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Year In Review: Pop in 2011

It was the penultimate year of existence if the Mayan studies are to be believed, so surely now is the time the big bosses should be slapping out the talent. In truth, it wasn’t a bad year if we ignore the fact that dubstep came dangerously close to infecting every known popstar of the year. So in the twelve months that saw us lose Westlife, watch the Sugababes strut on the remains of a very thin career and read a thousand and one Cheryl Cole stories despite her doing next to nothing for the year, perhaps we should focus on the many positives of pop circa 2011!

From the heights of her success in 2010, the seemingly unbeatable Lady GaGa soared even higher this year. Acclaimed critically and raking in the sales is proof enough of her success, but the real charm of the Born This Way era is undoubtedly  Ms. Germanotta’s passion which, more than ever, shone through. Single-handedly making her way through TV specials, wrapping up one of the biggest tours in recent years and churning out some of the biggest singles of the year is enough to turn any star sour, but instead we see GaGa making the most of her success and enjoying every second of it.

Speaking of riding high, Katy Perry and Rihanna ticked the year off the calendar by closing their world tours ‘California Dreams’ and ‘The Loud Tour’ respectively. Topping up the candy floss fund was a series of single releases from both, the former breaking more than a few records in the USA. Rihanna also took the time (admittedly, not much of it) to release her sixth album ‘Talk That Talk’, full to the brim, as always, with chart-bothering smashes. Watch out for the title track and ‘Drunk On Love’ as they promise to take over the airwaves next year, following on from the neverending success of ‘We Found Love’ in the latter quarter of 2011.

The X Factor machine cranked out a few more hopefuls into the music scene. Whilst it might not have been very good news for Belle Amie or Matt Cardle,Rebecca Ferguson rode high on critical acclaim and scored a respectable position in the charts with her debut ‘Heaven’ whilst Cher Lloyd, arguably the most hated contestant this side of Frankie Cocozza, proved to be one of the biggest success stories with her number one single ‘Swagger Jagger’ and top ten album ‘Sticks + Stones’.

As expected, one of the biggest debuts came from One Direction. The boy band’s first collection ‘Up All Night’ was proceeded by the chart topping ‘What Makes You Beautiful’, taking the best bits of High School Musical and McFly and bringing the two together in a shamelessly poptastic manner. Kudos for that, boys. The Wanted proved their worth too with some of their biggest singles to date; ‘Glad You Came’, ‘Lightning’ and ‘Gold Forever’ brought their year to an end as they gear up to release third single ‘Warzone’ post-Christmas.

Not faring so well, however, were the girlbands. Pop veterans they may be, but despite a massive premiere on T4 on the Beach, the Sugababes comeback was nothing more than a whimper as their single ‘Freedom’ was given away for free. Things weren’t quite so bleak for The Saturdays however, who brought a dance-infused sound to the charts with almost-chart-topper ‘All Fired Up’ and the infectious ‘Notorious’. ‘My Heart Takes Over’, as well as the album ‘On Your Radar’ didn’t fare so well, however. Despite being cohesive, enjoyable outputs, they failed to match up to their biggest-girl-band-in-the-country status and put a downer on their first arena tour this month. Lets not forget either, the Girls Aloud reunion that never happened as the comeback tour was pushed back, once again.

Louis Walsh’s Wonderland achieved minor success before calling it a day with band member Sharon Condon arguing that there was no interest for their music. Also launching in 2011 were the enjoyable Soundgirl who failed to match talent to any chart triumphs and Parade who soldiered on despite an under performing second single to release their debut, self-titled album.

From the ashes of the girlband crisis came Nicole Scherzinger who finally managed to plant her fingers on a successful single and confidently cross her name off the PCD sign up list. A starring role in X Factor USA came at the tail end of a massive UK campaign that saw her stampede to the top end of the charts with not-quite-debut-single ‘Poison’ and ‘Don’t Hold Your Breath’. Meanwhile, Girls Aloud’s Nicola Roberts took centerstage with her critically acclaimed solo career and fantastic brit-pop album ‘Cinderella’s Eyes’, led by the euphoric ‘Lucky Day’ and charismatic ‘Beat of My Drum’.

Someone that also took the states, as well as the UK, by storm was Brit-award winner Jessie J. Winning the critics choice might have set standards a little high for the decent, if overrated, ‘Who You Are’, but the album stood it’s ground with impressive pop stompers such as ‘Who’s Laughing Now’ and debut single ‘Do It Like A Dude’. It might have looked like an impressive year for Miss Cornish but with that voice and the ability to write those songs – there is more talent than is being executed in this campaign and that is very exciting.

Threatening charts worldwide with their latest release, Coldplay made a welcome return with the evocative, atmospheric ‘Paradise’ leading the way for ‘Mylo Xyloto’. Indie-pop was also given a feminine touch as the icon that was Florence Welch rejoined her Machine for the release of the stunning ‘Ceremonials’ and the near-flawless singles ‘Shake It Out’ and ‘What The Water Gave Me’. The two have already raked up an impressive set of sales, as expected, but with tours and festivals beckoning in 2012, it’s highly likely that we’re only at the bottom of a steep incline in sales and success for the both of them.

As with every year, it’s worth looking back at some of the most criminally underrated acts over the last four seasons. Cocknbullkid, with her immensely enjoyable and captivating tunes (check out ‘The Hoarder’ and ‘Asthma Attack’ if she passed you by) sadly went under most people’s radars. As did the much-hyped Clare Maguire, whose magnificent arrangements sat somewhere between the atmospherics of Florence and the majestic vocals of Cher; ‘The Last Dance’ can easily sit as one of the most beautifully written and delivered arrangements in recent years.

But the sun was shining down on one woman and it wouldn’t have been 2011 without her sophomore release ’21’; coming to a chick flick near you next year, it’s Adele. The album and it’s lead single ‘Rolling In The Deep’ were undoubtedly the most played, discussed and rated tracks of the past twelve months. The record was arguably a flawed album, but it’s charm and relatable nature meant that it stuck at the top of the UK charts for a pretty lengthy stay. Not forgetting to mention the addictive ‘Set Fire To The Rain’ or massive success in the USA, Adele struck hearts still around the globe with the anthem of loneliness that was ‘Someone Like You’, a track which looks set to join ‘My Heart Will Go On’ and ‘I Will Always Love You’ as timeless sobathons.

It isn’t looking too shabby for the apocalypse either as Lana Del Rey and Emeli Sande put the finishing touches to their debuts, sailing on critical acclaim thanks to their revered debuts this year. With Madonna finalising a record, Lady GaGa hinting at another and honourary icon Marina & The Diamonds aiming for a 2012 release, it is doubtful that the world won’t end with a mighty bang. And if it doesn’t end, we can all look forward to a Beyonce record with subsequent re-releases in 2012. Win, win.

Words: Simon McMurdo
Photo: Nick Knight

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