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Turning the Turntables

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Ron Hart

Freelance writer and Chronogram contributor

A lot of people I loved died in 2016, from the last of my grandfather's siblings to in-laws to friends to the seemingly never-ending list of folks I grew up watching on a screen or reading or listening to who crossed that rainbow bridge these last 12 months. We don't need to list the names again. You know who they are. So, with all this sorrow following me around like a cartoon rain cloud, I feel like I picked a strange time to take a deep appreciation of commercial pop radio. For the first time since the '80s, pop radio has become a fascinating place for innovative new sounds. The influences of Thom Yorke and Kanye West's Roland 808s and heartbreak and the new wave, R&B, and hip-hop I grew up listening to in the Reagan and Bush Sr. eras are being reappropriated by my generation's children and even grandchildren to take these sounds and recode them for the Snapchat era. The stellar Solange album, A Seat at the Table, owes as much to Panda Bear as it does to Rhythm Nation-era Janet Jackson. Nuno Bettencourt plays guitar on the new Rihanna LP, Anti. The Weeknd, who's been blazing this path since he mysteriously emerged in the late '00s with his Trilogy, hit platinum again with Starboy, which captures that neon mist that imbues Sign o' the Times through a Daft Punk midnight groove straight out of a peaking DJ set at a Newburgh skate park rave circa 1993. I feel like the Top 40 is really beginning to speak my language for the first time in so long, and at a moment when the levity of this music we listen to every day on the radio has reached such equal levels of quality and kitsch that it's proven to be quite a soothing salve for a soul wrought with the pain of having to say good-bye too many times in just one year.

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