Music News: Top music stories of 2018 (part two)

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Tributes surround Aretha Franklin's star.
Tributes surround Aretha Franklin's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the wake of her death. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
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Top music stories of 2018 (part two)
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Above, listen to an episode of The Current's daily Music News podcast. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts. You can also sign up for a daily Music News e-mail and join our Facebook group.


This week on The Current's Music News podcast, we're running down the year's top ten music stories. Here are numbers five through one.

5. Super Bowl halftime drama

This year, the Super Bowl was held in Minneapolis — but if you thought Janet Jackson, who recorded all her biggest albums there with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, would be invited to play the halftime show, you would be wrong. Janet got a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, but the Super Bowl slot went to Justin Timberlake, Jackson's duet partner for the 2004 "wardrobe malfunction" that led to her career hitting the rocks while his just kept right on sailing. Add a controversy over Prince's posthumous cameo in not-technically-a-hologram form, and you had a halftime show that made more news for who wasn't there than for who was.

It looks like that trend will continue in 2019, with Rihanna and Jay-Z reportedly refusing halftime slots due to the NFL's treatment of protesting players. That leaves Maroon 5 to take the field, so at least someone will be loved.

4. Streaming services and "hateful conduct"

One of this year's hottest debates surrounded Spotify's short-lived decision to remove R. Kelly and XXXTentacion from the service's own curated playlists due to a policy opposing "hate speech and hateful conduct." Less than a month later, Spotify rescinded the "hateful conduct" portion of the policy, declaring, "We don't aim to play judge and jury."

The debate highlighted, on one hand, the questions many fans are facing in the #MeToo era. When a popular artist is credibly accused of might be very fairly called "hateful conduct," what does that mean for their music? It also pointed to the increasing importance of playlists in the streaming era. Landing on a hot Spotify playlist can be a huge career-booster, and then there are the millions of algorithmically curated playlists for individual listeners...Spotify has power over those too. If they're not playing judge and jury, who is?

3. Grammys try to reboot

Like all established awards, the Grammys have come under fire for their lack of diversity. At the ceremony held in January 2018, Best New Artist Alessia Cara was the only woman to take a podium alone to accept an award. Neil Portnow, head of the recording academy, didn't help matters when he said in an interview that women just need to "step up" to be recognized in the music industry.

Fast-forward to the end of the year. Portnow is stepping down, and the search is on for a replacement to take his job in 2019. The next round of nominees have been announced, and women predominate in the major categories, with two men of color — Drake and Kendrick Lamar — leading in the number of nominations. Will Drake reward the Grammys for this progress by actually attending this year? We'll have to wait and see.

2. Music Modernization Act passes

A New York Times op-ed recently called Brexit "the most boring important story in the world." The music-world version of that might be the Music Modernization Act, a piece of legislation the casual fan would be hard-pressed to explain but which artists, labels, and streaming services largely celebrated. It even created a rare moment of bipartisan consensus in Washington, easily passing both houses of Congress and creating a strange Oval Office spectacle as President Trump signed the bill with Kid Rock looking on, before inviting Kanye West to share a wandering public conversation.

So why is this law such a big deal? Basically, it's going to clear up a lot of the confusion and frustration that's plagued the recording industry as streaming has become a central mode of music consumption. The act will help ensure that artists get paid more, and paid more fairly, with less of the ambiguity that's created confusing lawsuits for years. The good news for us is that now we'll spend less of 2019 explaining, for example, why the Turtles have beef with Sirius XM. That means more time for music, and that's the point.

1. Aretha Franklin dies

The Queen of Soul. An American music legend whose legacy extends far beyond the studio and the stage into social justice and women's representation. The passing of Aretha Franklin in August, at age 76, marked the end of an era and the beginning of a new appraisal of Franklin's peerless discography.

After a series of star-studded tributes, the world turned its eyes to Amazing Grace, a 1972 concert film that provides testament to Aretha's greatness — even though, in her final years, she chose to block its release. We may never know exactly why, but while we can argue about whether the film should be coming out, we can't argue about the importance of Aretha Franklin, an artist who demanded "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" in a voice that will always resonate.


Songs sampled in podcast
Jahzzar: "Comedie" (CC BY 4.0)
David Robidoux/NFL Films: "The Lombardi Trophy"
Justin Timberlake: "Filthy"
Prince/Justin Timberlake: "I Would Die 4 U"
Maroon 5: "Love Somebody"
Shorty Long: "Here Comes the Judge"
Zedd & Alessia Cara: "Stay"
Drake: "God's Plan"
The Turtles: "Happy Together"
Aretha Franklin: "Respect"


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