It’s December 2019, which means that we’ve now reached the very end of the 21st century’s second decade. To commemorate somehow finding our way through the entirety of the ’10s, we at Billboard have decided to look back at the biggest happenings of the decade — the Earth-stopping releases, the major industry changes, the biggest live spectacles, and other moments where you could feel the pop landscape shifting underneath your feet.
Read our chronological list below, and tremble with excitement and terror at what such moments the next decade might bring us.
January 22, 2010: The Hope for Haiti Now concert
The ’10s kicked off with many of the brightest stars of the previous decade — Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Coldplay and Taylor Swift (covering Better Than Ezra!) among them — coming together to raise over $61 million in charitable donations at the Hope for Haiti NowD Concert telethon, in response to the unthinkable fallout of the catastrophic 2010 Haiti earthquake. Rihanna, JAY-Z, Bono and The Edge even came equipped with a new ballad for the occasion, “Stranded (Haiti Mon Amour),” selling well enough for a Hot 100 debut in the top 20. It was a quick reminder at decade’s outset of the healing power (and global influence) of pop music, and most of the talents involved are still relevant as ever today. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER?
January 25, 2010: Live Nation + Ticketmaster merge to form Live Nation Entertainment
Nearly a year after announcing plans for a $2.5 billion merger — and amid fierce opposition from industry lobbyists and some members of Congress concerned about anti-trust laws — the U.S. Department of Justice approved a deal to allow Ticketmaster and Live Nation to join forces, and become one of the most formidable live-music organizations ever created. Since the merger, the touring business has been dominated by the combined Live Nation Entertainment and its main rival AEG Live, as both have snapped up independent promoters and venues to consolidate their portfolios — an arms race that still continues. — DAN RYS
February 10, 2010: John Mayer’s controversial Playboy interview released
Properly demonstrating the deleterious effect that offering thoughtless provocative comments can have on star careers in the age of social media, John Mayer’s infamous Playboy comments about his “hood pass” and “white supremacist d–k” — not to mention forever sticking ex Jessica Simpson with the “sexual napalm” tag — were widely criticized and endlessly discussed. Mayer’s celebrity arguably ballooned during the new cycle, but his good will shrank, and he hasn’t scored a Hot 100 top 40 hit since. Looking back on the incident in a 2017 New York Times interview, he offered, “I was under the impression that I was a bigger star than I was.” — A.U.
March 8, 2010: Lil Wayne sentenced to a year in prison
When Weezy got busted for gun possession in New York City in July 2007, he was on top of the world and inarguably at his creative peak; the next album he would release was Tha Carter III, which sold a million copies in its first week the following year. But the year-long sentence handed down to Dwayne Carter — of which he would serve eight months, all at Rikers Island — halted his momentum, as proteges Drake and Nicki Minaj further rose to prominence in his absence. While he’s remained a constant figure on the charts this decade, his days of credibly claiming the title of Best Rapper Alive are now clearly behind him. — DAN RYS
September 12, 2010: Lady Gaga wears a meat dress to the MTV Video Music Awards
When Lady Gaga attended the 2010 MTV VMAs as its most-nominated artist — 13, including two nods for video of the year — expectations ran high as to how the pop star would top 2009, when she ended her performance of “Paparazzi” bloody and dangling arm from a rope. The answer came when Gaga accepted the video of the year award in her third outfit of the night: a dress made of meat that was accessorized with an equally raw hat, purse and boots. PETA was, not surprisingly, outraged. In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Gaga said that the outfit, designed by Franc Fernandez and styled by Nicola Formichetti, could be interpreted a number of ways, including “I am not a piece of meat.” The meat dress was instantly iconic, cemented Gaga as the world’s most boundary-pushing pop star, and was preserved jerky-style by taxidermists, and put on display at Cleveland’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. — FRANK DIGIACOMO
November 16, 2010: The Beatles put their music on iTunes
Longtime Apple holdouts — partly due to naming disagreements with the Fab Four’s own multimedia corporation — the biggest band in rock history finally joined the mp3 age with a well-publicized 2010 debut of their catalog on iTunes. The group sold 2 million songs and nearly half a million albums within the first week, and further confirmed the inevitability of all major vinyl-age artists eventually going digital — though industry prognosticators wonder if they waited too long, as listener habits had already begun to shift towards streaming. (It would be another half-decade still before The Beatles finally came to Spotify.) — A.U.
November 22, 2010: Kanye West & Nicki Minaj release iconic albums on the same day
One defined a superstar, one announced another’s arrival. While it can be debated to eternity, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is widely regarded as Kanye West’s magnum opus, a sprawling, ambitious work full of powerful songs and eclectic decisions, such as putting JAY-Z, Rick Ross and Bon Iver all on the same song, and having them all be outshone anyway. The one who shined brightest was Nicki Minaj on that track, “Monster,” and the release of her own debut album Pink Friday that same day set her on a course for greatness that has seen her overtake the likes of Madonna and Aretha Franklin, among many many others, in the history books. — D.R.
January 1, 2011: Lucian Grainge replaces Doug Morris as Universal CEO
When Universal Music International chief Lucian Grainge took over for Doug Morris in the top role at UMG, it marked the end of a long reign at the top for Morris, encompassing one of the most successful eras in the label’s history. It also set the stage for Morris — who moved to the top job at Sony Music later that year — to make history as the only record executive to run all three major labels. But Grainge proved just as adept as Morris in shepherding the company, particularly in the tricky tangle that the rise of digital — and in particular, streaming — presented for the industry as a whole. (How adept? He was knighted by the Queen of England just last year.) — D.R.
January 29, 2011: Britney Spears’ “Hold It Against Me” debuts at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100
Britney Spears’ Femme Fatale lead single, helmed by the early-’10s dream team of Max Martin, Dr. Luke, and Bonnie McKee, immediately returned the pop legend to the top of the charts with her first release of the new decade. But the success of “Hold It Against Me” would have implications well beyond the artists involved: The song was one of the first major hits to employ a dubstep breakdown, establishing the largely underground EDM phenomenon within the pop mainstream. Soon, smashes by Justin Bieber, Flo Rida and JAY-Z and Kanye West would drop down the rabbit hole after Britney. — A.U.
February 13, 2011: Arcade Fire become first indie act to win album of the year Grammy
Arcade Fire had never even notched a hit on the Billboard Hot 100 when they improbably emerged victorious with the biggest award (and the show-closing encore performance) at the 2010 Grammys. But the win was validation for an underground rock landscape that had ballooned in size and scope along with the rise of influential websites like Pitchfork and Stereogum and the shrinking of rock’s presence at the mainstream level. Within years, veteran indie acts LCD Soundsystem and The National would be playing arenas without a whiff of mainstream radio play. — A.U.
April 26, 2011: The Voice debuts on NBC
As American Idol began to dwindle in ratings and influence, a new music reality competition show with nothing to do with Simon Cowell came along to assume the mantle. The Voice brought a softer touch to the format, eschewing the comical embarrassment of Idol‘s early rounds in favor of endless feel-good stories of triumph over adversity, with its four moderators brought in to serve as non-judgmental “coaches.” The first season didn’t produce a breakout star — six years and 11 seasons later, the show still hasn’t, really — but that was OK, because the coaches (and the swivel chairs) were the show’s real stars, and two of ’em even produced a Hot 100 No. 1 hit that September. — A.U.
May 6, 2011: Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries buys Warner Music Group
Billionaire Len Blavatnik — perennially one of the top three richest people in the U.K. — laid out $3.3 billion via his company Access Industries to take over the Warner Music Group. At the time, the move seemed designed to spur a purchase of the up-for-auction EMI with an eye toward taking out Universal as the No. 1 label in the game. What followed was an executive shakeup that would re-shape the company: CEO Edgar Bronfman, Jr. ceded his role to the incoming Stephen Cooper (Bronfman would remain chairman but resign within a year), which set off a power struggle that ultimately saw the regime of Lyor Cohen, Kevin Liles and Todd Moscowitz leave the company, and a whole new leadership team take over. — D.R.
July 14, 2011: Spotify arrives in America
When Swedish streaming service Spotify officially launched in the United States, the music business was in dire straits financially and unsure of what to make of the digital app that put nearly every song imaginable all in one place — and for free, no less. (Those outside the industry, for the most part, barely registered the launch at all.) How quickly perceptions shift: In less than half a decade, Spotify had become the dominant force in a newly ascendant business, sparking a sea change in consumer listening habits and attracting deep-pocketed competitors, while almost singlehandedly changing the model for how artists can get paid, and how the industry moves forward. — D.R.
