At this point, y’all are probably thinking, ‘anything goes with this goddamn list.’
I’ve tried really hard to suppress my delight in some of these songs because I know in my head, they’re probably non-events to the majority of you “discerning pop music listeners” but under very inexplicable circumstances I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy the likes of Toni Braxton‘s barely-known dance single ‘I Heart You’ and even Melanie Amaro‘s saccharine uptempo ‘Don’t Fail Me Now’.
Not just enjoy. But I’ve kept each of these songs on repeat in all sorts of places – when I’m up in the gym, strutting down supermarket aisles, roaming the streets of Paris by myself. Everywhere.
Here are the tracks that reign in my Top 20 this year:
– #20 –
‘Don’t Fail Me Now’
You know what this song sounds like? A lot of money. The inaugural US X Factor winner Melanie Amaro and her $5 million recording contract bought her some studio time with super producer Darkchild, who has been in a bit of a creative wilderness of late but managed to still issue the girl with a proper blockbuster pop stomper.
‘Don’t Fail Me Now’ is such an eager-to-please record with its inspirational themes, youthful dance-inflected sound and powerhouse vocals. Contrary to the general preference for Melanie to stick to dated power ballads, I think she really should soldier on making music that’s appropriate to her age.
This track is clearly designed to be a vibrant little anthem for your cardio workout. I might have accidentally – and very exasperatedly – sung out loud “I’ve walked the longest road, so don’t fail me now feet don’t fail me now” on the treadmill. With people around.
As much as I love ‘Don’t Fail Me Now’ for the moments it gives – I must confess, I do find the traditional pop structure it adheres to religiously to be a hindrance. One must take stock of the pivotal moments in this far-stretching pop opus and do everything to make them more readily accessible. Note: the crescendoing synths and racing drums which emulate Rihanna‘s ‘We Found Love’ is tremendous. See also: the bridge where she wails, “counting down I’m almost next to you! Help me now I don’t know what to do!” So having said that, do we really need a verse two and accompanying chorus?
Well, the short answer is ‘yes’ because bitch, ain’t nobody got time for a running track that only lasts for 2:54. Get back up and sweat it out.
– #19 –
I don’t know if you know but I really do love me some Guy Sebastian. I think he’s one of the best Aussie pop princes this country has ever produced. Nine years deep in the game and ex-Aussie Idol champ is still turning out industrial-strength singles that seem to get better and better as he progresses.
His latest offering ‘Get Along’ is arguably the best songwriting showcase in any Guy single. It’s emotive, humanitarian pop at its finest. This is his ‘Earth Song’. Hearing the pleading tone in Guy’s voice as he canvassed the hefty topic of religious wars almost brought a tear to my eye. “Dear god, dear soul, dear Mary, Mohammed – can we all just get along?”
The piano-based ballad, which Guy co-wroter with producer Ian Barter, slots in nicely with the other emotive themes in his Armageddon album, which is one of my Top 30 albums of 2012.
– #18 –
Sarah De Bono
The redhead vixen from The Voice Australia had me stunned and gagged when I heard ‘No Shame’. How did the chick who came fourth in the competition and barely earned an acknowledging nod from me the entire time, end up with such a tremendous pop song?
‘No Shame’ is an explosive coming-of-age spunky pop rock song that exudes confidence. De Bono serves an impressive range of attitude here, taking you from an explosive wailing hook to pouty verses and even a sassy spoken word rap breakdown (“you can’t mess with the original, that one’s me! Extraordinary, visionary – yep, that’s me!”).
I fucking love that Cameron Adams, music journo extraordinaire from the Herald Sun, labelled ‘No Shame’ as a “one-woman Girls Aloud” song.
The track is quality Swedish pop import, co-penned by Nicole Morier who was also behind several of Britney‘s Femme Fatale tracks, and co-produced by De Bono herself. For a year that saw the tragic (but probably timely) major label axing of Vanessa Amorosi, I think we should all be thankful for young Sarah filling the space with something this.
– #17 –
‘I Heart You’
When somebody told me Toni Braxton had gone in a “dance” direction for her new single, I clutched my rosary beads and prayed, “Lord. Have mercy on this poor, bankrupt ho.” What I wasn’t expecting, though, was for the Lord to perform a miracle – not on the Billboard Dance/Club Play Charts – but on my heart.
‘I Heart You’ thankfully turned out to be more like “high society club soul” than some alcopop-guzzling Steve Aoki/Lil Jon’ bullshit. You’re greeted at the intro by Toni’s silken vocals, which lay self-caressing on a soft cotton candy pink layer of dreamy synths. She is cooing her fantasies like it was some Mills and Boon script (“Sitting here, thinking of you with the candle lit fantasising. I feel your lips, your tender kiss is just oooh, oooh, ooooooh…”)
Before you know it, comes a quick grunt of “what am I gonna do?” and suddenly the beat drops and you’re whisked up to club heaven, raptured in Toni’s tale of longing for a taken man. The middle eight where she goes “I think I’m gonna DANCE!” may seem like a frivolous little detour from the lovelorn narrative she’s spinning but it’s actually one of the simplest and most effective moments in the entire song.
– #16 –
I remember putting together my Top 30 Songs and Albums list last year and seeing K-pop peppered all over from top to tail. But this year, I think I’ve taken a bit of a back seat with the genre even though it has never been more accessible here in Australia since Psy‘s ‘Gangnam Style’ became a multi-platinum selling #1 smash.
