December 29, 2008 at 7:17 pm

2008: The year in entertainment

An earful of music

The likes of Lil Wayne and Duffy make it a year to celebrate

Rock icon Bruce Springsteen will play the Super Bowl in February. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

It was a year where Lil Wayne went from being an underground icon to music's biggest star, Axl Rose finally released his long-gestating epic, and a laptop mixologist and former biochemist created the year's most engrossing album.

Sure, the music industry business model continued to tailspin as album sales plummeted to murky depths. It now appears as though the era of the blockbuster CD may be dead forever, with the 2-million sales mark -- a figure *NSYNC surpassed in less than a week in 2000 -- now considered rarefied air for an artist.

Yet, people continue to consume music in carnivorous fashion. Music's not going away any time soon, but the way people get it and listen to it is evolving.

With that, here is our look back at the year in music -- the highs, the lows and everything in between.

Top 10 albums of 2008

1. Girl Talk, "Feed the Animals": Take all your albums and all of your parents' albums, throw them in a blender and hit puree. The result? Girl Talk's "Feed the Animals." It combines 40 years of rap and pop hits with classic rock instrumentals and contextualizes the individual songs in entirely new ways. From now on, you'll never hear the Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin' " without thinking of UGK and OutKast's "Int'l Player's Anthem," and for that you can thank Gregg Gillis' mash-up masterpiece.

2. Guns N' Roses, "Chinese Democracy": Yes, Axl Rose's 17-years-in-the-making Hail Mary is over-the-top, bombastic and rather absurd. Guess what else? It's awesome, in a way only possible for an album whose creation has spanned multiple presidential administrations.

3. Lil Wayne, "Tha Carter III": After years of hype built on a mountain of mixtapes and cameos, "Tha Carter III" was Weezy's grand statement and 2008's biggest personality delivered in a way few thought was possible.

4. Coldplay, "Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends": Back on track after the 2005 misfire "X&Y," "Viva la Vida" is the sound of one of the world's best bands getting back to what it does best -- crafting great, big anthems for the masses.

5. Portishead, "Third": It's been 11 years since Portishead's last album, and the time off has only made the seminal trip-hoppers spookier, darker and more desolate. If you thought the movie "The Strangers" was scary, try listening to "Machine Gun" all alone with the lights out.

6. My Morning Jacket, "Evil Urges": More than just evil urges guided Kentucky rockers My Morning Jacket's fifth album. It's also the group's funkiest, most experimental record to date, with the funk goof "Highly Suspicious" coming off like an inside joke inspired by a late-night viewing of "The Chronicles of Riddick."

7. The Raveonettes, "Lust Lust Lust": Try "Loud Loud Loud." "Aly, Walk With Me" may have been the year's loudest single, and it opens the Raveonettes' fourth and best album in ear-splitting fashion.

8. Mariah Carey, "E=MC2": Everything that worked on her 2005 comeback LP "The Emancipation of Mimi" works even better here, with Carey melding the worlds of R&B, pop and hip-hop more seamlessly than ever before.

9. Metallica, "Death Magnetic": In which the veteran rockers put the "metal" back in Metallica. Brutal, unrelenting and heavy as an oil drum. In other words, welcome back, boys.

10. Duffy, "Rockferry": Recalling Dusty Springfield, not Amy Winehouse, the wee Welsh lass with the big, booming voice proved a natural fit for Bernard Butler's retro-soul sound.

Top 10 songs of 2008

1. Lil Wayne, "A Milli": As if Lil Wayne sliced open his head and poured out the contents, "A Milli" better captured the bold, boastful, manic world of Lil Wayne than any full-length mixtape could ever hope to.

2. Usher f/ Young Jeezy, "Love in this Club": Ayyyyy! Usher is butter smooth over Polow da Don's trickling synths and somehow makes doin' it on the dance floor sound like the height of romance.

3. Jay-Z and T.I. f/ Kanye West and Lil Wayne, "S.L.U. (Swagga Like Us)": Need more proof that it was a career year for T.I.? Batting cleanup here behind three of hip-hop's best sluggers, he knocks a grand slam out of the park and brings his teammates home safely. Now that's swagger.

4. Coldplay, "Viva la Vida": Whether or not they stole it from Joe Satriani, as recently alleged by the guitar virtuoso, is irrelevant. To paraphrase Jay-Z: He made it a hot line; they made it a hot song.

5. Estelle f/ Kanye West, "American Boy": What's the best way for a UK R&B singer to make a splash on this side of the pond? Two words: Call Kanye.

6. Kings of Leon, "Sex on Fire": The Tennessee rockers get all hot and bothered, delivering their steamiest single to date.

