2012 was a year flooded with an almost violent optimism. That was true on the hot 100 year end list. It’s true on my list. We were happy as a culture. Bin Laden was dead. We re-elected Obama. We felt good. Movies were good. Music was good. And we had no idea this would hit a wall. By 2015, the seeds of 2016 were sown. The mood was different 10 years ago. Let’s examine it.
This is my (next to) last traditional list and I do have to check off artists I think belong in the canon. And there’s a big one that almost didn’t make it because she was good not great in this era. But I’m not letting the most important artist of the next decade stay off the project. And in 2012 she made a case to be here anyway.
10 Taylor Swift- We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together. See what I mean about aggressively upbeat music. Because this is so intensely happy. But it works. It’s a joyful middle finger to a guy. And it works because it’s an implicit admission Taylor Swift isn’t cool. She’s dorky. She prefers going into the studio and writing weird folk ballads. Sure she’s trapped in the body of someone who looks like a party girl. But this is a declaration that whatever partying she’s doing is pretty tame. And I love it. Yeah I know things would get incredibly mature for her during COVID. But I dig this era too.
Oh, I wish I could just put this on the list, smile, and walk away. It’s a kick ass song. I associate it with driving to Delight to spend time with my future wife’s family, something I loved doing. Great party song too. But this is a Dr. Luke produced song by Kesha. That’s a dark cloud. Let’s focus on the joy.
9 Kesha- Die Young. I’m putting the credit on Sebert and her co-writer Nate Ruess whose fun. work this resembles a lot. This is far more that sound and it rocks. I’ve talked about the end of history energy that pervaded this era and this is that perfectly. It just sounds like somewhere you want to be. It’s got a great chanting chorus. It’s synth heavy. It’s the perfect party song on the era.
Twilight ended this year and I’ll never fully process an opinion on it. I think. It was bad mind you. But it was never for me. And that’s fine. I think in its own right it was what it was. Often very well shot. Often sounded great. It was probably as good as that kind of film got. The last film ended on one more perfect song choice.
8 Christina Perri- A Thousand Years. This is what I think the movies wanted to feel like. It’s a genuine, heartfelt song. It’s a simple declaration of love. It strikes a fire in your heart. And the thing is it’s all restraint. Perri could and often did go large. But here she’s very held back and it’s lovely. The choruses almost feel like a private joke in her delivery. This is how I like love songs.
You know what movie was my jam? The Avengers. It still blows my mind the first time we got The Avengers on screen it was with a lineup that included Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye. It was a thoroughly kickass time at the movies that got the comics. And like with the Twilight saga, the closing song makes my list.
7 Soundgarden- Live to Rise. It kinda rules that the next to last list manages to fit Soundgarden in after all. And to do so deservedly because this song is as good as they ever sounded. It’s a nice tight rock song that fits with their 90s canon. Chris Cornell sounds great here. Age only made his voice sound better honestly. I wish this was a bigger hit because this is such a vintage blast of a song. Just an adrenaline rush.
A word about context. It changes songs dramatically. Take for example the very important context of South Korean art. It’s extremely class conscious. Bong Joon-Ho has exploited it to great effect in Snowpiercer and the masterpiece Parasite. Squid Game became an international phenomenon with a violently barbed take on the subject. And then there’s this. A song written off as just a funny fat Asian guy being dorky. Credit is due.
6 PSY- Gangnam Style. When you know this is a mockery of the shallow nature of Korean society, this song feels so different. It’s gutting the very idea of cool. Yes PSY looks and sounds ridiculous. He’s trying to. And it’s hysterical. But there’s something else I love about the song which is it’s absolutely a killer track. It sounds great. It’s well produced. PSY is a great hype man. And let me share in a theory I’ve heard that this song is important because it got k-pop on the radio. BTS can point to PSY for getting the door open. We learned we dig that sound here.
OK, I have to again admit knowing what was coming has put its thumb on this scale. And bizarrely it’s from an artist who only had one solo hit. After this, she became almost a cult artist. Which is weird because what followed was incredible and also exactly the same sound as her hit. And that hit deserves all the love it got.
