10 . Lady Gaga – Born This Way
From Born this way
A slow burner, I think. Or at least in the UK. I think its midweek release put paid to chances at a No.1, but it really did have legs, eventually turning into a pretty solid smash.
OK so people initially flew off the handle, saying “How DARE she patronise everyone like this by being all ACCEPTING” and accusing it off ripping off Express Yourself (I won’t even start with that, but suffice to say that if you are arguing about similar chord progression, you’ve got too much time on your hands). Meanwhile I was thinking “I don’t know how to sing along to this”. But time heals all wounds, and this throws everything into the mix, but instead of turning into a big mess, it’s what I think I’m going to regard as one of her best songs in the future.
Even despite the video seeming ponderously artsy, it even edits down to a brilliant dance video. DON’T BE A DRAG
9 . Alexis Jordan – Good Girl
From Alexis Jordan
Oh I love rooting for an underdog, particularly if it seems evident that their songs in the hands of a bigger star would probably the be massive smashes they deserve.
Thankfully, Alexis has had a good year (let’s just ignore that third single). I didn’t think she’d even get a second hit, let alone a modestly good selling top 10 album. She seems very likeable, and her debut hit Happiness is still a firm favourite of mine. This one swaps the trancey tones of Deadmau5 for a clubbier sound.
The production is relatively basic, you’d never get Rihanna such a lightweight-sounding single, but that’s to its credit, and it’s a bouncy, fun bit of pop. I really hope she gets some proper money behind her second album release, remember that Rihanna only started off with a few modest hits way back when.
8 . Robyn – Call Your Girlfriend
From Body Talk
2010 was more my year for Robyn, with her amazing Body Talk album(s) a big hit with me, even if it was a commerical flop by most standards. I sort of felt the moment had passed for anything to come from this album, but rather unexpectedly we got a dazzling video for this song.
It was a favourite among the small clutch of new tracks that accompanied Body Talk’s final iteration, but I hadn’t really given them enough time at the tail end of last year when they emerged. Having a video for this one really flicked a switch for me, and it’s a total joy to listen to now. Essentially it’s covering fertile soil for Robyn, i.e. the breakup of a relationship, but this time from the perspective of the ‘other woman’ trying to spare the soon-to-be-ex as much pain as possible. A sweet concept for such a homewrecking principle, and Robyn is the perfect girl to pull this off.
7 . Nicki Minaj – Super Bass
From Pink Friday
Now I knew this girl had something about her, not usually my thing to listen to rap, but this track really made my summer. From the gorgeously colourful and quirky video, it’s a perfect example of what the ridiculous video budgets for urban artists can come up with if they are lucky.
She’s a really listenable rap artist, I even quite liked her album, which is saying something for a genre far outside my comfort zone. The synthy production and that klinky-klonky icy beat in the background really make this something beautiful. She may be a bit of an oddball to say the least, but she’s got that magnetic quality that forces you to watch her. I’m sure most acts have got at least one amazing hit in them, and I hope this isn’t the last one of hers.
6 . Will Young – Jealousy
I just LOVE this intro, gentle piano and acapella vocals, which ever-so-gently builds into a dance track. Not a hard one, the beats aren’t driving this one, it’s his heavenly vocals. They’ve always been his selling point after this Pop Idol victory ten (!) years ago, and they are still in fine form. I’m so glad he’s still doing well, always pulling into commercial waters when it looks like his career is on a decline.
Not as a sellout either, I think this is quite a unique-sounding track amongst the more full-on dance pop songs, and the miserable ballads. I really wish he would look like he was having more fun though, it’s all looking a bit po-faced at the moment. That Christmas TOTP performance was looking far too overstyled and serious for its own good.
But in short, I love this, and it’s reaffirmed my belief in Will Young as one of the best contributions by a reality TV act to date, as if he hadn’t totally shaken that label off years ago.
5 . The Wanted – Lightning
These boys really were full of surprises this year. From comeback hit “Glad You Came” soundtracking the summer pretty efficiently, I was wondering what they would pull out of the bag for an album launch single as the nights started to draw in.
I wasn’t too impressed the first time I heard it, the pretty forced rhymes in the chorus were a bit lame, and that stood out for me too much. But the video really fitted the song well, the slow-motion sections really worked brilliantly. But it wasn’t really until I got this one in the car that it really did it for me.
