Imagine a time when all of your favorite artists are putting out albums all at the same time… when I say that, you might think of 2016 almost immediately. Looking at this year as a whole, we have had a HUGE influx of new releases, especially from artists that have been silent for years. Adele: brings the sale of physical albums out of it’s grave and revives it with one freaking album after a four year silence, and DOMINATES with a massive world tour that sold out in seconds. Frank Ocean: not only did he deliver one, but TWO bodies of work, all while causing a major disturbance with his record label and starting a conversation about the necessity of a major record label to craft a successful record. Beyoncé: not one to do anything half-assed, she released another incredible visual album, managed to keep it entirely under wraps, and filled it with a narrative that took the nation over. Drake: pretty much crafted your summer soundtrack for you, whether it was “One Dance” or “Too Good”. And, let’s not forget, but there were some serious albums released that may not have been as big commercially, but should still be mentioned because they were nuts. People, it was an insane year with new albums and new singles. And the best part? It’s not over yet. But let’s analyze some of this year’s musical highlights.
Yes, I know it was technically released commercially in November of 2015, but it would be a mistake not to acknowledge that this album was not a huge part of this year too. From “Hello” shaking the world multiple times over, to the gorgeously nostalgic “When We Were Young”, and then to this summer’s ear worm, “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”, this album was a blockbuster in a way that not many artists could pull off nowadays. Even if you are more of a fan of 19 or 21, both being incredible, there is one thing this album shows off more than anything: Adele has one of the finest, most powerful and most emotional voices of the past generations. You can like or not like her music (I am personally obsessed), but no matter your opinion, you know you start to cry when you listen to her music. And in a washed out pop field, where brainless lyrics and a catchy beat can make you a household name, it’s nice to know that a talented voice and a gripping songwriter can still generate some serious power in this industry. Totally worth the four year wait.
My picks: “When We Were Young”, “Hello”, “All I Ask”
Everyone remembers where they were when Lemonade dropped. I watched it on HBO GO from my bed in my dorm room, as my jaw slowly fell until it hit my laptop and accidentally kept clicking, pausing the video, before I would angrily growl and scare my roommate. All fanfare aside, this album is a much more triumphant record than most of Beyoncé past works for multiple reasons. As albums should do, Lemonade tells a story. A quite clear one, in fact, and if you can’t pick up on it, well…there’s no helping you. The album itself makes powerful statements about infidelity, breaking of trust between people, topics like the Black Lives Matter movement, and all with powerful vocals and crazy collaborations (Jack White, Kendrick Lamar, the Weeknd, etc.). And who could forget her performance with Coldplay and Bruno Mars at the Super Bowl Halftime Show? Pretty great, right? It was a great year for Bey herself, and when it comes to the Grammy’s this year, it’s all about Bey and Adele, and who knows who will emerge victorious when the dust settles.
My picks: “Sorry”, “Sandcastles”, “Don’t Hurt Yourself”
Bobby Tarantino, Logic
Incredibly ambitious in every possible way, Logic is a unique voice in the rap and hip hop genre currently, and he proves this with his incredible mixtape, Bobby Tarantino. His rhymes are catchy, while also intelligent and thought provoking. And while his music is original and enjoyable, there is one central point that makes even me, someone who really isn’t all that into rap music and hip hop as a genre (with the exception of Kendrick Lamar and Eminem), acknowledge that Logic is worth listening to because, unlike a lot of artists in the rap genre, Logic raps about things other than sleeping with as many people as possible, making so much money that you become so deluded from who you are, and doing as many drugs as possible before you die. He raps about his life and past experiences with a sense of brutal honesty, and yet an incredible sense of humor (“A Word From Our Sponsor” had me in stitches, and “44 Bars” being exactly forty-four bars did make me smile) that is so poignant that it was undoubtedly one of the musical highlights from this past year. Definitely one of my favorite new acts I found this year.
