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2010: Anatomy of a Pop Song

What made for a successful pop song in the year 2010?  This chart showing the most commonly used words in Billboard’s Top 25 Songs of the year provides a glimpse into the repetition and lyrical themes found in the top pop songs of the year.  One syllable exclamations such as “yeah” and “oh” are common, and most seem to derive on some form of either the theme of dancing or falling in love.

“United State of Pop 2010 (Don’t Stop the Pop),” a recent mashup of the Top 25 hits of 2010 by DJ Earworm seemingly reveals similarities between music’s biggest hits of the year.  Lyrics and instrumentals from songs ranging from everyone from Lady GaGa to Lady Antebellum flow together as if they were molded from the same type of pop DNA.

It seems like there must be some perfect formula for achieving a smash hit — after all, the majority of the songs in the top 25 were produced and written by a small handful of music experts.  If anyone knows the perfect  formula for Top 40 pop, it’s producer Dr. Luke.  The American pop doctor produced nearly every hit to come out of trashy pop divas Ke$ha (“TiK ToK,” “Your Love is My Drug,” “We R Who We R”) and Katy Perry (“California Gurls,” “Teenage Dream”), as well as Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite.”  Many even pointed out the similarities between “TiK ToK” and “California Gurls” earlier this year, as demonstrated in the song below.  However, Luke denied any formula for a hit in an interview with New York earlier this year, saying, ““A hit song is the right song, with the right artist, at the right time.”

Likewise, breakout singer-songwriter Bruno Mars had a huge influence on pop this year as the voice behind B.o.B.’s “Nothing on You,” Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire” as well as his own solo hit “Just the Way You Are.”  In an Idolator interview, Mars claimed, “You never know what’s going to be a hit. You just cross your fingers.”

And maybe Luke and Mars are right: there is no successful formula for a pop song.  Even in an era of seemingly commercialized pop music industry, maybe the key to a number one hit is a little bit of talent and a whole lot of luck.

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Each day this week, we will be debuting ten more songs as we count down our favorite songs of 2010.  We couldn’t have possibly listened to every song in 2010, but these are our favorites out of everything we listened to.  Today we present 30-21.  Read below to see our picks!

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Each day this week, we will be debuting ten more songs as we count down our favorite songs of 2010.  We couldn’t have possibly listened to every song in 2010, but these are our favorites out of everything we listened to.  Today we present 40-31.  Read below to see our picks!

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Weird Kids Up Front’s Best of 2010

Best Songs of 2010

Songs 40-31Songs 30-21 | Songs 20-11 | Songs 10-1

Sondre Lerche

“Lewis Takes Off His Shirt”

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Last year, Norwegian singer Sondre Lerche covered Animal Collective’s “Bluish” and brought out the intimate melody of the beautifully lush and layered original.  He accomplishes the same feat on his cover of Owen Pallett’s fantastic “Lewis Takes Off His Shirt”.  While the original featured Pallett’s frantic and impressive violin skills, Lerche, airmed with just an acoustic guitar, turns the song into a highly personal affair.  In the bridge his fragile voice seems to be reaching out and speaking directly to the listener.  The anthemic cry “I’m never gonna give it to you!” retains the same urgency as ever.  Without any studio production, Lerche shows that all he needs is his voice and his guitar to produce a song filled with just as much emotion as the original.

jj

“High End”

Sincerely Yours

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Swedish pop duo jj have always had a penchant for sampling and covering rap music, from Lil Wayne to The Game.  Their mixtape Kills, released for free on Christmas Eve, only continues the group’s fascination with the genre.  The final track on the album, “High End” serves as almost a tribute to Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, sampling both “Dark Fantasy” and “Runaway”.  The simple piano keys from Kanye’s masterpiece serve as the perfect background for the duo’s dreamy harmonies and the triumphant “can we get much higher?” becomes a sublime refrain. Kanye would be proud.

The Naked and Famous

“Young Blood”

Polydor

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Teenage nostalgia is a difficult emotion to capture.  But the Naked and Famous have succeeded at doing just that.  The synth-heavy track is reminiscent of the MGMT and Passion Pit brand of electropop, but it is vocalists Alisa Xayalith and Thom Powers who add a unique, adolescent energy to the track.  When they sing “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” in the chorus, it is more than a catchy hook — it it an expression of youthful energy that sounds just as fresh as when the Beatles used it in “She Loves You” 47 years ago.  It is this energy that makes “Young Blood” an absolute jam: this is not bedroom listening; this is blast-with-your-car-stereo-turned-up listening.  As the music video (which features scenes of kids setting off fireworks, running through sun-drenched fields, and splashing through the ocean) shows, this is a song written with summer pool party and barbecue playlists in mind.  And in the midst of a stressful holiday season, a blast of summery electropop is more than welcome.

Ellie Goulding

“Your Song”

Polydor

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It’s the rare artist who can take a cover and transform it into a song of their own; more often than not an artist is not able to channel the same emotion as the writer of the song himself.  But on Ellie Goulding’s cover of Elton John’s “Your Song,” the pop singer accomplishes just this.  Goulding, who mixed folk and electropop on her debut album Lights, here takes a simple approach, with just her convincing voice over simple piano and strings — but then again, she even admits, “It may be quite simple.”  However, it is this minimalistic approach allows the song to focus on Goulding’s voice and allows it to shine.  When she sings, “I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words/How wonderful life is while you’re in the world,” it doesn’t matter that Goulding was not, in fact, the one who put this emotion down in words.  But she does something more impressive on “Your Song”: she brings in own emotion to a song that is over forty years old.  Goulding injects her love and warmth into the song, and truly makes it her own.

Kanye West

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Def Jam/Roc-a-Fella

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“I’m trying to right my wrongs/But it’s funny these same wrongs helped me write this song.”  In many ways, these two lines from 2005’s “Touch the Sky” epitomize the Kanye West narrative.  For all the troubles of his personal life, West’s albums serve as a catharsis.  His music is always an honest reflection of his emotions, and over four albums he established himself as one of the few consistently fantastic and innovative artists in pop music.  And My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is no exception.  After having been criticized by everyone from George W. Bush to Barack Obama in the past year, he could have retreated into the same brooding Auto-Tuned electropop of 808s & Heartbreaks; rather, West returns with a triumphant, bold magnum opus that recognizes his hubris is his greatest trait and serves as the climax of his previous records.

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Girls

“Broken Dreams Club”

True Panther

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On last year’s “Hellhole Ratrace,” Girls singer Christopher Owens sang, “I’m all alone with my heartache and my good intentions.” And it’s this same sense of heartbreak that drives the fantastic “Broken Dreams Club,” the title track from the band’s new EP.  But it’s not just Owens’ sorrow: the country-twinged guitars and melancholy trumpet solo underscore the timeless heartache of the song.  When Owens sings, “It’s hard enough to be alone/It’s harder still to spend so long looking for happiness,” it sounds as if he’s being broadcast straight from the 1960s.  Yet despite its nostalgic sound, Girls tap into an emotion that transcends eras and it’s what makes the band so great.