100 & Single: fun., Gotye, M83, EDM, And The Beginning Of The Hot 100's Spotify Years

spotifytopthreesongs_march20.jpg
The top three songs on Spotify, March 20, 2012. "Young" is at No. 1 on the Hot 100; "Know" is at No. 5; and "Came" is at No. 4.
How do you know when you're at the dawn of a new pop era?

It's not like someone sends a memo. Sure, occasionally there's a well-timed cultural event that offers a hint—the disastrous Altamont festival in December 1969, which signaled that the flower-power dream was over, or Comiskey Park's Disco Demolition Night in July 1979, which warned that dance music's days were numbered, at least with middle-American dudes. But even bright temporal lines like these only seem significant in retrospect, and they don't actually change the sound of young America overnight.

The same goes for the Billboard charts, the Dow Jones Industrial Average of pop. Occasionally you get a No. 1 hit on the Hot 100 that feels like a revolution instantly. Or there's a blockbuster album that feels like a generational torch passing.

This week, the song sitting on top the Hot 100 doesn't necessarily sound like a revolution. But from its title on down, "We Are Young," the soaring, Janelle Monáe-assisted rock anthem by emo-pomp band fun, wants to be generational. Two weeks ago, fun. rampaged their way to the summit thanks to a pileup of digital sales. For each of the last two weeks, "We Are Young" has topped the very healthy sum of 300,000 downloads; it's the only song to roll that many weekly downloads in 2012, let alone do it twice.

By current Top 40 standards, this lighter-waving song is so atypical that it's prompted my colleagues at Popdust and our own Maura Johnston to wonder aloud whether we're on the precipice of a new phase in the sound, or at least the rhythm, of pop. A few weeks ago, anticipating fun.'s eventual rise to the Hot 100's summit, my co-columnist Al Shipley provisionally crowned "We are Young" as having "the most 'indie' vocals ever on a No. 1 hit."

I share my colleagues' sense of intrigue, but before we all get ahead of ourselves and label this smash the start of a movement, it's worth looking below the No. 1 spot to figure out if the guys in fun. have coattails.

It's been a long time in the wilderness for rock music, of any stripe. Depending on how liberally you define "rock"—music made by white dudes who don't rap or dance—"We Are Young" is the first No. 1 hit by a rock act since Owl City's blippy indie-style hit "Fireflies" in 2009. If you think that's too poppy, then it's the first since Coldplay's florid "Viva la Vida" in 2008. Or, if that's too synthetic, it's the first since Plain White Ts' acoustic, drum-free ballad "Hey There Delilah" in 2007. Or, if you have a stricter definition whereby rock songs sound like rawk, fun.'s hit is really the first such chart-topper since Nickelback's "How You Remind Me" all the way back in 2001. Hell, only a couple of these prior hits even featured guitars.

The reason "Young" will be remembered by generations of chart geeks, however, has nothing to do with its guitar quotient. It's No. 1 on the big chart the week Billboard changes its Hot 100 formula in a very significant way. As of this week, the big chart includes on-demand streaming music for the first time.


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13 comments
Ricardo
Ricardo

In what way can «We Are Young»'s success also have an OWS subtext to it? You know, the chorus has a certain "we are the 99%, we won't be stopped" vibe to it. Or maybe I'm just overreaching here.

mike_thoms
mike_thoms

Write a song for the kids and you'll have a hit. As someone pointed out, We Are Young is a song that kids in high school as, they approach the end of the year or graduation, will relate to. It's a youth anthem and you never go wrong writing those. 

Sara
Sara

I feel like the vocals on "We Are Young" are more "show choir" than "indie"—maybe I'd even say "emo show choir" (fun. has created a whole new genre!)—like Conor Oberst on Prozac...and uppers. Even though this post is specifically about singles, allow me to step outside of the Hot 100 and say that the fun. album is a million times better than the Gotye album, which is packed with some of the worst lyrics I've ever heard (and I'm American...and I have a LOT of shitty albums in my library).

BP
BP

Good article. You're smart to avoid predictions of tectonic pop shifts since by their nature they come out of nowhere and are suddenly everywhere. My own possibly cynical take on We Are Young's success is that it's due to the weather, our unseasonably warm spring plus its lyrics and anthemic/repetitive chorus guarantee it'll be played at every prom in the country next month and every night spent driving aimlessly around town until then. Midnight City's pretty cool though.

hater8
hater8

I'll leave it to you to decide whether this is an unimpeachably good thing—personally, my love of most of the above songs is tempered by my wariness at a return to male-oriented radio hits."I really love this song, but... a dude recorded it, possibly even a straight white dude, so I'm going to pan it."

Hipster trash!

Katherine
Katherine

It's really interesting to go over to Australian sites, where people are so sick of Gotye it shows up in comments all the time, and compare to the States.

maura
maura

Your assignment: Define the word "hipster" without sounding like you're personally offended by what you're responding to. (Spoiler: I bet you won't be able to!)

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

I fail to see how my admitting I love these songs but saying I don't want the charts to be all one thing—or, for that matter, writing about the pop charts passionately in the first place—makes me a hipster, "hater." It is possible to hold two contradictory but complementary thoughts in one's head. But thank you for contributing.

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

Not to state the obvious, but: I've been defending Adele for a year from my friends who are bored by her, but even I am ready for her not to be on the radio at this point.

Also, the Aussies still have a more florid, and perhaps more expansive, definition of pop than we do. To them, Gotye is probably Catchy McSellout; to us, he might as well be Neu!

hater8
hater8

Hipster: An insidery, cliquish sort who writes about the pop charts because he has to eat, but shields himself by expressing wariness that the pop charts may actually reflect the musical tastes of the 99.999% of Americans who have no freakin' clue what Pazz or Jopp are, or why they need their own section.

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

If you'd read even one more column by me—there are a couple dozen on this blog alone—or took three seconds to Google my name (which, unlike you, I'm broadcasting) you'd know I have even less disdain for pop music than you do. Or try clicking the link to my Pazz & Jop ballad (embedded in the story above) to see my votes for such deeply hipsterish acts as Adele and Nicki Minaj and Ke$ha. But that wouldn't jibe with your "he's a hater" thesis, would it?

maura
maura

Hahahahahahahaahaahahahahahahahahahahahahaha oh you poor dear

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