In what can only be described as a sign of changing times, The Associated Press recently began providing a list of the top 10 most streamed songs on Spotify, the massively popular online music service.
This list has begun appearing alongside lists of album sales and online downloads, and its appearance there represents a tectonic shift in how we consume music and media — and how we perceive that consumption.
We live in a world in which the number of times a song streams (for free) on a site such as Spotify is as important a metric as the number of singles or albums sold or number of times that song is downloaded on iTunes.
The availability of this list also allows us a chance to examine and identify — in real time — emerging trends in popular music and, like the caloric content on McDonald’s menu, how much garbage we are consuming.
At a glance, the list of the 10 most popular songs in the United States is predictably bad and chock full of songs by artists we are unlikely to know this time next year, let alone decades from now.
But while Spotify and similiar music-streaming services might be new, the mass consumption of bad music is hardly novel.
Since their inception, singles charts have always been more of a snapshot of any given moment, in this case a week, than a broader outlook at the state of popular music.
Take, for example, the year’s most popular song, according to Spotify: the angsty, post-breakup anthem, “Somebody That I Used to Know,” by Gotye.
Of the millions who listened to the song on Spotify or Pandora, few downloaded the song off iTunes and fewer still bought the Australian-born artist’s full length LP, “Making Mirrors.”
By contrast, records from heavy hitters such as One Direction, Mumford & Sons, Justin Bieber and Drake top Spotify’s most-listened to albums this week, a chart that offers much more insight into the kinds of music and artists that will be popular in the months and years to come.
The albums on this chart are a much more accurate gauge of what will be popular because they are being produced by artists who have clearly accomplished one of music’s most-daunting feats: Managing to make a dozen or so songs, and not just one, that audiences find of value.
The singles chart, by comparison, has always been about the flavor of the moment, so when music and pop culture critics attempt to extrapolate some greater meaning from the artists and songs therein, such arguments are seen as overreaching and fraudulent.
There is nothing to be gleaned from this list.
The only thing the popularity of “Gangnam Style,” a song entirely in Korean save the lyrics “Hey, sexy lady,” says about us is that, for the moment, we like, or are tolerating, that song.
Other Korean artists expecting to find similar success in America will almost certainly be disappointed to learn that our appetite for catchy East Asian rap and dance has been, regrettably, satisfied.
Songs like “Gangnam Style” and “Somebody That I Used To Know” aren’t the five-course dinner you had at the restaurant you waited three months to get a table at.
They are the fast food cheeseburger you had on that roadtrip, something you consumed while on a journey toward something more significant.
In honor of the singles charts, this week’s playlist is compiled of songs from Spotify’s top 100 most popular songs in America.
For the record, there’s nothing wrong with fast food cheeseburgers. Other than how much they make you hate yourself 10 minutes after devouring one.
• Passion Pit, “Take a Walk” — Songs by bands like Passion Pit usually make it onto the pop charts about three months after the hipsters have moved on. Right, Gotye?
• Ellie Goulding, “Lights” — There will always be a place in the world for a well-crafted dance song. Or there should be.
• AWOLNATION, “Sail” — A little angry and a little dark. Variations of this often crop up on the singles chart.
• Maroon 5, “One More Night” — A song you profess to hate but never turn off when it comes on.
• Bruno Mars, “Locked Out of Heaven” — Sometimes the singles chart gets it right. In this case, really right.
• fun., “Some Nights” — Just when you thought you’d never hear from Nate Reuss and Co. after “We Are Young.”
• Phillip Phillips, “Home” — Yes, that’s really his name and yes, this song is really kind of great.
• The Lumineers, “Stubborn Love” — Pretty sure this band only makes sleepy music, but this is pleasent enough.