Part of a new series of posts that aim to review whatever is top of the charts in the UK at the time of writing to do one of two things: justify the rage of hipsters at the terrible music on the radio nowadays, or go against the grain and say otherwise. Obviously I’m going to be biased, but that’s part of the fun, and I will try to remain as open-minded as possible. Fair warning though, these posts will actually be quite irregular so, y’know, check often!
The most popular song in the UK at the moment is this:
On balance, this is a good start for me: OneRepublic is an alternative rock band from Colorado in the US, and has a good 10 years of experience. This is a genre of music that I feel confident in commenting upon, and I wasn’t expecting it to be topping the charts if I’m honest. But anyway, the song.
Not bad, not bad at all. One of my main criticisms of modern pop music is that it’s vacuous in its lyrical content and samey and boring in its musical arrangements, but these are not really valid concerns here in my opinion. The vocal line is well sung, with any autotune present kept at fairly low levels or reserved for places in which it actually works as an effect, while being fairly distinct. The arrangement is pretty standard for alternative rock bands, but the fairly consistent use of an acoustic guitar in a song that isn’t a heartfelt singer-songwriter ballad is a nice difference to the modern norm, and the use of instruments is varied and fairly tasteful. Texture is varied, which makes it more interesting, and the song has nice enough harmonies accompanying a fairly memorable melody. It’s not a bad song.
I have, however, criticisms. My least pressing criticism is probably the lyrics, which are OK in that they are neither boring and radio-friendly with a samey structure (think ‘Wrecking Ball’) while at the same time not being narcissistic and misogynistic (do I really need to provide examples?). However, the lyrics also lack a distinct and interesting subject and lack any kind of wit. While pop songs can function perfectly fine without this, I like to hear lyrics beyond the chorus that I’ll remember and a general intelligence and thought and feeling. Still, not really a problem. The problem I really have with this song is that it’s just not satisfying. The arrangement and the melody and the rhythm and the harmony is all…fine. The same goes for the structure, or any other musical feature. But this is not a song that I would download and listen to a lot. It tries to have a sense of energy (the dancing people in the video show this intention) but at no point does this song make me want to dance. The chorus isn’t uplifting enough, the song isn’t energetic enough, it lacks a sense of passion in every element. I can see how some people could listen to this song and feel like dancing and feel excited, but I don’t get that personally. This problem is made worse by the fact that, while it is a pleasant song to listen to, ultimately there is little here that is particularly different or new or interesting. It’s distinctive enough, yes, but this distinctiveness isn’t great and it is only produced through slightly different configurations of ideas and elements that have been used in countless pop songs for years and years now. As such, the song as a whole probably won’t stick in my memory for more than this week.
To conclude: ‘Counting Stars’ by OneRepublic is a perfectly nice song that is distinct from its competition on the charts and shows a sense of musicality that I often fear is lacking in modern chart-topping songs. But if you’re looking for the cream of the crop, the exciting music that tries different things in imaginative ways, this probably isn’t the song for you.