2010 in Music: A Power Hour Review
A few years stick out over the course of history as high water marks for recorded pop music. That nebulous time period between Korea and Vietnam when rock was being perfected,1 1968, 1975, 1991/92, and 2001 all come to mind as years where the (broadly-speaking) pop music scene coalesced to crystallize the sound of their generation’s zeitgeist.
I’d argue that 2010 was the most important year musically of our generation, pop or otherwise. Hip hop was transitioning from a decade of pop dominance into a new phase of critical acclaim, virtuosity, and a seeming decline in pop relevance, The Black Keys and The Arcade Fire were dragging indie rock from holier-than-thou Bush-era apostrophe-laden nerd-dom onto commercial airwaves, and most significantly Kanye dropped what will go down as one of the most important, fascinating, and fucking awesome records of the 21st century.
But the historical gravity of 2010 holds true for the year’s pop music as well.
2010 arrived at the magical tipping point where just about any American who we’d classify as a “Millennial”2 was coming into their own, either as a recent college graduate, college student, or high school student within ~4 years of college. Whether we like it or not, the music that was blasting in your Toyota Camry or basement frat party was the sound of our collective consciousness in pop form — it was the sound in the background as we prepared to enter the workforce within a nation weary of years of recession, the sound of us all stumbling towards an understanding of what things like “The Obama Era” or “Instagram” actually mean, the sound of a youth beginning to wield its political power, and the sound of a new cadre of pop stars dominating the charts.
To cut to the good shit, it’s safe to say that you’d be able to instantly hum at least 15 of the top 60 songs from 2010 when you’re sitting in hospice 80 years from now (God & stem cells willing), and that you’re going to hear a minimum of five of these tracks at every wedding you go to in the next decade and a half.
So grab that six-pack of Miller Lite from the back of the fridge and prepare your mind, body, and soul for a power hour journey whose cumulative effects won’t hit you until approximately 2:15pm tomorrow at work.
It seems fitting that the millennial domination of pop music kicks off with “Tik Tok.” The artist formerly known as Ke$ha’s banger drips with Jack Daniel’s and irony and boys blowing up her phones, phones. “Tik Tok” probably hasn’t had the shelf life we would have guessed back then, but it brings a smile to the face of anybody who’s ever danced on a table in the past four years.
Hard on Ke$ha’s heels comes Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now,” which is less a country song than it is an emotional saga through all the feelings. “It’s a quarter after nine and I’m drinking Miller Lite and I need to reconsider my life right noooooowwww.” It’s the greatest crossover hit of all time. Don’t even fucking play Garth Brooks.
Train dweebs it up with “Hey, Soul Sister,” a song whose gooberitude was only challenged by Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire” in 2010, although neither of them could hold dork-water against the weak shit of Michael ‘Voice Your Mother Masturbates To’ Buble’s “Haven’t Met You Yet.”
It’s okay though, because 2010 was also the year when Katy Perry made the jump from tween star playing at Riot Fests to super-duper-mega-huge pop star with the seven goddamn singles that spun out from Teenage Dream (both “California Gurls” and “Teenage Dream” were among the Top 60 in 2010). God bless her and her whipped cream spurting breasts.
Why can’t we have more B.o.B. on Top 40 radio? Don’t we as a nation deserve breezy beats and that girl from Paramore? B.o.B.’s rapid ascent was also just about as surprising as learning that pairing Eminem with Rihanna actually… works.
Lady Gaga. Whoooo boy. I just fundamentally do not understand how she came to the prominence she achieved, and then fell off the radar seemingly just as quickly. Gaga, along with Ke$ha, was pretty much single-handedly responsible for tipping the balance of the Top 40 towards a more feminine, glammed-up electronic dance pop.3 How did the most compelling, revolutionary, and straight up weird female pop star since Madonna come and go in a matter of two albums?
Who cares though, because Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” is playing and that’s all that matters. One day, when little baby North West grows up and travels to remote Bhutanese mountains in order to learn how to construct the perfect pop song, his assignment will be to drive aimlessly around the suburbs while listening to “Dynamite” at full blast. How any mortal was able to create such monstrously ginormous hooks is beyond comprehension, and following “Dynamite” up with “Break Your Heart” in the same year is one of the single greatest achievements of mankind this century.
Speaking of human excellence, 2010 was also the year we learned that you could feature Ludacris on any piece of music that needs a bridge and improve it by 3000%. Other notable revelations include that somebody accidentally allowed Pitbull to take part in like half of all dance music produced and that maybe Jason Derulo should just say his name at the start of every song.
Then comes “Rude Boy.”
Digression time: Rihanna had three individual singles in the Top 60 in 2010 (“Rude Boy, “Only Girl in the World,” and “Hard”), plus a prominent feature in “Love The Way You Lie.” She’s done nothing but produce pure pop gold for the past decade or so, yet for all the words spilled about her fellow pop divas like Beyonce, Taylor Swift, or Katy Perry, almost nobody seems to devote any attention to Ri Ri unless it has something to do with domestic abuse, and even less take her music all that seriously.
But Rihanna’s a genius.
You have to be to produce hit after hit like she does — it takes a tremendous amount of effort and a certain kind of intelligence to know what masses of Americans (and listeners around the world) want to hear. She’s more consistent and less self-indulgent than Beyonce, more intriguing than Katy Perry, and has been in the pop game for longer than Taylor Swift. So why hasn’t Rihanna received the same amount of popular admiration or begrudging critical respect as her peers? I think it’s a mix of a) some underlying hesitation among Americans to welcome a foreign star, b) her personality and insecurity leading to a less brash portrayal of herself compared to other female pop stars (and less overall interest in marketing herself as carefully), and c) people still not forgiving her for the non-sequitur success of “Umbrella.” Whatever. She could record a duet with Chad Kroeger and sell 5 million copies. And you wouldn’t mind it either.
That being said… LET’S GO ALLLLLL THE WAY TONIGHT!!!
Shit, going through the power hour it’s clear that 2010 was stacked like the 2008 Democratic Primary. Mega-jumbo hits like “Empire State of Mind,” “Replay,” “Whatcha Say” or “Ridin’ Solo” didn’t even crack the top 20. Although now I realize that I’m going to have to explain to my future spawn children what an iPod is when they hear “Replay” at any 2000s throwback nights they attend.
In other news, modern feminism took a step forward with the respect and dignity displayed towards women in David Guetta and Akon’s landmark “Sexy Bitch” recording. Oh also, the line “I’ll have you open all night like an IHOP” on Timbaland’s “Carry Out” is the pinnacle lyrical achievement of 2010.
Anyways, have you ever blacked out at a neighborhood BYOB Thai place and serenaded the entire restaurant with your rendition of The Script’s “Breakeven?” No? I haven’t either, but I think some of the fine members of National Ave’s editorial staff might be able to regale you with the gory details.
I should note that this power hour also marked the first time in my life that I ever listened to Justin Bieber’s “Baby.” And you know what? It’s not that bad. Give me three substantive differences between Bieber and Jackson 5-era Michael Jackson. Just try.
After making the transition from Miller Lite to PBR, it’s clear that the darkness of sorrow is swirling around my laptop. But does it have to be to the sound of OneRepublic? Also who thought it was believable that Taylor Swift played clarinet in the music video for “You Belong With Me?”
These are the thoughts that keep me up at night. This is why I drink: To listen to Drake’s “Over” and make jokes about a time period when BP was leaking oil into the Gulf and Chelsea Manning was leaking classified documents to the Internet.
Oh, 2010. What a time to be alive.