At the start of 2013, I decided I had reality singing competition fatigue. And so, I went cold turkey. For the first year since before Popstars and Idol began, I didn't watch anyone's "journey" or endure another big band week. As big a pop fan as I am, I just couldn't sit through any more seasons of Idol, The X Factor or The Voice - from anywhere in the world - after years of watching multiple versions of each.
|Would Union J have been bigger if they'd had "the blond one"?|
Coincidentally, you won't be seeing Harrison Craig, Dami Im, Sam Bailey, Candice Glover or any other 2013 reality show winner feature in this list. Even though I didn't tune in, if any of them had released a half-decent single since their respective shows ended they could still have made the grade. But, they didn't. As it turns out, there are already more than enough former reality contestants releasing good music - and here's one now...
Number 80 "Loving You" by Matt Cardle / Melanie C
The seventh season of The X Factor UK, which took place in 2010, was a pretty good one - and thanks to the wonders of YouTube, I managed to watch all the live finals. Besides winner Matt, finalists included One Direction, Rebecca Furgeson, Aiden Grimshaw and Cher Lloyd, all of whom are still recording. It was also the year of Wagner, so there is that. Like many winners before him, Matt "parted ways" with Syco Records after just one album but has continued to release music independently. I never paid that much attention to his output until this lead single from his third album, Porcelain, which not only featured Sporty Spice (whose commitment to the cause extended to making out with Matt in the music video), but also gave him his highest chart position in the UK in two years.
Number 79 "The Bait" by Electric Guest
Formation dancing in music videos gets me every time - and the cute clip for this indie pop song by the LA band was always going to grab my attention. The song's pretty good, too - and sounded like nothing else I was listening to this year.
Number 78 "Of The Night" by Bastille
Number 77 "Broken Record" by Little Boots
It may have been because it didn't have the major label support that her debut album, Hands, had or it might have been down to the fact that its singles were more subtle than tracks like "Remedy" and "New In Town". Whatever the reason for Little Boots' second album, Nocturnes, and its associated singles not performing as well on the UK chart, it certainly wasn't because they weren't as good. We'll see another track from the album shortly...
Number 76 "Wild" by Jessie J featuring Dizzee Rascal and Big Sean
She's one of the most polarising pop stars around - and I have to say I find Jessie J's amped up persona and over-singing a bit much to take at times, too. Together with the radical hair change (which may or may not have been an improvement on her previous look) and the Gaga-esque bikini as outerwear styling, she was certainly hard to miss this year. "Wild" was my favourite track from her second album, Alive, which I find best enjoyed in small doses.
Number 75 "Take Off" by Conor Maynard
Britain's Bieber released the first single from his forthcoming second album in 2013. This wasn't it. Instead, "Take Off" is an album track from his debut, Contrast, that I thought could have been a hit. The song title was also the name of one of those ridiculous "autobiographies" twentysomething pop stars put out to squeeze even more money out of their must-have-it-all fan bases. As for that single from album number two? "R U Crazy" was OK, but I'm hopeful there'll be better on the album when it surfaces in 2014.
Number 74 "Satellite" by Little Boots
Here she is again: the artist born Victoria Hesketh with the fifth and final (to date) single from Nocturnes. Besides this song and "Broken Record", which we saw at number 77, third single "Motorway" ranks as my number 138 for the year, while the album is my third favourite for 2013.
Number 73 "Hold On, We're Going Home" by Drake featuring Majid Jordan
I'm an occasional fan of Drake's - and, as usual, it's a slow jam that makes my list this year. In 2010, it was "Find Your Love"; in 2011, it was "Take Care" with Rihanna; and in 2013, it was this second single from the Nothing Was The Same album. Featured act Majid Jordan is actually a duo: Majid Al Maskati and Jordan Ullman, a fact I wasn't aware of until just now.
Number 72 "Music To Make Boys Cry" by Diana Vickers
Another former UK X Factor contestant - this time from the fifth season in 2008 (which also spawned Alexandra Burke and JLS). Diana finished fourth, hit the UK number 1 spot with her debut single, "Once", and... parted ways with RCA (not quite Syco, but close enough) after one album. This is the title track from her eventual second album (it took three years), which we'll hear more about shortly...
Number 71 "Soothe My Soul" by Depeche Mode
One of the highlights of my year was getting to see Depeche Mode play the O2 Arena in London while I was there on holidays in May - the first concert of theirs I've seen since 1994. It was worth the wait and one of the best shows I've been to in ages. Matters were helped by the fact that the gig was to promote Delta Machine, which was a much better album than their previous one, Sounds Of The Universe - and this second single was easily the best track on it.
