2003 was a year of musical idols and icons, arriving and passing away
TORONTO (CP) – It was a year of idols and icons in music in 2003 – the idols were finding stardom after mega-exposure on the television airwaves, the icons were fading into the musical twilight.
News of Johnny Cash’s passing seemed to underscore the changing of the guard. His Sept. 12 death came amid chart battles between American Idols’ Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken and only days before millions of Canadians crowned their own Idol, Ryan Malcolm.
With young stars like Avril Lavigne, Norah Jones, Justin Timberlake and Beyonce getting airplay and the magnificent acceptance of the Idol format around the world, a new pop movement seemed be taking shape, perhaps even signifying the beginning of an end to the years of rock ‘n’ roll dinosaurs dominating the charts and pulling in the biggest bucks on the concert circuit.
From the moment hundreds of kids starting lining up on a frigid April night in Winnipeg, it was hard to escape Canadian Idol.
The success of the franchise made it either a great year for music or a horrible one, depending on which side of the Idol fence you’re standing on.
Part game show, part karaoke, Canada’s 26-week-long version cycloned into a monstrous hit. Over 20 million votes were cast and three million people tuned in to watch the finale where 24-year-old Ryan Malcolm was crowned the winner.
The show, following a format that had been embraced in the U.S. a year earlier, broke Canadian records and sent a jolt of excitement through the jaded veins of music industry executives.
Idol seemed a proven way to get people back into CD shops and away from downloading programs like Kazaa.
Malcolm’s first single, Something More, has remained at the top of Canada’s singles chart for 11 straight weeks, outselling Pink, Radiohead, OutKast and even Britney Spears in Canada. The record, Home, debuted at No. 4 in mid-December.
By making multi-media stars out of musicians, the industry found a way to make CD-buying hip again among youth after years of sale decreases.
“It’s brand extension,” said George Stroumboulopoulos, host of MuchMusic’s MuchNews. “The success of those Idol people in record sales is the same reason why people go see a movie with Tom Cruise . . . I don’t think people look at them like music stars, they’re television stars.”
While nothing else quite compared to the level of excitement generated coast to coast by the Idol phenomenon, visits by two of the world’s leading music stars come close.
Mick Jagger strutted into Toronto in July to help attract much-needed dollars to the SARS-battered city. More than 450,000 people from across Canada, the U.S. and even Europe danced along to AC/DC and the Rolling Stones in a giant field overlooking the city.
A few months later, Bono, wearing his trademark shades, endorsed the country’s prime minister-in-waiting by appearing at the Liberal convention.
The year also saw a celebration of an important figure in Canadian music history.
Gordon Lightfoot’s bout with a stomach ailment prompted others to fete the legend with a tribute album, induction into the Canada’s Hall of Fame and a Companion of the Order of Canada – the country’s highest honour for lifetime achievement.
“Gordon Lightfoot is one of our only towering figures (in Canada),” said Keir Keightley, an expert on the culture of celebrity who teaches at the University of Western Ontario, in London.
“We don’t have another Gordon Lightfoot. There are other people who could be compared to Johnny Cash but who can we compare to Gordon Lightfoot?”
But what does the next chapter hold in Canadian music history? It’s too early to tell if the Nelly Furtados and Avril Lavignes will make cultural impacts with their music.
Keightley thinks there seems to be a pop or urban idolization emerging in Canada, led by the Lavigne model of overnight success.
“There was a time when there was a very clear-cut sense of Canadian popular music having these folky roots and that’s changing,” he said. “Lightfoot is passing into history and the future of Canadian music is very likely elsewhere.”
Alongside Lavigne, a horde of superstars continued to make an international splash, including Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Nickelback and Sarah McLachlan.
But a slew of Avril clones – lead by Lillix, LiveOnRelease and Fefe Dobson – showed that her influence was much more powerful than many originally gave the young singer from Napanee, Ont., credit for.
