POP AWARDS 2017 – Evening Standard, 15 Dec 2017

Long denied the outrageous budgets of the Evening Standard’s Fim and Theatre Awards, here in the pop section we carry on making up categories and dishing out imaginary trophies regardless. The year gone by looked dull and predictable on the surface, dominated yet again by pop juggernauts Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift, but there were higher highs and lower lows too. Here’s what went down. Thanks for reading, see you in January.



Ed Sheeran and Stormzy at the Brit Awards

Not content with his solo songs selling a bazillion copies, Sheeran is always ready to give them even greater appeal with a canny revamp. He’s about to nab the Christmas number one spot by doing two new versions of his single Perfect, one with Beyonce and one with Andrea Bocelli, and back in February he gave the year’s biggest seller a light smearing of grime by adding a Stormzy rap to Shape of You. It was a neat distillation of some of the biggest sounds of 2017.



Just 16 when she first released her hit single Royals, Ella Yelich-O’Connor took almost four years between her first and second albums – bearing in mind that pop star years are similar to dog years, that’s an eternity. But Melodrama was a mature, confident digital masterpiece, so much so that a sneaky fan recently hung it in the Louvre.



King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

After coming up with that band name, Melbourne’s Stu Mackenzie had earned a long lie down. Instead he and his psych-rock bandmates proposed the most foolish undertaking since Sufjan Stevens decided he would write an album for each of America’s states: five albums released in one year. They included a 21-track concept album featuring three chapters entitled The Tale Of The Altered Beast, The Lord Of Lightning vs Balrog, and Han-Tyumi And The Murder Of The Universe, and another album that was put in the public domain, free for anyone to use the master tapes for any purpose. At the time of writing they’re cutting it very fine to release the fifth.



The theme that dominated the entire entertainment industry was sexual harrassment. While music, unlike film, didn’t have that one huge moment where the whole thing seemed to come crashing down, it was an issue that was boiling up well before Harvey Weinstein was hit with slug repellent and a supportive hashtag came into existence. In April, Canadian singer Jessie Reyez released her song and short film Gatekeeper, about the harrassment she faced while trying to launch her career. In the summer, Kesha finally emerged from her long legal battle against the producer she said abused her to release a new album, and Taylor Swift won a court case against a radio DJ who had groped her. More recently, hundreds of women in the Australian and Swedish music industries have signed open letters addressing the issue, and almost everyone has an awful experience to share.




This year a fictional girl named Madison took over from the late Patrick Swayze to become the great saviour of rappers looking for rhymes. She’s the “peng ting” who Not3s invited to jump in his Addison Lee. In his hit single Bestie, Yungen took her to a branch of the Radisson hotel chain, and she even popped up in Game Over by Dave. This is like George Harrison and Eric Clapton writing songs about the same woman all over again.



Celebrity covers albums

Bradley Walsh, of daytime quiz show The Chase and Coronation Street, set the pace by becoming the biggest selling debut British singer of 2016 with his collection of crooner standards. He came back with another one this year, and was joined by the likes of Shane Richie, Alexander Armstrong and Nick Knowles off DIY flippin’ SOS. If Anton Du Beke from Strictly Come Dancing can sing Arctic Monkeys and not face life imprisonment, something is seriously amiss.



Taylor Swift/Right Said Fred

Taylor Swift’s plan to come back with a mean and edgy makeover, following a succession of snake videos with the venomous electronic buzz and spiteful lyrics of Look What You Made Me Do, was undermined somewhat when the world realised how much the song sounded like 1991 novelty hit I’m Too Sexy by Right Said Fred. Turns out Swift had noticed first, and rather than dying of embarrassment, gave the band a large bouquet of flowers and a lucrative co-writing credit.



Sure, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran are out in front as the faces of the year, but they only released one album each. What about Jack Antonoff, who co-wrote half of Swift’s album and all of Lorde’s, as well as songs by St Vincent and Pink? But the real 2017 straddler was Greg Kurstin, the songwriter and producer probably best known for Adele’s Hello. This year he found time to have a hand in new albums by Foo Fighters, Beck, Niall Horan, Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Sia and even Liam Gallagher. Phew!




Mozza was so full of unappealing opinions this year, pontificating on everything from UKIP’s leadership election to the supposedly unfair treatment of Kevin Spacey, that it wouldn’t have been surprising if he’d revealed that he’s not a vegetarian after all and asked if anyone fancied a bit of seal clubbing. Insisting that he’d been misquoted by German magazine Der Spiegel, despite having been recorded, was particularly unwise. Oh for the days when the main controversy was how awful the sex scenes were in his novel.



Liam vs Noel Gallagher

Never mind Blur vs Oasis. Oasis vs Oasis has been much nastier, with the Gallagher brothers rarely missing an opportunity for a dig at each other. Now that Liam’s into Twitter he’s a 24/7 insult machine, calling Noel’s new album “Psychedelic music by a beige drip”. Noel, meanwhile, thinks little brother’s fans are “parka monkeys” and says he needs to see a psychiatrist. Noel gets Charlotte Marionneau to “play” the scissors on stage, Liam hires a potato peeler. At least their music was a bit better this year.



Galway Girl

Sometimes a song comes out of leftfield to achieve extraordinary success and spawn dozens of imitators. Despacito, by Puerto Ricans Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, could have turned the entire UK top 40 Spanish after it became the most streamed song of all time. But it didn’t happen, and neither did Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl cause the nation’s songwriters to pick up tin whistles and start fiddle-dee-dee-ing over their new material. It only went to number one in Ireland, who can keep it.



One Love Manchester

Less than a fortnight after the terror attack at the Manchester Arena that killed 23 people, the concert’s star Ariana Grande was back in the city leading a tribute concert for 50,000. Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Coldplay, Take That, Robbie Williams and Liam Gallagher combined to provide a spectacular line-up on a bittersweet day that achieved the opposite of the suicide bomber’s intention, and brought even more people together.



LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

Maybe it was the poignancy added by the fact that James Muphy had supposedly split his dance-rock band with a final arena concert in 2012. Maybe it was just the fact that his fourth album was better than ever at welding sharp lyrics to euphoric, emotional synths, but it was fantastic to have him back.



The Grim Reaper eased off a little this year after the top tier scything of 2016, but there are still plenty of musicians who will be badly missed. From 90-year-old Chuck Berry and 89-year-old Fats Domino to 21-year-old rap up-and-comer Lil Peep and too-young rockers Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell, a wide range of stars were lost. When all of them, plus Malcolm Young of AC/DC and Tom Petty, passed away, at least it sent people back to some incredible music.



Cardi B

Can Cardi B really be the first solo female rapper to land a US number one since 1998? Yes, the former stripper turned internet celebrity turned reality TV star overtook Nicki Minaj to match Lauryn Hill’s long ago achievement this autumn, when her track Bodak Yellow knoked Taylor Swift off the Billboard Hot 100 top spot. Now it’s up for two Grammys.




“I’m sorry. I love you I’m so sorry. Please forgive me x” – the pain was audible in the last line of Adele’s statement cancelling her last two concerts at Wembley Stadium in June due to vocal cord damage. They were the final two appearances after 121 other shows on her 25 tour. The huge-selling superstar has made no secret of how tough she finds it to go out on stage night after night. If 2017 has witnessed her last ever performances, it really will go down as a terrible year.