This was a hard year to write about anything.
Through many setbacks and tragedies, we’ve made it to the end of 2016. Despite making it through this year, the hardships experienced here will most likely hang over us like a sweaty, orange tupée for a long time.
Even music suffered from 2016’s cruel ironies, perhaps even more so than others:
Charli XCX just brought out JoJo at la pride and a drunk guy next to me said “wait omg I love Tove Lo”
— Natasha Dye (@natashadye) June 12, 2016
For one thing, musicians constantly found themselves in the throes of death, one of them even furnishing his album around it. Legends, icons, and idols left us relentlessly as these election-soaked months dragged towards what many thought would be a happy ending.
And the fake news phenomenon wasn’t exclusive to politics or economics. In a misguided (to say the least) attempt to defend Trump’s Pussygate comments, his supporters blamed hip-hop for influencing rape culture. If anything, hip-hop now seems to be the driving force behind the most acclaimed and thoughtful pieces of the year, so much so that Taylor Swift is entertaining it as the inspiration behind her next project (ugh).
But regardless of these tragedies, musicians still delivered many triumphant, in some cases career-defining albums. We finally received proper Frank Ocean and Chance the Rapper (kinda) records, the 1975 proved critics wrong, and the Knowles sisters continue to shape the game to their own liking.
The pieces and acts I include below are what helped me come to many realizations of my own this year. Like The Life of Pablo, this list could be updated at any time depending on my whims, something I feel is important as we go into 2017. Nothing is set in stone, and change is the only constant we can expect from anything, so expect me to possibly change my mind.
*Disclaimer, I, like the blog I write for, acknowledge that overall everything pales in comparison to Bey’s Lemonade, but you all already know that, so i’m giving you something different here. None of us can say we heard the phrase “I levitated” and weren’t shook.
4. GTA feat. Vince Staples “Little Bit of This”
Dressed in only a gray hoodie, Vince Staples radiates swagger the way the surrounding cars give off exhaust. Effortlessly cool, this video gives me visions of MIA’s “Bad Girls” and Die Antwoord’s “Baby’s On Fire”, a lone figure swarmed by automobiles and made all-the-more impressive for it. Ever since this debuted I’ve wanted to find a vacant lot to blare this in.
3. Fergie “M.I.L.F. $”
Cannot say I’m happy with the fact Double Dutchess failed to arrive this year, or that this single on its own is less-than-stellar, but this video truly attempts to make up for both of these facts. Fergie, 41-years-young, sings her ass off, seeped in ‘milk’ while surrounded by hot mommas with more cred than any girl-squad. Over-the-top is not a description that does “MILF $” justice, but it comes close.
2. Jessy Lanza, “Oh No”
A near-perfect translation of a song into video format. The video, like the track, feels simple in its construction, made all the more complex by where the pieces fall. The vision of Lanza rolling through midnight streets, rainbows beaming off her, conveys a sense of calm wonder. Where is she headed? What is she looking for? And why does this all make sense?
1. Sevdaliza, “Human”
“I am hu-man” Sevdaliza murmurs over-and-over again, but some things give her away. Her placement in a gladiator ring, her hooded robe, the snakebite from 2006, these all hint towards something alien. Then she sheds the robe.
If you ever wondered what happened to Katy Perry’s hooved “ET” creation, she now provides ominous, voyeuristic performances for a bunch of rich men. The whole ordeal, from the grim openness of the ring to the sweaty, ravenous looks of the watchers, unsettles the eye and provides a wealth of interpretations. All the while, Sevdaliza movements convey an otherworldly confidence, with her eyes never leaving a point in front of her. “What’s she looking at?” is just another question this video asks of you, and you’re left to fill it in with your own thoughts. The challenge is to imagine something not outlandish.
Best Live Acts
4. La Femme @ The Regent
Though most of the world is understandably disappointed in the US, the members of La Femme seemed genuinely happy to share their Francophone version of surf rock with its originators here in California. Dressed as clowns and disco kings, they thrashed and crowd-surfed their way through a turnt evening, where probably only 30/40% of their audience even understood what they were saying.
3. Kaytranada @ The Fonda
From beat one of “Track Uno” I never stopped moving. Against a backdrop of trippy visuals and R&B legends, Kaytranada delivered the dance party of a lifetime, and seemed genuinely pleased that to provide it. Dance-able only scratches the surface of what the audience felt; once he dipped into fan-favorite remix, “Be Your Girl”, we all devolved into a massive pool of euphoria.
2. Macy Rodman @ The Broad
Where else can you hear about the savagery of patriarchy and a cover of “Landslide” at the same time? At a Macy Rodman show. With biting humor and a lively stage presence, she absolutely slayed the Broad’s Occulus Hall, a setting I now realize is not grand enough for someone of her talents. Best part of the evening by far: when she literally rolled off the stage mid-Cher, only to respond “I can feel something inside me say…”. Believe me, Macy, I felt it too.
1. Christine & the Queens
While the official title of the night was Grimes Presents: March of the Pugs, the evening belonged to Heloise Letissier, aka Christine & the Queens. There’s nothing this woman cannot do: sing, dance, charm, provide a tribute to the Purple One, on the day of his death no less. No one else came close to what she accomplished on stage, and if you saw it too, you probably wouldn’t try either.
5. King, We Are KING
Lose yourself to We Are KING‘s tracks as they billow outwards in musicality. The softness of this album belies the utter confidence each track possesses; every chord, every flourish, every pause fitting together with the symmetrical (and thoughtful) precision of a mosaic. A match for the sisters’ impressive harmonies and instrumentation is their wordplay, excellently displayed on “Mister Chameleon” (“You go from gold to green with no warning/ I can’t take no more”). Few things are ever more polished, or enjoyable.
