Top 5 Pop Songs of 2012

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2012 was the year of huge pop hits, the likes of which, one could argue, hasn’t been seen since the 1980s. One might think new media like iTunes, YouTube, TV and blogs would make these sorts of monocultural touchstones impossible, but in fact the opposite is true. Though the following singles all have different musical roots, from pop to dance to retro rock, they all were popular on YouTube before they became radio hits, and they all spawned Internet memes, covers and mentions on TV shows.

5 “Gangnam Style” by Psy

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By now, “Gangnam Style” isn’t just a Korean pop song—it’s a piece of American pop culture. The ridiculous video is so sublimely entertaining that an entire sketch was devoted to it on “Saturday Night Live” and nearly everyone knows and has imitated Psy (real name Park Jae-sang)’s Gangnam dance. Yet beneath the silliness, “Gangnam Style” contains a serious message, lampooning the rich who live in the wealthy Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul and making political commentary on consumerist culture. Who would have guessed that out of all these songs, “Gangnam Style” would be the most subversive?

4 “We Are Young” by Fun

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Among the many songs by the group Fun that are about drinking—nearly all of them—”We Are Young” is the catchiest. Meant to recall 1970s theatrical pop groups like Queen and Electric Light Orchestra, “We Are Young” was covered on “Glee” before it was even released. A short time later it was used in a Super Bowl commercial for Chevrolet and single sales soared so that it became one of the iconic singles of the spring.

3 “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye, featuring Kimbra

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The Peter Gabriel-esque retro sound and super-indie art-house video of “Somebody That I Used to Know” seems an unlikely candidate for a hit pop single, and in fact the song was originally released on rock stations. But Gotye (real name Wally de Backer)’s ballad of romantic angst was able to resonate with a wide audience and was still weird enough to be cool. The song wound up attracting a huge audience, won Record of the Year at the Grammys, and spawned covers on “Saturday Night Live,” “Glee” and “American Idol.”

2 “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” by Taylor Swift

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Swift has a talent for writing earworm lyrics, and “We are never ever, ever, ever getting back together,” is no exception. Just try getting that phrase out of your head now. Aside from the catchy chorus, the song also garnered wild speculation and curiosity as to which of Swift’s numerous ex-boyfriends inspired it, with former sweetheart Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead.

1 “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen

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Carly Rae Jepsen’s single “Call Me Maybe” was actually released in September 2011, but didn’t receive much attention until Justin Bieber tweeted about it, saying, “Call me maybe by Carly Rae Jepson [sic] is possibly the catchiest song I’ve ever heard lol.” By the time March 2012 rolled around, Gawker was calling the dance pop ditty “the new perfect pop song,” and it became “the song of summer,” spawning Internet memes and countless dubs and parodies.

Tasha Brandstatter is an art historian and writer. She is a contributor to Book Riot, Food Riot, a media critic with the Pueblo PULP, and a regular contributor to History Colorado. She has a M.A. in art history.

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