The year in music: From Macklemore to Miley

8:01 AM, Dec 24, 2013   |    comments
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USA TODAY - From the irresistible to the inescapable, USA TODAY's music team revisits 2013's highs and lows.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Yeezus, Kanye West

In recent months, West has referred to himself as a god, the nucleus, the No. 1 living and breathing rock star, the Braveheart of creativity, the most impactful artist of our generation and Shakespeare in the flesh. All this is backed up in Yeezus, a dark, unflinching, loud explosion of brilliance and daring. West's narcissism can grate in interviews. On record, his bluster carries him to dizzying levels of raw candor and revolutionary hip-hop. The music is as furious, egomaniacal and contradictory as the rapper himself. It's also beautiful, thrilling and visionary. Just ask him. - Edna Gundersen

SONG OF THE YEAR

Get Lucky, Daft Punk

The French EDM duo had been an international sensation for years, but they'd never had a mainstream radio hit in the USA. That changed quickly with Get Lucky, from Daft Punk's first full album in eight years, Random Access Memories. Co-written with former Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers, Get Lucky was a throwback to disco's heyday, an insistent dance groove with live musicians - Rodgers on guitar, bassist Nathan East and drummer Omar Hakim. Along with hits by Avicii and Zedd, Daft Punk's mainstream breakthrough signaled the coming of age of the electronic dance-music scene. - Brian Mansfield

ARTIST OF THE YEAR

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

At the beginning of 2013, the Seattle hip-hop duo looked for all the world like a one-shot novelty act, featuring a white guy with a penchant for fur coats rapping about his latest Goodwill bargains. We still haven't forgiven him for helping introduce 11-year-old girls to the concept of the skeet blanket, but Macklemore & Ryan Lewis followed that record with Can't Hold Us, one of the best dance records in a year of great dance records. Then, they pulled off the frankly astonishing feat of getting what is essentially a Bible-quoting sermon about same-sex love onto top 40 radio. Now, they look like an act capable of doing anything they want, on their own terms. Few people could have imagined the impact they'd have back when Thrift Shop first hit the airwaves. - Mansfield

THE POWER BEHIND THE THRONE

Pharrell Williams

Heading into this year, Williams' résumé listed multiple titles, including vocalist, drummer, rapper, producer, songwriter, videographer and fashion designer. By the time the Grammy Awards nominations were announced in December, he had added another: kingmaker.

On the seven trophies he's competing for, only one - producer of the year - would list him as the primary recipient. The remaining nominations cast him as the man behind others' plans: He was a producer for Kendrick Lamar's good Kid, m.A.A.d city, up for album of the year; a featured artist on Daft Punk's Random Access Memories, also up for best album; co-writer and featured artist on the million-selling Daft Punk single Get Lucky, up for record of the year and best pop duo/group performance; and produced, co-wrote and sang on Robin Thicke's million-selling Blurred Lines, up for the same awards as Get Lucky.

Those projects were only the most high-profile in a jam-packed year. The 40-year-old also was involved with Azealia Banks' upcoming debut album; wrote three songs for Despicable Me 2; drummed on Hans Zimmer's Man of Steel soundtrack; and - speaking of future kingmaking - helped build an afterschool center in his hometown of Virginia Beach.

Look for him to step to the forefront soon, however: He recently signed with Columbia Records and is scheduled to release an album next year. - Jerry Shriver

MOST OVERRATED ARTIST

Justin Timberlake

Self-effacing charm and good taste in collaborators (and clothes) do not a music legend make. Timberlake's evolution from teen idol to cultural and style icon has been masterful from a marketing standpoint. But as a song craftsman, recording artist and live performer, he's still dwarfed by the pop and R&B greats he obviously, if humbly, reveres. - Elysa Gardner

MARKETING DREAM TEAM

Jay Z and Beyoncé jolted the industry with album deliveries that defied conventional wisdom while cementing their status as music's indomitable power couple. Jay Z's Magna Carta Holy Grail, heralded in a Samsung ad during the NBA Finals, was released July 4 free to the first 1 million fans to download it via a phone app. Billboard refused to count the giveaway in its tabulation, but Magna topped the chart nonetheless after selling 528,000 in its first week at retail.

Beyoncé's self-titled "visual album" of 14 tracks and 17 videos appeared without warning Dec. 13 at iTunes. It bowed at No. 1 on Billboard after selling 617,000 digital copies in three days, an iTunes record. Neither album was preceded by singles, promotional capers or media tours. That rule book feels dated. - Gundersen

ARTISTS WHO SHOULD SPEND MORE TIME MAKING MUSIC THAN HEADLINES

Lady Gaga

Hear that? Artpop was the sound of Lady Gaga's star bubble bursting. After all the Twitter teases and dramatic reveals leading up to the album's Nov. 11 release, Gaga's album reviews were more of a clap than Applause; certainly not the standing ovation that her self-congratulatory promotional blitz suggests she expected. Next time, maybe she should take a page from Beyoncé's notebook: say nothing.

Miley Cyrus

Sure, she dominated headlines in 2013. She was on the short list for Time's person of the year. But how many of those headlines didn't include twerking, tongue-wagging, drugs or anything else that made us feel sorry for Billy Ray? Perhaps the biggest tragedy of all is that she's a talented artist; Wrecking Ball is a great song. Her musical merit was more than enough to make an impact. Miley, we get it, you're all grown up now. You're not Hannah Montana. Just Stop.

Justin Bieber

Anybody been paying attention to those new songs he's been releasing on "Music Mondays"? Apart from his Beliebers, not really. We're too distracted by his swan dive into the deep end of the child-star-gone-bad pool. That and those baffling baseball caps and shirtless selfies. He's planning to retreat to the studio to work on a new album in 2014, so maybe he can still turn things around. If only he'd put down the phone and step away from Twitter. - Korina Lopez

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