As with every year since 2001, the music industry in 2009 was kept barely alive by a ratag crew of baffling one-offs, mediocre hit makers and a few cameos from the dead. If dollars are votes, we have some weird taste in representation. In backwards order, this year's 11 saviors of the establishment, for better or worse:
11. Beyonce: True, her album came out in November of last year. That didn't stop her from collecting approximately 1,000 Grammy nods (or ten. Whatever). The elapsed time has only helped Sasha Fierce - the singles steadily collect downloads and airplay, as memories of how much of the double album was boring filler fade. Plus, the "Single Ladies" video was the most ubiquitous pop culture fixture to come out of music in 2009, seeing homage everywhere from SNL to YouTube to your high school prom to...
10. Glee: Yes, it's High School Musical but "edgier." Only really, it's just High School Musical but less original (is it possible that we just wrote that sentence?). The show's main redeeming characteristic is Jane Lynch, but that hasn't stopped the accompanying show tune glossing of already cheesy songs from tearing up the iTunes store.
If you thought this would be the VMA video, you haven't tried to wade through the mess on YouTube to find the actual clip. It'll make you hate everything.
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9. Kanye West: We're convinced we will look back on the career of Kanye West as insane genius. He is responsible for some of the decade's most acclaimed music, and he seems to produce viral shockers at will. Maybe he has no idea what he's doing, but in addition to his awesome VMA tantrum (seriously, did anyone give a shit about the VMA's before this?), he appeared as a guest on more big hits than anyone else this year.
8. Sensitve Indie Pop: Everything old is new again. Thanks to Zach Braff and the OC, the music listening masses who don't care about things like music blogs are all keyed into the sounds of sad-eyed, delicately plinking indie music from half a decade ago. Owl City managed a number one single with a song that so shamelessly jacks The Postal Service that Wikipedia has multiple sources listed in support of the accusation. Then there's Jason DeRulo, who rode his Imogen Heap sample to the top as well. Animal Collective is going to be huge in 2015.
7. The Beatles: Apparently they're really good or something. Apple Records re-released the collection in celebration of some anniversary or another and people couldn't wait to empty America's Best Buys of their Fab Four collections. Everyone knows it was the same music inside those shiny new packages, right? Surely there weren't millions of people just now discovering Sgt. Pepper's.
6. Flo Rida: Flo Rida followed last year's biggest single of the decade with the insultingly obvious "Right Round." The sample is so long and unadorned the song might as well be a cover with stupider lyrics -- and Flo Rida didn't even come up with the freaking idea! Some A&R guy from Atlantic suggested he use the sample, and he did. Yet without contributing much of anything besides high-maintenance facial hair and a stupid necklace, Flo Rida managed to destroy his own record for digital downloads, proving the low contemplation threshold of one-click purchasing.
5. Lady Gaga: Like Beyonce, Lady Gaga's album didn't even come out this year. Granted, she re-issued Fame late in 2009, and it was basically the old album plus a new one, but still -- this year was all about singles she cut before we flipped the calendar. Her fashion sense (can we call it that, or does what she wears require a whole new expression?) was the second most important pop music touchstone of the year, giving girls everywhere a chance to dress like an acid trip for Halloween.
4. Susan Boyle: What a year. Let's review: April 1, 2009. Susan Boyle reaches 48-year-old Scottish woman with no job, a face for radio and her dreams long since a memory. December 16, 2009: Susan Boyle has just released her debut album to the largest opening week for a female artist in SoundScan's history. Her initial appearance on Britain's Got Talent sparked one of the largest YouTube hits in the site's history. And she doesn't even have a very good voice! Seriously! It's average at best -- this is much more a freak show than proof that talent prevails, and we suppose it is therefore fitting that she will almost certainly end the year with 2009's most financially successful album. We do love our freaks. The other explanation is that she's completely safe -- Taylor Swift (who we'll get to in a second) is more likely to be involved in some sort of scandal than Boyle. And by being safe, she attracted a fan base that does not know how to find Google, much less torrent sites or file sharing.
3. The Black Eyed Peas: For half the year, the Peas couldn't miss, breaking all kinds of records en route to 26 weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100 with back-to-back singles "Boom Boom Pow" and "I've Gotta Feeling." Their third act, "Meet Me Halfway," couldn't quite climb the mountain, but it's still doing just fine. Will.i.am was especially vocal (or maybe it's just that no one cares what any other members of Black Eyed Peas have to say) in casting 2009's insane success as the moment he proved the haters wrong. But chart positions aside, this assertion fails the sniff test -- do you know anyone who conceded the talent of the Peas upon hearing "I've Gotta Feeling"?
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2. Taylor Swift: Currently the year's top album seller, Swift, like Boyle, benefits from being pretty much completely vanilla. The worst, and best, you ever hear about her music is that it isn't bad. She looks like a fairy, which can't be hurting the size of her fan base, and she somehow gets classified as country, which is the most loyal genre in music.
1. Michael Jackson: He died. Maybe you heard.