The past year was a big one in the world of music. Some notable websites such as New Musical Express and Pitchfork are calling 2016 the most consequential year in music in decades. That’s because there was plenty of good music released by the industry’s biggest stars, but also some very notable deaths during the year. More than a few musical legends left us in 2016, even as the stars of today emerged to pick up the mantle. Here’s a list of the 10 biggest moments in music from the past year.
10. Drake Unleashes “Views”
Canadian rapper Drake continued to cement his standing with music critics and fans with the massive 2016 album Views. Featuring 20 tracks and clocking in at more than 80 minutes, Views risked being labeled a vanity project and suffering the fate of many long albums – what used to be called “double albums” back in the days of vinyl. Yet Views manages to be worth the time investment with great tracks such as “One Dance,” which effectively was the song of the summer in 2016, and “Too Good” featuring Rhianna. Drake also included his massive hit single “Hotline Bling” as a bonus track on the album. And of course, Drake wouldn’t be Drake without shout outs and praise for Toronto, the city he loves. The album’s cover features an image of Toronto’s iconic C.N. Tower, with Drake sitting on the top.
9. Iggy Pop Returns
Iggy Pop has now become one of those artists who defies a time period or particular genre of music. Beyond the 1970s and punk rock, Iggy Pop has emerged as something of an elder statesman in recent years. He’s now someone who everyone respects and wants approval from. Yet this vaunted status has not stopped Iggy from continuing to chart new musical paths for himself and remain relevant in the process. This past year, Iggy returned with the album Post Pop Depression. In addition to the great title, the album proved to be one of Iggy’s best ever thanks to the collaboration of Josh Homme and Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age and Matt Helders of Arctic Monkeys. This combination seemed to unleash the Godfather of Punk Rock and let him return to his garage rock roots. And it worked perfectly.
8. Leonard Cohen Dies
Among the legends lost in 2016 was Leonard Cohen, a poet and songwriter, who managed to remain relevant right up until his death at age 82. Indeed, he even managed to release the eerily titled album You Want It Darker right before his death in November. With famous songs such as “Bird on a Wire,” “Suzanne,” “So Long Marianne,” “Dance Me to the End of Love” and the transcendent “Hallelujah,” Leonard Cohen cemented his legacy as one of the best singer/songwriters ever. He was also a constant stage act, even into his later years when he never stopped touring. His death, which came only days after the election of Donald Trump, seemed to single the end of a kinder, gentler time in society. And the performance of “Hallelujah” on Saturday Night Live that weekend by cast member Kate McKinnon was a defining moment in pop culture this past year.
7. Kanye Drama
Of course, we couldn’t have the year in music without some drama from Kanye West. First, the controversial rapper was forced to leave his own concert, mid-performance, to rush to his wife Kim Kardashian’s side after she had been robbed at knife point in Paris. And then a few weeks later Kanye himself was, reportedly, hospitalized for what was called “exhaustion.” Paparazzi in tow, Kanye was urged to give his body and mind a rest and to recover from being, well, Kanye. The good news is that amidst all the hype, hyperbole and drama, Kanye West managed to release a strong album in 2016 — The Life of Pablo, which again had the critics eating out of his hands. Similar to Drake’s Views, The Life of Pablo runs 20 tracks. The seventh studio album from Kanye deftly combines rap, reggae, and avant garde music. It also features guest appearances from Rhianna and Andre 3000. Though we’re not sure why Kanye had to re-release the same album several times during the year after he tinkered with it. Oh, Kanye.
6. Radiohead Wows the Critics – Again
This past year saw British alt-rock leaders Radiohead return with a new album that again won over fans and critics and was hailed as yet another classic collection of songs from the band that is now in its third decade, but seems as fresh and relevant as ever. Called A Moon Shaped Pool, the latest album sees Radiohead delivering a more introspective catalogue of songs. Like a lot of the band’s work, A Moon Shaped Pool does not immediately grab your attention, as most of the songs are not very catchy or upbeat. But after a few listens, the album gets its hooks into you and won’t let go. It’s a mature album that features songs about pain and heartbreak, and it is being hailed by critics as one of the band’s best – deserving to sit alongside The Bends and O.K. Computer. As the British music website Varsity said: “It is a mystery how other alternative rock bands find the power to go on when they know Radiohead exists.”
