Posts Tagged ‘Kanye West’

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Top 25 Pop Songs of 2011

Written by Hunter Schwarz on . Posted in Music

2011 didn’t turn out like it was supposed to.

It was supposed to be the year that the electro-Europop ushered in by Lady Gaga completed its rise to total airwave domination. It was supposed to be the year hip-hop gave up trying to be as relevant as it was in the ’00s. It was supposed to be the year rock staged a comeback. But none of those things happened.

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Help us LMFAO, you’re our only hope

Written by Hunter Schwarz on . Posted in Music

Twenty-three summers ago, a song by a rising pop act reached the summit of the Hot 100 before being steamrolled by one of the biggest recording artists of the decades achieving an unrivaled chart feat. The song was “Foolish Beat” by Debbie Gibson, and the steamrolling superstar was Michael Jackson whose “Dirty Diana” became the fifth No. 1 from his Bad album. A handful of albums have pulled off four chart toppers, but for more than two decades, Bad has been the sole album with a quintet of No. 1s. That could all change next week, however.

This summer, the foolish beat is “Party Rock Anthem” by rising pop act LMFAO featuring Lauren Bennett and GoonRock. Katy Perry takes the role of pop juggernaut. Singles from her Teenage Dream album have been unstoppable in their march to No. 1. Last summer, she began her assault with “California Gurls [sic]” featuring Snoop Dogg followed by “Teenage Dream,” “Firework” and “E.T.” featuring Kanye West.

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CHART WATCH: On A Roll: Adele Building Steam on Hot 100

Written by Hunter Schwarz on . Posted in Music

Chart Watch is 17 Tracks’ weekly look at the happenings on the Billboard Hot 100 with chart expert Hunter Schwarz.

Katy Perry clenches the No. 1  spot for a fifth non-consecutive week with “E.T.” featuring Kanye West, and it’s become painfully obvious that Perry’s fourth Teenage Dream chart topping single is not a flash-in-the-pan.

“E.T.” is coming off its best sales week ever two weeks ago (344,000) and is down slightly this week with figures slightly north of 300,000.  In total, “E.T.” is on track to be the top-selling song of 2011 to date. Its 2.48 million sales are hot on the tail of Cee Lo Green’s 2.49 million sales of “F**k You.” Sales of “E.T.” are on par with last summer’s smash “California Gurls” feat. Snoop Dogg, and they might even eclipse her ode to the Golden State, becoming her best-selling single ever.

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CHART WATCH: What’s the Difference Between a Pitbull and a Femme Fatale? Lipstick…

Written by Hunter Schwarz on . Posted in Music

Chart Watch is 17 Tracks’ weekly look at the happenings on the Billboard Hot 100 with chart expert Hunter Schwarz.

Kelly Clarkson announced the completion of her fifth studio album this March, but RCA is pushing the release date to September. One could assume the delay is due to the overcrowded pop market right now. If RCA wants Clarkson to make the biggest splash possible, they’re doing themselves a favor by waiting until the airwaves have calmed down a bit.

For the past several months, the upper echelons of the Hot 100 have been dominated by female pop stars. Katy Perry stays at No. 1 this week with “E.T.” featuring Kanye West, Rihanna comes up short once again with “S&M” at No. 2, and both Britney Spears and Lady Gaga have songs in the top 10.

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CHART WATCH: Winning Streak: Katy Perry Goes 4-For-4

Written by Hunter Schwarz on . Posted in Music

Lady Gaga finally gives up the No. 1 spot after six weeks as “Born This Way” drops to No. 4. In its place is Katy Perry’s “E.T.” featuring Kanye West. This gives Perry her fifth No. 1 and her fourth from 2010′s Teenage Dream album. Her perfect record – four for four – puts her in an elite club. Excluding compilation albums, Teenage Dream is only the ninth album in chart history to be home to more than three No. 1 songs.

What makes Perry’s feat all the more impressive is that her album is nearly seven months old. That’s a lifetime in the world of pop. Sure, Britney Spears sent “Hold It Against Me,” Femme Fatale‘s first single, to No. 1, but the follow-up, “Till The World Ends,” spent a single week in the top ten (and don’t be surprised if it doesn’t return). Getting a splashy debut with the first single from a new album is relatively easy if the record label plays their cards right. A big enough artist with a large enough fan base will snap up anything the moment it’s released. What’s a lot more difficult is scoring four No. 1s. If you can do that, there’s a lot more at work than just overeager fans.

