The Beyoncé Effect
Let’s go back to December last year, when I stupidly wrote:
Missed opportunity: Beyoncé. Started the year by shutting down the electricity during her Super Bowl performance, but didn’t release the much anticipated follow-up to 4. Her HBO doc Life Is But A Dream didn’t really help, too. 2013 could easily have been Beyoncé’s year, but she missed the opportunity completely.
Two days after that, she released Beyoncé to the world and made me, and many more, look like a fool. That album was so good and so uniquely unexpected, it really was the album of the year 2013. Hell, it might even be the album of this year. With the great On The Run Tour with Jay Z, the MTV Vanguard Award, the re-release of that self-titled album1 and becoming the best earning women in music for a second year in a row, it’s impossible to think of 2014 and not think of Beyoncé.2
The Beyoncé Effect II
Exactly 367 days after Beyoncé shocked the world with her unconventional album release, D’Angelo finally delivered the long, long, long, LONG anticipated follow-up to 2000’s soul classic Voodoo. Maybe it’s unfair to call a long awaited album unexpected, but after fourteen years of (mostly) silence, rumours that ended up being nonsense, change of titles, delays and false promises, Black Messiah really felt like a surprise. If Dr. Dre would release Detox in the next two weeks, there’s no way you wouln’t be suprised. What’s really important is that Black Messiah is every bit as good as you dared to hope. Together with Pino Palladino, Questlove, Jesse Johnson, John Blackwell and others, D made the album of the year, without a doubt.
The Year Of The Female
If anything, girls really ran the world in 2014. Yes, Putin might be the most powerful person in the world, but in the world of entertainment and popular culture it was all about women. Maybe D’Angelo could crack the top ten, but only barely. The list of women who had a huge year is enormous: the aforementioned Beyoncé,3 Charli XCX, Lorde, FKA Twigs, Jennifer Lawrence4, Taylor Swift, 3rdeyegirl, Jessie Ware, Solange(‘s wedding), Jessie J, Tove Lo, Tinashe, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj and – I can’t believe I’m typing this, someone please chop off my fingers – Iggy Azalea. In 2014, every conversation about pop culture passed the Bechdel test, and that might be a first.
Taylor ‘New York’ Swift
This calender year, there was only one album release that felt like an event. 1989 turned out to be hyped -not over-hyped- and actually good. Although the question lingers why everyone insists this is her first ‘pop’ album,5 the launch of the new, Manhattan version of Taylor Swift dominated the media for weeks in a way only true superstars can. By handily avoiding the gravity of the only other female superstar, Taylor sold more albums than any other artist -male or female- in the past ten years. She might lose her fight against a culture where you can download everything for little to no money, Taylor Swift was definitely winning in 2014.
The McConaissance is real. After the surprise hit Magic Mike, his Oscar-winning role in Dallas Buyers Club and the high-profile cameo in The Wolf Of Wall Street at the end of 2013, Matthew McConaughey kept his winning streak alive in 2014. Starring as Rust Cohle in the polarizing True Detective and in one of the biggest movies of the year,6 he’s probably the most interesting actor in Hollywood right now. One quick look on his IMDb page shows that there isn’t much planned for 2015, just the lead in the new Gus van Sant movie. There’s the Magic Mike sequel, titled Magic Mike XXL, but McConaughey isn’t (yet) confirmed to star alongside Channing Tatum.
You’re The Worst
It wasn’t a great year for TV, it was just… good. After years of missing out on amazing shows, because there’s just only so much TV a human being can watch, 2014 didn’t really launch shows that could potentially be the next Breaking Bad or Mad Men. But, buried under a hook that’s so cliché,7 You’re The Worst delivers a not-so-romantic comedy with heart. The chemistry between Chris Geere and Aya Cash is fire works on screen, Stephen Falk’s writing is sharp and hilarious and the backdrop, Los Angeles, feels like an actual place where real people live. Catch up with the first ten episodes before the second season starts next year on FXX.
No matter what, Drake is always winning. He didn’t release an album8 but managed to stay in the spotlight by wrapping-up his world tour, hosting not one, but two Toronto Raptors Drake nights, being Taylor Swift and launching the careers of iLoveMakonnen and PARTYNEXTDOOR. On top of that, he randomly released three tracks that almost did break the internet without any promotion or video supporting the songs and showed his comedic skills on SNL. Drake can do no wrong.
With hits like Fancy and Black Widow and collaborating with Jennifer Lopez, Ariana Grande and T.I., 2014 was a break-out year for Iggy Azalea. The Australian rapper released her debut album to mixed reviews.9 She has as many haters as fans and struggles with her place in hiphop. If she keeps acting the way she does now, her success might be very short-lived. Her responses -or lack thereof- to the Ferguson shooting and the decision of a grand jury to not indict the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, and the death of Eric Garner later this year, caused some heated Twitter rants by Q Tip and Azealia Banks. The rise of the white, Australian female rapper sparked a larger discussion in hiphop culture, with J. Cole rapping on Fire Squad:
History repeats itself and that’s just how it goes / Same way that these rappers always bite each others flows,
Same thing that my nigga Elvis did with Rock n Roll / Justin Timberlake, Eminem, and then Macklemore,
While silly niggas argue over who gon’ snatch the crown / Look around, my nigga, white people have snatched the sound,
This year I’ll prolly go to the awards dappered down / Watch Iggy win a Grammy as I try to crack a smile
It’s an interesting debate, one that will certainly continue in 2015, and a discussion that’s a fitting end to a dark and tumultuous year. Let’s hope that talking about it in a larger context will lead to change in 2015. In the mean time, let’s enjoy its bittersweet side effect: the great music it inspires. After all, Black Messiah could be this generation’s Sly and The Family Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On.
- Featuring one of the best remixes of the year in Flawless. ↩
- And I’m not even considering the whole ‘elevator’ scandal. ↩
- Who, of course, is the embodiment of feminism anno 2014. ↩
- Two movies in the top ten of highes grossing films in 2014. ↩
- Come on, if Red isn’t pop, what is? ↩
- Christopher Nolan’s movie Interstellar was big in every way. ↩
- Self-centered guy and chaotic, self-destructive girl try to have a relationship that has zero chance at succeeding. ↩
- Views From The 6 is slated for a release next year. ↩
- I can’t review this album, I’m afraid it causes tinnitus. ↩