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In this special edition of Music Power Rankings, we look back at 2011 and highlight our top 10 stories and events. What strikes us as we ponder our choices in the Top 10 is that any way you look at it, this was a watershed year for the music industry in that the old, traditional way of business continues to morph into something new and those who can’t shift with the times or continue to cling to the old way of doing things will fall by the wayside. There’s understandable ongoing concern about how to monetize many of the new ways that music is consumed, but it felt like a little of the joy came back this year after a long, bleak period.
This is the last issue of MPR for a few weeks. We’ll be back in January. Happy Holidays!
1) Adele: She is the biggest success story of the year...of the last several years, actually. Her sophomore album, “21,” has never fallen out of the Billboard 200’s Top 10 and has sold more than 5 million copies in the U.S. She is on virtually every critics’ best-of-2012 list, and more importantly, she is not some producer’s puppet. She is proof that immense talent can appeal to the masses and the tastemakers alike. When she says she hurts from love’s scars, you believe her 100% and ache along with her.
2) Album sales rebound: Or at least they don’t drop. For the first time since 2004, album sales have increased over the previous year. There’s no way they’re ever going back to the pre-2000 high and the industry still feels like it’s in free-fall, but for the first time, it feels like maybe we’ve hit the bottom and, through various new business models and strategies, can go forward. (Final figures aren’t in, but through Sept. 31, sales were up 3.3% over 2010, according to Nielsen SoundScan.)
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3) Fire sale on record companies: At the start of the year, there were four major label groups (down from six a little over a dozen years ago). Now, pending regulatory approvals, we’re down to three as Universal Music Group snaps up the recorded division of EMI. Warner Music Group, which Russian businessman Len Blavatnik bought, now looks like it could be the next one to get subsumed by either UMG or Sony. What happens when we’re down to one? Don’t laugh. It could eventually happen.
4) Katy Perry: If Adele was this year’s queen, Katy Perry was the pop princess. Though she may not do it by Dec. 31, she will undoubtedly set the record for the most songs from a single album to top the Billboard Hot 100. MTV’s artist of the year has a uncanny ability to present herself perfectly in every situation, whether it’s showing off her considerable comic chops or her vulnerabilities, she has created a candy-coated character that never veers so far into cartoonish that she can’t get back again.
5) U2: Not only does the Irish band amass the highest grossest trek of the year, the 360 tour was the highest-earning outing ever, raking in a staggering $736,421,586 and selling more than 7 million tickets over its two-year run. The show set a new standard for production and staging, while it seemed that the band, with all four original members still in tact, has lost none of the passion. The only question is will the Rolling Stones try to come around one more time and try to reclaim the title?
6) Spotify: Although not without its considerable share of woes, the streaming service launched in the U.S. in July and has been the only online service that has gained any traction since iTunes. Some artists, such as Tom Waits, Black Keys and Coldplay have stayed away with their newest releases, but is this proof that streaming isn’t quite as dead as the industry had once thought? Especially as we all move to the clouds?
7) Rebecca Black: She makes our list as a emblem/meme more than as an artist. “Friday” and its viral velocity showed that anyone, regardless of talent, can have their 15 minutes of fame. And then, as is human nature, try to extend it when it should have never happened in the first place. We live in a time where the fame is all that matters, not how it is acquired. The fact that the vast majority of folks who were clicking on “Friday” on YouTube were commenting on how awful the song was is totally irrelevant in today’s society. There is no such thing as bad press, even when they spell your name wrong.
8) Lady Gaga: Speaking of The Fame, was there an artist more ubiquitous in 2011 than Lady Gaga? If she wasn’t coming to a city near you, she was on TV or the radio. Working at an exhausting, feverish rate seems like it should have yielded something like 20 million U.S. sales and certainly more than one No. 1 from “Born This Way.” Voted Billboard’s “most overrated” artist by fans, maybe it’s time for Mama Monster to take a little break. God knows she’s earned it.
9) Amy Winehouse: By the time Amy Winehouse died this summer, it had been five years since the release of her last full album (and U.S. breakthrough) “Back To Black.” In that time, she’d become another tragic burnout, whose talent wasn’t enough to keep her from chasing her demons in an all too predictable, almost inevitable decline. But with her death, came a new appreciation of her soaring talent and a lingering sorrow that another artist left way too young and without ever reaching her true potential.
10) Steve Jobs: Visionary. Transformer of the music industry, and our world. Most think he changed the music business for better, some think for worse and consider iTunes the album killer, but it is forever different because of him.