Jun 30, 2016
25 of the Best Treadmill Pop Songs
Well it’s almost July which means getting in shape for the summer is already a long lost dream. But getting in shape during the summer isn’t, so I have begun to hit the treadmill with the same regularity with which I consume rosé (Read: 3-4 times a week, in the evenings). If nothing else, at least the two habits will cancel each other out, right?
New York summer “weather”–aka Hades incarnate–is in full swing, which means we have already hit temperatures outdoors that aren’t viable for human exercise. So, I have been undertaking my workout sessions in the lovely, sweaty, humid confines of the gym. I am a Planet Fitness member because I’m cheap, because I already spend way too much on a fancy (but excellent) yoga studio, and because there’s a location two blocks from my work and four blocks from my Bushwick apartment.
The treadmill is mind-numbing in a way that only a perfectly curated playlist can really alleviate, so over the years I have collected a selection of songs that are upbeat enough to keep me hitting my pace and enticing enough to prevent me from just hitting that stop button, giving up and heading home to watch Real Housewives. And yes, I’m including country and hip-hop in the designation pop–and there’s nothing you can do about it! Read on if you want to know all my #workoutsecrets.
1. “Blank Space” — Taylor Swift
Bitch you guessed it. Taylor Swift belongs on any treadmill playlist because the woman can write a fucking hook, okay? I know you’re annoyed about her dating life and her problematic non-intersectional feminism and her fake-ass cliques/squads/random-collections-of-Barbie-like-celebrities–me too. But when I’m just trying to put one foot in front of the other “Nice to meet you / Where you been / I could show you incredible thiiiiings” is the most thrilling and dreamy line to hear, it transports me from the second floor of the disgusting Ridgewood Planet Fitness to a mansion where men’s hearts and cars and birthday cakes are simply receptacles for latent anger, where the trope of the “crazy ex-girlfriend” is flipped on its head and revealed for the farce it really is. Look, running is a nightmare so dress the whole thing up in daydream pop songs, no matter what hot takes your Twitter fingers are gonna write about the artist later.
2. “Close Your Eyes And Count To Fuck” — Run The Jewels ft. Zack De La Rocha
What’s the best follow up to Taylor Swift? Some of the best gritty, independent rap of the last twenty years–El-P and Killer Mike–and some Zack de la Rocha (Rage Against the Machine, saved you a Google) for good measure–all . Remember, the key to a great treadmill playlist is keeping yourself on your toes, variety, juxtaposition, and above all, an unrelenting swell of energy in every single song. This track had my favorite rap line of 2014 on it–“We’re out of order? You’re honor YOU OUT OF ORDER!” El-P forever. The energy never lags in most RTJ songs, but especially on this track, it is a sheer tidal wave of aggression. Don’t close your eyes though, that’s a bad look on a treadmill.
3. “If I Never See Your Face Again” — Maroon 5 ft. Rihanna
You’ll notice that sometimes the best song a band has ever done is just the one they were able to finagle a Rihanna feature for. That’s actually not true in this case, “Sunday Morning” on Songs About Jane is *actually* the best Maroon 5 song, but this one comes pretty goddamn close, and it’s easily the track that’s best suited for our treadmill purposes today and ad infinitum. Are you shocked that it was originally intended for Janet Jackson? Sigh.
4. “The Joint — Eric Church
Never underestimate the power of a good groove to get your stride up. This is the best song off Eric Church’s massive 2014 album The Outsiders that was geared to help him breakout as a country superstar. Whether or not that worked, this song fucking does. It’s about a woman who gets so fed up with her husband going out to get drunk every night with his friends that she goes and burns down the bar where he would hang out after work. The bar is “the joint” and it’s the only one his mama ever “burned”–get it? Idk, puns really help me keep going–they’re distracting enough to get my mind off my cramping calves. Eric Church rules, I also recommend “Cold One” if you’re scrolling through this album and want another grooving wordplay-laden banger about a woman taking things into her own hands.
5. “Wild For The Night” — A$AP Rocky
The reason this song works so well is because of those laser-like beacons in the chorus break down–shouts to A$AP Rocky’s, uh, buddy Skrillex. Just do a brief search of that memorable line on Twitter to understand the joy and chagrin and absurdity people felt back in 2013 when this shit dropped. Anyway, that chorus is so addicting and enjoyable that you’ll probably forgot you’re running at all and turn into a sentient human laser. That’s the power of Skrillex. I’ll hear no shade about him in this house.
