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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Next to Me," a standout of 2012 that remains fresh a decade on

Emeli Sandé's praiseful breakthrough hit is as catchy and singalong-friendly today as it was when she burst onto the scene.

It's hard for me to believe it's already 2022. Yes, the past couple years have felt longer than others, but I find it difficult to wrap my head around it already having been a decade since I was in the sixth grade.

2012 was also the year where I really started paying attention to contemporary music. From tuning my radio and falling asleep to Top 40 stations, to getting lost in albums like Coldplay's Mylo Xyloto (released the previous fall), and discovering the world of house music, it was a time of sonic discovery and amazement.

If I were to put together a 2012 soundtrack, it would have all sorts of genres on it, but I certainly know that R&B and soul would be represented by Scottish upstart Emeli Sandé through her song "Next to Me." A standout track and success on both sides of the Atlantic, "Next to Me" was everywhere that year, and it's easy to hear why when it's so compelling to sing along to.

"Next to Me" is a reminder that, in the world of music as much as any other art, less can be more. It's honestly impressive how emotive just three piano chords and a few repeated vocal motifs can be. Popular music often gets derided for its simplicity and its loop-based nature, but 1) that's a very oversimplified critique, and 2) it is that very structure that lends it so much of its catchiness. A chord progression can be as complex as you want, and lyrics can be dense to the point where a singer is gasping for breath, but that isn't likely to have the same effect as shorter loops and leaving space for lyrics to breathe, especially when their message is as affirming as Sandé's.

Indeed, her lyrics are as steadfast in their confident positivity as any set of lyrics in pop. In a world of narrative landscapes dominated by lies, cheats, and heartbreak, Sandé confirms that the subject of her song will always be by her side, even "when the money's spent" or "when everyone has lost their heads around [them]." This broadly characterized, yet staunchly affirmative loyalty can be heard in a variety of ways; as Sandé indicated in an interview, "Next to Me" "is about God... or your man." Really, it can be taken to be about any friend or entity that remains by one's side, and through that ambiguity the song can be so powerful and personal to so many people. I, for one, can think about double-digit numbers of people who I can hear as the song's "you," thanks to what they have done and continue to do for me.

On top of what her lyrics offer, there's the inherent singalong-friendly refrain to put a bow on it all. The repeated "woo hoo" is indeed exclamatory in its praise of the subject; it would be hard to find a more appropriate chant considering the song's message. The harmonies during the chorus further add to the lyrics' widespread appeal, echoing the masses who, despite the difficulties they encounter in their lives, know they have at least one person or spiritual belief on which they can depend.

"Next to Me" isn't anything flashy or over-the-top, but it doesn't need to be. It more than fulfills its purpose as an anthem for gratitude and loyalty, and Emeli Sandé and her powerful voice carried it to success as one of the marquee tracks of 2012. Yet despite it being released a decade ago, it still sounds fresh, thanks to the timelessness of its soul instrumental and its succinct message.


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