Within the calendar year of 2010, Katy Perry turned her teenage dream of world domination into reality, while wee lad Justin Bieber dropped his debut LP, Sade, Eminem and Robyn staged career comebacks, country sweetheart Taylor Swift began planning her pop crossover, and Dr. Dre continued teasing us with his never-released Detox. Artists you may recall crossing the bridge from relative obscurity to instant recognition in that period include Nicki Minaj, B.o.B., Bruno Mars and, er, Susan Boyle.
That’s all fodder for the history books. But what about the footnotes and the never-wases, as they were, at the dawn of the decade? The brief trends? The ill-advised, poorly executed stabs at musical glory? The canceled reality singing shows and forgotten Events (with a capital “E”!) that perhaps registered briefly in the public consciousness before fading into the nothing?
We shall not let these go quietly into the night without one last peek through parted fingers, pop fanatics. For this is the end of the 2010s, and no stone will remain unturned! With 2020 just around the bend, allow us to jog your memory once more on this decade’s least-greatest hits.
Heidi Montag, Superficial
Oh, dear. On paper, somewhere in some seedy corner of the Valley, this must have seemed like a good idea. After all, blonde-coiffed Heidi was one of the stars of MTV’s Laguna Beach spin-off The Hills, and other fresh-faced television luminaries, such as Hilary Duff and Paris Hilton, had made the transition to pop careers, no matter how fleeting, before her. What could go wrong?
For starters, Montag tested the waters in 2007 with a Yaz-sampling treatise called “Body Language.” It was followed by the wannabe songbird’s official debut single “Higher,” complete with a woefully-amateur video (“directed” by Montag’s then-boyfriend, Spencer Pratt) that feature a bikini-clad Montag flouncing around in wet sand on a beach. A flurry of other singles evaporated as quickly as they appeared, and the message seemed to be clear: Stick to squabbling with Lauren Conrad on TV, Heidi.
Nearly two million dollars later, Montag’s self-funded album Superficial got a digital-only release via iTunes, sans major label backing. By this point, “Body Language” and “Higher” had achieved a sort of charming notoriety in the general blogosphere, so consider it odd that neither song appeared on the LP. (In fact, the latter has now been scrubbed from download and streaming services entirely!) Instead, Heidi-wary music consumers were offered new tracks assembled by a surprising cadre of accomplished songwriters and producers, including Chris Rojas, The Runners and former pop star Cathy Dennis, who’d co-penned Britney Spears’ “Toxic ” and, of all things, the American Idol theme song.
Superficial ended Montag’s pop ambitions with all the grace of an overturned casket at a public memorial. A scant 1,000 copies were sold in its first week of availability. Almost 10 years later, the album has racked up a grand total of 8,000 equivalent album units earned, according to Nielsen Music (including 2,000 copies in sales). Still, Superficial gave us a shining moment with still-addictive, hypnotic sex rant “I’ll Do It,” wherein Heidi pleads, through a swirl of synths and Auto Tune, “Come eat my panties off of me, do whatever you feel comes naturally!” Splendid.
Ellen DeGeneres replaces Paula Abdul as a judge on American Idol
All ratings juggernauts must come to an end. And after a dazzling 2009 season that saw Kris Allen, Adam Lambert and Allison Iraheta duke it out for the crown, American Idol lumbered into its ninth outing with an uncertain future. Reportedly, contract negotiations with longstanding judge Paula Abdul had broken down, and it was announced she would not be returning. Her counterpart Simon Cowell was also on his way out (more on that in a bit), while Randy Jackson and fourth judge Kara DioGuardi, introduced for whatever reason the previous year, decided to tough it out.
To fill the void left by Abdul, the powers that be roped in a parade of guests — including Avril Lavigne, Victoria Beckham and future Idol judge Katy Perry — to help lord over the contestant audition process. Ultimately they landed on Ellen DeGeneres.
Following years of racking up street cred as a daytime TV queen, Emmy collector Ellen soldiered diligently through months of performances by 2010’s Idol hopefuls before witnessing Illinois paint salesman Lee DeWyze being crowned the winner that May. But after just one season of giving the judges’ panel the old college try, DeGeneres joined Cowell (and DioGuardi) in peacing-out.
Interestingly, that same year Ellen also launched a music label called eleveneleven. Its roster briefly included Jessica Simpson, plus then-YouTube sensations Charlie Puth and Greyson Chance, before going defunct in 2012.
“We Are The World 25 For Haiti”
Sometimes you can wrangle an army of celebrities to lend their talents to a cause and it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Case in point: 2010’s silver anniversary re-recording of “We Are the World,” dubbed by The Stranger as “a musical train wreck.”
The heart of this forgettable retread was in the right place. Haiti had been dealt a magnitude 7.0 earthquake in January 2010 that collapsed over a quarter of a million structures and affected an estimated 3 million people. Michael Jackson, an original co-writer of 1985’s USA For Africa rendition of “We Are the World,” died the year prior. And musicians from far and wide would be descending upon Los Angeles in early February for the Grammy Awards, thus making them available for producers Quincy Jones, RedOne and Wyclef Jean to quickly cobble together a modern day take on ye olde charity chestnut.
