At times, 2011 felt like one unending dance mix -- at least, it did if your year was consumed with listening to pop music. This was the year when everyone and their uncle (at least in LMFAO's case) dispatched themselves to the dancefloor and planted four oh-so-firmly on the floor, drowned their sound in dubstep, and coated everything they touched in a sleek, icy, clubbed-up sheen.
Explanations abound. Maybe the '80s synth-pop revival that began last year naturally evolved into a revival of early-'90s electronic dance music. Perhaps dire economic straits left us with no other choice than to lose ourselves on the dancefloor, drown our troubles with nihilistic lyrics and throbbing beats, and "keep on dancin' til the world ends," as Britney put it. Or maybe we can just blame Gaga, who really instigated this whole thing two years ago, then left us all standing there with our disco sticks in our hands while she took off on some kind of sax-fueled, power-pop spirit quest to rediscover her inner Bruce Springsteen or something.
The good Lady brings up a good counterpoint, in fact: as much as it sometimes felt like a teeny-tiny Pitbull lived inside our brains and spent his days knocking teeny-tiny little Dutch-house-inflected beats against our skulls, the pop world wasn't quite as monotonous as it seemed. At times, holding the dance pop door open also allowed us to let in less familiar creatures. Like Jessie J, with her Bette Midler-meets-Alanis-Morissette brand of brassy confessionalism, or spectral chanteuses like Florence Welch and Lykke Li, who haunted the edges of the charts with their eerie electro-pop. Elsewhere, scene queens surprised us with albums that took off in directions that sometimes seemed wildly ill-advised, sales-wise, but let them spread their wings musically (we're looking at you, Beyoncé). And then, of course, there was Adele, who ruled over all the saxobeats and booty basses and Britneys and even Gagas with her dusty old-soul R&B.
Perhaps the real theme of 2011 was throwbacks and revivals in general, of a wide and dizzying variety: retro-futuristic dance beats inspired by the retro-futuristic dance beats of earlier decades, yes, but also Katy Perry's '80s-themed teenage dreams. And Beyoncé's juicy, old-school '70s and '80s R&B cuts. And Ricky Martin and the saxophone, both of which came back with a vengeance! Sure, it's a loose, messy, haphazard kind of theme, but hey, it was a loose, messy, haphazard kind of year, one that often seemed to defy meaning, definition and even direction, at least musically speaking. Relive the chaos that was 2011 with our top 25 pop albums of the year.