Saturday, January 31, 2009

It's my time tonight, it's my time, it's my time, my moment, I'm not gonna let go of it, my time, it's my time, and I'll stand proud

Yes! Well done, Finland.

I've endorsed "Lose Control" by Waldo's People before, and have been strongly behind this whole comeback of theirs since the first time I heard "Back Again"--it's as if they've taken my favorite of their old songs, "1000 Ways," as the jumping off point for their new and even poppier material. If Alcazar were Eurodance with guitar riffs, "1000 Ways" is what I always thought they'd sound like, and the reincarnated Waldo's People is living up to that. "Lose Control" is great dance-pop, like the '90's style but with the production values of today.

It wasn't Finland's national final I chose to watch, though (well, I couldn't--the video web stream only worked for people in Finland)--that was Denmark's final, which was generally a pretty enjoyable show. When did Denmark's final become such a...disco? The winning song, Brinck's "Believe Again," was co-written by Ronan Keating and sounds like it, but the number of up-tempo schlager, '80's pop, and electronic pop songs was so refreshing. Most of the talk will be about Hera Björk's "Someday," a classy schlager song well-written by some true Eurovision fans and well sung by Hera; it came close to winning, making it through all the various rounds until the final one, where "Believe Again" forced it into second place. If I'm being picky, the ballad opening of the song lasts a bit long for my personal taste, but it's a real shame "Someday" didn't win--a great schlager song like that would've been very welcome at Eurovision, at least for me. Still, second is a great achievement, something she and the writers should be proud of. Watch out for the "sorrow! There has been sorrow!" bit and the key change, complete with (of course!) pyrotechnics. If you're a schlager lover, just try not to go into meltdown.

I wonder if I'm alone, though, in feeling that girl group Sukkerchok's song "Det' Det" impressed me a lot more live than I was expecting it to. In its studio version, a lot of its light '80's melodic loveliness is lost, but on stage the song came alive musically in a way I never expected it to (I think the guitars must have been further back in the live mix, allowing the synths and vocal melody to stand out more, but that's not the only reason). It starts off like it's going to be "Hot N Cold" part two, but then completely changes up for the chorus. I was glad to see them make it through to the second stage of the competition (where they faced off against "Someday" and lost)--it was one of those experiences where you can feel yourself falling in total love with the song and the group as they go, and even the ill-advised hip-hop styling of one member couldn't stop that.

Trine Jepsen's schlager "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" was great, too, but something about the staging felt underwhelming. The song will still get play from me, though. In fact, for almost all of the Danish songs, there was something positive I felt I took away from the experience.

I chose to watch the Denmark final over Norway's second semifinal, so I still haven't caught up on that yet (I would have if the stream over at NRK wasn't mysteriously missing audio when I try to play the archived show).

Romania chose a harmless catchy danceable pop track, Elena Gheorge's "Balkan Girls," as its entry. There's not much more to say about it at this point in time--it could be disposable with time or its catchiness could give it a bit more enduring power (right now I'm definitely leaning towards the former). I've never thought of Romania as part of the Balkans, though.

Meanwhile, while three countries were choosing tracks that at least have some redeeming value to them, the UK was presented with this...

...with "this" being Andrew Lloyd Webber and Diane Warren making what sounds like the worst Idol winner's song ever. Granted, Eurovision songs aren't known for lyrical complexity and love some repetition, but put that (lack of) melody and those words together and the first half of that chorus is just intolerable. You all can keep Jade, that's fine, but is it really too late to swap out the song?

Friday, January 30, 2009

My heart is achin' and I can't breathe, my soul's breakin', minus 31 degrees

This post is a fragment of something that's been sitting as a draft for nearly two months. Don't let that be an indication of this song losing its impact quickly, though--if anything, it's only become more powerful for me with time.

"Froze" is the latest Chris Brown demo to leak, and it's an excellent one. A ballad, synth-created icy sadness is its aura, with Chris singing about a broken heart. Almost epic and with a chorus I adore in every aspect--its lyrics, the half-processed and half-giant (aided by some layering) sound of Chris's vocals, the whispered backing vocals underneath, the simple melody of Chris's vocal melody (especially the whole "my heart is achin'" section) and the melody of those backing vocals--and a bridge that's fantastic as well. The subdued guitar and the harp-like ripples are just what the song needed to finish it off. If you could float in the middle of an ice cave, this song is what that experience would sound like. If it was ever a single, I'm picturing something like Usher's "Moving Mountains" or the reverse of Grégory Lemarchal's "Le feur sur les planches" for the video...or maybe a reversed version of Ferry Corsten's "Fire," only with, um, no woman in a bikini. Do it right and you could get something that sticks with you as much as the end of Najoua Belyzel's video for "Gabriel." Of course, if "Moving Mountains" wasn't a successful single, I don't know that "Froze" ever will be, but I'm completely captivated by it at the moment.

There's nowhere you can purchase "Froze" yet, but you can buy Chris's latest album, Exclusive: The Forever Edition, here (physical) or here (digital).

Next up: maybe something about Eurovision national finals.

Money just can't buy you love

Vitally important information: the new Måns Zelmerlöw album comes out on March 25.

(Information credit to QX, which has some other interesting information about participants and albums; photo (c) Peter Knutson, also in QX.)

He's the main writer for the songs, worked with Fredrik Kempe and Eshraque "Ishi" Mughal (who's worked with Swedish rappers Lazee and Petter), and describes the sound as kind of like schlager-R&B, big choruses with a good beat.

Don't panic at the R&B part, everyone. It'll probably all be fine. I mean, even if rap's not your thing, just listen to the beats behind the songs Lazee's written or produced; some sharp crisp electro-R&B like that would absolutely be an interesting thing for Måns to be playing with. It's not Ishi's first working with a pop artist either--he did Darin's "Everything I'm Not."

Måns mentioned earlier on that he'd done another track with Kempe he considered submitting to Melodifestivalen, a giant ballad with a French march beat, so I expect that's on the album, too.

He's already done a photoshoot for the album and single, though I don't know whether it's guaranteed that shots from it will be used for both or either or in what capacity. It involved him in various sorts of semi-formal (button up shirt, button up shirt with tie) to formal (tuxedo) dress and lots of smoke (the photo in this post, though, is, as I said, from QX).

As with the past two years, I'm planning on doing a preview/run-down of each week's semifinal the Sunday beforehand, so that'll be starting...this Sunday! Wow, can it really be almost here already?

Speaking of releases, the cover art for a couple of the singles is out now--I've only seen BWO and Rigo's, but there may be more.

