Carly Rae Jepsen's Call Me Maybe was inescapable and deliriously catchy. Photo: Getty Images
Pop music became even more democratic in 2012. With our attention spans seemingly shrinking even further, it felt like singles and viral videos, rather than artists or albums, noisily jostled to dominate the pop music conversation at various times through the year.
It's worth noting that the current number one single on the ARIA charts is a song called Thrift Shop by a previously unknown rapper trading under the moniker Macklemore. Sure, the track is released through a small indie label, which is not a big deal anymore.
Rihanna released another album. It may not surprise you that she appeared naked on its cover.
The more salient point to its success is that the song's clever video was viewed on YouTube and various video sites more than 20 million times before it began its run at the top of the charts. That path to number one is not unique.
So with the concept of purchasing an album (be it CD or vinyl) perceived as almost quaint for a growing segment of Australian music fans, the way we consume music continues to evolve. For instance, thanks to Spotify's arrival in Australia this year, we began to stream tracks almost as much as we downloaded.
Still, while the technical side of the business progressed in many ways, plenty of things didn't change in pop music.
One example: for the seventh year in a row, the calamitous Caribbean pop star Rihanna released another album. It may not surprise you that she appeared naked on its cover.
A list of wonderful musicians, headlined by the Bee Gees' Robin Gibbs, the great vocalist Whitney Houston, disco queen Donna Summer and the Beastie Boys' Adam Yauch passed away.
Something else that did not change: Chris Brown is still arguably the most obnoxious man in pop music.
If 2011 was the year Adele Atkins dominated sales charts and best-of lists, 2012 was decidedly more egalitarian. This year, for instance, there was no chance to herald the emergence of a clear worldwide sales phenomenon.
Perhaps the closest we got to that was the British-Irish quintet One Direction. During a truncated visit that was anchored by an appearance at the Logie Awards in April, Melbourne experienced something akin to Beatlemania.
Indeed, the impossibly good-looking lads pulled off the most successful pop music promo tour in almost a decade. By the time they departed, thousands of hearts were broken and Channel Nine's coffers swelled as the network, which conceived the tour and marketed the band outside of regular pop tour promoters, cannily put tickets on sale for a concert tour that was to be held in – we're not joking – 18 months. It promptly sold out.
Likewise Taylor Swift – who is now dating a member of One Direction – expanded her fan base to a level that can be described as something close to phenomenal.
Once an artist anchored in country music, Swift has managed to pull off something quite remarkable - she is now a pure pop act – but has retained her country fan base. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together was yet another break-up kiss-off.
How long can she keep this up? The song was a massive number one hit and this year she dated a boy band member and a Kennedy, so who knows?
Just because Adele didn't release a new album in 2012 doesn't mean she was not a massive part of the pop year. Her Skyfall single for the Bond movie of the same name was a big hit and she stole the show at the Grammys in February. Her triumphant performance helped continue the momentum that has led to her second album, 21, moving past the 10 million sales mark in the US. No other artist has done that in the past decade.
Justin Bieber's growing pains continued. Having released his first 'adult' album Believe, he was snubbed by Grammy voters (which, of course, sparked a Twitter storm from his youthful fan base) and endured a couple of minor missteps. What's next? It's hard to say. Although his transition to adulthood could prove painful.
Something positive that Bieber did to influence pop culture this year was his championing of the Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen and her irrepressible single Call Me Maybe. Frivolous lyrically, deliriously catchy and relentlessly upbeat, as a single of the year contender, Call Me Maybe was damn near unimpeachable. Yes, it was inescapable this year, but for good reason.
But it was Simple Song, the near-perfect comeback single from the American rock band pseudonym of James Mercer, The Shins, that prevailed as the year's best single. The track's greatness is not immediately obvious on the first couple of listens. However, a few months on its charms were still being revealed. Mercer wrote the song in difficult circumstances as his bandmates were departing the group.
Like Los Del Rios' Macarena and Lou Bega's Mambo No. 5, this year produced a genuine worldwide novelty hit. Korean popstar Psy's mischievously catchy Gangnam Style was an amusing diversion from the more earnest side of pop. And it too began life on YouTube, where it is now the most-viewed pop music video of all-time. Psy, we envision, is here for a good time, not a long time.
The American band fun. appeared to be heading down the path of one-hit wonderdom when they broke through with We Are Young. Yet they promptly confounded expectations by releasing a second single, Some Nights, which was just as good.
Although it was released last year, The Black Keys' album El Camino became a genuine blockbuster in 2012. Repeated listens over the year revealed a cluster of great singles: Dead and Gone, Gold on the Ceiling, Nova Baby, Little Black Submarines. It was strange then that their sold-out show at Melbourne's Myer Music Bowl felt so ... disconnected.