August 8, 2011: JAY-Z and Kanye West drop Watch the Throne
Hip-hop has seen its fair share of one-off projects spearheaded by a pair of rappers coming together for a full-length album, but few have been as mighty as Jay Z and Kanye West. The duo, who had worked together in a collaborative capacity stemming back to West’s production on Jay’s 2001 opus The Blueprint, made Watch the Throne one of the most artistically and commercially successful such LPs, an opulent soundscape featuring production from 88-Keys, RZA, Mike Dean, Q-Tip and more. It was a welcome duet album, elevating West from little-brother status to rap titan and playing home to some of Jay’s freshest rhymes in years at that point. — STEVEN J. HOROWITZ
August 27, 2011: “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” becomes Katy Perry’s fifth Teenage Dream single to top the Hot 100
Katy Perry had already established herself as an artistic force with her 2008 full-length breakout One of the Boys, but ascended to the top pop ranks with 2010’s Teenage Dream. With producers and songwriters like Max Martin, Dr. Luke, Benny Blanco, Stargate, Bonnie McKee and more, she hit an historic hot streak, shifting mood and sound with ease as each single release lurched to the top spot on the Hot 100. By the time she released her fifth, “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” (along with a Missy Elliott-featuring remix that pushed it to the chart’s apex), she’d made history — becoming the first female artist to secure five consecutive No. 1s from the same album, and tying her with Michael Jackson for the most Hot 100-toppers off a single album in Billboard history. — S.J.H.
December 6, 2011: fun.’s “We Are Young” appears on Glee
When “We Are Young” first appeared as the closing song to the “Hold On to Sixteen” episode of Glee‘s third season, it was essentially a commercial non-entity, by a band few of the show’s fans had likely heard of. Within a few months, the song was a juggernaut — regularly selling more than 300,000 copies a week, and topping the Hot 100 for over a month — and soon after, fun. were big enough for their singer to duet with P!nk and their guitarist to produce for Taylor Swift. Meanwhile, Glee proved it ws a force big enough to not only resurrect old hits but mint new ones, a period of chart and cultural impact so great that the Glee Cast still holds the unlikely record for the artist with the most Billboard Hot 100 hits. — A.U.
January 19, 2012: U.S. Prosecutors shut down MegaUpload, arrest Kim Dotcom
The music industry’s battle against piracy included a series of self-inflicted missteps and short-sighted mistakes, as file-sharing web sites nearly brought record labels to their knees. So when U.S. prosecutors finally shut down piracy hub MegaUpload and arrested its mercurial leader Kim Dotcom in New Zealand, it was seen as a significant coup for their fortunes — and, alongside the rise of streaming services, largely helped relegate music piracy to an afterthought, following a decade-long struggle. — D.R.
February 11, 2012: Whitney Houston dies at 48
Whitney Houston’s death didn’t just come as a shock — it was a tremendous loss for the music world. As one of the most accomplished vocalists in modern history, she became one of the best-selling artists ever and paved the way for countless octave-scaling singers who came after her. Though rumors of substance abuse persisted throughout her career, Houston seemed prime for a comeback when she released her seventh album I Look to You in 2009, and was on track to produce and star in a remake of Sparkle with next-gen acolyte Jordin Sparks. Though she recorded music for the movie and filmed her parts, she passed before it would be officially released August 2012, discovered submerged in a bathtub hours before Clive Davis’ illustrious pre-Grammy party at the Beverly Hilton. — S.J.H.
February 18, 2012: Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez and friends release lip dub video of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”
Lip dub videos may have grown exponentially in popularity since then with the rise of Musical.ly and Lip Sync Battle, but it had early and tangible success in the early ’10s with a lip dub video for Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.” The Canadian pop star’s breakthrough single got a signal boost when Justin Bieber, who shares the same manager in Scooter Braun, appeared in a lip dub clip alongside stars like Selena Gomez and Ashley Tisdale. The video helped CRJ’s earworm single go viral and spend a whopping nine weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100 — a truly 21st century way to success. — S.J.H.
April 15, 2012: 2Pac gets resurrected via hologram at Coachella
Hardly unprecedented for a special guest to capture headlines at festival, but scene-stealers don’t come too much more surprising than Tupac Shakur, who was the most buzzed-about performer at Coachella 2012, despite having already been dead for over 15 years. ‘Pac was of course summoned through hologram technology to appear as a featured performer in Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s headlining set, and though the technology wasn’t quite good enough to make attendees question their senses, it was good enough to inspire subsequent rumors about hologram live tours from the likes of Elvis Presley and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes — demonstrating that death doesn’t have to be the end of an artist’s live dominance. — A.U.
June 2, 2012: Adam Lambert becomes first openly gay male artist to hit No. 1 on Billboard 200 chart
Adam Lambert’s Trespassing wasn’t an event album, neither spawning a single top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 nor ever being certified gold. But it was a very good album by a very good pop artist, and for at least one week, it was a modestly historic album, as the set bowed atop the Billboard 200 with 77,000 in sales, making Lambert the first openly gay male artist to top the chart. It was a quietly landmark moment, and one of many major steps made for the LGBTQ community in ’10s pop music — though top 40 still has a long way to go before allowing for true equality. — A.U.
June 24, 2012: Swedish House Mafia announce their breakup
Progressive house supergroup Swedish House Mafia had taken over the touring world at the decade’s beginning, becoming one of dance’s (and pop’s) pre-eminent headlining acts, even with just a handful of collected singles to their name. But while their ascent mirrored that of big-tent EDM, their breakup — which the group explained as having “just decided that we reached a point where we didn’t know what the next move would be” — also portended its eventual downfall, or at least shape-shifting. Before they left us, though, they offered one last globetrotting tour, and one final single: “Don’t You Worry Child,” the group’s lone Hot 100 hit, climbing all the way to No. 6 in early 2013. — A.U.
June 29, 2012: Sony/ATV Buys EMI Publishing
As part of the dissolution of EMI — previously the fourth major label, before selling its recorded-music division to Universal Music Group — a Sony-led group of investors closed the company’s acquisition of EMI Music Publishing for $2.2 billion, which gave Sony/ATV oversight of 2 million songs. The move vaulted Sony/ATV to the No. 1 music publisher in the industry beginning in the third quarter of 2012, a title the company has held ever since; to date, the streak has extended to 19 straight quarters of domination. — D.R.
July 4, 2012: Frank Ocean publishes open letter about his sexuality
After one British journalist attended a listening session for his proper debut LP Channel Orange in 2012 and wrote a review pointing to the fact that rising R&B star Frank Ocean was using male pronouns in romantic songs, the Odd Future crooner addressed the speculation head on. On Independence Day, the world awoke to an open letter posted to Ocean’s Tumblr page where he addressed his sexuality, explaining that he fell in love with a man earlier in his life, but neglected to put a label on himself. Ocean was commended by artists spanning Beyoncé to Tyler, The Creator for his bravery, showing the world who he truly was and reinforcing how important visibility can be for the LGBTQ community. — S.J.H.
September 28, 2012: Universal Music Group Completes Acquisition of EMI
And then there were three. After a year of talks, a slew of potential suitors and a closely-watched auction — not to mention anti-trust scrutiny from regulators on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and across the world — Universal Music Group finally received approval to complete its acquisition of EMI’s recorded-music business for $1.9 billion. When the dust settled, the number of major record labels was reduced from four to three after years of consolidation, while Warner picked up the Parlophone catalog and Sony/ATV took over EMI’s publishing wing, deals that shook up the music industry landscape significantly. — D.R.
October 13, 2012: Mumford and Sons sell over 600,000 copies of sophomore album Babel in first week
In any decade but this one, Mumford and Sons would have fit no one’s vision of a blockbuster rock act: Their banjo-led strum-and-stomp had virtually no place in the pop mainstream until 2009, when the group’s bloody songwriting and anthemic choruses made them an unlikely first-album sensation. After that debut LP Sigh No More became one of the early decade’s sneaky best-sellers, sky-high expectations were met with the stunning 600k-plus first week of sophomore LP Babel, which eventually won the album of the year Grammy. Soon, everyone from Imagine Dragons to Avicii to One Direction was playing stadium-folk, a niche that few outside of the faux-family band would have ever assumed existed. — A.U.
