IMHO: A Survey About The Year In Music : Best Music Of 2012 We asked musicians, music industry folks, writers, programmers and DJs — fans all — to tell us how they saw 2012 in music. We sent them five questions asking what began and what fell apart, what made them happy and what disappointed them.

IMHO: A Survey About The Year In Music

The crowd at Orbital's performance at Moogfest in October. Adam Kissick for NPR hide caption

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Adam Kissick for NPR

The crowd at Orbital's performance at Moogfest in October.

Adam Kissick for NPR

We asked musicians, music industry folks, writers, programmers and DJs — fans all — to tell us how they saw 2012 in music. We sent them five questions asking what began and what fell apart, what made them happy and what disappointed them. They told us about bands that broke up, albums they fell in love with, trends that waxed and waned, tools and ideas that came and went. They rue the movement of some sounds into the mainstream and celebrate the partnering of others. They took our questions seriously, and they've got jokes. When we asked this group to blue-sky next year for us, they thought of overdue albums, improbable comebacks and doing better next time.


The GIF became respectable and was made musical. More bands should release GIFs instead of music videos. We'd all be richer for it. --Ken Freedman, WFMU

Something controversial. --Andrew Nosnitsky, writer

After a long period in the underground, New Orleans "bounce" rap moved into the national spotlight, focused mainly on so-called "sissy bounce." Big Freedia, one of the best known "sissy bounce" artists, appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel TV show in January. In June, NPR's All Things Considered featured the DJ Diplo's collaboration with New Orleans bounce rapper Nicky da B and their song "Express Yourself" (generating some irate listener mail). --Scott Aiges, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation

The mainstream acceptance of trap music, its various permutations, and the general ignorance of its origins. --Rembert Browne, writer

This year was a really great year for new globally-influenced electronic music genres. 3ball MTY won several awards this year and took Tribal Guarachero into the pop charts. Dave Nada and Moombahton Massive have become some of the most solicited DJs world wide, while bands like Bomba Estereo gained more ground for the fusion of tropical sounds. Nigeria, Ghana, Angola and Durban made a lot of headway for African club music wish the sounds of Azonto, Afrobeats, Kuduro and Kwaito. --Geko Jones, DJ and producer

EDM's world domination and pop music that was performed by some remarkably untalented people. However, the metal scene produced some of the most thoughtful and innovative music in a while. --Laina Dawes, writer

EDM bubble gained a lot of air. --Tom Windish, The Windish Agency

What started? A new golden era of R&B, it seemed to me. Records by Frank Ocean, Miguel, and The Weeknd — who re-issued all three free EPs on a single CD — combined complex storytelling and futuristic productions with distinctly modern soul. Bobby Womack made a remarkable, very modern comeback. And though he didn't release the long-rumored, 10+ years in the works follow-up to Voodoo, D'Angelo returned to performing, news in itself. You could also feel R&B flickering through forward-looking work in other genres, from Grimes and Crystal Castles to Robert Glasper and Neneh Cherry to Dirty Projectors and Jim James' new solo material. --Will Hermes, writer

Blue Ivy. --Amy Schriefer, NPR Music

Neil Young on Twitter. --Jeff Conklin, East Village Radio

Didn't start, but grew in activity and recognition: Improvising large ensembles, conducted for spontaneous and long-form results, by such composer/performers as Butch Morris, Karl Berger, Adam Rudolph and Walter Thompson. --Howard Mandel, writer

Really just being alive. I was so happy. 2012 was great. I'm 23. --Lil B, musician

Using Instagram to document my concert going and daily music insanity. Using the cloud to hold my music. --Bob Boilen, NPR Music

Phonograph records made with 3D printers. --Ken Braun, Sterns Music

SoundCloud's reign. --Otis Hart, NPR Music

Holograms. And I hope they end just as quickly as they started. Tupac at Coachella was cool, but we don't need to bring back all of the fallen superstars. Their music will live on without a reminder in holographic form. And honestly, it's a bit creepy. --Briana Younger, writer

The unexpected reignition of Arthur magazine, a visionary journal of crypto-pop scientifics which lives to crawl once more out of the Mojave desert. --RJ Smith, writer


