Unlike 2011, 2012 was the year when the mainstream pop act gave way to indie, rock and newbies who took charge of the upper echelons of the global charts. Gotye, Fun., Janelle Monae, Emeli Sande, Carly Rae Jepsen, The Lumineers, Frank Ocean etc brought about a much deserved (and anticipated) change on the radio. Rihanna let go of dubstep, while Taylor Swift embraced it. Dance music faltered ever so slightly, while unconventional acts from around the world (Psy?) made a global name for themselves. And lyrically, Nicki Minaj went deeper than ever – ‘Rrrrrrr, pull up in the rrrrrrr, wrist on burrrrr, pussy on purrrr rrrrr‘.
Here’s a list of my top 50 songs of the year 2012. Now, this definitely isn’t the Billboard Hot 100, and neither is this a snob-fest displaying my immense knowledge as a totally slay-worthy music critique. The list simply chronicles what 2012 meant to me. And that includes songs which I danced to at 2 am, songs which I cried to at 4 am, songs which I yodeled out (butt naked) in the shower, and songs which I listened to while travelling to the most unexpected of places (Kandahar, Afghanistan, for starters – a place that was definitely NOT on my list of must-visit places before I die, but there I was, bang in the middle of the heartland of the dreaded Taliban, just a week before Christmas – major, MAJOR chills y’all).
So here you go! All these songs have been officially released as singles, and I’ve excluded non-singles and album cuts from the list (Joss Stone’s ‘Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye‘ and Emeli Sande’s ‘Mountains‘ would probably vie for the # 1 spot in that case). The top 20 songs get a much deserved shout-out. Please feel free to relentlessly bitch and debate about my choices, and click on the YouTube links to watch/listen to the top 20. Enjoy!
50. Thinkin’ About You – Frank Ocean
49. The Boys – Girls’ Generation
48. Give Your Heart A Break – Demi Lovato
47. Starships – Nicki Minaj
46. We Are Young – Fun. feat. Janelle Monae
45. Die Young – Ke$ha
44. Flower – Kylie Minogue
43. Stronger – Kelly Clarkson
42. Live Your Life – Yuna
41. It All Belongs To Me – Brandy and Monica
40. Somebody That I Used To Know – Gotye feat. Kimbra
39. Beneath Your Beautiful – Labrinth and Emeli Sande
38. Gimme All Your Luvin – Madonna feat. Nicki Minaj and MIA
37. One More Night – Maroon 5
36. Refill – Elle Varner
35. Your Body – Christina Aguilera
34. (Kissed You) Goodnight – Gloriana
33. Black Heart – Stooshe
32. Sorry – Ciara
31. Call Me Maybe – Carly Rae Jepsen
30. Set Fire To The Rain – Adele
29. Brokenhearted – Karmin
28. In My City – Priyanka Chopra feat. Will.I.Am
27. Brand New Me – Alicia Keys
26. Call My Name – Cheryl Cole
25. Only The Horses – Scissor Sisters
24. Blow Me (One Last Kiss) – Pink
23. Catch My Breath – Kelly Clarkson
22. Domino – Jessie J
21. Settle Down – Kimbra
20. Stimela – Wynter Gordon
It’s funny how a vocalist of Wynter Gordon’s caliber has been this restrained when it comes to releasing a full-length studio album – especially when she’s written tracks for pop and r’n’b royalties like Mary J Blige and Jennifer Lopez. ‘Stimela‘, the first single from her EP ‘Doleo‘, the first of 4 EP’s grouped under the title ‘The Human Condition‘ (clearly, Miss Gordon is very, very ambitious), is undoubtedly THE stand-out track from her surprisingly extensive discography. Based on Hugh Masekala’s anti-apartheid song of the same name, ‘Stimela‘ is a refreshingly haunting and eclectic mix of folk-soul with a soaring African-pop influenced chorus – with Gordon’s robust vocals blending in flawlessly.
19. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together – Taylor Swift
Face it – the year belongs to Taylor Swift. Again. The first of 3 songs by Tay Tay gracing the top 20, the addictive ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together‘ became Taylor’s first # 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart a few months ago – and is already an anthem for this generation, winning over old fans and new. A sarcastic kiss-off is something we all enjoy, aw come on – we’ve all had our share of pathetic losers who deserve this song don’t they? Taylor and Max Martin have crafted a song that’s saucy, direct and gets the message across clearly. ‘And you would hide away and find your peace of mind, with some indie record that’s much cooler than mine‘ she taunts. It doesn’t really get any simpler than this!
