Every year in music is full of surprises, fulfilled expectations, and disappointment. In 2015, Kanye West never released an album, despite many promises. Dr. Dre dropped something out of nowhere, though! But it wasn’t Detox. You take what you get, and, fortunately, 2015 gave a lot. So what will 2016 look like? Well, there’s everything we didn’t get this year, plus a whole lot we will not be able to foresee (see: Wap, Fetty).
1. Kanye West: SWISH
Kanye West spent 2015 testing out new music without committing to anything. There were ballads and bangers, as well as plenty of Auto-Tune. It was basically a year spent figuring out how to make an album impervious to criticism. With anticipation built highly, SWISH will be a can’t-miss event.
Beyond the music, however, will be its rollout. West claims that it’ll drop out of nowhere (“pulling a Beyoncé,” as the kids say), but that likely means the beginning of the album release cycle will be a surprise — as are most. For Yeezus, he projected himself onto buildings. It was surprising, but not much of a surprise.
Regardless of whether it soars or sinks like a brick, Kanye West’s next album is, undoubtedly, the most highly-anticipated album of 2016, or ’17, or ’20 — the first presidential soundtrack album. Whenever he wants to get to it.
2. Rihanna: ANTI
Maybe it makes sense that both Rihanna and Kanye delayed their 2015 albums. After all, West executive produced Anti and appears on “FourFiveSeconds,” which is apparently on the album. She dropped two other songs this year: “American Oxygen” and “Bitch Better Have My Money”. The former is a bafflingly bad song. The latter is a significant departure from her typical pop ethos.
Essentially, Rihanna also spent the year figuring herself out — and manicuring her Instagram. She’s due for a hit. She hasn’t had a number one single since 2012’s “Diamonds.” It’s that kind of stagnation that has Sia talking about how RiRi is still looking for quality tracks for ANTI. The album won’t come out without a chart-topper. Once she’s got that, expect ANTI. Soon.
3. Frank Ocean: Boys Don’t Cry
Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange follow up felt imminent this past summer. News trickled out about Boys Don’t Cry, the magazine/album he’s been planning for awhile. He even promised a release. But the hype came and went.
Unlike Kanye and Rihanna, Ocean will not base his album on singles. Channel Orange had “Thinkin Bout You,” but it was just a piece of a whole. Ocean, therefore, is actually the likeliest to Beyoncé the world.
Boys Don’t Cry will be his make-or-break album. 2016 will prove whether Frank Ocean is the greatest songwriter of this young generation, or if he’s a flash-in-the-pan crooner with his head too far in the clouds.
4. Bon Iver Back?
Earlier this year, Justin Vernon declared his most fruitful project, Bon Iver, dead. It was not a surprising announcement, given that the band’s last album was 2012’s Bon Iver. Vernon gave indie folk its moment in the sun, subsequently joined forces with Kanye West, and then ditched for smaller projects.
Then suddenly, Bon Iver announced a tour.
Vernon says it’s because the band has never played in Asia, but he’s got enough clout to go whenever he’d like and play any type of show. If Bon Iver were to make a return, it would likely bring plenty of similar acts back into the spotlight, riding its high-profile coattails.
5. Fleet Foxes Also Back??
One of those acts — although very substantial on their own — could be Fleet Foxes. The band last released Helplessness Blues in 2011, and frontman Robin Pecknold has since spent time getting his undergraduate degree at Columbia University. He recently, however, announced that he’d be joining Joanna Newsom for some upcoming tour dates. He’ll be debuting new solo material.
In addition to the tour announcement, Pecknold shared a new cover on the night of Thanksgiving.
Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes are the rare indie acts to really make waves in the mainstream. People who left their flannel behind in college would surely dig in the crates to look for it if either band were to make a splashy return.
