Youth Culture Window
This year’s top music was a fairly balanced mix of rap, hip hop, and pop…with a little rock-n-roll thrown in for good measure. It also featured a blend of veteran performers and several brand new artists.
And yes, this year’s top music also offered a fusion of clean tunes…and not so clean tunes.
Checking the Charts
TheSource4YM.com has been recapping the year’s #1 hits for quite a while now because it offers parents and youth workers a view of the “forest” all at once instead of the individual “trees” spread out across a year. Taking in everything at once allows us to note larger trends that might escape us in the daily grind called life. (If you want a quick refresher on the most recent years, here’s the list from 2013 as well as those from 2012 [Part 1] and [Part 2]. Even earlier years can be accessed on our Youth Culture Window archives page.)
We won’t stray from our proven strategy forged over the last few years. We’ll discuss the songs and artists that made their way to the very top of Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart, in the order that they appeared throughout the past 12 months. From time to time, we may also refer to other charts like Spotify or iTunes which typically have the same cluster of hit songs near the top. Most importantly, we’ll discuss the messages that are embedded in the songs that teenagers are sure to notice.
This year, we can’t help but note the “blend of music” that made it to the top. For example, we saw:
- a mix of veterans (like Eminem and Katy Perry) alongside newbies (such as MAGIC! and Meghan Trainor).
- a blend of genres, including rap/hip hop, pop, love songs, and rock-n-roll.
- and a smattering of healthy messages and unhealthy messages…sometimes in the same song!
As of this writing, there have been 10 songs that made it to the #1 spot on the Hot 100. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s start our analysis of today’s musical monsters by looking at the very first hit of the year…aptly named The Monster.
The Monster (Eminem featuring Rihanna)
How do young people deal with their demons, their addictions… their monsters? Do they fight them, or make friends with them.
That’s what Eminem and Rihanna sought to answer in their chartbusting hit The Monster, which reigned in the No. 1 spot from early December 2013 through January 17, 2014. In the song Eminem raps about many of the struggles he’s faced with fame, sharing candidly about some of the disappointments and letdowns. Then Rihanna chimes in with the hook:
I’m friends with the monster that’s under my bed
Get along with the voices inside of my head
You’re trying to save me, stop holdin’ your breath
And you think I’m crazy, yeah, you think I’m crazy
Many speculate what the song means, but the songs writer, Jon Bellion spelled it out clearly:
“I wrote the lyric, ‘I’m friends with the Monsters that’s under my bed’ mainly because sometimes you can’t necessarily get rid of your demons. You can’t necessarily, completely just not be fearful or not have an addiction or a problem so you kind of have to live with it and learn to like, kind of live with monsters. He’s not going to go away. The monster is still there but he’s got to learn to live with it and deal with it and kind of co-exist with your demons ’cause demons will never just be gone. You’ll never just be happy your entire life.”Is he right? Is that all life has to offer?
As you can see, the song can be an interesting springboard for discussion, which is why we wrote one with scripture and small group questions.
But then another song took over the charts, one not quiet so poetic…
Timber (Pitbull featuring Ke$ha)
In a world where so many young girls are struggling with self-esteem, it’s sad when songs like this crawl to the top of the charts.
Here’s a peek at the lyrics:
I have 'em like Miley Cyrus, clothes off
Twerking in their bras and thongs, timber
Face down, booty up, timber
That's the way we like to–what?–timber
I'm slicker than an oil spill
She say she won't, but I bet she will, timber
Of course, songs like this aren’t labeled “EXPLICIT” because they don’t have cuss words. So when Mommy tells her 11-year-old to “only download the clean stuff”… this song makes the cut.
At least Pitbull is honest about what he likes: girls with their clothes off, twerking, face down, booty up.
My advice to parents is to just ask yourselves, “If my daughter met Pitbull at the grocery store or the mall and he told her, “I like my girls clothes off, twerking, face down, booty up…” how would you respond?
This classic peace of poetry (is my sarcasm dripping off this page?) reigned the charts from January 18 – February 7th… until Katy stepped to the plate.
Dark Horse (Katy Perry featuring Juicy J)
Katy Perry is no stranger to the top of the charts. In fact, Dark Horse was her 9th No. 1, putting her up there with names like The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Whitney.
Perry is a very talented young lady, and whenever she releases a song, young people wanna listen.
What do they hear when they listen to Dark Horse? The song is a mixed bag of nuts. No telling what you’re going to get. On one hand, she seems to be seeking a monogamous relationship:
Make me your Aphrodite,
Make me your one and only…
…just be sure before you give it all to me.
But then when Julcy J kicks in, we learn that the bedroom might be the testing grounds for whether the relationship works or not:
Damn I think I love her
Shorty so bad, I’m sprung and I don’t care
She ride me like a roller coaster
Turned the bedroom into a fair (a fair!)