A Star Without A Hit: Nicki Minaj's Big Dilemma

Written by Hunter Schwarz on . Posted in Music

Nicki Minaj might be the most important female rapper right now, but she still doesn’t have a top ten hit to her name.

Nicki Minaj is arguably the top female rapper on the planet right now. She said it best herself on Kanye West’s “Monster” when she rapped, “My features and my shows ten times your pay/50k for a verse no album out!”

Since “Monster” came out, Minaj has released an album, Pink Friday. The album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard album chart, behind Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Coming second to the most critically acclaimed album of the year is nothing to be ashamed of, but in the long run, Minaj has even more to celebrate as her album has outsold Mr. West’s.

But for all the success Nicki Minaj has achieved in such a short time, it still seems that Minaj is lacking something. A friend of mine encapsulated Nicki’s problem when she tweeted that she liked the idea of Nicki Minaj more than she actually liked her.

Following in the footsteps of West, Drake and Kid Cudi, Minaj is challenging preconceived notions of what a rapper should be. She is flamboyant, unapologetic and loud, and that’s just one of her many personas. (She has five so far: Nicki, Barbie, Roman, Martha, and Rosa.) Her wild outfits and ever-changing hair evoke a hip-hop Lady Gaga, and her ability to land collaborations with big names before her debut album hit stores suggests that a lot of people have high expectations of the 25-year-old Queens rapper.

The interesting thing about the vast majority of her collaborations is that the songs she’s featuring on aren’t all that good. Just take a listen to “My Chick Bad” with Ludacris, “Bottoms Up” with Trey Songz, or “Raining Men” with Rihanna. The songs aren’t very good, but Minaj’s raps are out of this world. I even have a friend who fast forwards to Nicki’s rap time and time again without even listening to the full song.

The benefit of being that prolific was that Minaj got her name out. If an eccentric rapper who uses a handful of different accents starts popping up on songs with Mariah Carey and Usher, people will start to pay attention. People have been paying attention, but this marketing technique is different than the usual methods record companies use.

Traditionally, when a record label prepares to launch a new artist, they build a brand around this artist and figure out the best way to market them to a prospective audience. One of the most important components of this is the debut single. It’s the first impression of an artist and it plays a significant role in molding how the public views them as an artist for the rest of their career.

Hip-hop has always been a little different. It relies more heavily on underground mixtapes and guest spots, but you still can’t deny the importance of those first few singles on breaking artists. Look no further than Eminem’s “My Name Is” or 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” for proof.

Nicki Minaj is missing her own “My Name Is.” Despite skads of guest appearances and a full-length album, she doesn’t have her own “In Da Club” yet. The closest she’s come is Kanye’s “Monster,” which critics have been drooling over ever since it dropped. But it still isn’t hers.

Nicki, “Massive Attack” was forgettable. “Your Love” was boring. “Right Thru Me” wasn’t strong enough. People like you. They like the idea of you. They want you to succeed, but you need to bring the goods. Stop giving out your sickest raps to sub-par songs and save them for yourself.

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Goin’ West: Kanye’s Epic Saga

Written by Jim Dalrymple on . Posted in Music

With 2010 fading fast in the rear-view mirror, it’d be easy to call the year a coup for Kanye West: his latest album is getting buckets of acclaim  — including here at Rhombus — and everyone pretty much agrees the guy is a one-of-a-kind maestro. But while we all rap his praises, it’s worth keeping in mind that West was, not so long ago, in serious PR trouble.

Consider: In 2006, West stated on national TV that President Bush didn’t care about black people. Though many probably privately agreed, the moment brought West a lot of negative press. And because he didn’t subsequently present any cohesive political message, the moment seemed more like an impulsive rant than anything else.

2006 was also the year West began using awards shows to torpedo his public image. When that year’s Grammys were announced, West forwent normal celebrity psuedo-humility by declaring that he should win Album of the Year. West also rushed the stage at the 2006 MTV Europe Music Awards, and hinted that racism was a reason he didn’t headline at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards.

And of course, there was his infamous and unforgettable stage-rush during Taylor Swift’s speech at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.

