The forests of woodvale. The Las Vegas strip. Mars. Florida. The bedroom. The sounds and stories to come from this oppressive year have been some of the most imaginative and forward thinking. In a physically stifled year, creativity and imagination ran rampant. Below is a list of just a few of the countless gems to come from the music of this year.
Another year, another chaotic and unpredictable string of nominees to read across the screens of music fans, lovers, and critics as they hear the nominees for this year’s Grammy Awards. Pleasant surprises and shocking oversights were to be expected, but the biggest surprise this year is The Weeknd’s complete shut out. Receiving 0 nominations in a year when the artist is at what many consider his peak, After Hours‘ failure to be recognized is baffling. The first smash album to come from the pandemic, After Hours is the cinematic escape from reality that listeners could latch on and relate to. Where it didn’t literally relate to the year at play, it thematically weaved together concepts like isolation, grief, and loneliness in an extremely profound way. It’s just one of many shockers to come from one of the most baffling lists in Grammy history yet.
Take a look a look at the snubs, surprises, picks and predictions for this year’s ceremony:
In the 21st century, each decade has produced new avenues for talent of all kinds to achieve the success they likely would not have achieved without technological advancements. This can date back to the days of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. Utilizing the newly minted “reality television” medium, the two socialites became the original “influencers,” ushering in an Instagram-driven age of the self brand and a type of self employment that required nothing but luxury and style.
Today, this now obsolete tactic has created an oversaturated market for influencers far and wide. In need of a new tactic, the public flocked to YouTube and TikTok. Both free form platforms for users to put out essentially anything they want, it has provided an outlet for stars like the D’Amelios and Addion Raes of the world.
On the YouTube side, artist Joji made a stark transition to music, utilizing his steady following on the platform to seamlessly segue into his new role of genuine artist. His single, “SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK,” was a huge streaming hit. It allowed the singer to shed the skin of his former persona, leaving room for an easily marketable “sadboi” for the kids of Gen Z.
Clearly an ingenious tactic, the single resonated with users of this demographic. The song was appropriated into one of the first TikTok trends of its kind. Users utilized the song to film their own videos, expanding the already viral nature of the single.
With Nectar, Joji’s second studio album, the artist triples down on this tactic. The sweeping 18 track set features enough melancholy and hip hop influenced beats to dominate TikTok feeds for the fleeting days of the app’s reign.
It’s impossible to analyze Nectar from a purely artistic standpoint. The strategy is too on-the-nose. This, though, doesn’t necessarily discredit the quality of the often high quality record. Is it a few songs too long? Yes. Does it repeat themes to the point of monotony? Definitely. Is it, above all else, emotionally compelling and entertaining? Absolutely.
Nectar is made up mostly of love tunes across the spectrum of pursuit, loss, and the instability between those two benchmarks. The opener, “Ew,” immediately sets the tone of the project. Lamenting the loss of a love and wishing for one more longstanding and true, Joji sounds exasperated. This exhaustion only continues throughout most of the tracks.
The singer goes beyond the science of love to discuss the trappings of fame and the business side of his industry. Standout “MODUS” deals directly with labels and publicity teams forcing an image on him.
“I don’t feel the way they programmed me to feel today,” he sighs. The chorus of the song plays like an eboy version of Adele’s “Someone Like You,” and it’s actually one of the best moments on the album. It’s an interestingly self aware moment for a project seeped in its own commercialism and business oriented structure, actually including a song titled “Tick Tock.”
Another highlight is the Diplo assisted single “Daylight.” It’s a rare uptempo bop in a sea of mid tempo pieces of introspection.
Should Nectar have been abridged to about 12 songs, it would play as a much better album. Joji’s talent as both a songwriter and performer is undeniable since BALLADS 1. He’s shifted his sonics to inconsistent success. Though this work is a symptom of the maneuvers that got him to this point, the strength of the work often shines through the cracks.
“Call me what you want, when you want, if you want,” Dominic Fike stated in his breakthrough single “3 Nights.” Aloof, monotonous, and oh so cool, the single instantly shot the singer into the realm of artists to be born out of the Frank Ocean incubator.
