Welcome to 19 for ’19: The TIDAL Year in Review — our guide to 2019’s most memorable sounds, stars and moments. This genre-spanning exercise moves chronologically through the year, using 19 notable dates and events as the jumping-off point for discussion of related music milestones. Of course we couldn’t include every single artist, song, album and happening that impressed us in 2019, but this calendar of sorts is a great place to begin reflecting on an outstanding year in music that often felt like one continuous highlight reel.
To read the essays in our ongoing TIDAL 10 project, a diverse collection of writings that attempt to define the 2010s in music, visit TIDAL Read. For an extensive offering of best-of-year and best-of-decade playlists, as well as our recently launched year-end Now Playing initiative, sign up for TIDAL. – Ed.
February 2: Marshmello in Concert … Sort Of
Two “live” sets, spread over a day, from the enigmatic super-DJ Marshmello, performed in the astonishingly popular virtual world of Fortnite? What more could a Gen-Z’er ask for?
That’s what went down in early February, when well over 10 million avatar-fans gathered inside the game. It set a new record for Fortnite activity, and pointed up the uncharted possibilities for virtual concerts. Back in realer reality, Marshmello gave another performance for Fortniters at the game’s World Cup Finals in New York in July.
In other live-electronic highlights, Aphex Twin triumphed at Coachella, giving his first performance at the festival in over a decade. A couple days prior, he’d returned to New York City for his first booking there since the 1990s, at the Brooklyn venue Avant Gardner. Sadly, 2019 also brought the shuttering of the Red Bull Music Academy, whose concerts, journalism, panels and other programming were a coup to electronic music and a great many other genres.
Marshmello, live in the real world, at the Fortnite World Cup at Queens’ Arthur Ashe Stadium. (Credit: Mike Stobe/Getty)
March 16: Buju Banton’s “Long Walk to Freedom”
Buju Banton, the often controversial but continually inspiring dancehall and reggae icon, returned to the concert stage at Kingston’s National Stadium in March. An historic and heroic comeback, the show constituted Banton’s first performance following his drug-related eight-year incarceration in Florida. More than 30,000 fans crowded the stadium, including so many out-of-towners that Kingston’s economy saw an astronomical bump. The show, which borrowed its title from Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, featured some very special guests — among them Marcia Griffiths, Beres Hammond and Wayne Wonder. Most essential, it proved that Banton is back in performing and recording shape. As our reggae and dancehall curator Reshma B wrote for Vibe, “Buju commanded the audience’s attention like no other act.”
March 31: R.I.P. Nipsey Hussle
Every genre in 2019 seemed to suffer some deeply felt losses — in indie-rock, the suicide of David Berman in August left behind a devastated, devoted following enamored of the singer-songwriter’s sly, writerly wit.
Hip-hop lost a best-of-generation MC, and Los Angeles lost an unflaggingly devoted community leader, when Nipsey Hussle was shot and killed outside the clothing store he owned in L.A.’s Hyde Park neighborhood in March. Richly deserved tributes poured in following the tragic news — everyone from YG to JAY-Z to Barack Obama paid heartfelt public respects — and will continue in the decades to come. Nipsey’s influence, as both an artist and a human being, was immeasurable.
Fans and community members memorialized Nipsey Hussle in Los Angeles. (Credit: David McNew/Getty)
April 13: “Old Town Road” Hits No. 1
In 2019, one ubiquitous song signaled how profoundly the music game has changed, while also arguing that plenty of common ground exists in these legendarily divisive times. “Old Town Road” hitmaker Lil Nas X came into his own as the quintessential Gen-Z hustler, a social-media virtuoso whose production and PR budget totaled roughly the cost of a train ticket. An impeccable blend of hip-hop imagery and honky-tonk nostalgia, the song was kept in revenue-generating circulation via remixes, particularly one featuring Mr. “Achy Breaky Heart” himself, Billy Ray Cyrus. It hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 on this date, and enjoyed a record-breaking run there. (Billboard also controversially removed the hit from its country charts.) Great American popular music has always been about lifting up the commonalities shared between genres and communities, and a hit helmed by a young gay rapper of color and a country-and-western veteran falls squarely into that tradition.
Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” matched hip-hop’s viral age with country tropes, with chart-shattering results. (Credit: Nathan Klima for the Boston Globe via Getty Images)
April 17: Netflix Releases Beyoncé’s Homecoming
Another year, another set of culture-transforming projects from Bey. In April, Netflix released Homecoming, a documentary written and directed by the Queen herself, chronicling the preparation for and execution of her 2018 Coachella performance. (A companion live album also came out.) The film, like the historic concert it captures, quickly began a critical conversation that included ranking it as one of the finest music films ever. Most important, though, was the film and concert’s beautifully wrought mission to celebrate black culture. Taking that ambition from African-American heritage to its motherland roots, Beyoncé dropped The Lion King: The Gift three months later, her inspired score for the redux of the Disney classic. A far-reaching work built on a global scale, it features family (JAY-Z and Blue Ivy); hip-hop royalty (Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell and more); and a deep bench of diverse African artists, among them Burna Boy.
Four months after Homecoming debuted, Netflix began streaming Look Mom I Can Fly, an intimate account of Travis Scott’s ascent, directed by self-taught filmmaker-to-the-stars White Trash Tyler. All of which leads us to ask if a burgeoning age of game-changing Netflix-produced hip-hop and R&B docs is upon us.
May 15: BTS on Colbert
For proof that K-pop has transcended trend status and blossomed into a worldwide phenomenon, look no further than this performance by BTS on the Late Show With Stephen Colbert. A stylized black-and-white homage to the Beatles’ earth-shattering 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, it cast Colbert as the lovably gruff host and BTS in a natural role as swooned-over, chart-topping pop invaders. But Colbert was just one stop in a mini-tour of media domination that spring, which included a stunning SNL debut and knockout showings on Good Morning America and at the Billboard Music Awards. The gambit worked, and the Halsey collab “Boy With Luv,” performed at all those appearances, went platinum in June.
May 17: Igor Stuns, Plus Other Surprises & Comebacks
Tyler, the Creator made a bid for hip-hop history on May 17, dropping the critically hailed, Grammy-nominated Igor, his first LP to hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200. A figure of divisiveness in the past, he demonstrated admirable artistic and personal growth with the project, from its neo-soul melodies and arty electronic textures to its LGBTQ-themed concept. His Odd Future comrade Frank Ocean also came back strong, releasing a pair of well-received cuts, “DHL” and “In My Room,” and foreshadowing strong new music to follow.
In rock, reunions, whether just announced or fully executed, ran the gamut — punk and post-hardcore staples like Bikini Kill and Jawbox; retro-rockers the Black Crowes; rap-metal titans Rage Against the Machine; ’90s chart-toppers Hootie & the Blowfish. And while you could never call it a comeback — he’s always up to something interesting — David Byrne performed a sort of reinvention, incorporating highlights of his oeuvre into a life-affirming Broadway show called American Utopia. TOOL returned in full neo-prog glory, joining streaming platforms, releasing a terrifically loud and ambitious new album, Fear Inoculum, their first in 13 years, and selling out arenas. (And to those who say prog and metal lack commercial viability in the poptimist age, let it be known that a prog-metal record debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in 2019.) My Chemical Romance chose Halloween, among the most emo of holidays, as the date of their reunion-confirmation announcement, and kicked off new tour dates in December in L.A.
The grandest pop return — Hot 100 single debut, Billboard 200 No. 1 album debut, a weeklong late-night residency on Corden — went to the Jonas Brothers, whose Happiness Begins, released in June, kick-started Jonasmania all over again.
