Well, 2015 is about to go the way of the dodo bird. In just two short weeks we’ll be welcoming in a new year and I’ll begin the January celebration of the first anniversary of djrobblog.com.
But before we ring in the new, there’s this business about commemorating the year gone by that we must conduct. And the annual debate about what was the year’s biggest and best has already started, with some industry insiders and trade press having just put out their yearly recaps. For instance, this year’s Grammy nominations were announced on December 7, and Billboard’s top year-end charts were released two days later.
Now whether people agree with what the “experts” say is always a fascinating discussion that usually boils down to one’s own opinions and tastes in music. This blog site is no different, as I certainly have used the forum to express my own views on what was good and bad in 2015.
It is with that thought in mind that I’ve come up with the first-ever DJRob Music Awards – or the DJ Robbies for short – the 2015 edition!
This year gave us some great stories in music, particularly with record-breaking accomplishments by some of the world’s biggest stars like Adele, Drake and Taylor Swift, as well as breakthrough performances by some relative newcomers, like Fetty Wap, Sam Hunt and The Weeknd.
But 2015 also gave us some not-so-great musical moments, like songs that will probably be punchlines five years from now or artists who took huge falls from grace or who are most likely to be one-hit wonders. Those must be given their due recognition as well. And that’s where the DJ Robbies come in.
The Robbie Awards will offer a unique take on end-of-year recaps while recognizing the year’s best – or at least most noteworthy – musical accomplishments. These awards will be something you won’t find anywhere else. They’re semi-serious, but with a twist; noble, but with a bit of novelty thrown in. Some of the categories I’ve created are tailor-made for the music and artistic achievements of 2015, while others will likely be standard categories that appear from year to year. Most of them will offer a departure from your standard music awards fare.
For instance, maybe you wanna know who is this year’s most “featured” artist. What about the year’s best EDM moment or the best song you’ll never sing in front of your grandmother? Or just maybe you’re curious about who had the best sample of 2015.
They’re all right here along with many other categories, and rather than prolong the hype, I’m just gonna get right to ’em. I hope you enjoy the first annual DJ Robbie Awards, and as always, I welcome your opinions in the comment section, either here or on Facebook (but preferably here). Feel free to re-tweet this article as well.
Now join me as we relive the best and not-so-best, but above all most interesting musical moments of 2015, as captured in the first annual DJ Robbie Awards:
The Robbie goes to Adele (for both the single “Hello” and the album 25). Just when the industry was about to carve the gravestone for music sales (either downloads or CDs), along came Adele, Destroyer of Worlds, with a single and album that blew the roof off of any previous sales ceiling…ever. Her long-awaited “Hello” was like the shot heard around the globe, where it has now reached #1 in 33 countries (and counting). The song sold over 1.1 million downloads in the U.S. alone during its first week…the most ever! Her streaming totals weren’t too shabby either, with over 63 million streams during that same week…the second highest ever!
Three weeks later, the album 25 was released with sales of 3.4 million copies in its first seven days…another record. In fact, 25 outsold every other album on the Top 200 chart combined, and accounted for more than four out of every ten albums sold that first week. The album then sold 1.1M more copies in its second week…the first time an album has sold more than a million copies in consecutive weeks since point-of-sales info has been used to track purchases. Industry insiders have been trying to figure out how she and her label did it and whether it can be duplicated. While they speculate about her mass appeal to a largely female record-buying demographic, truth is, she’s likely a one-of-a-kind shot in the arm that’s not likely to translate to a long-term turnaround in the 15-year decline in record sales.
2015 Album Most Likely to Save Hip-Hop:
The Robbie goes to To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar. Runner up: J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive. In January, I got djrobblog kicked off with a commentary about how hip-hop and R&B music had fallen off after black musicians were absent from the Billboard top ten pop singles chart for the first time in 27 years. By September, fifteen albums by black artists had reached number one, completely obliterating that first article’s premise.
One of those 15 albums was Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore effort. In April, his To Pimp a Butterfly album set a new high standard for what quality hip-hop could be in the current millennium. Tracks like “King Kunta” and “Alright” were just the tip of the iceberg. The whole album was chock full of the kind of provocative, introspective lyrics that have been lacking in the rap game for years. For his efforts, Lamar received eleven Grammy nods. After this much deserved across-the-board recognition, his next likely biggest challenge will be to not fall into the same commercial/mainstream abyss that so many of his predecessors have after receiving this kind of critical reception. Congrats to Lamar on a job well done!
