Thursday, January 1, 2009

On End-of-the-Year Countdowns

In another sign of I’m getting old, the number one song on Z100’s Top 100 Countdown of 2008 is Chris Brown’s “Forever”, and for the first time, I could not conjure up the song in my head. While I’m familiar with many Chris Brown tracks—“Kiss Kiss”, “With You”, "Run It", “Wall-to-Wall”, his duet with girlfriend Rihanna “Hate that I Love You”, “No Air” with Jordin Sparks—I had no clue about this “Forever”. I was mystified. The number one song according to the Top 40 station in one of the biggest cities in the world and I do not recognize it? What?

So I looked up the song online, and yep, I don’t know the song. Ok, maybe I’ve heard it once or twice (though I see how it became the jingle for Doublemint gum, though because I rarely watch TV now, I don’t know the commercial), but it doesn’t ring familiar at all. Strange…Oh. Wait. I do vaguely recognize the opening chords, but that was a signal for me to skip it. Okay then.

I’m beyond getting mad at countdown crap like this. I realized, wading through the list, that I listen to so many stations and because I purposely skip over songs and artists I don’t like (I think I’ve managed to not hear either of Leona Lewis’s singles in their entirety, a feat I’m proud of), my perceptions of what is popular and what is not is somewhat skewed. I used to try to guess what the number one song of the year would be, trying to nail it earlier and earlier in the year. A number one song has to hit its peak at the right time of the year, in a certain time of July/August, be inescapable, yet not annoying, and not a fad. I also realized that I had to tailor my guesses to the individual outlets—VH1’s top songs were not mutually identical with PLJ’s, even though they overlapped a lot. But I’ve consistently fallen short, with my guesses coming up in the second (or fifth) spots. This year, I considered (frightfully) Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love”, since avoiding it became an Olympic sport (alas, number one for VH1), and Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music”, since that music never stopped for several months. Do not underestimate staying power.

I checked out some other stations that did countdowns. The lovely thing about the internet is now I can just read their lists; Z100 thankfully put theirs up before all the airings were done, so you don’t even have to listen to the whole countdown! (Which, as we all know, drags on and on in the 60-80 range.) Obviously Lil Wayne, Rihanna and Chris Brown rule in terms of singles and even cross genres; if the New York metropolitan region had a country station, the same would be said for Taylor Swift, who I think does much better in all genres outside of this region. The ubiquitous (and best sing-along chorus of the year) “Low” actually came out late in 2007, or else it would have undoubtedly been #1.

The problem with countdowns is I have never understood how they figure out what song places where. You can argue relative placement (and I have), but even that strange mix of sales figures and airplay does nothing for me. I remember “Sorry” being pretty damn big, a lot bigger than #98, which is a spot reserved for songs you heard once back in May, or a song that was released December 1st, but somehow that doesn’t register. I guess I just made sure to crank up that tune whenever it was on VH1. There were many other “huhs?” when skimming through the list--“Hot N Cold” is a bigger hit that “I Kissed a Girl”?—as well as good half-dozen or so songs about which I just had no clue. When I didn’t listen to a station for a week or so, or ignored FM radio for several days on end, I just felt so behind, even if day-to-day, even week-to-week, playlists don’t change that much. But then one day you realize that you haven’t heard Sara Bareilles’ “Love Song” in a while, and that that song has already peaked. And then you’re kind of sad, because you really liked that song.


John said...

This is exactly why I don't bother to stay even REMOTELY current when it comes to music. Popularity of songs is fairly arbitrary, and likely decided in advance by the combined manipulative powers of EMI, ClearChannel, Viacom and assorted cross-media juggernauts. I can't think of any other way to explain the popularity of "womanizer"!

Jess and Josh said...

Um, SAME. I had no idea what "Forever" was aside from the whole Doublemint controversy.

How "I Kissed a Girl" wasn't number one--it was a huge hit on the charts and the most talked-about song in years--is frankly beyond me.

And yes, I agree with you; oftentimes, especially with Z100's lists, the top songs aren't what you'd expect them to be. One year "Kiss Me" by Sixpensce None the Richer was like in the top 10--maybe number one--and I loved She's All That but, like, really?