For the latest Three Dudes column, Thought Pollution writers Liam Green, Jake Roeschley and Colin Neagle tackle the Spotify top 10 – specifically, the tracks most frequently streamed in the U.S. as of Oct. 22.
1. Lorde, “Royals”
Liam: Aside from the insane catchiness of its chorus, there is no obvious reason why this should be a hit. On the Billboard Hot 100, it’s #1 and has been for at least two weeks. But the minimalist beat and proud-but-not-too-preachy indictments of common signifiers of wealth (jet planes, islands, Cristal, etc.) aren’t what’s been charting this year. So it’s refreshing to see something succeed while affecting few if any major pop trends.
“Royals” isn’t the best song on Pure Heroine (that’d be “Buzzcut Season”), but it’s a clear choice for a single. It’s a good gateway into that record, which is even more musically minimalist, anchored by Lorde’s distinctive and frankly gorgeous voice. If you haven’t given the album a shot, it’s well worth your time. And while I’m making a point of stating this after everything else, she is SIXTEEN FUCKING YEARS OLD. What the hell have any of us done lately, am I right?
Jake: Last time we did one of these, I think “Blurred Lines” was #1. What is it now? #14? Thank god. Thank god those days are behind us. I don’t love “Royals,” but it’s probably the third best song to top the Billboard Hot 100 this year (behind “Roar” and “Wrecking Ball”). Like Liam said, the chorus is insanely catchy, and the song gets points for not being stupid. Most importantly, it’s not Robin Thicke. So well done. Well done, America, for making this #1. Well done, New Zealand, for making a human who can make a #1 song in America (and Canada).
Colin: I should start this off by saying I don’t really get the whole Lorde thing. Incessant tweets about how great that new album is have driven me to listen to it at least twice by now, but I just don’t really get what people see in it. I feel the same about this song. The minimalism to the beat is pretty cool I guess, but the vocals don’t really do much to hold my attention. It feels very 90s (dare I say Lilith Fair) in the way that it just simply puts a quirky female vocalist over little else, leaving us to assumes it’s edgy because of that. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – just not for me.
That being said, I totally get why it’s a popular single – white people singing about hip hop stuff! Maybe that’s why I don’t like this song. White people love that stuff – from Ben Folds’ “Bitches Ain’t Shit” to Train’s “Hey Soul Sister.” I get that this song is actually a rejection of all the excess of hip hop culture, some kind of a rally cry for people who listen to that even though they’ll never experience it themselves. But I just know trust-fund babies are head-bopping to this while crafting their next pitch to Thought Catalog.
2. Drake, “Hold On, We’re Going Home” (ft. Majid Jordan)
Liam: Those who know me are well-aware of my Drake fandom. I’ll leave it at that – this isn’t the time/place for me to defend against the absurd-yet-continuous criticisms of his blatantly emotional lyrical themes or whatever else. “Hold On, We’re Going Home” is another song that doesn’t really fit in with pop trends or Drake’s prior work (it reminds me most of mid-to-late 1990s trip-hop), but it dominates on the basis of the goddamn heart-stoppingly melodic hook. He repeats the first verse, but when every line of the song serves as a vocal hook, why the fuck shouldn’t he? His singing voice has also never sounded better.
Jake: I don’t mean to be one of those guys who’s always promoting his old blog, but I’ve said all I need to say about Drake in my review of Take Care a few years ago.
Liam: wtvr frvr, h8ers to the left.
Colin: First, let me say that I distinctly remember reading Jake’s review of Take Care. It’s the stuff of legends. Secondly, let me admit that I’ve secretly liked this song since I caught myself turning it up when it came on the radio in my girlfriend’s car a few weeks ago. It’s almost so Drake that it’s not Drake. It’s so vulnerable and so strictly R&B that I forget who’s singing it. There’s none of that fake tough-guy posturing or first-world whining that usually turns me off to Drake. Also, that beat goes. But I’ll never admit any of that.
3. Miley Cyrus, “Wrecking Ball”
Jake: It seems so weird that we haven’t talked about “Wrecking Ball” on one of these yet. This song has come and gone from the #1 spot. Clearly that means it’s been too long. World, I apologize for the absence of the Three Dudes. Unless you hate the Three Dudes. Then I apologize that we’re back.
Liam: And we’re not even completely back, because Colin is pinch-writing for Pete. (Hi Pete.)
Jake: How good are the first two Bangerz singles? After hearing this one, I was seriously scared that Bangerz would be my Album of the Year. Thank god for “FU,” right? That song alone brings the album down to an acceptable level, then gets an assist from “SMS,” “4×4,” and “My Darlin’.” This song, on the other hand, is still a go-to jukebox play whenever I’m drinking with Liam, or alone.