The ‘Featuring _____’ Artist of the Year:
This award recognizes the artist who was featured on more big hits by other artists than anyone else this year. The Robbie this year goes to Drake. In fact, no one has likely been featured on more songs this decade than the Crown Prince of Young Money Entertainment. That trend continued in 2015, with Drake featured on hits by ILoveMakonnen, Big Sean, The Game, Future, Meek Mill and labelmate Nicki Minaj. That’s not to mention the 24 other Hot 100 entries that Drizzy had as a lead or co-lead artist in 2015. The Canadian rapper also gets Robbie recognition for Most Beyoncés Pulled in One Year (two) and Most #1 Hit “Mixtapes” Released In One Year (also two) with his surprise albums If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late and What a Time To Be Alive (with Future).
Btw, Minaj is a close runner-up for this Featured Award, having appeared on songs by Beyoncé, Trey Songz, Rae Sremmurd, David Guetta, Madonna and Meek Mill.
Most Clever Use of Metaphor:
The Robbie winner is “Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd. This ubiquitous, feel-good dance/funk single did what a good pop song is supposed to. It had a catchy bass-driven melody, a good hook, and it made people dance. At first listen, “Face” could easily have been mistaken for your typical love song, or a song about denial of love. But The Weeknd (and a host of co-writers including uber-producer Max Martin) allegedly had something else in mind when they put down the song’s lyrics. Let’s put it this way, there aren’t many things a person can do where he can’t feel his face afterwards, but the Weeknd left it to the listeners’ imagination without spelling it out. “Face” was to 2015 what Laid Back’s “White Horse” was to 1984 in its celebration of illegal drug use. The Weeknd’s lyrics personified the protagonist’s penchant for getting high with lyrics like this opening line: “And I know she’ll be the death of me, at least we’ll both be numb.” And that’s exactly what good metaphors do. It’s a lost art in music, but The Weeknd captured it perfectly.
The Worst Attempt at a Metaphor:
“Post to Be” – Omarion featuring Chris Brown and Jhene Aiko. So much for leaving things to the imagination. If “eating the booty like groceries” doesn’t turn off even the raunchiest of kinksters, then nothing will. Even the biggest freaks have a ceiling, or maybe a floor in this case, and that lyrical gem (sung by Aiko, the only female in this collabo) may have exceeded it. I realize we shouldn’t be surprised by what’s played on the radio anymore and that the good old fashioned approach of leaving things to the imagination is a relic of music’s past. But “booty” and “groceries”? Really? Maybe the only real surprise here is the fact that lead singer Omarion reportedly felt snubbed by the Grammys for not getting a nomination for this lyrical nugget. He does get dibs, however, for coming up with clever phrasing for the song’s title.
Best Display of Congeniality:
The Robbie goes to Taylor Swift. Her album’s five singles all hit the top ten, giving her the most of anyone in 2015. Her tour grossed over $217 million (more than anyone else’s). She ranks as Billboard’s top artist of 2015. Any one of those accomplishments alone would be enough to put even the meanest ogre on his or her best behavior. But Ms. Swift took being nice to others to another level. Not only did she invite practically everyone else who had a song on the charts to appear with her on stage during her many 1989 concert stops, but she allowed those people to sing their own hits. (She would join them of course.) And, as if that wasn’t enough, she did the ultimate and made nice with former nemesis Kanye West, to the point that she even introduced him at the 2015 MTV Video Awards. After her ultra-flattering intro, he nearly gave an “almost-apology” for interrupting her 2009 MVA acceptance speech with his now infamous “I’ma let you finish” rant. For a moment the two even seemed like besties. I guess it really does pay to be nice. Wonder what Swift is conjuring up for Nicki Minaj?
Speaking of Minaj, she gets the Robbie award for…
2015’s Biggest Dichotomy:
Nicki Minaj has proven to be a study in contradiction, good or bad, intentional or otherwise. On the one hand, she’s the unapologetically curvaceous and provocative rapper who leaves no thought un-turned as she delivers her latest brazen (and often sexually explicit) rap lyrics. On the other, she’s this quasi-activist standing up for us black folks’ (particularly women’s) rights and challenging the mainstream establishment, including fellow celebrities, about perceived slights against her or her people. One minute, she’s serving you “Truffle Butter” (Google it…it’s even raunchier than that line in “Post to Be”), and the next, she’s trying to reassure listeners with the uplifting “The Night Is Still Young.” Those two songs (along with “Only”) joined a long line of hits that have essentially made Minaj the biggest female rapper of all time, at least from a charts perspective. And, like her or not, that notion is becoming less and less debatable with each passing year.
