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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