18. Towers – Bon Iver
After picking up 2 pieces of hardware earlier this year at the 2012 Grammy Awards including the coveted Best New Artist trophy, indie-folk royalty Bon Iver unveiled a stunning video for the gorgeously mournful and melancholic track ‘Towers‘ from their self-titled sophomore album. Over lush, layered vocal arrangements, lead vocalist Justin Vernon’s falsetto subtly treads over dark territory without actually sounding morose, and by the end of the song you’re literally left with a sense of longing, while you relish the impeccably addictive melody of the chorus. Truly incredible!
17. Stay – Gods Robots
With their full length début album scheduled for release soon, and a barrage of live shows scheduled across the country and beyond, cross-continental duo Gods Robots are on a roll lately. San-Francisco-based DJ/Producer Janaka Selekta and Mumbai-based vocal powerhouse Shridevi Keshavan have given us a taste of what to expect through their EP ‘Stormy Weather‘ as well as their début video ‘Stay‘ – and might I just add that the heady concoction of pop, dubstep, Indian classical, soul and reggae that the band offers is totally slay-worthy? Their full-length début is definitely one of the most highly anticipated releases of 2013, and ‘Stay‘ – being the tranquil track that it is, effortlessly makes it to the top 20!
16. Bad Girls – MIA
As we all know, bad girls do it well. British-Sri-Lankan songstress Mathangi Arulpragasam has had a stellar year so far, all on the basis of a single video, a collaboration and a live performance.While ‘Gimme All Your Luvin‘, her collaboration with Madonna and Nicki Minaj soared to the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100, her bird-flipping Superbowl appearance actually stole (a part of) the limelight from the Queen of Pop and Queen Potty-mouth Extraordinaire – a rare feat indeed. Post controversy, M.I.A returned, guns blazing, as she blinged up the Middle East in the meticulously styled Roman Gavras-directed clip for her hypnotic new mid-tempo single ‘Bad Girls‘ – the first from her forthcoming release ‘Matangi‘, and easily one of the best videos of the year. The result? Two MTV Video Music Awards at this year’s ceremony, as well as a Grammy nomination – which I’m hoping she’ll win. Epic, epic video and song!
15. Princess Of China – Coldplay and Rihanna
Enough has been written about a collaboration as genre-defying as this. Rihanna with Coldplay? The result, of course, was nothing short of stellar. Released last year on Coldplay’s album ‘Mylo Xyloto‘, the synth-laden ‘Princess Of China‘ was officially released as a single this year, and it also received a much awaited video treatment. The video, arguably one of the worst I’ve seen in a while, did approximately nothing for the song. Irrespective of the debacle though, the mystical song easily stood out as one the year’s finest, with Rihanna’s vocals (her best, until she outdid herself with ‘Diamonds‘) blending in seamlessly with Chris Martin’s to reach an agonizing crescendo over howling sirens as they lament to each other – ‘cuz you really hurt me‘. Spectacular!
14. I Heart You – Toni Braxton
6-time Grammy-winning r’n’b chanteuse Toni Braxton let go of her soaring ballads and mid-tempo soul jams to jump aboard the EDM train for her brand new single, the elctro-r’n’b club banger ‘I Heart You‘. Mizz Braxton carved out a fine niche for herself with her edgy new sound at the clubs, eventually hitting # 1 on the Billboard Dance/Club Play Chart with the song. The thumping beats, the sick dance-break, and Toni’s sultry contralto – this is all that you need to get down and dirty on the dance floor!
13. Wildest Dreams – Brandy
R’n’B royalty Brandy staged a stunning comeback this year with her 6th studio album ‘Two Eleven‘, which debuted atop the R’n’B/Hip Hop Albums Chart (her first since 2002’s ‘Full Moon‘), as well as # 3 on the Billboard 200. Going back to basics, Brandy brought back her signature soul-drenched style that made her a house-hold name back in the day with her self-titled début and its 14 million seller follow-up, ‘Never Say Never‘. The result? A classic, classic r’n’b album with a throwback vibe, yet futuristic enough to ‘fit‘ into any random playlist today. The Sean Garrett-written ‘Wildest Dreams‘ represents the mellow vibe of the album, and with Brandy’s layered vocals and an addictive hook, the old-school jam not only heralded Brandy’s comeback – but established the fact that even after 18 years after her arrival, Brandy’s still on top of her game.
12. 9th Inning – Missy Elliott feat. Timbaland
Fact : There’s no one quite like Missy Elliott when it comes to REAL Hip Hop. It’s been a prolonged 7-year long wait for fans of the ‘Supa Dupa Fly‘ maestra, but Missy rewarded us all with ‘9th Inning‘ – a stunning return to form and a glimpse of her feverishly anticipated new album ‘Block Party‘. Missy’s growls over the bass heavy beats of ‘9th Inning‘ interjected by Timbaland’s verses easily take you back to her glory days – especially the ‘Under Construction‘ and ‘The Cookbook‘ eras. The only thing missing here? A signature Missy video which generally defies every law of human existence.
