The Alternative Grammys

It’s still January. The comfort and joviality of Christmas seems so long ago, and yet the holiday paunch and unpaid overdraft are hanging around. While many mere mortals are struggling through a self-imposed dry month and detox from sequinned items, famous people are partying as though December was simply a few dynamic stretches before the main event. (This is another point to add to the long list why ‘Celebs Are Actually Nothing Like Us’, no matter what People magazine tries to tell you.)

In the spirit of the event, I thought I’d cast my eye back over the last 12 months in music, and hand out some awards of my own. Sadly I don’t have any fancy statues to accompany these prestigious titles, but I’ve still got the strawberry creams from a box of old Quality Street that I’d be willing to part with? With no further ado, I present to you……

The 2014 Alternative Grammy Awards

 

Best Irony-Bypass Award
Runner-up: Robin Thicke

2013 was quite the year for Mr Thicke. Before, he was a middle-of-the-road R&B crooner, who had enjoyed relative success with his previous albums. After, he was responsible for the year’s biggest selling hit, and inadvertently became the human dartboard for all number of complaints.

Blurred Lines sold loads but was banned from being played in certain places, was described as “rapey”, and was became a starting point for many sexual politics debates. This negative attention would destroy a lesser artist; fortunately Robin has been able to rise above it all, shrugging off criticisms that his song displays a worrying attitude towards consent and that the accompanying video is just a leeeeettle bit creepy.

R-Thicke believes we’ve all missed the point of Blurred Lines completely and it is, in fact, “a feminist movement within itself.” Well, I for one feel stupid that I completely misinterpreted the repeated insistence of “You know you want it”.

Winner: MTV Video Music Awards

Last year’s MTV Video Music Awards are primarily remembered for our runner-up in this category, one R-Thicke, and 20-year old, latex-clad, destroyer-of-foam-finger-sanctity, Miley Cyrus wiggling around in an unfortunate and uncomfortable manner. After the event, feminism’s new poster-boy subtly distanced himself from all the hoo-ha and gallantly laid the blame at Miley’s door.

Meanwhile, MTV sat back and delighted in it all: “We’re still relevant!!! LOOK at all our column inches!” Yes, MTV can still, nearly thirty years on from Madge performing Like a Virgin and more than a decade since Britney turned up on stage with a real live snake, take up far more than its fair share of post-ceremony analysis and navel-gazing. But this is merely a distraction from the painful truth: MTV is not cool anymore.

MTV doesn’t even bother actually showing music videos anymore – you know, the thing it was originally set up to do. We are living in a world where children are growing up to believe that MTV’s most significant contribution to pop culture is Snooki, rather than Billie Jean. And yet each year, the guys in suits insist on trotting out a show that has largely become a parody of itself, to hand out awards for a musical by-product that they no longer bother to show on a regular basis. Guidos over videos, my friend.

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Most ‘WTF’ Moment
Runner-up: Miley Cyrus

How do you top the performance that shocked the world and had actual news broadcasters actually discussing the event in all seriousness live on air? You employ someone to come up with a computer-generated, lip-synching kitten, that’s how.

Miley had already exhausted most avenues labelled ‘Shock’ and ‘Horror’ by the time the American Music Awards rolled into town. Lighting a spliff on stage and grinding on a father-of-one was sooo two weeks ago. She knew she needed something good; The Internet would surely malfunction if her performance were not worthy of at least ten differently angled Daily Mail stories and three Buzzfeed lists.

So Miley got on stage at the AMAs and sang her number one single Wrecking Ball, and instead of being accompanied by fellow twerk-ers or a Beetlejuice impressionist, we were forced to sit through the entire performance with a weird, possessed-looking cartoon cat, mouthing the words slightly out of time on a giant screen behind her. I mean, seriously, WTF? I think it was a bigger cry for help than the apparent phobia of trousers with crotch still intact.

Winner: Britney Spears

To announce the announcement we all knew she was going to announce, Team Spears flew over 1,300 Britney fans to somewhere in the middle of the desert and made them all dress as Britney circa 1998. It was a reportedly $100,000 marketing ploy to generate publicity for Britney’s upcoming Vegas residency, and I’m sure you’ll agree, money damn well spent.

