Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On the charts: Ellie Goulding's "Lights"

Posted By on 09.25.12 at 02:00 PM

Ellie Goulding
  • Ellie Goulding
For a new blog series, I'll be taking a weekly look at the pop charts. Pop music is a very strange and exciting place to be right now. While the Hot 100 still has its share of oppressively bland rock and tepid R&B, the crumbling of genre boundaries and vastly easier access to new music compared to pre-Internet times has brought formerly esoteric sounds such as dubstep and indie rock into the mainstream and has allowed anarchic weirdos like Nicki Minaj and Diplo to cavort up the charts. Sure, the utterly vapid, inexplicably unkillable Maroon 5 holds the number one spot right now, but the Hot 100 also includes a summer-dominating song based on an obscure 80s dancehall sample, one that combines chillwave-ish synth pop with Auto-Tuned rapping, a Postal Service clone, and Pitchfork darlings who've made the jump to the pop world.

Ellie Goulding, whose "Lights" currently sits at number seven on the Hot 100, is emblematic of pop's current moment of robust heterogeneity. "Lights" has blatantly obvious pop appeal—it's got a snappy, techno-inflected beat and an undeniably massive hook, both polished to a studio sheen, and Goulding has a pop star's voice and ability to sell a song. But on the other hand, she's also a songwriter who obviously takes a lot of pride in having her hands on the wheel creatively, and Lights the album shares a lot of sonic DNA with the batch of experimentally minded female electronic musicians now creeping up out of the underground. She's toured with Katy Perry and with Grimes, and seems to fit in equally well with both. She performed at William and Kate's royal wedding and she's dating Skrillex. She can charm hipsters and their moms in equal measure: along with its appearances on the Hot 100 and a few other Billboard charts, "Lights" is also number 31 on Alternative Songs and number 18 on Adult Contemporary.

"Lights" has had an interesting existence. It first appeared on Polydor's digital EP An Introduction to Ellie Goulding, released at the end of 2009. Then it appeared on Lights, which was released in February 2010. Then it appeared in remixed form on another EP, Run Into the Light (coreleased by Nike and intended to be a soundtrack for running; Goulding is an avid runner herself), in August 2010. It was released as a single only in August 2011, and initially reached 49 on the British charts, barely cracking the Hot 100. But slowly the song found an audience, and almost a year after it was released it peaked at number two.

Radio and Internet demand seem to have been the primary engines for the song's progression up the charts, and much of that demand can probably be traced back to club dance floors. The original "Lights" comes in at 120 BPM, which is about industry average for club DJ sets, and between the stomping techno beat, the moody verses, and the anthemic choruses, this has "girls screaming 'this is my jam' at each other" written all over it. There are also ten official remixes of the song, including one by Bassnectar that fully unleashes its ecstatic, rave-worthy potential.

Miles Raymer writes about what's on the charts on Tuesday.

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