Her love is like a drug
I was tryna hit it and quit it
But lil' mama so dope
I messed around and got addicted
Sad, but a lot of young people have no problem with “hit it and quit it” (recreational sex). And if it turns into something else, then so be it.
Is this the modern day romance? When hookups turn into something more? Is this what makes today’s young people happy? Well, after a month in the number one spot, the top of the chart truly found happiness…
Happy (Pharrell Williams)
As 2014 dawned, many Americans might have considered Pharrell Williams a great musical “assistant.” After all, till that point, he was largely known for his collaborative work with other musical icons, namely, American Idol’s Adam Lambert and Pennsylvania-based rapper Mac Miller. He was even in one of the co-pilot seats on Robert Thicke’s very vulgar Blurred Lines from 2013.
But on March 8th, his solo project entitled Happy reached the top of the charts…and stayed there for more than two months! Happy was a contender for “song of the summer,” even though its run began in the spring. The catchy tune was named Radio’s Most-Played Song of 2014 and its corresponding music video has been seen on YouTube more than half-a-billion times!
Happy, a clean song that reminded fans of Williams’ family-friendly work done as a composer for kid films like Despicable Me 1 & 2, is basically an anthem about the musician’s (seemingly) unconquerable happiness. Throughout the song, he taunts the elements of life that would seek to drag him down and says that no matter what life throws at him, he’s going to choose to be happy. The song’s bubbly theme served as a perfect launching pad for this free MUSIC DISCUSSION resource that helps teenagers learn to pursue biblical joy instead of earthly happiness.
Williams’ run at the top finally ended on May 16th but the commercial success of his first #1 song (as a soloist) ensured his happiness for a long time to come. Interestingly, the guy who’d take his place at the top of the charts would also be scoring his first #1 hit….
All of Me (John Legend)
During the last three weeks of Pharrell William’s chart dominance with Happy, a piano-driven ballad entitled All of Me by John Legend, was sitting patiently in the #2 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100. But on May 17th, the love song finally overtook Happy giving the R&B singer from Ohio his very first #1 single as a soloist.
The song has a fairly classy feel and sound; it’s basically about the singer’s unrelenting love for a girl with a “smart mouth” and a “beautiful mind” who is simultaneously his “downfall,” “muse,” “worst distraction,” and “rhythm and blues.” He’s got it pretty bad for this girl, which is why Legend is willing to go “all in” for her. The song’s chorus describes his level of desire and commitment:
'Cause all of me loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I'm winning
'Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you
Some have predicted that this simple love song will stick around forever, though only time will tell. But on June 6th, after three weeks at the top, Legend’s reign came to an end. And as improbable as it sounds, the individual that would take Legend’s place in the top spot would be the third consecutive artist to score their first #1 hit.
Fancy (Iggy Azalea featuring Charli XCX)
Amethyst Amelia Kelly, better known as Iggy Azalea, burst on the scene from Australia as a rap star with an attitude. Though she’d been in the music business for several years, it wasn’t until early summer of 2014 that her single titled Fancy, which was released in February, gained massive traction and reached #1 on multiple charts, none of which were as important as Billboard’s Hot 100, which she conquered on June 7th.
The fast-paced hip-hop tune was the undisputed Song of the Summer, staying at the top of the charts for 7 whole weeks, and dominating playtime everywhere. This song was on endless repeat at every radio station across the nation, was on the playlists at gyms, schools, and department stores, and served as the ringtone for millions of cell phone users. But Fancy was as crass as it was popular; it certainly earned its “explicit” lyrics warning. For example, at one point she sings:
Trash the hotel
Let's get drunk on the mini bar
Make the phone call
Feels so good getting what I want
Yeah, keep on turning it up
Chandelier swinging, we don't give a f**k
Film star, yeah I'm deluxe
Classic, expensive, you don't get to touch
Estimating just how big a year Iggy has had is a little tough. For several consecutive weeks, her name was in the top two slot thanks to Fancy (#1) and her collaboration with Ariana Grande on Problem (#2). She racked up a Moonman award at MTV’s annual Video Music Awards show (where she was also featured in a live performance of Black Widow…a song that would eventually rise to #3 on the charts). She was also tapped by MTV to host the reboot of their beloved show House of Style…and she was given a cameo in the The Fast & Furious 7.
Yeah, 2014 was good to Iggy.
But on July 25th her chart-topping song finally gave way to an international hit that had been patiently nipping at her heels for several weeks.
Yep. When it reached the top spot, it’d give yet another musical act their very first #1 hit!
I (Jonathan) first heard this song with my daughter and her boyfriend. I enjoyed the song because it immediately provoked discussion.