2015’s Most Clever Sample:
“Uma Thurman” (“The Munsters Theme”) – Fall Out Boy. I’ll admit, the first time I heard this quirky alt-rock song, I thought, “What are they doing? And why would anyone use the theme from the (1960s TV show) ‘The Munsters’ in a 2015 song?” Then the more I heard it, I realized, “hey, this is Fall Out Boy. If anybody can pull it off, certainly they can.” And they did! After a few months, I couldn’t get “Uma Thurman” outta my head. Did the lyrics make a lot of sense? Nope. But the song was silly fun and you could actually picture Uma Thurman’s famous Pulp Fiction moves with this song playing in the background. Bury me ’til I confess…I loved it!
Most Welcome Comeback:
Missy Elliott. Beginning with her surprise Super Bowl XLIX (49) appearance in February, then with several guest appearances, including a feature on Janet Jackson’s “BURNITUP!,” the world was primed for new Missy music, which she ultimately delivered in the form of “WTF (Where They From?)” in November. The Internet buzz following her Super Bowl performance proved it, as did the brief chart re-entries for several of her older singles. To celebrate her return, Billboard gave her a cover story in November and the new “WTF” peaked at #22 a week later. Not bad for an 18-year female hip-hop veteran during the “we-only-know-about-Nicki-Minaj” era.
Runner-up for comeback artist: Janet Jackson for the Unbreakable tour and album, for which she is recognized later in this article.
Most Likely One-Hit Wonder:
There are several candidates for this dubious honor. But the Robbie goes to Silento and “Watch Me (Whip/Nae-Nae).” So far, the novelty southern dance/rap tune “Watch Me” represents the total output from this 17-year-old Atlanta hip-hop artist. That’s usually not a good sign for an artist whose song has been a big hit for six months. By this time, there should at least be a follow-up single or some buzz about an album release. No such luck…yet. But “Watch Me” was an instant smash, garnering most of its success from viral video streaming on YouTube and other channels. Copycat videos of people (including celebrities) doing the Whip and Nae-Nae also contributed to the song’s #3 peak on the Billboard Hot 100. Of course, no one wishes one-hit wonder status on anyone, especially a 17-year-old kid whose career is just beginning. But the novelty status of Silento’s hit makes it the most likely candidate for that dubious title. Other strong candidates include OMI, R. City, and iLoveMakkonnen.
Most Noteworthy Career Zenith:
This award goes to the artist who made his or her best music to date after at least five years in the business (i.e., five years of hitting the charts). The 2015 Robbie goes to Justin Bieber, as a featured artist on the excellent “Where Are Ü Now?” by Skrillex & Diplo. Bieber first charted in 2009, and his feature on “Where Are Ü Now?” is – in my opinion – the best thing he’s done yet. It helped set the stage for a badly needed image makeover for an artist whom most were ready to serve deportation papers just a year earlier. His more vulnerable sound on “Where” triggered even bigger album and singles success later in the year. “What Do You Mean?” became his first #1 hit in September and he currently owns three of this week’s top five pop singles (“What Do You Mean,” “Sorry” and “Love Yourself”), making him the only lead artist to do that besides the Beatles (in 1964). The 2015 tune that started it all, “Where are You Now?,” is also one of the best EDM (Electronic Dance Music) moments of the year, which I’ll cover shortly.
Biggest Fall From Grace:
Iggy Azalea. Runner-up: Robin Thicke. Azalea needs an image makeover quickly to save a fledgling rap career that’s falling fast. Thicke just needs to not sue anymore singers (or the estates of singers) whose music he clearly bit off. That tactic cost him dearly in 2015.
Best Danceable Electrons:
This Robbie recognizes the year’s best EDM record, which goes to “Lean On” – Major Lazer & DJ Snake feat. M0. I initially wanted to call this category the Least Annoying EDM Record, given my usual distaste for the music. Then I realized that the candidates for this award were all actually pretty good. Aside from the Skrillex/Diplo/Bieber song mentioned above, there were several others including DJ Snake’s “You Know You Like It” and the winner “Lean On” by Major Lazer. I don’t know, but it seemed like DJ/producers took a new, slower-tempo approach to creating this year’s hit EDM beats. Whatever the formula, “Lean On” was the best of the bunch, IMHO.
