There was no stopping it. Fourteen weeks at the top in America, I Gotta Feeling was the Song of the Summer 2009. David Guetta moved from good to unstoppable, while The Peas never had to work again. It is the only number one song ever to include ‘mazaltov’ in its lyrics, as far as I know. The one thing the song had to do was get people dancing all over the world and it duly topped the charts in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark (but not Finland or Norway), Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy (but not France, Spain or Germany!), Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland and in the US and UK.
It is, according to stats, the most downloaded song of all time on iTunes. In a 2013 list of all-time top songs to celebrate the 55th year of the Billboard charts, I Gotta Feeling sits at six. It is beaten only by Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO (an even worse song), How Do I Live by LeAnn Rimes (on the charts for 69 weeks!), Mack the Knife by Bobby Darin (the biggest song of the ‘pre-rock’ era), Smooth by Santana (12 weeks at number one) and, at the very top, The Twist by Chubby Checker. Even Chubby would have danced to I Gotta Feeling, which is a song about how ‘tonight’s gonna be a good night’, one in which participants would ‘live it up’, ‘raise the roof’ and ‘do it again’. It is foolproof, and the last great song of the first decade of this millennium, even if I never liked it. Perhaps it is the only song to have ever been made for Jewish functions, many of which I have attended.
Christmas 2009 saw the release of NOW 74. I was working towards my dissertation and had decided to give hockey and opera more of my attention, spending time watching university matches and learning the rules (no feet, no sticks clashes, no backchat) then taking in lots of arias and recitativi (the spoken bits in an opera). After reviewing a show for the student paper which left off my byline, I decided to create my own website, named after the clump of cells formed by a human embryo in the early stages of cell division which leads, ultimately, to human life. Blastocyst.org.uk was born in December 2009.
Having originally planned to rejoin Fresh Air, the student radio station, I decided against it and was a mere listener to shows like The Cellar Door, from my indie-loving friend Chris Imlach, and JP & Fi, co-hosted by Fi Cuddihy and Jon ‘JP’ Parker, one of the most brilliant people I’ve met who has spent most of the last ten years putting together infrastructure for big sporting tournaments. I still listened to both Radio 1 and Radio 2 but was now dabbling with BBC 6Music and its leftfield playlist.
All three stations, I think, were fans of Mumford & Sons, led by university dropout Marcus Mumford. My friend Kiran had seen the band at the university’s student drama theatre and had been wowed by the way they got the crowd going with songs like Little Lion Man. Incredibly, while I was pratting about with books and deciding not to convert to a law degree – I applied for a Masters in Creative Writing for which I was turned down – Marcus was having top 20 hits and appearing on a NOW.
The big tunes soundtracking club nights around Edinburgh in 2009 were by David Guetta. I Gotta Feeling reigned supreme but his song Sexy Chick, with vocals by Akon, who was trying to find ‘words that weren’t disrespectful’ to describe the chick, also got tushes shaking. Already EDM had its Beatles and Rolling Stones: Deadmau5 enlists Rob Swire from Pendulum to sing on Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff; Pitbull sang Hotel Room Service with Nicole Scherzinger, which samples Push The Feeling On by The Nightcrawlers and is one-tenth as good; Dizzee Rascal had uncredited help from Calvin Harris on the non-subtle Holiday, whose song Ready For the Weekend showcased the Scot’s languid vocal style. The Ian Carey project created Get Shaky just sounds like 2009. Ditto Good Girls Go Bad by Cobra Starship, featuring an actor from Gossip Girl. Trend made, bandwagon spotted.
Cheryl Cole from Girls Aloud was busy reinventing herself as a princess of primetime, smiling on ITV’s X Factor in 2009 and promoting hits like Fight For This Love, track 1 of Disc 1 of NOW 74. JLS, or ‘Jack the Lad Swing’, had starred in the 2008 iteration and the lads (JB, Oritse, Marvin and back-flipping Aston) scored a number one of their own with Beat Again, written by Steve Mac and Wayne Hector, who were Simon Cowell’s go-to guys to write hits for acts he was ‘discovering’ on his show.
2009 ended with Joe McElderry, the charming winner of The X Factor and Cheryl’s fellow Geordie, losing the fabled battle for Christmas number one to Rage Against the Machine’s song Killing In the Name Of, in a campaign orchestrated on that social networking site invented in a Harvard University dorm room four years before. Facebook could influence the charts now; surely it could not play a role in a fair, democratic election or referendum…
Amazingly, La Roux went all the way to the top with Bulletproof, which is ten times the song I Gotta Feeling is, while Tinchy Stryder borrowed Amelle from Sugababes on his own chart-topper Never Leave You, written by Taio Cruz and Fraser T Smith, the same pair who wrote Taio’s own number one Break Your Heart. Chipmunk did the same with a really addictive song called Oopsy Daisy, with a hook sung by Dayo Olatunji, who was only 17 years old. She has since co-written songs with Wiley as well as the Neikid song Sexual (or Sensual in some versions) under the moniker Dyo, which was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award. Still flying the flag for urban-accented pop music, N-Dubz had a miserable hit with I Need You, this time nothing to do with Fraser T Smith.
