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Before and After: The Year in Popular Songs. Day 3: Alicia Keys, 'No One'

December 18, 2008 |  4:35 pm

The past year is one we can fairly divide into "before" and "after" -- the economic crash and Barack Obama's presidential election have both irrevocably changed the flow of American life. Pop & Hiss is going through Billboard's year-end singles, considering how the impact of the most popular songs has changed since 2008's fateful fall (See the previous entry on Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love" here).

No. 3 is after the jump.

3. Alicia Keys, "No One"

FIRST IMPACT: This one, which came out in November 2007, hit hard out of the gate. Incendiary televised performances (like the one from the Video Music Awards, above, that blends the song with George Michael's anthem "Freedom! 90") had Keys bellowing her besotted lyric like the rocker she claimed she now wanted to be. Most fans and critics embraced this bold new Alicia; some (well, one....well, I myself) thought she was massively over-singing. But with its long, ascendant piano line complemented by synthesizer squiggles, and a bridge that adds just enough pop kick, "No One" was an instant classic.

AFTER OBAMA: No other hit this year was as audaciously hopeful as "No One," and as we all know, Obama is all about that attitude. Keys, like Leona Lewis, is a post-racial star, crossing genre boundaries to appeal universally; this song was her big rock move, and really, it's rather Springsteenesque. Obama loves the Boss. So there you go.

AFTER THE CRASH: Perhaps too idealistic and grand for our shrinking zeitgeist, "No One," nonetheless, can be a tonic for those times when you're feeling really low. Like now. Like, maybe, always.

-- Ann Powers

Photo: EPA