6. “Bad Blood” — Taylor Swift
Yup, we’re back to Taylor! Sorry to the haters (xoxo) but the songs on 1989 are treadmill gold. Perhaps that is why Taylor turned into the stick-thin-skinniest version of herself ever in the lead up to the album? Anyway, the petty clap-stomp underpinnings of “Bad Blood” give it a perfect workout rhythm, and you will not be disappointed if it comes on while you’re hitting mile two and wondering whether or not that was maybe long enough for tonight, right? WRONG. Do you want Katy Perry to win the feud? Have you sweated out your betrayal yet? NO. Pick up the pace. Because sweetie, your late night carb addiction has led us all to sing-talk that now we got problems–and the only way to solve them? More cardio. Final note: I generally select the Kendrick option strictly for the line “These beats of a dark heart use basslines to replace you.” K-Dot is a rap poet laureate even on as a guest on an annoying pop song.
7. “Trophies” — Drake
Ah, brass is such a great complement to any workout, and hell, to any Hit-Boy and 40 beat. Of course, they already know that, but the song would be nothing without Drake’s incessant yell-boasting. At first it seems strange that one of his biggest recent hits wasn’t even on a Drake album, but on the Young Money compilation Rise Of An Empire (may I also recommend “Senile” if you’re there. Nicki is so good she erese how annoying Tyga is) until you realize that plenty of his best singles are one-offs. Maybe there’s a trend to be examined there? Most Drake songs are a little bit too muddy or slow to actually be good for the treadmill, but this one works. “Make Me Proud” off Take Care will also work in a pinch.
8. “Up” — Shania Twain
Shania will show up again later, because she’s just too fucking good to have on the list only once. Shania–and let’s be real, probably also Shania’s marketing team–were some of the first people in the country to comprehend that focus on genre was both a defunct model and another way to wring money out of a crumbling major label complex. “Up!” was the lead single on an album of the same name that was released in three different versions: pop (red disc), country (green disc), and “international” (blue disc). (To her credit, for the “international” one Shania and her then-husband-genius-producer Mutt Lange brought in the Indian super-producers Simon and Diamond Duggal and recorded that version in Bombay with an entire Indian orchestra. Those musicians are probably still living off royalties.) It’s probably not shocking that I am most drawn to the country “green” version, which you’ll notice also appears just as the regular track in Spotify. The pop chorus is so wonderful but I love hearing those fiddles and steel guitar in there. This song is basically a pure shot of endorphins, it will perk you up mid-workout no problem. Later, when you’re done working out, spend some time with this record if you never have, it’s a phenomenal relic of Twain’s bygone superstar reign–you might even fall in love with her by the time you’re done.
9. “No Problem” — Chance The Rapper ft. 2 Chainz & Lil Wayne
This is the newcomer on my treadmill playlist, but it’s a song that fit in so well I honestly can’t remember my life without it. I already wrote about it as a viable candidate for 2016 Song Of The Summer, and I’m sure we’ll all be listening to Coloring Book well into Winter. But the reason this song works well, again, is because of it’s blatant, rebellious stunting–“Not me though / Bitch you can keep those” or “If one more label tries to stop me…”–and if those don’t work, chuckling at 2 Chainz or bobbing your head to Chance’s squawks surely will. Oh, or the best verse we’ve heard out of Wayne in a minute. Sometimes it feels like Chance solves all our problems simply by existing.
10. “Problem” — Ariana Grande ft. Iggy Azalea
Speaking of problems! You’ve got to hand it to the most problematic pop star on the planet–“Problem” won’t quit. Oh wait, this is an Ariana song not Iggy. Sometimes I forget because this song came out in an era that was Iggy’s reign of terror–now it’s gladly over! And so is Ariana’s relationship with Big Sean, who shows up here on that annoying whispered hook, and yet none of these factors make it any less perfect for a running playlist. Even the insufferable saxophone works when you’re sweating and staring at a TV screen that’s perpetually tuned to Spanish soap opera channel. Bask in the pop bliss and repeat after me: “You have one less problem without them.” Whether you’re directing that at haters, back-stabbing ex-best friends or terrible past lovers, busting out a half mile along to that mantra will make it feel true. Now believe it, and make it true.