November 28, 2012: Adele’s 21 certified diamond by RIAA
For a long time, it seemed like diamond-selling albums had gone the way of the dinosaurs — since Usher’s Confessions in 2004, we hadn’t seen a new album released that broke eight digits, or even came particularly close to doing so. Enter Adele, who was about to become the exception to every rule we thought we’d learned about 21st-century sales ceilings. Her 21 album, a four-quadrant crossover monster that spawned three Hot 100 No. 1s, topped the Billboard 200 for 24 weeks and won just about every conceivable Grammy, got the RIAA’s diamond certification less than two years after being released — the last diamond LP released, of course, until her next one. — A.U.
December 21, 2012: Psy’s “Gangnam Style” video hits a billion YouTube views
Though it was recently passed by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again,” “Gangnam Style” held the all-time mark for most-viewed YouTube video for nearly half a decade, and will always be the first clip to ever break 10 digits on the streaming service. The amusingly anarchic video, rivaled only by Rebecca Black’s “Friday” for the early decade’s most viral visual, briefly made Korean pop veteran Psy a legitimate U.S. star, helped make K-pop unignorable Stateside, and turned “Gangnam Style” into the biggest dance craze since Soulja Boy. It was one of the decade’s most fun, most global moments — even if Psy himself didn’t intend on any of it. — A.U.
February 3, 2013: Beyoncé plays halftime of Super Bowl XLVII
In 2013, both Beyoncé and the Super Bowl halftime show were lagging somewhat — relatively speaking — in relevance, the former having come off her least commercially successful LP in 2011’s 4, and the latter still struggling to find its identity after The Who’s 2010 performance proved somewhat definitively that the Super Bowl’s classic rock era was over. But despite 4‘s lack of crossover hits, Beyonce absolutely slayed her hyperkinetic set with singles new and old, including a brief Destiny’s Child reunion mini-set for punctuation. The performance was unanimously acclaimed, the halftime show was back, and “When in doubt, Beyoncé” has proven a reliable big-event business model for the rest of the decade. — A.U.
March 2, 2013: Baauer debuts at No. 1 on revamped Hot 100 with “Harlem Shake”
On February 20, 2013, Billboard announced that we were changing our Hot 100 formulations to account, for the first time, for YouTube streaming totals, addressing the unignorable percentage of national music consumption happening via the video streaming site. The impact on the chart was immediate and seismic: “Harlem Shake,” previously a minor underground dance hit from Brooklyn-based DJ Baauer, leaped onto the chart at No. 1, thanks to a viral video meme the song soundtracked — making it the most popular song in the country, even though most top 40 stations still seemed unaware of its existence. From then on, radio would have to compete with the Internet as the primary motor of pop stardom. — A.U.
April 2, 2013: Nelly hops on the remix to Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise”
Florida Georgia Line was an unsigned band when its single “Cruise” hit No. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2012, and led to a deal with Big Machine Label Group, whose president and CEO Scott Borchetta saw opportunity in producing a remix using the rapper Nelly. Released on April 2, 2013, the hip-hop accented “Cruise” remix re-entered the Hot 100 and, this time, rose to No. 4. In addition to becoming the best-selling country download (more than 7 million and counting) of all time, the “Cruise” remix became emblematic of the blurring borders between pop genres, and symbolized the rise of “bro-country” – a polarizing but commercially successful subgenre coined by music critic Jody Rosen – in which women in cut-off shorts, pick-up trucks and Yeti coolers dominate. — F.D.
April 12, 2013: The trailer for Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories airs at Coachella
Coachella was the site where Daft Punk’s impact originally became truly generational — with a 2006 set routinely cited as something like the big bang of modern EDM — so it would made sense that that was where they would make their long-awaited ’10s comeback. Not with a performance, though: The Robots’ return was heralded with a video teaser that featured the duo jamming with funk great Nile Rodgers and modern-day pop kingmaker Pharrell on an ecstatic disco jam — eventually released, of course, as the quickly omnipresent “Get Lucky” single — and ended with credits trumpeting the arrival of the duo’s new album, Random Access Memories. The trailer set a new standard for extended intrigue with high-profile album rollouts, and further established Coachella as the FOMO capital of the 2010s music world. — A.U.
August 25, 2013: Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke shock the world at the 2013 VMAs
If you hadn’t been paying attention to developments in the pop career of Miley Cyrus for the first half of 2013, you were in for a treat at that year’s VMAs. The former child star had reinvented herself with her Bangerz LP and its provocative lead single, the drug-alluding, hip-hop-influenced “We Can’t Stop,” and she was set to perform the song in a joint mini-medley with R&B star Robin Thicke — whose own chart-slaying hit “Blurred Lines” had come with its fair share of controversy, thanks to its ultra-explicit music video and arguably problematic lyrics. Together, the two sent Twitter into a tailspin, with uproar over their twerk-heavy performance — accused of racial appropriation, among other things — dominating the news cycle for weeks to come. Miley has since reimagined her career several times over, but Thicke’s never quite recovered. — A.U.
December 13, 2013: Beyonce surprise-releases her eponymous album
Beyoncé has always proved herself to be a pioneer in the music industry, so it came as both a surprise, and not really much of a shock, when she rewrote the rules on how a major pop star — or anyone for that matter — can release a new album. At the stroke of midnight on a seemingly random Thursday in December, she air-dropped not just a new LP, but a music video go along with every single track on the project, creating an audio-visual masterpiece that would become a near-commonplace practice in the years that followed. Beyond that, it marked a turning point in her career: Bey had fully embraced the joys of marriage, a brighter counterpoint to the darkness that would permeate through its follow up Lemonade, and once again reclaimed her status as pop’s reigning Queen. — S.J.H.
January 26, 2014: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis beat Kendrick Lamar for Best Rap Album Grammy
At the time that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis won the Grammy for Best Rap Album with Oct. 2012’s The Heist, they were riding the mainstream wave. The Seattle rapper-producer duo had come out of left field with their Hot 100-topping novelty single “Thrift Shop,” and parlayed that into continual success with the LGBTQ-positive anthem “Same Love” and “Can’t Hold Us,” which also crowned the aforementioned chart. But hip-hop fans generally felt that good kid, m.A.A.d. city, the acclaimed concept album by breakout rapper Kendirck Lamar, deserved the trophy — and so did Macklemore, who controversially posted an Instagram of a text he sent to the Compton rapper following the ceremony where he wrote, “You got robbed. I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird and it sucks that I robbed you.” — S.J.H.
March 8, 2014: Frozen spends 5th week at No. 1 on Billboard 200
The soundtrack to Disney’s animated musical was nearly as much of a blockbuster smash as the movie, moving over 4 million album equivalent units and spawning an iconic hit in the Idina Menzel-sung power ballad “Let It Go.” In February of 2014, it even notched a 5th week on top the Billboard 200 albums chart — more than any movie-accompanying set since the Celine Dion-powered Titanic soundtrack spent 16 weeks on top in 1998. The soundtrack would ultimately spend 13 weeks atop the Billboard 200, proving that after a period of relative dormancy, the OST was back: Within the next three years, soundtracks to Guardians of the Galaxy, Furious 7, Suicide Squad, Fifty Shades Darker and more would all top the chart. — A.U.
April 18, 2014: Prince returns to Warner Bros., regains ownership of his catalog In landmark deal
When Prince and Warner Bros. Records announced a historic deal that brought the Purple One back into the fold of the label that had been his home for decades — before ultimately becoming his nemesis — it was met with surprise, to say the least, both over the terms of the deal and the reconciliation that came with it. It was also a model for how the labels will begin to deal with copyright reversion as it increasingly comes into play following provisions within the Copyright Revision Act of 1976 — and the terms of the contract are now at the center of the ongoing legal battle over Prince’s recorded music, after a judge recently rescinded Universal’s $31 million deal for the assets. — D.R.
May 12, 2014: TMZ releases the Elevator Video with JAY-Z, Beyoncé & Solange
For a notoriously private couple, the scenes from the elevator video heard ’round the world — in which Solange Knowles physically attacked JAY-Z in an elevator after the Met Ball, while Beyoncé looked on and a bodyguard attempted to intervene — were nothing less than jaw-dropping. Rumors and innuendo flew for months about what led to the encounter, and why and how it had spilled out so publicly, with the Carters enduring speculation while in the process of finishing up their joint world tour. The public ultimately learned all about it with Lemonade, Beyoncé’s critically-acclaimed sixth album that detailed the betrayal, shock, anger, acceptance and forgiveness that she endured after discovering JAY had cheated on her, and was further explored in JAY’s 2017 album, 4:44, as well. — D.R.
