Illustration by Laura Lannes

Bop Shop New Retro Edition: Songs We Love From 2012

Throwback jams from Justin Bieber, Kendrick Lamar, Passion Pit, Kesha, and more

The search for the ever-elusive "bop" is difficult. Playlists and streaming-service recommendations can only do so much. They often leave a lingering question: Are these songs really good, or are they just new?

Enter Bop Shop, a hand-picked selection of songs from the MTV News team. And for New Retro Week, a celebration of the biggest artists, hits, and cultural moments that made 2012 a seminal year in pop, MTV News has looked back to see what lies ahead. We revisited Frank Ocean's Channel Orange breaking new ground, Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" defining a moment, and how Fun's Some Nights kicked off the Jack Antonoff era in pop. We charted the evolution and very different respective cultural dominances of both KCON and Spotify. We marked Rihanna's transition into full-on mogul, Taylor Swift bringing the personal to pop, and One Direction reaching for more control.

Now, for this week's music round-up, we shine the spotlight back on our favorite songs from 2012. Get ready: The New Retro Week Bop Shop is open for business.

  • Kendrick Lamar: "Backseat Freestyle"

    "Alright" became the anthem. "DNA" and "Humble" defined a seminal chapter in Kendrick Lamar's career. Meanwhile, on 2012's breakout success Good Kid, mA.A.d City, "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe" and "Swimming Pools (Drank)" could be considered the hits. But few K.Dot songs remain as immediate and bracing as "Backseat Freestyle," a perfect (re)introduction to the artist of his generation. Everything Hit-Boy does with that rattling beat provides the ideal foundation for Kendrick's declarations as a young man from Compton — assertions that Kendrick, the artist, had long grown out of, even as he revels in them as the narrator of this story. It wouldn't sound as great if he didn't. —Patrick Hosken

  • Kesha: “Die Young”

    There’s an uncertain pop history that overlooks just how utterly dominant was the early ‘10s reign of Kesha Sebert, who was only 22 when her first single “Tik Tok” became a Billboard No. 1. Her booze-soaked, electropop-drenched anthems championing the freedom of being sloppy and hot was no fluke: Her first seven singles across three electrifying albums were all Billboard Top 10s, altogether certified 30x platinum. “Die Young” was the last of that run, and one that didn’t dare break a winning formula: gleeful chanting, massive, thumping rushes of synth and bass, raunchy one-liners (“That magic in your pants, it’s makin’ me blush!”), and a screaming promise to party like this night could be the last. —Terron Moore

  • Katy Perry: “Wide Awake”

    All Teenage Dreams must come to an end — and if “Wide Awake” is any indication, Katy Perry learned that the hard way. Released in 2012 on the deluxe edition of the pop star’s smash-hit sophomore album, this poignant ballad sees Perry trade her saccharine pop sound and whimsical aesthetic for a darker, more pensive vibe. “Thunder rumbling / Castles crumbling / I am trying to move on,” Perry belts on the bridge. But in those ruins, she finds clarity: “Yeah, I am born again / Out of the lion’s den / I don’t have to pretend / The story’s over now, the end.” I still get chills a decade later. —Sam Manzella

  • Japandroids: "The Nights of Wine and Roses"

    In the decade since 2012's Celebration Rock became an instant all-timer in the canon of soul-blazing guitar music, Japandroids have become shorthand for a kind of "dudes rock" mentality. It's easy to see why. The album opens with literal fireworks, and one song is all about waking up your bud in the middle of the night to go rage (and your bud enthusiastically agreeing). But its larger resonance is found in the broad panorama of all the best arena rock: telling 'em all to go to hell and simply yelling like hell to the heavens. The loud grandeur of "The Nights of Wine and Roses," as an entry point to this mindset, is perfect — not just dudes, but for everybody. —Patrick Hosken

  • B.o.B featuring Taylor Swift: “Both of Us”

    The formula for a chart-topping rap song in the 2010s was simple: a female pop star singing a short-but-sweet chorus and some heavy-hitting bars. While “Both of Us,” B.o.B’s collaboration with Taylor Swift, didn’t achieve quite the same success as 2010’s “Airplanes,” it found both artists embracing their pop-star power in ways they hadn’t before. “I wish I was strong enough / To lift not one, but both of us,” Swift dreamily croons in the refrain, before B.o.B launches into an uplifting examination of class, society, and what really matters. The collab — which arrived months before Taylor burst her country bubble with “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” — came as a bit of a shock to listeners who would’ve never imagined the two joining forces, but with its sticky chorus, plucky instrumental, and motivational message, it’s become an oft-forgotten gem in both artists’ discographies. —Carson Mlnarik

  • Gossip: “Move in the Right Direction”

    Fact: Time travel does exist. If you don’t believe me, just hit play on Gossip’s “Move in the Right Direction” and watch yourself be instantly transported back to a dark East Village bar (or whatever local watering hole you frequented a decade ago). The energetic beat mixed with Beth Ditto’s powerful vocals feels like a shot of espresso, forcing you to move your feet as you dance your cares away. 2012 was a much more innocent time, but with lyrics like “I’m doing fine / One step closer, every day at a time / I won’t lose my mind,” the Gossip proved their dirty dance-floor fillers are timeless.—Chris Rudolph

  • Passion Pit: “Carried Away”

    Indietronica outfit Passion Pit’s sophomore album Gossamer could not have arrived at a better time. As aesthetic-driven Tumblr blogs were on the rise and the term “hipster” had entered mainstream, their euphoric and synthy stylings were inescapable on alt-radio playlists and Urban Outfitters dressing rooms alike. 2012 was a pivotal year for the group, marking the release of their first-ever Top 5 album, an appearance on Saturday Night Live, and the massive success of “Take a Walk,” which would go on to soundtrack a Taco Bell commercial, much to their indie-kid fans’ dismay. However, my personal favorite was always “Carried Away,” in which lead singer Michael Angelakos weaves an exceptionally danceable dissection of how his bipolar disorder affects his relationships. “I’m sorry, sorry about that / Sorry about things that I’ve said / Always let it get to my head,” he sings as if it’s a cheer. Self deprecation never sounded — or felt — so jubilant. —Carson Mlnarik

  • Marina and the Diamonds: “How to Be a Heartbreaker”

    “Rule No. 1 / Is that you gotta have fun / But baby when you’re done / You gotta be the first to run.” A decade ago, Marina succinctly outlined for us a step-by-step fuckboy guide under the guise of an electropop banger. Steps two through four echo the creed of toxic traits to practice, ensuring you don’t get hurt. “How to be a Heartbreaker” is guaranteed to help you have a good time, but don’t expect any love to come if you follow her advice. File this certified bop under “songs to play while single and not giving a fuck.” —Daniel Head

  • Justin Bieber: "Beauty and a Beat" (ft. Nicki Minaj)

    As pure historical document, Justin Bieber's "Beauty and a Beat" is fascinating. Not only is it still a whole lot of fun to listen to, but with the benefit of 10 years since, the song seems to exist at a crossroads of the major maximalist pop conventions of the day. Slick, springy verses in the vein of Phoenix's "1901"; an undulating pre-chorus that piles on the synths; a plunging drop courtesy of Zedd that materializes out of nowhere; a dizzying feature from none other than Nicki Minaj. The result is greater than the sum of its parts: intoxicatingly whooshing, punctuated by warbling EDM sonics, and as early 2010s as a neon tank top. It also sounds little like Bieber's current output, a great marker of artistic growth. Bieber, Minaj, Zedd, Max Martin, and Savan Kotecha — talk about a pop dream team.