High notes, low tones


The ups and downs of 2008 in music.

Pop star of the year: Barack Obama, who managed to get lots of already-established pop stars to open for him on the campaign trail or sing his praises even when he wasn’t in the house.

Biggest mouth of the year: Bjork, who screamed “Free Tibet” during a March concert in Shanghai and therefore made it tougher for any Western artist to play in China.

Comeback of the year: Hide, who, in holographic form, played guitar with his old band, X Japan, at their reunion concert last May. Hide committed suicide in 1998.

Stalled comeback of the year: Kiyoshiro Imawano, the veteran rock ‘n’ soul singer-songwriter who started 2008 with a big concert at Budokan to celebrate his remission from cancer but then had to cancel his Fuji Rock Festival headliner appearance due to a relapse.

Noncomeback of the year: Lenny Kravitz, who canceled his Japan tour in September after having canceled his last two planned tours of Japan for the same reason: a sore throat.

Showdown of the year: Jay-Z vs. Noel Gallagher, on the occasion of the American rapper headlining England’s Glastonbury Festival, which prompted the Oasis leader to get all nationalist and rockist. Runnerup: Chris Brown vs. Rihanna, whose joint concert in Manila last summer was almost scuppered because the hotel both were booked into had only one presidential suite.

Best press conference: Korean singer Na Hoon A’s on Jan. 25, when, in order to disprove rumors that he had been castrated by an angry gangster, he jumped up on the table and pulled down his pants. TV cameras managed to avert their gaze just in time, but print reports said the evidence was “inconclusive.”

The show must go on (and on and on) award: Group Sounds superstar Kenji Sawada, who celebrated his 60th birthday with a concert at Tokyo Dome in which he performed every song he knew. The show lasted six and a half hours.

Sign of the times award: Rod Stewart and Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood, who have said they might reform The Faces next year for a tour because they both need the money. Runnerup: Sean “Diddy” Combs, who started flying first-class on commercial airlines instead of using his private jet and asked his “Saudi Arabia brothers and sisters” for free oil. Runner-runnerup: Neither the Glastonbury nor the Fuji Rock festivals sold out this year.

Captive audience award: Lil Wayne, who, according to MusicRadar.com, is the most popular recording artist among Americans in prison, where cassettes still rule and CDs tend to be banned because they can be turned into weapons.

Marketing breakthrough of the year: French researchers concluded that the louder the music is in a club, the faster male patrons will consume alcohol.

More proof the ’70s are dead: Elvis Costello launched his own TV talk show, which is produced by Elton John.

More proof the ’80s are dead: Michael Jackson has given up title to his Neverland ranch.

Worst match-up of the year: Leona Lewis and Jimmy Page, who performed Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” during the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

Rock critic of the year: Daniel Sullivan, a 47-year-old Canadian who hid beneath the stage at a Toronto Oasis concert and emerged during the performance to push guitarist Noel Gallagher into a monitor cabinet, cracking one of his ribs.

Worst dressed: Chris Martin of Coldplay (see picture)

Most notable reunion: My Bloody Valentine, who re-formed to great acclaim with a series of gigs in London and a festival tour that took in Fuji Rock.

Significant passings: Bo Diddley, who had more to do with the mechanical development of rock ‘n’ roll than anyone except maybe Chuck Berry; Levi Stubbs, who, as the lead vocalist of The Four Tops, provided Motown with its most distinctive male voice; and Jimi Hendrix’s only two full-time drummers, Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix Experience) and Buddy Miles (Band of Gypsies).