May 28, 2014: Apple acquires Beats Music, Beats Electronics in $3 billion deal
By early 2014, the Beats brand had become synonymous with headphones, and Dr. Dre and Interscope co-founder Jimmy Iovine were at the forefront of the newly-trendy audio world. So when Apple stepped up to the plate to purchase Beats Electronics and its then-nascent Beats Music streaming service for a remarkable $3 billion, the world knew that Steve Jobs’ company had something big up its sleeve, and bringing Dre and Iovine into the fold made waves across the music landscape. The deal paved the way for the launch of Apple Music 13 months later — which has since grown to become the second-largest streaming service in the world. — D.R.
September 9, 2014: U2’s Songs of Innocence released as a preloaded album on the new iPhone 6
The 13th studio album from rock gods U2 was given an extremely forward-thinking release: The band partnered with Apple to give the new album away to purchasers of the new iPhone 6, which had the album preloaded into its music library. Though the free LP was intended by Apple as a gift, it was considered an invasion by many customers, who may not have desired the album and found it surprisingly difficult to delete from their new phones. The failed strategy showed the perils of embedding music within technology so deeply (and so quasi-literally), and today, most Apple subscribers couldn’t tell you a thing about Songs of Innocence besides the backlash. — A.U.
October 14, 2014: Kesha files sexual abuse lawsuit against Dr. Luke
The sound of Kesha’s feel-good, shimmery party-pop for her debut album Animal, its follow-up EP Cannibal and her most recent album Warrior could in part be credited to producer Dr. Luke, who helped launch her career at the outset of the 2010s, and signed her to his Kemosabe Records imprint. Things took a sudden and dark turn when Kesha filed suit against Luke for emotional abuse and sexual assault; Luke filed countersuit and years of litigation began, with Kesha claiming that he was stalling her career and that if she wasn’t let go of her contract sooner, her career would come to an end. Luke, once pop’s pre-eminent hitmaker, has since been widely shunned by the music industry, and Kesha still hasn’t been let go from her binding contract, but most recently made her grand return to music in anticipation of her comeback album Rainbow, which was released under Kemosabe. — S.J.H.
November 15th, 2014: Taylor Swift’s 1989 sells 1.287 million in first week
The world’s biggest country superstar at the end of the ’00s, Taylor Swift set her sights on a full pop crossover in the ’10s, culminating in her biggest sales week to date — and the biggest of anyone in over a decade — in 2014, for her retrofitted pop blockbuster LP 1989. The set moved 1.287 million units in its first frame, part of a total top 40 takeover that also resulted in three of the set’s singles topping the Hot 100 and Taylor taking home album of the year — her second, a first for a female solo artist — at the 2016 Grammys. By then, Taylor could no longer be considered country’s biggest superstar, but she was almost certainly pop’s. — A.U.
February 12, 2015: Drake sneak-releases If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late “mixtape”
Dropping on a wintry Thursday night, Drake’s first full-length release since 2013’s Nothing Was the Same stopped the music-listening world in its tracks like few surprise LPs since Beyoncé. Though the set failed to produce a conventional hit — “Energy,” the highest-charting track, peaked at No. 26 on the Hot 100 — its lyrics were unavoidable on social media for weeks, as were memes of its iconic handwritten cover image, and debates over its controversial “mixtape” designation (as the set was released commercially for digital sale and streaming). The set sold robustly, and proved how many ways to pop mega-success there were in 2015 — and that Drake seemed to pretty much know them all. — A.U.
February 27, 2015: Justin Bieber finds his way onto Skrillex and Diplo’s surprise Jack Ü album
In the midst of a 24-hour collaborative DJ performance, superstar producers Skrillex and Diplo unleashed their Present Jack Ü collborative full-length project on an unsuspecting public. Though the set was led by “Take Ü There,” a collaboration with pop talent Kiesza featuring rap legend Missy Elliott on the remix, the biggest star appearance was buried towards the end: Justin Bieber, still in pop exile after his years of mini-PR disasters, making an unexpected turn on the set’s dramatic climax, “Where Are Ü Now.” The song was a slow-building smash, not only resurrecting Bieber’s career, but establishing Skrillex and Diplo as A-list pop producers, as much as underground dance heroes. — A.U.
March 10, 2015: Jury rules against Robin Thicke & Pharrell in ‘Blurred Lines’ copyright trial
In the summer of 2013, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” (featuring Pharrell and T.I.) was inescapable, spending 12 straight weeks atop the Hot 100 and easily taking the title of Song of the Summer for the year, raking in $16 million. But the estate of Marvin Gaye, which took issue with the song’s similarities with Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up,” sued for copyright infringement, and in a case that could have wide-ranging effects for songwriters down the road — what is inspiration, versus outright stealing? — a California federal jury ruled that Thicke and Pharrell owed $7.4 million for the infringement. The judgment is still hung up in appeals, but its effects are widespread: In the years since, artists like The Chainsokers and Ed Sheeran have started pre-emptively adding other artists with potential greivances over their hits as co-writers, lest they also become plaintiffs. — D.R.
March 25, 2015: Zayn Malik leaves One Direction
Ask any Directioner, and they can probably still remember the exact date when the biggest boy band of the 2010s announced that their ranks would be one fewer. “After five incredible years Zayn Malik has decided to leave One Direction,” the group’s Facebook account announced, breaking hearts worldwide and leading to intense speculation that soon the entire band would be kaputt. 1D released one more album later that year before declaring themselves on hiatus, but have arguably only grown in influence since, with all five members recording Billboard Hot 100 hits — led, of course, by Zayn himself, whose solo bow “Pillowtalk” debuted atop the chart. — A.U.
March 30, 2015: The Tidal launch event
Jay Z’s $56-million purchase of the Norwegian subscription streaming service that is now known simply as Tidal began with one of the most star-studded (but ultimately tone-deaf) press conferences staged over the last decade. Hov, along with 15 musical acts – wife Beyonce, Rihanna, Kanye West, Daft Punk, Nicki Minaj, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Calvin Harris, Deadmau5, Jason Aldean, J. Cole, Madonna, Jack White, Arcade Fire, Alicia Keys and Usher – were introduced as the co-owners of the on-demand streaming platform, quickly sparking criticism that Tidal was a club for music’s elite rather than an artist-backed service that would champion independent and struggling musicians. It was the beginning of a bumpy ride for the streaming service, which has gone through three CEOs since the re-launch and struggled to build its paid subscription base — at last official count, Tidal had an estimated 1 million paid users, compared to market leader Spotify’s 50 million. — F.D.
June 21, 2015: Taylor Swift pens open letter to Apple
The pending launch of Apple Music June 30 was widely anticipated, and the company’s decision to offer free trials for its first three months of operation was seen as an easy way to test its functionality with users. But Apple’s decision to also not pay royalties during that period drew the ire of many — most publicly, Taylor Swift, who wrote a heartfelt open letter on behalf of her fellow musicians trashing that decision and announcing she would be withholding her 1989 album from the service. Apple’s response was, ahem, swift, and before the end of the day the company had reversed course, promising to pay royalties and forging a partnership with the superstar that resulted in a 1989 World Tour concert documentary and a string of humorous commercials for its streaming service. — D.R.
June 30, 2015: Apple premieres Apple Music, launches Beats 1
Aiming to do little less but totally reimagine radio for the digital age, Apple launched their Beats 1 radio station — based out of Los Angeles, New York and London, and headlined by star DJs Zane Lowe, Ebro Darden and Julie Adenuga — to great hype and wide industry interest. At the same time, Apple Music debuted, rocketing past Tidal in popularity and becoming the first paid streaming service to at least put a dent in Spotify’s supremacy — thanks in large part to exclusive deals reached with megastars like Drake, Frank Ocean, and a returned-to-the-fold Taylor Swift. In June, the service boasted that it had reached 60 million paid subsrcibers. — A.U.
July 10, 2015: Friday becomes Global Release Day
With staggered international release schedules seeming like an increasingly archaic practice in the age of streaming, the worldwide recording industry (represented by the IFPI) announced that July 10, 2015 would mark the first ever Global Release Day, with music releases from all 45 participating countries now debuting on the same Friday at 12:01 A.M. local time. While not all artists have followed the practice to the letter — with some releasing mixtapes, new singles, or in some cases full albums whenever during the week they see fit — Global Release Day has done its part to further unify an already inextricably connected music-listening world, and unquestionably made Friday the most exciting day of the music week. — A.U.
