Last time I intentionally listened to commercial radio, Al Gore hadn't even invented the internet yet. Having me write about Billboard's current Top 10 singles chart is like sending a 13-year-old Glee fanatic to review an improvised-music fest. This is alien territory to me, y'all. Aaaanywaaaay, let's get down to the important business of analyzing America's most popular songs.
10. "What Makes You Beautiful" by One Direction
One Direction consist of five boyish Londoners with fine bone structure and no facial hair. On "What Makes You Beautiful," they sincerely inform a nice young woman that her beauty derives from her not being aware of her beauty. It's a paradox—sort of! The line "The way that you flip your head gets me overwhelmed" is actually kind of fresh in this context, and the vibrant, uplifting music is middleweight punchy. The beats remind me of the Glitter Band's thick, clap-intensive slaps, and the melody has a Joe Jackson circa 1979 spunkiness. Shockingly, I can't hate.
9. "Starships" by Nicki Minaj
Nicki Minaj is like a rap-video thong model who, surprisingly, has musical talent to burn. Yeah, she looks dazzling in a fuchsia wig and, as Woody Allen once put it, "her figure describe(s) a set of parabolas that could cause cardiac arrest in a yak" (I know—I'm a dreadful pig), but Minaj's lyrics have been known to match her beauty and sartorial flamboyance. "Starships," however, sounds like a dumbing-down of her skills—she likens herself to a starship, for fuck's sake. Musically, this is Gaga-lite—restrained rave fodder that'll lose Nicki tons of hiphop cred. When a New York radio jock recently dissed "Starships" before the Hot 97 Summer Jam 2012 concert, the thin-skinned Minaj dropped out of the event. Let the record show: That DJ was spot-on.
8. "We Are Young" by fun. (featuring Janelle Monáe)
No great bands have ever ended their names with a period, including fun. (Should that sentence end in two periods? Fuck these guys for even making me think about it.) Adding insult to injury, fun. lowercase their name, conferring upon themselves a false sense of modesty, like the ignoble moe., who also maddeningly include a motherfucking period in their handle. Where were we? Ah, yes—"We Are Young" is both lumbering and fluffy, which I guess is some sort of achievement. The talented Janelle Monáe sullies her good name by adding backing vocals to this saccharine bolus of a tune. The chorus, which goes "Tonight we are young/So let's set the world on fire/We can burn brighter than the suuuuuuu-oh-ah-oh-uuun," would be laughed out of a middle-school English class. This is a song about druggy/boozy overindulgence that has all the menace of a choirboy.
7. "Boyfriend" by Justin Bieber
The riveting intro recalls Ying Yang Twins' "Wait (The Whisper Song)" (wait till you see Biebs's dick). The reverbed whistle, stark claps, staunch kick drum, and Justin Bieber's hushed boasts and promises make this a cool slice of pop R&B minimalism à la Prince's "If I Was Your Girlfriend." Hmm, coincidence? I think not. So, um, I—a 50-year-old straight man—like a Justin Bieber song. Help?
6. "Where Have You Been" by Rihanna
Rihanna is one of those single-named R&B divas who flicker by my consciousness in a blur of sparkly gowns, jewelry that costs more than my yearly salary, and coifs more complicated than trigonometry. (Cher, so much to answer for.) She flaunts her mezzo-soprano with Donald Trump–like brazenness on "Where Have You Been," a dramatic number about an elusive mate. It might be more tolerable without the strutting mainstream techno track that sounds like Justice with neutered Roland-303 squiggles or a Moby outtake from 1994, pallid echoes of rave synths and all. (Calvin Harris coproduces; that explains the cheesiness.) Maybe if I were a cougar from Tukwila, this would resonate more with me.
5. "Back in Time" by Pitbull
Man, I thought Pitbull was hard. Admittedly, I haven't been following his career closely, but in 2012, Armando Christian Pérez sounds like he's mellowed out from his hungry, crunky, mid-'00s days. "Back in Time" does what the title says, riding a sample of the guitar lick from Mickey & Sylvia's "Love Is Strange." The confluence of '50s rock with 21st-century rap, dubstep bass wobble, and slick house beats carries a frisson of novelty—and this song probably raises pulses when it appears in Men in Black III—but there's a corniness here that doesn't sit right. Don't hurt me, Mr. Pitbull, sir.
4. "Die in Your Arms" by Justin Bieber
Damn, you guys love you some Bieber. The Rodney Jerkins–produced "Die in Your Arms" features the beat from Melvin Bliss's "Synthetic Substitution," which powered almost as many '80s and '90s hiphop jams as "The Funky Drummer," so its badassitude is guaranteed. Over this unfuckwithable foundation, our beloved 18-year-old Canuck JB sings standard romantic-schmaltz sentiments with youthful Michael Jacksonian insouciance. I can't front, though: If I were a tween/teen girl, my panties would not be dry right now.
3. "Somebody That I Used to Know" by Gotye (featuring Kimbra)
This song will find you, no matter how adroitly you avoid pop culture. The Belgian-Australian Gotye—with crucial assistance from covocalist Kimbra—has crafted one of those classic whisper-to-a-scream songs that deliver catharsis you can experience in a dentist's office or a Trader Joe's without breaking a sweat or shedding a tear. The official video for "STIUTK" has racked up nearly 250 million views, which shows that a scary number of humans can relate to the song's he said/she said tale of dissolved love. But above all, it's the line about the woman sending friends to his pad to collect her records that really stings. Naked vulnerability sells, abundantly.
2. "Payphone" by Maroon 5 (with Wiz Khalifa)
A plague has descended on us—that of the Modern Rock™ white-boy vocalist straining to connote "soul." Maroon 5's Adam Levine is a prime culprit, one of many of this noxious species who make Sting sound like Otis Redding. Your second-favorite Pittsburgh MC, Wiz Khalifa, adds a negligible rap to a hollow, bland pop-rock soufflé that gave me indigestion on first hearing. Oblivion is too good for Maroon 5.
1. "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen
You could eat off the production of "Call Me Maybe"—it's that clean. Vocally, Carly Rae Jepsen exudes a beige cuteness in that generic manner common to LCD hit-making strategy—as does the trite dance-pop backdrop, which not even the shallowest tween deserves to endure. Syrupy, coy songs about the tingling anticipation of young love sung by attractive young people will always be with us, like acne. You just gotta hope the scars they leave aren't too traumatic.