Drawing inspiration from the likes of the aforementioned mogul and his group Odd Future, Fike is one of many contemporary artists to blend pop, rap, and R&B in a way that feels like what can only be described as Gen Z punk. It’s brash, rebellious, and manic.
This cocktail of carnage continues as it’s spread across the sporadic and emotional tracks on Fike’s debut album What Could Possibly Go Wrong. Dropping the question mark, the album title is less a question than a powerful statement of what, exactly, has gone wrong for Fike throughout the early years of his still steadily progressing career.
Thematically weaving together tales of toxic relationships, family and self destruction, the project is, for better or worse, a concise, raw glimpse into the mind of the Florida artist. It plays largely like demo tapes, with Fike adopting an often jarring blend of rock, rap, R&B and pop. Its a free flowing stream of consciousness, decidedly messy and intentionally imperfect.
Opening with “Come Here,” Fike doesn’t grip the listener so much as he forces their attention on him. Like The 1975’s “People” off their recent project Notes On A Conditional Form, it’s an urgent, impactful introduction to the project.
Fike’s self destruction continues most notably on tracks “Superstar Sh*t,” “Cancel Me” and “What’s For Dinner?” On the former, Fike outlines the ongoing loss of a relationship that directly resulted from his sudden success and the pitfalls associated with fame in the digital age. Doubled down by the production, Fike sounds like he’s literally underwater, trapped and drowning in a bottle of his demons.
On “What’s For Dinner?” Fike perpetuates this narrative, discussing his struggles with drugs and alcohol and its influence on his personal relationships. “I just got back from the gastroenterologist. He told me that I can’t drink, so now I be high and shit,” he concedes, disappointed.
“Cancel Me” combines this mental strife with the family theme. The stickiest track on the album, “Cancel Me” is one of the strongest singular statements Fike offers. It’s an often tongue and check declaration of his apathy towards the Hollywood machine. Not only that, it influences thoughts of nostalgia and longing for a past life outlined on “Good Game.”
With “Good Game,” Fike creatively adopts the perspective of his father. A slower, sunnier track, it illustrates the flawed, encouraging support from Fike’s father. More important, it’s a depiction of his father’s ploy to motivate Fike away from suffering a similar fate. The safety of the guitar riffs envelopes Fike as he smoothly delivers the goods, free from the corruption and fraught nature of the LA music scene.
Fike takes a play from the book of John Mayer for “Vampire,” drawing inspiration from Mayer’s “Neon” and “Vultures.” The track’s opening guitar riff is immediately reminiscent of the former, with the titular bloodsucking nature of LA culture lending itself to the latter’s lyricism. The track is an evidently tired metaphor only forgiven by Fike’s charismatic delivery and sticky vocals.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong also outlines the facets of Fike’s romantic life through the lens of several relationships. The brilliance of this comes in the dichotomy of tracks “Why” and “Chicken Tenders.” On “Why,” Fike challenges his partner to think more deeply on why she navigates her suffocating job, relationships and colleagues with such complacency.
“You ever wonder why?” he asks her.
That rumination quickly resolves into one of the album’s more positive tracks “Chicken Tenders.” Living lavishly in a hotel room, Fike outlines the gluttonous glee of constant food and sex within the solace of a private environment.
That euphoria is proven fleeting, as outlined on one of the final track “Wurli.” Coming in towards the finish line, this gem of a song is easy to overlook, but it features some of the most emotionally palpable lyricism on the album. Painting the portrait of a relationship where Fike lacks all control, it adds another layer to the album’s toxicity.
The only main pitfall of the record is its length. Many of the songs feel unfinished, leaving the listener dissatisfied and longing for more.
Perhaps it was never meant to be finished. Rather, it’s a choice on an album where no decision feels rushed or accidental. Listeners are put in the frame of mind of the artist behind the curtain, feeling exasperated, fleetingly thrilled, and emotionally effected.