High notes and low in year of extremes
In Boston and beyond, the music world was a scene of dramatic contrasts in 2015: both superlative highs and shattering lows. Here's a look back at the topics that sparked buzz in the last 12 months.
In just over a month, Adele's third album, "25," has sold nearly six million copies, obliterating sales records and becoming the best-selling album of 2015 and the best-selling album since . . . Adele's last album, "21." Parodies of its lead-off single, "Hello," spread across the pop culture landscape, from memes to Muppets to Matthew McConaughey on "Saturday Night Live." A concert special on NBC vaulted over previous ratings benchmarks. A whopping 10 million people attempted to get tickets (mostly to no avail) for her 2016 tour, including two instantly sold-out nights at the TD Garden in September. It's safe to say that fans and the music industry are glad to have her back. (S.R.)
If it felt like "surprise" albums were materializing out of thin air with increasing frequency this year, that's because they were. It was such a banner year for artists releasing full albums of new material — whether sanctioned releases or mixtapes — with little to no warning that we couldn't even list them all. Exciting for fans if somewhat daunting for music editors, the practice has expanded beyond pop and rock, with collections coming from Prince, George Strait, Beach House, Drake, and Bjork, among others. A few artists upped the ante by making their gotcha releases free (some for a short time only) including Wilco ("Star Wars"), Foo Fighters ("Saint Cecelia"), and Miley Cyrus ("Miley Cyrus and Her Dead Petz"). Who needs carefully planned media campaigns? (S.R)
STAPLETON SWEEPS THE CMAS
With his powerful, soul-soaked voice and songwriting gifts, Chris Stapleton was long considered a musician's musician in Music City. He was frequently called upon to provide background vocals, and supplied over 150 songs, both hits and album cuts, to people like Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan, and George Strait, while juggling duties for several years as lead singer for the bluegrass-tilted SteelDrivers. His solo debut, "Traveller," released in May, garnered great reviews and repectable sales. But after his red-hot duet with Justin Timberlake at the CMA Awards — where he swept all three categories for which he was nominated, including album of the year — "Traveller" shot to the top of the all-genre Billboard album chart, surging a mind-boggling 6,100 percent, and selling more copies in one week than it had in the whole time since its release. To quote an old Timberlake album title, Stapleton's success — including an album of the year Grammy nod — was justified. (S.R.)
TERROR AT LE BATACLAN
People came together to enjoy a Friday night; instead, they were confronted with an unimaginable nightmare. The interminably growing list of spaces infected by terrorism — shopping malls, movie theaters, houses of worship, and more — added concert halls during the November attacks in Paris. More than half of the fatalities occurred at Le Bataclan, where the Eagles of Death Metal were playing to a packed house. Following the attacks, venues at home and abroad are beefing up security measures, and undoubtedly some fans have paid closer attention to their surroundings. Fear should have no place at a concert; hopefully, music can be part of the healing process. (S.R.)
The passing of blues icon B.B. King, free-jazz hero Ornette Coleman, prog-rock mastermind Chris Squire of Yes, diminutive country dynamo Little Jimmy Dickens, and gospel giant Andrae Crouch devastated across genres. As the year came to a close, the sad news of Scott Weiland's death hit hard for those who came of age during the alt-rock revolution: another soul was lost too soon. But while those now gone are irreplaceable, their musical contributions form a lasting legacy. (S.R.)
'MILEY, WHAT'S GOOD?'
Nicki Minaj lobbed that question like a grenade at Miley Cyrus live on the MTV Video Music Awards. The look on Cyrus's face — and the "???" thought bubble above her head — was priceless. It was not a scripted moment, but rather the boiling point in a year when we pitted our pop stars against one another, specifically female artists. Minaj was upset that Cyrus had trash-talked her in the press, describing the rap star's behavior as "not too kind." Before that, Minaj and Taylor Swift jousted on Twitter about how black women are recognized and nominated for awards. They eventually patched things up and performed together at the VMAs, but it turned out Swift's "Bad Blood" foreshadowed a prevalent story line in 2015. (J.R.)
Speaking of Swift, her "1989" cast a long shadow, even though it was released in late 2014. The album stormed the charts, but really came to life on Swift's world tour. She debuted her so-called girl squad of besties, and then made headlines each time she brought out a special guest, from Lorde and Mick Jagger (?) to Justin Timberlake and Joan Baez (??). Ryan Adams fanned the flames with his song-for-song interpretation of "1989," turning her songs into pastoral California '70s rock. But Swift's greatest contribution to the year was her open letter explaining why she wouldn't allow Apple Music to stream "1989" because the company planned not to pay artists during its free trial period. Apple changed its tune, and Swift's reign continued. (J.R.)
ONE DOOR CLOSED, ANOTHER OPENED
Shock waves rippled through the local live-music community when not one but two of its institutions shuttered, with another one on the way. After more than 40 years, Bonney Bouley closed her beloved T.T. the Bear's Place in Cambridge with a string of high-profile farewell shows (hello, Pixies!). The Beachcomber, a South Shore mainstay since 1959, had last call with the Dropkick Murphys. Church, a rock club in the Fenway, also went out of business, and Johnny D's will follow suit early next year. But have no fear: "The sky isn't falling," reassured JJ Gonson, whose ONCE Lounge & Ballroom in Somerville filled some of the void, as did Thunder Road and Converse Rubber Tracks, two other new venues. And next year Joseph and Nabil Sater plan to open Sonia's in the former T.T.'s space. (J.R.)
SAY THEIR NAMES
From Ferguson, Mo., to Baltimore to Charleston, S.C. it seemed like every week more mass shootings and police brutality inspired artists to advocate for change through song. Aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement, rapper Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" — "Do you hear me/ Do you feel me?/ We gon' be alright" — was heralded as a protest song in the vein of "We Shall Overcome." Janelle Monáe's potent "Hell You Talmbout" recited the names of black Americans killed by police, followed by a call to "say his [or her] name!" Sadly, it took 6½ minutes to do that. Singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey recorded "Take Down Your Flag" in response to South Carolina initially refusing to remove the Confederate flag from its Capitol building after a racially motivated shooting at a church; the song became a viral sensation and prompted hundreds of renditions by artists who added their own verses about the victims. (J.R.)