2019: Cats, Grime and Lil Nas X: The Year In Music

2019 was a great year in music, perhaps the greatest since 2018, which, if we all remember was probably up there with 2017. Here’s a round up:

First some sad news: Spandau Ballet split up in 2019, which will come as shocking news to most of us who hadn’t realised they had got back together.

Similarly, a number of groups reformed, including Doves, Supergrass and most excitingly the original line up of The Sugarbabes, a girl-band that changed its line-up so often it would have shocked Prince Andrew into a sweat. Oh, wait, news just in: all three members have now been replaced and the line up now features a runner up from The Great British Bake off, an ex-member of Atomic Kitten, and an actual kitten.

There were some great music-themed films released during the year. Blinded by the Light was terrific, featuring the music of Bruce Springsteen and how his songs chimed with a second generation British Pakistani boy growing up in Thatcherite Luton. The film brilliantly showed the frustration, lack of opportunity, prejudice and name-calling that must still be prevalent today when people find out you come from Luton.

Cats was the surprise disappointment of the year.

A “highlights” edition of the soundtrack with a running time of 59 minutes was released but had to be withdrawn from sale under the trades descriptions act, and was re-released on a seven inch single, blank on both sides.

The film had a plot about cats choosing which of them will go to cat heaven, featured humans disguised as cats singing songs written by Andrew Lloyd Webber in the late seventies, and starred James Cordon. Why it failed will perhaps always remain one of the 21st century’s great mysteries.

It’s almost as if someone woke up in the morning and had forgotten The Beatles existed.

Which brings us nicely to Yesterday, a film where the lead character was the only person in the world who remembered The Beatles and their songs. I had a similar experience recently when I realised I was the only person in the world who remembered Spandau Ballet had reformed.

What else did we see in 2019? Large crowds and a “buzzing” white guy in a football shirt gesturing aggressively and shouting profanities at a black guy.

Thankfully not the football, or even BBC Question Time (at least on this occasion), but the Glastonbury festival, where grime star Dave invited a bucket-hatted audience member called Alex onstage to rap along to “Thiago Silva”. It was a good year for Dave – he also won the Mercury Prize for best album in 2019 for “Psychodrama” – and grime in general.

Glastonbury itself is now no stranger to grime, as anyone who has slipped on mud in the gents toilets on a Sunday afternoon will testify, so it was also good to see Stormzy secure a debut headline slot at the festival in 2019.

Grime music was so much in the mainstream even politicians got in on the act.

Although a breeding ground of dodgy, sometimes criminal characters using graphic and inflammatory language, and promoting violence and discord, the House of Commons nevertheless has several music fans.

Michael Gove attempted to use the Stormzy lyric ”I set trends dem man copy” on the campaign trail, which gave rise to the kind of sharp intake of breath and look of sorrow and inner cringe that I normally only witness from my wife when I go on holiday to France and start to talk to French people in French.

As the year went on politicians got more desperate for votes but no matter how desperate the politicians got, there was no truth in the rumour the guy who got onstage with Dave at Glastonbury was actually Dominic Cummings.

Elsewhere in pop music, Ariana Grande reached the top of the charts with “7 rings”, a song about the code she uses to let her mum know she’s got home safely after visiting.

Billie Eilish emerged in 2019 with a goth-y image and an instantly catchy song “Bad Guy”. Moody, defiant, sulky, and mostly indecipherable, except for the odd “Duh!”, my teenage daughter enjoys a lot of music, including that of Billie Eilish.

But the biggest hit of the year was Lil Nas X’s country/rap song “Old Town Road“, which was #1 in America for four months.

The song grew through social media platform TikTok. Millions of TikTok users posted videos of themselves dressed as a cowgirl/boy dancing to the song, riffing on the switch from country to rap, using the hashtag #yeehaw. This activity went viral- like 2014’s ice bucket challenge set to music – and that was enough to top the charts for nineteen weeks.

Lil Nas X spent $20 on studio time. He had an idea, a beat bought for $30 and advanced social media skills.

The song has been streamed on Spotify over 1.4 billion times, which, with Spotify’s generous royalty scheme has generated income for Lil Naz of over three and a half dollars.

So if we learned anything this year, it’s this. For the fastest way to pop stardom, cancel your child’s piano lessons, and get them developing their Twitter and TikTok skills.

What could possibly go wrong?





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