In 2015, the surging idea continued to be that of change. The “Change” posters, the campaign that Obama ran with back in 2008, seeing some fruition finally in 2015, now 2016. However, there is still much to improve, and the unrest felt for change, the dire need for it, the defining factor of 2015, pushed through into the music as well. Music in 2015 not only revolved around the idea of change so cohesively that it seemed as if every musician on the planet simultaneously agreed to the course, but that it also stood for something more than a tune or a song that the clubs can blast. 2015 saw music return to writing for a movement.
Of this, there was no stronger example than that of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. The record, not only a black empowerment message unseen with such emotion and widespread acclaim in music since the days of James Brown, the record also focused on Kendrick Lamar’s personal struggle – dealing with his past, his addictions, his temptations, his new life, his purpose. It was a record completely dedicated to the idea of change.
Nonetheless, social-political issues were not the only vehicle towards which “change” became the focus of an album. Much like To Pimp A Butterfly, 2015 not only had a similar theme, but a similar way of presenting it in the music. Due to Napster, then iTunes, then streaming services, the idea of the “album” had begun to fade away, and unless the artist specifically planned otherwise, it seemed that most records had become that of just a collection of that artist’s latest 10-14 singles. This “portfolio without a theme” didn’t really pass as records in 2015, which showed a promising revival of the concept record. To Pimp A Butterfly was most certainly one, as well as many others, using the concept record format to truly get across the idea of change.
My favorite record of the year, Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear, was about a personal change accompanied by fear, much like that of Kendrick Lamar’s. Where on To Pimp A Butterfly Kendrick’s personal fears towards change are derived from that of his new success and the desire to be someone who doesn’t fall prey to the dangers of fame, but instead use his influence to inspire and do good for others, Josh Tillman, a.k.a. Father John Misty’s personal fears towards change are derived from that of his new marriage. He questions the idea of love and the success of it, the disillusionment of the American Dream, the idea of happiness, and well, the meaning of life to an extent. The push and pull… the need for yet fear of change.
More records like that of Tame Impala’s Currents and Bjork’s Vulnicura, break-up records all about the struggles of personal change, Titus Andronicus’ The Most Lamentable Tragedy, an hour and a half rock opera about a man who deals with manic depression, Tobias Jesso Jr.’s Goon, about facing defeat and turning it all around, and the return of jazz to the realm of popular music with To Pimp A Butterfly, Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, and even Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment’s much awaited release, Surf.
One could make the argument that “change” is and has always been a subject and driving force of the music industry, song lyrics, and album themes, but what can’t be denied is the massive presence it showed in this past year. Whether it be a precursor to what we see in the following year, or how it might change based on the attitudes and progress of the world, 2015, in music at least, was a big proponent for the idea of metamorphosis and dealing with the fears and acceptance of change, or the need for it. Let’s hope the idea sticks.