The suspense. Will the Stones get back together? Will they record? Will they tour? It's official, folks — the Rolling Stones will NEVER go away. Also, Scott Walker's silence. The former '60s pop star hadn't made a record since 2006's dark and terrifying The Drift. Now he's released Bish Bosch, which will continue to make him a darling of critics who will nonetheless maintain a safe distance. --John Schaefer, WNYC

The controversial thing that started. --Andrew Nosnitsky, writer

Literally, my heart broke when the band Girls broke up (RIP) and SPIN magazine went out of print — but onward! --Judy Miller Silverman, Motormouth Media

The great Canadian noise-rock group AIDS Wolf broke up. They were simply one of the most astonishing bands of the last decade and will be missed by fans of evolution. --Jeff Conklin, East Village Radio

The long, wonderful, adventurous career of my hero, folk singer Chavela Vargas, the soul of Mexico, when she passed in August, rest in peace. --Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, writer

Whitney's musical/life comeback. In addition to her February passing, rocking the foundation of the culture, it also was an abrupt ending to a year that could have been her mini-comeback (co-starring in Sparkle and the song "Celebrate" from the film, a duet with Jordin Sparks). Posthumously, the song became her 40th Top-40 R&B hit. --Rembert Browne, writer

My appearances on --Chris Mooney, Tunecore

Buying records. I finally got on Spotify and never looked back. --Scott Aiges, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation

Print editions of SPIN and Newsweek, among others — all a part of the years-long War On Tangibility, in media and elsewhere. It's hardly new to 2012, of course, but it seems like there have never been fewer ways to make the experience of music tactile. --Stephen Thompson, NPR Music

For me personally, for better and worse, the need to own physical copies of new records ended. (Yes, old habits die hard.) The ritual of putting on a beloved vinyl LP remains precious, along with the pleasures of sitting down with a well-curated-and-annotated reissue. But along with digital files and Bluetooth-capable mobile devices, Spotify and YouTube have, for most day-to-day practical purposes, finally supplanted my CD/LP library. --Will Hermes, writer

Lean-forward futurism about music and technology ended. The music industry used to be curious about what music services and apps made possible. Now, we just argue about royalty rates and artist payouts. It's hard to see a hyper-focus on the present, as it suggests that the future of music is already here and few people like it. --Kyle Bylin, Live Nation Labs

Apple's acumen. --Otis Hart, NPR Music

In 2011, you could type an artist's name into Google and get a Mediafire link to download their album. You can't do that anymore. Not that I ever did. --Andrew Matson, The Seattle Times

The rap hype-machine is spinning out of control, so gone are the days when you had to flood the market with free mixtapes to generate enough buzz to sign a major label deal. Now it only takes one good video. Which is kind of awesome if you have the attention span of a 9-year-old like I do. --Clayton Blaha, OWSLA

Any pretense that major entertainment conglomerates (including UMusic, EMI, Warner Bros.) have any commercial interest in jazz, past or present. --Howard Mandel, writer

R&B singers making dance crossover songs a la Chris Brown and Usher. Thank goodness this madness has stopped. --Ulysses "Stretch" Garrett, DJ at WKYS

Hip-hop's rejection of homosexuality. Frank Ocean came out via an open letter on his Tumblr and, surprise, the music industry didn't collapse. No one hated him. In fact, most people (rappers and fellow singers included) respected him for being so courageous. 2012 also saw artists like Mykki Blanco and Zebra Katz being openly homosexual, songs like Macklemore's "Same Love" and Jay-Z expressing his support for gay marriage. Hopefully, this signals an end to the stigma and homophobia that has plagued hip-hop for so long and an era where freedom of expression also includes sexuality. --Briana Younger, writer


Tom Petty going on tour and playing in New Orleans. But that's just me. And the return of Bob Mould — his new album, Silver Age, is just great, it brought back all sorts of wonderful memories of why I loved his bands Husker Du and Sugar. And Beasts of the Southern Wild winning big at Sundance and Cannes. --Scott Aiges, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation

Seeing El-P make a victory lap after an already super influential career as a solo artist and industry figure was pretty cool. And the fact that he's getting nods from major label artists now is awesome, he's still progressing and making some of the best music of his life which is really inspiring. Also, Frank Ocean makes me really happy. --Clayton Blaha, OWSLA

