Last weekend I overheard a sliver of conversation between two homeless men on the street, which I guess is the place you’d expect me to overhear a conversation between homeless people. “The fabric of reality is thin in airports,” one said to the other. He went on to explain the other-worldy atmosphere of an airport, beaming with the constant glow of artificial light and packed full of tired, jet-lagged travelers, most of whom have medicated themselves for some reason, whether it be to fall asleep, keep awake, or just take the edge off the whole being in the sky thing.

The man looked like a man who hadn’t been to an airport in many years–the type of man that that, if on a plane, would create an air of discomfort and probably a foul odor (not to say that all homeless people smell bad, but this man had slop all over his clothing). But what an observation, and how eloquently stated. The fabric of reality really is thin in airports.

When I heard that, I texted it to myself so I would remember what I heard a homeless man say that night. It was a reminder that the world is full of curve balls. Surprise is always waiting to do what it does—to pop out when you least expect it to. This year’s music headlines were no exception. Here are some stories from 2011 that, for better or worse, caught us off guard.

R.E.M. Calls It Quits

I guess it shouldn’t have been a surprise, since over 30 years in the game is a good, long time to call yourself a band, but R.E.M. just seemed like a group that would always be there–a band that might eventually just stop making music and fade further into the background. Instead, they put out a surprisingly good album in 2011 with Collapse Into Now, and gracefully bowed out.

Amy Winehouse Dies

It was obvious that Amy Winehouse was deeply troubled. It was obvious that she was having issues, and that she was pushing the limits. Amy had already reached rock bottom after years of drugs, alcohol, and public humiliation made her more famous as a tabloid spectacle than a musician. It was an incredibly sad thing to watch someone so publicly fall apart, but there was still hope that one day her talent would be fully realized. Unfortunately, we never got to see that happen. Even though many people probably saw this coming , a 27-year-old’s unnatural death will always be a horrible surprise.

Metallica and Lou Reed Make An Album Together

Just listening to it once will decrease the overall quality of your life. I don’t know why they did it, or how they managed to make it almost comically horrible, but it’s there. They did that. That happened. Hopefully we can all recover. We may need to avoid revisiting our old Velvet Underground albums until 2013.

Justin Bieber Started Rapping

Just remember this, because now it seems silly and trivial, but this is only the beginning. This is the indication of a huge cultural shift, and possibly the end of music as we know it. In 2011, Justin Bieber started rapping. To worsen this blow, Bieber says his next album is going to feature dubstep.

Bruno Mars Got An Album Of The Year Nomination, Kanye Didn’t

So, Doo-Wops and Hooligans is a better album than MBDTF and WTT? Come on, Grammys. It’s like they’re just trying to make Kanye mad. While the insiders’ awards show doesn’t seem to hold as much weight as it once did, it’s still a pretty big deal, but it’s getting harder and harder to take it seriously.

Watch The Throne Didn’t Leak

In 2011, avoiding the album leak proved to be almost impossible. If an artist was lucky, the leak would be within a couple weeks of the release date. More often than not, it was before that, and albums were getting consumed, digested, and reviewed long before they even dropped. Somehow, one of the biggest rap albums of the year managed to avoid this.

How did they do it? Many argue that it was the digital release strategy that Kanye and Jay enforced. The album was released digitally before any hard copies were available. This cut out a lot of the people who might usually have access to the album. Still, hackers claimed that they could have leaked the album if they wanted to. As eager as we all were to hear the album, it was kind of nice to actually be able to enjoy it all together, on the official release date. In 2011, that was a rare occurrence.

Taylor Swift Started Being Friends With Rappers

Famous people love other famous people. Unlike what you might hear, famous people are not “just like you and me.” Rappers, especially. In fact, some rappers spend a huge majority of their words on simply highlighting the fact that you are not as good as them or as rich as them. Taylor Swift is also rich and famous, but she seems like an unlikely candidate for the friend-of-rappers position. Still, she managed to link up with several rappers in 2011, and even got T.I., Nicki Minaj, and Nelly to join her on stage during her tour. Friends!

Tyler, The Creator Won MTV’s Best New Artist

When noise of this wild Odd Future conglomerate started bubbling on the interwebs, it seemed like an act destined to be forever underground. The controversial, twisted content of the California hip-hop crew somehow managed to work their way into mainstream conversation. After an insane national television debut on Jimmy Fallon’s show, and one video, “Yonkers,” going viral and being called the best video of the year by Kanye West, it was clear that Odd Future was breaking through, but it was still a strange thing to watch. Seeing Tyler, The Creator–a young artist who seemed to stand for the opposite of what MTV has come to mean to the same kids that adore him–accept the award on MTV’s stage was an odd scene.

Jeff Mangum Emerged After Years Of Being A Recluse

Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea is widely regarded as an indie classic. Instead of embracing that kind of attention, Neutral Milk Hotel’s lead singer Jeff Mangum abandoned it. In 2011, after years of reclusive behavior, he suddenly started to pop up again. To the delight of NMH’s cult-like following, he announced a new box set and started announcing shows, which quickly sold out, leading to eBay ticket sales for hundreds of dollars. He even showed up at the Occupy Wall Street protest for an impromptu performance.

Jason Aldean Had The Fourth Best-Selling Album Of 2011

Jason who? The top selling albums of the year were as follows:

1. Adele 21
2. Lady Gaga Born This Way
3. Lil Wayne Tha Carter IV
4. Jason Aldean My Kinda Party

I did some research (Googled: “Jason Aldean”). Apparently, he’s this guy. Now, we know things like NASCAR and country music exist, but this was a wake-up call, alerting us non-country fans just how out of touch we are with a huge section of the American population. The fourth best-selling album in the country, only being outdone by Adele, Gaga, and Wayne, was Jason Aldean’s My Kinda Party. Damn. Congrats, Mr. Aldean, whoever you are.