Pop’s Summer of ’13: Why We’re Already Nostalgic for Twerking, ‘Lines’-Blurring, and Chris Brown Retiring

Chris Willman
Stop The Presses!

"We've been havin' fun all summer long," the Beach Boys sang at the end of American Graffiti, waving a fond farewell to convertibles, bikinis, and carhops. In 2013, it's also time to say sayonara to summer... maybe with a little less sense of innocence, since we're basically getting sentimental over Miley Cyrus' foam finger, naked ladies in Robin Thicke videos, and download Jay-Z albums on dodgy phone apps.

Here are a few of the pop music stories we'll remember most — or at least have the hardest time forgetting — from the summer of '13:

1. Miley Cyrus twerking at the VMAs. There are some things you can't unsee, and Miley made sure her tongue was one of them, since she stuck it out about a hundred times between her red-carpet walk and ultimately appearance on the MTV telecast. Does that thing even go back in her mouth, or is there some kind of severed nerve thing going on? Her rear end and foam finger got just as much attention, if not more, of course, as she grinded against Robin Thicke and buried Hannah Montana about 60 feet under. According to your op-ed preferences, it was either a swell example of young women taking charge of their sexuality or the skeeviest thing ever. "It's not the Grammys," Justin Timberlake said in her defense. One of the year's best viral videos had Hank and Marie, in a competing episode of Breaking Bad, watching Miley break bad.

2. Robin Thicke likes girls, but not Gayes. At the VMAs, One Direction won a call-in voting contest for Song of the Summer, which got the boy band booed by the in-house audience, because everyone who was half-awake this year know that title rightfully belonged to Thicke. It didn't hurt that he had a video with nekked women, which made the song seem more misogynistic, to some. But video director Diane Martel insisted she was making it less so, counterintuitive as that might seem. "I wanted to deal with the misogynist, funny lyrics in a way where the girls were going to overpower the men," she said. "I directed the girls to look into the camera, this is very intentional and they do it most of the time; they are in the power position." Oh, now we get it — it was a feminist statement! Later in the summer, the singer preemptively sued the Marvin Gaye estate to hold off any possibly forthcoming legal claims that he'd plagiarized the tune. You'd almost have to be thick to court that kind of bad press!

3. Jay-Z gives away a million copies of his new album, if you give him your info. It sounded like a good idea at the time... and it probably still does if you're Jay-Z, who made another small fortune upfront on the deal when Samsung bought a million copies of Magna Carta Holy Grail at $5 each for the giveaway. But not everyone who downloaded the necessary Samsung-exclusive app to hear the album was pleased with the experience, especially when stories surfaced about just how much personal data the app was mining. Anyone who was thinking about dissing the album suddenly had to remember: Jay-Z knows where you live. (Or at least from where you tweet and who your Facebook friends are.)

4. 'N Sync reunited, and you missed it while you were sneezing. All the advance teasing and hype were not for nada, as Justin Timberlake climaxed his VMAs medley with a lengthy reunion of... Well, actually, it wasn't a climax, just stuck indiscriminately in the middle of his medley, with Lance, Joey, Chris, and J.C. treated to the trap door faster than you can say "Bye bye bye... no, really, bye." But we'll always feel a fond nostalgia for those precious seconds of fond nostalgia, which helped MTV get a 66 percent uptick in the ratings this year.

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5. Katy Perry has the song of the late summer with... a Sara Bareilles song? Bareilles' "Brave" got a lot of video play early in the summer but never really caught on at Top 40, so those of us who liked the inspirational anthem were glad to hear that Epic Records was re-servicing the song to radio and giving it a big push in August. Except, of course, what we were hearing was the unofficial remake known as "Roar," which caused a social media firestorm... but no dent to speak of, of course, in Perry's spectacular radio play and digital song sales.

6. The Rolling Stones and Taylor Swift had the tours of the summer... and even intersected for a second. Swift took a quick time-out from her own sold-out tour to fly in to Chicago and join Mick Jagger for a duet of "As Tears Go By." Well, with her straightened hair, she does look a little like Brian Jones... and, sure, maybe Marianne Faithful too. When they weren't hooking up with one another, these headliners were inviting other guests out — in Jagger's case, just to do Stones tunes, and in Swift's case, to do the guests' songs. The Stones' list of cameo players on tour included Tom Waits, Keith Urban, Gwen Stefani, Katy Perry, Brad Paisley, John Mayer, Carrie Underwood, and Taj Mahal. On her four-night stand at L.A.'s Staples Center alone, T-Swift brought out Jennifer Lopez, Sara Bareilles, Tegan and Sara, Cher Lloyd, Elle Goulding, and Sara Bareilles.

