Summer 2017 can be summarised by one word: Despacito.
You heard it the first time and thought it was fine, then it got better with each listen. Luis Fonzi’s four-chord Latin pop hit was reworked for an anglophone market and with Daddy Yankee rapping and Justin Bieber singing in Spanish, Despacito was a global smash. It equalled I Gotta Feeling’s 16 weeks at the top of the US Hot 100 and topped the UK charts on three occasions between May 18 and August 17. Its total of 11 weeks makes it one of the biggest hits of all recorded time. Tushes were shaken and Bieber had yet another number one.
The song that Despacito knocked off the US and UK number one slot is also on NOW 97. DJ Khaled was famous for yelling three phrases: ‘We The Best Music’, ‘Another One’ and, famously, his own name. His 2017 album Grateful included the likes of Beyonce, Jay-Z, T.I., Drake, Rihanna, Rick Ross, Nas, Alicia Keys, Nicki Minaj, Calvin Harris, Future, Fat Joe, Gucci Mane and his newborn son Asahd. The big song was I’m The One, a four-chord marvel with verses rapped by Quavo (‘QUAVO!!’), Chance the Rapper and Lil Wayne, while Justin Bieber showed up to sing the irritating ‘oh-way-oh’ hook. I hated the song but loved the energy of DJ Khaled, who returns in 2018 with more of the same or, as he would put it, another one.
Also on NOW 97 is the number one by Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, who is no relation to any character on Coronation Street. Humble is a great song from DAMN, an album that would help him win a Pulitzer Prize for his great work with words. The song was replaced at the top by Peter from Hawaii, as Bruno Mars released the second single from 24K Magic called That’s What I Like, which had a gorgeous bridge and a tremendous middle eight.
Lady Gaga’s song The Cure, written with Willie Nelson’s son Lukas, was performed at Coachella, the festival for beautiful people in California, and released as a standalone single. Gaga headlined the 2017 Superbowl Half-Time Show, opening with a version of God Bless America pre-taped on the roof of the stadium and running through Poker Face, Born This Way, Telephone, Just Dance, the glorious A Million Reasons and Bad Romance, six hits that prove the durability of the star born Stefanie Germanotta. A horrible illness would derail her world tour, though A Star Is Born will send her back on the publicity trail in October 2018.
Justin Bieber – who will certainly headline a Superbowl show within the next three years, probably with DJ Khaled – showed up to record 2U, an execrable piece of music by David Guetta (who two-times but I’ll get to that later), while Mama bounces along thanks to Jonas Blue’s production and the vocals of William Singe. Calvin Harris put out the track Feels, as in the phrase ‘it gives me all the feels’ which idiots were saying during 2017, with vocals from Pharrell Williams (whose band N.E.R.D. returned in late 2017), Katy Perry and Big Sean, another ‘pileup’ or, as I call it, orgy. Katy two-times with the average Bon Appetit, a Max Martin track, and Max also co-writes Rockin’ (WITH NO G!!) for The Weeknd.
Clean Bandit follow up Rockabye with another great song called Symphony, with vocals from the ever excellent Zara Larsson. Anne-Marie & Mike Posner showed up on the dull Remember I Told You by Nick Jonas, which Nick wrote with Mike. Oddly, it was never released as a single and went to number 97 on streams, so why was it on a NOW if it wasn’t a hit? It just seemed to be brand awareness with a bit of a melody, something to flesh out the compilation. Nick’s fellow photogenic chap, Shawn Mendes, outdid himself with the outstanding There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back (WITH NO G!!), which is not fleshy at all and is all sinew and bone, muscular pop from a guy who has gone up in my estimation with every song he has released.
Miley Cyrus, who turned 25 in November 2017, returns with the languid Malibu. Fun fact: Billy Ray named his daughter Destiny Hope but she was nicknamed Smiley, hence Miley. She will have a terrific career now she has stopped swinging on wrecking balls, though her recent album Younger Now was not as successful as it could have been and she promoted it through a judging stint on The Voice.
Cowellpop was still going strong. Niall Horan had 2017’s biggest song on American radio with Slow Hands, a song I didn’t like at the time but appreciated enough to record a version as part of my 100 Songs from 100 NOWs project. His mate Harry Styles had a UK number one with a song that was compared to David Bowie (by idiots); Sign of the Times was long and dull and was allegedly about a mum having a difficult birth, which seems like fake news. James Arthur, meanwhile, popped up to moan his way through Sun Comes Up by Rudimental, which could have done with a better vocalist.
Olly Murs duetted with Louisa Johnson on Unpredictable and Little Mix two-time: on Power, featuring a rap from Stormzy (more on him later), they are exceedingly naughty (‘I’m a machine when I do it’), while they are poppier on No More Sad Songs, featuring a rap from Machine Gun Kelly, from Cleveland, Ohio. Future, from Atlanta, Georgia, appears on a NOW with Mask Off. He would end the year as a featured act on Endgame by Taylor Swift.
