistinguishable. And then there’s the drop, and that’s know you know how much of a mess this song really is. It’s one of the ugliest and most out-of-place drops I’ve heard. There are also the lyrics, with lines like “I’m on the floor, I love dance, “Hands up and touch the sky,” and “Let’s do this one more time,” you know, like you would expect from a generic pop song. Oh, and RedOne produced this, and he’s the same person behind “Bad Romance?” Gag.
7. Where Have You Been / Rihanna
I only have one other Rihanna song on my list, and this was just one that got under my skin. I’ll admit that it starts off pretty good at first, but it’s not until Rihanna starts stretching the line “Where have you been all my life,” sings the chorus like “Where have you been all my l-i-i-i-i-i-ife, and when the song gets to the drop that sounds almost like a bumblebee. As for the rest of the song, it’s just your basic, average club song whereas Rihanna doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
6. Rack City / Tyga
If you know me well, I considered this as my most hated song in most recent memory. Now…I’ll give it credit for being very interestingly bad, and for being an apparent, major contribution to the trap boom that followed. This song being on my bottom 10 stems from my feelings on Tyga’s music in general: I absolute loathe it. “Rack City” suffers from uncomfortable-sounding whisper rapping, and a good chuck of lyrics that give me an iffy feeling, including:
Young money young money yeah we getting rich
I got ya grandma on my dick
Girl you know what it is
Rondo, Green got cheese like a nacho
If you ain't got no ass bitch wear a poncho
Luckily for Tyga, I don’t find this song to be any worse than my bottom 5:
5. It Will Rain / Bruno Mars
Dear god is this song melodramatic. In fact, I find this to be Bruno’s worst song to date. I’ve already said it that one major problem I have with song is how mopey it sounds, and that’s because it really shows when the song is about how Bruno feels so broken up over a failing relationship with one girl to the point where he feels that everyday will rain when that girl completely walks out of his life. Right down to Bruno’s wimpy vocals and lines like “Leave the morphine at the door, “There’s no religion that can save me,” and “I’ll never be your mother’s favorite,” does it feel like Bruno is trying too hard to sell the drama. Given the fact that the song was tailor-made for the first part of the Breaking Dawn movie, it’s no wonder that Bruno would be reduced to this. I also like to pretend that this motivated Bruno Mars into making much, much better pop songs. Sorry again, Bruno, but I will redeem myself with my top 10 for 2013.
You guys can tell how much we “love” this song, given how many times we’ve posted the link to the “Believer” music video. I’m only posting it since I have to talk about Imagine Dragons for a good moment. Just so you all know, “It’s Time” is not on my bottom 10, not at all, but I can’t help shake the feeling that I’m supposed to treat this band as if they’re the epitome of everything wrong with modern indie rock. Don’t get me wrong, I also disliked “Believer,” but I wouldn’t say that their Evolve era made me change my mind about Imagine Dragons being good at some points. Yet again, I’m the type of guy who tends to defend certain popular indie rock songs to death. However, a modern alternative/indie rock song has to meet some conditions in order to make me loathe it.
Just to change the topic for one moment, say what you will about Skrillex too. Most people were willing to write off the entire dubstep genre as talentless garbage when Skrillex capitalized on the success of the genre. He at least knows what he’s doing with the dubstep sound, and Imagine Dragons were at least never the only act to “degrade” indie rock into something like the next particular song on my top 10 that apparently dodges a lot of those bullets…
4. Too Close / Alex Clare
You see what I mean, now? This song dignifies that I’m not willing to like just about every indie rock crossover hit. While I do appreciate Clare’s passionate and soulful vocals, the problems I have with this song come straight from the execution. For one thing, the sound does not blend very well with the songwriting. The suspenseful tone of the song pretty much fabricates the song’s meaning correlating to the singer trying to end a relationship as HE’S. JUST. TOO. CLOSE. TO LOVING. His significant other. The dubstep production, courtesy of none other than Diplo, makes it sound obnoxious when layered with Clare’s soulful vocals.
Then there’s the songwriting, and based on the way I’ve heard it, it’s got a halfhearted “it’s not you, it’s me” tone. In other words, the singer sounds unapologetic about his unwillingness to continue his commitment, granted he does say “I’m not one to break promises.” In addition, Clare sounds pretty vague about why he needs to go separate ways, but from what I’ve gathered, he does say that he needs to be true to himself…yep, sounds reasonable enough. Finally, there’s the chorus, which ends with the line “So I’ll be on my way,” which sounds so smug to me and gives me the impression that Clare is leaving his relationship behind because he’s just too good for his lover. That or because he feels that it’s too unsubstantial for him to handle…which is just about how I feel about this song, so I’ll be on my way…
3. Turn Me On / David Guetta featuring Nicki Minaj
I still stand by what I’ve said when I expressed that I don’t hate Nicki Minaj’s music like most others, but I still absolutely dread it when she makes cookie-cutter pop, and it’s not limited to this collaboration with Guetta. Not only is this one of the most obnoxious dance tracks I’ve heard in recent memory, courtesy of Guetta’s production work, almost nothing about Minaj’s vocals or the songwriting scream “Nicki Minaj.” Speaking of her vocals, the way how Nicki Minaj’s voice in the chorus is layered with other tones and the usual autotune makes her sound so artificial. Overall, “Turn Me On”…? Turn it off, because this such as a lifeless tune.
