Youth Culture Window
The biggest songs of 2008 were, by the most part, also the most downloaded songs of 2008. Millions of teenagers have imported these songs onto their mp3 players so they can listen to them over and over again. So, what music (and message) are teenagers cramming in via headphones?
A Look Back
This article will count down the most downloaded songs of 2008 as charted by The Nielsen Company (which you’ll notice are very similar to Nielsen’s list of “the most listened to songs on the radio” and the list of “Billboard Number Ones” throughout 2008). Our article will not only provide a glimpse at each of the artists that sing these songs, but it will also include several excerpts from the songs’ lyrics. That way, you can take a peek at what kids have been listening to for the last year. The most popular songs from 2008 ranged from completely harmless to incredibly foul.
And here they are…
It’s not surprising that the song 4 Minutes made it in the Top 10 when you consider the artists behind it. The tenth most downloaded song is the result of three decades of talent shoved into just two artists: Madonna and Justin Timberlake.
Madonna emerged in the 80’s but remained a hit for the next two decades. Timberlake’s career was launched in the 90’s, but grew even stronger in the new millennium. So what happens when you put “Like a Virgin” and “Sexy Back” together?
Madonna: Time is waiting
How about that! We’ve gotta have sex… in a hurry!
Justin: We only got 4 minutes to save the world
Madonna: No hesitating
Madonna: Grab a boy
Justin: Grab a girl
Madonna: Time is waiting
Justin: We only got 4 minutes to save the world
The words and video speak for themselves. “If you feel it, It must be real just... Say the word, and I will give you what you want.” This is nothing new. 4 Minutes is just another example of a song that communicates “Do what feels right at the moment,” a message Madonna’s been preaching for years.
It’s like the darkness in the light, Disturbia.
These are some of the cryptic lyrics from Rihanna’s #1 hit Disturbia, which has been on the charts for 25 straight weeks. This incredibly popular song comes off her latest album Good Girls Gone Bad, which has pushed her “records-sold-worldwide” to over 11 million!
Am I scaring you tonight? Disturbia.
Ain’t used to what you like. Disturbia Disturbia.
The bombshell, no one new to our Youth Culture Window articles, goes by the name Rihanna, though she was born Robin Rihanna Fenty in her native Barbados. She’s famous for songs like Umbrella, Don’t Stop the Music, and Take a Bow, but it was Disturbia that won her a place on this list…and an invitation from MTV to kick off their 2008 Video Music Awards show with a live rendition of it.
In the course of her short career, she’s accrued five #1 songs and six tattoos. Though she ranks 9th on the most downloaded list of 2008, she is currently perched atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart right now for her collaboration with T.I. on Live Your Life.
If you’re hoping that the title of her latest album is not a foreshadowing of content to come, you may be disappointed to hear Rihanna’s thoughts concerning her own…um… booty. “I keep working at it as I want it to be perfect,” she told the News of the World's Fabulous magazine. “It makes my clothes look good – and guys like it!”
It looks like Rihanna knows what sells in America.
No Air is a song about lost love, sung as a duet by Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown.
Tell me how I'm supposed to breathe with no air
This heartbreaking song offers our list a “two-for-one special” concerning superstars. Sparks survived the scrutinizing eye of Simon Cowell when she won the 6th season of American Idol. She then went on to produce several songs in the pop/R&B genre, with her most famous one being Tattoo.
Can't live, can't breathe with no air
It's how I feel whenever you ain't there
It's no air, no air
Sparks has kept her music clean for the past two years, and avoided the filth so frequently associated with her genre of music. Not only has she kept her music pure, she even spoke up in defense of sexual purity when it was criticized at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards shows by comedian Russell Brand.
The other half of this duo is the young heartbreaker, Chris Brown. He announced himself to the world in a big way, when, at the age of 16, his very first R&B/Soul single Run It! debuted at the top of the Billboard charts. Never before has a male artist’s debut single topped the charts.
But don’t let his voice fool you; Chris may be more famous for his dance moves than his singing. This dancing machine has all the moves of Michael Jackson, and none of the lawsuits.
