It’s hard to believe, but we’re already one fourth of the way through 2008. In that light, I’ve decided to create a Top 25 of this year’s most infectious singles, ranked according to personal preference but compiled based on chart success and digital sales. Today: nos. 5 through no. 1.
5. Gnarls Barkley, “Run” (Billboard Peak: #32)
Sure, it’s no “Crazy.” But let’s be fair: we haven’t had anything like that since “Crazy” itself hit Number Two back in 2006. “Run” — full of elated organ, adolescent chants and cartoon percussion — sounds much better in the context of Gnarls’ new disc than on mainstream radio, but it still managed to break the Billboard Top 50 and catalyze sales of the rush-released The Odd Couple. And Cee-Lo proves that he can do James Brown just as well as he does Al Green.
4. Kanye West, “Flashing Lights” (Billboard Peak: #29)
Though it continues Ye’s trend of stealing lines from Justin Timberlake — first the lyric about models lacking ass in “Good Life” and now the line about “flashing lights,” both nicked from “LoveStoned” — “Flashing Lights” is the third in a hat trick of brilliant singles from Kanye’s Graduation disc. Elegantly switching from regal orchestration to catwalk techno and then back again, the song might just be the most intricately produced of West’s career — not to mention the least dependent on samples. And once again, we’ll forgive him for his lyrical shortcomings: “I hate these n****s more than a Nazi” is a monumental misstep.
3. Leona Lewis, “Bleeding Love” (Billboard Peak: #1)
Leona Lewis — the first true breakout star of 2008 — is already a contender for next year’s Best New Artist award at the Grammies. With this track, she enters the race for Record of the Year and is more than a lock for Best Female Performance. And unlike some of 2008’s others Number Ones, “Bleeding Love” is neither devoid of melody (“Low”) or lyrically embarrassing (“Touch My Body”). Not since “Truly Madly Deeply” has a radio record given me goosebumps like this one.
2. Lupe Fiasco, “Superstar” (Billboard Peak: #10)
The vast majority of Lupe’s output is too cerebral for radio, so it’s nice to see the Chicago emcee break through with “Superstar.” That said, the song very well might be an argument against fame; I’m still unsure whether “If you are what you say you are” refers to staying true to oneself or to the incessant overuse of celebrity in our culture. But either way, the clever rhymes, euphoric beat and chorus camera flashes are too perfect to get hung up on semantics.
1. Yael Naïm, “New Soul” (Billboard Peak: #7)
I’m glad Feist came and went, but I hope Yael Naïm is here to stay. “New Soul” — an addictive piece of Cajun pop, rightly integrated into that ubiquitous Mac ad — simultaneously proves the power of advertising and the idea that selling out may no longer be stigmatized. But regardless of what you think of riding a commercial into commercial success, you can’t deny a single that’s an American Top 10 hit and a Record of the Year contender at once.