2. Drive By / Train
Welcome back to the bottom 10, Train. While I’m willing to pass up the sheer absurdity of “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” and its oddball lyrics from Pat Monahan, you can pretty much say that I find “Drive By” to be a serious Trainwreck. The lyrics aren’t worse than those from “Hey Soul Sister,” but it’s still got that awful line about Pat needing a two-ply Hefty bag to hold his love. In other words, Pat compares his love to a girl to a garbage bag. Then there’s the rest of the lyrics for the chorus, which contains a line centering on how Pat will always be for this girl and that it’s no drive by. ….Just for the record, the term ‘drive-by’ is used to describe a shooting that took place from a passing vehicle. It could mean something unrelated to a drive-by shooting, but now I can’t stop thinking about that term, and I just can’t imagine it meaning anything else. Top it off with the “Mmmm the way you do me” line and you’ve got yourself one of the unsexiest songs ever written. Somebody hand me a two-ply Hefty bag to hold this garbage. It could’ve been my #1 worst hit of 2012, if not only for the next song…
1. Birthday Cake / Rihanna featuring Chris Brown
Seriously, how could it be any other song besides this? Whether or not it’d be the remix with Chris Brown, “Birthday Cake” is an awful pop song to end all awful pop songs, all the way from the uninspired production work, to Rihanna and Chris’ incredibly subdued vocals, to the unsubtle sexual metaphors, and the repetitive lyrics. It’s no wonder why this is not only my #1 worst hit song of 2012, but also a very worthy contender for the worst hit song of the decade.
Boyfriend – Justin Bieber (#11)
Sexy and I Know It – LMFAO (Backwash dishonorable mention)
We Found Love – Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris (Backwash dishonorable mention)
Drank in My Cup – Kirko Bangz
Brokenhearted – Karmin
The Motto – Drake featuring Lil Wayne
Blow Me (One Last Kiss) – P!nk
Wanted – Hunter Hayes
Back in Time – Pitbull
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together – Taylor Swift
10. Good Time / Owl City and Carly Rae Jepsen
I bet you guys didn’t think that both Owl City and Carly Rae would manage to be more than just “Fireflies” and “Call Me Maybe” on the pop charts. Suffice to say, this was a pleasant surprise. Sadly, this is probably going to be the only Carly Rae Jepsen song from a year-end list that I’d put in my top ten (‘cause she’s clearly too good for the pop charts. Go ahead and listen to her music from her Emotion album and beyond – amazing stuff.) However, most of the surprising effort came from Owl City – an electronic artist that I never really cared for. Despite the cheesy, careless tone of the song and the music video that didn’t need to be in such poor saturation, “Good Time” excels in being such a great, fun, yet simplistic pop song. Adam Young and Carly Rae sound great together too, and their chemistry is undeniably what makes the song stand out. As I should say, they don’t even have to try. You’ll have a good time listening to this.
9. Give Your Heart a Break / Demi Lovato
More embarrassingly so, this is, by far, the highest rank that I could ever give to a Demi Lovato song from a year-end list. (“Skyscraper” would’ve been high up on my top ten list for 2011 had it not drastically fallen off the charts that year.) The sentiments that I have towards this song is very much the same ones that I’ve had towards “Good Times,” except that I’ve gotten more replay value out of the former. This is an incredibly simple-sounding pop song, yet the opening violins, the hooky chorus and melody, Demi’s passionate vocals, they always drags me back to it. After having “Sorry Not Sorry” so low on my full 2017 rankings, (a song in which I put lower than “Juju on Dat Beat.” Ouch. If I were to change that list now, SNS would’ve been a spot higher.) I guess you guys would be saying that I’m giving Demi’s heart a break.
8. Blown Away / Carrie Underwood
Remember when I said that I was going to redeem myself later when it came to Carrie Underwood’s music? In this song, Carrie managed to blow me out the water. The song is about a girl who locks herself in a cellar from an incoming tornado, leaving her alcoholic father, passed out, inside of the crumbling house. In other words, it’s a revenge-murder ballad. This is the type of subject matter that I find to be…really captivating. What Carrie got wrong with “Before He Cheats” that had thrown off quite a lot of folks, Carrie manages to sell the drama and story of “Blown Away” by not only reminding us how good of a singer she can be, but also providing us with a character that we can feel for – a character who yearns to tear out the past that her abusive father left behind in that house. Carrie is usually on point when she touches upon darker material, and overall, “Blown Away” is a magnificent example of the singer’s capabilities.
7. Some Nights / fun.
When most people think of indie pop/rock perfection, this song usually comes to mind. There are also some others that beg to differ and find it pretentious like any other popular indie rock song on the charts, and/or write it off for its similarities to “Cecilia,” “Carry on My Wayward Son,” and Queen in general. When it comes to “Some Nights, I sometimes have to be in the best mood to stand by my appreciation towards it. In other words, while I really do like this song, it has its flaws. It’s not so close to “Bohemian Rhapsody” levels of quality, but it’s got an incredible mix of sounds, ranging from the Queen-esque opening acapella vocals (which act more as a homage than a “rip-off.”), the bombastic instrumentation, Nate Ruess’ passionate vocals, and the soaring guitar near the end. However, you also got the weirdly paced African music influences/spoken-word portions, and Nate Ruess’ seriously inconsistent tone and key changes in his vocals. There’s also that one auto-tune portion, which I wasn’t a fan of. While some portions of Nate Ruess’ voice bring it down for me, the song never fails to deliver and makes up for its cluttered moments.
