He also paid fulsome tribute to the Ukrainian winners, Kalush Orchestra. “Listen, I knew they were going to win it,” Ryder said. “And I wanted them to win it. They left friends, families at home to go and shout from the rooftops what was going on and help us feel, through their song, what was going on,” he explains. “A good song reaches out to a stranger and puts them in the shoes of the writer, so they may better experience something that they’ve never experienced. And Kalush did that. So they deserved to win.”
Ukraine remains under attack from Russian aggressors. So it will be up to the UK to put on a suitable celebration for them when Liverpool hosts Eurovision 2023. But before we look ahead to next year, our writers have looked back over the year that was, to bring you their picks for the best music in 2022.
The Big Issue’s guide to the best music in 2022
The Cure live across the UK
After 40-plus years in the biz, The Cure have a frankly embarrassing selection of proper great big pop boppers to call on. Lullaby, The Walk, Friday I’m in Love, Close to Me, In Between Days, Just Like Heaven, Boys Don’t Cry… and that’s just the “crowd pleasing bastards” second encore that lucky audiences across the UK and Europe were treated to at the end of Robert Smith and co’s heroic, almost three-hour long shows. But this is a band who’ve always had huge complexity behind the danceable hits. Night after night they drew willing crowds into those deep waters [six times in my case] giving us more dreams, more fear, more fun, more pain, more love.
2022’s lengthy Lost World Tour was billed as a supporting series of gigs for the as-yet unreleased new album Songs of a Lost World (it’s been promised for 2023, watch this space). Like the band’s beloved 1989 dark art-rock masterpiece Disintegration, the album deals with a period of loss and grief for Smith. In the last couple of years, he has lost his mother, father and brother. As always, he’s found beauty in sadness.
In the exquisitely crafted emotional arc of their setlists, which shifted a little each night to give space for revelation, the second encore was a home for all of us who find solace in shared darkness. Each night, they’d come back on stage to wild applause and launch into the most heart-breaking of their new songs, I Can Never Say Goodbye. Backed with Ray Bradbury-inflected fairground visuals, Smith would sing “something wicked this way comes, to steal away my brother’s life”.
“This encore is like going down a big black hole,” he reflected in London. “I’m the guy at the top, throwing you a rope.” As we all continue the painful period of post-covid reckoning and regeneration, the opportunity to share grief among friends and black-clad allies – standing with a band that’s soundtracked our lives – was beyond a gift, and indisputably the musical moment of 2022. Laura Kelly
Midnights – Taylor Swift
In our cynical, faithless and fragile times, thought and spiritual leaders are in short supply. Filling the void are artists like Taylor Swift. Swift doesn’t attract fans so much as devoted followers. And the most important attribute of a leader is that they keep delivering.
Over the past couple of years, with Folklore, Evermore and re-recorded versions of earlier albums, Swift’s prolific output would eclipse the career-long achievements of most other iconic artists. This year came Midnights, a low-fi collection of ruminations on love, longing and self-examination.
As a (near) middle-aged man, I’m not sure I’m the demographic Taylor Swift is aiming for, but her songs are simultaneously focused on specific relationships and universally relatable. The mastermind, on Mastermind, says: “And I swear, I’m only cryptic and Machiavellian ’cos I care.” She’s just like me!
My Spotify Wrapped consisted mostly of dead people and Bob Dylan – both unlikely to have recorded a special thank you message for their listeners – but I got a video instead from Taylor Swift. It may have been sent to millions, but for a moment she appeared on my phone to speak only to me, just as her songs speak individually and directly to millions across continents and generations. Steven MacKenzie
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Harry Styles live at Wembley
The Harry Styles concert at Wembley Stadium was a biblical experience. Those lucky enough to be in attendance on the first of his two shows in London will understand how special it was to hear songs like Keep Driving, Love of My Life, Little Freak, and Matilda live intermingled with tracks from his previous albums and a cover of his old band One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful.
