Perhaps more than in previous years, pop music in 2010 presented strong albums and strong singles -- rarely by the same artists.
The musicians working in the traditional album model -- maybe they were inspired by consistent reports of its demise amid a rising online-driven, YouTube-video singles culture -- delivered some doozys. Meanwhile, those who either don't have a full-length, multi-song statement in them quite yet (or ever) punched through some killer singles that enlivened our playlists and expanded the usual summer song glut both directions into spring and fall.
Here are my picks for the best singles of 2010:
1. "F--- You," Cee Lo Green
The song of the year was a surprise hit not just because of its naughty title but because it (a) speaks like a real human being and (b) is tuneful as h-e-double-hockey-sticks. Credit that latter part to the Bruno Mars co-writing on the chorus, but what other singer could have delivered this sentiment with such panache?
Watch the official video here (warning: adult language, yadda yadda). Steer clear of that "Forget You" version, especially Mrs. Coldplay's.
2. "Nothin' on You," B.o.B. featuring Bruno Mars
Speaking of Mars: His knack for melody brought game to a dozen different hits this year, but the sparks really flew when he worked with triple-threat (singer, rapper, guitarist) B.o.B. Both are well-known names now, but they were nobodys when this song hit No. 1 on its own merits.
3. "Dancing on My Own," Robyn
Billy Idol danced with himself once upon a time, and Robyn's refined synth-pop draws from that era for the punchy beats and trawling melody of this dancefloor classic. The way she released music this year, in short batches on three EPs, several Robyn songs could qualify here ("Don't F---in' Tell Me What to Do," "Fembot"), but this lively yet forlorn gem is all-around perfect. Ask the crowd at her November show at Metro: Every person sang every word.
4. "The Ghost Inside," Broken Bells
So much of the self-titled debut, a collaboration between the Shins' James Mercer and the other half of Gnarls Barkley (Danger Mouse, a k a Brian Burton), sounds like exactly what it is: a mildly boring mix of indie-rock and dancefloor sensibilities. This super single, though, with Mercer peeling off an eerie falsetto, is otherworldly, airy and creepy-cool.
5. "Teenage Dream," Katy Perry
Sometimes the most exciting moments of young love are when the young lovers become aware of just how amazing and unreal their situation is. Katy Perry's driving song sings of a love -- OK, lust -- that understands it's a wild dream state, and gives itself permission to frolic. (Perry does it well -- but the rival show choir in "Glee" actually did it better!)
6. "Tightrope," Janelle Monae
OK, her album is fantastic, but this perfectly honed single can stand tall on its own. Monae's smooth, buoyant singing, Big Boi's smoothly inserted raps and a funk beat as tight as a flea's buttonhole keep this beauty on the wire. Listen to the strings underneath, too -- subtle, slightly dissonant genius.
7. "Cheers (Drink to That)," Rihanna and "Raise Your Glass," Pink
A tie for the year's two best girls-night-out anthems. Rihanna's return to form ("Loud") included this wise, world-weary paean from a gal at the bar who's seen some stuff, has moved on and wants to buy everybody a round of fruity shots. "[ITAL]Don't let the bastards get you down ... there's a party at the bar,[END ITAL]" she sings. Once a few shots have been gulped, the club turns into Pink's party anthem, at least if you're not "too school for cool." (Hear Rihanna's song here.)
8. "Boyfriend," Best Coast
Neko Case once sang about "That Teenage Feeling," and here's a singer that sounds like a teenage Case pleading to any available wish-granting apparatus to make that guy her boyfriend. A wonderful reminder that pop music can get simple without getting stupid.
9. "Like a G6," Far East Movement
Not that getting stupid -- or, in this case, "getting slizzered" -- is always a bad thing. The most disposable song of the summer was this anthem to tipsy nights out from a quartet of Asian-American singer-rappers with a knack for irresistible synths.
10. "Cousins," Vampire Weekend
I refuse to board the Vampire Weekend backlash bandwagon. The quivering frenzy of this lead single's impatient rhythm and shaky-hand guitar lines throw sparks over the lyrics about family lineage and duty. Perfect for this "little list maker."