by Miles Raymer
Billboard has revealed its year-end Hot 100 list, ranking the highest-performing singles of the year based on radio play, sales, and Internet streaming. Adding all those spins and sales up and placing them side by side produces some unexpected results. Some of the songs that seemed most inescapable this year—"Get Lucky," "Royals," "Locked Out of Heaven," "I Knew You Were Trouble"—didn't even crack the top ten. Even Katy Perry's "Roar," which has been mercilessly dominating the pop charts for the past few months, only came in at number ten.
A few far less memorable songs near the top of the list prove that making a big splash can be a less successful strategy for a single than just finding an audience and hanging in there, no matter how bland the song. Imagine Dragons' arena-rock-by-numbers hit "Radioactive" and Pink's immensely forgettable "Just Give Me a Reason" took the number three and seven spots, respectively, despite their lack of zeitgeist-dominating hooks. Even in the topsy-turvy world of 2013 pop, where a viral video can make an obscure EDM song by a no-name producer into the fourth-most-popular song of the year, electrifying, boundary-pushing music is still no match for broad, low-level appeal. Kanye's Yeezus, possibly the year's most talked-about release (and the presumed critics' pick for album of the year since the minute it leaked back in June), didn't land one single on the entire list.
There's no clearer example of mediocrity's continued reign over the pop charts than the fact that after a landmark year for hip-hop that included works by Kanye, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, and dozens of other performers that not only will probably go down as career-defining recordings but are responsible for pushing the form into fascinating new aesthetic territory, the number one rapper of the year according to Billboard's metrics is Macklemore, whose "Thrift Shop" tops the year-end chart, followed by "Can't Hold Us" at number five. The next rap song on the list is Jay-Z's disappointingly weak "Holy Grail" at number 22.
Then again, this is just how things have always been. All year I've been thinking that this year was to hip-hop what 1967 was to rock 'n' roll, a period where wild experimentation went mainstream and it seemed like the weirder the noise you made the better, leaving behind a wealth of valuable work that's widely considered the form's high-water mark. A lot of that came from the release that year of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The best selling album that year? The Monkees' More of the Monkees. Some things never change.