Youth Culture Window

The #1 Hits of 2011 (Part One)

Painful relationships. Sex. Partying. Regret. Homosexuality. These are a few of the themes this year’s top music had in common. And after millions of downloads and billions of dollars spent, one thing is sure: the messages in these songs have been clearly heard by young people.

Let’s take a peek at this year’s #1’s. (This is part one of a two part article. You can read Part 2 now as well — Click Here.)

Understanding Today’s Music takes music, and its influence on teens, seriously. In fact, we even have an entire webpage dedicated to MUSIC DISCUSSION STARTERS that helps you talk about spiritual truths using today’s music. That’s because we know how deeply music impacts young people.

Ongoing research tells us two consistent truths about music: first, teens listen to a lot of it, and two, that it influences them greatly. According to the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation’s studies, teenagers listen to 2 hours and 19 minutes of music every day, seven days a week. (They also found that music was the fastest-growing form of media entertainment.) Tagging on to this study, researchers with the American Journal of Preventive Medicine also discovered that teenagers who listen to popular songs with degrading sexual references were more likely to engage in intercourse or in pre-coital activities.

That mix can be as dangerous as fuel and flame.

Realizing this, we take a moment each December to write about the most-dominating music of the year, as ranked by, the standard for music-ranking in America. As of this writing, there have been 14 songs that cruised into the #1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 and we’ll take a look at each of them.

For each song we’ll briefly discuss the artist and the message he/she crams into it. When necessary, we’ll even provide lyrical excerpts and links to music videos. Of course, we’ll speak to the impact a song has made on today’s young generation, as well…just so you get a better understanding of the music that’s captivating teenagers.

We’ll do all this in a 2-part article. The first article will cover the first half of 2011. In the second part, we’ll cover the second half of the year, and provide a few insights we’ve gleaned from studying music all year.

So, take out your own headphones and focus. There’s a lot to learn.

Grenade (Bruno Mars)
Bruno Mars is no newcomer to being at the top of the Billboard charts. Last year he was in the top spot twice, with Just the Way You Are from his Doo-Wops & Hooligans album, and also in a B.o.B. song, Nothin’ on You. Maybe that’s why Mars kicked off 2011 at the top of the charts with Grenade, another song from Doo-Wops & Hooligans, in the #1 spot starting January 2nd. The song hit the #1 spot three separate weeks in January, gaining even more popularity with his controversial music video where he walks in front of a train at the end.

We actually used this video and lyrics for one of our MUSIC DISCUSSION STARTERS, talking about how Jesus was willing to give His life for us even though we are often unwilling to do the same.

Bruno Mars continues to be successful with his music, with six 2012 Grammy nominations including album of the year for Doo Wops & Hooligans. This is compared to his 7 Grammy nominations in 2011. Mars’ hit It Will Rain (from the Twilight: Breaking Dawn soundtrack) is currently in the top 10, where it has been for almost 3 months.

But Grenade’s sporadic reign at #1 was interrupted by two songs…

Firework (Katy Perry)
This song was #1 at the close of 2010, so we covered it in last year’s annual music review article, but since it lost the top spot (to Grenade) and then regained it on January 9th for one more week, I’ll point out a few details about the song, here, too.

Overall, the song is a really cool sounding pop song that has a fairly positive message: shine your light to the world. And unlike Perry’s other songs, this song’s lyrics do not betray its “cleanness.” There is no reckless sexuality prescribed in the lyrics, nor is she singing about “kissing a girl.” In fact, some find the song quite inspiring. The Christian themed film Soul Surfer even used the song in its preview with its inspiring chorus:Cause baby you’re a firework
Come on show ’em what your worth
Make ’em go “Oh, oh, oh!”
As you shoot across the sky-y-y
Baby you’re a firework
Come on let your colors burst
Make ’em go “Oh, oh, oh!”
You’re gunna leave ’em fallin’ down-own-own
But, the music video, which has been viewed on YouTube more than 255 million times, is where Perry slips in a politically-correct pro-homosexual message in the midst of stories about struggling people. Interestingly, 2011’s first #1 song happens to lay a perfect foundation for a similar #1 song from Lady Gaga.

Most kids today barely notice these elements. They just refer to the video as “the one where her boobs are sparklers.”