Alas, the sentiment didn’t translate into anything the general public remembers much today. Turns out, not too many folks were keen on repeat listens to a pre-pubescent Justin Bieber teeing up a lyrical serve to Nicole Scherzinger; or watching Fergie emote while donning sunglasses in the music video; or absorbing the weirdness of MJ’s ghostly vocals blended through studio technology with those of his sister Janet’s; or digesting an unnecessarily long, Auto Tune-drenched rap break courtesy of Lil Wayne, Akon and T-Pain.
The original version of “We Are The World” spent four weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 in 1985, won three Grammys and raised over $60 million for famine relief in Africa. By contrast, “We Are The World 25” debuted on the chart at No. 2 in February 2010 and was gone altogether from the Hot 100 — not to mention the public consciousness — by mid-April. At least we got to watch Jamie Foxx drag out his Ray Charles impersonation again, six years after the fact.
Songs with “F–k” in the title
Let’s run down exactly what the actual F was going on at the turn of the decade.
Lily Allen seemingly primed the pump for the F-bomb to go mainstream with “F–k You,” released as a single in 2009. While it briefly halted the provocative U.K. singer’s streak of consecutive Top 40 hits in her home country, the simply titled protest anthem went on to become Allen’s highest Billboard Hot 100 entry since her debut single, “Smile.” Once that floodgate was opened, pop went effing crazy.
In Spring 2010, Swedish dynamo Robyn returned after one of her trademark hiatuses and warned us “Don’t F–king Tell Me What To Do” on Body Talk Pt. 1‘s opening track. CeeLo Green followed suit that summer with his Grammy-winning smash “F–k You.” Never one to bite her tongue, Pink rolled out empowerment ballad “F–kin’ Perfect.” Sandwiched (ahem!) between all this was Enrique Iglesias and Ludacris’ tactful “Tonight (I’m F–kin’ You)” — which you may recall in its more radio-friendly form, “Tonight (I’m Lovin’ You).”
Though the foul-mouthed phase in popular music eventually faded, it ultimately gave way to another ubiquitous pop novelty wave.
The whistle trend
Was there a memo sent around to every major label in the music biz early in the decade? Britney Spears’ “I Wanna Go,” OneRepublic’s “Good Life,” Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” and Foster The People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” were all fighting for airtime at one point in 2011. Each tune had one thing in common: a blatant whistle hook. Blame Peter Bjorn and John’s indie-pop standard (and ever-present ad agency go-to) “Young Folks” for lodging its own signature whistle hook in all our heads at the end of the previous decade, perhaps.
A year after the fact, Flo Rida seemed to adopt a “better late than never” attitude when he unleashed an imaginatively-titled treat called “Whistle.” And, yep — the song was about parting your lips ever so slightly, but not for the sake of making art. “Whistle” eventually made its way to No. 1 on the Hot 100, thus proving that sometimes pop culture truly blows.
The American version of The X Factor
Simon Cowell left behind his seat at the American Idol judges’ table upon the conclusion of the series’ ninth season. The reason? He hoped to find that lighting could strike twice. (Or, if we take into consideration the mogul’s successful Got Talent franchise, three times.) The X Factor, created by Cowell, had already been a TV smash in the U.K. for nearly a decade by the time an American version was plunked before viewers in September 2011. Somewhere along the way, however, the show got lost in translation.
True, main competitor Idol was on wobbly legs by the time the much-hyped X Factor reached these shores. But NBC had swooped in just months before and gobbled up a sizable summer audience with the first season of The Voice. When cameras finally rolled on Cowell and co-judges Paula Abdul, L.A. Reid and Cheryl Cole, it seemed anti-climactic.
Not helping matters was the the ever-rotating lineup of who were supposed to be the faces of the show. For instance, Cole was replaced almost immediately by initial co-host Nicole Scherzinger, thus leaving Steve Jones as the only host for Season 1. In Season 2, Jones was switched out for Khloe Kardashian and Mario Lopez, while judges Abdul and Scherzinger split and Britney Spears and Demi Lovato were added. Through some form of divine intervention, The X Factor clawed its way to a third season. Gone, by then, were Kardashian, Reid and Spears. In their places: Kelly Rowland and Paulina Rubio.
Given viewers’ talent competition fatigue, it’s astonishing that any contestant made it out of the series with name recognition. The most notable ones were five young ladies named Camila Cabello, Normani, Dinah Jane, Ally Brooke and Lauren Jauregui, known collectively in 2012 as Fifth Harmony.
Kim Kardashian, “Jam (Turn It Up)”
During an August 2014 appearance on Watch What Happens Live, Kim Kardashian elaborated to host Andy Cohen on the one thing in life she wished she hadn’t done. Astoundingly, it wasn’t her infamous video escapade with Ray J.
“I don’t like it when people kind of dabble into things they shouldn’t be,” Kardashian noted in hindsight of “Jam (Turn It Up)”, her 2011 foray into pop music. “And that, I don’t think I should have.”
