For the past year, I’ve spent two hours, five days a week, in my 2000 Toyota Camry commuting to and from work with six preset pop radio stations. I suppose that makes me an expert on pop radio, obviously. So I’m here to share my top 10 singles on pop radio in the glorious year of 2015. Consider me a drop in the bucket of top 10 pop singles lists on the Internet.
But if I shared everything at once, this post will feel too long. Songs ranked six to ten on my top 10 list are under the cut; the rest will be posted tomorrow.
10. 5 Seconds of Summer, “She’s Kinda Hot”
Have you read the 5 Seconds of Summer’s Rolling Stones interview? You should read it, because I’m obsessed with how much of a PR nightmare it is that I sort of need to thank everyone involved in that miserable trainwreck. I want to write a blog post on that (teaser!) because it’s exactly the kind of One Direction interview I wanted, but am now glad I never got. I’m sorry for the possibly crying 13 year old girls, though–it’s probably tough learning that your boy band crush is a frequently hungover polygamous, porn-addicted masturbator.
I hesitated putting a 5 Seconds of Summer song on the list, mainly because I now know that all members of 5SOS are kind of terrible and sexist (albeit typical) 20 year old boys. (But esteemed film critics continue to put Roman Polanski’s Chinatown on their best-of lists, so there you have my best defense.) I also hesitated, in fear that I won’t be taken seriously, and in fear that people won’t read the rest of the list, or anything else I will ever write again for that matter, but I think this is a risk worth taking. Because I really miss songs like “She’s Kinda Hot.”
Co-written by the Madden Brothers (of Good Charlotte), it’s no surprise that song hearkens back to a time where 13 year old me would listen to Green Day, Simple Plan, blink-182, Jimmy Eat World, and naturally, Good Charlotte on MySpace. For all it’s worth, 5 Seconds of Summer reminds me of lonely nights chatting with strangers on AIM and streaming songs on MySpace, and I love them for it.
Unlike One Direction, who blindly dabbles in folk and classic rock without much personal attachment, I get the sense that the 5SOS boys care about the music they write, sing, and record. Although I saw both One Direction and 5SOS in concert this past summer, and One Direction has more charisma to burn, the 5SOS boys seem to mean every word they say.
5SOS sounds like the MySpace era of music. Musically, they’re clearly inspired by their idols–Green Day, Good Charlotte, All Time Low. Lyrically, they want to name-check Green Day and Nirvana, but even more so, they’re eager to sing about the things that All Time Low and Jimmy Eat World sang about and resonated with them: unattainable girls and adolescent blues.
“She’s Kinda Hot” is a testament of all those things I just mentioned, and perhaps more. Don’t be misled by the song’s title, which, considering the content of the song, feels like a concoction of a misguided corporate executive who thinks that teenage girls are only into boys who are into having sex with them. In fact, the song features one of the best openers I’ve heard all year–that westerny guitar riff is awesome–but what strikes me the most is that it’s such an earnest ode to the lonely, the isolated, and the weird. Even if 5SOS is merely delivering an emotional band-aid, the song makes it hard not to feel inspired to live, and to live on.
9. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, “Downtown”
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” represented a few seconds of the cultural zeitgeist in 2012, but it’s often overlooked for how powerfully it attacks a culture of materialism. In fact, I’d even tackle materialism more effectively than “Same Love” tackles discrimination against the LGBT community.
The irony, however, is that some of the most materialist young people jammed to “Thrift Shop” back in 2012. In 2014, a few of my privileged millennial friends went to Outsidelands and wanted to see Macklemore and Lewis, but they also dressed in fake casual (i.e., Patagonias), and had $115 to blow on a music festival. (Disclaimer: I went to Outsidelands in 2014 as well, and was there on the day Kanye West performed. Yeah, I know, total hypocrite move, but at least I was not wearing a $100 track suit and bobbing my head to “Thrift Shop.” FACT.)
I don’t think Mackelmore and Lewis get enough credit for how great The Heist is as an album, though. Aside from “Thrift Shop” and “Same Love,” they dig into some tough shit–consumerism, alcoholism, and so on. It’s a content-packed album with lots to say about our society and culture, and I definitely recommend that you listen to it as you go on your morning run (with or without your $100 track suit).
