Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Five years of The Singles Jukebox

We’re not usually big on self-aggrandisement or mythologising. More or less, we just do one thing — we rate pop songs out of ten — but we love it and we do it well. We don’t pay attention to the consensus around us; we build our own (sometimes, but we often disagree). And we’ve now been doing it for five years.

Of course the story of the Jukebox goes back further than that. We started as a pair of columns on Stylus, one for UK singles and one for US singles, which ran until the site closed in 2007. A chance meeting between two writers in a pub led to a few emails going across the globe, and all of a sudden the band was back together, just like we’d never split up.  Sure, our friends at Pitchfork began to focus on individual tracks in earnest a month earlier, stealing our thunder somewhat, but we’ll always have the extra decimal place.

In the last five years, there have been nearly 3400 songs covered from over 60 countries, with about 30,000 individual paragraph-long reviews from us adding up to about 2,000,000 (two million) words. It’d take you a week solid to read the site from front to back. We don’t recommend you do that, so here are some highlights from our first five years. Feel free to share your own in the comments!

Here’s to another five just like these.

March 16:
Flo Rida ft. Ke$ha – Right Round
And here’s where it begins. The meeting of two artists, one then-new, one established. One who would light up the world with exuberant pop and then get derailed by some asshole body-shaming her, and another who seems to have stuck around like the smell of a particularly nasty bit of flatulence. And occasionally the sound of it as well.

March 25, 2009 – Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Zero
Our first song to score more than 8.00, with four tens and nothing more than indifference in the shape of a pair of sixes from the naysayers.

April 7: Medina – Kun for Mig
Our first song sung completely in another language (Danish) to crack 7.00 (“Electro Movimiento” has an English chorus), holding the honour of being our highest scoring foreign-language track until Shakira did “Loba.” Both were slightly sullied by inferior English translations afterwards. There may be a lesson in that, but probably not.

May 13: Taylor Swift – You Belong With Me   
Tay puts on a pair of glasses and we’re smitten; it was the first song to score more than 8.50, and a song that would remain our highest scoring for two years. You can tell the love not just from the score, but the passionate writing about it. Yes, people do feel strongly about hugely-successful mainstream pop music.

May 16: The Singles Jukebox Eurovision Liveblog!
Here began our yearly institution of laughing at the bad ethnopop, loving the good ethnopop, admiring attractive gyrating frontmen and women and getting all butthurt about the winner every second year.

May 26: Regina Spektor – Laughing With
The discussion herein is possibly more than the song deserved.  There’s a lot of words in here, even more than in the song itself. Religion put a restraining order on us after this.

July 13: Speech Debelle ft. Micachu – Better Days
We think the lady herself popped up in the comments to let us know her song was a “banger.” Can’t fault her gumption or self-promotion in any case because she went on to win the Mercury Music Prize that year. All credit, no responsibility.

July 31: Lily Allen – 22
Back before she was just “problematic,” Allen inspired us to be mouthy and opiniated and not very much with the consensus. And then to pick over the finger points of another frustratingly insufficiently fleshed-out narrative.

October 1: Jay-Z ft. Alicia Keys – Empire State of Mind
Erika Villani got into Da Capo’s Best Music Writing for a wonderful review of this song that was in the comments. That’s right, we’re so good, even our comments section is critically acclaimed.

December 2: Das Racist – Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell (Wallpaper Mix)
Hi. Hi hi. We listened to an Internet meme, had a war and then talked about fast food for like 100 comments.

December 3: Animal Collective – My Girls
We actually all really liked the song, but for space reasons, some of us had to write words that slagged it off.

March 3: Zinc ft. Ms Dynamite – Wile Out

We’re big fans of Ms Dynamite. But we haven’t forgotten Zinc, we even gave him half of the 2010 image panel to himself. This early-year banger was never challenged.

March 10: Train – Hey Soul Sister
Sometimes we’re utterly at a loss as to how the world works. This was one of those times.

April 14: Stromae – Alors On Danse
A disorientating symphony made up of the noise of a seagull, or a recorder. Actually neither of those things. The Eurodance hit of 2010 perplexed and entertained us, and of course prepared us for one of 2013’s best.

April 20: LCD Soundsystem – Drunk Girls
Because the opinion that the song “should be more like being drunk and less like being accosted by a drunk” is like killing a sacred cow with an ice-pick. So cold.

April 27: Hole – Pacific Coast Highway
In which we want Courtney to be the best Courtney she can be. Live Through This just turned 20, you know? This post holds up better than that hodgepodge of development hell that was the Nobody’s Daughter album.

June 1: Lady Gaga – Alejandro
We were surprisingly harsh on a few of her early songs (well, not so surprisingly in the case of “Lovegame” but I digress) but here’s a sort of turning point where even those of us who don’t like it admit that she’s kind of a genius. It’s just that we can never quite agree on when it is that the genius is doing good work or not.

September 14: Cee-Lo – ForgetFuck You
Swearing! Controversy! Novelty! Surrender! Discussion about whether 2010 was weird or just shit! See also that song about missing that lovin’.