Less than a year after her debut album was released, the so-called skater girl walked the red carpet into the Grammy Awards with five nominations.
While she walked away empty-handed, she secured a spot as a force on today’s music scene helping pave an anti-Britney road for girls who don’t want to be packaged as tarty, lip-glossed sex symbols.
“Already she is used as an icon of a new school of pop idol,” Keightley said. “It speaks to how much more quickly it feels like the popular culture is shifting. It speaks to the media saturation that she achieved . . . she hasn’t hit the burnout point that you might expect.”
South of the border, hip hop was embraced by the mainstream, with acts like Beyonce, OutKast, Jay Z and 50 Cent taking charge. Even Eminem’s film 8 Mile garnered acclaim and was nominated for an Oscar.
Homegrown urban artists, however, weren’t able to emulate the gigantic success of their peers in the U.S.
Bands like Toronto’s In Essence and Vancouver’s Swollen Members had radio hits at home but barely create a sizzle south.
“Record sales haven’t been what we ultimately want but we understand the process,” said Smooth, of In Essence, in a recent interview. “This whole R&B, urban scene is still very new to Canada. We’re trying to break something new here. We understand what we’re up against.”
He attributed the genre’s stalled momentum to a lack of radio support.
“There’s just not the number of radio stations playing urban music as there is in the States.”
Radio stations flipped formats at a dizzying pace this year, with many urban stations changing over to adult contemporary. There are less than eight radio stations currently playing R&B and hip hop.
“The Canadian urban scene is working from a much different starting point than rock and roll,” said Stroumboulopoulos.
“Canadian hip hop will find its voice internationally but right now it’s building its own voice in Canada. There’s great talent out there. You won’t find anyone who’s better than Kardinal or K-OS.”
Globally, Norah Jones, Lavigne and Beyonce led a battalion of young music-makers hoping to make a lifelong imprint on the scene.
They were able to overthrow the comeback of bubblegum queen Britney Spears, whose only memorable feat this year was a smooch with Material-Girl-turned-book-author Madonna. Christina Aguilera and her “dirrty” image was talked about more for its humour than its musical influence.
Buoyed by Internet buzz and chat rooms, indie bands continued to make a splash and indie labels proved their value as a farm league for the majors.
Sam Roberts, Billy Talent, the New Pornographers and Kathleen Edwards were all part of the indie steam engine.
“Labels have smartened up and realized that you can sell 4,000 copies of a record and make your money back,” said Stroumboulopoulos. “They’ve created a very reasonable break-even point and because of that we get Broken Social Scene, Danko Jones and Hot Hot Heat.”
“It’s been an amazing year,” agreed Amanda Newman, one of the co-founders of Paper Bag Records. The Toronto-based label recently celebrated its one-year anniversary with a healthy roster of “buzz” bands including FemBots, Stars, Matthew Barber and Hawaii.
But it was Victoria’s Hot Hot Heat that was most often called the highlight of the year by music critics.
Pushed to the limelight by the boutique label Subpop, Hot Hot Heat received critical U.S. acclaim at the end of 2002 through the New York Times, Rolling Stone and Spin.
The melodic punksters said it was weird that they caught on faster south of the border.
“It does seem a bit odd to us,” singer and keyboardist Steve Bays said earlier this year.
Part of a larger musical moment that included the Strokes and the White Stripes, the band’s brand of new, new wave rock ‘n’ roll resonated with music fans looking for a retro sound.
“The Hot Hot Heat story is the older Canadian story of ‘you have to make it elsewhere to get respect at home.’ This is the classic Canadian actor, filmmaker story,” explained Keightley, who includes the band as one of the year’s best. “They tapped into the zeitgeist in an international sense.”
Some highlights from 2003:
Explosive: Beyonce gave us this year’s summer song with Crazy In Love; Justin Timberlake proved he had a shelf live beyond boy band N’Sync with a groove-filled album; The White Stripes cemented their rule of the old/new rock scene with the release of their stellar disc Elephant; 50 Cent provided a new birthday song with In Da Club; Sean Paul made dance hall music accessible to the masses via a few hits from his album Dutty Rock.
