Top 10 Searches
Top 10 Searches
1. BP Oil Spill
2. World Cup
3. Miley Cyrus
4. Kim Kardashian
5. Lady Gaga
7. Megan Fox
8. Justin Bieber
9. American Idol
10. Britney Spears
Top 10 Searches
A man-made disaster, a global sport, pop culture's leading ladies (and one young gent), and gadgets starting with an "i."
Since 2001, Yahoo! has been tallying up the top searches of the year, providing a snapshot of a culture in motion. Over the past decade, the No. 1 slot has been occupied by companies (music download service Kazaa), TV shows ("American Idol"), and celebrities (Britney Spears, often). In 2010, some 631 million people checked in. Among the billions of queries they pursued, the story of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill led the year's top 10 -- the first time that a news story has taken the No. 1 slot.
Following the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 on April 20, the gushing crude took 86 days to cap. The live feed from the ocean floor became must-watch viewing, as massive online scrutiny monitored best (and not so best) efforts to kill the well and stop the worst spill in marine history. Besides igniting the issue of workplace safety, the disaster became a lightning rod for people's feelings about America's energy policies, big government, billionaire CEOs, environmental protection, and technological safety.
Another event did distract from the drama 5,000 miles deep in the Macondo Prospect. South Africa, the first African nation to host the FIFA World Cup, welcomed 32 nations in a global tournament of men's soccer. People took an online crash course in the sport, learning about the rules of the game, the major players (and outrageous referees), the octopus oracle, and native horns that just wouldn't quit. The summer break brought productivity to a standstill and landed the World Cup in second place on our top 10 searches.
Dizzying tech advances belied a bad economy. The iPhone's fourth coming captivated naysaying geeks and covetous consumers alike, and beat out the iPad in searches. An accidental sneak peek unfolded like a joke ("So this engineer walks into a bar..."), but ended in record lines at stores. High-tech drama stimulated an already frenzied Mac cult (which was also tracking the Apple iPad), and pushed the iPhone into the No. 6 slot.
Filling out the other top 10 spots? Guilty pleasures like "American Idol," the Web-spun music artist Justin Bieber (in his first top 10 appearance), and a bevy of pop culture's young leading ladies -- Megan Fox, Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga -- who could give lessons in the art of the manufactured self.
What's notable isn't just what commanded people's online vigilance the most, but who almost dropped from the list. For years Britney Spears dominated the top 10, but she tumbled from her No. 1 spot to No. 5 in 2009. This year -- a relatively quiet one for the music superstar -- she hung in at No. 10.
Is the end near for Spears? Don't count her out yet. Dive deep into the top searches and stories of 2010, and get a glimpse at what lies ahead.
--Vera H-C Chan
Yahoo! Year in Review editorial lead for four years running, Vera H-C Chan dissects news events and search trends to share the why behind what's hot online and in the media. On Yahoo! her writing can be found all over, including in Buzz Log, TV, Movies, and her Shine blog Fast-Talking Dame.
On April 20, 11 workers went missing after an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon, a BP-leased oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Their tragedy, though, was soon overshadowed by the ensuing BP oil spill, which threatened U.S. southern shores.
As BP struggled to control nature, technology, and the ire of humankind, forces converged to assist the multinational company in containing the mess. Still, the horror seemed to unfold in slow motion, as the spill approached the ecological disastrousness of the 1989 Exxon Valdez crash and became the most searched term on Yahoo! in 2010 -- a first for a news story since we started compiling Top 10 searches a decade ago.
Spill cam: must-see video
The techie Obama administration, as part of its usual modus operandi, made updates on its site and YouTube channel. Against BP's wishes, U.S. senators insisted on the live camera to show ocean-floor operations. That underwater camera turned out to be the most compelling programming decision of 2010: Viewers obsessively tuned in on their computers and mobile phones to see the best -- and not so best -- efforts to contain the mess.
Searches on all aspects of the crisis, investigation, and damage surfaced daily. People went online to study vocabulary like "junk shot" and "top kill," words that sounded like shade-tree mechanic jargon for improvised solutions. By June, the public anger against BP and its bumbling CEO reached a crescendo and was mercilessly parodied (as in the Upright Citizens Brigade viral video). In July, a cap at last brought some resolution to the leak, but no relief from the devastation that ground industries to a halt, killed wildlife, and shifted political tides.
