Top pop music moments of 2013: Kanye on ‘SNL,’ Lorde, more
A lightning rod for controversy throughout 2013, Kanye West was never more electric than his appearance on, of all places, “Saturday Night Live.” Dwarfed under stark projections of snarling hounds and wall-sized price tags, West howled through the frenzied drive of “Black Skinhead” and compressed himself into a slow, furious burn for “New Slaves.” There was no more hype, no more “Kimye,” and all that remained was a barbed provocation from one voice that swerved hip-hop into abrasive punk rock. Kanye wasn’t just loud, maybe he really was saying something big enough to broadcast on buildings. Then, well, the album came out.
— Chris Barton (Dana Edelson / NBC / NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
I didn’t speak to the young woman sitting next to me at Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Fonda gig in February. Honestly, she’d annoyed me all night ¿ chatting with a friend during the first part of the show, singing along a bit too loudly to “Higgs Boson Blues,” texting. I was busy dying over Nick Cave. She didn’t seem to be. Then, in the first song of the encore, the Bad Seeds started the driving pound of “From Her to Eternity.” It’s one of my favorite songs. Stunned, I never thought I’d hear it performed live. Next to me, the woman screamed. She was as overjoyed as I. As she bellowed, she noticed my joy and our eyes locked. We broke into huge smiles, two strangers connected by the thrill of holy communion. And in that moment I forgave her everything.
— Randall Roberts (Noel Vasquez / Getty Images)
Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Britney Spears never worked harder for our attention. It all seemed to kick off with Cyrus’ deliciously trashy train wreck of a performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. Between the incessant tongue-wagging, crotch-grabbing and foam finger antics, she effortlessly hijacked Robin Thicke’s song of summer and spawned countless think pieces on sexuality and culture appropriation. Then there was the follow-up -- the interviews where she skydived, partied and got tattoos, the performances next to libidinous teddy bears and latex-clad little people, the video where she rode construction equipment in the nude. Cyrus relentlessly twerked her way into the zeitgeist and it worked, steering the conversation with her transition from Disney princess to urban pop provocateur.
Ocean barely looked at the cameras when he performed “Forrest Gump” onstage during the Grammys that night. It was a disaster by most accounts ¿ the singer was nervous, slightly off-key and withdrawn, looking like an afterthought in an otherwise choreographed concept piece. Closing his eyes, he forced out the lyrics about lust and longing from an album that had already been intensely scrutinized for its same-sex love references. But in a year where bombastic attention grabs ruled, it was a rare moment when vulnerability and true fallibility couldn’t be buffed and shined into market-savvy spectacle. Out of place and heartbreaking, it was a reminder of why we fell for Ocean in the first place.
— Lorraine Ali (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
I tracked down the woman who inspired Jimmy Webb’s 1968 hit song “MacArthur Park,” his high school sweetheart, Suzy Horton, in Tucson for a story I was working on. We talked about the romantic relationship she and Webb had when both were living near L.A.'s MacArthur Park. Webb had recently recorded his own version of the song (actor Richard Harris had made it a hit back in the day), so I took the liberty of playing Horton the advance copy. She sat in her kitchen, listening to the composer sing his now-classic pop epic. To watch the mist form in her eyes and see her mouth the words as Webb sang his lyrics about the girl “in the yellow cotton dress foaming like a wave on the ground around your knees” was a moment I’ll never forget, one that demonstrated once more the irrefutable power of music to speak from, and for, the heart like no other art form.
— Randy Lewis (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Recording artist Lorde performs onstage during the Grammy nominations at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on December 6, 2013. (Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images)
I did not expect my favorite night of music this year to be spent freezing on a fake beach in the former East Berlin in November. I’d gone over there to meet friends and hopefully knock out trips to the agenda-setting electronica clubs like Tresor and Berghain. But because we were cold, broke and very unshowered, we instead found ourselves at YAAM Berlin, drinking mulled wine from a crockpot while Jamaican expatriates played insane trap mixes. We danced ourselves raw on the trucked-in sand of a mini-bar called Cool Runnings that looked out over the haunting gray chill of the Spree at night. If that wasn’t quite the tale that shaving a year off your life in the Berghain dark rooms would have been, it was still a reminder that finding good music should take you to weird and wonderful places you never could have imagined before.