There comes a point where pop culture isn’t for you. It’s not a sudden stop. But it sputters and you get off the culture. That’s what these last four entries are. They’re three years that end with me no longer engaged enough in popular music to comment on it. I mean I still knew some of it. But not enough to do 10 song lists. And in time even my beloved film suffered.
This is the beginning of the end. And 2010 fascinates me because I don’t know if it’s that bad. There’s bad. But is it just me? I think so. A lot of this wasn’t for me. This list is what was. And it’s pretty great.
I’m opening on a note that I think makes an important point. Music needs time to grow. Because this song absolutely was not on my list in 2010. But like I said last time, time has been very good to this artist. So fine. I’ll recognize a well made song.
10 Lady Gaga- Bad Romance. In the age of the party/dance song, Stefani Germanotta was the reminder that this world kinda stunk. I mean her biggest hit was about a woman frustrated by men and pondering bisexuality and Just Dance is loaded with dark imagery. But wow did she get to the point here. I mean the point is in the title! And it’s probably the most sonically off putting hit of the the year. But that’s the point. And it’s held up so utterly well. We need a song like this and it just gets to the core so well. I didn’t get it then but I do now.
I really loved listening to the BBC during the early months of having satellite radio. It was how I learned there was a Sherlock Holmes show with a guy with as silly a name as Holmes! My access was cut off fairly quickly as it left the service by the end of the year but I absorbed a lot of songs. I really do love After Dark by The Count and Sinden and Monster by The Automatic. But this’ll be my main representative.
9 Eliza Doolittle- Pack Up. In 2010, I was trying to figure myself out so I could move on to the next phase of my life and this was exactly the song I needed for it. It’s just so utterly happy. It’s a song about abandoning your stress. It’s so light and so bouncy. The hook uses a 1915 song’s title as its core and it’s just great. There’s a 1960s ska sample here too. I get why this didn’t break out in the US–I mean the singer uses a George Bernard Shaw character as her stage name–but it shines.
I’m kind of fascinated by how weak rock was this year. There’s some good stuff up this list. But this was a soft year. And not even a good soft year. So I can roll with a very good version of soft.
8 OneRepublic- Secrets. What a nice bit of fluff. I’ll be blunt. This song means nothing. It’s a shell of a song. It’s impersonating a real song but it isn’t one. It’s a good shell. Ryan Tedder suffered no fallout from his self plagiarism the year before with several hits this year and I dug this one. Fittingly it’s more about the melody than anything else. Like I said there’s no substance. But it’s incandescent at being a bit of nothing. I can take that. It sounds nice. That’s how pop music should be.
Time to deal with an artist I thought I was done with. But Eminem has actually been pretty good once he got the junk both figuratively and literally out of his system. Sure he still has so many corny lines but his flow is phenomenal still. He occasionally has a track like Godzilla or Berserk where he’s just knocking it out. And then there’s this.
7 Eminem Featuring Rihanna- Love the Way You Lie. Craft wise this should be higher but it’s so dark and hard to listen to. I think that’s a mark of how good it is. This is Eminem done with the shock value and the attempts to treat everything as a joke. He’s at his most mature here. It’s a song about a toxic relationship and nobody needs to be told he knows this ground. The lyrics are so fantastically dark. The hook is incredible, a meditation on the record industry originally. I do feel a bit uneasy that Rihanna, great as she is, sung the hook instead of Skylar Grey who wrote it. I mean it’s about the industry abusing you. Kinda stinks it’s proof. Still great.
Once more, I return to Mika. I’m not shocked he had a short career in the mainstream. This song actually is treated as a dud in everything I read. And look, I get it. He does show tunes in pop music form. His next dent on the radio in any way would sample Popular from Wicked with Ariana Grande assisting, a song she will very soon be doing on film. 2011 and 2012 are very weird years and even they didn’t have room for him. But ok. This song rules.
6 Mika- Blame it on the Girls. This is the kind of song we need. It’s a song about how ridiculous being whiny and mopey is when you have it good. It’s genuinely frustrating and deserves mockery. And this song is a twinkling delight. Just sparkles sonically. His voice is delightful and plays up the comedy. Like I said, this is a show tune. It’s made to be played on stage as a soliloquy. And his spoken word intro just hammers that home. This cracks me up.
