Watch+Listen: Getting To Know Spotify’s Streamiest Streams Of 2012

by Kevin on December 7, 2012

Stare into the pasty face of blandness.

Spotify, the streaming music service that has completely revolutionized the way you listen to music or whatever, has compiled a list of the most streamed songs of the year, which you can check out here. As a public service and also perhaps out of some morbid curiosity, I decided to listen to this playlist, essentially to find out how the other half lives (or in this case probably the other 90%). Since these songs wouldn’t be on here if they weren’t obscenely popular, you’re probably already pretty familiar with them, but I have a tenuous relationship with Top 40 music. While I knew a few of these songs, there were plenty I hadn’t heard until I started writing this a week and a half ago. So I guess it’s been a bit of a learning experience for me.

And just for an extra bit of fun and snark, I’m going to grade each of the songs according to my own made up and pretentious scale.

So what the hell, let’s do this! How bad could it be?

25. Adele, “Rolling In The Deep”

After selling 25 million copies, Adele’s 21 is now firmly ranked among the CDs your mom is most likely to have a copy of, shoved into her car’s visor next to Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me and Shania Twain’s Come On Over. I like Adele, and although I didn’t think “Rolling In The Deep” was quite up there with 19’s “Chasing Pavements” or even “Turning Tables,” it’s one of the best songs on this list and I was glad to have a chance to start off easy.
Grade: A-

24. Psy, “Gangnam Style”

It’s everywhere. It perplexes Bill O’Reilly. Even President Obama is aware of it. Perhaps the only reason “Gangnam Style” is so low on this list is because it doesn’t incorporate YouTube views into its ranking. Is it social commentary? Is it parody? Is it meaningless absurdity? Who cares, it has an adorable Korean man doing a funny dance! And even though it pains me to have to write about a song that seems to be the South Korean equivalent of “Macarena,” its meme status appears to render it at least somewhat beyond criticism. (But that doesn’t mean I can’t still give it a middling grade.)
Grade: C+

23. Coldplay, “Paradise”

I had to double check, because I could have sworn Mylo Xyloto came out like six years ago. I somehow hadn’t actually heard Coldplay’s latest lukewarm bit of heavily orchestrated pop until sitting down with this list—at least, I don’t think so, but it’s hard to know for sure. In the past I’ve defended Coldplay, and I still think about half of 2005’s X&Y is strong, particularly when the band steps out of their comfort zone and incorporates more post-punk and new wave elements. But “Paradise” is like a four minute yawn, content to simply sit there and be pretty, big rock percussion be damned. Excuse me while I take a nap.
Grade: D

22. David Guetta ft. Nicki Minaj, “Turn Me On”

I’ve been trying to figure out what David Guetta is all about, because this isn’t the only appearance he makes on this list. On “Turn Me On,” pop-rap diva and possible psychopath Nicki Minaj pole-dances around his glitchy beats with ease, crafting a bachelorette party-ready anthem for many a Saturday night to come. It’s not exactly refined or even glamorous, but it’s effective, even if Nicki seems a strange choice for this particular would-be electro-pop smash.
Grade: C

21. Rihanna, “Where Have You Been”

Further supporting my theory that every Rihanna song ever made is about having sex with Rihanna, “Where Have You Been” follows this list’s trend of backing R&B and pop anthems with robust electro beats while the chanteuse yeah-yeah-yeahs her way through another song about the perfect lover. I generally don’t mind Rihanna, but “Where Have You Been” sounds like a rip of “Only Girl (In The World)” with none of that song’s refinement and relative subtlety. We’ll get another Calvin Harris/Rihanna collaboration later in the list that works much better, so more on that below.
Grade: C+

20. Jay-Z & Kanye West, “Niggas In Paris”

Perhaps the only rap song to sample dialogue from the movie Blades Of Glory, “Niggas In Paris” is an ingenious celebration of excess and flamboyance, and one of the most fun and engaging tracks from last year’s Watch The Throne. The lyrics don’t always make sense, and there are a ton of in-jokes and funny references, but “Paris” welcomes everyone equally to share in the revelry and gold-plated beats. You are now watching the throne, indeed.
Grade: A

