Many of us might be a little embarrassed to admit what we’ve actually been listening to this past year. Despite the fact that society tells us that the music of certain artists are merely for specific stereotypical groups—i.e. “boy bands” are only for lovesick teen girls and men don’t listen to Taylor Swift, they just date her—the truth is out there. This year saw “Call Me Maybe” namechecked by everybody from the U.S. Olympic swim team to Colin Powell, and half of the record-breaking crowd that came to see One Direction perform on the “Today” show looked to be over 30 years old. In 2012, people love pop.
As of this writing, the best (and fastest)-selling album of the year was Taylor Swift’s Red. Both fans and critics embraced her new pop persona. Billboard called it “her most interesting full-length to date”, while the traditionally stuffy Rolling Stone described it as “one of the best stories in pop”. While the major media focused on his love life and parking tickets, Justin Bieber sold 324,000 copies of Believe in its first week, a huge figure in today’s market.
In addition, many ‘90s boy bands either re-grouped or announced new plans, as their former fans have grown nostalgic about their past. 98 Degrees reformed to work on an upcoming album, as rumors abounded that N’Sync and O-Town had similar plans. New Kids on the Block continued their successful combined tour with the Backstreet Boys, who released their first new single in two years and welcomed back former member Kevin Richardson.
2013 shows no signs of stopping the comeback of teen pop. Several acts are already waiting in the wings to become the next big thing. Look to hear more about Cody Simpson, Ross Lynch, Hunter Hayes, the Wanted, Victoria Justice, and Hayden Panettiere in the new year. Jessy Krupa
“Give Me Love”
Though he may have been at it for the past seven years, 2012 was the year Ed Sheeran really broke out as an artist. To some, he’s a credit in the liner notes of major releases by One Direction and Taylor Swift or just the guy who sang “Wish You Were Here” at the Olympics. But as we speak, his “Give Me Love” is just starting to creep onto radio playlists. The song uniquely begins in a sensitive, lovesick whisper and ends in an almost tribal-sounding plea for love. While some might argue that it sounds too much like hundreds of other light-rock singer/songwriter ballads, there is something haunting about “Give Me Love”. That something is likely to put it somewhere on others’ best of 2013 lists as well.
“50 Ways to Say Goodbye”
“50 Ways to Say Goodbye” isn’t your typical, everyday song about love gone wrong. For one thing, its Tejano accordion-meets-pop rock sound is a relatively new approach for the Top 40 charts. Also, it contains 11 eleven different Final Destination-style deaths in its lyrics. Those lyrics might seem like a silly gimmick, but they are actually quite clever. The imaginary deaths aren’t just a list of excuses to explain away an ex’s absence, they are also comically dark revenge fantasies. Now that’s thinking outside of the formerly adult-contemporary box!
“The Vision of Love”
It’s a shame Kris Allen’s sophomore album didn’t do well in sales, because it is a slice of what pop music desperately needs right now: emotional maturity. “The Vision of Love” isn’t the best track off that album, but it is still a fresh slice of pop based on the belief that people need to start appreciating themselves and others. Most artists would turn such a philosophy into an emotional ballad, but Allen makes the message more effective by presenting it within a catchy pop song instead. Inspiring, yet foot-tappingly light: what more could you ask for?
Owl City, featuring Carly Rae Jepsen
Hitting No.8 on the Billboard charts, “Good Time” is a squeaky-clean salute to all-night partying. While most recent dance hits have an ironically downbeat aftertaste (i.e. Britney Spears dances “until the world ends”, Rhianna’s darkened VIP rooms are described as a “hopeless place”), this could easily describe a kid’s slumber party. You might be surprised to hear that Carly Rae Jepsen is actually 27 years old, and Adam Young (aka Owl City) is 26, but not every successful teen-pop act needs to act all grown up to attract attention. And so, when this ‘80s teen-queen-inspired singer dueted with the electro-pop whiz, the lovable, fun result guaranteed that neither could be considered one-hit wonders again.
Most of Kelly Clarkson’s hits are defiant, rocking kiss-offs to whoever has wronged her, and her fist pumping, primal scream therapy is our own outlet to rock our troubles away. But 2012 was a year of musical experimentation for Clarkson, and it culminated with the biggest hit of her career, a dancefloor anthem of getting over it. Every decade has its own “I Will Survive” or “Believe”, and the ‘10s has “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)”. As the year went on, the song was featured in commercials, mentioned in a politician’s speech, and sung by U.S. soldiers on YouTube. Basically, it was the “Call Me Maybe” of those who have lived life long enough to be disappointed, yet remain hopeful. Apparently, whatever doesn’t kill Kelly makes her music stronger, and all the more relatable.
Adele proved that she isn’t just a one-album wonder with this awesome contribution to the Bond legacy. Its towering chorus and spiraling instrumentation pushed the boundaries of what we choose to call pop, rock, or even classical. Its sampling of the original 1962 “Theme From James Bond” doesn’t come off as gimmicky or lazy, instead it somehow absorbs and twists that into something completely original. Its lyrics may be a little vague and repetitive, but, considering the cool fictitious assassin it was inspired by, doesn’t that seem like a perfect fit?
“Never Close Our Eyes”
“Never Close Our Eyes” was one of the most underrated crowning achievements of the year and the perfect melting pot of all the different shades of Adam Lambert’s music. It is not only a pulsing techno/club raver, but an intelligent ballad as well. Unlike other party tracks that travel into a seedy message of impending doom, this presents the point of view of an all-night partier who isn’t crying out for help, but just wants to enjoy every moment he has. There’s a subtle touch of romance in the lyrics as well, as it is not “my” eyes being referred to, but “our” eyes instead.
It took a long time for “Everybody Talks” to make an impact on the pop charts, over seven months. Even though it took a car commercial to introduce this track to most of us, we love it now. Its simply fabulous ‘50s a capella opening and snappy flow of lyrics lead us into a flourishing pop/rock chorus accented by lead singer Tyler Glenn’s rock howl. The most modern pop song to hit the rock charts this year, it even gave us a cool music video.
“What Makes You Beautiful”
1999 had the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way”, 2000 had N’Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye”, and 2012 had One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful”. This was the year of One Direction, and though they now have many radio hits, this one started it all. In fact, this was one of the best-selling singles of all time, selling over five million copies, and it deserves its success. Its slick production (a slight twinge of rock guitar keeps it from getting too sickly sweet), well-crafted lyrics (clever and not overly mushy), and perfect vocal execution (complete with individual vocals from every member plus harmonies) added up to a listenable, likeable smash that we will remember about this year decades from now.
Carly Rae Jepsen
“Call Me Maybe”
After being dubbed “the catchiest song ever” by Justin Bieber, this optimistic yet grammatically incorrect song took on a life of its own. But whether or not celebrity endorsement or clever YouTube videos are responsible for bringing it into the public consciousness, one thing is for certain: it is very catchy. However, its highly descriptive, clever yet cutesy lyrics are an often-underrated aspect of the tune. Did it start the new trend towards pop? Will Jepsen ever be able to top its success? No one knows, but “Call Me Maybe” was the song of 2012.