Songs That Are Turning 10 In 2022

The year of 2012 for music seemed to be a mixed bag. As the Guardian put it, "It didn't see the emergence of any new movements, and there wasn't a glut of great stuff from one particular genre like the torrent of unbelievable new rap and R&B we saw in 2011. In fact, one of the problems was trying to make sense of the scattered nature of it all." Drifting back through memory lane and getting reacquainted with music of 10 years ago is a mixture of disbelief and nostalgia. However, the Guardian is spot on with their broad observation of the music that was filling the airwaves in 2012. 

It did seem as if the artists of 2012 defied the wisdom of the ages by making albums that required the listeners to abandon their single-mania for a patient listen to the artist's full artistic narrative. Frank Ocean's "Orange" and Kendrick Lamar's "good kid, m.A.A.d. City" demanded full attention and were game-changers for music and for their artists. "If anything, there was a renewed importance placed on the album, and it resulted in exciting experimentation" (via Junkee). Hollywood Reporter meanwhile did pick up on some general trends like the EDM explosion in 2012 as well as the return of boy bands. "From fun.'s Glee-approved 'We Are Young' ... to Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa's stoner mantra 'Young, Wild & Free' ... to One Direction's latest 'Live While We're Young,' youth anthems not only ruled the charts, they garnered Grammy nominations."

Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly Rae Jepsen came out ready to dominate with her major label debut and first single, "Call Me Maybe," which took the world by storm. The song was everywhere. According to an article in Today, Jepsen was working as a waitress not long before that single was released, and she made this recollection: "A direct quote I overheard (from customers) was something like, 'This girl Carly Rae Jepsen was on repeat over and over our whole trip and we are so sick of it ... These people outside KNOW ME! Okay they don't know ME per se but they know my MUSIC! ... And they HATE IT but they KNOW IT and I'm kinda weirdly proud of that." 

The music industry was starting to see how the old mechanics of hit-making were not going to guarantee success any longer. Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" and a handful of other hits from 2012 were specifically helped by social media. "Call Me Maybe" was No. 1 for nine weeks — which was the longest run of the year — largely due to Justin Bieber and friends posting a YouTube video lip-syncing to it, as well as thousands of fan tributes that came afterwards (via New York Times). If the ear-worm can wriggle in through the algorithm, it's almost guaranteed to be a hit and rocket the artist to stardom. And that is exactly the route Jepsen took to get to where she is 10 years later

Merry Go Round by Kacey Musgraves

While Taylor Swift was transitioning to pop stardom from her country roots, newcomers were filling the void for female country artists who could write smart songs that would get ample radio play. Kacey Musgraves came in with the song "Merry Go Round" and not only got a radio hit, but made a statement in the process. In talking about her song, she stated, "We all grow up with expectations of breaking the cycle of life as we know it, trying to appear as if all is perfect under the surface ... Our comfort zones make us settle and I think there's hope in knowing that everyone has felt this way" (via American Songwriter). The song scraped with concrete reality instead of keeping the emotions ethereal and mushy. 

Even Katy Perry took notice and told The New York Times that it was "one [of] the most uniquely honest written songs of 2012." At the age of 24, Musgraves was nominated for four Academy of Country Music Awards, including Female Vocalist of the Year alongside Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. Before too long, she was playing at the Ryman Theater, which pretty much spells success in country music. 

We Are Young by Fun. w. Janelle Monae

Nate Ruess, Jack Antonoff, and Andrew Dost made up the band, Fun. They had some success with their first record, but it never moved past the No. 71 spot on the album charts. However, once they connected with the producer for Beyonce and Kanye West, Jeff Bhasker, their second album made them a household name. It didn't hurt that they had a feature with Janelle Monae in the song as well. "We Are Young" was helped along by a massive marketing ploy when the band got the attention of the makers of the TV show "Glee" and had the show cover the song before it was even released — something which had not been done at that point (via The New York Times). The band worked outside the normal corridors of the music industry, just one example of the changing avenues to reach popularity (via The New York Times).

According to an interview in Time, the band pointed out that "We Are Young" just felt like a single. "It's inviting ... and it strikes the perfect balance of mass appeal and adherence to the band's identity." Picking the second single off their second album became a bit more complicated, however it would be "We Are Young" that would skyrocket them to cultural ubiquity. Yet the one question left unanswered is: what if, instead of Monae, they had gotten their first pick of Rihanna (via MTV)? Would it have changed the dynamic signficantly? Who knows? 

Gangnam Style by Psy

If there is a "song of 2012," it would have to be Psy's "Gangnam Style," perhaps one of the first and finest examples of how internet-virility-elicited fame came from South Korea. However, to say that this was the beginning of his career would demean the work Psy had put in since the oughts. His debut in South Korea was fined for his NSFW lyrics, but his showmanship is noticeable in the video for that song; as Billboard put it, it was just a matter of time before it would catch up with the rest of the world. 

