With all the retrospective 2011 business behind us, it's time to start looking towards the future, or at the very least, the now. 2012 is upon us, and while we already have a new #1 to celebrate in LMFAO's "Sexy and I Know It" (two weeks running!), we've yet to have a song whose newfound popularity is truly '12's to claim. True, it's only three days into the new year, but that's about a quarter of a lifetime in Top 40 time, so it's about time to begin the debate: What's gonna be the first smash hit of the new (and if the Mayans have it their way, final) calendar year? Let's compile the data and look at five likely candidates:
JASON MRAZ, "I WON'T GIVE UP"
"I Won't Give Up" has to be considered the early front-runner for First Big Hit of 2012 honors—not just because the last time Mraz released a lead single off a new album, it spent a record 76 weeks on the charts and sold five million copies in this country alone, but because "Give Up" is already well on its way to performing similarly, landing at #1 on the iTunes charts within about a day of its release. Listening to it, its initial success is hardly surprising—it's a lovely, simple, intimate ballad that everyone from Taylor Swift to Chris Brown to Mumford and Sons is probably upset about not writing first. It seems like only a matter of time before radio play catches up to the downloads—even Mraz haters will have to acknowledge the impossibly broad appeal of this one.
TYGA, "RACK CITY"
Second-tier Young Money rapper Tyga spent a lot of 2011 bubbling just under the mainstream, and in its final weeks, started to finally make crossover inroads with his single "Rack City." Like Drake and Lil Wayne's "The Motto"—which, by the way, is starting to catch to radio pretty well itself—"Rack City" rides a minimal, old-school-sounding beat and an simple, disarmingly catchy lyrical hook ("Rack City, bitch / Rack, Rack City, bitch") for not a second too long, getting in and out in just 2:30. It might need a more PG-rated video and a toned-down main hook to really crossover, but it's already at #40 on the Hot 100 and #14 on iTunes, does have one nice feather in its cap already—an NBA cross-promotion with the "Lob City" Clippers. Take a guess how the chorus goes.
NELLY, "THE CHAMP"
Speaking from a historical perspective, it would be foolish to doubt Nelly's Top 40 bonafides: The dude has four #1 singles that spent about a combined 30 weeks on top of the charts, and even just two years ago, had one of the best-selling songs with the triple-platinum #3 hit "Just a Dream." "The Champ" has that crossover sound to it, based on a strong chorus and a gentle piano hook (not unlike Beyoncé's "Best Thing I Never Had"), and of course it has that built-in sports tie-in that assures it'll soundtrack ESPN highlight packages for at least the first couple months of the year, if not longer. That only got Jamie Foxx's "Winner" so far a couple years ago, of course but Nelly appears headed in the right direction—"The Champ" debuted at #64 on the charts this week, and is still climbing on iTunes.
FUN. FEAT. JANELLE MONAE, "WE ARE YOUNG"
fun. already had a breakout moment of sorts in 2011 when Glee featured their song "We Are Young" at a big Season Three moment, giving the show one of its few big hits of the season and sending a little love the fun. original's way, getting it to #53 on the charts and leading to lots of perfunctory (and grammatically entertaining) "Who are fun.?" type articles. That momentum quickly died down, but some still think band and song are headed for big things—"We are Young" has a steady swell of support on rock radio, the single is lingering around the lower stretches of the iTunes charts, and it recently got a brand-new music video that actually features the band (and Monae), as they gear up for the release of album Some Nights in February. There's a reason the song and its Glee cover sold so well in the first place, and don't be surprised if you hear a lot more from it as 2012 advances.
LANA DEL RAY, "NATIONAL ANTHEM"
This one is sort of a long shot—technically speaking, "National Anthem" isn't even out yet, and Lana Del Ray's people are doing such a good job of chasing down the leaked versions of her "Anthem" demo that we have to link you to this Spanish-language website to even give you a chance to listen to it. But the song has potential—think a less-shitty Jessie J tune with a bit of Robyn and Rihanna mixed in, sung by an ex-model—and if internet debates and pre-release hype pieces were iTunes sales and Top 40 plays, Lana Del Ray would've started owning the charts months ago. Lana could ride the press to actual chart success, as Amy Winehouse and M.I.A. did before her, or she could remain an internet curiosity. Seeing which path she'll take will be one of the more interesting subplots of early 2012.
Any of these taking for you guys? Or should we just sit around waiting for the next Rihanna and Drake singles? Your call.