Maroon 5 – One More Night

First Hit #1: September 29, 2012

Maroon 5 isn’t going against the trend of troubled relationships, though the chorus isn’t big here – it’s actually a lull in the song, the verses are much more sonically interesting and lyrically worthwhile – and I’m not sure Maroon 5 going for reggae was a great plan. To their credit, they’re trying for something different, and I can’t entirely fault an artist for attempting some kind of artistic development. It even sort of works – Adam Levine is capable of being a really interesting singer, and he is certainly going for a challenge on the verses. But honestly, Maroon 5 is not a reggae band, and there’s no question this is something of a lark rather than a serious endeavor for the performers. They’re having fun with it, and that translates well enough, but it’s not quite a comfortable fit for the band, no matter how game they are.

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Taylor Swift – We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

First Hit #1: September 1, 2012

2012 is a mix of breakups, big choruses and pleasant surprises, and Taylor Swift continues that trend with a sing-along chorus and a pretty upbeat little number about finally discarding an on and off again relationship. Swift began a something of a country artist, and she does still retain some residual acoustic guitar that hints at her former sound, which is actually a really nice addition to what is essentially a straightforward pop song. It’s also got that chorus that’s easy to sing along to, enough asides that show Swift is at least able to have fun with the idea of a relationship imploding, and a general upbeat and kind of fresh sounding track. A lot of people dislike Swift, but honestly I’m not sure why, she’s just a pop star who likes to explore various niches. I would argue that she has yet to find her sound – she has country instincts that she’s trying really hard to ignore here, even if they do subtly surface – but in searching for her sound she’s at least doing something a bit special that still works.

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Flo Rida – Whistle

First Hit #1: August 25, 2012

2012 has been an uncommonly good year for hits, arguably the best in years. Sure, it’s a year about big choruses for the most part, but there’s unconventional instrumentation, unique delivery, some really well done songs overall. A rising tide lifts all boats, and so even Flo Rida’s song about oral sex is actually kind of special. It’s just a whistle line, nothing really difficult, and honestly a trick deployed by others but it’s catchy, it’s fun, it kind of justifies the really dumb lyrics in a way. Ignore what Flo Rida is saying, you get a neat little light-hearted summer driving song. Pay attention and it’s a groaner – it’s a joke that isn’t quite funny – but hey, it’s at least connected to something that’s almost special.

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Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe

First Hit #1: June 23, 2012

Arguably the most successful alumni of Canadian Idol, though not an actual winner, Carly Rae Jepsen got a massive hit by making a song that was completely inescapable once you heard it, for removing it from your head takes complicated surgery. It’s a simple song, sure, a little bit of pop music with clever use of strings that sounds kind of like it could have been recorded by Tiffany. But it works because it’s simple, that’s what makes it so easy to sing along, that’s why one might, on occasion, wake up screaming the lyrics in terror because you just can’t get this nonsense out of your head. It is, in a honesty, near perfect for what it’s trying to be – there’s a line about “all the other boys” that’s delivered in a way that suggests nobody quite knew what to do with it, so it’s not completely perfect – which is what makes it terrible. It’s like the funniest joke in the world in that way, it’s almost dangerously catchy. You could weaponize Carly Rae Jepsen if that wasn’t banned by the Geneva convention.

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Gotye feat. Kimbra – Somebody That I Used to Know

First Hit #1: April 28, 2012

Gotye dominating the charts gave me hope in 2012, because it felt like we were hitting a new trend. It had come right after We Are Young, another big chorus song, but it was much more unconventional. While the chorus is big, between it’s actually surprisingly intimate, based around unconventional, toy-like instruments, and until Gotye breaks it out in the chorus it’s a very small song. After a ton of maximum bass we hit a song that is based primarily on an unconventional vocal performance and a fairly intimate structure, and it seems like this should be the next big thing. A big chorus in a small song gets attention, but it’s the fact that it really isn’t trying to hit on any trends or continue down a path predicted by either a Dr. Luke or a Max Martin that makes it most striking. It’s a new sound, and a sound that caught hard, and it seemed like audiences were ready to take the charts in a new direction again, as so often happens. It seems as though the powers that be, the ones that promote new releases, fought against that new direction, at least going by the radio for the past couple years, but Gotye does at least show that audiences are ready for something that isn’t quite what a lot of popular radio has in mind.

