Artist News

CMU Review Of The Year 2011: The artists and the music

By | Published on Friday 23 December 2011

Artist Review 2011

CMU Editor Andy Malt picks and reviews the big ten stories in the music world in 2011, from the major artist stories to the key musical trends.

Both the biggest and saddest piece of artist-related music news this year was the death of Amy Winehouse, aged just 27. The singer’s battle with drink and drugs was no secret, of course, but it did seem that she had managed to kick the latter. Still trying to ween herself off the drink, one final binge sent her five times over the drink-drive limit and proved too much for her body to take. She died in her sleep on 23 Jul.

In the months following her death, the Winehouse family set up a charity, The Amy Winehouse Foundation. Although its focus is not entirely clear, a key portion of its activities will be to lobby government to provide better support for young people battling drink and drugs. Meanwhile, this month a posthumous album (a compilation of studio outtakes, rather than her unfinished third long player), ‘Lioness: Hidden Treasures’, went to number one in the UK charts.

Two years after the death of Michael Jackson, his personal doctor Conrad Murray was finally brought to trial this autumn, accused of causing the singer’s death by negligently administering the surgical anaesthetic propofol. The doctor had been providing Jackson with the drug as a cure for insomnia in the run up to the singer’s 50 night residency at the O2 Arena in London, which, of course, never happened.

Although Murray’s legal team initially seemed confident they could secure a not guilty verdict, the prosecution’s aggressive arguments and the debunking of some of the defence’s key theories meant things looked bad for the doctor from the outset. He was found guilty in November and sentenced to the full four year jail stretch possible by Judge Michael Pastor, who seemed very angry that Murray had twice refused to speak in court but had given his side of the story to a TV documentary instead.

In one of the year’s more bizarre stories, two men were arrested near Joss Stone’s Devon home in June apparently on their way to kidnap and murder her. The men were stopped by police and found to have swords, rope and a body bag, aerial photographs of Stone’s home, and even notes detailing where to dump her body.

Eventually charged with conspiracy to commit robbery and conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm, Junior Bradshaw and Kevin Liverpool appeared in court three times this year. In October, Liverpool entered a not guilty plea, while Bradshaw is yet to plead either way.

Moving on to the business of actually making music, and Adele has undoubtedly been one of the biggest success stories of the music year, shifting millions of records on both sides of the Atlantic. And unusually for such a big seller, she’s signed to an independent label, Beggars Group’s XL Recordings.

2011 wasn’t all great for Adele though, as she failed to capitalise on her growing success in the States due to an ongoing throat problem, which forced her to postpone most of her US dates this year. She underwent surgery in November and is expected to make a full recovery. And as she says she is not planning to record another album for two years, there’s plenty of time to catch up.

You might have thought that the end of Oasis in 2009 meant the end of Noel and Liam Gallagher’s sibling bickering. But no. If anything, it escalated this year as both launched new projects – Liam releasing the debut album by Beady Eye (aka Oasis minus Noel) and Noel releasing his debut solo album. Despite much bravado on Liam’s part, Noel’s album far out-performed Beady Eye’s sales-wise.

But that wasn’t the half of it. The biggest Gallagher news came in the form of a disagreement over the details surrounding their former band’s split. In a press conference to announce his new projects in July, Noel claimed that Liam had cancelled a V Festival performance due to a hangover and attempted to place adverts for his Pretty Green clothing company in the final Oasis tour programme. Liam sued for defamation, then Noel apologised and Liam apparently dropped the case. Though in November Noel’s countersuit emerged, which suggests this will all rumble on into 2012.

Westlife and The Stone Roses get nestled together (as I’m sure they would wish to be) as the year’s biggest split and reunion respectively. Westlife decided to call it a day after fourteen years together in October, but not before a greatest hits compilation and one final tour, which will take place next spring. The split is apparently amicable, though it came only seven months after the band announced that they were leaving Simon Cowell’s Syco label and setting up camp at another Sony Music imprint, RCA, perhaps suggesting the end at least came quicker than anticipated.

It may have seemed like Westlife would never stop, but The Stone Roses had always insisted that they’d remain apart forever. When The Sun reported that a meeting at Mani’s mother’s funeral in April had convinced Ian Brown and John Squire to perform together again, the bassist reacted angrily, though it turned out in October that this was exactly what had happened. They will play three shows at Manchester’s Heaton Park next June, as well as numerous festivals, and are apparently working on new material.

She seems like something of a distant memory now, but for a brief period earlier this year Rebecca Black was the biggest pop star on the planet. Though for all the wrong reasons. Having made a music video with vanity record label Ark Music Factory to circulate amongst friends and family, her song ‘Friday’ went viral after featuring on the blog of US TV show ‘Tosh.0’, racking up millions of YouTube views in a matter of days.

As a result there was much analysis of the song and the bizarre company behind it, and Black herself was subject to horrendous abuse from many internet users. Undeterred, she announced that with new management and a top production team she would forge ahead with a serious pop career. Sadly, subsequent singles ‘My Moment’ and ‘Person Of Interest’ have failed to capture the public imagination. Still, with over 180 million views for ‘Friday’ (making it YouTube’s most watched video of 2011) who needs successful follow-ups?

What did Justin Bieber do in 2011? Well, he mostly carried on being Justin Bieber, although as he turned seventeen his squeaky clean image began to waver somewhat. There was the swearing at the paparazzi, the controversial interview in which he expressed his views on abortion, disobeying airline staff, getting a tattoo with his dad, crashing a Ferrari, and for the last few months a paternity case (albeit a highly dubious one).

But commercially the Bieber continued to deliver the goods. In February he released a movie, last month he released a Christmas album, and in between he found time to promote his own perfume, which has brought him millions of dollars already, and was recently pushed on fathers of teenage girls with some weird adverts. Oh, and he sold a lock of his hair for $40,000. He also had some eggs thrown at him. Good times.

Having spent over two years working on her eighth studio album, ‘Let England Shake’, PJ Harvey finally released it in February of this year, instantly setting critics’ hearts alight. The album’s songs all deal with wars throughout history, right up to the present day, and are written from the perspective of those involved, Harvey having read hundreds of first hand accounts as research.

The album brought Harvey her second Mercury Prize win (this time under better circumstances, the last one having been handed to her on 11 Sep 2001), a lifetime achievement gong at the NME Awards, Best Album at the Q Awards, and saw her appear in many an end of year list, including our own Artists Of The Year rundown. Few, if any, albums managed to unite people in praise to such a high level this year.

If 2010 was the year that dubstep attempted to break into pop, 2011 was the year it kicked the door down and went mainstream – polarising opinion on the matter wildly. Although they had first made moves into the popular consciousness the previous year, artists such as Magnetic Man, Katy B and James Blake helped to bring previously underground sounds to a much wider audience in 2011. And Skrillex‘s beefed up and dumbed down sound continued the trend over in the US, infiltrating even metal with his brand of the genre when he teamed up with Korn.

On the plus side, it meant there were new and interesting sounds in the charts, and the world of dance added new and innovative movements to its repertoire with it. On the negative side, we reached a point where dubstep was seen as an acceptable genre to soundtrack a Weetabix advert.

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