11. Begin Again – Taylor Swift
Taylor’s somber country ballad about reciprocated love not being a myth, ‘Begin Again‘ just misses out on the top 10, coming in at # 11 on the year-end charts. It’s the second of 3 songs by Taylor gracing the top 20, so yeah – she’s pretty much SLAYED your faves. The lush ballad brilliantly chronicles the vulnerability of a first date post a break-up, and harks back to the country sweetheart’s career-crafting ballads ‘Tim McGraw‘ and ‘Teardrops On My Guitar‘. I’ve never had so many Taylor songs gracing my best-of list – but really, can you avoid the relentless slay-age she’s unleashed lately? She had me at – ‘but on a wednesday, in a cafe..I watched it begin again‘.
10. Diamonds – Rihanna
2012 would be the year that Bajan banger and relentless chart-slayer Rihanna came into a league of her own. And by that, I mean she finally stopped following trends and chose to blaze a trail of her own. While she began the year at # 1 with the Calvin Harris-produced dance-floor staple ‘We Found Love‘, a largely generic (and definitely addictive) track that kept her stars shining bright (like a diamond) atop the charts, she ended the year by unveiling her most ambitious offering till date, the Sia-penned ‘Diamonds‘, the stunning lead single from her 7th studio album ‘Unapologetic’. The soulful track, with an undertone of melancholy and boasting of Rihanna’s best vocals till date, did not sound like anything that graced the upper echelons of the charts worldwide, and the risk paid off. ‘Diamonds‘ is the only song in the top 10 that managed to crown the Billboard Hot 100, and ‘Unapologetic‘ became Rihanna’s very first # 1 album on the Billboard charts. Shine bright Rihanna, shine bright!
9. Bravo – Ledisi
Soul songstress Ledisi is hardly new to the scene, and her 5th studio album ‘Pieces Of Me‘, released last year, may easily be her best effort so far – both critically and commercially (her highest charting effort, roaring in at # 9 on the Billboard 200, the album ended up with 3 Grammy nominations). My fave Ledisi song of all time is included on the album, and I was totally over the moon to see the uplifting and inspiring ‘Bravo‘ finally get the video treatment it deserved in 2012. Like everybody else (well, mostly everybody I know), the year’s been rough for me. And ‘Bravo‘ is one of those songs that got me through numerous, and unpredictably pathetic days. Ledisi’s pitch-perfect vocals soar over the undeniably catchy synth and piano-laced chorus, and the Erica D Hayes directed video – blurring all social, religious and sexual boundaries – does justice to ‘Bravo‘. Give yourself a round of applause Ledisi!
8. Hanging On – Ellie Goulding feat. Tinie Tempah
British folktronica songbird Ellie Goulding unleashed her sophomore album ‘Halcyon‘ to an eagerly expectant world, and the very first track to be released from the album, a cover of Active Child’s ‘Hanging On‘, slayed anything that she’s done so far. Over gentle instrumentation and a supremely buoyant harmony that’s ethereal, rather mystical, Goulding’s falsetto rises to a magnanimous crescendo as she helplessly declares ‘I just can’t keep hanging on, to you and me‘. The only sore point of the track is the painfully juvenile rap by Tinie Tempah, which was mercifully removed from the album version of the song.
7. Wide Awake – Katy Perry
Katy Perry’s ‘Teenage Dream‘ era simply REFUSED TO END Y’ALL. She released, re-released, re-packed, remixed the album, and finally put an end an end to the hugely successful era with arguably one of the best songs of her career. ‘Wide Awake‘, a nod to her failed marriage with Russell Brand, is a candid confession by the songstress over a euphoric chorus that surges ahead fiercely, with just a hint of sadness, as Perry accepts the fact that her happy ending was not meant to be. ‘Gravity hurts, you made it so sweet, ’til I woke up on the concrete, falling from cloud 9..‘ she rants as the princess of her anti-fairy tale. And the punch on Prince Charming’s face at the end of it all? Priceless! Peaking at # 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, ‘Wide Awake‘ became one of the biggest hits of her career, a befitting end to Perry’s massively successful ‘Teenage Dream‘ era.
