If you spent a lot of time listening to pop radio in 2010, you probably noticed that the beats were a little bit faster and the vocals a little more distorted than they have been in the past. That's because 2010 represented the year that hardcore dance music managed to cross over into the mainstream. Not only did it turn a big pack of European DJs and beat-makers into mainstream stars (including David Guetta and the suddenly everywhere Swedish House Mafia), but it also infected a number of pop acts, both veteran and upstart. Digital dance beats were everywhere, from Usher's "OMG" (voted the top song of the year by MTV News) to Taio Cruz's "Dynamite" to Ke$ha's "We R Who We R" to Jason Derulo's "In My Head" to Enrique Iglesias' "I Like It."
As New York Times writer Jon Caramanica points out, this sort of pop crossover is not necessarily unusual in Europe, where dance music mixes with mainstream pop all the time. But here in the United States, it is somewhat unprecedented.
The big dance crossover of 2010 is especially impressive because it felt pretty organic. There have been other attempts to integrate serious dance tracks into mainstream pop and rock a few times in the past, but those were usually dead on arrival. In the most notable instance, the music pundits of 1996 and 1997 were convinced that dance music (it was all referred to as "electronica" then) was going to be the next big thing in rock, and the new Nirvana and Pearl Jam would manifest in the form of Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers.
Though the push did lead to some interesting collaborations and a handful of pretty awesome singles, it never seemed to catch on. The dance artists themselves were uncomfortable in the spotlight and unable to really provide a thrilling live show, while the attempts that rock musicians made to embrace dance beats and electronic textures were mildly amusing at beast and ear-achingly offensive at worst (look no further than the lesser moments of the "Spawn" soundtrack for proof of the latter).
But this time around, producers and artists openly embraced the rhythm, structure and use of melody that intelligent dance music creators have been toying with for years. It made the songs sound natural and envelope-pushing, not forced and derivative. Will the embrace of dance music only be a blip on the radar, as some experts have predicted? Whether or not the sounds remain on the radio, one thing is clear: dance music is ready for primetime, and 2011 promises to be an even bigger year.
What was your favorite song that incorporated dance music in 2010? Let us know in the comments!