A well crafted single is a pop culture event, and these are just some of the songs that had an impact beyond strong radio play or digital downloads over the past year. In no particular order, here are some of pop music’s most influential songs of 2012:
Die Young (Ke$ha)– This lead track from Ke$ha’s latest album is guaranteed to sit atop many New Years playlists, the carpe diem party anthem to end all carpe diem party anthems, proclaiming “let’s make the most of the night like we’re gonna die young.”
Try (Pink)– 2012 was a comeback year for Pink, and while lead single “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” was a fun summer jam, her real triumph this year was “Try,” an empowerment anthem in the style of her earlier work. The video, directed by Floria Sigismondi, has been named by MTV as one of the best of the year, featuring a gripping tale of an abusive relationship told through interpretive dance. Pink’s performance of the song and interpretive dance at at the 2012 American Music Awards stole the show as a true piece of performance art.
Diamonds (Rihanna)- Coming off of a strong 2011 with international smash “We Found Love,” Rihanna opted for a slower, brooding midtempo number with “Diamonds“. While the lyrics border on smaltzy, “We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky,” the real impact of this song can be found in the context of Rihanna’s personal life. Is she signing about Chris Brown? Did her rekindled relationship with the bad boy inspire her to choose a more introspective number for her main single of 2012? The accompanying video, full of wild horses and stormy skies, features the same sort of pathos and drama that characterize her pairing with Brown.
Gangham Style (PSY)- This song by South Korean musician PSY is almost more of a pop culture craze than a song, becoming the first video to reach 1 billion views on YouTube. The phrase “Gangham Style” refers to the lifestyle in the Gangham district of Seoul, and the song’s dance moves have been attempted by everyone from Barack Obama to Britney Spears. In one of the year’s most iconic pop culture moments, PSY performed the dance craze on the AMAs with a dance legend from another era- MC Hammer.
Boyfriend (Justin Bieber)– As the Biebs attempted to transition from teen star to adult pop artist, this song acted as a sort of musical bildungsroman, allowing him to showcase a deeper voice and more creative, soulful stylings. Melding rap and vocals, “Boyfriend” has been compared to Justin Timberlake’s early solo songs like “Cry Me a River” that he used to branch away from NSYNC.
Somebody That I Used to Know (Gotye featuring Kimbra)- The anthem by Australian musician Gotye was one of the most played songs of the year, seducing listeners with its quirky instrumentals and wistful lyrics. After the song went to number 1, Gotye became only the second Australian act to do so in Billboard’s charted history (the first was Savage Garden in 2001). “Somebody That I Used to Know” was also one of the most covered songs of the year, with Kelly Clarkson’s soulful rendition being one of the more memorable.
Starships (Nicki Minaj)- “Starships” was easily the biggest smash of the summer, taking radio by storm and signifying a more mainstream, pop sound for Nicki Minaj. “Starships” also ignited Minaj’s beef with Hot 97 in New York, after a DJ claimed the song was a sell out for a true rap artist.
Turn Up the Music Remix (Chris Brown featuring Rihanna)- This collaboration brought rumors of the tumultuous pair’s reconciliation to an all-time crest. After Rihanna was spotted out with Brown on his birthday, the two dodged questions about their relationship before releasing this remix of Brown’s “Turn Up the Music.” The song presents their simmering, explosive chemistry, but still leaves many questions as to the nature of their relationship. While neither Rihanna or Brown have yet to publicly comment on their alleged reconciliation, here they let the music speak for itself.
What Makes You Beautiful (One Direction)- This song marked the return of the boy band, who rose to fame after winning the British X Factor in 2010. “What Makes You Beautiful” shot to number 1 with more preorders than any Sony song in history. One Direction also performed the smash at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics, as the band is widely considered to be ushering in a new British invasion in American pop music.
Call Me Maybe (Carly Rae Jepsen)– This ubiquitous pop ditty was almost more influential as a parody, with everyone from Jimmy Fallon to Cookie Monster doing their own take.