6. Taylor Swift’s Next Single
Swift has got to do something new in 2015. She doesn’t need to as in she’ll lose cultural relevance — because she never will. She needs to because it’ll only grow her stardom. Don’t count on a new Taylor album. But a new single is certainly in the pipeline. It’ll be on every speaker everywhere. It may not click at first (like how lead single “Shake It Off” is one of 1989’s lesser tracks), but it will be in your head for days, then weeks, then the rest of your life.
7. The Return of Lorde
Since dropping her epic debut Pure Heroine in 2013, Lorde has not put out too much pop. She curated the soundtrack to a Hunger Games movie, did a song with Son Lux, and did a bigger song with Disclosure. But Lorde’s music has taken a backseat.
Lorde is possibly the most interesting young artist in popular music. She gained a reputation from “Royals,” an easily digested jam, but the rest of her album is quite dark. She writes all her own lyrics and most of her own music. If she had wanted to, she could’ve penned 30 “Royals” followups by now. The delay signals that she’s working on something even bigger. Maybe she’ll continue in the Son Lux/Disclosure electronic direction. Maybe she’ll strip down her music even further to a bare minimalism — she is friends with the Wests.
What’s for sure is that her next move will be unfamiliar. In ten years, kids will say, “Wait, Lorde was popular? She’s weird AF.” 2016 will be the first step in that process.
8. The Next Fetty Wap
Every year now there seems to be an unheralded street rapper who makes it big. In 2014, iLoveMakonnen earned himself a Grammy nomination for “Tuesday.” This year, Fetty Wap broke hip-hop chart records for sustained success with “Trap Queen,” “679,” “My Way,” and “Again.” Even Fetty Wap was a consistent and unique album.
So who’s the next superstar-in-the-making? Well, we don’t know yet.
The reality, however, is that this particular category is not fun to predict. Part of the charm of a Fetty Wap or Makonnen is that their rise has no easy comparison. Analytics can suggest who’ll blow up, but can’t say definitively who will connect with listeners. It’s just a matter of sitting back and figuring out what artist we’ll use as an example when looking for “The Next TK.”
9. Will Anyone Ever Respect Macklemore & Ryan Lewis?
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis don’t exactly lack respect. The rapper-producer duo won seemingly every Grammy imaginable in 2014 for “Thrift Shop” and The Heist, the album from which it comes.
That may very well have been the case, but that was the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences’s fault, not Mack’s. Needless to say, it didn’t sit right. Drake, for one, thought it was “wack as fuck.”
So now that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are returning, gearing up for a 2016 album, will they still be seen as popular white dudes making rap, or just dudes making rap? Comeback single “Downtown” (featuring no-name rocker Eric Nally along with old school hip-hop legends Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, and Grandmaster Caz) hasn’t helped their case. It’s a corny song. Really corny. It also reached just number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. Given the success of The Heist’s various singles, it’s not exactly a sterling success.
Maybe Mack & Lewis are just cementing their status as a cornball pop duo. 2016 will be the year when their reputation gets etched in stone. If they’ll be taken seriously in the rap universe, it’s now or never.
10. Isn’t Views From the 6 a Thing?
At one point, Drake’s next album, supposedly called Views From the 6, was a highly anticipated event. Then the Canadian rapper spent 2015 squashing beef, releasing hit singles, putting the 6 on his shoulders, and dancing like no one every one was watching. He even managed to be Spotify’s most streamed artist of the year while inking a lucrative deal with Apple Music. He also, of course, released two projects: February’s retail mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and September’s Future collab What a Time to Be Alive. With such an exhaustive 2015, Views From the 6 very quickly became an afterthought.
But 2016 could be the year that it arrives, if we even want it to, that is. Drake reinvented himself, once again, making 2013 Nothing Was the Same Drizzy a distant memory and 2011 tan skin, long hair, vacation-smelling Take Care Drake a past life entirely. So the big question for Drake in 2016 is not what he releases but how.
11. Will Music Be Lit in 2016?
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer: Hell Yes.
Should we sit back and let it happen? Yes.