4. Little Simz, Stillness In Wonderland
A late-game arrival that should impact something on your “best of…” lists. From the comforts of Wonderland, Simbi Ajikawo makes the last great case to “stay lit” in 2016, disturbing the ‘stillness’ with wonderful results. Tackling issues ranging from toxic relationships to the hurdles of fame and fortune, Stillness… shakes them all up in her aggressive, honest state-of-mind.
3. Kaytranada, 99.9%
Electronic music nay be artificially constructed, but acts are showing us it has a soul of its own. With 99.9%, Kaytranada breathes life into the genre, where every tempo has its own pulse. Love makes a convincing case on “You’re The One”, and “Glowed Up” carries glory humbly upon its shoulders. But while it bounces high, emotionally it sinks deep, rebuffing advances on “Leave Me Alone” and bemoaning violence in “Bullets”.
Bonus points: For having a hell of a year, Kaytranada also gets a s/o for producing bangers on Mick Jenkins’ The Healing Component and for producing “Along The Coast”, a track by an artist whose name I will not add to SEO but will acknowledge they did a better homage to Aaliyah’s “Rock The Boat” than that reference in “Fade”.
2. *Double Feature* Charli XCX, Vroom Vroom & Mallrat, Uninvited
I place these two EPs together because A) they’re EPS, and B) because they both demonstrate the exciting ways pop music is evolving as genres become less defined. As we’ve seen over the years, Charlotte Aitchison knows how to craft a hook, and here she’s got pop innovator SOPHIE giving her some of the best beats to work with. She raps, screams, and whispers her desires in the catchiest ways, all sounding like a conglomeration of everything that’s come before her.
Meanwhile, Grace Shaw does something similar in heaping together influences, but Uninvited is softer, more nuanced than the turbo charge of Vroom Vroom. At only 17, she’s giving me visions of Lorde and Lily Allen, a smart-ass teenager with a keen knack for documenting adolescent with an observant, cheeky tongue: put your windows down and lose yourself to the teenage feels of “For Real” and “Inside Voices”. Combined, both Vroom Vroom and Uninvited literally clock in at half-an-hour, but very rarely will you be treated to such entrancing pop by starlets who realize their potential has yet to be fully explored.
1. Swet Shop Boys, Cashmere
If MIA and Run The Jewels fused sounds you would get Cashmere, a record that protests simply by being unabashedly global. No institution remains unscathed, the boys going all-in on matters of police brutality, racism, xenophobia, and the right to privacy. The MCs themselves, Heems and Riz Ahmet, complement like bread and butter, Heems a lethargic NYC smart-aleck and Ahmet a sharp-witted Brit.
In an age where politics are seemingly everywhere, I love to see acts boldly bring theirs to the forefront of their music. We saw the Knowles’ and Anohni protest in their music as well, but Cashmere wears its color and its culture not just on its sleeve, it waves it in your face. “Used to call me curry now they cook it in their kitchen” is their parting shot, a flavored barb at the end of a celebration of Pakistani and Indian culture, cultures rarely defended, or exalted for that matter, in modern music. But the Swet Shop Boys do it well, all in the face of a world hell-bent on stopping them.
5. Maxwell, “All the Ways Love Can Feel”
As he explores the different feelings of love, Maxwell proves there too are so many ways to listen to music. The production begins in a groovy yet ethereal fashion, light on its feet until grounded by a horn section at the chorus. The lyric video above perfectly encapsulates the feeling, as if riding through space and time for the sheer rush of it. “I just wanna live and…” Maxwell breathily declares, pausing for dramatic effect only to bring it all back to ” do what YOU feel”. I was, and still am, touched at this generous display of musicianship.
4. Tinashe, “Touch Pass”
Tinashe comes closest to reaching that gazelle tempo of “2 On”, but this track is for the bedroom rather than a dancefloor. So much the better, because “I’m your private party/Ain’t for anybody” is the motto of the evening, a private affair with exhilarating possibilities. In an age where our own leaders advocate for taking advantage of others’ bodies, this track provides a compelling reason to view consent as something not only right, but sexy.
3. Baauer feat. MIA & G-Dragon, “Temple”
If you wanted to make a case against the rampant xenophobia we see rising globally, this track marks a good place to start. A NYC producer enlists a Sri-Lankan refugee and a Kpop icon to create a banger like nothing you’ve heard before. Like an ideal job candidate, it’s confident, it’s well-spoken, and it speaks two languages. It’s a resounding rebuff to Brexit mentality; rather than close your doors, open them, and your mind instead.
2. Danny Brown, “Ain’t It Funny”
Like a punch in the gut, “Ain’t It Funny” topples you over in its dissonance and absurdity (much like 2016) and subsequently asks you how it feels. Brown pounces over the beat, which sounds like a dinosaur farting, sucker-punching you with euphemisms and taunts galore, egging you to keep up with him. You can’t, but he finds it oh-so funny that you tried.
1. RALPH, “Cold to the Touch”
While I acknowledge the rest of these posts are opinion-based, this one is a fact. Nothing felt more fun, or honest, than Raffa Weyman admitting her heart is a bit chillier than expected. Icy synths and a moving drum line imbue the track with a chilled charisma, over which RALPH breaks it to you coldly. Personally, this song was able to convey the feelings I never could, or maybe more aptly, never had. Many young adults are not romantic, just randy, and Ralph lays it on the table in a way that is not confrontational or apologetic, but simply a statement.
And to be a female and make these assertions gives “Cold to the Touch” all the more strength. Women always bare the brunt of absurd patriarchal expectations surrounding love and courtship, and “Cold to the Touch” undoes these standards by simply stating cold, hard facts. And even if facts hold less sway than they used to, the perfect synth-pop production always will.