Youth Culture Window
At the start of 2012, Rihanna’s We Found Love was still in the top spot on music charts. “We fell in love in a hopeless place,” she echoed over and over again. That hopeless attitude about love continued for most of the year… although Rihanna wasn’t the only artist singing about it.
In fact, almost half of this year’s #1 hits have been about the heartache of lost love.
The Influence of Music
Each year, TheSource4YM.com takes a look back on the biggest songs of the past 12 months (here’s our 2011 look-back), mainly because we understand how influential music is on the lives of teenagers. Young people listen to a ton of music (more than two hours a day, in fact) and they often imitate what they hear…regardless if it’s good or not. Maybe that’s why so many parents and youth workers use our MUSIC DISCUSSION page to access biblical principles about today’s most popular songs.
Thirteen songs made it to the top spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart this year, and many of them gave teenagers plenty to resonate with…both good and bad. This two-part article will give you an overview of each of those songs, with tools to help you do your own exploration if you choose to do so. Where appropriate, we’ll provide lyrical excerpts and links to music videos. We’ll even touch on a few songs we’ve labeled “honorable mentions,” because they were downloaded and played millions of times even though they didn’t reach the #1 spot on Billboard (and even though one of them wasn’t even in English!). Finally, we’ll offer a few thoughts on how you can help your teenagers make healthy and godly choices about their music in the coming year.
Let’s get started.
We Found Love (Rihanna, featuring Calvin Harris)
On November 6, 2011, Rihanna’s hit We Found Love hit #1 on the charts and stayed there for almost three months, with a brief break from LMFAO mid January.
The song was a hit since it first landed on the charts in the fall of 2011; it also graced the #1 spot on Billboard’s “Radio Songs” chart, and “Pop Songs” chart. It bounced around the first and second positions on iTunes for several months as well.
The song seemed to be resonating with young girls especially. The chorus simply repeats the phrase, “we found love in a hopeless place”, a message that offers hope in the midst of pain. No question, most people don’t stifle thoughts of finding love and “good times” together with someone special. But the music video gives a little more insight into the theme of the song.
The music video is probably one of the most powerful videos released this year. Much like 2010’s Love the Way You Lie, Rihanna’s earlier hit with Eminem, We Found Love expresses pain, confusion, and an almost nostalgic look back at the “good times,” wondering if they justified the bad times. The video is a flashback of these good times: sex, drugs, partying, dancing, drinking, getting a tattoo, stealing, more sex, more drugs, angry sex…. Soon we see fighting, more anger, yelling, more fighting, then packing and leaving. The final scene of the video is a shot of Rihanna alone, curled up in a corner, crying.
One might think that the music video is a warning, showing the consequences of this kind of living. But pay attention to some of the opening words to the video:
And when it’s over and it’s gone
You almost wish you could have all that bad stuff back
So that you could have the good.
I blogged about this song a couple days after it went #1, commenting that, sadly, the answers provided from this song are “temporary thrills.” The summary of the music video is basically: even though I feel hopeless, empty, and in pain, I almost would do it all over again just so I could have those good moments.
Maybe that’s why the song was #1 longer than any other song this year.
Sexy and I Know It (LMFAO)
This is the song that showed the whole world what LMFAO was packing in their pants. Literally.
LMFAO, which stands for Laughing My F**king A** Off, had a good year in 2011 with Party Rock Anthem (also a #1 hit), and quickly followed it up in 2012 with this tune called Sexy and I Know It. We’ll be brief here, because we wrote an entire article on this song in October of last year when it hit the charts.
In the song, which was #1 from January 7 to January 20, the duo of LMFAO repeats over and over again that they are sexy…and that they know it. To prove it, the cameo-filled music video features shot after shot after shot of the pair stripped down to their skivvies wiggling their… uh… their junk (struggling for the right wording).
And now, guys, we’re laughing at you, not with you….
Even though the song was at the top for two straight weeks, it’s hard to take LMFAO or their music seriously. In just their second hit single, they went straight for the low-hanging fruit…I mean low-swinging fruit…I mean, they went low, period.
When LMFAO lost the top spot, it was not only to an award-winning, world-class musician, but an award-winning, world-class musician who always keeps her clothes on.
Set Fire to the Rain (Adele)
Pop quiz. What was the #1 selling album in 2012? I’ll give you a hint: it was the #1 album in 2011 as well. Sorry Taylor Swift (#2 album), and sorry One Direction (#3 album)… Adele sold 4.41 million of her album “21” this year, adding to the 5.8 million copies sold in 2011.
Adele’s song Set Fire to the Rain went #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 February 4 through February 17. The song spills the honest feelings of a woman who was hurt by a man:
'Cause there's a side to you that I never knew, never knew
All the things you'd say, they were never true, never true
And the games you'd play, you would always win, always win…
and struggles to convince her heart what her mind knows:
But I set fire to the rain
Watched it pour as I touched your face
Well, it burned while I cried
'Cause I heard it screaming
Out your name, your name
Adele’s whole album connected with listeners, an honest cry from someone hurt in a relationship.
And this song wouldn’t be the last one to do so in 2012...
Stronger (Kelly Clarkson)
Ain’t gonna lie. This song is on my “gym” playlist. There, I said it…and I don’t care what you think.
In Stronger, Kelly Clarkson sticks to what she knows best: talking about love-gone-wrong in a clean and honest way. She has lost the guy in her life, but tells her listeners “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Are you seeing how many songs at the top of the charts are by females lamenting lost love?
