Twelve months is a long time in popular culture: just ask Justin Bieber, who spent the year distancing himself from his bad boy image, or Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, who was so keen for a personal shift he wrote a song called ‘Yes I’m Changing’. Scroll down to read about how they fared, as well as 2015’s other most outstanding metamorphoses.
BEFORE: Public urinator, monkey abandoner and motoring offender. The baddest kid in pop.
AFTER: Honest, emotional pop star. The 21-year-old grew up fast and made sophisticated pop songs that matched his serious new outlook.
HOW THEY DID IT: By releasing ‘Purpose’, his most credible and best album yet. Regrettable cheese remained – the frankly ridiculous ‘Children’ was Biebs’ answer to ‘Earth Song’, featuring lines like, “What about the children?/ Look at all the children we can change” – but the record was memorable for its smartly executed dance tunes. ‘Sorry’, ‘What Do You Mean’ and ‘Where Are U Now’ were certifiable bangers of the kind no one really expected him to make. The cover art – crucifixes, Bieber’s ripped torso and bowed head – and frank interviews put heft behind the idea that Bieber really had changed. A lot.
PEEP SHOW’S SUPER HANS
BEFORE: Musician, man with van, crack smoker and persistent drug user.
AFTER: A squeaky-clean married man who replaced drugs with fruit juice.
HOW THEY DID IT: Marrying Molly at the start of the first-person comedy’s ninth series changed everything for Hans. Matt King’s character had his stag do in episode one and, as he sat there imploring Mark and Jez to try different juices, it looked bloody boring. Super Hans reverted to type before the end of the night and took loads of drugs and shouted “I love cocaine!”, but as the series wore on viewers had to get used to a changed man. Thankfully his weird one-liners weren’t affected by his reduced narcotics intake: “I’m getting married, and I would punch in the throat anyone who tried to stop me, that is how I feel today”.
BEFORE: Controversial pop star and twerker.
AFTER: Often naked, usually stoned and pet-obsessed legend of lawlessness
HOW THEY DID IT: Twerking at the VMAs and riding a wrecking ball look rubbish compared to what Miley’s been up to this year. Where incidents like those smacked of controversy for controversy’s sake, the strap-on wearing shows with Flaming Lips feel much more organic. The 23-year-old’s rambling, psychedelic ‘Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz’ album painted her as a fascinating, addled creative mind. And crucially, it wasn’t at all shit. That Miley ended the year wearing butter costumes onstage and dressing up as a baby for the inspired ‘BB Talk’ video sums her 2015 up nicely. A proper weirdo, in the best possible way.
BEFORE: Beatles worshipping psychedelic rock weirdoes led by Kevin Parker.
AFTER: Festival headlining disco kings with Mark Ronson on speed-dial.
HOW THEY DID IT: The run-up to the July release of Tame’s third album was full of rumours they’d “gone disco” and replaced guitars with synths, but nothing could have prepared us for the shock ‘Currents’ delivered. Kevin Parker’s high-pitched vocal dripped over crisp, clear drums and synths. Even when he did play a guitar it sounded like a keyboard. The finger-clicks, handclaps and bits where he affected his vocal to Daft Punk levels were even more surprising. The most impressive thing about the transformation was how absolute and convincing it was: you couldn’t headbang to ‘Let It Happen’ or ‘Yes I’m Changing’ and it didn’t matter.
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BEFORE: Police-annoying UK rap genre, mostly found underground.
AFTER: Britain’s most exciting musical export, burgeoning worldwide rep boosted by endorsement from Drake and Kanye, not to mention the emergence of some seriously talented new MCs.
HOW THEY DID IT: Skepta led the way, and Kanye’s decision to flank himself with the cream of grime’s crop at the BRITs certainly helped, but the genre’s growth was all down to talent. Rappers like Stormzy, Novelist and Bugzy Malone rose quickly, while Skepta’s Boy Better Know crew – who have been around since 2005 – made massive strides off the back of his quaking ‘Shutdown’ single. These MCs stole every UK festival they were booked to play, and Sketpa lit up America in July. At the premiere of his new documentary Top Boy in November, Skepta hinted grime will only get bigger next year: “We’re gonna be everywhere”. Don’t bet against it.
BEFORE: The indie teen’s alternative to 1D.
AFTER: Sexed-up indie pin-ups touting a new album that promises increased credibility, plentiful weirdness and stories about drugs.
HOW THEY DID IT: The shift started with ‘Love Me’ in October, an attack on celebrity culture set to a swinging guitar part that people who like ‘proper indie’ could legitimately claim was actually alright. The video brought shades of delusion-era Johnny Borrell, as mop-top singer Matt Healy combined his topless torso with leather trousers. Next came ‘UGH!’ a song about how good (and bad) loving cocaine is. The band’s second album, ‘I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It’, will be a must-listen.
BEFORE: Washed up noughties R&B star, living in Miami, lifting weights and posting inspirational photos on Instagram
AFTER: Reinvigorated noughties R&B star, living between Miami and London, lifting fewer weights and posting inspirational photos on Instagram.
HOW THEY DID IT: Craig David’s resurgence has largely been based on him being a thoroughly nice guy and the enduring brilliance of his 2000 debut ‘Born To Do It’. The Southampton singer has been recording all year and recently released ‘When The Bassline Drops’, a flashback to his heyday with a verse from man-mountain MC Big Narstie. Throw in candid interviews and his TS5 nights – where he spins dancehall, garage and jungle and treats fans to chopped up renditions of CD classics like ‘Seven Days’ and ‘Rendezvous’ – and you’ve got a has-been on the up.
BEFORE: One fifth of One Direction, was once caught smoking weed on camera.
AFTER: Suddenly interesting, unshackled solo artist who keeps a crossbow in his garden.
HOW THEY DID IT: By leaving One Direction. How else could a world famous boyband member explore R&B, funk, soul and “other influences” than by ditching his mates and going it alone? Parting may have been hard (Zayn exchanged bitchy tweets with Louis Tomlinson after he left) but it sounds like it was worth it. The 22-year-old Yorkshire lad described life in 1D as like having a canvas but not being allowed to paint on it. Now he can spatter and smudge as he pleases. “Try it yourself!” as Art Attack’s Neil Buchanan might have put it. The results will come in the form of a debut solo album produced by Frank Ocean collaborator Malay next year.
BEFORE: Noughties indie stars, estranged after awkwardly headlining Latitude in 2013.
AFTER: Bloc Party 2.0: new drummer, new bassist, new songs.
HOW THEY DID IT: Time is a great healer, but not in Bloc Party’s case. It couldn’t heal the wounds separating remaining members Kele Okereke and Russell Lissack from evacuees Gordon Moakes and Matt Tong. Still, Kele and Russell were still mates, so they did what the remaining 50% of any band would do: scour YouTube for a drummer, get their American pal in on bass and write a slow and sultry new album with a dance banger for a lead single. Welcome aboard Louise Bartle and Justin Harris, let’s hope Bloc Party’s future is nowhere near as rocky as their past.
Bloc Party headline the NME Awards Tour 2016, with Drenge, Rat Boy and Bugzy Malone. Get tickets here.