By Will McCrossan
From drastic political transformations to the untimely deaths of pop-culture icons, 2016 has certainly been a monumental year in cultural history. Many artists produced exceptional music that has become the soundtrack to a tumultuous year. We’ve selected a few of our favourites from the year:
Hannah Diamond – ‘Hi’
With a sold out show at London’s Heaven, a collaboration with Carly Rae Jepson, and Charlie XCX devoting her latest EP to its aesthetic; PC Music has solidified its claim as a legitimate genre. And no song confirms this like Hannah Diamond’s bittersweet ballad; ‘Hi’. Hannah takes a dive into the uncanny valley to produce a song that amplifies the clichés of mainstream pop in a punk rock fashion. On the surface, it appears to be a simple teen love song, but underneath the naïve despair of the lyrics comes intense synths that rapidly build. The track turns into an observation of the isolation of technology and a critique of our obsession with celeb culture.
YG feat. Nipsey Hussle – ‘FDT’
Before 2016, it would have been hard to imagine that the best political song of the year would have come from the man previously famed for ‘My N****’. However, as the year progressed and Donald Trump transformed himself from joke to serious political candidate that idea did not seem so farfetched. YG’s abrasive lyricism and comedic stylings were the perfect opponent to Trump. YG did not sugar coat his message to his listeners. YG embodied what the majority of America were and are still saying, “Fuck Donald Trump”.
Beyoncé – ‘Formation’
Beyoncé’s immense impact on pop culture this year was completely unexpected. The release of her most intricately layered album, Lemonade, and her politically fuelled Super-Bowl Halftime show proved that she is still one of the most influential and relevant artists around. However, this all started with a mysterious unlisted link on her website that led to the video for ‘Formation’. The track is a dynamic celebration of black culture delivered with Beyoncé’s signature vocals. Mike WiLL Made-It provides one of his most interesting and sharp beats to date, incorporating marching band inspired trap hi hats and brass instruments that suggest that this is not just a typical Beyoncé banger but an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement.
David Bowie – Blackstar
David Bowie’s death was arguably the most tragic celebrity death of 2016. His work, however, was perfectly bookended with the release of this swansong. Blackstar explored themes of mortality that have yet to be touched on by other artists. Bowie provides delicately haunting vocals to paint pictures of his life and the pressures to live up to stardom, providing what could be the first real insight into his remarkable mind. The lavish instrumentation and harmonies cement this track as a monumental moment in Bowie’s career. As the organ fades out on the final track, you feel a little closer to knowing the true face of a man notoriously cloaked in many characters and personas.
Solange- A Seat at the Table
A 21 track epic that attempts to showcase what it means to be a black woman in 2016. Solange Knowles delivers poetic lyricism that paints images of new love, heartbreak and confusion through an introspective expression of her identity. Solange blends these lyrics with unpredictable harmonies and understated instrumentals. She takes inspiration from R&B, soul, hip-hop, jazz and indie-pop to craft a distinctive yet accessible sound.
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
Though the country genre is far from being the most relevant of 2016, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth solidifies itself as a proud member of the genre. It is expressive, experimental and compelling. The album contains dramatic dynamic and stylistic contrasts however remains coherent throughout, highlighting Sturgill’s virtuosic approach to composition. Every track is beautifully arranged with brass and string sections whilst Sturgill provides deeply emotive, powerful vocals. This album is a success in providing a new perspective on country music, breathing some new life into the genre.