From Kimye to e-cigarettes, Ben East rounds up the weird and wonderful pop-culture moments of 2013.
In pictures: the weird and wonderful pop-culture moments of 2013
The entertainment at Barack Obama’s second inauguration was a festival line-up we’d love to see. Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder, Lady Gaga, Soundgarden, Kelly Clarkson, the Glee cast and Beyoncé. Except, err, Beyoncé didn’t really sing. It may have appeared that she was vigorously emoting all the way through a majestic rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner, but a suspiciously large microphone covering almost all of her mouth gave the game away. She was miming. There was a Twitterstorm for about, ooh, a week, before Beyoncé had to admit that she’d not had time to rehearse and “sung along” with a pre-recorded track. The horror.
Do the Harlem Shake
What to do when even Gangnam Style gets a bit, well, passé? The Harlem Shake, clearly: 2013’s viral dance craze, which involved filming your co-workers randomly convulsing in fancy dress to the music producer Baauer’s electronica (or “trap”, as the kids call it) and then uploading the results to YouTube. Everyone from the Royal Opera House to the Norwegian army had a go, and when protesters did a version outside Mohamed Morsi’s headquarters in Egypt, it was fair to say that the Harlem Shake had gone global. As for Baauer, when asked how much money he made from the billions of views he got, he replied “[US]$1,000,000,000,000 [Dh3.67 trillion]”. He’s probably not joking.
Laying it on Thicke
Surely the most controversial song of the year, Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines has divided opinion. Either you think it’s no worse – or better – than hundreds of other libidinous R&B songs. Or if you can really be bothered to get worked up about it, it’s symptomatic of 21st-century moral decline. Whatever, Blurred Lines became the biggest song of 2013. Not the best: that honour goes to Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. But as Miley Cyrus’s twerking routine with Thicke at the VMAs proved, he did rather well out of the notoriety, even if it’s all a bit sleazy.
In a battle with Miley Cyrus to see who could be the most ridiculous child-star-turned-crazy-adult, Justin Bieber raised the bar pretty high. In New York he was accused of tattooing someone without a licence; in Germany, customs were on his case for the poor care of his “traumatised” pet monkey. In the Netherlands, he proposed aloud that Anne Frank might have been one of his fans, had she not had the inconvenience of hiding from the Nazis, and in London, he’d already made schoolchildren cry hot tears of exhaustion as he came on stage two hours late. And then he hit Dubai, where he was tackled by an overzealous fan on stage and fined for speeding in a Lamborghini.
Mohammed Assaf becomes an Idol
Usually, the winner of a talent contest can look forward to making a hit record. In One Direction’s case, coming first isn’t even important. But not many potential pop idols end up becoming a new Palestinian hero – such was the case with Mohammed Assaf, a wedding singer from Gaza brought up in a refugee camp and now an international star after winning Arab Idol. Perhaps it wasn’t such a surprise that he did: two mobile-phone companies were so taken with him that they offered cut-price texts when voting came around. And it hasn’t stopped there. Assaf is on a sell-out, nine-city tour of Canada and the US that wraps up on Saturday and will perform with Shakira at the World Cup in Brazil next year.
Kimye unveils North
Pity the poor offspring of pop stars. Zowie Bowie, for example, sensibly changed his name to Duncan Jones as soon as he could. Bob Geldof’s daughters Fifi Trixibelle, Peaches Honeyblossom and Little Pixie Frou-Frou somehow kept theirs. So will the first offspring of Kim Kardashian and Kanye West really call herself North in years to come? Will any potential sibling get saddled with “South”? Such were the questions exercising the finest pop commentators this summer – along with working out whether Kanye was serious when he compared himself to Steve Jobs, Walt Disney and Henry Ford. Oh, and he had a record out. He called it Yeezus. Messiah complex, much?
When Wrecking Ball was released in late August, the general consensus was that Miley Cyrus had produced a pretty decent modern pop ballad. And then the video was uploaded. “If people get past the point that I’m naked,” protested Cyrus, “you can tell that I actually look more broken than even the song sounds.” But that was the problem; no one could get past the fact the Hannah Montana star was in her birthday suit.
“Selfie” was named by none other than Oxford Dictionaries as 2013’s word of the year. And it has indeed become A Thing: there are so many memorable pictures from our favourite stars, it’s difficult to know where to start. Or end. So we’ll begin with the most inappropriate: Rihanna taking a picture of herself in Thailand with a slow loris – without realising that it’s a protected species. Two men were summarily arrested.
The scene at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service served as confirmation of the selfie’s new-found place in the English language. As the ceremony proceeded, the US president Barack Obama, the British prime minister David Cameron and the Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt were captured posing for a self-portrait like a group of excited teenagers.
Good girl gone bad
Sorry, it’s Rihanna again. There are places for pop stars to have photos taken of themselves before they upload them to Instagram. Bieber’s house appears to be the main location. Rihanna, however, probably should have engaged her brain before she whipped her iPhone out and started tweeting suggestive pictures of herself in a black jumpsuit and headscarf at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. Outraged? Actually, most people thought it was just a bit stupid – and quite enjoyed her concert in Abu Dhabi.
Anak’s the way to do it
You would have thought that speaking Arabic might be a requirement to appear on Arabs Got Talent. So when Jennifer Grout, 23, from Massachusetts, US, couldn’t answer a basic question about her name on the hit show, it didn’t look good. And then she started singing. The point at which the judges – and audience – realised that Grout wasn’t mucking about, and could genuinely perform the Arabic songs of Baeed Anak, was one of our favourite musical moments of the year. She didn’t win – but Grout wasn’t a gimmick either. As the Lebanese judge Najwa Karam told her: “You don’t speak a word of Arabic, yet you sing better than some Arab singers.”