You know, this would be the part where I would post the video to “Believer” again, but now that I’ve had to mention Imagine Dragons again, you guys know what you’re going to get, and it might be one of my hottest takes yet: I have an Imagine Dragons song on my top 10, and I ranked it a spot higher than the more beloved “Some Nights…”
6. It’s Time / Imagine Dragons
Imagine Dragons is the type of band that the internet seems to be required to hate, but they’re definitely not the only example that I know of. To set a couple more examples, I see more contempt being made towards U2 than praise and I’m pretty sure some of us came across the one guy who hates The Eagles because The Dude from the Big Lebowski said so. I’m also aware that most people have a variety of reasons to hate ID’s music: they’re overexposed; all over the radio, a good chunk of their songs are too loud and sound pretentious, and they don’t really challenge themselves as an indie rock band.
I could make a point across to justify why I don’t hate Imagine Dragons in general as most others, but since I don’t want to make this review too long, I’ll just say it loud and proud: I liked quite a lot from the band…at least in the case of their first two albums. They got some good sounding singles including this particular song on my top ten, “Radioactive,” and “Shots,” as well as some great deep cuts, namely “Smoke and Mirrors,” “Amsterdam,” “Bleeding Out,” and “Friction.” Even if I can see why Imagine Dragons gets so much disdain, what is there to love about their first big hit? For starters, “It’s Time” was the point where most of us thought Imagine Dragons sounded like a legitimately good band…so what is it about the song that makes me think it still holds up?
The song is about Dan Reynolds facing a low point of his life, deciding to quit college to focus more on his pursuits as a musician, (or ‘giving the commodities/the academy a rain check,’ according to the lyrics) much to the dismay of his parents. The charm that I can get out of this song is that the singer manages to really sell the story. The biggest selling point is in the chorus, whereas it leans towards an enriching tone with Dan states that while he’s sticking to his guns, he’s not changing the person that he is. On top of that, there’s the line “It’s time to begin, isn’t it,” which gives the indication that the beginning of the end would turn out to be a good outcome.
The song has a very moody atmosphere, but the passionate vocals and the usage of the mandolin assist in establishing the defiant tone. Dan Reynolds’ vocals sound great as well. He sounds like he’s more in control with his voice rather than trying so hard to belt. My favorite moment from the song is the final stretch, with the bridge and the bombastic final chorus. “It’s Time” sets a good example of what the band can be capable of, and it’s disappointing to me that they might not be able to top this or provide us with another hit that as remarkable as this, given the current direction that the band is in. So yeah, the length of this review goes to show how much I’m willing to defend this song to death. There’s a lot for me to like about “It’s Time,” and apparently, we have no one to thank besides Glee for making this song as big as it was.
5. Adorn / Miguel
After going over an act that I like that most others can’t stand, let’s talk about one singer that I find to be criminally underrated: Miguel Jontel Pimentel…or just Miguel. Kaleidoscope Dream is also an underrated record, so go check that out if any of you haven’t. My appreciation towards this song has to do with the production work, but it mostly involves Miguel himself. Miguel is a modern R&B artist whose style is distinguishable much like Janelle Monae. “Adorn” is just one of those songs from the singer that takes a modern spin on Michael Jackson and Prince, and those two influences really show when it comes to Miguel’s high tenor, the sultry instrumentation and singing style, and the occasion guitar tones. Overall, “Adorn” is a fascinating modern R&B tune with clear nostalgic influences, and it goes to show that the charts need more artists like this live-action Powerline.
4. [BUY SOME APPLES] In Paris / Jay-Z and Kanye West
Jay-Z and Kanye West are two of the best hip hop powerhouses, and the two collaborating for an album together felt like quite a dream. This particular song from Watch The Throne is a great exemplification of the duo’s chemistry. For good reasons, there’s not a dull moment from the song. As usual, Jay-Z and Kanye spit some serious fire, and finally, a good chunk of the songwriting is memorable, courtesy of Kanye and that Blades of Glory sample. That should all sum up my exact thoughts on this hit. However, there’s one more thing worth noting in the end: don’t let Kanye get in his zone.
3. Spoiler alert, “Scream” is not on my list.
Actually, what I meant to say was that I have an Usher song on my top 10, but it’s not the one that you’d think it’d be.
3. Climax / Usher
Let’s talk about the fine line between critical and commercial darlings. There are two kinds of people: those who prefer the one song that have critics head over heels but the silent majority do not tend to talk about it much. Then there are those who prefer the big hit rather than the former, lesser known hit. You know what I’m talking about right? If not, here’s an example: “It Ain’t Me” and “Bad Liar,” but in this case, I prefer the former. Some critics tend to write off “It Ain’t Me” as they make it off like Kygo stripped away Selena’s personality, but from my point of view, the song has a lot of ground to cover. “Bad Liar” gets all the attention from critics because it samples a Talking Heads song and…it samples a Talking Heads song...you see what I mean? Try to think of anything more you can get from the song besides Selena’s vocal style and that very distinction.
I do really like “Scream,” but I can’t like it more than I should since I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve already had a song like it, namely the remix to “More.” We’ve also got “DJ Got Us Falling in Love,” and what makes it distinguishable from “Scream” is that there’s no Pitbull feature on the latter. Now, there is another good reason why I have “Climax” on my top ten rather than “Scream:” I think “Climax” is one of the best songs that Usher has ever done, let alone one of his best R&B performances. Even while this song would be considered as the typical critic’s choice, I still stand by what I’ve said.
