Bow down, humans
No real confirmation on this story yet, since Billboard’s website still lists The Massacre at #1 on its year-end list and The Emancipation of Mimi at #4 behind Eminem and Green Day, but MTV.com reported this morning that Mariah Carey just recently squeaked ahead of 50 and that The Emancipation is now the year’s best-selling album. MTV puts Carey over 50 by a measley 32,000, which probably just means that nobody wants to buy their kids rap music for Christmas. Even so, it’s a pretty epic redemptive story for Carey, who as everyone knows totally melted down a couple of years ago and made a terrible movie and acted crazy on TRL and got bought out by her record label. It’s Chocolate Factory all over again: the public will forgive a gifted singer any perceived sins if she makes a truly solid album that plays to her strengths and minimizes her weaknesses and includes a whole bunch of simple, pretty pop songs that aren’t overproduced or oversung or overwrought in any way. More than that, it’s a fitting story to end 50’s year: this guy started out invincible, even though he made an inert and mediocre album, and he made plenty of headline-grabbing career moves in 05, but he still ended up looking vaguely weak in the end. He never effectively responded to Game’s endlessly fascinating year-long character-assassination campaign, his movie bricked, his video game didn’t set the world on fire, and his proposed line of sex toys is some bizarrely embarrassing insane-dictator shit. And the top 200 tells the story of a couple of other painful losses for 50: no placement whatsoever for his pretty-great Get Rich or Die Tryin’ soundtrack (which, admittedly, was released late in the year) and Tony Yayo’s truly awful Thoughts of a Predicate Felon only coming up at #152, two places below Ja Rule. The Massacre may have sold a kajillion copies, but 50 still somehow came out of the year not looking so good.
The year-end top 200 may not be the world’s most useful moment-indicator; after all, album sales were way down this year, and it’s probably not a great idea to find any great social significance in Shania Twain’s Greatest Hits ending up at #9. But the chart does reveal a few trends and surprises. Carey reportedly finishing at #1 just puts a capper on a great year for female-sung pop-crossover R&B: Gwen Stefani at #6, Destiny’s Child at #7, and Ciara at #19, not to mention Now comps dominated by this stuff ending up at #13 and #24 and #35. Also, people will apparently always buy Big-Statement rock albums, critically acclaimed (American Idiot at #3, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb at #8) or not (X&Y at #14). And the Killers’ Hot Fuss ending up at #17 looks like the ultimate triumph of the whole press-driven circa-2001 Rock Iz Back thing, which probably leaves the White Stripes, way down at #110, feeling a little sour.
Beyond that, the list is the usual assortment of rap and country and MOR pop and flashy teen-oriented pop and grunge-hangover stuff (Nickelback and Disturbed, still placing!) that we’ve come to expect from, um, ourselves. But the list does offer a few minor shocks. For instance, there’s Lil Jon’s Crunk Juice, a bloated dogshit album, ineffectively paced and loaded with underwhelming guest-spots, no real hit singles, probably the shark-jumping moment of 04’s big crunk wave, and still it somehow ends up beating out the Game and Kanye and (um) the Black Eyed Peas to land at #15. Or the baby-emo chumps in Simple Plan somehow ending up ahead of genre-groundswell standard-bearers Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance, something I can’t even begin to explain. (See also: Lindsay Lohan over Hillary Duff, Weezer over Nine Inch Nails.)
There’s good news, too: supposed disappointements like Cam’ron and Beanie Sigel and Slim Thug just barely sneaking on, the Mars Volta and Three 6 Mafia riding cult success to gain placement for darkly byzantine and unforgiving albums, Daddy Yankee giving the first real indication that reggaeton may actually have some long-term commercial viability (I guess that last one is good news). But ultimately the list is so relentlessly, epically bizarre that it resists interpretation. It makes no sense. We make no sense.