When the going gets tough, the tough go dancing.
And in the economic pit of despair that was 2010, that adage certainly held true, as one escapist dance anthem after another topped the charts and Americans looked for anything that would help them forget their job searches and mounting bills for three minutes or so.
It's times like these that give rise to the teenage dreams and melting Popsicles of Katy Perry and the whacked-out fantasy art project that is Lady Gaga and her dress made of meat. Who wants to talk about their troubles when they can watch Ga and Beyonce dress up as superheroes and sing about leaving their heads and their hearts on the dance floor?
It's enough to make you want to say, "Oh oh oh-oh, oh-oh oh oh oh" like Usher. Or "Oh ooh-oh-ooh oh oh oh ooh-oh-ooh oh oh" like Ke$ha.
Sure, there was some seriousness in music this year, too. But it didn't usually come from real life infiltrating musicians' work — though Dix Hills' Ryan Star did take the unusual step of turning his video for "Breathe" into a way to help the unemployed. It was more of a reality-show, tabloid-fodder seriousness — the kind people immerse themselves in to prove that their lives aren't quite as messed up as the world Kanye West outlines in "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" or the issues Eminem survives in "Recovery" and pulls Rihanna into for one of the year's biggest singles, "Love the Way You Lie."
Serious? Maybe. But not all that deep.
Even Taylor Swift's travails in "Speak Now" are more celeb-specific than the more universal problems that filled her previous albums. That said, her takedown of John Mayer, who had his own very public issues this year, was so on-target in both sound and form that Swift has made that transition effortlessly.
Her artistic transition hasn't hurt her sales, either. Swift's stunning opening week in October — when she sold 1.05 million copies of "Speak Now," the biggest sales week since 50 Cent's "The Massacre" sold 1.15 million in 2005 — proved that massive mainstream hits are still possible, no matter how much overall album sales erode. It's simply a matter of connection — which is also at the heart of the year's other success stories, the cast of "Glee," which dominates the singles chart each week the show is in session, and Susan Boyle, who started 2010 at the top of the album charts with "I Dreamed a Dream" and closes the year at the top with "The Gift."
Connection also brings surprising niche No. 1's — indie-rockers Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend, hard rocking Disturbed and Avenged Sevenfold, and singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles all topped the charts — feats made possible in part by weakening album sales, which are about 13 percent below last year's already-shaky results.
Maybe industry execs should take up dancing, too.
In Top 10 albums, some surprises:
Top 10 Albums
1. Kanye West, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" (Roc-a-Fella) — It takes an egomaniacal narcissist to conceive of an album this grand, one that doesn't just strive to be the best in hip-hop, with the stunning "Monster" and "So Appalled," but also stretches its boundaries with the prog-rock-sampling "Power" and the nine-minutes-plus epic "Runaway." Luckily, West fits that bill.
2. The National, "High Violet" (4AD) — The indie rockers show the power of subtlety. Singer Matt Berninger is low-key with his complaints and rallying cries, while the rest of the band surrounds him with all sorts of acoustic and orchestral loveliness, from the U2-influenced "Lemonworld" to the infectious "Bloodbuzz Ohio."
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