Rorschach oil blot
At its core, the BP oil spill was about workplace safety and America's energy policies. But the longer the saga unfolded, the more the spill became a kind of Rorschach blot where people could project their present-day anxieties (and a few age-old ones as well):
--- Texas representative Joe Barton's flip-flopping apologies (first to then BP CEO Tony Hayward for the "shakedown" compensation fund, then a mea culpa for that apology) reflected the grumpy tea-party mood about big government and the need for governmental pressure and oversight.
--- Billionaire CEO Hayward's own gaffes (especially his plaintive words to "The Today Show" about wanting to get his "life back") galled a nation already crabby with bosses who earned big bonuses or parachuted out of failing companies with million-dollar compensations. The galling didn't end: He got the boot after 28 years on the job, and received a $1 million severance and a pension plan worth $17 million.
--- There was even a whiff of colonial resentment, as a few English people took offense at the insistence in calling BP by its old name, British Petroleum. (It was probably for the best that few took notice of BP's original names, Anglo-Persian Oil Company and Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.)
--- The specter of Katrina hovered over all this: The hurricane's fifth anniversary was only months away, and many were watching to see how the Obama administration would avoid the missteps of the Bush White House in dealing with disaster.
--- At a time of instant gratification and technological marvels, the wreckage reminded people of the limits to humankind's ambitions.
In crisis, American ingenuity
The story wasn't all hand-wringing and finger-pointing. Gulf residents queued up to find clean-up jobs, partly because the spill had disrupted their livelihood and partly because they wanted to help.
Spectators learned about deep-sea science -- and about how much we didn't know. Yet, typical of the American spirit, people sought out and offered up YouTube theories and volunteered to craft homey remedies (pantyhose stuffed with donated hair proved especially popular).
Then emerged the surreal Hollywood moment when actor Kevin Costner stepped up with a centrifuge oil-cleanup machine. He wasn't the only contender for hero: Robert Bea, a University of California, Berkeley, engineering professor, turned out to be the Chesley Sullenberger of the oil industry as he helped the White House and the public understand what was happening. On the government side, U.S. Geological Survey scientist Paul Hsieh convinced his skeptical team from yanking the last containment cap, thanks to his overnight calculations that proved it would hold.
A long aftermath
The cap killed the gushing crude, and the World Cup took the BP oil spill out of the headlines, though by no means out of people's minds. By November, most of the gulf was open for fishing, but worrying signs of deep-sea damage -- such as a die-off of bottom-dwelling coral -- warned of many uncertainties ahead.
The U.S. presidential commission's investigations into the circumstances leading up to the disaster earned criticism, then praise for calling out issues such as BP's "culture of complacency." Its final report is due out in January 2011, but the National Academy of Engineering's interim report, which named names, cast BP as bearing the brunt of responsibility.
For its part, BP has so far repaid the government $520 million in spill costs, although likely more bills will come -- and likely will be paid without too much trouble, since the company returned to profit by its third quarter. A "demonized" Hayward continued to gather more wincing news coverage: The former CEO told students in November, "All of the oil is now gone" (no mention of oil that's buried) and also said, "The biggest lesson I learned was how to manage expectations."
Hayward, who started his own consultancy, may not have to worry anymore about American expectations, but BP still will. No matter the outcome, the oil company's fortunes will be tied to the Gulf of Mexico for a long time to come.
--Vera H-C Chan (a version of this article originally appeared in Fast-Talking Dame on Shine)
Hail the vuvuzela!
Productivity nearly ground to a halt when those horns starting buzzing, signaling the FIFA 2010 World Cup. As predicted, 2010 emerged as an incredible sports year. For 30 days in summer, men's soccer (aka football) became the world's sport.
South Africa was hosting, and the African continent -- so often tied to colonization, poverty, and apartheid in headlines -- could show how far it had come, as well as what still needed to be done. The country cleaned up well: It built five stadiums for the event and fixed up another five for the 32 guest nations who converged on June 11.
People not so familiar with the World Cup were speed-learning online, absorbing everything from the vuvuzela tradition to the Jabulani (ball) controversy. Then there were those brackets and rules (and who might break them) to track. In the first days, the focus was on past and present players like hotheaded Argentinian coach Diego Maradona, Zidane (whose infamous head butt made his bald pate familiar among online sports fans), Wayne Rooney, and Christiano Ronaldo.
Soccer jerseys became summer wear and a point of national pride. Viewers wondered, "What is that buzzing noise?" And players and commentators bickered over whether Africa's long horn should be banned from the stands. In defense of haters, a single vuvuzela registered 127 decibels, louder than a drum (122 decibels) or a referee's whistle (121.8).
