Which steelworker do you need to hear? Whose surprise album was the most surprising? And why go to festivals now we have memes?
Music! So much of it is happening all the time! Even as I write this, Sufjan Stevens is making beautiful noises in my ears, Young Thug’s Barter 6 is copying to my phone and people are subtweeting each other using Drake lyrics on my timeline. Overwhelming, huh? If it’s all a bit much for you, here’s Dazed’s inaugural guide to what went down in the world of hotly tipped, hyped and buzzed tunes in the first quarter (okay, quarter and a bit) of this year.
MAKE SURE YOU DON’T SLEEP ON THESE ALBUMS
Steelworker Jlin, based in Indiana, makes footwork so visceral it caught the attention of Rick Owens back in 2014; ICYMI, we premiered the stream of her game-changing full-length debut on Planet Mu earlier this year. Elsewhere, ex-Das Racist rapper Heems got heartbreakingly honest on his debut Eat Pray Thug, ex-Danity Kane member turned Fade To Mind collaborator Dawn Richard came out fighting on her beautiful electronic-R&B hybrid album Blackheart, and Camp & Street singer Rahel quietly unleashed a fearlessly original R&B record on her Soundcloud. And following on from last year’s weirdo hit “Look At Wrist,” Awful Records star Father asked the all important question Who’s Gonna Get Fucked First? on his surprising, idiosyncratic and mostly horizontal 12-track project.
RIP THE MAJOR ALBUM CAMPAIGN
Honestly, at this point it’s a surprise if a major artist doesn’t drop their album as a “surprise.” Album campaigns are so 2012; ever since Beyoncé “changed the game with that digital drop” in 2013, so many artists have attempted a similar strategy that Popjustice came up with a useful classification system to determine just how “Beyoncé each release is.
So far in 2015, pretty much every major pop release has been at least a partial Beyoncé. Bjork dropped Vulnicura unexpectedly in full in February in order to get ahead of leaks; right at the end of last year, Madonna did the same thing with six Rebel Heart tracks; meanwhile Kendrick dropped To Pimp A Butterfly a week early in March with no warning. Aphex Twin, arguably the Beyoncé of the electronic underground, got in on the action too, dumping hundreds of unheard tracks on Soundcloud for free download. Most impressively, Drake pulled off pretty much the only Full Beyoncé since 2013 with his surprise mixtape/album/collection of diary entries If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.
So the album campaign is dead – but are we mourning? It’s kind of a relief to no longer have to hear about an album so much that you’re exhausted of it by the time it’s released; but the flipside is that sudden album drops, and the social media meltdowns that come with them, are themselves becoming exhausting. Expect more of them this year from Kanye West (who told The Breakfast Club on Power 105.1 in February “the surprise is going to be a surprise...there goes the surprise”) and Chance the Rapper (who told Interview, of his upcoming Social Experiment project Surf: “The album is very much so a Beyoncé kind of thing. I can't say the date of the project”).
THE ONE PERSON WE DON’T MIND DROPPING A “SURPRISE” ALBUM ON US ANY TIME: Rihanna. Please?
MUSIC VIDEOS ARE MORE EXCITING THAN THEY’VE BEEN IN AGES
That’s mostly thanks to twigs, who is single-handedly bringing taboos like pregnancy and bondage into the arena of pop videos, while also seamlessly creating her own world that stands a little bit apart from it. Few have done as much as twigs to revive the idea of the must-see music video, but there’s plenty of others thinking outside the box when it comes to how they represent themselves in their visuals.
Take Shura, who dances in the background of her own video while weaving a story that exists outside the lines of society’s ideas about gender and sexuality; or Azealia Banks, who lets you put your own face on her body in her interactive “Wallace” video; or Holly Herndon, who surfaces gradually beneath a wall of glitching animation in “Interference.” Sia, who expresses the torment of her songs via Dance Moms star Maddie Ziegler (and occasionally Shia LaBeouf) rather than appearing in her own videos, got even more imaginative for “Elastic Heart” and “Big Girls Cry” this year, while Allie X caught the attention of the world by literally showig her guts in “Catch.”
FESTIVALS – THAT’S WHERE MEMES HAPPEN IRL, RIGHT?
NY Mag critic Alexis Swerdloff recently coined the term FOGO (Fear of Going Out) as the anti-FOMO, and we couldn’t have more FOGO than we did over this year’s Coachella. Because you can’t get a better view of Drake’s post-Madonna shock than you can on champagnepapi’s Instagram; and it doesn’t look like anyone followed that selfie stick ban that the festival tried to impose this year. Conveniently, in 2015, the whole thing was live-streamed anyway, so every moment was screengrabbable and available to sandwich between your Netflix binges. Because it’s really hot in the desert, you know?