7. T.I. f/ Rihanna, "Live Your Life": Everything Rihanna touches turns to gold, and T.I.'s re-appropriation of the "Numa Numa" song is no different. Maya-hee, maya-ha!

8. Duffy, "Distant Dreamer": Against a steadily climbing Phil Spector-ish bed of horns and strings, Duffy crafts a moving paean to the powers and possibilities of dreams.

9. Jonas Brothers, "Lovebug": Gooey teenage power pop, fun and innocent as a pizza party.

10. (tie) MGMT, "Kids"/ "Time to Pretend": Brooklyn-based electro hippies get their groove on with a pair of ubiquitous hipster anthems.

Top picks for 2008

Artist of the Year: The Rap Pack (Kanye West, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and T.I.): You've heard of the Rat Pack, the Brat Pack and the Frat Pack. Now it's time to meet the Rap Pack. Kanye West, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and T.I. -- whom Kanye dubbed the Rap Olympic team this summer on his blog -- joined forces for "S.L.U. (Swagga Like Us)," the hottest posse cut of the year. It was also the foursome's unequivocal mission statement, which was summed up succinctly by a sample from M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes": "No one on the corner has swagger like us." And how. Together and separately, the four of them had a stranglehold on hip-hop in 2008: If it happened, they were involved, end of story. Between them, they earned three No. 1 albums, controlled the No. 1 spot on Billboard's Hot 100 chart for 15 weeks and earned a staggering 24 Grammy nominations. They didn't limit themselves to just hip-hop, either; they branched out into pop ("Live Your Life," T.I.'s collaboration with Rihanna), R&B ("American Boy," Kanye's collaboration with UK singer Estelle), rock (Jay-Z rapped with Coldplay, while Lil Wayne helped introduce Kevin Rudolf to the world) and even country (see Wayne's inexplicable appearance at this year's CMAs). And their dynasty looks likely to continue, with Kanye readying a massive 2009 tour and jumping behind the boards for Jay-Z's forthcoming "Blueprint 3" album, and with Wayne continuing to, well, be Lil Wayne. There's only one roadblock in their quest for world domination: T.I. is set to begin a one-year prison sentence stemming from a 2007 federal weapons charge. Hey, even Frank Sinatra did a little jail time.

Detroit Anthem of the Year: T-Baby, "It's So Cold in the D": The YouTube video was so bad it had to be seen to be believed: an extremely low-budget clip detailing the woes of life in Detroit, set over a tuneless melody and rapped in a style in which the word "amateur" would be a compliment. As luck would have it, the clip caught fire. Celeb fans include Usher (who sang a lick of it in concert at the Fillmore) and T-Pain (who serenaded listeners of WKQI's "Mojo in the Morning" with a few bars during an appearance in the fall). Nearly 1 million hits later, it ain't so cold in the D anymore.

Live Act of the Year: Nine Inch Nails: Trent Reznor has always been a visionary artist, but on this year's mind-bending "Lights in the Sky" tour, technology finally caught up with his art. Incorporating state-of-the-art video screens and lights into his live presentation in a way few, if any, have ever attempted, Reznor brought his work to startling life and proved more vital than ever before, even if his ticket sales (he played to a more than half-empty Palace in August) didn't quite reflect it.

Blogger of the Year: Kanye West: Kanye West's relentlessly updated blog ("> found the rapper/producer/entrepreneur sharing his daily thoughts on women, architecture, furniture and fashion, while also sharing new music and ALL-CAPS diatribes against the media. If only his dour 2008 CD "808s & Heartbreak" was as interesting.

Psychic of the Year: Young Jeezy: The Atlanta rapper named his third album "The Recession" two months before the financial crisis hit full bore. Jeezy's other coup? He rolled the dice on the single "My President Is Black" far before Obama had the election in the bag. Is Jeezy hip-hop's new Nostradamus?

Worst-Timed Single of the Year: Akon featuring Lil Wayne, "I'm So Paid": During the height of one of the worst financial crunches in our nation's history, Akon released this mindless ode to gross wealth. It was so egregious it qualified Akon's brain for a bailout.

Prop of the Year: Lil Wayne's guitar: It was with him in the "Lollipop" video, on "SNL" and at the CMAs when he jumped on stage with Kid Rock. Sure, it looked good around his neck, but Wayne's actual guitar hero skills were, shall we say, in doubt, as his rudimentary playing made Madonna look like Jimi Hendrix.

Album Cover of the Year: Lil Wayne, "Tha Carter III": Lil Wayne decided to put his baby picture on the cover of "Tha Carter III," immediately inviting comparisons to landmark hip-hop albums such as Nas' "Illmatic" and Biggie's "Ready to Die." But neither of them had the foresight to Photoshop tattoos on the toddler -- point, Wayne.