What says ‘this will undoubtedly be the greatest show on earth’ more than thousands of women dressed up in school uniform, in the wilderness, at 4 o’clock in the morning? That’s right: nothing. Nothing else says it more.

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Best Attempt at Career Self-Sabotage
Runner-up: Justin Bieber

You’d think the Biebs would be a shoo-in for the top prize after the year he’s had. It began with turning up nearly two hours late to his own concert, and ended with a police investigation for causing $20,000 worth of property damage armed with some, one can only imagine, seriously heavy eggs, and an arrest for alleged DUI and drag-racing. It’s not a good time to be the Justin that’s not a Timberlake.

The vom-inducing outpourings on Twitter from Justin’s ‘beliebers’, promising that they’ll stick by him and attacking anyone who dares to suggest that this is nothing more than your average 20-year old acting out, seems to suggest that Brand Bieber might make it out unaffected. But the cold hard facts tell otherwise. A few years ago, floppy-haired phase one Justin sold albums, movie tickets, perfume, and merchandise better than anyone. He could have sold snow to the Inuits at his peak. But his latest musical and film offerings have bombed, and it would appear that it’s just been one too many gobs of saliva over the hotel balcony for some beliebers to handle.

Winner: Lil Wayne

It would have to take something really special to leapfrog Biebs to the top spot for this award. And Lil Wayne did not disappoint.

You may have been able to avoid coming across his contribution to this particular category, but let me be the kind friend who enlightens you. A few months ago, amidst fanfare equivalent to a cake ‘n’ carbs party at the local Weight Watchers meeting, Paris Hilton released another single. And Lil Wayne, apparently under no duress, agreed to be a featured artist.

Just how bad do things have to be before you agree to appear on  a Paris Hilton single? OK, so maybe he needs a bit of quick cash, that’s understandable, we’ve all been a little hard up at least once in our lives. As long as he delivers some decent lyrics and perhaps elevates the quality of the song somewhat, he can emerge with his dignity intact, and we’ll all forgive this little blip.

…Oh god, he’s tried to rhyme “French” and “treatment”. And now he’s given up on the half-arsed rapping and has actually started – is that meant to be singing? He hasn’t even bothered to attempt to rhyme his remaining lyrics! No. No matter how bad you are Biebs, you will never be this bad.

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The “Who Said Nepotism Is Dead?” Award
Runner up: Blue Ivy

Baby Blue has had more hit singles in her two years of life than Gary Oldman has had Oscar nominations. Not only has Blue Ivy made special features on both mum and dad’s songs, but she became a world record breaking artist as the youngest person ever to place in the charts. I guess you don’t want to look like the underachiever in the family when your parents are Bey and Jay.

Blue Ivy has also managed to eclipse Suri Cruise’s presence on Tumblr, owns a wardrobe probably worth more than your house, and got to hang out with Destiny’s Child at her second birthday party. It’s unlikely that she’ll be an accountant when she’s older, isn’t it.

Winner: Simon Cowell’s baby

Simon’s unborn son is to be heir to a glorified karaoke empire, his cot paid for with crushed dreams of young hopefuls; his mini replica Lamborghini bought with a pool of last-chance tears. It is unclear whether Simon will push his child into the entertainment biz, knowing intimately how merciless head honchos can be. But I’m sure he will impart all his hard-won secrets for turning humiliating the unfortunate and spouting empty clichés into a multi-million pound empire to his offspring. And the possibility that we could still be watching contestants make songs such as The Climb  and At Last “their own” in fifty years time is reason enough to start taking your vitamin C pills on a regular basis.

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Best Shade-Thrower
Runner-up: Lorde vs. Beyoncé 

Don’t worry: no lamps were harmed in the creation of this category. The shade being thrown is much more subtle. You may have come across Lorde in the last year, she’s done alright. Her debut track Royals was number 1 in the US, UK, and numerous other places. Wonderful; it’s so nice to see the young ones doing well for themselves. However, Lorde may have forgotten the one crucial rule of the upstart: don’t come straight out the blocks and start challenging the Order Of Things among the big guns.