5. Trump vs. The Rolling Stones
There’s a history in political campaigns of nominees using the songs of rock stars without permission. Bruce Springsteen famously requested that Ronald Reagan stop using his song “Born In The U.S.A.” while running for president in 1984. The Boss pointed out that his song was actually a protest against the Vietnam War and that Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign was using it out of context. This past year, now president-elect Donald Trump incurred the wrath of The Rolling Stones for using one of their songs as his campaign theme. Mick Jagger took to Twitter to make it clear that Donald Trump’s campaign did not have the band’s permission to use the song, but also noted that The Rolling Stones couldn’t stop the Trump camp from using their music (for the record, Trump ignored Mick Jagger’s comments). But what makes this whole incident interesting, and kind of sad, is the song that Trump used as his campaign theme. No, it wasn’t the upbeat and energizing “Start Me Up.” It was the mournful, downbeat, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want (But If You Try Sometimes, You’ll Get What You Need).” Who was this song aimed at, supporters of Hillary Clinton? The use of the song, which is about unfulfilled hopes and desires, seemed like an exclamation point on a pathetic presidential campaign.
4. Taylor Swift Backlash
There was a time when singer Taylor Swift seemed immune to the fan backlash that has engulfed many other pop superstars. That time ended in 2016. The once seemingly untouchable pop singer suffered a serious blow to her reputation over the past year, as her army of fans (known as Swifties) turned on her, trolled her online, and defaced her social media accounts with snake emojis. It was a swift fall from grace (pun intended) for the once mighty Taylor, and it was precipitated by the view that Taylor Swift is not as squeaky clean as she would like people to think. Her quickie romance with actor Tom Hiddelston, which was labeled a publicity stunt, and feud with fellow songstress Katy Perry only added fuel to the fire that Swift is a fake and a great big meanie. The backlash against Taylor was so bad that singer Demi Lovato threatened to quit the music business, saying she feared the same thing happening to her eventually.
3. David Bowie Dies
The death of David Bowie at age 69 was so shocking to people because nobody saw it coming. Indeed, very few people knew that the reclusive rock legend was suffering from cancer until it was announced this past January that he had died. That, and the fact that David Bowie had always seemed otherworldly, made his death a real shocker for music fans and pop culturalists around the world. As with Leonard Cohen, David Bowie eerily released a new album just days before his death. Called Blackstar, the album seemed to portend the end for the “Space Oddity” singer and was critically praised and embraced by fans who were looking for comfort following news of David Bowie’s passing. Forever a legend in the pantheon of rock n’ roll, and a true innovator, David Bowie left a huge hole to fill with his death.
2. Bob Dylan Wins a Nobel Prize
One of the most divisive issues in music in 2016 was the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan – the first time the honor has been bestowed on a songwriter. Of course, Bob Dylan is no ordinary songwriter. He is arguably the greatest songwriter of all time. But his selection by the Nobel Committee nevertheless brought out the knives among the literary set who complained that a songwriter had no business being in the company of literary luminaries who had received the award previously. Many writers criticized Bob Dylan’s work, calling his songs “trivial” and saying they are only for “pop consumption.” Really?! Have any of the writers criticizing Dylan ever written anything as impactful as songs such as “The Times They Are-A-Changin’” or “Blowin’ In The Wind?” We think not. Bob Dylan’s songs have inspired generations and they helped change society in the 1960s. That said, Dylan didn’t help the controversy with his response to being honored with a Nobel Prize. His response was no response at all. He didn’t say anything about the award, other than to tell the Nobel Committee he won’t attend the ceremony in Sweden. But isn’t that just like Dylan?
1. Prince Dies
No doubt the most shocking moment in music this past year, and the defining moment of the past year in terms of both music and pop culture, was the death of Prince at age 57. The fact that Prince’s death was confirmed to be a drug overdose made the Purple Rain singer’s passing that much more shocking and difficult for fans to accept. Like David Bowie, Prince always seemed ethereal and otherworldly – a man who was somehow above it all. To see him brought down by an overdose of fentanyl was a shocker, and seemed like a completely unnecessary tragedy. Of course, he left behind a great legacy of music. But fans are stuck wondering what more music could he have given us had he lived longer? R.I.P.