Upsets, heartbreak, and an octopus
By week two, the vuvuzela buzz had became part of the online buzz; and the World Cup, part of daily life for millions around the world. People were glued to live streams and catching up on "basic soccer rules." More players became household names: Fernando Torres, Didier Drogba, Piala Dunia, Fabio Cannavaro, Iker Casillas.
For a game in which points scored can be counted on one hand, a surprising number of upsets kept the crowds entertained. At one point, the FIFA president offered apologies to England and Mexico for referee errors. The drama with Ghana, the only African semifinalist, ended in heartbreak when Uruguay, the only South American finalist, scored a penalty shoot-out to break the 1-1 tie.
The only reliable oracle turned out to be an octopus: Paul, an English expat making his home in Germany's Sea Life center, "predicted" the winners in eight games. (Paul ended his two-year cephalopod lifespan on October 26 at the aquarium, which planned a shrine to mark his cremains.)
Finesse over fouls
By the end, finesse won out over fouls when Spain's Andres Iniesta shot a goal in overtime, winning 1-0 over the Netherlands. The winning team's bounty was $30 million (not including the $1 million that all 32 teams received for preparations), while the Netherlands contented itself with $24 million for second place. Teams that made the group stage or higher got consolation payouts ranging from $8 million to $20 million.
But most of all the 2010 World Cup came down to pageantry. The year was already primed to be one of the greats for international sports. The soccer tournament had its running theme of competitive machismo, but it was also about cultural exposure and shared pet peeves (that buzzing noise).
People exulted over wins, scrutinized the parade of flags, learned the "Waka Waka" song, added a few choice words to their vocabulary, and even learned to love the vuvuzela -- at least, they did if that's what searches on the horn's history and "where to buy the vuvuzela" indicate.
Anticipation has already built up for 2014, which will be held at 12 cities in Brazil, where soccer is the nation's most popular sport and all its players are known by a single name. No vuvuzelas there, but the world will expect a party from Carnival country.
--Vera H-C Chan
Few can boast membership in the The Year's Most Searched Person on Yahoo!. In fact, since 2001, it's been Britney Spears' club, although she let Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson step in front in 2004, and Megan Fox in 2009. (Michael Jackson's death propelled him to the No. 1 slot.)
Now it's Miley Cyrus's turn. She has been working hard for the distinction, as she celebrated her last year as a minor. Or, more accurately, she was mapping a shortcut to adulthood in 2010: She scored the cover of Harper's Bazaar, played the romantic lead in a Nicholas Sparks movie, and taped the end of her Disney show, "Hannah Montana."
Growing pains and gains
When you're a billion-dollar business, though, there are bound to be growing pains. The singer re-recorded Bret Michael's "Nothing to Use" as a duet, but the suggestive lyrics ("We both know better than this, still we can't resist / Slowly get undressed") set off a firestorm of criticism. Her appearance on "American Idol" as a mentor received mixed reviews. Critics were even less kind to her film, "The Last Song." Then a leaked video of her dance grind at age 16 with gay "So You Think You Can Dance" judge Adam Shankman set off another furor.
There was little doubt that Cyrus was leaving childhood without a backward glance. Her "Can't Be Tamed" video (with that $25,000 corset) raised eyebrows but also topped iTunes charts. She dished in Teen Vogue about how she and beau Liam Hemsworth were "both deeper than normal people -- what they think and how they feel." (The pair, who co-starred in "The Last Song," broke up twice in 2010.)
From Hannah to Miley
Cyrus (and those outraged parents) may not have needed to worry about offending her young fans. According to the New York Times, many preteens and teens had already moved on. One 11-year-old echoed critics when she weighed in on Cyrus's "Can't Be Tamed" video: "It was weird ... I feel like she acts 25. She looks so old. She is too old for herself."
Then again, trying to be older than your years is something only a teenager would do. Declared the Washington Post, "At some point soon, the parents of America are going to have to let Miley Cyrus go." Judging from her determination, she's not waiting for anyone's approval, but from the sales figures and her online following, she seems to have garnered some approval anyway.
Her biggest wish in turning 18 wasn't for a big blowout (although she had one), but for a family get-together. Just weeks before her November 23 birthday, parents Billy Ray and Tish Cyrus announced their divorce after 17 years of marriage -- a shock to a child of any age.
How much of their marital troubles was due to building their daughter's career has been a subject of a lot of speculation, including, reportedly, from Miley herself.
