The year 2017 was certainly an interesting one as far as pop music was concerned. It featured surprise returns, unwelcome ones, and of course, plenty of hits from previously obscure acts. As the calendar prepares to turn on yet another year, it’s time to look back on what we learned about pop music in 2017.
THE TAYLOR SWIFT BACKLASH HAS BEGUN
Yes, Taylor Swift’s Reputation was a certifiable hit, moving more than a million units in less than a week’s time before breaking all sorts of records on the streaming charts. That said, success and quality are not necessarily mutually exclusive, which explains why Reputation was a commercial hit and a critical dud. To be fair, Reputation isn’t really a bad album so much as it is a bad fit for arguably the biggest pop star in the game today. Swift has gone country and pop and succeeded in each because both genres seemed effortless. However, a feud-fanning, EDM-loving bad girl is an ill-fitting role for Swift, which probably explains a string of relatively unsuccessful singles from Reputation, coupled with a run of awkward performances and music videos. Swift and her career will be fine, but don’t be surprised if her next album features a return to pop or country, a none-too-subtle acknowledgment that Reputation was a misstep in a career that has, to this point, featured so few.
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SAME FOR KATY PERRY
Not that Swift was the only pop star to get her first taste of blowback this year. Not to be outdone, long-time Swift rival Katy Perry returned in February with a new haircut, new single (“Chained to the Rhythm”) and a new, more politically focused approach to her music. The result was Witness, the first outright failure of Perry’s multiplatinum career. Perry should be commended for making a personal record that aimed for social and political consciousness. However, she could stand to do a better job next time around.
HIP-HOP SENIORS STILL HAD SOMETHING TO SAY
Hip-hop is traditionally a young man’s game. And while artists like Drake, Future and Post Malone certainly made their impact felt in 2017, a pair of elder hip-hop heavyweights had their say as well. Jay-Z returned from a four-year absence with 4:44, while Eminem did the same with Revival. The 48-year-old Jay-Z didn’t stick around long on 4:44 (the album clocks in at only 10 tracks and less than 40 minutes), but he used that minimal time to deliver an absolute mea culpa for alleged infidelities and other martial transgressions. 4:44 is probably the third best record Jay-Z has ever released (behind The Blueprint and The Black Album), which probably explains why it was critically beloved and nominated for seven Grammys. Eminem, meanwhile, did what Eminem does – released an album that was probably a bit longer than it should have been (Revival checks in at 19 tracks and 79 minutes in length) and runs the absolute emotional gamut. The erstwhile Marshall Mathers is politically-conscious (“Like Home”), apologetic (“Castle”), demented (“Framed”) and among the most self-aware artists pop music has ever seen (as evidenced by lead single, “Walk on Water”). The result is a mishmash, one that resulted in a somewhat mixed critical reaction, but Eminem was always best when treating his albums like veritable therapy sessions. He does so in spades on Revival.
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KENDRICK LAMAR ASSUMED THE HIP-HOP MANTLE
While Jay-Z and Eminem wind down their careers and prepare to retire their jerseys, Kendrick Lamar ascended to the top of the hip-hop mountain in 2017 with the release of DAMN. Not only is DAMN. arguably the best hip-hop album of the past year, many year-end lists had it lodged at or near the top of their “best of” polls. The 30-year-old Lamar has been dancing around the periphery of the mainstream for some time now, and was already a commercial force in his own right, but DAMN. changed everything. If anyone is going to give Drake a run for his money as the king of modern-day hip-hop, it’s Kung Fu Kenny.
NOT IN THIS LIFETIME? NOT SO MUCH
That Guns N’ Roses core lineup finally buried the hatchet and announced a reunion tour in 2016 was no great surprise. After all, time has a tendency to heal wounds, and bills don’t pay themselves. That the reunion tour (aptly dubbed the Not in This Lifetime Tour) was a big hit, one that involved little drama or in-fighting, was no great surprise because, well, again with the bills. That said, it’s outright stunning that GNR’s reunion tour not only lasted throughout 2017, but will last well into 2018 as well. The tour has been a smash, grossing more than $100 million in the Americas during 2017 alone. Having caught the band at Toyota Center in November, not only was the band tight and in sync, but the band – particularly Axl Rose and Slash – genuinely seemed to enjoy playing alongside one another. A Guns N’ Roses tour that featured nary a hitch or flare-up? Yep, Hell finally froze over in 2017.