Nine writers came together to compose Swalla, a tush-shaking piece of pop from Jason Derulo featuring rappers Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign; Nicki would feature on a Taylor-baiting track by Katy Perry called Swish Swish, which is on NOW 98. Taylor’s ‘squad’, visible on social media, included Hailee Steinfeld, who appears with a song which could be sung by anyone – Most Girls, a self-empowerment song co-written with Ryan Tedder – and HAIM, who return to a NOW with Want You Back, one of very few songs led by a guitar riff on NOW 97.
Sia helped write Crying in the Club for Camila Cabello, who sings over the demo. Camila had split from Fifth Harmony, who try to keep their career going with Down, featuring Gucci Mane; Demi Lovato appears twice as a featured artist on No Promises by Cheat Codes (which is dominated by a chorus full of ‘na-na’s) and on the MNEK co-write Instruction by Jax Jones. The latter also has a rap from NOW newcomer Stefflon Don, as in ‘Stephanie from London’. Fellow UK rapper J Hus leapt out of radios over summer 2017 with Did You See, as another UK rap artist broke big with a predominantly white audience, following in the bootsteps of Stormzy.
Dance producers Martin Garrix (There For You, a duet with gay popstar Troy Sivan), Kygo (First Time, a duet with Ellie Goulding that is 99% something by The Chainsmokers, as if the world needs more of that sort of thing) and Sigala (Came Here For Love, a duet with Ella Eyre) return to a NOW, while Maggie Lindemann had her song Pretty Girl remixed by Cheat Codes & Cade. I was ambivalent about that song. I loved On My Mind by Disciples, which got my tush moving..
RAYE follows her guest vocal on Jax Jones’ big hit with her own tremendous song The Line, which shows a keen awareness of the recent output of Bruno Mars and pop music in general, making her a talent to watch. Neikid return, with help from Mimi, with Call Me, a dance-pop update on Call Me Maybe that sounds awfully like 2017. Bad Liar, the new single from Selena Gomez co-written by Julia Michaels and based on Psycho Killer by Taking Heads, was beloved by Fraser McAlpine, who helped me on the first three of my podcasts to go with this series of essays.
Along with fellow Cornish scribe Laura Snapes, Fraser presented the excellent, short-lived Unbreak My Chart podcast, which I adored listening to in spring 2017. Ed from Suffolk, whose music dominated the run of UMC and who will (at last!!) be discussed at length in the next essay, writes two songs for other people that make NOW 97. Strip That Down was a hit for Liam Payne featuring Quavo (QUAVO!) while Your Song was given, gift-wrapped, to Rita Ora. The song that was the only non-Sheeran song in the UK top ten the week Divide was released is on the compilation too: Something Just Like This took a great Chris Martin vocal and ruined it with awful squelches from The Chainsmokers.
Disc 2 kicks off with Unforgettable, a song I took a long time to warm to, by French Montana (‘Mon-TANA!’) and Swae Lee; I didn’t like the production on the vocal, until I heard it enough times and did. JP Cooper still receives a push on a NOW with the hugely melodic and whistle-tastic Passport Home, written with Jamie Hartman, who was counting his Rag’N’Bone Man money from Human.
The three members of Take That return with Giants, and it’s only fair for the compilers to include them after having Robbie on a recent NOW. I went to see the band perform the song for a BBC TV show and was struck by how professional they were, plugging their music (and appeasing Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs) and forthcoming tour on primetime TV. Gary Barlow had spent the first quarter of 2017 as a judge on his own BBC TV talent show Let It Shine, as he and his band picked young lads to play a boyband who would sing Take That songs on a musical which would also appease the taxman.
2017 was marked by two awful tragedies in quick succession. A moron broke fire at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in May, killing girls who only wanted to dance to pop music. Ariana’s song One Last Time became the rallying cry of defiance, though it was not even on her current album, and that song closes Disc 1. David Guetta co-wrote it, which I didn’t know.
Disc 2 closes with a version of Bridge Over Troubled Water by Artists for Grenfell. Stormzy opens the track with a rap that notes, ‘That could have been my mum’s house, that could have been my nephew’, while WSTRN divide the verses with a rap of their own. There are also appearances from Tokio Myers (the piano-playing BRIT school alumnus who won Britain’s Got Talent 2017), Robbie Williams (who lives just up the road from the Tower), James Blunt, Rita Ora (who grew up in the area), Bastille, Craig David, James Arthur, Labrinth, Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson, Leona Lewis, Jessie J, Ella Henderson, Louisa Johnson, Jorja Smith, Emeli Sande, Kelly Jones from Stereophonics, Paloma Faith, Roger Daltry of The Who, Anne-Marie, Nile Rodgers and a choir of children from local schools singing almost a cappella. The song shot to the top of the charts before being dislodged again by Despacito, an accurate summation of the general mood of London and Britain as a whole in summer 2017.
I have never felt ashamed of being British – I am a British Jew whose home has always been the UK – but I came close when it became clear that the victims of the inferno in the Grenfell tower block in West London were mostly of immigrant background. I hope that the Inquiry into the deaths of innocent people will bring justice and comfort to those who lost their loved ones, though I cannot be sure of anything these days. It ought never to happen again.