What do you wear when you need to impress?

The West End Girls' version of "A Little Black Dress" can be streamed here (if a song doesn't start to play, click the green button).

Proper post in a little bit!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

So we'll be grownups for a minute and admit that we're just not in it

One more "rising artist I was introduced to by another writer" post, and once again, one I've mentioned in brief before: Pixie, a young British singer who I first heard about when Trixie of posted about her. Her launch is still being prepared for this year, but in the meantime, we've got several songs on her MySpace to entertain us.

"The Fall" is my slight favorite of the group and evidence that in Pixie we may have a new source of quintessential British pop...even if it does take Danes behind the scenes. Written by Jonas Jeberg, Mich "Cutfather" Hansen, Ruth-Anne Cunningham, and Pixie, it's playful pure pop--and by that I don't mean '90's sounding pop, electro-pop, '60's styled pop, or anything other than just pop--that skips along, cute as can be, while Pixie sings some pretty good lyrics about the end of a relationship. I've been humming "turn it up, turn it up for the people that say/we're movin' on and we'll be OK" since first hearing it.

"Boys And Girls" and "Mama Do" have a little bit more of that '60's influence, but it's been diluted; even if it hadn't been, though, Pixie's clear voice, even when she tries to deepen and fuzz it up here, gives the songs a decidedly more contemporary pop flavor. "Boys And Girls" is another catchy mid-to-up-tempo song, while "Mama Do," written by Phil Thornally and Mads Hauge, goes for a more dramatic mid-tempo approach, full of elongated words and "oh oh oh"s, and is the song where that '60's style is most played up; if Pixie's other songs are a bit too youthful for you, "Mama Do" is still one to check out--it's the one you can most imagine one of the female neo-'60's soul British singers performing and requires her to do smoky sass rather than pep.

All in all, they add up to a mainstream friendly sound, one which, with luck, the label backing that's apparently there, and the songs from the great songwriters she's working with* will see Pixie doing well for herself before the year is out. Hopefully the album is the great solid pop album it could be.

*Some of these songwriters are (though obviously not all of them will end up on the album):
-The Underdogs (Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown's "No Air," Stacie Orrico's "More To Life")
-Tim James and Antonina Armato (Hoku's "Another Dumbe Blonde," Aly & AJ's "Potential Breakup Song," Miley Cyrus's "See You Again" and "Fly On The Wall")
-Cutfather and Jonas Jeberg (where to begin? Separately or together, The Saturdays' "If This Is Love," Jordin Sparks's "One Step At A Time," Christine Milton's "Superstar," and many more)
-Brian Kennedy (Chris Brown's "Forever," Rihanna's "Disturbia," Jennifer Hudson's "If This Isn't Love," Jesse McCartney's "It's Over")
-Greg Kurstin (Lily Allen's new album, Kylie Minogue's "Wow," All Saints' "Rock Steady," Britney Spears's "Rock Me In," Sophie Ellis-Bextor's "Catch You")
-RedOne (Darin's "Step Up," Lady GaGa's "Just Dance," and--well, you all know him by now)
-Steve Kipner (Christina Aguilera's "Genie In A Bottle," 98 Degrees' "The Hardest Thing," The Script's "The Man Who Can't Be Moved" and "Breakeven," and, umm, Natasha Bedingfield's "I Wanna Have Your Babies")
-Toby Gad (Fergie's "Big Girls Don't Cry" and Beyoncé's "If I Were A Boy" [ugh], but much better includes Sita's "Happy" and the Veronicas' "Untouched")
-Arnthor Birgisson (I think--Pixie referred to an "Anthor" once and my guess is she meant Arnthor Birgisson, another "where to begin?" writer; Samantha Mumba's "Gotta Tell You," Shayne Ward's "If That's OK With You," Jennifer Lopez's "Play")
-Evan "Kidd" Bogart (Rihanna's "S.O.S.",Heidi Montag's "Body Language," Blake Lewis's "Surrender," Brandy's "Right Here (Departed), Sean Kingston's "Take You There")
-Karen Poole (and another "where to begin?"; Jamelia's "Beware Of The Dog," Kylie's "Wow," Will Young's "Switch It On" and "Let It Go," Groove Armada's "Song 4 Mutya (Out Of Control)")
-Stuart Chrichton and Tommy Lee (Jamelia's "Beware Of The Dog," D-Side's "Pushin' Me Out" [just Chrichton], DJ Ella's "Shine Like A Superstar," Delta's "In This Life")
-Kara DioGuardi (too much to mention--Hilary Duff's "Come Clean," Kylie's "Spinning Around," Kelly Clarkson's "Walk Away," Paris Hilton's "Screwed," Enrique Iglesias's "Escape" and "Don't Turn Off The Lights," loads of Ashlee Simpson songs are just a few)
-Phil Thornally and Mads Hauge (done-by-many-people-but-eventually Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn")
-Teddy Riley (of New Jack Swing and Blackstreet fame)

It's no exaggeration to say that's an impressive line-up; she's obviously a big project and priority for her label.

There's nowhere to buy Pixie's songs yet, but you can visit her MySpace here.

Next up: that German song, maybe, or a British b-side that's a few years old.

Monday, January 26, 2009

This Gameboy's off to a level higher

I know Swedish singer and former member of Play Rosanna's had some buzz around her already--in fact, it was Don't Stop The Pop writing about her new material that introduced me to it--but I can't help taking the opportunity to shine the spotlight on her as well. As I mentioned a little while back, I'm probably going to end up writing about her work with Kocky, too, but in the meantime, let's focus on her own material. Rosanna may have grown up from her time in Play, but she still has a partly girlish voice. That's not a bad thing, though; it brings a playfulness to her music. Put that voice over some really well done poppy electronic backings, and you've got a great recipe. Use that recipe to make a whole album and...well, you'd have a pretty welcome solo debut on the music scene.

Gameboy is (as of right now) my favorite of her solo material, but that may be just because it's the poppiest of the songs we've heard so far from her. With all the cute beats bubbling up out of that musical backing, you might expect the lyrics to be just as lighthearted, and in a way, they are, as the title gives away; on the other hand, the device of the title is just the center of the song's key double simile, with Rosanna explaining to some poor girl, "He played you like a Gameboy, like a Gameboy/Couldn't find a better toy" and "He got what he wanted/Don't need no more." It never completely loses its sense of musical fun, though, even if the main verse-chorus structure is set aside less than three minutes into the song for a fade out with Rosanna quietly speak-singing lyrics that take a turn for the darker.