Controversy of the Year: Did Coldplay steal "Viva la Vida"? It was an accusation first lobbed by Creaky Boards, a low-level indie band that claimed Chris Martin and Co. ripped off their song "The Songs I Didn't Write," and later by guitar whiz Joe Satriani, who cited the similarities between his song "If I Could Fly" and "Viva." Coldplay has maintained its innocence, but several YouTube clips comparing and contrasting the different tracks suggest the cases might not go away anytime soon.

Green Day of the Year: Foxboro Hot Tubs, "Stop Drop and Roll!!!": While the world eagerly awaits the follow-up to 2004's "American Idiot" -- one of the decade's essential recordings -- Green Day sneaked out this playful collection of '50s-style garage rockers, under the pseudonym Foxboro Hot Tubs.

2007 Song of the Year: M.I.A., "Paper Planes": M.I.A.'s Clash-sampling, gunblast-celebrating anthem was everywhere this year, from the "Pineapple Express" trailer to "Slumdog Millionaire" to Kanye West's headphones (he sampled "Paper Planes" in "S.L.U. (Swagga Like Us)"). The only thing that stopped it from being 2008's hands-down song of the year was the fact that it was released in 2007 and made my Top 10 list then.

Overexposed Starlet of the Year: Taylor Swift: Yes, we applaud the fact that she writes her own songs, but is that reason enough for her to be shoved down our throats every time we turn on the television? This bland blonde was everywhere there was a red carpet in 2008, but showed so little personality that she made whatever Jonas Brother she was dating look like the life of the party.

Non-Surprise of the Year: Katy Perry's stardom: Who knew that a babe singing a bi-curious song about kissing other chicks would catch on in a post-"Girls Gone Wild" world? Oh, that's right, everybody did.

Christmas Album of the Year: Ledisi, "It's Christmas": Time to put away "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" -- forever. Ledisi's splendid, soulful Christmas album was a hot treat on a cold winter's day, and deserves to be a holiday standard for years to come.

Best Video of the Year: Beyoncé, "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)": Talk about doing more with less. This minimalist, black-and-white clip creates music video gold using three black bodysuits, two backup dancers and one Beyoncé. The result? The most talked-about video of the year (and not just because of the Justin Timberlake parody clip on "SNL").

Most Juvenile Joke of the Year: Britney Spears, "If U Seek Amy": "All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to 'If U Seek Amy,'" Britney coos on her 2008 album "Circus." Get it? If not, you're probably not in middle school.

New Artist to Watch in 2009: Asher Roth: Asher Roth is the best white rapper to emerge since a promising young upstart from Detroit named Eminem. Yep, we said the E word, but Asher Roth has the skills to back it up, as he proved on his 2008 mixtape, "The Greenhouse Effect." Will he buckle under the pressure of being the next Great White Hope? We'll see in spring, when his major label debut is set to hit stores -- alongside Eminem's comeback album, "Relapse." Is it getting hot in here, or is it just us?

Adam gets Sirius with Cosmo Radio

Adam Graham shares his 2008 best-of lists with Cosmo Radio's "Cocktails with Patrick," 5-8 p.m. Wednesday on Sirius Channel 111 and XM Channel 162. The show repeats 11 p.m.-2 a.m. Wednesday and 5-8 p.m. Thursday.

5 to watch in 2009

Eminem: The year's most high-stakes project is Eminem's "Relapse," the long-dormant rapper's first studio album in five years.

U2: "No Line on the Horizon," the band's first album since 2004's "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," is due March 2.

No Doubt: After two solo albums, Gwen Stefani is reuniting with her bandmates for a tour and a new album, the group's first since 2001.

Bruce Springsteen: A new album in January -- the Boss' fourth this decade -- will be followed by a Super Bowl performance in February.

Green Day: The band's follow-up to its career-best "American Idiot" is due at some point in the year to come.

About this series

Our critics review the best and worst of 2008. For previous stories, visit

Friday: Movies

Today: Pop music

Tuesday: Television

Wednesday: Celebrities

You can reach Adam Graham at (313) 222-2284 or">

Duffy has a bigger voice than one would expect, and it shows on ... (Dave Hogan / Getty Images)
Duffy has a bigger voice than one would expect, and it shows on ... (Dave Hogan / Getty Images)
Lil Wayne may have had the best song of 2008 with "A Milli" from ... (Jeff Gentner / Getty Images)
Lil Wayne may have had the best song of 2008 with "A Milli" from ... (Jeff Gentner / Getty Images)