What We Learned About Pop Music in 2017

The year 2017 was certainly an interesting one as far as pop music was concerned. It featured surprise returns, unwelcome ones, and of course, plenty of hits from previously obscure acts.

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As the calendar prepares to turn on yet another year, it’s time to look back on what we learned about pop music in 2017.

Yes, Taylor Swift’s Reputation was a certifiable hit, moving more than a million units in less than a week’s time before breaking all sorts of records on the streaming charts. That said, success and quality are not necessarily mutually exclusive, which explains why Reputation was a commercial hit and a critical dud.

To be fair, Reputation isn’t really a bad album so much as it is a bad fit for arguably the biggest pop star in the game today. Swift has gone country and pop and succeeded in each because both genres seemed effortless. However, a feud-fanning, EDM-loving bad girl is an ill-fitting role for Swift, which probably explains a string of relatively unsuccessful singles from Reputation, coupled with a run of awkward performances and music videos.

Swift and her career will be fine, but don’t be surprised if her next album features a return to pop or country, a none-too-subtle acknowledgment that Reputation was a misstep in a career that has, to this point, featured so few.

Not that Swift was the only pop star to get her first taste of blowback this year. Not to be outdone, long-time Swift rival Katy Perry returned in February with a new haircut, new single (“Chained to the Rhythm”) and a new, more politically focused approach to her music.

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The result was Witness, the first outright failure of Perry’s multiplatinum career. Perry should be commended for making a personal record that aimed for social and political consciousness. However, she could stand to do a better job next time around.

Hip-hop is traditionally a young man’s game. And while artists like Drake, Future and Post Malone certainly made their impact felt in 2017, a pair of elder hip-hop heavyweights had their say as well. Jay-Z returned from a four-year absence with 4:44, while Eminem did the same with Revival. The 48-year-old Jay-Z didn’t stick around long on 4:44 (the album clocks in at only 10 tracks and less than 40 minutes), but he used that minimal time to deliver an absolute mea culpa for alleged infidelities and other martial transgressions.

4:44 is probably the third best record Jay-Z has ever released (behind The Blueprint and The Black Album), which probably explains why it was critically beloved and nominated for seven Grammys. Eminem, meanwhile, did what Eminem does – released an album that was probably a bit longer than it should have been (Revival checks in at 19 tracks and 79 minutes in length) and runs the absolute emotional gamut.

The erstwhile Marshall Mathers is politically-conscious (“Like Home”), apologetic (“Castle”), demented (“Framed”) and among the most self-aware artists pop music has ever seen (as evidenced by lead single, “Walk on Water”). The result is a mishmash, one that resulted in a somewhat mixed critical reaction, but Eminem was always best when treating his albums like veritable therapy sessions. He does so in spades on Revival.