Five viral songs you said you hated but secretly loved in 2012 (and why in some cases, that’s OK):
1. Gangnam Style: PSY
The Facts: Two words: dirty bass. This is the one element, beyond the insane South Korean technicolor musicscape and that freaky horse dance and the softcore elevator ride, that makes Gangnam Style so infectious. What is that rolling, grinding beat that kicks the whole thing off. Is that dubstep, you wonder, or is it just one of the millions of old pop music mainstays highlighted in a new way? Does it matter? No, you conclude.
Confession: The first time I saw this video was after I’d already seen some commotion about it on Twitter, and quickly scanned-but-didn’t-quite-read some headlines about the political undertones to the lyrics (that he’s singing abouta particularly New Money neighbourhood in Seoul and skewering it), and for some reason I thought it was from North Korea. Don’t ask me why. I chalk it up to sensory overload. How could I be asked to process any serious information, let alone context, when a slightly chubby Korean dude in sunglasses is thrusting around on a tour bus in a pirate shirt? All of which meant that for about the first half of the video I was in awe that something like this had not only been created inside the Hermit Kingdom, but then allowed to be released upon the world. First they allowed an Associated Press bureau and now this, I thought. Wow.
Of course, I quickly realized this wouldn’t – nay, couldn’t – be the case, and re-read the internet chatter. South Korea, I’m sorry about that.
Why You Can Love It: There hasn’t really been a global dance phenomenon since the Macarena, and frankly the Gangnam Style dance is just far, far better. And, as I discovered this summer with a few friends, trying to master it in the living room at 3 a.m. is one of the fastest ways to meet one’s neighbours.
Why You Can Hate It: The totality of its media saturation makes it annoying by default. The culmination of which was when YouTube even tried to appropriate it into their year-end wrap video (complete with the cringingly re-written lyric “Rewind YouTube style!”), quickly putting it second on the list of most annoying parodied videos this year (see below). You are so over this thing. And that’s allowed.
2. Call Me, Maybe: Carly Rae Jepsen
The Facts: Someone pressed play on this YouTube video 300 million times this year – actually, since March. Early on, there were a few articles examining why this might be the most perfect pop song ever written, and it had a lot to do with a bunch of technical-sounding musical stuff that nobody really cared about, anyway. All anyone knew was the chorus, and given it lands for the first time about 28 seconds into the song then immediately repeats itself, combining to eat up about 42 full seconds, you start to understand why that was. The song is only 3 minutes and 20 seconds long. Basically, the entire thing is a chorus.
On a personal note, I didn’t quite accept to what degree this thing had become a cultural phenomenon until one evening riding Calgary’s C-Train to the Stampede, where Jepsen was due to perform a free show a few hours later. Somewhere in the city’s suburban northwest, the car filled with a pile of drunk high school guys, all dressed in the requisite T-shirt-and-jean-and-ratty-straw-cowboy-hat uniform of early July. All they could yell to each other was how pumped they were to be seeing Carly Rae Jepsen, not to mention the things they might attempt to do should they ever get the chance to be in the same room with her and with, one presumes, a word of consent. That she is in her late 20s either didn’t matter, or it did and only fueled them further. But, I thought to myself, yes, this is when you know you’ve hit it big. When high school guys will declare happily, drunkenly, to an entire train of people that, despite your girly pop song, given the opportunity, they would totally do you.
Why You Can Hate It: The first line: “I threw a wish in a well.” Huh?
Also, it’s the first round of Bieber-backed one hit wonders. Beware.
It also spawned an achingly long list of parody videos where everyone showed just how uniquely kooky they were by making the same painfully out-of-sync parody video as everyone else on the planet.
Why You Can Love It: There is something endlessly great about summer jams, and this was decidedly a Summer Jam of the highest order. In a lot of ways, there are so few times now that one song seems to take popular culture by the throat and declare itself a necessary thing to hear, lest you become a social pariah. This came very close to that. Just don’t put that lyric on a business card, and we’ll all survive it.
3. Somebody That I Used To Know: Gotye
The Facts: People like catchy breakup songs. Gotye is basically 2012’s Cee-Lo Green, only with a bit more subtlety and a bit of hype thanks to him being an incidental discovery for pretty much everyone. Had anyone really heard of Gotye before? Nope. Has anyone heard from him since? Uh …
On Facebook this summer, a friend of mine wrote a post that simply stated he was going to the Gotye show in town that night and, further to that, if people thought Gotye was only really good for a one-hit wonder, they were wrong and his album is actually not bad. Which struck me as a bit odd, and really only the kind of thing one might proclaim when they know, deep down, the opposite of what they’re saying is true. It was tellingly defensive, but, frankly, fair enough, because the deeper knowledge was of course true: Not only was the rest of Gotye’s album only OK, but so is this, his biggest hit. It isn’t particularly unique or interesting, nor did it break any new ground either musically or stylistically. It’s a semi-indie-sounding track with broad-as-hell lyrics about having a broken heart.
