The pop A-Z of 2013 - in pictures

From Morrissey's literary debut to Miley Cyrus and her wrecking ball, it's been a memorable year in the world of pop. Here, we recall the key moments, biggest trends and inexplicable hits
A to Z: Lily Allen
A is for Allen, Lily
That Keane cover for John Lewis is best glossed over, being as naff and mumsy a return to the fray as you could have feared for former pop retiree Lily Allen. We should dwell instead on Hard Out There, Allen’s actual comeback single, an audiovisual satire on 2013’s hottest topic: sexploitation in pop. Yes, it skewers the pop industry’s misogyny with a twinkle in its eye. But the video – in which a bevy of video honeyz gyrate suggestively – backfired somewhat, with Allen using scantily clad black women as props, just like all those other videos. Still, everyone is clicking, and talking, and there is an album due next year
Photograph: Ed Singleton
A to Z: David Bowie
B is for Bowie
At the beginning of January, a south London-born pensioner reminded us what surprises were, and on his 66th birthday to boot. Not even Bowie’s British record company knew about his new album, The Next Day, until a few days before it was announced; his first single in 10 years, Where Are We Now?, appeared on iTunes while most of his fans were still dreaming. The months that have followed included a box office-busting exhibition full of special treats; videos featuring stigmata, a couple shagging and Bowie shopping in what looked like a Spar; and music that made people forget about his two albums before that, Heathen and Reality
Photograph: Jimmy King
A to Z: Psy at Cannes
C is for Cannes…
… Attended this summer by South Korean rapper Psy, he of Gangnam Style infamy, who toured the film festival’s posh parties in his trademark circular shades with three bodyguards in tow. He drank, he danced, he was filmed for French TV, he posed for selfies with actor Naomie Harris. Just one problem: it wasn’t Psy, merely a random man dressed like him. “Seems like there’s another ME at Cannes…” the real Psy tweeted. “Say hi to him”
Photograph: Jules Annan/Barcroft Media
A to Z: Harry Styles with fans
D is for Directioners
The Directioners, One Direction’s Twitter fanbase, continued to get very cross indeed. When GQ magazine published a nudge-nudge-wink-wink article about Harry Styles staying “Up All Night to Get Lucky” @skateboardhoran led the charge with: “GQ NEEDS TO SHUT THE FUCK UP BEFORE I BREAK MY GLASS NAIL FILE IN TWO AND STAB THEM IN THE EYES.” There were death threats for footballer Gabriel Agbonlahor following a crunching tackle on Louis Tomlinson (who recently joined Championship side Doncaster as a non-contract player) during a charity football game, but @illumivato outdid them all, after requests for the band to follow her on Twitter went ignored, when she threatened to break her pet chihuahua’s neck and then posted hoax pictures of herself apparently doing just that
Photograph: Ian Gavan/Getty Images
A to Z: Emili Sandé
E is for Emili Sandé
As ubiquitous as air, heard as often as honking car horns, Emeli Sandé proved that saturation-level exposure is a surefire winner. To date, she’s on course to bag the biggest-selling album of 2013 with Our Version of Events, the debut album that performed the same feat in 2012. No twerking on thrones while throwing money in the air is required in her videos either; this Mr Whippy-haired Scot played a nurse prowling a hospital in her overcoat (My Kind of Love), and nobody complained. Take note, Rihanna
Photograph: PR
A to Z: Kanye West Jimmy Kimmel tweet
F is for Feuds
Thanks to social media, private grievances can spiral into public showdowns in minutes. Thus Wiley quit Glastonbury (“tight bastards”), Dizzee Rascal battered Radio 1 (“2 faced pricks”), Kanye West rained fire on Jimmy Kimmel (“YOU MANIPULATIVE MEDIA MUTHERFUCKER”) and Rihanna hit back at the Daily Mail’s Liz Jones (“a sloppy menopausal mess”). But Twitter’s undisputed beef champ for the second year running, testing to destruction the axiom that all publicity is good publicity, was rapper Azealia Banks. She badmouthed Lily Allen, Lady Gaga, Baauer, Pharrell, Perez Hilton, the Stone Roses and Disclosure, whom she described, with no apparent irony, as “really rude”
Photograph: PR
A to Z: Justin Bieber points at the paparazzi
G is for Gaffe