July 21, 2015: Meek Mill accuses Drake of not writing his own raps
In an overnight Twitter spree, Meek Mill responded to a perceived snub from former collaborator Drake by calling him out for ghostwriting: “He don’t write his own raps!” The feud was on, with people’s champ Meek the early leader — but Drake surged ahead with back-to-back diss tracks (one literally called “Back to Back”), and ended the discussion by year’s end with the gratifying release of full-length Future collab What a Time to Be Alive and viral hit “Hotline Bling,” his biggest pop single to date. There were all sorts of takeaways from the saga — about the relativity of authorship in hip-hop, about the game-changing importance of the Internet in scoring rap feuds, and about street credibility ultimately being outweighed by mainstream popularity — but most important was that Drake somehow ended 2015 more bulletproof than ever. — A.U.
October 17, 2015: Hamilton makes highest cast album Billboard 200 debut since 1963
The all-but-unprecedented theatrical phenomenon that was Hamilton was fully underway in late 2015, with the musical’s cast album debuting at No. 13 on the Billboard 200 — higher than any cast album since the chart’s separate listings for mono and stereo recordings merged in 1963. The album eventually made it as high as No. 3 on the chart, after a post-Tonys surge, and the show would soon make it to No. 1 via The Hamilton Mixtape, which featured a number of popular artists reinterpreting the show’s songs, and debuted atop the chart in December 2016. Collectively, Hamilton proved the power theater could still wield in the music industry — a lesson since reinforced by Dear Evan Hansen, whose cast recording hit the top 10 in February 2017. — A.U.
October 30, 2015: Kanye West announces 2020 presidential candidacy at the VMAs
“And yes, as you probably could have guessed by this moment, I have decided in 2020 to run for president.” Most viewers hadn’t guessed, actually, but they were still willing to take Kanye at face value when he ended an epic speech at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards — one looking back at his run-in with Taylor Swift at the awards six years earlier, and one pleading with the industry to “Listen to the kids, bro!” — by announcing his 2020 candidacy. The monologue dominated discussion of the ’15 VMAs, brought the cult of Kanye to a fever pitch and increasingly got people wondering — especially as another celebrity with no political experience found minor success in the 2016 election — if such a thing might actually be possible, if not outright desirable — A.U.
November 13, 2015: Eagles of Death Metal concert at Le Bataclan targeted in terrorist attack
The Eagles of Death Metal were on stage at one of Paris’ most famous music venues when three terrorists stormed the entrance and began shooting at random, part of a coordinated attack at several locations across the city that ultimately killed 129 people in the French capitol. For several hours, the terrorists at Le Bataclan held hostages and murdered concert-goers before being killed by police; 89 people were killed in the venue, in an attack that sent chills through the concert industry and the world. — D.R.
December 12, 2015: Adele’s 25 shatters first-week sales record
For a decade and a half, ‘N Sync’s first-week sales record (just over 2.4 million for 2000’s No Strings Attached) stood in the Nielsen and Billboard history books like Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak, unlikely to ever again be really threatened, let alone topped. But Adele’s third album 25 didn’t just take the record down — it practically lapped it, moving an absolutely astounding 3.38 million in its opening frame. That week, 25 accounted for 41 percent of all album sales in America, or twice as much as albums No. 2-100 on the Billboard 200 combined. The album was the ultimate early Christmas gift to Adele, Columbia Records and the entire music industry, proving a TRL-sized blockbuster LP was still possible in 2015, and then some. — A.U.
January 10, 2016: David Bowie dies at 69
The Man Who Fell to Earth often seemed above such trivial matters as life and death, gloriously shape-shifting so many times throughout his legendary, singular career that we figured his spirit would never be defeated by his body. Sadly, the evidence pointed to the contrary on a miserable Monday morning in January 2016, when the world woke up to news that David Bowie had died of cancer the night before — just two days, remarkably, after the release of his final album, the darkly spectral Blackstar. The outpouring of grief overflowed from all directions, proving how few corners of the music world the man born David Robert Jones hadn’t touched — and improved — in some way. — A.U.
January 29, 2016: Rihanna’s ANTI certified platinum (or not)
Though its release — exclusively via Tidal — was rocky, Rihanna’s ANTI album was hailed as a triumph upon its early 2016 release, one of the artist’s most personal, most coherent and most consistently dazzling works. It was also a tremendous commercial success, spawning five platinum-certified singles and going platinum itself in less than a day’s worth of commercial availability. Or did it? The RIAA recognized the 1.4 million downloads the record moved through Tidal in its first 15 hours, but since the downloads were complementary for fans (and pre-purchased by Samsung), they did not count towards Billboard totals — a situation closely echoed recently by the Samsung-sponsored Tidal rollout of JAY-Z’s 4:44 album. A couple days later, the RIAA added streaming equivalent units to their certification formula. — A.U.
February 1, 2016: SFX files for bankruptcy, Robert Sillerman forced out as CEO
The explosion in popularity of dance music in the United States at the turn of the decade brought with it enthusiasm, a wave of new artists and a mountain of riches, with Robert Sillerman and his reborn SFX Entertainment at the forefront of the EDM gold rush. The touring business scion spent four years snapping up smaller promoters and festivals into a true dance-music conglomerate, complete with a download/streaming service (Beatport) and an artist-management division, going public in October 2013 at $12 a share. Two years later big-ticket EDM was fading and the SFX dream was dead, its stock standing at $0.05 and the company in bankruptcy with Sillerman forced toward the exit — a high-profile and embarrassing burst of a bubble that once held much promise. — D.R.
April 21, 2016: Prince dies at 57
More than a year later, it’s still almost unfathomable: the purple icon, one of the most innovative minds of his generation, a person that musical geniuses all looked to as a musical genius, had died suddenly in his Minnesota home at the age of 57. Famously sober and intensely private, Prince had overdosed on the opioid Fentanyl, a drug that was at the center of a budding nationwide epidemic of pain medication abuse, which somehow, in its revelation of his suffering, seemed even more cruel. The outpouring of grief was immediate and total, and the fact that the saga of his recorded-music rights — still caught up in court — remains ongoing is sad. — D.R.
April 23, 2016: Beyoncé premieres Lemonade on HBO
Two days after Prince’s death, another once-in-a-generation artist was following his multimedia example with the HBO-premiered visual album Lemonade. If Beyoncé had worlds left to conquer, Lemonade took ’em out with one swing of a baseball bat, never generating a true pop radio hit but still dominating the conversation all year — iconic enough to be parodied on SNL, discussed by presidential candidates and essentially staged theatrically at the VMAs. The album raised the standard for pop production — in the overall sense — that Queen Bey had set herself with her self-titled album two and a half years earlier, and proved that full-length albums were as vital as ever for artists with a little imagination. — A.U.
June 12, 2016: Orlando’s Pulse nightclub becomes scene of worst mass shooting in U.S. history
A late Saturday night of partying at a popular LGBTQ club in Orlando turned into a horrific scene, and the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, as a gunman opened fire on the crowded Pulse nightclub and killed 49 people, injuring a further 53. Following the harrowing events at Le Bataclan in Paris less than a year earlier, the terrorist attack once again made the concert and nightclub industries look towards security measures, metal detectors and other ways of keeping patrons safe, while a city once more was forced to mourn. — D.R.
June 16, 2016: Grammy rule changes allow for streaming-only releases to be Grammy-eligible
Before 2016, music had to be made commercially available for sale to be considered for the Grammys, leaving artists who chose to distribute their music primarily through streaming services ineligible. But in 2017, the Academy embraced changing tides by deeming recordings Grammy-eligible if they appeared on at least one of the streaming “majors,” such as Spotify or Apple Music. The rule was largely thought to be in response to the recent success of Chance the Rapper, whose universally acclaimed Coloring Book album was streaming-only, though the Academy denied any such connection, claiming “we didn’t make this change for any particular artist.” Regardless, Chance profited: The rapper collected three statues at the Grammys, including Best Rap Album for Coloring Book. — A.U.
