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

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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