Here’s 2013 in a nutshell: the biggest music story of the year involved teddy bear costumes, foam fingers, wagging tongues and one of the flattest butts in Hollywood “wiggling” on national TV.
The biggest album of the year dropped in the middle of the night without any promotion. The woman known for her legions of devoted fans had to beg them to buy her album. The woman best known for a Disney show ran screaming from her Mouse House past. And a song called “Black Skinhead” is being used to sell Motorola phones on TV.
It seems like artists are figuring out the new normal for the music industry: controversy sells, albums don’t, and the more touring the better. In an age where YouTube and illegal downloads sap money from record labels, the only experience a fan cannot replicate in their own home is a concert. If the only way to get someone to your concert is to sell T-shirts emblazoned with a Confederate flag, so be it.
Controversy reigned this past year, with racism and sexism dominating Internet chatter, and lawsuits and beefs flying every which way. If the industry continues in this direction, next year might just cause the Internet to break. Here are the 21 most controversial releases of 2013, on a scale from “Trending Topic” to “Internet Explodes.“
Katy Perry - Prism
Perry gets most of her press from her dating life, including her breakup with Russell Brand and her current beau, John Mayer. Mayer seems to attract negative attention wherever he sets up shop but Perry got a bit of her own this year after appearing in a geisha outfit at the American Music Awards. Accusations of racism flew fast and furious, which just goes to show that you can top shooting whipped cream out of your boobs.
R. Kelly - Black Panties
R. Kelly doesn’t understand the word “subtle.” He would probably record a song called “Subtle Sex” and it would be a massive hit and we’d all love it because Robert Kelly sings the hell out of some songs. But dry-humping Lady Gaga on Saturday Night Live will definitely earn you some press, as will naming songs on your album “Crazy Sex,” “Legs Shakin” and “Marry The Pussy.” You love sex – we get it.
Ke$ha - Warrior
Ok, so this album technically came out in December 2012 but with “Timber” tearing up the charts and some controversial press this past year, Ke$ha definitely deserves a spot. Her single “Die Young” was pulled from the radio in late 2012 after the Newton shooting. Ke$ha claimed she hated the song and that lead to friction with longtime collaborator and super-producer Dr. Luke. Ke$ha even had a collaborative album with the Flaming Lips cancelled, reportedly as a result of the whole Dr. Luke thing. That proposed album’s title? Lipsha. There’s so much beauty in the world.
One Direction - Midnight Memories
The British boy band may face legal action from Def Leppard – the ’80’s rockers claim some similarities between their hit “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and a track on 1D’s album – but that’s a drop in the bucket for the mega-famous quintet. Any time you have legions of fans, the smallest problems can spiral. At various times, the boys were caught around drugs, or booze, or girls – you know, regular teen stuff – but magnified thanks to their exploding fame. They even took minor potshots at fellow UK boy band The Wanted, which seemed to spiral out of control. On Twitter, One Direction fans took on everyone from The Who to Justin Bieber to the boys themselves. To be honest, I’m a little afraid to say any more – those kids are vicious.
Snoop Lion – Reincarnated
This was hardly the first reinvention for Snoop – “Sensual Seduction,” anyone? – and grabbing a Jamaican flag and a blunt is definitely within Snoop’s wheelhouse. But for all the promotion and the name change, the album was fairly lackluster, both critically and commercially. Most of the controversy came from a perceived cultural appropriation, the catchphrase of 2013.
Lady Gaga – Artpop
The album seems to have come and gone – maybe the most controversial thing about it was the accusation that some of Gaga’s gay fans were prostituting themselves in order to buy more copies of Mother Monster’s album. As for the lady herself, Gaga’s naughty bits were all over the web in 2013, which is not a change for the free-spirited songstress. But Gaga also went after her haters this year – she accused gossip maven Perez Hilton of stalking her, feuded with Kelly Osbourne and even took shots at her spirit animal, Madonna. No meat dresses or anything, but with a world tour coming in 2014, look for Gaga to reclaim her Most Controversial crown next year.
will.i.am – #willpower
Forget the album, which attracted minor controversy for some allegedly pilfered samples, the dude tried to sue Pharrell over the phrase “I Am.” Maybe he should exercise some #willpower next time he wants to file a lawsuit.
M.I.A. – Matangi
British/Sri Lankan M.I.A. is no stranger to controversy, either because of her political views or the gunshots in her song “Paper Planes.” She flipped off the world at the Super Bowl in 2012 and is now the target of a $1.5 million NFL lawsuit related to that fleeting bird. She’s also attempting to crowdsource funding for a documentary about her father, a former Tamil revolutionary who has attracted controversy of his own.
Lorde - Heroine
The anti-Miley, in a way, but still just as controversial. People loved Lorde’s mega-hit “Royals” because of the anti-capitalist lyrics and the fact that Lorde wrote it at age 16, and the fact that she’s pretty, and the fact that she’s from another country – and hated it for the same reasons. Why can’t we agree on anything? This year was pretty weird: a teenager from Down Under had to defend her criticisms of materialism in the same year the pope denounced the culture of greed.
Rick Ross - U.O.E.N.O.
