By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
Considering 2008's daily fuckery (the election, the economy, the Internet's continued destruction of journalism as a viable career option), I've never felt less inclined to make some head-up-ass editorial case that pop music plays a pivotal role in the development of modern society—it was all just one amuse-bouche after another to download for momentary flavor/distraction/anesthesia while president-to-be Obama figured out how to save us from ourselves. Thanks, MGMT.
New York, NY
This year was a year for political-junkie behavior on my part, thanks to the astonishing combination of factors going on with both the presidential race and the numerous other political campaigns involving people and issues across the country, and then, even more overwhelmingly, the past four months of economic grind-down. There was a lot of waffle and foolishness out there, of course, and there'll be all the more to come, but amid all the chaff of stupidity to be found, there was enough wheat for someone with my interests to have a hell of a feast. Given all that—and given the fact that I know people going through insanely tough, often heartbreakingly sad times due to these last few months in particular, and that the next year may be one of the most unsettled ones I've ever lived through—the ballot I really sweated over, talked a lot about, was the one cast back in November, from national to local issues. There was no way a ballot about music could compete for my attention or interest.
Remember when black rock needed a coalition? Well, there was a time when Jesse Jackson ran for high office, too. In albums, the story of the year was black rock all over the place. (Call it pop experimentalism if you prefer to, but really, who's zooming who?) Not a new story, but one whose breadth and clout revealed how music anticipated the true story of the year: Mr. President.
Los Angeles, CA
Re Ron Clark Academy's "You Can Vote However You Like": Much more than anything McCain himself did during the campaign, it took a bunch of middle-school black kids from Atlanta to bestow upon him some of the dignity and honor that were supposed to be his currency. Simply by allowing that there was a case to be made for the wrinkly old white guy, a generosity they had no earthly reason to summon, they rescued the campaign from the slime pit of Wright, Ayers, Hannity, Limbaugh, Ferraro, Lynn Westmoreland (Mr. Uppity, in case you missed that one), Joe the Populist Prop, and all the other sundry phantasmagoria conspiring to hijack history. Discovering "You Can Vote However You Like" sometime in the waning days of October ranked right alongside Iowa and South Carolina as my purest moment of joy in an election I followed obsessively but ultimately didn't enjoy enough, because I spent too much time waiting for the bottom to fall out. These kids, seemingly oblivious to the slime pit, enjoyed the moment as much as humanly possible.
Chinese Democracy had something in common with the election of an African-American to the presidency: Most people thought they wouldn't live to see either thing happen. America proved that it was more psyched about Obama, though—almost 70 million votes vs. a disappointing quarter-million sales for Axl and friends. (AC/DC did three times that; Britney did double.) But Axl can take some solace from author/blogger Robert Stacy McCain ("The Other McCain") and use his encouraging words for the GOP as a pep-talk for GNR: "We're at rock bottom, with nowhere to go but up."
New York, NY
Anderson Cooper's Election Night interview with will.i.am using CNN's beam-me-up-Scotty holograph technology was everything that is wrong with the American election season and the major-label music industry: useless and strange technology, plus vapid pundits "engaging" each other, reducing politics to an Us Weekly celebrity "Who Wore It Better?" article. Within minutes of a historical paradigm shift, do we really need to hear from the author of the worst campaign song ever written ("Yes We Can"), and of such classics as "My Humps" and "Let's Get Retarded"?
Was there really a better soundtrack to 2008 than Erykah Badu's glorious head-trip of an album? 2008 felt like sitting up late, watching the umpteenth consecutive hour of election coverage, and feeling so hopeful about the future that you could explode, but being unable to ignore that dark corner of your mind that tells you something or someone is going to come along and fuck this all up. Feeling too scared to get excited, for fear of another soul-crushing Wednesday morning in November. Feeling like half the world around you has lost their minds, but seeing a glimmer in the eye of a random passing stranger that tells you everything is going to be all right in the end. 2008 was packed with fear, anxiety, passion, anger, excitement, hesitancy, and, most of all, hope. Badu may have dropped this album way back in February, but the way she tapped into every ounce of that energy made New Amerykah, Pt. 1 essential listening all year long.
New York, NY