"The history of 'Gangnam Style' is paved in firsts that no other artist can ever replicate. In a meme economy of instant forgettability, truncated attention spans bent to his will." And the numbers really do support that popularity, as "it became the first-ever music video to reach the billion-view mark ... Literally: The world's biggest streaming service was not prepared for Psy-levels of viewership. When the music video hit 2.1 billion views in 2014, YouTube's view counter had to undergo a redesign" (via Billboard). Any person who was alive and aware in 2012 knew this song, if even just in passing. There was no way one couldn't know it. It was literally everywhere. 

But where is Psy now? According to Billboard, he started his own record company, P-Nation, in 2019 to help out artists in the k-pop arena.

Swimming Pools (Drank) by Kendrick Lamar

Except for Jay-Z and Kanye West, few rappers elicit the attention and respect that Kendrick Lamar does, and 2012 was a big year with the release of his major label debut, "good kid, M.A.A.D. City." Pitchfork picks up the through-line from Lamar's previous effort, "Section.80," to the first single, "Swimming Pools (Drank)": "The most ambitious element of Kendrick Lamar's sprawling Section.80 was its attempt to trace the pervasive ills of his community and age group to the simple and eternal pathogen of peer pressure ... 'Swimming Pools (Drank)' ... tackles alcohol abuse in a similar fashion, but it also shows a great deal of empathy in capturing the peculiar mental twist contained within each individual sipper." Lamar wasn't interested in indulging the lifestyle of the gangster, but instead investigating it with compassion and understanding ... and creativity.

The intimacy of this hit (and Lamar's wider discography) became so important and significant that even psychiatry magazines were taking notice of this song, going so far as to include an academic piece on drug and alcohol abuse in The Lancet: "he describes the reasons people drink alcohol—because they like 'the way it feels' (biological), to 'kill their sorrows' (psychological), or to 'fit in with the popular' (social)." Clearly, while the song was a hit on the Billboard charts, Lamar attempted to get people thinking while they were vibing. Seldom are songs able to thread the needle between accessibility (or popularity) and depth.

I Will Wait by Mumford & Sons

Whenever a band hits it big with an album, that follow-up album can be an utter quagmire. This was the case for British folk band Mumford & Sons who had come off the huge success of their debut album, "Sigh No More." Their second album, "Babel," showcased a band that was road-weary from a hectic tour schedule. "I Will Wait" was the first single off the new album. The song "not only picks up where the band left off on their breakout debut, Sigh No More, but it polishes things up considerably" (via MTV). Slate named one of the reasons Mumford & Sons became so popular: "You could call Mumford & Sons a One Direction for more grown-up audiences or an Arcade Fire for the more mainstream—they have the attraction of collectivity, even of surrogate family."

Yet Mumford & Sons has become one of those bands that exudes spirituality as well, which captures the religious zeitgeist of the West. They fall into the big "are they or aren't they Christian" question that Christians tend to love in order to justify their listening tastes. As Christianity Today puts it, "Mumford's lyrics even display a quality rarely found in most contemporary Christian music, where the lyrics tend to speak of God's love, grace, and redemption only abstractly; Mumford's lyrics are tangible—brutally honest and poetically robust." Although, according to the writer, they really gotta get rid of them "f-bombs." Jesus doesn't like those apparently.

Video Games by Lana Del Rey

Following a trend of artists blowing up on their second albums, Lana Del Rey released "Born to Die" in 2012 with the hit single, "Video Games." She admitted that "Video Games" was not at all what the radio ordered: "'Video Games' was a four-and-a-half-minute ballad ... No instruments on it. It was too dark, too personal, too risky, not commercial. It wasn't pop until it was on the radio" (via T Magazine). Her music was what some considered the antidote to a music scene that was cluttered with "identikit EDM." According to Dazed, "The moment the song did hit the radio, the reception was unprecedented — and also extremely short-lived" due to the backlash surrounding "Lana Del Rey" being a pseudonym for Lizzy Grant and the discovery she had just been some YouTube phenom. All of this despite the increasing changes to the industry and the artists gaining fame through the internet (via the New York Times).

Yet Del Rey has continued a formula that pleases the listener as well as confounds the musical trends of each year. "Lyrics seem to be sighed instead of sung; there are hints of melancholia as well as that sweeping, cinematic sadness with which Del Rey has since become synonymous." Her music takes on the conflict between the romantic past of relationships with the reality of that past's vapidity; "a juxtaposition of fantasy and reality" (via Dazed). Along with the music video for "Video Games," the song threads that needle perfectly.

Hold On by Alabama Shakes

Within the cultural milieu, if you make it to No. 1 of Rolling Stone's songs of the year, then you have done something very right or, at the very least, something very manufactured for cultural notice. Thankfully, Alabama Shakes made serious moves in the former category. Rolling Stone described the band's breakout hit "Hold On," saying that it contains "the ghost of Sixties rock and soul without resorting to oversinging histrionics or bald imitation ... riding a groove steeped in the stew of Muscle Shoals and Stax-Volt." The article continues poetically: "If there are ghosts in this music, they're personal ones, but Howard wrestles 'em down, making this a battle cry against failure." 