The Sonig Exp/Hop/DVD Box. Two CDs of experimental, accessible weirdness and hip-hop from Germany's amazing Sonig Record Label, plus a DVD of videos including the timeless "Robbing the Booty Bank." Of course the first thing I did was rip it to MP3 and put it on my phone. --Ken Freedman, WFMU

Attending a concert by Chavela Vargas in Mexico City last April — four months before she died. --Betto Arcos

The rise of THEESatisfaction, Nacho Picasso, Naomi Punk and so many other original voices from the Pacific Northwest. The mid-career elegance of Damien Jurado. In general not having to grade on a curve for local music, because it was so good (I live in Seattle). --Andrew Matson, The Seattle Times

Seeing young kids spontaneously jump on stage and dance during the middle of a Here We Go Magic show, while confused security guards tried to get them down and the band played on, smiling — causing a typically restrained Brooklyn crowd to let their guard down and express themselves. And dance. --Delicate Steve, musician

The part in Future's "Neva End" where he croons "butterfly, butterfly" from the inside of a robot's digestive tract. --Andrew Nosnitsky, writer

Seeing Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's Einstein On The Beach, in a new production that is probably also the last one from the two creators of this white-elephant, game-changing "opera." The cast was committed and the chorus was simply extraordinary, and the production revealed a layer of humor that I hadn't noticed the last time the piece was produced in the States (which was 20 years ago). --John Schaefer, WNYC

The attentions by the White House to worthy jazz, blues and black popular music. --Howard Mandel, writer

Prob releasing my first classical music/new age album as "The BasedGod" and debuting on the Billboard charts with Yanni. --Lil B, musician

Completing Dutty Artz remixes with some of my favorite Palenque artists like Sexteto Tabala and Estrellas Del Caribe. --Geko Jones, DJ and producer

Blunderbuss! Jack White makes me unspeakably happy. I attended a matinee concert in Detroit the same day I went to his 8 p.m. show; both times I sat in the same row as his less than five-foot, white-haired mom. I re-read Frank Ocean's liner note about unrequited love at least once a month — it melts me. --dream hampton, writer

Pallbearer's Sorrow and Extinction. Beautiful Doom. I can't wait to hear the band's sophomore album. --Laina Dawes, writer

Congolese band Staff Benda Bilili on its first American tour. --Ken Braun, Sterns Music

Azealia Banks' music, style, enthusiasm, spirit and willingness to spar with 30-something male rappers (also Jim Jones, shame on you for calling a 21-year-old a "slore"). The political and creative energy of young dance music producers from Mexico, like Javier Estrada, Teehn Bwitches and Los Macuanos. The continued evolution of young vogue/ball house producers like Divoli S'vere and B. Ames, under the tutelage of DJ Mike Q. And my favorite song of the year, "Fever," by Canadian drum 'n' bass producer B. Traits with guest vocals by legendary UK garage diva Elisabeth Troy. Watch the video, it will make you happy, too! --Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, writer

Clicking the YouTube replay button on countless amazing music videos. Grimes, SSION, Killer Mike, Sky Ferreira, Father John Misty, Diamond Rings, Die Antwoord, Azealia Banks, Dan Deacon and many more made me grin ear to ear all year long. --Adam Kissick, photographer

Seeing the ladies of American death/doom legend Derketa start playing live again, and observing people's overwhelmingly positive reaction to their brand-new, self-released, first-ever full-length album, In Death We Meet. The album is an absolutely massive triumph of death, and every accolade is richly deserved. Here's to the next one! --Kim Kelly, writer

Singing "Gangnam Style" with a live karaoke band. Only in 2012 could I have rapped in Korean in front of a room of 100+ people and not been considered insane. Close second: learning that Dave Grohl is back in Queens of the Stone Age. --Eamonn Fetherston, NPR Music

The live sound of Antibalas' sternum-rectifying thump; the CD reappearance via anthology of Wendy Rene and her quietly devastating "After Laughter Comes Tears"; Katy Perry's "Fireworks" mimed by Marion Cotillard and burning a hole through the middle of the French movie Rust and Bone. --RJ Smith, writer

The work ethic of 2 Chainz. No one worked harder, and few left as much of an imprint on the year, by simply being everywhere. --Rembert Browne, writer

