From David Bowie to Prince and Leonard Cohen, death has cast a long shadow over the world of pop and rock. But, as more pioneers reach a certain age, it’s something we’ll have get used to
Trying to guess how history will judge an era in pop is a famously tough call. Nostalgia twists and distorts what actually happened. Stuff that seemed hugely important then isn’t always what seems important years on: stars get forgotten, hits vanish from memory, emphasis is subtly shifted to reflect subsequent changes in tastes or to fit a wider narrative that wasn’t apparent at the time. Even so, it seems a fairly safe bet to say that when people look back on 2016, they will think about death.
Death was the year’s big breakout star. The charts were full of it: posthumous hits choked up the Top 40; the success of the year’s most unexpected No 1 album – Viola Beach’s eponymous debut – was down to the band and their manager’s deaths in a car crash five months previously. No meticulously planned stealth release, with its carefully cultivated air of surprise and concealed impact date, was as surprising as David Bowie or Prince’s death. December’s traditional pop story – about the race for the Christmas number one – was completely eclipsed by the death of George Michael. It was what people talked about: more column inches were occupied, more covers given over, more social media posts posted and blogs blogged about pop stars dying than about those who lived, even Beyoncé or Kanye West.