December 30, 2010 | by Joey DiGuglielmo
YEAR IN REVIEW: Milestones and missteps

Gay singer Clay Aiken had one of the year's unexpected pleasures with his lovely standards collection, 'Tried and True.' (Photo courtesy of Decca)

It was a strange year musically, one that got rolling with a surreal all-star remake of “We Are the World” that had fossils like Barbra Streisand and Gladys Knight (where were they on the original?) rubbing shoulders with younger acts and found the Indigo Girls releasing a Christmas album of all things.

And while the mainstream was abuzz with new albums from Kanye and Eminem, several gay releases got some notice.

The Scissor Sisters, featuring gay front man Jake Shears, are, perhaps, the closest thing the gay world has to the Black Eyed Peas. On third album “Night Work,” which dropped in June, lyrics like “I think I need a rubber tonight” were splashed over neo-disco and new wave beats courtesy of Madonna vet Stuart Price.

Local indie lesbian singer/songwriter Mara Levi released her third album, “We Listen to Fools” (digital only release) in October.

It was, perhaps, Elton John’s least gay album in years, but his recent collaboration with forgotten vet Leon Russell, “The Union,” resulted in a critical triumph. Rolling Stone called the T Bone Burnett-produced disc worthy of the artists’ best work.

Taylor Swift may seem bland compared to Lady Gaga but her country crossover domination continued with this year’s “Speak Now,” a savvy collection of catchy hits.

Swedish diva Robyn — what is it with the Swedes and dance music? — delivered the year’s best dance album with “Body Talk,” a pummeling collection of memorable club rattlers like “Fembot,” “Dancing On My Own” and “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do.”

Katy Perry, of “I Kissed a Girl” fame, teamed up with pop masterminds Max Martin and Dr. Luke for one of the year’s best pop albums, “Teenage Dream,” which dropped in August and topped the Billboard album chart. It’s also up for several Grammys.

Even with no new album out, Lady Gaga kept things interesting, if occasionally uneven, this year. Her “Telephone” video with Beyonce was an epic, nearly 10-minute clip on a Michael Jackson-scope scale, but her September D.C. concert appearance drew mixed reviews as did a half-hearted remix album. Look for a new studio album from her in 2011.

Rhianna’s “Loud” dropped in November and continued her hit streak with two No. 1 U.S. singles, “Only Girl (In the World” and “What’s My Name?”

There was a new “Glee” soundtrack album almost every month this year but April’s “Power of Madonna” collection was perhaps the most memorable. The “Glee” juggernaut will surely continue in the new year.

Electropop British gay-fronted group Goldfrapp released its fifth studio album “Head First” in March, featuring retro-’80s sounds.

Gay Sigur Ros frontman Jonsi released a solo effort in April, called “Go,” which received mostly strong reviews and had a strong chart showing in the U.S.

Gay singer/songwriter Rufus Wainwright dropped his sixth studio album “All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu” in April. It’s a classy and stripped-down record that finds inspiration in Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Melissa Etheridge, perhaps the most famous lesbian rock star, released her 10th studio album “Fearless Love” in April. It’s more rock-oriented than her last few albums, which sometimes found her veering way too close to snoozeville. It’s great to hear her rocking out again.

Liza Minnelli released the little-noticed “Confessions” in September, her first studio album in nearly 15 years.

The Indigo Girls were all over the map with their surreal October release “Holly Happy Days” which, despite its nod to Hanukkah with a Woody Guthrie cover featured several surprising nods to Christianity such as the French carol “Angels We Have Heard on High” and a country version of “O Holy Night.” Annie Lennox had one of the year’s more interesting holiday albums with her “Christmas Cornucopia.”

Adam Lambert, the gay “Idol” runner-up, stayed busy this year with his first tour, “Glam Nation,” which made a memorable D.C. stop in June at the 9:30 club. A live EP dropped earlier this month. Look for a new studio album next year.

Cyndi Lauper, easily the world’s most gay-friendly straight act, released a blues album, “Memphis Blues,” in June and earned solid reviews and a Grammy nomination. Look for a live DVD from the tour, which came to D.C. last month, in 2011.

