Review: Popular Music in 2013


By Rick Hiduk

While the way that I listen to music hasn’t changed much through the years, the way that I hear popular music certainly has. It becomes clearer every year that the record companies are controlling the charts, not only telling us what the biggest hits are but reshaping traditional genres to their liking and denying us clearer choices.

I regularly peruse the Billboard charts online and simultaneously open YouTube in a second window. I cut and paste any song title with which I’m not familiar into YouTube to find the song, get the vibe of it, and dissect it the way a botanist would a moth. The lyrics and vocal style, the rhythm and the back beat, the overall color of the piece, and the influences that I hear in the instrumentation give me a feeling for where popular music may be headed or at least where it is in its present state.

Without a doubt, the dominating element in popular music this past year was folk. It popped up nearly everywhere but the R&B/Hip Hop chart. Folk music to me is a grounded, unembellished form of music that deals with the past, present, and future in one song. It served as the intro for Avicii’s runaway hit “Wake Me Up,” and was evident in numerous songs by alternative groups and country artists.

Meanwhile, much of what was promoted as alternative was fairly retro and un-inventive beyond some new production techniques. It sounded more ethereal than grungy, and alternative music really should be a balance of the two. All genres combined, there was less rock and that which was classified as rock was softer.

There was more crossover this year, especially country songs, but there were also artists calling themselves country who clearly are not. Florida Georgia Line is a very good pop rock band with a lot of energy. “Cruise” was a fun song, but it was not country. Hearing the lead singers banter over how proud they were to be “changing” country music made me want to hurl rotten tomatoes at them when I saw them on the stage at the Wyoming County Fair. I don’t want country to go the way of pyrotechnic rock concerts.

Darius Rucker’s cover of the Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” was an exceptional truly country-sounding hit, while Blake Shelton’s “Boys ‘Round Here” was an equally huge bar jukebox hit. Who doesn’t like to sing along with “chew tobacca, chew tobacca, chew tobacca, spit?” I wish that the Pistol Annies, who backed Blake on “Boys,” would break through to mainstream country. The honesty with which they approach their sings is impressive, and there has been a drought of females on country radio for at least two years.

I’d like to say that 2013 was the year that the dirty rap song died, but I know that my death knell for music that embraces the F-word over substance as a noun, verb, adjective, and salutation and treats women like crap is likely premature. Nonetheless, while explicit rap songs certainly took up a substantial chunk of the year-end rankings, the top three songs on the R&B/Hip Hop chart this year were dance songs by white guys: Macklemore, Robin Thicke, and Justin Timberlake.

For not being a big fan of rap, I ironically found Eminem’s “Marshall Matthers LP 2” and “Bugatti” by Ace Hood & Rick Ross to be pure genius, while pop offerings by Pink and Katy Perry were big let downs. Katy’s still as cute as ever, but “Roar” was a bore. My 8 and 9 year old nieces would disagree. Enough said. Eminem and Ace Hood at least rocked.

It appears that Taylor Swift, the pop country darling of the previous three years, is finally running out of guys to trash in love/hate songs. Her best material from 2013 included several duets that were closer to her original folk pop roots.

You can find all of the “official” year end charts at I don’t want to be a spoiler, but don’t be surprised to find titles that seem really old. That goes back to the record company control issue. No single recording should be on the Top 100 in any genre for more than 26 weeks, let alone 40 to 50 weeks. That’s why the posting of “Radioactive” at #3 pop song of the year was a bit insulting. It had been receiving heavy airplay as an alternative hit since September of 2012. I dumped as many of the 2012 songs as I could distinguish before I created my own charts (below).

I also rearranged the “given” formats of 2013’s hits into hybrid genres that would appeal to me if I had the opportunity (and money) to program my own radio station. For example, Capitol Cities’ “Safe & Sound” is a straight-ahead dance record that was ranked way too high on the alternative chart.

“The Fox” by Ilvis was undoubtedly the biggest novelty hit of the year, but novelty records more or less defy genres so, even though I got a kick out of it, you won’t find it on my charts. And the “Harlem Shake” was too ridiculous to be taken seriously, as was Miley Cyrus in general.

In the course of researching this year’s music, I watched a lot of videos, which I found were still capable of influencing my opinion of a song. It was the disturbing nature of the video for Lorde’s “Royals” that helped the hauntingly beautiful alternative pop song become my favorite song overall of the year. The video for “Royals” was also one of many that I saw in 2013 year that depicted abject poverty and unabashedly reflected the ongoing recession.

