Musically, 2018 was a confusing year that felt both transitional and imprecise in direction. This was much like society I guess, but with a better soundtrack. A number of acts decided that 2018 was the year they would finally hang it up and retire. Nothing lasts forever and as much as they will be missed, there is a fair amount of music that is left behind for everyone to discover and enjoy for lifetimes to come. That is important.
Again, I offer my take on the year that was. Awards are funny things. Sure, Grammy’s and Oscar’s are nice, but to win a “Danny” you have to have accomplished really, well, something. Other awards are prestigious. This one is dubious. Heck, bring a “Danny” and $5.00 into any Starbucks and you might almost be able to buy a cheap cup of coffee. C’est la vie.
So, take your seat, put your feet up, and get comfortable. The winner of the first Danny goes to…
The Multi-Tiered Strategic Marketing Plan Award (aka “The Coattails Award”)
Target & Justin Timberlake
Seizing on the Superbowl held in Target Corporation’s home city and the release of the halftime performer’s excellent new album Man in the Wilderness, Timberlake spent his time in the Twin Cities with delightful social media posts and random surprise visits to various Target outlets. He then hid signed copies of the album among store inventories, nearly guaranteeing fans to shop the chain exclusively to acquire the record. Really a brilliant move. Of course, when I went to Target to write how great I thought the new The 1975 album was on copies of that record, they called it “vandalism” and kicked me out to the store. You say “Po-tay-to,” I say “Po-tah-toe.”
The Best Retirement Tour Name
Ozzy Osbourne-No More Tours II
You gotta hand it to the Prince of Darkness. He goes out on his first retirement tour in 1992 (“No More Tours”) and follows this up with his “Retirement Sucks” tour in 1995-96. Now, we’ve got the first “sequel” retirement tour. That counts for something. So, is he really done? Hard to say, but I won’t be surprised if he embarks on his “Sharon Told Me To Get Out Of The House” tour in 2-3 years time.
The “I Was Wrong” Award
Last year I declared that Marlon Craft’s The Tunnel’s End to be the best Rap/Hip-Hop album of 2017. I was wrong. This is not to say that I don’t think Craft’s record is deserving of the title, it is just that I spent a lot MORE time listening to Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN after I submitted last year’s awards. Now, I heard Lamar’s record several times before I issued my “Rap’s Best” award, but sometime around March (and about the 20th time I heard it), I realized I may have been incorrect in my original assessment. Every time I listened to it from that point on, my uneasiness multiplied as the brilliance of the recording continued to emerge. By the time DAMN received the Pulitzer Prize for music the next month, I realized my discomfort was correct. So, Mr. Lamar, I WAS WRONG. DAMN is an amazing record that deserves nothing but massive respect. As good as The Tunnel’s End is ,and as much as EVERYONE really should seek it out, Lamar made a true Masterpiece. Sorry it took me so long to wise up.
Unexpected Comeback of the Year
The release of his solo debut album, Science Fiction, over the summer marked the former Thompson Twins leader’s return to the world of Pop Music. While he may have worked in electronica and dub under the International Observer moniker over the past 15 years, his return was a surprise to the Pop world. While Bailey was not the only star to return from “Missing in Action” status, his album was by far the most unexpected, and best of the lot.
Best Album Inspired by an Amusement Park Award
With an incredible variety of collaborators, including Pharrell Williams, Tame Impala, Stevie Wonder, Kid Kudi, John Mayer, Frank Ocean, Quavo, and 21 Savage, the third album by the Houston rapper is an inspired collection of surreal beats, sounds and rhymes that gets better with each listen. A real “Headphone Album” in every way. It may not win a Pulitzer, but I am glad that at least I was able to recognize how good it was quicker than I did with DAMN. You should too.
