2013 was the year that showed the door to the idea that mainstream pop is inconsequential junk. The intense debates that raged about many of the year's most widely heard songs — "Royals," "We Can't Stop," "Cruise," "Blurred Lines," "Thrift Shop" — proved that whether meaning radiates outward from the songs we live with every day, or is absorbed by the feelings and beliefs we project onto them, pop means a lot. Whether it's good or not is still a matter of hot debate. I take the side of those who find pleasure in spinning the car radio dial, or, in more 21st-century terms, relaxing into the Top 40 stream on whatever online delivery service you prefer.
This list, now in its third year of existence, exists to support the argument that Top 40 pop isn't only good for getting the conversation going at the (now mostly virtual) water cooler. It's also great for listening. I've set some criteria here. I've included no zeitgeist-dominators; these are part of pop's general flow. Each was released as a single in 2013, though some are from 2012 albums. Each found its place on Billboard's year-end Hot 100 chart. None have been featured in NPR Music's other lists (thus no "Body Party," a great song in any year). Most never built up that hipster patina that makes some aesthetes feel like certain songs are worthwhile despite the approval of the undiscerning masses.
These are pop songs, plain and simple. You heard them buying a birthday present for your niece at Hot Topic or grabbing lunch with your mom at your neighborhood family restaurant, pouring out of your kid's bedroom or remixed in the club. Or, really, wherever you spent time living in the midst of people who might not be exactly the same as you. And maybe for a flashing moment you wondered, what is that? It sounds good.
Pop remains an antidote to niche-deep separations and habits of exclusionary thinking that so often afflict us as we huddle over our individual, ever-present screens, heads bound up in Beats by Dre. (Or Skullcandy, if, like my kid, you're an aspiring Goth.) These ten songs employ emotionalism, high craftsmanship, and a devotion to the pleasure principle to create spaces open for laughs and tears and dancing. Enjoy them. That's their point.