Radio Hits One: Will Grouplove And Walk The Moon Follow fun. And Gotye On The Crossover Path?

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Both fun.'s "We Are Young" and Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know." topped the Hot 100 and the Alternative Songs chart, and did so in quick succession. The success of both those songs after a number of years when songs from the Alternative Songs chart seemed to be almost completely absent from pop radio might portend a cultural sea change, or at least the instant impact of Billboard beginning to factor Spotify streams into its formula for calculating the Hot 100.

Will a third alt-rock crossover rise to No. 1 this year? Will fun. and/or Gotye score big follow-ups, or begin to accrue the "one-hit wonder" stigma? I don't doubt that both will enjoy a healthy afterglow from their respective smashes—fun.'s "Some Nights" has already climbed to No. 8 on Alternative Songs and No. 41 on the Hot 100. But the future reception of those singles is up in the air. Will they continue to dominate both pop and alternative radio, or will they settle in one format? Both acts had followings prior to these songs—internationally in Gotye's case, and in the American indie/emo underground in fun.'s case—but neither had any previous Alternative Songs hits to establish that chart as their home base.

Ever since becoming a significant force in mainstream music in the early '90s, so-called "alternative rock" has struggled with an identity crisis about what, exactly, it's an alternative to—especially after it began to compete commercially with hard rock and metal. But even at its peak as a sales force, alt-rock has always been a relatively minor presence on the pop singles charts—Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" hit No. 6 on the Hot 100, but that victory helped open the floodgates for the band and its contemporaries to dominate album charts and rock airwaves. Hot 100 success remained elusive.


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Oddsmaking: Is Bon Iver Or Foster The People Alt-But-Not-Too-Alt Enough To Win At This Year's Grammys?

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The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences introduced the Best Alternative Music Performance category in 1991 in anticipation of punk breaking later that year (and permanently renamed the award in 2000). Over the past two decades, the changing demographics of the nominees have reflected the ever shifting and hotly debated definition of the word "alternative." The Foo Fighters' debut was nominated for in 1996, but without changing their sound much at all they've since migrated to—and dominated—the Best Rock Album category. This year, the award continues to struggle with its identity with a field that's more unpredictable than usual: There's no lock like Beck or The White Stripes present and no big commercial breakthrough for a long-running band like the last two winners, Phoenix and The Black Keys.

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Radio Hits One: Foster The People, Cage The Elephant Lead The Charge Of New "The" Bands

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Back around 2001, a Transatlantic cabal of music critics led a media hype machine declaring that rock was "back." To further this thesis, it grouped together a disparate set of bands offering variations on the stripped-down "garage rock" template who were often cheekily referred to as the "The" Bands—The Strokes The White Stripes, The Vines, The Hives, and so on. I always thought that was kind of a silly way to label those bands, since a huge number of band names have always started with the word "The," with a slightly smaller subset of that group naming their bands "The [blank]s."

Looking at Billboard's year-end Alternative Songs chart for 2011, however, you might wonder if a decade later we quietly experienced a new wave of "The" Bands, only this time with names that had words on both sides of the "the." The top two spots on the chart are occupied by Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks" and Cage The Elephant's "Shake Me Down", with Young The Giant's "My Body" at No. 14. Like the "The" Bands of 2001, there's not much uniting them other than the fact that they're all fairly new (only Cage The Elephant enjoyed any chart hits prior to 2011) and offering major-label-sanctioned, radio-friendly versions of musical and vocal styles usually associated with indie rock.

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Live: Lady Gaga Is Z100's Homecoming Queen At The Jingle Ball

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Z100 Jingle Ball: Lady Gaga, Pitbull, David Guetta, Kelly Clarkson, LMFAO, Gym Class Heroes, Demi Lovato, Foster The People, and Hot Chelle Rae w/Karmin, The Script
Madison Square Garden
Friday, December 9

Better than: A lump of coal and a "Firework" CD single.

To begin, let's run down a few key numbers related to the 2011 installment of Z100's Jingle Ball. Friday night's pop extravaganza had 11 sets; 32 full songs; five medleys; two point five holiday-themed songs; two encores; one Coldplay video; one Kardashian; and one member of LMFAO on the disabled list. Things that were present in abundance, so I didn't keep tallies: Screaming; festive attire; between-song ads; shout-outs to New York City.

I begin with statistics, because what is Z100—the East Coast top-40 flagship of the Clear Channel monolith—but a celebration of numbers? At the night's outset, Elvis Duran, host of the morning show, declared, "When you hear a song played on Z100, you know it's a hit." The artists atop the Jingle Ball's bill, with their ability to be reduced to one name—Gaga, Pitbull, Guetta, Kelly, all of whom have spent the month performing atop other Jingle Balls in other cities—bore this theory out in a sense; their sets, brief but longer than those earlier in the evening, contained only "hits," songs that might not have been familiar by title but that were sing-alongable within the first verse.

