Sam gives his hot takes on some of the better music stories of 2017 so far, in what has been a jam-packed year for music news.
A takeover of the New Zealand music charts
Everyone loves music charts. They let us know what is popular, what people are listening to, while they act as a historical record of the music of the day. However, this year we have had the unusual scenario of some big-name artists releasing their album’s only to find a majority of the tracks ending up in the New Zealand top 40 singles chart. This bizarre circumstance has occurred most notably with Lorde, Drake and Ed Sheeran in what can only be described as a complete take over of the chart placings. At one stage, near on every track from Ed Sheeran’s “Divide” was in the top 40, something that has never been seen before in the New Zealand charts. This is no coincidence, however, given that the charts are now incorporating streaming data into their numbers when it comes to working out what tracks get placed each week. Given this change was partly to ensure smaller artists got more of a shot to feature in the charts, it is fair to say that the initial intended purpose, however well-intentioned has not been achieved. Yet, at least.
The slow death of the album exclusive?
After the album exclusive dominated 2016 with big-name artists such as Beyonce, Drake and Kanye West choosing to go down this controversial route, in 2017 the album exclusive seems to have disappeared, for the most part anyway. Artists have been either avoiding exclusive releases altogether or starting with an exclusive release before moving straight to other platforms. Jay-Z’s new album “4:44” is a classic example, released as an exclusive on the much-maligned Tidal platform, before appearing on other platforms such as Apple Music a week later. Spotify remains uncommitted to exclusives on the whole, while although Apple Music remains committed to this release method, for now, it remains to be seen whether album exclusives will survive in the long-run, in what is a highly competitive and oversaturated streaming market.
Laneway Festival finds successful formula at new home
This year’s Laneway festival in Auckland took place at a new venue, Albert Park, moving from the heat and concrete of Wynyard Quarter. This move proved to be an overwhelming success, with more shade, grass and a great site layout which moved between the park and the university campus. The lineup was also strong with a good mix of styles and sounds, old and new artists, while the atmosphere, crowd, and weather played their part in making it a great day out overall. The festival is locked in at Albert Park for a few more years yet, meaning it is onwards and upwards for this must-attend event on the Auckland music calendar. I cannot wait to see what they have in store for next year, especially given that Laneway continues to set the bar high for the local festival scene.
Kendrick drops “DAMN.” and the internet goes crazy
The best rapper in the world released one of the most anticipated albums of the year in what can only be described as the album drop event of the year so far. After the promo single came out “The Heart Part 4,” the rumor mill went into overdrive. What was coming? When was it coming? Was it an album? Was it a single? And then boom, “DAMN.” dropped on the Saturday, a week later than expected. The hype around this release was so huge that even after the release, social media was flooded with detailed fan theories about second albums, theories of the type only Kendrick stans can come up with. Of course, a second album did not eventuate, but the reaction to the release of “DAMN.” proved yet again why Kendrick Lamar is one of the biggest musicians on the planet right now, with the rare ability to whip the music world into a frenzy like no other.
The anomaly that is Frank Ocean continues
Continuing on from where he left off in 2016, Frank Ocean remains the master when it comes to experimenting with ways of releasing music. Following on from the double-album release last year in the form of the visual album “Endless” leading into “Blonde,” this year, Frank has been premiering his new singles on Apple’s Beats 1 radio. Ocean has a show on Beats 1 and has used this platform to surprise fans with new music. Yes, this is not entirely unusual, radio has always been used to release new music, but it is the element of surprise involved with Frank in that you don’t know if you are going to get something new from him when you tune in to listen. The singles drop unannounced, at irregular intervals, and without much of an explanation or promotion from the man himself. Ocean proved last year he is his own man and will do things his own way when it comes to how he wants his music released. His way is not by the book as the Endless/Blonde roll out showed, and although we might be in a new year with new music coming from Frank, nothing’s new about the anomaly that is Frank Ocean.
The fall of Anthony Fantano?
