As fun. and Gotye's alternative smashes cross to top 40, lines are blurring between the two formats.
Julie Pilat shares a similar perspective, as she serves as PD of Clear Channel alternative KYSR and asst. PD/music director of mainstream top 40 KIIS Los Angeles. She points out that on top of fun.'s alternative success, "Young" benefited from one of the biggest mainstream synch opportunities possible: placement in ad for the Chevrolet Sonic that aired during the Super Bowl on Feb. 5. Gotye's "Somebody," meanwhile, has been covered by numerous acts on YouTube, with Walk Off the Earth's version having sold 187,000 downloads, according to SoundScan.
"Quirky sounds stand out and can go viral quickly," Pilat says.
Both songs have also gotten the "Glee" treatment. The Fox TV troupe was extremely early in bringing "Young" to a wider audience, premiering its cover on the series' Dec. 6 episode, more than three months before the song debuted on Pop Songs. Columbia Records publicity coordinator Winnie Lam notes that the song was the first broken by "Glee," which relies on proven hits almost exclusively (Billboard, March 10). The cast then covered "Somebody" on the show's April 10 episode.
Pilat says that top 40's acceptance of songs that offer a refuge from dance beats is only part of the reason that fun. and Gotye have migrated to pop airwaves. She notes that alternative music is amid a rebirth of melody and lusher arrangements. "The foundation for alternative's current sound was laid over the last five years by bands like Coldplay and the Killers," she says. Indeed, the hard and heavy sounds of acts like Linkin Park, Shinedown and Staind that defined early 2000s alternative radio have receded. This week's Alternative Songs top 10, in addition to fun. and Gotye, sports hook-heavy lighter fare from Grouplove, M83., Of Monsters and Men and Neon Trees.
Fruge concurs. "('Young' and 'Somebody') are pop songs," she says. "These are mass-appeal records that aren't gender-specific. Right now, that's working."
Clearly, even pop PDs without their other foot in alternative realize the value of accepting two top-of-mind rock tracks. "Top 40 has a long history of playing the best of the best from whatever genre," says Rich Davis, PD of top 40 KDWB Minneapolis. "I knew from the first time I heard ('Somebody') last year that it's a special song. The message and the feeling it portrays is universal. Who hasn't had a bad breakup at some point in their life?
"Both ('Somebody' and 'Young') are also less crunchy and more accessible in their production, so that helps them fit into the pop landscape."
Looking forward, Davis muses that while fun. and Gotye have served up "special records, for sure," spicing up pop radio's menu now, they may also be helping pave the way for future alternative-to-pop crossover hits.
"Top 40 programmers who may not have played these types of songs before will see their success and be more open to them," he predicts. "And, as record companies see the appeal of these two songs, they may be more likely to look for acts that could follow suit and/or be more likely to promote a song to pop radio that they might not have considered otherwise."
Bill Carroll, Capitol Records VP/alternative promotion, recently experienced top 40's willingness to merge pop with rock when Coldplay's "Princess of China," featuring Rihanna, reached No. 24 on Pop Songs. (Given their hit-packed histories, could there have been two better ambassadors of each genre to meet in the sounds' middle ground?)
Echoing Fruge, "The alternative music that is currently breaking and crossing is simply great music," Carroll says. "Alternative is experiencing a renaissance and its acceptance at pop radio is simply a reflection of that reality.
"Assuming the market conditions are favorable, we are anxious to keep crossing records over from alternative to pop."