From fighting photographers to allegedly spitting on fans, 2013 saw Canadian heartthrob Justin Bieber turn bad boy with a series of gaffes and altercations. The biggest came during his European tour in April, when on a visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam he wrote in the museum’s guest book that he hoped the notable Holocaust victim “would have been a Belieber”. Though the museum defended his “quite innocent” comments, the backlash wasn’t pretty – as the media called him tasteless, thousands also took to social media to express their anger at the 19-year-old’s seeming disrespect. “I weep for humanity,” said one tweet
Photograph: Billy Farrell/Rex Features
A to Z: Harlem Shake YouTube still
H is for Harlem Shake
It already seems bizarre now, so god knows what future listeners will make of the year’s most unlikely hit. Nothing about Baauer's minimalist dance track screamed crossover until a daft viral dance craze happened to coincide with a change in US chart rules to reflect YouTube views, 103 million of which took the track straight to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Harlem Shake reached one billion views twice as fast as Gangnam Style and the meme caught on with everyone from Egyptian protestors to The Simpsons, but the whole fad was dead from overexposure by April. That's internet showbusiness
Photograph: PR
A to Z: James Blake
I is for Irony
At September’s Mercury prize awards, after introducing performer (and eventual winner) James Blake as James Blunt, host for the night Lauren Laverne sought the comfort of Twitter, and a hashtag: “Never felt better than I do tonight about artists who have fractionally dissimilar fore and surnames. #MercuryPrize #Irony”. Blake, to his credit, was kind about the mistake. “I certainly don’t care,” he said.
Photograph: Jon Furniss/Invision/AP
A to Z: Justin Timberlake at The 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards
J is for Justin Timberlake
Not many former boy band stars have started and finished the year with two freewheeling pseudo-soul albums, so in 2014, make your move, Lee from Blue. Six years of making films and getting married (to actress Jessica Biel) have certainly seen Justin Timberlake change, though. The 20/20 Experience Parts 1 and 2 featured sprawling songs about his Suit and Tie, Amnesia and Murder, but didn’t miss including a huge single (mega-ballad Mirrors was No 1 in February). The man who brought SexyBack remains a saucy old goat, however – the eight-minute Strawberry Bubblegum, for example, isn’t exactly about Hubba Bubba
Photograph: Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty
A to Z: Katy Perry performing at the Part of Me film premiere
K is for Katy Perry
The battle for top pop diva is full of paper tigers (and Queen references). Nowadays, sales are just part of the picture, with skirmishes over Twitter followers, YouTube views and perfumes flogged counting towards one’s net pop worth. This year, though, will be remembered as the year Katy Perry (“I am a champion”) roared, beating Radio Gaga in a straight race for a No 1 single (Roar trounced Applause). Over in the albums arena, the picture is less clear, with both Prism (Perry) and Artpop (Gaga) notionally underperforming , but Prism was ahead by a fingernail
Photograph: Buzz Foto /Rex Features
A to Z: Lou Reed performing in 2009
L is for Lou Reed
One Sunday morning in October, one man praised the dawning, as he died doing t’ai chi in his East Hampton home. The means of Lou Reed’s death, revealed later by his wife Laurie Anderson, may have seemed incongruous to many, but that’s just how the man would have wanted it. The musician who made rock properly laconic, made it hang, in the middle of the Swinging 60s with the Velvet Underground, leaves behind him a bigger legacy too: 22 wild, varied solo albums, some impressively sour interviews, and genres such as punk, noise and indie-pop that would have been very different without him
Photograph: John Smierciak/AP
A to Z: Jay Z
M is for Molly
A couple of years ago, “molecular” MDMA began fuelling the crass builds in US dance music, now known as EDM. It wasn’t long before that notoriously abstemious genre hip-hop took note, and rappers started rhyming the praises of this new muse (cf “molly water” in Chief Keef’s Hate Bein’ Sober, 2 Chainz’s verse in Nicki Minaj’s Beez in the Trap). “Molly” went overground this year, thanks in part to Jay Z, and his memorable couplet “I don’t pop molly/I rock Tom Ford”, and thanks in part to “Highly” Cyrus, whose recent enthusiasm for mary jane in Amsterdam was preceded by her keenness on “molly” in her hedonist manifesto, We Can’t Stop. Disclaimer: likely to cause nakedness on demolition equipment