Also on NOW 74 is a song by Young Soul Rebels which took the ‘I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier’ line from All These Things That I’ve Done by the Killers, used it as a chorus and added several British rap stars: Tinchy Stryder, Pixie Lott, Chipmunk, Frankmusik, VV Brown, Ironik, Bashy, Mclean, Domino Go, Kid British and N-Dubz. The song was another charity single, this time for Warchild. The producer? Fraser T Smith, fast becoming the equivalent of Trevor Horn to the new scene.
Gary Barlow co-writes a lush ballad called To Love Again with Alesha Dixon, while his old bandmate teams up with Trevor Horn himself, who produces the fine song Bodies. Robbie’s audience has grown with him, though he would come back to Take That soon enough. The sort of American version of Robbie – the 99% ego, 1% id Kanye West – is a two-timer as he raps on Supernova, a track by Mr Hudson, whom I once saw with his band The Library playing in a library. Also in the audience at the gig was Harry Cole, who is now an esteemed political journalist. So that’s journalists, popstars and comedians (Iain Stirling was a law student while I studied Classics) added to the roster of famous people I know from uni.
Over in the States, it was a trio of acts who came together for Run This Town: Rihanna sang the hook, Kanye West did some rapping while Jay-Z took the lead. This formula would grow to become a cliché within a few years, as more and more rappers were added by producers like DJ Khaled. Jay Sean had a megahit in the US with Down, featuring an annoying autotuned rap from Lil Wayne, while a man called Jason Desrouleaux shortened his surname and yelled it out on the song Whatcha Say, which twisted Hide and Seek by cult indie act Imogen Heap into new shapes.
Wrapping up a decade of pop are a host of old favourites, although NOW deals in decades of its own and NOW 100 will wrap their tenth decade, and it makes sense to think of pop in three- or four-year cycles. Whitney Houston, more of a mess than Britney Spears but on the comeback trail, releases the outstanding Million Dollar Bill, written by Alicia Keys and remixed by the mighty house producer Frankie Knuckles. Whitney’s successors, Beyonce and Shakira, return with Sweet Dreams and She Wolf respectively.
Pixie Lott was not born when Whitney had her first hits. Her song Boys and Girls is a funky pop song that takes its place on Disc 1 next to a Xenomania track released by Mini Viva called Left My Heart in Tokyo, a UK top ten hit I entirely missed at the time but which is a lot of fun. Girls Aloud, with Cheryl having gone solo, are no more. Agnes has another hit with I Need You Now, and I have just found out she won the Swedish version of Pop Idol; no wonder she had so many hits…
Sean Kingston, who was even younger than I was, had another hit with Fire Burning, produced by Lady Gaga’s producer RedOne, who also helps Little Boots on Remedy. Lady Gaga herself kicks off Disc 2 with the brilliant Paparazzi, while Mika also returns with the majestic We Are Golden. He is now enormous in France, since he speaks perfect French, but his broadcasting is extraordinary and his Radio 2 shows on songwriting are some of the best around. Just Jack, who had hits around the time Mika first appeared, hit number 11 with The Day I Died, while Lily Allen’s song 22 shows remarkable maturity. Thanks to Arctic Monkeys singing in Yorkshire accents, regionalism was all the rage. Paolo Nutini, with his astonishing Pencil Full of Lead, went full Glasgow as he sang about having ‘a licence for my telly’ as well as, ‘best of all’, his loved one.
Bruno Mars and his mates in The Smeezingtons have their song Get Sexy (which interpolates I’m Too Sexy by Right Said Fred) taken into the charts by Sugababes, whose long chart run is coming to an end as the Saturdays are just beginning their own. Forever Is Over is their next hit, co-written by (of all people) James from Busted. Just Say Yes is a dour tune from Snow Patrol, Muse (finally!!) appear on a NOW with the Blondie-sounding Uprising and The Temper Trap have the poppy hit of the year with Sweet Disposition, proving that some good music was coming out of Australia and making it to the Northern hemisphere. Fun fact: the song is produced by Jim Abbiss, who worked on albums by Adele, Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian.
For a fourth time, this time as You’ve Got the Love (not ‘You’) the famous dance song appears on a NOW, this time not sung by Candi Staton. Florence + The Machine took their version into the charts and had me wishing for Candi. A new voice, Esmee Denters, sings a contemporary pop song called Outta Here which was produced by Jason Perry (remember him?) and Justin Timberlake. It predicts what pop will sound like for the next decade and deserved to be a smash. Its performer was a Youtube sensation spotted by Justin and signed to his Tennman imprint. Having been dropped, she competed on the BBC’s talent show The Voice in 2015 but didn’t win. She is still performing and releasing music.
Outta Here was co-written by Ester Dean, whose career as a ‘top line’ (or melody) writer formed the basis of a great article in the New Yorker magazine by John Seabrook. He would go on to write an entire book, The Song Machine, about how hits get made. It is one of the best books ever written about popular song. Buy a copy. I bet even Fraser T Smith has one…