By Elliot Alpern, Daily Music Columnist
Published January 29, 2013
Strange forces have been at work on the music charts in the past year or so — yes, strange forces indeed. See, though it requires sifting through the bogs of Carly Rae Jepsen and the quicksand that is One Direction (ugh), there actually has been some stable footing — solid ground for the musically inclined.
More like this
I’m not talking about Rihanna or Psy. As much respect as I have for their influence and massive appeal, I really couldn’t give a monkey’s fedora about singing their praises (but seriously, how cool is a monkey wearing a fedora?). My interests reside with the normally unsung alternative hits, the catchy-yet-overlooked successes that rarely crack the highest 50 on the Billboard 200, and almost never the Top 10.
This past year was perhaps a bit of an anomaly. Not one, but two singles managed to fend off the rather terrifying attacks of Nicki Minaj and her merry band of cohorts to cling to that coveted “We’re Number One!” pedestal — even if only for a few weeks.
What’s even more amazing is that they weren’t the heavyweight contenders we might expect. Nobody bats an eyelash when Coldplay squeaks in (except for Nicki Minaj, because she’s batting those things everywhere these days). But somehow, a Belgium-born Australian with a name nobody truly knows how to pronounce (go-tee-yay? Gah-tee-yay? Got-yee?) mops up the American music scene after laying waste to more countries than Godzilla — who, in retrospect, seemed to be pretty exclusive to the whole Japan thing. “We Are Young,” by fun. wasn’t necessarily out of left field, (nor the subsequent success “Some Nights”), but considering the band’s highest previous accolade was No. 3 on Billboard’s “US Tastemaker albums” chart, there didn’t seem to be a ton of buzz. I’m not going to look up what a tastemaker is, but I’m pretty sure they’re the heroic people who make my Ben & Jerry’s Half-Baked ice cream.
The point is, these two rather humongous hits were harvested from obscure fields. You might say “it’s inconceivable that somebody anticipated these songs!” To which I would say “this is my column! Get out!” And after practicing my bum’s rush technique, I would like to make it clear: Yes, they were anticipated.
Let me introduce the culprit: Sirius XM Radio, specifically the channel “Alt Nation.” These alt-enthusiasts managed to scoop and lean heavily on “We Are Young” and “Somebody That I Used to Know” way before either was pumping out of beer-encrusted speakers at the nearest frat house. Both songs hit the station’s 18 most requested songs (dubbed the Alt-18). Both hit the Billboard charts not long after.
“Why would this matter?” you might fire back at me. Let me counter: “Seriously, get out of my column. I’m not asking again.”
Ultimately, it matters if you believe that this year wasn’t so much of an anomaly as a precipice — a sign of things to come. When Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” shot up the charts, I brushed it off as an inconsequential blip on the music radar. But I’ve come around — and I don’t want to make the same mistake twice.
I’ve pored over the songs, the hits and misses and creepy songs about Bloody Mary and I think I’ve come up with a shortlist of potential future hits that are making the rounds on Alt Nation. I’m not Nostradamus. I’m not Paul the Octopus. I’m just a guy making a few educated guesses.
First, I’m digging deep with proclaimed “8-bit warrior” Robert DeLong, a product of the west-coast music scene. I’ve written about his single “Global Concepts” before (I think it might just be arts recommends), but I don’t think I can overstate the elusive combination of catchiness and danceability found in the percussion-infused synth beats.