If — Mayans permitting — we somehow manage to make it through the remaining days of 2012, then survive plummeting off the fiscal cliff that awaits at year’s end, we’re all going to look back on the past 12 months and just laugh.
After all, 2012 gave us the rise of Honey Boo Boo, Clint Eastwood addressing an empty chair at the Republican National Convention and the 88 sublime minutes of bottle-smashing that was “Liz & Dick.” Compared to all that, the end of a b’ak’tun or impending economic ruin don’t really seem all that bad. But here’s the thing about the year that was: No matter how grim things got on the pop-culture front, musically, things couldn’t have been better.
We saw breakout stars — like Fun., Carly Rae Jepsen and Gotye — rise to the top of the singles chart and stay there for extended periods of time (their songs, respectively, combined for 23 consecutive weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100). And though they never made it to the top spot, acts like One Direction, the Wanted and Psy certainly shaped the year that was like few newcomers before them. Established powerhouses like Maroon 5, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift only continued to expand their empires. Every week, it seemed, there was a new song, dance or video that practically begged for our attention. In short, there was no shortage of truly memorable songs released in 2012, to the point where putting together a top 10 was nearly impossible.
Still, we tried our best. MTV put together a brain trust that spanned the company and asked them to submit their choices for their favorite songs of the year. And after some (thoroughly lengthy) debates led by our panel — Rob Markman (MTV News), Sarah Epler (MTV.com) and Rawley Bornstein (MTV Music & Talent) — we managed to whittle that list down to a manageable 10. From South Korean sensations to Canadian upstarts (and with plenty of appearances by British Boy Bands and American rockers), here are our picks for the Songs of 2012. It’s all part of our quest to bring you “The Big & Best of 2012”!
10. “Payphone,” Maroon 5
Singing about a payphone in 2012 is like showing up to freshman Psych 101 lugging a Selectric typewriter instead of an iPad: You could do it, but nobody would know what your deal was. And yet, thanks to Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine’s towering chorus falsetto on the Grammy-nominated tune , a warm marching-band dance thrum, haunting piano line, some unnecessarily urgent cursing and Wiz Khalifa’s “came up from nuthin'” show-stopping verses, it totally worked. “Payphone” spent 19 weeks in the top 10, sold more than 3 million digital copies and made M5 superstars … again. Tap, tap, tap, return. — Gil Kaufman
9. “Glad You Came,” the Wanted
Boy bands aren’t supposed to be this saucy. But the Wanted took a tune about drinking and flirting the night away and made it undeniably charming. And thought it was released in 2011, the fist-pumping ode really didn’t catch fire until this year. But once it did, the single stormed the charts, eventually landing at #1 on Billboard’s Pop Songs list. The U.K. band’s racy track has not only sold millions of copies, it’s also perhaps the best use of innuendo to hit pop radio in a while. Oh, how cheeky those boys are! — Jocelyn Vena
8. “Gangnam Style,” Psy
Before Psy’s late-breaking controversy, his viral hit “Gangnam Style” befuddled Bill O’Reilly , infiltrated the NFL, inspired more parodies than Clint Eastwood at the RNC and, oh, yeah, racked up nearly 1 billion views on YouTube. “Gangnam” is either the track we, as a culture needed right now, or the track we, as a culture, deserved (probably both). But no matter what your take, chances are you did the dance at least once. — James Montgomery
7. “Mercy,” Kanye West (featuring Big Sean, Pusha T and 2 Chainz)
Kanye West is hip-hop’s undisputed mad scientist, trapped in the lab tinkering with sonic frequencies until he comes up with the perfect blend of dirty rap/pop. Yeezy made a Frankenstein of a hit with “Mercy,” drawing inspiration from DJ Screw, dancehall and every rapper’s favorite film, “Scarface.” Not only was the song a club staple, it ruled radio, peaking at #1 on the BillboardRap Songs chart, and snagged two 2013 Grammy nominations. Mercy, mercy me. — Rob Markman
6. “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” Taylor Swift
After building a cottage industry out of high-school fairy tales, the (soon to be) 23-year-old Swift finally graduated with “Never Ever,” a biting break-up track that, while packed with lyrical “like, ever’s,” still manages to arrive at a thoroughly grown-up conclusion: She is better off alone. Story-book endings are for kids, after all … just don’t tell Harry . — J.M.
5. “Starships,” Nicki Minaj
With her frenetic club hit, Nicki simultaneously taught us that “starships were meant to fly” and that critics can’t always see the glow sticks coming their way. The RedOne-produced single drew ire within the hip-hop community for its heavy dance/pop vibe, but the rave-worthy video — shot on a beach in Hawaii — coupled with a catchy hook made this an instant, pump-your-fists smash. Party on y’all. — Nadeska Alexis
4. “What Makes You Beautiful,” One Direction
Much like the guys in 1D, this track comes off sweet and innocent. Oh, yeah, it’s also bananas infectious. Released at the top of the year, the bubbly pop tune served as the perfect introduction to the mop-topped U.K. boy band on the way to going platinum three times over. It’s the kind of tune you stay, yes,
Up All Night to. And by packing their Stateside shows in 2012, fans showed they couldn’t resist a song, from five adorable dudes, about wanting to love us just the way we are. — J.V.
3. “Somebody That I Used to Know,” Gotye (featuring Kimbra)
For us common folk, break-ups are pretty hard, but not for Gotye. The Grammy-nominated Aussie turned his heartache into pure pop gold. We’re not sure who the ice queen was, but thanks to her, we got one of the hottest songs of 2012. “Somebody That I Used to Know” hit #1 in just about every country with a radio frequency, including the U.S. and ’Ye’s native Australia. If you don’t know, now you know. — R.M.
2. “We Are Young,” Fun.
Dubstep has its stomach-rumbling drop, but no one in pop music this year could outdo the thrill six-time Grammy nominees Fun. served up with the musical cliff-dive that is “We Are Young.” The song that took the band to six weeks at #1 and Grammy nomination heaven combines tribal drumming and Nate Ruess’ keening, drunken ramblings with a rousing, half-time chorus that begs to be shouted at house parties by bleary-eyed pals with their arms around each other. It was like the Transformer of pop: its power is overwhelming and it simply could not be stopped. — G.K.
1. “Call Me Maybe,” Carly Rae Jepsen
In a year where pop music was dominated by defiant statements — “We are young,” “We found love,” “We are never ever getting back together” — it’s interesting that the song that defined the past 12 months was one that hinged on a decidedly timid sentiment: “Call me, maybe?” Are we becoming a kinder, gentler nation? Probably not, but with her signature smash, Jepsen proved that we’re still not adverse to the occasional dose of humility, either. Of course, when it comes packaged in pop this shiny and sublime, it’s difficult to ignore. A spoonful of sugar always helps the medicine go down, after all. — Montgomery