Kendrick cruises, Wiley confuses and Gaga goes OTT: the essential pop for 2018

Can Lady Gaga get away with murder? Will Kendrick Lamar stay on top? Are Franz Ferdinand set to blossom? And has Harry Styles’ transformation only just begun? We preview the new year’s pop highlights

The Transports

One of the British folk scene’s great triumphs of 2017 was the dramatic reworking of Peter Bellamy’s 1977 ballads about 18th-century convict transport to Australia, by a cast that included the Young’uns, Nancy Kerr and Rachael McShane. To coincide with the album release, The Transports returns for a new UK tour. Each show will be different, depending on the venue, to include local stories about those who left the area, or recently arrived migrants. • Tour starts 10 January at Cheltenham Town Hall. Box office: 0844 576 2210). Album 12 January (Hudson Records).


2017 was a good year for America’s foremost purveyors of emo pop. After a period marked by messy lineup changes and legal disputes, their album After Laughter was acclaimed for its blend of Day-Glo 80s production and the kind of angsty themes that prevailed when their music was more akin to straightforward punk; their sound may have changed, but no one’s going to complain about a shortage of lyrics about depression and anxiety. It’s a curious cocktail that puts Paramore out on their own, but the arena-sized venues on this tour indicate how wide an audience it touches.
• 11 January, Cardiff Motorpoint Arena. Then touring.

Scott Walker: Sundog

Elusive legend … Scott Walker in 1969.
Elusive legend … Scott Walker in 1969. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty

Rock’s most elusive 60s legend publishes a slim volume of lyrics, noticeably heavier on his elliptical latter-day work than the epic melodrama that made his name half a century ago: the first 30 years of his career are summarised in six songs; his oeuvre from 1995’s Tilt onwards is covered in its entirety, alongside six new lyrics, and an introduction by novelist Eimear McBride that compares his work to that of James Joyce. Intriguingly, it’s often easier to grasp what Walker is driving at with the words divorced from the music that originally accompanied them.
• 11 January (Faber & Faber).

Video Jam x Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat was a visual artist immersed in cutting-edge music culture: he was a member of post-punk band Gray, the producer of seminal hip-hop track Beat Bop by Rammellzee and K-Rob, and appeared in Blondie’s Rapture video. At this intriguing-sounding event, UK musicians including Young Fathers and Ibibio Sound Machine perform live soundtracks to a selection of new films by NYC-based directors, inspired by Basquiat’s life and art: everything from hip-hop to jazz to experimental noise is promised.
• 28 January, London Barbican Hall. Box office: 020-7638 8891.

Lady Gaga

Assuming that Lady Gaga’s Joanne tour takes the same form in the UK as it did in the States, the massed ranks of Little Monsters are in for a treat: expect a suitably OTT two-hour sensory assault featuring an eye-popping set, costumes involving 50,000 Swarovski crystals, choreographed representations of murder, a video interlude depicting the singer sprouting a rhino horn and the reappearance of her iconic, glowing “disco stick”. All that effort, and what American critics really loved was the section of acoustic piano ballads. Still, clearly there’s something for fans of every persuasion.
• 31 January, Birmingham Genting Arena. Then touring.

Roxy Music: Roxy Music

Roxy Music.
Glitzy and alluring … Roxy Music. Photograph: Brian Cooke/Redferns

At the heart of Roxy’s approach to glam was the notion of pop music as futuristic luxury goods: spendy, opulent, glitzy and alluring. So it’s fitting that their celebrated 1972 debut is getting the super-deluxe treatment: four discs in a 12in x 12in hardback book, containing BBC sessions, outtakes, demos recorded in Brian Eno’s flat, 5.1 surround mixes, the only extant live footage of the band’s 1972 lineup and the legendary Virginia Plain Top of the Pops appearance that enraged a suitably overdressed Eno when he discovered that only his gloved hand was visible onscreen.
• 2 February (UMC).


With a line-up that includes members from Palestine and Jordan, 47Soul have become one of the most successful electronic hip-hop bands from the Middle East with a style they call shamstep, which includes Arabic and rock influences, and political lyrics in English and Arabic. In the past they have played at Womad and Glastonbury, but now they support the release of their first full-length album, Balfron Promise, with a UK tour.
• 2 February (Cooking Vinyl). Tour starts 2 February at Jazz Cafe, London.

Ezra Furman: Transangelic Exodus

The last release from America’s foremost – and indeed only – gender-fluid, observant Jewish, doo-wop-influenced punk rock singer-songwriter was, he said, “the end of a chapter, musically”. His backing band subsequently changed its name from the Boy-Friends to the Visions, and his forthcoming seventh album presumably heralds a new musical direction. Furman is such a mercurial, unique figure that could mean anything. Given the songwriting quality displayed on 2015’s breakthrough Perpetual Motion People, whatever Transangelic Exodus does sound like, it’s unlikely to be boring.
• 9 February (Bella Union).

