Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

This year, pop music popped, hip hop was huge and divas took a dive (except Beyoncé)

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While 2013 will go down in the books as the year Miley Cyrus's tongue achieved McDonalds-level ubiquity, the artist formerly known as Hannah Montana wasn't the only one who made major waves this year. Here's a look back at some of the (other) memorable musical moments of 2013.

 

Locals only

Officially, 2014 will be Year of Music in Manitoba, but 2013 was a banner year for homegrown acts. Royal Canoe became one of the city's biggest local success stories thanks to the release of its debut album, Today We're Believers, which was released to rave reviews in the summer and took the indie electropop act all over the world. Royal Canoe's gear was stolen at the end of its three-month tour, but thanks to an outpouring of fan support, the band's $7,800 crowdfunding goal was surpassed in less than 24 hours.

Metallic noise rock trio KEN mode also had an incredible year, following up its Juno Award-winning 2011 album Venerable with the critically acclaimed Entrench. Produced by Matt Bayles (Mastodon, Isis, Minus the Bear), Entrench went on to be longlisted for the Polaris Music Prize and win in the Western Canadian Music Awards inaugural metal category. KEN mode was featured in a Forbes Magazine article about the business of music and appeared in an ad for Converse.

The year also saw Ruth Moody's solo career hit the big time. The sometime Wailin' Jenny released her career-cementing solo album, These Wilder Things, to lots of praise, picking up two Canadian Folk Music Award nominations. She toured across North America and Europe in support of the record, even scoring an opening spot on music legend Mark Knopfler's European tour (Moody sang on his 2012 release, Privateering, and he returned the favour for These Wilder Things).

 

Hip hop, you don't stop

It was a huge year for hip hop. Kanye West's raw, raging Yeezus -- described most accurately by Slate as "aggressively alienating" -- landed on many best-of lists and was the subject of many more think pieces; if you needed more proof of Kanye's cultural cachet, he's the subject of a forthcoming 304-page academic textbook, rather straightforwardly titled The Cultural Impact of Kanye West. Of course, the year didn't belong to the man who calls himself a "Christian revolutionary visionary." The year also saw acclaimed releases from young rappers in the vanguard of the genre, including Drake, Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt, Shad and Chance the Rapper, to name but a few.

 

The divas didn't deliver

In the glittery bubble of pop music, the fourth quarter of 2013 came with it the release of four feverishly anticipated -- and relentlessly promoted -- new albums from pop's biggest divas: Katy Perry's Prism, Lady Gaga's Artpop, Miley Cyrus' Bangerz and Britney Spears' Britney Jean. While three debuted at No. 1 -- Britney Jean limped in at No. 4 -- all four failed to live up to their own incredible hype. Perry's Prism had a claws-out single in Roar, but the rest of the album was a timid meow. Mother Monster's Artpop -- sold as some kind of Warholian game-changer -- often felt self-indulgent at best and silly at worst. Cyrus's self-generated media circus eclipsed anything Bangerz had to offer -- which wasn't anything Rihanna hadn't already done better. Britney Jean, billed as Spears' most personal release yet, felt like exactly the opposite. The big divas disappointed -- that is, until Beyoncé came along.

 

All hail the queen Bey

Just as the year was winding down -- and most major best-of lists had gone to print -- Beyoncé broke the Internet by casually dropping a self-titled "visual album" of 14 new songs and 17 videos on iTunes with nary a whisper of advance promotion. And while the move was an excellent marketing stunt -- Bey has well out-sold her fellow divas, looking to break one million units by year's end -- the capital-D diva has got the goods to back it up. Beyoncé ranks among her strongest albums, a hyper-intimate opus that tackles everything from love and motherhood to feminism and sex. Even when she's getting personal, Beyoncé, the woman, remains as aspirational as her carefully curated Instagram feed (this is Beyoncé, after all) but she's also likable -- which, in turn, makes her album feel totally relatable. It's smart, savvy pop. Who runs the pop world? This girl.

 

Arcade Fire goes big

Beyoncé wasn't the only one who proved that marketing matters in 2013. Arcade Fire's sprawling double album Reflektor had a steady hum of advance buzz, thanks to a guerilla marketing campaign that included a cryptic logo inspired by Haitian veve drawings appearing on walls in cities around the world, a last-minute release of an interactive video for the title track directed by Vincent Morisset and a secret, limited-access club show credited to The Reflektors. A slick 30-minute concert special aired on NBC after the band's Saturday Night Live appearance in late September, featuring cameos by Rainn Wilson, James Franco, Michael Cera, Zach Galifianakis and others. After the album's October release, the band announced dates for its massive 2014 world tour, asking fans to wear costumes or formal attire. The "dress code" caused some uproar, but Arcade Fire insists it's "not super mandatory."

 

Godspeed You! Black Emperor wins Polaris Prize, calls out the Polaris Prize

The prestigious 2013 Polaris Music Prize was awarded to Montreal post-rock juggernaut Godspeed You! Black Emperor for its 2012 album Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! eliciting a collective "Whaaaa?" from music critics betting on A Tribe Called Red, or Tegan and Sara, or anyone else, really. Let's be clear: Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! is a great album, but it was a dark horse. GY!BE did not attend the gala in Toronto and issued an open letter -- 2013 was indeed the year of the open letter; we're looking at you, Sinead O'Connor -- expressing gratitude and criticism. Among the complaints from the band: "holding a gala during a time of austerity and normalized decline is a weird thing to do" and that "organizing a gala just so musicians can compete against each other for a novelty-sized cheque doesn't serve the cause of righteous music at all." The guys accepted the $30,000 prize, and announced it will use it to set up a music program for inmates in Quebec prisons.

 

Pop's big surprises

Pop music is a much-maligned genre, often unfairly accused of being plastic and vapid, but acts such as Sky Ferreira and Haim challenged the status quo this year. For this writer, pop music's most exciting leading ladies are Lorde and Tegan and Sara. New Zealand's Lorde, a.k.a. Ella Yelich-O'Connor, is a 17-year-old star about to go supernova; her debut album, Pure Heroine, was one of the year's most stunning releases, boasting songwriting prowess that belies its creator's years. Tegan and Sara, meanwhile, issued an unapologetically glossy top-40 heatseeker in Heartthrob, a record that was hyped by everyone from Girls creator Lena Dunham to Taylor Swift. Indie-rock purists cried sellout because that's what they do, but this is the music that these twins from Calgary were meant to make.

 

Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines

Well, we couldn't get through this list without mentioning Robin Thicke and his super-catchy -- and super-gross -- single Blurred Lines. Summer's most sexist jam was a polarizing one, sparking lots of discussions about misogyny in pop music that dominated Twitter feeds and column inches for months. While many smart people wrote many smart takedowns of the party track, it was named Billboard's Song of the Year.

 

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 31, 2013 C1

History

Updated on Tuesday, December 31, 2013 at 5:47 AM CST: adds photo

6:17 AM: Changes headline

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