Sound And Vision: The Year in Review — What Was Hot and Not in Pop (and Beyond) in 2011?
No discussion of the last twelve months in music would be complete without a proper shout out to Adele, the blue-eyed, soulful Brit who ruled 2011 with one album (the multiply GRAMMY-nominated 21) and two No. 1 singles (“Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You”), so here we go.
Okay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s what was hot and not about the rest.
1. Drake: Last year, he called his debut album Thank Me Later, so now feels like the right time to express our genuine appreciation for the Canadian rapper who balances tough and tender so perfectly. With his second album, Take Care, and two of its key cuts, in particular”the fantastic first single “Headlines” and the title track (featuring Rihanna)”he brought sexy back to rap for the first time since ladies loved (LL) Cool J.
2. Girls on film: From Britney Spears’ “Till the World Ends” to Lady Gaga’s “Judas” to Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Into You” to Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.),” it was an excellent year for women in pop videos. But it was Ke$ha in “Blow,” Kelly Rowland in “Motivation” and Rihanna in “We Found Love” that injected new energy into a decades-old art form and elevated it above and beyond promotional tool to indispensable companion piece.
3. Haley Reinhart and Casey Abrams “Moanin'” on American Idol: I didn’t love the bulk of their solo performances during the 10th season of Idol, but when Reinhart and Abrams came together on the Top 8 results show for the vocalese version of Charles Mingus’ “Moanin’,” the unexpected result was the best musical moment I saw all season.
4. Diana DeGarmo on The Young and the Restless: Speaking of Idol losers, season three’s runner-up’s stint as Angelina on daytime’s No. 1 soap hasn’t been so well-received by critics or fans, but I dissent. There’s both artistry and comedic gold in DeGarmo’s portrayal of a tone-deaf “singer” and daughter of a New Jersey mob boss, and I’m looking forward to being as wowed by her Pygmalion-style makeover as I was by her Idol rendition of “Don’t Cry Out Loud” all those years ago.
5. The Opiates’ Hollywood Under the Knife: It’s a shame that if people know her at all, many of them know Billie Ray Martin solely as the dance diva that brought us the mid-’90s club hit “Your Loving Arms.” In the years since, she’s produced compelling, indefinable and uncompromising music, right up to her latest project, whose haunting Hollywood Under the Knife album perfectly captured the drama, the tragedy, the artistry in fading, broken-down glamor and beautiful losers.
6. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (finally!) welcomes Laura Nyro: I can almost forgive them for snubbing Donna Summer again, and never even nominating Linda Ronstadt, since the boys club at last is bestowing career honors on the late singer-songwriter responsible for Three Dog Night’s “Eli’s Coming,” Barbra Streisand’s “Stoney End” and Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “And When I Die,” among countless other gems. I’d say, “Better late than never,” but like all great poets, Nyro was so above cliches.
7. Kate Bush and Elton John “Snowed In at Wheeler Street”: Musical impressionism detailing love across countries and centuries and a late high-point in the distinguished careers of two icons, from Bush’s 50 Words for Snow, a 2011 comeback that was worth waiting around for.
8. Indie pop goes Top 10: Will the success of Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” open up the Hot 100 to more color-outside-the-lines pop? We certainly hope so!
9. The Constellations’ “Perfect Day” in Horrible Bosses: If you’re going to go shopping for supplies to off your sadistic boss, you might as well have killer musical accompaniment. Great movie, great cast, great tune.
10. Josh Groban does Kanye West: Get your mind out of the gutter! In one of the funniest music bits of the year, Groban sang Kanye’s most outrageous tweets in his classical-pop style on The Jimmy Kimmel Show. And for the record, fur pillows are hard to actually sleep on. Atchoo!
1. R.E.M. breaks up: Who didn’t see it coming, considering the band’s continuously diminishing sales? But that didn’t make the end of a thirty-year-long era any easier to accept.
2. Crass commercialism in pop videos: I know someone’s got to pay the bills, but all the shameless hawking of luxury goods via product placement made the video for Britney Spears’ “Hold It Against Me” (to name the worst offender of 2011) as unwatchable as the song was unlistenable. And yes, Britney, I would”and do”hold that against you.
3. Pop’s non-stop generic-dance party: LMFAO, David Guetta, Pitbull featuring Marc Anthony, and Pitbull featuring Ne-Yo, Afrojack and Nayer were the best defense for committing murder on the dance floor in 2011. Hang the DJ, hang the DJ, hang the DJ, hang the DJ indeed!
4. Divas in decline: First, Beyoncé tarnished her hit-making reputation with the under-performing 4, then the marketing of My Life II… The Journey Continues (Act 1) as a sequel to Mary J. Blige’s early creative triumph failed, as what was essentially just another Blige album gave the singer her weakest opening week for a studio set since her 1992 debut. Not even a cameo from the über-hot Drake could make “Mr. Wrong” a hit single. Recording a follow-up to her seminal 1994 hip-hop soul classic with an assortment of producers replacing her original collaborator Sean “Puffy/P. Diddy” Combs was a lot like Sandra Bullock subbing Jason Patric for Keanu Reeves. And we all know how Speed 2: Cruise Control turned out.
5. Magic and loss: R.I.P. Nickolas Ashford, Vesta Williams, Clarence Clemons, Heavy D, Dobie Gray, Amy Winehouse and all of music’s other miracle workers whom we lost in 2011.