2010 was another tough year in the music industry: record sales continued to plummet--down another 13% from the previous year-- and ticket sales fell off a cliff, as the live concert industry had its worst year in decades. Even if it feels like we’re just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, there were a number of bright spots that reinforced that artistry is alive and well and that the audience for good music is still vibrant. As much as this year will be remembered for such disappointing returns (at least commercially) by the likes of Lilith Fair and Christina Aguilera, it will also be seen as a renaissance for pop music and a rapper named Marshall Mathers, but whom we all know as Eminem.
1) Eminem: Was there ever any doubt? “Recovery” was the top-selling album of the year, staging a strong comeback after the disappointing “Relapse.” Em also led all Grammy nominations with 10 and he and Jay-Z sold out four stadium dates. The only question is how is he going to top this in 2011?
2) Lady Gaga: Without a new album out, Lady Gaga was able to concentrate on building the perfect Little Monster empire by touching virtually every corner of the earth on tour. And develop her side career as a fashion-forward butcher and as a political voice campaigning for the repeal of DADT. There may have been artists who have worked harder at connecting with their audience, but we don’t know who they are.
3) Pop Music: 2010 was one of the strongest years in pop in more than a decade. Much of it is gloriously disposable, but by its very job description, some pop is meant to be ephemeral and totally of the moment—like Katy Perry’s delicious “California Gurls.” Somewhere, a pop factory kept churning out new R&B/pop male creatures: Mike Posner, Drake, Bruno Mars, Jason DeRulo, Taio Cruz...the list goes on.
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4) Taylor Swift: Swift convincingly rose to the challenge, shutting down any critics (this one included) who wondered if she could transition from the awkward school girl who wrote about being 15 and the band geek to a young woman. And she sold 1 million copies of “Speak Now” in the first week telling us about it. Probably the only one who wishes she’d go back to high school is John Mayer.
5) Lady Antebellum: With less fanfare than Taylor Swift, this co-ed country trio very steadily and stealthily transitioned from newcomers to superstars in country with a healthy budding audience in pop as well. Rarely have artists avoided sophomore slump with such grace. We definitely need them now.
6) "Glee": Every week, “Glee” seeming sets a new record, whether it’s landing more records on Hot 100 than any other artist in history or propelling songs the cover back up the charts by the original artist. As powerful as “American Idol” was as a singles driver in its prime, it had nothing on “Glee,” which may be the most potent multimedia mix of television and internet we have yet to see. And mind you, radio does not even enter into this equation.
7) Irving Azoff: As head of Live Nation Entertainment (which includes the world’s largest promoter and one of the biggest management companies), Azoff sets the agenda for much of the music industry and yet, he still finds time to Tweet, often to hilarious effect.
8) Justin Bieber: It’s too soon to tell if he’s just this year’s model when it comes to teen idols or if he’ll have a career three years from now, but he’s setting himself up smartly to be one of the very few to be able to move into adulthood with a career. Plus, can more than 1 billion YouTube views really mean no one will care two years from now?
9) Kanye West: He stayed quiet for the first half of the year as he repented from Swift-gate, but then came on strong for the last half, pummeling us with free music and then wrapping up the year with one of the top albums of the year, the aptly-titled “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” He’ll never been as incredible as he is in his own mind, but at even half that, he is a flat-out genius. A crazy one, but a genius nonetheless.
10) Vevo: The online video channel is only a little more than a year old, but the Google/Universal Music Group/Sony venture has taken the online video world by storm, often surpassing Viacom (which owns MTV, CMT, VH1, etc) in monthly viewers. Plus, its picture quality is astonishing, just check out the most recent additions from Ray Lamontagne and Bruce Springsteen. It’s how to do music videos right on the internet.
Music Power Brokers appears every week on Hitfix. We're taking a two-week break for the holidays, but will be back Jan. 6. Happy Holidays!
Follow Melinda Newman on Twitter at @MelindaNewman