Most Irresistible Lyrics

“The ants are my friends, they’re blowin’ in the wind.” “‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy.” We all love a tight sing-along, baby, baby, baby, and we especially like to look bright and get the words right. But it’s more than just a fear of mondegreens, or mishearings of lyrics, that spurs music lovers to search for verses. It’s also that ineffable combination of infectious hooks, on-point songcraft, emotionally satisfying delivery, and the sheer hotness of the singer that sends fans to search engines and lands a song in our Most Irresistible Lyrics of 2010.

Certainly the rise of downloadable music — unencumbered by filler tracks, production notes, and lyric booklets — has led to the ascendance of the lyric search engine. Why? Because we want to understand, to get behind the music, to make out the artist’s truth, and to find out what’s rolling around behind the bangs of a pop hottie.

Some lyrics take more wringing to extract a little meaning (Justin Bieber‘s “I was like, baby, baby, baby, oh / Like baby, baby, baby, no / Like baby, baby, baby, oh / I thought you’d always be mine, mine”). But people search for the words primarily from the simple sing-along impulse, especially for pop’s big, easy-to-love hooks — “three-chord songs that anybody can sing,” as a karaoke expert opines in Brian Raftery‘s “Don’t Stop Believin’: How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life.” The karaoke appeal of “American Idol” and “Glee” has upped the ante for performance — and for getting the lyrics right. “American Idol,” in particular, has been a harsh mistress, giving the boot to would-be superstars who stumble over their lines.

The “Telephone” video, with Lady Gaga and Beyonce as bad girls on a manhunt, is a sin-a-matic sensation. But it takes more than killer divas on overdrive to send a track to top-searched-song status. The number not only has to possess heat and a hook, it’s also gotta make people want to go deeper, to read the tea leaves of a pop-star personality, and to get behind the gossip — as in Taylor Swift‘s lyrical body slam of ex John Mayer in “Dear John.”

— Kimberly Chun

Kimberly Chun has written for alternative weeklies such as the San Francisco Bay Guardian, dailies like the San Francisco Chronicle, and such magazines as Nylon, 7×7, Bitch, Oakland, Magnet, and Cineaste. She also draws a mean cartoon, bakes a delicious pie, can dance the hell out of “Play That Funky Music,” and owns the Elvis bass.