1. “The Only Exception,” Paramore
And I’ve always lived like this,
Keeping a comfortable distance
And up until I had sworn to myself
That I’m content with loneliness
Because none of it was ever worth the risk.
I’ll admit–I’ve never really liked Paramore. They’ve always come across, to me, like latter-class graduates of the Avril Lavigne-founded Parentally Acceptable Levels of Punk Academy. The whole orange hair, yelling and bouncing around on the stage in early Gwen Stefani garb came across as, well, a bit contrived.
But I also admit, just as freely–this song made me cry the first time I heard it. The simple acoustic guitar, the spare production, the soft, youthful quality of her voice–it just works. And nothing makes this song more unexpectedly beautiful than its lyrics. Her description of a fragile girl’s overcoming of the mistrust of the men in her life to love the one who truly understands her is simply perfectly crafted. Haven’t we all, at some point, felt it wasn’t worth the risk to try something that seemed so destined to hurt us? This song stands as a humble, unassuming example of what a simple guitar next to beautifully written lyrics can do to any pop group.
2. “Just The Girl,” The Click Five
She laughs at my dreams,
But I dream about her laughter.
In case you were busy having some kind of life in 2005 and didn’t notice, the powers that be behind the boy bands of the world held another meeting of their shadowy board of advisers and decided to re-boot the franchise. They took a few good-looking musicians from Boston, gave them adorable Beatles haircuts and suits, and got in the studio for some good old-fashioned boy band pop. They didn’t make a huge impression on the charts, but with their biggest single, they tripped upon one of the more beautiful, simple expressions of love in pop music.
In just two lines, they managed to convey every sentiment we feel for the unrequited, bittersweet puppy love that can completely consume us. Sure, that person may dismiss us with a thoughtless little giggle, but if they only knew how much just hearing that warm laugh–even at our expense–truly means to us.
3. “Ain’t No Other Man,” Christina Aguilera
Tell your mother, your brother, your sister, and your friends
And the others, your lovers, better not be present tense
Cause I want everyone to know that you are mine and no one else’s!
Sure, Christina Aguilera is amongst the nobles of pop music (perhaps even royalty, although amongst Britney, Cher, Celine, etc, it’s a pretty tight race for the crown). And yes, her songs are perfectly crafted karaoke wailers that were predestined to be sung by a group of hugging, nearly tearful girls after several vodka crans. But rarely do they have the lyrical moments that give them any emotional heft.
Yet even though it’s not a tear-jerker, “Ain’t No Other Man” perfectly describes the exuberance and joy of finding and free-falling in love with that person who is just perfect. Her insistence that the whole world know that “[he] is [her’s] and no one else’s” is perhaps the single most succinct line that we all want to yell at the top of our lungs in the heady moments of infatuation.
4. “After Tonight,” Justin Nozuka
Darling, give me your right hand
I think I understand
Follow me and you will never have to wish again
It could be argued that Justin Nozuka falls more into the singer-songwriter category than the pop category, but it is clear that this particular single is amongst his most massively-appealing. It has the light, airy hook and catchy percussion of an acoustic pop hit, yet the lyrics are so much more quietly profound than the slick instrumental would let on.
His gentle call to a girl, worried and hesitant much like the one described in Paramore’s aforementioned song, to let down her walls and believe him the way she’s never been able to believe before, is a lovely one. The promise that she “won’t have to look up at the stars” anymore, ostensibly wishing for something she feels must not exist, reminds us that love–when it’s good–can bring us back down to earth.
5. “Let’s Just Fall In Love Again,” Jason Castro
We’ll fall disgustingly fast
And we’ll stop hanging out with friends
And they’ll be so offended
In the pop music universe, albums released by former American Idol contestants may be at the very outer reaches of the most ridiculed galaxies. Their music often comes across as a rushed, half-baked attempt to capitalize on an already tepid buzz before its 15 minutes expires. Untrue to the artist and often unbearably generic, these albums can typify all that is wrong with the music industry.
However, occasionally, the music can be a perfect slice of pop. And after getting verbally flogged for months on end on national television, it’s hard not to root for the naive fame-seekers who’ve all but been crushed under the unforgiving entertainment industry. Jason Castro’s sweet, almost childlike ditty for his long-term love is perhaps the most beautiful little thing to sneak, nearly unnoticed, from underneath the AI machine. Telling her that after all this time, he wants to re-create every moment of the honeymoon period he still so deeply feels is a sentiment that is surprisingly absent from pop music. We’re all about the blush of first love, not so much about keeping the spark alive. But hearing him ask her to meet cute at the house party with him again is about as refreshing and endearing a sentiment as one can imagine in our modern, often depressingly un-sentimental world.
6. “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now,” Celine Dion
But when you touch me like this
And you hold me like that
I just have to admit
That it’s all coming back to me”
Say what you will about Celine Dion. Go ahead, there’s little you can say that hasn’t already been said. And you can even claim that this song should really belong to Meatloaf, but to that I say a resounding “feh.” I love Meatloaf, but no one could ever hope to touch Celine’s pitch-perfect “baby baby BABY” as she cries near the climax of this song. My Quebecois sister will forever own this song, will forever inhabit it and bring fully to life some of the most passionate lyrics ever written.
Although much of its power is owing to its incredible melody, the bodice-ripping lyrics stand out as some of the most image-conjuring in pop. The lyrics read like an epic poem read by a shirtless Fabio, and yet they work so incredibly well. Perhaps they can only fully resound when you are in that moment–that passionate, incredible, otherworldly moment of attraction and nostalgia–and if that’s the case, so be it. These lyrics will remain as potent and over-the-top incredible years from now as they were the first time they were read. Period.
7. “You and I Both,” Jason Mraz
And it’s okay if you have to go away
Oh just remember the telephone works both ways
And if I never ever hear them ring
If nothing else I’ll think the bells inside
Have finally found you someone else and that’s okay
Cause I’ll remember everything you sang
It is my personal theory that Jason Mraz exists purely as a musical slap in the face to all of the tortured singer-songwriters out there who feel that their lack of commercial success is only due to their artistic integrity. They only write songs that speak to the human soul, bro, and they’re not about to start selling schlock just to please the man, man.
Well, here comes Jason Mraz with songs that are both massively appealing and artistically lovely. His sweet little songs (which are as beautiful live as they are in studio, if not much, much more so) are the stuff of pop music wizardry. He manages to retain a level of credibility that only writers of such simply touching songs can get while selling out stadiums and using hundred dollar bills as toilet paper.
Amongst the songs that exemplify his way with beautiful lyrics is “You and I Both,” his delicate, wounded tune that praises the love he shared with someone while acknowledging that it may no longer be his. It’s so very simple, so very real. It’s the kind of song that is almost deceptive in its light pop fluffiness–its melody almost disguises its very touching message.
So there you have it. While most of pop music is a blur of will.i.am yelling at you and Katy Perry’s breasts, there are occasional moments of profundity sprinkled throughout the landscape. One need only take a moment to consider the lyrics that get wedged in our brain to stumble across the kind of message that might surprise us, coming from someone wearing rhinestone underwear.