The story of 2023 and the songs that soundtracked the best year since 2022
Take a moment to spare a thought for 2022. For Will Smith slapping Chris Rock; for Harry Styles not spitting on Chris Pine; for the Queen dying; for Kanye West dying; for England winning the Euros; for Liz Truss versus a lettuce; for the lettuce winning. You’ve probably not thought about it for a year now, and how could you. When one year dies and another is born we need to drag everything into the bin to free up space for another 365 days of glory and horror. ‘Empty Trash’. Discard it ceremoniously with The Big Fat Quiz of The Year.
2023 is no different. And considering we’re just about still in it, it’s impossible to gauge which of the moments I’m about to remind you of before you Select All and Delete might just resurface, not in a year’s time, but in 5, 10 or 20 years. It’s probably going to be the Barbie stuff, but you never know; there have been songs both unmissable and often missed that have hushed the noise of 2023 that deserve to be remembered whenever we feel up to it.
As 2022 became 2023 and fireworks filled the skies, Scarborough remained pitch black and silent due to a walrus called Thor who had arrived in the town’s bay a couple of days earlier. He was on his way to the Arctic (he must have said so when he told them his name) and he simply needed a rest. The town promptly welcomed Thor and cancelled their firework display after he told them how much he hates fireworks. A Conservative council being so empathic and kind toward a living being that had arrived by sea was the perfect start to the year, and we all looked forward to the party’s new attitude toward those not born in the UK but who are in need of help.
Independent music rode this wave of positivity as it jumped straight into 2023 with ‘Crown Shyness’ from Anna B Savage (the sonorous standout from her then-forthcoming album in|FLUX, and her greatest bittersweet chorus yet) and more 2-step brilliance from sibling duo Overmono as the instant classic ‘Is U’ swelled around a sample of Tirzah, while Young Father gave us Heavy Heavy, and particularly the glowing choir on ‘Geronimo’.
Prince Harry missed all of this because it clashed with the release of his autobiography, Spare, which featured a shocking account of a fight with his brother Prince William, where William pushed Harry over! And he landed on a dog bowl! William left, then returned “looking regretful, and apologised.” The film rights haven’t been snapped up yet.
February started with the biggest day of industrial action in over a decade as an estimated 475,000 workers went on strike, from teachers to civil servants, to security guards, to train drivers. Cumbawamba, meanwhile, expressed their own fight for a greater good when they turned down £30,000 for one of their songs (presumably ‘Tubthumping’) to appear on a trailer for a new TV show starring Jeremy Clarkson. “We can’t tell you how much satisfaction that gave us,” they posted on Twitter, as it was known then and now.
Just three days into the month, one of the biggest songs of the year was released (‘Boy’s a liar Pt. 2’, by PinkPanthress and Ice Spice) but so was the latest from jungle DJ and producer Nia Archives: ‘Conveniency’ was another old school slice of jungle paired with Archives’ unmistakable R&B vocal that makes her this coming year’s most exciting new artist, once again.
New York duo Water From Your Eyes also gave us ‘Barley’, a thrillingly nonsensical track of dive-bombing electronics, detuned guitars and screwy loops that made for an addictive noise boogie. It wasn’t bettered by ‘The Last Rotation Of Earth’ by B.C. Camplight, but no track of 2023 could contend with Brian Christinzio’s anthem of nihilism in a battle of opening lines: “You missed a hell of a party / I said to the kitchen floor.” And the same piano loops over and over and over. To think he was on the verge of quitting music altogether until this track – and the album it preceded, of the same name – turned things around from him. Thank god.
Apart from rising interest rates, an increased reliance on food banks, a housing crisis, a homelessness crisis, the ongoing war in Ukraine, and that forthcoming Jeremy Clarkson show, 2023 was looking pretty good at this point. And then football was ruined.
After likening the language of Home Secretary Suella Braverman to the rhetoric of 1930s Nazi Germany (the MP who has said of refugees fleeing war-torn countries: “The British people deserve to know which party is serious about stopping the invasion on our southern coast”), the BBC shat the bed and suspended Gary Lineker from presenting Match of the Day on 11 March. Not a big deal, they thought, we’ll get Chappers on it, or anyone else but Danny Murphy. The problem was that as soon as Ian Wright publicly refused to film the show without Lineker all the other pundits followed suit. And then the commentators, tunnel interviewers and even some of the managers and players. What it left us with was highlights that felt so much like being at an actual game that fans started to realise how confusing and boring football can be when Guy Mowbray isn’t telling you who’s got the ball and why. Fortunately, the BBC fixed the problem as quickly as they created it, bowing to pressure to reinstate Lineker from artists like Self Esteem, who performed in London on 12 March in a ‘Free Gary’ T-shirt.
