Sunday, December 30, 2012

Top 10: Best Hit Songs of 2012

Previously on the SDP, I catalogued for you the top ten worst songs on the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 for 2012, and now, here are the year's top ten best hit songs.  You'll have to bear with me here; if it's hard enough to explain what makes a song bad, then it's even harder to explain what makes a song good.  Plus, you know, there doesn't seem to be as many "good" songs doing well no the charts either.  But for you, [deep breath] I'll try.

10) "[nouns] In Paris" by Jay-Z & Kanye West
from Watch The Throne
Year-end position: #40

Jay-Z and Kanye West have become awfully close over the past few years (I'm pretty sure Ichigo ships them ^_^), their partnership culminating in the album Watch The Throne.  I bet no one could've predicted that its best-performing single would be the one with an unmentionable word in it.  But when you play the track, all its iconic moments make you wonder why you ever doubted it.  Like the do-it-yourself reference:
I'm psycho, liable to go Michael, take your pick
Jackson, Tyson, Jordan, game six
Or Jay-Z shoring himself up against any potential failures of his basketball team:
The Nets can go 0 for 82
And I look at you like that [noun]'s gravy
Or the clip from Blades of Glory at the end of Kanye's verse... yeah, you're gonna have to take my word for it.  Granted, not all the jokes are on the dignified side, particularly when Kanye is involved...
Prince William's ain't doing right if you ask me
Cause I was him, I would've
Married Kate and Ashley
...but arguably, that just makes it all the more fun to listen to.  It's not so much the technical prowess, but the x-factor of "[nouns] In Paris" that becomes its defining quality.

9) "Young, Wild, & Free" by Wiz Khalifa & Snoop Dogg feat. Bruno Mars
from Mac & Devin Go To High School [soundtrack]
Year-end position:  #33

Calvin Broadus has done some wacky things in the past year, not the least of which being converting to Rastafarianism and receiving a new name, Snoop Lion.  But amidst all this lunacy, he costarred with upstart rapper Wiz Khalifa in a stoner comedy movie called Mac & Devin Go To High School.  I assume the film's nothing to write home about -- seriously, they casted a 42-year-old as a high-school student -- but the leading single from the soundtrack puts the D-O-double-G back in his marijuana-fueled element. Wiz Khalifa joins in for the song as well, and despite being, how do I put it, flow-challenged from time to time, being in the presence of a living legend seems to have put him at the top of his game. Plus, we have Bruno Mars on the chorus, and although he's set the emotional bar lower than what he tried (and failed) to accomplish on songs like "Grenade" and "Lighters", there's no need to - he nails the fun and fancy-free atmosphere of the rest of the song.  After all, when you live like this, you're supposed to party! Remember: please toke responsibly.

8) "Gangnam Style" by PSY
from Psy 6 Part 1
Year-end position: #47

I imagine this song needs no introduction at this point.  After all, I've said everything I need to say in my original review of this song.  Long story short, I'm amazed that PSY was able to incorporate the social trends of his neighbourhood into his lyrics.  One wonders what could come next.  Perhaps a country song like Taylor Swift's "Love Song", but about a blue-stater and a red-stater?  And now that I think about it, the Taliban in all their mysoginistic glory could fit in with 90% of today's rappers.  (I'm not sure whom that zinger was targeted at.)  Back to this song, even if you as a listener can't understand the Korean lyrics without some form of paratext, that doesn't change the fact that they're about what they are, and that's how I grade songs.  P.S. 1 billion views FTW!!

7) "So Good" by B.o.B. & Ryan Tedder
from Strange Clouds
Year-end position: #80

B.o.B. is nothing if not a ladies' man, a rarity in the rap game if I may say so myself. He established this tradition in "Nothin’ On You", his first single, and his clean streak continues with "So Good". The song mixes pick-up lines with references to fine art and tourist destinations the world over. Are some of these lines corny? Perhaps, depending on your patience, but I appreciate him making references to the likes of Michaelangelo and George Gershwin instead of... whatever the kids reference these days, and in terms of perceived lameness, this is nowhere near Lil' Wayne or Pitbull fare. Speaking of which, his goal seems to be not simply sex, but true dating and adventure. The sentiments of this song may not reach the poignance of "Nothin' On You", but trust me, they're close.

