Molly Grades the Charts: The Top Ten of 2011

Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images Adele

The keyword for the Billboard chart in 2011 was “ANTHEMS.” Anti-bullying anthems (Selena Gomez, “Who Says”; Katy Perry, “Firework”; Lady Gaga, “Born This Way”), party rock anthems, anthems for regular weekday night non-rock pre-work partying. Tons of pop-rap pap where diet-inspirational verses were soldered awkwardly to soaring adult-contemporary choruses. Videos with cinematic spoken intros (The Script, “For The First Time”; Katy Perry, “The One That Got Away”; Rihanna, “We Found Love”) and further attempts, some very successful, to make VEVO the baby big screen it wants to be. These are my personal picks for a top ten from the Billboard 2011 Top 100 chart.

1. Adele, “Rolling in the Deep” (Actual position: no. 1)

Conjured the spirit of that other “Deep” jam “River Deep — Mountain High” and its soul supplier, Tina Turner, for sheer boobs-to-the-wall raw power. Despite all the lesser covers and TV-montage placements, this song is made of indestructible metal. It’ll play weddings and jukeboxes forever (forever ever).

2. Rihanna, “We Found Love” (Actual position: no. 69)

Believe it or not, Rihanna released “What’s My Name” and “S&M” the same year as this dance-floor monolith, but you might have forgotten because she (once again) packed so many singles (across multiple albums) into this year. Her total domination of the charts is a testament to her born talents, insane work ethic, indomitable drive, and innate awesomeness. We just hope she takes some time to chill out in her Bob Marley bathing suit and let the Jameson sink in come 2012. She’s earned it.

3. Edward Maya & Vika Jigulina, “Stereo Love” (Actual position: no. 54)

I could’ve sworn this was a brand-new creation: Americans simulating Eurodance perfectly, down to the Slavic accent and clumsy English phrasing (“when you’re gonna stop breaking my heart”). But this Romanian song built around a sample of Azerbaijani pop singer Brilliant Dadshova’s 1989 hit “Bayatilar” is actually a two-year-old worldwide smash that — in a sign of pop-globalization times to come — broke in America last of all. The popularity of “Stereo Love” and Alexandra Stan’s “Mr. Saxobeat” constituted a mini-wave of Rom-Pop.

4. Waka Flocka Flame Ft. Roscoe Dash & Wale, “No Hands” (Actual position: no. 45)

I could listen to the first 30 seconds of this song loop forever. Special award for being the easiest and best song to make up new lyrics to. Would you rather drink moscato or sit low on Forgiatos? You can’t do both at the same time. (Sorry.)

5. Kelly Rowland Ft. Lil Wayne, “Motivation” (Actual position: no. 53)

Kelly Rowland has been planning this for years. While Beyoncé showed us her ass (and “baby bump”) in back-to-back-to-back videos that seemed less than effortless, Ms. Kelly was practicing choreography and recording this underwater strip club song. Point: Rowland.

6. Katy Perry, “Teenage Dream” (Actual position: no. 75)

Sounds like: Sitting shotgun with a wild blue pinup-wigged Katy Kat in her lilac vinyl bikini and custom hot rod Barbie Power Wheels on the way to an end of summer Santa Barbara beach bonfire. A perfect glittering power-pop song about an adult fantasy of teenage sex, in the grand narrative tradition of ’70s classics The Raspberries’ “Go All the Way,” Meat Loaf’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” and The Tubes’ “Don’t Touch Me There,” filtered through a late-’90s TRL fish-eye lens.

7. Nicki Minaj Ft. Drake, “Moment 4 Life” (Actual position: no. 50)

I like that Nicki released “Roman in Moscow” as a sequel to “Ni**as in Paris” because I always preferred “Eloise in Moscow” to “Eloise in Paris” and Kanye and Nicki have both always reminded me of Eloise, with their hotel lifestyles, toddler tantrums, and excessively fancy tastes. This was Nicki’s year, and she rode it like a diamond rainbow nyan cat into the sun.

8. The Band Perry, “If I Die Young” (Actual position: no. 35)

The best Taylor Swift song not written by Taylor Swift this year, “If I Die Young,” is like Lana Del Rey for nun-fearing Catholic schoolgirls. Teenage goth feelings wrapped up in a pre-Raphaelite white-lace red-lined cloak. Girly romantic signifiers abound (satin, roses, rainbows) and contrast with classic Child Ballad themes of infanticide and river burials. Lead singer Kimberly Perry channels Elizabeth Siddal in a reedy suicide boat.

9. Wiz Khalifa, “Black and Yellow” (Actual position: no. 31)

Second-best song to make up new lyrics to, as a billion awesome YouTube freestyles and takeoffs demonstrated. My favorite was 9-year-old Lyrikkal’s “Pink and Purple.”

10. Britney Spears, “I Wanna Go” (Actual position: no. 46)

Britney’s Femme Fatale came stacked with the kind of 4/4 dance-floor fillers she has become best loved for, songs that play equally well in Radio Disney formats and gay clubs. “I Wanna Go” is more playful and less postapocalyptic than some of the other FF tracks, although her voice is juiced in the chorus. Our favorite Brit has always been goofy Brit, and when it comes to holographic pop stars, Spears slays simulacrum Hatsune Miku.

Molly Lambert is a Grantland staff writer.

Previously: Miley’s Pot Overdose … and Other Horror Stories From This Week’s Tabloids
The Grantland Pop Science Year in Review
This Week’s Top Ten in R&B and Hip-Hop as Movie Musicals

Filed Under: Beyonce, Billboard, Britney Spears, Drake, Grading the Charts, Katy Perry, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Waka Flocka Flame, Wale, Wiz Khalifa

Molly Lambert is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ mollylambert

More from Molly Lambert

See all from Molly Lambert

More Beyonce

See all Beyonce

More Hollywood Prospectus

See all Hollywood Prospectus