"Gameboy" isn't yet commercially available nor is there news of any sort of commercial solo release for Rosanna, but you can visit her MySpace here and buy her work on Kocky's latest album, Stadium Status, here (physical), here (digital), or internationally on iTunes here.

Next up: that male songwriter or a German female singer whose new song I've already mentioned on here.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

You think our time apart is the problem, and I like you when you're not around

(Please do not post this song link elsewhere.)

A BIG thank you to every one who stuck around through my year end countdown. As a gift of gratitude, I'd like to offer up a brand new song straight out of the von der Burg studios. "Get It Out" is the debut single of the former Swedish Idol contestant Gathania who caught our ears with "Blackout" late last year (which isn't yet released). I quibbled with Alex last year when he asked why September-like songs were being given to artists other than September, who hasn't released brand new material since 2007 (which isn't that long ago, it's September, so I'm always wanting new material from her), mainly because Elin Lanto's "Discotheque" isn't from the people who always do September's music and she doesn't have the same management team as Petra, but "Get It Out" is from those same writers...and boy, is it September-like (second album September, I'd say). It doesn't have Petra's lovely voice on it, but given its music, it's easy to imagine her singing it.

Still, I guess if Petra is understandably distracted with promoting the reworked version of "Can't Get Over" in the UK (she's just filmed a music video for it), we wouldn't be getting new music from her for a little while, so another artist under the von der Burg wing--especially since Danny has moved on (you can imagine his voice on this, too, come to think of it)--is something I'll welcome; I've yet to feel like their output is suffering by spreading it around to some different artists. It's certainly not suffering on "Get It Out," which is, to be honest, fantastic and, at least a few listens in, addictive. Effortlessly catchy dance-pop but with that sophisticated Von der Burg edge--there's something almost haunting about the riff of the chorus and the song even flirts with the piano house style--it makes for what's got to be one of the year's best debut singles. When I heard that "Blackout" wasn't actually her first single, I was a little bit confused, but hearing "Get It Out," I think it makes perfect sense.

(Brief lyrical aside: in a song about finally arguing and both partners finally saying what's on their minds, "just let me fill your heart up with sorrow/'cause it's better than a rotten lie" is stuck in my mind.)

To buy "Get It Out," go here (physical); you should be able to buy it digitally within a few days here.

In other news, did anyone else not realize until now that apparently the West End Girls have a new single titled "A Little Black Dress" (which I think is a Pet Shop Boys track technically not released but available "out there" and done for that musical thing? Feel free to correct me or provide more information) coming out February 11?

Next up: more Swedish pop, either from another young woman or from a male songwriter.

#1 Metro Station, "Shake It"

Shake shake
Shake shake
uh-Shake it

I'm pretty sure I remember reading somewhere that Metro Station came up with the chorus for "Shake It," got all excited, showed it to their label, and then were told, "Well, but you still need to write verses, too." One of the many great things about this faux-emo pop-rock-goes-electro single is that you can absolutely hear that, hear that this song was originally nothing more than a chorus, and yet the verses still manage to be more than filler. Of course, it's tough to come off as anything ther than filler when you're surrounded by that chorus, but the verses and bridge do admirably. Even more remarkable is that they manage to be so enjoyable while using every page in the pop-punk lyrical playbook. Quick, with the feeling of constantly pushing forwards towards something, they keep their hooks in a plentiful but repressed supply, never fully giving in to the temptation to let loose...

...until the song hits the chorus. Party anthem perfection of the undeniable sort, "Shake It" is the sort of song everyone knows they're not supposed to like, but ever time it comes on, the girls giggle and lean towards each other to confess how much they really love it and the guys put out their sternest faces so no sign of how much they actually like the song slips out. No other song this year was able to induce such instant exhilaration in me--even just thinking about the catchy chorus was enough to make me want to jump up and start jumping around, hands in the air, to the beat perfectly timed for doing just that. Neither was there any other single this year that I was always willing to play without hesitation, a fact even harder to believe because I've loved "Shake It" since its October 2007 appearance as an iTunes free download. None of its sheen has worn off for me and nothing--not the wannabe hipster but actually incredibly awkward styling of the group, not the "are they trying to be British?!" "accent" the lead singer puts on, not the fact that the group will probably never again produce anything even remotely approaching "Shake It"'s level of brilliance--can take away from the fact that Metro Station, having presumably sold their souls to the devil for the fun and catchiness embedded in "Shake It," managed to capture pop euphoria in a song.

As a matter of house-keeping, while we're on the subject of Metro Station, I'd also like to dig out an old draft of a post about Swedish pop-punk outfit Kid Down's 2008 single "I'll Do (It For You)"--which, as you'll see, I'm not recommending, but I had something to say about.

There are some really really awful lyrics in the verses and song-wise I don't think any element of it comes even close in quality to the chorus. In fact, the song never sounds more promising or more exciting than it does for the first 28 seconds. During the vocodered first fifteen seconds, in fact, you can even imagine Hellogoodbye or some dance project making the song. Those fifteen seconds easily transition into almost fifteen seconds of catchy upbeat pop-rock, more than good enough to get you thinking, "wow, maybe they actually are going to make a fantastic song!" Unfortunately, the first verse is OK but a little bit of a let down and the bits between choruses get progressively worse from there.

In practice, the song ends up playing out like a combination of Hellogoodbye and pre-'80's makeover Good Charlotte, but the pop-punk too often veers into the obnoxious end of pop-punk for me to endorse "I'll Do (It For You)." I'm therefore issuing a request: can someone please rescue those brilliant first 28 seconds (and subsequent choruses) from the rest of this song and use them to make something great? How about giving them to Metro Station and having them come up with some new verse melodies and lyrics? Or maybe even just new lyrics? Are Hellogoodbye looking for a new song opening? Or maybe there's some pop-rock group out there who'd sell the song better with their vocals.

Find it on: Metro Station

#2 Chris Brown, "Forever"

All you gotta do is watch me
Look what I can do with my feet

You know those annoying people who are always shouting "OH MY GOSH this is my song!" and then turn up the radio volume/knock everyone over on the way to the dance floor/bob along while shopping (chose as applicable) every time that song comes on?

Yeah, that's me with "Forever." I think everyone who knows me is sick of it, but I can't help myself--"Forever" is Chris Brown actually living up to his proper popstar potential, channeling the "aww, bless" reaction towards him that he had formerly used for mushy ballads into synth-coated pop music...and what a match it is. I don't know that I can say much more about him or it than I did back in April, so let me leave it here: "Forever" is perfect. The video, too.

