Song

#4. 'Sixteen Saltines' by Jack White


So here's how this works. Whatever year we're doing this, if Jack White puts out music that year in any way, shape, or form, something in there will be my favorite song of the year. Just write that down right now. I promise you I will not deviate from it.

I spend a lot of time on this site sharing my opinions on all sorts of music-related things. There's no way you're tired of me doing that, because I'm super good at it, but this seems like a good time to dial it back a bit.

Tim Mosenfelder / Getty
On an unrelated note, does anyone else think that Jack White looks like a pre-death Beetlejuice?

In lieu of telling you why I love "Sixteen Saltines" by Jack White so much, I'll just ask you to listen to this song, because I fucking love it.

And then watch 2013 end up being the year Jack White does absolutely nothing other than record a song with the Insane Clown Posse. Again.

#3. 'Mercy' by Kanye West

In 20 years, when filmmakers who are children right now make our generation's version of Dazed and Confused and Forrest Gump, what song will they use to capture the mood of 2012? If you think they'll just slap together a list of the most popular songs and call it a day, keep in mind that the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" and CCR's "Fortunate Son" -- the default soundtrack for any movie scene taking place in 1969 -- were never played on the radio at the time. As we've mentioned before, the No. 1 hit that year was actually "Sugar, Sugar."

Robyn Beck / Getty
Aww, honey honey.

Similarly, if you listened to the radio or watched TV commercials, the soundtrack for 2012 was full of sparkly hits about taking a walk and giving boys your phone number sung by fun-loving people who couldn't stop whistling and L-ing their FAO. But like 1969, I suspect that 2012 will look and sound darker in retrospect. In the world of pop, the '80s throwback "Everything Is Embarrassing" (listen to it here) captured a heartsick, darkly sweet sentiment that was more appropriate and harder to wash off than "Call Me Maybe"'s puppy love. Kendrick Lamar and the Walkmen both delivered great albums that hung together like they're not supposed to anymore.

But nothing felt more invigorating or appropriately menacing than the first 30 seconds of Kanye West's "Mercy."

Dropping in one at a time: the high-pitched, incomprehensible hysteria of the reggaeton hype man, the slasher-flick keyboard, the slow, uneven drums and the syrup-thickened voice complaining that your girlfriend keeps trying to give him handjobs while he's driving his Lamborghini. The lyrics might not capture the universal experience of 2012, but much like your girlfriend, "Mercy" is all about feel.

Bobby Bank / Getty
Meanwhile, Kanye is all about velvet coats.

I have no idea whether it's cool to like Kanye West right now. But ever since "Jesus Walks" tricked people into thinking that Jarhead was going to be awesome, Kanye has been producing moments of music that make you feel like something important is happening, even if it's not. "Power" made The Social Network feel like the definitive film it would be; entering 2012, "No Church in the Wild" lifted the trailer for the otherwise forgettable Safe House. We're too close right now to know whether 2012 will be remembered as an important year or just a year where everyone tricked themselves into thinking that important things were happening. Either way, "Mercy" should feel just about right.

#2. 'Clifton Springs' by Steven Page


Are you ready for your light at-work article-reading experience to get real? I mean "true story, brokenhearted, overweight, drinking too much on a weeknight and eating all the ice cream while you cry on the couch and you DON'T LIVE ALONE" real? While you consider whether or not to have your soul rent by my withering sorrow, remastered and articulated for you in loving, handcrafted detail, please know that I'll be disregarding your answer, as it obviously didn't come in time to prevent me from posting this. Here we go! Hooray! Exciting!


Whiskey-tinis and cough syrup for everyone!

I picked this song because my wife left me quite unexpectedly this year, and it's a sad song about a divorce written by a guy who recently split off from one of my favorite bands from childhood -- the Barenaked Ladies -- effectively ending them, or at least changing both irretrievably. Steven Page has always done one thing particularly well, in and out of BNL, and that's disguise depression, sadness, self-involvement and bitter resentment as cheery, upbeat songs you can dance to. It's a trick that never gets old for me, like how I never tire of the massive crying clown painting that hangs above my bed. On his first solo album, Page One, he pulls that trick, like, exclusively, so it's perfect fodder for a heartbroken comedian drunk on his own woe, and following my breakup, I listened to it on repeat so many times, you'd think I would have a funny way to end that sentence by now.

