Monday, December 24, 2007

2007: The Year in Pop Music

Here's my rundown of the year's pop music stories, trends, quirks, and whatever else I feel like expounding on:
  • Amy Winehouse. How glorious a pop music figure is Amy Winehouse? Everything about her is this curious yin/yang balance. Back to Black was an amazing album, unspooling hit after hit--Rehab, You Know I'm Know Good, Back to Black, Tears Dry on My Own, Love Is a Losing Game--each one unique, clever, soulful, and sad. Her biggest hit of the year, "Valerie," began life as a Radio 1 Live Lounge performance before landing on her producer Mark Ronson's pet project, Version. She's got an amazing voice, but she sounds 34, not 24, which means she got that voice for some hard living. Her songs are witty, raunchy and in-your-face. But unlike many of her pop peers, she's not being ironic--she really does have substance abuse and emotional problems. "They tried to make me go to rehab but I said no no no" sounds cool until you realize it's not just a lyric, with the bitter truth unspooling through the tabloids over the course of the year, bringing me too...
  • Tabloid queens. What is it with bad girl celebs this year? Winehouse excepted, it's like they realized their albums and movies would never be enough to net them publicity, so they ran around shaving their heads, driving recklessly, posing for mugshots, and serving time. Britney had perhaps the most amazing year of all, surprisingly capping it with an album that managed not to tank. The fate of her children though, remains in the balance, speaking of which...
  • Babies and bad lyrics. Babies were everywhere in pop music this year. Unfortunately, they weren't a cause for celebration. Britney Spears lost custody of hers. And Britney's little sister Lynn, having seen from her older sister's example how beautiful motherhood could be, announced that she will join those ranks next year. Maybe she thinks that since she's starting earlier (16), she'll be better off than Brit. Then there's the music, where babies lent some of the year's worst lyrics. Natasha Bedingfield's comeback flop "I Wanna Have Your Babies" has them "springing up like daisies." Shayne Ward, pining for a beautiful girl in "Breathless" said "And if we had babies they would have your eyes. I would fall deeper watching you give life." Mmm..hope he feels the same way about the ensuing diapers.
  • Attack on spelling and grammar. Pop music and spelling/grammar have never mixed well (remember Sinead's "Nothing Compares 2U?"), but this year had some particularly egregious fare. I love Timbaland's "The Way I Are," but every time I read the title I wince. Then there's Pink's equation song, "U + Ur Hand," which really needed an parenthetical answer ("= luv @ 1st site"). T-Pain scored a hit with "Buy U a Drank," the "U" aside, what exactly is a "drank?" Sounds like past tense of "drink," so does that mean it's an empty glass? Gee thanks T-Pain, thanks for this empty sticky glass you bought me. Next time I'll take a pint of ale.
  • British sophomore slumps. Sophomore slumps are, of course, well documented, but it seems like an inordinate number of British acts suffered them big time this year. Natasha Bedingfield's NB lacked a proper "These Words" or "Unwritten" hit, James Blunt's "1973" was no "You're Beautiful," KT Tunstall got airplay but no sales for "Hold On" or "Saving My Face." The bands fared similarly, many getting one big hit, but then tanking with all the rest, a la Kaiser Chiefs, Hard-Fi, The Editors.
  • R&B embraces electro and the '80s. After being dominated by the melody-free "beats" of the last few years, R&B & Hip-Hop took a nice turn back toward being tunesome this year, finding inspiration in the '80s, electro (or both), delivering such gems as Kanye West's "Stronger" and "The Good Life" and Rihanna's "Umbrella," "Shut Up and Drive," and "Don't Stop the Music." Even 50 Cent picked up on this trend, with the winning Justin Timberlake collaboration "Ayo Technology."
  • Clive Davis rules the industry. This truism was proven again and again this year. Kelly Clarkson dare speak out publicly against him? No hits for you Kelly! Her third album managed only the moderate hit single "Never Again," which she has since adopted as her mantra. In contrast, after third season X-Factor winner Leona Lewis caught his eye, she's on the way to becoming a massive international star next year.
  • The music industry (finally, maybe) embraces technology. There's still some ripples of angst on this issue, but things are starting to look better. ITunes began offering DRM-free tunes, at a premium for a while, but now at the same price. Radiohead famously released their album from their Web site, allowing fans to pay whatever price they wanted. More back catalogs got added to iTunes, including much of the Beatles' solo work (still not their catalog proper). Still awaiting Garth Brooks to throw his hat in the ring.
  • Female pop artists dominate. For every notable male pop artist I can probably name four or five female ones. This year was no exception, with Justin Timberlake being the only real male game in town. Compare that with the chart domination this year by Fergie, Rihanna, Beyonce, and Nelly Furtado, most of whom were still working last year's albums. Next year should be no exception, with new discs on the way from Madonna, Mariah Carey, and Dido by June.
  • The UK chart has gone crazy. For the first year since I started following the British singles chart, it actually produced the same number of #1 hits as the Billboard Hot 100--17 singles. That's down from a record 42 #1 hits in 2000. The change in chart rules that allows any track to chart led to a few oddities--singles charting way in advance of a physical release, the assault of seasonal tunes in December, and the few one-offs like the return of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" and the radio station promotion that returned Billie's 8 year-old "Honey to the Bee" to the chart.

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