June 24, 2016: Kanye West debuts “Famous” video at the L.A. Forum
As much as the night of Snapchat-gate is what people will most remember from Round II of the era-defining Kanye-Taylor feud, this was what it was really all about: Kanye renting out an entire basketball stadium to premiere a music video, for his song braying insultingly and absurdly about his chances of still sleeping with his pop nemesis. The video, of course, just doubled down on the celebrity insularity: A ten-minute short, filmed like one of the creepy videotapes from David Lynch’s Lost Highway, consisting of eerie doll proxies of pretty much every headline-dominating celebrity of 2016 — including Bill Cosby, vanquished Kanye foe Ray J, and of course, future president Donald Trump — sleeping in the same bed together. This was fame as Kanye had come to know it: Incestuous, paradoxical and claustrophobic AF. — A.U.
August. 20, 2016: Frank Ocean releases Blond on Apple Music, prompting Universal to ban exclusives
It had been four years since Frank Ocean released his beloved Def Jam debut Channel Orange, and the anticipation — and mystery — surrounding his next release was palpable. So when he released the “visual album” Endless via Apple Music, fans were confused. Until the following day, when — freshly free from his Def Jam contract, having fulfilled his obligation with Endless — Ocean surprise-released a second album, Blond, independently and also via Apple Music, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and impressed the public as much for its musical achievement as for its clever, almost devious, release. One person not amused was Universal Music Group chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge who, having lost a marquee artist in Ocean to an Apple Music exclusive, banned the practice of exclusive LP releases among his artists, stopping in its tracks a trend that had been picking up steam throughout the previous two years. — D.R.
September 10, 2016: Twenty One Pilots notch simulteanous hits in the Hot 100’s top 5
Easily the biggest breakout band of 2016 — and arguably the entire decade — was Twenty One Pilots, who scaled commercial heights rarely afforded to rock acts in the ’10s, with a trio of Hot 100 top 5 hits. Two of those, “Heathens” and “Ride,” even perched inside the top 5 in the same week, making the duo the first rock act since The Beatles to score two such simultaeous hits. Of course, the “rock” part of the equation came with a bit of an addendum: Just as influenced by pop, EDM and hip-hop as rock, and missing any standard guitars, the duo would hardly define themselves so conventionally. Nevertheless, they offered a 21st-century model for rock stardom that no doubt many bands will look to in the years to come. — A.U.
September 15, 2016: The Chainsmokers explain themselves
In a Billboard cover story released shortly after their world-beating Halsey duet “Closer” had brought them to the top of the Hot 100 for the first time, The Chainsmokers — first introduced to the world as the act behind novelty hit “Selfie,” then the producers behind a variety of female-sung pop smashes — had their coming-out party. The duo were met with backlash for some of their unguarded comments, embracing their own frattiness, detailing their knowledge of their own social media metrics and bragging about their combined penis size. But one thing was clear from the profile: EDM was entering its Silicon Valley moment, and Drew Taggart and Alex Pall were its leading tech bros. — A.U.
October 18, 2016: Sony Music announces Columbia chief Rob Stringer will succeed Doug Morris as CEO
In a widely expected move, Columbia Records boss Rob Stringer was named as the new CEO of Sony Music Entertainment, after a massive run of success with artists like Adele, Beyoncé, Daft Punk, David Bowie and One Direction under his watch at Columbia. The move also meant a shift to chairman of SME for Doug Morris, the longtime industry executive who was widely respected as the only person to run all three major record labels — Sony (2011-2017), Universal Music Group (1995-2011) and Warner Music Group (1990-1995) — during his career. — D.R.
November 3, 2016: Rae Sremmurd do the Mannequin Challenge to “Black Beatles”
Rae Sremmurd turned a long-simmering fan-and-Internet favorite into one of the biggest hits of the year seemingly overnight, by literally doing nothing. At a November show in Denver, the duo froze on stage at the beginning of their Sremmlife 2 single “Black Beatles,” and instructed their audience to do likewise — thus participating in the burgeoning Mannequin Challenge craze. Both song and movement exploded from there, as “Black Beatles” shot to No. 1 on the Hot 100, and before long everyone from Michelle Obama to Paul McCartney himself was freezing on video. It wasn’t the first meme-driven viral hit, but after “Beatles,” they seemed to be happening weekly, with Twitter breaking hit songs by Migos and Ayo & Teo before more conventional curators even got a chance. — A.U.
December 18, 2016: Camila Cabello leaves Fifth Harmony
Four years after forming on The X Factor, Fifth Harmony had become America’s biggest girl group of the decade, making it all the more shocking to Harmonizers when in December, Camila Cabello — the group’s first member to test the solo waters, on hit collabs with Shawn Menes and Machine Gun Kelly — announced she was leaving the group. Unlike Zayn with 1D, the split was not handled neatly; the group was visibly surprised and disappointed by Cabello’s decision, leading to a whole lot of industry innuendo about what actually went down behind the scenes. The group powers on, and Cabello’s solo career is off to a strong start, but fans will always be left wondering what happened, and what could’ve been. — A.U.
March 18, 2017: Future makes chart history with back-to-back No. 1 album debuts
By 2017, Future was established as one of hip-hop’s superstars, with a work ethic that made him both beloved by fans and one of the most prolific artists of his generation. But nobody expected him to roll out two brand new albums in consecutive weeks — much less see them both debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, as he did in March with Future and HNDRXX. Future’s back-to-back made history in the process and shattered the album-tour-album-tour convention that had dominated the music industry for decades. — D.R.
March 30, 2017: Streaming overtakes sales as music industry revenue finally bounces back
The rise of streaming, and music fans’ rapid adoption of the format, had already stemmed the music industry’s seemingly interminable slide from a $15 billion industry in 1999 to one worth less than $7 billion by 2014. But the RIAA’s 2016 year-end report this March noted another huge milestone for the business: For the first time ever, revenue from streaming royalties overtook sales as the single highest source of revenue in the recorded-music business — accounting for 51 percent of all revenue, and driving the industry to its first double-digit percent growth since 1998. — D.R.
April 17, 2017: Justin Bieber takes “Despacito” to the next level
Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s mid-tempo banger “Despacito” was already well on its way to being one of the defining Latin hits of 2017, but when Justin Bieber hopped on for the remix, it unnaturally accelerated the song’s trajectory, sending it speeding up the charts. It became one of the defining hits of 2017, and one of the biggest of the entire decade, ultimately topping the Hot 100 for a record-tying 16 weeks. The effects were profound: Hits by Latin artists Maluma and J Balvin also bound up the chart later that year, hrough ceilings they would’ve hit a year or two earlier, while just three years after being persona non gratta in top 40, Justin Bieber became once again almost unquestionably the king of pop. — A.U.
April 27, 2017: Fyre Festival goes down in flames
Destination festivals had become a lucrative market for the live business, with ultra-luxury, first-class experiences the next burgeoning frontier. That’s what Fyre Festival co-founders Billy McFarland and Ja Rule had in their sights when promising a one-of-a-kind getaway on Bahamian Island for thousands of wealthy fans — until they began to arrive at their destination, that is. What they found instead of private suites and five-star catering was a smattering of tents, cheese sandwiches and a nightmare of a production that was ultimately shut down before it even got underway, sparking a slew of lawsuits, a federal investigation and one of the great social media memes of recent memory — not to mention an onslaught of fantastic puns on its prophetically doomed name. — D.R.
May 11, 2017: L.A. Reid exits Epic Records amid sexual harassment allegations
L.A. Reid, whose three decades in the music industry saw him rise from funk/R&B drummer to become chairman/CEO of Epic Records, was on an impressive run of success in 2017 with hits from Future, DJ Khaled and Travis Scott, to name a few. But that came crashing down suddenly in May, when parent company Sony Music confirmed that Reid had exited the company, with sexual harassment allegations arising in the immediate wake of his sudden departure — an ignominious end to an otherwise-successful career as a music executive. — D.R.
June 4, 2017: Ariana Grande headlines One Love Manchester Concert
Ariana Grande was performing at the Manchester Arena in Manchester, England on May 22, 2017 when, after the show let out, a suicide bomber attacked patrons who were exiting the venue, killing 23 people and causing numerous injuries. Instead of cowering from the spotlight, though, Grande returned to Manchester on June 4, with an impressively assembled showcase of today’s top talent, spanning Katy Perry and Coldplay to Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. Grande served as a sort of master of ceremonies and performed throughout the event, strong and supportive of all those who attended, helping to raise $13 million to help those who were affected by the tragedy. — S.J.H.