With American Utopia, David Byrne became the latest veteran rock artist to adapt his songs to an inspired Broadway scenario. (Credit: Taylor Hill/Getty)
July 17: Residente, Ricky Martin and Bad Bunny Join Protesters in Puerto Rico
The movement to force the resignation of now-former Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló hit a fever pitch in midsummer, especially after investigative journalists revealed hundreds of pages of sexist and homophobic communications between members of the politico’s inner circle. In San Juan, during a protest march on Rosselló’s official residence, Latin-music luminaries Ricky Martin, Bad Bunny and Residente turned up to show support. As CNN reported, Bad Bunny held up a sign with the slogan “Ricky resign” in Spanish, and Residente told the assemblage, “This government has to begin respecting the people. We can’t stop protesting.” In November, the trio of stars released a fiery, tradition-focused collaboration, “Cántalo.”
A bit over a week after those protests in Puerto Rico, some 6,000 miles away on the island of Hawaii, Damian Marley joined in to help protestors at the base of Mauna Kea; the culturally sacred summit is the proposed location of the massive — and, as the protestors argue, destructive — Thirty Meter Telescope project. On July 29, Marley encouraged the preservationists with spoken word and song, including a take on his father’s “Get Up Stand Up.”
Bad Bunny (holding flag), Ricky Martin (center, in jeans and T-shirt) and Residente (backwards cap, facing opposite direction) joined the Puerto Rico protests in July. (Credit: Eric Rojas/AFP via Getty Images)
August 9: The Summer of … “Hot Girl Summer”
In 2019, hip-hop’s hottest female rappers seemed to spend more time in winning collaboration than engaged in pointless Twitter battles. Case in point: “Hot Girl Summer,” released on this date and boasting Megan Thee Stallion, Ty Dolla $ign and Nicki Minaj, who, at 36, has become a hugely influential archetype for newer generations of fearless female wordsmiths. No big surprise, it notched a No. 1 on Billboard’s Rhythmic chart and became a go-to club and cookout banger. What’s more, the song’s title went viral as an idea and a catchphrase: If you were looking good and feeling fine and empowered, you just had to hashtag #HotGirlSummer.
August 15-18: Woodstock Anniversary Mania
In a year bursting with classic-rock anniversary celebrations – Abbey Road at 50 comes to mind – none were more omnipresent than the Woodstock festival’s 50th birthday, which seemed to be commemorated ambitiously by every media outlet on the planet. But the ostensibly biggest celebration of them all, Woodstock 50, never actually happened. It was planned in part by original Woodstock co-creator Michael Lang, but a series of snowballing financial and logistical troubles made the proposed three-day fest, spanning genres and loaded with A-listers, go kaput.
September 1: Next-Generation Greatness at MIA
With some very notable exceptions — say, Kanye West, who delivered Jesus Is King and the visionary opera Nebuchadnezzar — many of hip-hop’s gods and goddesses laid low throughout 2019. Unfortunate on the one hand, but on the other it created an open lane for today’s rising rap artists to gain some well-deserved breakout buzz. Afrobeats sensation Burna Boy moved from star to superstar, selling out the former Wembley Arena in November. Over the summer, J. Cole did his part to highlight rising heroes with the compilation Revenge of the Dreamers III.
And at the Made in America Festival in Philly last fall — on the TIDAL stage, no less — one moment in particular stood out as being especially metaphorical: JAY-Z and Beyoncé parting the sea of fans in a kind of convoy, to check out DaBaby’s set featuring his fellow 2019 V.I.P.s Lizzo and Megan Thee Stallion.
September 15: Ken Burns’ Country Music Premieres
On this date last fall on PBS, the documentarian Ken Burns premiered the 16-hour miniseries Country Music, his latest marathon love letter to the hard-earned cultural melds that make America possible. Gorgeously rendered, with a hall of fame’s worth of interviewees, it moves through country’s multitude of subgenres — bluegrass, honky tonk, rockabilly, outlaw and more — with impressive thoroughness. But, as is Burns’ wont, a meditation on the American experiment is at the film’s core, and it works best when engaged in romantic myth-busting.