NPR made a list in 2018 of the top 200 songs by 21st century women, and "Hold On" by Alabama Shakes hit No. 5. In their words, "it's the lyrical wisdom that masks Howard's young age and makes this song special. 'Hold On' is ... a mantra offering the encouragement needed to get through life's rough patches." Brittany Howard made a name in the music industry by refusing to allow her, her band, or her music to be categorized by ethnicity or gender — something that is very hard to do in this day and age. Especially for someone who came out as gay in her early 20s in the South (via The Independent). In this light, "Hold On" speaks to a variety of anxieties and the hope that transcends them all. 

We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together by Taylor Swift

There are few other pop stars as singular in the mind of ubiquitous American music as Taylor Swift — Beyonce might be the only other competitor. There are also few other pop stars that are as manufactured for the radio, fame, celebrity, and the industry as Taylor Swift, per Complex. The great crossover star who began in country music and ended in pop music — and who is currently re-working her earlier albums in "her" style, per Time — is noted for her ability to work the publicity machine while churning out music that her fan base devours (via The Guardian). Yet "We Are Never Getting Back Together" represents the crux of that shift right before she became the pop icon which her following album, "1989," would seal. It's a catchy tune, regardless of how one might feel about Swift as an artist. 

Yet the media wasn't quite sure. For instance, The Washington Post put it this way: "The emphasis here is much more on the pop than country part of the equation. In fact, there's no twang to be found on this jaunty slice of processed pop ... Of course the chorus is catchy but if this is representative of what's awaits on 'Red,' it's hard to be too excited." Rolling Stone, perhaps more fondly, called the song (and video) "adorkable." Taylor Swift is one of those artists you either love or you love to hate, but there is no debate on her success.

Ho Hey by The Lumineers

"That song was an effort to get under people's skin at shows in Brooklyn, where everyone is pretty indifferent ... And I figured if we could punctuate it with shouts we might get someone's attention," stated frontman Wesley Schultz about The Lumineers' mega-hit, "Ho Hey." American Songwriter goes on to describe the reason for the song's ubiquity in American culture. It appeared in the less-than-famous CW show "Hart of Dixie," then made its way into commercials, eventually got covered in the much-more-famous TV show "Nashville," before find its height of popularity in parody on "The Late Show." By this point, if the radio was on, this was probably playing. 

Vice, in a rather cheeky line, makes a statement about the song's catchiness and how it runs the risk of feeling manufactured: "This is for the well-being of the cultural product itself, which benefits its creators by being commercially viable long after it becomes tired or passé amongst savvier consumers. This is also why The Lumineers 'Ho Hey,' which came out in Spring 2012, is the adult contemporary summer jam of 2013." It is something that has followed pop music forever. What came first: the pop music or the money that underwrites pop music? This question will probably never be fully answered. 

Take A Walk by Passion Pit

Emo isn't dead, it's just become poppier. Passion Pit proves this with their decidedly emotionally-charged lyrical content wrapped in what could be construed as almost bubbly pop confections. Frontman Michael Angelikos was a little tense when he found out the record company had made "Take A Walk" the first single. He stated, "I don't know if anyone's going to get it ... then I thought everyone was going to think I was being really political, and I don't think it is political, it's more about family to me. I really don't consider myself a very political person; I really don't like political songs, frankly" (via MTV). The emo descendancy is made clearer by a Pitchfork article which talks about Angelikos' music being directly derived from his own mental health struggles. 

While all of these serious topics are in the background of this song, however, the music itself is unflagging in its hopefulness. As Faux puts it, "Steeped in the familiar sounds that defined their rise to fame 'Take A Walk' boasts rising synths, sharp drums and the Passion Pit feel-good-vibes." It's a combination that few have nailed effectively since bands like Tears for Fears and Talk-Talk back in the 1980s. 

Sixteen Saltines by Jack White

Jack White is a chameleon. He has collected bands and projects like Pokemon (via AllMusic) and still maintains the respect he derived from his first band, The White Stripes. While the song, "Sixteen Saltines" may be an odd song to end on, it is also one of the more fun songs on the list. Stereogum puts it well when they say, "'I eat sixteen saltine crackers, then I lick my fingers' is a killer rock lyric. Beyond the alliteration and syntax, that sh*t bleeds sex, both literally and in the tradition of lurid rock double entendres that dates back to 'Blueberry Hill'."

The song (and its accompanying video) speak to the old soul (or old man) in White when he talks about this generation being so dead and not interested in building things, but just video games and other sedentary, screen-based activities (via Rolling Stone). Regardless of your thoughts on that, the song is hard to skip.