The Top 50 Music Moments of 2013 (#10 - 1)
Posted by Daniel Wilcox on 01.30.2014
From the return of Eminem and the success of Daft Punk to Beyonce's surprise album, the shocking return of David Bowie and more, 411's Daniel Wilcox concludes his look at the top 50 music moments in 2013 with #10 through #1!
I appreciate that we're near the end of the first month of 2014 and there's been plenty of year-end features on 411 and everywhere else. But it is still awards season, and as far as I'm aware, this is the last year-end feature. I could be wrong, it wouldn't surprise me. Today is the last of three columns counting down the biggest, most talked about and most controversial moments in the music industry in 2013. I will conclude today by counting down the top ten. I'm posting a day later than intended due to unexpected work commitments, so I apologise if you were waiting on bated breath for the conclusion of our countdown.
For anybody who missed it, or wishes to remind themselves, here are the first two parts of our list;
When compiling the list the only criteria I used was simply what got people talking in 2013. How will people remember 2013? I think I've managed to compile a pretty comprehensive list that covers the full spectrum of genres so without further ado let's get straight to it.
10. Vinyl Sales Continue To Rise
I've talked a lot about trends on this countdown, from the decline in the importance and success of TV talent shows and in particular singing competitions, to the rise in unique marketing strategies in music. Perhaps one of the more intriguing patterns in the music industry comes from the way we purchase our music. For the first time since the introduction of iTunes back in 2003, digital sales of singles and albums were down in 2013, partially due to the success of streaming services such as Spotify. As expected, CD sales took another hit last year, but there was one format that posted remarkable gains. Sales of vinyl records were up a staggering 22% for the year 2013. Now, vinyl sales have been trending upwards for six or seven years now but this was by far the biggest increase in sales for the format since the introduction of Soundscan in 1991. While the sales of vinyl only accounts for a mere 2% of all sales, it is an intriguing upward trend that doesn't look like it's about to stop any time soon. As digital sales become the way forward, those who seek a physical copy of their music are turning away from the CD and going to the more aesthetically pleasing design of the LP. In addition the popularity of the vinyl is most likely a response to the digitalisation of everything as well as falling in line with this "vintage" trend driven on by nostalgia. This trend isn't unique to the United States either, as vinyl sales are up worldwide with UK sales of vinyls up by more than half in 2013. This is fantastic news for independent record stores, who account for about 65% of vinyl sales. Of course, the trend is perhaps helped by the fact that a lot of retailers offer vinyls with codes that give them access to mp3 versions of their vinyls. Unsurprisingly, the majority of vinyl sales come from more creative and artistic musicians; the biggest vinyl sales this year came from Daft Punk, David Bowie and Arctic Monkeys.
9. Eminem Releases The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Returns To Form
In 2013 Eminem released his eighth studio album, The Marshall Mathers LP 2. Unsurprisingly, the record was a commercial success, becoming the second biggest selling album of the year, debuting at the top of the Billboard 200 with sales of nearly 800,000 in its first week. The record spawned (to date) four massive singles, the most latest of which being the Rihanna-featuring "Monster" that has spent a number of weeks at the top of the Hot 100. Other singles "Berzerk," "Survival" and "Rap God" were all praised, especially the latter for its technical marvel. More importantly, however, the album was a critical success with the general public perception being that The Marshall Mathers LP 2 is Eminem's finest work in a decade. Nobody really liked Encore, Relapse was a polarizing release at best, and 2010's Recovery also had a number of detractors. The general consensus on The Marshall Mathers LP 2, however, is that it is by far Eminem's most matured work and lyrically features many moments of brilliancy. Personally I think there's two or three filler tracks that drag the record down and at 78 minutes it does take considerable effort to get through it in one sitting, but for the most part the record is absolutely phenomenal. I can't heap enough praise onto "Rap God," but I also have a massive soft spot for "Headlights." On The Marshall Mathers LP 2, Eminem is well aware of both his age and his place in the history of hip hop. His equal parts regretful and unashamed. The record's themes switch from reflection on his own behaviours and troubled life to acceptance of who he is and what he has become. It doesn't matter how good you are, however, or how important you are to the genre, if you stop growing you stop being relevant, and off the back of Relapse and Recovery, Eminem was beginning to stagnant, not necessarily in terms of quality but in terms of importance. On this record, Eminem shows more maturity and growth than he has in a decade and it makes for an incredible album. It's a performance, a work of art. The guest spots are few and far between but they're perfect. Rihanna features on the infectious "Monster," and fun's Nate Reuss provides the perfect foil for the touching "Headlights," an apology to Debbie Mathers. Kendrick Lamar shows up and delivers the goods, and it's very telling that Em was one of the few not to be brought into criticism in his "Control" verse this year. This album cements Eminem's status as untouchable. "Rap God" sounds about right.
