By Cynthia Dominguez, Entertainment & Opinions Editor
Music continuously plays a role in the representation in shifts in popular culture. Taking into account the tumultuous nature of 2017, the music of the year encompassed the conflict from natural disasters to political disasters, and brought about countless pivotal albums.
Ranked at #5 on Billboard’s Top Albums of the Year, Drake’s More Life was released on March 18, 2017. The release was officially a commercial mixtape although Drake stated it resembled and was created as a playlist.
Drake, was born Aubrey Drake Graham, is a Canadian rapper, producer, and songwriter. After signing to Young Money Entertainment in 2009, Drake released his first album in 2010, Thank Me Later, which reached became certified platinum. Following the success of his first album, Drake released Take Care (2011) and Nothing Was the Same (2013), along with two mixtapes before returning with his fourth album, Views (2016).
More Life, made up of 22 songs and extensive featured artists, became Drake’s seventh album to rank number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The mixtape brought elements different to what is commonly seen in mainstream music, using a wide range of sounds from South African house in “Get It Together” to a more classic Drake sound in “Glow”. The wide range of sounds in the mixtape produced an unexpected cohesion through the songs. The mixture of sound, although sonically interesting and commendable, leaves cohesion in the hands of subject matter, making listening to the work a less enjoyable experience for those who lack the drive to dissect the lyrics presented.
The highlight of the mixtape came in the form of “Passionfruit”, the mixtape’s second single, produced by Nana Rogues. The song, recounting Drake’s experience with long distance relationships, brings Drake’s signature sound and lyricism with the an undeniable new sound unfamiliar to both Drake’s discography and much of what is heard on mainstream American radio. The “Passionfruit” flows seamlessly into “Jorja Interlude”, one of the most recognizably ‘Drake’ songs in the album, reminiscent of his work on Take Care, only further emphasizing the impressive balance of old and new found throughout More Life.
Ed Sheeran’s Divide comes in at 4th place on Billboard’s Top Albums of 2017. The release, Sheeran’s third studio album, was issued on March 7, 2017. After taking a year out of the public eye, Sheeran came back with Divide, releasing the two lead singles “Shape of You” and “Castle on the Hill” on January 6, 2017.
Ed Sheeran, a UK born artist, broke into the scene in 2011 after signing to Asylum Records and releasing his first album, + (Plus). The album topped the UK charts, earned the fifth place on American charts, and has been certified platinum seven times in the UK. The success of the first album was followed by “x” (Multiply), which was named the second best-selling album worldwide in 2015, and earned Sheeran two Grammy awards.
Divide took Sheeran a year to write and produce, taking a hiatus from the public eye for the first time since his monumental rise to fame with “The A Team” in 2011. The album took aspects of Sheeran’s previous two albums’ most prominent features; maintaining the charming acoustic lyricism found in Sheeran’s first album with songs like “Hearts Don’t Break Around Here” and “Perfect” while reaching into the more eccentric Sheeran vibe in songs like “Galway Girl” and “Bible Be Ye Ye”. Many critics of the album found the sound to be typical of a boring pop album, citing a lack of attentiveness to lyrics. After Sheeran’s debut with a completely acoustic, guitar-reliant album and his branching into heavier production in his second album, the split opinions among listeners are inevitable.
Despite the inconsistency in genre and interpretation from listeners, Sheeran brings a wild card to the table with “Barcelona”. The song, paying homage to the Spanish city, brings about a sound different to anything released by Sheeran, while maintaining some elements that brought him success. With seemingly endless layers of harmonies and a chant-like chorus, the song is a hidden gem in the album. Sheeran sings the third verse in Spanish accompanied by a burst of background vocals, bringing back the carefree and unique sound that Sheeran has demonstrated unparalleled control of.
Third place on for 2017’s Top Albums belongs to Starboy from The Weeknd. The album was released in November of 2016 with two majorly successful ., “Starboy” and “I Feel It Coming”. After the immense success of his 2015 Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd came back with what he referred to as a “new chapter” to his music.
Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, known as The Weeknd, is a Canadian singer, songwriter, and producer. After releasing three critically acclaimed mixtapes in 2011, Tesfaye dropped his first studio album, Kiss Land, in 2013 before releasing Beauty Behind the Madness in 2015, reaching his first number one album and three huge singles. “Earned It”, “The Hills”, and “Can’t Feel My Face” took the top three spots on Billboard Hot R&B chart, making Tesfaye the only artist to ever do so.
Starboy contains 18 songs with a new pop feel, keeping the defining sound that has followed Tesfaye since his rise to fame. Much like his former work, Starboy brings a similar grainy atmosphere in “Nothing Without You” and “Six Feet Under” while seeking out more upbeat melodies in songs like “Starboy” and “I Feel It Coming”, consistent with many of his former single releases. The songs on the album maintain an impressive lyrical and musical cohesion, lyrically focusing on Tesfaye’s experiences with fame and love.