The best R'n'B album of the year was Frank Ocean's channel ORANGE. Ocean bravely stepped out of the closet in the lead-up to the album's release – a bold move for an African-American in a world where homophobia is prevalent. The controversy in the end was rendered irrelevant by the album's quality. It's a classic.
Bruce Springsteen returned with his E-Street Band, delivering a provocative, exhilarating new album, Wrecking Ball. It proved to be his best work in a long time.
Youthful Perth act San Cisco had a terrific 2012. They followed their breakout 2011 hit with two strong singles: Rocket Ship and Wild Things. Hopefully there's plenty more where that came from.
Although his career-defining hit Somebody That I Used To Know was released more than 18 months ago, Gotye continued his ascent in 2012. He had the biggest-selling single of the year in the UK, a two-month chart-topping run in the US, where he also completed a hugely lucrative sold-out arena tour, and was nominated for a handful of Grammys. Life is great for Wally De Backer. The best bit: it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
American group Passion Pit endured a torrid year. The group did release their best single yet, Take A Walk. It told the moving tale of an immigrant wrestling with his family's burdens. However frontman Michael Angelakos was hospitalised, battling issues with bi-polar, and the group was forced to cancel several tour dates.
Flirty American pop beanpole Ke$ha waited until almost the end of the year to drop Die Young, her deceptively great single from the super-producer Doctor Luke. It has already topped the US charts.
At the Grammys, the takeover of pop music from what the Americans earnestly call EDM (electronic dance music) was obvious. In July, the US edition of rock bible Rolling Stone even dedicated its summer double issue to the rise of acts such as Deadmau5, Avicii and Swedish House Mafia. Locally, all three acts are massively popular.
A rash of comeback singles from big American acts flopped spectacularly. After 11 years away, No Doubt's peppy Settle Down was unfairly neglected locally. Likewise for their new album Push and Shove.
This year Green Day, once deemed the biggest rock band in the world, released a staggering three albums. However not one song from any of those three records generated the interest of Australian radio stations.
Absent Las Vegas rockers The Killers initially showed promise of returning to their best with the single Runaways. The subsequent album Battle Born proved a commercial disappointment. We're expecting it to sound better live at their upcoming Big Day Out shows.
At least those acts didn't suffer the fate of Nelly Furtado, Mika, Joss Stone or Santigold. For if you were to assess the impact of their comeback albums on buzz and/or sales figures, those acts need not have bothered. It seems we've moved on.
Similarly, forgotten 1990s electro-rockers Garbage were unable to muster much audience enthusiasm for what was admittedly a pretty good new album, their first since 2005.
The reformation of The Smashing Pumpkins (well, Billy Corgan and some younger musicians) seemed to go OK. The new album Oceania was a little bloated, though.
Canadian electro star Claire Boucher, otherwise known as Grimes, had a breakout year. Many US publications are already hailing Oblivion as the single of the year. Others to do well in indie-land: New York indie troupe Grizzly Bear and Britt Daniel's super-group Divine Fits.
28-year-old Chicago bluesman Garry Clark Jr. made an impressive major-label debut with Black and Blu.
Many accused Mumford and Sons, who sold a staggering 600,000 copies of their second album Babel in its first week of release in the US a couple of months ago, of making the same album twice. Yet, the truth is Babel is a big step forward. The album highlight, Hopeless Wanderer, is their best song yet. They are now comfortably one of the most successful pop acts in the world.
1970s rock obsessives Band of Horses produced another fine album, Mirage Rock.
Californian indie pop seductress Bethany Cosentino, who leads the band Best Coast, also took some strides forward this year. Her second BC album The Only Place is a big hit.
John Mayer, last seen on a date with Katy Perry, continued to charm his way around the US and released another OK album of modest guitar-pop called Born and Raised.
The most boring backlash of the year belonged to the dramatic, highly stylised American singer Lana Del Rey. After a weak appearance on Saturday Night Live back in January, the amount of articles ruminating on her and her music was just tedious.
More intriguing was the success in Australia of the teenage British singer Birdy. She released an album that featured mostly acoustic covers of indie-pop songs from acts such as Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver and found herself atop of the ARIA charts. Her influence reached the Australian edition of The X Factor, where, to much acclaim, teenage contestant Bella Ferraro mimicked her rendition of Bon Iver's Skinny Love.
Melbourne trio Something For Kate reunited and swiftly justified their decision with a superb new album, Leave Your Soul To Science and an outstanding tour that reflected both the potency of their union and just how much they have been missed.