“Downtown” isn’t really about any tough issues, but it’s so much fun. I suppose it’s about mopeds, but it’s also really just a celebration. Of life, of love. It sounds like a Broadway show and flash mob rolled into smorgasbord of bubblegum pop and hip hop. It’s a chaotic song, and it’s a song that doesn’t figure out what it wants to be, but that experimental ambition is also what makes it exciting and kind of cool.
8. Selena Gomez, “Same Old Love”
I’ve never really been a fan of Selena Gomez, whose biggest radio hit to date before this year was the boring, yet prematurely sexual “Come and Get It.” However, tables have turned, and Selena Gomez’s ex-best friend, Demi Lovato, is the one with the boring, yet sexual singles on Top 40 radio, and Gomez, well–
Gomez released “Same Old Love,” a song that could be about Justin Bieber, or an entirely lover who has gone stale. In fact, I’m not all that interested in who the song is actually about because the song itself is interesting enough to sustain itself.
“Same Old Love” is about falling out of love. And sure, it’s about a young woman who claims that she’s grown sick of her lover because he always does the same ol’ things, until you realized that she’s not merely bored with him, or momentarily mad at what he said to her. She’s frustrated by him because he keeps making the same mistakes over and over again, and she’s had enough of this shit. And what he’s doing is not only taking an emotional toll on her, but also a physical toll.
Gomez’s unbridled emotional honesty in the delivery of her lyrics makes the song work, and I feel myself liking the song even more upon repeated listens.
7. Hozier, “Someone New”
In 2014, Hozier recorded a pretty unpleasant song called “Take Me to Church,” a song that was made slightly better by his duet with Queen Annie Lennox at the Grammys earlier this year, but still remained depressing, bleak, and sort of pretentious as hell.
Sex and religion analogies have run its course into the cliched oblivion, and “Take Me to Church” provided that bookend in a loud, overbearing way. Hozier has a soulful, effective voice from another era, but it’s dulled by that song’s brash symbolism.
Enter Hozier’s “Someone New,” a better outlet for his talent. “Someone New” is thematically as depressing as “Take Me to Church,” but the implied sexuality of its lyrics–the disinterest in monogamy, the yearning to find that elusive thing of true love–is much more liberating than “Take Me to Church’s” recalling of supposedly taboo sexual memories.
Yet, the tune of “Someone New” feels ironic, as its musical backdrop sounds pleasant and folksky. It sounds like a happier song than it actually is. But then again, its point of view is also less happy than he actually wants to admit. Neither song, nor narrator can have it both ways, but they try, and succeed on their own terms.
6. Ellie Goulding, “On My Mind”
Despite Ellie Goulding’s unique soprano sultriness, her music has been rather bland to me. Songs like “Burn” and “Lights” don’t have much content to carry either of the songs for repeat listens. Goulding’s songs occupied the radio and dancefloors like a really loud phantom–you heard her, but you could rarely feel her.
Until now. Until “On My Mind,” a certified goldmine of sass. Although Goulding has denied it, it’s hard not to listen to “On My Mind” as anything other than a response to Ed Sheeran’s “Don’t.” Many have speculated that Sheeran’s “Don’t” was about Ellie Goulding cheating on him with One Direction’s Niall Horan, but Goulding denied that ever happened, while Sheeran remained mum. Even if Goulding was telling the truth, it’s still fun listening to “On My Mind” through the lenses of “Don’t.” It adds intrigue and mystery to a very ambiguous pop star war without any public answers.
Because those tattoos could be Ed Sheeran’s. And those lies could be Ed Sheeran’s. And perhaps Ellie Goulding is still hung up on Ed Sheeran, and is upset that he could ever think that she cheated on him with Niall Horan. And the perhaps, mayhaps, maybes shall go on and on and on, endlessly into the hotel night. At the hotel that Ellie Goulding maybe cheated on Ed Sheeran with Niall Horan, OR MAYBE NOT.
Alas, Goulding has achieved a rare feat with her pop song: she’s making listeners think, and think hard, and maybe think meaninglessly, but thinking, nonetheless.