Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: 2012 pop music: 2011 redux.
Summer has officially ended, and the popular consensus has arrived: Frequently parodied earworm “Call Me Maybe” by Canadian artist Carly Rae Jepsen is your Song of Summer 2012. By now, you’re probably just a little tired of listening to it – which is natural for songs that you hear almost every day for a full 3½ months. But imagine how Canadians must feel – they first heard the song in September of last year.
This highlights one strange trend that emerged this year with pop music being even more behind the times than usual. Both of the most popular songs of the year – “Call Me Maybe” and Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” – were actually released in 2011, as was the highest selling album of this year, Adele’s “21.” While radio is no stranger to late-peaking hits, it is strange for the gap to be almost a full year after release.
So how did we wind up with pop music in 2012 that was nothing more than 2011 redux? With Adele’s album, we can chalk her continued successes up to being Adele, the savior of modern album sales, and write it off as an aberration. But with “Maybe” and “Somebody,” trying to explain why only leads to more questions.
Both Jepsen and Gotye are from outside the country, which might explain why their songs didn’t make it here earlier. But if that’s the case, why did they become so big anyway?
The songs aren’t exactly the electropop dance songs or ringtone hip hop we’ve come to expect of the radio, so it might have taken them longer to catch on. But if that’s the case, why did they catch on anyway?
Big pop artists like Adele, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé stayed out of the singles game this summer, choosing not to release anything to radio. Compare that to the era of monster singles like “We Found Love” and “Someone Like You” at the end of last year, and it’s easy to see that there wasn’t room for Jepsen or Gotye until this year. But this summer brought big songs from the likes of Rihanna (“Where Have You Been”), Katy Perry (“Wide Awake”) and Maroon 5 (“Payphone”), yet the two scrappy upstarts still reigned supreme.
The best explanation I can come up with is that there is no explanation – at least, no simple one. “Maybe” and “Somebody” seemed to rise to prominence independently due to the promotion from their labels and other Internet success. Whereas Jepsen had Justin Bieber and all his famous friends on her side, Gotye had Walk off the Earth’s five musicians-one guitar viral cover. The songs’ 2011 roots seemingly had nothing to do with their success – all just a coincidence. However, when you realize that the third biggest hit of the year, fun.’s “We Are Young,” was also released in September 2011, you can’t help but feel you’re missing a pattern.
Pop music is obviously cyclical, and there are always going to be transition years. I’d chalk this year up to nothing but radio programmers trying to find a new sound as the dance revival is cooling down. We’ll see more songs in the next year or so mirror the sounds that Adele, fun., Jepsen and Gotye first made popular this year.
Until then, enjoy your last remnants of summer music, including Ellie Goulding’s “Lights,” a song peaking in popularity right now that was first released in – er, 2010. Back to the drawing board.