--Vera H-C Chan
When Kim Kardashian hit decade No. 3, she didn't balk at coast-to-coast birthday parties. But a diamond-encrusted cake? Thanks, but no thanks.
For all her high-flying, designer-laden, uber-glam living, Kardashian kept it real ... at least real enough for her sisterhood of fans. The reality-show star declined the cake, blogging, "Making a million dollar birthday cake is just ridiculous! I'd rather they give me a cupcake and donate the rest of the money to the homeless!" Commenters hailed her as "humble" and a "humanitarian."
America's reality royal
Bejeweled cake aside, she cemented herself in 2010 as America's reality royal, along with her family, in "Keeping Up With the Kardashians." Through good looks, breeding, and a can-do spirit that has launched perfumes, boutique stores, and a MasterCard, Kim has worked all her assets to get to the top. Devoted legions follow her on her blog, Twitter, and Facebook. And the chipper brunette stayed away from petty Hollywood-style sniping: Criticism, such as the sniffy fusillade from "Project Runway" host Tim Gunn, was heard but cheerfully disregarded. (And when that prepaid Kardashian Kard turned out to be predatory, she and her sisters Killed it.)
Being "ordinary" proved the welcome counternarrative to stories of celebrity talent wasted, such as those of Britney (on the mend) or Lindsay (still a mess). Kim had the right amount of privilege, compared with, say, Paris Hilton, who was spoiled by too much of it. And throughout the Kardashian mythology is the saving grace of sisterhood.
Kardashian family values
Those family values have helped sustain the reality show "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" to its five-year mark. The brainchild of Ryan Seacrest and Kardashian's mother, Kris Jenner, the show enjoyed record premiere numbers (4.7 million viewers). From family fights and cellulite confessions to romantic breakups and sibling squawking, all was fair entertainment for addicted viewers.
Although Kim is child No. 2 (she has three sisters, one brother, 2 half-sisters, and a number of step siblings), she ruled the Kardashian kingdom. Older sister Kourtney's single motherhood and Khloe's whirlwind marriage provided plenty of gossip fodder, but Kim trumped them with the "newly single" card. Her breakup with footballer Reggie Bush made her TV's most eligible bachelorette.
Knowing her place
In a "Larry King Live" interview, Kardashian lay the TV series' success on the family's early commitment to the show being, as she says, "100 percent real. And I think that's what's come across to the audience." Only in America: authenticity as brand. (A case study of failure would be "Jon & Kate Plus 8," even after Jon was neatly excised.)
And Kardashian knows her role. She explained in a W magazine profile: "I play into the perception of me, but it's not really me. And the show reveals that." In that same article, the magazine sums her up: "As a celebrity, Kardashian gives good value." And 2011 will be an even better two-for-one-deal, with her spin-off "Kourtney and Kim Take New York" debuting January 11.
Yahoo! Year in Review editorial lead for four years running, Vera H-C Chan dissects news events and search trends and shares the "why" behind what's Web-hot in online media. Before Yahoo!, she worked as a features/A&E reporter for Sn Francisco Bay Area newspapers and magazines. On Yahoo!, her writing can be found on Buzz Log, News blog, TV, Movies, and her Shine blog Fast-Talking Dame.
Lady Gaga owned 2009. The year 2010 was all about figuring out how she did it.
With hit singles, sold-out concerts, and a meeting with the Queen last year, Lady Gaga might have been excused if she had had a meltdown or just burned out this year. But while her chart success didn't top 2009's, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta cemented herself as the first lady of pop culture.
If the mainstream didn't notice her six No. 1 hits (something that took Mariah Carey 12 years to do), then it did notice the sold-out concerts, the "Glee" episode, and her rallying cry against the American military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Plus, all the wonks spilled ink studying the Gaga origin myths and authenticity.
Ultimate quick-change artist
She has survived the scrutiny well. So far, at age 24, Lady Gaga is no passing pop tart (a label plastered on fame seekers like Paris Hilton, fellow alum of the Convent of the Sacred Heart). For one thing, Germanotta actually paid attention to her cultural studies: Her credited inspirations call out rock stars (Grace Jones and Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, whose "Radio Gaga" inspired her name), performance artists (Leigh Bowery and Klaus Nomi), poets (Rainer Maria Rilke), pop artists (Andy Warhol), and the gay subculture.
Also, her classical piano training and pipes, which reminded one producer of a "female John Lennon," put her in the category of serious singer-songwriter and proved her a performance artist on her own merits.