Find it on: Exclusive: The Forever Edition

#3 Westlife, "Something Right"

I got nothing left to prove
And it's all because of you

(Yes, it got radio airplay in some countries in 2007 and I loved it then, but with no proper promotion of it, I decided not to count it as a single; in 2008, with a music video--which I'm choosing not to embed because it includes the inferior single mix--and single cover art released for it [and some consultation], it counts as an actual "single" according to my definition.)

Early into my time in Sweden, I found myself stuck on a bus miles and miles away from a very important place I was supposed to be at with absolutely no chance of making it there by the time I was supposed to. I was, to say the least, a bundle of nerves struggling to keep down the slowly rising panic.

I'd been in Sweden long enough at this point that, though the joy of hearing Swedish radio stations in the real world and not through headphones plugged into a computer was still present, it was no longer a novelty. Stuck in the middle of nowhere-near-where-I-was-supposed-to-be, I was barely even conscious of the fact that, as always, the bus had the radio playing, probably tuned to Rix FM or something like that.

Three minutes later, my heart had slowed to a normal level, a smile had crossed my face, and I was no longer clenching the handrail quite so tightly. I hadn't forgotten everything that had gone wrong, but it no longer seemed like such a big deal.

That's the power of "Something Right." This past year, I could count on no other song to make me feel like, even if everything wasn't right in the world, everything was survivable. As someone living in a country where Westlife have never made it big, I've always been free to cherrypick the good songs of theirs and avoid the ones I don't like, so consequently it's probably been easier for me to have a gently positive attitude towards their existence; if they've only averaged one song I return to over the past three albums, that's fine with me--no one else would have given me those three songs. "Something Right," a Swedish creation, is a mid-tempo boy band pop song, not edgy by any definition, and with a light percussion beat and piano part behind its perfect uplifting pop melody (avoid the single mix which strengthens the drums, though), but that in no way gets across the simple magic of this song. A better classic boy band sound from the past five years you'd be hard pressed to find.

Find it on: Back Home

#4 Namie Amuro, "What A Feeling"

Hitokage no nai ofisugai mayonaka
Birudingu no mado garasu miraa ni shite

Can you have a controlled rave? That's what Japanese singer Namie Amuro's dance-pop reworking of the famous Flashdance song feels like. For those of us with no understanding of Japanese, the vocal part becomes just another element of the synth-washed backing track, interweaving its way in and out of the alternately spiky and euphoric synths as if it's only of slightly higher priority than its instrumental (though maybe the English words scattered throughout act as tent poles or signposts to keep our attention from wandering). That doesn't stop it or the song as a whole from being appealingly catchy, though--if anything, it only makes this celebration of dance with a little edge to it even more capable of sweeping you up in its rhythms. Dancing to "What A Feeling" has never been this fun, especially during the middle 8 and when you've got a video as fantastic as the one for this song to inspire you.

Find it on: Best Fiction

#5 The Script, "Breakeven"

What am I supposed to do
When the best part of me was always you?
And what am I supposed to say
When I'm all choked up but you're OK?

American radio, are you listening? OK, here goes: I need "Breakeven" to be the next "She Will Be Loved." It could do it, it really could--how could Americans resist singing along with this Irish-penned song, one of those ballads with a gorgeous soaring melody but enough oomph behind the rest of it (especially in that percussion part) to make it mid-tempo and give it the punch it needs to keep your attention before you have time to fall in love with the lyrics (and there are more than enough lyrics to fall in love with in "Breakeven")--but you're going to have to start it; if people don't hear this song, they're never going to get the chance to fall in love with it.

Find it on: The Script

#6 Darin feat. Kat DeLuna, "Breathing Your Love"

I wanna spend
My nights
And days
Between your arms
Every day breathing your love

"Breathing Your Love" is, heaven help me, sexy. It's a term I usually avoid applying to songs at all costs, try to work around and explain their appeal in any other way possible--maybe a result of defensiveness from years of "you're a girl, you only like something because X singer is hot, your music taste isn't valid" from just about all corners of the world--but oh my gosh, it is. You don't necessarily have to be hot to make a sexy song, so more important than anything Swedish singer Darin might look like or even who he is is the fact that when the RedOne-created dancefloor-friendly synth beats here wrap around me I never want them to let me go, that Darin's gasped out "baby, breathing your love, love, love" at the end is almost intolerable in the best possible way, that his voice and delivery still makes for one of the best pop voices going, that the melody had me caught up like an addict, that just listening to it is enough to change the way I walk. That the song's writers (which includes Darin) have gone out of their way to allow Darin opportunities to do his über-recognizable pronounciation of "ooo" even induces a grin, even if it's more one of laughter than anything else.

If Usher's going to be off messing around with the ballad side of maturity and Chris Brown is mining the rich field of gentle adorable Europop beats, we need to go somewhere for our urban pop made for the clubs, with that pounding bite and that bit of sexy to it; I love cute pop songs and love pop songs that are dedications to the disco, but I can't live on them alone. Thank goodness that Darin, amazing popstar that he is, is there for us again.

Find it on: Flashback

Saturday, January 24, 2009

If I see a light flashing

Before finishing up with the top six songs of this countdown, I have to take a moment to talk about two songs.

First, Najoua Belyzel's "Au féminin." You may know Najoua from her brilliant 2006 singles like "Gabriel" and "Je ferme les yeux," '80's-inspired French electronic pop that made all those who heard it stop in their tracks and pay attention. She released a new single in 2007, but it didn't leave that much of an impression in France or on listeners. She's now back again with the proper lead single for her upcoming album...and I have to say, it's not quite what I was hoping for from her. It's as if the strength and power has gone out of Najoua's songs--everything's just been dialed back some. "Au féminin" is OK, but not instantly attention-grabbing. Still, I'm going to hope the new album has something I love more on it, since Najoua's first album had songs that made me so excited about her as an artist.

When Calvin Harris's new single, "I'm Not Alone," hit the Internet yesterday and got a positive response, I wanted to love it, wanted to be inspired to go running about raving about it to everyone, but didn't. Despite not feeling any attachment to "Acceptable in the '80's," never listening to his debut album, and thinking Kylie's "In My Arms" is overrated, I've found myself pretty pro-Calvin Harris for some reason (I do love "The Girls," but that surely can't be enough to explain it). Today, though, I've returned to it more and more. Maybe it's just a function of craving listening to new music as I near the end of this music writing version of NaNoWriMo, but its "euphoric," "Grandaddy, Snow Patrol, and Faithless" (to quote the man himself) sound--basically that '90's rave sound with Snow Patrol style vocals performed by an unrecognizable Calvin--is sinking in with me now and may be clicking in a big way.

