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


M83, "Midnight City"

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. And I'm really, really uninterested in the deathless question of whether Rock Is Back.

But that's not what Maura, Al, the Popdust gang and I are rooting for; none of us are rockists, and we all love our share of femme-skewed dance-pop. What we, and a lot of other Top 40 fans, want is change. We're ready to turn the page on the four-on-the-floor sound that has—sometimes enjoyably, sometimes infuriatingly—smothered Top 40 radio since around the time of Barack Obama's inauguration. (That sound you just heard was Mitt and Rick focus-grouping the idea of dance-pop as another thing that's "all the president's fault.")

The question is, will Spotify bring us deliverance from the oppression of pop-house? Is this the moment of the great leap forward, and are fun., Gotye and Skrillex leading the charge?

Since I started this chart column about five years ago, my general mission has been to try to explain rather than predict. That's because when it comes to pop-music trends, as William Goldman famously said almost 30 years ago about the movies, "Nobody knows anything." But even when all you're trying to do is explain a current hit record's success, rather than predict the next one, you can really miss the mark. Check out this bit of chart analysis I penned around this time three years ago, when the No. 1 song in America was a little ditty called "Poker Face":

"What accounts for [Lady Gaga's] unusual success? Honestly, I can only theorize—compared with other circa-2009 pop hits, 'Just Dance' and 'Poker Face' are outliers on so many levels... . Her brand of blippy electro-dance with minimal R&B overtones has been pretty unfashionable on the charts for the last decade. We've seen some Eurodance crossover hits in the Top 10 this decade, but they've basically been one-offs—DJ Sammy's 'Heaven' in 2002, Cascada's 'Everytime We Touch' in 2006. Somehow, Lady Gaga has managed to break this pattern [even though she] seems to have entered the pop Zeitgeist through a space-time wormhole from 15 or 20 years ago."

With snark like that, you'd think I was writing about Men at Work or Wilson Phillips—not the pop star who, for the next three years, basically rewired the sound of pop in her image. The best that can be said about my two-bit analysis on Gaga in early '09 was that I correctly sensed her hits were an odd, dance-oriented tempo shift for Top 40 radio. What I failed to foresee was that within a year, all of Top 40—even the dudes—would sound like that.

My point is this: You can't just look at a couple of hit acts to predict a shift in popular music. It would take cojones of steel to say that now, in early 2012, the rise of fun. and Gotye signals a sea change away from the post-Gaga sound of Top 40 radio. A lot of what's happening on the charts can be explained by the same old market forces that always fuel hits.



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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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