The biggest fall from grace in 2017 surely has to be Anthony Fantano. Yes, the self-proclaimed internet’s busiest music nerd has been busier than ever, but unfortunately for him, most of it has been show over substance. Fantano now has three YouTube channels, including one where he does meme reviews, while he has more followers in 2017 than he ever has done, a fact that is not lost on the man himself. In 2017 he has engaged in online beef, gotten into spats with the alt-right and embraced his meme-ability to the full that he has almost become a caricature of himself. It seems his newfound fame has got to him and his ego has expanded as a result. Fantano used to be a credible music vlogger and was at the forefront of this emerging medium. However, since he has branched out into other areas and embraced his social media celebrity status, the quality of his output has dropped dramatically and it is now even a struggle to take him seriously. I am hoping he can leave the memes and retreat back to serious music criticism, but I am not holding my breath at this stage.
Fyre Festival failure
The award for funniest music story of the year has to go to the fuck up that was the Fyre Festival. The fact that so many people fell for this con job is as amazing as how the promoter thought he could get away with it. Hosting a luxurious music festival on a Bahamian Island sounds like a great idea, but at least make sure you are financially credible, know what you’re doing and have all the necessary infrastructure and provisions there for when festival goers arrive. Since the festival crashed without lifting off, we have since found out that organiser Billy McFarland is a bit of a tosser who had a history of under-delivering on similar ventures as Fyre Festival, and is now facing a $100 million lawsuit for wire fraud. The funniest aspect of this whole shambles is that McFarland still seems to think that the festival will be back next year and that people will want to come, with sign up offers apparently already taking place. McFarland is either completely stupid, deluded or both if he thinks there is any chance of this festival ever going ahead again. Enjoy the courts, Billy.
Grime4Corbyn lights up the UK election
This year has seen the best and yet most unlikely politico-music social media campaign of all time. Grime4Corbyn took the UK election by storm and in the process made Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn a new hero of the grime scene. The campaign was a youth voter registration drive where people could sign up to vote and get the chance to win tickets to secret grime concerts. The idea sounds simple enough but went far further than probably was intended, with memes of Corbyn depicted with grime references flooding social media, and the man himself meeting with grime artist JME. Post-election Corbyn then went on to become the main star at Glastonbury, speaking on the Pyramid stage, while the chant “Oh Jeremy Corbyn,” sung to the tune of the White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” has been heard at festivals and sports matches throughout the UK summer.
Lorde goes to number one
New Zealand pop queen Lorde created history in June, with her second album “Melodrama” going to number one on the Billboard 200 chart. This was significant because with this she became the first New Zealand artist to achieve this feat. Previous attempts by New Zealand artists to reach the top album-wise in the States have come close but fallen at the last hurdle. Lorde herself cracked the top five with her debut “Pure Heroin” going to number 3, while comedy duo Flight of the Conchords also went to number three state-side with the soundtrack to their well-loved television series. Lorde’s success internationally has not been in isolation, however, with a clutch of other Kiwi musicians also attracting attention overseas this year. Just some of the other amazing musicians generating their own success internationally in 2017 have included Aldous Harding, Nadia Read, Fazerdaze and Kane Strang.
Migos vs Joe Budden
Beef has always been around in hip-hop. However, it doesn’t always manifest itself in such unusual and spectacular ways as what happened at the BET Awards red carpet with Migos and Joe Budden. The altercation took place during an interview with Complex News when an irritated Budden got up and stormed out of an interview with the rap trio. This led to the two going head-to-head in a heated exchange caught on camera, with a member of Migos entourage shown trying to shove Budden. The incident was sparked when Budden’s Complex co-host Akademiks could not hear the answer to a question from Migos about group member Takeoff’s role in the trio’s hit “Bad and Boujee”, leading him to repeat himself three times much to the frustration of Budden. Migos were then involved later on in a brawl with Chris Brown and his entourage in the car park. Only the BET’s could provide this sort of entertainment.