5 Carly Rae Jepsen- Call Me Maybe. Looking back I have no idea to make of why this song hit so big because it’s such an anomaly. It’s incredibly squeaky clean in an era where Blurred Lines was looming and Miley Cyrus was about to set fire to her Disney image. But I think that’s the exact reason it hit so big. It’s an innocent bit of fluff and it reminds us that pop music is all artifice. That’s especially true of Jepsen who trades exclusively in that realm. Like I know absolutely nothing about her as a person aside from her origins and career. But she sounds so great at it. This song is infectious and silly and we need it. I don’t think it’s Run Away With Me good but it’s strong.
I was a bit hard on Green Day the last time I put them on this list, pointing out they couldn’t redo American Idiot. It was a one time deal and as good as the stuff they threw out was, it was permanently in that shadow. So I like that in 2012 they shrugged and agreed and just did a bit of classic pop rock. And it was great.
4 Green Day- Oh Love. I love that this is just the band letting go of the serious and just having some damned fun. It’s a simple pop song. It uses a bit of Dixie in the chorus. It’s short. It’s tight. But what it underlines is why Green Day matters. They seemed like a simple band at first but of all the pop punk bands, they’re the ones that dug in hard to both. They released an album length angry rant against the War on Terror when that was a risk and they get what makes a great pop song. This is them as strong in that mode as ever.
:sigh: Sia Furler is not a name I like mentioning. Which doesn’t make me unique. Her original fans hate her for selling out harder than any artist ever has. Her fans in her pop era got sick of her weird garbage. And of course autistic people despise her for Music. She haunts this era of pop music as a songwriter to a point where a lot of it just sounds like her voice. See below.
3 Rihanna- Diamonds. If 2012 was the optimistic age, this is the minor note to close us out. It’s still a very happy song. It’s very lush. It’s bright. But it’s got a dark edge to it. The person singing it isn’t certain. Rihanna goes for it on this song. Her vocals are just a juggernaut, getting her in over Adele even. (Skyfall is my 11.) This sounds like a clear night sky. And I think it transitions us well.
What is the difference between a pastiche and a ripoff? I say its simply this. A ripoff doesn’t land what it’s going for. A pastiche does. It also makes a difference if you take what you’re borrowing and make something unique out of it. If the sound you’re going for is The Police then not sounding like Sting is a plus. So yeah, let’s talk a truly great pastiche.
2 Bruno Mars- Locked Out of Heaven. Bruno Mars got what made The Police work as he would with later influences like disco, Prince, and 80s funk. He is a master of the pastiche. And great as Uptown Funk is, I think this is where he nailed it. This is the great 80s track we didn’t get. It’s a great classic hook, a guy desperate for a woman, and then the phenomenal lyrics are just layered with insane production. And I will give credit where it’s due. Mars does credit The Police as his inspiration. And he nails it. Just a perfect track.
And we are at number one. I’ve consciously thought about the state of my life as I think about these songs. Imagine Dragons narrowly lost a spot with the great It’s Time, a song about being aware that everything was happening. In 2012, I had a girlfriend the entire year, a big first. So songs about thinking about the moment made sense in 2012. My number one is the best it got. A song about how incredibly messy it is to be fully an adult. It’s from a band that had three hits then stopped existing and the members went their separate ways. Well if you make a song like this, you don’t need anything else.
1 fun.- Some Nights. I can’t imagine a more perfect anthem for 2012. Because as bright and optimistic as everything felt, the stress and frustration was still there. And that’s what this is. A complicated, rambling rant about how much it sucks to be an adult that still feels charged and hopeful. When Nate Ruess declares “So this is it, boys, this is war/What are we waiting for?/Why don’t we break the rules already?” he speaks for a generation that is at the point that they can do something and don’t know how because they’re confused. It sounds amazing too. It’s grand, epic, sweeping music. This is the modern Bohemian Rhapsody in my eyes. A classic.
Next: Well…one more bonus list. 2013