Beyoncé stormed onto our screens in February – dropping an incredible performance at the Superbowl in the same week as the video for “Formation”. Her performance raised some controversy, however it’s unclear why a black woman showing her support for black civil rights activists The Black Panthers and making a statement against police brutality in her video should be so controversial.
“What happened after New Orleans?” I hear you ask? Well let Beyoncé’s “Formation” video tell you all about institutional racism in the USA and then you’ll know.
Kudos to you Bey, you slay.
Not long after Beyoncé’s hard-hitting performance dropped, Kendrick literally performed in chains on a set of a prison at the Grammys. As well as delivering another stunning political statement in his performances of “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright”, he took home four out of the seven Grammys he was nominated for. Also there was a bonfire on stage.
Kendrick’s new album Untitled Unmastered dropped out of the blue on March 4. It’s pretty great, Kendrick is flying from strength to strength.
Just kidding – if you’re looking for a memorable awards show performances, see above.
#BritsSoWhite. It was really really awful. Who’s on this panel? Why are all the nominees white men or Adele? Where is the recognition for FKA Twigs, Nicki Minaj, Stormzy, JME, and Skepta? Realistically these are the ones who made the most exciting headlines and the most groundbreaking music this year.
Well, apparently James Bay contributed more to music than all of the above – he’s contributed more to the atmosphere at my grandparents’ dinner parties then he ever will on the global music scene (but that’s just my opinion).
The Brits were rubbish. To top it all off, the academy won’t even release their diversity figures. Wonder why…
On the bright side, Drake signed to UK grime label BBK, or Boy Better Know, founded by Skepta and JME – basically the names who should have been taking over the Brits the way they’ve been taking over the UK music scene. This pretty much tells you all you need to know about the place of grime on the UK’s music map.
Drake actually left the Brits to perform with Section Boyz in Shoreditch, which is pretty telling of the dynamics of the music industry at the moment, and highlights the importance of grime in the industry if music massive Drake would rather be actually on the scene rather than sitting in an extravagant awards ceremony which fundamentally excludes people of colour.
Where to begin… Life of Pablo dropped – just from the name you can tell it’ll be an enigma from start to finish and beyond. Kanye is a walking meme, endless tweets about Adidas, getting fans to chant against Nike, trying to make Tidal happen.
He’s also thrown some madly misogynistic and downright rude statements around, notably targeting Taylor Swift with his lyrics, which are also dripping with religious imagery.
Also, spotted in Rise: Yeezus for President badges.
Last month Rihanna released her eighth studio album, ANTI, which was exclusively produced by Kanye West. Including a gorgeous cover of Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” (titled “Same Ol’ Mistakes”).
However, this overall pretty great album was mocked and ridiculed by uninformed meme-makers, who called her Barbadian Patois in “Work”, “gibberish”. It might sound funny to you but that’s no excuse for your casual racism and misinformed humour.
This guy took over Twitter with his trap cover of “Hey Jude”– maybe it won’t win any awards but it does a good job of making us feel guilty about the swathes of sub-par (and in many cases frankly embarrassing) acoustic covers of “Work” and “Formation”. Refusing to acknowledge the cultural significance of these pieces of music isn’t really ok. Neither is it ok for the makers of these covers to be praised for “translating” the lyrics…
Twitter has blown up with trap covers over the past few weeks: though light hearted and funny, they send an important message about how we receive music in the West.
You might not have heard of VV Brown before now, but she made some huge waves in February with her striking music video for “Sacrifice” and an accompanying essay she wrote for The Guardian.
In a blatantly political statement, Brown wears whiteface in the video – a blonde with, blue contact lenses, fair makeup. It’s uncomfortable to watch but that’s the point. Playing speeches from JFK, Malcolm X and Obama in the background, smoking in front of projections of Mark Duggan and KKK marchers, Brown slowly strips off her “White Mask”, which she condemns in her essay.
YEARS AND YEARS
More recently, Years and Years released the music video for summery bop “Desire”. Openly gay frontman Olly Alexander casted members of his “Queer family” in an eclectic and sexual video promoting free love and actively taking a stance against homogeneity and heteronormativity in the pop charts.
It’s inspiring to see Alexander utilising his platform and rapidly increasing mainstream and critical success to benefit the visibility of people all across the LGBT spectrum, including the trans* and gender nonconforming, not just cis gay men.
Olly Alexander, Beyoncé, Kendrick and many more are examples of how mainstream musical success can and should be used to generate awareness and make waves which spread way beyond the music world.