Sugar kisses: Madonna and Britney’s brief lip lock generated enough water cooler talk to rejuvenate both their ailing careers.
Michael Jackson: He’s like a car accident you can’t tear your eyes away from. Jackson continued to baffle this year. The image of the dethroned King of Pop feeding his son – the oddly-named Blanket, covered in a green sheet – in the now-famous Martin Bashir documentary, guaranteed him the title of Most Bizarre Father of the Year, or perhaps Ever. A few months later allegations of sex abuse surfaced – for the second time in his career, which, whether true or not, will cast a shadow over his life.
Patriot games: Not since the Vietnam war have so many celebrities voiced their political views. Dixie Chicks’ singer Natalie Maines took the lead in March with a quip about U.S. President George W. Bush during a performance in London. “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas,” she said. A flame war ensued with Toby Keith, who claimed the Chicks were unpatriotic. And some radio refused to play the Chicks’ music. Todd Harrell of the rock band Three Doors Down had his own opinion of Bush: “If I was the president when that 9/11 happened, I would have found me a button, pushed it, and make it look like a parking lot over there.”
Aging rockers out for a buck (and some airtime): After a powerful Grammy performance that saw a strained peace treaty between arch-rivals Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, the duo reunited for a tour. Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles also hit the road to find that aging boomers, thirsty for music they can relate to, were anxious to check back into Hotel California. The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and Cher ranked the top three grossing tours of 2003.
Love, set, match: Jazz singer Diana Krall softened the cynic in Elvis Costello with a spring romance that was topped with a winter wedding in early December. Gwyneth Paltrow soothed the aching Chris Martin’s heart and will make him a daddy with the birth of their child next summer. Jennifer Lopez and Ben Afflek entertained us with their public sizzle and fizzle this year.
Breakouts: Ottawa’s Kathleen Edwards proved young women can drink scotch and write meaningful songs; Montreal’s Sam Roberts launched his bid to become Canada’s next rock and roll star; Vancouver’s New Pornographers returned with a phenomenal pop disc; the buzz generated by Hot Hot Heat proved their namesake; the crooning of Burnaby’s baby-faced singer Michael Buble made women weak at the knees.
On the verge: A loud buzzing sound has been following Fefe Dobson ever since her video for Bye Bye Boyfriend aired on MuchMusic and MTV in October. Debut releases by Matt Dusk, Matthew Barber, Liam Titcomb and Graph Nobel have the potential to launch star careers with albums coming out in the spring.
Yearend charts: According to SoundScan the following were the top five selling albums in Canada for 2003: Norah Jones’ Come Away With Me, 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’, Shania Twain’s Up!, Various with Star Academie and Avril Lavigne’s Let Go.
Here are a few of the musicians who died in 2003:
– Maurice Gibb, 53, Jan. 12 in Miami Beach, Fla. of cardiac arrest. With his brothers, Gibb built the Bee Gees into a disco sensation that ruled the charts in the late 1970s with hits like Stayin’ Alive, More Than a Woman and songs on the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. The Bee Gees had nine No. 1 songs, wrote dozens of hits for other artists, and sold more than 110 million records – placing them fifth in pop history behind Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney.
– Hank Ballard, 66, March 2 in Los Angeles of cancer. Ballard, whose hit The Twist ushered a North American dance craze in the 1960s, was banned from 1950s radio because some thought his songs were too sexually suggestive. By the early 1960s, he had charted 22 singles on the rhythm and blues charts, including Work With Me Annie – the biggest R&B hit of 1954, selling more than one million copies. The song inspired a series of other risque R&B songs including Annie Had a Baby, Annie’s Aunt Fannie and Roll With Me Henry.
– Edwin Starr, 61, April 2 in Nottingham, England of a heart attack. Starr was a soul singer who produced Motown hits such as War, Contact, H.A.P.P.Y. Radio, Stop Her on Sight (S.O.S.) and Agent Double-O Soul.
