This is the start of a multi-part series focusing on what I loved and loathed about 2009. Warning: Many of my answers will be cliche, but I’ll try my best to keep them entertaining.
Best Combination of Artist and Performer: Lady Gaga
It’s a cliche answer for a reason: Lady Gaga was the star of 2009.
Some pop artists have all the talent and none of the showmanship – Jason Mraz, who had a huge hit with “I’m Yours” this year and whom I’ve adored for years, is a talented musician who will never be stalked by the paparazzi because he’s not interesting enough to anyone but his biggest fans. Other pop artists have all the showmanship and none of the talent – like Britney Spears (no matter how much you love her music, you cannot realistically argue that she is a talented singer) and all of her teen queen disciples (Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, the Pussycat Dolls… the list goes on and on).
It is rare to find someone who is both a talent and an icon. Even Madonna, Gaga’s inspiration and predecessor, is not a particularly talented musician. She’s a chameleon, a dancer, an actress (ish), and a star, but her singing voice is only mediocre, and her musical talents end there. In contrast, Gaga has a powerful voice that, unlike nearly every singer of her generation, sounds just as beautiful live as it does on her albums. And she’s no one-trick pony – she’s also a talented pianist and songwriter. Despite her “disco stick” references, we can’t write off her music as dance-floor fluff. “Paparazzi” and “Bad Romance” are serious and fascinating songs, and even her lighthearted tunes are damn fun to listen to, even more fun to dance to, and never hit that obnoxious level that the Katy Perrys and Miley Cyruses of the world so often hit this year.
But of course, Gaga is also a one-woman show. She has crafted a mysterious, slightly insane persona, mainly due to the over-the-top, usually haute couture costumes she wears on a daily basis. I’d like to see any other modern performer get away with wearing head-to-toe Alexander McQueen, including those crazy-ass shoes that left nearly all women wondering, Um, what are those, and how the fuck do I walk in them? Her live performances involved pianos on fire, blood dripping from her torso, and a shockingly spiritual and meaningful address a group of LGBT rights advocates, including a song about the murder of Matthew Shepard. Her videos are epic works of freakish performance art. And most importantly, she brought Kermit the Frog back into the spotlight.
Worst Band that Keeps Getting Worse and Keeps Getting More Popular: Black Eyed Peas
Once upon a time, a teenager named Samantha thought the Black Eyed Peas were a pretty decent band. They had a unique sound and a weird-looking chick singer with great abs. But it seemed as though their music got worse and worse with every single they released. “Where is the Love” was a pretty beautiful and fairly inspirational song, and it featured Justin Timberlake, so you had to like it. “Hey Mama” made you absolutely need to shake your ass on the dance floor when you heard it in a club. “Let’s Get Retarded” was beyond overplayed, but still a pretty fun tune if you were drunk, stoned, dancing, or trying to bother people. “Don’t Phunk with My Heart” had some interesting melodies in it, but was more difficult to listen to, and ushered in Black Eyed Peas’ Era of Obnoxious Music that Barely Qualifies as Music. “My Humps” was just Fergie speaking in rhythm about her tits and ass, using some of the worst lyrics of the decade (“Mix your milk with my cocoa puff,” anyone?). And the only good thing about “Pump It” was its sample from an older song – it had no merits of its own.
The real straw that broke this camel’s back was “Boom Boom Pow,” the song least deserving of its immense popularity out of all the Peas’ music, and perhaps even out of all of 2009’s music. This song is basically about nothing, exchanges lyrics for catchphrases, lyrics for onomatopoeia and melodies for noise, and yet somehow topped Billboard’s Hot 100 for this year. It’s not a fun song to sing to, dance to, or drive to, and it usually gives me a migraine.
And as for “I’ve Gotta Feeling?” While it’s not nearly as offensive to the ears as “Boom Boom Pow,” it’s obvious that this song was produced with the intention of causing drunk college kids to scream “MAZEL TOV!” while pre-gaming and talking about the latest episode of Jersey Shore. I know I’m guilty of singing this on the bar at McFaddens, but I judge myself for that, because I know that that was exactly what producers envisioned when they created that song. Maybe I’m too old for this kind of music, or maybe I’m just so two thousand and late, but here’s hoping that 2010 is a Peas-free year.