Barring a surprise single release in the next few days, the field for my 2019 “Song Of The Year” title should finally be set! As I broke out Excel and began to compile my list, however, a funny thing happened: The rest of the world decided not to stop at 2019, and “_____ Of The Decade” features starting popping up everywhere. With the 2010s nearly behind us, folks are looking back to see just how far we’ve come (or how far we’ve fallen) in the last ten years.
As much as I rail against trend-hopping, the idea piqued my curiosity: Based on my reviews, purchases, and iTunes play counters, what song would I consider the best of the last ten years? Deciding that it would be a nice change of piece after a week of mediocre reviews and Pulse posts, I set out on a grand adventure to scour all my electronic devices, compile some numbers, apply some completely-subjective criteria, and solve the equation to determine my #1 song of the era.
This quest ran into some early obstacles:
- I’m primarily a country music fan, but frankly, country music had a pretty rough decade, forcing us all to suffer through the Bro-Country, Metropolitan, and now the Boyfriend Country eras. This opened the door for some decidely not-country tunes to sneak onto the list and provide some much-needed relief from the Florida Georgia Lines of the world.
- I, er, haven’t actually crowned a best song of 2019 yet. Can I really make a “best of the decade” list without the best of 2019?
Thus, Kyle’s Epic-But-Off-Brand March December Madness was born:
- Sixteen songs would be selected to compete for the coveted “Song Of The Decade” title.
- Ten of these songs would be the “conference champions,” i.e. the best song from each year would get an automatic bid into the competition. (Year eligibility will be based on album release dates rather than single release dates.)
- Six songs would then be granted “at-large” bids based on their relative popularity and importance to the various phases of my life during the past decade.
- Songs would then be seeded based on their play counts and pitted against one another in one-on-one matches, working their way through the bracket until a champion is crowned.
With our rules in place, a committee of me, myself, I, and my plushie collection sat down, deliberated, argued, and eventually selected the sixteen lucky contenders for “Song of the Decade.” The envelope, please…
2019 Conference: ???
This slot will remain open until next week, but the committee already has a pretty good idea who will fill this slot (and if you follow my Twitter, you probably do to). Unfortunately, since I haven’t actually purchased this song yet, it’s going to have to start from the bottom and work its way to the top.
2018 Conference: Aaron Watson, “Run Wild Horses”
For as many failed sex jams that country music has tried to put together in the last few years, this is the one that really connected with me. I love the dark, “forbidden romance” vibe of this track, and Aaron Watson throws down an incredible performance as an intense, passionate narrator that you can really feel. The writing was okay, but it left enough hooks for everything else to elevate it past “Burn Out” and claim last year’s title. Midland’s still a little salty about this, however, and they’d like to claim some revenge…
2017 Conference: Midland, “Drinkin’ Problem”
This song was a revelation when I first heard driving around Austin back in the day, and while it would up being only the fourth-best song on On The Rocks, it still holds up as a perfectly-executed retro cry-in-your-beer song. The production harkens back to the 70s and 80s, the writing was sharp and vivid, and Mark Wystrach showed the world that he was more than just a male model. They’ll have a seeding advantage over Watson to start, but will it be enough to overtake him?
2016 Conference: William Michael Morgan, “Missing”
How ironic: “Missing” is exactly what Morgan has been since this song flopped on the radio. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Vinyl was an excellent album and this was probably the best track on it. This was a solid combination of neotraditional production, a strong spirit of wanderlust, and Morgan’s smooth delivery, and it deserved far better than its disappointing #29 airplay peak. This is its chance to get the recognition it deserves.
2015 Conference: Thomas Rhett, “Crash And Burn”
If you’re surprised to see this here, you’ll be even more surprised when you see its seeding. I stumbled across this song completely by accident when that other Kyle ripped it to pieces, and to my surprise, I was hooked from the start. Nothing about this song makes sense: It blatant plagiarizes its style, its production and subject matter are completely orthogonal to one another, and Rhett barely sells the narrator’s role. Yet this thing became such a jam of mine that is has over twice the plays of the next closest song on iTunes! (These are the depths of madness that graduate school will drive you to…) I liked it then, I still like it now, and with its credentials it’s got a very good chance of claiming this title.
2014 Conference: Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars, “Uptown Funk”
This is when things start going crazy, folks. With Sam Hunt making his ascent in country music and pulling the genre into the Metropolitan movement, I started looking outside the boundaries of country music in search of quality, and I (like much of the country) stumbled across this absolute banger of a song. Thomas Rhett was striving for a retro feel, but Ronson and Mars actually achieve it here, and you can’t help but get up and move when this thing hits the speakers. The writing had its moments (“smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy”), the sound had more groove than perhaps any other song this decade, and Mars took this thing to another level with his excellent performance. Don’t be surprised to see this contend for the crown.
2013 Conference: Daft Punk ft. Pharrell Williams, “Get Lucky”
Are you noticing a pattern here? The writing isn’t all that great here and there isn’t a whole lot to the production, but Williams acquits himself well behind the mic, and the two robots behind the mixing board take their sparse arrangement and spin it into an upbeat, energetic romp with some serious groove behind it (that peppy drum machine that pops up behind the duo’s line has got some serious kick to it). While country music tried desperately to be every genre but country in the middle 2010s, the people that were already part of the pop world showed them up badly. This could surprise some people in this competition.
