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
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