Coolest Country Song:
The Robbie goes to “Take Your Time” – Sam Hunt. Ok, I’ll admit it. I had this one on repeat (several times) earlier in the year. Hunt uniquely incorporated R&B into his brand of country music and his rap/sung vocals on “Take Your Time” made it not only the coolest country song of 2015, but possibly one of the most interesting of this decade (that I’ve heard anyway). It came from his début album and reached #1 on the Billboard country chart (one of his three) and #20 pop in April, further establishing Hunt as a country star to watch for in the coming years. The song wound up being the biggest country single of the year, selling nearly two million downloads and helping Hunt receive a Grammy nod for Best New Artist.
Runner-up for coolest country song: “Kick the Dust Up” by Luke Bryan. Anyone who can ‘turn a cornfield into a party’ is alright with me.
Most Shameful Chart Trivia/Statistic:
Black solo female singers were shut out of Billboard’s pop top ten. To say that the sisters were underrepresented on pop radio in 2015 would be a major understatement. Solo black female singers were shut out of Billboard’s top ten singles chart all year long, possibly for the first time in its long history (I’d have to check). The only one to reach the top ten on the singles chart as a lead artist was Rihanna – and she shared lead billing with Kanye West and Paul McCartney (“FourFiveSeconds”). [And no, “Bitch Better Have My Money” did not make the top ten.] Things were so bad that, at one point during a five-week stretch in early autumn, Nicki Minaj was the ONLY black female on the entire Hot 100, and that was as a featured artist on a song led by her boyfriend Meek Mill. Even more amazing was the overwhelming presence of black men on the list. In late September, the brothers accounted for half the songs on the Hot 100, making their female counterparts’ lack of presence that much more confounding.
Black women’s albums didn’t fare much better than the singles, as only Jill Scott and Janet Jackson managed to top the album chart in 2015. Things haven’t improved much since then either. Only Mariah Carey’s 1994 Christmas album and Nicki Mina’s The Pinkprint are even on the album chart this week. Maybe the new year will bring better tidings for a demographic that spent the better part of the past three decades practically dominating popular music (think Whitney, Sade, Janet, Mariah, Beyoncé, Alicia, Rihanna…). I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Most Conspicuous Chart Absence:
Katy Perry. Did you miss her in 2015? Perry is one of this decade’s biggest artists. In fact, she’s one of the biggest artists of the millennium, having hit the chart every year since her début in 2008. So it’s kind of a big deal in the music world that 2015 will go down as the first calendar year since her début in which no Katy Perry singles were listed on the Hot 100 weekly chart. Now, the former it-girl does get a pass because she simply didn’t release anything this past year (except for a Christmas song that hasn’t charted). And her fans need not worry because she’ll likely have new product out there in 2016 to begin her streak anew.
2015’s Surprisingly Good Album:
Janet’s Unbreakable. After nearly eight years, Ms. Jackson returned with an album and tour that sent the Internet abuzz and her most loyal fans into a frenzy. Those reactions were to be expected. But what was really noteworthy about her 2015 return was that the album was actually very good (plus she sparked the most djrobblog clicks of any artist to date). See the DJRob track-by-track review of the album here. Her concert tour was just as satisfying (read about it here). Were there better albums released in 2015? Sure. The Adele and Kendrick Lamar albums easily come to mind as examples. But Janet’s album came after an 8-year hiatus and followed a relative dud in 2008’s Discipline. Quite frankly we didn’t know what to expect in 2015.
And now for some novelty categories (before the year’s last three big awards):
Best Song Title: “Diamond Rings and Old Bar Stools” – Tim McGraw. Runner-up: “Homegrown Honey” – Darius Rucker. Country music outdoes itself (again!).
Most Boring Song (and album) Title: The Robbie winner is: “Title” – Meghan Trainor. Although it wasn’t officially a single, Meghan Trainor’s “Title” did make the Hot 100 for one week in January, at #100, and that makes it eligible for this Robbie Award. It also happens to be the title of her début hit album. Runners-up: “Hello” by you know who, and “Don’t” – a title shared by two songs that charted in 2015, one by Ed Sheeran and one by Bryson Tiller.
Song Most Likely to be Used In a Feminine Hygiene Commercial: The Robbie goes to “Fight Song” – Rachel Platten. Runner-up: “Heartbeat Song” – Kelly Clarkson. Both these tunes, uplifting as they were, could easily be placed in an ad as the backdrop to a group of women being very active (like maybe riding horses, playing volleyball or even climbing a mountain) while wearing said product. Let’s face it, the point of those ads is to convince women that the product in the commercial will make them feel like it’s NOT that time of month, or at least like they can accomplish anything during that particular time. And that’s what “Fight Song” felt like: anthemic, self-reassuring, and downright defiant with lyrics like “this is my fight song, my take back my life song…” You get the picture.
