2013: In MUSIC

In Commentary, HOME, MUSIC by Sam Prance

The end of the year is near. Subsequently, Prancing Through LIFE will be posting a review of the year in each of its cultural categories before concluding on the year as a whole. Each post will take a different format but will take a look at 2013′s highs and lows (more of the highs – if we’re honest). From Miley to Malala – it’s been quite a year.

I dunno about you guys but I feel like 2013 has been an excellent year for music. There have been several albums I have absolutely adored, some I’ve hated and some which have simply bored me. It was a year of comebacks – Bowie, Daft Punk, Gaga, Lily Allen, Timberlake…BEYONCÉ. A year of goodbyes – to Girls Aloud and JLS we bid fond farewells.  And a year of enormous breakthroughs – Miley Cyrus, Macklemore, Lorde and Haim. There has been controversy, innovation and disappointments. It’s certainly a year that has got people talking.

Surveying this year from the comfort of mid December I think it’s possible to pick out a few trends, alongside the handful of standout artists that have dominated the British musical landscape in the last 12 months.

There’s been more than the usual amount of argument about sexism in music videos, inspired by the best selling single of 2013 in the UK, ‘Blurred Lines’ – banned on university campuses up and down the land and generator of endless Guardian thinkpieces. Perpetuated by Miley Cyrus and her twerking, hammer licking and Thicke grinding action, and then parodied magnificently by Lily Allen as she returns to the pop culture scene after doing babies and that. Rather than wading into this morass of opinions I think the best summary came from Allen herself: it’s fine if as a lady you want to take your clothes off, but it’s not OK if other people tell you to take your clothes off. There. Case closed. Now let’s all never talk about it ever again. (NB if you want to see PROPER twerking watch the video for Diplo’s ‘Express Yourself’ from last year).

In other controversies, while an anti-Margaret Thatcher song is not allowed to be played on BBC Radio 1, James Arthur has shown that being homophobic doesn’t necessarily stop you being playlisted (see also Eminem) in a way that being openly racist I think probably would. And no, Macklemore’s drippy ‘Same Love’ does NOT make up for it. Sadface.

2013 has also seen the emergence of a couple of genres into the mainstream, in the same way as dubstep and grime did a few years ago.  The world of viral memes brought us the Harlem Shake and suddenly everyone was talking about trap music. The enormous success of Duke Dumont and Disclosure swiftly made house music the go to dance floor soundtrack, while Rudimental brought drum and bass back in a big way.  This, alongside the smooth RnB of acts like AlunaGeorge, made clubbing in 2013 feel distinctly 90s.  Daft Punk’s smash hit ‘Get Lucky’ got everyone into disco again, and, unfortunately, the worldwide success of Mumford and Sons has produced a music scene which we might refer to as ‘post-banjo’ – just listen to Avicii’s recent work, the new Ke$ha track ‘Timber’, James Blunt’s current single or Gary Barlow’s new song to see how widely spread this infection is.  One can only hope and pray it will die a death in 2014 and we can all dance on its grave.

Rock music continues to be mostly irrelevant to the younger demographic represented by the singles buying market, with only one rock record making it into the top 40 best selling UK singles this year (Imagine Dragons’ noisy and pointless ‘Radioactive’). Instead a preference seems to have emerged for a sort of insipid cutesy guitar music seen in the success of acts such as Passenger and the Lumineers.  Among the older album buying public guitars have a stronger showing, with the most recent Arctic Monkeys album being hailed as a return to form (and I have to admit it is rather good), alongside the critically claimed more experimental sound of Arcade Fire and Foals, the jangles of Vampire Weekend, the yelps of the 1975, the synthy-guitar mix of Bastille and the valley girl rock of Haim.  The sensitive minstrel also had a good year in 2013 – whether he’s singing over dull piano like Tom Odell, dull acoustic guitar like Ben Howard, dull raucous guitars like cheeky Jake Bugg with his face like a slapped arse, or the infinitely superior vibrating bass of Mercury award winning James Blake.

Some pop behemoths have gone from strength to strength – One Direction are still outselling everyone else in sight, Calvin Harris is still a hits machine and Kanye West is still divisive and mental.  Other acts wobbled, like Gaga, Rihanna, and an increasingly erratic Justin Bieber, while others were outright disappointments.  Britney Spears appears to be very much on a downward trajectory now, with her new album entering the charts at only number 34, and Icona Pop failed to follow the worldwide success of their banger ‘I Love It’ with a successful album, much to my chagrin as I thought it was a pretty good effort. And Beyoncé was the ultimate disappointment coz she just CAN’T SEEM TO SODDING RELEASE ANY NEW MUSIC  triumphant surprise of the year. After leaving us feeling slightly unloved all year long – adverts, interviews, the Super Bowl, a bloody documentary but no single, Beyoncé shoved a ‘visual album’ on iTunes today. That’s an album with a video for every song. Well done everyone.

What, if any, conclusions can we draw from such a year? In the modern music world it is essentially impossible to define a year as one thing or another.  Our musical scene has splintered and diversified due to the Internet in a way that means we’ll never again be able to neatly define our era by any one form of music.  We are free to listen to whatever we want, whenever we want.  Everything is up for grabs, pop culture is absolutely democratic and no one has to listen to anything they don’t want to.  Some regard this development with horror (radio stations, record labels, journalists writing year in review pieces) but I love it.  It renders attempt to list the ‘best’ music of the year in any sort of ‘definitive’ list pointless.  So rather than doing so myself, here’s just a thoroughly subjective list of the songs I’VE loved this year. Have a listen, or don’t, whatever, it’s totally up to you. Merry Christmas everyone, and please refrain from twerking on New Year’s Eve.

Nick Cordingly

Nick Cordingly was recently dragged kicking and screaming out of the Cambridge bubble. He is now in the enviable position of trying to find a use for a history degree when all he wants to do is listen to pop music and tweet. Nick also has a tumblr which he should update more regularly. Said tumblr: Sounds and Thoughts, can be found here

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