The first American Idol winner doesn’t pull any punches in her song; breaking up isn’t easy. Lost love hurts. There is always brokenness. But that brokenness doesn’t have to totally break us; it can make us stronger. If we’re willing, we can learn from our mistakes. Because the song crams so much truth and hope into 3.5 minutes of toe-tapping rock n roll, we produced a MUSIC DISCUSSION resource to help teenagers deal with relationship woes.
This song was at the top of the charts for a total of three weeks, February 18 to March 2, and then again from March 10 to March 16, though it was interrupted by yet another young lady singing about the pain that so often accompanies romance.
Part of Me (Katy Perry)
Though it reached the #1 spot on Billboard, Part of Me was one of Katy Perry’s least-known hits; it was only at the top for one week, March 3rd to the 9th. Maybe it was because the music video was military-themed in a country that’s grown weary of war. Maybe it was because the tune stepped away from her cookie cutter recipe of sensual and irresponsible messages. Regardless, Part of Me was only a small part of 2012’s music history.
That said, it proved to be one of her most genuine works. Like so many others in this list, it’s a song about a break up, and a harsh one at that. The music video shows that even while the dust is still clearing, Perry decides to join the Marines. She and her fellow Marines go through training and battle, and come out on top. In a way, this was a very complementary song to Kelly Clarkson’s above; both told listeners that it was possible to rebound from an upset in life.
This song – in stark comparison to her other songs like California Gurls, Teenage Dream, I Kissed a Girl, and Last Friday Night – prompted Jonathan to write an open letter to Katy Perry encouraging her to be a positive role model for young girls.
Without a doubt, Part of Me correlates to Perry’s short-lived marriage and highly public divorce from British comedian Russell Brand. In this article by MTV, Perry says, “It’s not about the problem; it’s about how you solve it.” I couldn’t agree more.
Unfortunately, the message in 2012’s top music will continue to focus on living for the moment instead of for milestones…as evidence by the next song on our list.
We Are Young (fun.)
We Are Young reached the #1 position on Billboard’s Hot 100 March 17th…and stayed there for six straight weeks until April 27th! Many of us heard it for the first time featured on a Super Bowl commercial where Chevys were being pushed out of airplanes. Catchy song.
The song seems to focus on the recklessness of youth and the bliss that accompanies it. However, as we all know, recklessness and irresponsibility isn’t without its consequences.
The song’s entire set of lyrics can be viewed online, but take a look at how it starts:
Give me a second
I, I need to get my story straight
My friends are in the bathroom
Getting higher than the Empire State
My lover she's waiting for me
Just across the bar
My seats been taken by some sunglasses
Asking 'bout a scar
And I know I gave it to you months ago
I know you're trying to forget
But between the drinks and subtle things
The holes in my apologies
You know I'm trying hard to take it back
So if by the time the bar closes
And you feel like falling down
I'll carry you home
Tonight we are young
So let's set the world on fire
We can burn brighter than the sun
Given that the music video is set in a bar atmosphere, and lead singer Ruess opens with the need to get his story straight, it’s not difficult to see where this is headed. While some think the song may be about sex or even rape, it probably boils down to the singer’s desire to excuse his bad behavior – for instance, getting high, giving a scar, telling lies, etc. – as the result of acting young for one night.
That’s certainly a message that lots of young people can connect with, but blaming bad behavior on youthfulness doesn’t get anybody off the hook…even if it did get fun. to the top of the charts.
Are kids hearing this message?
That’s a good question. As parents, we are often faced with the question, “Dad, can I download this song?” And most parents have heard their kids say, “Dad, I don’t listen to the lyrics!”
Personally, I don’t think my 15-year-old heard much more from this song then, “We are Young.” We talked about the lyrics and their meaning, and she was actually pretty surprised when she thought about what was being said. Parents might want to think about having these conversations with their teenagers about the music they are listening to.
But this hit didn’t stay at #1 forever. When it was finally toppled, it would be by another long-lasting tune.
Somebody That I Used to Know (Goyte featuring Kimbra)
The only thing stranger than his stage name Gotye, pronounced gah tee yay, is his real name: Wouter “Wally” De Backer. This European artist topped the American charts in the summer of 2012…and then set up camp! His reign lasted from April 28 – June 22, and the song’s success was evidenced by the fact that the music video has over 350 million views on YouTube. Billboard named this song the #1 digital download of 2012, barely beating Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe.
But I can’t really say that I know why….
This song is not from a well-known music icon (even though he collaborates with Kimbra from New Zealand). It’s not from a popular genre of music (read hip hop or dance). It’s not equipped with an edgy music video, though it’s certainly a unique one.
My best guess is that its lyrics and message resonate with young people who have been dealt a low blow by “somebody that they use to know” and date. Here, take a look:
Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over
But had me believing it was always something that I'd done
But I don't wanna live that way
Reading into every word you say
You said that you could let it go
And I wouldn't catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know
Once again, we see a similar theme emerging from this song: relationship gone wrong. So far, our list of 2012’s biggest hits is dominated by music that focuses on romance coming to an end.
Isn’t it about time we have a song that focuses on a relationship that’s starting?
Yes it is, so CLICK HERE for the second part of this article for the last half of this year's top music, plus our thoughts on making healthy music choices in the new year.
is the author of over a dozen books including the brand new
More Than Just the Talk
, Sex Matters
The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket
The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Guide for Teenager
, and youth ministry books like
Ministry By Teenagers
, Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation
and the 10-Minute Talks series
. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and
to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers
and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com
. You can follow Jonathan on his blog
a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan and his wife Lori, and their three kids Alec, Alyssa and Ashley live in California.
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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