6) "Burn It Down" by Linkin Park
from Living Things
Year-end position: #100

It's a shame that Linkin Park have been one of the few true rock bands to have hits over the past decade, especially since Maroon 5 sold out with their latest album, and Nickelback is... well, Nickelback.  And whilst Linkin Park are more known for over-the-top songs like "Crawling" and "One Step Closer", which have been hijacked in the name of joking about the emo culture, "Burn It Down" manages to capture strong emotions without descending into the same silliness.  By my money, the strongest parts are Mike Shinoda's rap bridges, with lines like:
I played soldier, you played king
And struck me down when I kissed that ring
You lost that right, to hold that crown
I built you up but you let me down
Quite the forceful revenge fantasy, eh? I mean, it makes Alanis Morisette's "You Oughta Know" seem well-adjusted. I'm just gonna move on before Chris Brown gets any ideas.

5) "Let's Go" by Calvin Harris & Ne-Yo
from 18 Months
Year-end position: #65

Based solely on the success of his charting singles like "Feel So Close" and Rihanna's "We Found Love", I had pegged Scottish DJ Calvin Harris as a poor man's David Guetta, which is a shame because he had put out some interesting material before hitting it big.  "Let's Go" lies somewhere in between; it's not as complex as his older works, but it's not as mind-numbingly-repetitive either.  And combined with Ne-Yo's vocals and lyrics, this song will make you want to take an adventure of your own.  It's like a musical version of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, although hopefully with less rapey grabbing, Haruhi.
Hey, it's now or never
Tomorrow's good, tonight is better
Sure, those two lines contradict each other, but each on their own gives you a good idea of what's at stake and why taking action now, whatever said action may be, is preferable.  Wait a minute, wasn't there that other song Ne-Yo was on, about having a good time tonight in case he were to die tomorrow?  Oh, yeah, it was "Give Me Everything".  Only this time they took Pitbull out of the equation, so, bonus.

4) "Adorn" by Miguel
from Kaleidoscope Dream
Year-end position: #97

A throwback to '90s R&B with a singer who looks like the male version of Janelle MonaĆ©... what could possibly go wrong?  Well, Miguel could present himself as a sex-crazed psychopath, but thankfully that is not the case.  He's asking you to let his love adorn you -- if you don't want him to, that's okay.  And then there's the line "These fists / will always protect you".  Okay, gettin' a little possessive there, but still chivalrous, and hey, at least he didn't say he would die for his girlfriend.  Seriously, Bruno Mars, how is that helpful?  All in all, Miguel is refreshingly careful with his choice of words, but then again, the soft, wet, dreamy music should also tell you all you need to know about his intentions.

3) "Some Nights" by fun.
from Some Nights
Year-end position: #14

Public opinion states that the band fun. is the reincarnation of Queen.  And whilst their #1 hit "We Are Young" failed to leave that impression on me, as you may recall, their follow-up single serves as a better showcase for what they are capable of.  There are so many words to describe this song: adventurous, grand, inspirational... pretty much everything that made Queen's epic rockers great.  Shame about that precision F-strike in the middle.  And that weird auto-tune solo soon afterwards.  But apart from those foibles, fun. has not only redeemed themselves in my eyes, but proved that they are not a one-hit wonder, Gotye.  Speaking of which...

2) "Somebody That I Used To Know" by Gotye feat. Kimbra
from Making Mirrors
Year-end position: #1

Some of my favourite music comes from the '80s, mainly British, post-New Wave scene.  These sounds are calming yet sophisticated, and just dated enough to serve as nostalgia fuel, as they were still in rotation when I was growing up.  I'm talking about acts like Sting, the Psychedelic Furs, Peter Gabriel, and of course, Genesis.  And it's no surprise that my favourite song of all time, "Another Day In Paradise" by Phil Collins, also qualifies for that sub-genre, and I shall have to explain myself sometime later.  But for now, "Somebody That I Used To Know" by Australia's Goyte represents the closest anyone's come to rekindling that magic since the Clinton administration.  Granted, not everything about this sound is perfect, since the vocals are mixed too quietly during the verses, but it also goes to showcase restraint on the part of the producer (Gotye himself), so it's not all bad.

