I think a good pop song should make you feel like a hormonal, eager teenager again. A really good pop song should make your heart lurch and swoop with excitement, make you feel the same way you felt when your crush walked by your table in the canteen, shining out from within the crowd like a religious vision partially obscured, back in 1997 or whenever. For three minutes and forty two seconds, you're back there, not in your head or in your senile reminiscences, but in where it matters - your heart and your gut.
The sweetness of that sucker punch will stay with you long after the song's ended, and it will make you want to listen to it on repeat. Not that you want her, that long-forgotten crush - though she's probably divorced by now - but you want that old sensation, that crashing tsunami wave of desire for something bigger than just a person, which is the undying wonder and possibility contained in each of us, once within that long-ago skinny teenage girl with bangs who doesn't exist anymore. She's gone, and you're not the same, but a good pop song will make you believe that the old magic is still somewhere, anywhere. It makes you want to get out more often and taste the world.
Probably, some scientist will conduct a study to prove that the mathematical catchiness of an old No 1 hit has a consistent feel-good effect on the human brain, lighting up parts of it in predictable pleasure like a rigged jackpot machine. You know, it doesn't matter. Also, I don't care if the song rhymes "car" with "bar". It's not great literature, it's a fucking pop song, and it reaches for a completely different part of you, the slightly embarrassing part that's the same whether you're 14 or 44.
(Anyway, I only thought of all this because - again with the narcissism - I've been listening to Butch Walker's Pretty Melody on repeat. I actually didn't like it the first time I heard it, but holy shit, has it grown on me since. And who would have thought Butch Walker would age so well?)
I don't want to be a teenager again. I doubt any right-minded adult would want that. But I think all of us - as we ride the train to work in the morning and walk home at night carrying groceries and lean back in creaky office swivel chairs throughout the day - want that universal heart-thump of joy, that all-natural rush of pure pleasure that becomes harder and harder to summon with every passing year of adulthood. It's out there, somewhere, and - despite what we pretend to believe - so are we really.