In Royals Lorde sings, in a tone that can only be described as laced with challenge and usurping-intent, “Let me be your ruler/You can call me Queen B”. The news must have made its way to a certain Ms Knowles, who, furious at the encroachment on her territory, was forced to release a game-changing visual album before the year was out. That ought to put Lorde in her place.

Winner: Lorde vs. Taylor Swift

Lorde has been quite vocal about her fellow popstars. When she’s not challenging Beyoncé’s leadership, she’s accusing Selena Gomez of being anti-feminist, questioning how relatable Bieber is for young teens, and suggesting that Miley might be acting out to prove to everyone that she’s DEFINITELY NOT HANNAH MONTANA ANYMORE,  GUYS.

Who does this girl think she is? And then, THEN, she has the nerve to call Taylor Swift out for being too perfect, saying Taylor is “too flawless and unobtainable”. Well I don’t know about you, but if anyone EVER said that about me I would be FUMING. Clearly Taylor feels the same, as country music’s Queen of Sass responded in the only way she knows how:

By inviting Lorde to her birthday party and texting her advice about interior decoration. I mean. Phewph. Do you want some aloe vera for that burn, Lorde? Step aside, ladies and gents, no one does shade like T-Swizzle.

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Most Admirably Misplaced Sense of Self-Importance
Runner-up: Jay Z

It was difficult to choose the runner-up in this category: for an award that was basically made for all those who have compared themselves to god in the last year. There have been many. It is a path well-trodden, with predecessors including Lil Wayne (“I’m the god, and this is what I bless ’em with”), Nas (album title: ‘God’s Son’), and TI (“swear to god, I’m god”).

2013  saw Eminem proclaim himself the ultimate Rap God, Kendrick Lamar rhymed about how everyone else in hip-hop is rubbish compared to him, and Chris Brown insinuated, via an Instagram post, that the media’s unfair persecution of him is a modern day Jews vs Jesus scenario.

But there were two standout efforts from last year, the first of which was Jay Z modestly titling his thirteenth studio album Magna Carta Holy Grail.

The original Magna Carta represents the move to give power back to the people and was used as a guideline for the American Constitution. We’re talking official rules and stuff here, people! Obviously, the music industry is but a microcosm of these monumental historical events, and I guess this album makes Jay Z hip-hop’s Founding Father.

The Holy Grail part of the titles lets us know that we, the lay people, are almost too lay to truly understand the significance of what Jay Z has presented us with. Makes Moses’ attempt with all that ‘Ten Commandments’ nonsense look kinda lame in comparison.

Winner: Kanye West

The other guys tried hard, but there is barely anything left for them to do that Kanye hasn’t already done. Whether that is announcing rap is the new rock and roll, and “I’m the number one rock star on the planet”, or claiming that he invented leather jogging pants (any Zoolander fans getting flashbacks to Will Ferrell and the piano key necktie?), Kanye has truly been the self-ordained gift that keeps giving.

His latest musical offering went one step further than Jay Z: Kanye didn’t merely insinuate that he was producing an album worthy of the gods, he put himself up there as one of the big guys. Titling his record Yeezus was the most appropriate thing a man “so credible and so influential and so relevant” could have done. We are all followers of Yeezianity now. Don’t try to fight it. There’s a place for you in Rap Heaven, and a leather tracksuit waiting in your size.

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Best Attempt at Denying Nature
Runner-up: Harry Styles

Of the five walking haircuts that make up One Direction, Harry Styles has the most iconic barnet by far. There is more charisma and charm in one of those luscious curls than the whole of The Wanted put together.

However, over the last year something worrying has happened to Harry’s ‘do. For years he delighted us with his swooshy, floppy locks, but being the world’s most famous curl owner appears to be becoming too heavy a burden. Harry knows that record sales would plummet and One Direction dolls resigned to clearance bins if he were to ever cut off his hair, but what other options does the poor boy have?

Well, he’s giving the alternative a valiant go: Harry has been seen in various places this year looking like Keith Richards’ and Mick Jagger’s love child with the help of some artfully wrapped bandannas, and apparently owns an infinite number of hats – resigned to wearing a beanie even in the hottest countries that One Direction are sent to tour, so long as he can go a day – just a day! – without having to run his fingers through his head rug.