19. Flo Rida, “Good Feeling”

I’m going to be writing a lot about Flo Rida in this article (seriously, he’s on this list three fucking times), which I find odd because after 2007’s “Low” and 2009’s Dead Or Alive sampling “Right Round” I never gave the rapper a second thought. But maybe by the end I’ll have a better sense of Flo’s popularity. “Good Feeling” combines the dance-pop elements of The Black Eyed Peas with the summer jam-writing savvy of Nelly and actually delivers a few fun surprises, but ultimately fails to impress. Plus that hook is used much more effectively later in the list…
Grade: C-

18. Fun, “Some Nights”

On a recent episode of The Nerdist podcast, co-host, stand-up comic, and Bing-spokesman Jonah Ray described Fun as “a bunch of indie kids who heard The Arcade Fire and wanted to sound like Queen.” While this description pretty accurately describes “Some Nights,” I think it gives Fun a little too much credit. Between the often forced Freddie Mercury impression and the auto-tuned, Glee-ready harmonies, “Some Nights” seems to be assembled from a kit—plus I’m pretty sure those are the drums from “Cecelia.” Still, “Some Nights” has a few things going for it, namely a meticulous composition that does incorporate key elements of Queen and ELO while keeping things appropriately light. Fun (I refuse to write “fun.” every time) has an even bigger hit below, which I’m sure you’ve all heard a million times already, so I’ll save my final verdict for the end.
Grade: B-

17. One Direction, “What Makes You Beautiful”

You guys know that’s a fucking Grease melody, right?
Grade: F

 

 

 

 

16. LMFAO, “Sexy And I Know It”

There’s an entire subset of music I call “wedding pop” because wedding receptions are literally the only places I ever hear certain songs: “The Electric Slide” and “The Cha Cha Slide,” for example, or pretty much anything by The Black-Eyed Peas. Granted, that’s mostly because I sort of go out of my way to not listen to stuff like that, but even so, I can’t imagine another scenario where I’d actually expect to hear “Sexy And I Know It” (commercials, maybe?).

Look, you don’t need me to tell you that LMFAO is fucking terrible, and that songs like “Sexy And I Know It,” “Party Rock,” and “Shots” are borderline insulting. And yet, every time one comes on at a wedding reception (or a dance club, or a house party), people dance. They’re happy, they’re excited, and the good vibes of the night make them feel charitable. LMFAO, for what it’s worth, have deftly tapped into that vein through a mix of don’t-we-look-ridiculous cheek and a surprising earnestness, even if much if that earnestness is undercut by their 2 Live Crew-inspired bullshit.
Grade: D-

15. Snoop Dogg & Wiz Khalifa ft. Bruno Mars, “Young, Wild & Free”

I haven’t seen the movie Mac & Devin Go To High School, nor have I listened to Snoop and Khalifa’s soundtrack album besides the breezy single “Young, Wild & Free,” but I get the impression everything about the project can be summed up in this song. It’s an anthem for a mellow summer afternoon, with a jazzy piano sample driving a chorus about the pleasures of youth, a theme that pops up quite a bit on this list. Khalifa outshines Snoop, but Snoop has rarely put too much effort into anything he’s done lately, so this isn’t too surprising. I could see this popping up on shuffle at a barbecue or a pool party and nodding along with a smile.
Grade: B

14. Michel Teló, “Ai Se Eu Te Pego (Live)”

OK, truth be told, I have exactly zero frame of reference for this. But just listen to the audience on this live recording of “Ai Se Eu Te Pego”—which, according to Wikipedia, translates to “Oh, If I Get You” (and is also a cover). The energy and enthusiasm is palpable, and even though I have no idea who Michel Teló is or what this song is about, the crowd seems to love it, so who am I to question that? It’s interesting hearing a song like this among the others on this list, if only because it underscores just how global Spotify’s reach is.
Grade: A (because why not?)