Usher’s high tenor voice feels really impressive here. Usher also provides the song with his usual, passionate vocals, but the songwriting also proves the emotional depth that I can attain from it. Indeed, the climax is the best part I find about song, with Usher’s raw emotions and the unique-sounding, electronic production work to boot. Speaking of the production, who was involved with it, you may ask? Why, it’s none other than Diplo, and I criticized his production work on “Too Close” on my very previous list. Believe it or not, the production is influenced by dubstep, and what's interesting to note about it is that there is no drop. That in which is the very point of "Climax:" you'd expect a drop to come, but it doesn't since Usher's vocals are the focal point of the song. So once again, color me impressed, Diplo.
From the public eye perspective, this feels like an underrated Usher song, and when critics say that this is one of his best, I can’t deny it that “Climax” really overwhelmed me.
Remember when I said that I could make a point across to defend my stance on Imagine Dragons, but couldn’t because I didn’t want to say too much while talking about “It’s Time?” This is the exact point where I further go on about my thoughts on indie rock crossovers on the pop charts. One thing’s for sure, we’ve got legitimately great acts like Foster the People, Hozier, Bastille, fun., Of Monsters and Men, and sometimes Walk the Moon. Now, what about the other indie acts that we left behind besides the good ones that I mentioned?
Besides “Sweater Weather,” I can only think of two other great songs from The Neighbourhood. “Kangaroo Court” seems to be the only song I’ve ever enjoyed from Capital Cities by far. While “Riptide” soured on me a bit, Vance Joy hasn’t made a song that I thought was remarkable. The Lumineers are ‘meh’ outside of “Cleopatra” and “Ho Hey.” AWOLNATION are fine, but they never struck a chord on me either. American Authors were always a throwaway act to me. I never liked anything from Passenger. Outside of the fact that I loathed “Too Close,” I find the rest of Alex Clare’s music to be mediocre at best (which includes his other, smaller Alt radio hit, which is a mix of white reggae and drum ‘n’ bass). Lastly, James Bay can either turn out as an interesting artist or a pretty dull one. I’ve liked “Hold Back the River,” and “Pink Lemonade” is growing on me. Most of everything I’ve heard from him is ‘ehhh.’
At the point, whoever was the worst indie rock act to break through into the pop charts is debatable. There’s a few or more that I didn’t mention, but I should be left with Neon Trees to talk about. The band in particular never struck me as more than just a singles band. That’s not to say that their singles aren’t any good though…
2. Everybody Talks / Neon Trees
Neon Trees have been around since the success of post-grunge imploded. They had a big hit in 2010 with “Animal,” but they also managed to land a bigger one with this song. The band’s style can make them easily comparable to The Killers, but this song makes Neon Trees look like a worthy enough replacement. However, what the song’s style actually reminds me of is that of The B-52’s. Granted, the song does reference “Love Shack.” Why l love this song enough to put it in my top ten deals with the fact that I’m an absolute sucker for tunes that take you back to times of 80s new wave and synthpop. “Everybody Talks” is influenced heavily so from 80s pop music, and Neon Trees use their new wave influences to make the song into perfect pop perfection…but sadly, it’s not perfect enough to beat my #1…
And of course, my #1 happens to be another hit indie song. More specifically, it’s an indie pop song that was not only a #1 hit, but it’s also the #1 hit of the year 2012. You know what I’m talking about, it’s…
1. Somebody That I Used to Know / Gotye featuring Kimbra
“Somebody That I Used to Know” is one of those songs that best defines 2010s pop culture. “Call Me Maybe” was also a song that best defined the 2010s, and despite the fact that it was inescapable over the course of 2012 and 2013, it wasn’t the #1 hit of 2012. It felt like it could’ve been, but I can’t have it any other way, ‘cause “Somebody That I Used to Know” is an amazing song. What I find strangely fascinating about the song is that there’s barely any dull moments from it despite the minimalistic, yet distinctive production. It’s usually because of the incredibly surrealistic music video that gave the song so much exposure, but most of all, it’s because it is emotionally gripping.
When the song builds, it really builds when Gotye lets out his emotions. The song really starts to grab your attention the moment Gotye belts “But you didn’t have to CUT ME OFF!” For a song about a lost love, Gotye and Kimbra sell the story and drama very well. Kimbra was a nice addition to the song as she adds her own perspective, establishing more on the broken relationship in the process. To sum up all my thoughts on the song, it’s an unforgettable and charming breakup ballad. The melody is unforgettable, the lyrics are memorable, Kimbra’s vocals are pleasant, and Gotye’s vocals provide the song with an intense feeling. For all those good reasons, this my absolute favorite hit of that year and one of my favorite year-end number ones in general.
Work Out – J. Cole (#11)
Rolling in the Deep – Adele (Backwash honorable mention)
Die Young – Kesha
So Good – B.o.B.
Paradise – Coldplay
Mercy – G.O.O.D. Music (Kanye West, Big Sean, Pusha T, and 2 Chainz)
Love You Like a Love Song – Selena Gomez & The Scene
Glad You Came – The Wanted
We Are Young – fun. Featuring Janelle Monae
Set Fire to the Rain – Adele
Steel’s Bottom/Top 10 Hit Songs of 2012
Now that we’ve moved onto the year 2013 in pop, let’s break down every other year from this decade that I’ve covered, including this particular year. So, where does 2013 end up?
