It was a banner year for the music industry. It was a disastrous year for music.
How else to describe a year during which the industry raked in the usual obscene profits while many top performers faked their way through concerts, were hard-pressed to come up with anything exciting or original, and moralist censors moved in to put a stop to it anyway?The year's biggest break-out star was M.C. Hammer. Sure, he's a nice enough guy and all - a terrific dancer, showman and fine role model for kids - but is he a musician? Hardly.
Here's a guy whose entire best-selling album is based upon old hits by others such as Prince and Rick James. Ditto for 1990's first runner-up, the arrogant pretender Vanilla Ice, who fudged his life story and then smugly defended those lies until he could pretend no more.
His "artistic" judgment wasn't much better. Though Ice may believe his computer-sampled recasting of songs such as Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music" and the David Bowie/Queen tune "Under Pressure" are salutes to the originals, they aren't.
Rather, they're note-for-note rip-offs without so much as a single credit to the original songwriters. Yet you guys scooped up the album in record numbers, and bought the act too. Then again, so did the media, just as it fell for the manufactured mockery that came to be known as The Lambada.
In a year during which Americans voted overwhelmingly for regurgitated '70s novelty songs set to a rap beat, there was little else to cheer. Milli Vanilli took the heat for an entire industry gone bad, while pretenders such as Ice, as well as the year's other big stars - Janet Jackson, New Kids on the Block and Bell Biv Devoe - continued lip syncing all the way to the box office. In fact, the New Kids broke all kinds of records with five - count 'em, FIVE - albums on the charts simultaneously at year's end. Now that's scary.
As we begin the new year, popular music is in a shaky transition. Rock has all but disappeared from the airwaves, though its metal counterpart still has legs. Dance, rap and female vocalists are the dominant form - a trend that shows little sign of diminishing. And though rap has become increasingly homogenized, at least it's igniting some rebellion. Where would the censorship movement be without it?
1990 was also the year during which America said "Who cares?" to some of its most revered music idols. Prince returned with the terrific "Grafitti Bridge" (and even convinced his protege band The Time to reunite and premiere an album alongside him) yet the whole thing caused barely a ripple.
After years of indifferent projects, fans seem to have given up on him - a shame, since "Bridge" was his most appealing set in years, and the best album of 1990.
We haven't seemed to be too concerned with the return of George Michael either. He's playing the aloof game for now - eschewing his pretty boy presence in music videos for a stab at respectability - a move that has hurt album sales.
Though she earned critical raves all year and came on strong commercially at the end of the year, Madonna also took her lumps. With two albums in 1990 - the engaging "I'm Breathless" set from "Dick Tracy" and the current hits set "Immaculate Conception" - she did merely respectable business. Despite the imaginative "Vogue," neither she nor Michael ever topped Billboard's album chart this year.
Both were consistently edged by Janet Jackson, Sinead O'Conner, Ice and Hammer. Yet the naughty "Justify My Love" video has renewed Madonna's power-earner position, proving resoundingly that she should never be counted out.
Here's the run-down on the best (and worst):
Best Tours: Billy Joel, Madonna, David Bowie, Harry Connick Jr.
Best New Artist: Wilson Phillips.
Runners up: Lisa Stansfield, Jane Child and Mariah Carey.
Most Over-rated New Act: Faith No More.
Best Comeback: Bonnie Raitt
Best Comeback Without Even Trying: Suzanne Vega (courtesy DNA)
Best Trend: Ban The (wasteful CD) Box
Best Video: Madonna's "Vogue"
Best Use of 15 Minutes: 2 Live Crew
Worst Use of 15 Minutes: Gloria Estefan
Best G-String: Cher
Best New Idea: WXTB, the first all Led Zeppelin radio station
Best Talent Agent: Florida moralist Jack Thompson
Best '89 Leftovers: Babyface's "Tender Lover"; Basia's "London Warsaw New York"
Biggest '89 Leftover: Janet Jackson
Best Krishna Imitation: Sinead O'Conner
Most Feeble Comeback Try: Earth, Wind and Fire.
Runners-up: Tiffany, Tears For Fears, Debbie Harry, The Pretenders, Jeff Lynne, The Go-Gos
Disappearing Act: Terrence Trent D'Arby.
Runners-up: Midnight Oil, Sam Kinison, Huey Lewis and Tracy Chapman
What Ever Happened To?: Andrew Dice Clay
Worst Trend: Jon Bon Jovi's acoustic cowboy.
Runner-up: The boxed set.
Fun Couple: Cher and Richie Sambora
Fake Couple: Madonna and Warren Beatty
Worst New Edition: Bell, Biv Devoe