My picks: “A Word From Our Sponsor”, “The Jam”, “Super Mario World”
Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper
Once again, I’m not a fan of rap. I admire the masterful lyricism and incredible internal rhythm it takes for someone to be able to spit, and have people actually want to listen to it. But I’ll tell you something: Chance the Rapper is one of those acts that not only grabs you and forces you to pay attention to him, but not unlike Logic, he is an incredibly unique voice in the industry that is unmatched AND is even blazing a brave path that is shaking up the very industry it calls home. Chance made this incredible record without a label whatsoever. He knows what he can and wants to do, and he makes music for him and for his fans. He doesn’t care if critics like it (they just so happened to love it anyway), he doesn’t care if it wins awards. He just cares that the music is what he wanted it to be and that his fans can enjoy it. And with it being one of the biggest records of the years, both commercially and critically, Chance may find himself winning a Grammy after all, now that the academy has changed their rules about albums released solely on streaming platforms…because oh, that’s right, it was #1 without even being released in a physical capacity. *mic drop*
My picks: “Same Drugs”, “No Problem”, “All We Got”
Blonde, Frank Ocean
Innovative. Forward thinking. Experimental. Bold. All words that describe the album that fans have been waiting years for. Seriously, only Adele fans can really understand the euphoria that Frank Ocean fans must have felt when out of nowhere, they found themselves with Endless and Blonde in the morning. I, personally, think the album is a little out there for me. However, no one can deny that Ocean is in a lane of his own. Blonde is a collection of expertly mastered and produced tracks that push the boundaries of many of the albums released this year. And like Chance the Rapper, Frank Ocean has started a conversation about the importance of a label in the career of musicians, and did so in such a bold way that had people talking for weeks. He dropped Endless to fulfill his contract with Universal, and then independently released Blonde, which may have been one of the most badass moves in the industry as of late. Overall, the big question he essentially left hanging over our heads was, “Do you really need a label to cultivate a successful career?” Based on the way this album exploded and how Ocean is fielding the backlash from his former label? His answer is no.
My picks: “Pink + White”, “Nights”
From “Find Your Love”, I really liked Drake. For one thing, he is very good at what he does. He raps and he even sings some, and he’s not that bad at it. Seriously, I understand that when rappers are writing an album, they don’t want to get a featured artist for every song that has a singing part, but some of them out there that bravely try to sing it themselves…well, let’s just say they shouldn’t. However, Drake is one of the few that can really handle it well. On Views, he’s as commanding as ever and in control of his sound as he’s ever been. And, with the success of “One Dance”, his first solo career #1 song, and “Too Good”, Drake was pretty much all you listened to this summer, and you can unashamedly admit that. And I do want to say that Drake gets a lot of flack for being a little more on the emotional side than some other rappers out there, but I don’t really see that being a problem…since that’s what music is about… I mean, trust me, I enjoy the memes and the parody Twitter accounts, but if the man can properly articulate emotions within his music that other rappers can’t, I see that as making him more of an artist than others that rap about the same damn thing over and over again.
My picks: “Too Good”, “Weston Road Flows”
Illuminate, Shawn Mendes
Released just about a week ago, Canada’s real saving grace right now in my eyes (because it sure as hell ain’t Justin Bieber at the current moment), delivered one of the most surprisingly impressive albums of the year. I liked some of his first album, Handwritten, because it was a little more than I thought it would be, coming from a guy that I only saw singing on Vine. I didn’t know if he could write his own stuff, whereas acts like Tori Kelly were posting their originals on YouTube and I knew Tori had a great writing prowess. But the album was pretty good, though nothing earth-shattering, and it’s best parts were the probably the least popular songs on the album. This record, however, takes Shawn’s versatile and elastic tenor voice and matures it into a non-douchey John Mayer sound that I seriously can’t stop listening to. It’s soulful at times, melancholy for most, and so nice to just close your eyes, put your headphones in and enjoy it like cracking open a good book. And to think that he’s only 18 and he’s crafted a sophomore record like this can’t be described as anything but impressive. One of my favorite albums in a long time.
My picks: “Ruin”, “Roses”, “Hold On”, “Don’t Be A Fool”
I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it, The 1975
Completely out of left field, The 1975 released this firework of a record that proves the UK four-piece is a versatile force to be reckoned with. Their first record gave off of a very indie-alt-rock vibe that I really dug. “Chocolate” wasn’t my favorite, but it definitely grew on me (and I freaking love it now), but “Robbers” is also a great track. However, with this follow-up, they serve up a sonically different record with more electronic traces interwoven within and some really old fashioned funk and disco inspired beats underlying some of the bigger songs. “UGH!” is a complex whirlwind that feels like it came out of the ’80s and it never gets old, and the “The Sound”, with it’s guitar solo I can’t ever seem to get out of my head, is a alt-pop gem. Additionally, the visuals for the tracks each make their own stand boldly. The video for “The Sound” takes on the idea of fame and how easy it is look upon others and judge without a single thought about how it feels when the tables are turned. Finally, I think one of the greatest things about this record is that you really can’t place it into one genre, which is really starting to become a trend and I love it. It’s alternative specifically because it’s not rock, but it’s not pop and music that takes it’s influences from multiple genres is exactly how it should be, if you ask me.
