December 24, 2013 at 1:00 am

Adam Graham

It's a close call, but music still outshines the hype machine

Pink flew around The Palace of Auburn Hills during her high-energy show. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)

My goal for this year-in-music review is to not use the word “twerk” even once.

Oops, guess I already blew it.

But if 2013 was the year when even people who have never heard of the Ying Yang Twins were going on (and on, and on) about twerking, perhaps that’s appropriate. Miley Cyrus proved that even in an age of ever-fractured attention spans, a big ol’ media storm can still get people talking. And that’s exactly what she achieved with her scandalicious performance at MTV’s Video Music Awards in August.

Of course, that appearance was all about hype, titillation and button-pushing, and had little to do with, you know, music.

But more and more, music has little to do with music; it’s about all the distractions around it: the marketing campaign, the behind-the-scenes drama, the track-listing release, the album cover debut. By the time an album hits its actual release date, it has already been swallowed whole by the machine and people have moved on to the next one.

But 10 years from now — heck, even 12 months from now — what will we remember, the marketing campaign or the music?

Thankfully, there was plenty of great music released this year, from returning veterans and exciting newcomers. After 10 years of toiling in the trenches of R&B, Robin Thicke finally scored a monster pop hit and had everyone singing like Fat Albert — hey, hey, hey — for the better part of the summer. A pair of French robots to whom everyone was looking for the future of dance music slapped us upside the head with a disco album straight out of 1977. And rabble-rouser Kanye West made his most intense, challenging album yet, shedding his skin and revealing himself to be leaner, meaner and more focused than ever before.

So with that, here is a look back at the year in music — not marketing — in 2013:

Best songs of the year

1. Robin Thicke featuring Pharrell and T.I, “Blurred Lines”: It may have borrowed from Marvin Gaye — the Gaye camp prefers the term “stole” — but this Pharrell-produced smash honored “Got to Give It Up” by bringing it into the now and turning it into a party starter all over again. Everybody get up.

2. Charli XCX, “You (Ha Ha Ha)”: Over a glitchy Gold Panda sample, British pop singer Charli XCX kisses off an ex-, laughs in his face and sounds as if she’s having the time of her life.

3. Kanye West, “New Slaves”: The heart of “Yeezus,” where Kanye’s racial politics and his prickly relationship with consumerism intersect in glorious, ugly fashion.

4. Kanye West featuring Charlie Wilson, “Bound 2”: Yes, Kanye can still make songs like that (when he wants to), and he can still have fun. Who else would ride off into the sunset on a giddy Martin Lawrence reference?

5. Miley Cyrus, “We Can’t Stop”: Miley is smart enough to know it’s the feel of a song that matters, which is why on this dazed party anthem she’s able to get away with lines like, “Can’t you see it’s we who own the night?” and still sound like she does.

6. Drake featuring Majid Jordan, “Hold on We’re Going Home”: In a hip-hop world where credibility is everything, Drake went ahead and made a straight up Phil Collins song. That’s a move even Kanye didn’t have the gall to make.

7. Katy Perry, “Roar”: This self-empowerment anthem isn’t as easy as it looks; an army of collaborators — it’s credited to five writers and three producers — contributed to this triumph of pop-by-committee.

8. Mariah Carey and Miguel, “#Beautiful”: The hashtag in the title has gotta go, but this breezy retro-cool summer duet left you wanting more. Seriously. Couldn’t they have given us a third verse?

9. Lorde, “Royals”: The sparse drum and finger snaps, the anti-consumerism lyrics, nothing else sounded like it, and it immediately established the 16-year-old New Zealander as a force, and a voice, to be reckoned with.

10. Daft Punk featuring Pharrell and Nile Rodgers, “Get Lucky”: Instant classic. The first time you heard it, you knew you’d be hearing it for the rest of your life, and you were fine with that.

11. Justin Timberlake featuring Jay Z, “Suit & Tie”: Justin Timberlake does formal wear a solid and Jay Z big ups the family unit. When they say, “grown and sexy,” this is what they mean.

12. Vampire Weekend, “Diane Young”: Live fast, Diane Young, leave a good looking corpse. This is as close to punk rock as Vampire Weekend will ever get, and it’s a thrilling car crash of a song.

13. Phoenix, “Entertainment”: As if engineered in a lab to be a perfect Phoenix song, this punchy lead single from the band’s “Bankrupt!” album twisted the group’s formula just enough by adding a dash of “Turning Japanese” into the mix.

14. Ace Hood featuring Future and Rick Ross, “Bugatti”: This delusional rap fantasy has the best one-liner of the year: “I woke up in a new Bugatti.” You did? How’d you get there? What’d you do last night?

15. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., “If You Didn’t See Me (Then You Weren’t on the Dancefloor)”: This should-have-been smash from the Detroit duo contains one of the most infectious pop choruses of the year.