Liam: I don’t mind “4×4” or “My Darlin’,” but as I said in my review of Bangerz, that record is stricken by musical multiple personality disorder. “Wrecking Ball,” however, like “We Can’t Stop” (but for entirely different reasons), is great. It’s a melodramatic but uncommonly moving power ballad, and quite a few people I know who hate Miley still kinda like it. Perhaps it’s a hint of what she could do in the future.
Jake: You’re nicer than me. I just think it’s awesomely cheesy.
Colin: I’m listening to this right now and I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before. So this is an experience, guys.
Derivative. That’s the first thing I thought when I heard it. I feel like Girl Talk just mashed up Katy Perry and Avicii. And, for the record, that would suck. So many 14-year-olds are belting this song in their bedrooms, ironically as their dads are secretly watching the video on their iPads in the next room over.
Personally, I don’t see anything of value in this song. My girlfriend listens to vintage Christina Aguilera, so basically I’ve heard this song 100 times already, even though I just heard it for the first time ever.
4. Katy Perry, “Roar”
Jake: I personally love this song, but I can see why most too-cool-for-school kids wouldn’t. Here’s a tip for the haters: When it gets to the pre-chorus, air-punch at the “Hey!” during the line “You held me down, but I got up (Hey!)”. Introducing a little dance move makes any song infinitely more enjoyable.
Liam: I’ve definitely done that air-punch thing, usually while quite drunk.
Unlike some of the other pop queens, a fair amount of Katy Perry’s shit is basically made for kids. Example: On her new album, Prism, there’s a song called “Birthday” where she refers to baring her tits as “here come the big balloons.” (I’m not joking. Look it up, it’s science.) Parents will probably get what she means, but so long as they’re not complete prudes, they’ll most likely laugh it off. “Roar” belongs even more decidedly in the for-the-children camp of Katy Perry songs. It’s fucking cheesy like rich American slices in a youngster’s lunchbox. But it’s a powerhouse. I hope some little girl hears this in her head when she slaps the shit out of a playground bully.
Colin: I’m curious to know if Jake developed his love for this song before it started spamming us at every commercial break on TV. I’ve actually never heard more than the chorus, but I’ve had that chorus drilled into my head so many times that I almost bailed on this column when I saw it was the next song I had to listen to.
But now that I’ve listened to it on my own terms, I respect it for what it is. I still play “Since U Been Gone” at every party I go to. I probably won’t do the same with this track, but I guess some people will, so that’s something.
It’s definitely better than “Wrecking Ball.” Both are hollow pop songs made for the millennial circuit, and I like a good one when I come across it. I feel like, if I were a teacher, I could determine who’s going to pass and who will fail based on which one of these songs they like better. If your daughters choose Katy Perry, give yourselves a pat on the back.
5. Avicii, “Wake Me Up”
Liam: This song is…what? It’s certainly not demonstrably bad. I don’t mind the opening folky parts, even if they’re a bit paint-by-numbers. But like…the fusion of the acoustic strum and the double-time pulse/synth line of the primary hook doesn’t quite work. Then again, I’d be more bored by the solely acoustic or solely electronic versions of this than by the mash-up. I guess that amounts to like a C+? Meh. Avicii exists in a corner of the EDM universe that isn’t interesting enough for me.
Jake: This song, to me, is a little bit country, a little bit EDM – which begs the question: At what point when writing it do you think Avicii and crew (which includes Mike Einzinger of Incubus on guitar) realized they were writing the logical successor of “Cotton-Eyed Joe”? Deep down, I don’t think the world was ready for “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” and I certainly don’t think it’s ready for “Wake Me Up.” I vote we put this one away for a few years and come back to it after the bombs have fallen and the world has become a post-apocalyptic techno-country wasteland. I think I just described the setting of Firefly.
Colin: True story: some girl kicked me in the leg while dancing to “Cotton-Eyed Joe” at a bar last week. I don’t know why it was playing, but the Red Sox had just won the ALCS, so no one was questioning anything.
OK, so, Avicii. He’s kind of a genius. While DeadMau5 was busy mocking the entire EDM scene for morphing into the pop-radio-station scene, Avicii embraced it. This song makes pop fans feel deep, emotional, understood for once, all while they’re dancing awkwardly and chugging Red Bull Vodka. “I DIDN’T KNOW I WAS LOST.” God, that’s perfect trash.
6. Jay-Z, “Holy Grail” (ft. Justin Timberlake)
Liam: “Holy Grail” is one of the more overplayed tunes on this list. And it’s…decent. The opening minor-key piano and Timberlake verse both sound good. Jay’s verses are okay, with the second notably better than the first. The beat is passable.
But goddamnit, you’re Jay-Z!!!! And you’re Justin fucking Timberlake!!!! This should not be the best you can do when together! You dudes called your tour “Legends of the Summer.” BECAUSE IT’S APT. One of the best rappers dead or alive and one of the world’s greatest pop stars should be capable of way more than this. (I’m not going to even bother unpacking the Nirvana reference – it’s not “offensive” as some rockists have claimed, it just sounds stupid as hell.)