It was a great year for Kylie Minogue fans. Her 11th studio album “Aphrodite” was released worldwide in June and this month a Christmas EP was released on iTunes. Single “All the Lovers” topped the U.S. Dance Club chart and, though Minogue has always been more popular abroad, she still managed a decent showing on the album charts with a No. 19 peak, her second-highest charter here.

Gay singer Clay Aiken went retro in June with “Tried and True,” a standards collection. Though the concept has been run into the ground after umpteen releases from Rod Stewart, Aiken’s the kind of singer who, despite his youth, has the vocal oomph to breathe new life into these classics. His covers of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” and “Mack the Knife” are especially good. He soars on the latter.

One of the year’s biggest disappointments was a dud from Christina Aguilera called “Bionic,” another June release that found the overwrought singer all over the stylistic map with few memorable results. The album bombed — it’s only halfway to gold status in the U.S. six months after its release.

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

14 Comments
  • Referring to artists like Streisand as “fossils” is not interesting or witty, it is ignorant and immature.

    • How DARE Joey DiGuglielmo refer to Barbra Streisand and Gladys Knight as “fossils.” Just who the hell does that ageist S.O.B. think he is? How would he like if someone called him a “twinkie” — and I don’t mean the Hostess snack cake?

  • Yes, Clay’s Tried and True album hits the mark. He has the vocals to make those classics shine.

  • i love that album by clay aiken- heard them on his PBS show–astounding

  • ps. why do you think he is not played on radio—I don’t understand

    • Clay Aiken’s new album isn’t being played on commercial radio because it appeals more to the eldest of the Baby Boomers — who will turn 65 this year — than to young people. Aiken’s album can best best described as one of what is referred to in the radio industry as “adult standards” — a polite way of saying pre-rock-and-roll nostalgia music — that is almost extinct as a radio music format.

  • How dispespectful, and terribly wrong you are in referring to La Streisand as a fossil.

    This year alone Barbra was nominated for a Grammy for her Love is the Answer CD. She authored a best seller, My Passion for Design, she appeared at the Village Vanguard, her first night club appearance since 1963 and released another great CD commensurate with the appearance, she was inducted into the Jewish American Hall of Fame, The California Museum Hall of Fame, reprised her role as Roz in Little Fockers, and continued to demonstrate her generosity as one of America’s greatest philanthropists by initiating a matching grant of $5,000,000 to Cedar Sinai for heart disease research. She was also active politically in her most important role as citizen. This actress, singer, author, director, producer, composer, photographer, philanthropist, designer. etc is far from a fossil.

    What have you done this year that puts you in a position to refer to Barbra as a fossil? She is anything but a fossil.

    I would love to know more about what you have contributed ( or have not contributed) to our society. Those that can do….those who can’t ,discredit those who do!

  • I have clay’s album and it is beautiful, but those two songs mentioned were not my favs. I like them, but not my favs.. however, i love who’s sorry now, misty, crying, and you don’t have to say you love me. esp the last one. very nice!

  • Barbra a fossil???I don’t think so. She is still the best and you’re an idiot.

  • Totally agree about Aiken. My boyfriend & I love that CD. He certainly deserved a Grammy nod more than the worn out offerings from Manilow & Stewart in that genre.

  • Joey DiGuglielmo

    My point was, folks, that singers like Knight and Streisand, who started their careers in the ’50s (Knight) and ’60s (Streisand) are hardly the “next generation” crop of singers who were targeted for the “World” remake. They looked out of place next to the Jennifer Hudsons, the Pinks and that group. But I guess they were eligible since they were not on the original (one of my all-time fave pop culture moments, by the way). I was merely pointing out that Knight and Streisand are not exactly spring chicks. That doesn’t denigrate their artistic merit though I will say Streisand is WILDLY overrated. A lovely voice, yes, but Sandi Patty could blow her out of the way with a sneeze. An odd comparison you may think, but I couldn’t help but compare the two listening to their Xmas albums back to back this week (several of the same songs — Patty’s versions blew Streisand’s away, IMO). Thx for reading, Joey

  • I will check out Sandy Patty…but she was born in 56…hardly a spring chicken herself!

    • Yeah, but she wasn’t on “We Are the World” either pegged as “the next gen.” I’m just talking about general singers who are better than Streisand. (Ironically, Patty has often spoken of Streisand as an influence.)

  • Yea, Mara Levi!

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