The song is about a young man who asks his girlfriend’s dad for her hand in marriage. The dad, portrayed as a little overprotective, tells the suitor “no.” And the suitor responds with the chorus:
Why you gotta be so rude?
Don’t you know I’m human too?
Why you gotta be so rude?
I’m gonna marry her anyway
I love songs like this because when you’re done listening to them, you can simply ask your kids, “Was he right?” And that question alone can kick off some pretty good discussion. But we also wrote a music discussion for the song with scripture and small group questions, one for youth workers, and one for parents. The song provoked some pretty funny YouTube parodies, like the one I blogged about earlier this year.
Rude rode the number one spot from July 26 all the way until September 5. Not bad for Canadian newbie band MAGIC!, their first trip to the charts.
Shake It Off (Taylor Swift)
Taylor Swift has never struggled with assertiveness; the young hit-maker’s track record reveals a long list of tunes that have dominated the world’s attention. And her energetic, care-free, “dump-me-and-I’ll-write-a-song-publically-bashing-you” attitude has served her well over the past few years. But you don’t rise to international stardom without drawing some criticism along the way.
Swift’s solution to that problem? Just shake it off.
'Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
Heart-breakers gonna break, break, break, break, break
And the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake, fake
Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off
Shake It Off is an upbeat and contagious pop song about dealing with the letdowns and the upsets in life. The song’s success – which includes a music video that’s been viewed more than 350 million times on YouTube – put Swift back in the #1 spot again from September 6th to September 19th, and then again from November 15th to November 28th following an interruption by the next song on our list.
All About That Bass (Meghan Trainor)
All about that Bass was an interesting twist to the No. 1 spot. Pop? Soul? Hip hop? Meghan Trainor’s creative song blends hip hop beats with throwback soul to produce a creative sound with… mixed messages.
The plus size singer admits:
Yeah, it's pretty clear, I ain't no size two
But I can shake it, shake it
Like I'm supposed to do
'Cause I got that boom boom that all the boys chase
And all the right junk in all the right places
I see the magazine workin' that Photoshop
We know that shit ain't real
C'mon now, make it stop
If you got beauty, beauty, just raise 'em up
'Cause every inch of you is perfect
From the bottom to the top
What do young people glean from this? Affirmations about your self-image… or encouragement to shake your merchandise like “I’m supposed to do”?
Which is it? Am I supposed to try to earn the approval of others by shaking my boom boom that all the boys chase, or not get caught up in trying so hard to look good because I’m “perfect from the bottom to the top?”
Something to discuss with young people today (our music discussion here and here ).
Trainor’s little ditty reigned at the No. 1 spot from September 20 – November 14. And since Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off was in the second position throughout Trainor’s reign at the top, it was little surprise that Swift overtook her on November 15th for another two weeks at the top.
Finally, on November 28th, Shake It Off was finally dislodged from the top spot. Taking its place was….
Blank Space (Taylor Swift)
Yep, it’s been a great year for Tay Tay. She had the chance to do a live performance at Victoria Secret’s annual fashion show in December. She essentially broke the Internet with an inside joke on Tumblr…and probably made a million more fans with this fan-favorite photobomb. Oh, and she launched her 5th album 1989 that contained not one, but two #1 hits…so far.
When Blank Space (currently in the #1 position as of this writing) bumped Shake It Off from the top spot on November 29th, allowing Taylor Swift to replace Taylor Swift, she became the first woman in Billboard history to succeed herself at the apex of the charts.
Like I said, it’s been a good year for Tay Tay.
Blank Space, features a more “grown up” Swift; in the music video (which has amassed hundreds of millions of views), she’s dressed in elegant gowns and spends most of her time in and around a posh mansion. Even the sound of the song is slightly less “pop” and more mature in nature.
But by the looks of it, Swift hasn’t alienated anyone with the new sound; this song is trending nicely, giving Swift the potential to start the New Year at the top of the charts. And most parents and youth workers are OK with that because Swift has proven to be a family-friendly artist who’s pretty in-touch with her fan base.
It’s going to be interesting to see if Swift can match 2014 in the coming year. Right now, she’s got a “blank space” to fill just about any way she wants!
Wrap Up Stuff
As adults, we absolutely have to take today’s music seriously…mainly because our teenagers do! That’s why we launched our totally free MUSIC DISCUSSION STARTERS pages many years ago to help parents and youth workers bridge biblical truth with the music of our culture.
The availability of these songs in America leaves a bittersweet taste in parent’s mouths. On one hand, it’s frustrating that we can’t even go to Target or the grocery store without hearing Timber or Fancy. Let’s be honest. Amish kids can sing us the chorus! On the other hand, in a world where parents are on the lookout for springboards to get their teenagers talking about stuff that matters, this world provides plenty.
Are you having these conversations?
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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