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Radio Hits One: How The Whistle Became Pop's Secret Weapon Of 2011

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After Billboard released its 2011 year-end charts on Friday I pored over them, looking for patterns and trends with which I could make sense of the year in pop. If someone asked you to pinpoint "the sound of popular music in 2011," there are countless fads and running themes that you could point to. The insistent thump of European dance music from producers like David Guetta and Afrojack ruled pop radio, while Lex Luger's frenzied hi-hats dominated mainstream hip-hop. Questionably talented singers continued to abuse AutoTune, while rap superstars both on and off the Young Money roster jettisoned "like a" from their wordplay in favor of the ever-popular "hashtag" (or, as I like to call it, "grocery bag") punchline.

Looking over the year-end Hot 100, however, I noticed a much more mundane musical accessory that had been quietly dominating the airwaves all year: Whistling. One of humankind's oldest forms of melodic expression, the whistle has long been a tool mostly relied on by those who might not be able to sing or play an instrument. Recorded music has relegated whistling to more of a novelty, something that might pop up memorably in the occasional classic like Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay"—more of a whimsical finishing touch than a central hook.

2011 changed all of that.

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100 & Single: A Dozen Contenders For Billboard's Year-End Top 10, And Their Fight Against The "Last Christmas Effect"

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Later this week, Billboard is expected to announce its tallies for the biggest hits of 2011. And what a year for music it's been. Remember all those big hits: "Like a G6," "We R Who We R," "Raise Your Glass," "Fuck You!" and "What's My Name?"

What's that—you say the songs I just rattled off are kinda old? Like, 2010-old? You're absolutely right. But don't be surprised if these vintage hits feature prominently among the biggest Hot 100 hits of 2011.

Billboard's "chart year" runs from December 1 through November 30. Blame old-fashioned dead-tree production schedules—they do this so they can announce the year-end victors before the holidays arrive and run the lists in a big, collectible magazine the size of small phone book. (Makes a great stocking stuffer. Seriously!)

The upshot of this skewed calendar: Take a good look at what's topping the Hot 100 right now. Hits like Rihanna's "We Found Love" (No. 1), LMFAO's "Sexy and I Know It" (No. 2), or Bruno Mars's fast-rising "It Will Rain" are going to feature conspicuously among the top Billboard hits... of 2012, next December. On the 2011 list, they won't be very prominent at all.

Even with its abundance of aging tracks, the 2011 list will still be worth poring over when Billboard drops it in a few days. Unlike the year-end album chart—which is based on straight Soundscan sales totals, and whose victor is already a foregone conclusion—the formula of digital sales, radio airplay and online streaming that determines the weekly Hot 100 means year-end predictions require a lot more guesstimating. Which is more fun, anyway.

Let's run down, in alphabetical order, a baker's dozen of hits that are likely to figure prominently on Billboard's Top Hot 100 Songs of 2011. These are tracks likely to make the final Top 10 or at least the Top 20.

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Radio Hits One: Rock Bands (Kind Of) Return To The Pop Charts

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Foster The People.
This summer, a total of four songs by rock bands (or, more precisely, pop/rock bands) have appeared in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100: Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks," OneRepublic's "The Good Life," Hot Chelle Rae's "Tonight Tonight," and Maroon 5's Christina Aguilera-assisted "Moves Like Jagger" (which moved up to No. 1 on the Hot 100 this week) all rose into the chart's upper reaches during July and August. That may not seem like a large number, but when "Moves" debuted at No. 8 in July it broke a 13-month drought of rock bands of any kind reaching the Hot 100's top 10. This puts 2011 firmly ahead of 2010, when "Hey, Soul Sister" made Train the only rock band to crack the top 10 for the entire year.

Obviously, none of these songs are exactly hard rock anthems; the most memorable riffs in both "Pumped Up Kicks" and "The Good Life" are whistled, not strummed on a guitar. And of the four acts, only Foster The People have been played on rock stations, and not adult contemporary and Top 40 charts. But this quartet illustrates just how rare it is these days for any kind of rock band to climb up the Hot 100 these days, and exactly what kind of success it takes to achieve that feat.

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Radio Hits One: The Foo Fighters Foster The Alternative Generation Gap

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The Foo Fighters' seventh album Wasting Light became the band's first No. 1 on the Billboard 200 upon its release in April, following a mountain of pre-release hype that included some of the best reviews of the band's career, a documentary about the making of the album, and the inevitable publicity surrounding Dave Grohl collaborating again with Nirvana-era pals Butch Vig, Pat Smear and Krist Novoselic. But there is one respect in which 2011 may not represent the apex of the Foo Fighters' career: "Rope," the first single from Light, couldn't quite beat the record for most weeks at the top of the Alternative Songs chart, which is still held by the band's own "The Pretender." That track, from 2007's Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, topped the chart for 18 weeks.

Last week "Rope" was dethroned after 13 weeks at the top spot by an unlikely newcomer, Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks." If the Foo Fighters represent '90s alt-rock survivors, Foster The People are decidedly new school: the L.A. band has turned its debut single into a chart-topper less than two years after playing its first show. Even the sound of "Pumped Up Kicks" is like a quick tour through 21st-century indie-crossover success, with Muppety vocals reminiscent of MGMT (on a chorus that prominently features the word "kids," no less) and a whistling hook that recalls both the Black Keys' recent Alternative No. 1 "Tighten Up" and Peter, Bjorn & John's "Young Folks."


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