8. Justin Timberlake Makes His Return To Music
Justin Timberlake's career is something of a marvellous feat. I don't know of too many people that started off in a cheesy 90s boyband who went on to become a respected name in the music industry and in Hollywood. It'd been a hell of a long time since Timberlake had been really actively involved in the music industry, his last album released way back in 2006. Even back then, people liked Timberlake for what he was. An artist. He made accessible, radio-friendly pop music, but it was far more sophisticated then the usual lowest-common denominator tripe you would regularly hear on the radio. It was multi-dimensional, it was intriguing and it sounded good, most importantly. So after years awake making films and working on other projects, it was a delight to hear that Timberlake was coming back to music. Timberlake announced his return with the release of lead single "Suit & Tie," taken from The 20/20 Experience. While the track was far from a home run, it was certainly a decent track and one that announced Timberlake was ready to come back and redefine R&B once again. Then we got "Mirrors," a complete game-changer and just a stunning track all round with a typically Timberlake epic video to boot. One of the most inventive, creative and downright catchy pop songs of the year, "Mirrors" reminded you how effortlessly Timberlake can pull off this gig. And in all fairness, the majority of the rest of the album followed suit. Generally lauded as more ambitious than either Justified or FutureSexLoveSounds, The 20/20 Experience became one of the biggest selling records worldwide and demonstrated how mainstream pop music doesn't have to be so bloody bland. There may be no man on the planet quite as suave as Timberlake, his vocal swoons from track to track, making for luscious pop tunes. Usually I would use adjectives like "daring" or "bold" to describe this record, but when you're Justin Timberlake, there's no such thing as taking risks, because you're capable of pretty much everything, as is evident by this damn-near perfect pop album. Of course, we would get a sequel later in the year and even though that was far from the critical home-run that Part 1 was, it was still head and shoulders above what most of his competitors were doing. And even if the guy does decide to take another lengthy hiatus, he's still pretty good at the whole movie thing too.
7. The Lady Gaga Experiment is Mercifully Over
Five years ago Stefani Germanotta burst onto the scene with her debut single "Just Dance." It topped charts globally and the pop star better known as Lady Gaga became a household name in next to no time. "Poker Face" and "Bad Romance" were similarly massive, and helped her debut album The Fame and follow up EP The Fame Monster seel an absolute shit load of copies globally. As you can imagine, there was a ton of hype around her second record, Born This Way, but despite critical opinion being more divided the sales were the same. Singles did well, her tour became one of the biggest grossing tours ever, and all was good in the Gaga camp. Of course, in between albums number one and three, there was a whole lot of bizarre behaviour caught in the public eye, intentionally or not, that meant whether there was new music to promote or not the mass media was constantly talking about Lady Gaga. Case in point, the infamous meat dress. For three years or so, there was incidents like that on a near-daily basis. It was tiring but people lapped it up. Then came Artpop.
