The Collegian
Tuesday, July 07, 2020

The 2016 Music Series: Introduction

A 5-part series on the most fascinating year in music of my lifetime (or maybe ever?)

<p><em>Graphic by YounHee Oh, The Collegian</em></p>

Graphic by YounHee Oh, The Collegian

Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of The Collegian.

Lots of new music is still being released, even while tours are getting canceled around the world. But I thought I’d take this time of quarantine to reflect on the most fascinating year in music of my lifetime, or maybe ever.


The above picture shows an incomplete list of massive albums released in 2016.

Nearly every one of these albums has lived on past that year, and the narratives behind these releases — both in the moment and looking back — remain as interesting as the music itself. 

There was the battle of the Knowles sisters; David Bowie’s last record ever, released days before his passing; and comeback albums after a 16-year-plus gap from The Avalanches and American Football. Gucci Mane dropped an album fresh out of prison. Radiohead may have left its swan song.

Certain albums upended the way streaming services operated, from Drake’s exclusive-to-Apple Music Views release to Kanye West’s continued tinkering on The Life of Pablo and Frank Ocean’s confounding Endless / Blonde surprise drops. (I remember spending most of a Saturday watching a livestream of Frank making stairs to nowhere with online strangers, but perhaps we’ll get to that later). 

It was the year of the surprise release, the deranged album rollout, the last time music streaming’s throne was up for grabs to more companies than just Spotify. It all came during a politically turbulent time, which played into the content of some, though certainly not all, of the records I’ll be discussing. 

On A Tribe Called Quest’s comeback album Thank You…, Q-Tip and company were “foretelling this s---,” referencing Donald Trump’s surprising election victory. The legendary hip hop group made an album basically operating on the assumption that Trump and his ideology were to be taken seriously, but plenty of huge pop albums were notably apolitical. Drake’s Views and Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book were mostly about the artists themselves or whatever issues were on the ground in the cities those albums celebrated. 

Throughout the next couple of weeks, I’ll dive into: 

  1. The streaming wars, how the business behind the music was affected during this year and the ongoing impacts.
  2. The phenomenon of huge comeback records in 2016 and how some of those artist’s careers have looked since.
  3. Changing album release strategies, aided by the advent of music streaming (it was a year full of surprise or pseudo-surprise drops).
  4. Overlooked gems that I still listen to from 2016 (records I hope you will come to love as well).
  5. And finally, from a panel of experts from UR, what is the most 2016 album as we look back on this fascinating music year.

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Does Beyonce take the crown for creating what was widely considered a landmark text on black femininity? Does The Life of Pablo’s messiness reflect the daily bombardment of horrifying news we experienced? Does something smaller and more intimate resonate stronger as time goes on? Take, for example, Japanese Breakfast’s Psychopomp written about front woman Michelle Zauner’s mother who died of cancer, and its depiction of goodness during trying circumstances.

So far, 2020 has been a little lacking in exciting pop album releases (though that might be changing with The Weeknd and Childish Gambino both dropping projects this past weekend). So, let’s dive back into 2016. A transition year for our country, but also a year of career apexes for artists who remain some of our most dominant creative minds. 

Contact opinions and columns editor at conner.evans@richmond.edu.

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