POP MOMENTS OF 2016 – Evening Standard, 22 Dec 2016

It’s traditional around this time of year for the Evening Standard’s rock and pop division to celebrate the year in music by handing out an array of pretend awards. After agonising over whether this was even possible in 2016 – a year that, rather than being celebrated, ought rightly to be incinerated, padlocked in a steel box and buried 400 feet underground in Siberia – we decided to carry on regardless. It’s what David Bowie, Prince and everybody else would have wanted. Happy Christmas, see you in January.



Bob Dylan

Back in 2007, Dylan was up against Jack Johnson and Justin Timberlake for the Brit Award for International Male. This year he joined Steinbeck, Sartre and Hemingway as a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. Then he spent weeks ignoring the honour, eventually packed Patti Smith off to pick it up for him and gave every impression that it’ll end up sitting on the pile of Top Gear magazines in his downstairs loo.


Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run

A music memoir usually follows the same trajectory: unremarkable childhood, early fame, the sex and drugs for which you bought it in the first place, dull redemption. The Boss bucked the trend by writing his himself, in longhand across seven years, no less, with the same command of language that makes his lyrics so good. Themes of depression and a troubled relationship with his father made Born to Run a weightier read too.


The 1975 – A Change of Heart

Matt Healy proved to be the most compelling frontman in rock this year, a twisted mix of gigantic ego and wry self-awareness. “I’m the Greek economy of cashing intellectual cheques,” he sang on Loving Someone, then perfectly skewered the vacuity of today’s Instagram culture on A Change of Heart: “You said I’m full of diseases/Your eyes were full of regret/And then you took a picture of your salad and put it on the Internet.”


Secondary ticketing

Touting on an industrial scale was commonplace in 2016, despite the best efforts of stars including Adele to stop the use of bots to bulk buy gig tickets. When the secondary ticketing site StubHub attempted to win some legitimate credibility by sponsoring the Q Awards, they got battered in acceptance speeches by Jack Garratt and Dan Smith of Bastille instead: “Exploitative secondary ticketing is fucking bollocks”, was the latter’s considered assessment from the stage.



Drake – One Dance

Fifteen weeks at number one! Fifteen! Since falling one week short of Bryan Adams’s longstanding record for boring a nation to tears, Drake’s casual groove has also been crowned Spotify’s most streamed song ever and has just become the first to hit a billion plays on the service. However, its dominance was more of a demonstration of the way music consumption has changed (its appearance on streamed chart playlists and deliberate absence from chart-ineligible YouTube were both factors) than a sign that this is the best loved song in years.



One More Time With Feeling

“What happens when an event occurs that is so catastrophic that you just change? You change from a known person to an unknown person.” Nick Cave understandably avoided a trail of promotional interviews for his album Skeleton Tree, and instead released this quietly devastating portrait. In black and white and 3D, it showed a recording process profoundly shaken halfway through by the death of his son Arthur.


Frank Ocean

There was much to talk about while Frank Ocean slowly re-emerged four years after his breakthrough album Channel Orange. First we were led to believe that an album called Boys Don’t Cry was coming in July. But why was he seen doing woodwork at interminable length on boysdontcry.co? By August there wasn’t one album but two, Endless and Blonde, the latter deliberately spelled differently on its cover, and fans had a huge amount of new material to explore from one of music’s great enigmas.




Having long operated outside the conventional music business, this was the year that grime went overground. Skepta won the Mercury Prize and played a huge gig near his home patch at Alexandra Palace. Meanwhile global star Drake was signing some sort of deal with Skepta’s BBK record label and Kano was scoring his first top 10 album after over a decade in the game. London has its most exciting sound since punk.


Vanilla Ice on Ice put on ice

Few would have been too upset by June’s cancellation of Bpop Live in Birmingham, a pro-Brexit event that was originally supposed to feature East 17 and Sister Sledge and ended up promising to unite Nigel Farage with some of Bucks Fizz and an Elvis impersonator. But the lack of interest in Vanilla Ice on Ice at Alexandra Palace, at which the novelty rapper would perform his music to ice skating revellers, was truly devastating. Nevertheless, hopefully somewhere an enterprising promoter is already plotting Lauryn Hill on a hill and Beyonce on a bey-ouncy castle.



Radiohead at the Roundhouse, May 26 2016

While Coldplay’s flashing audience wristbands provided the year’s greatest spectacle at Wembley Stadium in June, Radiohead’s only UK appearance of the year proved an extraordinary gift for those lucky enough to witness it. Never comfortable in arenas, the band frustrated hungry fans by shrinking their show to a mere three theatre-sized nights, but ironically have rarely been in such crowd-pleasing form on stage.


The Late Late Show With James Corden

Specifically its Carpool Karaoke segment, which has demonstrated that the way to make successful music television in 2016 is not to reanimate Top of the Pops but to make a simple idea, amusingly delivered, go viral on YouTube. Whether Corden is trying on hats with Bruno Mars, uniting Michelle Obama with Missy Elliott or revealing that Justin Bieber throws his underpants in the bin at the end of every day, his was the show to watch.


Where do we start?

Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Lemmy, Glenn Frey of The Eagles, George Martin… the old cliche about there being a great jam session going on in heaven was never more apt. If there had been an outbreak of flu at California’s Desert Trip festival in October, which united The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters and The Who, it could have finished the job.



Ed Sheeran

It’s a long time since a person of note was beheaded by a Royal in this country, but Princess Beatrice came close at a party at her dad’s Windsor home in November. A scar should always have a good origin story. Sheeran being able to say “I got stabbed in the cheek with a sword when Princess Beatrice was pretending to knight James Blunt” is one of the best.



Willow Smith

We all know that album sales are way down and musicians have to grit their teeth and do product endorsements if they want to eat. Few seemed so enthusiastic about the idea than Whip My Hair singer and daughter of Will Smith Willow, as she launched a new range of socks for Stance. “This collection is my personal journey. I just wanted people to see how I see, through these socks,” she mused.


Kanye West and Taylor Swift

It’s a complicated one, this, that goes back to West stealing Swift’s microphone to proclaim Beyonce’s brilliance at an awards show in 2009. This year the waters were muddied further by the rapper including a naked model of Swift in the video for his song Famous, which included the line: “I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that bitch famous,” then Kim Kardashian sharing a phone recording in which Swift appeared to give her approval for the line. Oh for the simpler pleasures of Liam Gallagher calling his brother Noel a potato.



Beyonce – Lemonade

At a time when we’re all listening to streamed playlists of favourite tracks, it takes something special to make an album release feel like a real event. Lemonade couldn’t be put on in the background, partly because it was a visual album that came with an array of remarkable videos, and also because it presented the singer in an extraordinary place: imperious and heartbroken, singing of black power and marital infidelity. It was unmissable, incredible, proof that great things happened even in the worst of years.