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fun. feat. Janelle Monae – We Are Young

First Hit #1: March 17, 2012

It’s appropriate that the video for We Are Young is entirely slow motion, because it’s a slow motion song, at least in the chorus. The verses are relatively normal – if forgettable – but the showpiece is that chorus, where every single word is held for multiple bars – look at how long the word “tonight” is pulled like taffy – and all but the piano feels dragged, sustained, and stretched, turning the entire thing into something that just feels like a slow motion song. Even the piano contributes the effect, giving a punchy counterpoint to the pull of everything else. It’s a striking effect, something that gives the song itself an immediate hook and contributes significantly to its popularity. It’s not particularly different from the rest of the charts lyrically, still about partying and reckless youth, but a bit closer to closing time than most, but it’s the slow motion that makes it a hit. It pulls for emphasis, and it pulls to stand out.

As a side note, fun. is a very annoyingly punctuated band.

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Katy Perry – Part of Me

First Hit #1: March 3, 2012

Another part of the big breakup of 2012, here’s a song where Katy Perry does not think everything is awesome. It’s a song about the end of her own marriage – or rather one that became about her personal life, given that it was written earlier – and while it’s rendered in the same way as basically any other Katy Perry song – it sounds like it could be a song about how cupcakes are delicious that had a drastic turn for the maudlin after Perry’s personal life took a turn for the worse. It’s lyrically not like much she’s ever done, but musically exactly the same, a weird disconnect that attempts to resolve by the end – there’s an attempted Stronger moment in a late verse – but never really does.

It’s also the single that was meant to sell “Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection” which I had always intended to be the song to represent the irritating habit of artists trying to sell old albums with a bit of new art. Of course, this plan was not actually that well thought out, given that we’re almost at the end of this project and I’m just now addressing it, but way back in 2012 it was honestly the song that made me consider just how annoying the scheme actually is.

Part of Me had a huge amount of hype going into its release, since it was a breakup song after Perry’s own public breakup. It was also a song that could have been included on the original release of Teenage Dream, it was complete and basically ready to go. It would not have had quite the same meaning then, of course, but it was still a finished song. The same could be said about most of the songs included on the reissue, though several were remixes, which was connected to an album that wasn’t that old to begin with.

Artists don’t release every song from an albums recording sessions, some songs don’t just fit into the flow of an album or they don’t really belong in that context. That’s fine, if the song is good you just keep it and use it later, whether as a B-side or as part of a different album where it actually belongs. I can certainly believe that Part of Me was not appropriate for the original release of Teenage Dream – the attitude of the song runs counter to the other singles – but if it doesn’t work for that original release, why would it work appended on the end of a deluxe edition released long after everyone who wanted it had already bought the original?

What the later deluxe reissue fad does is punish fans for buying albums. Someone who actually wants to own a part of Katy Perry, as it were, might want that physical copy, with artwork and nifty inserts. They’re going to be the ones that will see a reissue and be sold an album they already own, with a paltry number of new songs as a reward. Instead of holding off, or just recording new material – honestly, Teenage Dream was 2010, the “complete” Teenage Dream was 2012, plenty of time to at least put an EP together – it’s a way to transparently bilk the most hardcore fans you have out of their hard earned money. While it’s now possible to buy albums piecemeal, so people can get the bonus tracks they like individually, the people who actually buy the CDs are the ones who will be punished, because they own these songs already.

One can argue about what’s killing the music industry all they want, but mercenary practices like this can’t possibly be helping it.

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