"Clifton Springs," the track that resonates with me the most, is probably also the most on-the-nose track on the album, insofar as it sounds pretty downer-y and includes the lines "I can see but miss the blindness," "I razed it all to the ground" and "Isn't this what you wanted, darling?" But on the other hand, it's also got little melodic breaks where choirs of cherubs sing and it sounds like a bunch of pastel balloons should be floating by. And it's that duality, overused as it may be at this point, that still gives Page an edge where I'm concerned; an edge I never seem to tire of plunging into my own heart.

Although to be honest, it was only upon listening to Page One that I realized how damn depressing Steven Page's lyrics are, and have always been, even as a lifelong fan. Looking back, so many of his songs were about vanity, self-destruction, rocky relationships and unhealthy impulses that it's shocking how shocked I was when he went off the rails, left his band, broke up his marriage and racked up a few drug charges. Of course, BNL's "One Week" was the real cry for help. I mean, "Chickity China, the Chinese chicken?" Come, now, Ladies; you're not fooling anybody.

It was the same kind of mental retcon I was at that very moment applying to my own autobiography -- dulling the corners of particularly joyous/painful memories, warping mental pictures and planting a trail of red flags to justify the undeniable reality of my present separation.

-I'm no longer with my wife.

-Steven Page is probably sad most of the time.

Mike Stobe / Getty

-The Barenaked Ladies aren't as good now.

-This pint of ice cream is nearly empty and tastes of tear-salt.

-Rum, spiced or generic, can be purchased at locations where ice cream is also sold.

These were the facts on the table, and to fit them into my mind, edits were, for better or worse, required. I also made myself an astronaut while I was in there. We went through a gamma cloud on our return flight from Saturn and my wang is huge now. Sorry for the tangent, but now that I'm single, I just sort of wanted that information out there.

#1. 'We Are Young' by fun.

"We Are Young" was by far the most popular song of 2012. If you don't know it, shut up, yes you do, because for the last year, this song was inescapable. It was on every radio station, in commercials and department stores and a whole lot of my dreams. If I didn't pick it as song of the year, it would destroy me.

D. Dipasupil / Getty
That shirt and hairdo mean "mental illness" anywhere but on a stage.

And, like everything else on this list, its success is kind of impossible. In the way that I never would have thought that an Avengers movie would ever get made a few years ago, I never expected a fun. song to be a huge radio hit. I've always liked fun., because I was a fan of the Format (the lead singer's old band) and Steel Train (the guitarist's old band). I went to Format and Steel Train concerts in crummy bars in New Jersey like all of the other shitty-New-Jersey-indie-pop-music nerds. If you would have told me a few years ago that the guy from Steel Train was going to be in the most popular band in the world in 2012, I would have laughed in your face. That just wouldn't have made sense.

It still doesn't. Here are some of the words critics use to describe fun.'s music: "theatrical," "progressive," "original," "interesting" and "unusual." Do those sound like the words you'd use to describe any of the other famous pop acts of the last decade?

Clasos/CON/Getty
If only this were unusual.

"We Are Young" simply doesn't sound like the kind of song that gets popular on the radio. We expect our pop songs to be simple: 4/4 time with a verse and a chorus that are happy and upbeat and disposable. "We Are Young" changes time a few times, the lead singer's voice is kind of spazzy and the verses sound more like something out of a Broadway musical than a Top 40 hit. And yet they're the first multi-member band to have a No. 1 song on the Billboard 100 since 2001. The last band to do that?

Kevin Mazur / Getty
Nickelback.

Pop music has come a long way. Or a strange way. Some kind of way. It's different now, is my point.

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