2011 Rock & Roll User's Guide: Everything You'll Need to Hear in The New Year

Written by Hunter Schwarz on . Posted in Music

Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lady Gaga, and Coldplay are all among the artists planning on releasing new music in 2011.

2011 is shaping up to be a blockbuster year. Several bands are returning from prolonged hibernations with what they say is their best material yet. Two of the biggest names in hip-hop are planning a joint LP that could be out as soon as next week while two of the biggest names in pop are releasing records months apart from each other. And Amy Winehouse might even get herself together enough to give us the follow-up to Back To Black we’ve been wanting for nearly half a decade now. And that’s to say nothing about the game-changing albums by bands none of us have even heard of yet.

Jay-Z and Kanye West

Watch the Throne, due January

What they’re saying: Kanye West isn’t that big of a douchebag. The rapper offered 15 songs for free on his website during the second half of 2010. Some of those songs landed on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and others are rumored to be on an upcoming release with Jay-Z. Originally planned as an EP, it has grown to a full blown album. “We’re putting out a whole album now,” said West to Entertainment Weekly. “We did like five [songs] so far, and then a few of them kind of were out there, and I put them on my album. Sorry, Jay! [...] But we’ve got some more, and we’re going to the south of France at the end of this month just to record our ideas.”

Bright Eyes

The People’s Key, February 11

What they’re saying: Although singer and guitarist Conor Oberst hasn’t stopped making music, Bright Eyes hasn’t released a record since 2007′s Cassadaga. But for what Oberst says is their last album, the band is leaning toward more of a rock sound. “We’re over the Americana, rootsy, whatever that sound is,” he said. “People say country but I never thought we were very country at all. But whatever that element is or that aesthetic is, I guess it’s worn a little thin for me these days. So we very much wanted it to be rocking and, for lack of a better term, contemporary, or modern.”

Avril Lavigne

Goodbye Lullaby, due March 8

What they’re saying: Fergie introduced Avril Lavigne on Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve by saying, “She grows and changes with every album she releases. Now she’s ready to take another bold step.” Not exactly. Lead single “What The Hell” is the same faux punk-rock style Lavigne has been singing since the teen pop bubble burst nearly a decade ago, but make no mistake, it will sell just as well as it did then.

Britney Spears

As yet untitled, due March

What they’re saying: Stakes are high for Spears as she prepares to release her first album in a post-Gaga world. “There’s a lot for us to live up to,” says songwriter and the album’s co-executive producer, Dr. Luke. “I want to get harder in some ways and maybe a little more deep into electronic and grimier.” Unfortunately, Luke’s recent material like “TiK ToK,” “Party In The U.S.A.,” and “California Gurls” [sic] doesn’t seem like the kind of music that can go up against Mother Monster and win. For Britney’s sake, let’s hope he’s got some tricks up his sleeve. Luke has been tweeting lyrics from the lead single, “Hold It Against Me,” and so far, all we know is “Hey, over there, please forgive me.” Sounds promising.

Lady Gaga

Born This Way, due May 23

What they’re saying: Anticipation has been building for Gaga’s next release ever since the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards when the singer announced its title, Born This Way, and sang a snippet from the title track. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, Gaga tweeted an image of her bearing her bare ass with the album’s release date. Elton John has been able to hear the album and said, “This is the new ‘I Will Survive.’ That was the gay anthem. This is the new gay anthem. Actually, it’s not a gay anthem — it can apply to anybody.” The first single is set to drop February 13, the day of the 2011 Grammy Awards. Coincidence? I think not.

Death Cab for Cutie

As yet untitled, due spring

What they’re saying: Despite the amazing music Death Cab has already put out, frontman Ben Gibbard says he’s more confident as a songwriter and musician than he ever has been. “I strangely feel closer to my bandmates than I ever have before,” said Gibbard. “We’ve all kind of landed in a place in our lives, personally and professionally, where we can all get together and enjoy each other’s company and enjoy making music.”

Coldplay

As yet untitled, unknown release date

What they’re saying: Lead singer Chris Martin says that the band’s next album, a concept album, is their “last big shot,” but he also describes it as more intimate as some of their previous material. “It’s from the point of view of two people who are a bit lost,” Martin said.  ”Two like-minded outsiders who meet in a very difficult environment and therefore have a journey together.”