Somewhere in the build up to Artpop, people lost interest in Gaga. She wasn't in the public eye so much, partially due to some health issues that meant she wasn't working or promoting as much. But I think the other reason is because the media already had an unbalanced pop starlet making questionable decisions in the public eye to talk about. Gaga was no longer the flavour of the month. Lead single "Applause" was actually critically well-liked by it didn't have the same impact on radio as her previous lead singles had done, and subsequent collaborations with R. Kelly on follow up single "Do What U Want" weren't about to set the world on fire either. While the album did debut atop the Billboard 200, it shifted just over 250,000 copies in its first week, about 100,000 shy of expectations and significantly below albums by her rivals such as Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and Beyonce. Furthermore, it proved that the album lacked selling power, taking an 82% hit in its second week. The album was discounted as part of Black Friday and got a sales boost from that, but at quite the cost. The record didn't chart well around the world either, and even in regions where it succeeded, it still wasn't a stayer. Now, there's a very public dispute between her and members of her management team stemming from losses of around $25 million, an extortionate amount of money. 2013 was the year that the Lady Gaga ship sailed.
6. Miley Cyrus Finally Sheds Her Disney Skin
Heading into 2013, if I asked you the question of which female pop star would have the biggest year, I don't think too many of you would have answered "Miley Cyrus." Surely her time had come and gone, the former Disney star had her moment in the music industry and it had past fairly unspectacularly. Well in 2013 Miley came back with a bang, or rather, Bangerz, and made herself a household name worldwide. The former Hannah Montana star had a staggering year from start to finish, love her or hate her, and I would suspect that for most people it would be the latter. Her chart success and her standing in the public eye are undeniable however, and what makes her 2013 all the more impressive is that no one would have predicted it. Her two mammoth singles "We Can't Stop" and "Wrecking Ball" smashed all kinds of records on social media and YouTube, as well as peaking at two and one on the Hot 100 respectively. Her record Bangerz shifted far mores copies than rivals such as Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, and her MTV VMA performances generating more social media buzz than any event in history.
One way or another, Cyrus knows how to keep people talking about her. It started in 2012 with the new haircut and that continued into 2013 with the controversial new image, the raunchy music videos and the like. Cyrus was so controversial that hardly anyone even noticed when she ended her engagement to long-time boyfriend Liam Hemsworth. Of course the talked about Miley Moment of the year was her performance with Robin Thicke at the VMAs. Following a performance of her own hit "We Can't Stop" that featured Cyrus slapping the ass of a black woman onstage, Cyrus stripped down a skin-coloured two piece. She then produced a giant foam finger from... somewhere, and proceeded to touch Thicke's crotch with it, before gyrating and twerking up against him, sticking her tongue as far out as possible the whole time. Enter all the prudes and their outcries about in inappropriateness and decency. Personally, I was just offended by how awful the routine was but that's neither here not there. I was going to conclude by saying 2013 was the year Miley Cyrus grew up, but I'm not convinced that's quite right. More appropriate I think, is to say that 2013 was the year Miley Cyrus sexed up.
5. Daft Punk "Get Lucky"
This past Sunday, Daft Punk landed a major Grammy-double by scooping the gongs for both Album and Record of the Year for Random Access Memories and "Get Lucky" respectively. More importantly, Random Access Memories picked up the most prestigious award of its kind a couple of weeks ago, right here on 411Mania.com, as it was named the 411 Album of the Year. It was announced in Spring that a new Daft Punk record was due in mere weeks, and the internet pretty much blew. Hell, between that and "Blurred Lines," Pharell Williams had one of the best years of his career and he did next to nothing! I'm not going to sit here and pretend that Random Access Memories is my favorite album of all time, or even the year, because it's not. You take this album out of its context and pop it into its own bubble, I find it to be self-indulgent and at over 70-minutes long it takes some effort to digest in one go. "The Game of Love" and "Within" are beautiful songs of the utmost quality, they're phenomenal, but such moments of perfection are few and far between. But in the context of what 2013 had to offer and what other pop acts are bringing to the table, Random Access Memories is everything the industry needs. It's not a wakeup call, because if you're not already on board then it's going to leave you behind and you're never going to catch up and that's where the album fails, it's almost too good, it's too perfect. It's an album that attempts to bring the human element back to the charts dominated by robotic EDM, but it offers such an idealistic view of the genre that it's almost impossible to fully comprehend its brilliance.
