Welcome back to Pop Stars and Flop Stars, which, as I explained earlier, is a revitalized (and shortened) restructuring of the feature formerly called Pop Power Ranking. Here’s the drill: today, I’m recapping the year’s biggest winners (Pop Stars) and losers (Flop Stars). Who ruled 2016? And who left us wanting more? Let’s get to it.
This Year’s Pop Star: Beyoncé
After Beyoncé completely reinvigorated her career (and, honestly, the entire music industry) with 2013’s surprise self-titled visual album, it seemed impossible to believe she could ever top herself. But in 2016, she did just that. Her sixth album, Lemonade, is the most universally-acclaimed (and one of the best-selling) of the year, and every accolade and view and download and physical purchase and stream was fairly earned. Upon its release, Lemonade became an one of those rare instant-classic projects, one that is simultaneously innovative and accessible, one that is equal amounts personal, political, and universal. The Formation World Tour, which kicked off days after Lemonade dropped, was the hottest ticket of the year (and, if I may editorialize for a moment, one of the best shows I’ve ever attended). Bey also turned in highly-memorable performances at events like the Super Bowl, The BET Awards, the VMAs, and the Country Music Awards. In short, no one came close to touching Bey either commercially or critically in 2016. Expect her to continue her victory lap in February, when Lemonade is likely to sweep the Grammys, including, one hopes, the Album of the Year category.
Despite relatively lukewarm reviews, Drake’s Views dominated 2016 sales- and charts-wise. That album, in addition to logging 13 non-consecutive weeks at No. 1 on the Album 200, the most of any album this year, also spawned “One Dance,” Drake’s first-ever No. 1 single as a lead artist. To end the year, Views racked up eight 2017 Grammy nominations and has already been certified 4x Platinum.
Adele returned after four years away in 2015, but her reign continued well into 2016. 25, which is now Diamond-certified, was the biggest-selling album of the year (again, despite being released last year). Throw in a wildly successful world tour, a couple of big hit singles, and a generous handful of 2017 Grammy nominations, and, yeah, that’s a pretty damn good year.
The rollout for Rihanna’s ANTI was truly disastrous — months of promo undercut the “surprise” release, which was further botched by way of an embarrassing TIDAL leak hours before it was meant to officially drop — but it didn’t stop the album from a becoming a big hit. In addition to spawning smashes like “Work” and “Needed Me,” it also helped Rih launch her successful ANTI World Tour. Then, in August, Rih took home the coveted Vanguard Video Award at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Lady Gaga began 2016 with a trio of high-stakes performances (the Super Bowl, the Grammys, the Oscars) as well as a Golden Globes win, and she ended it with the release of Joanne, a risky but satisfying album that, although it has yet to spawn a huge hit single, performed better than expected on the Album 200 chart. Next up: Mother Monster hits the Super Bowl stage again, this time as the headliner.
This Year’s Flop Star: Death and Other Bleak Turns
We lost David Bowie. We lost Prince. We lost Leonard Cohen. We lost Sharon Jones. We lost so many truly iconic and original music legends that it honestly feels implausible. We also suffered through 12 weeks of The Chainsmokers at No. 1 on the Hot 100. We endured an abysmal Meghan Trainor album. We are still suffering through Donald Trump somehow winning the election. Honestly, 2016: what the fuck?!
Glory may be Britney Spears’ best album in a decade, but what is that really saying? (A step up from Britney Jean or even Femme Fatale isn’t necessarily worth remark.) The album tanked hard, debuting at No. 3 before rapidly falling down the Album 200, likely never to be seen (or heard) again. The promotional campaign for the album was also messy and frustrating: scrapped videos, embarrassing fan petitions, stalled singles, and weak performances all worked to sap the Glory era of any real excitement.
Despite experiencing massive radio and chart success in both 2015 and 2016, Justin Bieber continued to make headlines for all the wrong reasons: fights with fans, on-stage meltdowns, social media wars with ex-girlfriends, and so on. It would have been annoying regardless, but that it all came less than a year after his pre-Purpose “I’m so sorry, I’ve changed and grown!” press tour made it especially exhausting.
#KimExposedTaylorParty. ‘Nuff said, ya dig?