No Doubt

As yet untitled, unknown release date

What they’re saying: No Doubt has hinted at new music for some time now. While Gwen Stefani was still promoting her second solo album, the band allegedly began working on a record of their own. It never saw the light of day, but guitarist Tom Dumont promises that 2011 will be different. “Holidays over. 2010 done. 10 new songs written. No Doubt’s 2011 New Years resolution: to record our new album…beginning TODAY!” tweeted Dumont.

Radiohead

As yet untitled, unknown release date

What they’re saying: Considering the way the band surprised the world and released their last album, 2007′s In Rainbows, anything is possible for Radiohead this year. Word on the street is they’ve finished a new record and had a “wrap party” in LA after a three-week recording session. “It’s genuinely exciting. It’s very different from what we did last time,” said guitarist Ed O’Brian. “It’s really nice to be doing this. It’s so good to be making music with the band that you feel is still as good as it’s ever been.”

U2

Tentatively entitled Songs of Ascent, early 2011

What they’re saying: Originally, U2 had plans to release material from their No Line on the Horizon sessions that, for one reason or another, didn’t fit on the record. It’s unsure if that’s still the plan, but Gnarls Barkley producer Danger Mouse and Black Eyed Pea will.i.am have been confirmed as co-producers on the band’s next LP. “”I went to Bono’s house for lunch and George Clooney and Cindy Crawford were there,” said will.i.am.  ”I played some of the songs we’d been working on together and everyone was blown away. They all left the finger food to come and hear.”

Amy Winehouse

As yet untitled, unknown release date

What they’re saying: It’s been over four years since Amy Winehouse wowed the world with Back to Black, and considering the drug and legal issues she’s been facing, it’s not surprising that she hasn’t released any new music since then. Still, things are beginning to look more promising than ever as a cover of Leslie Gore’s “It’s My Party” surfaced and Winehouse completed her first performance in two years at a private party in Russia. The singer was paid 1.5 million pounds to sing for an unnamed Russian business man. “‘It was certainly a lot of money for such a short trip, but she is clearly glad to be back on stage. 2011 is going to be a big year for her,” a friend of hers told The Mail.

Beyonce

As yet untitled, unknown release date

What they’re saying: Beyonce’s third solo record should have something for everyone, according to the singer. “I’m mixing every type of genre that I love,” she said. “It’s not R&B. It’s not typically pop. It’s not rock. It’s just everything I love all mixed together in my own little gumbo of music.” Rumored to be on board for the next record is songwriter and producer The-Dream, the man behind “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It).”

The Precarious State of Rock

Written by Hunter Schwarz on . Posted in Music

Rock is dead. Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” was the only rock song to crack the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 in 2010.

This past April, Rolling Stone magazine presented the “State of Rock: 40 Reasons To Get Excited About Music”. Gracing the cover and landing in the No. 1 spot was a group that represents everything that’s wrong with popular music, the Black Eyed Peas. Has it really come to this?

Luckily, things aren’t as dire as Rolling Stone‘s No. 1 pick makes it out to be. Dance pop and hip-hop are experiencing a renaissance thanks in large measure to Lady Gaga and Kanye West. Gaga and West have both raised the bar in what we expect from our pop stars and rappers and their contemporaries are forced to keep up. Rock, however, is another story.

“There have been some moments recently, like at the American Music Awards, where a male-fronted band came and played, and it was a sleeper,” said pop singer Katy Perry. “Jeans and a T-shirt and a guitar — it just doesn’t work anymore.”

Don’t just take the California Gurl’s [sic] word for it, just check the Billboard Hot 100 where a single rock song — that’s right, just one — made it to the top ten in all of 2010. The song was Train’s “Hey Soul Sister”. Rock is dead.

“Hey, Soul Sister,” a song that the Village Voice named both the worst song of 2010 and, “the whitest song to ever have the word ‘soul’ in it, and that includes Death Cab’s ‘Soul Meets Body’” sold 4.8 million digital downloads this year. I don’t know if I’m more surprised that many people wanted to hear a 41-year-old man sing the phrase “I’m so gangsta, I’m so thug,” and make lame ’80s references or that not a single other rock song could crack the top 10 in an entire calendar year.