For me, what was so impressive about Daft Punk's dominance is the way they promote themselves, or they way they don't. They rarely make televised appearances, they don't do interviews, hell, they don't even show their faces. They're probably the most in-demand artist amongst live promoters anywhere in the world. Daft Punk simply put out songs and let their music do the talking, which in this day and age, is an impressive achievement in its own right. The need for self-indulgent pop stars to promote their music by flaunting their flesh and behaving like children is an admittance that their music isn't good enough to sell itself, but that has never been the case with Daft Punk. "Get Lucky" was everywhere this summer, and Random Access Memories was the fastest-selling record of the year at one point, unsurprisingly. In a year filled with comebacks from established artists and the emergence of many, many new ones, Daft Punk stood head and shoulders above the rest.
4. The Trial of Lostprophets' Ian Watkins
This one's a little uncomfortable to even write about. Ian Watkins was the leader singer of Welsh band Lostprophets, who garnered moderate success State-side but were a household name in Europe and the UK, scoring numerous number one albums and headlining festivals on a regular basis. However, you could tell from various interviews and public appearances that Ian Watkins, the band's lead singer, was a bit of a prick but as it was revealed this year, his issues went a little bit deeper than that. In December 2012, Watkins was arrested and charge with a number of offences that included but were not limited to the following; conspiracy to engage in sexual activity with a one-year-old girl, possession of and/or distribution of indecent images of children and extreme animal pornography. Fans of the band were shocked, Watkins' bandmates were shocked. Except, and this is perhaps the most worrying part of the story, there's is a currently an ongoing investigation into three UK police forces for failing to act on information that may have lead to Watkins' habit to have been discovered years earlier.
Watkins furiously denied the charges at every court appearance until the trail began in November 2013, at which point he changed his pleas to guilty to all of the charges with the exception of the rape of a baby. This prevented the court from having to witness damage evidence which was in the form of video, Skype conversations, text messages and the like. Also on trial with Watkins were two mothers of children who had offered their children to Watkins. One text from Watkins to one of the mothers read, "if you belong to me, so does your baby." I will not go into the grim details of the case – they are readily available online but it does not make for pleasant reading. Suffice to say many senior officers in the case described it as some of the most harrowing stuff they'd encountered. One such officer described the singer as "a committed, organised paedophile" and "potentially the most dangerous sex offender" he had ever seen. Most sickeningly Watkins described the case as "mega lolz," a slogan the band used to put on T-shirts and the like. Needless to say, the band split up and Watkins is now serving a lengthy prison sentence. A harrowing story to say the least, and one that shook the British rock scene to its core.
3. Arctic Monkeys' World Domination
Arctic Monkeys burst onto the scene a decade ago boasting some phenomenal indie rock anthems that took the world by storm and sent them almost immediately to the top of festival bills everywhere. Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not and Your Favourite Worst Night are two of the most important albums of the 21st century, partially because of their legacy and the amount of bands they inspired, but more importantly just because of how fucking brilliant they are. Then the went through the whole maturing stage, releasing Humbug to minimal fanfare although a lot of hipster types loved it. It was a brave new direction and it proved a critical success. Suck It and See followed the same formula and the band was quickly cemented as one of the best and most influential of the century. It was surely impossible for them to get any bigger or any better, right?
Wrong. Dead wrong. In 2013 Arctic Monkeys headlined Glastonbury for the second time alongside the Rolling Stones and a bunch of other artists who in the grand scheme of things all became irrelevant once the Arctics were in town. It was their defining moment as a band and one of the very best headlining slots anywhere in the world in 2013. The band would go on to bring the goods at festivals all over Europe, adding to their reputation as a phenomenal live band. Soon enough they began releasing material from brand new album AM and they found it was producing some of their most successful singles since 2007. The album dropped in September and it turned out to be the best album of the band's career, and easily one of the very best albums released in 2013. Some of the frantic energy from the band's first two efforts was gone and replaced by the raw confidence that made their Glastonbury set so astounding. AM is equal parts daring, sexy and self-assured and features the band's best tunes to date. This was the year of Arctic Monkeys, because everybody now recognises them as one of the biggest bands in the world and the best we've got.