It’s got so much energy, with big beats in all the right places, it’s a real ride and a perfect marriage of dance and pop music. If ever any pop act got the balance right when sailing into dancier waters this year, it was this group. It’s even going to be enough to get me to investigate the album, let’s just see how easy it is for them to strike gold…
4 . Nicola Roberts – Lucky Day
From Cinderella’s Eyes
Now this was a surprise slow-burner. I was really into debut Beat Of My Drum during the summer, but it did start to wear off in time. I wasn’t entirely sure by this point that the album would even get released, so it was pleasing to see this rather bizarre followup single’s video hit the music channels.
Lots of really strange vocals here, but not in an affected way like your Ellie Gouldings etc, I think she just sings what she wants, and the roughness to some of these shrieky notes really endears me more than it repels me. I love the slightly slutty angle to the lyrics, and the vocals that are all over the place. I was overjoyed to hear that this was one of the Dragonette-produced tracks off the album, I really love those guys, and the more I hear this song, the more I hear them.
The album was a joy to listen to for the most part, perhaps a little unbalanced as I can’t quite tear myself away from the first half of the album, they are just too good. For someone from arguably the best girlband has produced – one not without their commerical and critical success – that Nicola could end up quite so unmarketable as she’s evidently turned out to be, but there is certainly a hard core of big fans she’s picked up from this album.
3 . Kati Wolf – What About My Dreams?
From Eurovision Song Contest 2011: Dusseldorf
Thought I’d gone a bit quiet on the Eurovision front? Well it’s true, some of the better songs this year (and it was a pretty good year all things considered) suffered somewhat from overplay, but some of the best ones like this will surely be favourites of mine for years to gone.
Hungary’s Kati may not have delivered on her potential on the final night, no thanks to a pretty lame stage show, but this is still a pretty massively brilliant pop song. People seem to segregate Eurovision from the rest of pop music, as if pop has any dignity. If anything, the effort that goes into putting national representatives on the European stage really shows in the quality of the songs, and often bucks the trends of what we would call pop music, thanks to differences in culture, language and motivation.
Kati just about held onto the vocals on the night for what was a pretty full-on song. European electropop at its finest (well, nearly…)
2 . Lady Gaga – Marry The Night
From Born this way
Well it’s been pretty full-on for Gaga over the last few years, with two-and-a-half smash hit albums (and I don’t care what you say about this album, it’s a hit by all but the most unreasonable measures) and a string of massive singles. The singles from BTW have been a bit of a mixed bag that seemed at times to be a little reactive to public opinion, and yet not quite hitting the mark for a lot of people. This led some of them to rather fall between two stools and not live up to their potential.
The directors cut videos were perhaps not very helpful to shed this air of pretence people seem to detect these days, but as long as there’s a decent edited version in there somewhere, I don’t really care, nobody is forcing me to watch anything.
And so we get to the opening track from the album, a multi-staged electroclash masterpiece that pulls no punches and gives it everything. For a demonstration of power, I have to lead the way to the Children in Need performance (http://youtu.be/fe3JtdZYIiY), an incredible display that shows what she can do as a performer when she’s not preoccupied in high fashion and horrible piano-mashing. Even the video was pretty serviceable, even if all of the videos since Born This Way seem to lack the energy in visuals as it does in the music.
An explosive opener from a largely wonderful album.
1 . Eric Saade – Popular
From Eurovision Song Contest 2011: Dusseldorf
And so here it is, my favourite song of the year, and certainly my most-played track. If iTunes is to be believed, my most-played of all time (though I don’t tend to repeat a lot on there so don’t read too much into it). There is so much to celebrate about this song, it totally tore the roof off the Esprit Arena in Dusseldorf when I watched it win its Semi-Final, and in coming third in the final, restored Sweden to its former Eurovision glory after a troublesome half-decade.
Eric himself isn’t a perfect singer, though he managed to hit the money notes as required. His better talent lies in his brilliant dancing and watchability on the stage, which he brought in spades. The song itself is a work of art, a megawatt display of electro-pop, from the rickety machinations at the intro through the infectious whistling hook and all the way to the explosive finale.
The lyrics were missed by some on the night, I was in a beer garden in Cologne when the final was showing, and some Turkish girls were complaining at his arrogance, “he’s just saying he’s popular all the time”. It’s a pretty single-minded song about (however ill-advisedly) pursuing a girl only into the popular guys. That’s almost an afterthought when you hit the incredibly catchy chorus, and the literally glass-shattering climax to the big finale. It still fills me with energy whenever I listen to it, utterly superb!