Alongside the joy of discovering great new music – which this year included records by Japandroids, Mary Halvorson, Kendrick Lamar, Andy Stott, Pallbearer, and lots more — nothing gave me more pleasure than sitting down with a well-curated-and-annotated anthology: this year there was Soul Jazz's sweet Harmony, Melody & Style: Lovers Rock In The UK 1975-1992, Sony Latin's handsome Tito Puente anthology, Ace's great Allen Toussaint Songbook, Luaka Bop's long-delayed anthology of work by Brazilian soul-funk giant Tim Maia, the 78-rpm record-collectors geek-fest The Return Of The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of and the Idelsohn Society's new seasonal classic, 'Twas The Night Before Hanukkah. I'll add to that the obvious pleasure of hearing music live. This year that included welcoming a new venue to my region, the reopened Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York—a venue as notable for legendary shows back-in-the-day, especially by the Grateful Dead, as the Fillmore East was. With its perfect scale (dancefloor in front of the stage, seats with clear sightlines in the balcony), excellent sound (in the theater and the lobby), plus a top-notch bar (hello Lagunitas IPA on tap!), it struck me as the platonic ideal of a live music room. Every town deserves one. --Will Hermes, writer

Beyonce on Tumblr. --Amy Schriefer, NPR Music


The more I've learned about the royalty percentages artists earn from streaming services, the more irate I become. Especially when discussing the fact that these companies operate with imaginary money, it blows my mind how intangible the entire concept of music is becoming. --Clayton Blaha, OWSLA

Pandora's campaign to reduce royalties to songwriters and recording artists, and Spotify's very spotty royalty ledger. --Ken Braun, Sterns Music

Hearing about musicians not getting paid and record stores closing, and the "deluxe" reissuing of a record that isn't even a year old. --Jeff Conklin, East Village Radio

The music news-cycle's ever pulsating speed, pint-sized thoughts permeating rapidly. Lists of things that shouldn't be lists: Top 10 Hot Dancers In Rap Videos. --Judy Miller Silverman, Motormouth Media

Continued lack of significant and meaningful funding — either governmental or from non-profit organizations' — for creative music and journalism about the arts. --Howard Mandel, writer

Hard-working employees losing their jobs. --Chris Mooney, Tunecore

Too much American pop music on NPR and not enough music from around the world, especially Latin America. --Betto Arcos

"Gangnam Style" and all of its one billion views. That Is All. --Briana Younger, writer

Reading Neil Young's autobiography, especially when he does things like writing "I'm picking up my laptop and moving into another room now," or spending six pages talking about his first band and then a page later talking about them like he had never mentioned them previously. Editors arent needed for songwriting but they are sure needed for rockstar autobiographies. --Ken Freedman, WFMU

These things made me feel equally angry/upset and inspired: watching low energy live shows, hearing music that's over-hyped, watching an over-hyped band underperform live, seeing an awesome set and noticing the lack of reaction from the band's audience. --Delicate Steve, musician

"I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women." --Katy Perry accepting her Woman Of The Year award from Billboard. --Amy Schriefer, NPR Music

The gentrification of Trap Music. --Andrew Nosnitsky, writer

Chris Brown, from January 1st to the date at which this is published. Non-stop. --Rembert Browne, writer

What began making me angry ended up bringing me great joy and that was Kreayshawn selling less than 4,000 records after being hyped as rap's next great whatever. --dream hampton, writer

I wouldn't say anything made me "angry" but just disappointed that some of the albums I loved, and some metal artists, like Atlanta's Royal Thunder or Arkansas's Laser Flames on the Great BiG news, whose music can be translated within the mainstream rock categories, didn't get the recognition that they deserved by bigger media outlets. --Laina Dawes, writer

The metal media's stubborn refusal to look past their inboxes and use their collective power to highlight and support the legions of amazing underground artists that continue to release some of the most interesting, inspiring and intriguing permutations of heavy metal music imaginable, whose work is still limited to the ears of that dedicated few who seek them out. Stop relying on PR companies and press releases, and start DIGGING! --Kim Kelly, writer