13. Skrillex ft. Sirah, “Bangarang”

Grating dubstep and a meaningless reference to Hook… hoo boy, this is a challenge. I’ve previously been quite vocal about my hatred of Skrillex, whose approach to dance music is to take everything Richard D. James accomplished and take a giant shit all over it, offers up another slab of tuneless nonsense that, go figure, lands him in the top 20. “Bangarang” is marginally better than “Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites,” but still not as good as getting a colonoscopy from a chainsaw.
Grade: F

12. Avicii, “Levels”

The hook from “Good Feeling” is back, this time in its original incarnation: the glossy dance track “Levels” from Swedish house golden child Tim Berg, a.k.a. Avicii. I confess to not really being a fan of dance music, but I can certainly appreciate a good jam, and “Levels” has the spark of something remarkable, especially as Tim Berg evolves and borrows from established artists like Robyn (check out his more recent single, “Silhouettes,” for more on this). “Levels” might not necessarily be my thing, but I’m glad I had a chance to experience it.
Grade: A-

11. Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris, “We Found Love”

I generally like about half Rihanna’s singles—“Disturbia” bad, “Don’t Stop The Music” good—so I’m not terribly surprised by these results. While “Where Have You Been” has its moments but ultimately gets lost in a sea of aggressive electro, “We Found Love” is grounded by its repeated mantra (“We found love in a hopeless place”) that keeps things on a tight leash. The jubilant rave-up is pure Harris, and gives Rihanna a point of reference that keeps her from falling back on those old crutches of uh-uh-uh and ay-ay-ay-ay.
Grade: B+

10. Loreen, “Euphoria (Single Version)”

As a trance and electronic music novice, I don’t have anything terribly constructive to say about “Euphoria,” which is absolutely enormous in Loreen’s native Sweden but which I’ve never heard of before last week. Compared to “Levels” above, Loreen’s song has more in common with late-’90s Cher than anything from this decade, particularly considering how progressive the Swedish scene seems to be. Anyway, what do I know?
Grade: C

09. David Guetta ft. Sia, “Titanium”

I haven’t kept up whatsoever with Sia’s career, only really remembering her from the 2004 piano ballad “Breathe Me.” Apparently she’s been traveling in the right circles, as “Titanium” is her first of two appearances on this list. It’s also the second appearance of Guetta, and taking the two songs side by side I’d say “Titanium” is easily the stronger one, even if I greatly prefer the Sia of Colour The Small One to the more cookie cutter pop singer here. Still, Sia nails it, particularly the transcendent chorus and the bring-it-on delivery of “Fire away, fire away.” If I danced, I would totally get down to this.
Grade: B+

08. Maroon 5 ft. Wiz Khalifa, “Payphone”

A few years ago I wrongly predicted Maroon 5 would suddenly get dark and become the next Depeche Mode; this was before The Voice, “Moves Like Jagger,” and Adam Levine’s solidified pop star status. So here we are, 10 years removed from Songs About Jane and 15 from Kara’s Flowers (holy shit, does anybody else remember “Soap Disco?” No? OK, I’ll show myself out…), and we have the surprisingly profane hit “Payphone.” Wiz Khalifa’s verse comes completely out of nowhere for me, but then again, rappers have been guesting on pop songs for years now, and it doesn’t stop Maroon 5 from getting the fourth RIAA-certified platinum single of their career. (Also, no one uses payphones anymore, Adam.)
Grade: B-

07. Nicki Minaj, “Starships”

To everyone sick of this song, I feel you. If I had been listening to “Starships” all year long, I’m not sure I’d even be sane enough to be allowed outside my hospital room, let alone on the Internet to write about pop songs. But I’m coming to this one with fresh ears, only having heard it for the first time a week ago. (For those of you wondering how that’s even possible, let me just say it’s easier than you realize.) So what do I think? In short: I dig it. Nicki Minaj is one of those artists great in small doses, and she seems to expertly walk a line between the anything-goes image of Lady Gaga and the technical prowess of Missy Elliott. Unlike “Turn Me On,” “Starships” actually seems to be from Nicki’s perspective, particularly when the chorus bottoms out into a monstrous, druggy rave. Nicki takes chances, and even though not everything succeeds, we need artists like her pushing back on pop culture.
Grade: A-

06. Train, “Drive By”

Jesus Christ, when did Train become Sugar Ray? Train—specifically dopey front-Muppet Pat Monahan—has trafficked in the kind of saccharine platitudes that of course sell millions of records: “Calling All Angels”; “Drops Of Jupiter”; “Hey, Soul Sister.” If just reading that brief list makes you cringe or well up with rage, welcome to the club. Or at least take solace in the fact that while tons of people are enabling this kind of dubious pap (I mean, “When you move me, everything is groovy?” Are you fucking serious, Train?), you aren’t one of them, and hopefully you never will be.
Grade: F

