DJ Earworm's mashup perfectly defines pop in 2014

The DJ’s annual United State of Pop track shows that pop in 2014 was moody, self-interested and ultimately all about doing whatever you want

DJ Earworm unveiled the 2014 edition of his viral-friendly United State of Pop series yesterday, and as expected, it immediately set the internet ablaze. The four-minute clip stuffs 25 of the year’s biggest pop smashes into one gloriously frenetic mashup, and although some music fans have already complained that hits like Sia’s Chandelier and Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda didn’t make the cut, it nonetheless provides a fascinating and accurate retrospective of the year that was in pop music.

The mashup, titled Do What You Wanna Do, is easily Earworm’s strongest year-end entry since his ubiquitous 2009 track Blame It on the Pop, which many believe to be his finest work. But that song had the advantage of a substantially more homogeneous pop landscape, filled with vanilla tunes like Jason Mraz’s I’m Yours and Miley Cyrus’s The Climb, and it used the popular chord progression of the Black Eyed Peas’ I Gotta Feeling as a foundation throughout.

The 2014 version has a more diverse array of ingredients in the mix – Lil Jon’s Turn Down For What, Hozier’s Take Me To Church and Jeremih’s Don’t Tell ’Em reflect pop’s absorption of electronic music, folk and hip-hop – and they’re distributed more evenly than the songs of the 2009 edition. That Do What You Wanna Do flows together so seamlessly and maintains a consistent lyrical thread about the love of music is no small feat.

DJ Earworm turning 2014 pop crop into an aural mush.

Ladies leave men in the dust. Thirteen solo female artists show up in the mashup – which isn’t surprising considering women dominated the US pop charts in 2014. For seven straight weeks this fall artists such as Meghan Trainor, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Tove Lo and Jessie J helped set a record by creating a completely female Top 5 of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.

International artists also feature prominently, which makes sense in an increasingly global music world that shares and spreads music with tweets. UK acts make up the biggest overseas contingent, with Bastille, Hozier, Charli XCX, Rita Ora, Jessie J, One Direction, Passengerand Sam Smith all present, but New Zealand (Lorde), Australia (Iggy Azaelea), Sweden (Tove Lo), Canada (Magic!) and Norway (Nico & Vinz) get some love as well.

Sonically, the mix features a couple horn-blasting hits (thank Macklemore’s Thrift Shop for that), but it relies as much on ballads as on funky jams. A Great Big World, Passenger, Hozier and Sam Smith – whose breakout slow-burner Stay With Me became an unconventional pop phenomenon – each contributed to a markedly more downbeat, moody year in music.

The pervasive glowstick pop of David Guetta and Calvin Harris, which for a few years had radio programmers believing they were raving in Ibiza, gave way to sounds that were a bit bleaker this year. Hip-hop has been heading in this direction for a while, pushing beats that are sparse and weird and foregoing big hooks sung by the likes of Rihanna, and now that sound has begun to manifest itself in pop’s coolest tracks. Katy Perry’s Dark Horse, Lorde’s Team and Iggy Azaelea’s Black Widow each have more in common sonically with Jeremih’s Don’t Tell ’Em than they do with Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off.

But for all of his clear insights about what makes pop music pop on the charts, DJ Earworm’s most remarkable ability may be his keen understanding of the lyrical themes that drive the genre. As evidenced by the title of his 2014 mashup, Do What You Wanna Do, he’s still paying close attention. The tone of pop music has lately shifted toward self-actualization, and the art that captured our imaginations in 2014 showed people doing what they want, defining themselves how they want, and breaking free of societal rigidity. Tracks like All About That Bass, Shake It Off, Habits (Stay High) and Turn Down for What aren’t preaching acceptability; they’re encouraging individuality, whether that’s through respecting your body, dismissing criticism or getting really drunk.

Doing what you want to do is a message that’s clicking with consumers, and in crafting a mashup that’s so much more ambitious and so much less danceable than his standard fare, DJ Earworm is abiding by pop’s newest golden rule.


Grady Smith

The GuardianTramp

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