Every adult within a 20-mile radius of Chief Keef. Bad trend pieces that lumped rappers together based solely on their sexual orientation. People lauding R&B artists like Miguel and the Weeknd but ignoring albums by artists like Brandy and Keyshia Cole. People using ball terms like "banjee," "realness" and "kiki" without understanding the definitions. Also, being on Rihannaplane was no picnic. --Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, writer, my favorite music startup, died. The team later joined Senzari, but it was sad news. I loved to write about, because it was such an ambitious product. You could easily speculate about the geosocial music revolution and the potential to listen to music scenes as radio stations on your smartphone. The death of made me fear that innovation may not thrive in the current climate. --Kyle Bylin, Live Nation Labs

Kevin Shields getting my hopes up, again. --Adam Kissick, photographer

M. Ward asking us to not take pictures at his concert. Bands using backing tracks. --Bob Boilen, NPR Music

RYAN AIR! --Andy Stott, musician


Next year, I'd like to see more artists do songs in Spanglish. If you give thought to the few crossover artists that utilize the hybrid of Spanish and English you'll see a pattern of uber-huge acts like J-Lo, Shakira and Pitbull. --Geko Jones, DJ and producer

More U.S. dates by Titica, an artist from Angola who performs kuduro, a local version of rap/techno that has crazy connections to New Orleans bounce. --Scott Aiges, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation

I hope 2013 sees Richard Youngs coming over to America from Scotland to play some shows and more people buying vinyl. --Jeff Conklin, East Village Radio

Would it be too much to hope for something, anything, new from David Bowie? --John Schaefer, WNYC

Another Shabazz Palaces record. --Andrew Matson, The Seattle Times

Invincible's album with her group Complex Movements, an aural meditation on the intersection of science and social movements. --dream hampton, writer

An Eminem album. If it happens, which it is scheduled to, I have a feeling it will be great. His late-2011 BET Cypher performance reminded many of those who forget about him that he's still better than pretty much everyone. --Rembert Browne, writer

A Boards of Canada album. --Otis Hart, NPR Music

That the new Delicate Steve record is everything I can imagine it to be. That all my favorite bands surprise me. That new music continues to inspire me as much as (or more than) my musical heroes of the past. --Delicate Steve, musician

I'm hoping to make another step forward with my output. --Andy Stott, musician

Next year I'm hoping Steely Dan releases another terrible record because I'll probably love it anyway. Also, I'm hoping more magazines relaunch as large format quarterlies, because that's what really rev a publicist's engine. And I hope there's a united effort to discuss gun control and mental illness in America. --Clayton Blaha, OWSLA

Mass recognition that good music reproduced with high fidelity is worth paying for. --Ken Braun, Sterns Music

Progressiveism! Openness! Love! I want to go out dancing a lot! I hope Blue Ivy makes an album! --Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, writer

A full Depeche Mode reunion with Vince Clarke AND Alan Wilder plus some U.S. Stone Roses shows, but I'd settle for that MBV album. :) --Adam Kissick, photographer

Faster, harder, louder! --Kim Kelly, writer

A true country music/EDM hybrid. The 109th and final David Ritz rock bio (Kid Rock: Red, White & Brew). An armed guard posted at every record store door. --RJ Smith, writer

More money for more artists. --Chris Mooney, Tunecore

For the next year, I hope that more new voices and views will join the music and technology conversation. Trade publications have lost their way; they're not very curious. The status quo remains unchallenged. No one is asking big questions. --Kyle Bylin, Live Nation Labs

Continued and increased momentum of democracy in music discovery and appreciation. More musicians following their dreams of making music and a career in music. --Tom Windish, The Windish Agency

A few new affordable live music venues in Manhattan would be nice! It's nice to dream ... --Ken Freedman, WFMU

Fewer raps about fashion, more raps about Egypt. --Andrew Nosnitsky, writer

More grassroots music networks across America (and across genres) connecting to build and share audiences and ideas. --Howard Mandel, writer

Less music but more quality music — the tools to make it and release it are so readily available we are inundated. It will only get bigger but a few will step out of the pack. --Judy Miller Silverman, Motormouth Media

More world love and peace. --Lil B, musician

Correction Jan. 3, 2013

In a previous version of this piece, Scott Aiges incorrectly said Lil Wayne made his first appearance on a bounce track in 2012.