A Year In Music: The Good, The Bad (ish?) and The Ugly
Our favorite artists burst out of the pandemic’s darkest hour with a hunger for creative exploration. You’ll soon see that this big-headedness resulted in an extreme “for-better-or-worse” predicament.
How great must it be, as a comedian, to follow a fellow comedian who just completely bombed their set? No one wishes failure upon their peers, but it’s surely much easier delivering a set to a crowd that just sat through fifteen-or-so minutes of metaphorical suicide. 2021 enjoyed a similar luxury — its predecessor was a disease-riddled dumpster fire, filled brim-high with crippling depression and UberEats bags. This year in music, however, experienced both positive and negative trends. Live music returning was a humongous win, but shit that took place at many of these shows birthed more bad headlines than not. Our favorite artists burst out of the pandemic’s darkest hour with a hunger for creative exploration. You’ll soon see that this big-headedness resulted in an extreme “for-better-or-worse” predicament. Without revealing too much, I present to you the good, bad(ish?) and ugly moments from this decade’s second worst year.
Pray For Haiti - Mach-Hommy
The first thing you learn about the Newark-based lyricist is, upon researching his career, most people know nothing of the man. The cryptic emcee has blocked all his lyrics from being posted on Genius. He rarely does interviews. Furthermore, the vast majority of his early works — The G.A.T., Dollar Menu 1-3 and more — are both incredibly expensive and likely sold out, digitally and physically. The latter of these two points reveals the second thing you learn about Mach-Hommy: he often treats his music like a painter treats his/her creations in the most literal sense: if you can’t pay, you can’t play.
Not much was known of the mysterious artist going into 2021, but when it was announced that he’d be releasing a Pray For Haiti — a universally available project alongside executive producer Westside Gunn — rap connoisseurs waited anxiously. When it finally released in late May, critics and listeners unanimously agreed on it’s brilliance. It was the best rap album to be released all year, and probably wouldn’t be topped. Mach-Hommy is razor-sharp and concise from start to finish. He floats over fifties soul samples and buzzing, boom-bap synthesizers with the composure of the world’s coolest poet. Both skits and bars in Haitian-Creole — a heritage he takes deep pride in — sit in pockets between multisyllabic rhymes. It’s polarizing, airtight, and indicative of a wordsmith who you probably didn’t know was on top of the world.
‘Britney, bitch’ (or) ‘#FREEBRITNEY’
This year’s most wholesome music moment didn’t come in the form of a single, EP, concert or album, but rather a storyline surrounding pop music’s former hit queen. I’ll admit, I had to look up the definition of conservatorship when reports arose this summer, and after learning it’s meaning, I whittled Britney Spears unfortunate situation down to a comparison: Spears, a forty-year old millionaire, has had to wear one of those awful “child leash backpacks” for a decade and a half. Or, like, if your own mother had a curfew. In November, she finally won a legal battle that removed the leash held by both her father, as well as her longtime attorney.
No one, including myself, really knew what we were cheering for. Still, it felt like a massive win in a weird, inhumane situation. No grown-adult should be subject to the same guardian rules enforced on a toddler, let alone the woman that gave us “Toxic.” Keep those odd Instagram videos coming Britney, we’ll always love you.
Tread - Ross From Friends
Whatever you do, please don’t let Essex-born DJ Felix Clary Weatherall’s producer name fool you. He’s all business, and Tread is easily his biggest electronic triumph to date. Imagine you’re dancing as hard as possible, but the dancefloor is a gentle cloud above a sky made of MDMA and cotton-candy. Weatherall combines euphoria and cadence like no other. He turns beeps, bloops, booms and claps into controlled ecstasy. On “XXX Olympiad” — one of my favorite songs of the year — Weatherall furiously plugs away at a control board, creating a dancehall tempo that weaves between distorted found footage clips. Then there’s “Grub,” a record that starts out like an alien spaceship tuning it’s dials and switches, before exploding into a gleaming sound landscape. This sort of boundary-leaping experimentation is relentless on Tread — the album is a breath of fresh air, one that stands out amongst a lately oversaturated genre.
THE BAD (ish?)