2012 Conference: Jason Aldean, “1994”
Hey, at least somebody remembers that Joe Diffie exists. This is basically Bro-Country taken so far to its logical extreme that it’s practically satire: The hardest of hard-rock guitars, the token banjo, odd percussion choices, and shallow lyrics that bounced between inspired references and nonsensical statements, all crammed together in a bombastic package that makes the listener laugh out loud at how bizarre it all is. It’s got some energy and a decent beat, but this thing is all about the Diffie references and how they work far better than they have any right to. I’m not sure how well its aged, but it deserves a spot in this conversation.
2011 Conference: Psyguy, “Waltz Of The Forest”
Can you tell this was a bit of a weak year? While this seems to be officially credited to Psyguy, this is a collaboration from Kirbopher, ShadyVox, MusicalMike, and Psyguy based on Super Mario RPG (the greatest game ever in my opinion, although I actually don’t think Geno belongs in Super Smash Bros.) and Yoko Shimomura’s amazing Forest Maze composition. I’m really impressed by how well it blends different styles of music (rap and opera?), all four performers turn it sold efforts, and the lyrics are pretty decent considering they were crafted to fit a preexisting cadence. I’m not sure this will stand up against the rest of the competition here, but like “1994,” it’s impact on my musical habits back in the day deserve to be recognized.
2010 Conference: Easton Corbin, “I Can’t Love You Back”
It seems like this song came out fifty years ago, but it really wasn’t that long ago that Corbin was actually a big thing in country music. “I Can’t Love You Back” was one of my favorite tunes from his self-titled debut album, with the somber production, passable writing, and Corbin’s earnest, emotional delivery. Although his career went sideways when Bro-Country crashed the party, I remain one of the few diehard fans who have enjoyed Corbin’s discography in spite of itself, and though it may not have the clout of others in this tourney, it earned the right to stand up and be counted.
My Little Pony Conference: JackleApp & Mic The Microphone, “One Trick Pony”
Given that the roots of Kyle Korner’s are planted firmly in MLP fanfiction, it doesn’t seem right to put together a competition like that without the candy-colored ponies being represented. The community produced some pretty solid tracks over the years, but my favorite is this rager from JackleApp and Mic The Microphone, defiantly proclaiming that they didn’t need approval from the masses to perform their art. Anger hasn’t been used terribly well in music lately (*cough* “God’s Country” *cough*), but this feels both raw and understandable coming from a niche fandom that most people give the side-eye to as they hurry past. One trick or not, this song represents a important phase in my life that helped lead me to my current position, and thus it warrants a spot in the all-decade conversation.
Video Game Conference: Levar Allen, “My Year”
This popped up in my last “Lost In The Shuffle” post, but it’s back for a bigger crown this time. This was crowded out in what was a surprisingly-tight 2014 field, but with razor-sharp writing and impressive production that fuses video game tracks with self-made instrumentals, Allen is the class of the field (even more than “Waltz Of The Forest”) when it comes to my video game music collection. It’s a shame that Allen isn’t bigger then he is, but maybe this will help get the man the recognition he truly deserves. Whether he can make “My Year” into “My Decade,” however, remains to be seen.
At-Large Bid: WALK THE MOON, “Shut Up And Dance”
2014 gets a third entry into the tournament thanks to a silly-yet-catchy dance track with energy and spirit to burn. WALK THE MOON (with its HARDY-esque all-caps styling) hasn’t made much of a splash on the Hot 100 since, but there are worst tracks to become a “one-hit wonder” with, as this track used bright electric guitars, a steady percussion line, and Nicholas Petricca’s bubbly vocals came together to make a song that spewed exuberance, optimism, and fun from every pore. This might be the most fun song in the competition, and that’s not nothing.
At-Large Bid: Brad Paisley, “Beat This Summer”
Paisley’s had himself a relatively rough decade, but this thing gave “Get Lucky” a real run for its money for the 2013 conference, and might be the equivalent of the confident mid-major no one wants to face. Paisley was really starting to branch out with his musical styling and blend his fiddle-and-steel style with modern sensibilities, and the result is a bittersweet song that captures the mixed emotions tangled up in a summer romance that’s doomed to fail. I eventually anointed “Get Lucky” as the more-memorable offering, and this might have a slight whiff of a legacy invite given my history with Paisley, but the iTunes play counts don’t lie: This has a real shot at taking the title.
At-Large Bid: Chris Janson, “Drunk Girl”
Janson has been a hit-or-miss artists throughout his career, but this was a hit among hits: Amidst the shallow, objectifying songs that dominated country music in the 2010s, this song dared to take the high road and make the narrator act like a mature, thoughtful adult for a change. The piano-only sound created the perfect atmosphere for such a serious topic, the writing was vivid and detailed, and Janson actually put his charisma to good use for a change by setting aside his “Buy Me A Boat” persona and show us his good side. It’s got a tough road to the title, but if “Drinkin’ Problem” is here, this one should be too.
At-Large Bid: Cole Swindell, “Dad’s Old Number”
As much as it hurts to leave “You Should Be Here” out of this competition, this thing proved to be a more-than-capable sequel, and just like with “Drunk Girl,” if “Run Wild Horses” deserves a shot at the title, this track does too. The death of Swindell’s father and Swindell’s surprisingly-earnest delivery make him the perfect person to cover this track, and the understated production keeps the focus on the solid, meaningful writing that moves the listener to consider their own parents wherever they are. It’s got a long road ahead of it as a low seed, but this was the best overall song of 2018, so if any song can do it, it’s this one.
So there you have it; the field is set! Once the #16 seed is set next week, we can sit back and watch the madness commence! Stay tuned to find out who will claim the barely-coveted title of Kyle’s Song of the Decade!