Jake: Quit ruining Justin Timberlake songs, Jay-Z!
OK, serious discussion. I think it’s time Jay-Z embraces the fact that he’s in the twilight of his rap career. He’s got other, more lucrative prospects at the moment. This song and its album sound like going through the motions. And when was the last time he released a truly great album? The Black Album? I’ll accept arguments for American Gangster. It’s time for Jay-Z to go the way of Nick Cave, where he doesn’t need to get the spotlight all the time anymore; he just needs to be generally accepted as a cool dude. I took a survey and found that the rest of the world is already on board with this. So, Jay-Z, please step down so we can make way for the era of 2 CHAINZ!
Colin: Another song I’ve never listened to (I skip straight to “Fuckwitmeyouknowigotit” every time), but early indications are that this is terrible. You could swap these two out with John Legend and Lupe Fiasco, and nobody would notice.
I’ve taken the Justin Timberlake bait in the past, but even his fans have to admit that every one of his songs sounds the same. He needs a good beat to make one stand out from the rest, and occasionally that happens, but not here. I noticed he sings a lot on this track. I feel like Jay-Z just refused to step up to his mic when they were recording, so Timberlake just kept singing to fill the time.
And, to respond to Jake’s advice to Jay-Z, I’d argue that he’s already embraced his demise. I mean, this album is evidence of that. But aside from that, he’s really just playing with his money – buying an essentially meaningless stake in the Nets, putting his face on the new stadium, selling his meaningless stake in the Nets, launching a sports agency. He’s going into Mark Cuban territory. The only difference is that half-assed albums still earn Jay-Z money. This album is to Jay-Z as Shark Tank is to the Cubes.
7. Drake, “All Me” (ft. Big Sean and 2 Chainz)
Liam: Obviously, the best thing about this song is the 2 Chainz line where he raps, “Gi-ven-CHY! Nigga, God bless ya.” Dude is one of the best humans currently living. The rest of his verse isn’t quite up to Chainz standards – he has plenty of better quotables on B.O.A.T.S II #METIME – but it’s probably this track’s highlight. Drake is kinda on autopilot here and Big Sean is passable (which, in relation to Big Sean, means “not so thoroughly preening and clownish and awkward that Liam wants to gouge out one of his eyes and eat it to stifle the screams”).
Jake: Yeah, other than the lyrics, I don’t hate Big Sean on this track. He’s not overbearing and his flow changes are kind of clever. And that’s about as big a compliment as I’m ever going to offer Big Sean. I wonder if he considers that one of his 99 problems.
2 Chainz, though – I think every song on this list could be improved with a 2 Chainz guest verse. The guy’s album was kind of blah, but he does do a killer guest verse. In a head-to-head battle of 2013 guest rappers, who wins: 2 Chainz or Kendrick Lamar?
Liam: If this were 2012, Chainz. This year, though, K. Dot’s reign would be undisputed even without “Control,” e.g. Schoolboy Q’s “Collard Greens” and Pusha T’s “Nosetalgia.” And A$AP Rocky’s “1 Train,” even though for me LONG.LIVE.A$AP is a December 2012 album because it leaked in advance. (December 2012 was mad dope, as a month.)
Colin: Am I the only one who sees this as, like, a Mitt Romney anthem? He was basically chanting the same stuff with his anti-government-assistance speeches during his campaign. Just further evidence that rappers, those money-hungry pro-gun misogynists, are all unaware Republicans.
This song is basically everything about Drake that I complained about in my earlier description of “Hold On We’re Going Home.” Of course, 2 Chainz owns it, but as soon as that’s over I have to listen to Drake’s verse. He admittedly has a couple good lines, particularly that one about Cottonelle, but I just can’t get past his nasally delivery enough to enjoy them.
Oh, and Big Sean. No comment.
8. Lorde, “Tennis Court”
Jake: I can’t tell if this is incredibly angsty or making fun of songs that are incredibly angsty. I suppose the latter would be a form of angst within itself. This is a stronger track than “Royals,” musically. “Royals” has a more interesting chorus, but this one’s got a better beat and verses. “Tennis Court” is also darker, though “Royals” is by no means all sunshine and Lisa Frank stickers. It’s got a cool, CHVRCHES/Purity Ring/The xx/every-other-electronic-band-with-a-female-vocalist vibe to it. I find Lorde’s music a bit more boring than many of those other bands, but her music’s geared toward Top 40, so that’s to be expected.
Also, am I the only one who thinks of that Finnish monster band that won Eurovision a few years ago upon hearing the name “Lorde”? When are we gonna see a Lordi/Lorde collab?