There are other songs I'm eager to write about, but I'll leave those--and maybe more thoughts on these two--for the end of the countdown.

#7 Rolf Junior feat. Anne Veski, "Liiga Noor"

Nii palju on asju millest sa veel ei tea

"Liiga Noor" is probably the living incarnation of a "stomper." I can't tell you the number of times I've turned the volume up just about as high as it can go and, hands over my head, jumped along to this song in my room. I'm still suspicious that it might be a cover (and if anyone knows that it is, please let me know!), but otherwise, why on Earth was this not submitted for Eurovision? With that heavy beat underneath it, it's far more insistent and catchier than a not-even-the-first-single from an unsuccessful Eurolaul contestant's album has the right to be. I can't talk up this song enough--I mean, dance-pop with a deep heavy but still bouncy edge to it that features Rolf and the much older diva Anne trading off vocals and a chorus whose key line is Anne singing "You are too young"? What more could you ask for from a song? I would literally pay money to see a music video for it. As is, I'll just have to settle for listening without visual accompaniment to this song that is approximately 5,000,000 times AMAZING.

You do really need to hear it in proper high quality to appreciate it fully, though. Oh, and as before, the translation of the lyrics can be read here.

"Ingel"/"Angel Eyes," another single from this album, is also pretty great.

Find it on: Ingel

#8 Lady GaGa, "Poker Face"

Russian roulette is not the same without a gun
And baby when it's love if it's not rough it isn't fun

"Poker Face" has many things in it that could make my attitude toward elements of Lady GaGa songs seem inconsistent. How can I criticize the middle 8 of "Just Dance" for losing all sense of melody and then rank higher a song with verses like this? How can I hate the way "let's have some fun, this beat is sick/I wanna take a ride on your disco stick" of "Lovegame" comes across and then love the lines quoted above and a song that is, as a whole, completely full of innuendo, some clever and some not? It makes sense in my head, but I don't know that I can convincingly sell you all on what the differences are (for the record but briefly, on the first subject "Poker Face"'s verses aren't just whirring sounds and on the second subject the sound of the words is completely different and that line ends up coming across less childish than those opening lines of "Lovegame"). Maybe it helps that the backing track is just better, and everything around it benefits from that.

To engage in a not purposefully but nevertheless probably too obscure analogy, "Poker Face" is the "Brother Oh Brother" to "Just Dance"'s "Cara Mia": bearing a lot of resemblances to its more party-friendly older brother, enough to garner accusations of basically being the same song, but with a few key musical alterations that give the song an emotionally crushing edge. While "Brother Oh Brother" takes the point of view of an injured man warning another of the dangers of getting involved with a heartbreaking girl who'll take advantage of him, "Poker Face" is sung from the perspective of a woman who could quite easily be the one in "Brother Oh Brother." Still, even as Lady GaGa talks of her ability to hide what she's really thinking and feeling from some man to get at his money, even as she vamps her way through a braggadocio-filled middle 8, I can't help feeling like there's something in her tone in the chorus and in the song's slightly darker-than-usual synth backing that gives the song that extra layer, giving a sad edge to all Lady GaGa's boasts of her maneating American and man-focused equivalent to the "And if I stop, I'm sickened, it really gets me down/So I step back into the city lights, the queen of London Town" sentiment of "Swinging London Town." As much as she has so much success in manipulating men with flirtation, sex, and fake love, the narrator's not really as in control and invulnerable as she presents herself in the song, and she knows it. After all, even in Russian roulette, there's an equal chance of either participant getting hurt. In amongst all the sleaze, hedonism, and dance-pop catchiness that is Lady GaGa, there's still time for complexity and emotion--and, contrary to what I bet the lady herself thinks, it's best done not on the piano-led ballads of The Fame but on songs like "Poker Face."

Find it on: The Fame

#9 Darren Hayes, "Casey"

If you take me away
All the pain will change into a memory
Of when we were amazing

There are so many things I could praise about this song. I could rave about the gorgeous synth backing. I could (try to) wax eloquent about the emotion in it. I could focus on the strings that bring a touch of class and poignancy to a song that already has both of those traits but can only be enhanced by the fleshing out of its musical skeleton with the use of that section of the orchestra that makes any pop song better. I could talk about the melody, the lyrics. What best sums up my relationship with this song, though, is the fact that every time--without fail--"Casey" reaches a certain point about two-thirds into the song and begins to wind down, I always think it's about to end and wish that wasn't going to happen...and then it doesn't, slowly unfolding itself and instead cycling back for another minute of music that, if anything, is even better than the minutes that preceded it. That a year and a half after it debuted "Casey" still enchants me so much that I never want it to end, still captures me in its journey, and still surprises me with its musical twists and turns says more about the enduring power of the song than anything else I could ever write.

Find it on: This Delicate Thing We've Made

#10 Katy Perry, "Hot N Cold"

I should know
That you're no good for me

As I said back when I first wrote about this song last March, after her still-refuse-to-name-it first single, it was going to take something amazing to get me to like Katy Perry's music.

And "Hot 'n Cold" was that something.

The sound of Max Martin and Dr. Luke setting aside their straightforward pop-rock formula for a moment to create a song that bounced along with a fizzy pop energy and attitude-including lyrics that managed the amazing task of being both completely Katy Perry and not repellent--taking her persona and actually making it work for the song--"Hot 'n Cold" was so irresistibly fun that I couldn't help being drawn in by it. To be fair, it's not a full rejection of that Max/Luke pop-rock template, but more a refining of it, taking out most of the guitars, replacing them with electronic elements, and speeding everything up just a little bit. Jason Nevins-remixing the template, in other words. Or sharpening up the sound of Paris's "Nothing In This World," giving it a little bite. Whatever comparison you want to make, though, "Hot 'n Cold" still came across as fresh, a bit feisty, and, most importantly of all, fun.

Of course, then Katy had to go and release "I Kissed A Girl" and ruin everything.

(Except not quite, as I later found some of the songs on the album to be decent.)

