Bruce Springsteen told us who we are and where we’re going with more passion and guts than all of the presidential debates combined. Infectious pop jingles from Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars made us giddy on EDM-dominated mainstream radio. And we mourned the loss of icons Whitney Houston, Donna Summer and our South Florida neighbor Robin Gibb.
Pop music in this election year was certainly a compelling talking point. Here are my picks for the top music, artists and developments of 2012:
• Album of the Year: Springsteen’s 17th collection was the year’s most topical. Swinging at the Great Recession and corporate greed, Wrecking Ball elevated the art of the character study story-song. That Springsteen managed to do so with some of the most joyous and anthemic music of his career speaks to his genius. Born to reign, indeed.
• Single of the Year: Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe, Taylor Swift’s We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together, Bruno Mars’ Locked Out of Heaven, fun.’s Some Nights, and Girl on Fire by Alicia Keys (featuring Nicki Minaj) — we can make a case for any of these pop delights. (Just don’t suggest the PSY guy who dropped that poisonous ear worm Gangnam Style on unsuspecting YouTube viewers.)
• Voice of her generation: On Red, her most mature set to date, 22-year-old Taylor Swift speaks to peers who can’t quite figure out why big love always seems to fizzle. Swift’s music grew beyond country to embrace Top 40 pop with unshakable hooks.
• You don’t look a day over 49: The Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys and Golden Earring ( Radar Love) all turned 50 this year. So did the recording careers of Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan and Dionne Warwick. Here’s to another, well, 20.
• Music competition shows stumbled: But, shocker, American Idol still managed to turn out an inescapable pop culture staple in winner Phillip Phillips’ fine coronation single, Home.
• Out: Buying Gleesongs on iTunes. In: Buying Nashville songs on iTunes.
• Mastered for iTunes: A decade ago, the music industry courted audiophiles with surround-sound Super Audio and DVD-Audio formats. But millions said, “Who cares about fidelity?” and opted for the instant gratification of the MP3 download. Apple’s iTunes Store tried to have it both ways with the Mastered for iTunes option on select albums.
• Skipping South Florida: Yes, we got the Madonna MDNA arena tour (the star’s tardiness notwithstanding), and Swift’s sold-out Red Tour is coming in April. But numerous mega tours including Springsteen, Kanye West and Streisand took a pass on Miami-Dade and Broward this year. The most happening venues were the well-run Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, which did good business with classic rock, R&B and country acts, and The Fillmore Miami Beach, which caters to an alternative crowd.
• Better late than never: Canadian power trio Rush finally got into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. OK, Kiss Army, you’ll get yours next year.
• RIP: In addition to Houston, Summer and Gibb, Davy Jones, Ravi Shankar, Dave Brubeck, Adam Yauch, Marvin Hamlisch, Jimmy Castor, Don Cornelius, Kitty Wells, Andy Williams, Bob Welch and Hal David left us in 2012. We salute you.
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.