Photograph: Joel Ryan/Invision/AP
A to Z: Pj and Duncan in 1996
N is for Nineties
Not all 90s flashbacks are welcome: consider Jake Bugg’s growing debt to Britpop blokiness or the lol-powered campaign to get Ant and Dec’s 19-year-old single Let’s Get Ready to Rhumble to No 1. But the likes of Disclosure, Rudimental, Storm Queen and Duke Dumont brought back rosier memories of the decade when house music and drum’n’bass regularly lit up the charts. They made the top 40 a slinkier, more surprising place and contributed to the UK’s most exciting crop of No 1 singles in years
Photograph: Iris Honold/Rex Features
A to Z: Huerco S
O is for Outsider house
Once upon a time, dance music that lacked synth breaks, foghorns or lyrics about clouds was patronisingly referred to as “intelligent dance music”. Now, in an age in which most music critics grew up on Autechre rather than Aerosmith, we have “outsider house”, the respectful catch-all term for any DJ who could appear on cult web channel Boiler Room but not in the main room at Warehouse Project. Coined by the virtuoso selector Ben UFO on Rinse FM, it’s quickly been adopted by the critical cognoscenti to pin down the hard-to-pin-down likes of Huerco S and Ron Morelli’s LIES crew, more influenced by Pere Ubu than Paul Oakenfold
Photograph: PR
A to Z: Morrissey In Concert in Seattle
P is for Penguin Classics
Many critics were unkind to Morrissey’s literary debut (sigh times 5,000, as Moz would say) but what did they expect? Autobiography’s cocktail of poetry, hilarity and inexhaustible bitterness is the perfect representation of the man himself. For every waspish character assassination and reheated feud, there’s a bright glint of self-awareness and a warm tribute to the power of music: “Blend noise and words and change the world” is a fine manifesto for any young band. Crucially, it’s very funny, Morrissey’s mischievous insistence on the Penguin Classics imprimatur being the best joke of all. As he writes of a teenage friend, “Anything forgiven of anyone who makes us laugh"
Photograph: Mat Hayward/FilmMagic/Getty
A to Z: Alex Tuner
Q is for Quiff
Alex Turner’s new ’do – part Richard Hawley rockabilly barnet, part LA scenester lick – heralded a new era for Arctic Monkeys. The band that didn’t name their fifth album eponymously, they told Q, as they find their simian moniker ridiculous now, unleashed a filthy transatlantic beast with AM, filtering northern rock swagger through West Coast-inspired hip-hop and funk. Turner has also acquired an American twang, reflecting the group’s new life in LA (we’ll forget his lyric from 2005’s Fake Tales of San Francisco, “You’re not from New York City, you’re from Rotherham”, shall we?). A Mercury prize nomination and their first UK top 10 hit in six years (Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High) confirmed the Monkeys’ return to the British big league regardless
Photograph: Phil Fisk for the Observer
A to Z: Daft Punk
R is for Robots
Other musicians had every reason to envy Daft Punk this year. The unwitting fathers of modern EDM spent more than $1m of their own cash on veteran session musicians and legendary studios in order to craft Random Access Memories, an eccentrically personal quasi-concept album about the music that shaped them. Then they masterminded an audacious, 10-week multimedia marketing campaign like no other. Finally, thanks to the ubiquitous Get Lucky, this colossal gamble paid off to the tune of 3m albums sold and several records broken. And they did it all without showing their faces. Bravo
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Observer
A to Z: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot
S is for Siberia
For most of us, being sent to Siberia was, until recently, a historic threat so distant as to have become faintly kitsch. Like cold war literary totem Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has been sent to a remote prison camp, presumably as punishment for going on hunger strike in protest at the 16-hour days that inmates in her previous labour camp were forced to work. Her husband assumes it is also to isolate her from the support of the wider world. To recap: the full extent of Pussy Riot’s “crime” was that they sang a faintly critical song, in a church
