The 10 Biggest Music Stories of 2010
Ah M.I.A., it just wasn't your year, was it? Photo by Rebecca Smeyne.
In 2010, Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire both had #1 records. LCD Soundsystem, Spoon, MGMT, the National, M.I.A, and Sufjan Stevens all had albums debut in the top ten. Kanye West joined Twitter. Drake started a riot in New York. Converse opened a recording studio in Brooklyn. M.I.A. went to war with the New York Times. Pavement reunited. Juggalos went mainstream. From our vantage point, this year in music was one of the most lawlessly entertaining--purely ridiculous, even--in a long, long while. So in the spirit of the deluge of year-end lists even now beginning to rain down upon us (don't forget to vote in Pazz & Jop!), we figured we'd look back on our ten favorite storylines of 2010. They weren't necessary the biggest, but they were the ones that SOTC had the most fun with, and the ones we cared most about.
Kanye West's Twitter Killed Music Magazines
The above headline, when we wrote it the first time around, was somewhat tongue in cheek, but it also may yet prove to be true--after a truly incandescent march across his Twitter, YouTube, USTREAM, and of course his own G.O.O.D. Friday-hosting blog, Kanye West ended his year by doing only one single mainstream media interview (a disaster of a chat with Matt Lauer) in promotion of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, turning down everyone from the New York Times to, well, us in the process. West is onto something, depressing as it is for those of us who cover him--in 2010, if you are famous enough, and good enough at social media, you do not need the press to get your message out. This was a year of finding out about new releases, secret shows, future collaborations, and artist feuds via Twitter; of hearing songs debuted via USTREAM; of musicians writing narratives of their choice through the myriad tools at their disposal. It's been exhilarating to ride alongside with them. Now here's hoping they don't put us entirely out of business.
Rap Reinvented Itself With A Vengeance
Drake's Thank Me Later described in fine, gritty--some would say mundane--detail the surreal experience of being only 23 years old and being admitted to the upper stratospheres of fame, celebrity, and wealth. (Then he complained about the experience--a reaction some found more justifiable than others.) Rick Ross took hip-hop to hitherto unknown heights of fabrication, fantasy, and honest-to-goodness identity theft. Nicki Minaj was like five rappers at the same time. Jay-Z basically inspired us to coin an entire new genre (advice rap, ahem), while Kanye coined one of his own--hashtag rap--before garnering, in his own words, "perfect scores across the board" for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a fact born out by practically every year-end list yet published. And this is before you even mention the year Fabolous had, the introduction of the world to L.A. Tumblr-rap collective Odd Future, Waka Flocka Flame's adlibs, and on and on and on. Rap was all kinds of things this year, but one thing it wasn't was boring.
Indie Went Mainstream
What else to make of a year in which everyone from LCD Soundsystem to M.I.A. to the National had records debut in the top ten? Blame, in part, a deeply suffering music industry--both the Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend nabbed their #1 spots on incredibly slow weeks, off of sales numbers that weren't exactly awe inspiring. But if we're being honest with ourselves, we've grown up as an audience too. '90s-era Pavement fans have long since either become professionals with the type of consumer dollars that can put a guy like Sufjan in the top ten, or fashioned themselves into cultural producers and tastemakers like the guy who books Jawbox reunions for Jimmy Fallon or the genius in the NFL that had the bright idea to license Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" for the Super Bowl. Which brings us to our next point...
It Was Basically Impossible to Sell Out In 2010
Arcade Fire donated that Super Bowl money to charity, but without shows like their triumphant bow at MSG and their relentless touring schedule, it's not like they could make money off their record sales. A generation of indie fans more or less betrayed a generation of indie bands by ceasing to buy their records--causing, among other things, the demise of both Lookout! and Touch & Go (maybe Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, too, before everything is said and done). No wonder, as Ben Sisario wrote in the New York Times, "lifestyle brands are becoming the new record labels." Converse and Volkswagen (shout to Grizzly Bear) are among the few entities still willing to fund bands that otherwise couldn't necessarily survive. Add the fact that we've basically become the people bands used to sell out to--Pavement didn't pack four straight nights in Central Park by themselves, and nor did Vampire Weekend put themselves at the top of the Billboard chart--the distinction between "us" and "them" is muddied beyond repair. And you know what, good riddance! Even if that gulf does still exist, we'd rather stand tall with Katy Perry than weep soundlessly in the corner with chillwave. Speaking of which...
