If what makes an album a bajillion-selling album in the high times is a baffling, confusing mess of a thing, then what makes an album sell anything in 2017 is even more of a tangled mystery. Overall consumption was reported to be up, although there remains the question of whether more people bought more things, or whether the record-selling industry just figured out how tot count things so that it can report on some kind of return. The final tally (see below) does include “Track Equivalent” and “Streaming Equivalent” numbers, however, so it might just be that they’ve decided to start keeping track of things as people actually consume them, which makes them only fifteen years late on that front.
Ed Sheeran, [Division Symbol]
WHAT IT IS: It is suggested that it’s just meant to be called “Divide,” but that’s stupid. Although his last album was called X, which might mean that it might have actually been meant as “Multiply”. I can’t wait (I can wait) until he gets to the point where he’s calling his album !, pronounced “Factorial,” which will also be stupid. Not as stupid as Ed Sheeran, but still pretty stupid. Ed Sheeran is stupid.
WHY IT’S HERE: Because even though it is a well-established fact that Ed Sheeran is stupid, people still insist on listening to his stupid music. I can’t imagine why, but this is also compounded by the fact that I don’t think I actually know any of the people who listen to his stupid music.
AND….?: Remember how this last season of Game of Thrones sucked more than other seasons? Remember how it had Ed Sheeran in it? Yeah, Ed Sheeran makes everything worse. His music is a vector for his plague-like spread of garbage.
THE BEST SONG: None of these songs are any good, but the video for “Shape of You” features him getting punched, so that’s probably ok. I mean, I wish it featured him getting punched more, but what can you do? We take the gifts we are given.
Kendrick Lamar, DAMN.
WHAT IT IS: The best-selling rap album of the year, a lot of places’ choice for record of the year full stop, and generally the next marker in Kendrick Lamar’s so far basically-perfect career.
WHY IT’S HERE: The zeitgeist sort of carried this album along on its shoulders. Kendrick’s always a big seller, and this record is less weird than To Pimp a Butterfly, and more crowd-pleasing, while also being less introspective. So people were probably more inclined to like it, and it sold a bunch (although it wasn’t purchased as much as it was streamed. Thanks Nielsen data!)
AND…?: It’s a great record. It’s extremely likable music, it’s extremely interesting music. It made my list, it made everyone’s list, everyone heard it, and it’s great.
THE BEST SONG: “Humble”, because sometimes I’m not a surprising person, and everyone’s opinion is, very occasionally, the right opinion anyway.
Taylor Swift, Reputation
WHAT IT IS: The first cracks in the Taylor Swift thing have started to show. This is not the best-selling album of the year! I mean, it’s also not very good.
WHY IT’S HERE: Momentum. A Taylor Swift record was always going to be a huge seller. She’s one of the only “too big to fail” stars still happening. This record is, in its way, a lot like the Justice League movie – it’s not that it’s terrible 2, it’s just that it isn’t actually good, and there’s nothing to recommend it beyond its own existence. It’s also only a “disappointment” commercially in the sense that the expectation was for it to be earth-shatteringly successful, and instead it was only regular successful.
AND…?: It has some nice moments, but they aren’t any of the singles. It was never going to do the business that the far-superior 1989 did, but it also isn’t a patch on 1989.
THE BEST SONG: “Getaway Car”
Drake, More Life
WHAT IT IS: The latest installment in the continuing chart dominance of one Canadian miserablist.
WHY IT’S HERE: Because people have a bottomless appetite for Canadian miserablism, especially if it comes from a former child star, I guess.
AND…?: I mean, I get why people like Drake in general, and I’m even guilty of occasionally liking him myself 3, but I guess at this point his real asset is familiarity or whatever, because otherwise I can’t really get my head around it. Maybe it’s whatever mystery agent that compels people to listen to Ed Sheeran, only applied to a less-annoying person.
THE BEST SONG: “Sacrifices”
Bruno Mars, 24K Magic
WHAT IT IS: Bruno Mars’ third album, and the oldest album on this list 4.
WHY IT’S HERE: Bruno Mars makes extremely likable, intermittently very good music, with a very easy-to-like throwback sound that a lot of people respond to favorably.
AND…?: Mars doesn’t make a lot of records 5, which is helpful, I suppose, in terms of keeping up the quality of his output. That said, 24K Magic is not actually very good, and its presence here is, like so many of these albums, actually pretty soul-crushing. Such is life.
THE BEST SONG: “Finesse”
Post Malone, Stoney
WHAT IT IS: It’s probably not fair to refer to someone as being like a “rap Ed Sheeran” for no reason other than I hate their stupid music, but I want to do it anyway, because I hate his stupid music.