Label mates Oh Mercy, led by Collingwood's Alexander Gow, delivered something of a reinvention this year. Their excellent, groove-laden third album Deep Heat was an instant classic and contained two of the year's best singles: Drums and the superb My Man, which was also covered later in the year by Sarah Blasko.
Ms Blasko, for her part, released another strong album called I Awake. Also demonstrating significant progress this year: Melbourne six-piece Alpine and eccentric singer-songwriter Bertie Blackman, whose under-appreciated album Pope Innocent X was a corker. Veteran Australian rockers Grinspoon also returned with their best album in some time, Black Rabbits.
There were some terrific singles provided by some acts you could safely describe as novices. Sydney indie-pop newbies Sticky Fingers delivered Clouds and Cream; Loon Lake enjoyed plenty of airplay with Cherry Lips; and Melbourne's Chet Faker broke through to alternative radio with I'm Into You.
Triple J's Unearthed competition, which boasts recent graduates such as Husky, Emma Louise and Ball Park Music, had another excellent year. Its most notable graduates this year: charming indie rockers The Rubens and the chart-topping electronic act Flume, who had an ARIA top five album.
Guy Sebastian may have missed out at the ARIA awards last month, but he had the last laugh: Battlescars, his collaboration with the American rapper Lupe Fiasco, became his biggest hit yet and delivered his first invitation to appear on David Letterman's Late Show.
Melbourne's Seth Sentry continued his ascent, as did Lisa Mitchell, who is maturing into a fine songwriter.
Melbourne's World's End Press released the very fine single Second Day Uptown. With Idea of Happiness, Sydney's underrated Van She dropped their best single yet; shame the album of the same name did not progress from there.
Two Australian hip-hop acts had huge years: Melbourne rapper 360 and Adelaide trio Hilltop Hoods both boasted big album and concert ticket sales. Sydney's Urthboy released another very strong, diverse album.
Melbourne-via-London band The Temper Trap returned a second self-titled album, and their best single yet, Trembling Hands. It did not get the sales or attention it deserved.
Melbourne rockers Children Collide released a single called Sword To A Gunfight that sounded as if it was recorded by Kasabian. Their album Monument was solid; they still appear to have their best ahead of them, though.
Missy Higgins, Australia's most popular female singer-songwriter (and maybe our most charming), returned after a five-year gap between LPs. The cowbell-enhanced single Unashamed Desire was embraced warmly - her fan base returned to her in big numbers.
Brisbane pop twins The Veronicas debuted the single Lolita mid-year. How did it go? Well, plans to release a new album soon after were scrapped. It seems that it's back to the drawing board.
Several local acts returned from long absences to fanbases that appeared to have moved on. Kiwi expat Ladyhawke's album Anxiety was a flop. And the Sydney electronic duo Presets, one of the biggest live acts in the country only a couple of years ago, have found their album Pacifica a surprisingly tough sell.
Less of a slog was Perth's psychedelic rockers Tame Impala's Lonerism, which won international acclaim as well as Triple J's Australian album of the year award. Rightly, the band's group of admirers continues to grow.
Just as Weezer announced their first Australian tour since 1996, Jeff The Brotherhood, another American rock band trading on crunchy guitar riffs and catchy lyrics, emerged. The simple, charming two-minute rocker Sixpack was a highlight for rock fans this year.
Meanwhile, not only did Natasha Khan's new Bat For Lashes album possess some of the most revealing cover-art of recent times, it boasted one of the best singles of 2012 with the plaintive Laura.
For lovers of great pop music, it's an unadulterated pleasure to watch something truly unlikely slowly break through to commercial radio. The success then of Iceland six-piece Of Monsters and Men was something to behold this year. Their outstanding single Little Talks is now, unfathomably, being played on Triple M and has become a worldwide hit. Now a staple of the ARIA charts, it's the little song that could. Happily the band will tour here early next year.
Devon stadium rockers Muse had a strange year. Survival, their official anthem for the London Olympics was considered by most a pompous piece of drivel. Yet a couple of months later they released Madness, their best single for ages. Their sixth album, The 2nd Law, will be a big seller for months to come.
In April, a retro-flavoured rock album titled Boys & Girls was released by a band called Alabama Shakes. Hailing from, yes, Alabama, it was home to one of the most striking singles of 2012, Hold On.
Although The Black Eyed Peas stayed mercifully quiet, Will.I.Am returned to radio late in the year with the inexplicably catchy Scream and Shout. The song appeared to exist for two reasons: for Will.I.Am to recycle some old Black Eyed Peas beats and to reinsert the "Britney, bitch" line into the pop culture conversation. Mission accomplished.