October 1, 2017: Route 91 Harvest Music Festival shooting
Less than half a year after the Manchester Arena bombing (following an Ariana Grande concert) took the lives of 23 people and injured far more, an even deadlier assault occurred at the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas. During a performance by country star Jason Aldean, shooter Stephen Paddock opened fire on the attendees, killing 58 people and injuring over 400 more, with his motive for doing so still undetermined. Along with the Manchester catastrophe and other recent horrific attacks at live music events, the Route 91 shooting raised potentially unanswerable questions about security at such gatherings, and about why the music world had become such a regular target for those who looked to inflict terror and irreparable damage on society, both at home and abroad. — A.U.
October 7, 2017: “Bodak Yellow” hits No. 1 on the Hot 100
The crowning of Bronx reality star-turned-rap breakout Cardi B as the most exciting new artist in hip-hop came with debut single “Bodak Yellow” — a tough-talking, wisecracking, Kodak Black-inspired banger that electrified all levels of the music world — replacing Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” atop the Hot 100. The song provided not just long-overdue validation for women in rap — “Bodak” was the first No. 1 from a solo female MC in nearly two decades — but also an increasingly rare throwback to the sort of street and radio anthems of years past in hip-hop, giving New York rap its biggest and most instantly classic four-quadrant smash in ages. — A.U.
January 28, 2018: Neil Portnow advises women to “step up” at the Grammys
After a ceremonies that included an emotional performance of Kesha’s survivor’s anthem “Praying,” and had already endured controversy for a relative lack of female nominees in the major categories, it was particularly poor timing for Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow to give a pat answer to a question about female representation among honorees at Music’s Biggest Night. “It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls,” he commented after the show. “[They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome.” The comments further shone the spotlight on the discussion of gender imbalance at the Grammys and in the larger industry, and led to the formation of the Recording Academy Diversity & Inclusion Task Force — while Portnow stepped down following the 2019 ceremonies. — A.U.
March 28, 2018: Charlie Walk leaves Republic
Two months after former Sony Music colleague Tristan Coopersmith published an open letter accusing music executive Charlie Walk of sexual misconduct during their time at Columbia Records, and following an outside investigation into claims from Coopersmith and four additional women as to his behavior at Columbia, Epic and Republic, Walk left his role as president of Republic Group. Walk, who was also a judge on the FOX talent show The Four, denied the claims from each of the women. — D.R.
April 3, 2018: Spotify goes public
Shortly after 12:45 p.m. EST, Spotify officially became a publicly-traded company on the New York Stock Exchange, six and a half years after the Swedish company first debuted the service in the United States. The direct listing was a momentous occasion for the new streaming ecosystem, as investors began to figure out just what a streaming-only company that had never made a profit going public without a bank-backed IPO was really worth. And while several top-level executives left shortly after the direct listing, and the stock price has fluctuated alongside the whims of the market, the company has remained strong, finally moving into the black in the third quarter of 2019 for the first time in its history. — D.R.
April 20, 2018: Avicii dies by suicide
News of Avicii’s death quaked the dance community and the larger music world when it spread in April 2018. One of the most prodigious and successful young artists of the EDM era, Avicii had long struggled with physical and mental health issues, and his death was reported to be a suicide later that month, it raised myriad questions about support systems within the genre. (Not that such issues were isolated to the dance world: Just a year before, two totemic veteran figures in rock — Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park — also died by suicide.) With EDM already having long begun to recede from the charts and the overall mainstream, the passing of one its marquee stars felt like the official end of an era. — A.U.
April 25, 2018: “Thank you Kanye, very cool”
Hard to pick just one moment from this decade when Kanye West’s political and ideological affiliations became particularly troubling for many of his long-time fans, but one of the starkest undoubtedly came in April 2018, just a week after Kanye had announced the upcoming G.O.O.D Music series of seven-track albums from him and his label artists. The rapper tweeted of President Trump, “The mob can’t make me not love him. We are both dragon energy. He is my brother” — which No. 45 quote-tweeted with the response, “Thank you Kanye, very cool!” The five-word phrase became iconic for how far the rapper had fallen in the eyes of left-leaning listeners, even being quoted without further context in alt-pop band The 1975’s 2018 end-times anthem “Love It If We Made It.” — A.U.
May 5, 2018: Childish Gambino pulls double duty on SNL, premieres “This Is America” video
A week after Kanye’s political proclamations left many longtime fans brutally disillusioned, a new socially conscious hip-hop superstar had his moment of coronation. Childish Gambino, a.k.a. film and TV star Donald Glover, had grown from mixtape rapper to Grammy winner over the course of the decade as a recording artist. But his greatest moment of mainstream acclaim came when he both hosted and performed on a May Saturday Night Live, debuting incendiary new single “This Is America,” and premiering the controversial video immediately afterwards. The clip ignited much debate for its mix of stylized choreography and gut-punch portrayals of black-on-black violence, but it turned the topical single into a sensation, propelling it to a No. 1 debut on the Hot 100: a rare chart-topping protest song in a tumultuous cultural moment. — A.U.
June 18, 2018: XXXTENTACION killed
XXXTENTACION, who at the age of 20 was already one of the most popular and controversial figures in music, was shot and killed in 2018 as part of a botched robbery in broad daylight, cutting short the life of a young artist with a history of criminal allegations, but who nonetheless had carved out a niche as a singular voice for his generation. The artist, born Jahseh Onfroy, divided the music-listening world, with some pointing to the horrific allegations of domestic violence levied against him by his ex-girlfriend as reason to disavow his music, and others accepting his denials and embracing his emotional and introspective music as a breath of fresh air — with his looming trial set to be either an indictment or a vindication for him and his fans. What was so shocking about his murder was that it had nothing to do with any of that, but represented senseless violence for its own sake, leaving XXXTENTACION’s legacy forever up in the air. — D.R.
August 2, 2018: TikTok merges with Musical.ly
Earlier in the decade, Musical.ly emerged as a new social media destination for the teen set, where they could create viral videos set to music and take off with creative dances or memes and become famous overnight. And when the service was purchased by Chinese company ByteDance and merged into the existing TikTok, it supercharged the format, and has led to a whole new generation of stars with a brand-new creative outlet to express themselves. Despite the regulatory concerns that have emerged in recent weeks in the U.S., TikTok seems to be here to stay, and use of music in its viral clips has already started impacting the Billboard charts on a regular basis. — D.R.
September 22, 2018: Drake sets record with 28th week at No. 1 in 2018
For nearly a decade and a half, pop/R&B great Usher held the record for most weeks spent at No. 1 on the Hot 100 in a calendar year with 27, split between his four biggest Confessions hits. But in 2018, superstar singer-rapper Drake left that record in the dust, logging a combined 28 weeks atop the chart with his three Scorpion smashes “God’s Plan,” “Nice For What” and “In My Feelings” — the latter holding at its peak for an additional week, giving him a mark of 29 weeks total on top. The achievement confirmed Drake as the defining star of streaming’s first decade — with none of the three singles ever even topping Billboard’s Radio Songs listing — and further suggested that hip-hop had not supplanted pop at music’s highest levels, so much as simply become pop. — A.U.
October 11, 2018: Music Modernization Act signed into law
The Music Modernization Act represented more than just the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. copyright law in a generation. For the music business, it proved that stakeholders from all different sides of the industry could come together over a common cause and actually get some reform done, despite whatever competing interests each side held. But now that it is law, the MMA will have the effect of bringing digital rights into the new millennium, and creating a database that will help songwriters and rights holders get paid for their work in a more efficient, transparent way. — D.R.
November 3, 2018: Ariana Grande releases “Thank U, Next” on a Saturday night
After making her much-anticipated return to the spotlight earlier in 2018 with her acclaimed Sweetener album and its series of accompanying hits, Ariana Grande decided to keep riding her hot hand well into year’s end with the unexpected Saturday night drop of her topical “Thank U, Next.” Addressing several of her famous real-life exes, including former fiancé Pete Davidson, the song was stunning both for its directness and for the expedience of its release, coming just four months after Sweetener and already beginning a whole new album cycle. But Grande’s whole point in doing so was to break out of the pop mold of needing a full promotional cycle for each new song and album and instead just releasing music when she felt like it — a model long followed by many hip-hop stars, and by more and more Top 40 fixtures at decade’s close. “Bruh, I just want to f–king talk to my fans and sing and write music and drop it the way these boys do,” she explained to Billboard the next year. — A.U.
