Wreath Lectures 2013: Celebrating A Great Year For Men In Music!

It's been a great year for men in music. Jude Rogers looks at the runners and riders in one of 2013's biggest races...

10! David Bowie

This year began with the return of a great dame, although we all worried how gravity might have turned his lovely limbs old and saggy. 66 is no age to be chipping away at rock’s coalface, let’s be honest – surely one should be resting or baking or rearing grandchildren then. David managed to do well nevertheless. Perhaps being happily married for so long has given him the support he always needed?

When not hiding coyly behind that white square on his album cover, however, he was witchily, saucily, playing with his sexuality. He got naughty on ‘Dirty Boys’ while buying "feather hats", while ‘Boss Of Me’ saw him succumbing Lolita-ishly to his "small town girl". Long-term collaborator Gail Ann Dorsey being on board was also excellent news, with her usual hefty basslines giving proper authority to proceedings. It was shame that The Next Day‘s early work on 2013’s surprise release agenda was compared so negatively, to Beyoncé’s Beyoncé later on, after she released a whole album, not just a single, out of nowhere. Better luck next time, my dear.

9! John Grant

The voluptuous John Grant returned to sing about heartbreak yet again, drinking coffee, vulnerably, on this record’s melancholy cover. Pale Green Ghosts made you want to call him round your house, buy in lots of white wine, and stick in a romcom to soothe his little outbursts. Full marks for swearing throughout this album, though, John – that’ll show the nasty heartbreaker what for – and give yourself extra bonus points for your choice of single, ‘GMF’. Showing no regard for his looks on the video, Grant made the political point of pouring his curves into a cardigan, fearlessly telling us how he is "difficult…I probably talk too much/I overanalyse and overthink things/it’s a nasty crutch". At last, gentlemen: here’s our new Bridget Jones.

8 & 7! Daft Punk

This French duo did something interesting for men everywhere this year, exploring masculine identity through every gesture on their new album. The masks they wore were a futuristic vision of manhood, of course (although it helped that they didn’t have to worry about their hair under such haute couture millinery) while songs like ‘Motherboard’ gendered the foundations of technology. Random Access Memories was also a strident Y-chromosome manifesto, celebrating the variety of male performers today. The perky Giorgio Moroder and kooky Julian Casablancas did very well for themselves, as did the bubbly Nile Rodgers and the adorable Panda Bear. Lots of guys, together at last: boy power indeed.

6! Justin Timberlake

Using his seductive wiles as always, this knowing hottie launched not one but two albums this year. His first single ‘Suit And Tie’ also underlined his commitment to fashion. We all debated whether he had dressed himself, or whether his design house had directed the whole operation (surely one man couldn’t manage to think up that whole aesthetic by himself). ‘Suit And Tie”s video also featured JT in a tuxedo surrounded by women wearing only bras and knickers – a bold and unusual foray into the crushing of gender stereotypes. He continued this project in his promo for ‘Tunnel Vision’, projecting his face onto the naked bodies of women, which must have been an idea he got from wife Jessica Biel. Relationships are usually the key to men’s creative impulses. A courageous career move indeed for this complicated blonde.

5! Kanye West

Coming over in his music like a hip hop Neil Young or an R&B Lou Reed, Kanye had to sit in the shadows of his partner – once again – in 2013. In the video for ‘Bound 2′, West’s assertive fiancee Kim Kardashian was leading the ride, leaving her other half jiggling, demurely, at the madness of it all. West can be fiery at times, that’s for sure, but if he feels he has to sing lyrics about wanting to "fuck you hard on the sink" – well, there’s a sign of the pressure he’s under to be sexualised. At least he showed some refreshing honesty by saying in the same song he "can’t remember where we first met", and by premiering that promo, very sweetly, on Ellen Degeneres’ US chatshow. Bless.

4! Morrissey

One wonders if Morrissey might be battling the hormonal changes of middle-age. He has always been a headstrong, complicated creature, the poor lamb, but this year’s autobiography saw him shake out the curls on his quiff more than ever. We used to love him for being adorably demanding, but expected he would become more empathic, naturally, with age – which is certainly not the case in his bestselling book. Still, good on him for having the confidence and the sassiness to put pen to paper at last. It not his fault that men all over the world are conditioned to be so bitchy towards each other.

3! Alex Turner

This brunette’s always been feisty deep down, and had a very difficult love life to boot – if only people would stop going on about how Alexa Chung broke his heart. But this year he’s gained new confidence, which is a heartwarming thing for everyone. "Simmer down and pucker up", he says in the middle of Do I Wanna Know, for instance – that’s the spirit. It’s time at last to channel your inner femme fatale. Saying that, Turner’s still sweetly showing us his delicate side too, calling himself a "puppet on a string" and "spilling drinks on your settee". He knows it’s important to show us he’s not so different from us, to make sure he remains relevant, and relatable to his fans – that’s all-important for guys.

2! Pharrell Williams

It’s always refreshing to see a pop star being on two of the year’s biggest-selling singles, especially when many men find it tough to have such varied careers. Also, how great it is that Pharrell’s finally having such huge mainstream success at 40! This year, he’s also got married (phew – say goodbye to that shelf you were on, honey) so all those years tinkering away on daft things in the studio must seem irrelevant now. One does worry what his five-year-old son thinks about him being away from home so much, but his nurturing credentials are on the rise again after he wrote a song for kids movie, Despicable Me 2. Phew.

We’ll brush over him staring at another woman’s buttocks, wrapped in plastic, on the ‘Blurred Lines’ video for now. That’s just showbusiness, boys and girls.

1! Robin Thicke

Finally, a role model to really look up to: a man who has achieved success while being incredibly ordinary, by virtue of a little clever application. Isn’t that the dream? This year, he has championed the weak beard, the art of standing-doing-nothing against a white wall, and getting huge amounts of attention and success, while the world – and some women, of course – revolved boldly around him. Robin has also made a lot of money now, with which he can buy lots of trinkets to make him very happy.

It’s also great that he’s clever too, getting people to focus on one lyric in his big hit ("you know you want it"), while others ("Do it like it hurt"…"I’ll tear your ass in two") slipped quietly into the mainstream. All that, and a former child star dressed in nude underwear rubbed herself against his crotch at a video awards ceremony, and everybody talked about her, but not him! That’s the way to do it, my boy. Well done everyone… I think… only… one minute… oh.

With thanks to Sophie Coletta

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