Baauer – Harlem Shake

First Hit #1: March 2, 2013

Harlem Shake’s ascent to the top of the chart is due to precisely one reason: Including Youtube views in chart calculations. The bit of silly dance music was not there on it’s musical merits, it’s there for an odd joke that cropped up in the early part of the decade, where people would make wacky dance videos set to the song. It is, in fact, a hit song where the song has very little to do with why it’s actually a hit.

Outside of the videos though, is there anything worth listening to on its own? Well it’s got a decent build at one section, though that is undercut by the fact that it seems to be sampling an angry bear drinking a slurpee. It’s in a kind of nebulous area between goofy and annoying, and I can’t imagine listening to it on a regular basis. It serves its function, and it does work as the background for something else, but as a song on its own it just makes one wonder if Billboard’s streaming calculations might have needed a bit more work.

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Macklemore and Ryan Lewis feat. Wanz – Thrift Shop

First Hit #1: February 2, 2013

Never explain the joke. At one point in Thrift Shop there is a line about “Smelling like R. Kelly’s sheets.” That’s actually not a bad line, considering the rather outre sexual history of R. Kelly. But then immediately after there’s someone saying “pisssssssss” with no music behind it, just in case you didn’t get the reference, and it kills the line. It’s not funny because it assumes you don’t get it, and once you include an explanation it just isn’t funny.

That’s not the only problem with Thrift Shop, a song about buying out of style clothes for cheap. The lyrics could have done with another pass, especially the chorus which starts really well and then you get to “fucking awesome” which is not the most musical of phrases. It will have some clever lines about thrift song finds and fashion, but then it’ll throw in something really awkward and poorly phrased – there’s a Gucci t-shirt line that’s a major clunker surrounded by some lyrics that actually flow well, and it seems like it was just in there until he could figure out a better way to link the thoughts. It feels like a lark, a last minute bit of silly improvisation that somehow became a hit.

Of course, it has a highly amusing video and this was immediately after Billboard incorporated Youtube into their calculations. That certainly didn’t hurt it.

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Bruno Mars – Locked Out of Heaven

First Hit #1: December 22, 2012

Bruno Mars’ career began writing songs for other people, and Locked Out of Heaven sounds like a song for someone else. Specifically, it sounds like it was written for Sting, possibly for a reunion of the Police. This isn’t that there’s anything wrong with being influenced by an earlier artist, especially one that’s influential and had a distinctive sound, but I had to double check the writing credits to ensure it wasn’t a cover and wasn’t initially intended for Sting in any capacity. In the case of Mars’ overall career, since he is a songwriter it’s actually an asset that he can successfully mimic other artists in musical style and presentation, and this would be an alright song as new material for a Sting album – it would certainly be the most energetic and exciting thing he has released in years. But as a Bruno Mars song, his own identity is completely lost in the song, and while it’s not entirely necessary that an artist has a complete identity, it’s odd that one who writes most of his own material is less identifiable than many who don’t. Were I hearing this on the radio instead of on a program that lists artist names, I probably wouldn’t know who it actually was.

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Rihanna – Diamonds

First Hit #1: December 1, 2012

It’s becoming a rather predictable – when December rolls around, we will see Rihanna ascend to the top of the chart. Unexpectedly, it’s a rare example of a 2011 song that’s actually somewhat positive about relationships – which is a departure for Rihanna in general, but also for the charts in 2012 in general. Still, it’s got the big chorus, though it’s not quite the inspirational tale of inherent awesomeness that the chorus implies – it’s really focused on one relationship through the entire thing, it’s just a healthy one. Rihanna’s delivery of “shine bright like a diamond” is unexpected from her, and honestly she’s developed a lot as a performer from her earlier career when she used autotune as a crutch. Diamonds is built around empty platitudes, and isn’t doing much new, but it’s a decent song.

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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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