Similar to other art forms, some pop music is conceived organically. But most of the songs you hear on the radio were assembled in a cold, dark factory, where robotic mad scientists manufacture sound for the masses.
The Oracle disassembles the top five Billboard Hot 100 singles to expose what makes these tunes stay lodged in our brains. They may be catchy, but so are infectious diseases.
1. Adele, “Someone Like You”
Whether it’s a sensual whisper or thunderous belting, Adele’s voice feels as smooth as butter. The lyrics of this piano ballad echo those of “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon, which peaked at No. 4 on the Hot 100. Both songs talk of being noticed, but Adele’s is laced with British sophistication, instead of down-south twang.
Sadly, Adele won’t be roaring anytime soon, as she has canceled the remaining shows on her tour because of vocal hemorrhaging.
2. Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera, “Moves like Jagger”
This song displays pop engineering at its finest. It’s got the fist-pump beat, the hipster whistling and the weird dub-step distortion noises — not to mention two of the most distinct voices of the last decade. Listen to this song once and see if it doesn’t haunt your dreams for the next few weeks. Plus, the British influence in the top two songs can’t be a coincidence.
That being said, I wouldn’t call this a Rolling Stone tribute. The song is little more than a retro name-drop for the sake of publicity.
3. Foster the People, “Pumped up Kicks”
This band sounds like the illegitimate child of Jack White and MGMT. Hipster whistles and a doo-wop baseline accompany lyrics about a troubled teen with access to a firearm. The verses sound as though they were groaned into a tin can, and the chorus is about shooting children, yet this is easily the catchiest song on the radio. Kids these days.
The band also scores bonus retro points by talking of “pumped up kicks” and “rolled cigarette(s).”
4. Gym Class Heroes featuring Adam Levine, “Stereo Hearts”
I can’t remember the last time I saw an actual metaphor carried through an entire pop song, even if it’s only for two, 12-bar verses. Though he trails off into obscurity with the second verse, Travie McCoy delivers a solid first by asking: “If I was just another dusty record on the shelf, would you blow me off and play me like everybody else?”
Sandwich those lyrics between Adam Levine choruses, and you have your formula for success. This song has a dramatic, heartfelt hip-hop sound similar to that of B.O.B’s “Airplanes” and Tinie Tempah’s “Written in the Stars.”
5. LMFAO, “Party Rock Anthem”
This song sounds like robots having sex. But what else would you expect from a group named after an instant messenger acronym? This dance jam has clicks, whistles, zips and onomatopoeias I can’t even fathom. The lyrics suggest a modern day Wayne’s World-esque duo obsessed with partying, getting up, getting down and shaking it.
If you want to dance at breakneck speed, definitely check this song out. If you are looking for lyrical prowess, look elsewhere. They tried for retro bonus points, but failed: “On the rise to the top, no lead in our Zeppelin.”