The following 3 part post is from my musical soul mate Brandon. I decided to split it into three parts because with the number of songs and videos, it seemed obnoxious to have them all in one post. BUT that just means you have guaranteed content for the next few days. (WIN!) So yay!! and enjoy part 1.
25. Demi Lovato – Give Your Heart a Break
Of all of the Disney girls who have ventured into Top 40 territory (Miley, Selena, Hilary) Demi is, without a doubt, the best singer. But, she has had some trouble finding material that connected with a broader audience. That is, until she released the gut-wrenching ballad "Skyscraper", which combined inspirational lyrics with an emotionally raw vocal delivery and something finally clicked. Her next single, "Give Your Heart A Break" has been her best charting song to date and really, how could it not be? It was co-written by the guys responsible for JoJo's "Too Little Too Late" and one of the co-writers, Billy Steinberg, co-wrote "True Colors", "Like a Virgin", "So Emotional", "Eternal Flame", and "Alone", just to name a few. Simply put, they write hits. That, paired with Demi's scorching vocal, an uptempo dance beat, and a beautiful string section made this a pretty perfect pop song. Her stint judging on X Factor is only helping her star to rise even further and deservedly so, because pop music needs more real singers with solid material.
24. The xx - Chained
The xx are masters of minimalism. Their songs are almost always sad, beautiful, and deceptively simple. But they are also almost always pretty great. In "Chained", Romy and Oliver lament that they "used to be closer than this", asking if they "held too tight" or didn't "let enough light in". Their vocal interplay is genius in that they almost never sing together until their voices finally unite in the chorus. It feels like a lovers' argument, set to Jamie xx's elegant beat. The song is sparse, intimate, and hushed, but is all the more powerful because of it. It's the sound of two people nearing the possible end of a relationship and beginning to quietly realize that the fault might lie in both of them.
23. The Lumineers - Ho Hey
The first thing that strikes you when you hear "Ho Hey" on the radio is how different it is from so many other songs. It's a pretty little indie folk song, yet it has, thus far, reached all the way to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Why the sudden love for acoustic folk music? Many point to Mumford & Sons and The Civil Wars for ushering in this new mini-era but I'd like to think that people do ultimately enjoy good music. This song is a plucky little ode to a girl that got away, the lead singer claiming that she's not "right for him (the other man)" and that although he doesn't know where he went wrong, he knows that he can write a song, before proving that very point and launching into the insanely catchy hook, "I belong with you/You belong with me/You're my sweetheart". The stomping rhythm and shout-along nature only aid in its effervescence. There's nothing mysterious about the appeal. It's simple music, done exceptionally well. Many overcomplicated, stuffy artists could learn a lesson from The Lumineers.
22. Norah Jones - Happy Pills
Norah is obviously known for her languid, jazzy, sometimes sleepy music, so imagine my surprise when I first heard the chugging bass and loose electric guitar riff that kicked off this song. Don't get me wrong. This is hardly a rock song, but for Jones, it's a marked departure. Danger Mouse (from Gnarls Barkley) deftly handles the production of this song, making it sound breezy and even cheery, all while Norah sings about how much better off she is without an ex. She begs him to "please just let [her] go" and says that since leaving him, it's like she "took happy pills". Like I said, this is different territory for her but she wears it exceptionally well, sounding giddy while describing her newfound bliss alone and away from this loser. Maybe there's more to Norah than we all initially thought.
21. fun. - Some Nights
Yes, "We Are Young" was the bigger hit and although I am always for any song that gives Janelle Monae some shine, "Some Nights" is an all around better song. Sounding like something Queen might record were Freddie Mercury alive in this era of digitalization and hard, hip-hop backbeats, this song also owes a huge debt to Paul Simon, whether intentional or not. The bottom line, though, is that Nate sings the fire out of this song. The high harmonies during the chorus are outrageous! And when he gets to the song's climax, begging you to "Come on!", you can't help but smile and scream along. This is car karaoke at its unashamed best. This is another one of those that I can't believe became a hit, but I am so glad for some diversification in Tip 40, especially with regards to rock music.
20. P!nk - Try
Let's get this out of the way first. Alecia Moore sings! Also, I believe P!nk is the single most underrated performer of her generation. She sings, writes, dances, and always put on show-stopping performances. So why isn't she a bigger deal? She is always reliable but she lays in that same level as Kelly Clarkson; dependable, real, and supremely talented but not a celebrity superstar like Beyonce or Gaga. Maybe she's just so real that there is no mystery? I'm not sure, but whatever the case, she has released yet another incredible single this year in "Try". It is a power ballad with a fantastic guitar line, over lyrics mourning an imploding relationship. Yet, even as she sees everything falling apart, she is encouraging herself and the listener not to give up and get up, even when things seem hopeless. This is not breaking any lyrical ground, but she sings it with such conviction and ferocity, it becomes a battle cry; an anthem for the downtrodden. Please never stop singing, Alecia.
19. Gotye f/ Kimbra - Somebody That I Used To Know
I know, I know. If there were ever an overplayed song, this is it. But think if you can back to the first time you heard it. This should not have been a number one song! It's weird and quirky. It's sang by a complete unknown with a hard-to-pronounce name. It's extraordinarily sad and it sounds like Peter Gabriel and Sting had a pissed off lovechild! Now that I think about it, it absolutely should have been a hit. This is one you'll hear again in about a year and remember how amazing it was before radio got wind and pummeled it into the ground. It has a freaking xylophone in it for crying out loud! One hit wonder? Probably. But who cares?
18. Rihanna - Where Have You Been
"Where have you been" is a question not likely to ever be asked of Rihanna. She is quite honestly everywhere, seemingly all of the time. Her market saturation game is unmatched. In fact, this is her first of three (!) entries on my list. With that being said, this should have been the follow up to "We Found Love". It's blissed out, neon glow stick rave perfection. Combining Dr. Luke and Calvin Harris could have been a cacophonous mess but somehow, everything gels in this song. The acoustic guitar in the opening of the verses is like some chill 90s pop. And when the drum fill hits and the chorus ends, the dance party hits a frenzied fever pitch, practically begging you to lose your mind. For her part, Rihanna mostly just shows up and dutifully sings, but she actually sounds fantastic, hinting at some heretofore untapped range and power, which she proved a couple of other times later in the year. I know she's only been in the game for seven years (truly unbelievable) but as my friend Tia asked, is it too late for a Rihanna Greatest Hits album...with B-Sides?