The 10 Biggest Music Stories of 2010
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.
Ah M.I.A., it just wasn't your year, was it? Photo by Rebecca Smeyne.
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...
Bwahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. But at least...