Top 10 Things I Learned from Top 40 Radio in 2014

It’s been many years since I’ve listened to Top 40 radio and while there are moments where I want to jump out of the moving car (the repetition is the worst part of it), it hasn’t been that bad of an experience.

When my daughter was born a decade ago, I did what I imagine most music-snob parents do and tried playing her a lot of music with substance, songs that I hoped would stick with her and, by the time she was 10 or so, make her interested in all kinds of cool music and not just the ear candy of Top 40 radio. After playing The Beatles’ Revolver for her about 500,000 times in her first year of life, I kind of lost my way. I still tried to play her music I liked, but gradually realized that the parental force-feeding of culture is a sure-fire way of sending her in the opposite direction. So I laid off and am letting her come to her musical tastes naturally.

Just as I did when I was around her age now, after a couple of years of Disney Pop (everything from Disney Channel show actors’ music projects to The Muppets soundtracks to, yes, the Frozen soundtrack), she eventually gravitated toward Pop radio. After months of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” I was actually relieved that she now wanted to listen to the local Top 40 channels on our drives to and from school. I give her total control over what we listen to (however, I do retain veto power), so she flips from one channel to the next, and stops on songs she either likes or songs that we like to make fun of together.

It’s been many years since I’ve listened to Top 40 radio and while there are moments where I want to jump out of the moving car (the repetition is the worst part of it), it hasn’t been that bad of an experience. I no longer look at the Billboard singles charts and marvel at how I have never even heard of the majority of the tunes in the Top 10. And, this year at least, I am intimately familiar with most of the artists nominated in the major Grammy categories.

Here are 10 other things I’ve learned in my Top 40 listening experience/experiment:

1. I am a hipster … when it comes to

Taylor Swift

. “Shake It Off” and “Blank Space” are cute and all, but I much prefer her earlier work. 

2. The chorus of

Hozier

’s “Take Me to Church” sounds like a great lost Brian Wilson demo for Pet Sounds. The verse, however, sounds like a weak Sam Smith impersonation. So … half-best song of the year?

3. Top 40 Pop radio

doesn’t play very much Top 40 Pop

(or any music) in the mornings. It’s mostly DJs talking about Pop culture and whacky news items. Minus the words, here’s what it sounds like: “Blah blah blah blah HAHAHAHAHA blah blah blah blah WHOOOOAAAA blah blah blah blah HAHAHAHA (cut to commercial).” Rinse, repeat.

4. The Police

(not law enforcement, but the ’70s/’80s band) are way more influential on modern Pop than given credit.

Maroon 5

bites them so often they should pay Sting royalties.

Nico & Vinz

’s “Am I Wrong” is driven by a guitar part and chord progression that is essentially just the re-wired riff of “Message in a Bottle.” And the band

Magic!

reportedly was formed in an effort to become a “modern-day Police,” even though they come off more like Jack Johnson trying to sound like Sublime.

5. Female Pop stars loved singing about

butts

this year. It’s like they all decided to tailor their music specifically to the tastes of Tina Belcher. 

6. There is very, very little Rock music on Top 40 radio anymore. It has become a novelty in the Pop world. To someone who solely listens to Pop radio,

Paramore

are Rock Gods. 

7. Ed Sheeran

’s “Don’t” sounds exactly like a New Jack Swing song from the ’80s/’90s. A ginger Brit somehow made the “No Diggity” of the new millennium. 

8. There are many things I don’t like about

Iggy Azalea

, but the biggest one (besides her claiming a trademark on “Iggy,” as if Iggy Pop never existed) is that she seems to have three or four elements to every one of her songs that she simply shuffles from one track to the next. Kind of like the old Saturday Night Live skit that made fun of Aerosmith’s mid-’90s ballad sameness (“Amazing,” “Crazy “Crying”), Iggy has seemingly had one long hit this year called “Fancy Black Widow Beg For It.” Just take handclaps, that synth “doink” sound, mediocre rapping, constant name-spelling and similar sounding hook-singers, then shake, stir and serve to the masses. 

9. I really like

Tove Lo

’s “Habits (Stay High).” It’s super-catchy and probably the most subversive Pop song of the year — and I’m pretty sure it’s the first Top 10 track ever to talk about going to sex clubs and eating dinner in a bath tub in the first two lines of the song.

10. Outside of chorus hooks, only about 15 percent of “human cupcake” (as Gawker so brilliantly called her)

Ariana Grande

’s lyrics are decipherable to the human ear. In “Break Free,” I thought she was saying, “I only wanna dye a lie,” for example, but she’s actually singing, “I only wanna die alive,” which somehow makes even less sense.

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