In 2017, the way we consumed music was different than ever before: paid subscription streaming exploded, rising 54 percent from 2016. Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” was streamed over one billion times, the first song to reach that mark, and other songs such as Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” followed close behind. We also bought more vinyl than before, up 20% from 2016. The way we discovered new music changed along with the uptick in paid streaming subscriptions. Long gone now in our digital age are the radio DJs who decide what new music we hear, the curated playlist is the new discovery platform.
In our first year post-election, music was full of confusion and resistance, of inward looks at good vs. evil. It was full of struggles with modern constructs, romance, gender, whats right and what’s wrong. It was full of a clear struggle with identity, whether in nationalistic terms as represented by album titles such as “ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$” by Joey Badass, “American Dream” by LCD Soundsystem, “American Teen” by Khalid and “All American Made” by Margo Price, or racially as postulated in fantastic rap albums like Jay-Z’s “4:44” and Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” Identity was also explored on other levels, such as in the dreamy R&B sounds of SZA’s “Ctrl,” wherein she struggles with the world of femininity and seeks to paint a balanced, realistic and self-determined picture of womanhood. On BROCKHAMPTON’s three album run, “Saturation I, II,III” the hip hop group’s members traded bars about belonging as young black, queer and just different people over stylized, modern beats.
The most interesting branch of music this year was far and beyond R&B/Soul, where artists seemed to create the most interesting sounds and moved the genre to a peak of artistic vision, such as on the aforementioned “Ctrl.” On Moses Sumney’s warm, vibey “Aromanticism” for example, he seeked to create a sonic landscape meant to evaluate the modern condition of romance and love, the longing for affection and the fear of loneliness. All accomplished beautifully on the concise album where songs drift into one another. Frank Ocean, who blessed us with the fantastic “Blonde” and “Endless” in 2016, spent 2017 dropping singles that further cemented his firm grasp on the peak of R&B. Sampha, who has gifted artists such as Kanye, Drake, Beyonce and Solange with his vulnerable songwriting and producing, crafted an intimate, deeply felt immersive album, “Process,” that carried tough themes of grief and loss through his soft voice and impressionistic metaphors.
It was identity that was also at the core of one of the year’s most surprising and most appetizingly warm and happy albums, Tyler, The Creator’s “Flower Boy.” Tyler’s fifth album is a jazzy, beautiful sonic experience that blends his deeply soulful collaborators and chords with his deep, and at times aggressive vocal delivery. It’s lyrics concern growing up, losing friends, making it as an artist and as far as it can be inferred, coming out. It is the culmination of the talents showcased on Tyler’s past albums, but with a more mature backing.
Music brings us together, it gives us a sense of belonging, it allows us to feel things powerful and necessary that are hard to attain during the day-to-day struggle. Music is important in these ways, and so in 2017 music was quite important to us, and while the year is over, the struggles we all faced during the year still remain, and the issues of identity and other issues that we fight over remain to be further expanded in the music of the new year.