Find it on: One Of The Boys

#11 Brian McFadden, "Twisted"

I've been chased by angels
I've been drunk out of my mind

Part one of the two part feature "singers who said stupid offensive things about homosexuality and yet still made this list" begins with former Westlife member Brian McFadden. The single version of "Twisted" took a somewhat more conventional pop-with-guitars track, albeit still a quirky one, and, courtesy of the Potbelleez, gave it a dance feel, but luckily not an excessive one. "Twisted" was my ultimate "coming back in" track this year, which might seem strange given that it's the dance friendly remixed version I always listen to. There's just something about it that I found reassuring, that did a fantastic version of either allowing me to finish up the night without losing that metaphorical high or to make me feel like things were better than they actually were. It's the strange track that can get you to feel both "the world keeps turning" and "yes, I am awesome" (when you really need that pick me up) sentiments, but that's exactly what "Twisted" did for me. The fact that the song has such a strong melody to begin with helps it along a good deal, as does the fact that it wasn't originally written as a dance song, I think--it actually makes for a more powerful half-danced-up track as a result.

Really, though, I could have just skipped all this writing and told you to watch the music video--the moments of the video where Brian (looking significantly cuter than I thought was possible for him now) and a bunch of other misfit clowns are driving around having the time of their lives capture everything the song does for me perfectly.

Find it on: Set In Stone (which includes only the original album version) and "Twisted" (Single) (which includes the album and single versions).

#12 David Archuleta, "Crush"

Why do I keep runnin' from the truth?
All I ever think about is you

I liked little David A. on American Idol, but never as a love interest. It's pretty remarkable, then, that as his first single, a produced mid-tempo ballad playing on a piano riff for emotion and with a chorus that takes one step towards blowout but goes no further, he released a song so utterly capable of pushing me into swooning mode.

Many the ballad, great or not but especially male sung, has succeeded by getting its listeners to fall in love with its narrator, at least for three and a half minutes. Sure, you may hear Enrique Iglesias's "Hero" and feel a special connection to it because of a relationship you've got or want in the real world, but I'd argue that even then Enrique is working as a sort of transitive love interest--you get to the person you actually like only by going through the song's narrator, only by connecting the narrator and the "real person."

To say that David doesn't work for me in that way is neither a condemnation of the song's ability to transport you emotionally or a claim that the song doesn't rely heavily on having David as the narrator. In fact, the reverse is strongly true in both cases--the fact that "Crush" works despite not making me fall in love with the narrator himself shows me just how strong it is and few people, if anyone, could have pulled off this song like David Archuleta does.

In regards to the former, "Crush" may still find emotional success because you identify with the narrator, as opposed to wanting to be who he is singing to. That hardly makes the song unique, as otherwise we'd only love ballads sung by people of the same sex as those we're attracted to; more than that, it's quite possible for identifying with both the subject and object to occur in one song and it's true that for some people this song probably works on both those levels. You don't have to be in love with David, though, to hear his voice capture the same doubt and hope your heart has been beating out each time you think of someone. It's here where it becomes so key that it's David singing "Crush." Let's pretend that the song, instead of being performed by him, had gone to Nick Lachey, who relaunched his solo career on the back of a song written by the main songwriter of "Crush," Emanuel Kirakou. Would we buy from Nick, a man of (closer to) middle years and with (as he's constantly reminding us) heartbreak in his background, the same lyrics? I don't think so, or at least, not as much.

Despite that theoretical singer limitation, "Crush," much as it works perfectly as an encapsulation of youthful infatuation, isn't limited in its appeal or subject matter to just the kids we associate puppy love with or to only those whose hearts have never been broken--sure, its complete lack of cynicism is easier to achieve before you leave your teenage years, but those butterflies in your stomache don't die out once the first digit of your age ticks past "1," even if you might want them to. Hope and nervousness never stop being linked, and its by situating itself in the uncertainty they both share but leaning just enough towards hope to take your feet off the ground that "Crush" succeeds. Give the song to someone other than young David and not only would you lose his lovely voice--which, to be fair, is really more important than any of this narrator background I'm talking about--you'd lose the wide-eyed innocence necessary or at least extremely helpful in selling the song's story.

David's crush, which he originally leaves open the option of being "just another crush"--a short-burning flame, a temporary infatuation--becomes, by the end of each chorus, actually the tip of the iceberg of feelings that "ain't goin' away." He can't get rid of it, just as we can't cure ourselves of crushes, can't prevent the adrenaline rushes when that someone talks to us, and can't stop praying that they catch their breath when we look at them. That's life--and that's a crush.

(I'm still avoiding watching the music video, though.)

Find it on: David Archuleta

#13 David Tavaré, "If You Don't Know My Name (You Can Call Me Baby)"

If you don't know my name
You can call me baby

NOT "Call Me Baby (If You Don't Know My Name)," the remixed heavy beat version released as a single in France (and the version that plays in the music video in most cases, though the one above plays the proper original PG-approved version)--I'm still furious over what they did to this song.

I've been waiting for Spanish singer David Tavaré's debut album since 2006, when he released his debut single, "Summerlove" (a cover of the Underdog Project's "Remember"). He taunted me through 2007 with the release of another great single that further cemented my belief that an album from him would be all party-friendly pop dance with no concern for credibility--i.e., potentially fantastic. "If You Don't Know My Name (You Can Call Me Baby)," taken from that album--finally released in 2008--is an example of David doing that music at its and his best. I'm still convinced that it has to be a case like his "Summerlove" or "Hot Summer Night," where he basically reworked 2 Eivissa's "Oh La La," was because let's face it, the female part of this song is so classic dance song-sounding that for this song to have just suddenly sprung into the world fully formed, Athena-like, out of someone's head seems near impossible.

Whatever its origin, the song is fantastic, with one of those deep but not heavy summer grooves, some repeated nonsense syllables, and David trading vocals off with that female singer. It's all pure class, to be honest, despite the fact that I think of David as king of a certain type of summery half-trashy dance song (his official site opens with a breathy female voice pronouncing "Sex...Glamour...Fashion...Summer...and Love...Welcome to the world of David Tavaré")--a song that really could be and should be a classic. I would love to get lost to it somewhere on the beaches of Spain late one June night. Oddly entrancing, always catchy, and shockingly classy without caring that it is and despite the best efforts of the video, "If You Don't Know My Name" is a Spanish fantasy come to life.

Find it on: La vida viene y va (that's the French edition, but I can't find the album listed in any Spanish stores, and it has the original version of this song on it near the end anyway)

#14 Kylie Minogue, "Wow"

The way you walk,
The rhythm when you're dancin'
Every inch of you spells out desire

If "The One" was Kylie singing from a (lonely) pedestal, some sort of divine untouchable electronic pop goddess, "Wow" is her dropping the seriousness for fun on the dancefloor. "Fun on the dancefloor" doesn't read incredibly impressively, but it should; the joy that comes through "Wow" is infectious, all-encompassing, and inescapable. "Wow" may be a younger sister of what may be Kylie's best moment, "Love At First Sight," and with an overachieving sibling like that, it'd be easy for the song to get caught up in living up to the accomplishments of its predecessor, but "Wow" is too busy throwing its hands up in the air and messing around with glowsticks to give a second thought to whether anything like "transcendence" has been lost. For that--and don't tell anyone, what would it do to your reputation?--you might just be a little more interested in hanging out with it than that sister of its sometimes.

