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Not Fade Away 2008: Wearing My Rolex, by Wiley

I didn't like much in 2008 but what I did I liked a lot. And now I can't decide. I can't decide between rage and joy, woozy uncertainty and helium-voiced, possibly sexist, pop nonsense.

I'm very tempted to go with the latter actually. I doubt that Mariah Carey needs any defence from me. She just needs to look at her sales figures over the years. That and the fact that for the X Factor generation Mariah's melismatics are now pop's default setting.

As a result, though, Mariah has also become the default target of critics who see her as the ultimate representative of R&B's showy, lubricious emptiness.

Is there any truth in that? A little and so I'm aware of the critical chasms I'm navigating when I tell you how much I really like her 2008 single Touch My Body.

Yes, the lyrics are as ridiculous and Victoria's Secret-friendly as the title suggests. "Do you like my curves?" Mariah asks at one point. You could maybe argue that it's a paean to an assertive female sexuality ("give me what I deserve" she also sings), but the fact that she is wondering around in her underwear in the accompanying video does suggest that she's quite aware of how to cater for the male gaze.

But here's the thing. What if we take the heat out of the song - not easy, I know. What if we ignore the lyrical meaning and just listen.

Then what we're left with is a lovely, relaxed performance from Carey that's loaded with earworms (the bit where she says her putative lover better not be filming her for You Tube is by some distance my favourite piece of Mariah's singing ever; gorgeous because it's so controlled and unshowy).

Carey's voice may too often be bolted to songs that aren't worthy of it and really it's the same here. But here too at least the voice is so casually perfect it overcomes the sexist framework.

Does that make Touch My Body the best song of the year, though. Umm, despite my fondness I accept that that might be overstating it. But what is then? Maybe Goldfrapp's dreamy, narcotic seventies-flavoured A&E. A woozy slice of psychedelic pastoralism that frames Alison Goldfrapp's breathy English vocals. Or maybe it's the primary-coloured pop of Alphabeat's Fascination, one of those songs that makes me smile every time I hear it. And it has a talky bit and we've previously established how much I like talky bits: "The word is on your lips/ Say the word."

But we went Scandipop last week, so maybe it could be Portishead's punishing slice of sonic terrorism, Machine Gun? No, that's something that I admire more than like. Beyonce's Single Ladies? The same.

So what does that leave? Probably Wiley's Wearing My Rolex.

Listen, as you can probably guess, I'm not the go-to-guy when it comes to Grime. I've never been to Bow in London, I'm not sure I could tell whether a track meets the requisite 140bpm requirement. But I can feel the gut punch of the drunken bass beat on Wearing My Rolex and maybe recognise - from long ago now - the messy kind of night the song seems to describe.

Built around a sample from DSK's house track "What Would We Do?, Wiley's short sharp shock of a single made the top three in 2008, as grime moved from the London underground to the mainstream. A year later Dizzee Rascal was number one with Bonkers.

The New Yorker's music correspondent Sasha Frere-Jones has suggested that Grime sounds "as if it had been made for a boxing gym, one where the fighters have a lot of punching to do but not much room to move". And there is a bullish, pummelling machismo to this dance music. But then Wearing My Rolex is, as Tom Ewing has pointed out, also a song about losing control: "promising the world to a girl I don't even know yet," as Wiley raps.

In that sense it's another example of how pop is so often in essence about the loss of self. Or at the very least self-awareness. It will make you do strange things like dance, give away your possessions or even admit a sneaking affection for Mariah Carey. Isn't that why we love it?

Other Contenders

A&E,Goldfrapp

Fascination, Alphabeat

Single Ladies,Beyonce

American Boy, Estelle

Machine Gun, Portishead

Touch My Body,Mariah Carey

White Winter Hymnal, Fleet Foxes

NME Single of the Year: Kids, MGMT

Festive 50 Winner: 50 Year Old Man,The Fall

And the best-selling single of 2008: Hallelujah, Alexandra Burke

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