There's a Top 40 trend, a few years old now, toward making pop music on the radio sound more like dance music from the club: electronic instrumentation, thumping beats, repetitive choruses, AutoTune. Lyrically, there's a violent uptick in mentions of being young, staying up late enough to see the sun, and burning things, all of which are usually described in the first-person plural—not "I want this" or "you said that" but "we did this." Tonight, we are young, so let's set the world on fire. Let's go crazy, crazy, crazy, till we see the sun. Let's make the most of the night like we're gonna die young. We gonna let it burn, burn, burn.
Following these trends isn't necessarily bad, but when marketing executives make music by going down a checklist of elements from recently profitable singles, songs that are supposed to be energetic and lighthearted come off as hollow and oddly desperate. Here are five of the worst offenders.
1. American Authors, "Best Day of My Life"
What it's supposed to sound like: A fun celebration of a fun day!
What it actually sounds like: The singer doesn't mention any upcoming events that might make his day so record-breakingly good—in fact, he doesn't mention any upcoming events at all. He talks about what happened yesterday, which was partying until the sun came up, and we can assume that what will probably happen again today is partying until the sun comes up. This song is his attempt to convince himself that that's enough—no, that it's great, that it's the best! This time, this party, this is gonna be the best day of my life. It has to be. Please.
Most desperate line: The incessant repetition of "This is gonna be the best day of my life."
2. Owl City ft. Carly Rae Jepsen, "Good Time"
What it's supposed to sound like: These kids sure enjoy spending time with their friends!
What it actually sounds like: A catalog of dysfunctional behavior, possibly related to substance abuse or addiction: sleeping through every day in a hotel room without changing your clothes, withdrawing more and more money from the ATM with no means to replace it, "freak[ing] out" and "drop[ping your] phone in the pool" on a regular basis.
Most desperate line: The incessant repetition of "We don't even have to try, it's always a good time." No one was insinuating you had to try! It's okay if you have to try—it's even okay if you don't have a good time sometimes! Why are you getting so defensive about this?
3. One Direction, "Up All Night"
What it's supposed to sound like: What a night of fun these young men are having!
What it actually sounds like: A bloody-minded obsession with never sleeping. Why? What do you see when you lie down and close your eyes?
Most desperate line: I was going to say the incessant repetition of "I wanna stay up all night," but actually it might be "Don't even care about the table breaking / We just want to have a laugh."
4. Pitbull ft. Christina Aguilera, "Feel This Moment"
What it's supposed to sound like: Pitbull is a successful man who enjoys his life.
What it actually sounds like: The verses are fine, but when you hit the chorus, the beat suddenly drops out and Christina Aguilera starts howling about how she just wants to feel this moment because someday she's going to die (or just follow a glowing light through gates to a golden castle, I guess). Just one moment of real feeling before she dies, that's all she wants. Just a brief respite from the implacable metastasis of her numbness.
Most desperate line: "Ohh, I just want to feel this moment, ohh, I just want to feel this moment, ohh, I just want to feel this moment." The lamentation of Xtina.
5. Miley Cyrus, "We Can't Stop"
What it's supposed to sound like: Miley Cyrus goes to grownup parties and has fun with all her grownup friends.
What it actually sounds like: In their quest to achieve adulthood through hedonism, Miley and co flew too close to the sun that every single person on the radio right now is staying up to see. "It's our party, we can do what we want," they declare repeatedly, returning to the phrase like an anxious hospital patient picking a hole through her own skull. But there's something Miley and her friends can't do, even if they want to, even at their own party: They can't stop. And they won't stop. Every time one plucks up the courage to brave the forest of red cups and go home, a voice inside says, "You're not ready. Hell, no." The voice...is Miley's.
Most desperate line: Well, technically it's "To my homegirls here with the big butt / Shaking it like we at a strip club," but that's a different kind of desperation.