September 27: Coltrane’s Blue World Is Released, and Other Jazz Delights
Highlights in jazz, covering the genre in its ever-expanding meaning, could have occupied their own 3,000-word Year in Review piece. On September 27, Universal/Impulse! put out Blue World, a handful of excellent, oddly overlooked 1964 recordings of John Coltrane’s Classic Quartet. Trane’s onetime employer Miles Davis was the subject of a like vault discovery, this one a fleshed-out forgotten ’80s studio album called Rubberband.
The groove-centric, crossover-friendly British Invasion continued to forge ahead, while Stateside giants continued to fuse hip-hop, neo-soul and improvisation with fabulous results: Check out Terri Lyne Carrington + Social Science’s Waiting Game, Robert Glasper’s surprise Fuck Yo Feelings and Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s Ancestral Recall. Momentous anniversaries — Blue Note Records turned 80; ECM turned 50 — served up an array of releases, reissues, films and at least one indelible concert memory.
Another extraordinary jazz happening began on September 20, when the pianist and composer Jason Moran took over most of a floor at the Whitney for his first solo museum show. The sterling exhibition featured work like Moran’s STAGED installation/sculptures, which recreate defunct jazz venues, summoning up their sounds and communities. Completing the invocation, live music took place within the recaptured clubs; we caught saxophonist Archie Shepp at the bop haunt the Three Deuces. The whole enterprise proved a profound meditation on jazz and American identity, and provided yet another example of the extramusical conceptual thinking that once earned Moran the coveted MacArthur “genius” grant. Speaking of which: A few days after Moran’s exhibition opened, the MacArthur Foundation announced its 2019 grant recipients, among them the generation-defining guitarist, improviser and composer Mary Halvorson.
November 1: Gang Starr Drops One of the Best Yet
Veteran hip-hop fans rejoiced on September 20, when the first Gang Starr single in over a decade went from rumor to reality. Titled “Family and Loyalty,” it featured the late, great Guru plus a feature from J. Cole, and teased a new full-length, One of the Best Yet, released November 1. Constructed by DJ Premier using unreleased Guru verses, the LP came off like hip-hop comfort food in the triplet-flow trap era. Another unearthed-gems collection of note, The Lost Tapes 2, gathered Nas’ postmillennial cutting-room extras and featured production from Kanye West, Pharrell, Swizz Beatz, Pete Rock and more.
The Wu-Tang Clan told their story in two ambitious film projects: A documentary, Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men, premiered on Showtime in May; and a dramatized miniseries, Wu-Tang: An American Saga, came out in September via HULU. Also upholding heritage hip-hop values were Little Brother, who released their first studio album in nine years, May the Lord Watch. And yes, the UBN network is broadcasting once again.
November 13: Women, Including the Highwomen, Highlight the CMAs
The dual themes of the decade in country — that is, the mainstreaming of Americana and the overwhelming success of women artists — continued to progress in 2019. Bolstering the latter idea was Kacey Musgraves’ Grammy sweep, which included an Album of the Year win for her 2018 release, Golden Hour.
Dolly Parton and the Highwomen at the CMA Awards in Nashville. (Credit: John Shearer/Getty)
Those narratives intertwined to brilliant effect at this year’s CMA Awards, held November 13 in Nashville, where pop-country machismo took a backseat to a celebration of female country-music history. One highlight was the Highwomen — the supergroup of Americana standouts Amanda Shires and Brandi Carlile with country stalwarts Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby — who did badass work with the Tammy Wynette-associated “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad.”
Co-host Dolly Parton, in the midst of a late-career renaissance in 2019, joined the Highwomen at the CMAs, and had made history with the group a bit over three months prior, dropping in as a surprise guest during the quartet’s set at the 60th anniversary edition of the Newport Folk Festival. (“Jolene,” captured on cellphone cameras, was as close to a viral video as the Americana audience gets.)