But another song interrupted Grenade’s sporadic reign at #1…

Hold It Against Me (Britney Spears) 

Hold it against me?


With this song, Britney did the only thing she knows how to do anymore—shock people with her over-sexualized content. It’s actually very helpful for me when she does this, because it gives me a perfect example in my parenting workshops of what the American Psychological Association meant in their report titled, ‘The Sexualization of Girls,’ defining sexualization as “When a person’s value comes only from her/his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another’s sexual use.”

Poor Britney learned a long time ago that people pay more attention to her when she is naughty. Britney has sold herself out to her sexual appeal and behavior, so that’s what people value – and expect – from her. Maybe that’s why she sings lyrics like this:If I said I want your body now
Would you hold it against me?
‘Cause, you feel like paradise
And I need a vacation tonight
So, if I said I want your body now
Would you hold it against me?
Give me somethin’ good
Don’t wanna wait
I want it now
Pop it like a hood
And show me how you work it out
Really? “Pop it like a hood?”

On January 23rd, Britney’s song Hold it Against Me hit the #1 spot for one week…and then disappeared. Similarly, Britney’s racy music video for Criminal spiked to the top of iTunes later in the year…and then dropped back down just as quickly as it arrived.

This song’s success was short-lived. That’s the only good thing I have to say about it.

Black and Yellow (Wiz Khalifa)
Born Cameron Jibril Thomaz, this young rapper, who goes by the stage name Wiz Khalifa is a newcomer to the charts in 2011, with Black and Yellow, a catchy rap groove that rose to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-February for one week (Feb. 13-19). After his run at the top, the Pittsburgh Steelers adopted the song as its fight song since their colors are also black and yellow. Khalifa, who finally settled in Pittsburgh after being born in North Dakota, claims that the song is a tribute to his adopted hometown (Pittsburgh’s three sports franchises – the Pirates, Steelers and Penguins—all use black and yellow as their team colors). Perhaps the town of Pittsburgh should Google Khalifa’s lyrics and listen to the entire song… here’s just a snippet:Got a call from my jeweler, this just in
Bitches love me ’cause I’m f**king with their best friends
Not a lesbian but she a freak though
This ain’t for one night I’m shining all week hoe.
I’m sipping cleeko and rocking yellow diamonds
So many rocks up in the watch I cant tell what the time is…
In addition to bragging about his “bitches” and his bling, Khalifa, seems to enjoy smoking weed, or at least, that’s a central theme in his music. His album Rolling Papers hit #1 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums, and his song Young, Wild & Free (with Snoop Dog and Bruno Mars) made it to #10 on the Hot 100 charts, and #1 on iTunes for a few days. This song doesn’t hold back at all with its opening hook:So what we get drunk?
So what we smoke weed?
We’re just having fun
We don’t care who sees
So what we go out?
That’s how its supposed to be
Living young and wild and free
Last August he barely escaped three drug charges in North Carolina when the district attorney determined that the amount of marijuana seized on the bus did not exceed the 10-pound threshold for a trafficking charge. (Just how big of a duffle bag does it take to hold 10 pounds of weed?)

This makes sense why Khalifa might look at you confused if you ask him if he wants another hit.

I shouldn’t jest about his desire to sit around and smoke cannabis; maybe he was just born this way…

Born this Way (Lady Gaga)
Unless you were living under a rock – on another planet – you’ve heard Lady Gaga’s Born This Way. For six weeks, Feb. 20 through April 2, this #1 song was like oxygen: everywhere. YouTube views of the music video soared into the millions, as did downloads on iTunes and other online retailers. In fact, demand for the digital copies even crashed servers. This song was huge…and still is, even today.

This is another one of 2011’s songs we did an in-depth Youth Culture Window article on, so I’ll limit my discussion here. But as the song’s message clearly shows, Born This Way serves as a “career manifesto” for Gaga’s beliefs on sexuality (including homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism). This song has even given her multiple interactions with governmental leaders, including those in the White House.

Lady Gaga is one of the biggest names in music. Though it was her only #1 song of the year, it wasn’t her only hit. She also released Judas (another song we wrote a Youth Culture Window article about), The Edge of Glory, and as we write, Mary the Night is peaking at #32 on Billboard’s Hot 100, with its video at the #1 spot on iTunes. All of these songs have been viewed many millions of times on YouTube. Additionally, Lady Gaga hosted this year’s MTV Video Music Awards.