The Best Opening Line Award
“I picked a good day for a recreational Percocet”
From “Best Years of My Life” by Pistol Annies
Ashley Monroe opens this song with an unexpected line that completely caught me off-guard while listening to the new Pistol Annies record. While it initially came across as the beginning of good joke, it leads into a heartbreaking lyrical study of a dead-end life in a dead-end town with all the reflections of the unfulfilled promises that go with it. This is true “cry in your beer” territory with a world-weary flair expertly delivered. Still, a good line.
Strangest “Feud” of the Year
Nicki Minaj vs. Cardi B
The confrontation between the two stars began sometime in 2017 and seems largely built on mis-understanding fueled by fan reaction on the Internet. Somehow, it devolved into each party offering snide insults at each other through social media accounts and raps before moving into a physical confrontation at New Yorks’ fashion week in September with Cardi B throwing her SHOES instead of shade at the “Anaconda” rapper. Bizarre. I’m pretty sure that the whole thing is nothing more than a publicity stunt by both parties, but still… a very strange feud. Somewhere between the Beatles/Stones and Tupac/Biggie rivalries but with better arch support.
Best Debut Album of the Year
An expected surprise as far as I am concerned. Based on past singles and E.P.s, I assumed the likely best debut album was to come from Bebe Rexha. As good as Expectations was, or as ironically titled, it didn’t match what I thought Rexha could deliver. On the other hand, Cabello emerged from the B-level Fifth Harmony to offer a debut album that was varied, emotional and gripping from start to finish. Leadoff single “Havana” had an undeniable swagger that exploded with rhythm and hooks galore. This was just the appetizer for a fantastic set that included the confessional gentle beauty of “Consequences” and the catchy Broadway shine of “Inside Out.” While Cabello’s former group did continue on with a new album, one cannot help but wonder if her departure contributed to their decision to go on indefinite hiatus a couple of months following the release of Cabello’s album. Either way, Cabello is someone worth watching to see what she will do next.
The Biggest Disaster Award (aka “The Fyre Festival Award”)
Ye closed out the year with a pair of incredibly strange moments. In October, he performed on “Saturday Night Live” dressed like a giant bottle of Perrier and then a couple weeks later, he was in the Oval Office delivering an incomprehensible monologue of support for Donald Trump and suggesting that Air Force One should be replaced by his idea for something called an iPlane. Now, it doesn’t matter what your political leanings may be, you must admit that all this was an unhinged, disturbing, confusing set of events. I hope West takes some time away in 2019 to get sorted out a bit more.
Dumbest Member of the Music Industry Award
Early in the year, Portnow, the President and CEO of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (“The Grammys”), responded to a question about the lack of female artists nominated for the Academy’s prestigious awards like “Album of the Year” by saying that in order to deserve this recognition, they would need to “step up” their skills. (Sound of tires screeching). WHAT? He said what? Response from artists of all genders was quick and condemning. This was worse than Lars Ulrich’s attempt to go after Metallica fans for illegally downloading his band’s songs on Napster in 2000. Wow.
When it was later revealed that he had used funds from one of the Academy’s charities to help pay for part of the Grammy ceremony, it only made a bad situation worse. Portnow has made a number of misguided mid-awards show statements in past Grammy addresses, but all this cemented his much-deserved award this year. For those keeping score at home, Portnow’s tenure as the head of the Grammy’s will end in July 2019. Good riddance.
The “Take THAT” Award
As almost an unintended response to Portnow’s “Step Up” comment, Female Artists released some of the most exciting music of this past year. Camila Cabello, Kacey Musgraves, Ella Mai, Nicki Minaj, Chvrches (led by Lauren Mayberry), Pistol Annies, and Mya all released albums that spent a significant amount of time blasting out of my stereo during the year, but none quite as much as the incredible Janelle Monáe, who made my jaw drop with Dirty Computer. While all the albums by the artists I just listed are worth your attention, it is Monáe that blew my mind and got both my feet and brain moving. A rare release by a multi-talented and gifted artist. “Women need to step up their skills,” yeah right. Take THAT.