6. Ride – Lana Del Rey
5 seconds into the Anthony Mandler-helmed video for songstress extraordinaire Lana Del Rey’s ‘Ride‘, and you know you’re about to witness a sonic and visual extravaganza. The moment the haunting piano melody takes over, and visions of Lana swinging (the epitome of lonely) fills the screen, and the stunning melancholy-drenched monologue begins, you have no choice but to succumb to Lana’s 10 minute-plus masterpiece. I was literally choked up by the time she reached the line ‘I once had dreams of becoming a beautiful poet — but upon an unfortunate series of events, saw those dreams dashed and divided like a million stars in the night sky that I wished on over and over again — sparkling and broken.’, and was left thoroughly breathless by the end of it all. Bravo Lana, bravo!
5. 212 – Azealia Banks feat. Lazy Jay
‘I guess that cunt getting eaten‘ is arguably one of the most iconic statements made by any vocalist this year, and Brooklyn MC Azealia Banks, with her filth-ridden verses over an instantly infectious groove, has certainly given Mizz Nicki Minaj a run for her money when it comes to the title of potty-mouth extraordinaire, with her single ‘212‘ featuring Lazy Jay. The sneaky exuberance of the track generated enough curiosity for the upcoming rapstress to unleash a bevy of music videos, singles, a mixtape and an EP in its aftermath. And the world now waits with bated breath as she finally unveils her feverishly anticipated début album ‘Broke With Expensive Taste‘ early next year. The next Missy Elliott perhaps?
4. Triumphant – Mariah Carey feat. Meek Mills And Rick Ross
Earlier this year, living legend Mariah Carey decided to bring back real r’n’b, and unleashed upon a music-starved world what happened to be a brand new single titled ‘Triumphant‘ featuring Rick Ross and Meek Mills, previewing her 14th studio album due for release in early 2013. The single, her biggest flop in forever, was panned critically and commercially, and was promptly considered as a buzz single by the world at large. So it might just surprise you that ‘Triumphant‘ sits pretty at # 4 on my year-end chart.
Here’s the deal. Being a sucker for the hip hop Mariah, I fell in love with the mid-tempo r’n’b jam the very first time I heard the robust ‘Get ‘em, get ‘em, get ‘em‘ intro, followed by Mariah’s honeyed, warm and endlessly soothing vocals. ‘Triumphant‘ was a slice of old-school nostalgia that brought back good memories from the ‘Butterfly‘ and ‘Daydream‘ era. True, there was nothing new about the song at all. The video was a shade better than pathetic. Mariah was reduced to a guest vocalist on her own song, with rap verses overpowering her rather subdued vocals. And Rick Ross should really audition for the role of Manny the mammoth if there’s a real-life version of ‘Ice Age‘ being shot – those fur coats really need to go away. But at the end of it all, it was a Mariah song with a message to stay strong, to hold on and to stay triumphant. A rehashed version of ‘Hero‘, ‘Can’t Take That Away‘, ‘Through The Rain‘ and a gazillion other songs with a similar message that she’s unleashed before. But you know what? It works. EVERYTIME. I needed to hear a song like this to get me through some rather tough times this year, and Mariah crooning ‘Can’t fall down, stay triumphant, keep on living‘ was all I needed to get me through shit, to triumph over abnormally pathetic scums and vermin I’ve encountered this year, and truly revel in the feeling of being emancipated (reference!).
3. I Knew You Were Trouble – Taylor Swift
In the poignant words of the socially conscious and politically motivated band LMFAO – she’s sexy and she knows it. A few months ago, country sweetheart Taylor Swift decided that dubstep would be a good direction to go. This piece of news shook the industry so hard, SO HARD, that Madonna’s bra came off at multiple stops on her MDNA tour, Kate Middleton was rendered pregnant, Adele went into labor, Christina Legendtina Floptina Aguilera vehemently started displaying her ‘Lotus‘ which eventually flopped, and Frank Ocean came out as gay. And Taylor Swift giggled all the way to the bank as she unveiled her most ambitious album till date, ‘Red‘, which moved 1.2 million copies in the US on its very first week of release. While purists, fans and critics scoffed, Swift unleashed the instantly addictive dubstep-tinged ‘I Knew You Were Trouble‘ – a brilliant sonic (and visual) departure from her usual brand of mush-country-pop. The result? Very predictable. A runaway smash, the song should be crowning the Billboard Hot 100 in a matter of weeks from now, already surging up to # 4 this week.
2. Spirit Indestructible – Nelly Furtado
After 2006’s largely uptempo Timbaland-assisted ‘Loose‘, Canadian chanteuse Nelly Furtado – undoubtedly one of pop’s most eclectic and innovative chameleons – decided to go against the increasingly bland and predictable sounds dominating the musical landscape today. The result? A hugely diverse and refreshing album that – irrespective of the occasional stumble – stood its ground. The Darkchild-produced title track, a superbly crafted explosion of uplifting and infectious hooks, and irresistible beats layered by lush melodies and a booming bass, is an ode to the power of the human spirit and perseverance.