Kendrick Lamar

Epochal … Kendrick Lamar.
Epochal … Kendrick Lamar. Photograph: Amy Harris/Invision/AP

Hip-hop is a genre that moves forward at lightning speed. New artists, new mixtapes, new sounds, new language, new sub-genres: not for nothing was its greatest term of approval once “fresh”. But five years on from Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, no one looks like deposing Kendrick Lamar from his position as rap’s era-defining artist: To Pimp a Butterfly may have been an epochal work, heralding the arrival of a new era of angry, sociallyconscious hip hop, but its successor Damn might have been even better. How he will channel their eclectic, often challenging contents on stage is a thought-provoking question.
9 February, Birmingham Genting Arena. Then touring.

Franz Ferdinand

Franz Ferdinand were the archetypal music press-fuelled early 00s firework band: catapulted to vast success virtually on arrival, the albums that followed their eponymous 2004 debut were never less than interesting, but never quite had the same impact. But their collaboration with Sparks, FFS, sounded revitalised, and the first single from their Philippe Zdar-produced new album, both titled Always Ascending, continued that trend, suggesting an unexpected second blossoming. Plus they’re invariably great live.
• 13 February, Manchester Albert Hall. Then touring.

Wiley: Godfather II

The career of grime’s unpredictable capo continues, as confusingly as ever. The rapper and producer gave every indication that his last album, Godfather, was going to be his last, and yet here we are, staring down Godfather II (in fairness, he also suggested he wasn’t going to release Godfather either, decrying it as “pointless”, and announced he was retiring over a decade ago). Anyone with a passing familiarity with Wiley’s back catalogue knows that quality control isn’t always his strongest point. That said, Godfather II’s opening salvo, the JME-featuring I Call the Shots was impressive.
• 16 February (CTA).

Wild Beasts

… Wild Beasts.
Uncaged … Wild Beasts. Photograph: Andrew Benge/WireImage

And so, the beloved falsetto-voiced, high-drama Cumbrian art-rock experimentalists bow out with a final pair of dates and an accompanying live album, Last Night All My Dreams Came True, released on 16 February. It says something about the age in which we live that the band have felt obliged to inform everyone that their disbandment is for real, rather than a hiatus with eyes fixed on a future reunion. “We get to leave our desk by our own accord,” vocalist Tom Hayden has suggested, “and that makes us very lucky.”
• 16 February, Manchester Apollo. Then touring.

Nils Frahm

In between scoring films and instigating an annual worldwide Piano Day on the 88th day of each year, the German composer and keyboard player has spent two years working on his latest album, All Melody. He arrives in the UK for a string of dates, including a three-night stand at London’s Barbican. His shows are rapturous affairs, filled with improvisation, as demonstrated on his 2013 collection of “field recordings” from live performances, Spaces.
• 19 February, Cambridge Corn Exchange. Then touring. Album 26 January (Erased Tapes).

Bon Iver

Justin Vernon’s last album 22, A Million, signalled a desire to do things very differently from now on: where once Bon Iver dealt in acoustic heartbreak, now there were tracks called things like 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄ and 666 ʇ, incomprehensible lyrics filled with words apparently of Vernon’s own invention and music in thrall to abstract electronica and cutting-edge R&B. Clearly a desire to break the mould now also informs Bon Iver’s touring plans: instead of a selection of dates around the country, this visit to the UK consists of a lengthy residency at London’s Hammersmith Apollo.
• From 21 February, Hammersmith Apollo, London.

Everything Everything

In a glowing review, the Guardian described Manchester experimentalists Everything Everything’s latest album A Fever Dream – on which their constantly shifting, maximalist sound was deployed in the service of politically themed songs attacking Brexit and Donald Trump – as “stomach-churning … likely to prompt anxious sweating … as much rock opera as traumatic event”. It’s the kind of description that explains why the quartet remain a divisive band, but given current events, their tense, dense, agitated blend of electronics and math rock makes more sense than ever.
• 2 March, University of East Anglia, Norwich. Then touring.

Migos: Culture II

Migos - 2017 press publicity portrait
Chart-topping triumph … Migos. Photograph: Publicity image

Georgia trio Migos have endured commercial and creative dry spells, but their second album, 2017’s Culture, sealed their place as one of hip-hop’s hottest bands: a million-selling, US chart-topping triumph that spawned a string of hit singles. Its successor, Culture II, is understandably hotly anticipated: after a mysterious tweet from band member Quavo, there’s been much speculation on social media as to which major name has executive-produced it; and it’s already succeeded in squashing rumours of a beef between Nicki Minaj and stellar hip-hop newcomer Cardi B, who both featured on its lead single, MotorSport.

At the Drive-In

The second reunion of the influential, combustible El Paso art-punk band – equal parts hardcore power and proggy psychedelic rock – hasn’t proceeded with quite the intensity of their original incarnation, which is perhaps just as well: alongside the hyperventilating critical acclaim and rabid fanbase the band garnered circa 2000, they accrued a host of personal problems before imploding. If they sound a little older and wiser on their most recent album, Inter Alia, then their live shows don’t seem to have dialled down too much: they’re still a ferocious, gripping prospect on stage.
• 9 March, Brixton Academy, London. Then touring.

