28 December 2016

Goodbye 2016: Music - Sing Song All Long!

And then we came to the musical part of the show. Like television, I will freely self-admit to not having listened to every song there is this year. For some reason even though I'm usually well in tune to the audial world, I actually think that music was lacking a bit this year. Nothing really stood out, which made it easy for David Bowie and Radiohead to dominate where they probably wouldn't have any other year. It's also been such a Beyonce year, although I'm not convinced that all her work was the best of the year. I know, the Beygency is coming for me soon. So what was good to hit the ears in 2016? Keep reading, my young ward and find out:

Songs of 2016:

"Sorry" by Justin Bieber
"Same Old Love" by Selena Gomez
"Stressed Out" by twenty one pilots
"Formation" by Beyonce
"Roses" by The Chainsmokers
"My House" by Flo Rida
"Hands to Myself" by Selena Gomez
"Work" by Rihanna ft. Drake
"Me, Myself, & I" by G-Eazy ft. Bebe Rexha
"Cake by the Ocean" by DNCE
"Love Yourself" by Justin Bieber
"Dark Necessities" by Red Hot Chili Peppers
"7 Years" by Lukas Graham
"I Took a Pill in Ibiza" by Mike Posner
"Dangerous Woman" by Ariana Grande
"Work from Home" by Fifth Harmony
"Panda" by Desiigner
"Don't Let Me Down" by The Chainsmokers ft. Daya
"One Dance" by Drake
"Ophelia" by the Lumineers
"Can't Stop the Feeling" by Justin Timberlake
"Cheap Thrills" by Sia
"Send My Love (To Your New Lover)" by Adele
"Closer" by The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey
"Heathens" by twenty one pilots
"Gold" by Kiiara
"Broccoli" by D.R.A.M. ft. Lil' Yachty
"I Hate U, I Love U" by Gnash
"24K Magic" by Bruno Mars
"Starboy" by The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk
"Side to Side" by Ariana Grande ft. Nicki Minaj
"Juju on that Beat" by Zay Hilifigerrr
"Black Beatles" by Rae Sremmund
"Bad Things" by Camila Cabello ft. Machine Gun Kelly

Here is a Summer Jam refresher.

Artist of the Year

It's really hard to zero in on one artist since so many had such spectacular years. The Chainsmokers are now the face of horrible EDM, although they produced some legitimate great jams this year. Twenty one pilots is now the face of rock, even if most of their non-"Heathens" tracks are garbage, but that one's the best thing to come out of Suicide Squad (2016). Sia cemented herself atop the pantheon of pop greats, and Fifth Harmony proved that they have more staying power than other terrible girl pop bands of late such as Little Mix. Rihanna produced a slew of hits and an incredible album, but none seemed to have traction. So who are we left with?

Shit - is it Beyonce? Even though her sister, Solange produced a likely equally as great album, Beyonce, if she didn't get the most sales or #1 hits, it sure felt like that. That's the power of the Beyonce brand. She wasn't actually as successful as any of the above artists, but it totally feels that way. 2016 will more often be remembered for the power of Beyonce, even if "Hold Up" was listened to the same amount as "Purple Rain" was this year. And I'm still sticking to my introductory note that Beyonce wasn't the best artist of 2016, but she was probably the greatest.

Song of the Year:

"Cheap Thrills" by Sia



I stuck the Sean Paul version in the Summer Jam Countdown all summer, but let's throw up the Maddie Zeigler version here. This video is probably better, but I think I actually like Sean Paul's mindless treacle cutting in the remix. Anyway, robbed of Summer Queen status, "Cheap Thrills" dominated this year, and somehow I can still get pumped up to listen to it. That's a rare feat these days, especially considering this was the first great song I noticed on This is Acting when it dropped in January. Yep. Listen to this track for a year straight and love it more each time you hear it. That, for me, was 2016 in a nutshell, and no song was better with near equal commercial pedigree.

Other Singles of the Year:

For whatever reason this year was extremely rap-heavy. There's just a lot of great samples going on right now, with artists following Fetty Wap's deconstruction and casualization of the genre, which actually makes the whole enterprise more listenable and lovable, while preserving common tropes. There were some good rock songs that snuck their way in, but here we go:

"No Problem" by Chance the Rapper ft. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz the hook is a dream and it's impressive to see Lil Wayne finally on a song that doesn't suck. This isn't the best song from Coloring Book, but certainly the catchiest
"We the People..." by A Tribe Called Quest says everything we want to in a Trump's America in a 90s package that never flinches from the statement they try to make. Also that beat will cut you up.
"Black Beatles" by Rae Sremmund ft. Gucci Mane may have become popular during mannequin challenges, but this floaty song embodies everything about modern rap. It's a party anthem, chill anthem, think piece anthem - everything at once. I called out Rae Sremmund for SremmLife last year, and he may yet prove to be legit.
"Kiss it Better" by Rihanna it was tough to pick one of Rihanna's singles, but this already one of the tracks from ANTI that stood out to me when I listened to it twelve times this summer. This is the showiest non-"Work" track on the album that offers a more abstract look at the complicated emotions of love and regret than anything else this year
"On the Way" by TWENTY88 I feel like no one cared about the best collabo of the year - Jhene Aiko and Big Sean's Twenty88, but this is the sexiest song of the year. No eating the booty like groceries, but I couldn't get enough of this.
"Fade" by Kanye West is my favourite single off The Life of Pablo, and that's not just because I get to watch Teyana Taylor every time it pops up. That growing thumping "Mysteries of Love" bass line (exaggerated to where it should be here) is exquisite and it vocally disguises the fact that it's even a Kanye song, even if the sampling gives it away.
"Way Down We Go" by Keleo listen, I did dig a few rock songs this year. Keleo's probably the best new rock group to emerge this year, badass enough to play inside Volcanos. Fuck yeah.
"Sound of Silence" by Disturbed cover of the year.
"Million Reasons" by Lady GaGa, whose album also seemed to be passed over this year, but was full of great genre-crossing country twinged tracks like this one. There's a lot more passion and emotion in this than any other pop or rock track this year, and it walks that beautiful line between up tempo thrillmaker and downtrodden tearmaker. GaGa always finds a way on to this re-cap, and even though it feels like she's past the point in her career where she cares about making big pop anthems,