Yep, right at the top. Clearly enough, there’s a lot of good things I could say about 2013 in pop music, but before I get to that, I’m going to compare notes with every other pop year I’ve covered. The year-end list for 2014 sucked, with a vast scarcity of excellent pop songs. 2016 had a lot of bad stuff this year which was made it interesting compared to 2014, and it’s such a pity that it came before 2015, a year in which proved to be a major step-up. 2010: a little over the same level of quality as 2016. 2012: A strangely iconic year with a great amount of both good and bad hits. 2011: An immense disparity in its level of quality compared to 2010. 2017 was pop at its most diverse so far into this decade, whilst being provided with a lot of gems. 2015 was a major step-up from the lackluster year that it succeeded. However, it leaves a deep scar when it comes to songs like “Dear Future Husband,” “Watch Me,” and…”Marvin Gaye.”
My rankings are very much like the typical Star Trek movie rankings, except it’s odd over even in this case. Some of you folks probably feel baffled that I consider 2013’s year-end list to be the best out of what we got so far into the decade. However, my appreciation towards this year in pop has to do with the fact that it’s a great year musically. 2013’s year-end list is just scratching the surface when it comes to brilliant music that came out that year. We got great albums from names including and not limited to Queens of the Stone Age, CHVRCHES, Daft Punk, The National, Janelle Monae, Arcade Fire (…speaking to those who are a bigger fan of this act much more than I am), and to a lesser extent, Kanye West. Another good way to describe 2013 in music is that it’s a year that’s so good, My Bloody Valentine came back to release a new album after 22 years.
2013’s year-end list is full of great pop songs and it’s gotten to the point where I decided to extend my list of ten honorable mentions into a list of twenty. Of course, I’ll have to talk about the B.O. from that year first. Why I ranked 2013 over 2015 is mainly because most of these songs are boring bad than irritatingly bad, so my #1 will be my most docile choice compared to my other number one worst crowners. Anyways, bottom 10 hit songs of 2013, let’s go:
10. Holy Grail / Jay-Z featuring Justin Timberlake
‘Cluttered’ is pretty much the best word to describe my feelings towards “Holy Grail,” and it really pains me to put it on my list since it has the names of Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake attached to it. This song is the second collaboration between the two after “Suit & Tie,” and it deals with the love/hate relationship of fame. So, what’s the central issue I have with the song? It’s the lack of sincerity. “Holy Grail” tackles on the typical “being famous sucks” message, but it goes on to express that it’s also worth having as much glory. Besides that, we have one particular verse where, in the form of an interpolation of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Timberlake and Jay-Z chant that they’re all just entertainers. They’re stupid and contagious, but they’re still just entertainers. Oh, you poor souls…
However, one detail about the song that gets me off the most is that the archetype of a bad girlfriend is used as a metaphor for fame. When it comes to that notion, the subtlety that the song tries to accomplish with is then lost on me. The way how Justin Timberlake’s opening verse and chorus tries to disguise the fact that “Holy Grail” isn’t particularly directed towards a woman just writes itself off when Jay-Z really starts to clear out that he’s talking about his relationship with fame:
I got haters in the paper
Photo shoots with paparazzi
Can't even take my daughter for a walk
See 'em by the corner store
I feel like I'm cornered off
Enough is enough
I'm calling this off
As justifiable as these lines may come off as, then would come these lines which correlate to why I feel as though that the song suffers from lack of sincerity:
Who the fuck I'm kidding though?
I'm getting high
In that big body
…And those lines are contradicted by the mere fact that fame is indeed a love-hate relationship for Jay-Z….
This fame hurt
But this chain works
‘It feels so bad, but why does it also feel so good?’ seems like the question that the song is asking. No matter the fact that the songwriting is really trying to be subtle, it’s still a mess. Jay-Z saves “Holy Grail” from getting any lower on my list since he still provides a good flow, as well as Justin Timberlake for his usually impressive vocals, but both can’t save the song’s jumbled message that is only a good old pat in the back for the two artists at the end of the day.
Before I talk about my #9 that could be a spot for some of 2013’s easiest targets, let me just be blunt and say that “Harlem Shake” is nowhere on my bottom 10. That’s a big shocker, huh? However, the song still ranked up pretty close to this list, and besides the fact that it became a #1 hit because of an incredibly stupid internet phenomenon would’ve made it an incredibly easy contender. I don’t see the song being worth so much contempt within time. If I were to rank memes, then “Harlem Shake” would’ve been on a bottom 10 list from me, let alone at #1. Also, be alarmed when I say that Baauer is capable of making much better tracks than the one song he’s only known for.
While we’re still on the topic of memes, “The Fox” isn’t on here either, even if it’s a song that, again, got as big because of a ridiculous meme on the internet. Sure, “The Fox” went past the expiration date pretty fast, it would be very much forgotten after ten years, and it will have some of us feeling surprised that it became a big hit on the pop charts back when, but while “The Fox” was quite an insult to my intelligence, the novelty hit wasn’t bad enough either to make my bottom 10.
Oh, and what about “We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus? The music video was grandiose in shock value, but that didn’t mean that the song itself was one of 2013’s worst hits. What about “#thatpower,” which just so happens to feature Justin Bieber? That’s not even one of worst that I’ve heard from will.i.am OR Bieber musically. While none of those songs mention earned a spot, this one did…and it’s going hurt some folks:
9. Summertime Sadness / Lana Del Rey vs. Cedric Gervais
No, I’m not talking about the original version by Lana herself, I’m talking about the one version that actually charted: the remix. As much flack that other popular EDM songs from this year gets for being hollow, generic, overblown, and whatever else, I don’t see any reason for the remix of “Summertime Sadness” to exist. I feel as though that the meaning behind the original shouldn’t float on the same boat with the more upbeat-sounding EDM sound. That way, I just don’t see myself dancing to this. Just to sum up my thoughts, the electronic dance sound just absolutely strips away the depth and sincerity that the original has. The melancholic nature of the original is too solemn to work as a typical progressive house song. It’s also such a shame that this is the only instance of Lana Del Rey having a successful hit song on the pop charts (well except “Young and Beautiful,” but sadly, that did not earn enough points), as capitalizing on one of her songs being the only possible way for the singer to break through and land on the year-end list.
