A danceable soccer chant, some "We No Speak Americano"-style fusions, a track by Sweden's version of Ke$ha, and more
No look back at the highs and lows of 2012 would be complete without acknowledging a pudgy thirtysomething Korean man with a serious expression and a goofy dance. The holiday-party season has been and will for many years continue to be marked by, as critic Chris Randle put it on Twitter, "the visceral unspeakable horror of thousands of dads attempting to do the horse dance simultaneously."
But if "Gangnam Style" proved to be the unlikely song that managed to breach the walls of American pop insularity, there were many more whose infectious melodies, thudding beats, and nagging hooks only managed to capture much of the rest of the world. Here are 12 huge novelty dance hits in 2012 from around the world that most English-speaking Americans will be either sorry to have missed or relieved to have been spared.
Michel Teló, "Ai Se Eu Te Pego"(Brazil)
If you were anywhere that spoke a Romance language in the first half of 2012, you heard this half-step groove being chanted along to by people who may not have understood Portuguese but knew a hit when they heard it. Teló was an unassuming sertanejo (Brazilian country music) star when much more famous soccer players danced to "Ai Se Eu Te Pego" after scoring clinching goals in late 2011. And as soccer goes, so goes half the world.
3Ball MTY ft. América Sierra & El Bebeto, "Inténtalo" (Mexico)
The city of Monterrey in northern Mexico has been the center of an explosion in young electronic musicians scavenging the best Latin and indigenous rhythms they can find and making a thick futuristic soup of them. They call the result tribal, and "Inténtalo" was the first pan-Latin hit in the style, due as much to América Sierra's breathy vocals and a whining synth hook as to the shuffle-stomped rhythm.
Machel Montano, "Pump Yuh Flag" (Trinidad & Tobago)
The tradition of the Carnival Road March music competition in Trinidad dates back to 1932, often seen as the birth of modern calypso. Other than a gap during World War II, the competition has been held every year since then on the Tuesday before Lent, with the winners becoming influential figures in Caribbean music. 2012 marked Machel Montano's fourth Road March win, and "Pump Yuh Flag" was a massive global hit, especially popular at big sporting events. There was one of those this year, you might have noticed.
WTF!, "Da Bop" (UK/Russia)
Ever since Australians Yolanda Be Cool and DCUP remixed a 1956 Italian song and had an unexpected global smash with "We No Speak Americano" in 2010, electronic producers around the world have been digging through discarded pop records from every nation, both for fun and hoping to score another left-field hit. Calling themselves WTF!, the London dance outfit Ultrabeat structured an infectious dance song around Russian singer Edita Piekha's Soviet-era classic "Nash Sosed (Наш сосед)" and had that hit.
Fuse ODG ft. Tiffany, "Azonto" (Ghana/UK)
Azonto is a Ghanian dance that originated among students in Accra, not unlike (to be reductive) the American dougie. For several years, it's been growing in popularity throughout the Ghanian hiplife scene (a combination of traditional highlife and hip-hop), but in 2012 it exploded throughout the West African diaspora. Ghanian rapper Fuse ODG is based in the UK, and Tiffany is the premier Ghanian female rapper, and their "Azonto" is a masterwork of repetition and goofiness.
Loreen, "Euphoria" (Sweden)
The small but fiercely devoted cluster of Americans who pay attention to Eurovision, the annual pageant of cheese and nationalism (and incidentally pop music) might scoff at the idea of "Euphoria" being unknown on these shores—or that there's anything silly about it. A sweeping diva stomper in the grand tradition of Cher, it won Eurovision handily in the summer of 2012. If its melodrama at first codes as more than a little ridiculous to U.S. ears, keep in mind: America's the country responsible for "We Are Young."