I was toying with the idea of calling this list "Ephemeral Pleasures," but if there's anything I've learned in my decades of music fandom, it's that the silliest stuff can show surprising durability thanks to the tenaciousness of nostalgia. And "silly" certain describes three of these songs.
As will quickly become clear, I find Asian pop music more alluring than most of the cliched bombast on American radio. There were many catchy songs I omitted because they were also supremely annoying. I suppose to some people even some of my picks here are annoying, but that's the thing about catchy songs: there's a fine line between pleasure and -- after sufficient repetition -- pain.
Note that though I tried to avoid overlap between this list and my best albums list that will soon follow, I had to include the #1 song.
There doesn't seem to be a video with the studio version, and from a master of the studio such as Mr. Sweet, that's the best way to hear its full Byrdsian brilliance, so check out this edit on his Soundcloud. But the acoustic version in the video is pretty awesome as well.
2. "Nyan Cat" by Momo Momo
This video has over 55 million views and has spawned enough imitations and variants to genuinely qualify as a meme. The melody is "sung" by a vocaloid (UTAU program Momone Momo) rather than a flesh-and-blood singer, with the new vocal laid over a version done last year by daniwellP. "Nyā" (にゃあ) is Japanese for "meow." If you wanna know more, well, that's what Wikipedia is for. What is amazing is that as slight as the musical material here is, it's naggingly catchy to an astounding degree.
Now that YouTube has done away with its old ten-minute time limit, people have been able to extend this. The longest I've seen is 100 hours. (I'm not saying I've watched it, just that I've seen it's available.) There have been many subsequent versions that change the image and/or the musical style. I'm partial to this orchestral version:
Unlike a lot of current dance songs, this manages to pump the beats without inducing a pounding headache. Not even its use in a car commercial with those stupid Kia hamsters could dampen its appeal.
Every few years, England gives us a young white woman (who may or may not actually be English) belting out a more or less poppy sort of soul with a certain degree of music seriousness: Joss Stone and Amy Winehouse are recent examples, and this year's champion was clearly Adele. Will she have any more staying power than her predecessors? That's the thing about catchy songs: it doesn't matter if their singers last; they have already achieved something most only dream of, and that achievement lasts whether or not it's matched.
5. "Milestone" by BoA
J-pop by a Korean star who's 25 years old but has been releasing albums since she was 13. Popular in Japan since 2002, she became familiar to anime fans around the world when "Every Heart: Minna no Kimochi" was played over the closing credits to InuYasha. "Milestone" (so new it's not on iTunes yet) may be the best song she's ever gotten to sing, and clearly shows how much her vocal confidence and virtuosity have grown over the years.
When '60s countrypolitan superstar Glen Campbell decided to wind down his career in the wake of his diagnosis with Alzheimer's, he cut one last album, and its title track, written by Paul Westerberg (ex-Replacements), perfectly encapsulates both Campbell's glory days and the bittersweet close of his performing career.
From her debut mini-album (in other words, EP) Moshi Moshi Harajuku (means "Hello Harajuku"), produced by Yasutaka Nakata. I believe the inevitable phrase here is "only in Japan."
Korean pop has caught up with J-pop. This seven-girl K-pop group (yes, "girl" -- at the group's debut, their ages ranged from 15 to 20, with only one not a teenager) is totally manufactured, heavily geared towards consumerism, and unrelentingly cute. The material on their first mini-album was a little too saccharine even for me, but this, the lead single from their second mini-album, I found irresistible.
AutoTune is dead? Nobody told this J-pop trio (also produced by Yasutaka Nakata), whose voices barely sound human. While celebrating their tenth anniversary, they reached new heights of popularity, finally performing outside Japan and getting this song into the movie Cars 2.
Apparently London -- okay, half the members are from Glasgow -- has ironically goofy hipsters too (I admit I've arrived at this judgment purely via Veronica Falls' videos!), but their influences are way cooler and catchier.
- Steve Holtje
Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based editor, poet, and composer whose song cycle setting tanka by Fumiko Nakajo is finally complete at twelve songs. It is the most depressing set of songs since Mahler's Kindertotenlieder.