I’ve just finished watching the music video for Charli XCX’s ‘Boys’ for the 50th time since its release. I went back through my browser and counted. Fifty times. And I’m all the better for it. Charli’s gender-flipped body-ogling video is the smartest of the year. For starters, it’s an immaculately directed piece of aestheticism. The Boys really pop, surrounded by pastel balloons, puppies and party treats. They look like they’re enjoying themselves too - DRAM especially, who will now be known as The Best Boy – so you don’t feel too bad for objectifying them. The diversity of the cast is commendable, with body types of all shades celebrated, rather than just your usual white and macho archetype. There’s odd satisfaction in being able to identify all the Boys on show. Some whizz by in a flash of skin and lip-biting. You find yourself coming back to make them out (was that Denzel Curry?); it’s a bit like a Magic Mike version of the Generation Game. As a hot-button but light-hearted political statement, it has spawned thinkpieces, homages and Boy-ranking-lists.

And all of this, we shouldn’t forget, was to advertise a song. The video did it very well, and currently has over 40 million views on YouTube as a result. It’s a good job that the song happens to be a wholly loveable earworm. Whether ‘Boys’ has staying power is a different matter.

You’d think Charli XCX now has the potential of scoring a Ubiquitous Pop Song - one that lives on through wedding-playlists, infinite jukebox selections, and surprise drops during sweaty club sets. We don’t know if ‘Boys’ will reach that status just yet, and there’s no way to know for a good few years. Many songs live there now; think ‘Billie Jean’; ‘Dancing Queen’; ‘Young Hearts Run Free’. ‘You Can Call Me Al’ has a wordless synth-line sing-a-long that’s recognised across the world. You know James Brown’s universal hit from just from a screeched "WOAH", while those huge, tumbling drums from Clyde Stubbenfield were the 1 Thing that immortalised Amerie.

There’s a niggling worry that ‘Boys’ won’t actually get there at all. The song sort of failed to chart in America, and didn’t crack the top 25 in the UK. This hasn’t stopped others before; Bowie’s ‘Changes’ never charted, and neither did ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, but we don’t live in the 60s anymore, which might explain why songs with clear hit-potential just disappear.

While past generations got most of their music from a handful of radio stations, our attention is now split across music streaming platforms. Radio itself is thriving, but UK pop’s traditional stomping ground, Radio 1, attracts just 9.1 million listeners, a five percent drop in five years. Spotify alone surpasses that figure, now approaching ten million active users.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: what streaming offers, in theory, is convenience and choice. These services, and digital downloads before them, were theorised to level the playing field by placing independent and major label acts in a system where users could access both with ease. But - to steal a brilliant phrase from Chun Hu - Napster, iTunes and Spotify have made the listening experience “more public, more granular, and more abstract” respectively. Spotify and its competition have not just made musical shelf space infinite, but have also made the term “shelf space” irrelevant: its users own nothing. Instead, they pay for access, shelling out the rough cost equivalent of 12 CDs per year (a tenner a month) to play millions of songs in an instant. That doesn’t equate to a level playing-field, Radio 1’s Chris Price argues [Via NME]:

“whether […] somebody is actively and selectively searching for Justin Bieber and pressing play on ‘Love Yourself’, or whether it is somebody pressing play on a playlist called ‘today’s top hits’, which contains the song Justin Bieber’s ‘Love Yourself’, both of those behaviours will lead to that listen counting toward the chart… A playlist that has been curated, for example by Spotify, is much more akin to radio airplay than it is to consumption of a track that you have purchased. So we have this situation where editorial on streaming services counts towards the chart, whereas editorial on the radio, for example, doesn’t.”

A stream is a stream under this system, which goes towards explaining the depressing situation of 16 Ed Sheeran songs making the Top 40.

To add to this shitstorm, the amount of music being made is greater than ever. The evolution of sound production software means recording high quality audio is now more affordable and accessible. Services like Bandcamp’s pay-what-you-want model offer a method for musicians to upload music straight from their bedroom. While this has given a lifeline to artists who would not have been able distribute without this platform, many of the millions of songs uploaded are then lost, listened to by a small handful of the potential listening pool, if you’re lucky. There’s a wealth of quality music, and listeners with no clue where to find it.

Streaming has affected how we consume music. With an endless collection of new music released every day, there’s a pressure to move on to the next thing. While curated playlists like Spotify’s Discover Weekly mean it’s easier for an artist to reach new audiences, the chances of holding onto loyal listeners is slimmer. Focus has been shifted from the what (the songs), to the how (streaming services).

