Jan 17

Popular Crystal Ball: 2016 – The Year Pop Broke

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Shout Out To My Eggs

Shout Out To My Eggs

Well, that was a year. It’s not what 2016 will be remembered for, but this was the year that streaming broke the charts – or fundamentally changed what they reflect. The structural impact is obvious – TEN records got to number one, meaning we’re back to the 50s as far as turnover goes. The aesthetic impact is more obscure – is the torpor I sense a function of a moody wave in current pop, or the sluggishness of the countdown, or my own elderly disengagement, or all of the above?

Best to worst, as usual. I liked very few of these very much, and even the higher placings don’t reflect much enthusiasm.

LITTLE MIX – “Shout Out To My Ex”: Still don’t quite rate Little Mix as much as many, but the pass-the-mic feel on the verses here is great. And that pretty much wraps it up for upbeat Number 1s in 2016. Into the murk we go.

DRAKE ft KYLA – “One Dance”: One of the words of 2016 was ‘hollowed-out’, used to describe the vengeful remnants of industrial communities after thirty years of neoliberalism. The production on “One Dance” – which is astonishing, definitely the best *music* on this list – is likewise an exhausted shell, just waiting for a narcissist to take advantage of it.

ZAYN – “Pillowtalk”: Overdone and sprawling, but its tangled-sheets shapelessness makes its casserole of rock-meets-trap production ideas seem more interesting than they probably are. Clutched straws or what?

MIKE POSNER – “I Took A Pill In Ibiza”: Might have more impact in a year where every other song wasn’t what-is-a-party-REALLY melancholia, but I like the way this wrong-foots you into thinking it’s going to be a shit parody track before just slithering into glumness.

: A central riff so inert it makes Calvin Harris sound like Scooter, with Bieber doing more of the wheedled concern that made him 2015’s darling. Enough craft to put this in the top half.

: Uneasy mix of mawkishness and jauntiness made stranger (and better) by Sean Paul charging in like a particularly empathic bulldog. “DAILY STRUGGLE!”

THE CHAINSMOKERS – “Closer”: Lyrics that evoke the physical, delivery that seems to recoil from it. Like a thinkpiece smugly explaining that while millennials are having more sex than you, it’s inescapably grim and joyless sex.

SHAWN MENDES – “Stitches”
: Post-Bieber neg-wave with none of his gross charisma. In the language of our new cultural masters, this guy is a beta

JAMES ARTHUR – “Say You Won’t Let Go”: Messy and tedious, and doubly bad because you get the impression he thinks both those things are wins for realness.

LUKAS GRAHAM – “7 Years”: Almost impossibly annoying. That must have been one bastard of a mirror we broke.


  1. 1
    Matt DC on 18 Jan 2017 #

    There’s a kind of all-pervasive watery dourness at work here – I wonder if that’s the key to having a massive #1 hit in the streaming era, catch people when they’re moping.

  2. 2
    flahr on 18 Jan 2017 #

    Despite “One Dance” having been #1 for 15 weeks, despite me having (I’m pretty sure) definitely (I’m sure) listened to it at least five times, I literally cannot remember how it goes. At all. “Hotline Bling”, yeah, of course, no problem.

    I think its longevity was partially a function of this – its incredible blandness, functionality and sheer inoffensiveness makes it a natural for a playlist (especially with the star power of Drake’s name), and then there will be no motivation to ever remove it from that playlist because it will be as if it isn’t on there anyway. It’s like The Silence from Doctor Who.

    Elsewhere: petty political objections to Mmse. Mix’s exes having made them who they am, but ho-hum; “Rockabye” is plainly no “Rather Be” (heck, it’s not even “Tears”) but my admiration for Cantab Bandit just made it possible for me to will myself into liking it; cosign 1000x times on “7 Years”. Tickets are still available for their tour this March!

  3. 3
    weej on 19 Jan 2017 #

    Mostly in agreement there. Glum, mediocre #1s and not enough of them. Little Mix is the only one I’d save from the sea, maybe I Took A Pill In Ibiza too if someone could kindly remove all the vocals first.

  4. 4
    Chelovek na lune on 19 Jan 2017 #

    I mostly agree too, although I’d rate “Rockabye” a little more highly (maybe even the best of them). One of the tricks of “One Dance” is that it takes ages to sink in, and even when it finally does there is little remarkable about it – music for 2am or after Inc company that need never be listened to alone or at a more modest hour.

    As for the rest, Little Mix just about being the exception, mostly bland variations on the same theme and in broadly the same style; with the exceptions to this rule (James bloody Arthur, 7 bloody years) being more openly objectionable in deviating from that bland conventional pattern in grotesque (we don’t need to hear about your woman vomiting) or intensely irritating (hello Lukas Graham) ways.

    No, for the first time in many years I’d not save any of them from a desert island-bound storm.

  5. 5
    punctum on 19 Jan 2017 #

    I don’t go along with all of Tom’s piece but it strikes me that all ten number ones are essentially marking time before the world ends.

  6. 6
    fivelongdays on 19 Jan 2017 #

    Personally, I think that 2016 was a year where rock/alt/punk/metal realised it had been a bit meh the last few years, and gave us the best year in ages…like, I’d say since 2002 at the very least.

    I think those of us on that particular side of things will, in the future, look back at 2016 like we do now with years like 1986, 1994 and 2000.

    Erm, that wasn’t NECESSARILY relevant, but I wanted to say it.

    As you were

  7. 7
    cryptopian on 20 Jan 2017 #

    I’ll join the choir on this being a blah year for the charts. A variety of blah music wouldn’t be so bad, but we opted instead for a very genre specific year. God help the person who hates trap and/or tropical house.

    Mike Posner gets my vote for best. I might not have given it a second thought but for a couple of critics pointing out the personal relationship that Mike Posner specifically brings to the song to make it that little bit more poignant. Sure, it’s cheap critic baiting requiring insider knowledge, but the end result is a song I really enjoy (the remix at least – was not a fan of the acoustic original).

    Meanwhile for worst, James Arthur continues to oversing like he’s trying to swallow his own tongue. Otherwise, I’d find it a bland and forgettable guy-with-acoustic-guitar song.

    Hopefully 2017 sees the resurgence of some life and colour to the charts. The new #1/#2 is certainly a good start.

  8. 8
    punctum on 20 Jan 2017 #

    The new #1 is a cheerful song dressed in trap clothes to make it sound as downbeat as anything last year.

  9. 9
    lockedintheattic on 27 Jan 2017 #

    That’s a bit of a grim list, and it’s not much better if you look at the full top 100 of the year: http://www.officialcharts.com/charts/end-of-year-singles-chart/

    Although there are three songs from the top 10 of year – Sia & Sean Paul’s Cheap Thrills, RiRi’s work, and Zara Larsson’s Lush Life that i much prefer to anything here.

  10. 10
    CriticSez on 4 Jan 2019 #

    Shortest, and second-worst year, ever. Only 2011 beat it in the hall of shame.

    This was the year I finished reviewing every past number one. I’ve kept up to date ever since.

    My order:

    Say You Won’t Let Go (6.3)
    7 Years (6)
    Cold Water (5.7)
    Pillowtalk (5.3)
    Stitches (4.8)
    Closer (4.2)
    Rockabye (2.4)
    I Took a Pill in Ibiza (2.1)
    One Dance (1.6)
    Shout Out to My Ex (1)

    I honestly don’t understand what happened.

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