Artists of the Year

12 Rods, Jon Stewart, Howard Stern, Quentin Tarantino, Garrison Keillor, MF Doom, Lawrence Lessig, Randi Rhodes...

And there you have the sad truth of the media in 2004: A comic took his public responsibility more seriously than the "real" newscasters and commentators around him. Meanwhile, the opinion whores on Spin Alley could be seen talking straight-faced policy wonkage to Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Just be thankful the sanest voice in current events remains easily found: nightly, after Crank Yankers.

Jim Ridley is a staff writer at the Nashville Scene and frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

Howard Stern
by Kate Sullivan

In his constant attacks on the Bush regime, Howard Stern did more this year for the cause of democracy than all the liberals at Air America combined. In fact, he managed to do the seemingly impossible: to make liberal politics sexy--which, by all rights, they should be. (Can you imagine the panic the Bushites must have felt knowing their most public enemy was a virtual god to millions of white males?)

But let me back up: In case you didn't tune in, 2004 was the year Stern made his conversion from pro-Bush hawk to outraged freedom fighter. Not only that: His transformation came about after reading Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al Franken, someone he had never liked in the past. By admitting that he had been wrong about Bush, and that Franken had blown his mind, Stern showed he had a supple brain and a genuinely healthy ego, and provided a role model for millions of dudes, a lesson in the art of changing one's mind. Stern's disdain for FCC censorship isn't merely self-serving; it's the only appropriate reaction, and his Viacom boss Mel Karmazin deserves extra credit for standing up to both Congress and the FCC in the face of ridiculous obscenity fines.

It'll be a great loss for radio when Stern switches to satellite (I'm betting it won't last), but even this move is admirably ballsy. I really don't care about strippers and pinheads, but if that's the price of free speech, bring on the lesbian porn stars.

Kate Sullivan is a Los Angeles-based writer and broadcaster and frequent contributor to City Pages.

 

Yolanda Pérez
by Matt Cibula

I have seen the future, and it isn't wearing a bra. Twenty-one-year-old Yolanda Pérez is just one of the stars of the new hybrid Latinate musics: She reps the urban regional set, but reggaetón broke huge this year and Cuban piano lines are popping up everywhere and laptop emo might as well be bossa nova at this point and it's all up in the air and thrilling and glory be to God for dappled things, etc.

Urban regional, a genre that adds big fat hip-hop beats to norteño and banda and cumbia and other Mexican and Central American styles, is blowing up for verdad: Akwid and David Rolas over in Cali; DJ Kane and Frankie J and the other Kumbia Kids down in Tejas, plus the amazing Chingo Bling; Milwaukee's Kinto Sol, featuring DJ Payback Garcia. One could argue that I should pick Pepe Garza, the Svengalisto behind Yolanda and a lot of this music, instead of the delivery system. But no way, José--Yolanda is the definitive article, and Aqui Me Tienes is one of the best pop records of the year. She's the best singer of the lot, with a high, clear, thin, expressive voice. She's the best rapper (listen to how she schools Shorty Loco on "Juran y Juran"). Also, she's the hottest.

All you need to hear is the full-scale onslaught of brass banditry (the way they play it down in Zacatecas) on "Desde Que Llegaste Tú," speeding up and slowing down, with Yolanda riding the wave. No, scratch that: All you need to hear is the one where she makes her dad have a heart attack because she spends "all his moneys." No, actually, try the title song, which she wrote by herself, the sexiest slow jam of the year. People, I'm telling you: Urban regional has found its Elvis.

Matt Cibula is a Madison-based writer.

 

Jenny Lewis
by Britt Robson

Middle-aged rock critic Robert Christgau describes Jenny Lewis as "a wet dream for indie boys," which, as someone just a few years younger than Christgau, makes my admiration for her feel a little weird. But in what has been without question the most depressing political year of my long lifetime, Lewis, as a member of the band Rilo Kiley, sung and co-wrote the perfect pop song, and two or three others that are nearly so. Wet dreams haven't ensued, but dozens of times now I've come away from those tunes tingling with that delicious blend of enrichment and inspiration.

The perfect tune is "Portions for Foxes" from Rilo Kiley's More Adventurous. The emotional breadth of its narrative is like a sonic novella, told in layers of such idiosyncratically precise yet ambivalent passion that you know the singer is also the lyricist. The chorus, a repetitive "I'm bad news, bad news," is by turns celebratory, self-loathing, and accepting. When her man cheats on her, Lewis unfurls a tangle of jealousy and anger that dawns into understanding and empathy without a loss of fervor, and climaxes, despite the warnings from friends that her boyfriend is also "bad news," with her triumphant commitment to this flawed but genuine and honest relationship.

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