Music

Pop Music’s Heroes, Villains, And In-Betweens In 2017

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A few weeks ago, I pitched my editor a story called “Which Musician Had The Most Definitive 2017?” It was one of those ideas where you have a headline in mind and not much else, but my editor nonetheless gave me the go-ahead on Slack. Almost immediately, however, I realized I was screwed. Which Musician Had The Most Definitive 2017? What does that even mean?

My initial thought (I think) was to gently satirize the whole “Person Of The Year” concept, in which a publication or website decides that a single human (or sometimes group of humans) signifies an essential truth about the past 12 months. Specifically, I wanted to vent my low-key annoyance over how the “Person Of The Year” always seems to represent something positive, even when the year in question was fraught with ugliness, fear, loathing, disgust, bigotry, greed, and … well, I think you can already tell I’m talking about the very year that we’re mercifully about to exit, 2017.

Why in the world would you pick an artist that you like to act as a figurehead for this godforsaken year? 2017 was, in terms of the overall culture, a smoking crater filled with rotten eggs, dirty diapers, and Chris Brown CDs. If we set out to determine which musician had the most definitive year — not the best or the most admirable but an accurate microcosm of all the significant events that occurred in 2017 — shouldn’t we assume that this person signifies the mess of mostly negative emotions that many of us associate with the current era?

Put another way: The “Person Of The Year” is probably a jerk, right?

Maybe. But maybe I’m also being a bit of a bummer here.

The truth is that people buy into the “Person Of The Year” idea because we need heroes, especially during times like these. You can see this in how the media obsessively set about defining musicians in terms of “heroes” and “villains” this year. Nobody wants to pin a medal on an a**hole. But figuring out who is good and who is bad is a full-time job, not to mention very messy. In 2017, this process sometimes seemed to be damn near impossible.

THE VILLAINS (INCLUDING SOME EX-HEROES)
Like I said, my initial instinct was to pick the biggest a**hole I could think of, which made me think immediately of Kid Rock, who kinda sorta not really flirted with running for Senate this year as a way to troll the media, essentially utilizing #fakenews as a way to promote a new album, Sweet Southern Sugar, that thankfully bombed. While his Michigan homeboy Eminem made it a point to tell Trump voters not to listen to his music this year, Kid Rock utilized Trump’s tactics to shore up a fanbase that has largely been disinterested in his recent records, with good reason. (Sweet Southern Sugar includes both a reference to “Taylor Swift’s dick” and a corny modern-rock redux of the Four Tops’ “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch.” It, shall we say, royally sucks.) Now the only way Kid Rock can make anyone give a damn about his tired-ass shtick is by ownin’ them libs. Mission accomplished.

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