Find it on: X

#15 Linda Bengtzing, "Hur Svårt Kan Det Va?"

Se mig!
Hör mig!
Rör mig!
Hur svårt kan det va?

Linda Bengtzing returned to the world of schlager in her typical full-bore style. The Mika-styled verses of "Hur svårt kan det va?" might have taken a few listens to get used to, so obvious was the backing music's inspiration, but with time they've revealed themselves to be a perfect showcase for Linda and her always-trouble-with-the-boys subject matter. Here, though, she gets to be the aggressor, demanding attention in that indefatigable way only energy-filled Linda can as she simultaneously berates, flirts with, and pursues a boy who just doesn't seem to be getting what an opportunity he's being presented with. The sparkling schlager verses are as good as those of any of Linda's other schlager classics and yes, of course, we get a key change. A great key change, too, only lacking in comparison to her live performed version.

Who'd have known we'd be able to say that? But all the practice obviously paid off, with Linda nailing her semifinal performance in Melodifestivalen and even managing to get a whole extra section out of the key change. Her happiness after that key change at having pulled it off was adorable, with her looking like she was going to bounce right out of her skin, fact which only enhanced her woman-next-door sort of appeal. The Swedish music scene just wouldn't be the same without her. Congratulations on the pregnancy, Linda, but I sign off on this petition 100%.

Find it on: Vild & Galen

#16 John Barrowman, "What About Us"

What about us,
What about love,
What about saying that we'll never give up?

This is all Gary Barlow's fault. Well, not really--John's voice works for this song (or at least doesn't hurt it at all), so at least some of the credit has to go to him, too. The big dramatic swoops of the chorus, though, are classic modern Barlow. If I'm going to fall in love with a ballad, chances are it's one that demands I sing along to a giant chorus, and "What About Us" does demand that, preferably complete with clenched fists of desperation and over-the-top facial expressions. Sometimes you just can't resist a melody--and when it's as good as this one, why would you want to?

Find it on: Music Music Music

#17 Elin Lanto, "Speak 'n Spell"/"Discotheque"

Hey boys, here we are


I'm reborn at the discotheque

...and another cheat, but I really can't decide which of Elin's singles from this year I prefer. Is it the slinky electronic "Speak 'n Spell," written by Linda Sundblad and Johan Bobäck, or the camper uplifting celebration of disco, "Discotheque," written by Tony Nilsson and Henrik Jansson (and produced by Bassflow)? Both are intoxicating, albeit in different ways, and both came complete with fantastic videos full of potentially iconic imagery. From her reworked image to her brilliant music, Elin Lanto made herself a proper popstar in 2008, never setting a foot wrong. Now, if only some country somewhere would recognize nervous as I am about her upcoming UK launch, she's got all the best wishes I can muster up.

Find it on: "Speak 'n Spell" (Single) and "Discotheque" (Single)

#18 Eurobandið, "This Is My Life"

This is my life
I don't wanna change a thing

Iceland, in the past ten years or so, has racked up a pretty good number of fantastic Eurovision entries, but its results rarely seem to have been in line with the quality of its entries. That's why I was particularly praying that "This Is My Life," a Eurodance song performed the male-female duo Eurobandið and composed by Örlygur "Öggi" Smári (fresh off of having revitalized Páll Óskar's music career), would make it through to the finals. "This Is My Life" is more than just a great Eurovision entry, though: in its final version, modified from its original schlager-style appearance in Iceland's national final, it's a genuinely fantastic dance song, one that with its catchiness, electro squiggles and washes, and uplifting but still insistent chorus, easily stands up outside the Eurovision context. The fact that Fridrik (who had the second best song in Iceland's 2007 national final) and Regína were so incredibly endearing and obviously real Eurovision fans who cared about other fans was just the icing on the cake, a cake of them having made a song Eurovision fans could already love.

(P.S. Joe, you were right.)

Find it on: This Is My Life

#19 Frankmusik, "Three Little Words"/"In Step"/"Done Done"

You had your photograph in a magazine
Such a pretty boy at only nineteen
But now you're twenty-three and it's all gone now
You ain't all that you wanna be somehow

In the biggest cheat of this entire countdown, I'm including all three singles Frankmusik released this year as one entry.

As I said earlier this year, I've basically lost all ability to write anything coherent about Frankmusik's music, so you all will just have to settle for a random conglomeration of thoughts instead.

"In Step"/"Done Done," released just before the middle of 2008, was more just a buzz type single, which I guess makes "Three Little Words," apparently also a buzz single, a second buzz release. Odd. Anyway, "In Step" and "Three Little Words" are from the hyper-kinetic up-tempo electronic side of Frankmusik's back catalogue, with "In Step" even at one point melting into video game style sound effects. For all its contained manicness, though, "In Step" has more than its share of lyrics that strike a little too close to home for someone like me who has enough paranoia about getting older as is. "Three Little Words" is even bouncier, with a video that captures the song's appeal perfectly while also enhancing it.

"Done Done" is another story. Still electronic in its base, still with a playful attitude towards the creation of sounds, it's a lush almost-ballad which once again marks Frankmusik as not only the composer of brilliant songs but a pretty great lyricist as well, one getting better all the time. It sounds breathtaking coming out of surround sound style speakers.

Find it on: Three Little Words - EP (alternate digital version here) and "In Step"/"Done Done" (Single)

#20 Belanova, "Paso el tiempo"

Aunque no puedas volver
No es fácil para mí
Vivir sin ti

"Paso el tiempo" was my instant favorite on Mexican group Belanova's third album, 2007's Fantasía pop, and in no small part because I saw it as spiritually the musical and lyrical follow-up to "Niño," my favorite track from their second album. Although it's not quite a perfect match, I like to imagine the story of a girl missing a boy after a wrong decision is part two of "Niño"'s narrative of a girl making the tough decision to leave her boy behind for some opportunity out in the big wide world, wherein the narrator reassures the boy that he'll be OK but knowing all the while she too will be suffering.