Her childhood preference for alter egos and stage names has made her the ultimate quick-change artist. Pundit analysis reckons that the manic speed of her costume changes is tailor-made for fickle Internet attention spans. Fickle? Her fans (or "little monsters" in Gaga jargon) have remained devoted all year, helping her set records in Web video viewings, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, and making the year's top 10 search terms on Yahoo!.
Lady Gaga bent gender, too: Persistent intersex rumors (or, in search terms, "lady gaga hermaphrodite") testified to her successful devotion to androgyny. The New York Times called her the "enemy to the authentic." Really, though, the lady was the ultimate drag queen, remaking glam rock in her own image and opening a new path for female artists. As far out there as she seemed to be, underneath the fake blood and histrionics and meat dresses were reinventions of old-school acts like the Ziegfield Follies, Barnum & Bailey, and heavy-metal pyromaniacs.
Sure, a bit of Gaga overload was bound to happen, such as M.I.A. dismissing her label mate as "not progressive." Then there were some 2010 dramas, like her criticizing "American Idol" for "poorly" editing her performance, ducking into Jerry Seinfeld's empty box seats at a June Mets game, or countersuing her ex-producer (although that was resolved speedily). Keeping up with Gaga could be more exhausting than tracking Lindsay Lohan's electronic bracelet.
By all accounts, Lady Gaga dealt with her demons (such as they were) before achieving fame. As she told Scotland's Daily Record, "I did this [climb to fame] the way you are supposed to," playing every club with her given name, quitting school, and dabbling in drugs before becoming a superstar. An early bad break -- Island Def Jam signed her up, then broke off the relationship -- just pushed her "deeper into the parallel reality of Lady Gaga."
Tellingly, online searches for Lady Gaga in 2010 relentlessly focused on the music. In these "too much information" times, her masquerades gave breathing room to followers who didn't have to keep an accounting of addictions, breakups, or family squabbles. In fact, an album advance paid for her beloved dad's open-heart surgery.
Gaga isn't just an artist: She's a moody sign of the times and even of a place. Leave it to her to define herself best, as she told New York Magazine: "The Lower East Side has an arrogance, a stench. We walk and talk and live and breathe who we are with such an incredible stench that eventually the stench becomes a reality. Our vanity is a positive thing. It's made me the woman I am today."
--Vera H-C Chan
Seen it. Bought it. Want it ... again.
By now, the company knows that any shiny object from its dream factory will get followers queuing up. What could another iPhone iteration -- still tethered to AT&T service -- possibly offer, except to toy with loyalists' affections? Besides, wasn't CEO and cult leader Steve Jobs -- pulled from the brink of a health crisis -- too busy establishing a legacy, like saving the future of news? Yet early word of an upcoming iPhone 4 had fanboys and fangirls agog, as did rumors that Apple would start hooking up with other operators, like Verizon and Sprint.
So an engineer walks out of a bar ...
Then a strange thing happened on the way to the long summer lines. A tippling Apple engineer, celebrating his birthday, inadvertently left behind a prototype at the Gourmet Haus Staudt. And when in a Silicon Valley bar, the natural thing to do with a lost phone is to sell it to blogs for dissection.
The leak became a minor mystery (how could notoriously tight-lipped Apple lose a prototype?), a cautionary tale of limited customer service (attempts to return the phone were allegedly rewarded with a ticket number), an ethical dilemma (Gizmodo paid $5,000 for what might be considered stolen property, and an editor's home was later raided), and a story of betrayal (iPhone finder Brian Hogan's roommate ratted him out) and a near escape (engineer Gray Powell apparently still works at Apple).
The future is now
Crime or not, that sneak peek into the phone's features was enough to trigger a new degree of online scrutiny. Jobs's introduction of the iPhone 4 at the summer Worldwide Developers Conference was almost perfunctory. Its leaps-and-bounds features like video calls, HD recording, and the so-called retina display were at once otherworldly and taken for granted.
Jaded reactions to iPhone 4G spurred Salon to muse about Future Fatigue, a mindset proposed by "Neuromancer" author William Gibson, in which youngsters weaned on tech miracles "inhabit a sort of endless digital Now, a state of atemporality enabled by our increasingly efficient communal prosthetic memory." In other words, smart phone is as smart phone does. Naturally, not everyone was so blase -- presumably not those who bought an estimated million-plus on day one.
IPhone losing its grip?
