Ali Sethi and
Shae Gill perform
at Coke Studio
A Song for the Ages
‘Pasoori’, by Pakistani singer Ali Sethi, featuring Shae Gill, became the second most searched song of the year on Google. First featured on the phenomenally popular Coke Studio Pakistan, it’s sung in Punjabi, drawing from traditional styles of the subcontinent, from folk melodies to pop arrangements. The fusion of modern and traditional elements, while present, is not needlessly pronounced. And it speaks to a very specific part of you. A sense of mourning, both in composition and lyricality, is perhaps what resonated most with listeners. The vocal duet, between Sethi and Gill, has a charming push-pull dynamic, treading themes of melancholia and longing. The song, as you’d expect, generated plenty rumination, with apolitical visions of India and Pakistan brought closer together by a uniting love for art. Idyllic and exaggerated, perhaps, but still heart-warming on a superficial level.
The Year of the Album
Kendrick Lamar—too often elevated to a kind of flawless, revolutionary, Poet Laureate-esque genius pedestal by listeners, a status no artist can ever match up to in reality—released Mr Morale & The Big Steppers. Once more, we got to witness Kendrick interrogating his own belief systems, questioning who he is, tackling the things that have been bothering him truthfully. He’s got a wonderfully delicate style of delivery, almost persuasive in nature, where he seems to reason with his listeners, to explain to them that he’s human. “I’m not your saviour,” he repeats on ‘Saviour’.
Taylor Swift kept her remarkable run as a truly prolific songwriter going, with Midnights instantly hitting the top of all the charts. Swift has this great ability to keep putting out new material, never resting, remaining earnest and confessional in her work while still playing around with style and form.
Further, there were a host of standout releases throughout the year, with Mitski,Beyonce, Father John Misty, the Smile, Bad Bunny and Angel Olsen.
No More Zoom Festivals
After two nightmare years where regular gig-goers had to make do with Instagram performances and Zoom concerts, live gigs finally returned to India with a bang. All the major outdoor festivals, those grandiose audio-visual spectacles of contemporary alternative culture soaked in reckless excess, returned. We got a few new shows too. Post Malone, legitimately a global superstar, dropped by for a charity concert in December and Lollapalooza’s first India edition was announced.
Kanye West Loses the Plot
It’s been a steady decline for the once-great rapper and producer. In the last few months of the year, he went one step further and decided to spout violent anti-Semitic diatribes. There’s not much to be said here. It’s a shame.
The Disappearance of Neil Young
Neil Young is rock ‘n’ roll royalty. In January 2022, Young wrote an open letter demanding that his music be removed from Spotify’s streaming catalogue. He could not, in good conscience, allow his art to be featured on the same platform as Joe Rogan. “Lies being sold for money,” he wrote.
Rogan, previously known to Indian audiences as the brash host who made contestants eat live insects on Fear Factor, is now an influential and notorious podcaster. Young was pissed off that Rogan was spreading anti-vaxx propaganda and harmful Covid disinformation on his massive platform, with close to 13 million subscribers listening in each week.
Young basically gave Spotify an ultimatum. Me or him. And the music platform, which has pivoted to podcasts in a big way over the past couple of years, did the least surprising thing ever. They quietly removed Young’s entire catalogue, expressing regret and the hope that he’ll return. It was yet another reminder that allowing this kind of disproportionate power in the music industry to tech companies concerned only with profits is not really a good thing for music makers and listeners.
Bloodywood Goes International
Videos of the band Bloodywood go viral on the internet cyclically, once every few months, as stunned foreigners travelling through Indian internet discover this intensely aggressive heavy metal band with frightening growled vocals playing pop songs or, like, some desi plink-plonking and bhangra beats assisting all the rage. They call themselves folk metal, incorporating the dhol, tumbi, flute, and other Indian instruments. Metal audiences are a famously discerning and demanding bunch. And so it’s fascinating to watch Bloodywood, which began life as a sort of parody band doing pop covers before transitioning to their own music, consistently break down those walls. Bloodywood has been booked for the 20th edition of the Download festival in 2023 in England, where they will share space with bands such as Metallica and Evanescence.
Metal audiences are famously discerning and demanding. And so it’s fascinating to watch Bloodywood, which began life as a sort of parody band doing pop covers before transitioning to their own music, consistently break down those walls
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The NFT Commotion
NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are a kind of status purchase. It’s proof of ownership. You pay a surprising amount of money. And then you get a digital token that tells you that, yes, you in fact are the owner of this thing you’ve purchased.
In even simpler terms, a music NFT goes like this: you, feeling a connection to an artist, want to support them in some special kind of way. And you want to buy their music; you want to own it. You already pay Spotify or Apple Music a monthly fee to be able to hear the music. But, as in Neil Young’s case, that music can disappear. You don’t actually own it; you’re just renting it. Buying a music NFT means you actually possess the music in your hands (well, not
literally in your hands).
There was a brief period in early 2022, back when all of this was exploding and cryptocurrency rates were spiking, when music NFTs were being widely sold by established artists. But just the hard-to-grasp nature of the transaction, and all the ins and outs of this convoluted (and forever fluctuating) transaction, means that it didn’t quite catch on, except for among the collector types who believed they were ahead of the times.