2016 has been an especially rough year for celebrity deaths, and I'm not sure any of us really know what to do about losing so many artists whose work shaped our lives. One thing always crosses my mind when we lose a major player. Did I appreciate them enough while they were alive? The answer, unfortunately, is usually no. I didn't get to see the Beastie Boys before MCA passed, and I missed two opportunities to see Prince in the last 11 months. (And how dare I miss the legendary Queen concert at the Forum, before I was even born?)
I'm making it a point to appreciate the incredible musical artists that I get to listen to in my lifetime (and theirs), and I've enlisted a few friends to make their picks as well:
When you think about it, it makes perfect sense that Prince worked with Janelle Monae. She's one of the only artists of her generation qualified to pick up Prince's torch. Her sound is timeless and her look is unique - no one wears black and white like she does. (Seriously, I once saw a woman wearing tuxedo pants and heels, with her hair up and her makeup simple and flawless, and I almost cried because for a second I thought I was in the presence of Janelle Monae and was not prepared. It was not her. I eventually composed myself.) She's also unafraid to be herself, in her music and in real life: songs like "Q.U.E.E.N." prove not only her artistry but her desire to speak up, as a feminist, for what she thinks needs to be talked about:
Find me a protest song even half as funky as "Q.U.E.E.N." I dare you. I'm not even sure that we're worthy of her, but I kind of hope that Janelle Monae lives forever.
There are so many artists I could be writing about right now, but I only felt one emotion when I remembered that Alicia Keys would be on Saturday Night Live this week: pure glee. Alicia Keys is the rare artist that not only grows with her music and her listeners, but retains a sound that can be relevant to any age. Imagine hearing "Fallin'" for the first time, in 2016:
You'd think it sounded just as good as it did the day it was released. No wonder legions of American Idol auditioners sang it in the early 2000s. None of them can sing it like Alicia does, though. So much emotion, so much vocal power, just enough vocal power. She was 20 when it was released. TWENTY. That means that we've had the pleasure of seeing her grow through a decade and a half of what can be the most fast-paced years of a person's life. (Yes I know I sound like a Millennial when I say that, but you've probably watched or read your share of coming-of-age stories, so let it go.) She might be Clive Davis' greatest signing since Whitney Houston. There, I said it. Listen to the delicate, masterful vocals on "You Don't Know My Name," then follow it up with the pure honesty and emotion of "If I Ain't Got You" and tell me I'm wrong:
She's also tried to diversify as an artist, and it actually works for her better than it has for most: being married to a hip-hop producer has its perks, like the rhythm-heavy songs that made up her performance at the NBA All-Star Game a couple of years ago, and she may or may not have been the only good thing about the second season of Empire. I'll always love the original Alicia (you know, the one with the braids?) but I love seeing her grow, mature, and evolve, and I hope to get to see her do that for a few more decades.
Bryan Adams: by Shannon Penfound, true Canadian
I grew up listening to Bryan Adams and so his music makes me think back to a simpler time in my life. This song in particular reminds me of my grandparents and how if you find 'that' kind of love, to never, ever let it go.
Britney Spears: by Heather Lynn, recovering hockey fan and lifelong champion of pop music
I think death of the famous can strike in such powerful ways is when we realize they were just a quiet and pleasant hum there all along, and now it has gone quiet and you're left with your own thoughts to consider.
Have you heard the word of the Holy Spearit? For me, Britney has been a constant since she came to me in the formative years of nearly teen pop culture obsession. She emerged on the scene with the template debut album and everything else after that shattered the archetype. I've grown with her and she's grown with me. She's evolved from the vision of the pining and pure devoted love:
to over the nonsense of boys and just wanting to have her fun:
I measure a pop culture item by moreness. Britney has brought me light, happiness, perseverance and the idea of you better work bitch - more than anyone else. And always remember, if Britney survived 2007, then you can survive today.