8. I Cry / Flo Rida
Flo Rida is on my list, and it doesn’t go by the name of “G.D.F.R.,” or “Whistle,” or any other song of his with otherwise bad reception. You know of that strategy that Flo Rida had done with “Good Feeling” where the sample is technically a sample itself? Flo Rida uses the same strategy on “I Cry,” in which it is a sample of “Cry (Just a Little)” by the Bingo Players, which samples “Piano in the Dark” by Brenda Russell. What differentiates “Good Feeling” from “I Cry” is that on the former, Flo Rida is trying to spread a message. That message is Flo Rida sending his condolences to victims of tragedies all across the world. However, that message is mixed in with occasional lines where Flo Rida strokes his ego. In fact, for a song with an emotional-sounding sample that’s there to try and make “I Cry” sound more deep, Flo Rida doesn’t sound so much like he’s trying to make the song sound as emotional as it suggests. In other words, “I Cry” is the type of song that just feels lost in its identity.
7. Started from the Bottom / Drake
While I’m still on the topic of musical artists stroking their egos…we got this song as well. Anybody who’s anybody that is a chart-watcher pretty much despised this song, and that’s not limited to me. Yet most music journalists were all over this song, so we have ourselves a song that really divided its listeners. “Started from the Bottom” is Drake at his most interchangeable. Compared to a lot of other tracks from his 2013 album, this song is a non-presence that is merely just a guaranteed hit on the pop charts. I can never seem to see myself caring about whatever Drake spouts of his rags to riches story, because I’ve heard it so many times before 2013 not only from a load of other rappers, but also from Drake himself – and Drake has done so much better than this.
6. Love Me / Lil Wayne featuring Drake and Future
…And welcome back to this list, Drake, but for Lil Wayne and Future, this only means ‘welcome.’ “Love Me…” there is much that I could say about this song. The songwriting makes me sick to my stomach and it’s just so sickening to listen to all the way through. The song could also serve as the epitome of misogyny in hip hop. The song is so bad and unpleasant, it’s somewhat amusing, but this isn’t one of the only songs of this kind of nature that I will be talking about. The next one will be a little more in-depth…
5. I Knew You Were Trouble / Taylor Swift
But first…here is the lowest that Taylor Swift has ever gotten for me…up until “Look What You Made Me Do,” of course. “I Knew You Were Trouble” best exemplifies Taylor’s past musical identity crisis. The song begs the question of whether or not Taylor should stick to her guns as a country artist or move on as a pop artist, as she was always a pop artist in denial. One question I also get from the song is one directed towards Taylor: if you knew that guy was trouble when he walked in, then WHY did you let him walk into your life? Back on topic of the production, the song is predominately country…but then it adds electronic influences and that’s where the song ends up being such a mess. Granted, we got this particular line:
I think that the worst part of it all wasn't losing him.
It was losing me.
To put it bluntly, the song and its execution is troubled, troubled, troubled.
4. U.O.E.N.O. / Rocko featuring Future and Rick Ross
I’ve seen this all over worst hits lists, and it’s not so hard to imagine why. I couldn’t put this any higher because at most, the song is pretty forgettable. Although, the result is still a big mess and it has its visible flaws. First off, the big elephant in the room: this song is about date rape. It’s a very tough subject for me to talk about, so let the lyrics speak for themselves when it comes to the song’s controversy. Then you have the artists featured on the song. While Rocko is just simply a non-presence on the song, Future’s presence is uncharismatic in most parts. Rick Ross’ flow is, arguably enough, a bit of a saving grace on the track, but the songwriting can’t save it. Speaking of which, even the songwriting and production is pretty terrible, straight down to the repetitive “you don’t even know it” line and the otherwise repetitive instrumentation. Yep, this is certainly one of those interestingly bad songs, as well as being disgusting. However, the year-end list for 2013 has proved that some of the worst songs can be one of the most insignificant…
3. Come and Get It / Selena Gomez
Making a choice between the solo careers of Miley, Selena, and Demi over the course of 2013, Selena had, hands down, the worst and most uninteresting direction. “Come and Get It” is a solid example of a song that suffers from a lack of substance and personality. However, I’ll admit that the Bollywood influenced production work is a pretty enough sight that saves this song from being my possible #1 worst. As for Selena Gomez’s performance, there isn’t really anything much that I compliment on. Selena appears to be trying so hard to put on an impression of Rihanna, especially with the accent. I just can’t buy any of it. It’s usually not a good sign when you have to borrow a personality of another musical artist. Overall, “Come and Get It” is a hollow shell of a song, but it’s not as disposable of a pop song as…
2. Roar / Katy Perry
Okay, so take some of the most beloved Katy Perry songs, but take away whatever pulse that they’ve had: that is how I would best describe “Roar.” However, it’s also an example of a song that really tries to substantial only to lack as much substance. The song is piled high on lyrical pop clichés, as well as female empowerment song clichés. In fact, I can’t seem to attain anything of interesting from the song at all. You know how bad it is when this song doesn’t leave you with much of anything else to say. I could also say that that the “oooooh-oh-oh-oh oh-oh-oh” (or a variation of the millennial whoop, as the kids are calling it these days) in the chorus is irritating to listen to, though. At the end of the day, “Roar” is such a worthless song, but what could possibly beat it to the top of my bottom 10?
