We are definitely in the long tail mode at this point. Critically, the EOY discussion seems to be clustered around Frank Ocean, & the concept of hipster R&B. But did it really have much traction actually with music listeners? I think FO had a compelling narrative for critics, & one that they were sympathetic to, but not necessarily interesting music.
Clearly the songs of the year were “Call Me Maybe” & “Gangnam Style”. In terms of all non-sales definitions of a hit, both these songs fit the definition. They were ubiquitous, appearing in multiple varieties in odd situations (Olympics coverage, for example). One interesting thing about both songs in that they were released as creative commons licenses, which encouraged the viral dissemination of the music. It’s also interesting to me that this seems to be a move back to a 19th century model, where prior to recordings, the song itself was the thing.
The big story that seems to be under analyzed is the continued sales of Adele, as well as the strength of the release from Mumford & Sons. Despite market dominance, critics seem to avoid this. (There are probably a variety of reasons for this, not the least that neither artist is particularly interesting from a musical perspective.) I think this speaks to a resurgent rockism, as music fans are clearly attracted by the traditionalism of both acts (as well as the fact that both are soaked in layers of “authenticity”).
The rise of the EP. Yeah, this format has been around for years and years. But it seems to be gaining traction in new categories of music. Traditionally this has been limited to dance/hip hop/etc, but now we’re seeing a wide variety of musicians with releases slightly smaller than full albums. In 2012, I heard excellent EPs from The Punch Brothers, Zoe Muth, Elizabeth Cook, The Black Twig Pickers, & others.
We can’t really talk about internet culture in 2012 without recognizing the behemoth that is facebook. Its IPO shocked economic observers, but I have to say that I was not really surprised given their history of absolutely not understanding the internet. Anyway, 2012 was the year that your mom got onto facebook. They are the new AOL, & within 10 years will consist primarily of old ladies. The next platform that seems to offer what people use fb for will provoke mass migrations, similar to what we saw with Friendster, myspace, etc.
Also of interest was the migration of internet communities into meatspace and traditional media. Anonymous made regular appearances on news sites, not just the tech underground. The Guy Fawkes mask was an iconic image of the year. The world is becoming increasingly (William) Gibsonesque.
We’ve started to be in the midst of the generation after the so-called “Golden Years”. What we’re seeing now is smart TV for dumb people, where the surface details of the better shows (Wire, Sopranos, etc) are lifted & used in pandering ways. AMC & FX are perhaps the most guilty of this, although many others are jumping into the fray.
The exciting development was the true emergence of the auteur model as it relates to TV. Small shows dedicated to a very personal artistic vision. Girls & Louie exemplify this (also Portlandia). IMHO, this is the way to proceed in the new model. You aren’t going to have large audiences, so go for small idiosyncratic programs.