2012 in review: Pop music’s most memorable moments
Pop & Hiss weighs in on the most notable music moments of the year.
L.A. owns 2012: Our fair city never lacks for great rising artists, but rarely have two locals so dominated the national conversation with groundbreaking, major-label albums. Kendrick Lamar’s “good kid, m.A.A.d city” and Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” each commanded the country’s attention -- Ocean, for both his brave coming-out and for his sheer skill; Lamar for taking the legacy of L.A. gangsta rap and turning it on its ear with a finely observed (and still banging) documentary of Compton life. -- August Brown
EDM hits arenas: Dance music has always been the redheaded stepchild of the concert biz, pulling huge crowds and huge profits to often off-the-grid locations where fans were free to flail to heavy house and trance. With Kaskade’s headlining Staples Center date, however, the genre enters its latest test -- can it join the mainstream concert business at its highest levels? -- AB
ABC’s “Nashville”: Network TV gets something about country music right -- and made it super cool as well? Kudos to creator Callie Khouri for finding canny ways to work in cameos from the likes of J.D. Souther and Del McCoury and insisting on stars (including Connie Britt and Hayden Panettiere) who can actually sing. -- Randy Lewis
The late-career resurrection of Bobby Womack: When Blur’s Damon Albarn wanted to record an album with the soul legend, one who has spent much of the last two decades kicking addictions and beating illnesses, Womack was skeptical. “What if I come in a wheelchair?” he asked Albarn. He didn’t, and the resulting album, “The Bravest Man in the Universe,” is free of any twilight complacency. Sparse electronics pepper the album, giving a modern frame to Womack’s cracked, weathered voice. -- Todd Martens
Chris Brown’s Taliban costume: The R&B; singer-domestic batterer Chris Brown exceeded all our expectations for cruel obliviousness when he dressed as a militant Taliban fighter for a Halloween party (hosted, no less, by his ex, Rihanna). Chris Brown identifying with a violent, misogynistic military cult? Who’d have imagined that. -- AB
The vocals of Brittany Howard: The Alabama Shakes singer spoke softly to the crowd at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, in March: “I don’t know much more than you,” she said. “I just know that this is something I enjoy.” Singing, she was far less bashful. Howard is a modern blues singer in the Jack White mold, bringing a garage-punk stomp to songs packed with roll-up-your-sleeves grit. -- TM
“Searching for Sugar Man”: The unlikely tale of overlooked ‘70s rock-R&B-soul; singer and songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, who unknowingly became a superstar in South Africa long after his flirtation with fame in the U.S. had come and gone, made for an extraordinary narrative, one with an equally unexpected happy ending. -- RL
Tom Gabel becomes Laura Jane Grace: The transgender Against Me! singer proved that her older lyrics about “if I had my choice, I would have been born a woman” weren’t just artful lines when she announced that she was giving up life as Tom Gabel to become Laura Jane Grace. Her bravery in coming out so publicly has only added to the punk group’s iconoclasm. -- AB
Stunningly short-sighted moves: Axl Rose’s boycotting of Guns N’ Roses’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame -- then subsequent apology to fans for his snub. And, in the wake of the hugely successful Beach Boys reunion, singer Mike Love’s decision to return to the road with his scaled-down version of the group -- minus the services of creative leader Brian Wilson, guitarist-singer Al Jardine and guitarist David Marks. -- RL
Chief Keef makes rap frightening again: In the decades since 2Pac and Biggie, hip-hop largely lost its role as a barometer of the streets. But the teenage Chicago rapper erased the line between music and criminal culture when it turned out his bleak mixtape tracks and Interscope debut were in large part a play-by-play of conflict between the rival Gangsta Disciples and Black Disciples, which boiled over when Keef mocked the death of a gang rival on Twitter and had to move to L.A. to escape possible reprisal. -- AB
Taylor Swift, pop star: With “Red,” the country singer in disguise almost entirely ditched the trappings of down-home innocence for a sonically-savvy, adult breakup album. Who’d have imagined in 2009 that Swift would be dabbling in dubstep and making videos where she wakes up hung-over from a desert bacchanalia? -- AB
Neil Young & Crazy Horse “Walk Like A Giant”: This track on Young’s recent “Psychedelic Pill” is pretty impressive as Young sings about the days of yore when rock musicians thought they might change the world -- and some even did. But when they pounded it out at the Hollywood Bowl in October, their sonic rampage sounded -- and felt -- positively Jurassic. -- RL
Los Lobos’ Cinco de Mayo Festival: After years of kicking the idea around, the long-running East L.A. band, with major assistance from the Greek Theatre’s operators, launched a so-L.A. holiday celebration in May featuring another veteran Angeleno band (X), newcomer (Mariachi El Bronx) and a lot of help from friends including Neko Case, Alejandro Escovedo and Blasters founding members Dave and Phil Alvin. -- RL
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