A look back at the highs and lows in pop culture from 2012.
The year in pop culture
The death of Whitney Houston
Happily, 2012 will be characterised by the effervescent jollity of Gangnam Style and Carly Rae Jepson’s Call Me Maybe. But the year began soberly with the news of Whitney Houston’s death at the age of just 48 in the bath of her Beverly Hills hotel room. Despite the warning signs – and there were many – it somehow seemed inconceivable that a singer synonymous with the carefree pop of I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me) and the lung-busting ballad I Will Always Love You was struggling so terribly in her private life. Depressing.
Carly Rae Jepsen
makes perfect pop song... maybe
There’s one easy way to measure the cultural currency of a song; how quickly it spawns YouTube covers. This year, everyone wanted a piece of Carly Rae Jepsen’s perfect pop tune, from lip-synced videos by Justin Bieber to versions by the US Military in Afghanistan and, er, the Cookie Monster. Number 1 in 19 x thanks to the nagging staccato strings of the chorus and its sheer happy-go-lucky evocation of teen infatuation, as a pop song, Call Me Maybe was flawless in its simplicity.
Karl Lagerfeld’s savvy cat
“I’m a famous beauty who refuses to eat on the floor and my maids pamper my every need. I am Choupette Lagerfeld and I am a spoiled pussy.” As ways of introducing yourself on Twitter this year, Chanel’s head designer Karl Lagerfeld’s cat took some beating. We learnt that little Choupette flies by private jet, is an iPad fan and sleeps in Chanel cast-offs. Sounds ridiculous? The joke is actually rather amusing – ‘If i wear red lipstick does that make me an alley cat?’ – and as Lagerfeld himself said, tongue firmly out of cheek, Choupette has become the most famous cat in the world, not least because she often disagrees with her owner. Catty indeed. Next!
Kim Kardashian is properly in love... for now
You will forgive us for suggesting, in this very same column last year, that Kim Kardashian’s approach to relationships was entirely based on the US$17.9 million she made from celebrity magazines eager to cover her 72-day marriage to basketball player Kris Humphries. What cynics we were, because Kardashian and Kanye West are the real deal, as proved by, er, a romantic trip to Rome for her birthday in October where, rather than gaze into each other’s eyes over pasta, she performed a wardrobe change in between courses. Still, after causing a near-riot in Bahrain outside a Millions of Milkshakes shop, it pays to be prepared – and she does have a lot of new clothes to get through. West bought her a whole new wardrobe last month. Celebrity lurve, huh?
When the British boy band One Direction – who, let’s remember, finished third in The X Factor in 2010 – released their second album Take Me Home in November, the frantic reaction sparked scenes not witnessed since Beatlemania. Well, maybe since New Kids on the Block. There were 1D hair straighteners, a 1D fragrance, and Morgan Spurlock began filming a documentary. Oh, and there was the small matter of Take Me Home topping the charts in a frankly ridiculous 35 different countries, including the US, and selling more than one million records in its first week. Why is this? They’re cheeky chaps without being too threatening (which means lads think they’re all right, mums would like to ruffle their hair and girls can imagine dating them), their pop-rock is the defining sound of the charts and they’ve worked ridiculously hard. The UAE date is surely (hopefully) a matter of months away.
Pussy Riot shock Russia
It was cast as President Putin vs Punk, and sadly, in the end, nobody really won. Russian headlines said that the Russian feminist band Pussy Riot had incited “religious hatred” by recording a performance of Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away! in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. Really, it had been a political act of defiance and in March, to global uproar, they were arrested for “hooliganism”. And while the support of Madonna, Lady Gaga, Green Day, Paul McCartney and many more actually embarrassed the trio – they’re all part of the capitalist system they despise, apparently – no amount of pressure helped. In August, they were sentenced to two years in a penal colony.
