Highlights of the international and Korean music scenes in 2016
Story By: Emma Kalka
This year has been marked by the loss of many greats in entertainment, though there have also been many highlights both here in Korea and abroad. Let’s take a look back at some of the major news stories from music.
A year of tragic losses
This year the music industry lost some of its most legendary artists, as well as those just starting out but full of potential. It seemed as though the world lost too many greats this year but they will be remembered for their many contributions.
The year started out with news of David Bowie’s death on January 10, which stunned the world as he had kept the extent of his battle with cancer largely secret. Tribute after tribute followed, including a stunning performance by Lady Gaga at the Grammys.
The Eagles’ founding member Glen Frey passed away just eight days later. Then the hip-hop world reeled from the loss of A Tribe Called Quest’s Phife Dawg on March 22. County music lost a legend when Merle Haggard, the Okie from Muskogee, died from complications with pneumonia on April 6.
Yet another legend passed away almost out of the blue on April 21 when Prince died from an accidental overdose. His sudden death sent shockwaves through the music world as many artists, both young and old, were influenced by his work throughout his career and quickly paid tribute to his many contributions to music.
Following his death came the tragic shooting of young singer Christina Grimmie in Orlando on June 10 who was a contestant on The Voice and garnered a large following through YouTube. Finally, as 2016 was nearing its close, legend Leonard Cohen, known for many hits including “Hallelujah,” passed away on Nov. 7.
Continuation of East-meets-West collaborations
Following 2015, which brought a large number of collaborations between Korean and Western artists, 2016 brought even more, with some U.S. artists specifically seeking out K-pop artists for new projects. The year started with now-disbanded 4Minute’s “Hate” produced by Skrillex in January, followed by the release of the solo project by SHINee’s Taemin which included ‘Press Your Number,” written by U.S. singer Bruno Mars. Idol rapper G-Dragon was a featured artist on Baauer’s “Temple,” released in March. In April, Lee Hi released Seoulite, which included the track “Fxxk Wit Us,” which came out of a song camp between YG sub-label HIGHGRND and Kanye West’s label G.O.O.D. Music. The year rounded out with U.S. electro hip-hop group Far East Movement starting out on a new project collaborating with Korean artists, which included the release of “Freal Luv,” featuring Chanyeol from EXO, and “Fighter,” featuring rapper-singer Yoonmirae.
Hip-hop wins big at the KMAs
The year started out on a strong note for both independent artists and the hip-hop scene in South Korea when the top honors at the Korea Music Awards, the Korean equivalent to the Grammys, in February were given to two hip-hop artists. Rapper E-sens, who was imprisoned at the time serving a sentence for drug possession, won Album of the Year for Anecdote, which receive accolades from fans and critics alike. Rapper Deepflow from crew/label Vismajor won Artist of the Year and Rap Song of the Year.
Beyoncé breaks the internet with visual album Lemonade
Following the success of her self-titled album that she dropped without a word in 2013, singer Beyoncé followed up in the same unexpected fashion in April with Lemonade, which created waves in the music industry not only for its stunning visuals – each track had its own music video – but for its raw openness as the lyrics dealt with Beyoncé’s personal life experiences. The videos empowered black women everywhere. At the same time, many wondered for months exactly who Becky with the good hair was. Prior to the album’s release, Beyoncé stole the spotlight from Coldplay at the Super Bowl half-time show, when she took the field to perform “Formation” with her backup dancers donning Black Panther-inspired outfits.
Hamilton takes Broadway and Tonys by storm
Upon its debut in 2015, Hamilton took Broadway by storm with its diverse cast and story highlighting through hip-hop the achievements of immigrant Alexander Hamilton in the founding of the United States. The show went on to be nominated for a record-breaking 16 awards at the 2016 Tony Awards, and then won 11 on June 12, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. Writer Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also starred in the show as Alexander Hamilton, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama a few months prior to the Tonys on April 18.
Summer of major artists and festivals
This summer, Korea was graced by the appearance of many top artists as the number of music festivals grew and attendances swelled. June brought the first-ever three-day Ultra Music Festival, while on July 22-24, Valley Rock Festival moved back to its original home, Jisan Valley Ski Resort, and brought in top band Red Hot Chili Peppers. Following that was WaterBomb on July 29 featuring major Korean hip-hop artists such as Gray, Simon Dominic and Jessie. On the weekend of August 12-14, two festivals competed, each bringing in major artists from different genres. Pentaport Rock Festival brought the crowds to Incheon to see Panic! At the Disco while the Seoul Soul Festival attracted R&B fans with the likes of Maxwell and Musiq Soulchild.
Musicians protest the government
The ongoing scandal involving President Park and long-time confidante Choi Soon-sil has brought thousands of citizens to the streets calling for her resignation. More than that, it has sparked a movement among South Korean musicians to make their voices heard. Hip-hop artists such as Jerry.K, Owen Ovadoz and Insane Deegie have released protest tracks, sharing their thoughts and opinions on the current scandal. Legendary punk bands No Brain and Crying Nut not only performed at one protest, but also participated in demonstrations, standing alongside everyday citizens.