December 8, 2018: Billboard’s Country Airplay chart features no women in the top 20
Female representation in country music has been a decade-long issue, with the so-called “bro country” movement — exemplified by artists like Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and Blake Shelton — taking over FM playlists in the early decade, and leaving precious little remaining airspace for women artists. The trend hit a new low in late 2018, when for the first time since Billboard’s Country Airplay listing was introduced in 1990, there was not a single woman to be found in the chart’s top 20 — further sparking discussion about what forces were leading to such gender imbalance on country radio, and what could be done to finally improve the long-devolving situation. — A.U.
January 3, 2019: Surviving R. Kelly debuts on TV
While the #MuteRKelly movement had already been going on for years — and investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct against him, for which he’d previously gone to trial, had been ongoing for decades — it still took until the multi-part Surviving R. Kelly documentary series airing on Lifetime for many fans to finally cut the cord completely with the R&B icon. Detailing an entire generation’s worth of abuse and misconduct, and largely told from the perspectives of R. Kelly’s many accusers, Surviving R. Kelly — along with HBO’s Michael Jackson documentary Leaving Neverland, which aired months later and contained similarly harrowing testimonies of abuse at the King of Pop’s hand — broke new ground in the music industry’s reckoning with some of its long-alleged predators, and even helped lead to R. Kelly’s arrest on 18 separate charges that July. — A.U.
February 3, 2019: 21 Savage detained by ICE
One of the absolute strangest stories to emerge this decade came on Super Bowl Sunday 2019, when it was reported that Atlanta rapper 21 Savage had been arrested and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), after it was determined that he was actually born in the United Kingdom. Amid the confusion surrounding his status, Savage was detained for nine days before being released on $100,000 bond — and it emerged that he first came to the U.S. when he was seven, and his visa had expired. Savage was able to turn the experience into a positive, doubling down on his community activism and charity work and donating $25,000 to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and becoming a voice advocating for immigration reform in the process. — D.R.
March 31, 2019: Nipsey Hussle killed
When Nipsey Hussle was murdered in front of his Marathon clothing store on the last day of March 2019, it sent shockwaves through not just the music community, but the city of Los Angeles, and the country at large. Hussle was more than just a rapper or artist — he was a community activist, a voice for reform and a teacher and leader in his home city and neighborhood, having launched several initiatives to give back and help his community, not to mention a tireless advocate for independent artists and one of the best rappers of his generation. His legacy remains monumental, and his funeral filled the Staples Center, with the loss of such a towering figure still felt every day since. — D.R.
April 13, 2019: Billie Eilish becomes first artist born in 21st century to top Billboard 200
It was a youth movement at the top of the Billboard charts in 2019 — thanks to hits from artists like Lil Nas X, Khalid and Shawn Mendes — and the leader of the 21-and-under pack was undoubtedly Billie Eilish, who hit superstar status with the April 2019 release of her debut LP, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? Not only did the album do blockbuster numbers in both sales and streams — and eventually spawn her first Hot 100 No. 1 hit with the spooky dance-pop jam “Bad Guy” — but it made her, at age 17, the first artist born since the turn of the millennium to top the Billboard 200, and the youngest artist overall since Demi Lovato 10 years earlier. Pop’s changing of the guard was officially underway for the next decade. — A.U.
June 3, 2019: Apple Shuts down iTunes
At the turn of the millennium, two factors delivered massive shocks to the established system that would change the music business forever: The first was Napster and the proliferation of illegal downloading; the second, and ultimately more consequential, was the launch of Apple’s iTunes Store, which had the effect of bringing the music business into the digital realm, spelling the death knell for the CD, and unbundling the album into individual, a la carte tracks that could be downloaded without committing to purchasing a full album. So Apple’s decision to shutter iTunes amid the streaming revolution represented the end of an era in a variety of ways, and its legacy as one of the most consequential programs in the history of music was cemented. — D.R.
June 11, 2019: The New York Times breaks the story about the Universal Fire
In 2008, a fire on the lot of Universal Studios threatened warehouses that were home to thousands of film reels and master tapes from NBCUniversal and the Universal Music Group. At the time, UMG told publications, including Billboard, that nothing was lost in the fire. But in June 2019, the New York Times reported that those statements were false, and that as many as 500,000 master tapes had been destroyed in the fire — some of which included recordings from iconic artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Chuck Berry, Nirvana and Snoop Dogg, among others. Universal has fiercely pushed back against the report and promised transparency, though lawsuits followed and litigation remains ongoing. — D.R.
July 1, 2019: Taylor Swift responds to Scooter Bruan’s acquisition of her masters
In a Sunday morning post on her Tumblr page, Taylor Swift responded in no uncertain terms to the industry-rocking news that that music manager/impresario Scooter Braun had purchased the masters to her back catalogue (via a deal for former home Big Machine Label Group): “This is my worst case scenario.” She went on to detail how she had felt personally victimized by Braun and some of his clients (including superstars Kanye West and Justin Bieber) in the past, and how she felt betrayed that her old label boss Scott Borchetta would leave her catalog in his hands. It was just the opening salvo in a bitter public dispute between Swift and the two execs, one that raised industry-wide questions about what it means for an artist not to own their own music — and based on Swift’s fiery Women in Music speech on the matter this December, it’s a discussion that’s not going away anytime soon. — A.U.
August 3, 2019: “Old Town Road” breaks all-time record for most weeks spent atop the Hot 100
After Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s “One Sweet Day” spent 21 years of standing alone in the Billboard history books for its 16 weeks atop the Hot 100 — then spent another two joined by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s Justin Bieber-featuring “Despacito” remix — all were toppled in 2019 by a 20-year-old content maven trying not to get kicked out of his sister’s apartment. Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” seized on every opportunity for virality — from TikTok memes to headline-grabbing remixes to chart controversies — and lifted to heights no other Hot 100 hit had ever previously reached, ultimately conquering the chart for a record 19 weeks. It essentially proved that at the end of 2010s, any song from anyone can come out of nowhere and become one of the biggest hits of all-time — particularly if its artist understands modern music consumption, and the Internet in general. — A.U.
August 4, 2019: J Balvin headlines Lollapalooza
After “Despacito” made chart history in 2017, many wondered if the Latin pop boom stateside was a trend that would achieve brief ubiquity and eventually recede from the mainstream, as it had with Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony and others at the turn of the millennium. But instead, the biggest artists in Latin pop continued to grow their fanbases and their streaming thumbprints, and by the end of the decade they were full-stop pop stars in the U.S. — including J Balvin, who set a major benchmark in August by becoming the first Latino artist to headline Chicago’s annual Lollapalooza festival. It was a historic moment that showed just how global pop music had become over the course of the decade. — A.U.
August 13, 2019: Jay-Z partners with the NFL
Following its highly questionable treatment of activist quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his series of silent protests, Jay-Z (along with superstar wife Beyoncé) had spent much of the late ‘10s dunking on the National Football League in his lyrics, rapping in 2018: “I said no to the Super Bowl, you need me, I don’t need you/ Every night we in the end zone, tell the NFL we in stadiums too.” That’s what made it particularly shocking when the August announcement came down that Jay and his Roc Nation company had partnered with the NFL — though the rapper claimed he felt he could do more to advance the cause of Kaepernick and others from direct partnership with the league, explaining, “There’s two parts of protesting: You go outside and you protest, and then the company says, ‘I hear you. What do we do next?’” Nonetheless, many long-time fans still found the seeming about-face jarring — if not downright disappointing — and questions of how (or if) art and big business can ethically work towards the same goals reached a new peak in volume. — A.U.
November 25, 2019: Streams pass one trillion for the year
At the start of the 2010s, streaming was still a new concept, with YouTube, launched in 2005, the only real service dedicated to the idea. Oh, what a time that was. The following decade saw the introduction of Spotify to the U.S. (in 2011), the launch of Apple Music (in 2015) and the rise of SoundCloud, Amazon Music, Google Play, YouTube Music, Tidal and a handful of additional streaming services that helped to not only normalize the practice, but saw it come to dominate the music listening ecosystem and the music business at large. By 2017, streaming revenue overtook sales revenue for the first time ever in the United States, and by November of 2019, total U.S. audio and video on-demand streams passed 1 trillion in a calendar year for the first time ever — a monumental milestone that seems sure to look quaint in just another few years’ time. — D.R.