McHenry High School's student-written and -edited newspaper

The McHenry Messenger

McHenry High School's student-written and -edited newspaper

The McHenry Messenger

McHenry High School's student-written and -edited newspaper

The McHenry Messenger

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2023: A year in review

2023 was a broad, eventful year for music, with many highlights
Paulina Borowski
2023 was filled with many albums and music. Each month had their own best releases, but there are a few artists and songs that have stood out over the year as a whole.

2023 is coming to a close and it has been an eventful year. “A Tale As Old As Time”, “The Spongebob Musical”, summer break, football season, a red carpet homecoming– as we approach first semester finals for the 23’/24’ school year it’s time for The McHenry Messenger to look back on all the music from the last 12 months and decide what albums, artists, and performances stood out (for better or for worse.)

The year started off with a bang, with January releases “Let’s Start Here” by Lil Yachty and “Like..?” by Ice Spice. Lil Yachty ventured into alternative rock with his new release. This was out of character for the rapper, but extremely well received with album highlights like “drive ME crazy!”. Ice Spice was riding high off of traction built the previous year, and her debut record (while not critically acclaimed) was praised by fans and would earn the rapper numerous awards. 

February was a big month for alternative rock fans. Paramore released their first studio album since their breakup in 2010 with “This Is Why” – a record which proved to fans that they still had it. As well, the fictional band of animated characters “Gorillaz” released “Cracker Island.” The actual minds behind “Gorillaz”, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett would not reach high critical success with this record, but fans of the band appreciate their steady release of new material. 

When March rolled around we were treated to our first big radio hit of the year when Miley Cyrus released “Endless Summer Vacation”. The pop record held songs like “Flowers” and “Used To Be Young”, which would both stayed in the radio cycle for the rest of the year. On the other side of the spectrum, indie fans were treated with what was essentially a dream team of alternative artists Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker: Boygenius, and their debut record aptly named “the record”. Radio giant? Maybe not, but it certainly struck a chord with fans and cemented the trio as indie’s biggest artists for the coming year. 

Coming off the heels of a poorly received sophomore album, Jack Harlow’s “Jackman.”, released in April was an unexpected left turn for the artist. Harlow, who had received massive commercial success off his previous record, had been labeled a “sellout” and a “pop artist” by rap fans, and this album (while not a chart topper) saw him prove his staying power as an MC. Far away from the hip-hop genre, Metallica released “72 Seasons” this month, a rock album that reminded the scene that Metallica still had it in them to make a great record. 

May was a seemingly uneventful month for music. However, if you look under the radar, you will find two drastically different but equally occult records in “If Looks Could Kill” by Destroy Lonely and “Wake Up And It’s Over” by Lovejoy. Destroy Lonely, known for his dark, experimental, and melodic hip-hop delivered much of the same with his first studio release. Lovejoy on the other hand released a record that was louder, harsher, and extremely well received by both their core fanbase and alternative rock fans alike. Neither are necessarily unknown, but definitely not stadium level. However, both succeeded in continuing to make a name for their artists. 

As summer rolled around and the school year went, Lil Uzi’s June release “Pink Tape” caught the eyes of the rap fanbase. While received well upon release, the album had very little staying power beyond its singles and left fans craving more. On the alternative side of things, a grieving Foo Fighters released “But Here We Are.” Following the tragic death of their drummer Taylor Hawkins, many fans of the iconic rock band were left wondering if they could continue making music. This record is a beautiful tribute to their late drummer, and a highlight in the band’s career. 

In July, billboards began to display teasers for an upcoming Travis Scott album named “Utopia”, and when it was finally released it did not disappoint. Initial mixed reactions did not take away from this album’s quality, and the long awaited record from Scott managed to meet fan expectations. This month, Taylor Swift continued her run of album re-releases with “Speak Now (Taylors Version)”. Swift, who continued to be immensely popular due to her eras tour, will appear again on this list. However, “Speak Now” remains a year highlight. 

School started back up again in August and the month saw the release of Zach Bryans self titled record. The artist who has been making a name for himself in the country scene continued his rise with this record and has serious promise. As well, August saw the quiet release of “Sundial” by R&B artist Noname. The smooth and calm record soothed listeners’ and acted as a lovely treat to the artists fanbase. 

After her debut album fans were anticipating an even better followup, and in September “Guts” by Olivia Rodrigo absolutely delivered. The artist continues to wear her pop-punk influences on her sleeve and delivered a record filled with popular tracks like “all american b****” and lead single “vampire”. As well, this month indie fans were treated to a jazz record from the rising star Laufey titled “Bewitched”. The smooth voice, calming instrumentals, and introspective and poetic lyrics made this record a career highlight for the artist and saw her reach heights of popularity she has not yet seen. Fans expect a rise in the coming years to superstardom for the jazz artist. 