16. Eminem, “Rap God”: No one doubted Eminem was a rap god, but he went ahead and proved he was one anyway, levitating over this track for six minutes of lyrical insanity.

17. Beyoncé, “XO”: There’s another song on Beyoncé’s album called “Drunk in Love,” but this is the one that perfectly captures that intoxicating feeling of romance.

18. Jim James, “A New Life”: The My Morning Jacket frontman gets his Elvis Presley on this ’60s-style love song that begins as a whisper and builds to a roar.

19. Drake, “Started From the Bottom”: Everyone knows Drake started on “Degrassi,” but it’s a testament to his superstar mythmaking that he’s able to flawlessly pull off this wintry banger.

20. Arcade Fire, “Here Comes the Night Time”: A long and winding after-hours calypso boogie that feels like a delirious night on the town.

21. Britney Spears, “Ooh La La”: This truffle from the “Smurfs 2” soundtrack is as sweet as sugar and as light as air, and is better than anything on “Britney Jean.”

22. Future featuring Miley Cyrus and Mr. Hudson, “Real and True”: The lyrics contain references to outer space, but this utterly earthbound love song is so simple and plain it could be covered and turned into a country hit.

23. Kacey Musgraves, “Follow Your Arrow”: “Make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into.” So says country upstart Kacey Musgraves on this lovely ode to being yourself.

24. Fall Out Boy, “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light Em Up)”: After the fall of the emo empire, Fall Out Boy returned from out of nowhere with an arsenal of scorching guitars and arena chants and somehow managed to sound as vital as ever.

25. Mike Posner, “The Way It Used to Be”: Posner reaches for the pop stars on this nostalgic tune about lost love, and his vocals have never sounded more relaxed or confident.

Best albums of the year (or really, just the ones I liked the most)

1. Kanye West, “Yeezus”: Kanye’s most radical statement yet, and one that shows he’s growing and challenging himself in ways that weren’t imaginable when “The College Dropout” was released. This is the year’s real “Artpop,” he just didn’t need to call it that.

2. Deafheaven, “Sunbather”: A crushing, beautiful album from the San Francisco duo that serves up black metal and is equal parts haunting and hopeful.

3. Vampire Weekend, “Modern Vampires in the City”: On its third album, the New York foursome gets everything right, sounding more comfortable than ever in its own Oxford shirts.

4. Queens of the Stone Age, “... Like Clockwork”: Josh Homme’s hard rock outfit regroups, gets its swagger back and swings its mighty tail like a brontosaurus clearing away brush from its path.

5. Beyoncé, “Beyoncé”: Beyoncé has been called “Queen Bey” for some time, but this is the first time one of her albums lives up to that billing. “Beyoncé” is confident, sexy, mature and sparkling, just like Beyoncé herself.

6. Pistol Annies, “Annie Up”: On their second album, Miranda Lambert and her gal-pals take on real talk topics like the pressures of outward beauty (“Being Pretty Ain’t Pretty”), domestic blues (“Unhappily Married”) and alcoholism (“Dear Sobriety”), but they’re at their most soul-baring on the album’s touching closer, the love letter “I Hope You’re the End of My Story.”

7. Daft Punk, “Random Access Memories”: But where are the drops? Daft Punk punk’d the world with this ode to ’70s studio cheese, retrofitted with jams from Pharrell (“Get Lucky,” “Lose Yourself to Dance”) and Julian Casablancas (“Instant Crush”), as well as living legends Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder. Drop this.

8. Pusha T, “My Name Is My Name”: “Everything is Pusha T!” Kanye West said — loudly — at a listening party for the former Clipse member’s debut solo album. He’s right, and this album is full of stone cold raps and even colder beats that should come packed in dry ice.

9. Kings of Leon, “Mechanical Bull”: After breaking up — didn’t these guys break up? — the Tennessee family of feuders buried their differences long enough to come up with an album full of smooth-bodied arena rock riffs that go down as easily as light beer.

10. Sky Ferreira, “Night Time, My Time”: The former teen-pop washout strikes out on her own with this set of grungy electro pop, skipping the self-affirmation of some of her peers in favor of honesty and vulnerability.

Concert of the year

From Beyoncé to Nine Inch Nails to Bruno Mars to Kanye West, a handful of big arena shows lived up to their blockbuster billing this year. But no one put on a better show than Pink, who took flight at The Palace on March 5 and flew around the arena like she was trying to collect frequent flyer miles.

As she soared around the Pistons’ home, she worked through more than a decade of hits and put on the most impressive performance of the year, both physically and musically. In 2013, no one flew higher.

agraham@detroitnews.com
twitter.com/grahamorama

Rapper Drake branched out with the more pop-oriented 'Hold on We're Going ... (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)
Charli XCX got the last laugh with 'You (Ha Ha Ha).' (Cindy Ord / Getty Images)
Robin Thicke stirred controversy with 'Blurred Lines.' (Larry Marano / Getty Images)
Kanye West showed growth as an artist on 'Yeezus.'
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