The 100 Best Songs of 2012, From Taylor Swift to Twin Shadow

100 Songs of 2012
Posted on 12/10/2012 at 12:06 PM

Related To: Best of 2012, News

The Popdust Files: carly rae jepsen, frank ocean, fun, japandroids, justin bieber, lists, lumineers, nicki minaj, rihanna, taylor swift, usher, year-end, zedd


If the Scotsman truly wishes to shut up on his next album , we must cherish this ubiquitous club jam and his hypnotic style of speak-singing while we can. The lyrics don’t necessarily make sense but it’s Calvin’s beats that propel the track, and us—be it through workday, non-existent marathon runs or anything else. —E.E.


The grand jury’s investigation into why Bridgit Mendler’s “Ready or Not” has yet to become a worldwide megahit has yet to arrive at a satisfying conclusion, but our relentless write-in campaign will ensure that they will not rest until justice is served. “Ready” was the year’s most (well, second-most) immaculately crafted pop single, with every little detail about it—the aural pixie dust sparkled after the “livin’ like a fairytale line,” the way the chorus jumps in a measure too early, the subtle use of scratching noises (!!!) throughout—adding up to a song where something new about it makes you smile every time you hear it. Even Bridgit’s fake-British-inflection-for-no-reason becomes charming in context. The song currently resides in the lower reaches of the Hot 100, just waiting for its absence from the top ten to be noticed. Don’t delay, pop listeners—act now.A.U.


It took Channel Orange listeners 35 seconds to realize (if they hadn’t already) how wonderful Frank Ocean was—that’s the exact moment in “Thinking ‘Bout You” at which the former Christopher Breaux unveils his luscious falsetto: “Or do you not think so far ahead?” He’d been playing it cool, trying not to show his hand—”I don’t like you, I just thought you were cool enough to kick it,” as he puts it later—but to no avail. The truth comes out, and with it those delicious high notes. One bar later he confesses, “I’ve been thinking ’bout forever,” and his voice is so soft and so delicate and so brave that you think he could never tell a lie in his life. —N.J.


Not to be too cheesy about it, but “I never saw you coming / And I’ll never be the same” was fairly close to our reaction upon hearing “State of Grace” for the first time. Nothing in Taylor’s catalogue before hand suggested that she had the potential (or even the desire) to create a soaring stadium-rock anthem about love, one which at last did away with the little relationship details to keep fans guessing about who the song might be about (OK, so it’s supposedly Connor Kennedy-inspired, but that couldn’t matter less to the song) in favor of an attempt to get at broader, more universal truths of feeling, hitting high notes (both musically and emotionally) we never before knew her capable of. The fact that it’s arguably better than all of the super-personal, super-detailed love songs on Red shows just how limitless Taylor’s potential is as a songwriter and performer—when she gets tired of trying to be the next James Taylor or Joni Mitchell, she can switch it up and be the next Bono or Chris Martin, no problem. —A.U.


2012 Bieber promised big changes and surprises on his second album, and 2012 Bieber delivered, most notably by channeling the creepy whisper of the Ying Yang Twins. Bieb’s transition from “Baby” to out-the-gate neck-nuzzler ready to “swag on you” might be off-putting for some, but it’s the kind of risk that will set himself up nicely for this continued journey toward adulthood we all can’t stop talking about. It’s also proves his growing ability to make his own choices; he’s been clamoring for big-name hip-hop collaborations for years, but this time reserves the job of hypnotically chanting and date-planning himself. Stretching the bonds of “swag” and dropping Gucci Mane references are cool, but crooning the ways he’ll love and treat you well that plays into the hands of his devoted Beliebers who have pledged to stick around for the ride. —E.E.