Liam: The fact that you mentioned Lordi just made you lose and gain so many points at the same damn time. God, they were terrible/hysterical. You only lose points for Lisa Frank, because ew.
I’m a bit surprised that this track is the one catching on among Spotify listeners – probably because of how much I love “Buzzcut Season” and “Ribs.” But I like this one quite a bit too. It nails exactly what she wants to say about her attitude in a way that sounds feisty but not overly snarky – “It’s a new art form, showing people how little we care.” Regarding Jake’s point, I actually don’t think she’s really going for the CHVRCHES/Purity Ring sound – those artists are more dependent on bombast (in a good way), aside from The xx. Minimalism back, yo, and my girl Ella Yellich does it well.
Colin: I really don’t see much of a difference between this and “Royals”. There’s a little synth in this one, but it somehow makes the song even more boring. The lyrics really bother me. I feel like I’m in one of those conversations where a boring, superficial person can’t stop talking about how boring and superficial people are. I feel like Lorde is kind of creeping into Lana Del Rey territory, which will be great for her, financially, at least.
Liam: Lorde actually publicly stated that she was sonically influenced by Lana del Rey but had no great love for her lyrics. #alldisrespecttoLDRlyrics
9. Imagine Dragons, “Radioactive”
Liam: This song has been a fixture on this list and the Billboard Hot 100 for nearly…30 weeks? I’ve talked about the rage it inspires in me so many times at this point I may be tapped out.
But, like…the fuck, people? My last word on this is that it’s indicative, I think, of how little casual radio/Spotify listeners pay attention to lyrics. The half-assed dystopia described here doesn’t even make sense within the context of its own three-minute universe. The frontman can’t sing for shit, nothing musically notable aside from intermittently pretty arpeggiated guitar and the brostep beat….just FUCK IT I’M DOOOOONE.
Jake: “Radioactive” survived the government shutdown. “Radioactive” was on the charts when Nelson Mandela was admitted to the hospital, and it was there when he got out. “Radioactive” came out of the Edward Snowden/NSA scandal unscathed. “Radioactive” has been on the charts longer than Croatia’s been a member of the European Union. “Radioactive” is the most important song of the year.
Colin: I played a lot of Madden growing up, for hours and hours at a time. On certain days, the only thing that got me to stop was the soundtrack. Every song was “Radioactive” and it played every time you paused or scored a touchdown or looked away from the screen or breathed. After a while, it got to be too much, and I’d turn it off and eat a meal or something. So you could say this kind of music saved my life.
I really think, however, that the guys at Imagine Dragons are really, really smart. Similarly to how Avicii capitalized on an opportunity, I think these guys realized that there was no one filling the shitty power-rock-anthem role, so they stepped up, and profited because of it. Somewhere, a high school football team is getting ready for practice with this song sandwiched between Wake Me Up and that new Fall Out Boy song.
10. Lady Gaga, “Applause”
Jake: “Applause” is a Lady Gaga song. If you like Lady Gaga songs, you’ll probably like this one. If you don’t like Lady Gaga songs, this isn’t the one that’ll win you over. I’m not noticing any major evolution from anything else she’s put out over the past five years (though, admittedly, I’m not really familiar with Lady Gaga’s deep cuts). On this song at least, it sounds like she’s going for a more theatrical flair in her voice, but I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Drama was never really something her music lacked.
Liam: I was once a pretty staunch Gaga defender. I openly love The Fame Monster, and the better songs on Born This Way are fucking great as well. (“The Queen” and “The Edge of Glory,” y’all.)
“Applause”…it’s ehhh. I like the chorus a lot – it comes close to the stratosphere-hitting hooks of “Bad Romance.” But the whole thing don’t add up to much. She’s never been a genuinely bad lyricist, unlike most of her competition, and sometimes is a great one by any standard (“Speechless”), but the words here are trying too hard. “Some of us just like to read?” References to Koons paintings? (Why the fuck not Francis Bacon? More people should be inspired by Francis Bacon’s creepy insane shit.)
I highly recommend checking out “Do What U Want,” featuring R. Kelly, which she just dropped. That shit is great.
Colin: I really didn’t know Lady Gaga was making music these days, and I’d actually heard this song before. And that’s a bummer, because Lady Gaga used to be pretty unmistakable. If you only knew how much beer I spilled on the floor of my college dive bar while dancing to “Just Dance” and “Poker Face,” you’d understand. I feel like this song just kind of tries to satisfy her current fanbase, which is basically what most female pop singers have been trying to do since she created her fanbase.
Jake: One thing this song does have going for it: It teaches you how to spell “applause,” and that’s good because knowledge is power.
Liam, Jake and Colin can most easily be reached via Twitter – @liamchgreen, @jroeschley AND @colinneagle. Or, if you comment, one if not all of us will rudely respond. Maybe just Liam.