So, some might have experienced a little malicious glee -- and relief -- to discover that the iPhone 4 was imperfect after all. A design flaw -- namely, lost reception depending on how one held the phone -- led people to search the Web for "death grip iphone."
People followed the back and forth, which included the staid Consumer Reports declining to recommend the fourth generation. In turn, Apple declared regretfully that it had overstated the phone's signal strength all along (which almost sounded like bragging). More condemnation and a class-action lawsuit seemed to threaten Apple's stock price. After a few weeks, the media fuss (summed up in a YouTube video, "The iPhone Antenna Song") was finally settled with free bumper cases for all.
Droid wars: This time, it's personal
The antenna fuss hid a far more seething battle. Google's Android rose up as a legitimate contender in the smart phone market. Consumers researched the merits of "iphone vs. droid," and the latter's popularity possibly accelerated Apple's hustle to get a deal with Verizon.
The New York Times, though, read something much more "personal" going on between CEOs Jobs and Eric Schmidt, a clash that "offers an unusually vivid display of enmity and ambition." If Jobs' potty-mouthed call-out of his competitor's mantra wasn't a seven-letter clue already, then look to Apple's patent infringement lawsuit against HTC, the purchase of Quattro Wireless (a competitor to AdMob, bought by Google in 2009), and Apple's backing of Microsoft's Bing as the default iPad search engine.
Android wasn't the only rival that Jobs threw jabs at in 2010. During an October earnings call, his fighting words pointed out that Apple had passed up RIM, described the Android as "very, very fragmented," and predicted that tablet challengers would be "dead on arrival." With an in-your-face attitude like that, no wonder Jobs emerged as the year's most followed CEO online.
The i's have it
Apple also freshened up a posse of other products in 2010: iPod, iTunes, Apple TV, and MacBook Air. Only the iPad came close to the iPhone in generating rapturous anticipation for its Zen template of possibility.
The one thing people have still been clamoring for (besides the "verizon wireless iphone") is the white iPhone, as elusive as a unicorn. The date, Apple announced apologetically, will come sometime in spring 2011.
--Vera H-C Chan
In her quick rise to fame, Megan Fox has been notably savvy in the celebrity arts. At the end of 2009, the New York Times dubbed her a "devoted student of stardom, past and present" who "talked her way into the limelight." After all, the starlet utters virile poetry, bragging she has the "libido of a 15-year-old boy" or proclaiming "[actress] Olivia Wilde is so sexy she makes me want to strangle a mountain ox with my bare hands" -- lines that were often better than her scripted ones.
But critical drubbings tarnished her glow in 2010, even as they upped her buzz.
The starlet vs. the auteur
The year started with the artistic tussle between her and "Transformers" director Michael Bay. Anonymous crew members posted a defense on the action auteur's site, branding the femme as "dumb-as-a-rock Megan Fox." An apology from Bay came shortly, but it took another few months before Fox backed out of the third installment.
While the Bay camp claimed she had been "axed," the actress once again cited Bay's notorious temper. While her earlier comparisons to dictators might have sounded histrionic, industry insiders did note the director had "a history of demeaning his leading ladies." In any case, they didn't do much for each other: Both got Razzie awards.
Panned but scanned
The box-office thud of "Jonah Hex" made a dismal follow-up to the panned "Jennifer's Body" (2009). Even her thumbs came under scrutiny, as rumors (and resulting lookups) of a double for a Super Bowl ad brought attention to her wide right thumb, a condition known by the prehistoric-sounding name brachydactyly.
Fox had revelations further up her sleeve: her modesty (well, in Hollywood terms), a Funny or Die video supporting California teachers, her obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the Eminem video for "Love the Way You Lie," and Hawaiian wedded bliss with former "Beverly Hills 90210" actor Brian Austin Green.
Wait, OCD? Could that be true? Actually, Fox copped to dropping quips and sometimes outright lying to a celebrity press that takes her every utterance a wee bit too seriously. In an Interview magazine chat with Zach Galifianakis, she said, "Almost everything I say, no matter how innocent my intentions are, seems to get sort of manipulated and sensationalized and turned into some ridiculous news story."
But at 24, a "sly" Fox may have tired of the game: "I have said some things to throw people off the scent of what's really going on in my life. So I have sort of aided the media in printing these misconceptions, which I regret."