The song that established the precedent early on that 2012 was gonna be the year of the Weird Indie Crossover—you’re welcome, Gotye and Alex Clare—”We Are Young” stands as either the year’s best fist-pumping rock anthem or the year’s most subversive, disturbing pop song, depending on how closely you want to look into the lyrics. We’re cool with eitiher, as long as we still get that pounding, instantly involving drum intro, the super-exciting “So if by the time..” gear-up in the pre-chorus, and of course, lead singer Nate Ruess stretching the word “Tonight” into an 11-syllable call-to-arms. We’ll be doing the song as an end-of-night karaoke singalong for decades to come, even if we never could hit that high note on “fi-YAH!.” Janelle Monae can even show up to sing her one line four times and then leave, if she’s in the area and has nothing else to do. —A.U.


“Mercy” was the first glimpse we got of Cruel Summer and it turned out to be the best, with its four MCs each operating at the top of their game—an occurrence that would prove shockingly rare on the rest of the album. Big Sean, long the Donnie Kerabatsos of the crew, finds a role the works for him; somewhat unsurprisingly, that role turns out to be making goofy puns around the word “ass.” Then comes Pusha T, who literally spits his nasty verse. (You can still feel the flicks of saliva on his microphone.) As the leader of the pack, Kanye gets a beat all his own, and he makes the most of it with a fierce staccato that punches every syllable like a jab to the head: “Most-rap-pers’-taste-le-vel-ain’t-at-my-waist-le-vel.” The only letdown is 2 Chainz’ verse, which doesn’t quite live up to the Godzilla entrance the song gives him, but that’s not a cause for weeping, moaning, nor the gnashing of teeth. —N.J.


If the boy band revival of 2012 gave us nothing else but “What Makes You Beautiful,” it still would have been a worthwhile cultural endeavor. “Beautiful” forced the boy band back into the discussion by smacking listeners across the face with its relentless energy, all drum fills and “Summer Nights” interpolations and BABY YOU LIGHT UP MY WORLD LIKE NOBOOOODY ELSE until you have choice but to submit to its charms. Listening to a TRL-era jam like Backstreet Boys’ “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)” after this song is like switching from a double espresso to a watery soy latté—once you’ve converted, you really just can’t go back. The fact that One Direction’s second single was almost a carbon copy of the “What Makes You Beautiful” formula and still also made our Top 100 of the Year should tell you all you need to know about this song’s awesomeness. —A.U.


A throwback to the Usher we used to know—and originally fell in love with—this falsetto-heavy, Diplo track thrives on its uncertainty. We know it’s not about that kind of climax, regardless of how Mr. Raymond makes you feel, but an analysis of a dying relationship Usher can’t seem to fully part with; it’s not just a question of what happened, but more of why he feels so much about something that was so toxic (“We made a mess of what used to be love/So why do I care, I care at all”). As he works through it, we’re the true winners as exploring countless emotions allows Usher to stretch out his vocals and show off the haunting falsetto new generations continue to covet. —E.E.


Was there ever any question? We’ll answer that one for you: No, there wasn’t. From about March on, the idea of another song being #1 on our year-end list was downright laughable; any other pop song that even tried to capture the top spot was given a patronizing pat on the head and sent on its way. “Call Me Maybe” reached the super-rare pop strata where even seeing its name in text was enough to make us happy, the mere suggestion of the song contained therein worthy of a smile. It was number one for nine weeks, tied for the longest run of the year, and that still felt like the song was getting short-changed. Even hundreds of listens in, the radio station was never skipped when it came on. Even as we fell really hard for “Good Time” and “This Kiss,” questions of “Could this song be as good as ‘Call Me Maybe’?” were met with responses of “Oh wait, ‘Call Me Maybe’ is ‘Call Me Maybe.’”

She may not have another year where she even cracks our (or anyone else’s) Top 100, but thanks to “Call Me Maybe,” Our Girl Carly Rae Jepsen owned 2012. If you don’t know by now, you probably never will. But if you didn’t know by now, you probably wouldn’t be reading this website in the first place. —A.U.

What now? Check out the rest of our year-end coverage, too!

For instance: Here’s the year in pop-star nakedness!

Other Pages: #100-91, #90-81, #80-71, #70-61, #60-51, #50-41, #40-31, #30-21, #20-11


Real Time Web Analytics