Jennifer Lopez becomes all powerful
We do like a good list at The National. So when Forbes released its countdown of the most powerful celebrities on the planet in 2012, we expected to see Steven Spielberg, or Oprah Winfrey. Maybe even Justin Bieber. You know, people who make a contribution to the important business of distracting us from the drudgery of daily life. But no. Jennifer Lopez, who has neither released a good album or been in a good film since about 2001, apparently lords it over all pop culture. How this has come to pass, nobody appears to know. She was a judge on American Idol and crops up on L’Oreal adverts now and then, but when she performed in Dubai months later, the November 22 gig was sold out.
Pippa Middleton and the British Royal Family
Of course, Pippa is only the sister of the future queen of Britain. So she probably thought – despite essentially featuring on the internet behemoth Mail Online every day – that going to a risqué fancy dress party dressed as Marie Antoinette was fine. It wasn’t fine, however, for her to be snapped in a car the next morning with a guy waving a gun – even if it was an imitation one. Maybe that’s why poor Pippa’s guidebook to planning a party was a complete flop (but spawned a fantastic parody Twitter account, @pippatips). Still, at least such larks didn’t put off her brother-in-law Harry, whose Las Vegas holiday snaps were, shall we say, revealing. The paparazzi are controversial. But the royal family don’t half make it easy for them.
Psy does Gangnam Style
Eh... sexy lady! In July, a stocky, 34-year-old South Korean uploaded his latest single to YouTube. He may not have had huge hopes for it; after all, it somehow juxtaposed a critique of a posh area of Seoul with a dance move involving riding a pretend horse – and was almost entirely in Korean. Five months later, however, Psy’s Gangnam Style is the most watched video ever on YouTube and was enjoyed by a staggering one billion people. There are parody versions by the students of Eton, even Christmas lights on English houses have been set to the music. No wonder, then, that Psy was hailed by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, as a “force for world peace”. Warring factions solving their problems by pretending to ride horses to a dance beat? We’d like to see it.
Chris Brown and Rihanna:
the saga continues
In September, Rihanna released Diamonds. In the video, she hangs on to the arm of a man clearly meant to be Chris Brown – who would later appear on her seventh album, Unapologetic. This, if anyone needs reminding, is the man with whom, as Rihanna told police three years ago, she was engaged in an “ongoing and escalating abusive relationship”. As she broke down on Oprah Winfrey’s show, telling the world he was still the love of her life, Brown and Rihanna’s will-they, won’t-they love was certainly the most compelling love affair of the year. If, indeed, you can call dating a man who is on probation for beating you up a romance. At least Rihanna remained in charge. After seeing that Brown had stepped out with his ex-girlfriend, Karrueche Tran, she seemed ready to move on, tweeting: “Examine what you tolerate. Goodbye.” Although the wording may have been slightly stronger than that.
Tig Notaro makes fun of cancer
When the US comedian Tig Notaro walked on to a West Hollywood stage in August, she wasn’t really in the mood. Two days before, the 41-year-old found out she had breast cancer. In the previous four months she’d had pneumonia, nearly died from a gut infection, split up from her partner and buried her mother. Reckoning that things couldn’t get much worse, her opening line was: “Good evening, hello! I have cancer, how are you?” and she then proceeded to improvise a brilliantly hilarious, life-affirming set. Fired by word of mouth – and the fact her performance was recorded and swiftly available for download on the Emmy-winning Louis CK’s website – Notaro became hot property almost overnight, signing a book deal and hammering the chat show circuit. But best of all, the cancer is now in remission.
Winner of The Voice, Mourad Barouki
When The National spoke to the rising Dubai hip-hop star Fadl recently, talk immediately turned to The Voice. “It’s all my parents watch,” he laughed. “I’m beginning to think they’re obsessed with it.” It was an experience matched in homes across the Emirates and the Middle East, as the Moroccan singer Mourad Barouki swept to victory last week. It wasn’t a complete surprise – as The National noted before the final, he had the looks and the voice and really only needed a few rough edges knocked off. The chance to record with Lady Gaga’s producer RedOne is quite a prize, but the real winners were the audience: this was great television, showcasing some fantastic talent from the Arab world. And as One Direction prove, you don’t have to win a contest such as this to be successful.