So, what else did I like (and download)? Here are the charts:



1. Avicii – Wake Me Up

2. Emily Sands – Next to Me

3. Robin Thicke f: TI & Pharrell – Blurred Lines

4. Capitol Cities – Safe & Sound

5. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis f: Wanz – Thrift Shop

6. Calvin Harris f: Florence Welch – Sweet Nothings

7. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis f: Ray Dalton – Can’t Hold Us

8. Olly Murs f: Flo Rida – Troublemaker

9. f: Brittany Spears – Scream & Shout

10. Emblem3 – Chloe

11. Adorn – Miguel

12. Eminem – Berzerk

13. Icona Pop – I Love It

14. Swedish House Mafia f: John Martin – Don’t You Worry Child

15. Maroon 5 – Daylight

16. Lana Del Ray & Cedrick Gervais – Summertime Sadness

17. Sara Bareilles – Brave

18. J Cole – Crooked Smile

19. The Script f: – Hall of Fame

20. Taylor Swift f: Ed Sheeran – Everything Has Changed

21. Pitbull f: Christina Aguilera – Feel This Moment

22. Adele – Skyfall

23. Jim Brickman – Good Morning Beautiful

24. Selena Gomez – Come & Get It

25. Maroon 5 – Love Somebody

26. Ace Hood f: Rick Ross – Bugatti

27. Drake f: Majid Jordan – Hold On, We’re Going Home

28. Zedd f: Foxes – Clarity

29. Lady Gaga – Applause

30. One Direction – Best Song Ever

31. Florida Georgia Line – Cruise

32. Daft Punk f: Pharrell Williams – Get Lucky

33. OneRepublic – Counting Stars

34. Bruno Mars – Treasure

35. Sage the Gemini – Gas Pedal

Alternative Pop & Rock


1. Royals – Lorde

2. Fitz & the Tantrums – Out of My League

3. The Neighborhood – Sweater Weather

4. Of Monsters & Men – Mountain Sound

5. Imagine Dragons – At the Top of the World

6. Bastille – Pompeii

7. Silver Sun Pickups – The Pit

8. Tame Impala – Elephant

9. Passion Pit – Take a Walk

10. Panic at the Disco f: Lolo – Miss Jackson

11. Grouplove – Ways to Go

12. Cage The Elephant – Come a Little Closer

13. Walk of the Earth – Red Hands

14. Muse – Madness

15. Thirty Seconds to Mars – Up in the Air

16. Fall Out Boy – My Songs Know What You Do in The Dark (Light ‘Em Up)

17. Arctic Monkeys – Why’d You Only Call Me (When You’re High)

18. Paramore – I’m Still Into You

19. Of Monsters and Men – Little Talks

20. Phoenix – Entertainment

21. Lorde – Tennis Court

22. The Black Keys – Little Black Submarines

23. Nine Inch Nails – Came Back Haunted

24. New Politics – Harlem

25. Imagine Dragons – It’s Time

26. Phoenix – Trying to be Cool

27. Vampire Weekend – Diane Young

28. Five Finger Death Punch f: Rob Halford

29. Ms Mr – Hurricane

30. Arctic Monkeys – Do You Wanna Know

Folk/Bluegrass/Folk Rock/Americana

Band Perry

1. The Band Perry – Better Dig Two

2. Kacey Mudgraives – Merry Go Round

3. Keith Urban – Little Bit of Everything

4. Steve Martin & Edie Brickell – Love Has Come For You

5. The Civil Wars – The One That Got Away

6. Alan Jackson – Blacktop

7. John Mayer – Wildfire

8. Alan Jackson – Blue Ridge Mountain Song

9. Old Crow Medicine Show – Carry Me Back to Virginia

10. Avett Brothers – The Once and Future Carpenter

11. Lumineers – Stubborn Love

12. Anna Kendrick – Cups (When I’m Gone)

13. Lumineers – Flowers in Your Hair

14. Trampled by Turtles – Alone

15. Passenger – Let Her Go

16. Train f: Ashley Moore – Bruises

17. Kacey Musgraves – Blowing Smoke

18. Russell Moore & IIIrd Time Out – Old Home Place

19. Phillip Philllps – Gone Gone Gone

20. Steve Martin & Edie Brickell – When You get to Asheville

21. Russell Moore & IIIrd Time Out – Big Spike Hammer

22. John Mayer – Dear Marie

23. Jack Johnson – Radiate

24. Jewel – Two Hearts Breaking

25. Gloriana – Can’t Shake it Off

26. The Henningsens – American Beautiful

27. Passenger – All the Little Lights

28. Rod Stewart – She Makes Me Happy

29. Jack Johnson – I Got You

30. Passenger – Let Her Go

31. Tim McGraw & Taylor Swift – Highway Don’t Care

32. Jake Owen – Anywhere With You

33. Mumford & Sons – Lover of the Light

34. Cheryl Crow – Easy

35. The Band Perry – Done

Country Rock/Pop Country

Little Big Town

1. Little Big Town – Tornado

2. Miranda Lambert – Mama’s Broken Heart

3. Blake Shelton f: Pistol Annies – Boys ‘Round Here

4. Darius Rucker – Wagon Wheel 

5. Lady Antebellum – Downtown

6. Easton Corbin – All Over the Road

7. Tyler Farr – Redneck Crazy

8. Jason Aldean – Night Train

9. Thomas Rhett – Beer With Jesus

10. Brett Eldridge – Don’t Ya

11. Luke Bryan – Crash My Party

12. Hunter Hayes – I Want Crazy

13. Lee Brice – Parking Lot Party

14. Justin Moore – Point at You

15. Randy Houser – Running Out of Moonlight

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