When head gear isn’t appropriate, though, Harry has taken to doing this weird ‘pushy-back’ thing (that’s what I hear all the hairdressers are calling it), which looks like an attempt at having a quiff without looking like you are attempting to have a quiff. What was wrong with the old Bieber sweep? Harry, I know that curly hair can be the biggest pain ever, but just remember how Liam looked with a skinhead. Embrace the waves, Harry. Embrace them.

Winner: Justin Timberlake

Harry’s predecessor right down to the follicles. Justin seems to think that if he breezes along pretending cameras didn’t exist before 2002, we’ll all start to think it, too. I mean, it’s Justin Timberlake, right?! Are you questioning Justin Timberlake?

But the truth is Justin, no matter how hard I try, I can’t un-see those pictures of you with a peroxide brillo-pad on your head. That happened. It’s out there. You were the beacon for kids with unruly and occasionally unflattering hair everywhere, and you have openly and blatantly rejected that responsibility. First you shaved it off. It was a shock, but it’s OK, hair grows back. When it did, you only let it grow back a bit. It was short, but there was a discernible wave. Fast forward to 2013, and you answer many prayers by announcing that you’re focusing on music rather than movies for a while.

BUT WHAT’S THIS? Your hair is now long, really quite long, but you have chemically relaxed the shit out of it! It’s so straight! It looks like even more effort than the tub of gel you used to comb through your curls every morning. You didn’t even do a follicle-throwback for the long-awaited N*Sync reunion at the VMAs. I’m happy for you to do your thing Justin, but just know that it hurts.

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The ‘Almost-but-not-Quite’ Award
Runner-up: Lily Allen

After a few years in the musical wilderness (in real-life raising two kids and getting married, but whatevs), Lily Allen returned with some original music in 2013. Taking aim at managers/general industry/wider society that insist their female artists need to be cellulite-free and twerk-ready on all occasions, she released Hard Out Here with lyrics that include: “Don’t you want to have somebody who objectifies you/Have you thought about your butt, who’s going to tear it in two?” 

However, while the heart of the idea was in the right place, the accompanying video was like a kidney transplant inserted upside down. To shame those who make music videos with scantily-clad girls and a tendency to treat them as props, Lily made a music video that featured… scantily-clad girls that were being used as props. Maybe getting some scantily-clad men to wash her car would have made the point better? Maybe filming the entire video with everyone wearing polo necks and mom jeans would have been more effective?

Winner: Lady Gaga

She has been hailed by some as a feminist icon (Caitlin Moran dedicated nearly a whole chapter to the matter in How To Be A Woman), while Gaga herself has flat-out stated that she is, in fact, nothing of the sort. So it’s hard to say how much of a feminist reading can be made from her single Do What U Want. If we ignore Gaga’s opinions on her own feminism completely, I guess the song could be seen as fairly empowering. It’s new-age liberalism! It’s perfectly acceptable to give up your bodies, ladies, if that’s what you want! 

So everything’s great and Gaga’s telling us it’s perfectly fine if we want to do stuff without our hearts and minds and other bodily organs getting involved as well. And then she invites R. Kelly to the party. Nothing more disturbing in the past twelve months comes to mind than hearing R. Kelly repeatedly singing, “Do what I want/Do what I want with your body”. I don’t know if I can forgive or forget, Gaga.

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What’s in a Writing Credit?

If I was to write this post and retain some credibility, it would involve airbrushing over what actually inspired the idea in the first place. After several attempts at beginning with vague allusions and substitutions, I figured it best to just bite the bullet and get on with it. Basically, I have been listening to my Christmas albums (not actual festive music – surely a bit sad after the event – but the CDs I received as presents) while walking the dog each day. Yesterday, I got round to the Little Mix album. There, that was my stumbling block. I own – nay, bought with a voucher, so truly chose to own – the latest offering by the X Factor girl band winners.

I will not justify the choice here, and merely move quickly onto my point. As I was playing this album, with its exciting 90s-influenced upbeat numbers and less exciting ballad-y type offerings, I was listening out for the songs I knew certain people had written; other writers or singers that I like, who had contributed to the Mix-tape (ha, ha). And then I started to think about how no-one really seems to mind that Little Mix don’t write their own music, as long as it’s got a good chorus and an interesting dance routine. In fact, rather than criticised, they get kudos if they’ve managed to work with some well-respected industry names, responsible for other big hits.