‘Big Name Artists’ (both good and ugly so right in the middle) - (Adele, Kanye, Taylor Swift, Drake, Justin Bieber, Maroon 5, Coldplay)
It’s oftentimes hard to distinguish between the “bad” and the “ugly” in a system like this. How do you separate the two? I’m going to cop-out of trying to distinguish the two, and instead rationalize for you all. Hear me out:
Our major label, chart-topping musicians made a giant splash this year. Some were great returns to the studio, and others were terrible. If you were to take most or all of these monster drops and mix them together in a pot, you’d find that the net quality would come out right around the “average” mark. And since we’re at the midway point of this tier-list, I think it belongs right here.
Let’s start positive! Adele came back with a resonating bang on 30. I’m single, but every time I listen to this about divorce, I want to get in a cold shower and enter the fetal position. “To Be Loved” sits comfortably in my top 5 songs of the year, and it’s just one of the many heart-wrenching ballads by the real Queen of England (fuck you, Elizabeth). Kanye and Drake both dropped awesome projects on back-to-back Fridays, ate up the charts like a damn snack, then decided they’d squash their beef and play hits at the LA Coliseum together in an effort to free Larry Hoover. That was a real sentence, and I’m so glad I’m able to type it. Finally, Taylor Swift copped this year’s biggest W, claiming the ownership rights to all of her masters and re-releasing some truly great albums as an independent artist. Was it new music? No, but it deserves a round of applause
Ok, time for the stinkers! Somewhere between 2015 and 2020, Justin Bieber decided that putting effort into his craft was no longer necessary. If 2015's Purpose was the Canadian heartthrob at his creative best, then Changes and, more recently, this year's Justice are about as ambitious as a box of rocks wrapped in tin foil. Maybe we blame Hailey Baldwin? Speaking of boring, did you know Maroon 5 and Coldplay are still making music? I didn't, and upon running through both groups' 2021 projects (Jordi and Music of the Spheres), I wish it'd stayed that way. Maroon 5 has always been mediocre at best, but Coldplay's recent run of hit-hungry releases is far more disappointing. Chris Martin and company have it in them, but have fallen so far out of touch that it's tough to imagine a world where we get "The Scientist" again. And I'd criticize Greta Van Fleet for their continued lack of originality, but doing so would make me unoriginal, so I'll stay away.
Playboi Carti Fans
If you took a gander at music Twitter this fall, there’s a strong chance you saw clips of Rico Nasty live. Not performing — the only thing she should have to be doing — but confronting the gallery for booing and chanting ‘we want Carti!’ Right around that same time, in another city with a different crowd composed of equally rude high schoolers, Rico Nasty was met with water bottles being catapulted on stage. She snapped and bum rushed the crowd — in what was essentially a breaking point for an artist that deserves nothing but respect.
On Saturday, October 23th, NRG Arena in Houston was slated to welcome a horde of teenagers in VLone t-shirts and upside-down cross earrings for the ‘King Vamp’ tour. In the hour leading up to his performance, however, showgoers tore down venue fences, demolished metal detectors and trampled fellow attendees. Just like that, venue management put the kibosh on Carti’s seventh stop — and fans were pissed by the results of their own actions.
The string of public mishaps revealed something far greater than an isolated incident. Simply put, Playboi Carti’s fanbase developed a reputation this year — particularly post-COVID — marked by disrespect and immaturity. Carti’s music is awesome. He’s a modern trailblazer in rap with his high-octane, synth-drenched music. Whole Lotta Red lived up to every second of hype following his critically acclaimed landmark record, Die Lit. These are not excuses for the above behavior, and the continued exhibition in arrogance reflects directly onto the artist. Carti fans: be better in 2022.
‘Sia (just in general lol) - (Music film and accompanying soundtrack both horrible, offensive missteps)
This one is a doozy. Sia — the masked vocalist famous for a song about light fixtures — decided it was time to step into the world of cinema this year. She helmed a feature film and accompanying full-length soundtrack earlier this year, calling it Music, which is the artistic equivalent of naming your dog “dog.” The soundtrack is horrendous — borderline cringe-inducing — but the film finds a way to one-up it’s sonic companion, dipping into borderline offensive territory. The story (please excuse my lack of description, I could only stomach a third of this movie) follows a child with autism and her relationship to musical creation. Want to guess if it misses the mark by a country mile? Want to guess if Sia bothered looking for a single actor with actual autism for the movie? We’re in the “ugly” section, so both of those answers should be obvious. Remember “Simple Jack” in Tropic Thunder? Yeah — I’m cringing too.