RIFF REWIND 2012: Carly Rae Jepsen, PSY (really) and Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

Taylor Swift, singing about yet another ex-boyfriend.

One of the complaints I often get about my selections for this column is that I hardly include any pop music.

“Danny,” people tell me, “pop is consistently the biggest commercial force in music, with the most widespread awareness and biggest cultural impact! Why would you skip so many beloved pop songs to include a seemingly endless series of Metallica deep cuts?”

“Because it’s my column,” I reply. “That means I decide what makes it. And I don’t like pop. It’s the fast food of music; manufactured using industrial techniques by a focus group of experts, written by committee, Auto-Tuned to within an inch of its life, and utterly without character or soul. So quit asking and get out of my house. I don’t care that it’s Thanksgiving. How did you even get in here?”

Then there’s a struggle, a gun goes off, the cops show up, there’s a trial; all that nonsense. You know the drill.

For those pop fans, though, this is your week. The year 2012 has a distressing amount of pop music I liked, or at least that I respected. So join me as I embarrass myself by listing what would be my guilty pleasures if I didn’t lose the ability to feel shame in 2004.

Fiona Apple — “Hot Knife”

I’m easing you into the whole pop thing with a more characteristic Rewind selection.

If you consider Fiona Apple a one hit wonder because the only song you’ve heard is “Criminal”—and there’s not many of you—you’re playing yourself. She’s an amazing singer and songwriter who’s only gotten better over time. Give this one a listen if you don’t believe me. The complexity and musical sophistication are off the charts without losing any of the vibe that made “Criminal” a hit.

OK, now are you ready for me to go mainstream? Brace yourself.

PSY — “Gangnam Style”

The video has 3.2 billion views on YouTube, so I’m guessing that statistically speaking, this isn’t your first time seeing it or hearing the song. It’s probably your 1,000th time. It was wildly popular not too long ago and, I mean, come on, my view just now was the 3,240,409,849th.

It makes the list because that unbelievable number’s not for nothing. I’m not even sure how a song puts a smile on my face every time I hear it when I only understand only five words. It’s so good!

For the record, the five words I understand are: “style,” “Korea” and “HEEEEEEEEEY SEXY LADY.”

Carly Rae Jepsen — “Call Me Maybe”

This one is, admittedly, less defensible.

On the con side is that it’s a 26-year-old woman singing lyrics more appropriate for a high-schooler, something I haven’t stopped making fun of Nickelback about for more than a decade. It’s by someone who came in third place on Canadian Idol. It’s also, well, a dumb song. [Gokhman note: I completely disagree. This song is honestly and non-ironically one of the best of the year].

On the pro side, have you listened to it? It’s so catchy. It was the eighth inning song during Oakland A’s home games for several seasons, and nobody seems to know why. Even people who swear they hate it can’t help but crack a smile when it’s playing. [Gokhman note: I recorded a gender-swapped cover of this song that has been described as “creepy.” It doesn’t work when the genders are swapped. You will have to Google it].

So quit overthinking it and enjoy it.

Low Cut Connie — “Boozophilia”

It’s not all pop music. I had to include this ode to Philadelphia by friend of RIFF Adam Weiner and his band. It’s proper rock and roll and it’s approved by both Elton John and President Barack Obama; I didn’t have a choice.

It’s yet another feel good song. On a long weekend I don’t want to bring you down, and there’s no way to keep spirits high better than a piano-driven song written to be accessible and danceable. So listen and enjoy.

Taylor Swift — “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”

We couldn’t have a salute to 21st century pop music without the breakout crossover hit by the genre’s reigning queen.

It’s easy to forget that at one point, Taylor Swift was a country artist. And a popular one at that. Then she partnered with Swedish pop wizard Max Martin on Red and became the biggest singer in the world who’s not Beyoncé.

Look, hate on Taylor Swift all you want, but you can’t deny she’s good at what she does. You don’t have to be a diehard fan to admit she’s talented, she’s beloved by millions, and you would absolutely agree to be her next future ex if she asked. Come on, Tay. Call me, maybe?

Honorable Mentions

Grimes — “Oblivion”
Van Halen — “Stay Frosty”
Alabama Shakes — “Hold On”
Killer Mike — “Reagan”
Frank Ocean — “Pyramids”

Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData

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