As Halloween season came and went we got albums from two of the worlds most popular artists. October gave us “For All The Dogs” by Drake and “1989 (Taylor’s Version)” by Taylor Swift. These two albums have been reviewed to death. In simplest terms: Drake once again failed to deliver on high expectations. Despite this, he gained a couple of chart toppers, in particular his track with J. Cole, “First Person Shooter”, which inspired their joint tour “Big As The What?”. Taylors version of “1989” is yet another installment in her reclaiming her catalog, and was welcomed by fans with open arms. 

November is best described as a month of unexpected music. Pinkpantheress, neo-soul and internet darling who had made a name for herself with her album “To Hell With It” in 2021, released her followup “Heaven Knows” this month which quietly delighted fans with more of the young up and comers bread and butter. The artist she shares the spotlight with, however, is far from his typical styling. Andre 3000 of “Outkast” fame released his first solo album, and first public music since Outkasts “Idlewild” in 2006. The album titled “New Blue Sun” is a flute led ambient instrumental record with zero vocals. The unusual release was received extremely well by fans who found its novelty charming and artistic. 

December was a big year for album *teases* more than album releases. That being said, Nicki Minaj’s “Pink Friday 2” was released to uproaring acclaim. The sequel to her classic record “Pink Friday” delivered to rap fans who, otherwise, had a somewhat disappointing year. 

While many artists got their moments in the spotlight this year, some deserve more recognition than others. The spotlight shined brightest on April 12, when Boygenius took the stage for what we think was the Best Performance of 2023. The band made their first public appearance at Fox Theatre Pamona and made history for alternative pop fans. They also earn our distinction for Best Emerging Artist, taking their genre by storm over the past year. 

Best Performer though, goes to Taylor Swift and it’s not even close. Her “Eras Tour” demonstrated her consistency as a performer, and a showmanship that was unmatched by anyone else in 2023. 

Each year sees the return of artists nobody expects, and this year the Best Comeback is definitely Paramore. Returning after a long hiatus with a fan favorite album and an amazing tour is not easy, and yet they pulled it off like they never left. 

Sometimes, decade old hits come back from the dead and top the charts one last time, and this year (with help from The Barbie Movie) “Barbie Girl” by Aqua, released in 1997, earns our Best Throwback award, also helped by it’s sampling in a Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice collaboration of the same name. 

In a year full of artistic experiments, the Most Experimental, the biggest deviation from the norm that remained successful is Lil Yachty’s “Let’s Start Here”. The artist known for cloud rap and trap decided to release an alternative rock album and it worked. It worked so well, in fact, that it got praise from hip hop and alternative rock fans at once. 

The album with the Best Production was highly contested, but one rose above the rest and that was Laufey with modern jazz fusion record “Bewitched”. Smooth does not even begin to describe it and the melodies caught everyone’s attention this year. 

Master Of Ceremonies, our equivalent of “Best Rapper”, was earned by Travis Scott. It was a tough year for the rap genre, with many let downs, but Travis Scott’s “Utopia” has stayed in the rotation for rap fans all year. 

Divisive as country music may be, many are able to agree that Zach Bryan, who released his self-titled album this past year, was the Best Country Artist. He diverges from the stadium country archetype and has a relatable persona that has been an underappreciated attribute in the country genre as of late. 

The Catchiest Song goes to Miley Cyrus with “Flowers”. It seemed you could not go anywhere without hearing it on the radio, simply because nobody could get it out of their head.  

Not every artist had a great year though. Drake earns distinction of Middest Album for his 2023 effort “For All The Dogs”, and Most Overrated Artist. Nobody was wowed by him this year, but it did not stop hardcore fans from pretending they were. 

As well, our Biggest Disappointment goes to Lil Uzi’s “Pink Tape”. An unfortunate case of high expectations left this unorganized and underwhelming record falling short. Fans have grown to expect more, but unfortunately, they did not get it. 

The impact “The Barbie Movie” had on music this year should be studied. Our Song Of The Summer goes to “I’m Just Ken” off the film’s original soundtrack, attributed to Ryan Gosling. It is a trip to be acknowledging this song as one of the highlights of 2023, but it surpassed ironic enjoyment and became a genuine chart topper, and that is something to be admired. 

Speaking of chart toppers, our Radio Tyrant, someone who just could not stay off the radio waves, has to be Taylor Swift. Taylor, who is already been mentioned, released two albums this year and had a career defining tour that kept her front page news everywhere, as well as the first and last song played on every radio station from Jan. 1 all the way to New Years Eve. 

The final question we at The Messenger had to answer was what is the Genre Of The Year? What genre of music, more than any other, had its defining moments this year. While it was a difficult choice, “Alternative” was the winner. With releases from established artists like Foo Fighters, Gorillaz, and Paramore, artists venturing into the genre for the first time like Lil Yachty, and new burgeoning voices in the genre like Lovejoy and Olivia Rodrigo building names for themselves, in the timeline of the alternative genre, 2023 will be a distinct mark. 

Overall the year of 2023 was full of ups and downs. While 2022 was very “go, go, go” from the beginning with hit after hit, 2023 paced itself. Its low-lights came from the highest peaks of popular artists, and its highlights came from unexpected and hungry young talents ready to prove their worth. When all is said and done, 2023 was a good year (albeit an odd one) for music.

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