The “I Was Honestly Expecting Something a bit, well… Better” Award
The Carters (Beyoncé and Jay-Z) Everything Is Love
After Lemonade and 4:44 dealt with both partner’s view of their domestic struggles, I was really expecting this surprise joint collaboration by the two superstars would blow me away. Sure, there were some good moments to be found, but overall it was a bit “meh.” I think one of their first collaborations, 2003’s “Crazy In Love” may have set perhaps too high of a bar.
The “Kingdom Come” Award for Achievements in Cloning
Greta Van Fleet
This four-piece act from Frankenmuth, Michigan ham-fistedly copied Led Zeppelin in their attempt to earn “The Next Big Thing” status. Back in 1988, a similar band called Kingdom Come released their debut album with such overwhelming similarities to Zep that some initially believed that the first single “Get It On” to be a reunion song from the beloved band. The comparisons soon led (pun intended) to rebranding them “Kingdom Clone” by those in attendance to that year’s “Monsters Of Rock” when they opened for Metallica, Dokken, The Scorpions and Van Halen. Flash forward 30 years, and we now have Greta Van Fleet. While their Anthem of the Peaceful Army is not completely terrible, there is nothing on it that is all that especially good either. It really is nothing more than a copy of a copy at best. Stick with the original and buy yourself a copy of Houses of the Holy instead. Hey Greta, you guys are early in your career. Take a moment to gather your influences and then inject your own personality to do something that you can call entirely your own. In other words… “Yes, there are two paths you can go by. But in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”
The “Enough Already” Award
2018 couldn’t get away without the bro-tastic DJ/Production duo dropping Sick Boy, their second album in the middle of December. We got sooooo close to escaping the year without it. This sophomore album was a collection of the monthly singles they somehow felt compelled to inflict on an unsuspecting public throughout the year. Haven’t we suffered enough??? I mean, cut us some slack, bro.
The “You Should Take A Nap Sometime Award” (For Special Achievements in Over-productivity)
Mellencamp released his 24th album, Other People’s Stuff in early December. This marked the fourth consecutive year that he issued a new record. Now, when you consider that Mellencamp considers painting (and not music) as his primary medium for artistic expression, you have to wonder if the Indiana native EVER sleeps. Maybe there really IS something to the much-vaunted midwestern work ethic after all.
The “Very Best Album of the Year” Award
Janelle Monáe Dirty Computer (First Half)
The 1975 A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships (Second Half)
OK, yeah, I wimped out. I will cop to that. I couldn’t decide between these two albums, so I split this Award into two separate pieces. With the speed at which we experienced societal changes this year, 2018 almost felt like two years instead of one. That’s it, I’ll use THAT as “artistic license” to explain my indecision.
Seriously, these two albums could ONLY come out during 2018. Monáe produced a brilliant album that incorporates the elements of the #metoo and gender identity social movements in the boldest (and funkiest) artistic statement of her career. The 1975 used their record to take a more observational approach, cleverly using a variety of musical styles to reflect the complexity of life in the social media age. Ultimately, both albums were about relationships, those that exist between people, and within oneself. While they may be hook-filled and danceable, neither release was easy to digest if examined below their melodic surfaces. These are the kinds of albums that bring substance along with a fun-beat and defined this year.
The “Other Best Albums of the Year”
Really, no particular ranking order here, but if we are being honest, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Musgraves win the Grammy this time around. In case you hadn’t realized it, yes, McCartney is STILL that good.
Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour
Tremblay Bleu Septembre
Paul McCartney Egypt Station
Travis Scott ASTROWORLD
Fickle Friends You Are Someone Else
Elle King Shake the Spirit
Camila Cabello Camila
“You can’t have what’s next until you let go of what’s now,” – Jonathan Heimberg. So, with that in mind, bring on 2019 and what’s next!
By Daniel G. Moir