September 28: Far East Movement ft. Cataracs & Dev – Like a G6
In which we find out more about not only a U.S. #1 single, but also the recent history of Asian artists in the charts. Scored an honorable mention in Best Music Writing.

December 10: Rihanna ft. Drake – What’s My Name?
The birth of the Fucking Drake meme. We’ve had a hate-tolerate-OK-kindalike relationship with our man Aubrey, even going so far as to avoid showing his face a few times and yeah, childishly appending “fucking” to his name. We were like a ten-year-old boy chucking water balloons at our cute neighbour we totally had a crush on, or something.

December 31: Ke$ha – Cannibal
Our most controversial score to date. 14 scores and only two between 3 and 7 inclusive.

January 19: Diddy-Dirty-Money ft. Skylar Grey – Coming Home
Ambushed by unexpected emotion! Learning about what it’s like to be a dad! From both the song and the reviews, please.

February 17: Jessie J ft. B.o.B. – Price Tag
For the first time since whenever “back in time” refers to, music made us all unite — in dismissing Jessie J as a poseur who makes not very good but distressingly successful pop music.

March 21: R.I.P. Nate Dogg
Most artists just get a single entry to cover a cross-section of their catalogue. We gave Nate Dogg fifteen entries. It seemed like a good idea at the time and it still does now, really. Pretend they’re all in one long post if you prefer.

April 15: Katy Perry ft. Kanye West – E.T.
Katherine broke the Jukebox record for being awesome when talking about Katy Perry’s ode to creepy, rapey (though consensual) alien sex. The Jukebox loves to hate and hates to love Perry, and our palpable sense of conflict about the most popular pop star going has informed and powered some of our wittiest and most incisive writing.

July 22: Patrick Stump ft. Lupe Fiasco – This City
If someone wanted to know what the Jukebox is about, or what we’re good at, this might be the entry that best explains it. We crammed in so many viewpoints about these two heavyweights and their one middling song that it felt like everyone had a completely different take on the same song’s setting in space and headspace.

July 29: R.I.P. Martin Skidmore
Because it’s not all good times. In 2011 we lost a man whose dedication to, and enthusiasm for, the site (and music in general) kept us going when some of us were running on fumes. Martin was not just prolific, but also a wonderfully direct and thoughtful critic.

August 11: Gotye ft. Kimbra – Somebody That I Used To Know
Where were we when this was blowing up charts worldwide? Oh, don’t mind us, we’d covered it and raved about it months before the rest of the Internet were on it. We thought it could be a minor worldwide hit with the right placement, which turned out to be completely right, except for “minor.” See also Jepsen, Carly Rae.

August 24: Lana Del Rey – Video Games
Is Lana Del Rey a reliable narrator? Was Hollywood sad-core the worst descriptor of anything ever? Was that the Ellen Shipley calling Lana out for unimaginative appropriation of “Heaven Is A Place On Earth”? We still don’t know.

October 25: Aura Dione – Geronimo
Your editor spent a week listening to Danish radio and gave you all CONTROVERSY as a memento. On the surface: frothy, batshit-crazy pop number. Beneath: RACISM. We came to an understanding eventually and we’re all better people for it.

November 21: Azealia Banks – 212
It’s easy to forget in light of how her album still hasn’t come out and her other output has been, shall we say variable in quality, and how she’s insufferable on social media and obviously just not very savvy at the whole pop game, that this track still sounds hot, funny and filthy in 2014. Sure we wouldn’t play it around our mothers… our kids, though? Maybe.

January 7: Cher Lloyd – Want You Back

Like a collective sigh as someone we were keeping an eye on making good against the expectation that she might be up against it, along with delight at her willingness to amuse us with grunts. You can feel the relief in our praise, like delighted parents.

February 2: One Direction – One Thing
You can see the turning point here: us covering them not just as an inevitable Thing That Would Happen, but something that was happening that we kind of liked, but before we realised how much it was that we did like it.

February 6: Alyssa Reid ft. Jump Smokers – Alone
Oh Canada. We’ve disliked songs before but seldom have we had such a zing pile-on as we defend the honour of the Wilson sisters. Aspiring pop stars: do not fuck with Heart. But yeah, this song is worse than Noah & The Whale.

February 14: R.I.P. Whitney Houston
We took a lot of different views to a woman with a lot of different sides and a lot of different phases to her career. And accompanied it with an animated .GIF of a lot of her different looks. Drama in her life be damned, this was a woman with some songs.

April 3: The Futureheads – Meet Me Halfway
Notable as one of two instances of us doing a cover version of a song we’d already done. And we didn’t rate it an improvement. The other: One Republic/Faith Hill.

July 27: Psy – Gangnam Style
Had we got on this any less early, we’d have been meme-struck and unable to appraise properly. Maybe we already were, though. A middling score, but possibly our most polarising song since Das Racist.

August 21: Taylor Swift – We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together
Tay’s jump into big mainstream non-country pop directions was cheap, tacky and obvious and some of us just loved it, and still do. Some of us just had to groan and shake our heads in disapproval. At a meaty 2653 words, it became the longest standard entry we’ve ever run, just edging out Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Third place? You know what it is.

