It was a fun year for pop music, but mostly it was fun.’s year for pop music.
The trio dominated radio with its hits “We Are Young” and “Some Nights,” a pair of ambitious, restless singles that encapsulated the wide open possibilities of pop music in 2012. “We Are Young” was played endlessly alongside hits like Carly Rae Jepsen’s teen pop sugarkiss “Call Me Maybe” and Gotye’s haunting “Somebody That I Used to Know,” three artists that came out of nowhere to lead a revolution on the pop charts in 2012. Together, the three songs dominated Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for 23 straight weeks stretching from March to August.
Elsewhere it was a year where Frank Ocean made major waves and 2 Chainz became a household name. And when Jay-Z brought his baby girl Blue Ivy into the world, he serenaded her with one of hip-hop’s finest ever testaments to fatherhood.
Here’s my list of the Top 25 singles of 2012. (Listen here in a Spotify playlist.)
25. Carly Rae Jepsen, “Call Me Maybe”
I tried fighting against this song for the better part of the year, but I give up. This song will outlive us all.
24. Van Halen, “Tattoo”
The kind of big, dumb, fun Van Halen song we’ve been missing since 1984.
23. Best Coast, “Up All Night”
A lovelorn piece of ’60s girlgroup pop that is as soothing as waves lapping against the shore.
22. The Killers, “Runaways”
The Killers get their Springsteen on again with this dusty, widescreen rocker with a chorus that swirls like a tornado.
21. Kendrick Lamar featuring Dr. Dre, “The Recipe”
A disorienting sample of Twin Sister’s “Meet the Frownies” sets the scene for this West Coast anthem that plays like a 2012 update of “California Love.”
20. Sleigh Bells, “End of the Line”
Rapid fire lyrics, exploding double time bass drums and lacerating guitars: This is how Sleigh Bells does ballads.
19. Insane Clown Posse, “Forever”
A touching — yes, I called ICP touching — ode to friendship that unspools over a soft bed of acoustic guitars and a catchy chorus of whistles. Underneath the facepaint, they’re sweet dudes.
18. Mark Lanegan, “Ode to Sad Disco”
Rock’s most haunted voice goes all New Order with this eerie soundtrack for depressed clubs. The complete opposite of a club banger.
17. Nicki Minaj featuring 2 Chainz, “Beez in the Trap”
Nicki Minaj and 2 Chainz rap nonsense over what sounds like bubbles rising to the top of a champagne flute.
16. Justin Bieber, “Die in Your Arms”
There’s a reason it sounds like old school Motown pop: It is. This puppy love charmer samples Michael Jackson’s 1972 song “We’ve Got a Good Thing Going,” and updates it with a hip-hop backbeat.
15. Icona Pop featuring Charli XCX, “I Love It”
Awesomely elastic Swedish pop about crashing cars and not caring about it. Bad for insurance companies, great for pop.
14. Muse, “Madness”
Muse don’t do small, so for this description of a fiery romance they incorporate elements of Queen, “Tron” and dubstep and come up with something that sounds like what people in the ’70s thought rock in 2012 would sound.
13. Christina Aguilera, “Your Body”
Aguilera’s voice melts over this cascading club track, whose pounding chorus seems to unfurl in slow motion.
12. Frank Ocean, “Bad Religion”
The year’s most talked about new talent details a lonely taxi ride where he confronts the reality of a love that will never be requited. It’s simple, elegant, and stirring, and a perfect canvas for Ocean’s gorgeous vocals.
11. Bruno Mars, “Locked Out of Heaven”
The chorus of Police-inspired pop jam takes off like a space shuttle, putting Mars in an orbit all his own.
10. Miguel, “Do You…”
Never have the words “do you like drugs?” sounded more romantic than they do when sung by Miguel on this sweethearted ode to love, hugs and pharmaceuticals.
9. Phillip Phillips, “Home”
We’ve become to used to “American Idol” winners’ songs being saccharine (at best) and bloated (at worst) that this one — a jangly pop-folk song in the Mumford vein — took viewers and listeners by surprise. It proved its staying power by providing a soundtrack to the Olympics (and Tim Horton’s), and it gave “Idol” something it was desperately in need of: A smash hit.
8. Taylor Swift, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”
Country? Forget it! Taylor Swift ditches the Nashville guise and goes full blown pop in this fun, frothy kiss off to a pesky ex-.
7. Kanye West featuring Big Sean, Pusha T and 2 Chainz, “Mercy”
Kanye West and crew make a summer anthem that sounds like a suspense thriller, and Big Sean steals the whole thing by simply saying “swerve.”
6. Cher Lloyd, “Want U Back”
British “X Factor” contestant Cher Lloyd’s sass can barely be contained on this chewy, attitude-laden piece teen pop that’s so bubblegummy it will have you blowing bubbles.
5. Juicy J featuring Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz, “Bandz a Make Her Dance (Remix)”
A hazy, weird strip club anthem that sounds like that point in the night where your conscience slaps you and lets you know you should know better.
4. Kendrick Lamar, “Swimming Pools (Drank)”
Most hip-hop songs about alcohol are about celebrating with bottles in the club. Here, Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar explores the internal monologue of an alcoholic with a startling clarity and a poet’s grasp of language and metaphor.
3. Usher, “Climax”
A devastating breakup song that simmers to a boil while Usher’s falsetto soars over top of Diplo’s percolating electronic pulses.
2. Jay-Z, “Glory”
You can hear Jay-Z beaming on this ode to his daughter, recorded just hours after her birth, and Pharrell’s stripped-down gospel beat matches the sheer exuberance in his voice.
1. Fun. featuring Janelle Monae, “We Are Young”
A bar-closing anthem for the ages that instantly sounded like a generational touchstone. When the class of 2012 celebrates their 20-year class reunions, they’ll all put their arms around each other and belt this song out and toast to the good times of the past, and the still inherent possibilities of the future.