– Nina Simone, 70, April 21 in an undisclosed town in France of natural causes. Simone was a classically trained pianist but gained fame with her recordings of I Loves You Porgy and for singing in a style reminiscent of Billie Holiday. She later became known as a protest singer for penning fiery songs that chronicled the pain, pride and hope of the U.S. civil rights movement. Simone influenced artists including Norah Jones, India.Arie, Peter Gabriel, Sade and Aretha Franklin, who rerecorded one of Simone’s most famous songs, To Be Young, Gifted and Black.
– June Carter Cash, 73, May 15, in Nashville of complications from heart surgery. A Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, musician, actress and author, Cash’s duets with her husband Johnny Cash included It Ain’t Me Babe and If I Had a Hammer. She co-wrote the hit Ring of Fire, which is about falling in love with Cash.
– Barry White, 58, July 4 in Los Angeles of kidney failure. Known as the king of “make out” music for his velvet voice and lush melodies, White’s biggest hits included Can’t Get Enough of Your Love; Babe; Love Serenade; You’re the First, the Last, My Everything and It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me.
– Celia Cruz, 77, July 16 in Fort Lee, N.J. of a brain tumour. Cruz went from singing in Havana nightclubs to become the Queen of Salsa. She became famous in the 1950s with the legendary Afro-Cuban group La Sonora Matancera. She left Cuba after its 1959 revolution for the United States in 1960 and never returned. She recorded regularly with Mambo King Tito Puente. She recorded more than 70 albums and had more than a dozen Grammy nominations.
– Warren Zevon, 56, Sept. 7 in Los Angeles after a yearlong fight with lung cancer. The singer-songwriter is best known for penning the songs Life’ll Kill Ya, Werewolves of London and Excitable Boy. He gained attention in the 1970s by writing a string of popular songs for Linda Ronstadt, including Poor, Poor Pitiful Me, Carmelita and Hasten Down the Wind.
– Johnny Cash, 71, Sept. 12 in a Nashville hospital of complications from diabetes. The Man in Black became a towering figure in American music with such hits as Folsom Prison Blues, I Walk the Line and A Boy Named Sue. Cash recorded more than 1,500 songs during his career.
– Robert Palmer, 54, Sept. 26 in Paris of a heart attack. Palmer created one of the first iconic music videos with the look-alike models of Addicted to Love. A two-time Grammy winner in the 1980s, his hits in his three-decade career included Simply Irresistible, Bad Case of Lovin’ You (Doctor, Doctor), I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On and Some Like It Hot.
– Elliott Smith, 34, Oct. 21 in Los Angeles from suicide. A singer-songwriter whose dark, introspective songs won him critical acclaim and an Academy Award nomination. Smith released five solo albums that received widespread acclaim from rock critics and garnered modest commercial success. Miss Misery, recorded for Gus Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting, was nominated for an Oscar in 1998.
– Bobby Hatfield, 63, Nov. 5 in Kalamazoo, Mich. of a heart attack. As part of the Righteous Brothers’, Hatfield’s hits included Unchained Melody, (You’re My) Soul and Inspiration and Rock and Roll Heaven. The duo’s signature 1965 single, You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, has been frequently cited as the most-programmed song in U.S. radio history.
– Don Gibson, 75, Nov. 17 in Nashville. Gibson wrote and recorded country standards like Sweet Dreams and Oh Lonesome Me. His most famous song I Can’t Stop Loving You was recorded by more than 700 artists, but Ray Charles had the big pop version in 1962.
– Teddy Wilburn, 71, Nov. 24 in Nashville. As the Wilburn Brothers, he and his brother, Doyle, had 30 songs on the country charts from 1955 to 1972, including Hurt Her Once for Me, Trouble’s Back in Town and Roll, Muddy River.
2003 was a year of musical idols and icons, arriving and passing away