September 7: Javiera Mena – Luz de Piedra de Luna
The tail-end of a ridiculously slow singles campaign off a two-year-old album, and one we predicted would break our site’s rating system. Just don’t Google Translate the lyrics, they’re nowhere near as awesomely fun as the song.

October 23: Kacey Musgraves – Merry Go Round
The birth of a critical favourite before people were sure that was what she was going to be.

November 12: TSJ goes to the Latin Grammys
We covered a recent or recent-ish track by each of the nominees for Mejor Nuevo Artista. And we picked the winner. And then we did it again in 2013. That is, we covered the prize again and picked the winner again.

December 11: Alex Clare – Too Close
A story about the year-of-impact rule and a bass patch called Wobby. Everyone dies at the end.

February 1: The Knife – Full of Fire

As many viewpoints as discrete segments. They can make us a minimal techno mix any day they want. We burrowed in and tried to explain how it worked.

February 12: Sakanaction – Music
TSJ makes no apologies for its love of pop music from Asia, but even we were surprised to be so bowled over by this Japanese disco-rockin’ emotional onslaught that is about taking solace in music and actually legitimately sounds like it means it. It’s the highest score for an Asian pop single so far.

February 14: Betty Who – Somebody Loves You
Done on this day because it had to be. Long before that viral video, this was just a big, joyous 80s Whitney pastiche with an extra quilt layer of warmth on top. We let go, we believed, we swooned.

March 22: Beyoncé – Bow Down/I Been On
Our most reblogged post on Tumblr. In our eyes she’s an unattainable icon that we nonetheless chose,  she’s challenging, she’s fascinating and she’s going to capture discussion even in unfinished demo form.

April 4: Robin Thicke ft. T.I. & Pharrell – Blurred Lines
Kicked off months of Pharrell’s dominance of the charts and conflicted feelings about its grossness. The final triumph of creepy men and hashtags over clear thinking begins here.

April 10: Paramore – Still Into You
One or two of you didn’t approve of this being our 2013 winner. Presumably those who agreed were dancing around their bedrooms singing it into a hairdryer. This song is still love as fireworks and fireworks as love.

April 12: Brad Paisley ft. LL Cool J – Accidental Racist
This was only a year ago? It feels like it’s been a blot on the memory for twice that. It’s our joint lowest score ever (along with Alyssa Reid), nobody liked it, nobody thought it was even a case of good intentions gone bad, nobody understood why you’d even release such a mess. However, in Brad Paisley’s defence, it should be said that your editor once did “Southern Comfort Zone” at karaoke and it fucking ruled.

July 11: Crayon Pop – Bar Bar Bar
We never quite knew what to make of this unlikely Korean craze, but we’re including it here just so certain readers don’t get miffed at us and start shading us again. Slay us, queens.

October 9: Justin Timberlake – TKO
See, it’s not just low-grade pop stars from Canada that we slag off. Even a critical and commercial colossus needs a good kneecapping every now and then, and we were more than happy to do it. If we retroactively ruined “Cry Me a River” for you, then we’re sorry, but not very much.

November 6: Migos – Chinatown
We saw “Chinatown” (the song!) as a dubious metonym for anything Asian, or anything not white, or not bound by white law, or, you know, just generally not as good as “Versace.”

January 6: Beyoncé day!

It sure was rude of Bey to drop an album while we were on hiatus. But a few weeks to let the songs sink in and we had lots of fully-formed thoughts on “Drunk in Love,” “XO” and “Blow” and all the better for letting them sink in. Spoiler: we still liked them.

February 28: Pentatonix – I Run To You
All our college a cappella experiences (or nightmares) come back to haunt us. We vent our spleen on basses but only some of us want to be rocked to sleep.

March 17: Coldplay – Magic
Not an artist we recommended go in a Drake direction, but we think they did it anyway. We work through our issues with Coldplay as the Popular Pariah of their time.

April 1: Skrillex ft. Diplo, G-Dragon & C.L. – Dirty Vibe
Where else to end (not on #SELFIE, obviously)? We didn’t do every song on Skrillex’s album but this one gave us plenty to talk about, both as the continuation of “Skrillex” as “the” “saviour” of “dance” music, but also as the possible beginning of a cross-continental cross-over for two of K-pop’s most charismatic stars.

9 Responses to “Five years of The Singles Jukebox”

  1. “Sure, our friends at Pitchfork began to focus on individual tracks in earnest a month earlier, stealing our thunder somewhat”

    Stealing your thunder? Please, don’t put yourselves down like that. You guys utterly wipe the floor with Pitchfork any day of the week. Best pop coverage on the net. Anyway, happy 5th!

  2. Here’s some more entries that could have made it in:

    Black Eyed Peas – The Time (Dirty Bit)
    Jason Aldean – Fly Over States
    Nicola Roberts – Beat of My Drum
    Nicki Minaj ft. 2 Chainz – Beez In The Trap
    Sky Ferreira – Everything is Embarrassing

  3. Shakira-She Wolf

  4. ^ this


  6. awooooo

  7. You guys are the best. <3

  8. we love you toooooooo

  9. this has been the most important thing that has happened to me this decade.