Number 70 "NYC" by Dido
Blast from the past, hey? Dido was to the early '00s what Adele has been to the early '10s - and then... nothing. She did return after a five-year break in 2008 with a new studio album and then again earlier this year with another - but both Safe Trip Home and Girl Who Got Away sold a fraction of the amount of copies that either No Angel or Life For Rent did. With Christmas approaching, what better time to whack out a best of? An unexpected bonus was that "NYC", the sole new track on Greatest Hits, is the best thing she's done in about a decade.
Number 69 "Closure" by Owl Eyes
Just for a change, here's a former contestant from an Australian reality show - Australian Idol, in fact. Brooke Addamo made the top 12 (she came 11th) in the sixth season of the show - Wes Carr was that year's winner - and now records under the name Owl Eyes. After a few years spent releasing EPs, she unveiled her debut album, Nightswim, in 2013. The Fleetwood Mac-referencing "Closure" was one of the singles lifted from it and fits in perfectly with all the other ethereal synthpop I listen to.
Number 68 "Burn" by Ellie Goulding
Speaking of... here's one of the leading purveyors of dreamy electronic pop music. "Burn" was a new track added to the repackage of Halcyon (called, what else, Halcyon Days) and it ended up becoming one of Ellie's most successful singles so far. Another big hit for Ellie in 2013 was her Calvin Harris collaboration, "I Need Your Love", but I think her voice suits songs like "Burn" more than harder-sounding dance tracks like that.
Number 67 "Center Of The Universe" by Axwell
Number 66 "Cinderella" by Diana Vickers
OK, back to Diana. "Cinderella" was the lead single from Music To Make Boys Cry, an album that was entirely co-written by Xenomania's Miranda Cooper and co-produced by ex-Scritti Politti member David Gamson. Given their involvement, the synthpop feel of the album wouldn't ordinarily be that surprising, but Diana left RCA Records because she apparently wanted a less commercial, more indie rock feel. Guess she changed her mind on that front.
Number 65 "Carry You" by Union J
Just for something different... more former X Factor UK finalists - I told you there were plenty of them around. Formed in 2012 during the ninth season out of three-piece Triple J (Josh Cuthbert, JJ Hamblett and Jaymi Hensley) and solo contender George Shelley, the new pop union (see what they did there?) ended up finishing fourth (James Arthur was the winner).
Although they've been nowhere near as successful as One Direction (despite a bizarre inclusion in Kick-Ass 2 clearly aimed at breaking them in the US), Union J did release my second favourite single by a boy band in 2013 - besting 1D, The Wanted, and old-timers Blue and NKOTB. My favourite boy band song for the year? We'll get to it in Part 4, and it's by another former X Factor UK group.
Number 64 "World On Fire" by The Royal Concept
It's back to Scandinavia for an electro-rock single by this band, that I discovered thanks to an Entertainment Weekly "Like this? Try..." feature. I can't remember which act The Royal Concept was compared to - but I liked this song anyway, so thanks for the recommendation, EW.
Number 63 "One More Summer" by No Doubt
Next, an album track double play. As a general rule, I wait for an artist to finish releasing official singles from an album before I start deciding what songs they've overlooked and give them the attention they deserve. So, after the under-appreciated Push And Shove album was more or less abandoned at the end of 2012 following two under-performing singles, I latched on to this '80s-sounding track in 2013.
Number 62 "Glassheart" by Leona Lewis
As I write, Leona is enjoying her biggest hit in some time with her festive single, "One More Sleep", but she lands here with this dance track from her 2012 album of the same name. Exactly why Leona's career has gone so wrong since the success of her debut album is unclear - although bad single choices and confusion about what type of artist she is have certainly played a large part.
Number 61 "Right Now" by Rihanna featuring David Guetta
Christmas 2013 marks the first festive season since 2008 that Rihanna hasn't had a new album out, which means Unapologetic has had a longer shelf life than any of her albums since Good Girl Gone Bad - and that was given a boost by a repackage a year after its initial release. Despite not instantly being followed up or revamped, Unapologetic hasn't had that many massive singles - really only "Diamonds" and "Stay" - but this David Guetta collaboration was one of four other tracks lifted from the album. "Right Now" is much better, in my opinion, than their 2010 single, "Who's That Chick?", so I'm pretty surprised it didn't do better.
In Part 3: a singer with her best single since the early '90s, a rapper with his best single in almost a decade and yet another DJ from Sweden.
MY YEAR-END CHARTS