To capture the year in pop, let’s think back to some of its most memorable songs:
—A left-field hit sung almost entirely in a foreign language, whose throbbing dance beat masked lyrics that were more political than one might suspect.
—A rock-pop crossover smash about holding onto youth into your thirties, even when your head is throbbing from self-reflection and encroaching decrepitude.
—A fluttery, buttery pop classic about a girl fretting over — yet exulting in — not knowing where that boy’s head is at or where he thinks he’s going.
—And the No. 1 record of the year — a rocker–ballad hybrid with egocentric yet self-lacerating lyrics, and an improbably catchy, minimal, skeletal sound.
Quick, what year am I talking about?
Why, 1984, of course — the year of Nena’s “99 Luftballons (Red Balloons),” Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” Madonna’s “Borderline” and Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” Widely agreed to be the greatest year for pop a generation ago, 1984 offered amazing variety on vinyl and represented a cultural peak for Top 40 radio.
But of course, I’m also talking about 2012, the year of Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” fun.’s “We Are Young,” Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” and Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.” The last three of these songs were, according to Billboard magazine, the top three songs of the year. All four songs (especially Psy’s) commanded our conversation largely via YouTube and iTunes, more than the radio, which caught onto them late.
At the risk of offending pop classicists, I’d call 2012, if not quite the equal of 1984, a year in pop that aspired to that classic year’s level of monocultural pleasure.
— Chris Molanphy via The Year In Pop Charts: Return Of The Monoculture