My picks: “UGH!”, “The Sound”, “Somebody Else”
Dangerous Woman, Ariana Grande
It’s no secret that Ariana Grande is feeling herself this year. She’s always had a bombastic explosion of a voice, even when she was on Nickelodeon, but she’s unleashed on this record more than she has on her past two, despite them both being incredible. But on Dangerous Woman, she’s making quite clear that just because she looks so young, she’s not afraid to remind you that’s she growing the (beep) up and she’s not taking anyone’s shit while doing it. Now, I’m not entirely sure why this record wasn’t as big as it should have been commercially this year, but it’s really honestly quite a triumphant record for Miss Grande. She refuses to be stopped or overpowered by anyone else on this record, and with all of the production and various genres playing into the influence in it’s sound, her voice and the raw natural talent she has is palpable in every breathy phrase she practically whispers in your ear. And as a final note, let it be said that Ariana is one of the few great vocalists right now with those raw natural chops that is putting out songs befitting her voice that are attracting the kind of commercial success to keep her relevant. Some artists, like Christina Aguilera and Ariana’s idol, Mariah Carey, have/had great voices, but name me a song they’ve had in the past three years that has charted well in the slightest. Ariana is top form with this record.
My picks: “Thinkin’ Bout You”, “Bad Decisions”, “I Don’t Care”, “Moonlight”
The Human Condition, Jon Bellion
If you haven’t heard of Jon Bellion yet, you sure as hell will be soon! Starting out the way of Sia and many others before him, he’s been writing for other artists, most notably on “The Monster” for Eminem and Rihanna. He’s also been releasing albums exclusively on Spotify, with music that bounces between pop and alternative multiple times over. He’s an expert producer, writer and vocalist and finally, with his commercial debut, The Human Condition, he’s showing everyone what he can do. Every song on this record is honest, even to points that take you by surprise at times, and with thought provoking barbs about the illusions we create for ourselves as human beings, Bellion takes listeners on a carefully planned out musical journey that was almost 10 years in the making. And if after this entire record you don’t feel like you’ve seen the creativity this man possesses, listen to the last song, “Hand of God”. Not only does it feature the choir that sang on Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”, but the second half of the song sung by the choir IS A MASHUP OF EVERY SONG ON THE RECORD. Yeah, let that settle in for a second. Different snippets of each song are layered on top of each other with heavenly harmonies that are striking to listen to when you hear it with headphones in or jammed up at top volume on good speakers. It’s one of the most creative and mind-blowing tracks I’ve heard in my entire life and I haven’t been able to stop raving about it since it’s release.
(P.S. shout out to my best friend Abby who showed me this record)
My picks: “Overwhelming”, “Morning In America”, “Guillotine”, “Hand of God”
IN THE MIDDLE (HONORABLE MENTIONS)
Like most of the world, I agree that Rihanna is nothing short of iconic. Half of the gifs that I send to my friends or tweet are of her properly shading the hell out of someone, and doing it the right freaking way. Also, props to her for having so many freaking hit songs. I looked through her discography the other day on iTunes, and I found myself slightly surprised as to how many bangers Ri-Ri has put out the past decade. So, with all of that being said, I was really, really waiting on something huge. Anti is good, but as an altogether work, it’s really not what I would have called ‘worth the wait’. This is one of those records that you listen to and find songs that you absolutely love, but will also find songs you’re totally indifferent to and some you just don’t like at all. It just seems like there was some really solid material, but it was a last minute to the finish decision to put it all together. In a sense, everything about the album can be summed up in the phrase “I was expecting more”. I love about five songs on this record wholeheartedly, but “Higher” for example, just seems so short to me, and I just kind of want a second half to it. I love belting it and her rasp in the song is incredible, but it’s only about two minutes in length, and when you look at the run time for the record, you see that as a trend. It’s slightly disappointing, content-wise, but there is one thing you do hear that is why this definitely an honorable mention. Ri’s voice, since she’s been working it with coaches, has so greatly improved and she sounds amazing, and as ever, her badass attitude is top notch. She’s one of the baddest women in the music industry, and for the songs on this album that I like, I will continue to bow down to her. However, when you compare it with some of this year’s competition and you think about the Grammy’s, it’s likely Anti won’t find itself looking to compete with 25 or Lemonade, but if it does, you know it’s probably not going to be winning.