What she didn't do
As for her work product, the verdict may still be out on the so-called transforming starlet. She knew to keep herself in good company: Her movie "Passion Play" co-starred Mickey Rourke and Bill Murray, but the story of a musician who falls for a carnival act didn't receive a warm reception. Her next project may have promise: "Friends With Kids" puts her with co-stars Jon Hamm and Kristen Wiig.
Still, Fox may be best known in 2010 for what she didn't do: take part in the "Transformers" third installment. Then again, she didn't have to deal with the free-flowing derision about the movie's title. Said one E Online blogger, "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" sounded "even worse than just calling it 'the one without Megan Fox.'" And not as buzzy either.
--Vera H-C Chan
Pattie Mallette thought her teenage boy's musical talents were good enough to put online. Two years later, she and her son, Justin Bieber, flew -- his first time on a plane -- to meet his future manager. Later, they moved from their hometown of Stratford, Ontario, on the strength of a record deal with Usher's music label.
Bieber Fever? Raging. By the start of 2010, Bieber's first album, "My World," had gone platinum. In keeping with today's hyperspeed stardom, his second album followed within five months, and he embarked on a sold-out, six-month concert tour. (During the rush, Universal wisely snagged him in an exclusive agreement.) Somewhere during all this, he turned 16 and got a Lamborghini from Diddy. Sweet.
Canadian roots aside, Bieber proved a top product in the American teen-idol pop factory, and without a Disney or Nickelodeon contract -- a positively anarchic notion these days. Still, adult critics dubious about his Internet rise were swayed by his vocals. One L.A. Times critic wrote, "His ascent story ... belies a jackpot voice." The same review rapturously described "melismatic trills, sassy street inflections and coffeehouse acoustic pleas."
Bieber worked overtime factory hours. He made multiple award-show appearances (including a bonus, self-mocking MTV Movie Awards promo), a slew of commercial deals (get a special Justin Bieber "One Less Lonely Girl" bouquet for Valentine's Day), quaint throwback contests (win Justin Bieber as Principal for a Day), and merchandising (Toy of the Year-nominated singing dolls and, peculiarly, nail polish).
He also stuck by his online video roots. After catching a viral video of a 3-year-old fan weeping (as millions of others did), he paid a surprise visit to the family on "Jimmy Kimmel Live." No wonder his mentor Usher dubbed Bieber a "hero."
Bieber saturation worked: In 2010, he has made musical history as the youngest solo artist to have two albums in the U.S. Billboard Top 200 and the youngest solo male to hit the top spot since Stevie Wonder. To help adults confused by his sudden ubiquity, articles like "The Justin Bieber Guide for Old People" helpfully explain his bona fides as the "first 'YouTube Sensation' to make it big." (Sorry, Kimbo Slice.) His "Baby" video ranks as the most-watched single video on YouTube, bypassing Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" (although Lady's collective work beats the teen). And don't forget his influential 'do.
Oh, and then there's credibility: He swept the American Music Awards in four categories, beating his own mentor.
The real secret: The tireless self-promoter has stayed close to his followers -- 6 million on Twitter alone -- although that may backfire. Jealous girls don't like it when a teen idol makes out with someone other than them. (Then again, Twitter power helps when you're turning the tables on a hacker.)
Bieber didn't stick to just 140 characters: He also released a coming-to-fame-please-don't-call-it-a-memoir tale revealing the Bieber backstory. (For shorter attention spans, there's a comic book.) He even made moves to conquer television, from sketch comedy on "Saturday Night Live" to bad-boy bomber drama on "CSI."
--Vera H-C Chan
Season 9 of "American Idol" embraced a grand social experiment. For the first time ever, the Fox singing factory allowed its contestants to break the online cone of silence, granting them their own Facebook pages and Twitter feeds.
Three months in, the experiment collapsed: The contestants' pages were shut down, and the singers got herded into the official "Idol" Facebook page. In the meantime, ratings dropped steadily from the show's 29.7 million season debut.
Not that the reality show wasn't a ratings behemoth. Still, the backpedaling reflected the constant tinkering with the show's format -- and the tweaks weren't working. "American Idol" took quite a few arrows in its hide this year, not all aimed at the singers.
One target: the judging panel, which had lost the ditsy charm of Paula Abdul. The promising prospect of likable Ellen DeGeneres fizzled out, her appeal lost in a foursome. Then there were questions about host Ryan Seacrest's "bizarre" behavior. The imminent departure of co-creator Simon Cowell cast a shadow over the show, especially as the lame-duck judge tuned down his lacerating charm, possibly because he'd tuned out.