November 14: Controversy and Inspiration at the Latin Grammys
Even general pop-music fans know that reggaeton and Latin trap are currently ruling the Latin scene; reggaeton heavyweights like Daddy Yankee, Bad Bunny and J Balvin rank among the biggest crossover superstars in Latin-music history. So when the nominations for this year’s Latin Grammy Awards were announced in September, and reggaeton was relegated to the urbano categories and pointedly absent from the major awards, artists took to social media in protest. Daddy Yankee, for one, posted an unmistakably irate image on Instagram, with the caption, “This is about culture, credibility, relevance, and RESPECT.”
The awards show went on as planned in Las Vegas — despite no-shows from the likes of J Balvin and Daddy Yankee — with some necessary healing offered by Bad Bunny. In a poignant acceptance speech for his Best Urban Music Album Award, for X 100PRE, he said, “To all the musicians, to all the people who belong to the Academy, with all my respects, reggaeton is part of Latin culture. And it’s representing, just like lots of other music genres, Latinos all around the world. Also, I tell my colleagues from reggaeton: Let’s make an effort. Let’s bring back creativity and sincerity.”
November 30: Slayer’s Reign in Blood Wraps Up
Metalheads cried into their Jägermeister throughout the fall, as thrash titans Slayer traversed North America on “The Final Campaign,” the last leg of their mammoth final world tour. (It ended on this date in Los Angeles.) Stretching far beyond a year and tallying nearly 150 shows, it was a proper sendoff for the metal hall-of-famers but still a heartbreaker for fans of loud and fast.
Tom Araya of Slayer at Madison Square Garden in November. (Credit: Roy Rochlin/Getty)
December 8: Juice WRLD R.I.P.
The year in hip-hop ended in tragedy, as Juice WRLD died a week following his 21st birthday, after having a seizure amidst troubling circumstances. Social media exploded with artist and fan tributes to the Chicago rapper, whose deeply personal yet wildly popular music was a seamless meld of hardcore hip-hop with melodic drama culled from rock and metal. And as Drake intimated on Instagram, the passing was less an isolated incident and more the latest episode in a devastating string of far-too-young hip-hop deaths.
December 16: “All I Want for Christmas Is a No. 1,” a.k.a. Women Rule the Charts
On December 16, Billboard tweeted that Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” — yes, the modern holiday classic released in, ahem, 1994 — had taken the No. 1 spot on the Hot 100 singles chart. An astonishing feat, to be sure, but also simply the latest example of an iconic woman artist capturing one of the most coveted spots in popular music — something we saw a lot of throughout 2019.
The victors included veteran goddesses of pop, at home at the zenith of the Billboard 200 albums chart: Billboard regular Madonna, with Madame X; P!nk, with Hurts 2B Human; Celine Dion, with Courage; and, of course, Taylor Swift, whose Lover allowed the singer-songwriter to break a number of charting and sales records. New(er)comer Ariana Grande dominated as well, with a No. 1 album (Thank U, Next) and a single (“7 Rings”) that saw a mighty multi-week run. Selena Gomez hit with “Lose You to Love Me,” as did Halsey via “Without Me.” Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes’ “Señorita” peaked during late summer, and the Karol G/Nicki Minaj collab “Tusa” debuted at No. 1 on the Hot Latin Songs chart in the fall; it was the first track by two lead female artists to debut at the top of that chart.
But perhaps the most remarkable chart story of the year was Lizzo, whose “Truth Hurts” — released in the fall of 2017, mind you — hit seven weeks at No. 1 of the Hot 100, tying Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” as the only single by a female rapper to do so. And then there was Billie Eilish, with an album (When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?) and single (“Bad Guy”) holding down the top spot. As if her fever-dream music, fashion sense and persona haven’t already proven that a new pop generation has arrived, Billie is the first artist born in the 21st century to have a No. 1 hit. Feel old?
Lizzo, pictured here with Frank Ocean at the Met Gala, helped to redefine the possibilities of pop and hip-hop stardom. (Credit: Kevin Tachman/MG19/Getty Images for the Met Museum/Vogue)