Besides, this song wouldn't have placed as high as it did if it didn't succeed lyrically as well.  See, the problem with most of the bad breakup songs I've talked about is that they're one-sided, and they don't give us any insight into why the first-person party was dumped other than, "he or she found another partner".  Not so here: he whines specifically that his girlfriend out-and-out trolled him after claiming they could still be friends:
You didn't have to stoop so low
Have your friends collect your records
And then change your number
So... ouch.  Even better: a guest verse from New Zealand's Kimbra rebuts that he screwed her over... somehow, and made her believe that it was her fault.  Granted, I would've liked to learn what he did in the first place, but this is deeper in one line than most other songs I've tackled are in a whole verse.  In fact, combine that with the music, and this just might be my personal favourite song of 2012.  And yet...

1) "Set Fire To The Rain" by Adele
from 21

Year-end position: #12

Our winning track for this year comes to us courtesy of Adele.  Now, I very nearly put "Rolling In The Deep" at the top of my personal best-of list last year, but for three things.  1) Lady Gaga decided to put on a normal appearance for once, 2) the line "But you played [my heart] to the beat" still doesn't feel right, and 3) I was prepared to give #1 to this next song, but alas, its single was released too late in 2011 to make it onto the year-end chart.  2012 was better for it, however; it spent two weeks at #1, so at long last it may take its rightful place as the best song that everyone listened to this year.  Ladies and gentlemen, for your consideration... "Set Fire To The Rain".

In "Set Fire To The Rain", Adele sings about having started so low before the relationship in question, and having built  so much into it, only for it to crash down so spectacularly.  The end result is that, whether literally or figuratively, she's taking him down into the flames with her.  There is no forgiveness to be found here -- and when you understand just how much stock the Japanese put into that phrase, it really becomes something else.  In that regard, this song reminds me of "All Cried Out", a song originally put out by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam in 1985, and that version kinda sucked just a little.  But its 1997 cover by Allure and 112 captured such desperate emotions in a similar manner, and I think it might be the saddest song I've ever heard.  Back on point, there has been the odd critic here and there who chose to look down upon "Set Fire To The Rain"'s bombastic production, but I say sour grapes to that.  Would these emotions have been the same if they chose to go down the stripped-down "white girl with a piano" route?  I think not.

Wildcard) "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston
from The Bodyguard [soundtrack]
Year-end position: #1 in 1993

And finally, we end with a tribute to Whitney Houston, who died on 11 February 2012.  As is usual after the death of a recording artist, her songs got a renewed boost of publicity, but rarely has anything like this been seen before: one of her songs re-entered the charts.  "I Will Always Love You", from the soundtrack of her 1992 film The Bodyguard, peaked at #3 during a new run on the charts.  Not even Michael Jackson, who had a much bigger catalogue, got any songs into the top 20 after his death in 2009.  While it could contend with the others on this list, I'm not including it because A) it failed to make the year-end chart this year, and B) it was already the #1 song on record for 1993.  Not that I have any specific plans to do a best-of list for that year, but if I were to tackle it, it stands a good chance of showing up on that, too.

I've encountered breakup songs dealing with all different stages of the cycle of loss... except the final stage, acceptance.  In "I Will Always Love You", Whitney Houston and her opposite number are forced apart for whatever reason, but they have a mutual understanding, and she wishes him the best in all his future endeavours.  I haven't yet seen The Bodyguard, the film from which this movie originated, but if the song could get its point across so well without the paratext, then it only goes to show how well it stands the test of time.  And for that, Whitney Houston, we will always love you.  ...I'm not the only person to make that joke, I just know it.

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