As for the contestants, viewers complained of a lackluster crew. It didn't help that the stage looked more like a sick ward, what with the competitors' diabetes complications, laryngitis, and walking pneumonia. When the finale rolled around, 24.2 million tuned in -- eminently respectable, but an 18% drop from 2009. Even online curiosity took a dip -- never a good sign for one's water cooler buzz.
Impressive guests, predictable outcome
"Idol" did showcase an impressive slate of guest musical acts, including Ke$ha, Lady Gaga (annoyed tweet aside), Perez Hilton protege Travis Garland (his former boy-band brother is Kevin McHale, the wheelchair warbler Artie in "Glee" ), and Janet Jackson. More importantly, "Idol" flexed its philanthropic arm and raised more than $45 million for charities worldwide.
To no one's surprise, Lee DeWyze and Crystal Bowersox made the top two, and, repeating the patterns of seasons past, the dark horse (DeWyze) beat out the frontrunner (Bowersox). By now, though, contestants and the audience were wise to the power of "Idol": You don't need first place to land a contract.
The real suspense lay in which judges would be voted out, and who could possibly replace the appealingly dour Cowell. First up: Short-timer DeGeneres got the show to unshackle her from her five-year contract. Kara DioGuardi, the Abdul threat, lost her slot next. That left Randy Jackson to be joined by Season 10 saviors: Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler and (could it be) Jennifer Lopez.
For all its critics, "Idol" remains an industry machine, finding new acts and reviving old ones. But after an anticlimactic farewell, the big buzz will be how about the show will survive in a post-Cowell climate. And in the end, for a show that depends on viewers to choose their own idols, the audience gets the season they deserve.
--Vera H-C Chan
For 10 years, Britney Spears ruled the Internet. In the annual Yahoo! top searches list, she played second fiddle to PlayStation 2 in 2001 and 2002, and fell to fourth place for the next two years. But then Spears rallied in 2005 and stayed put at the No. 1 slot through good times -- and one mighty bad year for the pop princess.
The 2009 death of the King of Pop, and in some measure her own return to superstar normalcy, knocked her off the Yahoo! Search perch to fifth place. In 2010, leading a scandal-free life has dropped her all the way to No. 10 ... but it may prove to be a sweet spot for Spears.
The girl next door moves back in
This year the Spears comeback has proven lucrative, with estimated fiscal year earnings of $64 million (less than Oprah and Beyonce, more than Lady Gaga). Life has been comparatively paparazzi-free (although proposed California legislation might have had something to do with that).
Is the decline due to Britney fatigue? Maybe. But even the superstar herself is tired of her press coverage: Last December, her site listed the 75 "most ridiculous" stories. Then again, if public fatigue includes 13 million TV viewers for a Britney-themed "Glee" episode and 5 million Twitter followers (a first), imagine what a little pep can do.
Britney's message in 2010 has been about turning back into the girl next door. She signed up with Candie's as an exclusive but affordable designer for department store Kohl's. Before the clothes and handbags hit the shelves, she released both original and retouched photos of herself from her ad campaign shoot, and reportedly insisted that no digitally altered pics should be used. The move was a canny one, given the continued uproar over scrawny supermodels, and was a sound declaration that she'd be transparent with fans (and by the way, a recovering Spears looks just fine, thank you).
Apart from continued conservatorship (or perhaps because of it), her personal life seemed mercifully in order. Spears even fired her agent to focus more on their romantic relationship, a move that any advice columnist or employment lawyer could approve. True, a former bodyguard accused her of sexual harassment (disputed) and bad mothering (cleared yet unresolved), and a former manager accused her mother of defamation, but at least that wrangling was done in a civilized court setting.
Rivals and returns
The only rivalry Spears engaged in was with Ashton Kutcher for the title of Twitter leader ... and that competition was the impish work of blogger Perez Hilton anyway. (Hilton, in congratulating Spears as Twitter queen, also predicted correctly that Lady Gaga would soon overtake both Britney and Ashton.)
Many starlets have been swarming into the void she has left behind. Miley Cyrus has been compared to her, for better and for worse. (In a strange twist, Spears's parents were rumored to be reconciling, weeks after Cyrus's parents announced their split.)
Spears won't be quiet for long. Her first album since 2008 is set to come out early next year. She tweeted eagerly about "recording a monster song" (no, Lady Gaga doesn't quite own that word yet) and told her followers, "Get Ready."
Truth be told, they've been ready. Now it's up to her to deliver.
--Vera H-C Chan