My picks: “Love On The Brain”, “Higher”, “Needed Me”, “Never Ending”
Glory, Britney Spears
So Britney’s back, y’all. I know, it all depends on how you feel about her that will determine your excitement on that statement. Let me start by saying that I applaud Britney for making it through her troubling time and coming back with new music and her head held high. Everyone thought she would end up like Lindsay Lohan and never be able to recover from her downward slope, but here she is with a new album in 2016! So, getting past that, let’s state the obvious: Britney is not the world’s best vocalist. By a long shot. And that is exactly why this album is right here in the honorable mentions instead of at the top. This is quite a triumphant return to form, with slinky and sexy vibes on almost every twist and turn on this record. However, unlike Adele, Ariana, and Rihanna, Brit has the exact opposite problem. Whereas the former ladies had their voices stick out over songs that may or may not do their incredible instruments a justice, Britney’s catalog is the best part of this album. Her voice is so clearly over-produced which really annoys me as the listener. “Private Show” is a perfect example of this. The song itself is actually quite catchy and has a radio-friendly sound, but her vocals are so edited and produced that it sounds like they’ve been wrapped in saran wrap or something. They’re just so bright and it bothers my ears. And it’s that fact that makes me abandon this without getting through it. However, when you actually do listen to the whole thing, the record is so much better than her last record, Britney Jean, which I think everyone wishes they could forget. She’s working with what she has and she’s feeling herself right now a lot more than she was a couple of years ago. She’s a whole new person, having grown up now and being a mom. So, like I said, good for Brit for getting it all together to make yet another decent pop record. I, personally, am just not buying into it.
My picks: “Private Show”, “Make Me…”, “Clumsy”
MISSED THE MARK
Thank You, Meghan Trainor
This doesn’t particularly bring me any joy to label this as a miss for me. I really like Meghan Trainor. Her first album, Title, was incredible. Her lyrics, her voice, her musical style (a revamped doo-wop vibe); everything had originality to it. And, if you’ve read my piece on reinvention, you’ll know that I was really unhappy when I started to see the promo for this record. All of that originality, all of the small things that made her different than the other faces in the pop genre, those little things that probably helped her edge out to beat Tori Kelly and James Bay for the Best New Artist Grammy last year, were gone. The lyrics for lead single “NO” were so generic it hurt. The lyrics for follow up single, “Me Too”, were even more groan worthy. They’re creative, sure, but we know what her potential is from her last record, and she just brought the bar way down. Most of the tracks on this album are so much more pop, which is fine, branch out if you’d like. But for God’s sake, it’s like someone was having an identity crisis when this record was being made. The artist we knew from that first record was gone, transformed so transparently by the pop machine, and it really sucked to watch. Lady Gaga is the perfect example of how to properly reinvent yourself. Take something new and mix it with what people know and love from you. Meghan abandoned that for a whole new sound, jumping three steps ahead without a single thought about whether or not that was a good idea. I don’t know who was advising her during this process, but they didn’t do a very good job. With her list of songs that were being played on the radio, Meghan wasn’t facing the issue that many pop artists who shot to stardom with a song of the summer were facing. People knew who she was because she got past that pivotal second single to stay relevant, and with two other hits to boot. She had this album put together almost a year after her first record was put out, and that’s the first mistake. Katy Perry has tied Michael Jackson, one of the best artists to ever grace the planet, for having five #1 songs from one album. After that, she went away for two years to make Prism. Here we are, and she’s been away for another two and a half years to make her next one. Adele went away for four long years to craft a follow up to her ground breaking 21. They took the time necessary to create music worthy of what their past discography did for them commercially. Meghan, you jumped the gun. And this, though having some shining moments of hope that your sound still remains within your control, is disappointing.
2016 has been quite a year for music! And there’s still time!
- Lady Gaga’s Joanne is coming in October, which looks to be a wonderful comeback we’ve all been waiting for.
- Bruno Mars has been hard at work, so have no idea when he’ll be returning to our airwaves, but none of us can wait.
- Twenty one pilots fans can agree with me that we are so expectantly waiting for what the duo can do to add to their impressive collection, since they’ve made right step after beautifully creative right step since they broke out with Vessel.
- I’m a Pink fan to the bone, and I’m incredibly excited to see what working with Sia and Beck brings out of my favorite Philly badass.
- Katy Perry is looking for a comeback after her Prism album added “Roar”, “Unconditionally” and “Dark Horse” to her list of hits.
- I’m VERY interested to see what Imagine Dragons’ next album will sound like, since I’ve heard rumors they too are also in the studio hard at work.
So here’s to you, 2016. Let’s see what else you’ve got.
SIDE NOTE: These are just most of the albums I’ve heard and reviewed this year. If you have any albums you’ve heard, liked, and think I should listen to, let me know!