Harry was trying to fit three years worth of music into one concert, as his 2020 Love on Tour was cancelled because of the covid-19 pandemic, and he did it expertly, satisfying almost every Harry fan out there. But nothing compared to his encore performance, when Harry reappeared on stage to sing Sign of the Times, the first song he released as a solo artist. As he started singing, fireworks exploded out of Wembley and the rain began pouring, and it really felt like a “sign” that we were all meant to be there. Unforgettable, despite being drenched. Michele Theil
Topical Dancer – Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul
“Are you polite or political?” are the first lyrics of Topical Dancer, the album from singer Charlotte Adigéry and producer Bolis Pupul. It’s a question some have the luxury of avoiding entirely.
Adigéry and Pupul are from Belgium, where King Leopold II’s colonial atrocities in Congo cast a long shadow. But the songs would bear playing on whatever sound system they have in Buckingham Palace. “Don’t say, but where are you really from,” Adigéry sings on Esperanto, echoing Prince William’s godmother Lady Susan Hussey’s comment to Sistah Space director Ngozi Fulani during a recent event at the palace.
If Topical Dancer had only Adigéry’s lyrics about racism, misogyny, appropriation and reappropriation OR Pupul’s fun beats it would be a standout. The alchemy between them makes it a record to return to again and again. And if you needed any more convincing: there’s a song which simply features manic laughing, and it slaps. Greg Barradale
This is What I Mean – Stormzy
This is not the same man whose head was heavy in 2019. There’s still the flicker of anger of having to break free from expectations in This Is What I Mean with its upbeat heavy rhythm and building momentum. But at its core this is a deeply melodic and soulful album of healing. Taking notes from afrobeat, classical music and, of course, gospel choirs and worship music, you can hear the involvement of the huge team of talented musicians Stormzy invited to share the spotlight.
Surely a standout track, I Got My Smile Back is an intimate portrayal of self-affirmation after darker periods of loneliness and depression. The healing lyrics “I told self-doubt you better watch your tone” and “me and peace of mind became the best of friends” are so gently joyful it’s hard not to smile. We’ve all been through a lot since 2019, but to see a light at the end of that tunnel is magnificent. Evie Breese
Kate Bush on Stranger Things
Kate Bush’s Running up that Hill seems predestined to save the life of a fictional teenager battling a monster’s possession. It may be 37 years old, but this is the song that defined 2022, soaring to the top of the charts and capturing the imaginations of a new generation of listeners.
The 80s hit was central to Max’s storyline in series four of Stranger Things, as she struggles through PTSD in the aftermath of her brother’s death. Oh, and she’s also fighting monsters and levitating.
The song was artfully used in the Duffer Brothers’ sci-fi series, but it’s the transcendental brilliance of Running up that Hill that managed to captivate Gen Z. It’s had well over 800 million streams on Spotify, and 64-year-old Bush became a TikTok star.
Bush rarely gives interviews, but appeared on Women’s Hour to express her surprise at the song’s regeneration. “The whole world’s gone mad,” she chuckled. I don’t think so. The world rediscovering an emotionally powerful and beautifully written song sounds like just what it needs. Isabella McRae
Wet Leg – Wet Leg
“You climb onto the bonnet, and you’re licking the windscreen, I’ve never seen anything so obscene, it’s enough to make a girl blush.” Welcome to the naughty absurdity of Wet Leg.
The indie duo softly sing candid truths about dating, millennial culture, and the quarter-life crisis. They’ll make you laugh out loud and travel back in time to being a teenager, getting into silly trouble and pining over an aloof classmate.
Their music videos serve up kooky visuals like lobster hands, a merry-go-round horse, an oriental umbrella and a bed in a straw field, over a dreamy combo of punk riffs and vocal sound effects. As we’ve said before in The Big Issue, music in 2022 belonged to Wet Leg. Eliza Pitkin
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