Technically not an album or a Rick Ross song, but Ross’ verse on Rocko’s single was bad news for the big man. Ross rapped about drugging a girl and having sex with her without her consent, which is about par for the course for hip-hop lyrics but not acceptable for a guy who doubles as a Reebok spokesman. Ross lost his endorsement and apologized, but the experience was most likely the second worst thing to happen to Ricky Rozay in 2013, after a drive-by shooting incident in Florida.
Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience
If you don’t know the back story, Timberlake was pretty much forced to record The 20/20 Experience thanks to a lucrative contract with LiveNation that required two albums and a tour. Thus, the 20/20 record was produced in just 20 days and it kinda shows. Everyone wanted Timberlake to get back in the studio, but getting two solid “B” albums out of the deal is a little unfulfilling. Plus, JT had his blue-eyed soul crown stolen by someone else on this list.
Beyoncé - Beyoncé
Jay Z had the second biggest release in the Carter family this year. Queen Bey’s secret, self-titled album dropped with nary a leak or advertisement, and caused such a ruckus that it broke iTunes and nearly crippled the Internet. This was the songstress version of a touchdown dance – not only can I score but I can look damn good while I do it. The fact that she released 14 tracks but 17 videos was the songstress version of spiking a football directly into Britney Spears’ face.
Chris Brown - X
Ok, so X is set to drop next year but you can’t ignore the year Brown had. He’s an evil monster in the court of public opinion and did himself no favors by fighting citizens and celebrities alike, fudging his community service hours, hitting-and-running (with a car, not his fists), and finally heading to rehab to complete the celebrity breakdown decathlon. Think about how much more Breezy we’ll get when he’s actually promoting music next year.
Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP 2
Em actually apologized to his mother on his latest album with a track called “Headlights.” However, he also took heat for homophobic lyrics on the new album, which you can also apply to basically every album he’s every released. This year added a new twist, as Slim appeared on a live ESPN college football broadcast and came off as… erratic, to say the least. For a guy with a past full of well-known drug issues, it was tough to watch, although Em himself chalked it up to being nervous on live TV.
Big Sean - Hall of Fame
This is sort of cheating, but Big Sean’s album paved the way for the biggest controversy in hip-hop this year with “Control.” The track never made the album but Kendrick Lamar’s incendiary guest spot called out nearly every big name in rap and dominated online chatter for weeks. The Verse That Launched A Thousand Diss Tracks didn’t exactly boost sales but it definitely made for good free press.
Jay Z - Magna Carta… Holy Grail
Look, any time you rank your own albums and put the newest release directly in the middle, you know you’ve dropped something mediocre. For all of the hype, the touring, the Illuminati talk, the Miley Cyrus name-drops, the shift to sports management, the Cuba trips, and the million other things Jay Z did in the past year or so to make headlines, it’s weird that the two best songs on his album were both 50 seconds long.
Lil Wayne - I Am Not A Human Being II
Weezy released another weirdo Martian album that was more notable for its incredible vulgarity than any of the actual music. Meanwhile, he was dropped as a Mountain Dew spokesman for rapping about civil rights martyr Emmett Till, stomped on an American flag and nearly died, like, twice.
Justin Bieber - Believe (Acoustic)
Did you know this album came out in 2013? Well, it helps sneak Bieber onto the list. Just the foreign highlight reel: he had a monkey confiscated in Germany, he desecrated the memory of Anne Frank in Amsterdam, he danced on the Great Wall of China and he (allegedly) slept with a prostitute in Brazil. That’s quite the vacation. In America he peed in a bucket and dissed Bill Clinton, which probably would have flown under the radar had he done it in, say, Norway or something. All in all, a banner year for the Bieber.
Robin Thicke - Blurred Lines
Oh boy. Any time Justin Timberlake gets out-Timberlake’d in a year in which he releases two albums, you know something big happened. That’s Robin Thicke, son of Alan Thicke, formerly a longhaired crooner who turned himself into a sex god thanks to a scintillating video and a really damn catchy song. But “Blurred Lines” became a lightning rod for all kinds of negative press, with critics and bloggers saying the track promoted misogyny, rape culture, sexism, drug use, racism and the use of goats in a music video. Then, Thicke was the target of a lawsuit for allegedly stealing “Blurred Lines” from Marvin Gaye. But the Thicke experience really hit a fever pitch when he linked up with this next girl…
Miley Cyrus – Bangerz
Miley’s year took a left turn when she dropped the video for “We Can’t Stop,” a cacophony of sexuality, racial appropriation, twerking and protruding tongues. Next came “Wrecking Ball,” in which Miley shows her sensitive side by licking a sledgehammer. Then came the MTV Awards performance, which cemented 2013 as “The Year We Realized That Miley Cyrus Has A Butt.” Poor Robin Thicke was a straw man for Miley’s furious gyrations, and sales of foam fingers shot through the roof.
Kanye West – Yeezus
It’s hard to separate the man from the album, so why bother? Yeezy and Yeezus made nonstop headlines all year, both positive and negative. Kanye actually collaborated on two controversial releases this year, if you count baby North West. It’s unclear whether Kanye’s best collaborator in 2013 was Rick Rubin, Kim Kardashian, or his own ego, but either way Ye was big this year.
This article was written by Evan Schwartz for Highsnobiety.com