11. “Dancing On My Own” — Robyn
You know that moment in your workout where all your doubts and stressed from real life come pouring back in. Your confidence folds, your focus wavers. Why the fuck am I even trying? you wonder. That’s when “Dancing On My Own” comes in. This song falls into my favorite genre, which is hopeless devastating pain turned powerful. My favorite line comes very early one–Does she love you better than I can?–which comes out in a bitter, knowing but still gentle snarl because Robyn (and you) already know the answer. Hell no. This song reminds you that even if you are completely solitary for the rest of your life, you are a goddamn legend. Even if everyone you love turns on you, begins to hate you, goes to the club and dance their happiness right in front of your eyes, you still have the strength to choose happiness for yourself, to dance (run) the fucking night away. To choose your own reaction. God bless you Robyn, keeper of our broken hearts. ‘Cause let’s be real, if you aren’t heartbroken… why else are you on the treadmill anyway?
12. “Take Your Time — Fun.
This from the section of Nate Ruess’ career that will forever make my heart hurt, because it was when he was really at his best and just no one fucking knew or cared. Except me, who literally burned CD-R copies of Aim + Ignite and distributed them around the Pepperdine campus like confetti. Of course, this didn’t really o much to help the band, and eventually he got a great bigger label deal and broke into the pop world blah blah blah now I can barely listen to a Fun. song without cringing. But back then, oh back then! They were literally my favorite band (and the former iteration, The Format, before Fun.) I’m happy for him, I really am, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Anyway, “Take Your Time” is for the middle of your workout when you can still think and hear. This song is a shield and strong defense against all those who have declared you’re worthless and unhinged and a fuck up–and for all the times you’ve felt like that without the help of anybody else. “Take Your Time” is a seven minute epic about failure, trying again, returning to your roots, moving beyond the flaws that feel unfixable, loyalty, forgiveness, never giving up, those who left, those who stayed and it all culminates in the centerpiece: “It’s a beautiful thing when you love somebody. And I love somebody.” That’s all I’m going to say here, because I too, I’m through with causing a scene. (Sorry, that’s a Format reference, you wouldn’t get it–it’s all before you were born).
13. “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” — Katy Perry ft. Missy Elliott
First of all, I love hearing Missy Elliott body Katy on her own song. Second of all, I absolutely love this celebration of hedonistic fuckface behavior. I really do. Sure, it is a glorification of super destructive patterns and slightly terrifying choices, but it is also fun. Fun can be great for the treadmill, which is the opposite of that. Plus, if you’ve ever blacked out and fucked shit up, this reminds you that well, so has Katy Perry. And she seems to be doing fine. I’m pretty sure the existence of this song still makes her victorious in the feud against Taylor Swift–and you just know Taylor listens to this track with her lips slightly pursed and says to her friends “I just don’t see what you guys like about this song. I mean it’s fine I guess.” Stick around for that Daft Punk-esque breakdown at the end, courtesy again of Missy.
14. “She’s Country” — Jason Aldean
For a long period of time this was the song I would end every treadmill workout to–the one where I ramped up the pace and just sprinted for the last two minutes because the chorus is so addicting and high-octane that I couldn’t help letting my stride reflect that. I think this is the best song I have ever heard that is a man describing a woman/what he loves about a woman and actually fucking gets it right. He describes her as sexy without objectifying her, acknowledges that she loves to party without pigeonholing her, and finally, praises and celebrates her redneck streak. “Mama taught her how to rip up the town” singlehandedly caused me to imagine a scenario in which I partied with my mom (never happened). Also he introduces the guitar solo that starts at 2:19 like it’s a personification of the woman he’s idolizing; good call, bro. Bro country forever–fight me.
