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It seems more music personalities died in 2012 than ever before — from Whitney Houston to Dick Clark, Don Cornelius to Donna Summer, Robin Gibb, Adam Yauch, Davy Jones, Hal David, Ravi Shankar, David Brubeck, the list (sadly) goes on and on. But it was also a year of great births: from the gene-advantaged baby Blue Ivy to the global explosion of “Gangnam Style.” Read on for The Hollywood Reporter’s picks of the 12 most talked about music stories of 2012…
1. Whitney Houston Dies
The troubled life of an iconic R&B legend came to a tragic, early end on Feb. 11 when Whitney Houston was found dead at the Beverly Hilton Hotel hours before her mentor Clive Davis’ annual pre-Grammy bash was set to commence in the ballroom downstairs. Famous for such ballads as “You Give Good Love,” and “Greatest Love of All,” the pop diva ruled the late 1980s and 1990s, releasing a string of multi-platinum albums, starring in movies like The Bodyguard (1991) and The Preacher’s Wife (1996) alongside stars like Kevin Costner and Denzel Washington, and performing a now legendary rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at the 1991 Super Bowl. Because of her immense popularity, the media scrutinized all aspects of the singer’s life, especially her tumultuous marriage to Bobby Brown and addiction issues, and didn’t exactly let up upon her death. Still, many stars, including Mariah Carey, Brandy, and Paul McCartney made public tributes to the singer’s life and accomplishments, while the Grammys dedicated an hour-long show to the diva, We Will Always Love You: A Grammy Salute to Whitney Houston, which aired in November.
2. Pop Stars Take Over TV Talent Shows
It was out with the old, in with the new on The X Factor in 2012 as Demi Lovato and Britney Spears joined returning judges Simon Cowell, who also created the show, and LA Reid on the Fox series’ panel. Still, the star power didn’t amount to bigger ratings, as the show continued to slide to third place. Meanwhile, over at American Idol, where ratings also dipped in the double-digits, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler finished out their second season and decided not to return. In their place: the A-list trifecta of Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban will sit beside veteran Randy Jackson. As for The Voice, whose popularity keeps growing, the NBC show announced that superstars Shakira and Usher will each take a seat on the spinning chairs come spring, replacing Christina Aguilera and Cee Lo Green. Season one’s victorious coach Adam Levine explained on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that 2012 was a little more hectic because he and Blake Shelton were also simultaneously shooting the fourth season of the show. Where do they find the time to maintain their music careers?
3. Celebrity Coupling Brings Hook-ups, Break-ups and Make-ups
Celebrity couples were practically a spectator sport in 2012. Perhaps the best example? Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, who hooked up shortly after Kardashian’s much-documented blink-and-you’ll-miss-it wedding (and subsequent divorce) to NBA forward Kris Humphries. Hip-hop royalty met reality TV when West made cameos on several episodes of E!’s Keeping Up with the Kardashians franchise, and even referenced the split on his song “Cold.”
Meanwhile, over in teen land, Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber broke up, then made up, and now seem to be applying a Band-Aid on their strained relationship. Faring better — and still very much in the honeymoon phase — were Katy Perry and John Mayer, who hooked up in early August, some six months after Perry finalized her divorce from comedian Russell Brand. And clearly having no trouble in the dating department: Taylor Swift, who has linked up One Direction heartthrob Harry Styles, not longer after splitting from Conor Kennedy.
But the couple that’s hardest to figure out is one many thought was a thing of the past: Chris Brown and Rihanna. Three years after that fateful February night, when Brown assaulted his then girlfriend, Rihanna reached out to Brown to collaborate on the remixed version of her hit “Birthday Cake.” Their love/hate romance became even more confusing when they were seen smooching during commercial breaks at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards. Friends with benefits or is true love? Only time will tell.
4. Taylor Swift Breaks Records … and Sells a Boatload
Country-pop star Taylor Swift, not only breaks heart and records, she sells a boatload of them. In 2012, her album Red debuted with first-week sales of 1.2 million, the most out-the-gate units since Eminem’s The Eminem Show ten years ago. So far, Red has her tying Whitney Houston and Jay-Z for the fourth-most weeks at No. 1, according to Billboard. With a 2013 concert tour announced, an advice column in Seventeen Magazine, and album sales still on the rise (3 million and counting), Swift at 23 has accomplished more than most artists would in a lifetime.
5. Boy Bands Return
It wasn’t quite on the level of Backstreet Boys-NSync mania, but the year’s boy band offerings — namely One Direction and The Wanted — had the feel of an emerging movement as both British groups collected major accolades. For 1D, it was a sell-out of New York’s famed Madison Square Garden, for The Wanted, it was hit single “Glad You Came,” named the No. 1 song of 2012 by the Ryan Seacrest-hosted syndicated radio countdown show American Top 40 (the first vocal group to have the year-end No. 1 since Boyz II Men in 1992). Next up for both: more girls screaming, no doubt, as well as swift sales of the albums Take Me Home and Battleground.
