By Matt Yuyitung, Sinclaire Bruin, Karen-Luz Sison, Madeline Lines, Nadia Miko, and Sima Shakeri, Graphic by Christophe Young.
2016 has been a year filled with ups and downs, but it’s been an extraordinary year artistically. From finally hearing Frank Ocean’s Blond(e), to the rise of some of the best TV around in the form of Netflix originals like Stranger Things and Marvel’s Luke Cage, there’s been a lot to applaud about this year’s artistic achievements, big and small.
Here are some of The Charlatan arts writers’ favourite artistic moments of 2016.
Matt Yuyitung – Blackstar by David Bowie
I think the first Bowie song I listened to after his death was “Young Americans.” No real reason why, it’s not even my favourite song by him. I guess I didn’t believe he was actually dead at the time. In a year filled with notable musician deaths (Leonard Cohen, Prince, Glenn Frey, to name a few), few made the music world stop turning quite as much as Bowie’s. Everyone was in some way touched by his death, and for a moment it seemed the whole music world came together to celebrate his legacy. He was his own kind of artist, one who revelled in his ability to be different, one who would never compromise his artistic ambitions. Blackstar was his final gift, a riveting blend of jazz, electronica, rock, and a man facing an impending death. But it was more than that. It was a farewell statement, one last entry into an already-legendary catalogue. This record was a celebration of one of the most restlessly creative artists in popular music history, who even when facing death could make an artistic statement like no other.
Sinclaire Bruin – Tidal Wave by Taking Back Sunday
While most people seem to keep up with all the latest trends in music or movies, I have never been one to track everything, but rather only keep up with a handful of artists that I really enjoy. So when I heard Taking Back Sunday would be releasing a new album this year, as a long-time fan, I was excited. When the album finally came out, I was pleasantly surprised. Comparing their latest release to the rest of their discography, it is easy to see the shift in sound that has happened over their various releases, but I love that with each evolution, I can find another reason to enjoy their newest sound, while still appreciating their roots. Tidal Wave makes its mark with more upbeat tracks than the few scattered within their last album, Happiness Is, but also makes the distinct shift to a nostalgic summer sound that is reminiscent of a road trip, with such feelings being topped off by the album cover. Overall, Tidal Wave is a solid album and at the time it was released, was especially appropriate to soundtrack life as I left summer behind for another year.
Karen-Luz Sison – Madeleine Thien
Finding my new writer crush was definitely the arts highlight for my year. Madeleine Thien is Canada’s literary darling for 2016, having won the Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language fiction and the Giller Prize—two of the highest awards for fiction writing in Canada. She’s also been shortlisted for the internationally-renowned Man Booker Prize. The book that propelled her into acclaim was Do Not Say We Have Nothing, a book set in tumultuous times in China: the Tiananmen Square protests.
But stripping all of her literary credentials aside, Thien is simply one of the most earnest, reflective human beings I have had the pleasure of interviewing. I met her when I covered her event with the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival for the Charlatan. Even after spending an hour and a half talking in front of an audience and another 45 minutes signing books and chatting with fans, she still spent a few minutes with me for an interview. Meeting someone with such a reflective, pensive, and hopeful outlook on life really changed my own perspective on storytelling, and how important it is to tell the hard stories.
Madeline Lines – Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG)
My personal highlight of the year in arts was wandering through CUAG’s fall exhibit, “We
Are Continually Exposed to the Flashbulb of Death”: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg. When
I first heard that the gallery was hosting the photographs of Allen Ginsberg it seemed too good
to be true, a little too good to be at Carleton. But then again, CUAG tends to bring in exhibits that pleasantly surprise me. I moved through the exhibit at a glacial pace and it was almost meditative. The pictures were stunning in their mundanity, and their ability to take a generation of famous beat poets and make them seem like your ordinary quirky friends.
Decoding Ginsberg’s messy captions under each photo was a nice challenge, if you chose to
ignore the accompanying handout like I did. Overall, being able to wander about this event in
solitude—and for free—made it my fondest arts memory this year.
Nadia Miko – Beyoncé’s Lemonade
There were so many sensational things that happened in the arts this year, so to name one is next to impossible, but to quote 2009 Kanye West, “Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.” Although unavailable for comment, I assume he continues to support that statement seven years later after watching the entire Lemonade visual album video in April. This year, the praised artist released the most political, artistic, and talked-about album of her career. Not only was this a huge move for women of colour, but really for all people of colour. In addition, her comments about her relationship with husband Jay-Z stirred up a lot of talk in the tabloids. Continuing to dominate the music industry, she stands as one of the most popular female artists of the year.
Sima Shakeri – Disney’s Moana
There have been so many good arts moments this year, but I think my favourite happened very recently, just as this year was coming to a close. The release of Disney’s Moana was a special moment that deserves to be commemorated.
I didn’t have high expectations for this film, considering I thought Disney’s last princess movie, Frozen, sucked. The plot was full of holes, the music was bad, and the protagonist was a snooze-fest. I was tentatively hopeful Disney would deliver this time, and I was prepared to be disappointed, but boy, was I wrong. Moana was everything Frozen wasn’t. It was well-written, complex, and just plain good. It encompasses everything that can make Disney great, from the fun, catchy, culturally-appropriate music—composed by Opetaia Foa’i, Mark Mancina, and Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda—to the fleshed-out, empowering development of the titular protagonist, Moana—the daughter of the chief of a Polynesian tribe, destined to become the chief herself, despite wishing she could explore the ocean.
Moana has everything, it has laughs, it has its sadder moments, and most of all it makes you root for nearly everyone in it, and the ending is one of the most interesting, powerful endings a Disney film has had in a long time.