Friday, November 11, 2011

11 Amazing Pop Songs That Peaked at #11: A List for 11/11/11

Today, and only today, if you mix the Gregorian calendar with Arabic numerals you come out with a date that looks pretty wicked: 11/11/11. Even in the UK and elsewhere where the order of month/day/year differs just to screw with our minds, for one day the Western world is united. It's like a fourth dimension "do a barrel roll!" And what better way for a chart junkie pop music blogger with a love of pointless research to celebrate than with a list (and music videos!) of 11* amazing pop songs that peaked at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart!

Hush, just stop...
So read, watch, listen, reminisce, and give these eleven unsung pop heroes a day of revived glory even though they couldn't quite hack their way into the top ten. (You might also care to make use of the 11 Amazing Pop Songs That Peaked at #11 Spotify playlist, which can be found here.)

1. Britney Spears - "Stronger"

This song is so quintessentially Britney Spears it almost hurts: The foghorn! The deep alto stuff! The mumbled lyric nobody really heard right but sang along with anyway ("I'm not your property as from today," bay behhy)! The melismatic "I'm" at the end! The winning songwriting formula (verse, AMAZING CHORUS, verse, AMAZING CHORUS, AMAZING CHORUS inverted, AMAZING CHORUS x2-3) that brought us "...Baby One More Time," "(You Drive Me) Crazy," and "Oops!...I Did It Again!"

But really, isn't it all about the video? (Hey look, that opening is kind of like "Womanizer" huh?) Closeups of Britney singing really hard and feeling lots of emotion interlaced with pretty much the pinnacle of pop chair dance routines (is that chair gettin' it on with Brit-Brit? Because...damn!). Then there's one of my all time favorite pieces of the Britney iconography: a sopping wet Britney Spears marching fiercely through the rain, which, truth be told, is precisely how I have ambulated in foul weather ever since. All this and yet no top ten?


2. Beyoncé - "Ring the Alarm"

So, was it the alligators on leashes on the single cover art or the ensuing PETA freakout? Or the siren blaring nearly the length of the track? Or how Beyoncé is obviously quite upset about something but it's hard to make out a word she's shrieking? or how "Ring the Alarm" sounds nothing like anything Beyoncé Knowles had done before releasing the single in 2006? or was there another reason this Swizz Beatz/Sean Garrett zinger didn't exactly shoot to #1?

 "Ring the Alarm" is one of those mid-2000s singles that really should be appreciated from a 2011 perspective. Sure, it left some long-term damage, mainly that no temper tantrum Mama Knowles might one day care to throw will be impressive by comparison. It was a good showcase for Beyoncé's acting talents - you know, the ones that led to "You touch mah chi-ole!" and subsequent Ali Larter catfight - and every Beyoncé album has one or two "remind you I'm so hood wid' dis" tracks (think about it..."Diva"..."Video Phone"..."Run the World (Girls)"...). But if there was ever a tabloidesque rumor that turned out to have been true, please Lord let it be the one that "Ring the Alarm" was about Rihanna....pleeeeeaase?

3. Justin Timberlake - "Like I Love You"

 It's kind of funny to see how people are gagging for the return of Justin Timberlake to music when his Neptunes-produced solo debut back in 2002 didn't even hit the top ten. To be fair, this was during the brief but disastrous period between the collapse of hard-copy singles sales (and album sales, for that matter) in the wake of Napster/advent of the iTunes Store and Billboard's subsequent overhaul of its chart rules to incorporate digital music, and JT wasn't the only major pop star affected (Britney fared no better). No matter...we caught on soon enough.

4. Sheryl Crow - "Every Day is a Winding Road"

 I like Sheryl Crow. I've never bought one of her albums, and my library includes just six of her tunes ("All I Wanna Do" is one of my all-time faves; I also enjoy "Steve McQueen" and, randomly, her Bond theme song "Tomorrow Never Dies"), but I like her. I like seeing her on 30 Rock and I like that she's the only one getting paid for the kidney telethon. I like a good beer buzz early in the morning, and my habit of peeling labels off bottles of Bud has been oft protested by those in charge of cleaning the floor. I like Julia Roberts, especially in a Wonderbra saving Catherine Willows from her water supply and yelling at Albert Finney while Sheryl Crow's ode to optimism plays in the background. I get high on intellectualism and often feel a stranger in my own life. Who needs the top ten when you're a little bit closer to feeling fine?

