The first three months of 2013 have been distressing for American pop. Macklemore’s cold-ass reign of terror atop the Billboard charts has shown no sign of slowing. Before him, of course, was “Harlem Shake,” a fine little beat but arguably the least pop pop song to ever go No. 1. Folks like Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, and Drake have offered some respites, but pop radio is being dominated by hacky Avicii rip-offs like Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t You Worry Child” and spoon-fed wubstep-rock like Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive,” all begging to soundtrack the next search engine commercial. By comparison, at this point last year, many of SPIN’s 40 Favorite Songs of 2012 had already hit the Billboard charts, including G.O.O.D Music’s “Mercy,” Usher’s “Climax,” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”
This has not exactly been the case over in the United Kingdom, though. It is far from a utopia there — based on a reading of the charts, at least — but the country has produced a handful of this year’s best pop songs. Like America, Britain has also spent the last handful of years watching its pop charts being bumrushed by EDM treblemakers like David Guetta (they have been dealing with Calvin Harris for much longer than we have), but there’s also been room for more nuanced dance music with pop ambitions. The real-head cred of the fantastic singer Katy B (who works extensively with underground legend Geeneus), for instance, didn’t stop her from scoring three Top 10 hits.
This schism between the American and U.K. pop charts has never been more clear than in 2013, where a few British club hits have exploded into the mainstream, with more poised to continue the run. Unfortunately for an entire generation of Americans, most British pop — from Sugababes to Wiley — has been walled off from our airwaves, and that blockade will continue this year. So, don’t expect to hear any of the following five tracks billowing out of cars driving down American streets this summer, but you can do your part as an amateur iPod DJ.