The album’s highlight is found outside of the five singles released, “False Alarm”. The song is the standout song on Starboy, the closest the album comes to reaching the “new chapter” promised by Tesfaye. Starboy had a static nature, although mixing fee new elements were mixed into his work, the album had its peak with “False Alarm”. The song was the most single-worthy, yet was overshadowed by the expected, almost too predictable Tesfaye singles that flooded radio stations all throughout 2015 and 2016. Overall, the album lacked much of what was promised and promoted before its release and followed the predictable pattern established by Tesfaye’s past albums.
Coming in at number two on the list is 24K Magic by Bruno Mars. The record was released on November 18, 2016 and was the singer’s third studio album. The album was preceded by the hugely successful Hooligans (2010) and Unorthodox Jukebox (2012), and peaked at number one on Billboard’s R&B albums chart for 21 weeks.
Peter Gene Hernandez, better known as Bruno Mars, explored all types of music throughout his childhood, eventually moving to Los Angeles in hopes of furthering his music career. Mars found himself signing to Atlantic Records in 2009 after being dropped from Motown Records. After gaining public attention from his countless initial features including “Nothing on You” and “Billionaire”, Mars quickly began topping charts with his own music. Mars has sold over 130 million records worldwide, claiming his title as one of the best selling artists of all time.
After releasing “Uptown Funk” with producer Mark Ronson, Mars took time to finish making the long awaited third album, 24K Magic. The record’s undeniable late 80’s and 90’s vibe brought a wide range of listeners, some feeling nostalgic while younger listeners found themselves introduced to a sound not common in today’s music. Mars continued to experiment with soul and funk music, as heard in “Versace On The Floor” and “Chunky”, something he previously demonstrated in Unorthodox Jukebox. Mars took on a livel attitude in a majority of the songs on the album as in “24K Magic”, the primary single on the long awaited album, while really diving into powerful, isolated vocals in “Too Good To Say Goodbye”. The contrast between attitudes worked well for Mars as repetitiveness, something all too common in many albums as short as 24K Magic, was avoided due to the throwback sound of the album.
Mars explained modeling 24K Magic after older music as being inspired by the sounds that made him fall in love with music in the first place. This might be the reason behind the authenticity behind the album as a whole; Mars does not simply take select elements from old school music, but instead completely grounds the album in the foundations of 80’s and 90’s pop, R&B, and hip hop. In “Calling All My Lovelies”, Mars projects the sound of the 80’s with the sheer amount of synth in the song while reaching into the 90’s with vocal runs reminiscent of R&B in the era as well as tightly packed harmonies. The highlight of the record, “Finesse” is a track that went through countless rewrites as explained by Mars in an interview with the Rolling Stone Magazine. The effort is completely worth it, the song being one of the catchiest and carefree on the album, redefining the 90’s sound and current music. A remix of “Finesse” was released in January 2018 featuring Cardi B with a music video paying homage to popular entertainment of the 90’s.
Winner of Best Rap Album at the 2018 Grammy awards, Damn by Kendrick Lamar, scored the number one spot on Billboard’s Top Albums list. The record was released on April 14, 2017 and peaked at number one in the U.S. and Canada, claiming number two on Canadian, Australian, and several other charts. With a total of 14 songs, Damn was released with 3 official singles, each equally strong in public reaction and instrumentation. The first single, “Humble” reached number one on Billboard Hot 100 chart and the music video for the song won Best Music Video at the Grammy awards.
Kendrick Lamar, born on June 17, 1987, began his musical career in his teens, active under the stage name K-Dot. Lamar signed to indie label Top Dawg Entertainment and continued to independently release music before his first major label album good kid, m.A.A.d city was released in 2012. Lamar has cited Tupac Shakur as his main influence, having a large impact on Lamar’s music. During both his time as an independent artist and his time under a label, Lamar has used his music and platform to illustrate the struggles and truth behind systematic racism in the United States against African Americans.
In Damn, Kendrick Lamar further proved himself to be one of, if not the most effective and powerful storytellers in entertainment. The album opens with a haunting spoken word moment in “BLOOD.” in which Lamar narrates himself being killed after offering assistance to a blind woman with a simplistic orchestral instrumental in the background. The instrumental is abruptly cut off with the sound of a gunshot before transitioning to a sound clip of two Fox News reporters criticizing Lamar’s performance of “Alright” on the 2015 BET Awards. Lamar commented that despite the song having a hopeful message to communities impacted by police brutality, the FOX reporters interpreted and reported a message of violence and hatred.
Lamar continues to confront the mainstream media in “DNA.”, quoting Geraldo Rivera in another Fox News segment saying, “This is why I say hip hop has done more damage to young/African Americans than racism in recent years”. Lamar demonstrates his impressive control of lyrics in “DNA.” establishing the continuing motif of defining religion, the exploitation of both African Americans and black culture in America, and introspection. Lamar evidently seeks to demonstrate his own experiences, from his early upbringing in “FEAR.” to his current life in “HUMBLE.”, without distancing himself and his experiences from the listener. Damn reflects the turbulence within the U.S. during 2017 without carrying any political agenda; Lamar’s honest lyrics and use of well-placed, powerful spoken samples paint a startlingly detailed picture of America, leaving the listener to do what they please with the picture they are presented – inspiring thought as art should.