Photo via Taylor Swift on Instagram
No matter what is going on in the world, there is music playing somewhere. But in our fine country, The Great Melting Pot and The Home of the Internet, it’s hard to say what exactly that music is. We’re pretty much all in our own bubbles, listening to weird trap remixes and unearthed YouTube rarities, and we’re not necessarily aware of the other music that transcends bubbles and works as pop. Identifying the biggest song in the country can be a complex issue—not least because there a million sources of potentially relevant data, and most of them didn’t exist a couple years ago.
Fortunately, Noisey is a website built on fastidious statistical analysis and rigorous societal examination, which gives us the tools to find out exactly what the biggest song in the country is. There are obviously many ways of determining that: official charts, sales data, streaming numbers, and, perhaps most importantly, the unquantifiable quality of societal awareness. What songs are invading our national consciousness even if they are not selling the most copies? What songs are inescapably wound into our brains and appearing in our Vines? There are many ways to determine the biggest song in the country, and this column is dedicated to exploring as many of them as possible. Why? Because music is dope, and you, fellow American, deserve to know exactly what music is the dopest in the eyes of your countrymen and countrywomen. So: What is the biggest song in the country right now?
On iTunes and in the celebrity gossip world, the biggest song in the country is “Out of the Woods” by Taylor Swift
Photo via Taylor Swift on Instagram
Monday night, Taylor Swift released her newest single, “Out of the Woods,” and it immediately shot to number one on the iTunes chart. Co-written with Jack Antonoff of fun./Bleachers/Lena Dunham boyfriend fame, it’s not technically a single, whatever fine distinction that's worth, but it is, as Swift told USA TODAY, “the greatest example of the sound of this album.” That sound is synth pop, with the anthemic quality of past Jack Antonoff hits, as well as—thank God—Taylor Swift’s narrative songwriting. It’s supposedly about her relationship with Harry Styles, and the gossip industrial complex is hard at work trying to prove that for sure. What we do know, according to what she told Rolling Stone, is that it’s about a relationship in which “every day was a struggle. Forget making plans for life—we were just trying to make it to next week.” She also told the magazine there was a snowmobile accident that never made the tabloids (hence the lyric “20 stitches in a hospital room”). The combination of Harry Styles and Taylor Swift and the dude from fun. in one gossip-friendly song that immediately topped a digital sales chart is pretty much the perfect recipe for making this song the biggest song in the country on a commercial level and a conversational level, which is why it makes this week’s list.
Yet beyond the reasons this song actually is the biggest song in the country, let’s consider why it deserves to be, even if Taylor insists it’s not a single. Taylor Swift’s appeal has always been in the way she tells stories. In addition to having a talent for creating a narrative arc over the course of a song (boy meets girl, boy and girl face tension, boy asks girl to marry him because it’s a love story, after all), Taylor is really good at pinpointing resonant moments that tell a lot in very little space, which makes for tight songs that feel totally personal. My favorite instance of this is probably the line about “dancing ‘round the kitchen in the refrigerator light” in “All Too Well,” which is such a specific, beautiful image that captures the weird little moments of romance that occur in any relationship so perfectly (that that’s supposedly the Jake Gyllenhaal song makes it less cute because that guy seems weird, but whatever). There are a couple really similar moments in “Out of the Woods”: “We were lying on your couch, I remember! / You took a Polaroid of us”; “The night we couldn't quite forget, when we decided / We decided to move the furniture so we could dance”; “And when the sun came up, you were lookin' at me / You were lookin' at me.”
The reason “Shake It Off” (which, according to Spotify, is still the biggest song in the country, but, according to me, is now only the second-brightest star in the Taylor Swift galaxy) doesn’t quite work for me isn’t because it’s Taylor’s supposed pop reinvention—she was already pop on “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “22”—but rather because it’s a pop bid that ignores what makes Taylor Swift interesting, or at least interesting to me. Taylor Swift is great not for being an awkward white girl who dances around with abandon but for being a deeply perceptive songwriter. “Out of the Woods” is a pop song that carries all the exhilarating rush a big pop song should, but it also has the kind of emotional tension that the best, most memorable pop songs achieve. This is a song about trying to make an unworkable relationship work! That is tough and very real! I don’t know if this emotional grounding is something that makes songs perform better or worse commercially, but it seems like the kind of thing that would make a ton of people relate to the song, which bodes well for its long-term prospects. Can you imagine this song playing over the montage in a romantic comedy where the one person realizes they’ve made a mistake and is tearing down the highway to get to the other person before they get to the airport? It's basically begging for a video a la a-ha's “Take on Me.” The suspense is almost too much to handle. There's the aforementioned narrative arc. And that bass line! It’s all about that bass. This is like two weird vocal filters away from being a Crystal Castles song. Anyway, I think “Out of the Woods” is a devastatingly well-written song, and I hope the entire world agrees with me and Taylor Swift reads this devastatingly well-written paragraph and releases a video for it.
On the Billboard chart, the biggest song in the country is “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor
You’d think there would be nothing left to say about this song, which is already comfortably the biggest song in the country by virtue of topping the Billboard Hot 100 for the fifth week in a row. But it just got bigger because Justin Bieber’s artist Maejor Ali made a remix featuring Justin Bieber, and, if there’s one way to make a song bigger than the biggest song in the country, it’s by putting Justin Bieber, the world’s most famous musician, on it. How is the remix? Let me answer a question with a question: Did you ever think you would miss “All About That Bass”? That you would look back on Meghan Trainor’s annoying bastardization of doo-wop and think “you know what, that was pretty catchy just how it was”? I mean, admit it—at this point you kind of like that song. And you know what will make you like it more? Hearing Justin Bieber and Maejor Ali’s weird, glitchy remix full of synth trills that make no sense and realizing that at least the song we’ve got is palatable and kind of nice. It could just be a pointless attempt at electronic music instead! Imagine being subjected to this version forever. It would be hell. Hell is other Biebers. Anyway: “All About That Bass” is still number one, and now that it’s the Biebs’s favorite song, it is even more of the biggest song in the country than it already was.
On rap blogs, the biggest song in the country is “Try Me” by Dej Loaf
After getting a subtle co-sign from Drake and a less subtle one from Wiz Khalifa in the form of a remix, Dej Loaf’s amazing “Try Me” has become your favorite rapper’s favorite rap song. Or at least it seems to be the song that rappers are gravitating toward making remixes of. Besides Wiz, E-40, one of Dej’s own favorite rappers, was quick to share a remix, and since then he’s been joined by The Lox, Chevy Woods, Lil Durk, and King Louie. Big Sean freestyled over it on a radio show before saying he wanted to be on the official version, but supposedly Ty Dolla $ign might be on said official version instead. Yesterday, not only did I hear someone playing this song in the street outside my apartment (a big indicator of any song’s popularity), it also got a version from Tink, who is sort of Dej’s Midwest sister-in-arms in terms of blurring the lines between rapping and singing. Tink’s is not perfect, but it’s really good, and it captures the tone of the original almost perfectly while expanding on its subject matter—there’s the sick line “have you ever seen amounts longer than your zip code?” for instance. In terms of songs that other rappers are paying attention to, “Try Me” is the biggest song in the country.
In the White House, the biggest song in the country is "Turn Down for What" by Lil Jon and DJ Snake
Where the First Lady turns up, America follows.
Kyle Kramer is in the woods, listening to Taylor Swift on repeat. Follow Kyle Kramer on Twitter.