Although some might find her bizarre, most people today find her inspiring. She is growingly becoming the #1 role model for young people today. Forbes moved her to the top of the list of the most powerful people in the entertainment business in 2011, toppling Oprah from her #1 spot.

So what is it that our young girls are learning from this role model? Did she capture the word’s attention with her voice? Or is she yet another example of the APA’s definition of sexualization cited above, sprinkling in sexually-provocative material to spice it up? Gaga will answer that question for you, because she readily admits to using these kinds of tactics:

    “I was 19 and I was playing a show where I was supposed to debut all this new material. When I sat down to play I couldn’t get everyone to stop talking so I took off all my clothes. Works every time.”

Anyone who has seen Gaga perform has witnessed this “sexualization.” Gaga is an amazing singer and entertainer, but, to borrow from the APA’s definition, she continues to “value her sexual appeal and behavior” over other characteristics. Gaga is sexually objectified in most of her music videos… and our daughters are taking note.

But Lady Gaga isn’t the only lady influencing young girls this way today…

E.T. (Katy Perry, featuring Kanye West)
Although Perry didn’t know it at the time, this song was soon to become part of Hot 100 history.

E.T. was the fourth song from Perry’s album Teenage Dream to hit the #1 spot on the Billboard charts. In August another song of hers from that album would go number one, making her “the first woman, and second artist overall following Michael Jackson…to send five songs from an album to No. 1.”

But don’t let me get ahead of myself.

E.T. rose to the #1 spot on April 3rd, and basically stayed there for five weeks, with a quick interruption from Rihanna’s song about sadomasochism (but again…I’m getting ahead of myself). Perry’s song grew in popularity even more with the release of the music video, and she eventually performed this song with Kanye West on a tiny little TV show called American Idol.

My daughter Ashley talked about this song specifically when she addressed a group of parents I was speaking to, citing the lyrics and their effect on young people today.

But we haven’t heard the last from this pastor’s daughter.

S&M (Rihanna, featuring Britney Spears)
I guess one thing we’re learning from these #1 songs is that sex still sells.

We don’t need to spend much time talking about this song that hinges on kinky sex. The lyrics are as follows:‘Cause I may be bad, but I’m perfectly good at it
Sex in the air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But chains and whips excite me
The song, which featured Britney Spears, went #1 for just one week. (De ja vue, Brit Brit?)

This isn’t the last we’ll see of Rihanna in 2011, though; she returns in November with a much deeper song that resonated with young girls especially, and still remains at the top of the chart as we write this.

Rolling in the Deep (Adele)
She’s unlike almost every other female music superstar in America. Her first distinction is that she’s not even American. Adele’s amazing talent earned her instant passage across the Atlantic from Britain when Rolling in the Deep was released in the Spring of 2011.

The song is all about lost love and the resentment it causes her to feel. Adele borrows a nautical illustration to clearly paint her pain: a ship out to sea “rolls in the deep” of the waves and storms around it. The song’s lyrics even reference “ships laid bare” and “depths of despair.”

The music video provides further proof of her distinction: there are no back up dancers. More importantly, Adele is actually wearing clothes. Unlike her female peers (on this list), Adele fronts her music, not her body. That’s refreshing (and strange, since she cites the Spice Girls as a major influence).

Reigning #1 for seven weeks, May 15 through July 2, Adele’s pain was the world’s gain. This song was huge then, and remains so half a year later. Her album, 21, remains one of the most influential albums of the year. Adele just landed six 2012 Grammy nominations including album of the year. Bruno Mars, also up for six Grammy’s, joked with CNN, “D*mn it, why am I up against Adele?!”

Rolling in the Deep introduced us to a gal with an incredible voice, who could, in some ways, help fill the void caused by the untimely death of fellow Brit, Amy Winehouse. Simply put, Adele connects with today’s music listeners.

If Rolling in the Deep was her only hit of 2011, it would have been a stellar year for Adele. But this addictive new voice had another #1 song up her sleeve. And we wouldn’t have to wait very long for it.

Part Two…
Click Here to read the conclusion of this 2-part article. We wrap up the year’s remaining #1 songs and provide a few lessons that will help your teenagers make responsible listening choices in the future.

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Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for parents on his website Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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