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Off The Charts

The return of the truly global smash

Amit Gurbaxani Jan 02, 2013
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Gotye. Photo: Cybele Malinowski

At 5 pm on December 31, I still did not have any New Year’s Eve plans. When I was a 10-year-old however, my NYE plans were set days in advance. It was to sit in front of the radio, with a pen and exercise book close at hand. The perfect way for me to spend the evening was to listen to the countdown of the Top 100 hits of the past year, and write the names down as relayed by American Top 40 host Casey Kasem. Since this was the pre-Internet age, I would eagerly wait for each number to be revealed, making my guesses for what song would be crowned the biggest hit of the past 12 months.

The Billboard Hot 100 singles year-end chart is no longer counted down on the radio, and the chart itself is published online at least a couple of weeks before New Year’s Eve. Luckily for plan-less me this year, there were three year-end countdowns I could bring in 2013 with: Vh1’s Top 50 videos, Radio One 94.3FM’s Top 50 most-played tunes and BBC Radio One’s online broadcast of the UK’s 100 best-selling singles of 2012. 

I guessed the No.1 songs on two of these surveys correctly, not that it was a big surprise. “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye featuring Kimbra was declared the top hit of 2012 both on the BBC and on Vh1. What was somewhat surprising, however, is that the top three singles of the US and UK were identical, with Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” and fun.’s “We Are Young” at No.2 and No.3 of both the US Billboard and official UK Singles charts. It’s a testament to this great NPR blog post on how 2012 saw “the return of mono-culture.” When you consider how “Somebody That I Used To Know” and “We Are Young” were No.1 and No.3 on the Vh1 India Top 50 for 2012 as well, it shows much of a global phenomenon each of these three songs were. [Maroon 5’s “One More Night” was the music channel’s No.2 hit of the year.]

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And while it’s true that listeners in India closely follow what’s selling in the UK and US, such a cross-continental alignment of popular tastes hasn’t happened since the decade turned. Although, it has been getting closer. Last year for instance, Adele topped both countries’ year-end surveys with different songs, “Someone Like You” in the UK and “Rolling In The Deep” in the US, and LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” was No.3 and No.2 respectively. In 2010 however, there was no similarity between the two surveys’ top three hits. In the US, the top three comprised Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok”, Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” and Train’s “Hey Soul Sister,” none of which figured in the UK’s Top 40 of 2010. The UK’s best sellers were “Love The Way You Lie” by Eminem featuring Rihanna [No.7 for the US], X Factor UK winner Matt Cardle’s Biffy Clyro remake “When We Collide” [which did not chart in the US] and Bruno Mars’s “Just The Way You Are” [No.18 for the US].

My own good test of whether a pop song has broken through demographic barriers is simple: can my mum identify the tune? She knows both “Somebody That I Used To Know” and “We Are Young,” probably from seeing them being covered on Glee, The Voice or American Idol or has overheard the originals while I was watching Vh1 or listening to Radio One [which is for a little while on the weekends]. I doubt she can hum “Tik Tok” but as most mothers do, she does know the Adele songs. Is the idea that six and 60-year-olds are listening to the same music a good thing? Maybe some rebellious 16-year-olds might have a problem with it, but the truth is that both “Somebody That I Used To Know” and “We Are Young” are great songs. As are those tracks by Adele whose success has inevitably made her somewhat uncool.

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Here’s hoping 2013 has more Gotyes, fun.s and Adeles. The music may not be groundbreaking but at least it’s varied and intelligent. It’s better than in 2009, the last time chart commentators could make the case for the return of mono-culture. The top three singles of the year in the US were Black Eyed Peas’s “Boom Boom Pow” (No.7 for the UK), Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” (No.1 for the UK) and Lady Gaga’s “Just Dance” (also No.3 for the UK). The No.2 hit of the year in the UK, Black Eyed Peas’s “I Gotta Feeling” was incidentally No.4 in the US. The difference between 2009 and 2012? With the exception of “Just Dance,” I don’t think I could hear any of the 2009 tunes again without some degree of irritation, and while my mum knows who Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga are, I highly doubt she remembers any of their hits.

Amit Gurbaxani is the senior editor of www.mumbaiboss.com. He has been writing about music for over a decade.


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