But rock doesn’t just need bigger hits. A monster Nickleback record might be a rock record, but it’s still Nickleback. What rock needs is someone to expand its vision, defy conventions, and sell over 4 million downloads at the same time. Luckily, there are some hopeful signs. This year, two indie albums debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 album chart, Vampire Weekend’s Contra and Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs.

As Rolling Stone editor David Fricke pointed out, rock is at a crossroads as new technology obliterates the old business model. Although it’s bad news for record companies that are hemorrhaging money, Fricke says it could be a good thing.

“Everything that has ever mattered in rock and pop history, every turning point and life-changing act of creation, happened at a crossroads,” Fricke said. “Elvis Presley messing around with…”That’s All Right,” during a break at his first Sun Records session in 1954; Bob Dylan facing the boos with an electric guitar at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival; Nirvana taking punk to the masses, overnight and with a vengeance, on 1991′s Nevermind. The choices made at the forks — not just by the singers, songwriters and bands but everyone on the other end of the music — determine the immediate future and how we look back later, in wonder.”

Sure, the state of rock might not be particularly strong right now, but it’s never stayed that way for long. Rock’s very own Fame Monster or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy could be in its infancy, performed by some unknown band in a dingy club this very moment. For Rolling Stone magazine’s sake, let’s hope that game-changing record comes out sooner rather than later — I don’t want them to have to put the Black Eyed Peas on another “State of Rock” issue ever again.

Top 25 Songs of 2010

Written by Hunter Schwarz on . Posted in Music

December really is the most wonderful time of the year. Not only does Christmas essentially last the entire month, but critics publish their lists of the best music of the year. Some of these lists are pretentious (Really Pitchfork, Ariel Pink’s “Round and Round” is the best song of the year? Not just in the top ten, it’s the best?) while others are pandering (Rolling Stone has plenty of good stuff, but they always throw in some curve balls. According to them, Ke$ha’s “We R Who We R” is the fiftieth best song the the year. How about you add a few zeros to that number?) Hopefully, the 17 Tracks list is neither of those things. Created from top 25 lists of 17 Tracks contributors, it ranges from pop to indie to rock and hip-hop. Hope you enjoy.

Honorable mentions: “Power” – Kanye West, “Airplanes” – B.o.B. feat. Hayley Williams, “Boyfriend” – Best Coast, “Tenderoni” – Kele, “Yamaha” – The-Dream, “Find Your Love” – Drake, “Commander” – Kelly Rowland, “Indestructible” – Robyn, “Rude Boy” – Rihanna, “Guns & Horses” – Ellie Goulding

25. Norway – Beach House

Beach House’s new album Teen Dream, is composed of 11 tracks that somehow melt in and out of the other while competing for your attention simultaneously. “Norway,” however, is the most telling of the ambient duo’s new album. The 3 minute and 55 second long song starts out with kicking drums, joined by the characteristic guitar, keyboard, and siren-like vocals.  This track embodies the increased maturity and sensitivity found on their new album and suggests that despite having found their niche in today’s music scene, this is a band that is not afraid of change. – JP

24. All The Lovers – Kylie Minogue

“All The Lovers” is a return to form for Australia’s reigning pop star. After being diagnosed with breast cancer and failing to meet expectations with her comeback album, Kylie Minogue was in need of a hit. Teaming up with producer Stuart Price was a good choice, resulting in the glossy, intelligent, and highly danceable Aphrodite. “All The Lovers” captures the euphoria of the album as Kylie commands the listener to dance and gently tells her lover, “don’t be frightened, just give me a little bit more.” – HS

23. Airplanes – Local Natives

The Local Natives somehow fuse the styles of Arcade Fire, Fleet Foxes, and Kings of Convenience to supply every indie kid and small venue across the country with the refreshing sound were craving this summer. “Airplanes,” the track that originally sparked everyone’s interest with its cascading guitars, captivating piano, and audience-participation-inducing clapping, make it nearly impossible not to join with Taylor Rice’s smooth vocals and sing along. Their debut album “Gorilla Manor,” was released in early March and though still underground enough to keep pretentious listeners content, it’s a great introduction to an impressive new band. - JP

22. Pursuit of Happiness – Kid Cudi feat. MGMT & Ratatat

Before Kanye teamed up with Bon Iver, Kid Cudi teamed up with MGMT, hinting at the distinct indie feel many in hip-hop would take over the course of the year. MGMT might have failed to match the pop sensibilities of Oracular Spectacular on their new record, but they make up for it with their hook on “Pursuit of Happiness”. Slurring through his verses, Cudi recounts his fruitless search for happiness saying, “everything that shines ain’t always gonna be golden.”  – HS