15. “I Love It” — Icona Pop ft. Charli XCX
When my first-born daughter enters her first summer, I will put tiny earbuds in her little baby ears and blast “I Love It” for her so she understands what summer is supposed to feel like. Icona Pop struggled to connect their ’80s glitter confection beyond this single, and it made me sort of sad they couldn’t find another hit because they rule, but this one was so big that I don’t think any of us need to waste any time feeling sorry for them. One thing I love (ha!) about it, is the way they describe how bad shit is happening but that doesn’t dampen their enthusiasm at all. Quick, slap-happy reminder that you can always choose how you react to life’s circumstances. Great reminder when you’re at mile four and have twice as many left to go. Oh really, you hate this song because it’s overplayed? I don’t care. I love it. [insert upside down smiley face emoji here].
16. “Hey Angel” — One Direction
Very recently I fell in love with the apparition of a man. Loving ghosts and spirits, people who aren’t quite there, this is a habit of mine. So I sent him the song, starry-eyed saying It’s the only one that feels big enough to indicate how I feel about you. God, I am so cute, romantic and sweet. Anyway, he turned out to be a real jackass, but the beauty of One Direction is that the songs are so big they literally supersede the men we maybe waste them on/dedicate them to. Despite the bad memory, One D transcends, and so does “Hey Angel.” It’s a sweeping, elegant puff of refined pop air that riffs on “Bittersweet Symphony” in the meantime. It will keep you running, and don’t be surprise if you wipe away a tear of joy or too when those “oooohs” hit. This is a song big enough to make you keep believing in love even when it’s spitting in your face–that’s the magic of One Direction.
17. “Only Girl (In The World)” — Rihanna
Dystopian fantasy world where Rihanna has dismantled men’s need or desire for other women? Check. Parallel fantasy world in which every woman listening to this assumes the role of Rihanna in said scenario? Double check. Of course I recognize that in order to be in a healthy relationship both parties should really have a whole network of love and support from multiple friends, family members, and other sources. But I still feel half-addicted to the idea of being the one-and-only-everything to someone else. And you probably do too. These pop song concepts are tried and true by years of human lizard-brain history–it’s not our fault! Let Rihanna sweep you up in the pillowy, sandstorm whirlwind. Again, you will not even see the horrible fluorescent gym lighting while this song is on.
18. “We Found Love” — Rihanna ft. Calvin Harris
Truly, did any of you think there would only be ONE Rihanna song on this playlist? I think this was the first EDM song I ever heard, but I didn’t know that it was EDM or what that even was. All I knew was when the song sped the song up I felt like speeding up too, and that is the whole point of music while you’re running. And that’s how I eventually fell in love with the dance workout channel on Apple Music. But I digress, because the message of this song is also a huge part of it’s appeal; the gym is a hopeless place and you often feel hopeless while depleted and sweaty and running in place toward nowhere, so the reminder that hey, you could even find love in a place like this is a good one. When has Rihanna not had your back?
19. “Any Man Of Mine” — Shania Twain
Honestly, the best one-two punch in the world for treadmill pacing is Rihanna followed by Shania Twain. I’m personally still waiting for Rihanna to cover “Any Man Of Mine” in full patois, but while I keep dreaming, the old school Shania version still goes. This song is actually way older than “Up!”–it came out in fucking 1995 and still sounds fucking relevant. I don’t know how Shania stays so underrated with millennials, but I predict a renaissance is in the making. I kept hoping she’d have an incredible comeback album but I’ve sort of let go of that dream. So back to the song at hand, it’s white-hot pure misandry that burns misogyny on contact. “When I cook him dinner and I burn it flat / He better say ‘Mmmm I like it like that.” Ummm what?? Brilliant. If there was ever an instance in which the praise-you-wonderful-woman invocation of “MOM” meme was appropriate, it is in response to this song. It’s also a great one for line dancing. P.S. If you know a good place to do that in Brooklyn please hit me up. I’ll come meet you after I’m done at the gym.
20. “Break Free” — Ariana Grande ft. Zedd
The thing about Ariana Grande is she really shines when someone else is in the room–or on the track–you get the analogy. Her greatest collaboration to date remains this EDM venture off 2014’s My Everything. For a long while it was the song I used for that final 3-4 minute push that I mentioned earlier–that most runners will probably refer to in casual conversation as their “kick.” Seriously, runners have a whole language if you listen, in their world PR stands for Personal Record, not the person whose job it is to make you write nice things about whatever client has paid them! Strange. Anyway, Ariana shines when she has great production, and we all know Zedd is a fantastic producer, but funny enough, he also only seems to shine when there’s a great pop vocalist involved. I was listening to this song when I decided to break up with my ex-boyfriend, move out of my old apartment in Ridgewood where the bathroom ceiling was falling in, and get a job I didn’t detest with my entire heart. So it’s powerful! Put it on your workout playlist. No, I won’t hear any more Ariana slurred-phrasing shade, just put it on.
