Every December since 2007, anyone wondering what the preceding 12 months of music sounded like needed look in only one place: DJ Earworm’s "United State of Pop" mashup. The annual mix, which reliably racks up millions of YouTube hits blends together 25 of the year’s biggest songs into one seamless beast. Now the 2012 edition has dropped, providing all of us a look, and listen, back on what ruled the radio this past year.
"Part of my goal is to objectively reflect on what our collective experience was," says Earworm, a/k/a Jordan Roseman. "I don’t want to include my personal opinion or gut feeling, which will be skewed by my experiences and biases, so I pick by the numbers."
For his first few years doing the annual mix, Roseman went by the Billboard year-end lists. After a while, though, he realized that quirks in their methodology significantly lowered the ranking of later-breaking hits from the year, leaving out some big fan favorites. The DJ now mixes the weekly charts from Billboard, and a statistically derived projection estimate for the still-charting hits, allowing songs like the Bruno Mars banger "Locked out of Heaven" which didn’t chart on Billboard’s Year-End Hot 100 to land on United State of Pop.
"I’m comfortable predicting that when we look back on 2012, songs like "Diamonds" and "Locked out of Heaven" will be hits on equal scale with the other songs, and they will be associated 2012 rather than 2013."
In addition to the novelty factor of recognition—hey, I know that song!—Roseman also strives to tell a story with all the disparate elements of the songs involved in his mix. Perhaps this goal helps explain why the United State of Pop sounds more like a unified song than a jam-packed mix.
"I try to figure out what the commonality is between the songs, whether there is an underlying theme or maybe several themes which I could relate to each other," he says of the parts he chooses. "I try to weave a coherent narrative from the words that relate to these themes."
Part of the challenge is figuring out what the year’s signature sound. This task entails keeping track of the charts on an ongoing basis, in addition to whatever else Roseman is listening to at the moment. "Lyrically, this year there was a lot of disillusionment, awakening, transformation. And musically, melodies are taking more prominence compared to the dance and rhythm oriented sound of recent years."
Of course, none of the DJ’s skills at compressing the year’s best musical bits down into a handful of sonic pieces would matter, if he wasn’t able to assemble them together into one of his namesake earworms.
"I try to find as many studio a capellas as possible, and I try to isolate the vocals when I don’t have good quality vocals. There are also tools that allow you to isolate parts of the music by pan position or frequency," he says. "Then I just layer them, trying to make it all make sense. The entire process takes more than a month. My earliest sketch of this year was from early November, but has little resemblance to the final product."
Watch the video for this year’s United State of Pop, and all the preceding editions above.