21. F**k You! – Cee Lo Green

“F**k You!” (also known as “the song otherwise known as ‘Forget You!’”) is the successor to such quirky neo-retro pop gems as “Hey Ya!” and Cee Lo’s other big hit, “Crazy”. The song failed to reach the level of ubiquity of those similarly styled hits for obvious reasons, but it did pretty well considering its explicit title.  The lyrics-only video went viral this summer, and then the song was given new life by Glee in November, reaching No. 9 on the Hot 100. – HS

20. Lights – Ellie Goulding

Ellie Goulding may not yet be a household name in the States, but in her native U.K. she has made quite the debut. She topped the BBC Sound of 2010 poll which honors new talent and was also awarded the Critics’ Choice Award at the 2010 BRIT Awards. “Lights” was originally a bonus track on her acclaimed debut effort of the same name, but was officially released as the albums’ fifth single this year. Haunting ethereal, otherwordly, “Lights” demands our attention and proves that Ellie Goulding is one to watch in 2011. – CH

19. Little Lion Man – Mumford & Sons

“Little Lion Man” the first single released by London’s nu-folk rock quartet Mumford & Sons, boasts flawlessly composed instrumental arrangements, an intoxicating melody, and an unforgettable chorus. The song provides an accurate insight to the band’s first album Sign No More, which features 12 other tracks that are equally impressive. Four other singles were equally well-received as they were released over the last 10 months, but “Little Lion Man” will hold a special place in the hearts of many as the song that introduced so many of us to this great new band. – JP

18. Erase Me – Kid Cudi feat. Kanye West

Kid Cudi feat. Kanye West, or Weezer feat. Jay-Z? It’s okay—we weren’t sure at first, either. The same Kid Cudi that won us over with his debut album Man on the Moon: The End of Day, showed no trepidation in parting from his typical style for something a little more radio-ready. Mr. Solo Dolo inherently attracts hipsters and electro-heads alike, but assured that no genre would be left unaffected album by featuring Kanye West on this track. If there was any way to heighten the anticipation of his album that came out in September, “Erase Me” was without a doubt the way to do it. – JP

17. Alejandro – Lady Gaga

Critics compared Lady Gaga’s “Alejandro” to a modern day “La Isla Bonita” or an Ace of Base knock off, but Gaga’s seventh top ten single was unmistakably hers. The song evoked the album art on The Fame Monster with black tears streaming down her face as weeping strings give way to towering, colossal synth lines.”She’s not broken, she’s just a baby,” Gaga sings about the protagonist, an insecure girl with both hands in her pockets. – HS

16. Hang With Me – Robyn

“I know what’s on your mind there will be time for that too,” sings Robyn in Body Talk Pt. 2‘s “Hang With Me”. Yeah, that’s right, Robyn is talking about friends with benefits. The euphoric melody and insistent and gentle blips courtesy of producer Klas Åhlund don’t hint towards the song’s true meaning, but it’s a part of its charm. Warning her lover he can only hang with her if he doesn’t fall in love, the girl who perpetually gets her heart broken is finally firmly in control. – HS

15. Runaway – Kanye West

Our first toast to the doucebags started with a simple repeated keystroke and catchy melody. The stage of MTV’s Video Music Awards ceremony was rushed by the corps de ballet as Kanye West delivered his most earnest performance of all time. Not long after its debut, the song played title for Kanye’s 35 minute long art film. “Runaway” is the poster child for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the album that assures critics and aficionados alike that Kanye West isn’t going anywhere. – JP

14. Crossfire – Brandon Flowers

The Brandon Flowers who sings in “Crossfire” is not the same Brandon Flowers who used to rock guyliner, pick fights with other bands, and brag that Sam’s Town was one of the greatest rock albums of the past twenty years (it was, and so was Hot Fuss, but that’s besides the point). Credit his return to Mormonism or his growing family (he and his wife have two kids with another on the way), but Flowers has toned down the whole rock star persona. Instead, his music centers on themes of redemption. “Tell the devil that he can go back from where he came,” he sings on “Crossfire”, the most epic track from the understated Flamingo. – HS