This then led me on to thinking about that other rather successful X Factor group, One Direction. Have you heard of them? They sell quite a lot of albums. They also have to put up with being told they’re not a ‘real band’ for not playing instruments or writing their own material. Why is it that females get a (mostly) free pass in the music industry as long as they can create a spectacle, while men – particularly the young ones – get a hard time over ‘authenticity’?

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Consider the likes of Rihanna and Britney: this is the first year since 2007 that Rihanna has not released a new album. She churns them out. How is it possible in between the world tours, the clothing line, and the excessive Instagram posts? Quite easily, really, when your record company is paying other people millions to do it for you. Npr ran an interesting story a few years ago that broke down the cost of creating one of Rihanna’s multi-million selling hit singles. It is no secret that, on the whole, Rihanna just lends her voice and image to the outcome of one of these writing bootcamps rather than getting involved. But that doesn’t stop the likes of Eminem and Jay Z from wanting to work with her, and hasn’t affected the mammoth sales she enjoys.

As for good old Britney, she’s been plugging away for nearly a decade and a half now, but has contributed to barely a fraction of her musical output. According to those who have worked with her, she’s very involved in making the albums; though not, it would seem, when it comes to putting pen to paper. I suppose Britney, since she appeared as an all-dancing, midriff-baring school girl, has always been about image as much as, if not more than, the music itself. Reviews from her new Vegas show have been favourable, despite the fact that Britney rarely sings live. In fact, USA Today excused her miming by describing her routines as comparable to an American football player having to run and sing at the same time. These girls/women/not-girls-not-yet-women are let off for not really participating in their own music as long as they project the right (also likely manufactured) image, put on a good show, and competently sing, or mime along to, the songs they have been given.

Meanwhile, any article about One Direction that appears anywhere on the internet with a comment section, I would bet my life onedsavings (pitiful as they may be) that there is at least one comment that says, “Yeah, but they don’t play their own instruments, do they?” ‘Beatlemania’ is the media’s obvious comparison for One Direction’s global appeal. Yet – unfortunately for the boys – apart from being British, the comparisons end there. The Beatles will forever be acceptable, even to those who aren’t fans, for writing and playing their own stuff. One Direction have to put up with the manufactured label, particularly given that they come from Simon Cowell’s conveyor belt of ready-made popstars. I am not a crazy One Direction fan in disguise trying to make people see the light with regards to these five dashing, walking haircuts, but they should be given some slack. They’re no different to the likes of Rihanna, Britney, and countless others who are just as micro-managed. And it doesn’t make any of them less of an ‘artist’ – there’s nothing wrong with a bit of manufactured pop. What would the music purists have to moan about otherwise?

My Year in Music

CDs

I went through a messy separation earlier this year. It was a relationship that existed on the basis of convenience and ease. Unfortunately, I have not been able to make the clean break that was perhaps required by the situation.  I keep going back; I keep trying to find a way to make things work. To paraphrase Joey’s wonderful agent in Friends: “I always come crawling back to iTunes”.

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Even before I left my job last month, I had already had to un-sync my debit card from my iTunes account. I have an iPod Touch that makes it so easy – too easy – to hear a song on the radio, decide I like it, and download it without a thought. Because my details were already saved I missed that crucial step in online buying: when you type out your card number, and are thus granted that final chance to ask yourself whether your bank balance is strong enough to withstand the forthcoming assault.

With a few careful taps of my podgy fingertips I could have a brand new song playing through my headphones in under a minute. But I knew it had to end when I became prone to “The Impulse Buy”. My new rule is that I now have to have listened to a something at least twenty times on YouTube before I allow myself to download it (this is also a good test to discover how quickly you can become sick of a song). 

Despite our issues, I still love iTunes. Music vouchers are the only thing I can ever think to ask for when it comes to Christmas and birthdays. I thought I’d look back over my purchases from the past twelve months and assess the decisions I have made.

(NB – I will only recap albums; I bought too many singles. Some too embarrassing to mention.)