Your ASCAP Songwriter of the Year can claim credit for one out of every two memorable singles this year, whether sung by Ke$ha ("Your Love Is My Drug," "Tik Tok," "We R Who We R"), Katy Perry ("Teenage Dream," "California Gurls"), Taio Cruz ("Dynamite"), B.o.B ("Magic"), plus assorted 2008 and 2009 leftovers to numerous to name, among them the still-ubiquitous Miley Cyrus ("Party in the U.S.A.) and Flo Rida ("Right Round"). Opinions differ on his output, but if there is something better than "Teenage Dream" out there, we would love to hear it. Pop music is way more entertaining with this guy working, even if sometimes he sells the same song twice:
Sadly, M.I.A.'s 2010 Was Cursed
Perhaps our favorite artist from the past decade began the year (rightly) quibbling with the New York Times over their designation of a newly post-war Sri Lanka as 2010's #1 tourist destination. She made the mistake of letting the buffoonish director Romain Gavras do the ginger-killing, soon-to-mocked video for the Suicide-sampling burner "Born Free." Her team somehow allowed her to sit down with the New York Times Magazine's #1 assassin Lynn Hirschberg; carnage and trufflegate resulted. By the time her (actually quite good, and soon to be reevaluated, hopefully) third album finally came out, the public had hardened against her; getting kicked offstage at her own record release show, being publicly betrayed by her most famous producer, Diplo, and being caught in a maelstrom of bad sound and dangerous lightning at July's HARD Festival only solidified the narrative (as did her continuing feud with the festival in the aftermath of the debacle). Someday, we hope, people will be able to hear Maya on its own merits, without the background noise. But probably not in 2010.
This Year Was Also The Year Every Band Ever Reunited
Pavement, most prominently, who milked the excitement of an announcement of their pending reunion last fall into a long spring of rapturous press features penned by children of the nineties, a thrill that was immediately followed by a never-ending and often charmless world tour that stopped pretty much everywhere on the globe before it finally made it to New York, where people promptly began rabidly scalping their tickets. But 2010 also saw the rebirth, if not outright reformation, of Superchunk, whose Majesty Shredding was one of the year's best, along with reunions from everyone from Chavez to Universal Order of Armageddon to Swans. In fact, we'll go out on a limb and say there are a mere ten acts from the nineties that have yet to attempt to get the band back together, though we will not object if you want to play a reunion show in our office, Drive Like Jehu.
And The Year That DIY Met Its Match in the City of New York
The Jelly NYC Pool Parties, lately a summer institution in this city, had an embattled off-season, were saved from the New York City Parks Department by an angel no less distinguished than Senator Charles Schumer, then spent the summer battling inclement weather, lightning, unpaid bills, and the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn, who summarily cancelled the final Pool Party, citing debts, before grudgingly reinstating it. Our guess is these guys will not be back. Meanwhile Williamsburg club Savalas banned rap music, the cops raided both Santos Party House and Coco66, 171 Lombardy got shutdown for the umpteenth time, and a riot broke out at an unconsummated Drake show at the South Street Seaport. Basically if you were not Madison Square Garden or Bowery Presents, you had a rough year trying to make things happen, live music wise, in New York City--though stalwarts Market Hotel, Glasslands, and Silent Barn did manage to hold it down without incident throughout most of 2010. Let's hope 2011 holds brighter news for the Todd Ps (who, come to think of it, had his own rough time in Mexico this year) of the world.
And, Finally, The Juggalo
Ah, the Juggalo, fringe pop-cult figure who went mainstream in 2010, thanks in large part to our own Camille Dodero, who suffered for us and America at large by attending all four days of the Insane Clown Posse's annual Gathering of the Juggalos. There she watched Tila Tequila and Method Man almost get murdered by hordes of Faygo-chugging fans, befriended comedian Tom Green and porn star Ron Jeremy, met the world's youngest Juggalo rapper (he's 12), and spent quality time at "the Jump-Off, the broadcast headquarters of Psychopathic house station WFuckOffRadio (call letters WFKO)," a place where soon after she arrives, "a nude model will duct-tape a Juggalo to a stripper's pole and then stuff an Ecstasy pill in his rectum. (Later, the Juggalo will suck tequila from a beer bong and vomit.)" What did you do with your 2010?
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.