21. “Upgrade U” — Beyonce ft. Jay Z
Ever since Molly McArdle gave me her spiel on how “Upgrade U” is her favorite Beyonce song and how King B will probably never play it live, I’ve been paying attention to this song in a new way. It’s particularly interesting to listen to in a post-Lemonade world because it reminds us of the good times, the innocent times. For one thing, Jay Z was still good at rapping back then! God, I miss that. In his most recent column–which is excellent and about how Future is flatlining and it’ embarrassing (though predictable)–Tom Breihan recently described how Jay used to rap: “almighty god-flow.” (I think my fav Jay line (although it’s tough to choose one) might just be “They call shots I call audibles.”) He’s on that tip here, and it’s only topped by Bey assuring this rap superstar that partnering with her will exponentially increase his value. Hindsight is 20/20, she never lied. Not once. Oh wait except when she said “Still play my part and let you take the lead role, believe me.” King Bey reigns supreme, Jay is now the second-in-command. If thinking about Bey’s come up from Destiny’s Child to where she’s at now doesn’t motivate you to run faster, probably nothing will.
22. “Get Me Bodied (Extended Mix)” — Beyonce
Since we’re here, we might as well address the other song off B’Day that was practically made for the treadmill. In reality, it was probably designed for the club, but there’s a lot of crossover there. It’s smart to search out extended remixes of pop songs you already like, because they are longer and will help make more time pass while you’re still thinking Oh, only one song went by. Also “get me bodied” is a great sentiment to keep in mind when you’re literally trying to get your own body back into shape. Synergy! *Chef’s Kiss*
23. “Black Skinhead” — Kanye West
Though I personally prefer “Blood On The Leaves” for that astonishing TNGHT paint splatter in the middle breakdown, “Black Skinhead” is an admittedly better song to sweat to. Plus, even people who can’t technically claim access to the song’s central character can’t help but love screaming along to the song’s first words “FOR MY THEME SONG.” Listening to this song almost makes me wish Kanye would stop obsessing over fashion and write a superhero movie. I bet it would be great. I’m well aware it has an important political message–hell, it’s crazy when you consider he was doing songs that dealt with themes like this before the Black Lives Movement had even begun–but that aggression easily translates to fuel for physical activity, too. Besides, I’m pretty sure Kim uses it as part of her workout routine. I would, if I was her.
24. “All Day” — Kanye West
Maybe “All Day” and “Only One” will end up lost to the weird period between Yeezus and Pablo, but that doesn’t make them any less important or valuable. Unlike “Black Skinhead” and it’s admittedly dark turn, “All Day” is pure Kanye stunting in a casual carefree mood. Not that there’s not aggression here–“Got a middle finger longer than Dikembe”–but there’s no denying that when he debuted the song at the BRIT Awards it forever changed the life of one Allan Kingdom (who put a great mixtape out at the top of the year, ICYMI). Anyway, when I’m listening to “All Day” I like to remember that all of our lives could always change that quickly, too–we’re all just a superstar cosign away!
25. “Monster” — Kanye West ft. Jay Z, Rick Ross, Bon Iver & NICKI MINAJ.
If all else fails you, pull up My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, press play on “Monster” and skip ahead to 3:34–that’s when Nicki’s verse starts. You’ll be happy to sprint for it’s duration, I promise you. Sometimes I even find myself wanting to run over my allotted time or mile goal just so I can keep listening to her. Truly, it is not just the greatest rap verse in the last several years, but perhaps the best ever spit. Instead of fighting me over that, how bout you hit a treadmill and get out your aggression that way?
And I’m out. Wishing you all happy and healthy exercise practices! You can find a full Spotify playlist of the songs–sans Taylor Swift–linked here and included below.
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