2019 YEAR IN REVIEW MUSIC: Billie’s breakout year – Washington Blade

2019 music, gay news, Washington Blade
It was a solid musical year for Tegan and Sara, who revisited their roots, and Kim Petras. (Photos courtesy IMP Entertainment)

The end of 2019 also marks the close of a decade of music to be grouped together forever as the 2010s. Over the past decade many more queer artists have come openly to the forefront of the music scene. Artists like Troye Sivan, Years & Years and Kim Petras have put a relatively young face on pop music, but the decade has also attested to the staying power of many iconic pop voices. 

If anything, 2019 has given us a fair sample of what the past decade had to offer, showcasing some of the newest and most exciting acts, as well as those straying toward mediocrity. Early in the year the Backstreet Boys released their album “DNA,” 20 years after the release of the hit album “Millenium.” The album was less than great, but nonetheless managed a few solid tracks.

One of the pop highlights of the year was without a doubt Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next,” her second full studio release in six months. The album was another massively successful chart-topper, featuring singles such as the eponymous lead single and “Break Up with Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored.” A full album following so quickly after an earlier release showcases the power Grande has in the pop world, likely to translate into staying power in the next decade.

R&B singer Chaka Khan released her 12th studio album “Hello Happiness,” a delightful production that signals her return to making new music after more than a decade hiatus.

One of the more disappointing releases of the year was P!nk’s “Hurts 2B Human,” which fell short of some of her best work on earlier albums like “Fun House” (2008) and even the more recent “Beautiful Trauma” (2017). Nevertheless, the album managed to produce a few hidden gems like the song “My Attic.”

Reba McEntire released her 32nd studio album “Stronger Than the Truth,” which was a major success on the country charts and serves as a testament to the indefatigable staying power of the country legend.

Gay actor and singer Ben Platt (who opened as the lead in the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen”) released his first album entitled “Sing To Me Instead,” which featured the catchy single “Grow as We Go,” as well as slew of other largely accoustic-driven songs. And 2019 has continued to be a big year for Platt, who stars as the lead in the new Netflix series “The Politician.”

After various solo efforts, brothers Nick, Kevin and Joe Jonas reunited for their first new album as the Jonas Brothers since 2009. Their return after a decade-long hiatus showed a mature pop sound that caters to an adult audience. It is the marriage of their more recent work (think Nick Jonas’ solo album or Joe’s DNCE project) and a more classic Jonas Brothers (i.e. high school) sound. One hesitates to assume they will have much longevity as a boyband, but their futures, individual or collective, continue to look bright.

The June release of Madonna’s “Madame X” album was polarizing. On one hand, it featured a handful of catchy, clever cuts (“Medellin,” “God Control,” “Future,” “Faz Gostoso”) but the price of such brazen musical experimentation (the record is chocked wth international influences) is that it doesn’t always stand up to repeated listens. Even some die-hards hoped for a bit more melody and track “Killers Who Are Partying” is not only unlistenably bad, it comes off as cloying and misappropriating (“I will be gay/if the gay are burned” — “the gay?”).  And though she claimed the “God Control” video (which recreates the Pulse nightclub shooting) is a call to end gun violence, it played more like a preening glam video shoot for the star than a genuine plea for action. She continues her well-received theater tour in 2020. 

One of the big success stories of the year was 18-year-old Billie Eilish, whose debut album “When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” dropped in March to strong reviews, a No. 1 Billboard slot and by year’s end, double platinum RIAA certification buoyed by hit single “Bad Guy.” 

The country star Ty Herndon, still best known for the ‘90s hit “What Mattered Most,” released an album stuffed with re-recordings of his most popular songs. Notably for Herndon, “What Mattered Most” was re-recorded with masculine pronouns to refer to his love interest, a bold move for one of the very few openly gay country singers.

Kim Petras — whose irresistibly catchy “Heart to Break” is mouthed in every gay bar and club in the country — finally released her first full album “Clarity” this year. Petras is one of the most visible trans performers in pop music and is headlining her own tour this year after previously touring with Troye Sivan.

The sister duo Tegan and Sara came out with “Hey, I’m Just Like You,” a full-length album composed of songs written during their high-school years. The album coincides with their new memoir entitled “High School” which chronicles their adolescence and coming out story. It’s a delightfully fun album and a wonderful breath of fresh air from the tyranny of the dance-pop single.

The British pop singer Charli XCX released her third album entitled “Charli,” a solid effort with limited chart success. Lead single “1999,” featuring Troye Sivan, however, has been ubiquitous on pop radio since its release late last year.

Kristin Chenoweth’s album “For The Girls,” a collection of mostly standards and classic songs, features duets with Ariana Grande, Dolly Parton and Jennifer Hudson with Reba McEntire.

Two of the more bizarre phenomena in pop music this year: the rapper and producer Kanye West came out with a full-length gospel album entitled “Jesus Is King,” which does not fully succeed even taken on its own terms. And artist Brooke Candy, who could perhaps best be described as the club kid of the up-and-coming-ish pop scene, released her first album “Sexorcism,” a sex-obcessed, anti-pop record, which remains a question mark.

Celine Dion closed out 2019 in a strong way with the release of her studio album “Courage,” another testament to the continued staying power of the contemporary legend.

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