5. Shakira - "She Wolf"
Shakira is chill. I can't say I was ever a big fan outside of that video for "Beautiful Liar" or the general visual aspect of the South American singer with the veritable hips (I tend to wonder if she has an amphibian stuck in her throat), but I mocked this song with unusual gusto when it was in the rotation (this was around the time I decided to break up with pop radio forever), and I stand by my previous actions. I just...the "a-woooo"...I just can't. And "She Wolf" just couldn't break into the top ten, boo hoo. (Not like Shakira is losing sleep about it after that World Cup anthem music video, also known as the fourth most viewed viral video of all time.) Clearly, as the picture above and video below will likely prove, I missed the entire point of this "She Wolf" exercise, as occasionally happens when my gay side is on overdrive. I wonder what was going on...

6. Madonna - "The Power of Goodbye"

Her Madgesty was surfing the William Orbit-meets-Enya vibe on the slower end of groundbreaking album Ray of Light when she put out this ballad, supposedly about ex-hubby Sean Penn (the music video stars ER hunk Goran Višnjić). Ray of Light reached a ton of almost-there milestones on the US and UK charts, actually: the album peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200 (Titanic, the Adele of the late '90s); lead single "Frozen" peaked at #2 on the Hot 100; second single "Ray of Light" topped out at #2 on the UK Singles chart; and "The Power of Goodbye" hit #2 in several markets, #6 in the UK and Canada, and #11 here in the states. Not one to go for second best, baby, Madonna reclaimed the throne with the 2000 hit Music

Now that I think about it, it kind of sounds a bit like Titanic. Weird.

7. Avril Lavigne - "What the Hell"

Avril Lavigne used to sing about stealing sk8tr boifriends and the damn cold night and such before she disappeared and married Brody Jenner (lucky bitch...just in bed). Was I the only one who thought it seemed a little odd that the once rather pointedly alternative Canadian chick came back at 26 singing "all my life I've been good, but now....all I want is to mess around?" Was she getting herself confused with Vanessa Carlton or something? Or was she trying to ride the Max Martin/Dr. Luke express train out of album development Nowhere Land like Kelly Clarkson had done before? My guess is on the latter, but usually emulating Kelly Clarkson works better when you're as talented as Kelly Clarkson. Oh Avril, why'd ya have to go and make things so complicated?

8. N*SYNC - "Gone"

 This might be my favorite N*SYNC song over a decade later, although in hindsight it's hard not to hear it as a workshop for Justin Timberlake's imminent solo career...or an accidentally prescient and fitting song for the band in its final months. But it's a good workshop!

9. Ludacris feat. Nicki Minaj - "My Chick Bad"

Luda. Nicki. If this pairing happened today it might be interesting, but when Nicki Minaj was playing the "bad chick" for Ludacris - the guy with ho's in different area codes who likes it in the back seat with the windows up - she was still making the rounds introducing herself. We've come a long way, though, and thank badness for it!

10. Kanye West - "Jesus Walks"

Kanye West has developed into a thoroughly enjoyable character since that incident I deeply hope no one refers to as Swiftgate, or Taylorgate, or Immaletyoufinishgate, or similar. Aside from the facts that anyone who a. calls out the illegitimacy of any award now bestowed by MTV and/or b. yanks the microphone from Taylor Swift's hands is okay by me, I like the intellectual quality of his lyrics and the merit-based philosophy he seems to live by even if the rest of his industry runs on a different track. Near-death or similarly violent experiences can really do wonders for a musician's creativity (see Stevie Wonder, Rihanna). "Jesus Walks" may have been just the third highest charting of the four singles off West's 2004 debut The College Dropout, but it's the only one I know off the top of my head, so there you go.

11. Glee Cast feat. Gwyneth Paltrow - "Forget You"

I don't know how anyone could possibly dislike Gwyneth Paltrow at all, much less with the vitriol that her detractors seem to have toward Mrs. Coldplay, because I simply adore her - as in nearly Queen Latifah/Amy Adams level adoration. She can do anything, it seems, including performing a country song at the Oscars, holding her own opposite faux Muppets and Cee Lo Green dressed as a giant turkey at the Grammys (oh God, the GRAMMYS are coming...*shudder*), and even, most incredible of all, making Glee moderately watchable for an episode or two.

Forget who?!
And now, because I like Gwyneth more than I dislike Glee (and that's saying something) and more than I dislike censorship, I'm posting Glee's rendition of "Fuck You (Forget You)" and I'm smiling as I do so. Who needs the 90th percentile? (Fun fact, though: "Forget You" is the third-highest charting Hot 100 entry from the "Glee Cast," surpassed only by "Don't Stop Believin'" (#4) and "Teenage Dream" (#8), the series' only two truly inspired musical numbers thus far. Justice!)

Hope you enjoyed that as much as I did. Here's that Spotify playlist again for you just in case. Now back to work! It's Friday!

*I know proper English holds that the number ought to be written out but this is a special occasion.
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