In November, two of the most-anticipated tours of the year graced our shores: Coldplay and Radiohead. The latter's arena shows were masterful displays of sonic and visual wizardry. Still Coldplay's show was more enjoyable.
Oasis and Arctic Monkeys sound-alike Jake Bugg also emerged late in the year with swagger to spare on the terrific single Two Fingers.
The mercurial M.I.A. continued to impress and infuriate. Her petty, obnoxious flipping of the bird on stage with Madonna at the Superbowl was meant to be provocative. It was simply boorish. Instead, her impressive single Bad Girls was her best moment of 2012.
New York indie troupe Dirty Projectors returned this year with maybe their strongest single yet – Gun Has No Trigger.
Jack White comfortably left behind the legacy of the White Stripes behind for his first solo album Blunderbuss. His fans moved with him.
Grunge heroes Soundgarden released a new album called King Animal. Not many people paid attention. In contrast, Britpop legends Blur released two excellent new singles and a lot of people cared. More please, lads.
The Summer Olympics came and went from London. The most notable element for music fans was the outstanding use of pop music in the opening ceremony.
Charming American pop wunderkind Bruno Mars also proved he is in for the long-haul: his single Locked Out of Heaven is as good as anything he has released as a solo act.
Potty mouthed rapper Azealia Banks whetted our appetites last year with the irresistible single 212; this year she captivated all on her first Australian tour. Her debut album should be massive when it drops next year.
While Brisbane singer Emma Louise may be a bit more demure, her superb single Boy was one of the year's truly great pop moments. Her debut album next year is an intriguing prospect.
Meanwhile despite the assertions of Modular label boss Steve Pavlovic that 2012 would indeed be the time for a second Avalanches album, there is, alas, no sign of the most long-awaited Australian release of all-time. Perhaps 2013 will be the year?
One act who did return after a long time away was mercurial singer-songwriter Fiona Apple. Her comeback album contained another ludicrously long title and some riveting, shockingly candid songs. An exhaustive (and exhausting) profile in New York magazine was probably the most notable piece of pop music journalism this year. The magazine reported later in the year that Apple cut off her US tour promoting the album due to the illness of her pet pit bull.
In the UK, the soulful pop singer with the booming voice Emeli Sande proved a massive success story. Her single Heaven is, indeed a triumph. Her success there has not yet translated locally.
Similarly, Robbie Williams' first new album in three years, Take The Crown, was flagrantly ignored by Australian radio programmers.
Pink was almost nonchalant in her efficiency in returning to the fold. Her instantly memorable comeback single Blow Me (One Last Kiss) debuted at number one and the album The Truth About Love has sat comfortably in the ARIA top five for the past 12 weeks. Oh yeah, she also sold out an astounding 40-something nights of arena shows. She will tour Australia from May through September next year.
Ben Folds Five reformed. The new album was OK. Their tour in November much better.
The Beach Boys also reformed, however when Mike Love kicked Brian Wilson off the tour, any sense of pop cultural relevance was lost.
Matchbox Twenty returned to Australia after almost a decade away. In the end the result was the collapse of tour mates INXS. Likewise, Cold Chisel returned for another tour. At least this time there was a new album.
Adam Levine parlayed his new-found celebrity as a coach on the US version of The Voice to revive the fortunes of his band Maroon 5. The admittedly sort-of-OK single One More Night was their biggest US hit yet. It doesn't explain how the phoned-in (ahem) single Payphone got so much airplay.
Levine's Voice coach-in-arms Christina Aguilera was again unsuccessful in transferring her notoriety on that show into album sales. Her career has defiantly stalled.
Similarly, Australian Voice coaches Keith Urban and Seal enjoyed strong sales spurts from the show. Delta Goodrem went the other way, seeming to shed fans the longer she appeared on the show. Her fourth album, the awkwardly-titled Child of the Universe, is struggling to sell.
Perhaps the most conspicuous success story of the year in pop music in Australia, however, is Joel Madden. The Good Charlotte singer spent much of his here in Sydney, being a coach on The Voice and performing various well-paid gigs. Yet, although his band landed highly sought-after shows at the Gold Coast Indy race, the NRL Grand Final and the AFL Grand Final Footy Show, Madden did not release any new music in 2012. He and brother Benji simply rolled out their mildly-successful material from their back catalogue.
To the disgust of most Australian bands, few acts were given as much publicity or attention by the local press as Madden. Yet he did not release anything more than a KFC commercial. Yep, it was that sort of year.