6. “Gangnam Style” Goes Global
The summer of 2012 brought with it Korean pop star Psy, who introduced the world to the newest dance craze hit: the addictive “Gangnam Style.” Signed to Schoolboy Records, the label owned by Justin Bieber’s manager Scooter Braun, Psy quickly became an international sensation and it wasn’t long until “Gangnam Style” became the most viewed music video ever on YouTube. With over 1 billion views, the song, which is mostly sung in Korean, became a global hit and its horse-inspired dance demonstrated by the likes of MC Hammer, Britney Spears, Ellen DeGeneres, Madonna and even President Barack Obama. Now only one question remains: will Psy be a one-hit wonder in the Western world or will he take the world by storm in 2013?
7. Frank Ocean Comes Out
Elusive soul singer Frank Ocean, a member of the controversial hip-hop collective Odd Future, took the music world by surprise when he revealed his sexual orientation via a Tumblr blog post on July 4. The singer wrote of his first love (and heartbreak) with another man and with his confession, became one of the first openly gay contemporary hip-hop/R&B artists. While the genre is often accused of being homophobic, Ocean was met with support and praise by the music community. Beyonce, Russell Simmons, and even Odd Future’s own Tyler, The Creator tweeted words of support. Meanwhile, Ocean’s music spoke even louder as his debut album Channel Orange, with its futuristic, experimental soul sounds, became an instant critics’ darling.
8. EDM Explodes
House music. Techno. Dubstep. Deadmau5… All became household words in 2012 as EDM (Electronic Dance Music) took over radio, the concert circuit and injected itself into hits by everyone from Madonna to Rihanna, Nicki Minaj to Ne-Yo, each of whom incorporated synthetic beats into their sounds. Further boosting the genre were superstar DJs like Calvin Harris, Skrillex, David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia. The French Guetta won the American Music Awards’ inaugural EDM category, noting in his accepting speech, “It’s great that [EDM] is finally recognized at that level in the U.S.” Indeed, at the 2012 Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, some $207 million was injected into the local economy as EDM titans like Tiesto performed sets for 320,000 fans. Said revered DJ Kaskade: “It’s our generation’s Woodstock.”
9. Baby Blue Ivy is Born
Beyonceand Jay-Z’s relationship and subsequent marriage has produced a number of chart-topping collaborations, from their first duet on “Bonnie & Clyde ’03,” to “Crazy in Love” off of Beyonce’s 2003 Dangerously in Love album, and the most recent “Lift Off” on the Jay-Z/Kanye West joint effort, 2011’s Watch The Throne. But none really compare to their most important accomplishment, the birth of their first daughter, Blue Ivy. Born on Jan. 7, she became an instant mini-superstar, breaking social media records and even garnering her share of tabloid headlines. Plus, as THR noted, Blue Ivy, whose name is a mash-up of her father’s Blueprint album (released in 2001) and her mother’s Four (IV) (2011),is already the youngest person to appear on a Billboard chart, “thanks to her cameo on Jay-Z’s fatherhood track, ‘Glory (feat. B.I.C.),’ which was released two days after her arrival and features audio of her cries and other baby sounds. The track debuted at No. 74 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip Hop Songs chart.
10. Rolling Stones Hit the Road
Celebrating the band’s 50th anniversary in 2012, the Rolling Stones on Sunday announced a series of concerts that kicked off at London’s O2 Arena. Joined by bassist Bill Wyman and guitarist Mick Taylor on select dates, reviews were overwhelmingly positive even as the British press pointed out the high ticket prices for the music legends’ first stage show together in more than five years. Other highlights: the band’s use of a mouth-shaped stage in line with the Stones’ famous lip logo, appearances by Mary J. Blige, video messages from big names from Hollywood and the music industry, as well as showbiz guests including Noel Gallagher and supermodel Kate Moss. As The Sun tabloid wrote in a headline: “It’s only crock ‘n’ roll (but we like it).” Read THR’s review of the Stones’ Brooklyn show here.
11. Snoop Dogg Goes Rasta
Rapper Snoop Dogg marked his 40th birthday in 2012, but he had plenty more to celebrate: another string of hits — chief among them his collaboration with Wiz Khalifa, “Young, Wild & Free” — endorsement deals, a YouTube video series and a film career. No, Snoop didn’t play another stoner in another comedy a la Starsky & Hutch or Half Baked, he went the documentary route, chronicling a life-changing trip to Jamaica that resulted in Reincarnated: the movie, the song and the spiritual rebirth of an artist who embodies the Rasta culture and is, in essence, a modern-day Bob Marley. Snoop said as much in a press conference announcing the project in July and asking that he be called Snoop Lion as it relates to the project. He then took the movie to Toronto and brought his message home, in part via a THR cover story.
12. EMI is Split, Sold
The story may not be as sexy as most of 2012’s headline-grabbing moments, but where the music industry is concerned, the split and sale of EMI has the makings of a game-changing moment that was in the works for years. It will also likely be several more before we feel the impact of the sale, which saw EMI’s recorded music units go to Universal Music (for $1.9 billion) and its publishing arm bought by a consortium led by Sony/ATV ($2.2 billion). What we do know now is that major artists such as Coldplay and David Guetta will soon become free agents, while Sony/ATV grows into a massive arsenal of songs numbering more than 2 million songs and including 251 compositions by The Beatles — controlled with the Jackson estate — along with such classics as The Police’s “Roxanne,” The Beach Boys’ “Surfer Girl” and current hits by Justin Bieber, Usher and One Direction.
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