Published Dec 09, 2014As we look back on the year that was, there are a handful of notable figures who truly define 2014. This list of 2014's top newsmakers contains some artists at the top of their games who grabbed headlines with exciting comebacks, chart-topping dominance and powerful social campaigning. But there were those who were in the news for all of the wrong reasons, too: this list includes feuds, ill-advised promotional blunders and controversies aplenty.
So as we here at Exclaim.ca ready ourselves for another year of reporting the news from around the music world, we're taking a look back at the industry's biggest players in 2014.
Don't forget to head over to our 2014 in Lists section to see more of our Year-End coverage.
Top 10 Newsmakers of 2014:
10. Run the Jewels
Many fans agree that Run the Jewels released the year's best rap album with their stunning Run the Jewels 2, but that's just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what made this such an interesting year for El-P and Killer Mike. On top of plenty of staggering live shows, they made headlines with an outlandish stunt to remix their album using exclusively cat sounds; fans were so amused at the idea of Meow the Jewels that they managed to raise $65,783 on Kickstarter to fund the project. Meanwhile, Killer Mike also made headlines with his thought-provoking social and political commentary; he penned op-eds on the Michael Brown shooting and rap music's treatment in courts, and he even expanded his barbershop business. In fact, the only real setback in their triumphant campaign was a recent trailer fire.
9. Sun Kil Moon
Songwriter Mark Kozelek dropped four separate releases this year: there was the starkly morbid (and critically lauded) full-length Benji, a concert album called Live at Biko, the holiday-themed Sings Christmas Carols and a two-song ten-inch. But, perhaps regrettably, what most folks will remember about his year is his ridiculous feud with the War on Drugs. Here's what happened: during a September appearance at the Ottawa Folk Festival, Sun Kil Moon's quiet set was partially drowned out the War on Drugs' set at an adjacent stage. He said, "I hate that beer commercial lead-guitar shit," and added, "This next song is called, 'The War on Drugs Can Suck My Fucking Dick.'" In the coming weeks, he proceeded to troll his chosen rivals with two diss songs: "War on Drugs: Suck My Cock" and "Adam Granofsky Blues." All of this began to remind us of a certain Smiths song.
Soul-pop megastar Beyoncé released her self-titled album late in 2013, and the shockwaves from that surprise release continued to resonate throughout 2014. Releasing a surprise LP — which several artists did throughout the year — became known as "pulling a Beyoncé" — and the furor sparked feminist debates and classroom controversies. Meanwhile, the singer hit the road for a massive tour with her husband Jay Z, although their domestic bliss was upset rather publicly when security camera footage of Bey's sister Solange attacking Jay Z leaked online. (But hey, at least the rapper emerged with all of his fingers intact.) To cap it all off, Beyoncé expanded her previously digital-only album for a Platinum Edition box set. It was such a great year that one radio station even adopted an all-Beyoncé format.
7. Wu-Tang Clan
For a long time, we thought Wu-Tang Clan's new album might never happen. The rap collective had been talking about A Better Tomorrow since 2013, but RZA began pointing the finger at Raekwon for holding up the process. Rae then responded with some harsh words in the press, saying that he wasn't happy with how the album was sounding and arguing that "It's time for a new fucking game plan." Much to our surprise, however, they reconciled, and once they were back on the same page, it wasn't long before A Better Tomorrow came out. The group also captured fans' curiosity with Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, an album that they've pressed in an edition of one. They've apparently been offered $5 million for it — which might help make up for all the money that RZA apparently lost in making A Better Tomorrow. Meanwhile, band members like Ghostface Killah and Raekwon remained active on the solo front.
6. Aphex Twin
Electronic legend Richard D. James hadn't released an album as Aphex Twin since 2001's Drukqs, but things began to turn around when he complied with a wildly successful fan-funded campaign to unearth an archival album from his side-project Caustic Window. It sold for more than $46,000, and a couple of months later, a mysterious blimp went flying over England. This signalled the impending arrival of Syro, a stunning new album that thrilled the producer's long-suffering fans. Okay, so he might have alienated a few folks with his dubious 9/11 "truther" talk, but it's still great to have him back.