12:12am

Wed December 26, 2012
Best Music Of 2012

Top 10 Top 40 Of 2012

Originally published on Wed December 26, 2012 5:51 am

If you're into the hits, most any year is a good one. Top 40 music is defined by mass appeal, which means that though some of it is bland, much more is at least catchy and often unpretentiously wonderful. 2012 stood out, though, because of three songs that went beyond momentary ubiquity to become companions to the changing seasons. "Somebody That I Used To Know," "We Are Young" and "Call Me Maybe" seemed like pleasant trifles at first, but they proved durable, and therefore meaningful, and we'll be singing them for years.

Beyond these basics defining the year, the Top 40 offered many pleasures. Some refreshed tried and true themes, like teen romance and women's liberation. Others were more personal, or more experimental, or (in the case of "Climax") both. One thing these songs share: the ability to make millions feel good. In a year full of difficult realities, that's worth a lot.

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Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

As Congressman Murphy's constituents sent him off to Capitol Hill, this catchy 2012 hit may come to mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CALL ME MAYBE")

CARLY RAE JEPSEN: (Singing) Hey, I just met you and this is crazy.

GREENE: Yep. That is Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe." Many of you also won't forget humming along to Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMEBODY THAT I USED TO KNOW")

GOTYE: (Singing) But you didn't have to cut me off, make out like it never happened, as though we were nothing.

GREENE: But believe it or not, these are not the only two songs that were on the radio this year. There were other huge pop hits in 2012. And NPR Music's Ann Powers pays attention to pop music all throughout the year and has some of her favorites to offer us today. Ann, welcome back.

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me. I'm dancing around the room to that Carly Rae tune.

GREENE: Good, I've been dancing all year to that tune. But maybe 2013, it's time to give it a little bit of a rest.

POWERS: Probably.

GREENE: Probably.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: So I want to go down some of the list that you sent us. I don't listen to a whole lot of boy band music, but there was no escaping One Direction this year was there?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT MAKES YOU BEAUTIFUL")

ONE DIRECTION: (Singing) But when you smile at the ground it ain't hard to tell, you don't know oh-oh, you don't know you're beautiful...

POWERS: My daughter, who's in third grade, gets a lot of messages that might not be that empowering from listening to the radio. But this one, it's pure self-help. It's pure boost you up. It's just the feel-good song for every girl out there wondering if she's starting to get chubby or something. You know?

GREENE: Well, I like this one on your list.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WANTED")

HUNTER HAYES: (Singing) 'Cause I want to wrap you up, want to kiss your lips. I want to make you feel wanted...

GREENE: That's Hunter Hayes, "Wanted," right? What message is here? Is this empowering too?

POWERS: Oh, absolutely. You know, One Direction with "What Makes You Beautiful" kind of set the template for an ongoing theme in pop for male artists this year. But this song by Hunter Hayes - Hunter Hayes is such an interesting guy. He's 21 years old. He's a multi-instrumentalist and he does everything on his records. And he's decided to go for Nashville-style pop stardom, which, you know, you can call it country. But he's really a teen idol but a teen idol with chops, and that's what I like about Hunter Hayes.

GREENE: We should say, though, it wasn't just the males singing about being in love this year. There was some female artists too on that subject.

POWERS: Always. Love is the eternal.

GREENE: "Give Your Heart a Break"?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIVE YOUR HEART A BREAK")

DEMI LOVATO: (Singing) Don't want to break your heart. Want to give your heart a break. I know you're scared it's wrong, like you might make a mistake...

POWERS: Demi Lovato, you might recognize her now as a judge on "The X Factor" sparring with Simon Cowell. But she was a Disney prodigy. She was the star of the Disney movie "Camp Rock." And she's now evolved into kind of a young pop star who still has that teen feeling but is kind of going for bigger themes.

This song is really interesting. It my kind of slip by you but it actually is kind of like what the great girl group songs were like. It has that mix of vulnerability and trying a little too hard, which I love in a young voice and I think it really works in this song.

GREENE: So Ann, a lot of new names out there, but one familiar name, Maroon 5. I mean they were topping the charts in 2003. It's almost a decade later and they're still here and out with a really big hit, "Payphone."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PAYPHONE")

MAROON 5: (Singing) I'm at a payphone trying to call home. All of my change I spent on you. Where have...

GREENE: Ann, can we talk about the fact that it's 2012 and no one uses payphones anymore?

(LAUGHTER)

POWERS: Well, that to me was the clever thing about this song. I mean while the production of this song is very 2012, it sounds very contemporary, a little dancey - Maroon 5, with its kind of classic alternative rock sound, endures. And you know what? When you're really desperate, you're going to look for that payphone, just like you're going to look for a band like this.

GREENE: All right, but let's get real. "Call Me Maybe," the biggest song of the year, no doubt?

(LAUGHTER)

POWERS: Well, according to the charts, David, it was Gotye. I think according to the zeitgeist, it was Carly Rae Jepsen. But according to the heart of this mom of a schoolgirl - who's loved boy bands ever since I saw Andy Gibb back in the '70s - it's One Direction all the way.

GREENE: Oh, she goes with the boy band.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: Ann Powers...

POWERS: That's what makes you beautiful, David.

GREENE: Thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

GREENE: Ann Powers, NPR music critic, this has been fun. We'll look forward to the songs in 2013.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT MAKES YOU BEAUTIFUL")

ONE DIRECTION: (Singing) Oh-oh, you don't know you're beautiful. If only you saw what I can see...

GREENE: You can hear more of this year's best music - jazz, classical, folk - and the rest of Ann Powers' favorite pop, at NPRMusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT MAKES YOU BEAUTIFUL")

ONE DIRECTION: (Singing) ...desperately. You don't know, oh-oh, you don't know you're beautiful. Oh-oh-oh, you don't know you're beautiful. Oh-oh-oh, that's what makes you beautiful.

GREENE: You're beautiful. And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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