As 2012 comes to a close, we look back on some of the biggest music highlights from the past year. Mainstream music in particular had quite a busy 12 months, as indie rock now stands side by side with dance and rap in the top tiers of the charts. There have been some huge breakouts from newcomers, as well as fantastic pop releases from some of the biggest mainstream icons. But how to pick out some of the best moments of 2012? It’s an arduous task indeed, but here are some of my favorites:
TOP POP ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
Halcyon – Ellie Goulding
Madame Goulding’s sophomore effort is a wonderland of lush beats, twinkling pianos, swirling harpsichords, and the British beauty’s unique, melodic warble. From the sparkling brightness of “Anything Could Happen,” to the shuddering emotional power of the dubstep-sown “Figure 8,” to the gorgeously dark breakup anthem “My Blood,” Halcyon is a gold mine of star-studded records. This was personally one of my favorite albums of the year, if not my favorite, and I highly suggest you give it a listen if you haven’t yet. To put it bluntly: the term “Goulding” has now become synonymous for “perfect.”
Red – Taylor Swift
With Taylor Swift’s newest release, the PA-borne starlet sheds off most of her country influence and embraces her pop being in full. Because of this, Red is easily Swift’s strongest album to date, as each brain-numbing hook is awash with waves of love and heartbreak. Standout tracks include “Treacherous” (an acoustic, subdued exploration of sexuality), “I Knew You Were Trouble,” (looking back on whirlwind lovelust with a little regret and a lot of dubstep), and “22” (a power pop party song with an impressive amount of substance). If you’re still doubting Ms. Swift’s legitimacy as a pop artist, then check out her AMA performance. So. much. awesome. hair-flipping.
Push Rewind – Chris Wallace
When electro-pop outfit The White Tie Affair disbanded, frontman Chris Wallace announced his own solo project amidst much speculation and anticipation. Wallace’s debut, Push Rewind, meets and surpasses all expectations, as it’s easily one of the best pop albums of 2012. Whether it’s the soaring, symphonic, optimistic quality of “Do It All Again,” the cotton-candy chorus and comic love dusted throughout “Keep Me Crazy,” or the surprisingly deep lyrics and ear-catching powerpop of “Remember When (Push Rewind),” each track is crafted to please. If you ask me, I think 2013 is gonna be Chris Wallace’s year, but you should pick up Push Rewind and decide for yourself.
Ghost – Sky Ferreira
Ironic that Sky Ferreira’s newest release is titled Ghost, because the collection of records within helped re-vitalize Ferreira’s musical career just as she was fading into the afterlife of breakout pop-stardom. Where her previous releases were full of glitzy, electronic pop giblets, Ghost is the full spread: a wonderfully diverse, delectable and filling EP. Ferreira treats us to biting 90’s grungepop with “Red Lips,” sad and sweet folk-rock with “Sad Dream,” smooth and burning country with “Ghost,” and shimmering, minimalist 80’s synth-pop with “Everything Is Embarrassing” and “Lost In My Bedroom.” Though she has yet to focus her sound, Ghost is a self-assured EP, showing that Ferreira has more than a few avenues that she can take for her debut album.
Some Nights – fun.
God knows I’ve reviewed, previewed, and gone back over everything fun. has released for the past 10 months. However, I’d be a fool to discount Some Nights as one of the best pop releases of the year. Nate, Jack, and Anthony have had one hell of a ride in 2012, going from an off-the-wall spot on a Glee episode to becoming one of the biggest bands in the country, no, the world. And anyone’s who’s given Some Nights half a listen knows that fun. deserves every bit of hype they get. Layering thick slabs of indie-pop and alternative rock with cuts of hip-hop and r&b, every single track on their sophomore effort is a slice of musical paradise. The album’s three singles alone hold enough power to bring an entire country to its knees (and they certainly have), drawing in every demographic with the bare-bones, hard-hitting lyrics and pile driving hooks. Since the release of Some Nights, frontman Nate Ruess has also gone on to write and feature for some of the biggest pop acts in the country. Ladies and gentleman, say hello to one of the biggest rock groups of our generation (whether you want to or not).
Warrior – Ke$ha
I recently wrote up an entire review of Ke$ha’s Warrior. So, if you want the full synopsis on why I think Warrior is one of the best pop releases of the year, then click here. But otherwise, if you haven’t given Ke$ha’s newest album a chance, then you’re doing yourself a disservice. This is the trash-pop queen like we’ve never seen her before.
POP-OUT ARTIST OF THE YEAR:
Well she sort of came out of nowhere, didn’t she? Australian singer/songwriter Sia Furler surprisingly did have a relatively thriving career before 2012, with more than a couple albums under her belt and a pretty solid fan base. Incidentally, her real “big” break came when she took a dive into the American pop music scene. It began with her feature in Flo Rida’s “Wild Ones.” Her breathless croon in the chorus literally carried the party track to its chart-topping, radio-dominating hold over the states. Soon thereafter, her spellbinding vocal performance in David Guetta’s “Titanium” crashed onto American shores (after hitting #1 in half a dozen foreign charts prior). She immediately established herself as a powerhouse dance vocalist, but Ms. Furler certainly wasn’t going to stop there.
Next came a mix of songwriting stints that not only secured Rihanna her first #1 hit since “We Found Love” (with “Diamonds”), but also gave Ne-Yo his first top 40 single in over 3 years (“Let Me Love You”). Her lyric work on Rita Ora’s “Radioactive” also made it one of the most prominent songs on Ora’s debut. And from the looks of her recent activity, she’s still chugging along as a musician and as a songwriter, molding what will hopefully become her next album.
AND 6 OTHER THINGS MOST CERTAINLY HIGHLIGHT-WORTHY:
1. Signed to Dr. Luke’s RCA imprint and already generating a huge buzz this year, Becky G. is someone you need to keep an eye on. The 15-year-old singer/songwriter/rapper wrote and featured in Cher Lloyd’s “Oath,” her Youtube channel is full of jaw-dropping hip-hop covers (“Otis” caught Dr. Luke’s eye), and she’s looking to make her big debut in the near future. Oh, and her take on Ke$ha’s “Die Young”? She introduces the concept of a hook inside of a hook when she delivers the line, “woah-oh, woah-oh, like we’re gonna die young,” in the post-chorus breakdown. It’s like pop inception. And I love it.
2. Speaking of “I Love It,” if you’re a fan of pop or dance music and you don’t know Icona Pop, then shame on you. SHAME.
3. This dude made K-pop a “thing” in the United States, and his music video just became the most watched Youtube video of all time with over 1 BILLION VIEWS (LE GASP). Like the “Party Rock Anthem” of 2012, with a little bit of foreign flavor. And less LMFAO. Which is always a good thing.
4. The Lumineers became “the little folk band that could.” Their breakout single “Ho Hey” is the currently the #3 song in the country (and could easily hit #1 in just a few weeks time). In addition, the group secured two Grammy nominations: “Best New Artist” and “Best Americana Album.” It’s safe to say that 2012 was a pretty big year for The Lumineers, and odds are 2013 will be even bigger.
5. The biggest summer hit ever…do I really need to explain this though?
6. Everything Lana Del Rey was the highlight of 2012. EVERYTHING.