13. Animal – Neon Trees

Provo, Utah’s very own Neon Trees have had a good year. Breaking into the music scene in a big way, their debut single “Animal” has spent an impressive 26 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 13 and even clawing its way to the Alternative Songs chart summit in September. Comparisons to new wave pop from the early ’80s are almost immediate with its infectious use of synth and hand claps. “Animal,” with its popping melody and intelligent lyrics, showcases the breakout band’s engaging sound and its lead singer’s distinct vocals. – CH

12. Only Girl (In The World) – Rihanna

2010 was Rihanna’s year. “Umbrella” was the song that separated her from the pack of similarly marketed one name pop starlets, but when everyone’s favorite good girl gone bad tried to go serious on Rated R, no one cared. That is until the up tempo “Rude Boy” was released. The success of “Rude Boy” laid the groundwork for Loud, a collection of ballads and Caribbean flavored dance tunes of which “Only Girl (In The World)” was the queen. – HS

11. Not Afraid – Eminem

Ten years ago, at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards, Eminem led an army of blond young men in white shirts and jeans into Radio City Music Hall as he rapped “The Real Slim Shady”. That moment symbolized how Eminem had, for better or worse, given a voice to a generation of alienated youth. “Not Afraid” is for those people and anyone else who is in a dark place. “We’ll walk this road together, through the storm,” he says. Think of it as a white rapper’s “Beautiful”. – HS

10. The Only Exception – Paramore

Dialing down their usual guitar-heavy rock’n'roll, Paramore achieved their most commercially successfully single to date with easily their most restrained. “The Only Exception” is beautiful in its simplicity. Critics quickly took note of front woman Hayley Williams’ sturdy vocal delivery, noting her ability to connect with the listener emotionally. Paramore proved their musicianship by turning what could’ve been a sappy, trite ballad into an honest and heartfelt look at love. – CH

9. Teenage Dream – Katy Perry

“Teenage Dream” was meant to be a Katy Perry song for people who hated Katy Perry. Instead of being annoying, trite and revolve around stereotypes, it was impossibly catchy and celebrated the universal feeling of eternal youth. But, like other songs created in a laboratory with the sole intent of being a monster hit (read: “I Gotta Feeling” or “TiK ToK”), the song soon wore out its welcome and all the Katy haters just ended up hating her more than before. But unlike those other annoying songs, “Teenage Dream” has value, evident in the Resucuers’ unironic and beautiful cover and the fact that if another singer had the song, no one would have hated it as much. – HS

8. Starry Eyed – Ellie Goulding

Ellie Goulding described “Starry Eyed” as a song about feeling a natural high, and it’s no surprise she pulls that off with ease considering the lighter-than-air nature of her small but growing body of work. Balancing the intelligent dance pop Europe is currently demanding from its pop artists with a dash of folk pop, Goulding led the way in making music that appeals to a wide audience. “Starry Eyed” with its building but gentle beat was the most pop song the singer recorded, and it became her first top ten hit. – HS

7. Dancing On My Own – Robyn

Dance music isn’t a genre that’s known for emoting, especially if the song’s subject matter is something as trite as dancing, but Robyn managed to do that with the heartbreaking “Dancing On My Own”. The Swedish singer vividly describes the scene: Her in the corner and her true love across the dance floor with his “new friend”. Stilettos, broken bottles, and oblivious ex lovers be damned, Robyn is going to dance, even if it’s on her own with tears in her eyes. – HS

6. Cosmic Love – Florence + the Machine

Surprisingly, “Cosmic Love” was the sixth single from Florence + the Machine’s critically acclaimed debut album Lungs. In a word, the song is audacious. It perfectly showcases everything the band achieves so masterfully on the album: layered with deeply rich harmonies and sweeping orchestration, emotionally complex, and palpable in its intensity.

Florence Welch, lead singer and co-writer of the track, said she is often hungover when she writes her best material, and “Cosmic Love” is no exception. Coming off a night of heavy drinking, it took her a mere 30 minutes to pen the track once she got started. The end result became the most acclaimed track on the near-perfect album, a thunderous ballad that truly feels out of this world. – CH

5. Everything You Wanted – Kele

Thematically, Kele’s solo debut, The Boxer, was the healing balm to Intimacy‘s pain and hearbreak. It was an album about finding inner strength, believing in yourself, and looking forward.  “Everything You Wanted” was perhaps Kele’s only look back and the most emotional performance of his career.