Brightening this black moment in British history, Black Country, New Road surprise-released an entire album of new material recorded live at Bush Hall, Shepherd’s Bush, premiering the performance on YouTube. From the opening ‘Up Song’ it was clear to see and hear how united the band were on their first (and once again completely different sounding) album since the departure of lead vocalist and lyricist Isaac Wood – a tumbling shout-along between band members and fans alike.
April was a rare month where a song became a story. Some joker calling themself Ghostwriter used AI to create a fake Drake and The Weeknd track called ‘Heart On My Sleeve’, which blew up on TikTok on account of it being no worse than any song by either artist. Initially, it was pretty funny – that Ghostwriter wore a white sheet over their head and that Drake was so furious that a bot had written a line so Drakish (and shit) as, “Talkin’ to a diva, yeah, she on my nerves / She think that I need her, kick her to the curb.” But we’d live to regret those chuckles, as gallons of AI slurry would soon rain down upon us – not just the horrible songs, but the think pieces and news stories about the horrible songs, and AI in general; easily the most boring subject on the planet right now.
This Is The Kit, Toronto producer Bambii and house star Yaeji all released killer singles that they made themselves that month, though – respectively, ‘Inside Outside’ (an earthy indie-folk track that passes in a steady flurry of melodious vocals and squiggly saxophone), ‘One Touch’ (a queer club banger of pitched vocals and dancehall and DnB breakbeats) and ‘Passed Me By’ (the Korean-American artist at her most downbeat and seductive).
The month more less ended with Elon Musk launching a rocket that exploded a few minutes after lift off. Those not intelligent enough to understand were quick to say that a rocket that bursts into flame is not as good as one that doesn’t, but Musk was quick to put the matter to bed when he insisted that the launch had be a great success. “Congrats @SpaceX team on an exciting test launch of Starship!” he Tweeted. And he had us there – things catching fire are exciting. You have to give him that.
May was all about The King of course, and the big question of if the British people would care as much about a crown being put on the head of a king as they did about a crown being taken off the coffin of a queen. On the 6th of the month we got our answer: no. And so the country moved its attention to Eurovision the following week, proudly hosted in Liverpool on behalf of the Ukraine, even if people were saying that we’d been tricked into doing it.
Rules stated that we weren’t allowed to enter ‘Space Man’ again, so we went with ‘I Wrote A Song’ by Mae Muller. We finished 25th out of 26. Maybe we had been tricked.
Away from this bullying, another giant song of the year was release. Perhaps the biggest of all. And while I personally don’t get the fuss about ‘Padam Padam’, Kylie Minogue’s ability to regenerate into a new hit-maker remains in a league of its own. Or a league of Madonna’s.
It’s difficult to know when the Barbie promo train started rolling, but by June, with release a month away, it was thundering along. Some of it was ingenious (renaming Barbican tube station Barbie Can), some less inspired (Boohoo’s Barbie hoodies), all of it over-the-top and suitably silly. The ‘This Barbie is…’ social media assault felt particularly naff until Glastonbury weekend, when it provided the flag-waving community a gift that they ran with. Best in show was the flag that featured Gary Lineker’s old adversary Suella Braverman in the iconic Barbie rosette: “This Barbie is a cunt.” It waggled in front of the Pyramid Stage as Elton John retired from touring with the help of some famous friends. But not that famous.
Eric Cantona meanwhile launched his music career with a song called ‘The Friends We Lost’. Those of us paying attention to the sombre piano-led piece agreed that it was much better than we thought it was going to be. It was King Eric, after all. So fair play.
Olivia Rodrigo released ‘Vampire’, proving further to be the new queen of angst pop, and PJ Harvey announced new album I Inside the Old Year Dying with its best track – the witchy funeral march of ‘A Child’s Question, August’.
And then July was finally here, which meant that Barbie was finally here. Which also meant that Oppenheimer was finally here, even if nobody knew there was a film about Oppenheimer until the guys on the Barbie film told us about it. People were planning double bills and debating which film you should watch first. Is Barbie a pallet cleanser after a film about the most destructive weapon made by man? Or is the best place for you after watching Oppenheimer a black bin bag in the sea rather than a packed Cineworld full of people cackling in hot pink everything? Decisions were made, blog posts were written, and we all decided, after months and millions of dollars of marketing, that both films were ok. Solid. Not bad at all.
