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The new No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, crowned today, is the grandiose slice of car-commercial-approved arena-pop “We Are Young,” by the trio fun. Thanks to some massive sales at iTunes and other digital outlets—302,000 of them last week—”Young” leapt over Kelly Clarkson’s “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger)” to top the singles chart, the first song by a rock band to do so since Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” went to No. 1 all the way back in 2008.
As SOTC pals Popdust note, “We Are Young” is a bit of an outlier as far as top-40 radio goes, with its tempo shifts and Queen-like pomp and harmonies that vaguely bring to mind Grizzly Bear (surely I’m not the only one who’s reminded of “Two Weeks” when the chorus hits?). Could the ascent of this twisty, singalong-ready track signify the end of the era where four-on-the-floor pop-house that pounds its melody into your brain for three-and-a-half minutes without end (or without even the escape hatch known as “the bridge”) dominates the charts to the exclusion of everyone else not named Adele?
“We Are Young” could be a fluke hit, one of those songs that was in the right place at the right time (most notably, being able to step up to the place once the much-ballyhooed track that was supposed to be the Super Bowl’s big musical debut—Madonna’s slight “Give Me All Your Luvin'”—landed with a thud and a tizzy about flipped birds) that served as a sort of exception to the rule. But in recent weeks, the songs that have stayed atop the pop charts the longest—the recently deposed Clarkson hit and Adele’s groundswell-borne “Set Fire To The Rain”—have similarly eschewed the monotonous, scorched-earth trail set by LMFAO’s admittedly catchy “Sexy And I Know It” and Rihanna’s incessantly earwormy “We Found Love.” (Katy Perry’s “Part Of Me,” which rode a Grammy performance to a brief stay at No. 1, is a bit of an outlier, sounding like a hybrid between the sort of Max Martin/Dr. Luke song that was omnipresent on radio back in the ’00s and the pop-house trend-riders of the current decade.) And I’m kind of rooting for more of these mold-breaking songs—which might not be experimental on the level of, say, Julianna Barwick, but which at least provide texture to the radio beyond that provided by Adele’s endlessly malleable hits—to follow this now-cleared path. The fun. record has a couple of other candidates, including the Sleigh-Bells-gone-arena “One Foot,” and who knows—perhaps this could open the door for Beyoncé’s sumptuous “Love On Top,” which commands the pole position on the R&B charts but which, like the other singles from 4, suffered because B was unwilling to retrofit her aesthetic so it fit inside the 4/4 prison that so many others, from Maroon 5 to Rihanna, have marched into.