2016 year in review: Music

2016 year in review: Music

Sam Dunham


When it comes to music, what didn’t happen in 2016?

This has certainly been an amazing year in many respects, from long-awaited MLB champions to increased gorilla-rights awareness. The culture of music, however, may have been the most changed and most influential in 2016. In a time of civil unrest and conflict, music has become an opportunity to speak out against these prevalent social issues. As always, it is a medium for sharing beliefs as well as art and entertainment.

But where to begin? Since this review will focus largely in mainstream music (the Indie scene is far too expansive to cover in one review), perhaps it is only appropriate to start with the Queen of Pop herself. After nearly 5 years of waiting for her next album, Beyonce finally released her long-anticipated and surprisingly edgy album. Songs like “Formation” and “All Night” not only were huge hits but had some deeper themes, including commentaries on her own rocky marriage with Jay-Z.

Some other huge pop stars released major albums, including Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman and Rihanna’s Anti, perhaps her best and most refreshing album. Other female stars such as Fifth Harmony,  Sia, and even Lady Gaga released massively successful music this year. This year was also the release of Zayn Malik’s first album since departing One Direction. Later in the year rising star The Weeknd released his third studio album Starboy as well Bruno Mars’ 24k Magic, both smash hits in the world of pop.

However, Beyonce was not the only Destiny’s Child to release a hit record. One of the biggest  surprises came from her younger sister Solange Knowles and her album A Seat at the Table. Her grammy-nominated music was a departure from the her original pop background and spoke on racial and social issues as well as romance and pain.

Some other rising stars in the music world such as Jon Bellion, Post Malone, and Aurora made big strides this year. Bellion’s The Human Condition and Aurora’s All My Demons Greeting Me as a Friend especially were both public and critical hits. What has been even more impressive this year is the amount of resurging bands and artists. David Bowie’s farewell album Blackstar was a fantastic way to remember his incredible life and career after his passing in January. Other bands such as Panic! At The Disco, Blink-182, and A Tribe Called Quest all made revivals this year, particularly Blink-182 with their first ever grammy nomination.

Of all the genres in music, hip-hop and R&B may have been the most successful this year. More than ever before, hip-hop has become more respected in the music culture and has provided a completely new and refreshing take not just on pop culture but on the world around us. In the world of R&B, Frank Ocean’s sophomore album Blonde received praise from both critics and fans and was recognized as one of the year’s best overall albums. The ever-talented Childish Gambino also dropped his revolutionary album “Awaken, My Love!”, a departure from his normally freestyle-heavy rapping and more of a focus on soul and funk from the 1970s. No mainstream rap artist in recent history has shifted in style so drastically, emphasizing the versatility and intelligence of Gambino that few other musical artists have.

We would be remiss to not mention the man atop all the charts of music right now: Drake. The Toronto superstar released his fourth studio album Views in April, breaking several records with the album and songs such as “One Dance” and “Pop Style”. This is the third album of his to be nominated for a Grammy, and the first of his to be nominated for Album of the Year.

Another Grammy-nominated artist in rap is the star on the rise Chance the Rapper. He released his mixtape Coloring Book in May. One of Chance’s most unique qualities, aside from his musical talent, is how he distributes his music. The 23 year-old has never signed with a studio label and allows all of his music to be streamed on sites such as Soundcloud and Apple Music. Coloring Book is the first album ever to chart on the Billboard 200 exclusively through streaming. The album certainly had substance to all the hype as well. It received extremely high critical praise and multiple Grammy nominations. His creative verses, impressive lineup of featuring artists, and stylish fusion of hip-hop and gospel made Coloring Book one of the albums of the year and Chance the Rapper as the artist to watch.

Lastly, we conclude with one one Hollywood’s most infamous yet beloved characters. For nearly two decades, Kanye West has grabbed headlines, been winning more awards than Meryl Streep, and caused more controversy than just about anyone not named Donald Trump. His up-and-down career had been in a bit of a lull until this year when he released Life of Pablo. Produced by Chance the Rapper and featuring countless stars of the music world, the record was nominated for Best Rap Album and is considered one of the best and most versatile albums of the year. An album that should be a mess is actually an incredibly fascinating and insane combination of music that leaves listeners wanting more.

Kanye’s album is largely representative of 2016 music as a whole. While no song or album is flawless, chances were taken and boundaries were pushed. While it may not have been the greatest or most revolutionary year in music of all time, 2016 provided listeners with an entirely new rhythm, a completely new taste of what the world of art has to offer us. During a time where many seek to have their voice be heard, music has been a window for these voice. Politics, economics, and organizations can only go so far. No other medium has the tantalizing blend of social commentary and pure, blissful emotion. And that is music to our ears.