All the rage right now: eating clean, Snapchat, sneakerheads—and brutal honesty from 0:00 to finish on megastar albums. It seems that 2016 is the year of the confessional record. Beyoncé, Drake, and Rihanna have all thrown down highly personal (and listenable) LPs this year, and it’s only May. Amid rumors that Jay Z is at work on his 13th studio album, all eyes (or eyez, if you prefer—Tupac was one of hip-hop’s reigning confessional rappers, after all) are on Hov.
What does it mean that the current trend in music is that of tell-all tracks? This isn’t just happening in hip-hop—from country to pop, Blake Shelton and Brad Paisley to Gwen Stefani and Taylor Swift, everyone who’s anyone has been crafting surprisingly frank opuses of late.
Blame it on social media, perhaps. The holy trinity of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook already deeply encourage the honest public share (and, sadly, its bastard cousin, the overshare), and with the recent proliferation of Snapchat, it has become de rigueur to broadcast whatever you’re doing from dawn till dusk—and celebrities have decided to get on that bandwagon, getting to edit and control their images in a way that hasn’t been possible since the advent of paparazzi.
This phenomenon has now fully infiltrated the content of songwriting. It used to be that a major musician would release an LP and everyone would comment on its euphonic merit. Now, people are often just as—or more—interested in what a singer did or did not reveal in their lyrics as they are in the music itself.
To be sure, this isn’t completely new—but, for the most part, it is an especially of-the-moment situation. So, again: All eyez on Hova. His wife just dropped an album, Lemonade, that is either a deeply personal portrait of a marriage or a beautifully constructed piece of fiction—and, really, what’s the diff? Either way, the public has taken it as truth. (FWIW, we think it’s doubtful that it’s entirely confessional—but, as we all know, the Beyhive likes to sting.) The lines, “Looking at my watch, he should have been home / Today I regret the night I put that ring on,” have already been endlessly deconstructed online, and Lemonade only came out 10 days ago.
There’s also Drake’s latest, Views, to contend with, which serves as the latest installment of a career that has centered around creating an I-always-pour-my-heart-into-the-pen persona, which has, in turn, catapulted him onto the main stage of upfront songwriting. A sampling from the opening track, “Keep the Family Close”: “With my dad out in Tennessee is where I belong / Out here in L.A., I don’t know what’s going on.” In a revealing private interview with Zane Lowe a few days ago, Drizzy discussed this very thing, admitting that life in Los Angeles can be complicated at best. Most hip-hop stars spend their days trying to look like they woke up like this, poolside, drank in hand, casually nonchalant on every red carpet ever. In his self-effacing, aw-shucks way, Drake has made quite a name for himself—and though in many ways it’s clearly calculated, there is an element of fearlessness to it that is undeniably magnetic.
And then there’s RiRi and her latest, Anti, in all its glory (and unabashed candidness). In her own way, she lets it all hang out—though it is in a different fashion than her aforementioned peers. Though she doesn’t drop any major bombs, she saunters into her first track, “Consideration,” by ruminating on her career in an unapologetically forthright manner, and she continues to do so throughout. It’s no revelation that she smokes mad weed, but the lyrics, “I’d rather be smoking weed / Whenever we breathe / Every time you kiss me,” as she so eloquently purrs on the song “James Joint” (and many, many other lyrics throughout) shed new light on her toking and paint a clearer picture of the artist as she is. To borrow terms from Snapchat, there seem to be fewer lenses or filters attached to these lyrics, and those of Bey and Drake.
Much more to say about all of this, of course, but there’s one thing artists can take away for sure: Keep your lyrics confessional and your album titles short. Though there’s no concrete news yet, it seems pretty certain that Jay’s concocting a new album, and if he chooses to fit in with the general zeitgeist, we should expect some intimate lyrics. Bated breath. Your move, Jazzy.