"Mirrors" is the second song to precede Justin Timberlake's third solo album. Its most noticeable feature is its eight-minute length. The singer mentioned classic rock acts, rather than contemporaries -- such as Frank Ocean's "Pyramids" and the-Dream's flowing suites -- as his inspirations, yet this is less an epic than a lengthy midtempo pop ballad. It could fade out or end abruptly around the four-minute mark, but it takes another four minutes to dissolve. Over Timbaland's clumpy beat (with beatboxing) and grand strings, Timberlake pleads with heartfelt devotion.
Beginning with banjo and handclaps, the single "Better Dig Two" soon swells into a powerful and slightly eerie Appalachian love song when the electric guitars come in, and with Kimberly Perry's sassy, insistent vocals (the Band Perry is comprised of siblings Kimberly, Reid, and Neil Perry), it ends up as an until-death-do-us-part narrative that manages to be a declaration of everlasting devotion, a veiled threat, and a country dancefloor number all at the same time, sounding somehow both old and new, a country and pop chart hat trick if there ever were one.
Steve Leggett, Rovi
Besides being at the forefront of the electro-trap movement -- a genre that blends crunk hip-hop beats and EDM tempos -- this Baauer cut is the soundtrack to an Internet meme explosion, one where individuals uploaded amateur videos of themselves dancing the "Harlem Shake." Jump on your favorite video sharing site and watch football teams, firemen, college kids dressed as Power Rangers, and even SeaWorld animals shaking their everything to this infectious, chirpy, bass-heavy monster. With thousands of videos to choose from, and views counting into the tens of millions, the cut made history when it topped the charts after "Billboard" changed their formula and added YouTube-streaming data to the mix of sales and radio plays.
"Girl on Fire" leads Alicia Keys' like-titled fifth album with an unadorned but powerful Salaam Remi production. It replicates the simple but indelible drum pattern from Billy Squier's "Big Beat," as heard on dozens of rap songs, from Run-D.M.C.'s "Here We Go" to Jay-Z's "99 Problems." It's more about Keys' performance -- a prideful, invigorated vocal that climaxes with a poignant shout -- than lyrical composition.
Andy Kellman, Rovi
Speculation as to whether or not Adele would be providing the 23rd James Bond installment with its signature theme song began in 2011 after she mentioned a "special project" in an interview with BBC One chat show host Jonathan Ross. Co-written with producer Paul Epworth and swaddled in appropriately lush orchestration by composer J.A.C. Redford (Thomas Newman was responsible for the film's score), "Skyfall" didn't disappoint, skillfully marrying the brooding cinematic bombast of previous Bond outings to the soulful English singer/songwriter's stylish retro-croon, resulting in one of the most satisfying slabs of 007 goodness since Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger."
The first single from Bruno Mars' second album, Unorthodox Jukebox, "Locked Out of Heaven" features Mars' typically charming croon pleading for love over musical backing that sounds like a breezy mashup of the tightly danceable beat of Michael Jackson's "Beat It," the reggae-lite basslines of Sting while in the Police, and the processed guitar tone of '80s-era Dire Straits. The song was the product of a songwriting collaboration between Mars, Philip Lawrence, and Ari Levine, and was produced by Mark Ronson, Jeff Bhasker, Emile Haynie, and the Smeezingtons (Mars' own production team).
Tim Sendra, Rovi
Unlike previous lead singles such as "Umbrella," "Russian Roulette," "Only Girl (In the World)," and "We Found Love," "Diamonds" introduces Rihanna's seventh album, Unapologetic, in regal midtempo ballad style. A lavish collaboration with Benny Blanco, Sia Furler, and Stargate, it projects a feeling of recovery and conquest in the wake of a bad relationship or adverse circumstances -- something conveyed with the line "I choose to be happy." Should there ever be a stage production based on Rihanna's catalog, the song -- her tenth Hot 100 number one -- would be a natural choice for the finale.
Andy Kellman, Rovi
Released as a charity single to raise money for Comic Relief, One Direction's "One Way or Another (Teenage Kicks)" is a high-energy cover of Blondie's 1979 single "One One Way or Another." While fairly reverent to the original, One Direction's version features all of the members singing over a more contemporary-sounding production that mixes a kind of power pop guitar sound with a more dance-oriented club beat. In that sense, the single should appeal to One Direction's fans who can feel doubly good about supporting the band in its fight against world poverty.