Speaking of lawsuits, he has also kept it clean during his first three years in the spotlight. He even wears his pants around his waistline instead of his thighs, unlike most of his colleagues.
By the way, Brown is currently dating Rihanna. Let’s hope they influence each other in positive ways.
Apologize is the first song on this list that I actually like.
This song was originally a song from the band OneRepublic, although it was truly Timbaland’s remix of the song that brought it the most attention. OneRepublic offers both versions of the song on their iTunes version of their album Dreaming Out Loud. Timbaland offers the remix on his triple platinum album Shock Value. If America hadn’t heard it by then, the rest did on May 21, 2008 when OneRepublic appeared on the finale’ of American Idol performing the song as a duet with Idol finalist David Archuleta.
OneRepublic has yet to prove themselves. But keep your eye on the band’s lead singer Ryan Tedder, long time singer, songwriter and producer who has penned popular songs for Natasha Bedingfield, Jennifer Lopez, Hilary Duff, Leona Lewis, and others.
Timbaland’s name has become more commonplace in the last few years, especially after the word “featuring.” You’ve probably noticed songs that say by Nelly Furtado “featuring” Timbaland, or Justin Timberlake “featuring” Timbaland. You’ve especially noticed those songs in the top 100, because people can’t get enough of Timbaland’s unique bass heavy bounce beats and “quiet murmuring” beneath the track—his signature.
Apologize is just another example of Timbaland’s icing on an already tasty cake. The music is catchy, the beat is smooth, and surprise surprise… the lyrics are clean! In fact, we saw that the song had huge potential for provoking discussions on forgiveness, so we produced a MUSIC DISCUSSION you can use for free.
The song in the number six position is one of those that may have more than one meaning. Love Song was written and performed by Sara Bareilles and is complemented with a cool music video showing her playing the piano inside a coin-operated juke box for guys and girls who need to hear about love. Her response?
I'm not gonna write you a love song 'Cause you asked for it
Some say the song is actually directed toward the executives at Epic Records, which is her label. Regardless, the piano-driven pop/rock song is a hit; such a big hit in fact, that even though it was actually released in 2007, it made a big enough impact on 2008 to be guaranteed a spot on this list.
'Cause you need one, You see
I'm not gonna write you a love song
'Cause you tell me it's make or breaking this
If you're on your way
The lyrics to Love Song are clean and completely harmless in comparison to some of the other artists’ work found on this list. Oh yeah, we’re pretty sure she’s the only artist on this list to have been “attacked” by members of Maroon 5 in their underwear.
Viva la Vida, the smash hit from Coldplay holds this spot on our list. The song makes several religious references in its lyrics:
For some reason I can't explain
Viva la Vida is found on this British band’s fourth album Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends. Coldplay has been rocking crowds on both sides of the pond since 2000 when their breakthrough single Yellow put them on the map.
I know Saint Peter won't call my name
Never an honest word
But that was when I ruled the world
I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror, my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field
Since then, they’ve won a couple of Grammy’s (including Record of the Year), been the owners of the world’s top-selling album in 2005 (for X&Y), and sold 40 million records in the meantime.
The band members are incredibly politically active, and have often been likened to U2 in that regard. Coldplay makes no bones about the fact that Bono and the boys have been a huge influence on them over the years.
Unfortunately for this band, their stellar year will be capped off with a lawsuit claiming Viva la Vida was actually plagiarized from another artist.
Most people never heard Katy’s name, until she sang the words, “I kissed a girl and I liked it.” Then, the former Christian music singer’s career took off. There’s no question—sexually suggestive songs sell. Add a little dash of controversy, and you’ve got a number one on all the charts.
Here’s the chorus:
I kissed a girl and I liked it
Katy Perry grew up the daughter of two pastors in Santa Barbara and wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music. But that didn’t stop her from falling in love with Alanis Morissette and Queen’s music at a slumber party. The rest is history.
The taste of her cherry chapstick
I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don't mind it
It felt so wrong
It felt so right
Don't mean I'm in love tonight
I kissed a girl and I liked it
Katy Perry’s song I Kissed a Girl, the fourth most downloaded song of the year, launched her career, paving the way for more songs in the top 10, and even earning her an invite to the MTV Video Music Awards, one of the many places where she performed the song live.
