Make it new!

Changes did pop good in 2010

Justin Bieber at Madison Square Garden in New York. Justin Bieber at Madison Square Garden in New York. (Peter Kramer/Associated Press)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / December 26, 2010

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If 2009 was dominated by the pop music equivalent of comfort food — with triumphs coming for artists like adult contemporary sensation Susan Boyle and enduring icons the Beatles and the late Michael Jackson — 2010 was all about the sugar rush of the new.

While familiar artists enjoyed success and stirred up discussion — Boyle released a popular seasonal album, Jackson one from the grave with a little help from his friends, and the Fab Four finally embraced the MP3 and debuted their catalog on iTunes — the names and faces jolting the charts and igniting the biggest buzz this year were decidedly more youthful.

As a nation, we’ve often gone pop when things go bust in the real world, gratefully embracing shiny distractions from the drab, often depressing proceedings taking place outside the pop culture bubble as wars, economic crises, and political squalls dominate the news.

And there was no shortage of sparkle to be found.

Whether it was teen sensation Justin Bieber blowing up Twitter, ubiquitous crooner Bruno Mars rhapsodizing about romance, upstart rappers B.o.B, Nicki Minaj, and Drake making good on their supporting cast status with strong debuts, country trio Lady Antebellum doing the crossover shuffle to the pop mainstream, or the YouTube and TV-assisted ascensions of 13-year-old Greyson Chance and 10-year-old Jackie Evancho, the tide undoubtedly began turning toward the young. Throw in pop-country princess Taylor Swift’s continued domination (selling 1 million copies of her third album, “Speak Now,’’ in a week) and the unswerving popularity of fashion-forward dance-pop starlets Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Ke$ha alongside a true dearth of rock music on the charts, and a sense of the guard changing was strong. Bubbling under the mainstream, indie artists made new strides into the commercial arena as groups such as Vampire Weekend and Arcade Fire hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts, and acts like La Roux, Florence and the Machine, and Mumford & Sons enjoyed a little delayed gratification as 2009’s legwork paid off in 2010’s accolades.

Although the words themselves weren’t new, a few choice ones nearly made it to the airwaves as unprintable phrases found their way into a few of the year’s biggest hits. Cee-Lo Green bitterly, but soulfully, reacted to a former flame and her new paramour in the summer smash “(Expletive) You’’ and veteran rapper Kanye West reflected on missteps he made and names one can be called for making such missteps on “Runaway.’’

West continued to find new ways to make headlines on and off the stage with a critically-acclaimed album, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,’’ and a stunning and closely watched promotional circuit parade involving sometimes tense, sometimes comical moments from the “Today’’ show to his Twitter feed.

Locally, two nightclubs went under the knife to find fresh faces of their own. The best of the renovations meant that both Royale in the Theatre District and the venerable Paradise in Allston benefited from improved sightlines, thanks in part to the raising of the stage at the former and the moving of the stage (out from behind that pesky pole) at the latter.

Down the road from the Paradise, Harpers Ferry nightclub closed up shop on Halloween after 40 years of bringing a wide range of local and national acts to town. The shuttering will be short-lived, however, as the trio behind the newly renovated Paradise — Live Nation honcho Don Law, Joe Dunne, and Declan Mehigan — plan to do the same touch-up to Harpers and reopen the venue next month as the Brighton Music Hall.

The folks at the apparel company Life Is Good decided to go big for their annual concert and put Boston — or more specifically Canton — on the festival destination map with a two-day hoedown that drew 25,000 fans and raised $600,000 for charity.

But perhaps the news that shocked the Boston rock scene most in 2010 was the death — too soon — of longtime rock music patron, promoter, and bon vivant Billy Ruane in October. An outpouring of memories spilled across Facebook pages and websites for the enthusiastic supporter of all stripes of music, and a memorial concert held at adjoining rock clubs the Middle East and T.T. the Bear’s Place in Cambridge in November drew a legion of musicians that spanned several generations of the Boston music community, attesting that there will never be another soul quite like him.

Sarah Rodman can be reached at

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