1. Scream & Shout / will.i.am featuring Britney Spears
This choice doesn’t seem so surprising, but still, there’s little to nothing that I can defend about this song. “Scream & Shout” is an audio trainwreck all the way through. Production-wise, the buzzing synths are irritating. The chorus is incredibly subdued in addition to Britney Spears’ vocals that just don’t match very well with will.i.am’s auto-tuned vocals. The songwriting is nothing more than indistinguishable even from will.i.am’s past work with The Black Eyed Peas. Last of all, the bridge is one of the dullest bridges I’ve heard from any pop song in most recent memory. Also:
When you hear this in the club
You're gonna turn this shit up
You're gonna turn this shit up
You're gonna turn this shit up
More like turn it down, am I right? Ha, I’m so original.
Cruise (remix) – Florida Georgia Line featuring Nelly (#11)
#thatpower – will.i.am featuring Justin Bieber
One More Night – Maroon 5 (Backwash dishonorable mention)
Harlem Shake – Baauer
Pour It Up – Rihanna
Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke featuring Pharrell Williams and T.I.
The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?) – Ylvis
Let Her Go – Passenger
Wrecking Ball – Miley Cyrus
I’m Different – 2 Chainz
10. Sweet Nothing / Calvin Harris featuring Florence Welch
After going on about how I’ve grown to really appreciate Calvin Harris’ music, this is the first song of his that appears on my top ten and not “Feels” nor “Slide.” How this song became such a grower stems from the impressive chops from both Harris and Welch. Also, one common criticism when it comes to EDM songs, whereas a singer provides his/her vocals for the track, is that the lack of substance for the song itself makes some listeners feel like a particular singer has been reduced to nothing. This is not the case for “Sweet Nothing,” which is, amusingly enough, about letting out the inner frustrations of being in a relationship with little to no substance. On top of that, when I hear Florence Welch’s voice and emotions throughout the track, I don’t feel like that I could hear anyone else singing it. I can easily hear and visualize those vocals coming from Welch herself, and it gives me the feeling like the song was made to measure her vocals.
Calvin Harris’ production was also something that I felt impressed with. The instrumentation not only makes the song such a solid banger, but the drop also very well parallels to the inner frustrations that Welch lets loose.
9. Mama’s Broken Heart / Miranda Lambert
When I see people talking about country songs successfully crossing over well enough to make the year-end list, I don’t see as many people talking about this song or Miranda Lambert as much. Granted, I am not the biggest fan of “The House That Built Me” and “Somethin’ Bad,” but this song in particular is a solid tune that very well justifies Lambert as one of the best country hit makers. The song appears to be about being driven to insanity after a bad breakup and Miranda manages to really sell the drama. The songwriting in “Mama’s Broken Heart” is a very solid representation of a poor mental state after a breakup, with the singer, as portrayed in the song, goes from experiencing emotional fallouts to contemplating revenge while her mother tries to convince her that to move past the breakup and try to hide the anger that’s beneath her. However, the heartbroken girl can’t see herself moving on from her failed relationship as modestly as her mother has since times are different.
Overall, this song is a hidden gem on the year-end list, and to boot, it’s a very well-written country song that hit big in the timeframe where crossover country hits were more reliant on pop and led to the bro-country phase. Also, when you consider the fact that “Mama’s Broken Heart” is penned by Brandy Clark and Kacey Musgraves, you know it’s a good enough sign that would result into the song making my list.
8. Royals / Lorde
Lorde is a rare example of an artist breaking through and earning a #1 hit on the pop charts only to prove later on that she’s just too good for the pop charts. I’ve ranked this song on my top 10 for 2014, but it’s more fitting for me to have this song on my top 10 for the year it debuted on a year-end list. Since I’ve already expressed my thoughts towards the song, I’ll just sum it all up: the instrumentation is very down to the bare minimum, but Lorde backs it up with her very peculiar, yet clever songwriting about the lifestyles of the rich and famous. It’s a very well-composed song especially given Lorde’s young age at the time. In addition, I really liked the vocal layering on the choruses too. For sure, it’s one of the best bits about “Royals.”
7. Still Into You / Paramore
Paramore’s self-titled album is a genuinely great one and it’s often overlooked by critics and even some fans. The album spawned two hits, one of which would end up being their biggest selling hit on the pop charts, and then there’s this one, which peaked at the very bottom of the year-end list. The least I could say about “Still Into You” is that it’s just a mindless fun, yet simple pop song. The band provides the song with their usual brand of charm, namely Hayley’s high-spirited personality and Jeremy’s catchy guitar hooks. It’s just amazing to see how Paramore can still continue to release consistently great music (but I find it hard to believe that Hayley is pushing 30 this year even though I’ve been familiar with the band for a little more than 10 years. Christ, I’m getting old).
6. Suit & Tie / Justin Timberlake featuring Jay-Z
After giving “Holy Grail” a spot on my bottom 10, the same two artists are redeemed on this collaboration, which is fronted by Justin Timberlake. While the song serves as a very welcome return for Timberlake, it also serves promising chemistry between him and Jay-Z. As usual, Timberlake continues to prove his singing capabilities and Jay-Z provides us with his vibrant bars. The instrumentation sounds lively as well, with the trap percussion being a good match-up with the old-school R&B sound. Lastly, “Suit & Tie” is just a really cool song in general. There’s no other way for me to sum it up than like that.