Why You Hated It: Because as soon as you heard it, it was guaranteed to get stuck in your head for about 48 hours, and yet for that reason it was also unavoidable. It was as if it was looking for you. Like a zombie.
Why You Can Love It: You can project your own broken heart into the cliches, which comforts you.
4. Boyfriend: Justin Bieber
The Facts: It may come as some surprise to those pondering the Justin vs. Justin state of things that the Biebs is actually nearing a point of equation with Timberlake—in sales, anyway. As of May 2012, Bieber had sold some 15 million copies of his albums worldwide. Timberlake, as a solo artist, has apparently sold about 17 million. Bieber’s first single from 2012’s Believe was this little whisper rap thing,“Boyfriend”, with—if we’re comparing them, anyway—a sort of “Senorita” kind of feel to it (which, it should be noted, Timberlake managed on his first album).
Is “Boyfriend” any good? Overall: No. First, it doesn’t have quite the same earworminess as “Baby” (but then again this one also didn’t quite so blatantly rip off/destroy all that was lovely about Motown and claim it in the name of sugar pop, so it has that going for it, I guess. And Ludacris isn’t barging in somewhere, which is a huge positive). Second, it speaks to one of the things that tends to be so exhausting about pop music kids like Bieber (and Timberlake, to be fair). How many manufactured coming-of-age narratives can we really handle before we just tear it all down? I guess there’s really nothing fundamentally at fault with an artist moving to what he thinks is a more “mature” sound, but why that always has to be done so ham-fistedly is a mystery to me. I guess just to make sure we all get it. He’s older now, you guys. Listen to his sexy man whisper. Watch this video where he totally drives a car in a circle on the roof of some building. No more video games, no more pool parties, no more bowling alleys, no more phone calls from Usher. Okay, okay. I get it. Welcome to manhood, Justin.
Why You Hated It: He’s whispering at you for about four minutes and, worse yet, when you lean in to listen to what the hell he’s got to say, you find out he’s babbling stuff like, “hello to falsetto in three.” Oh, thanks for letting me know that one, Justin. Pro tip: Sometimes secrets really aren’t meant to be shared.
Why You Can Love It: Bieber also say things like “I’d like to be everything you want,” and “If I were a gentleman” which assumes he recognizes that, at the moment, he is neither. If nothing else, it shows a refreshing bit of self-reflection from a kid in his position. And… oh, whatever. It’s too late to stop this train. There’s no talking you out of it now. At least his hair is better these days.
5. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together: Taylor Swift
The Facts: “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” was the first single from Swift’s 2012 LP, Red. And, as a designated hipster, I have to take issue with Swift’s dismissal of her on-again-off-again (but now never again) lover’s enjoyment for whatever “indie record that’s much cooler than mine”. Taylor, here’s the thing: I like you, generally speaking. By which I mean I don’t hate you, overtly. But there are two things wrong with this line: First, that indie record, by virtue of it being an indie record, probably is much cooler than yours, and if any indie-lover actually likes your record more, it’s because they’re hiding a guilty pleasure by pretending they’re listening to you so they can be ironic. Trust me, I know. I write year-end lists about pop songs using the very same trope. But second, this is one of a handful of spots in “We Are Never..” that feels a bit too much like an explicit “f— you” to… uh… wait, who was it again you most recently broke up with? Anyway, which I guess is fine, but if I wanted to intrude in your love life, I’d just read US Weekly. Otherwise, it should just be you and me. Talk to the ears you’re plugged into, not a pair that, if I’m hearing you correctly, you don’t want listening anyway.
Why You Can Hate It: That second, extended “we”. We-eee! Oh, god. You’re losing me, Taylor. Also the little spoken-word asides that provide unnecessary repetition of what we just heard in song form? What an unnecessary distracting and redundant audio footnote. What are you talking for? Is this the director’s cut of the song?
Why You Can Love It: I don’t know. I asked my colleague Sonya Bell, who I knew, as a fan, could provide a counterpoint in this instance.
“You have to turn up the volume on this snarky little tune. There is so much to love. For me, that includes the spoken word bit and the “we-eeee!” that must just reverberate in the arenas she’s selling out. (What I hated was the video. In your room, in ugly pyjamas, with your social media glasses on AGAIN, Taylor? Come on.) I think what’s most important about “We Are Never Ever…” is that Taylor’s delivering on our expectations – show us the relationship carnage! – but the lyrics are far more assertive than we’re used to, free of the self-pitying elements of songs like Speak Now, where she imagines crashing a wedding and spends a lot of time ripping apart the girl that’s won her ex’s heart. Is “We Are Never Ever…” a smart, sophisticated, soulful song? No. There’s no trace of her country roots in it either. Apparently Taylor wrote the whole thing in just minutes – she knows a thing or two about hitting commercial homeruns at this point. And that it why it went viral.”
So, there you have it.