K-pop boy band supremo Big Bang caught my ear and had be shuffling (badly) to their hi-energy single ‘Fantastic Baby’. To me, this sounds like the perfect Korean pop answer to LMFAO‘s ‘Sexy and I Know It’. The song is a king hit of noisy synths, furious rap verses, and an uplifting pre-chorus that sets up every chorus to be a real event when the beat drops.
Like, um, “Wow. Fantastic baby!”
– #15 –
The one true killer in Madonna‘s patchy MDNA album, ‘Gang Bang’ sounds like a Tarantino-grade cult classic squeezed into a 5:27 club track.
‘Gang Bang’ hears ye olde pop veteran snarl some rather violent lyrics over underground club beats, giving you ominous lines like, “Like a bitch out of order, like a bat out of hell. Like a fish out of water, I’m scared can’t you tell?”
Vocally, it’s a pretty amazing performance from Madonna in the sense that she is utterly convincing as a cold blooded killer driven to the brink of insanity. It’s the way she sings in a deeper voice, the icy whispers and monologue.
The arresting dubstep breakdown, which melds machine gun firings into the mix, adds more drama to the track, breaking it from the drudging techno pace it so dutifully kept for a good three minutes, 18 seconds.
Basically just when you thought you had the song figured out, then comes the sweet, aggressive climax and chilling bridge where M says, “I’m going straight to hell… and if I see that bitch in hell, I’m gonna shoot him in the head again. ‘Cause I wanna see him die over and over, and over, and over, and over…”
Definitely the kind of next level, darker stuff I’m interested in seeing more from Madonna.
– #14 –
‘I Found You’
I know and you know that British boyband The Wanted hit jackpot last year with ‘Glad You Came’, which became their biggest single to date, sending airwaves all over the world into a frenzy with its infectious accordion melodies and innuendo-ridden chorus. But y’know what? I actually think they’ve outdone themselves with ‘I Found You’.
The boys’ regular producer Steve Mac constructed this new uptempo based on the same blueprint as ‘Glad You Came’, employing a similar combination of accordion riffs and pulsating dance beats, but just packed in a few more ideas.
For a start, the euphoric falsetto-driven chorus is unlike anything that The Wanted has tried before, or in fact, unlike anything any other male artist was purveying at the moment. Singing the entire chorus in falsetto is very much a statement in itself.
Then comes the larger-than-life middle eight with Nathan Sykes serving some impressive gospel house realness. Shit, was I impressed when I first heard this section. I almost forgot that I was in the middle of a Wanted song. Who is this bitch on the mic? Child, you taking mama to church on this one. ‘I Found You’ – and its multiple moments – is without question one of The Wanted‘s most exciting musical ventures to date.
– #13 –
My eyes rolled hard when I saw Nicki Minaj team up with RedOne for a handful of glossy, dance pop songs on her new album. ‘Starships’ is like the ‘California Gurls’ of 2012 for me – saccharine Supré girl pop. I loathe it but I can’t seem to fucking avoid it. They play it everywhere I go.
However, here’s some double standards for your ass. Its sister track on Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded – ‘Automatic’ – somehow became my most played Onika Maraj song ever. ‘Automatic’ is just ridiculously catchy and cheesy Europop with its familiar late 90s synth chord progressions and in an almost rare form for Nicki – it’s a completely sung record with the exception of a brief spoken word dubstep breakdown.
‘Automatic’ could’ve been pilfered from any recent Kat DeLuna, Paulina Rubio or Jennifer Lopez record RedOne and/or The Joker had a hand in creating – but I still fucking love it because in terms of vocal performance, Nicki sounds more confident and committed in singing these melodies than she did on ‘Starships’, ‘Pound the Alarm’ or ‘Whip It’.
Supremely catchy pop with no-brainer lyrics about being helplessly enslaved to the music, it’s almost like ‘Automatic’ was written about my relationship with the song itself.
– #12 –
Marina and the Diamonds
It’s been like wall-to-wall uptempos up in here but one particular ballad that stood out for me this year is Marina Diamandis‘ ‘Starring Role’, which was taken from the stellar Electra Heart album.
I absolutely love songwriters who take you there, who is unafraid to get raw and specific about their heartbreak because quite often than not, you’d find that it’s all terribly relatable. ‘Starring Role’ is about feeling the disconnect from the person you want so desperately to love you back and the stages of denial, and the mind games you play.
“Sometimes I ignore you so I feel in control, ’cause really I adore you, and I can’t leave you alone,” Marina sings over icy, softly crackling electro pop beats.
– #11 –
I am so glad Misha B came correct on her debut single ‘Home Run’. This song is precisely everything that is right about 20-year old’s artistic direction before her X Factor mentor Kelendria Trene Rowland misguided her into safe, vanilla territory.
‘Home Run’ is ferocious, fresh, and distinctly British – showcasing Misha‘s gifted ability to deliver powerhouse soulful vocals and rapid-fire rap. Misha had co-written and produced ‘Home Run’ with upcoming young genius MNEK, and I love that the production is as bonkers as it is infectious – there are little quirks peppered all over the track from her giggles to girly gushes. It’s like what Missy Elliott would’ve done.
There’s the moonlit balladey intro where Misha sounds like Jennifer Hudson wailing on top of a grand piano, then before you know it there’s percolating synths and finger snaps bubbling to the surface, and in comes reggae-flavoured verses. It is an experience from start to finish – soulful intro, two verses, an addictive chorus, furious rap breakdown and energetic outro for the final stretch. A++++.