“Jam (Turn It Up)” contains such Shakespearean prose as “my whole clique’s on the floor, we gonna party and then party some more” and was written and produced by The-Dream, who’d previously had luck capturing the pop zeitgeist with Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)”. Some proceeds from paid digital downloads of Kim’s track went toward St. Jude’s Cancer Research Hospital. That said, the single charted literally nowhere.
Having clearly learned her lesson, the Keeping Up With The Kardashians star opted to stay in her lane going forward. “Like, what gave me the right to think I could be a singer? Like, I don’t have a good voice,” she wisely opined on WWHL.
In 2011, budding Northern California video-director-turned-rapper Kreayshawn cobbled together tongue-in-cheek screed “Gucci Gucci,” which caught fire on YouTube thanks to a DIY video featuring fellow White Girl Mob members V-Nasty and Lil Debbie. The song eventually was certified Gold by the RIAA, reaching No. 57 on the Billboard Hot 100.
From there the returns were diminishing. After signing with Columbia, music buyers turned their nose up at Kreayshawn’s follow-up singles “Breakfast (Syrup)” and “Go Hard (La.La.La.).” Not even a minor beef with Rick Ross could ignite public interest in the lead-up to the release of her 2012 debut LP Somethin’ ‘Bout Kreay, which stalled at No. 112 on the Billboard 200.
Google around these days and you’ll easily find the 30 year old, who’s now a DJ, radio host and, per a 2016 chat with VICE, tattoo artist. Yes, there really is something about resilient Kreay, even if folks couldn’t quite put a finger on what that was in 2012.
LMFAO performs at the Super Bowl
LMFAO should have been one of those asterisks in one-hit wonderdom, but they just refused to go away. Once the duo’s debut single “I’m in Miami Bitch” had worn out its welcome, the uncle-nephew act scurried off and slapped together smash-a-roo “Party Rock Anthem,” which went to No. 1 in over a dozen countries (including this one). They repeated the trick with yet another teflon-coated hit, “Sexy And I Know It.” Between 2011 and 2012, the pair, comprised of Redfoo and SkyBlu (or Stefan and Skyler Gordy), spent a collective eight weeks atop of the Billboard Hot 100. Funny — it felt more like 38.
Anyway, the stars were aligned for LMFAO to hit the stage during the Super Bowl SLVI Halftime Show. Or, at least, they were on the right label at the right time, as Madonna was gearing up with the release of MDNA, the first of her albums under a new deal with Interscope. LMFAO, Madge’s roster-mates, had already remixed lead MDNA single “Give Me All Your Luvin” and shot a Budweiser ad featuring the song for the big game. So by the time Redfoo and SkyBlu jiggled around in Detroit with the Queen of Pop that Sunday evening in February 2012, the only way for the two of them to keep going up was up, up, up…
…until seven months later, when Redfoo stated in an interview that he and SkyBlu had called it a day. LMFAO!
The Rihanna Plane
Kids, kids, kids. What to say about Rihanna’s infamous one-week 777 Tour that hasn’t already been recounted before? A lot, probably. But as one of the 200-plus passengers on the chartered aircraft, I’ll note this: Everyone’s got their own version of events.
The bite-sized recap is that a large group of media professionals (and smaller number of radio contest winners) were invited by Def Jam to join Rihanna, her band and a handful of label handlers aboard a 777 jet that was set to hit seven cities in seven countries around the world, over the seven days in November 2012 leading up to the release of Ri’s seventh album, Unapologetic. On the surface, it seemed like brilliant marketing. But the devil is often in the lack of details.
Having, appropriately enough, seven years of travel-writing experience at that point, I quickly noticed our itinerary was missing a few major details — particularly overnight hotel stay in three of the seven cities. Were we really expected to sleep on the plane? (Yes.) And go without showers those three days? (Yes.) And share the aircraft’s minuscule restroom facilities with some 250 other people for a week? (YES.) Oh, well. It’s the Rihanna plane!
That was the tip of the iceberg. Rihanna performed in small venues each night over these seven days, and all were expected to attend the shows. On a few dates, the singer, after a night of post-show partying, arrived to the plane hours late, thus holding up flight schedules, causing the craft’s crew to work overtime and journalists to miss deadlines. Oh, right — there was no wireless Internet on the plane. Oops! I personally filed my daily reporting from the backs of whatever lobbies I could get a signal in, or from the occasional hotel room at 3:30 a.m.
I saw Rihanna on the actual craft and snapped photos of her on two scant occasions: 1) The day we boarded the plane; and 2) A week later, when we touched back down in the States. Was she really on board the spacious hunk of metal that whole time? Did it really matter that I got 11 hours of sleep in a one-week period? Was it all much ado about nothing?
In keeping in line with this larger roundup, it’s likely no one really remembers the 777 Tour, save for those who were a part of it. In the end, all that matters is that Unapologetic wound up becoming Rihanna’s first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 — while its lead single topped the Hot 100. And that, as they say, is showbiz. Shine bright like a diamond!