When she uses it properly, Denisse Guerrero's voice is still the female voice--maybe just the voice--most capable of making me swoon. Equally able to sound childish or sexy, it's a voice that is best suited for somewhere in between. The band can and has asked her to use it in a Kylie-esque way, and Denisse was able to do so, but for my money she's best suited for songs like this one and "Niño," where pastiche is abandoned and longing and sadness break their restraints and are conveyed through a mid-tempo vocal part over an up-tempo commercial pop soundscape of hyper-cute (but never twee--the electronic production saves it from that) beats. To quote from my original thoughts on the album,

I'm not sure if anyone else knows how to swoon as perfectly as Denisse; like "Niño," the chorus to this song makes me completely melt. The whole song does, to be honest, with lyrics that are simple but oh so perfect, but the way she uses her voice on the chorus, especially that first sentence--flawless. The chorus comes in two halves, and the opening lines of each half--"Quiero decirte que/sé que me equivoqué" ("I want to tell you that/I know that I was wrong" [or "made a mistake"]) and "Quiero decirte que/nunca te olvidaré" ("I want to tell you that/I will never forget you")--could not be better in sound or meaning. I know they look trite written out like that, but trust me, when sung in Denisse's voice over that synth-pop backing, they for all the world sound like someone has finally captured longing in song...and, surprisingly, it sounds slightly playful and definitely gorgeous--but no less heartbreaking.

As with "Niño," my favorite part of "Paso el tiempo," the part I live for, is the moment near the song's end where Denisse gets to ad-lib--the song and her voice reach their peak of magic there. Belanova have yet to make an album I adore in full yet, but such is the quality of their best songs that they're one of the most underrated groups out there. Pop literally doesn't get much better than this--it's an overused word, but "Niño" is transcendent.

Find it on: Fantasía pop

#21 Lorie, "Play"

Une love, une love song

2007 was the year that French singer Lorie turned herself into a proper popstar, but the beginning of 2008 may have brought us the epitome of that transformation. With "Play," the second single released from her dreadfully underrated dance-friendly pop album 2Lor En Moi?, Lorie, with the help of the song's brilliant writer Fred "Asdorve" Chateau, gave us a string-featuring electronic pop masterpiece. It's a bit Kylie, a bit Rachel Stevens, but mostly and most impressively of all, it's original--you can draw comparisons to other artists, but it's never an exact match. Why on Earth she isn't much more popular than she is in either France or Internet world is beyond me. The video alone should have had people tripping over themselves to sing her praises--along with Charlotte Perrelli and one other female popstar yet to come, Lorie here did 2008's best job of personifying "iconic."

Two incidental notes: I've got 10 remixes of this song (though many are a case of full version and radio edit), which I think is more than I have for any other song, and if it's true that Lorie's boyfriend Garou is the one doing the male spoken parts during this song (I don't have my CD with me to check), then it's the first time I really am thankful for his deep voice--it complements the song to a T.

Find it on: 2Lor En Moi?

#22 Johan Krafman, "Disarmed"

Put your hands where I can see them
Don't make any sudden moves

It was love at first listen. How could it have been anything else? Tony Nilsson and Bassflow--with Bassflow this time not just producing but also co-writing--are a dream team. Add on top of that that what they've basically done here is combine elements of what I chose as my favorite and sixth favorite singles of 2007 by combining the sound of the music they've done for Ola ("S.O.S.," "Can't Get Enough," "Love In Stereo," "Natalie," "Feelgood") and the remixes Bassflow's done for Martin Stenmarck, and you've got an even better idea of the fact that I stood no chance of resisting this song.

Mix Megapol contest winner Johan brings something to the mix, too, though, sporting a voice that works perfectly for "Disarmed." It's a voice you can easily imagine being turned to a more guitar-filled sound but that luckily isn't here; I love guitars (I love McFly, for heaven's sake), but I love more the way Johan's pop-rock voice gets to cut through the electronically created background here as opposed to potentially being lost in a case of overburdened singer-songwriter guitar-icide. It's a good pop voice, one that has a lovely quality to it and has just the right amount of ability to sell the shoutier (though not really that shouty) moments of "Disarmed."

As always, Tony and Bassflow know just when to make beats pound, just how to fill out a song so it's never empty but still clear-cut enough to never distract from the most important elements, be they the up-tempo pure pop sounds, the haunting backing effects, or just that great melody itself. It all makes for a song that's as catchy and powerful as it can be.

Find it on: Disarmed (Single)

#23 Charlotte Perrelli, "Hero"

This is a story
Of love and compassion
Only heroes can tell

Whenever this song is playing, it's the best song in the world. Unfortunately, it can't be playing all the time, and I'm just a little hesitant to press play sometimes--blame the fact that it go so much play from me this year (which should hardly be something a song is penalized for, but I've yet to figure out a way beyond my excitement about a song to measure where it belongs here)--which makes me feel like I can't honestly put it at the top of this list. Almost a year on, though, "Hero" remains exhilarating. It does bear resemblance to "Cara Mia," another Fredrik Kempe-penned Melodifestival song, but there's something even more triumphant about "Hero," something that all these months on gets me all worked up about the middle 8 and the twirling camera, three part point, and key change--oh, that key change, and oh, can Charlotte sing--that accompanied it. Charlotte made being iconic look easy. I'm not sure if I had a better music-related experience this year than being surrounded by a bunch of people jumping around and going crazy while Charlotte performed this song at the Globe during the Melodifestival final. Being surrounded by people whose passion for music you love equals yours, especially when it's a type of pop we never get here in the U.S.: priceless. There may be a Melodifestival song and a Eurovision song ahead of it in this countdown, but "Hero" deserved to win both contests.

Find it on: Hero

#24 Agnes, "Release Me"

Release me
'Cause I'm not able to
Convince myself
That I'm better off without you

(If there is one Swedish song on this list that I beg all of you to listen to, even if you're not a Swede pop addict like me, it's this one.)

If in 2008 Ani Lorak was the queen of fierce voguing disco and Lady GaGa carved out a niche for herself with sleazy dirty disco, it's clear from its opening strings that Agnes's "Release Me" is disco whose key descriptor is joy. Agnes claims she knows she shouldn't be in this relationship, but she can't help herself, and neither can we--the joy exuded by "Release Me" is infectious, strong enough to make you feel like it's celebrating everything good about pop and life itself. As the second single from her third album, the Swedish Idol winner chose this breezy modern disco track with a chorus that eschews frantic dance mania for what feels like...well, release. The very definition of a feel good danceable pop track, "Release Me" is swoony, classy, made-for-everyone music. If Agnes can keep this level of track up, she'll have become a top-class popstar.

Find it on: Dance Love Pop