Commentary and Compilation by Rick Hiduk
A plethora of new artists has come onto the pop music scene since the beginning of 2015. While Pitbull (above) still reigns supreme among dance music royalty and Maroon 5 continues to churn out clever pop ditties, groups like Echosmith (top) and Fifth Harmony (below) offer fresh takes on young love and innocent fun.
Pop radio programmers have struggled over the past few years trying to find the right balance between high-energy dance music, grinding funk, power ballads, and pop rock. Ballads from the R&B camp were filling that particular niche for a while, but another driving force on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts – explicit rap – threatened to ruin pop radio.
Along came the folk-pop artists, and pop was saved for another day (year, really.) But low-bass, bump’n’grind rap pieces detailing sexual encounters and/or prowess wouldn’t go away. Suddenly, a new breed of pensive alternative-influenced artists like Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran and Hozier came along and grabbed the programmers’ collective ears. The popularity of the passion offered by these breakthrough musicians reaffirmed that love and feelings are still more popular than sex.
Meanwhile, the exploration and expression of the basic tenants of life delivered to our ears via folk-tinged pop hits by artists like the Lumineers and Phillip Phillips has been embraced by creators of dance music. Clever disco songs by artists such as Sia, Tove Lo, Calvin Harris and Ellie Goulding that feel good on the dance floor also feel good to the soul. Programmers appear to have taken note.
Billboard’s current R&B/Hip-Hop chart remains heavily laden with dirty rap songs. While the production of these vulgar vignettes often demonstrates remarkable talent, the subject matter leaves nothing to the imagination – unlike the sexual innuendo and teen angst that used to fuel pop music. Thank goodness Pitbull still understands the power of suggestion.
The rap subgenre appears to have become its own worst enemy. Recent releases by artists like Nicki Minaj, Tyga, Rae Sremmurd, and Kendrick Lamar are so graphic that even the “clean” versions are not fit for radio. It’s their popularity in clubs and as downloads that keep them on the charts.
Contemporary Hit Music radio has rounded out its format with breezy pop and clever alternative songs. Pop dance music is returning to a state where having fun and being in love are the more important goals in life. I’m happy to report that there is a renewal of underlying innocence in the majority of current pop/dance offerings, like Andy Grammar’s “Honey, I’m Good.”
“Bright” by Echosmith isn’t very dancy, but it’s a cute folky pop song. LunchMoney Lewis’s “Bills” is fun and reminds me of Biz Markie’s cheezy “Just a Friend.” Meghan Trainor continues her run of retro-sounding pop dance hits with “Dear Future Husband.” Who is Fancy’s “Goodbye” has a haunting back beat, as does Robin Shultz and Lillywood’s “Prayer in C.”
Nicki Minaj’s “Truffle Butter” is filthy, despite having a good beat. I’ll never play it in a club unless it is requested, despite it being #1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts for weeks. The same goes for Chris Brown & Tyga’s “Ayo.” This is not because I’m 52 and have evolved into a prude. I wouldn’t have plugged these songs when I was 22. I’m also fed up with excessive use of the “N” word in songs on Billboard’s Hot 100. If I used that term to describe any of this rap junk, I’d be hung out to dry.
All is not lost on the R&B/Hip Hop charts’ however. Iggy Azalea & Jennifer Hudson have a wonderful duet in “Trouble,” and it’s nice to have Shaggy and friends back with “I Need Your Love Back.” The latter has a nice warm-weather sound that could carry it through the summer months.
All in all, the following chart is subjective in terms of the actual positions shown. But, after listening to more than a 100 songs on the pop, R&B, and dance charts, these are the hits that I would like to hear again and would consider downloading. The few that do have limited explicit lyrics can be scrubbed up for DJs like me who prefer to play the cleaner versions.
- Pitbull f: Ne-Yo – Time of Our Lives
- Zedd f: Selena Gomez – I Want You to Know
- Who is Fancy – Goodbye
- Andy Grammar – Honey I’m Good
- Clean Bandit f: Jess Glynne – Rather Be
- Maroon 5 – Sugar
- Calvin Harris f: Ellie Goulding – Outside
- Jason Derulo – Want To Want Me
- Flo Rida f: Sage the Gemini – GDFR
- Robin Schultz & Lillywood – Prayer in C
- LunchMoney Lewis – Bills
- Ne Yo f: Juicy J – She Knows
- DJ Snake & Alunageorge – Love Me Like You Do
- Iggy Azalea & Jennifer Hudson – Trouble
- George Ezra – Budapest
- Ariana Grande – One Last Time
- Nick Jonas – Chains
- Echosmith – Bright
- Meghan Trainer – Dear Future Husband
- Shaggy f: Mohombi, Faydee, and Costi – I Need Your Love
- Milky Chance – Stolen Dance
- Ed Sheerin – Thinking Out Loud
- Natalie La Rosa f: Jeremih – Somebody
- Weeknd – Earned It
- Tori Kelly – Nobody Love
- Tove Lo – Talking Body
- Walk the Moon – Shut Up and Dance
- David Guetta f: Nicki Minaj & Afrojack – Hey Mama
- Life of Dillon – Overload
- Amarion f:Chris Brown & Jhene Aiko – Post to Be
- Ariana Grande f: Zedd – Break Free
- Calvin Harris f: John Newman – Blame
- Avicii – The Nights
- Empire Cast f: Jussie Smollett & Yazz – You’re So Beautiful
- Rhianna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney – FourFiveSeconds
- One Direction – Night Changes
- Fifth Harmony f:Kid Ink – Worth It
- Disclosure f: Sam Smith – Latch
- Deorro f: Chris Brown – Five More Hours
- Joe Bermudez f: Amanada Brigham – DJ Fav
- Madonna – Living For Love
- Noelia f: Timbaland & Peter Dranga – Spell
- Fifth Harmony – Sledgehammer
- Sia – Elastic Heart
- Twenty One Pilots – Fairly Local
- Calvin Harris f: Big Sean – Open Wide
- Beyonce – 7/11
- Fetty Way – Trap Queen
- Kygo f: Conrad – Firestone
- Trey Songz – Slow Motion