The most memorable music moments of 2011
As a way to cap the end of another year in pop music, what follows is a highly opinionated rundown of a few of 2011's most memorable, notable and/or unfortunate musical moments.
Best (and worst) bridge in a pop song: Art that's defiantly simple can be confusing: Is a Campbell's soup can just a soup can when it's depicted on canvas? Is LMFAO's ubiquitously torturous smash "Sexy and I Know It" -- currently No. 1 on the Hot 100, intentionally or unintentionally dumb? Does it matter? What does it say about pop radio right now that one of the most eloquent vocal bridges of the year is: "Wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle, yeah/Wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle, yeah."
Most glaring "jumped the shark" moment: Lady Gaga's "A Very Gaga Thanksgiving." During the 90-minute ABC special, directed by Gaga herself, the pop star swapped recipes with chef Art Smith, joined third-graders for arts and crafts time and played piano at the head of a dinner table to guests who did their best to look natural while eating their staged holiday meal. She seemed to draw inspiration from Liza, Babs, Elton and Bing, but ended up being, to adapt her own description of herself during the special, "just as annoying as New York City."
Most exciting debut: Spotify lands in the U.S. and makes Pandora seem as quaint as a dial-up modem. All hail the cloud, which floats above us with 15 million songs available anywhere anytime. While Rhapsody, Rdio, Google Music and Mog all offer similar models, this year it was the European company’s entry into the American market that made the most impact. Its ease of use and cross-platform sharing ability are changing the nature of what it means to be a tastemaker.
Most disappointed expression at an award show: Dr. Dre at the Grammy Awards in February after Barbra Streisand announced that Canadian rock band Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs" had won an upset victory for album of the year. A YouTube clip captures Dre, who was gunning for longtime collaborator Eminem in the category, with a profoundly baffled and sad look, as though Streisand had just announced Sarah Palin had won as a write-in. Arcade Fire had a different look on their faces, a combination of joy and wonder.
Most played-out expression at an awards show: Taylor Swift's surprised look at every awards ceremony she attended -- and dominated -- in 2011. When she won the Teen Choice Award, she looked as though she’d just been awarded the title of the Queen of Heaven for All Eternity. Congrats, but it's just a trophy.
Best measure of the state of pop music 2011: This year Katy Perry tied Michael Jackson's record for most No. 1 singles from a single album. Her worldwide smash, "Teenage Dream," currently stands alongside the King of Pop’s "Bad," both of which have generated five No. 1 hits. Perry's sixth top five single, "The One That Got Away," currently sits at No. 3 on the charts. There’s an outside chance Perry will best Jackson at the beginning of 2012 -- all without a single memorable dance move.
Best concert: Paul Simon's magical April run in Hollywood at the Music Box and at the Pantages Theater. The New York singer offered a generous helping of greatest hits, and much of his fantastic 2011 album "So Beautiful, or So What." Simon and his nine-piece band were on fire, so tight that the actual playing of the songs felt second nature.
Most dynamic duo: Kanye West and Jay-Z on their "Watch the Throne" album. Although many of the lyrics to the two rappers' collaboration on "Watch the Throne" were the thematic equivalent of royalty swimming around in jewels and amulets, Jay-Z and West offered wit, smarts, wordplay and massive hooks on the album, and proved themselves to be worth the superlatives piled on them.
Oddest pairing: Iggy Pop performing "Real Wild Child (Wild One)" on "American Idol." Sprinting and flailing around the stage, the 64-year-old’s "real wild" stage act was a real weird thing to watch -- and he’s certainly not a child anymore.
Best use of falsetto in a country song: Eric Church's fantastic "Chief" was one of the year’s best country albums, and no song was catchier and stickier than "Hung Over & Hard Up," an ode to the plight of the struggling bachelor. Church, whose voice can be both sturdy and fragile, sings low in "Hung Over" but lifts into a momentary falsetto for a single rhymed word in each line of the chorus. Captivating.
Best response to the Rolling Stones' "Mother's Little Helper": If Eric Church's solution is booze, country supergroup the Pistol Annies -- Miranda Lambert, Ashley Moore and Angaleena Presley -- highlights another beloved heartland vice in "Takin' Pills." The song offers an unapologetic look at a cocktail of choice for more Americans than we care to admit.
Best SoCal punk rock response to the Pistol Annies' "Takin' Pills": The Fidlar's "Wake, Bake, Skate" is a catchy ode to getting up at the crack of dawn, baking bread and ice skating. Just kidding: Of course, this is about waking up, smoking weed and skateboarding.
Best cover song: Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel" as covered by Meshell Ndegeocello. On her under-appreciated album "Weather," she takes Cohen’s snapshot of a moment at the famed New York hotel, switches gender, fills it with the tender sexuality and texture of a slow Prince ballad, and whispers it into your ear.
Best song about Los Angeles: Eleanor Friedberger's "Inn of the Seventh Ray" travels over the course of four minutes through South Pasadena to Highland Park, where she name-checks itsy used record store Wombleton Records on York Boulevard, all the while trying to make it to Topanga Canyon's famous restaurant. "You promised to take me to the Inn of the Seventh Ray," she sings, pleading. By the end of the song, they still haven't gotten there.
Worst lyrics from Lou Reed and Metallica's "Lulu": "If I waggle my ass like a dark prostitute/Would you think less of me/And my coagulating heart?" And: "My small dog, he want what I got/Wants to run his tongue over my hot spot/Pathetic little dog/Pathetic little dog."
Lamest new rapper: Wave hello to Kreayshawn, the San Francisco Internet-meme-cum-rapper whose "Gucci Gucci" rode a simple melody into YouTube infamy. Need proof of her skills? Search on "Kreayshawn" and "freestyle." The clip shows her on Power 99 in Philadelphia making up rhymes live in the studio, and offers hard evidence that we’ll be waving goodbye to her as a one-meme wonder.
Photo: Taylor Swift's surprised face is the year's most played-out expression at an awards show. Matt Sayles / AP