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KANYE WEST PRESENTS: GOOD MUSIC CRUEL SUMMER

Various Artists

I ask you: is there a better way to ring in the New Year than listening to a nice young man telling you “One piece of this sh*t/You won’t feel your legs”? If there is, I can’t think of it; evidently, given that this was my first purchase of 2013.

It bugs me that I’m still not sure if I am enjoying these songs ironically or not. I mean, Mercy.1 is kind of ridiculous, right? But it is also a song that I never skip when it comes on shuffle. There are some classic Kanye lines elsewhere: “I believe there’s a god above me/I’m just the god of everything else”, and yet I am able to overlook it because – despite (or in spite of?) everything else about Kanye West – he always picks interesting, obscure samples and a good beat.

Due to my ambivalence towards this record, I’m going to score it 6/10. It picks up a bonus point for featuring an artist (Marsha Ambrosius) that sounds like he named himself after his favourite brand of custard.

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ALL SAINTS

– All Saints

Ah, my favourite girl band, EVER (sorry, En Vogue). I think behind my love for All Saints is the fact that they remind me of a simpler time: a time when a pop star could turn up on Top of the Pops in cargo trousers and a denim jacket; a time when they didn’t give their fans a collective moniker that usually results in tears before bedtime on Twitter; a time when you didn’t even have to bother whether you came across as remotely “likeable”.

All Saints were moody, broody, cool. What I enjoy about this record is the fact that they don’t make it “easy” to like. It feels like they put it together with the attitude that people could take it or leave it. As a listener, it’s the equivalent of being the slightly nerdy kid on the playground trying to get the cool girls to like her.

I don’t enjoy it quite as much as Saints and Sinners, and the ‘Under the Bridge’ cover was horribly misguided. However, this album is home to one of the best pop songs of the last twenty years (that’s as far back as I can really talk with any authority) in ‘Never Ever’ – So. Good.

This album gets 7/10.

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FIVE: GREATEST HITS

– Five

This album. This is why I can’t have nice things. This is why I had to stop my unthinking download purchases.

Overcome with nostalgia thanks to The Big Reunion on ITV2, which reformed some nineties – I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say – supergroups, I went and bought a compilation of Five’s biggest hits.

I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t even preview the songs before jabbing the screen. Caught in the sweeping tide of childhood/early teen sentiment, I forgot a very important detail: Five don’t really have any “greatest hits”. The best reaction you can hope for with this album is internal cringing, and the worst is a full-blown body spasm of painful embarrassment.

Not one song on here was worth the £4 I paid for it. The worst thing about downloading music is that you can’t even palm off naff CDs to a charity shop and pretend to yourself that you’ve done a good deed. Instead, I just had to delete the whole thing from my device. What cannot be so easily erased is the black cloud that remains heavy over my heart.

This album scores a generous 2/10. I don’t know whether to deduct or add a point for the line “Wiggy wiggy, I’m getting jiggy”.

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COLLEGE DROPOUT

– Kanye West

A substantial showing from Kanye West on this list so far. I’m not sure if that could be twisted into some sort of metaphor for the year I’ve had. Or perhaps I should start living by the acronym ‘WWKWD?’ Whenever I am plagued by self-doubt or lack of confidence, I shall simply ask myself what or how Kanye West, self-styled god on earth, would respond to such feelings.

In fairness he has some right to feel a bit smug with regards to this album. Some songs are better, I think, than some artists could hope for across several records.

Although I feel that Late Registration (follow-up to College Dropout) is more accessible in terms of the individual tracks, College Dropout works really well as an overall idea. It’s a bit darker, a bit less mainstream than its successor. And I like albums like that. Perhaps this is the true metaphor: I enjoy albums as awkward and difficult as I am.

It gets a grand total of 8/10.

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CHANNEL ORANGE

– Frank Ocean

This list so far makes it seem that I am a bit of a hip-hop connoisseur. I can assure that this is not the case. It made me interested to go back and find out what sort of list I would have compiled last year, which I can reveal would have included One Direction, N*Sync, Bee Gees, and the Lion King soundtrack. So not the most credible twelve months in my music repertoire.

Channel Orange should more than make up for those past transgressions. (Shouldn’t it? DOESN’T IT?) I mean, *what* *an* *album*. 

