Singing stars

Look at Billboard's Hot 100, listen to hit radio or watch the Grammys on Sunday night. Pop rules.

From Katy Perry's "Firework" to Ke$ha's "Tik Tok," pop with a big dance beat and a short, simple refrain is what's hot right now. Teens love to dance to it. Pep bands enjoy playing it. The cast of "Glee" relishes singing it. Even moms can't resist it.

"People want a bright voice and a great beat and to feel good," said Grammy-winning songwriter Dan Wilson, who has recently written for Josh Groban, Adele and John Legend. "People are less in a mood to wallow in negativity. Feel-good dance music is almost like a salve against hard times."

History shows that. Dance music has dominated during tough times, whether it was swing during the Depression or disco in the late 1970s when gas was rationed and U.S. hostages were held in Iran.

With high unemployment, $3-plus gasoline and our soldiers still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans want escape, relief and release. Say goodbye to hip-hop with its harsh sounds, abrasive tone and oversexed lyrics (though we still like a little Eminem and Jay-Z, refashioned with melodic, sung choruses). Say hello to vibrant, catchy dance pop.

Radio programmer Sam Elliot in Minneapolis sees a new generation of music fans — young listeners raised on Disney, "American Idol" and "Glee." They want Perry piping "Baby, you're a firework" and Taio Cruz trilling "I like to dance, dance, dance, dance." They crave a newfound wholesomeness and happiness typified by "Glee," which sells enthusiasm not cynicism.

"The attitude I see is so much in contrast from 10 years ago," Wilson said. "People are not wallowing in problems and crises of identity and hatred of parents."

Think of it as the collision of Facebook and the dance floor. People want to click the "Like" button.

Forget about ballads, too.

The tempo of choice seems to be 125 to 145 beats per minute (that's DJ talk) or so-called house music. Booming dance beats married to simple lyrics have broad appeal — even in countries where English is not a first language. Perry's "Teenage Dream" and Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" resonate in France as much as in Fargo.

It's the sound of global pop, pioneered in the 1970s by Sweden's Abba with the infectious "Mamma Mia," "SOS" and "Fernando." That sound has continued abroad for years, elevating the likes of Kylie Minogue and Robyn to international superstar status — except in the States.

Many of today's young stars grew up in other cultures and understand the global sensibility of a catchy chorus that anyone can sing along to. Witness the worldwide hits "I Like It" by Enrique Iglesias (born in Spain), "Dynamite" by Taio Cruz (of Nigerian/Brazilian heritage) and "Only Girl (in the World)" by Rihanna (from Barbados).

The ultimate international popsters of the moment are an American multi-culti group, the Black Eyed Peas. They have gone global in the past two years with a series of super-simple, super-danceable hits including "Boom Boom Pow," "I Gotta Feeling" and "This Time (Dirty Bit)" —a hit parade that landed the Peas the halftime show at last Sunday's Super Bowl.

The Peas proved that it's about driving beats and simple buzzwords that can appeal to many cultures. Or as songwriter Wilson explains it: It's the musical equivalent of blockbuster movies that are not about subtle verbal messages but rather about the boom-boom-pow of special effects and crashes.

Grammy Awards on TV

The Grammy Awards will air at 7 p.m. today on CBS and KWCH, Channel 12.