We run a tight ship here at the Evening Standard pop awards, unlike our film and theatre equivalents, so no wasteful glitzy ceremonies or actual prizes for us. A mention in these prestigious pages will be considered reward enough by the singers we honour here, all heavily responsible for a memorable 2014 in music. So pull up a chair, stick on all four versions of Do They Know It’s Christmas? back to back and join us as we reminisce over a bumper year.
COMEBACK OF THE YEAR
In 2014 Jamie T returned after a five year absence and Slowdive reformed, so it wasn’t hard for Kate Bush to prompt the biggest “NO, WHAT, REALLY???” from spluttering pop fans. Long term worshippers felt like they were dreaming when she announced her first concerts since 1979. The Before the Dawn show felt like a dream with its fish skeletons, rolling ocean and a long conversation about sausages.
MOST MEMORABLE LYRIC
Sleaford Mods – Tied Up in Nottz
The drum machine punk of Nottingham duo Sleaford Mods had an unlikely breakthrough moment this year, and no one managed a more striking or sweary stream of consciousness than lyricist Jason Williamson. On Tied Up in Nottz it’s a toss-up between “Release the stench of shit grub like a giant toilet kraken” and “Weetabix, England, fuckin’ Shredded Wheat, Kellogg’s c***s” as to which line best sums up his disdain for absolutely everything.
The second album is traditionally the moment when string sections get called in, as well as star duet partners and that all-important percussionist. Sheeran continues to perform the songs from his second one completely alone, with three nights at Wembley Stadium on the way. At least give the roadie a bit of stage time, Ed.
FEUD OF THE YEAR
Solange Knowles vs Jay-Z
You wouldn’t want to be stuck in a lift with Beyonce’s sister. In May, security camera footage emerged of her flailing in fury at her rap king brother-in-law, while big sis looked on imperiously. Still no one has owned up to what they were scrapping about, allowing the gossip press to continue doing its favourite thing: speculating wildly.
MOST MEMORABLE LOOK
Once you’ve licked a sledgehammer in the nude, it’s hard to know where to go from there to continue to stress that you are no longer a child star and are in full control of your own body. She of the giant tongue arguably went one better on tour, essentially having sex with a golden car while wearing a thong swimsuit covered in cannabis leaves. Best just tell her you’re shocked so we can all move on.
Lana Del Rey’s
In June the siren of doom pop called out a Guardian journalist on Twitter for having “sinister ambitions” when he quoted her, accurately, as saying “I wish I was dead already”. Cue the most heavily cracked pots in her fanbase lining up to tell him things like “I will fly to England and hurt you”.
Ezra started using Twitter before he was famous to make in-jokes with his mates, and has carried on with this larky tone as his followers have increased to 160,000. You’ll get to call him Geoff, describe him as “sassy” and use indefinable hashtags such as #petan as you follow his one-raised-eyebrow journey through the world of celebrity. He’s bezzies with Sir Ian McKellen now you know.
INCONGRUOUS SONG OF THE YEAR
Damon Albarn – Mr Tembo
Albarn’s first solo album is an introspective, elegiac work of great beauty, dealing with melancholy memories and heroin abuse. It also features Mr Tembo, a kind of African nursery rhyme about a baby elephant he met in Tanzania. It doesn’t sit comfortably in its surroundings, as many critics have noted in one way or another. “When I sang it to the elephant, it shat itself,” Albarn said.
FESTIVAL APPEARANCE OF THE YEAR
Dolly Parton at Glastonbury
Glastonbury’s traditional Sunday “legend slot” struck gold this year when Dolly Parton reportedly drew some 180,000 spectators to witness her ignoring her traditional working hours and playing 9 to 5 until 5.30. She was corny and hilarious, played all the hits and even wrote a song about mud just for the occasion.
MOST UBIQUITOUS BODY PART
While being a massive arse may hamper your pop career somewhat, this year having a massive arse was a positive boon. Nicki Minaj on Anaconda, J-Lo and Iggy Azalea on Booty and Meghan Trainor on the more PG-rated All About That Bass, all sang the praises of “something he can grab”. If you felt it was all a bit pornographic, the YouTube video that replaced Minaj’s music with fart noises was an improvement for many.
While the march of streaming services faltered slightly when Taylor Swift yanked her music off Spotify, and CDs were mostly being bought by gardeners seeking to keep sparrows away from their crops, people were officially in love with records again. Vinyl sales peaked at over a million in the UK for the first time since 1996. However, with three Led Zeppelin and two Pink Floyd albums in the top 10 sellers, it may not be a new generation that’s fuelling the revival.
GIG OF THE YEAR
Prince – Electric Ballroom
Camden High Street was awash with bottles and cans in February, as hundreds waited all day for tickets to Prince’s surprise Hit and Run Tour. The atmosphere was accordingly unhinged when they finally got in for two incendiary shows in one night, at which he and his current band 3RDEYEGIRL were as loud as they were close. And there were plenty more shows to come as London’s venues put themselves on red alert for last minute bookings from a Mr P Rince.
WEIRDEST PROMO CAMPAIGN
The buzz about the latest Smashing Pumpkins album inarguably began in May, when their leader appeared on the cover of animal welfare magazine PAWS Chicago, smiling and cradling his two kittens Sammi and Mr Thom. A few months later he was responsible for surely the most intriguing headline ever to appear on music website Pitchfork: “Billy Corgan Exits Pro Wrestling Company, Writes Musical About Ancient Greece”.
MOST IRRITATING WAY TO PUBLICISE A MEDIOCRE ALBUM
Thom Yorke made us learn how to use BitTorrent to get his latest album, and we had to download a whole new browser (“dark web” nerds’ favourite Tor) to hear about Aphex Twin’s. But it was U2 who somehow managed to turn a free gift into an own goal, making Songs of Innocence appear automatically in 500 million iTunes accounts without realising that, even for the biggest band in the world, that meant 474 million people who treated it more like a horrifying computer virus.
Taylor Swift – Shake It Off
Whether she’s doing foot-stomping country or fizzy arena pop, Taylor Swift regularly writes songs capable of dislodging all other information in your brain in favour of singing that giant chorus one more time. Shake It Off, co-written with Swedish pop giants Max Martin and Shellback, might be her greatest moment yet.
This year Robert Smith of The Cure made an extremely rare foray onto Twitter to berate a critic (at great length) for saying his three-and-a-half-hour Albert Hall show was too long. But no one could outflounce Morrissey, who abandoned a gig in Poland after being yelled at from the crowd, and dressed his band in “FUCK HARVEST” T-shirts after falling out with his record label. Sportingly, Harvest has started selling the shirts too.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Caribou – Our Love
Balding, brainy Canadian Dan Snaith is a long way from the champagne-spraying DJs of the EDM scene. On his seventh album he beat them at their own game, making house music that has warmth, soul and beauty, and a subtle complexity that means it endures at home rather than in a club. It deserves to make him a star – as this year has proved, stranger things have happened.