Embracing my love of pop music (ft Fun., Taylor, Carly Rae, and the Biebs)

If there’s one thing I’m unqualified to write about, it’s music. So if you weren’t taking everything I write with a grain of salt already, please begin now. I’m also going to be using a lot of trite/overused terms that border on cliché and don’t really mean anything if you think about it, but it’s all I can come up with because I’m writing these things as I go.

For the first time I can recall, I have enjoyed more “mainstream” pop music in 2012 than anything else. And by mainstream, I mean music that other people I know in real life actually know.

This is mostly due to the incredible success of Fun. and their new album Some Nights. The album sold 70,000 copies it’s first week, debuting at #3 on the Billboard charts and has remained in the top 50 since, selling more than 290,000 copies to date (thanks, Wikipedia). The first single off the album, “We Are Young” (which my dear friend and boss Maddy Smith wrote a fantastic post about the collective consciousness behind being “young”) was covered on “Glee,” featured in a Chevy commercial during the Super Bowl, and received incessant radio play for weeks on end. Finally, there was a song I could play at parties that wouldn’t immediately get me kicked out.

“We Are Young” is great, but the rest of the album is better. The title-track is officially the second single (and there’s a neat music video released for it but I’m not exactly sure of the song’s connection to the Civil War), which I believe is the best song on the album. All told, Some Nights is the album of the year (AOTY) so far, and I can’t see anything else beating it between now and December.

(Note: Of course when I say it is AOTY, that’s my opinion. That should go without saying. All music rankings of any sort of inherently subjective, so when I say it’s “the” album of the year, “my” is implied, because I am the one making the assertion. I don’t understand some people’s need to separate the subjective from the objective when it comes to music and the ranking/preference of music, because it is 100 percent subjective any way you slice it, so subjectivity should be naturally assumed. So when I get called out for making grandiose assertions like naming Some Nights AOTY, really give me a break, because of course I’m being asinine by calling it AOTY, but that’s my opinion, and if you aren’t willing to assert your opinion as fact, why have it in the first place?)

It’s kind of crazy to me for Fun. to have such national success, because the last Fueled by Ramen band (remember eighth grade when that label was popping out good bands left and right, what happened?) to even sniff the mainstream was Fall Out Boy. And even though I think the best Nate Ruess album is The Format’s Dog Problems, there’s a bit of pride in seeing someone I’ve listened to for a while now find stardom with such a deserving album like Some Nights because not only does it validate the music I listen to (as in, yes, other human beings can actually enjoy it) but also the music played on mainstream radio (as in, yes, the top 40 hits are capable of occasionally being tolerable and sometimes even great).

Which brings me to the realization I had a few days ago: after years of being anti-mainstream and anti-radio (middle through high school and even the first couple years of college, probably) I am enjoying music played on the radio more than any of the other bands I listen to.

So how did this happen?

I suppose it started with Taylor Swift. I remember clear as day where I was when I first heard “Love Story” on the radio. I was sitting in the backseat of the girl who used to drive me to school senior year’s car (shout-out to Sarah and Jade) one morning and we turned on the radio part way through. I had no idea it was Taylor Swift. All I knew was that I loved it.

I eventually figured out the song I was in love with was, in fact, a Taylor Swift song, and I proceeded to download all of Fearless, and played it relentlessly for the rest of that year and summer going into my freshman year of college. And then Speak Now came out and, for my money, is one of the best albums released in the past ten years. It’s pure pop music goodness. Just like that first time hearing “Love Story,” I have a vivid memory of sitting in my dorm room the night Speak Now leaked and listening to it all the way through for the first time. I’ve never had a physical reaction to a song like I had to “Better than Revenge” the first time I heard it – my heart was racing. I sound like an idiot right now, but I’m just being honest.

total would

That same fall, Kanye put out My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which again, is one of the best albums of the past ten years. Now that I think about it, 2010 had some really amazing albums (The Upsides best among them, though not exactly fitting with this post).

And now, two years later, I can’t get enough of “Call Me Maybe” (which I think is more poignant to the state of twenty-something interpersonal relationships than people give it credit for), and the new Justin Bieber album wildly exceeded my expectations. Not only am I flat-out impressed at home many times he says “swag” in “Boyfriend,” but “Die In Your Arms” and “Thought Of You” are close to slow-jam perfection. Everyone’s been comparing his new album to FuterSex/LoveSounds (an album I am unfortunately not very familiar with) but I just want to let the Biebs be Biebs. My most anticipated album for the rest of 2012 is the new T-Sweezy album that’s supposedly coming at the very end of the year. She’s the only one that has any shot of unseating Fun. as reigning champs of 2012. If you had told 18-year-old Ben that his top two albums of 2012 were going to be Billboard-topping (because let’s be honest, Taylor’s album is going to SELL), radio hit-making albums, he probably would’ve laughed in your face, called future-Ben a sellout, and put on his headphones to listen to …Is A Real Boy (which, don’t get me wrong, is still a top-10 album of all time, but also pretty characteristic of the music I listen(ed) to).

What changed? Why can I now appreciate pop music? Is it because I’m “growing up,” leaving my teenage years of “music hunting” (totally coined that term, and I’m not going to let anyone tell me I didn’t)? I just can’t get behind the same kinds of music I liked back then. I’ve noticed a lot lately, a difficulty I’ve had going back to bands I listened to a year or two ago. So maybe it does have something to do with being older. But it’s funny then, that the song that led me to embracing pop music is an anthem for being “young.” Maybe I am just lazy, settling for whatever music is most readily available? Has my taste in music changed? To be honest, it’s probably a combination of those things. Really though, it just comes down to enjoying music. I can’t explain why I enjoy a song, why a song gets stuck in my head, it just does. And more often than not lately, those songs that stick with me are the ones I hear on the radio, not the ones on some random band from Tallahassee’s bandcamp.

It hasn’t been a complete 180 – I still don’t like all the music I listen to on the radio, and I still love the bands that play shows populated more by their friends than anyone else (Spraynard’s Exton Square EP is the one thing remotely close to Some Nights so far this year), but I think a gradual shift is occurring. Or, like most things, I’m probably just over-thinking this.

And now, if you excuse me, I’m going to go continue to be depressed I didn’t get to see Carly Rae Jepsen sing “Call Me Maybe” on Fallon last week.

-Ben Cosman