As part of this project I have listened to every song from every NOW compilation. I have not been able to get through track 1 on Disc 1 of NOW 83, which I know well.
Billions of people have watched the video and done the dance moves, and many millions have bothered to discover it is a satire on the materialistic people of the South Korean district of Gangnam. I hate the song and hate that brilliant songs never on a NOW have not had the billions of ears that bloody PSY has had with his bloody Korean-pop song Gangnam Style. It did, however, help former MP Ed Balls transition to a light-entertainment star in 2016. Ed Balls Day, commemorating a tweet from Ed on Twitter, is celebrated every year on April 28.
The Strictly Come Dancing clip is extraordinary. A former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer with degrees from Oxford and Harvard throws everything into the routine, featuring all the famous moves. Like his friend Ed Miliband, who as I write this is about to spend three days sitting in for Jeremy Vine on the 12pm show on Radio 2, popular opinion has shifted as the human side of former Labour Shadow Cabinet members has been on show on TV and radio.
In late 2012, Britain was basking in a post-Olympic glow but I met a friend with whom I’ve had an on-off relationship. In October, I suddenly stopped working on my football book and started frowning. At 24 I had a degree, some great friends and an enviable middle-class life, but something was wrong. Therapy didn’t seem to help, nor did long hours trawling job sites with supportive parents pointing out my strengths. My friend was omnipresent; I couldn’t enjoy music or comedy and had one of my saddest days when I was told to quit on the second day of a week’s trial at a digital start-up. I remember going to Camden to see a show and not even smiling. Life was grim. In possibly connected news, something happens with the brain of a 24-year-old as it matures fully.
Away from my friendship with my new amigo, Taylor Swift was beginning her Imperial Phase with her fourth album Red. This began her ‘pop’ trilogy, after she had written most of her third album, aimed at teenage girls in America. I think We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together is one of the pop songs of this century, and it is no surprise that Messi and Neymar helped her out. Max Martin’s genius is matching a sound with an artist: once again, he found a willing partner in Taylor Swift and he and Shellback had an enormous number one song about moving on from a relationship.
The middle of the song includes lines from the song’s work tape, which was common practice in the country world in which Taylor grew up. Before a demo of any song, the work tape includes all the ideas that go into a track, including the conversation that helps flesh out the lyrics and melody. Here Taylor seems to be describing breaking up with an ex and delivers it in a syncopated manner full of bulletproof hooks, sometimes two at once as in the final iteration of the chorus. It is no surprise that Taylor, then only 22 years old and a veteran who had toured the US as a headline act at 20, could articulate her stories and speak to millions of old fans, converting millions more into new members of her squad.
Amusingly the song was still released to country radio, meaning it became the biggest country hit since Need You Now, a ballad by Lady Antebellum that was never on a NOW that nonetheless helped kick off a country movement in the UK starring the likes of The Shires and Ward Thomas (both of whom have never been on a NOW…yet).
To return to Max, he had three number one US hits in 2012: Part of Me by Katy Perry (one week at the top in March); We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together (three weeks at the top in September); and the song that meant he knocked himself off the top, One More Night by Maroon 5 (still doing what their record company etc etc), written with Savan Kotecha and Shellback. A nine-week chart-topper, One More Night was a simple three-chord pop song with a syncopated delivery which had hooks in the verses (‘you and I go…’), the bridge (‘baby, there you go again…’) and the chorus (‘so I cross my heart…’), each as irresistible as the rest and tied together with the addictive ‘ooh’ section from the intro as well as the hook ‘yeah baby give me one more night’. The production sounds contemporary and futuristic, proving that the Swedes led the way in pop music in the 2010s. Britain produced actors like Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch and Idris Elba; Sweden produced producers who were pop scientists. Max Martin should be awarded a Nobel Prize for making the world dance; he has made do with Sweden’s highest honour, the Polar Music Prize.
Polly Holton helped me choose the next eight playlist tracks, someone introduced to me by Adeel as part of the PressPlayOK team. We are both undying in our love for Max Martin, who three-times on NOW 83 since Katy Perry is Wide Awake, on a slower song that shows her range. We had a great deal of choice from the latter half of 2012, including many acts returning to a NOW. These included fun. (note the period) with Some Nights, Pink with the on-brand Blow Me (One Last Kiss), Owl City featuring Carly Rae Jepsen with the addictive Good Time, Nicki Minaj with Pound the Alarm (Carl Falk and Rami Yacoub again coming up with the goods on a song that repeated the magic of Starships) and Ellie Goulding with the sweet but slight Anything Could Happen.
Wiley, the godfather of grime, appears twice on Disc 1 as the NOW compilers see which way the wind is blowing: towards East London, where the brothers JME and Skepta and vocalist Ms D sing Can You Hear Me (Ayayaya?), a huge summer smash to rival Wiley’s Heatwave, on which Ms D sings the chorus too. Other Brits having hits include Cheryl (the charming Under The Sun, with one of her best choruses), Lawson (Taking Over Me, a decent pop song), The Wanted (I Found You, a dance-pop song co-written by Steve Mac and Wayne Hector along with Ina Wroldsen) and the woefully titled Beneath Your Beautiful (beautiful what?! You can’t use an adjective as a noun!!!!) sung gorgeously by Labrinth featuring Miss UK Pop 2012 Adele Emeli Sande. Fun fact: Mike Posner co-wrote this one too.
