Now that we're firmly within the new year, Paul Hanford gazes into his crystal ball and predicts the biggest music trends that will dominate 2017.
2016 frequently felt more like an extortionately long and brutal episode of Game of Thrones than a year in the 21st century. Twelve months ago, would any of us have actually believed a Twitter troll could become President of the USA, or that we’d be mourning the loss of so many musical icons?
Yet, in times of hardship, art gets to work and does what it’s supposed to: confound expectations, innovates and inspires.With that in mind, and with creativity and tech fusing more and more, 2017 could very well emerge as a golden era for music.
Here are 10 music trends that will blow up or continue to rise in the next twelve months:
Music Will Be Released in More and More Unconventional Ways
From Rihanna’s Anti to Beyonce's Lemonade and all the way back to T.I.’s Us Or Else: Letter To The System, 2016 was all about the unexpected album drop. As the influence of established record companies and their big pre-release marketing campaigns continues to disintegrate, over the next twelve months the unexpected album drop will pale in comparison to the kind of immersive approaches re-shaping the very concept of what an album can be.
Take, for example, London-based Beatie Wolfe, who balances the timeless romantic song-craft of her music with distribution methods that have attracted a salivating tech community and resulted in her getting a TED platform and Wired column inches.
Already, she’s released a single as a musical jacket and an album as a series of digitally interactive cards, and, in 2017, she’ll be taking experiential-as-an-art-form further, collaborating with award winning Designers I/O (of MOMA and Tate Modern fame) and inventors Bell Labs to release her next song cycle.
Grime Will Cement Its Greencard
There was a time when UK hip-hop felt to the rest of the world like one of those nodding bulldogs people put in the backs of their cars: charming, but ultimately pointless.
Now, although Grime has taken the better part of this century to spread its wings abroad, the visa has finally come through. Mercury Prize winner Skepta is on Kanye’s speed-dial; Drake handpicked South London’s piano-playing rapper Dave for his latest mixtape; The New York Times treated Stormzy’s stateside appearances with awe and AJ Tracey is way up high in many 2017 ones-to-watch lists. Grime arrived stateside over the last couple of years, and this trend is set to continue.
Get Used to Hearing the Word "Experiential"
Let's talk about adverts. Can you remember the last time on YouTube you actually thought, “I won’t press skip in five seconds because I really, really want to watch this ad?” Me neither.
Companies know we’ll use ad-blockers, remove cookies and do pretty much anything else to avoid our streaming pleasures being interrupted, so they’re having to work far more insidiously to grab our attention. All of this has lead to "experiential" becoming as big a buzzword as its more culturally-aligned sister, “immersive”. Basically, experiential advertising places the would-be consumer in an immersive, branded experience.
In 2016, Heineken released plans for a new campaign called "Takeover," allowing wearers of customized Heineken wrist-bands to control the DJ's music at festivals. Experiential pioneers like Red Bull have been fusing the lines between creative output and branded content for years, and in 2017 this will be the main battleground on which advertisers will fight for music fans’ attention.
The Times They Are A-Changin'
Whether it's PIL's mantra, “anger is an energy!” or NWA rallying against the LAPD with “Fuck tha Police”, difficult political climates have always fueled rebellious creativity. Even prior to his election win, there was a surge of anti-Trump music in 2016, from YG’s "Fuck Donald Trump" to alt-lit god Dave Egger’s 30 Days, 30 Songs project.
With hairy has-beens Ted Nugent and Kid Rock the only musicians willing to play at Trump’s inauguration, his administration team are reportedly offering seven digit figures for more credible artists to play. As of now, nobody is up for it.
In 2017, be prepared for ubiquitous Trump slurs in your favorite artists' releases.
Pop Stars Are Now Younger Than Windows 98
Pop has always been a youthful genre, but given that a member of The Lemon Twigs was younger than Windows 98 (just 14 years old!) when they started making their album, musical sophistication is arriving earlier and earlier. 18-year-old South London rapper Dave also attracted the attention of Drake last year, who remixed his "Wanna Know" track, and 17-year-old indie-electro musician Declan McKenna has been receiving accolades for his work, too.
In 2017, pop stars will make increasingly complex and interesting work at ever-younger ages.
The (Beginning of the) Death of Bro Culture
Could 2017 be the death knell of bro culture within EDM? In the traditionally male-dominated field, nine of Mixmag’s "Top Twenty Breakthrough DJs of 2016" were female, which signals a positive trend for 2017.
In the year that saw the passing of Bowie (the original androgynous rebel), we also witnessed the astronomic rise of Anohni; and with artists like Jana Hunter from LA’s atmospheric rock band Lower Dens describing themselves as "gender non-binary" and New York’s queer-core rockers PWR BTTM continuing to rise, we could be on the crest of a golden age of gender and sexual acceptance within music.
The Return of Bowie?
Picture the scene: you’re in the midst of Daft Punk’s set at, say, Coachella. Halfway through, like a resurrecting John Snow, David Bowie rises up on the stage. Before you can pinch yourself, he’s ripping into "Let’s Dance" with gallic robots grooving behind him.
Sounds crazy, right? Yet, ever since Tupac rose from the dead to duet with Snoop and Dre at Coachella in 2012, holograms have been hot, and as with VR, tech companies are channeling vast research into this area. Japan already has its own totally holographic pop-star, the “16-year-old” Hatsune Miku.
Bowie, always ahead of the times, appeared in hologram form at the AIR Gallery in West London over decade ago. We're predicting he'll be back in hologram form in 2017, along with – hopefully! – Prince, George Michael and Phife Dawg.
Drake Will Continue to Drake
One thing will not change in the coming year: Drake's dominance. From his game-changing deal with Apple to his categorization of his forthcoming work, More Life, as a playlist rather than an album, Drake encompasses the streaming age like no other artist.
With over a billion plays of the Apple-financed "Hotline Bling" video, Drake could pretty much spend the next twelve months occasionally streaming the sound of himself breaking wind without doing any harm to his career whatsoever. 2017 will be another big year for the polarizing Canadian rapper.
Algorithms Will Be Everywhere
In November 2016, Google Play Music released a list of 10 acts “expected to be huge in 2017.” What made their poll different from the flurry of predictions from every tastemaker, style brand and music publication is the fact that it was constructed from a combination of streaming stats, YouTube subscribers, track performances and the instincts of some Google Play specialists.
Predictably for a list largely derived from algorithms, it took less risks than an Ed Sheeran chord change. However, in these uncertain political times, can we really blame Google Play Music for not venturing a bold, original opinion? In 2017, you can be sure the easy algorithm opt-out will prevail.
People Will buy Records and Listen to Cool Shit
In December 2016, for the first time, sales of vinyl in the UK outstripped download sales. This doesn’t mean that your average teen is walking around car boot sales foraging for Pink Floyd re-issues, though. Rather, it signals that vast numbers of people are streaming rather than buying.
Whatever crazy app war may kick off between Spotify and whoever else is vying for our streaming attention, boutique record labels such as Domino and Warp will continue to survive by running a tight ship and maintaining a carefully-crafted roster of artists. In 2017, the underground will continue to throw up fresh, out-of-nowhere sounds and new genres will rise and fall in the blink of a refresh button.
For more trend predictions, check out how we think 2016's fashion trends will fare in 2017.