Music

A look at the 16 most unforgettable lyrical moments from 2016

Throughout the permeating shit-ness of 2016’s societal and political aspects, many musicians used the harrowing backdrop to articulate anger, introspection, humour, empowerment and more.

Here we take a look at the lyrics from 2016 that got people talking, epitomised the essence of the year itself, or were just straight-up great.

 I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex / Why? I made that b***h famous”

Kanye West feat. Rihanna – ‘Famous’  

Impossible to start anywhere else. No lyric in 2016 got more traction than this, good or bad- even before the controversy-baiting video (not the unofficially official Eric Wareheim & Aziz Ansari version below). Though this is the defining line from an album of defining moments, a notable mention must also go to “I love you like Kanye loves Kanye”.

“He better call Becky with the good hair”

Beyonce – ‘Sorry’

 At the end of the ‘Sorry’ video Beyonce flashes a dry, middle-fingered smile. Having just uttered the world-stopping Becky line for the first time atop MeLo-X and Wynter Gordon’s production she takes a sharp inhale, repeats it a capella, and lets it sit in deafening silence. The magnitude of what would follow even Bey couldn’t have predicted.

 “I don’t make songs for free / I make ’em for freedom”

Chance the Rapper feat. Jamila Woods, Byron Cage – ‘Blessings’ 

 Much has been made of Chance’s role as a crusader for independent artists, and deservedly so: this year he became the first artist ever to hit the Billboard charts based on streams alone, and almost single-handedly changed Grammy eligibility rules. 2016 also saw Chance positively influence gun control, voter turnout and youth disadvantage in the US- evidence he and his songs really do have the pulling power to help society toward freedom for all. All this before the age of 24.

“Blow my head off / Explode my crystal guts”

ANOHNI, ‘Drone Bomb Me’

A stunning interpretation of the reality of modern warfare. Written from the perspective of a suicidal young girl in a war-torn country after the death of her family, ‘Drone Bomb’ Me shatters the bubble of ignorance around western civilisation and personifies the futilities of a struggle most of us could never begin to understand.

 I’m 20 / washed up already”

Frankie Cosmos – I’m 20

 In just five words, Greta Kline characterised the angst and mental health issues of an entire generation. The line, delivered in matter-of-fact deadpan, acts as a microcosm for much of the Cosmos catalogue: wry, cartoonish and more than just a little bit endearing.

“Fuck Donald Trump”

YG feat. Nipsey Hussle – ‘FDT’

 Rap has always been inherently political, but it’s rarely displayed with such hostility or forthrightness. The refrain from YG’s Trump diss appears eight times in the chorus alone, bookending more dexterous verses from he and Nipsey Hussle. Despite claims the US Secret Service were monitoring the Comptonite after the track dropped early in the year, a sequel featuring Macklemore & G-Eazy was released a few months later.

“Hands up, get out / Hands up, get out”

Blood Orange – ‘Hands Up’

Dev Hynes was one of countless musicians throughout 2016 expressing disdain through song for US law enforcement’s treatment of the black community. Subverting the authority of a well-known police expression into a liberating dance coda, Hynes simultaneously consoled his community and added strength to their movement.

 “With my voice, I am calling you”

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – ‘Jesus Alone’

The Skeleton Tree opener may be Cave’s most harrowing song, especially in the context of recent family events. Everything about Jesus Alone – the instrumentation, the production, this chorus – throbs and trembles. “Let us sit together in the dark until the moment comes,” Cave warbles towards the track’s tail-end. Cue waterworks.

 “I don’t have sex for validation / I’ve had no sex in six months”

Emma Russack – ‘If You Could See Me Now’ 

“I used to think that I could only be happy if I had a boyfriend. I also used to think that sex was everything. How wrong I was!” Russack told FasterLouder in June. Both redemptive and melancholy, ‘If You Could See Me Now’ is an ode to independence, Russack reflecting on love and adolescence.

“I tried to drink it away / I tried to put one in the air”

Solange – Cranes in the Sky

While Raphael Saadiq’s production is warm and welcoming, Solange’s words are anything but. On A Seat at the Table’s empowering centrepiece, she details desperate efforts to escape the “metal clouds” facilitating the struggles of black womanhood.

“I don’t care what the papers say / It’s just another intern with a resumé”

Angel Olsen – ‘Intern’

Though Intern could be about love, work or life, it doesn’t really matter. Its themes of survival and inadequacy are universal, resonating differently in each listener. The track’s structure also feels incomplete; it rather peters out, shunning a grand climax when one seemingly beckons. We’re able to paint our own lives and emotions onto ‘Intern’, a powerful and stunning introduction to Olsen’s best album yet. 

“It’s a downward spiral / Gotta figure it out”

Danny Brown – ‘Downward Spiral’

Most of Danny Brown’s latest record is spent inside his own head, grappling with mental illness. On ‘Downward Spiral’ he spits jagged raps about bouts of depression and schizophrenia, sonically augmented by Paul White’s rugged production. Hip-hop is seeing braggadocio and buoyancy increasingly replaced by darker glimpses into the psyche of its artists, with music from the likes of Kendrick, Isaiah Rashad, and Jimi Tents all doing similar this year.

“I remember all the blood and what carried us / They remember 20 recipes for lamingtons”

A.B. Original feat. Dan Sultan, ‘January 26’

White people, amIright? Contrasting the scars of Indigenous Australia to the ignorance and privilege of the country’s fairer-skinned population, Trials drops an unapologetic punchline for the ages. The subversive power of humour is one both potent and unique, with A.B. Original making full advantage of that here. It’d be pretty great to see this hit the Hottest 100 come the titular date.

 “Don’t be afraid / It’s only blood”

Jenny Hval, Period Piece.

 Not many sing about trips to the OB/GYN like Hval. Not many sing about trips to the OB/GYN at all, really. In Period Piece the Norwegian details a visit, describing imagery of speculum operation and the “regulation of [her] ‘vagine savant’” (French for ‘wise vagina’). The concluding line is as visceral as it is calming.

“I don’t give a fuck if you can’t stop the boats”

The Drones – ‘Taman Shud’

Taman Shud’s (originally released as a single last year as the first taste of 2016’s Feelin’ Kinda Free) squally guitar makes it feel as if an explosion is around the corner. It doesn’t matter the sonics never quite reach a crescendo of that magnitude as Gareth Liddiard Gareth-Liddiards a plethora of fiery lyrics, including this one condemning Australia’s asylum seeker policy. The Drones weren’t the only local musos to write about immigration in the last 12 or so months, with Olympia, Crowded House and Missy Higgins also recording on the subject.

 “Look up here, I’m in heaven / I’ve got scars that can’t be seen”

David Bowie – ‘Lazarus’

It’s incredible to think Bowie’s final album was released just two days before cancer claimed his life. The inimitable artist’s passing surprised us all, though in a way this Lazarus line feels a little apt: for even in his final moments, he knew something we didn’t. Vale David.