For music fans, 2016 was a mixed bag. It featured epic releases from artists like Beyonce, Kanye West, Chance The Rapper and Radiohead, but it brought the loss of musical giants including David Bowie, Prince and George Michael that cast a shadow on the entire year.
So what can we expect from 2017? Which artists will take center stage, and how will popular music respond to the election? Rachel Rubin, professor of American Studies at UMass Boston, tells us what changes will rock the music world in her 2017 predictions.
1. Kanye West’s star will ‘Fade.’
Kanye West (photo courtesy of Super 45 | Música Independiente via Flickr.com)
In 2016, Kanye West released a groundbreaking album in “The Life of Pablo” and launched a successful tour that saw him performing above sold-out crowds on a floating stage. But then it all came crashing down: With multiple onstage outbursts, an abruptly cancelled tour, hospitalization for exhaustion and a personal meeting with President-elect Donald Trump effectively alienating his fan base, it’s not clear if and when his career will recover.
“I fear that Kanye West will lose some momentum, because there is evidence that Americans can’t maintain sympathy for artists who are publicly struggling,” Rubin said. “A big example of that dynamic is Lindsay Lohan.”
With the all-encompassing nature of celebrity and a culture that often turns musicians into products, Rubin said it’s hard for fans to know where Kanye’s public persona ends and the actual person begins.
“The genius of Kanye’s latest recordings is hindered by the fact that his life is lived mostly on camera,” Rubin said. “This means, above all, that we have no way to know what is deliberate performance and what isn’t. West has dropped striking hints along the way about how he has created a character that extends beyond actual lyrics. But reality TV and constant attention also means that we see so many moments of breakdown that used to be private.”
2. Don’t call it a comeback. OK, call it a comeback.
Missy Elliott (photo courtesy of Romana Pierzga via Flickr.com)
From pop stars to rappers to heavy metal gods, expect a few artists we haven’t heard from in awhile to re-emerge in 2017.
“Ke$ha, who went through all that quite public heartache about abuse by producer Dr. Luke, seems to be pulling it together with a new world tour and an album,” Rubin said. “There is talk that Missy Elliott will be making a comeback — that would be such a gift. She is a wonderful musician and a powerful woman. And I would not be surprised to see that Metallica is rising again, through touring and a new record.”
3. Look out for an actress delving into music, a new Chicago rapper emerging and a response from Jay Z.
Jay Z (photo courtesy of Penn State via Flickr.com)
Rubin said that actress Emma Stone may cross over into music after her success in the musicals “Cabaret” and “La La Land,” rap mogul Jay Z will get some “serious attention” when he releases his answer to wife Beyonce’s “Lemonade” and Chicago rapper Vic Mensa could have a breakout year.
“He’s smart and ambitious, and speaks to the current moment,” Rubin said.
4. Music will serve as post-election therapy.
For anyone still reeling from a divisive presidential election, Rubin says music may be able to offer some comfort.
“I think we will hear a lot from artists whose musical output will help people process the election,” Rubin said. “There’s certainly reason to believe that popular music will take up the election in various ways. It already has, through such projects as ‘30 Songs, 30 Days.’ Music responding to the election is a very portable piece of evidence that music is always a conversation, and really can never not be political in some way.”
Rubin said there’s also reason to think that punk rock will start to manifest its political roots once again.
5. Music will feature more examples of unity.
Beyonce and the Dixie Chicks (photo courtesy of Disney/ABC Television Group via Flickr.com)
In stark contrast to the divisive climate surrounding the presidential campaign, Rubin says that music in 2017 will feature more examples of inclusion and collaboration. Hip hop will incorporate more Middle Eastern music, previously marginalized artists — from Muslim and LGBTQ+ communities, for example — will play a more central role in the music world, and we’ll see more cross-genre collaborations that build on recent efforts like Beyoncé performing “Daddy Lessons” with the Dixie Chicks, and Madonna teaming up with Nicki Minaj last year, Rubin said.
6. Expect promising new releases from across the musical spectrum.
Patterson Hood of the Drive By Truckers (photo courtesy of erin m via Flickr.com)
Rubin said we should watch for new albums from genre-bending animated band The Gorillaz, country singer Eric Church and alternative country/Southern rock band The Drive-By Truckers.
“The Drive-By Truckers have always musically confronted much of what concerns people during and after an election — and they challenge the idea of the monolithic South,” Rubin said. “I think they could attract a whole new audience.”
And keep an eye out for a new album from UMass Boston’s own Akrobatik aka Jared Bridgeman, a veteran rapper who has co-taught a popular hip hop class with Rubin and begins teaching the class on his own this spring.
Read more UMass expert predictions here.