Pumped-up hits: Songs we loved until they got played to death
"Man, I used to really love that song until it got played to death!" How many times have you heard somebody say that? It's a legitimate gripe, especially if you work in place where the radio is played day and night. You inevitably suffer hearing the same goddamn songs hundreds of times a day. It's even worse around the holidays. Really, it's a wonder you don't read about more work-related massacres around this time at the hands of poor souls who just couldn't take it anymore.
But the larger context of this quandary, the complaint that a once-beloved song was ruined by the radio, speaks to a larger dynamic of how we absorb pop music: It becomes our identity. Whenever a song or a band goes from relative obscurity to household juggernaut, there will inevitably be a group of people who will lament the act's popularity.
The emotional connection to the song then comes full circle. You go from not being able to hear it enough to booing anybody who dares spin the record. It's not that the song itself has changed -- nothing has been added to or taken away from the recording -- but the context of it has changed. And people take this personally. It becomes part of who they are, whether they like or dislike the song.
Enjoying a song that no one else knows about, for some people, speaks to their individuality and commitment to the music scene. Conversely, the same person will see liking a song that can be easily and repeatedly heard on Top 40 radio as a kind of cultural suicide. It means you have no creativity in your musical taste, that you are the music-fan equivalent of a pair of corduroys on a Kmart clearance rack.
What suffers the most in this debacle is the song itself. The once transcendentally beautiful track that made you turn the volume up the first few times you heard it now becomes a source of scorn and loathing. With that in mind, here are five songs we once loved before they were ruined by being overplayed.
5. "Young Folks," by Peter Bjorn & John
The first single off Writers Block, from the summer of 2006, this song about a lover with a past had a good run of relative obscurity for almost a year. By the following summer, though, the melancholy dance tune was pumped into the ears of listeners several times a day in all directions, from appearing in video games like FIFA 08 and Lips to making the late-night rounds on Conan O'Brien and the Tonight Show, which garnered the band a slot at Coachella.
4. "Fuck You," by Cee Lo Green
When this gospel-infused toe-tapper first appeared in the summer of 2010, it was instantly embraced, but when the infectiously profane ditty was cleaned up for public consumption and presented as "Forget You," pop purists were incensed. And things only got worse when Cee-Lo re-recorded "Fuck You" as 9/11 firefigther tribute "Thank You." Cee Lo was momentarily redeemed when he appeared on the Colbert Report, changing his hit song once again, replacing the offending lyric with "Fox News," and the first verse as a hilarious satire of the cable news giant.
3. "Home," by Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
Without a trace of cynicism, this duet about devotion got stuck in the heads of all who heard it when it arrived in the summer of 2009. Beyond the pulsing beat, the anthemic chorus and the energy of the band's live show, the song's lyrics managed to lay out a story of unrestrained love and commitment while never venturing close to sappiness. The appeal of the song transcended hipster obscurity a few months later, landing the band a slot on Letterman and placement on Ugly Betty and Gossip Girl. "Home" reached a tipping point when a YouTube video of a father/daughter duo performing an acoustic version of the song went viral. Whatever underground credibility was left vanished into the ether last Thursday when said father/daughter performed their disgustingly cute version of the song on Ellen.
2. "Pumped Up Kicks," by Foster the People
"Pumped Up Kicks" is the most recent example of a song going from subterranean cool to Muzak mush. While working as a commercial jingle writer, songwriter Mark Foster wrote and recorded a demo of the song himself, planning to record it again later with his newly formed band. Once the recording was posted to supergoodmusic.com, though, the tune took off and couldn't be stopped. Contrasting the danceable beat and contagious melody, the song portrays a dark world where an outcast teen muses about murder. Feeling the song was pro-violence, MTV censors the words "gun" and "bullet" whenever the song airs, much to the frustration of the songwriter. The erroneous designation as a song about the joys of killing can't be as bad as the actual designation of "Pumped Up Kicks" -- one of those songs most people would rather shove spoons into their eyes than listen to one more fucking time.
1. "Hey Ya," by OutKast
The first single from The Love Below, the funk-punk romper "Hey Ya" was initially seen as just one more gem in an album of strange yet wonderful songs about copulating. But the song quickly grew into a phenomenon, appearing ubiquitously on dance floors, in shopping malls and in Polaroid ad campaigns. (The film company enjoyed the song's referencing their now-defunct product with the line "shake it like a Polaroid picture," but followed up with a warning that shaking a developing picture not only does no good, but can "damage the picture.") After months of being played on Top 40 radio several times an hour, the song eventually reached an over-saturation point where, instead of bringing "baby dolls" onto "the floor," as the song requested, it sent them running in the opposite direction with their hands over their ears.
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