Remember the “Fire and Ice”-to-“Ice Ice Baby” Age (1981-1990), when MTV was the visual forum most likely to launch a pop hit? Those days are long long gone, the network’s increasingly non-musical programming in the ’90s and, more recently, the rise and rise of YouTube have seen to that.
For a while, movies filled the hit-making void left by the de-emphasis of the M in MTV, but film soundtracks are no longer nearly as bankable as they were in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90, when the ones to Saturday Night Fever, Dirty Dancing and The Bodyguard were among the biggest hit albums of their respective decades. In fact, a No. 1 single hasn’t won the Best Original Song Oscar since Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” 10 years ago, and had the Academy’s most recent anointee, Adele’s “Skyfall,” come out circa 1984, I have no doubt that it would have spent more than just a lone week in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100.
Perhaps Adele’s Bond theme would have fared better there had she performed it on Saturday Night Live, the TV show that sent her on her crash-collision course with megastardom after she appeared on it in 2008, six years after television started to really matter again in the creation of pop stars and pop hits. We can probably blame American Idol for upsetting the balance of pop power and shifting it back to TV for the first time since MTV ruled the ’80s. In the years after its 2002 debut, Idol has been perhaps the most dependable launching pad for pop and country stars/hits, of which Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have been the biggest, and it also re-ignited Jennifer Lopez’s pop career after she performed her comeback-hit-to-be “On the Floor” on the show in 2011.
Across the Atlantic, Britain’s Got Talent turned its biggest loser Susan Boyle (who came in second in 2009) into a household name and a multi-platinum recording artist. Now Olly Murs, another 2009 runner-up (on Britain’s The X Factor), is boldly going where Girls Aloud and Cheryl Cole (the massive-in-the-UK British girl group discovered on Popstars: The Rivals in 2002 and its biggest member) have yet to go, up Billboard’s Hot 100, where he’s gone as high as No. 29 with “Troublemaker.”
Then, of course, there’s Glee, the now-waning one-time pop phenomenon that spawned platinum soundtrack albums and turned “Don’t Stop Believin,” Journey’s 1981 No. 9 single, into a hit all over again in 2009, via the Glee cover, which peaked at No. 4 in the U.S., No. 2 in the UK, and No. 5 in Australia. My 24-year-old Aussie ex once told me that he’d never even heard Journey’s original — which became a UK hit for the first time in 2010, reaching No. 6 — until Glee.
Though it’s been the most prominent non-reality TV hit maker in recently years, Glee hasn’t been the only one. Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” owes its Top 5 status in the U.S. to its prominent placement in the 2006 season finale of Grey’s Anatomy. Two years later, M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes neatly underscored the changing of the pop guard from film to television after being featured in the trailer for the film Pineapple Express but not in the movie itself. Shortly after hitting TV airwaves through the trailer, the song began its ascent to No. 4 on the Hot 100.
Over in the world of commercials, where a Mitsubishi Eclipse ad helped make Dirty Vegas’s “Days Go By” a Top 20 hit 10 years ago, consumer goods and Seth Rogen/James Franco stoner comedies aren’t the only things being sold. Last year, Alex Clare ensured that he’d no longer be best known as Amy Winehouse’s ex after his 2011 flop single “Too Close” was resuscitated after appearing in an Internet Explorer 9 ad, climbing all the way to No. 7 on the Hot 100.
Now it’s Icona Pop’s turn. Their 2012 single “I Love It” began a steady upward chart trajectory after being featured on the January 27 episode of Girls, where I first heard it. I’ve since enjoyed it on dance floors from Melbourne, Australia, where it was a No. 3 hit last year, to Buenos Aires, Argentina. It now sits at No. 13, and will likely become 2013’s second Top 10 hit by a Swedish act (following Swedish House Mafia, whose “Don’t You Worry Child” recently reached No. 6) in a matter of weeks. (Sadly, mainstream U.S.A. continues to sleep on Robyn, Sweden’s second-best export after ABBA, and has been ever since she was briefly a break-out pop success with back-to-back Top 10 hits in 1997.)
Even when it’s not making hits, TV continues to be a dependable taste maker, introducing me to a number of great songs, some of which have taken up permanent residence on my iPod’s Most Played playlist. “Turn up the radio,” Madonna sang on a 2012 single. Turn up the TV (or whatever you use to watch your favorite shows) is more like it. Here are 10 of the best songs I may never have heard without it.
1. DB Boulevard “Point of View” (Sex and the City, August 11, 2002)
2. Chip Jenkins “All for Love” (Men In Trees, 2006-2008, Argentina’s Warner Channel ads)
3. Bryn Christopher “The Quest” (Grey’s Anatomy, May 22, 2008)
4. Temper Trap “Soldier On” (90210, November 10, 2009)
5. Pink “Glitter in the Air” (52nd Annual GRAMMY Awards, January 31, 2010)
6. Boy & Bear “Mexican Mavis” (90210, April 25, 2011)
7. Regina Spektor “All the Rowboats” (Ringer, March 13, 2012)
8. Massive Attack featuring Hope Sandoval “Paradise Circus” (Revenge, November 4, 2012)
9. Lenny Williams “Cause I Love You” (performed by Vincent Powell on American Idol, February 28, 2013)
10. Tame Impala “Elephant” (Girls, March 17, 2013)