2015 the year in… pop music
We dish out the awards and celebrate the weird and wonderful moments that defined the year in pop music.
2015 was an important year in pop. 1D broke up, before many of us had a chance to listen to any of their songs, before many of my friends (though far from all) had a chance to sleep with Harry. But don't worry, the dream is not over, because pop has not been so brilliant in a long, long while.
Best Pop Star: Justin Bieber
Not so long ago it seemed that Justin Bieber's career was going completely off the rails: he was urinating in restaurant kitchens, he was risking his life in illegal drag races, there were rumors that he had coldly abandoned his pet monkey, Mally, in a German airport.
Now he's back with the biggest songs of the year: "Sorry," and "What Do You Mean?" and of course the Skrillex-and-Diplo-produced anthem "Where Are Ü Now", which was the highlight of most of this summer's parties. At the beginning of the year I'd never intentionally listened to a single Justin song, couldn't even name one — now I listen every day. As for Mally the monkey? They were emotionally reunited this spring on Comedy Central.
Best Breakthrough Artist: Fetty Wap
A lot of rap music is really just pop these days, and Fetty Wap has twisted his songs into a perfect sort of rap-as-pop — melodically sung, full of unusual intonation and trembling voices. Having released a couple of absolutely colossal songs, "Trap Queen" and "My Way," he's amassed hundreds of millions of plays, blown out car sound systems the world over, and become the most important one-eyed musician since Sammy Davis Jr.
An honorable mention goes to Young Thug, a rapper who, rather than writing out his oft-incomprehensible lyrics before going into the studio, instead draws an abstract symbol representing how he's feeling. For his track "Again," he continued his ongoing mission to make the most comprehensively offensive music video imaginable whilst dressed like a mannequin in the window of All Saints.
Best Look: Björk, "Lionsong"
Björk returned this year with Vulnicura, a heart-breaking album about the disintegration of her marriage to Matthew Barney, sublimely produced by Arca and The Haxan Cloak. The song "Lionsong" is depressing and beautiful and its video, directed by Inez & Vinoodh and styled by i-D contributor Mel Ottenberg, portrays Björk as an opera singer from space, wearing a porcupine-halo of quills by up-and-coming Japanese milliner Maiko Takeda. (Mica Levi's stirring karaoke mix of "Lionsong" is also a must-listen, although nigh impossible to sing along to.)
Best Artwork: Arca, "Mutant"
For a while now, Arca (Alejandro Ghersi) and his best friend and closest collaborator Jesse Kanda have been sculpting an entirely new aesthetic out of unfathomably mathematically complex 3D-animation software, and pushing music visuals into another dimension of baroque grotesquerie. This album cover, to me, looks like a Leigh Bowery nightmare made of congealed bodily fluids.
Best Topic: Hailee Steinfeld, "Love Myself"
Hailee Steinfeld's first single is an ode to onanism, with lyrics like "I'm gonna put my body first, and love me so hard 'til it hurts," and she has admitted to as much many, many times over in interviews. I attended her EP launch at the weekend and, luckily, everyone kept their hands where I could see them.
Best Record Deal: Danny L Harle
PC Music's artists have been inhabiting that seldom-inhabited space between Goldsmiths-performance-art-troupe and bubblegum K-pop stars for a few years now. And this fall the collective announced its partnership with Columbia Records, with an extraordinary manifesto posted on Facebook, announcing their intentions to create:
"A NEW, PERFECT BREED OF MAJOR LABEL. A NEW, HIGHLY ADVANCED POP WEAPON… A MULTI-TIER ATTACK EXPOSING THE RADICAL DNA OF CHART MUSIC, AND THE HEART AND SOUL BEHIND EVERY LAB CREATION. TO BE CONTINUED..."
The first official artist to sign is Danny L Harle, who recorded a wonderful Christmas cover for us this time last year, and whose Broken Flowers EP is out now. All of which is very good news for pop.
Best Video: Life Sim, "IDL"
This PC Music track is full of emotion, far too much emotion — for me, anyway. Just watch its unrelentingly sentimental and heartstring-playing video directed by South London artist Daniel Swan. This song just builds, and builds and builds, and builds and builds and builds, and then…
Best Lyrics: Anohni, "4 Degrees"
Antony Hegarty is back, at last. Only she's called "Anohni" now. And her devastating protest song about environmental catastrophe — produced by Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke — is an "Earth Song" for 2015. One of my mates complains that there are no lyrics here to match Michael Jackson's "What about elephants? Have we lost their trust?" but actually I love Antony's "And all those rhinos and all those big mammals, I wanna see them lying, crying in the fields," and "All those lemurs and all those tiny creatures — I wanna see them burn." All that dark imagery about watching the world collapse, it's like a Hieronymus Bosch painting made into a song.
I think it's beautiful that pop stars are making protest songs again, whether it's Anohni's "4 Degrees" or M.I.A.'s "Borders" — because why shouldn't pop music address the troubled world around us? However, whether you want protest pop, or heartbreak pop, or emotionally bereft but really loud and bright pop, it's all out there for you this year, and it's really, really good.
Text Dean Kissick
Still from "Sorry" via YouTube