POP AWARDS 2012 – Evening Standard, 14 Dec 2012

While the Olympics honoured extraordinary feats by many of the finest physical specimens in existence, here at the Evening Standard Pop Department (Awards Section) we prefer to take more of a primary school sports day approach. If you tried really hard at music this year, even if the end result was a Steps Christmas album, we’ve tried our damnedest to give you a prize. It’s been tough, folks, but after much deliberation, we have our worthy winners of 2012.


Psy — Gangnam Style

At 940 million YouTube views and counting, the South Korean singer and his silly horseriding dance went seriously viral this year. Among the incredible scenarios played out over its four minutes: Psy spits Coke over a small child; Psy raps beneath a man’s thrusting groin in a lift; Psy snuggles up to a fat man in a sauna; Psy raps on the toilet. Unstoppable.


Kanye West and Jay-Z

The hip hop giants’ Watch the Throne album came out last year but it was their arrival on the O2 stage as part of a joint tour this May that was music’s equivalent of a blockbuster movie. “If this is your first concert, it’s all downhill from here,” West crowed, and he was right. With two greatest hits sets over two-and-a-half hours and an encore so brilliant they did it six times, they provided a show that matched the scale of their talent.


Frank Ocean — Channel Orange (Mercury)

First there was the controversy, such as it was. Ocean became the first singer from the American urban scene to come out as gay, and he did so with a touching online essay on his own terms. But what deserves to last is the music, classic soul with a modern sheen, journeying from smooth electronic funk to hazy, minimal R&B, and in the 10-minute Pyramids, the greatest pop epic of the year.


Tame Impala — Elephant (Modular)

You may know it best as the trailer music for the latest series of Made in Chelsea. It’s also a chugging, weighty psychedelic rocker that sends its guitars off into outer space and demands repeated listening. The rest of the Australian band’s second album, Lonerism, is just as good, by the way.


Festival No 6, Portmeirion

With Glastonbury taking one of its regular gap years, this was the ideal summer to try something smaller and a bit different. The finest example was this inaugural event for 6,500, inspired by the cult TV series The Prisoner and taking over the Welsh Italianate village where it was filmed. As well as the arty stuff, there were sets from New Order, Primal Scream and Spiritualized. It closed the festival season in wild style.


Emeli Sandé

They say that wherever you are in London, you’re never more than 20 yards away from Emeli Sandé. That peroxide quiff was unavoidable this year, while the Scottish singer’s album became the year’s biggest seller and stayed in the top 10 all year. Then, just when you thought she’d done quite enough at the Olympics opening ceremony, up she popped at the closing ceremony too.


Hyde Park

They had the big names but not the volume in Hyde Park this summer, where cries of “Turn it up!” frequently almost drowned out the likes of Blur and Paul Simon. A new promoter for next year promises fewer gigs only at weekends, which might allow local residents to tolerate a bit more oomph from the speakers.


Bobby Womack

Nobody stays away for long any more — there are more reformations than formations these days. While it was great to see Shuggie Otis and Bill Fay making music again after epic absences, and Rodriguez finally getting his due after the Searching for Sugar Man documentary, the most compelling revival was Bobby Womack’s digital reinvention at the hands of Damon Albarn and Richard Russell. His comeback album, The Bravest Man in the Universe, gave a bold new backdrop to a spectacular voice.


Scott Walker — SDSS1416+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter)

The snappiest song title on the crooner-turned-avant-garde experimentalist’s latest album also offers some striking images: “For the citizen whose joke lays in their hand/To play fugues on Jove’s spam castanets/Cattle are slaughtered, entrails examined, spread out across the moon.” If he ever toured, hopefully you’d be able to buy spam castanets at the merch stall.


One Direction

Forget Justin Bieber — there’s now greater evidence for the worrying mental state of many One Direction fans thanks to the Twitter feed @HarryMyCatDied, which collects the increasingly desperate attempts of teenagers to get members of the chirpy boy band to notice them. These frequently include claiming that a treasured pet, or worse, a family member, has passed away as recently as the last half hour.


Chris Brown

I’ve never been a big fan of the neck tattoo as a look (I’ve just got one discreet spider’s web on mine and that’s it) but R&B singer and famed domestic abuser Chris Brown must have taken leave of his senses when he requested an image that, whether unintentionally (as he claimed) or not, looked uncannily like the notorious police photo of Rihanna after he beat her. It’s a “Mexican sugar skull”, he insisted. Whatever you say, Chris.


Coldplay, Emirates Stadium, June 4 2012

Confetti explosions are old hat. Coldplay came up with a truly unforgettable sight at their summer stadium shows, providing every audience member with a coloured wristband that flashed in time to the music as the sun went down. It was the equivalent of a hundred thousand Day-glo lighters aloft and set a new high watermark for concert spectacle.


Talib Kweli and Peter Andre

There were The Beach Boys, whose arch-villain Mike Love announced that he would no longer be working with the rest of the band while they were still in the middle of their 50th anniversary reunion tour. There were also Death Grips, who fell out with their record label to such an extent that they ended up leaking their own album with a cover featuring its title written on an erect penis. But I was most tickled by the tweeted protestations of credible rapper Talib Kweli, outraged that his carefully crafted lines had somehow ended up on a Peter Andre album. “You just take people’s verses from other songs and put them on your album? That’s what hot in the streets?” he grumbled.



While the group effort award must go to @DJsComplaining for its careful curation of clubland stars grousing about five-star room service and business-class legroom, for solo tweeting no musician is as consistently entertaining as Example, who engages with fans at length while taking a detached, amused approach to the whole pop star thing. “Currently eating parsnip and apple soup and pretending it’s normal,” he informed us the other day.


Mumford & Sons

The banjo boys made that difficult second album look as easy as a two-piece jigsaw puzzle this year, translating Babel’s stirring anthems into six Grammy nominations and a No 1 in America. Festival headline slots will come next summer and all signs point to them becoming our next stadium band.


Rolling Stones ticket prices

Anyone would think the Rolling Stones were a non-profit aid organisation for terminally ill orphans, to judge from the hoo-hah surrounding the cost of tickets to their O2 shows. In fact they’re the greatest rock ’n’ roll band still standing, playing a mere handful of gigs for the first time in five years. Of course it was going to be necessary to sell a few family heirlooms to get in.