The Biggest Non-Rock Rock Song: The Robbie goes to “Shut Up and Dance” – Walk the Moon. Rock music has been known to be provocative, edgy, hard-leaning, experimental and in its earliest forms countercultural or even anti-establishment…everything this song by Walk the Moon is NOT. Yet that didn’t stop it from spending over half a year (27 weeks) at #1 on the Billboard Hot Rock Songs chart. Granted, over its history rock music has evolved well beyond the traits I listed in the lead-in, with various sub-genres taking shape including alternative and new-wave, which this band’s label often branded it as being. The faux U2-like guitar riffs helped, but this anthemic, 4-on-the-floor, boy-meets-girl singalong song felt more like boy-band pop than rock, especially after the thousandth listen of the lead singer offering up this fine lyric in the second verse: “…my discotheque Juliet teenage dream.” And that was rock’s biggest hit of 2015, at least according to the chart masters at Billboard. To me, it better serves as a testament of the sad state of affairs for rock music in the 2010s.
Best Song You Wouldn’t Sing in Front of Your Grandmother: The Robbie goes to “I Don’t F*ck With You” – Big Sean. Runner-up: “The Hills” – The Weeknd. A word that doesn’t come to mind when one listens to Big Sean’s late-2014/early-2015 rap hit is “subtlety.” If there was an award for brashness, “I Don’t F…” would be the winner hands-down. Was there any doubt how Big Sean felt about the object of this song’s lyrics? Calling her “stupid” was about the nicest thing he had to say about her. It was one of those tunes whose lyrics were so full of curse words and venom, that censoring it in any way would have completely altered the song’s meaning and rendered it ineffective. But for all its nastiness and lack of charm, the song was super catchy. So much so, that people downloaded it in droves, turned up the volume really loud when it played, and bobbed their heads to its persuasive beat while Big Sean ranted on.
The Weeknd’s biggest hit, “The Hills” settles for second place in the “unsafe-for-grandma” category mainly because at least his f-bombs could easily be cleaned up with safer words and not lose the song’s true essence, unlike Sean’s non-salvageable barrage.
Which leads me to the last three Robbies for 2015…
R&B Game-Changer Award:
The Weeknd. Much has been written about the Canadian born Abel Tesfaye in 2015: He had three huge #1 R&B hits (two of which also reached #1 on the Hot 100 pop chart). In fact, they ended up being the three biggest hits of the year on the R&B chart (a Billboard first!). His album debuted at #1 in September and ranks as the top R&B album of the year. His new single “In The Night” is now blasting up the chart and ready to make an impact in 2016. He clearly put alternative R&B music on the pop culture map and helped make anything with the word R&B attached to it relevant again. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing this artist grow in the years to come.
Best 2015 Discovery:
Fetty Wap. This New Jersey rapper made one of the best debuts of any new hip-hop artist in recent memory. His “Trap Queen” wound up being the fourth biggest single of 2015, with its sing-songy rap vocal delivery and inescapable reggae-style trap beat. The song spent nearly half the year in the Hot 100’s top ten and is still in the top 30. Follow-up singles “My Way” and “679” also did well as they both reached the top ten. The fact that “Trap Queen” was one of the biggest hits of 2015 is even more compelling when considering that the song was actually released in early 2014. In February 2016, we’ll see if the song also gets Fetty his first Grammy awards (he’s nominated for two rap awards).
Biggest Chart Accomplishment:
The last Robbie goes to “Uptown Funk!” – Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars, which spent 14 weeks at #1 to become the biggest chart single of the decade (so far). Adele may be getting all the attention now, but eleven months ago it was all “Uptown Funk!” all the time. People of all ages were jamming to this retro-funk rump-shaker, and the video was locked in viral mode for the first several months of the year. The song has been certified 9-times platinum for combined downloads and streams, and its current standing as the biggest hit of the 2010s seems intact for now, or at least until the final numbers are rung up on Adele’s “Hello” in the next few months.
And those, my friends, are the DJRob Music Awards for 2015. Feel free to comment and let me know what you think about this year’s Robbies.
As always, thanks for all the love and support of djrobblog. And Happy New Year!