Greatest showmen, mumbling rappers and born-again boy-bands all conspired to make it an incident-packed 12 months in rock and pop.looks at the 10 big stories from the year in music
1: The Rise of Soundcloud Rap
The first many heard of XXXTentacion was when Spotify announced in May that it would remove his music from its playlists amid accusations of domestic violence levelled at the 20-year-old Florida rapper.
Strangely, and without wishing to downplay the seriousness of the charges against him, his music was the opposite of violent — woozy, mumbly and shot-through with self-doubt.
The sound had a name too. “Soundcloud rap” rejects hip hop’s traditional braggadocio and instead borrows the stripped-down miserabilism of 90s indie pop. XXXTentacion didn’t invent the genre and was not its only flag bearer – Lil Pump, Smokepurpp and others have also come to prominence. But when he was shot dead in June outside a motorcycle dealership, he became the scene’s fallen idol and by the end of year was the third most streamed artist on Spotify.
2: Nice Guys Finish First
Ed Sheeran conquered Ireland with sell-out gigs in Cork, Galway and Dublin. However, he wasn’t the only earnest troubadour blazing a trail. George Ezra had one of the year’s biggest hits with the jaunty ‘Shot Gun’ while Sam Fender was awarded the Brits Critics Choice award — given to the artist most likely to break through in 2019. When it comes to inoffensive, mid-tempo rock, it’s a boy’s world as never before.
3: Kanye Loses It
Kanye West’s eccentricity was a given ever since he chose to spend part of his honeymoon with Kim Kardashian at the Odeon cinema in Portlaoise (the happy couple are said to have enjoyed an X-Men movie). But this year he doubled down by supporting Donald Trump, posing in a Make American Great Again hat and describing slavery as “a choice”. He did contribute to two five-star records — Pusha T’s Dakota and Kid Cudi’s Kids See Ghostx — though his own Ye LP was a soppy, self-obsessed let down.
4: A year of reunions
To the surprise of absolutely no-one — apart from Brian McFadden, possibly — Westlife revealed they were reuniting after six years apart.
Not to be outdone, Boyzone will play a Dublin comeback show in the new year that also doubles as their farewell (they are splitting “for good” after the current album cycle). And the Spice Girls — minus Posh — announced they would be kicking off their comeback at Croke Park in May. Aside from the Beatles, the Smiths and Nirvana it seems every significant band in rock history has now reformed.
5: Queen become Masters of the Universe
To those old enough to recall when Queen were the epitome of soft-rock blandness, the band’s rehabilitation as dizzying prog pioneers has been baffling. Yet their status as icon to millennials was confirmed with Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, a box office hit and the six minute mini-opera of the same name overtaking ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ to become the most streamed “classic” rock song ever. How strange (and rather terrifying) to wake up in a world in which Queen are cool.
6: A year of losses
Rock stars have continued to pass away at alarming rates. Dolores O’Riordan died tragically at the start of the year and we have since said farewell to Aretha Franklin, The Fall’s Mark E Smith, EDM boy-prince Avicii, Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison, rapper Mac Miller and original punk Pete Shelley.
7: The rebirth of punk
Just when you thought rock music had dissolved into a meaningless mush, a new generation of bands arrived with red eyed and flared nostrils.
South London’s Shame were crotch-kicking outsiders ready to take on all comers, who played one of the year’s most memorable gigs at Dublin’s Tivoli.
Equally radical are Dublin’s Fontaines DC and the Murder Capital — angry young people whose fire-snorting sound has won them fans at home and abroad.
“Over the past 12 months, Ireland has established itself as the go-to destination for scratchy, sketchy punk bands,” enthused the NME. “There’s an almost aggressive level of confidence in their every move, in the way of all the best young punk bands.”
8: The Greatest Showman rules
As the stampede for tickets to Hugh Jackman’s three 3Arena Dublin shows next summer confirms, the critically-derided PT Barnum musical is perhaps the year’s biggest story in music.
Somewhere between Frozen and Hamilton, the high-kicking celebration of being yourself, no matter what was derided by critics when released on December 8 last year. But the public has since taken it to its heart and through 2018 it became a juggernaut — to the point where pop stars were covering it on the X Factor final.
9: Is Pop Big Enough to Fill Rock’s Boots?
Eyebrows were raised when Taylor Swift announced two nights at Croke Park last summer. The shows were sensational but neither was a stone-cold rafter-packer and question marks remain over whether pop can step into the breach and compensate for the decline of rock.
The only Croke Park show to sell out, it was telling, was by The Rolling Stones, with a combined age of 293. Pop may be ascendant on the airwaves but as a revenue-earner rock remains on top.
10: Pop stars you have never heard of are taking over
Unless you’re a fan, Billie Eilish may be an unfamiliar name. Ditto LP — aka American songwriter Laura Pergolizzi. But both have become major stars without radio play or even mainstream recognition. Eilish, a 15-year-old goth-pop singer from Los Angeles, clocked up her one billionth Spotify play in 2018.
And LP has just announced a headline show at Dublin’s Olympia — a gig that will almost certainly have sold out by the time you read this. Pop has bifurcated into a thousand micro-genres, each with its own, disconnected firmament of stars.