We give you the best, the worst, and the just plain weird of the music world for the past 12 months—including why all our musicians might someday move to Regina.
Our favourite musical headlines of the year, from the year in Bieber to jamming with Archie
It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times. If you survived 2018 and all of its bitterly divisive politics with your sanity intact, consider yourself lucky. There were some things even the most beautiful song couldn’t set right, but for the most part, music made it all better. Here are our picks for the best, worst, and weirdest stories to come out of the music world in the last 12 months. THE YEAR IN BIEBER This was the year we all freaked out over Justin Bieber’s supposed inability to consume food like an ordinary human being. A photo of a Bieber look-alike sitting on a park bench and tucking into a burrito sideways went viral in October and managed to convince a sadly large number of observers that the Canadian pop star finds eating to be an insurmountable challenge. That was a hoax, but what’s true is that Bieber married Hailey Baldwin in September. Hailey is the daughter of actor Stephen Baldwin, a supposed born-again Christian who once founded a for-profit ministry dedicated to lining his own pockets. Not to be outdone, Bieber has been notably more outspoken about his own religious convictions in recent months. He even credited his lord and saviour with providing a template for married life, writing on Instagram in November: “Relationships are hard and love isn’t always easy but thank you Jesus for showing me how!” Who wants to break it to the guy that Jesus was a lifelong bachelor?
GOODBYE, LOTUSLAND Ten years ago, Vancouver had a healthy supply of rambling old rental houses—many occupied by underground artists and musicians. Today, most of those houses have been ripped down for duplexes with a laneway house. That, and a sky-high cost of living, partly explains why Vancouver acts—tough Age, Kevin Halpin, Sally Jørgensen— continue to pull up stakes and move to more affordable cities like, um, Toronto, Berlin, and New York. This year’s South by Southwest festival offered evidence for the theory that local musicians are increasingly giving up. Toronto and Montreal were each represented by 11 acts at one of the most fabled small-club festivals in the world. Vancouver sent three. In the months that followed, the Cobalt shut down, leaving a major hole in a city already lacking venues friendly to smaller bands. The Zolas put a poignant exclamation point on a bleak situation in August with “Bombs Away”, a fuzz-pop breakup letter that singer Zach Gray described as follows: “This track goes out to everyone seeing their favourite spots and favourite people get priced out of the city and wondering if they might be next.” Sad as all this is, the good news is Regina awaits your perma broke ass with open arms. VANCOUVER’S VERY OWN For those looking for a little bit of culture from the Six, 2018 delivered. Drake’s much coveted October’s Very Own (OVO) clothing line opened its first store in Vancouver this year, located on the very bougie 1000 block of Robson Street. Turns out that high-street prices didn’t deter locals from turning out in force for the sought-after streetwear, as the lineup to get into the building at one point stretched the length of a city block. With all the cool kids now rocking Drizzy’s designs, expect to see a flurry of gold owls in the new year.
TIME’S UP FOR HEDLEY One of rock ’n’ roll’s dirty secrets is that stars big and small get away with shit that wouldn’t begin to fly in the average bedroom, motel room, or hair-farmer hot tub. Thank Christ, then, for the #Metoo movement, which saw women around the world come out swinging against men who’ve used positions of power to do inexcusable things, often sexual. While Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey dominated international news, the Vancouver music scene had its own headline maker. In February an Ottawa woman accused Hedley singer Jacob Hoggard of rape after the two hooked up via Tinder, and another woman from Toronto stepped forward in March with more allegations. Although arguing that both encounters were consensual, Hoggard was charged in July with one count of sexual interference and two counts of sexual assault causing bodily harm involving a woman and a girl under 16. This has hopefully sent a message that, if a small-potatoes Cancon rock star can end up in the cross hairs of #Metoo, legitimate music-biz stars better take notice.
