Five artists share what 2016 looked like for them.
Daya Reflects on Her 2016
With three top 40 hits, the Pittsburgh native, 18, found her voice.
I feel like no aspect of my life is the same as it was two years ago. This year has been different in every single way, from performing in Times Square on New Year’s Eve to going to the White House for the Easter Egg Roll. I got to bring my whole family, and Michelle and Barack Obama were so down-to-earth. My dad was talking to President Obama about raising girls because I come from a family of all girls -- they were, like, bonding. It was unreal.
My dad was the one who took me to concerts and introduced me to new artists. One time, he drove me from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., on a school night to see U2 -- he was a pretty dedicated Bono fan. Then we went to see Coldplay when I was around 8. I remember watching Chris Martin at the piano and thinking, “This is definitely what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
The Chainsmokers song [“Don’t Let Me Down”] came about very organically. They reached out because they had heard “Hide Away” and they liked my voice. I was a fan of their music, too, so it was kind of a perfect match. As soon as I heard the song, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. I didn’t know how it would do on the charts because you can never predict stuff like that, but I knew it was a song that I would never get tired of. It gave me that extra push and introduced me to a new audience.
I did a couple of gigs with JoJo -- she had all of this going for her 10 years ago, but she was put through hell with her label situation. Witnessing her break out of that to become her own person and fight for what she believes in is inspiring. She’s kind of a role model in that way. -- As told to Claire Lobenfeld
Eric Church Reflects on His 2016
How the 39-year-old’s unorthodox album turned into success.
I’ve said this a lot: The music industry is absolutely backward. The first people to hear the album are the label, and the second are the press or radio or critics. You’re doing all this so your hard-core fans will buy the album and spread the word. I just thought, if those are the people whose hands you’re trying to get the album in, we should gave it to them first. So with Mr. Misunderstood, we truly did it ourselves -- we didn’t tell the label, we didn’t tell anyone. We weren’t like most people in Music City when they keep a secret, where 20,000 people know. We sent out 80,000 albums to our most passionate fans -- the label thought they were dealing with pirating. It was the most fun I’ve ever had releasing an album, and the culmination of that was [winning best album at] this year’s CMA Awards -- seeing that the system really does work.
I don’t think any label would ever want to do it like we did [on purpose]. We never asked them, but I’m sure ours didn’t. They’re in the business of selling records, not giving them away, and definitely not surprising retail -- none of that stuff. For Universal, it was probably in some ways disappointing. It was honestly a leap of faith, but I’m proud we jumped.
In general, mainstream commercial country has become more roots-based -- a little simpler production-wise. There’s a bridge between what’s happening in Americana and what’s happening in country. Songwriting is better than it has been in the past few years. The thing about country that has always stood out is it’s where the best songs are -- great and honest songwriting about tough subjects. -- As told to Natalie Weiner
Rivers Cuomo Reflects on His 2016
Weezer’s 10th album -- and AI -- revitalized its 46-year-old leader.
It feels like things have turned around. Before this year, I had young children, was in a new marriage, was setting up a home, and my attention was divided. But things at home feel nicely set up now. Weezer’s relations are good, there’s not a lot of drama, so we can go on longer tours and explore other parts of the world. We haven’t been going full throttle since we were much younger -- in fact, this summer tour [co-headlining with Panic! At the Disco] was our longest nonstop tour ever, two months in buses. We’re getting more serious again and going after the dream.
Every day of 2016 I have been working on new songs -- this next record’s going to be crazy. As much touring as we did this summer, I feel like 2016 was about making the next record. With The White Album, it was a ’90s grungy take on ’60s pop songs, and one of our best records. We want to try something really different and reach a much bigger audience with the next record.
This was the year I got more interested in technology and artificial intelligence and all of the ramifications of where that’s going. I also got into podcasts this year -- I listen to Waking Up With Sam Harris every day. He’s a philosopher, and he has all the leading scientists and philosophers on, and they have amazing conversations.
I also have been into the simulcasts from the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. They simulcast their plays on a short delay, so you can see the highest-level Shakespearean performances. It’s arguably even better than seeing it in the theater -- the camera’s right up in their faces. -- As told to Jason Lipshutz
Rachel Platten Reflects on Her 2016
The “Fight Song” singer, 35, reflects on Hillary’s co-sign.
I think I’ve toughened up this year -- learned how to be the boss, how to rely on myself. And I’ve realized that I’m so much stronger than I thought I was. People are always like, “Oh, the ‘Fight Song’ girl must be strong.” But the truth is, I was breaking down a lot. I had been playing to 20 people and all of a sudden, I was touring around the world -- it was a crazy shift. I used to walk by Irving Plaza on my way to my temp job in New York, and I would always visualize my name on the marquee. This year I sold out two nights there.
I didn’t know Hillary [Clinton] was going to use “Fight Song” at the Democratic National Convention. I didn’t go, so I was watching it at an Airbnb in Venice Beach. I’d just gotten out of the shower, and my song started playing. I had tears in my eyes. I rewound it and rewound it. It was like, “Oh, my God, there’s a woman standing on that stage and that’s the song I wrote when I needed hope -- that’s my song playing!” I’m so proud I got to have a little piece in almost electing the first woman president. As women, we almost had our voices heard and then that got taken away.
I’m just one person, and I’m a songwriter. But the biggest lesson we’ve learned is we all have so many different ideas, and what’s at the root of it is fear. I don’t know if we’re listening to each other very much. When I notice myself getting too wrapped up in my ego, that instantly prohibits me being the best version of myself. So I flip the script and say, “Oh, yeah, I can go sing at a hospital or serve food at a homeless shelter. I can partner with another charity.” I can do all these things and realize I have power. I’m not powerless. -- As told to Rebecca Haithcoa
YG Reflects on His 2016
The Compton MC, 26, grew up after recording the ultimate anti-Trump anthem.
This was the year that separated me. It allowed me to set up my own businesses: a record-label joint venture, a publishing joint venture, a clothing line, another classic album. What I was going through in 2015, I’m not going through anymore, so it was a relief. Me and DJ Mustard had a falling out in 2015, I got shot, I was in a dark space. And when the album [Still Brazy, released in June] came out, all that started turning around.
DJ Mustard had a set at Coachella and brought me out as a surprise. We had put out “F— Donald Trump” the week before, and I didn’t know if it was going to go like that. About 10 minutes before we went on, I’m like, “I’ma do it.” The song dropped, and it was 30,000-plus motherf—ers who went up. I knew right then, “Damn, this is something else.”
I didn’t plan to write about [politics]. But when I was writing the album, we were going through a lot, as far as our people and our communities. And we were talking about it in the studio because we were seeing the news about police killing blacks back to back. I got tired of just talking about it with the homies, so I started rapping about it. Anybody could have written a “F— Donald Trump” record, but [ours] was real, and it was how people were feeling out here. And somebody finally said it.
The biggest change this year was having my daughter. Before, I was just turnt up, running around -- I didn’t have a reason to come home. But now, when I’m done doing what I’m supposed to be doing, I go home, because when she wakes up she needs to see me. I needed that. -- As told to Dan Rys