Setting aside the harsh, blaring synthesizers, Kele employs tribal drums, a massive sing-a-long chorus, and piercing lyrics to get his point across. “I could have given you everything you wanted, everything you needed,” he laments, staring straight into the camera with tears streaming down his face. It’s hard to believe those are fake. – HS

4. XXXO – M.I.A.

The release of The Social Network forced us to examine the role social media plays in our modern society, and M.I.A.’s digital freakout music provides the unofficial soundtrack. Drowning in post-apocalyptic MySpace imagery, she defiantly snarls, “You want me to be somebody who I’m really not.” Considering the airbrushed life most people live online, her statement comes across as a call for logging off and living life for no one but yourself.

Unfortunately, her message failed to match reality when she came across as a pretentious poser following a scathing New York Times Magazine article. Although critics argued that it killed her street cred, songs like “XXXO” were evidence that Maya not being the anti-establishment freedom fighter she once was isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Rapping about Twitter and Tarintino over a beat catchier than bird flu, “Bird Flu”, or “Paper Planes”, M.I.A. makes pretty good pop for an anti-pop star. – HS

3. Cold War – Janelle Monae

“Cold War” is the confession of an underground artist unwilling to sell out or give up what makes her special just to be mainstream. “If you want to be free, below the ground’s the only place to be,” Janelle Monae sings. Despite the tear that glides down her face in the music video, Monae is sure of herself. “You better know what you’re fighting for,” she urges.

Her future-retroism is reminiscent of vintage OutKast or alternate reality Amy Winehouse, but she remains completely true to herself. In a pop landscape where being obsessively unique is quickly becoming the norm and bordering on being boring, Monae actually pulls it off. – HS

2. Telephone – Lady Gaga feat. Beyonce

The Fame Monster was Lady Gaga keeping her promise to be a true pop artist. It was dark and deep, something her debut album was not. The only exception was “Telephone”, her collaboration with Beyonce.

While the rest of the EP dealt with death, romance, and fear, “Telephone” seemed like just another pop song that could have been recorded by any number of pop stars. It wasn’t until a rough, unfinished, and highly autotuned demo by such a pop star surfaced that you realized that Gaga took the song to another level that the likes of Britney Spears simply could not.

On the surface, “Telephone” is about turning off the phone and partying, but in the context of the storyline of The Fame Monster, it’s so much more. Gaga’s character isn’t just dancing, she’s running from a bad romance, from a controlling boyfriend who’s just like a dad. She isn’t dancing for fun, she’s dancing for her life. – HS

1. Love the Way You Lie – Eminem feat. Rihanna

You knew Eminem had a hit on his hands when people who usually quote Ke$ha or Miley Cyrus in their Facebook statuses start quoting one of his songs. Sure, most of those people were quoting Rihanna’s hook, but they were still listening to an Eminem song. Despite Eminem being around for over a decade now, “Love The Way You Lie” was the first song of his that found its way onto many peoples’ iPods and it marked a return to relevance for the 2000′s biggest selling artist.

Misogyny has always been a favorite theme of Slim Shady’s, but rather than use the same tired, vile, and violent clichés, he made a haunting, powerful record that condemned domestic violence. His raps are graphic and raw, and although he apologizes, he reveals that he doesn’t really mean it. It’s not as if Rihanna’s character is fooled by it though. “Just gonna stand there and watch me burn, but that’s alright because I like the way it hurts,” she sings. She knows he hurts her, she knows he’s lying, but she can’t leave.

Some critics condemned the song, saying it glorified domestic violence, but the very inclusion of Rihanna on the record renders that argument void. Just eighteen months removed from her encounter with Chris Brown, Rihanna brought authenticity and pain that few other singers could have.

It’s the rawness and brutal reality of the song that does the condemning, because Eminem never explicitly does. Still, as the house burns down in the Joseph Kahn directed music video, the anti-violence message is clear. Remaining atop the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks and receiving five Grammy nominations, it’s safe to say the song and it’s message penetrated pop culture, becoming a counter-intuitive but very effective public service announcement. – HS

Graphic by Nick Smith

Text by Chase Hilton, James Porter, and Hunter Schwarz