Solving this mess is a feature for another day. Right now, let’s elevate those who deserve it. [Andre 3000 voice] We’re going to break this thing down in just a few seconds. Don’t have me break this thing down for nothing.

There have been several artists who’ve managed to bag a Ubiquitous Pop song. The early days of music downloads elevated ‘Hey Ya!’ and Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’ in a less-crowded market; ‘Uptown Funk’, ‘Can’t Feel My Face’, ‘Dancing on my Own’, ‘24K Magic’, ‘Bulletproof’, and the entirety of Beyoncé’s back catalogue aren’t going anywhere, despite depleted odds. But others aren’t as lucky.

We can change that.

Word-of-mouth is a power that lives on in the digital age. Here are ten ubiquitous pop songs that could have been. Lend me some sugar. I AM YOUR NEIGHBOUR.

The Rules are simple: this is a list of songs that failed to chart significantly, while clearly having crossover potential. Mass appeal is key, as tempted as I was to just pick 10 of my personal favourite songs. If your mum can get down to it, you’re probably good.

Anderson .Paak – ‘Am I Wrong’

The gooey synths. The funk guitar line. The charisma. It’s all so slick. ‘Am I Wrong’ already establishes itself as a gem before Schoolboy Q shows up for a barked staccato verse, or before the rush of plastic horns at the song’s finish.

Susanne Sundfør – ‘Fade Away’

Susanne Sundfør’s ‘Ten Love Songs’ is a modest album title if there ever was one. These songs ache with rare passion and camp hysteria. ‘Fade Away’ is the ABBA-emulating beating heart of the record. (As an aside, ‘Delirious’ is the best bond theme never made).

Laura Mvula – ‘Phenomenal Woman’

‘Phenomenal Woman’ should have been a smash. It’s got a lovely message, major-label backing, and one hell of a chorus. The harmonies should be bottled into a cream to rub on dead things to bring them back to life. Sadly, it failed to break through, and Mvula was soon dropped by Sony, like an ex that didn’t impress the parents.

Sky Ferreria – ‘Everything is Embarrassing’

Everyone is mining from the eighties now, but Sky Ferreria captured something pure when she did so back in 2012. Its high school-dancehall beat, twisting chorus and emo-tinged lyrics could make anyone feel like a teenage girl dancing in the dark, wiping off the tears before diving into a swimming pool of punch. The song certainly has a cult following, but it deserves the world.

Big Boi – ‘Shutterbugg’

Big Boi is no stranger to massive crossover hits, but the Cadillac-obsessed member of Outkast is often overshadowed by his oddball partner, Andre 3000, which is gutting given how excellent his own songwriting is. ‘Shutterbugg’ is a G-Funk throwback with a lot of flavour, and a wonderful shoutout to Soul II Soul. Its fizzing beat hasn’t aged a minute since 2010.

Carly Rae Jepsen – ‘Cut to the Feeling’

Carly deserves better than us. Sure, she already has one gargantuan hit with 'Call Me Maybe', but she writes nothing BUT hits. ‘Cut to the Feeling’ is pure joy. It’s ‘How will I Know’ and ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ reincarnate. It’s a pop song with no filler and all the emotion.

Lemon Demon – ‘Touch-Tone Telephone’

Neil Cicierega – mastermind of Potter Puppet Pals and the Mouth Sounds project – is a cult hero whose Serious Music rivals any of the 80’s best alt-pop acts. He spends half of his time goofing on ubiquitous pop hits and the other half writing them. The reason he doesn’t get exposure is because us music types don’t believe YouTubers are “real” artists. In this instance, it’s snobbery that screwed over an immaculate single. This is exactly what one-hit wonders should look like – goofy, endlessly loveable songs with bizarre stories and insane melodies. Lemon Demon isn’t even a one-hit wonder. For shame.

Janelle Monae – ‘Tightrope’

Monae’s breakout single is Blade Runner starring James Brown. Huge sci-fi themes swirl with towering orchestration and a propulsive funk groove. Monae lets loose on top of it, and begins her ascension as an icon – for those who are lucky enough to have heard her.

La Roux – ‘Uptight Downtown // Let Me Down Gently’

The world La Roux wrote number one’s in was a totally different one by the time she came to release her follow-up album. The time had been spent well, and she crafted a stunning reimagining of disco and Let’s-Dance-era Bowie. By then it was too late. Ask your average listener about La Roux and they’ll ask “is she’s still going?”, or chuckle remembering Satsuma La Roux from Never Mind the Buzzcocks. They should be fawning over her singles.