2013 was a productive year. I added something like 1000 new artists to my library on last.fm, and got into emo, shoegaze, classic prog rock, classic RnB, chillwave, and even some noise. It was probably one of the biggest years for music exploration that I’ve had since the beginning of college, and I believe it has changed the way I think about and talk about music.
Of course, no change in attitude would keep me from watching Ryan Seacrest’s Rockin’ New Years Eve and having a good laugh about the artists they put on. The takeaway from the night was this: I believe this EDM-infused pop music has reached a point where I can liken it to animations released by Dreamworks: you know it’s going to be mediocre, but you’re curious to see how far the technology has come. Big drops are like the animated fur physics of pop music. That said, it was actually a good show; better than several of the previous years’. They were finally able to afford some relevant artists, or perhaps internet piracy has made times hard enough that artists are willing to do anything?
Daughtry. To this day, I still believe Daughtry going out in fourth on American Idol Season 5 (the season Taylor Hicks won) was an injustice. Luckily for him, he has managed to have a successful music career despite the loss. As for that illustrious music career, I happen to remember that one of his big influences was the alternative rock band known as Live, and unfortunately, I don’t feel that Daughtry has reached their level. His songwriting and composition skills just are not up to par, and his songs are forgettable as a result.
Pitbull. I think we all know what I think about Pitbull. He is basically “party rap” incarnate, and I ain’t much for that. I did learn something about Pitbull that amused me, this year. Apparently, in 2012, Listerine held a contest that promised to send Pitbull to whatever Walmart got the most Facebook likes. Some trolls on the internet managed to ensure that the winner of this contest was a remote Walmart in Kodiak, Alaska, and Pitbull enthusiastically went there. When he met the guy who set up the troll campaign, he said “keep bullshitting. Next thing you know, we’ll be on the moon.” Good one, Pitbull.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. In the grand scheme of things, Macklemore is one of the better artists of the year. He is a talented rapper, and Ryan Lewis is a very good producer. I think their biggest drawback is poor lyric writing on the part of Macklemore. When you look at Ryan Lewis’ production in comparison to his contemporaries, he really seems to be in his own world. He’s got horns, he’s got upbeat piano, and his beats are not exactly complex, but they are different. Personally, I’m going to wait to see their direction on the next album before I make any long term predictions about how the group will be remembered. They could either get more creative, a la better rap groups, or they could make more party rap tracks like “Can’t Hold Us.”
Robin Thicke. I think a round of applause is in order for the sheer number of people Robin Thicke pissed off this year, while looking good doing it. I think the funny part is that we’ve hit a Kanye-esque point where the hate has clearly manifested past people who actually listen to Thicke’s music. If anyone took the time to listen, they’d realize that Thicke is actually a half-decent old school RnB artist, and Blurred Lines was actually just a rare moment-of-genius exception to his norm.
Miley Cyrus. Miley was very enthusiastic about being part of the Times Square show, so I thank her for being genuine. However, I am really starting to question her abilities as an artist. Due to a limited vocal range and perhaps more, it seems that she really is not a talented singer. I guess Disney can make you famous, but they can’t make you good at everything. Every artist gets one big magic-four-chords track to make good on, and for Miley, that track was Wrecking Ball. I doubt she will ever top it, even though she is sure to release another album to moderate fanfare in the future.
Billy Joel. Joel only did one song, and you know what? It was really boring. His popularity these days is based on nostalgia, but that’s probably the best that any of these pop artists can hope for.
Jason Derulo. Derulo is one of those guys in the Chris Brown/Ne-Yo school of modern RnB. He’s got excellent dance moves, he has capitalized heavily on the popularity of EDM, and he’s got a nice falsetto (although his singing was audibly run through pitch correction, presumably so he could do his best to dance while singing). His songs are infectious and actually somewhat heartfelt, but I don’t see him as much of a risk-taker.
Capital Cities. These guys are like Empire of the Sun, with a lower vocal register. Really, they are a solid entry-level band, and I think anyone who enjoys this electropop sound would transition pretty easily into other genres of electronic music. Also, I’ve given bands a lot of shit for abusing the near-automatic emotional boost that string sections or pianos bring to music, so I have to give Capital Cities some props for having a dedicated trumpet player in their band. It’s not easy to make horns work (when making music that does not ordinarily use them), but they seem to be doing a good job.
Ariana Grande. I have no idea who listens to this girl’s music (although I’m sure I could guess). She is a very talented vocalist, but there really is nothing remarkable about her songs.
The Fray. I was not expecting to see these guys ever again, but one presumes they must have released/are releasing a new album and showed up to promote it. When you are a soft rock band like The Fray, Lifehouse, or OneRepublic, it is really hard to outdo previous success. OneRepublic has managed it, but it doesn’t seem like The Fray have. Their sound just feels dated and uninspired.
Florida Georgia Line. When these clowns showed up on stage with four guitarists, I knew I was going to be in for a treat¹. Country nowadays is kind of like slice-of-life anime: they’re both based on a formula that has not changed in years, because it is what the fans want. Talking about trucks is like the beach house episode, talking about girls is like the school festival. You gotta have it, or else people will actually miss it. I hypothesize that there may be less subtle artistry in country than there is in slice-of-life anime, but I can’t really tell because I don’t listen to country except for on rare occasions like this.
Fall Out Boy. Pop-punk has seen a small resurgence in 2013 with releases from Paramore, Panic! at the Disco, and Fall Out Boy. With this resurgence has come a thinly-veiled damage control campaign by a faction of fans claiming that pop-punk “wasn’t that bad.”² From what I can tell by last night’s performances, regardless of how bad it used to be, it has certainly gotten worse. I heard a bunch of anthemic songs with “woah” and “yeah” as lyrics, hand-clapping, and a singer who refuses to rhyme any of his lyrics. Usually the purpose of that technique is to express more complicated ideas without limiting yourself to coming back to words that sound the same, and I don’t feel that Fall Out Boy really meets that justification.
Enrique Iglesias. This is another guy where I don’t really understand who constitutes his fanbase. He performed his new song Heart Attack, and I would be tempted to call it ridiculously boring, but there is a gem in there. The chorus has honest-to-goodness glitch-hop elements in it. It comes so far out of left field that I’m pretty sure is origins were outside the ballpark. I would have been dumbfounded if Iglesias had come up with that himself, but thankfully I discovered that the song was produced by the hip-hop group The Cataracs.
¹Seriously. FOUR guitarists, and five if you count their bass player. If I had to guess what in the world they think they’re doing, the two singers both like playing guitar, but have trouble singing and playing at the same time, so they have a full-time rhythm guitarist along with the standard lead guitarist, and the two singers just chime in on guitar when they feel like it.
²I always consider it a bad sign when people use the current state of an art to retroactively praise a style that was widely considered to be lackluster at the time.