2015 in Review: Drake, Adele, Weeknd lead music’s best
From “Hotline Bling” to “Hello,” a look back at 2015’s best singles, albums and concerts
Hotlines blinged, queens were trapped and Justin Bieber kept naming his songs like he was arguing with somebody in the dark.
The year 2015 saw teen pop grow up and rap strip down. It was a year where Internet-minted stars became big time headliners — the Weeknd and Lana del Rey are now selling out 15,000 seat venues — and big stars got even bigger. (Yes, Adele, that means you, if you can hear anything over the sound of all those cash registers ringing.)
As the year comes to a close, here are my picks for the year’s best — which is to say my favorite — songs, albums and local concerts.”
Best Singles of the Year
1. “Hotline Bling,” Drake: The video became the year’s most meme-able piece of content, but it only served to heighten awareness of the song, which finds Drake in an emo panic about all the fun his ex is having without him. Luckily, Drake let us share in his pain, and nothing this year made being downtrodden feel quite so giddy.
2. “Hello,” Adele: Pain, heartache, perseverance — this is Adele’s playing field, and she returned after a four-year absence with an instant classic worthy of her powder-keg vocals.
3. “Can’t Feel My Face,” the Weeknd: The Internet-branded star needed his Michael Jackson moment to cross over to a pop audience, and he found it with this explosive dance floor cherry bomb that is definitely about drugs.
4. “Run Away with Me,” Carly Rae Jepsen: The blissful ecstasy of new love charges like shockwaves through this sugary pop confection that leaves listeners feeling dizzy in the head.
5. “The Blacker the Berry,” Kendrick Lamar: Kendrick Lamar is at his most seething on this breathtaking and brutally frank examination of racial identity.
6. “Trap Queen,” Fetty Wap: The year’s most charismatic new star delivers a Bonnie & Clyde tale for a new generation by showing off his devotion to his drug-dealing princess, his literal partner in crime.
7. “Where Are Ü Now,” Jack Ü featuring Justin Bieber: Dance music masterminds Diplo and Skrillex didn’t sound like naturals to team with Bieber, but this slice of highly experimental pop became ground zero for his career makeover.
8. “F--- Up Some Commas,” Future: They’ve since become overused, but the squealing “Kill Bill” sirens that illuminate this dark ode to carelessly spending huge wads of cash were the year’s most jarring, disorienting production element.
9. “Back to Back,” Drake: Drake and Meek Mill found themselves in a war of words over the summer. Drake won.
10. “Cool for the Summer,” Demi Lovato: The former Disney starlet turns up the heat with this summertime scorcher about playful experimentation that was so hot it should have come with a fan.
11. “Electric Love,” BORNS: Neon colored dream pop with an aftertaste like a mouthful of Skittles.
12. “ ’Cause I’m a Man,” Tame Impala: Psych-pop that rides a warped groove like a surfer catching a gnarly wave.
13. “Hair,” Little Mix: A trip to the salon is a metaphor for kicking an ex to the curb in this frizzy piece of pop heaven.
14. “Wide Open,” Chemical Brothers featuring Beck: This forlorn warning about a fading love is both Beck and the Chemical Brothers’ best song in years.
15. “Back Up,” Dej Loaf featuring Big Sean: “For the city,” Big Sean declares, as he teams up with Dej Loaf for a new Detroit-branded anthem.
16. “Levels,” Nick Jonas: Jonas continues his ascent up the pop ladder and delivers a “high five to Jesus.”
17. “100,” The Game featuring Drake: Drake sounds so bored he could fall asleep and still delivers quotables, which is his way of proving he’s better than everyone else at the moment.
18. “WTF,” Missy Elliott featuring Pharrell: The Super Bowl’s comeback queen shows she’s still got more gas left in her tank.
19. “Lovin’ So Hard,” Becky G: A rubbery ode to young love with an elastic bounce like a superball.
20. “Buried in Detroit,” Mike Posner: The Motor City anthem Kid Rock has been trying to write for years, but could never nail down.
Best Albums of the Year
1. “New Bermuda,” Deafheaven: Metal’s most majestic band continues to find the beauty in the pitch blackness.
2. “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Kendrick Lamar: The year’s most mind-bending curveball is a sweeping missive on race, rap and art in 2015.
3. “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit,” Courtney Barnett: A breathless wordsmith surrounds herself with fuzzy amps, kicks down the door and kicks out the jams.
4. “Art Angels,” Grimes: Pop’s alien outsider edges closer to the mainstream, but is still wildly, deliriously her own creation.
5. “Compton,” Dr. Dre: This thick, dense journey through Andre Young’s musical life is messy, complicated and immaculately rendered to blow up your stereo system.
6. “Dark Sky Paradise,” Big Sean: The Detroit rapper comes out of the fog and into his own on his moody, rich, third album.
7. “The Magic Whip,” Blur: Twelve years removed from “Think Tank,” Brit pop’s finest lads return with an album that’s ripe with wisdom for a crumbling world.
8. “Beauty Behind the Madness,” The Weeknd: His last album had no hits, so Abel Tesfaye went and fixed that.
9. “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,”Drake: Minimalist productions, off-the-cuff rhymes: Drake’s mixtapes are better than most rappers’ albums. That’s how good he is right now.
10. “Transgressor,” Tunde Olaniran: He sings, he raps, he’s R&B, he’s pop, he’s hip-hop, he’s spaceship music: Flint’s Tunde Olaniran has so many styles, he is a group.
Best Concerts of the Year
1. Big Sean, Nov. 6, Joe Louis Arena: A tightly controlled recap of Big Sean’s career to date that closed with the year’s most electrifying live moment: Sean joined by Eminem and the rest of the “Detroit Vs. Everybody” crew in a bulletproof show of solidarity for the city.
2. Prince, April 9, Fox Theatre: The Purple One took the sold-out audience to school, then to church, then back to school for a little more church at this epic reading that stretched well into the night.
3. D’Angelo, June 27, Royal Oak Music Theatre: After a decade-plus absence, R&B’s most mysterious virtuoso set up shop and made up for lost time.
4. Lana del Rey, May 31, DTE Energy Music Theatre: Pop’s most enchanting, dreamlike fairy cast a spell over a sold-out crowd at DTE and proved she’s more than ready for the big time.
5. Madonna, Oct. 1, Joe Louis Arena: Nobody puts on a show like Madonna, and she catered this one to her superfans, mixing long buried gems next to timeless hits and surprisingly lively offerings from her “Rebel Heart” album.