5. Swimming Pools (Drank) / Kendrick Lamar
It’s Kendrick Lamar’s first entry in the top 40 and one of his first entries on the year-end list. I can only imagine people telling me that this rank is too low for a hip hop song that’s as great as this. Anyways, Kendrick’s presence on the pop charts was a pleasant surprise, alongside the fact that this song became a big enough hit in 2013 to make the year-end list. It’s easy to see why “Swimming Pools (Drank)” is so beloved since I’m a bit of a sucker for dark sounding hip hop songs as well as songs about drugs or alcohol with a dark message beneath it.
The song tells a very solid story about the social pressure of committing to alcoholism. What’s important to note is that “Swimming Pools (Drank)” establishes on how becoming an addict for alcohol can make you and your life feel like a wreck at times. Kendrick also uses ‘swimming pool’ as a subtle hyperbole to how much alcohol some people tend to consume in their lifetimes. I could name a lot of other, greater songs from Kung Fu Kenny, but this subtlety written, ironic club song still strikes a chord on me and it very much solidifies Kendrick’s position as one of the most beloved rappers in this current time.
4. Little Talks / Of Monsters and Men
Suppose it’s a little too restraint that I have this song (and the very next one) ranked higher than “Swimming Pools (Drank),” but still, there’s a lot for me to love about “Little Talks.” For starters, there’s the music video. Now, as for the song itself, I’ve really come to appreciate the building, emotional intensity from the female and male vocalists. The song also boasts a unique sound to the band’s indie folk style. From what I could make out, the high energy trumpet sounds exemplifies the confidence that the two lovers have in themselves that they won’t even let death do part one another, while the softer moments exemplify the couple’s emotional thoughts and attachment towards each other. That impression that I have towards the song is pretty why I’m also fond of the bridge where the buildup just stops for a moment before that break of silence leads up to the song’s final build for the chorus. Overall, “Little Talks” is an incredibly endearing love ballad that is backed up by its unique textures and the emotional interplay from the vocals.
3. Can’t Hold Us / Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Ray Dalton
Apparently, this would be hip hop song that I would give the highest rank to, but I can never see how it wouldn’t. Yeah it’s easy to love, but the song is still uplifting, triumphant, and self-empowering in the right ways. “Can’t Hold Us” is a type of song that always puts me in the best mood. Macklemore delivers a great flow as well as pretty solid wordplay at some points. However, I speak for everyone when I say that the other two artists on the song overwhelm Macklemore’s presence. Ryan Lewis’ production work is absolutely remarkable, since it has comes packed with a diverse blend of sounds throughout the track, from the upbeat piano, to the African-influenced percussion, to the triumphant-sounding horns, to one portion of the song that is vocoded. I can’t forget to mention Ray Dalton’s presence as a hook singer, ‘because the guy’s baritone vocals really hit home. It’s just impossible not to dance to this song, and so it earns a spot on my list.
2. Locked Out of Heaven / Bruno Mars
When Bruno Mars came back with a new, lead-off single to redeem himself, he managed to do just as that, but by tremendously striking a chord on me. “Locked Out of Heaven” has a sound that I can best describe as the lovechild of James Brown, The Police, and Dire Straits. Surely, it doesn’t give the song as much sense of originality, but let’s face it: Bruno Mars has almost always been a throwback musician and as visible as those influences appear to be, I really do love how they sound. Now, I haven’t forgotten that the song also has a club sound…and I loved the production for that as well, taking into the account of the chorus. Bruno Mars himself sounds so happy to be alive, providing the song with one of his best vocal performances. Overall, it’s just so much fun listening to this song and it’s definitely Bruno Mars at his A-game.
1. Get Lucky / Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams
And of course, the #1 spot for this year would have to go to Daft Punk. It was only a matter of time before the DJ duo would land a massive hit on the American charts after already being so big in Europe. The way that the band replicates the old-school Disco sound is just so perfect while I also love how they give the song a bit of a modern twist with their signature charm. Pharrell Williams is also a great addition to the song, as his vocals very well match with the throwback disco sound. Yeah, the song can be repetitive at times, but the core melody is so infectious that you can’t even be mad about it. In conclusion, “Get Lucky” is a perfect-sounding pop song all the way through and it so rightfully earns my approval as the best hit song from 2013.
Thrift Shop – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis featuring Wanz (#11)
Adorn – Miguel (Backwash honorable mention)
Mirrors – Justin Timberlake
The Way – Ariana Grande featuring Mac Miller
Try – P!nk
Treasure – Bruno Mars
My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em’ Up) – Fall Out Boy
A-Team – Ed Sheeran
Carry On – fun.
Wagon Wheel – Darius Rucker
It’s Time – Imagine Dragons (Backwash honorable mention)
22 – Taylor Swift
Some Nights – fun. (Backwash honorable mention)
Fuckin Problems – A$AP Rocky featuring Drake, 2 Chainz, and Kendrick Lamar
Berzerk – Eminem
Die Young – Kesha (Backwash honorable mention)
Body Party – Ciara
Power Trip – J. Cole featuring Miguel
Radioactive – Imagine Dragons
Highway Don’t Care – Tim McGraw featuring Taylor Swift and Keith Urban
I won't be planning on doing any more year-end Hot 100 reviews sooner or later, but except some more music-related reviews from me.