NOW 83 sees the first appearance in the writing credits of Johnny McDaid, who helps Example write Say Nothing (‘cos your eyes do the talking’). It is funny how similar in tone the song is to Example’s mate and another chap Johnny has written with; Ed from Suffolk guests on Devlin’s latest hit called Watchtower, which brings the Bob Dylan song All Along the Watchtower to new ears.
Meanwhile, as I struggle to get to grips with post-student life, my dropout mate Marcus moved to album two. Babel won a GRAMMY for Album of the Year; I Will Wait, the first single, was first performed without a title (or the ‘I will wait for you’ bit) in my friend Matthew’s living room in Edinburgh.
Other new names on the compilation include Trey Songz (club banger Simply Amazing), Karmin (Brokenhearted, a knockoff Katy Perry tune), Angel (Wonderful) and Elbow, with One Day Like This, which is 99% Hey Jude and 1% walking off a hangover. ‘It’s on again!’ songwriter Guy Garvey’s then partner used to shout to him during the Summer Olympics, when the soaring anthem became the unofficial song of the summer.
In a song calculated to be placed on Olympic montages, The Script team up with Will.je.suis on Hall of Fame. Danny from the band had met Will on The Voice UK, where the Irish singer-songwriter took the gig to boost the sales of his own music. In the end, they turned into an Irish Maroon 5. Robbie Williams released the infectious Candy, co-written by Gary Barlow and produced by Jacknife Lee, a man from Dublin named Garret who produced The Killers, Snow Patrol and U2. The chorus was full of ‘heys’ and ‘hos’ and was Robbie’s best single in at least eight years in terms of sales. Album nine Take The Crown sold well, but only produced one single of note, proving that Robbie was both a live act and a heritage act by now. He was only 38.
The new Robbies were in the clubs. Swedish House Mafia gave John Martin credit on Don’t You Worry Child (more of the same), while David Guetta’s obligatory NOW appearance came with She Wolf (Falling to Pieces), which featured Sia. Calvin Harris continued his run of hits with an original composition called We’ll Be Coming Back, written with and featuring Example, and a remix of the Florence + The Machine song Spectrum (Say My Name). Sweet Nothings reverses the credits, with Florence after the ‘featuring’. She still needed singing lessons, but Calvin does well to turn her into a great featured artist before ‘the drop’ comes in and overshadows even Florence’s banshee wail.
Good singers were plentiful in 2012, one of whom you recall was Emeli Sande. Like Florence, she two-times but without help from Calvin Harris. Instead she calls on her friend Naughty Boy, who is listed as the lead performer on Wonder. Listen closely to the production and feel the gospel tinge on the chorus. I also love the middle eight telling the listener to pass on the ‘light’ of feeling ‘full of wonder’. As self-empowerment songs go, this is up there with the best. It’s even better than Live While We’re Young by Falk/Kotecha/Yacoub, the first single from One Direction’s second album Take Me Home.
Simon Cowell was still finding top singers and counting the money from his five-headed cash cow. The first single from Little Mix, the four-headed 2011 winners of his primetime show, was an awesome concoction which contains my pet peeve (‘mama told me’) but is a brilliant self-empowerment song written by 12 people, which is utterly absurd.
Amelia Lily also appeared on the 2011 iteration of The X Factor and in 2015 I would see her (with my friend sitting on my lap, annoyingly) in the West End in the musical American Idiot. You Bring Me Joy was a Xenomania song starved of inspiration, which is odd for them. JLS sang about the Hottest Girl in the World, while Rita Ora became a judge in the 2012 iteration of the show which propelled her song How We Do (Party) to the UK number one spot. The song was written by 12 people, which is again utterly absurd.
An almost equally absurd 11 people wrote Don’t Wake Me Up for Chris Brown, still best known for hitting women rather than having hits; one of the writers was William Orbit, who first had hits with Madonna in the 1990s. Stooshe cover TLC’s song Waterfalls very credibly but this didn’t connect with the public and their album was pushed back to 2013. It sold well, charting at eight, but the band were dropped after one album in a stupid music industry which often wrecks the careers of talented folk, yet allows people who beat their girlfriends to keep having hits.
Other catalogue on NOW 83 comes courtesy of Flo Rida, who takes a line from Brenda Russell’s Piano in the Dark (‘I cry just a little’) and turns it into a song that sounds like 2012. UK producer Redlight had a hit with Lost In Your Love which includes our friend ‘the drop’ and sounded great on the radio.
Ne-Yo two-times on NOW 83, writing Turn Around with Benny Blanco and Stargate for Conor Maynard but keeping the awesome Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself) for himself, on which Sia is credited. It’s both a great sentiment and a synth-led club banger to get bodies gyrating. It topped the UK charts having toppled Little Mix, who had toppled an irritating one-hit wonder by Sam and the Womp called Bom Bom.
My eyes are not deceiving me. Grown-up punk-poppers Simple Plan are on a NOW, featuring Sean Paul, with Summer Paradise in a song that is 99% I’m Yours by Jason Mraz. I don’t remember this song; my friend stopped me playing music. Read the next essay to see if my friend got lost or if (s)he stayed around.