7. Lorde took the "no girls allowed" sign off the alternative chart. Outside of maybe movie directing, there is no area of entertainment with a lower glass ceiling for women than "alternative rock." It looked like we might see a female president before we ever got another female atop the Billboard alternative chart,which hadn't happened in 17 years. But an 18-year-old New Zealander managed to do it with “Royals.” All we can think is, maybe all those sexist radio programmers just looked at her chosen name and figured she was a band, not a chick.

8. It must have been Lady Gaga's birthday, because she had the suit. Lest Robin Thicke get all the video-nakedness glory this summer, Gaga finally went Full Monty for her video for the self-celebrating "Applause." But if you were looking for "Blurred Lines"-style prurience, it was in short supply. Gaga was using her nudity to advocate for "the Abramovic Method," which is not something that actors study but rather a seeming combination of self-help physical therapy and performance art. Despite the awareness that her bareness raised, Gaga managed to get outshined a little this summer, with Perry's "Roar" outselling the almost simultaneously released "Applause," while Miley Cyrus quickly turned Gaga's VMAs opening into a distant memory. Her ill-considered public feud with Perez Hilton also made us wonder if she wasn't quite ready to come back yet.

9. Kanye West celebrated his daughter's arrival with an album devoted to misogyny. Nothing says "Happy Zero-th Birthday, North West!" like a CD noted even in the positive reviews for profanely putting women in their place. Yeezus got off to a solid sales start, despite the Kanye-infuriating leak. But it seemed like something that had happened a long time ago before West came back for a lynching-themed performance that was the most artistically interesting thing about the VMAs.

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10. Chris Brown semi-retired. From record-making, apparently, if not trouble-making. On Aug. 6, he tweeted, "Don't worry mainstream America. After this X album, it'll probably be my last album." No one took it too seriously, since Brown had also vowed to do 1,000 hours of community service , but was forced by a judge to start from scratch after evidence surfaced that he'd fudged the work. Brown responded to the new probation terms by going on Twitter to say "F--- the system" and accuse the district attorney on the case of being racist. (You guessed it — she's African American.) Worst of all? He was forced to paint over the graffiti he'd painted outside his home in an exclusive neighborhood high above Los Angeles. As Eddie Cochran once sang, "There ain't no cure for the summertime blues!"

11. Bon Jovi appeared to have really sacked Richie Sambora. Billboard ran with a report that the difference between the lead singer and guitarist wasn't about relapsing but about money. Whereas Sambora once reportedly got 20 percent of the tour receipts, good for $2 million a month out on the road, this summer his replacement, Philip "Phil X" Xenidis, was said to be pulling in a mere $10,000 a month. Ever wonder if Jon Bon Jovi is a coupon clipper?

12. Jennifer Lopez musically propped up a dictator. J.Lo was accused of not just being from the block but being a cultural blockhead after she sang "Happy Birthday" to the president of Turkmenistan, who might be described as one of the world's least revered leaders. Her reps subsequently claimed that she was sandbagged with the request at the end of a corporate gig and had no idea the guy she was serenading has an Amnesty International score somewhere around Pol Pot's.

13. The Bieber apologized to an ex-president... and a hockey team. After being caught on tape "desecrating" a photo of Bill Clinton, Bieber tweeted, "thanks for taking the time to talk Mr. President. Your words meant a lot. #greatguy." But there were no public apologies to the restaurant whose buckets Bieber was pictured relieving himself into. Or his mom. Yep, maybe Justin should start with mom. Then again, this was a guy who sang a nude serenade to his grandmother this summer (covered only by a guitar), so these folks' boundary issues may be intergenerational.

14. Roger Waters lost the Jewish vote. The ex-Pink Floyd leader came under fire from Jewish groups for putting a star of David among the symbols emblazoned on the "fascist pig" he flies up every night on tour. Waters countered that he's not antisemitic, just anti-Israel, a country he's already known for boycotting. That hardly assuaged Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli, whose image appeared in one of Waters' background videos. "Roger Waters," she tweeted, "you should remove my picture from videos at your concerts. If you’re going to boycott, then go all the way." Guess we know which rock star won't spend next summer vacationing in Jerusalem... or, probably, Miami Beach or the Catkills.

15. Eminem finally returned from the grave. As a Beastie Boy! Perhaps feeling a void in the Force after the death of Adam Yauch, Marshall Mathers' return, "Berzerk," recalled the halcyon, bygone days of fighting for one's right to party. Sales aren't in yet for this end-of-summer entry, but Billboard forecasts it'll have a figure in the realm of 350,000 or more copies sold in week 1 when results come in Sept. 4.