10 Musical MVPs of 2013
These days, it’s not enough to make good records. The really successful artists are the ones that produce, undertake left-field collabos, design their own clothing lines, write books, direct movies, score Broadway shows, say outrageous things in interviews, protest injustices, make asses of themselves on award shows and keep fans abreast of their comings and goings via constant tweeting. Our picks for the 10 Musical MVPs of 2013 know full well what it takes to succeed in today’s climate, and in addition to capturing the world’s attention, they managed to retain their dignity and produce meaningful art. Kudos.
Nearly every year since 1960 has been a good one to be Paul McCartney, but even by Macca standards, 2013 was pretty sweet. In July, the Beatle great capped a gig at Seattle’s Safeco Field by jamming with Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, reuniting the former Nirvana bandmates for their first Emerald City performance in more than 15 years. That show was one of many marathon stadium concerts Sir Paul gave this year, though he also found time to rock a high school in Queens, N.Y., and busk with his band in Times Square. Given his catalog of beloved hits, he’d be well justified in resting on his laurels, but 2013 also saw the release of ‘New,’ a well-received album he recorded in part with Mark Ronson. In October, McCartney teamed up with famous friends Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp and Kate Moss for the ‘Queenie Eye’ video, and as if that weren’t cool enough, he visited Japan in November to sponsor his own sumo wrestling tournament. When he says he’ll never retire, believe him.
As early as January, it was clear 2013 would be be a big year for Trent Reznor. It was then that Beats Electronics named the Oscar-winning Nine Inch Nails mastermind creative director of their streaming music service (slated to launch in January 2014) and in the months that followed, Reznor released ‘Welcome Oblivion,’ the debut album by his How to Destroy Angels side project, as well as ‘Hesitation Marks,’ the first NIN collection since 2008. He toured behind both records and headlined festivals around the world, and he even sang on the new Queens of the Stone Age record. Not bad for a married father pushing 50.
Personally and professionally, Kanye killed it in 2013. On the former front, he became a father and got engaged, and in terms of his career, he dropped the much-discussed ‘Yeezus’ album, mounted an ambitious tour, rolled out his G.O.O.D. clothing line and inked an endorsement deal with Adidas. He also got slapped with battery charges, cut a remix track with Miley Cyrus and kept in the headlines with all sorts of crazy, stupid and crazy-stupid antics. West was everywhere, and the world was a more interesting place for his ubiquity.
Call it a coronation: In 2013, this 16-year-old New Zealander landed her single ‘Royals’ atop the Billboard Hot 100 and Alternative charts. Not since 1996 had a female artist reached No. 1 on the latter, and the song stuck around long enough to break a record set by Alanis Morissette in 1995. Why the success? ‘Royals’ is a smart and catchy song about materialism in hip-hop, and if Lorde is critical of the culture, she also seems fascinated by it. She’s certainly not a killjoy, and her debut album, ‘Pure Heroine,’ has sold boatloads and earned her praise as a clever lyricist with a positive message for young girls. No wonder she covered Tears for Fears’ ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ for the new ‘Hunger Games’ soundtrack. This “queen bee” is poised for global domination.
Amid nightly appearances with the Roots on ‘Late Night With Jimmy Fallon’ and weekend DJ sets wherever his services were requested, Questlove found time in 2013 to write two books — a memoir and a ‘Soul Train’ retrospective — collaborate on an album with Elvis Costello and produce music for such artist as D’Angelo, who’s apparently finished with his eagerly awaited comeback, the ‘Chinese Democracy’ of neo-soul. Questo also became an NYU professor and busted sweet moves in Yoko Ono’s ‘Bad Dancer’ video. He’d be a tough guy to keep up with were it not for his tweeting — something he also does brilliantly and prodigiously.
The year didn’t start out great for Moz, who cancelled a string of North American tour dates, but it turns out he was battling pneumonia and bleeding ulcers, so the fact he survived was cause for celebration. When he did actually take the stage, he achieved some big things, filming his ’25Live’ DVD at Hollywood High School and convincing the Staples Center to ban meat during his performance — something the venue hadn’t even done for Paul McCartney. In October, Morrissey unveiled his long-awaited ‘Autobiography’ — on Penguin Classics, no less — and following the death of Lou Reed, he released a version of his late hero’s ‘Satellite of Love.’ In between these major events, he kept in the news by periodically dissing the royal family, the media and the meat-eating masses.
On Jan. 8, Bowie turned 66, and because he always does things a little backwards, he decided to give the world a present: ‘Where Are We Now,’ his first new song in a decade. He also spilled the beans on his top-secret, long-in-the-works comeback LP, ‘The Next Day,’ which arrived in March and garnered high critical marks. The album earned him a Mercury Prize nomination, and while he didn’t win, he used the ceremony to unveil the latest in his series of bats— videos. Oh, and he sang on Arcade Fire’s ‘Reflektor,’ the best song of 2013. The only way he’ll top himself next year is if he tours.
There were no bigger songs this year than Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ and Daft Punk‘s ‘Get Lucky,’ and Pharrell sings on ’em both. In June, he became the 12th artist of all time to simultaneously hold the No. 1 and 2 slots on the Billboard 100, and in July, he reaffirmed his underground cred by pairing with up-and-comer Azealia Banks for ‘ATM JAM.’ He’s got a slew of projects in the works for next year, but let’s face it, 2014 is gonna be a letdown.
Who can blame James Murphy for not wanting to reunite LCD Soundystem? He’s clearly having a blast doing his own thing, and in 2013, he produced music for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Arcade Fire and remixed a tune from David Bowie’s big comeback album. Murphy also worked with legendary filmmaker Mike Nichols on a Broadway adaptation of Harold Pinter’s ‘Betrayal,’ directed a short film, finished crafting a signature blend of coffee (yet to be released) and celebrated the 12th anniversary of his label, DFA, with a Brooklyn bash. Words like “prolific” and “productive” don’t quite cover it. Dude’s coffee must be strong.
In July, this founding Chic guitarist and songwriter and producer extraordinaire tweeted word he was all clear of prostate cancer. This terrific news came two months after Daft Punk dropped ‘Random Access Memories,’ an album that features Rodgers’ distinctive disco picking on three cuts, among them ‘Get Lucky,’ the uncontested Summer Jam of 2013. In October, Chic picked up their eighth nomination for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and this time, we’re thinking they’ll make it. We’re also thinking Rodgers is riding enough of a high to not really care.