What makes a song a hit in this day and age? Is it radio play? Is it downloads? Or is it having a huge number of people hear your song and love it? If it’s the last of those, then “Cuz You’re My Girl” certainly counts as a hit. The song, by Vancouver indie-rock musician Jordan Heaney, was uploaded by Youtuber Alona Chemerys in the summer of 2017. By the end of 2018, the video had racked up more than 3.5 million views. Interviewed by the Straight in May, Heaney—who puts his music out under the name Yung Heazy—said, “I have no idea how she found the song. I just put it up on Soundcloud, and it had, like, 100 plays or something. She somehow found the song through the depths of the Internet and decided to put it on her channel. And it just happened organically. People started sharing and listening to it. I didn’t even know it was up there for, like, a good two weeks. No one contacted me about it. It’s a weird story. I didn’t have any control over it.” CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENT Carrottopped, steel-abbed KJ Apa caused quite the stir in Vancouver this year while filming Riverdale, a Netflix adaptation of the Archie comics. Although he was spotted in local nightclubs, on the Whitecaps’ soccer pitch, and hugging Brock Boeser at Rogers Arena, nowhere was the star more frequently seen than on-stage with touring bands. Turns out he’s quite good. After connecting last year with U.S. jazz-blues artist Ron Artis II to shred his axe at the Railway Stage and Beer Café, Apa went one better in 2018, joining Norwegian superstar DJ Kygo in a performance of his single “It Ain’t Me” at Surrey’s FVDED in the Park. Proving he’s not in it for the exposure, however, Apa capped off the year with a half-hour jam with Saskatoon group the Steadies at Gastown’s Guilt & Co.—a session that’s led to the small band blowing up around the world. The star will be filming in Vancouver until April 19, leaving local groups four months to lobby for a guest appearance.
STILL GOING After the Daily Mail printed a headline stating that local boy Michael Bublé had officially retired from music, his fans were locked into is-he-isn’t-he limbo. No longer, the article implied, would his velvety vocals be on hand to impart deep wisdom about love; no more would listeners be regaled by his luxurious croon. His publicist, however, was quick to respond, telling the world that the British paper had misquoted the singer, and that Bublé would not be hanging up his microphone. Proving that he is every bit the class act, the singer says that he asked the friends who reached out to him not to share the article, but rather to send him pictures of their kids, because “he’d much rather know about that.” HOPE FOR THE FUTURE This summer was the fourth time that Vancouver played host to one of Canadian music’s highest honours, the Juno Awards. The city had a particularly strong showing among winners, with local-born Grimes taking the crown for video of the year, North Vancouver–raised Renee Rosnes scoring a win for jazz album of the year, and city dweller Bria Skonberg chalking up a victory in the vocal-jazz-albumof-the-year category. The fact that all three champions are female mirrors a wider trend that defined the week. The #Metoo movement had a strong bearing on the Juno events, with the organizational committee partnering with Good Night Out Vancouver—a group that implements strategies to end sexual harassment and assault in venues—and organizing a high-profile panel dedicated to helping women in music advance their careers. Here’s to the emergence of more kick-ass female artists.
HARD TIME ABROAD It sounds like the title of the best screamo song never written: “Hard Time in a Yokohama Jail”. Except that, for Vancouver metal-punk veteran Daniel Burton Whitmore, it’s a reality. Famous among pregentrification Cobalt regulars for fronting both the re-formed Death Sentence and the greasepainted Iron Maiden tribute band Powerclown, Whitmore was arrested at Narita International Airport in late 2017. He was making the trek to Japan from Vancouver, and he was caught trying to smuggle $7 million worth of stimulant drugs into the country using his guitar case. In a Facebook post this fall, his brother reported that Whitmore— also know as Dan Scumm—has been totally down in the dumps after being incarcerated in a Yokohama jail. He also suggested that the singer might be able to forget the endless Japanese-prison marching drills, cross-legged sitting sessions, and barked orders in a foreign language if old friends and fans would be kind enough to write to him. Or write a screamo song called “Hard Time in a Yokohama Jail”, and then ask Whitmore if he’ll provide the vocals when he’s released in 2022.
Drake’s October’s Very Own clothing line became available this year on Robson Street; A U.K. tabloid got it wrong when it claimed that Michael Bublé had retired. (Photo by Evaan Kheraj); Vancouver’s Grimes won her third Juno.