There isn’t a particularly dominant track (although my favourite, hands down, is ‘Super Rich Kids’); Channel Orange is about the idea of the album overall, rather than a home for a couple of chart friendly singles. Anything that makes it worthwhile to buy the whole shebang than to just cherry-pick a few decent songs, as downloadable music has made it so easy to do, cannot be faulted in my book.

Having said that, nothing is completely perfect so this album gets 9.5/10.

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DRIVE (ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK)

– Various Artists

Drive is one of my favourite films of the last two years, and, more than many films I can remember watching, the soundtrack was a big part of that enjoyment.*

This record largely instrumental, bar the odd collaboration with the likes of Lovefoxxx and Electric Youth. Already it should be evident that this is a super cool album. Cliff Martinez’s score is chilling and emotive and I honestly don’t think Drive would be half the film it is without his contribution. ‘Tick of the Clock’ is one of the best pieces of music I have heard this year.

Drive‘s soundtrack – and Ryan Gosling’s abs (sadly hidden in the film) – get a combined total of 9/10.

(*NB: I don’t necessarily mean I “enjoyed” Drive in the typical sense; it’s not exactly a heartwarming or life-affirming affair…)

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AM

– Arctic Monkeys

I broke one of my own music rules with this album: I pre-ordered it. I mean, what’s up with that. I have never understood the point of buying something you haven’t even heard. It’s insane. And insane I was, and too impatient to wait the extra five minutes it would take me to download this on the day of release. I wanted it on my iPod as soon as I woke up!

‘Do I Wanna Know’ made me too excited to wait, and I knew I’d probably end up buying the whole thing anyway, which led me to break one of my own cardinal rules.

It is a much more laid-back affair than the first two albums, which felt like a frantic rush at times. But I love that Arctic Monkeys don’t try to replicate the same magic from album to album, or keep trying to reproduce the same spark that initially made them popular and merely producing pale imitations (cough, Oasis). 

I love the direction of AM, but I do miss the lyrics about waiting in line to get into a dingy Sheffield club. Although I guess that discredits what I’ve just said above. It’s just that I found the topics for much of AM a bit ‘samey’. Surely there must be more in Alex’s superstar life for him to write about other than his attempts at ‘wooing’.

Arctic Monkeys get a toasty 8/10.

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MECHANICAL BULL

– Kings Of Leon

Because of my rash pre-purchase of AM I punished myself by not allowing myself to buy Mechanical Bull, which came out about a week after. I had to put it on my birthday list instead. 

IT WAS SO WORTH THE WAIT. Kings Of Leon are, without doubt, my favourite band. I don’t care how douche-y they are sometimes, I love everything they release – including Come Around Sundown, which even Caleb said he didn’t care for much.

I saw them at the O2 Arena in London earlier this year and it was probably my highlight of 2013, excluding McBusted announcing their formation, but that’s another story. They are so incredible live, and I got to see the first (well, second: there was a show the night before as well) performance of lead single ‘Supersoaker’. (AMAZING!!!!)

I think I love this album too much to properly describe it. I will say that it is more like their first couple of releases than it is the later two, but with added maturity, a bit less screaming, and not quite so impressive headbanging. The latter I believe due to a combination of older age and decent haircuts, folks.

This album gets a totally unbiased score of 9.5/10.

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THE MARSHALL MATHERS LP

– Eminem

2013 was truly the year that I found my inner, repressed street kid.

The Marshall Mathers LP was the only Eminem CD I didn’t have, so, you know…I couldn’t leave it on its own…

The reason I love Eminem’s music so much is for similar reasons that I get excited over Arctic Monkeys, and that is because they deal in damn good lyrics. Songs with pointless or nonsensical lyrics are my biggest pet peeve. I love that Eminem’s songs all have such long verses because he actually has something to say, and isn’t just sending the musical equivalent of a Topshop dress down the production line, so to speak.

I haven’t had this album all that long so haven’t listened to it as much as some of the others, but what’s not to like about cocky, angry, bleach-blonde phase 1 Marshall?

It gets a respectable 8/10.

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So, there we have it. There have been highs, and exceptional lows. And an awful lot of rap. In fact, my iTunes history is a bit of a microcosm of my year in general, really.