Jimi Hendrix: Both Sides of the Sky

Hendrix … Woodstock scoop.
Hendrix … Woodstock scoop. Photograph: -

For years, Jimi Hendrix’s legacy was treated pretty shabbily by record labels, keen to squeeze as much cash as possible out of his store of unreleased work. But recent releases, including 2013’s People, Hell and Angels have been a different matter: fascinating collections that furthermore worked as albums in their own right. Both Sides of the Sky seems to be cut from similar cloth, gathering 10 unreleased tracks from 1968-70, among them Hendrix’s take on Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, seemingly the first recorded version of the song.
• 9 March (Legacy).

Get the Blessing’s Bristopolis/Bristol jazz and blues festival

Bristol quartet Get the Blessing, a fusion of Portishead’s trip-hop and spirited Ornette Colemanesque jazz, unveil Bristopolis - an ambitious audiovisual tribute to their hometown - as a highlight of Bristol’s sixth Jazz & Blues Festival. Jazz-rock also surfaces in a 50th anniversary tribute to Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland from a bespoke band featuring Laura Jurd and Iain Ballamy, and some intriguing jazz/classical crossovers include star percussionist Evelyn Glennie’s meeting with innovative guitarist Ant Law.
• 15-18 March, Colston Hall and various venues, Bristol

Harry Styles

Harry Styles
Beck-ish eclecticism … Harry Styles Photograph: Publicity image

Opinion seemed divided about Harry Styles’ post-One Direction reinvention: from boyband idol to purveyor of classic rock, variously inspired by David Bowie, the Beatles, Elton John, the Rolling Stones and U2. Some were impressed by his confessional singer-songwriting skills and saw a Beck-ish eclecticism in his eponymous solo album, others felt his borrowing from his source material was a little too obvious in its desire to be taken seriously. That notwithstanding, these arena shows are bound to be packed with an audience keen to drown out the band: the devotion of Directioners having survived Styles’ transformation.
• 7 April, Birmingham Genting Arena. Then touring.

Manic Street Preachers: Resistance Is Futile

Manic Street Preachers’ bassist Nicky Wire can always be relied upon to come up with an intriguing-sounding pitch for their next album: Resistance Is Futile apparently concerns itself with “forgotten history, confused reality and art as a hiding place and inspiration” and references both their debut Generation Terrorists and “the orchestral sweep of Everything Must Go”. Longtime fans might also point out that Wire’s pitches are occasionally more colourful than the albums themselves – that said, 2013’s Rewind the Film and 2014’s Futurology showed the band at a impressive creative peak. Either way, there’s an accompanying arena tour in April and May.
• 6 April (Columbia).

Jason Derulo: 777

If the pop-R&B singer has never quite scaled the commercial heights of his eponymous 2010 debut in his subsequent career, he’s still a regular and rather likable presence in the charts, who’s now been piling up platinum singles for the best part of a decade and remains hip enough to draw in the biggest names in hip-hop as special guests: Nicki Minaj stole the show on 777’s dancehall-influenced first single Swalla, which demonstrated further good taste by borrowing its hook from Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Shimmy Shimmy Ya.
• 13 April (Warner).

The 1975: Music for Cars

The 1975.
Endlessly intriguing … The 1975. Photograph: Burak Cingi/Redferns

Of all the bands who exist somewhere between what you once might have called “indie rock” and something more electronic and commercial, the 1975 are both the biggest – their last album saw them reach No 1 in the US – and consistently the most fascinating. The latter is largely down to their endlessly intriguing frontman, Matt Healy, someone clearly very well suited to the role of rock star in a self-conscious era. He’s announced that their third album represents “the end of an era”, though quite how that impacts on its sound remains to be seen.
• 27 April (Dirty Hit).

• This article was amended on 3 January 2018. An earlier version misspelled the name of the band Gray as Grey.


Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The best albums of 2017 so far
From Richard Dawson’s medieval Britain to Pixx’s super-contemporary take on pop – plus sharp records by stars such as Kendrick Lamar and Drake – 2017 is already shaping up to be a great musical year

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

30, Jun, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
The best albums of 2017: the full list
St Vincent tops our countdown of this year’s most outstanding sounds, from complex rap to moody rock, alt-R&B, inventive grime and more

05, Dec, 2017 @6:00 AM

Article image
Mercury prize 2018: Wolf Alice win for Visions of a Life
Genre-hopping rockers claim £25,000 prize for an album the Guardian called ‘an exuberant jumble’

Laura Snapes

20, Sep, 2018 @9:20 PM

Article image
From Ghetts to Genesis, Nick Cave to Arlo Parks: autumn 2021’s essential music
From Fontaines DC to the Valkyrie, a techno Halloween to Little Simz, this is the unmissable music of the next few months

Alexis Petridis, Ammar Kalia and Andrew Clements

25, Aug, 2021 @5:00 AM

Article image
Big noise: the essential pop, jazz and folk music of autumn 2018
Young talents and old hands hit the road, intriguing festivals mix things up, and there’s the first posthumous release from Prince

Alexis Petridis, Robin Denselow, John Fordham and Imogen Tilden

27, Aug, 2018 @5:00 AM