News Column

Best of 2012 Social Media Culture

Dec. 27, 2012

Piet Levy

Gotye
Gotye: It took a Belgiun-Aussie to move US again.

Taylor Swift was a huge success, and so were the "Avengers." Anyone would have guessed those would be the biggest album and movie, respectively, of 2012.

But what made 2012 such a fascinating year for pop culture was how songs from obscure foreign artists, a controversial family from rural Georgia and a Janesville-based U.S. congressman all made a huge pop-culture impact this year.

When people look back on 2012, this is what they'll remember.

Album of the year: "Red," Taylor Swift

After writing all the songs on her previous smash album "Speak Now," the Grammy-winning chart topper decided to work with other writers for "Red" and abandoned country on a few tracks. It turned out to be a smart strategy: The snarky lead single "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" was a crowd-pleasing blend of Swift's endearing Everygirl singalong lyrics atop a peppy electronic beat. It was the fastest-selling digital single in history, and when the album dropped in October, it had the biggest debut week of sales in 10 years, with an incredible 1.208 million copies sold.

Song of the year: "Somebody That I Used to Know," Gotye

In a year where kids' stuff like Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" and "We Are Young" by fun. vied for the top spot on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, 2012's biggest hit was a multifaceted, mature and musically subtle breakup song by an obscure Australian artist named Gotye. Thanks in part to a memorable music video that featured the naked singer covered in body paint, "Somebody" was covered by an incredible number of artists, including Walk Off the Earth, whose "five people sharing one guitar" was the second most-viewed YouTube video of the year.

Breakout artist of the year: Frank Ocean

British group One Direction, with two hit albums in 2012, ushered in the latest boy band boom, while rising Southern rock band Alabama Shakes sold out two Milwaukee venues. But the artist who may be remembered longest could be R&B singer Frank Ocean. His debut album, "channel ORANGE," was one of the year's most acclaimed projects, ending up on more critics' top 10 lists than any other album, according to review-tracking site Metacritic. Ocean earned six Grammy nominations and is a front-runner for best new artist and album of the year.

His biggest impact may be his disclosure on Tumblr that songs on "ORANGE" were inspired by his first love, who was a man. Given the complaints of homophobia directed at hip-hop artists (Ocean is affiliated with one of today's most controversial rappers, Tyler, the Creator), the announcement was justifiably considered a cultural breakthrough.

Viral video of the year: "Gangnam Style," PSY

In just five months' time, a South Korean pop star with a goofy music video had people around the world galloping atop an invisible horse. "Gangnam Style" didn't just inspire countless copycats, including mass dance performances at a Filipino prison and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus, and popular parody videos "Mitt Romney Style" and "Obama Style." It wasn't just the most watched YouTube video of the year. It's the most watched YouTube video of all time, with more than 1 billion views on YouTube as of Dec. 21.

Book of the year: "Fifty Shades of Grey," E.L. James

"Twilight" series author Stephenie Meyer inspired yet another book-series phenomenon, but this time it wasn't directly. British author E.L. James wrote a steamy trilogy of sexually explicit fan fiction inspired by the romantic "Twilight" saga; her variation was about a college student's unorthodox, dominant-submissive relationship with a young tycoon.

The books' explicitness (they were famously dubbed "Mommy porn") made them hot e-reader downloads, and word-of-mouth drove the trilogy-opener to the top of The New York Times' e-book fiction bestseller list. The movie rights were sold, an album of classical songs inspired by the book was released this fall, and a stage spoof, "Spank! The Fifty Shades Parody," is touring around the country, including five shows scheduled March 6 to 9 at Turner Hall Ballroom, 1040 N. 4th St.

Scripted series of the year: "The Walking Dead"

AMC's horror series, based on the graphic novels about a handful of humans trying to survive a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world, is playing by its own rules. Relentless gore. A bleak narrative. Shocking deaths of main characters. The result: ratings success never before attained by a scripted cable series. For its third-season premiere, the drama earned a stunning 5.8 rating in the coveted 18 to 49 demographic, the highest rating for any entertainment series this fall, broadcast channels included. Broadcast networks are following the show's lead. NBC's tamer, post-apocalyptic series "Revolution" has been a hit, and next year we'll be seeing "Hannibal," about the cannibalistic serial killer made famous by Anthony Hopkins, on NBC.

Three of the stars and an executive producer of "The Walking Dead" will be at the Riverside Theater on Feb. 16 for two live panel discussions.

Reality series of the year: "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo"

More controversial than any explicitly sexual book or a gory zombie show was this TLC hit about a child beauty pageant contestant, Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson, and her rural Georgia family. Critics blasted the network for sensationalized edits that looked down at the family: playing up bad eating habits, ignorant statements and matriarch June "Mama" Shannon's weight for laughs.

Because you never knew what the filter-free Honey Boo Boo was going to say, the shock value of the first season made it a ratings hit. Coming up from MTV is a "Honey Boo Boo" and "Jersey Shore" mashup called "Buckwild," about hard-partying young folks in West Virginia.

Movie of the year: "The Avengers"

It was inevitable that "The Avengers" was going to be huge. Since 2008, Marvel Studios has been setting up the pieces leading up to the blockbuster crossover film with "Iron Man," "The Incredible Hulk," "Iron Man 2," "Thor" and "Captain America: The First Avenger." The presence of four major superheroes (including Kenosha native Mark Ruffalo as Hulk), immortalized by Marvel Comics and starring in their own successful movie franchises, resulted in a supersized opening weekend of $207.4 million in the United States, a record.

Among the reasons audiences kept coming back were the witty screenplay and light direction by Joss Whedon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer"). "The Avengers" ended up grossing $623.4 million at the U.S. box office and $1.5 billion worldwide, becoming the third highest grossing movie of all time.

Breakout actor of the year: Channing Tatum

The buff heartthrob has been turning heads since his breakthrough starring role in 2006's "Step Up." After years of appearances in hit films including "G.I. Joe" and "Dear John," Tatum finally became a bona fide A-list movie star in 2012.

He starred in three of the 25 top-grossing films at the U.S. box office so far this year: the romantic weeper "The Vow" ($125 million), the TV show-inspired comedy "21 Jump Street" ($138.4 million) and the male strip club-set dramedy "Magic Mike" ($113.7 million), loosely based on Tatum's experiences as a stripper. All that success was enough for People to declare Tatum, 32, this year's "Sexiest Man Alive."

Wisconsinite of the year: Paul Ryan

Regardless of your politics, no Wisconsin man or woman inspired more discussion this year, particularly in pop culture circles. Beyond his politics and his position on Mitt Romney's ticket, the nation's first Generation X vice presidential candidate drew attention for his looks. A shirtless photo went viral, and Jon Stewart jokingly feigned infatuation while smitten ladies professed their love in a couple of hit political parody videos on YouTube: "Let's Get Fiscal!," featuring the "Paul Ryan Girl," and the girl group ditty "P-P-P-Paul Ryan."

The U.S. congressman from Janesville shocked people when he said he was a fan of Rage Against the Machine, a strong supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement. "Paul Ryan's love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing, because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades," Rage guitarist Tom Morello wrote in a Rolling Stone op-ed.

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Source: (c) 2012 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel