The best, worst, and weirdest of music in 2018
Our favourite musical headlines, from the year in Bieber to jamming with Archie
It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times. If you survived 2018 and all of its bitterly divisive politics with your sanity intact, consider yourself lucky. There were some things even the most beautiful song couldn’t set right, but for the most part, music made it all better. Here are our picks for the best, worst, and weirdest stories to come out of the music world in the last 12 months.
The year in Bieber
This was the year we all freaked out over Justin Bieber’s supposed inability to consume food like an ordinary human being. A photo of a Bieber look-alike sitting on a park bench and tucking into a burrito sideways went viral in October and managed to convince a sadly large number of observers that the Canadian pop star finds eating to be an insurmountable challenge. That was a hoax, but what’s true is that Bieber married Hailey Baldwin in September. Hailey is the daughter of actor Stephen Baldwin, a supposed born-again Christian who once founded a for-profit ministry dedicated to lining his own pockets.
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Happy late thanksgiving to everyone. First thanksgiving as a married man, first time hosting thanksgiving. First time both sides of the family has come together. Relationships are hard and love isn’t always easy but thank you Jesus for showing me how! Every day is a learning process, trying to be more like him, patient, kind, selfless, boy I got a long way! But gods grace is sufficient !
Not to be outdone, Bieber has been notably more outspoken about his own religious convictions in recent months. He even credited his lord and saviour with providing a template for married life, writing on Instagram in November: “Relationships are hard and love isn’t always easy but thank you Jesus for showing me how!” Who wants to break it to the guy that Jesus was a lifelong bachelor?
Play it again, Glenn
It started with 2Pac. At Coachella in 2012, a projected image of the late Tupac Shakur rapped alongside the still-alive Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, setting the stage for others to follow. In 2019, former bandmates of Ronnie James Dio will set off on a tour of over 100 cities, playing live accompaniment to a hologram of the heavy-metal icon, who died in 2010. (It’s actually not a hologram, it’s an updated version of a 19th-century theatrical illusion called “Pepper’s ghost”, but why get technical about it?)
Rockers and rappers are one thing, but the next musical icon to get resurrected on-stage will be Glenn Gould. In September, Primary Wave Music Publishing and Eyellusion said that they would bring the late classical-music star back to (virtual) life for a series of concert dates, expected to be announced in late 2019. If you’re wondering who in their right mind would pay top dollar to sit in a concert hall and watch a projected image of Gould sitting at a piano for two hours when they could stay home and listen to The Complete Goldberg Variations on CD instead—well, we’re wondering that too.
Azealia Banks hasn’t released an album since 2014, but she has kept up her public profile through such questionable means as coming out in support of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid; launching a line of soaps supposedly formulated to “lighten & tighten” one’s butthole; and starting beefs with everyone from Kendrick Lamar and Lana Del Rey to Russell Crowe and Sarah Palin. Then, in the dying weeks of 2018, we saw headlines like this one from NME: “Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sent beard shavings to Azealia Banks so she could make an amulet to protect him from ISIS”. The story first surfaced in 2016, when Banks tweeted (appropriately enough) that Dorsey “sent me his hair in an envelope because i was supposed to make him an amulet for protection.”
A recent Vanity Fair piece on the Twitter CEO cited a source close to Dorsey as saying that he did indeed send an unnamed rapper his beard shavings, so that the recipient could craft him an amulet “that would protect him from evildoers”. Reached for comment by Business Insider, Banks confirmed that Dorsey was seeking protection from ISIS after the terrorist group had threatened him in a video. She said she also had a quid-pro-quo deal with the Twitter boss in which she would tweet about his other company, Square, in exchange for which he would tweet a link to her mix tape Slay-Z when it was released. Banks said Dorsey failed to hold up his end of the bargain. “He may think that my religion is a facet of mental illness but it isn’t,” the rapper told Business Insider. “It’s a well-established African traditional religion which should be respected. I made a pact on his behalf and he left me hanging. He will pay for that.”
Blowing up the tube
What makes a song a hit in this day and age? Is it radio play? Is it downloads? Or is it having a huge number of people hear your song and love it? If it’s the last of those, then “Cuz You’re My Girl” certainly counts as a hit. The song, by Vancouver indie-rock musician Jordan Heaney, was uploaded by YouTuber Alona Chemerys in the summer of 2017. By the end of 2018, the video had racked up more than 3.5 million views.
Interviewed by the Straight in May, Heaney—who puts his music out under the name Yung Heazy—said, “I have no idea how she found the song. I just put it up on SoundCloud, and it had, like, 100 plays or something. She somehow found the song through the depths of the Internet and decided to put it on her channel. And it just happened organically. People started sharing and listening to it. I didn’t even know it was up there for, like, a good two weeks. No one contacted me about it. It’s a weird story. I didn’t have any control over it.”
Return of the rapping dead
As of this writing, the artist sitting atop the Billboard Rap Albums chart is XXXTentacion, with Skins. The same rapper’s earlier release, ?, is also still on the same chart. Meanwhile, Mac Miller’s Swimming holds the number-23 spot. All in all, 2018 has proven that the best possible career move for a young MC is to die. Before he was gunned down at the age of 20 on June 18, XXXTentacion was arguably most famous (or infamous) among non-hip-hop heads for beating up his pregnant girlfriend. Now that he’s deceased, the man born Jahseh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy has had two number-one albums and has been venerated in The Atlantic as a voice that “reminded young fans in particular that their hurt was valid but that it did not form the sum total of their lives”. Miller (who died in September of mixed drug toxicity) and Lil Peep (who overdosed at the tail end of 2017) also had their careers and reputations boosted posthumously after their well-timed demises. Are you taking notes, Lil Xan?
Just calling to make sure you still don't want me to call ever again
Sure, we’ve all swooned at the iconic boombox scene in Say Anything and felt stirrings of passion at Andrew Lincoln’s cue cards in Love Actually. But here’s the thing, folks—that shit is not cool in the real world. Showing up at someone’s home or workplace with a gimmick to persuade them to love you is at best awkward, and at worst terrifying. So when rapper Cardi B’s estranged husband Offset ambushed her on-stage at her Rolling Loud performance this year with flowers that spelled out “Take me back Cardi”—weeks after she announced that the pair would remain friends but were separating romantically—people were rightly pissed. Add to that the news that Taylor Swift has started using facial recognition technology to track the potentially dangerous obsessives that show up to her shows, and the conviction of Lana Del Ray’s knife-wielding pursuer, and 2018 is starting to look a lot like the year of the stalker. No means no, friends.
Vancouver's very own
For those looking for a little bit of culture from the Six, 2018 delivered. Drake’s much coveted October’s Very Own (OVO) clothing line opened its first store in Vancouver this year, located on the very bougie 1000 block of Robson Street. Turns out that high-street prices didn’t deter locals from turning out in force for the sought-after streetwear, as the lineup to get into the building at one point stretched the length of a city block. With all the cool kids now rocking Drizzy’s designs, expect to see a flurry of gold owls in the new year.
Carrot-topped, steel-abbed KJ Apa caused quite the stir in Vancouver this year while filming Riverdale, a Netflix adaptation of the Archie comics. Although he was spotted in local nightclubs, on the Whitecaps’ soccer pitch, and hugging Brock Boeser at Rogers Arena, nowhere was the star more frequently seen than on-stage with touring bands. Turns out he’s quite good. After connecting last year with U.S. jazz-blues artist Ron Artis II to shred his axe at the Railway Stage and Beer Café, Apa went one better in 2018, joining Norwegian superstar DJ Kygo in a performance of his single “It Ain’t Me” at Surrey’s FVDED in the Park. Proving he’s not in it for the exposure, however, Apa capped off the year with a half-hour jam with Saskatoon group the Steadies at Gastown’s Guilt & Co.—a session that’s led to the small band blowing up around the world. The star will be filming in Vancouver until April 19, leaving local groups four months to lobby for a guest appearance.
After the Daily Mail printed a headline stating that local boy Michael Bublé had officially retired from music, his fans were locked into is-he-isn’t-he limbo. No longer, the article implied, would his velvety vocals be on hand to impart deep wisdom about love; no more would listeners be regaled by his luxurious croon. His publicist, however, was quick to respond, telling the world that the British paper had misquoted the singer, and that Bublé would not be hanging up his microphone. Proving that he is every bit the class act, the singer says that he asked the friends who reached out to him not to share the article, but rather to send him pictures of their kids, because “he’d much rather know about that.”
No stoppin' hip-hop
As if anyone needed a reminder that hip-hop is so hot right now, 2018 marked the creation of a new, twice-yearly rap festival in Vancouver. Breakout festival became the city’s first all-ages event to feature hip-hop artists only (clearly the kids are soooooo over EDM), and showcased rap royalty like Migos, Tory Lanez, 6lack, and Lil Pump. Promoter Timbre Concerts followed it up with a winter edition—also held at the PNE—with a stacked lineup including Lil Uzi Vert and Playboi Carti. Those looking for a play-by-play of the shows can find every second on Instagram, because, you know, teenagers.
Hope for the future
This summer was the fourth time that Vancouver played host to one of Canadian music’s highest honours, the Juno Awards. The city had a particularly strong showing among winners, with local-born Grimes taking the crown for video of the year, North Vancouver–raised Renee Rosnes scoring a win for jazz album of the year, and city-dweller Bria Skonberg chalking up a victory in the vocal-jazz-album-of-the-year category. The fact that all three champions are female mirrors a wider trend that defined the week. The #MeToo movement had a strong bearing on the Juno events, with the organizational committee partnering with Good Night Out Vancouver—a group that implements strategies to end sexual harassment and assault in venues—and organizing a high-profile panel dedicated to helping women in music advance their careers. Here’s to the emergence of more kick-ass female artists.
Ten years ago, Vancouver had a healthy supply of rambling old rental houses—many occupied by underground artists and musicians. Today, most of those houses have been ripped down for duplexes with a laneway house. That, and a sky-high cost of living, partly explains why Vancouver acts—Tough Age, Kevin Halpin, Sally Jørgensen—continue to pull up stakes and move to more affordable cities like, um, Toronto, Berlin, and New York. This year’s South by Southwest festival offered evidence for the theory that local musicians are increasingly giving up. Toronto and Montreal were each represented by 11 acts at one of the most fabled small-club festivals in the world. Vancouver sent three.
In the months that followed, the Cobalt shut down, leaving a major hole in a city already lacking venues friendly to smaller bands. The Zolas put a poignant exclamation point on a bleak situation in August with “Bombs Away”, a fuzz-pop breakup letter that singer Zach Gray described as follows: “This track goes out to everyone seeing their favourite spots and favourite people get priced out of the city and wondering if they might be next.”
Around the same time, Vancouver’s Blue J took a look at a city becoming a Monte Carlo–like mecca for the rich with its melancholy video for “Both Your Hands”.
Sad as all this is, the good news is Regina awaits your perma-broke ass with open arms.
Time’s up for Hedley
One of rock ’n’ roll’s dirty secrets is that stars big and small get away with shit that wouldn’t begin to fly in the average bedroom, motel room, or hair-farmer hot tub. Google, if you dare, “Chuck Berry farts on a hooker”—but preferably not after eating. Or leaf through the Mötley Crüe bio The Dirt or Led Zeppelin’s Hammer of the Gods, where tales of mud sharks being stuffed into groupies and impromptu backyard blowbangs will make you want to either lock up your daughters or move to the fabled Irish island of Inis Beag. Thank Christ, then, for the #MeToo movement, which saw women around the world come out swinging against men who’ve used positions of power to do inexcusable things, often sexual. While Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey dominated international news, the Vancouver music scene had its own headline maker.
In February an Ottawa woman accused Hedley singer Jacob Hoggard of rape after the two hooked up via Tinder, and another woman from Toronto stepped forward in March with more allegations. Although arguing that both encounters were consensual, Hoggard was charged in July with one count of sexual interference and two counts of sexual assault causing bodily harm involving a woman and a girl under 16. This has made the 34-year-old famous for something other than fronting a band that makes Creed seem wildly adventurous. And it’s hopefully sent a message that, if a small-potatoes Cancon rock star can end up in the cross hairs of #MeToo, legitimate music-biz stars better take notice. Just because you can get away with horrible shit doesn’t mean you should.
This is America. And it’s ugly
It’s safe to say no one saw the video for “This Is America” coming, a fact that made the most radical art statement of 2018 doubly shocking. For the first half-decade of his career as Childish Gambino, Donald McKinley Glover Jr. was written off as an actor dabbling in music as a hobby. Like, you know, Bruce Willis, Russell Crowe, and Dogstar’s Keanu Reeves. Then came “This Is America”, which starts with Childish Gambino putting a bullet in the skull of an old bluesman and includes sequences like the mowing down of a black church choir with a machine gun.
Over four captivating minutes, we get sometimes coded, sometimes blatant references to everything from ’60s segregation battles to the beating of Rodney King to the atrocities of the KKK. The message is that our neighbours Down South are as fucked today as they were back when Martin Luther King was standing tall in the pulpit. This is America, indeed, and it’s fucking appalling.
NOFX gets too punk
As Mark Twain once sagely observed, comedy is tragedy plus time. Unfortunately for California punk legends NOFX, some things aren’t funny, especially when the wounds are still fresh. The Berkeley quartet is famous for designed-to-push-buttons stage banter, which includes everything from making fun of the Holocaust to suggesting that Mexicans and folks in wheelchairs are the laziest people on the planet. But after 35 years of offending, well, everyone, NOFX made a major miscalculation in late May. Performing at the annual Punk Rock Bowling blowout in Las Vegas, the band finished up “72 Virgins” by joking it had just played a song about Muslims and somehow didn’t get shot. NOFX guitarist Eric Melvin chipped in with “I guess you only get shot in Vegas if you are in a country band,” and singer-bassist Fat Mike added “That [the massacre] sucked, but at least they were country fans.”
And then came the uproar—entirely predictable considering the band was referencing the Route 91 Harvest Festival tragedy in Vegas from the previous October. That’s when a gunman knocked out an upper window in a hotel room and opened fire on an outdoor concert featuring country singer Jason Aldean, killing 58 people and injuring over 800 others. Dating right back to the Sex Pistols, punk has always been about pissing off the world. But three days later, a contrite Fat Mike was on Twitter stating that what NOFX said was insensitive, and that everyone in the band was horrified by their actions. The punk thing to do? No, but sometimes even 51-year-old spikey-and-dyed lifers grow up.
Hard time abroad
It sounds like the title of the best screamo song never written: “Hard Time in a Yokohama Jail”. Except that, for Vancouver metal-punk veteran Daniel Burton Whitmore, it’s a reality. Famous among pregentrification Cobalt regulars for fronting both the reformed Death Sentence and the greasepainted Iron Maiden tribute band Powerclown, Whitmore was arrested at Narita International Airport in late 2017. He was making the trek to Japan from Vancouver, and he was caught trying to smuggle $7 million worth of stimulant drugs into the country using his guitar case.
In a Facebook post this fall, his brother reported that Whitmore—also know as Dan Scumm—has been totally down in the dumps after being incarcerated in a Yokohama jail. He also suggested that the singer (known for dressing up like Pennywise’s long-lost brother with Powerclown) might be able to forget the endless Japanese-prison marching drills, cross-legged sitting sessions, and barked orders in a foreign language if old friends and fans would be kind enough to write to him. Or write a screamo song called “Hard Time in a Yokohama Jail”, and then ask Whitmore if he’ll provide the vocals when he’s released in 2022.More