What does it mean that the year's dominant R&B/hip-hop stars are multicultural meme machines from Toronto?
The chart pop of the century's first dozen years was like a roving strip bar and dance club inside a giant Escalade, fleeing 9/11 fear and financial-crisis loathing in one very long lost weekend. But when the comedown hits, you call on the Canadians, the stealth outsiders with a line in bummed-out ambivalence. Voila, here's Drake and The Weeknd to counterbalance Jay Z and R. Kelly, the way that early-1970s Neil Young and Joni Mitchell cast rueful shade across the paisley-speckled sunshine of the previous decade. At least, that's one reading. But there are as many meanings as you choose to draw from the fact that two Torontonians, Drake, 29 (real name: Aubrey Graham) and The Weeknd, 25 (Abel Tesfaye), were dominant and defining figures of 2015 in two distinctly American genres.
Officially, Drake did not even release an album this year, but he escalated his reigning status in hip-hop when his "mixtapes" If You're Reading This It's Too Late and the collaborative What a Time to Be Alive (with Future) reached multiple charts. Social media revolved around his beef with Meek Mill, and then he produced the year's most viral video with "Hotline Bling." But "Bling" was blocked from becoming Drake's first-ever solo No. 1 by his former wingman, The Weeknd. "The Hills" inherited the spot on lock from The Weeknd's summertime smash, "Can't Feel My Face," catapulting him from arty specialty fare to Max Martin-produced superstar. Between them, The Weeknd and Drake netted 12 2016 Grammy nominations.