Hitting the rewind button on popular music, 2015 was a great year to be The Weeknd, Kendrick Lamar and Taylor Swift. (But really, when is it not great to be Taylor Swift?)
It was sometimes tough to be Dave Grohl and Bono. The shrinking violet known as Kanye West finally got to speak his mind publicly. The Dead were laid to rest, then partially resurrected.
And “Star Wars” was not the only omnipotent cultural force to awaken this winter.
The one-woman franchise named Adele demonstrated that taking time off to have a baby did not diminish her talent or mass appeal. Released on Nov. 20, her “25” still sold enough — including a record-breaking 3 million copies in its first week — to be the year’s best-selling album.
Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” landed on all four New York Times music critics’ Top 10 lists. Senior critic Jon Pareles proclaimed it the year’s best album, as did Rolling Stone. The Los Angeles rapper earned 11 Grammy nominations, more than any other artist in 2015.
He’s also featured on Swift’s smash “Bad Blood,” one of her two No. 1 singles this year. Everyone who didn’t buy Swift’s “1989” album in 2014 bought it this year. Indicative of her star power, she challenged Apple Music to change its policy of not paying royalties on songs streamed during new users’ three-month trial period — and the company complied. And her “1989” tour filled both stadiums and arenas, where the likes of Mick Jagger, Justin Timberlake, Keith Urban, Mary J. Blige and The Weeknd joined her onstage.
Like Swift, The Weeknd, a Canadian-born R&B singer of Ethiopian descent with a thing for Michael Jackson, topped the Billboard Hot 100 twice in 2015. His “Beauty Behind the Madness” propelled him to arena headlining status and landed him on the cover of Rolling Stone — which declared his “Can’t Feel My Face” the year’s best single. He became the first artist to occupy the top three spots on Billboard’s Hot R&B Songs chart simultaneously.
“Uptown Funk” was the “Blurred Lines” of 2015: An inescapable, irresistibly groovy single. Producer/guitarist Mark Ronson’s and singer Bruno Mars’ ’80s-influenced slice of R&B/funk spent 14 weeks at No. 1; its video tallied more than 1 billion YouTube views.
And unlike “Blurred Lines” creators Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, Ronson and Mars didn’t get sued for copyright infringement. In a landmark 2015 legal ruling, a federal jury found that Thicke and Williams’ 2013 smash ripped off Marvin Gaye’s 1977 hit “Got To Give It Up” and ordered them to pay millions of dollars in royalties to Gaye’s estate.
This summer, airwaves were dominated by Jamaican reggae-pop singer OMI’s “Cheerleader,” Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen,” Silentó’s “Watch Me,” “See You Again” by Wiz Khalifa featuring Charlie Puth, and Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance.” Other fresh faces and hits to emerge included Elle King’s “Ex’s and Oh’s,” Jason Derulo’s “Want to Want Me,” Tori Kelly’s “Unbreakable Smile,” retro soul singer Leon Bridges and firebrand soul-gospel revivalist Nathaniel Rateliff.
In a moral victory for the old guard, James Taylor scored the first No. 1 album of his illustrious career, as his “Before This World” sold 97,000 copies to dislodge “1989” from the top spot.
Justin Bieber’s ongoing career rehabilitation included a Comedy Central roast, a teary conclusion to a highly choreographed MTV Video Music Awards performance and “Where Are U Now,” a hit collaboration with Jack Ü, the electronic dance music duo consisting of Skrillex and Diplo.
Luke Bryan, country’s reigning hitmaker, and Blake Shelton, the genre’s most eligible bachelor, co-hosted the Academy of Country Music’s 50th anniversary celebration from AT&T Stadium outside Dallas.
Representing Nashville’s next generation, the duo Maddie & Tae spoofed the clichés of the typical on “Girl in a Country Song,” and Sam Hunt’s R&B-influenced “Montevallo” album yielded three No. 1 singles. After penning hits for Kenny Chesney and George Strait, Chris Stapleton stepped out front with his own hit country collection, “Traveller,” earning a Grammy nomination for album of the year.
Drake’s “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late,” initially conceived as a mix tape, became his fourth consecutive No. 1 album. “Straight Outta Compton,” a biopic about pioneering gangsta rap group N.W.A., grossed more than $60 million its first week in theaters, topping box office tallies. And in December, N.W.A. was voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside Cheap Trick, Chicago, Deep Purple and Steve Miller.
Jay-Z launched a new streaming service called Tidal, which quickly sparked a lawsuit. On July 4, Tidal released “Free Weezy Album” by New Orleans’ own Lil Wayne, then was promptly sued by Cash Money Records, Wayne’s longtime label home until he acrimoniously broke with the company. In other rap-related legal news, Death Row Records founder Marion “Suge” Knight was charged with murder after allegedly running over a man with whom he was feuding.
Back in February, Beck wore his best deer-in-headlights expression as his “Morning Phase” won the album of the year Grammy. British blue-eyed soul crooner Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” won both record and song of the year; he was also named best new artist.
Did you buy a concert ticket in 2015? So did a lot of other people. Ticket sales for the first six months of the year topped $1.43 billion, according to touring industry publication Pollstar, a significant increase over the same period last year. Top earners included the Rolling Stones, whose Zip Code Tour filled 15 stadiums; Garth Brooks, who played multiple nights in each city, including four shows at the Smoothie King Center; Fleetwood Mac, reunited with singer/keyboardist Christine McVie; Kenny Chesney; U2; Maroon 5; Neil Diamond; and, of course, Swift.
Canadian power trio Rush also did big business with its 40th anniversary, and apparently final, tour. And tweens tweeted endlessly about Zayn Malik’s departure from globe-conquering boy band One Direction.
The surviving “core four” of a far more grizzled boy band, the Grateful Dead — guitarist Bob Weir, bassist Phil Lesh and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann — reunited for Fare Thee Well, five sold-out, 50th anniversary concerts at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, and Soldier Field in Chicago. Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio filled in for the late Jerry Garcia. Not quite ready for retirement, Weir, Hart and Kreutzmann then hit the road with guitarist John Mayer as Dead & Company.
Bono recovered from a brutal, bone-breaking bicycle accident in New York’s Central Park in time to launch U2’s Innocence + Experience Tour as scheduled in May; he later spoofed his accident on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
In June, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl snapped his right leg’s fibula in a fall from a stadium stage in Sweden. The band canceled several concerts but returned to action for a 20th anniversary July 4 celebration at Washington, D.C.’s RFK Stadium, with Grohl aboard a motorized, guitar-themed throne; opening acts included New Orleans’ own Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue.
On Nov. 13, extremist Islamic terrorists launched deadly attacks in Paris, including an assault on an Eagles of Death Metal concert at the Bataclan theater; dozens died. The Eagles of Death Metal, whose ranks include Dave Catching, a part-time resident of New Orleans, returned to Paris three weeks later to join U2 onstage in a show of solidarity and resolve.
The booming music festival business continued to consolidate. Live Nation Entertainment bought a controlling interest in the massive Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in rural Tennessee, after previously acquiring Austin City Limits, Lollapalooza and New Orleans’ Voodoo Experience. Rival AEG Live’s properties include Coachella, the nation’s top-grossing festival; AEG also co-produces the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
The ever-unpredictable Miley Cyrus hosted the Video Music Awards, where Swift’s “Bad Blood” won video of the year and Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” took home the best hip-hop video prize. After receiving a lifetime achievement award, Kanye West embarked on an uninterrupted, at times rambling and self-pitying, 10-minute monologue — arguably the year’s most memorable speech by someone not named Trump.