2. Beyonce's Shock Release of Beyonce
There's been quite a few artists on this list that have been applauded for their unique marketing strategies for promoting new records. Arcade Fire ran an entire guerilla campaign. Jay Z made a commercial with Samsung in the middle of the NBA Finals. Kanye West shamelessly stuck his face on the side of monumental buildings around the country. Lady Gaga borrowed Jay Z's app method. Beyonce went the My Bloody Valentine approach, getting out of bed morning and saying "fuck it, release the thing." Admittedly, that's a slight simplification, but that's essentially what happened. Literally just a few days prior to the record dropping, an executive from the label mentioned that the new Beyonce record would be out "at some point" in 2014. And yet days later it was on the internet, which subsequently blew up, and then it was in shops a couple of weeks later selling by the shitload. Queen Bey even wandered into her local store to pick up a copy and treat the shoppers minding their own business to a bit of a show. The release generated over 1.2 million tweets in 12 hours. Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield wrote, "Beyonce has delivered countless surprises in her 15 years on top of the music world, but she's never dropped a bombshell like this. The Queen Bey woke the world in the midnight hour with a surprise 'visual album' – 14 new songs, 17 videos, dropped via iTunes with no warning. The whole project is a celebration of the Beyonce Philosophy, which basically boils down to the fact that Beyonce can do anything the hell she wants to."
What's more impressive that being able to do that and still sell a ton of records is doing it with an album of considerable acclaim. Personally? I wasn't a fan of the record. But can I deny its success? Absolutely not. In a month the record has sold well over 3 million copies. That's staggering. It went straight in at number one on the Billboard 200, shifting some 617,000 copies in just three days. Three days. It had hit the million mark worldwide by the end of the week. Critically the album was universally adored by the masses with many publications pointing to its overt sexuality, impressive vocal range and lack of distinct song structure as its key features. People called it an empowering record, an incredible feminist statement and whole host of other somewhat over the top superlatives. To be able to make such a bold move to release the record the way she did and earn such high praise for it is absolutely staggering and a true testament to Beyonce's staying power and her credibility as an artist. 2013 looked like it was going to be a quiet year for Beyonce following the inauguration fiasco and then the Super Bowl, but at the end of the year she was the only person in music anyone was talking about. Is it my cup of tea? No. But you have to give credit where it's due.
1. The Return of David Bowie
2013 saw numerous musical returns, some of which we have already discussed; Justin Timberlake and Daft Punk made blockbuster returns this year and did very well. Similarly, we've seen some real sudden album releases, the big one we've just discussed in Beyonce. But no comeback was more triumphant and no surprise album was so welcome as David Bowie and The Next Day. Bowie has always been something of an enigma so it shouldn't have come as a surprise that the comeback and album were announced the way they were. There was no rumours beforehand, no speculation outside of the same wishful thinking people had been hanging their hats on for years. Then on January 8th last year we were told Bowie was back. But there's been on interviews, no public appearances, no promotional tour and no headline slot at Glastonbury. In this day and age David Bowie is only interested in making music and according to his producer, 2013 was the right time because Bowie had something to say, not something to sell.
The Next Day was released in March, entering at number one all over the globe and number two in the United States. In many countries Bowie had his best sales figures for literally decades and in some cases ever. Going Gold in eight countries, it's fair to say that the record was a commercial success, but that pales in comparison to its critical acclaim. The Next Day has received high praise from all corners of the globe and has been nominated for countless awards, including next month's Grammys and Brit Awards. Most tellingly, numerous outlets and critics have labelled the album Bowie's best work for decades.
David Bowie is an English national treasure, without question. In a day and age where music is sold based on sex, scandals, Tweets, twerks and anything else young starlets can do to shift records, seeing Bowie create such a genuine buzz simply by announcing a new album was refreshing and heartwarming. Seeing the same album become one of the year's success stories helps to restore a little bit of faith in the music industry as a whole, and in the consumers who buy music in 2013. As of right now we may remember 2013 most for the antics of Miley Cyrus or Justin Beiber, the summer of "Blurred Lines" and "Get Lucky." But David Bowie's legacy is a legacy that will be in tact decades from now and he doesn't need to make tabloid headlines to do it; he just has to release music.