Music, for me, is inexplicably tied to memories. The gorgeously crafted ‘Spirit Indestructible‘ became both my refuge, as well as my anthem – and I connected with this song far beyond any other released this year. There was something oddly sinister about the melody of the song, and the undertone with which Furtado’s vocals graced the lyrics. ‘I have a spirit indestructible, a heart that loving was made for, a body that’s a miracle..‘ she cries with barely a hint of the pain depicting her inner turmoil, the intensity of which remains subdued for most of the song – but it’s there alright.
Seemingly, Furtado wrote this song while going through her own personal storm, and not after it. Which, I believe, captured the urgency of her plea – her subtly vulnerable reassurance to herself about the proverbial silver lining. And that’s what resonated with me the most, her vulnerability. Empowered is the last thing you feel when you’re down, and in the middle of your own share of drama. That’s when you identify with the private intensity of someone else’s struggle. And that’s exactly what ‘Spirit Indestructible‘ offered me. Solace, when there was a brewing battle inside of me, cuz I knew someone else was going through shit as well, and that at some point, it would eventually be over. It reminded me again and again, that I wasn’t the only one. And that was rather comforting to know.
Eventually, it did get over – and I saw my proverbial rainbow as well. And that’s when the song became a robust celebration (and a regular feature on my treadmill playlist – don’t ask) rather than a resounding anthem of self-struggle.
A few days ago, I found myself sitting on a plane, heading back home to usher in 2013 with my family and friends. 35,000 feet above the ground, for a brief moment, I was suddenly consumed with an immense sense of loneliness when I peered down into the blackness below, as I was reminded of all that I had gone through this year. Of broken friendships, of broken-hearted blues, of broken dreams. As well as of dreams realized, of the kindness of strangers – some of whom eventually became friends, of the numerous blessings of people I’ve helped, of the love that poured in from unexpected sources.
Coincidentally, Nelly Furtado’s ‘Spirit Indestructible‘ came on my mp3 player. And at that moment, I no longer felt lonely. All I could do was smile, as I realized it was all going to be good. I was healthy, my family and friends remained thicker than ever, professionally I had reached new heights, I had the power to heal, help and love people unconditionally, and that I was indeed happy. I played the song on loop for the rest of the flight, until the plane touched down on the runway, and I rushed out of the airport towards a group of eagerly waiting people who matter the most to me, to spend the final few hours of a year that – apart from being one of the most eventful years ever – was mostly an exercise in letting go.
If there’s one song that would be a lingering memory of everything I went through – both the good and the bad – in 2012, it’s Nelly Furtado’s ‘Spirit Indestructible‘.
1. Losing You – Solange
I’ve often said this – had Solange been Janet Jackson, then ‘Losing You‘ would be her ‘Together Again‘.
Back in 1997, Miss Jackson turned a touching tribute to her friends who had died of AIDS into a global dance-floor extravaganza – the irony. She wanted to celebrate their lives instead of mourning their deaths, she explained. Of course, it worked, as ‘Together Again‘, her single from the # 1 debuting ‘The Velvet Rope‘ reached # 1 globally, selling an estimated 7 million copies worldwide – her highest selling single to date.
Solange Knowles – yes, she’s Beyonce’s sister, now get over it - turned some rather somber and painful verses dealing with the agony of a break-up into a bouncy, uplifting, free-spirited slice of pop excellence instead of an expected gloom-fest. ‘I don’t know what I’m fighting, clearly we are through‘, she laments on ‘Losing You‘, the first single from her universally acclaimed EP ‘True‘. Funnily, there’s approximately nothing sad about this song. With the retro-leaning beat and the gorgeously warm melody, the song serves as a subtle kiss-off, instead of an agonizing plea, with Solange choosing to celebrate her freedom instead of mourning the loss of a lover, who clearly, was worthless.
‘Losing You‘, the song, is best enjoyed with the Melina Matsoukas-directed video shot in Cape Town, which captures the nostalgic and feel-good vibe of the song. As Solange and her posse of friends pose, dance, cycle and fool around with a group of Sapeurs (fashion dandies from Congo) in some rather cheeky hot pants – you can’t help your feet from moving to the alluring and warm drum beats and the bubbling electronica. There’s really nothing more simple than just bopping along with the beat, is there?
Universally lauded by both fans and critics, ‘Losing You‘ transcends the mediocrity of electro-r’n’b plaguing the radio these days, and could very well be the new direction in which pop music is headed. Take a bow, Solange!