Arts review of 2011 - Rock: Girls stole the show – even the annoying ones

Katy B, Adele, Lady Gaga – not to mention the late Amy Winehouse – grabbed most of the attention this year

In a spirit of candour, it must be confessed that 2011 was a poor year.

Primark-soul shouter Adele swept all before her, the album 21 outselling everything in sight and the single "Someone Like You" becoming Britain's official sad song for all occasions, until throat problems forced her to cancel her UK tour and even order coffees with a talking iPhone app. Another Brit school alumna, however, quietly stole the show: Katy B's debut, On a Mission, provided the year's finest modern pop.

Lady Gaga's exhilarating lunacy went into overdrive with the Born This Way campaign and a series of startling television performances, of which "Marry the Night" on The X Factor, emerging from a tomb and carrying a decapitated corpse on her shoulders, was the most memorable.

Dubstep continued to seal its position as British youth culture's defining genre. However, the single of the year, perhaps even the century, was Lana Del Rey's effortlessly cool "Video Games", which oozed nouveau-vintage class and temporarily made you forget where, even when, you were.

Annoying teenagers of the year

The year's most-mocked song was "Friday" by Rebecca Black, an over-privileged Californian 13-year-old whose appalling lyric and laughable video sparked a backlash which in the view of many amounted to cyber-bullying. But it was Malvern's own Cher Lloyd who really scraped rock bottom, falling in just 12 months from her stunning X Factor audition to singing a musical war crime called "Swagger Jagger" to the tune of "Oh My Darling Clementine". Unfathomably, it topped the charts.

Comebacks of the year

R.E.M. and The White Stripes officially called it a day, although most assumed they already had. Welsh angst-rock legends Manic Street Preachers went on indefinite hiatus after a marathon one-off at the 02.

In the main, however, 2011 was about comebacks. The year's biggest-grossing live act was Take That, reunited with prodigal attention-seeker Robbie Williams, but the Progress Live tour's squatting robot centrepiece was a dud.

This writer's favourite gigs all came from veterans or reunions. Prince's staggeringly exuberant greatest hits set at Hop Farm. Chic, whose leader Nile Rodgers had beaten cancer, thrilling the Forum. Canadian noiseniks DFA 1979 blowing everyone away at Reading. Suede's stunning gigs at Brixton. The Darkness, who should never have split in the first place, warming up at the 100 Club. Above all, Pulp proving that they, not monobrows or mockneys, were the real heroes of Britpop.

The grim reaper

Perhaps the greatest – and most profligately squandered – talent Britain has produced this century, Amy Winehouse, succumbed to alcohol poisoning in July, joining what her mother called "that stupid 27 Club", a death that was no less affecting for being foreseeable. Other sad losses to British music included folk-rock legend Bert Jansch, and Bond composer John Barry. Punk legend and X-Ray Spex singer Poly Styrene passed away, just weeks after releasing an acclaimed solo album. And Sir Jimmy Savile, presenter of the first and last Top of the Pops shows and the man who claimed to have invented double-decks DJing, departed in a puff of cigar smoke.

E-Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons bowed out after one last appearance in a Gaga video, and other departed musicians who made their names as sidemen included Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore, The Shadows' Jet Harris and Japan bassist Mick Karn. The Motown family lost songwriter Nick Ashford, and Miracles guitar great Marv Tarplin, the man who played on "Tracks of My Tears". The soul world also lost Solomon Burke and Dobie Gray.

From behind the consoles and behind the scenes, we lost rock'n'roll songwriter Jerry Leiber, new wave producer Martin Rushent, and pioneering hip-hop executive Sylvia Robinson. Rap originator Gil Scott-Heron passed away just as he was making a comeback, and hip-hop also lost Heavy D and Nate Dogg. Two heavyweights of house, Loleatta Holloway and Darryl Pandy, went to the great Paradise Garage in the sky. Seventies AOR stars Andrew Gold and Gerry Rafferty said goodbye, as did brassy blonde of Sixties pop Kathy Kirby and outsider musician Wild Man Fischer. Porn actress turned disco diva Andrea True was no more-more-more, and Smiley Culture, reggae MC, died in strange circumstances.

Lastly, four weather-related stage collapses at festivals killed 11 and injured many more, the worst incidents at the Indiana State Fair and Belgium's Pukkelpop. A tragic coincidence, one hopes, and not evidence of widespread laxness in safety standards.

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