WHY IT’S HERE: Actually, it’s largely here on the basis of “Rockstar”, which is the unholy commercial alliance with another inexplicably commercially successful rapper 6, and “Congratulations,” which is a collaboration with Quavo, whose career in 2017 made me wonder if there was a feature offer that Quavo turned down in the entire year. I put to you: there was not.
AND…?: Well, I spent the “Why it’s here” portion of this writeup writing about other rappers after declaring Post Malone “the Ed Sheeran of rap” and frankly, I think that’s about where I stand on this record. It’s pretty bad, and I don’t like it.
THE BEST SONG: “Congratulations,” such as it is. I mean, I don’t know why Quavo is doing so much feature work, but I’m not what you’d call sad about it.
WHAT IT IS: Proof that good hip-hop seems to have fewer barriers to chart success than other genres, at least in 2017.
WHY IT’S HERE: Migos became a genuine actual mainstream phenomenon, having already established themselves as a genuine actual hip-hop phenomenon with their releases prior to this one. Their members’ (especially Quavo, see above) tireless willingness to pop up wherever they could is probably an aid to their general visibility, as is the fact that the particular flavor of “unique” and “innovative” they are also lends itself to being extremely catchy, and not actually sounding very much like anything else on the radio. Since these qualities are also intrinsic to their delivery, and not just embedded in their production 7, it means that when you’re hearing them, you’re hearing them, and have a good idea of how pleasing their music is going to be to you, the listener.
AND…?: I love Culture, and look very much forward to Culture 2, which will hopefully also continue their dominance, because it’s nice to hear good music atmospherically sometimes.
THE BEST SONG: “Bad and Boujee” (f Lil Uzi Vert)
The Weeknd, Starboy
WHAT IT IS: The best album that The Weeknd has made since his pop-star turn 8.
WHY IT’S HERE: Probably more of that appetite for Canadian miserablism, although The Weeknd’s is a sort of gleeful miserablism, so his record isn’t quite the same samey downer that Drake’s albums are. His Daft Punk-assisted singles probably didn’t hurt, nor did his frequent collaborations with Lana Del Ray.
AND…?: I like Starboy, I like “Starboy,” and I’m happy that The Weeknd seems to have figured out how to follow his muse to be adjust his musical approach to follow his impulse to be rich and famous without doing too much more damage to it than he already has. Since his pop records keep getting better, it’s easier to not be salty about his chart presence 9. It’s still not as good as the first few mixtapes, but then, almost nothing is.
THE BEST SONG: “Starboy”, which is one of the collaborations with Daft Punk.
WHAT IT IS: The soundtrack for a Disney movie. Interestingly, Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic is the oldest album on this list because it was released one day before the Moana soundtrack.
WHY IT’S HERE: A perfect storm of a clever interpolation of a kind of music that people don’t usually hear 10, songs co-written by of-the-moment musical wunderkind Lin Manuel Miranda, and a general exposure to the songs by it being an extremely famous Disney musical.
AND..?: I mean, it’s better than the average Disney soundtrack, but it’s still not my cup of tea.
THE BEST SONG: It might as well be “How Far I’ll Go,” since that’s the big one anyway. I don’t know guys, this stuff is pretty far beyond me.
Khalid, American Teen
WHAT IT IS: It’s all pretty much there in the title, honestly. American young people music made by a teenager. Or, well, ostensibly, theoretically young people music made by someone who is unquestionably a teenager.
WHY IT’S HERE: R&B is always a big seller. Khalid has a great voice, and “Young Dumb and Broke” is exactly the kind of radio-bait that is easy to get to pay off.
AND…?: It’s a pretty good record. The songs are fine, Khalid’s voice is, as mentioned, great, and it’s easy enough to listen to. I don’t know how many times I’ll ever listen to it, but I’m never sad to hear its songs in public situations.
THE BEST SONG: “Location”
- for more of which you can start here or here and go back from there. ↩
- in Taylor’s case, the real problem with this record is the singles, which are uniformly awful, even though there are songs on the record that are just fine. ↩
- although I haven’t actually liked a Drake record since Nothing Was the Same, which still wasn’t nearly as good as Take Care ↩
- It came out in November, 2016 ↩
- this is his third in seven years ↩
- in this case, 21 Savage, who’s not nearly as bad as Post Malone, but is still popular beyond all possible reason. ↩
- which not only varies across their own music but necessarily is scattered due to the aforementioned willingness to appear as features on the songs of other people. ↩
- although it’s worth noting that even his early mixtapes included a cosign from his fellow Canadian pop star Drake, so it’s not like he was toiling in obscurity. It’s just that since the mixtapes, all of his label-supported material hasn’t been as good. ↩
- for example, if I had been doing this when Kiss Land had been on the charts, I would probably be a lot more frustrated about it. ↩
- traditional music of the Pacific Islands ↩