I blogged about this song when it first came out, receiving heated responses from the public. “What’s wrong with it? I like the song.”
That’s all that matters… right?
I can say with all honesty that Number Three on this list sounds like “number two” to me (and I’m not talking about Leona Lewis’ song).
Number Three was Li’l Wayne’s first Billboard Hot 100 #1, a song called Lollipop. Proof that our society has sunken to new lows—a song blatantly talking about oral sex (I won’t spend much time talking about this song’s lyrics or Li’l Wayne since I already did in a Youth Culture Window article just two months ago).
Since this list is the list of the “most downloaded” songs, I might add that most kids don’t download the clean versions. So they get to enjoy Li’l Wayne’s explicit language and lewd references to girls' anatomy. But don’t worry, even those kids that download the clean versions get to hear him sing “She licked me like a lollipop” over and over again.
Hmmmm. I wonder what that means?
We’re almost to the number one slot, but first we have to make it past Leona Lewis’ gruesome tale of a break up in her hit Bleeding Love.
But I don’t care what they say
Before making it big, Lewis paid her dues as a secretary and a pizza restaurant waitress, while she wrote her own material. This English pop/R&B singer originally found stardom on The X Factor, the British equivalent of American Idol. Her hard work finally paid off, and even the highly critical Simon Cowell claimed she might be the next Whitney Houston.
I’m in love with you
They try to pull me away
But they don’t know the truth
My heart’s crippled by the vein
That I keep on closing
You cut me open and I
Keep, keep bleeding love
I keep bleeding
I keep, keep bleeding love
Keep, keep bleeding love
You cut me open
Her ranking on this list underscores her popularity with American music listeners, but it doesn’t do her European fame any justice. She is absolutely HUGE in the UK, and her first album became Britain’s fastest-selling debut of all time!
The number one downloaded song of the year, also Billboard’s Hot 100 #1 song of the year, was Low, from rapper Flo Rida and his buddy T-Pain. Maybe you don’t recognize the title, but you might recognize the chorus:
Apple Bottom jeans (jeans)
This song is very catchy and was a huge hit, not only at dance clubs, but school campuses, cars, iPods… you name it.
Boots with the fur (with the fur)
The whole club was looking at her
She hit the floor (she hit the floor)
Next thing you know
Shawty got low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low
The question most people were asking was, “Who the heck is Flo Rida?” I’m still asking that question. There’s no question that T-Pain has made a name for himself, but we’ll see if this is a one-hit wonder for Flo Rida (can anyone say Soulja Boy?) …or if this might be just the beginning of more songs to come.
What about the song? Is it decent? Or is it yet another highly sexualized rap song that our kids love.
The answer is in the lyrics… if you can understand them. And that’s the trick. Most of us can’t. That’s what many of these artists enjoy, dodging the sensors by keeping their meaning under the radar of parents with lyrics like these:
She ready for Rover, I couldn't control her
Regardless of your slang fluency, you’ll understand lines like “so sexual, she was flexible professional…” or “I’m gonna say that I prefer the no clothes, I’m in to that I love women exposed.”
So lucky on me I was just like clover
Shawty was hot like a toaster
Sorry but I had to fold her
Like a pornography poster
File this song under, “very catchy, but highly sexualized.”
Looking Forward to 2009
In a world where Miley and the Jonas Bro’s have made their break as two of the top musical artists kids are listening to, I would have hoped for a cleaner list from 2008. Who knows what 2009 will bring.
Regardless of the content, let’s be ready for conversations with our kids about the music they listen to. If they already listen to racy music like many of the songs above, be ready to dialogue with them about the messages they are hearing. Use tools like our Youth Culture Window page or my blog to educate you about some of the content you can expect from the media. Use Music Discussion Starters like the ones we provide on our web site to springboard discussion about Biblical truths.
Do you have any impact on what your kids will download in 2009?
David R. Smith
is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth
workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the
gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year,
Ministry By Teenagers
. David provides free
resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org
David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.
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