OK so I really hate Jared Leto like anyone should. He’s an abysmal actor with one of the least earned Oscars in history for a performance that is a kick in the teeth to trans people. He’s a monstrous human being with years of allegations that I refuse to ignore. He’s such a reprehensible person that I find myself in the bizarre position of going on ahead and putting him on the best of list so I can call him out. Also because :sigh: this is a really great song.
5 30 Seconds to Mars- Closer to the Edge. I hate that I have to give him any credit. But look, the song is fully written by him. He sings lead vocals on it. As much as I hate the guy, he’s very good here. And I have to admit, I felt it hard in 2010. This is a young man’s blaze of glory song. And god that’s the only thing Leto is good at. He wrote some great lyrics here that are deeply evocative and he has a rock star voice. Also mad love to Tomo Miličević who is a monster guitarist. This is audio adrenaline. And it comes from a creep.
Katy Perry was a firework. I think that’s a safe description of her career. She burned impossibly bright for a moment and fizzled out just as fast. Now yes, it’s not over but I share the generally held view that she’s probably going to truck along quietly at what she does and never trouble the pop charts again. And that’s fine. Pop music is a young person’s game and her moment ended. I don’t see tragedy here. I was never a huge fan but I think if you get this song, you succeeded.
4 Katy Perry- Teenage Dream. OK, really not a hot take here. This is widely considered one of the finest pop songs of the decade. And it should be. But I’m shocked it was this big at the time. Not because it doesn’t sound like a hit but because it needs time. This is an artifact of nostalgia. It’s about youth and I don’t know if it can be felt in that moment. You need to have a decade to look back at and go “oh that makes me feel young.” It’s so purely an anthem of it. It captures that bliss of being young with your friends just vibing so hard. It’s cotton candy. And it’s a classic,
For someone very hipster, I avoid a lot of that kind of music. Next year for example is very hit heavy. But I avoid it because there’s often not much melody there. A lot of weird poking and prodding but no music. And that’s why yeah, there’s no Arcade Fire here. Death Cab For Cutie notched an entry. Radiohead is as far as I go. But fine, I’ll acknowledge one great hipster core act.
3 Vampire Weekend- White Sky. What a joyful song this is. And it’s very obvious. It’s about getting lost in New York and the people therein. It captures the joy of urban life in the way country music celebrates rural life. It has the sound of a city. It’s funny I mock the poking and prodding but that’s exactly what this is except it works because that is the city. The song has that start/stop vibe perfectly. It’s playful and fun and evocative in the best way.
Mellow rock is almost all bad. Take John Mayer, who is decidedly not on my lists. He’s so dull and his music is exhausting. The Lazy Song is next year and it’s enraging. I’ve never been that high on even the Dave Matthews Band, probably the biggest group to not even come close to my lists. And that makes sense. I like energy. Jason Mraz ain’t it. So with all that said, there is an exception. I like Jack Johnson. His stuff is the real deal. There’s authentic influence from his Hawaii background. And this song rules.
2 Jack Johnson- You and Your Heart. I can’t extricate this song from who I was in 2010. I was just on the brink of figuring out adulthood. So a song about learning to trust yourself and not go too hard thinking about logic has to make this list. That’s the thing. Johnson has the laid back sound of a guy whose dad was a surfer but he isn’t that guy. He has something on his mind. And it’s common to mock the lazy sound of a white guy strumming a guitar but Johnson is an absolutely phenomenal guitarist. This whole song was built on an incredibly tight riff. This song is pure control. It looks easy but nothing about it is. A deceptively brilliant song.
Well I didn’t think I’d be discussing the wretched Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas here. But I am. It’s a very bad insult to the book and special. And it’s somehow relevant to this list because of Taylor Momsen, the actress playing Cindy Lou Who in it. She quit acting at around 2010 to pursue music. That’s usually a bad decision. Not here. She’s the real deal.
1 The Pretty Reckless- Make Me Wanna Die. We saw a lot of artists try to recreate the great 80s rocker era through the 2000s but I mean it when I say Momsen is a true heir to the throne. This song is a bit more polished than those but it has the same soul. It’s a great ripping rock track in a year that was not that great for that. Everyone on this kills. Ben Phillips is a beast on guitar especially. But this really is on Momsen. Her vocals are sheer fire. This is as seductive and intense as the genre gets. Good stuff. And seek out more from this band. They are awesome.
Next week: A golden age