Best Albums of the Year:

POP

I generally enjoy splitting up this category between the three mega-genres of Pop, Rock, and Hip-Hop, which I suppose is weird. We don't split films up between Action, Comedy, and Drama. Although perhaps we should...anyway, the popular pick here is Lemonade, which I'll say again, didn't really do anything for me. The runner-up is Sia's This is Acting, but I totally dug Rihanna's ANTI non-stop this year, which is also my general pick for ALBUM OF THE YEAR.

Everything about this is knocked out of the park. It's truly an album that seeks to buck the trend of a lot of pop stars, and even Rihanna's own career. Songs start and stop without much care or pretension of dropping singles ("Work" is the only custom-made hit, which is unarguably awesome), no one cares about hooks or marketability, but the melodies are still catchy and engrossing as hell. It's about the splinters of love and the craziness of falling in and out of relationships more consistently than Lemonade without the added baggage of Jay-Z or Blue Ivy Carter getting in the way. Even the album cover forgoes containing either the album's or Rihanna's name. It was the first double-platinum album of 2016, and another block in the impossible fact that Rihanna DESTROYS every other contemporary pop artist.

Best Tracks: "Kiss It Better," "Same Old Mistakes", "Love on the Brain"

ROCK

I alluded to this earlier, but it seemed like a real down year for Rock and Roll. David Bowie's Blackstar which dropped last January immediately prior to his death served as an elegant swan song to one of the greatest legends of rock, but doesn't really compare to Pin Ups or Diamond Dogs. That's perhaps unfair, but it's kind of crazy that the most universally acclaimed 2016 Rock Album isn't even that artist's greatest Rock Album. Then again, who am I to judge, I'm here saying it's the top for me, too. Bowie milks the age of his voice rather than tries to do anything he's done before, which is also a very Ziggy thing to do. It pounds away and gives glimpses of a man accepting and cradling death, which we enjoyed ironically for two days, then in an entirely new light from January 10th on. Out of everyone lost in 2016, that one still hurts pretty bad.

Best Tracks: "Lazarus", "Girl Loves Me", "Dollar Days"

HIP-HOP

Jeez, Hip-Hop, how did you drop so many great albums this year? I dig The Life of Pablo the more I listen to it, but it feels too much like the kind of 2016 Kanye West had - frazzled, rushed, insane, and exotic. I cited "Fade" earlier, and do want to mention the strength of "Ultralight Beam" - but this is the stuff he mastered in "All of the Lights" off of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy that kind of falls apart here.

We already mentioned the strength of Coloring Book, but that album just doesn't stand out enough to me. That's a collection of really good tracks with one or two great ones that never pushes itself over the edge. I was also close to awarding this to Frank Ocean's Blonde which I love for "Nikes" that starts to explore this quantum state of cultural dissonance that's probaly the most beautiful album thematically of the year, but the beats just aren't there. And this is Hip-Hop. You need beats.

Hence The Impossible Kid. Aesop Rock's masterpiece, realized in a 48-minute long tribute to The Shining (1980), it stands out as an epic strain of thought by one of our greatest underrated rappers. The beats combine a lot of modern funk with Aesop's brutal flow to create a musical trip full of ups and downs but with awesome a plenty. The lyrics and rhymes crush it more than anything else this year, which seems like a lost art in modern hip-hop. This is what the game is all about.

Best Tracks: "Rings", "Dorks", "Supercell", "Shrunk"

Top Videos of the Year:



OK, it's Lemonade. Just...all of Lemonade. Go find it on Tidal. Or HBO. There's no one else revolutionizing the video format, or hell, even the release format that Queen Bey is doing right now. There's so much wrapped up in this. Obviously, there's a weird renegade cheating thing, but without much other context or commentary we're left to postulate where exactly lies the intersection between art and reality. There's a lot to unpack here, perhaps no place better than in "Formation" where Beyonce proudly reminds every that she's black, proud of it, and owns a culture she would have appeared to left behind. Bey in that black hat may also be the best music image of the year.

There were some other good bits this year, although none quite spectacular. I really dig DJ Shadows ft. Run the Jewels "Nobody Speak," which riffs on the "old white people rapping" trope better than it's ever been done, where words and action are so inexorably linked, with passionate focus and demonstrated motivation from these anonymous diplomats. Not only is it suddenly an apt parable for our current political system, but an epic sync of an old gimmick.

Finally, it feels like we made it another year with another gimmick-y but astutely difficult OK GO video that I totally tried to resist listing here, but when those anti-grav paint balloons pop it's still a cool moment. Fine. Here you go.

In the end I suppose I paid more attention to music in 2016 than I thought. That was a lot to go through. What did you listen to, and what will you always remember from the Year 2016?

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