Ryan Gosling’s ‘I’m Just Ken’ was the big musical moment of the month, but Melbourne’s Maple Glider also gave us new single ‘Dinah’, a playful sounding total bop of an indie-folk song with a dark story that’s all too apparent on second listen: a tale of sexual abuse in the in church, experienced by Tori Zietsch. It’s her disarming delivery that’s makes it pack such a punch, while Zietsch gift for a hook currently remains criminally underrated.
This time last year I looked back on 2022 and noted how nothing at all happened in August. 2023 performed a little better, but only just, and most of the news was bad. Olivia the Conqueror released smash hit ‘Bad Idea Right?’ (a clear sign of the influence Wet Leg are now having on other pop writers), and sound artist Claire Rousay gave us a beautiful double A side of ‘Your First Armadillo’ and ‘Sigh in My Ear’, the LA musician in suitable vocoder emo and world-building ambient modes, respectively. But there was little else to distract us from England losing the World Cup final and Billy McFarland announcing the return of Fyre Festival, an idea he came up with while in solitary confinement as he served his prison sentence for fraud in relation to 2017’s festival. It’s almost as if people are just relaxing in August or something.
By September we were so hungry for a story that Taylor Swift attending an NFL game became the most important thing that’s ever happened. We were lucky the cameras picked up on her being there to cheer on her rumoured boyfriend Travis Kelce, as Swift tried her best to blend into the crowd by banging on the glass of the executive box she was in. At all future games, she decided, she would turn up with a gang of A-list Hollywood celebrities to make sure it’s not all about her.
Closer to home, a school boy (we think), cut down an ancient tree on Hadrian’s Wall. God help him if he’s ever found. An ex Prime Minister can be found to have misled parliament (June), throwing parties for his pals while the public saw their loved ones die alone, or to have agreed that Covid was “nature’s way of dealing with old people” (October), but you can’t lop down a lovely old tree mate.
On top of this, news broke that Lachlan Murdoch was stepping into the roles of News Corp Chairman and CEO of Fox Corp, but sadly that his father, Rupert Murdoch, was still alive and well. All of this in the month that The Rolling Stones decided to announced their first album of new material in 18 years. The first track from Hackney Diamonds (Keith Richards said at the time that other terrible name ideas for the record were Hit and Run and Smash and Grab) was ‘Angry’, and it really did call into question who the band have replaced Charlie Watts with, and is it someone called Ghostwriter?
Bad jokes aside, October 2023 will unfortunately be remembered forever, for the genocide that began in Palestine following the massacre of an estimated 260 Israeli citizens at Supernova festival, after members of Hamas stormed the festival site on the 7th of the month. It’s a crisis that is too important to be suitably covered in an article as frivolous as this one, and yet should be recognised by every person and organisation for the murderous tragedy is it, which leaders around the world should feel duty bound to stop by calling for a ceasefire sooner than they have at the time of writing. Hopefully they will have by the time you’re reading this.
To return now to our scheduled broadcasting: October was the month when Irish alt. diva CMAT challenged for Adele’s crown with ‘Where Are Your Kids Tonight?’ (featuring John Grant), while professional tit Laurence Fox was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to commit criminal damage to ULEZ cameras due to their evil work in cleaning up air pollution.
The Rolling Stones did release Hackney Diamonds, on 20 October. And then two weeks later Keith would have called Mick, or Mick would have called Keith, and one would have said to the other: “You won’t believe this, the fucking Beatles have just released a song!” It did feel rather cruel. Eighteen years for the first Stones album of originals, with one member playing some of the songs from beyond the grave, and The Beatles pop up, with two dead guys, one of them singing.
‘Now And Then’ is not the greatest Beatles song, but its Peter Jackson-directed video will be studied until the end of time next summer. Is it a comment on the disposable nature of meme culture? A love letter to gifs? A celebration of CGI or a total rejection of it? They’ve superimposed John and George, and younger versions of Paul and Ringo, but what about Ringo as he is now? IS that him? Is he playing live with Paul? Surely Paul and Ringo could get together for this? And is Ringo really wearing his own merch, with his own face on it? Does Ringo know this is happening? You don’t get these questions with the video for ‘Angry’, where Sydney Sweeny is driven down Sunset Boulevard as the beautiful, wild, gyrating passenger in a convertible Mercedes. The Stones use old footage of themselves too, but they look so archetypal and cool, mostly in their ’70s and early ’80s puffed up pomp; The Beatles look like a bunch of goofballs.
And that’s all I have for 2023, because December hasn’t happened yet and I won’t fall into the same trap I did last year of predicting what will happen between now and 1 January 2024. Because Elon Musk didn’t dissolve Twitter; we’re going to have to delete our accounts ourselves. ‘Empty Trash’.