Photograph: Maksim Blinov/AFP/Getty Images
A to Z: Robin Thicke
T is for Thicke, Robin
A merkin-chinned, arch-eyebrowed 36-year-old American-Canadian, who told GQ his married-dad status made him the “perfect guy” to “make fun” of degrading women in a certain pop video (see X). An appropriate surname, then
Photograph: Brian Rasic/Rex Features
A to Z: 30 Seconds To Mars in Sweden
U is for Underground (the end thereof)
Across the industry, album sales are falling. So is the sky: Thirty Seconds to Mars, the “guitar” “project” of actor Jared Leto, recently scooped MTV’s best alternative act gong. But actually what used to be called “alternative” music may not be doing too shabbily, after all. Vampire Weekend are playing UK arenas this month. The National sold out two nights at London’s Alexandra Palace. Sigur Rós are playing Wembley Arena. Many will argue that these giant sheds are hardly the best place to savour their pet band’s subtleties, or whether these acts were ever really “underground” but still. Guitars: not dead
Photograph: Rex Features
A to Z: 'Viva Forever!' musical press night
V is for Viva Forever
Or should that be Viva Six-and-a-Bit-Months? Having opened in last December to stinking reviews, Viva Forever! – aka the Spice Girls musical – closed in the summer, seven months early, reporting losses of more than £5m. With backing from Simon Fuller, a script by Jennifer Saunders and an opening night that saw all five former Spices reunite on stage, the show surely should have been “everlasting, like the sun”, but proved instead to be the final nail in the coffin of the Spice Girls’ brand of girl power (see also W)
Photograph: Dan Wooller/Rex Features
A to Z: Haim in Copenhagen
W is for Woman Power
We’ve discussed one “W” – wrecking balls – and pop's hypersexual mood incessantly this year. Ironically, though, 2013 was also notable for the significant cadre of female musical operators making great music, without being forced to rope too many gyrating body parts into the sales pitch. We salute, then, the brains, ears, lips and fingers of Haim (pictured), Laura Mvula, Savages, Janelle Monáe, Lorde, Laura Marling, Angel Haze, Julia Holter and Anna Calvi, to name but the tip of the iceberg
Photograph: Suki Dhanda for the Observer
atoz: MTV Video Music Awards
X is for X-rated pop
A former child star fellating a sledgehammer, topless girls “empowering” themselves… 2013 felt like a tipping point for sexual presentation. Only for the girls, though; Robin Thicke hasn’t yet shown us the much-vaunted “big dick” in the video for Blurred Lines. In the red corner, Sinead O’Connor, Charlotte Church and Annie Lennox condemned an increasingly sexist music industry; in the blue, supporters of the clothes-free set talked up meta-narratives, and that old chestnut of irony. What was new this year: Billboard incorporating YouTube views into chart placings, which did prompt more videos including things lots of people watched online (naked women, apparently). An idea for 2014: the year of the straitjacket
Photograph: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty
Photograph: Jeff Kravitz/Getty
A to Z: Yeezus
Y is for Yeezus
Kanye West’s abrasive sixth album wasn’t built for airplay but when your interviews generate as much heat as most people’s hits that’s not necessarily a problem. Throughout 2013, on record and off, Kanye gave the impression of a man at war with a world that could never satisfy his galactic expectations, and Yeezus’s brutal mechanoid hip-hop proved as belligerently uncompromising as the man himself. A decade into his career, the man who claims to be both “the nucleus” and “the No 1 rock star on the planet” remains the most infuriating and mesmerising musician of his era
Photograph: AP
A to Z: Tom Odell
Z is for Zero-rated
Here at Observer towers we quite liked Tom Odell’s June album Long Way Down... But not so the NME’s reviewer Mark Beaumont who dished out the year’s most savage review (“I wish I could say there’s a place in Hell reserved for Tom Odell…”) and awarded it a score of 0 out of 10 and prompted a call of complaint to the magazine – from Odell’s dad
Photograph: Katherine Rose for the Observer


Kitty Empire, Dorian Lynskey, Tom Lamont, Leah Harper, Jude Rogers, Clive Martin and Nadia Khomami

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