2012 was marked by breakthroughs into the pop mainstream of alternative pop and K-Pop. It was a strong year for increased variety in hit pop music.
What happens when one of the biggest country crossover stars of all time meets Max Martin, one of the world's top pop music alchemists? It's an ultra-catchy song with all the cleverness of Taylor Swift's lyrical genius. "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" became her first #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and earned a Grammy Award nomination for Record of the Year.
This was not exactly the form that most would have thought the K-Pop breakthrough in the US would take. However, "Gangnam Style" is irresistible in melody and the accompanying video charmed the entire world. Psy's dance for the song may someday go the way of the Macarena, but for now it was one of the most distinctive pop music creations of 2012.
Kelly Clarkson celebrated 10 years as a pop star with one of the biggest hits of her career. Based on the quotation from German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger," the song is upbeat and empowering anchored by one of the best pop voices in the industry.
No one really saw this hit coming. Gotye had previously earned a level of acclaim from alternative pop fans at home in Australia, but it was this song that brought him international stardom. The song is a clever breakup song seen from both the male and female viewpoint. Gotye's beautiful arrangement brings delicate percussion to the forefront. He struggled to find a follow up hit, but "Somebody That I Used To Know" will be remembered for many years to come.
Alternative pop band fun. had a stunning pop chart debut with the #1 smash "We Are Young." However, an argument can be made that the lyrical angst of their follow up hit was even better. Nate Ruess and company proved they plan to stay around for some time to come. "Some Nights" sold more than 3.5 million copies and reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
It took some time for pop radio to discover this gem, but singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran's breakthrough is a delicate pop gem. This is the era in which pop ballads are nearly absent on the radio, but "The A Team" could not be denied. It is the tragic tale of the downfall of a young female drug addict accompanied by a gorgeous arrangement that marks the introduction of a major talent.
While alternative pop crashed its way to the top of mainstream pop radio airplay charts, there were some powerful alternative singles that were missed. 24 year old Canadian Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, was one major talent that was overlooked. "Oblivion" packs somewhat obtuse lyrics into a beautiful, quirky electronic arrangement that is instantly memorable. Don't miss the approach to female empowerment in the accompanying video to complete Grimes' artistic vision.
Calvin Harris finally became familiar to US pop audiences through his work on Rihanna's massive hit "We Found Love" last year. For his first solo hit Calvin Harris chose himself for the distinctive vocals which became a deserved favorite among DJs and remixers. The simple, intimate lyric coupled with Calvin Harris' striking neo-disco arrangements became one of the most memorable dance hits of the year.
Over the last decade it had seemed like James Bond themes had gotten a bit derailed and became forgettable. However, this year when it was revealed Adele would be writing and performing the theme for the newest Bond film Skyfall, hopes soared. She did not disappoint and with a thoroughly contemporary approach to the classic James Bond sound, she delivered one of the venerable film series' top songs ever.