Music in 2009: Lady Gaga, Queen among princesses

British women performers are on the rise, but the American stands head and shoulders above them all
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The Independent Culture




Trend of the Year: Women



The officially sanctioned trend of the year was Women in Pop. Patronising, much? That, surely, implies that 49.7 per cent of the population will, sooner or later, become unfashionable. Nevertheless, whether by coincidence or bandwagon-jumping, 2009 saw a succession of ascendant new female stars – so many, that when Lily Allen threatened to retire, nobody cared.



Synthpop soloists were a leading trope, with Victoria Hesketh aka Little Boots delivering magnificently with her debut album Hands, and russet-quiffed Elly Jackson aka La Roux sweeping all before her with "In for the Kill" and "Quicksand". Caterwauling irritant Florence Welch and her Machine won a Brit without having done anything, but the subsequent album Lungs was held off the No 1 spot only by Jacko grief, while Pixie Lott, a photogenic 18-year-old from Essex, scored the radio-friendly hit of the summer with "Mama Do". Speech Debelle, a south London rapper specialising in beguiling tales of lowlife, won the Mercury Music Prize, much to everyone's surprise (including her label Big Dada, which hadn't pressed up enough copies of Speech Therapy to cope).



Theatricality was another theme, with Bat for Lashes, Paloma Faith and Polly Scattergood all taking inspiration from the costume-happy likes of Björk and Kate Bush. And the female wave hasn't subsided: Marina and the Diamonds, Ellie Goulding and Dionne Bromfield are all on the way up. And it would be remiss not to mention that Susan Boyle, a Scottish spinster with learning difficulties, broke records with the UK's fastest-selling debut album of all time. However, one woman bestrode the year more than any other, and she wasn't one of our own ...



Face of the Year: Lady Gaga



The face of pop in 2009 belonged to Stefani Germanotta, a 23-year-old New Yorker, although actually seeing that face was never easy behind the feathers, warpaint and masks. Already a transatlantic star by the end of 2008 with two British No 1s to her name, Lady Gaga touched down in the UK in the summer with a live show that proved her to be not just the junior Madonna we'd imagined, but also something approaching a young, female Prince: flamboyant, prodigiously talented, sexually predatory and entirely self-created. Her command of the visual image was exemplary, from the controversial video to "Paparazzi" (starring the singer as a wheelchair-bound stalker) to her eye-popping bathtub-based performance on The X Factor. Gaga is taking the freako performance-art aesthetic of Leigh Bowery to a mainstream audience, selling 12 million and winning Grammy awards. What's not to celebrate?



Comeback of the Year: Specials



Generally when six-sevenths of a band make a comeback and the only missing member is the keyboardist, few people would find much cause for complaint. The Specials, however, are no ordinary band, and Jerry Dammers no ordinary keyboardist. Ever since the band's bitter dissolution in the early Eighties, fans of the Coventry ska legends have longed for a reunion, but the idea that it could take place without its primary songwriter and mastermind was unthinkable. This year, the unthinkable happened. The sight of The Specials without Jerry's gap-toothed grin left a sour taste, but it didn't last long. The gigs were exuberant and energetic, and 30 years on, the themes of The Specials' songs – drunken streetfights, unemployment and recession, racism on the rise, and apocalyptic dread – chimed eerily with the mood of 2009.



Phenomenon of the Year: The internet campaign



The power of the web to sell music, launch careers and dictate the pop-cultural agenda was already proven, but 2009 was the year that the internet bit back. When Boyzone singer Stephen Gately died unexpectedly while on holiday, The Daily Mail's Jan Moir responded with a column that reeked of homophobia, provoking a record 21,000 complaints, and earning Moir a Bigot of the Year award from Stonewall. The main driver behind the backlash was the social networking site Twitter which brought Moir's words to the attention of a far wider readership than that of the Daily Mail. As Christmas approached, the internet struck again. The inevitability of The X Factor winner landing the Christmas No 1 was disrupted when a Facebook group urging people to buy Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name" snowballed so successfully that it topped the charts, elbowing Joe McElderry into second place. While there was something cheering about the spirit of the campaign to stop Cowellism, there was something head-smashingly depressing about the song chosen to do it. Nonetheless, the stunt taught Simon Cowell the lesson that democracy cuts both ways.



R.I.P.: Michael Jackson



With images of wheelchairs and medical masks still fresh in the mind, it was difficult not to be sceptical when the 50-year-old Michael Jackson announced his stage comeback with a 50-date residency at London's giant 02. When the first few dates were postponed, doubts grew stronger. Then, on the night of 25 June, news began to spread, first via ambulance-chasing website TMZ, that the singer had suffered a fatal heart attack. Amid the global outpouring of grief, taking a quiet moment to listen to "I'll Be There" or "Off the Wall" left no doubt as to what a talent had been lost.

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