2013 Pop Music: A Year In Review
2013 was a year that many waited for with great anticipation. It was a big year for veteran acts returning to the limelight. It was also a year with its fair share of disappointments. Here are some of the highlights of 2013.
a. An unapologetic embracing of “old school”: Several established A-listers moved away sonically from the tired, repetitive and mass-produced sound that has dominated pop music for over half a decade. Instead they adopted “retro” treatments for some of their new music – especially for their lead singles. Noteworthy examples of such musical experiments include Justin Timberlake’s delectable Marvin Gaye-Jackson 5 hybrid “Suit and tie“, Chris Brown’s “Fine China” (a song that one cannot help but wish that Michael Jackson had recorded before his tragic demise), and Bruno Mars’ “Treasure”. The commercial and critical response to these endeavors were largely positive. It demonstrates an appetite for a classic sound as opposed to a generic sound whose sonic templates have been created by producers such as will.i.am and RedOne. Nothing is “too retro” for a modern pop audience. The younger breed of pop aficionados are more than happy to embrace unfamiliar sounds provided the songs that showcase them are given the promotion they deserve.
b. A revived appreciation for the album format: Over the past decade, record sales have plummeted and no longer make the large contribution to the music industry’s revenues that they used to. Furthermore, the “digital unbundling” of an album that has happened because of the emergence of digital music stores such as iTunes and Amazon MP3 have made the relevance of the album format quite questionable – especially since people now have the ability to cherry-pick their favorite tracks (typically only two or three) off an album. No longer is there a need to purchase an entire album. Hence, the need for artists to create a cohesive album meant to be listened to as a whole has dissipated. One of this year’s biggest albums “The 20/20 Experience – parts 1 and 2” by Justin Timberlake would suggest that there is an appreciation for this format. After a gap of six years since his last studio album, the former N Sync frontman and one of the world’s biggest superstars Justin Timberlake returned with two installments of the highly anticipated “20/20 Experience” – an album that wasn’t chock full of radio-ready singles (unlike his first two albums). Instead, it was an album with very long tracks (the length of which is not typically suited to mainstream radio formats) and not many candidates for official singles. It would seem like a bold move for a person that did not rise to prominence in the “albums” era of pop music. While Justin Timberlake did receive criticism for not creating a stockpile of radio-ready tracks, he did succeed in creating a body of work that had stylistic cohesion. Another artist that went down a similar route was British chanteuse Dido. She returned with her first body of new material since the ill-fated “Safe trip home“. Once again, the album “Girl Who Got Away” had its moments but none of them were big “radio moments”. The album as a whole was great and the tracks fit well alongside each other. Unfortunately, Dido did not meet with the same level of success that Justin Timberlake did mostly because of a very lightweight promotion campaign.
c. The resurgence of MTV Video Music Awards as a potent force in pop culture: In an age wherein MTV is no longer a source for discovery of music videos and music in general, one cannot help but wonder what the relevance of the MTV Video Music Awards might be. Youtube has almost completely replaced MTV as a source of music video discovery. Furthermore, the collapse of MTV’s 24-hour music video format has turned the concept of the music video into a very low ROI (return on investment) activity. The scale that television provided for music videos has not been matched by that of online on-demand platforms such as Youtube. Hence, the creativity that dominated most of the music videos in the 80s and 90s is virtually absent in modern music videos. Hence, one cannot help but wonder what exactly MTV is celebrating through their video music awards and why there might be any interest in such an awards ceremony. This year’s awards proved that MTV is far from dead as a relevant music brand. It also proved that the award show still continues to have a lot of traction in contemporary culture. The show was practically an honorary tribute to Justin Timberlake. It also served as a platform for Lady Gaga and Katy Perry to perform their new and highly anticipated material. But the most talked about component of the award show was undoubtedly the misguided attempt at showcasing “sexuality” which was Miley Cyrus‘ performance. Her performance became a hot topic of discussion for weeks and she instantly became the focal point of contemporary pop culture for way longer than she needed to be. In the early days of MTV, one of its defining elements was the “shock value” that many of the artists offered through their music videos. This year, it was the awards show that succeeded in stirring debate and controversy.
d. Unfulfilled expectations by some of the world’s biggest stars: This year, many music aficionados were expecting to hear new albums by artists such as George Michael, Kylie Minogue, Dubstar, Samantha James, Culture Club, and Mariah Carey. In 2012, George Michael had described his latest work as his most “commercial” material to date. Yet, after an incredibly scary car accident (which involved him falling out of his car at a high speed), not much has been heard from George Michael. Neither is there any outlook on the release of the new material that he talked about during some of his radio interviews in late 2012. Kylie Minogue‘s only new material was the terrible buzz single “Skirt” and “Limpido” – her fantastic duet with Italian popstar Laura Pausini. Dubstar stayed quiet. So did Samantha James – except for a few cryptic messages on her facebook fanpage. In the summer, everyone believed that old tensions had resurfaced among the band members of Culture Club and that their reunion project had been shelved as a result of that. Fortunately, in our interview with Boy George in October, he assured us that Culture Club would return to the recording studio to complete what they had begun over a year ago. Boy George definitely helped in compensating for the Culture Club disappointment by releasing his new solo album “This Is What I Do” (featuring the fantastic lead single “King Of Everything“). Mariah Carey seemed to be the most non-committal of the lot in terms of delivering an entire album. She released three singles over the course of the year – “Beautiful” (a duet with Miguel), “Almost Home“, and “The Art Of Letting Go“. While these songs are reasonably pleasant, they are a far cry from the hits that Mariah Carey churned out from the early 90s up until the mid-2000s. Releasing one-off singles might be a deliberate strategy. It might help in keeping the interest in Mariah alive while a high-impact marketing campaign is built when a full album is ready for release.
e. The comeback of the year – Johnny Hates Jazz: This year’s biggest highlight, in our opinion, was the return of one of the greatest “one album wonders” of all time. The original incarnation of Anglo-American pop band Johnny Hates Jazz (sans Calvin Hayes) returned with their first album of new material since their 1998 album “Turn Back The Clock“. “Turn Back The Clock” is without a doubt one of the greatest pop albums of the 80s. It has also stood the test of time and sounds as fresh as it did 25 years later. Fortunately, 25 years later, Johnny Hates Jazz chose to give us more than just a memory of the brilliance that “Turn Back The Clock” showcased. Instead, they released “Magnetized” – the perfect sequel to a milestone album. “Magnetized” encompassed all of the defining elements of the quintessential Johnny Hates Jazz sound while making sonic forays into more modern musical territory. It showed that 25 years had not eroded the musical competencies of singer-songwriter and lead singer Clark Datchler and that of production maestro Mike Nocito. The band (often remembered for their immortal hit single “Shattered Dreams”) was instantly re-embraced by BBC Radio 2 in the UK and the album’s lead single “Magnetized” (a “Shattered Dreams” of 2013) without a doubt goes down as one of 2013’s greatest singles. For those of you that missed this delectable piece of pop brilliance, please check out our review of “Magnetized”– since it truly is 2013’s “album of the year”. If you missed the album’s supremely awesome lead single, here is the full-length video below:
So did we miss any other defining highlights of 2013? If so, please do let us know via the comments section below:
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