05. Flo Rida ft. Sia, “Wild Ones”
04. Flo Rida, “Whistle”

Now that I’ve spent more time with Flo Rida than I ever expected in my lifetime, I have to admit that I get it. This isn’t the same as saying that I like Flo’s music, but if this list really represents the kind of stuff the world is vibing to, then it makes sense that songs like “Wild Ones” and “Whistle” should dominate. “Wild Ones” fits right in with the other Saturday night party anthems on this list, with a loud beat and some innocuous lyrics about having fun, dancing, etc. “Whistle” confuses me a little. It’s not that I’m surprised a completely obvious song about blowjobs is popular, but rather I’m surprised it’s this popular without being even slightly clever. Anyway, I wonder if that’s actually Flo whistling. Whoever it is, he’s no Andrew Bird.
Grade: C-/D+

03. Fun ft. Janelle Monae, “We Are Young”

As the year winds to a close and Fun finds themselves with a Grammy nomination and placement on a lot of year-end lists—even the indie-ish ones—the time has come for me to reassess whether the band truly is a lot of people’s “guilty pleasure” or if the world’s fascination is genuine. Personally I tend to believe there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure: we like what we like, consequences be damned. Yet even on some of these lists, Fun’s inclusion evidently requires some justifications; Some Nights eked into Spin’s Top 50 by virtue of their being a “full-fledged ‘alternative rock’ band,” which just goes to show how liberally applied that label is.

That said, the kids seem to be onto something. I genuinely appreciate the structural shifts of “We Are Young” and the anthemic chorus, backed by na-na-nas and bleacher-stomping. Like some of the other songs on this list, the themes of being young, driving around, and feeling like you can take on the world are irresistible this year (and every year), and I admit it will be interesting to see what Fun does with their newfound level of fame. But will I ever listen to Some Nights again? Probably not. Have Fun, kids.
Grade: B

02. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe”

When you’ve been parodied by both Jimmy Fallon and Cookie Monster, it’s safe to say you have a bona fide smash hit on your hands. And “Call Me Maybe,” the hooky earworm that took the Internet by storm this summer and launched the 27-year-old Jepsen into the global spotlight, truly deserves its #2 spot here. The thing about the song is that it’s charming, from the minimalist synth hits on the chorus to the subtle beat that drives it, even if after the tenth listen it starts to wear completely thin. (My sympathies to those of you who listen to Top 40 radio, because I’m sure six months or more of this would negatively skew my opinion.)

And yet, I just don’t think “Call Me Maybe” is likely to go down in history as a landmark crossover institution like, say, “Hey Ya” or “Crazy.” Nor do I think it has possible longevity in the form of a catchy psuedo-novelty anthem like “Mickey” or “Love Shack.” For as catchy and clever as “Call Me Maybe” is, I’m pessimistic that it will find much of an audience in 20 or 30 years, save for the occasional reference in VH1’s I Love The ’10s special. And may God have mercy on us if I’m wrong.
Grade: B+

01. Gotye, “Somebody That I Used To Know”

So here we are at the end of the list, and the streamiest stream of 2012. I listened to “Somebody That I Used To Know” a lot over the past week and in a lot of different ways: on my car stereo, my headphones at my desk, my iPod dock in the kitchen, over weak and tinny laptop speakers. I turned it over and over, listening to Gotye’s mumbles and yelps. I listened to Luiz Bonfá’s “Seville,” where the jazzy guitar sample comes from, to try to get at the song’s core. I wanted—no, needed—to understand how this song landed in the #1 spot. Because, my dear readers, I just don’t get it.

It’s not that “Somebody” is a bad song, it’s just that it’s not an especially good song, either. It’s like an overcooked noodle, limp and soggy, all flavor boiled out of it. It just lies there, and every time you think it’s going to get up and actually do something, it hits a couple of notes on a xylophone and goes back to sleep. It’s boring, and listening to it makes me bored. It’s inoffensive, which is always code for “bland,” which I find funny because I take some offense to bland music.

So are you among the millions who love Gotye’s Brazilian-lite folk-pop? If so, what specifically appeals to you about the song? Give me something to go on here, Internet, because I’ve got nothing.
Grade: C

 

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