Malaysian musicians made lots of waves overseas, none more so than Yuna, whose third international album Chapters released in May peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Adult R&B charts, thanks in part to her hit duet with Usher, Crush.
Her song, On Ghost Ridge (written by Nicholas Pike), was also one of the 91 songs long listed for the Best Original Song category at next year’s Oscars.
Elsewhere, Fish Leong did us proud by becoming the first Malaysian to perform a sell-out show at New York City’s Lincoln Center; Shila Amzah continued to impress by grabbing two awards at the Music Pioneer Awards in China; and Zee Avi’s Arena Cahaya from the OlaBola soundtrack won the Best Original Song award at the Golden Horse Film Awards in Taiwan in November.
In terms of new music, the local scene was not short of great releases. Anuar Zain returned to the limelight with his long-awaited Anuar Zain Vol. 5, staying consistent by offering fans his signature opulent ballads, especially the heart-wrenching ballad Andainya Takdir which left some fans teary-eyed thanks to an emotional music video. Released in September, the album has reportedly sold over 11,000 copies – a commendable feat in an era dominated by digital music sales.
With his latest album Amboi, Altimet showed that the local rap scene still has a lot of bite to offer, with scathing numbers like Seru and Amboi. Sabarlah, featuring local singer-songwriter Amir Jahari, is a lovely personal number that shows how far the rapper has come from hardship.
With its self-titled debut EP, Ramayan proved that there is a lot more depth to Malaysian rock music than we thought. The five-piece band pay homage to its many musical heroes by evoking the sound of The Beatles, Sudirman and even Broery Marantika through songs like Oh Dewiku and Sepintas Sastera Hati.
Other standouts include the rocking psychedelic chigichanga by Kuala Lumpur-based Lust and Orang’s dreamy contemplative Everyone EP.
Considering the difficulties we’ve had in attracting major acts to Malaysia, it’s not been a bad year for concerts.
Despite all the controversies surrounding pop princess Selena Gomez’s July concert, it turned out to be an entertaining but surprisingly melancholic affair. Oh, and we also got R&B superstar Usher for the F1 after-race show. YEAH!
It was the festivals that impressed the most though. Urbanscapes switched from being a weekend affair to a two-and-a-half week art attack across multiple venues in Kuala Lumpur that also featured some great international acts like Tame Impala and M83.
The Good Vibes Festival in Gohtong Jaya, Pahang, had a solid lineup that included the likes of Tokyo Police Club, Kyoto Protocol, Two Door Cinema Club, and The 1975.
However, it was Rockaway 2016 that really stole the show. First, they brought in Scorpions, Wolfmother and The Darkness for a mini-festival after the Malaysian MotoGP race in Sepang. They then follow that up three weeks later with the main Rockaway festival, which saw local bands like Butterfingers, Pop Shuvit, One Buck Short and Deja Voodoo Spell stealing the spotlight from international acts like Third Eye Blind, Taking Back Sunday, and The Get Up Kids.
If your musical taste is more Asian, there was a lot to savour this year too. EXO pulled out all the stops at their show at Stadium Merdeka in March; Rain made his long-awaited return to Malaysia with his Rain: The Squall Tour 2016 show at Genting Highlands in May; and Bigbang caused a, well, big bang, when they played the Putra Indoor Stadium in July.
The year also saw major concerts by Chinese stars like Eason Chan, Sammi Cheng, Andy Hui and Mayday.
Who says it is the death of LP? Bowie’s brilliant swan song Black Star, Rihanna’s anti-pop offering Anti, Kanye West’s raw but brilliant The Life Of Pablo, Radiohead’s moody, dreamy A Moon Shaped Pool, Bon Iver’s experimental 22, A Million, Frank Ocean’s long-awaited Blonde … this was the year the long-length album format proved that it had yet to drown in the sea of singles and digital streams.
All the same, 2016 belonged to the Knowles sisters – with Beyonce dropping the biggest surprise (in all senses of the word) of the year with deliciously refreshing Lemonade in April, and Solange also reserving her place on the 2016 best album lists with A Seat At The Table.
EXO’s monster hit Ex’Act stole the show this year, becoming one of the fastest-selling K-pop records of all time. Bigbang released the creatively versatile Made, their final album before some of the group’s members go for their mandatory military service.
The keyword in K-pop this year seems to be “Americanised” – and newcomer Dean did this template to near perfection on his debut album, 130 Mood: TRBL. His style is one that’s rooted in smooth R&B – think Frank Ocean’s alternative flair with a touch of accessible K-pop.
Boyband BTS took the American-theme one step further, debuting in the Top 30 of the Billboard Top 200 album charts with Wings, a surprisingly mature pop offering that ranks all the way up there with some of the best pop international pop stars.
On a sadder note, girl group 2NE1 officially announced its disbandment in November, though it was hardly a surprise, since Minzy had already left the group in April.
And over in Japan, one of the most popular and successful J-pop groups of all time, SMAP, announced on Aug 14 that they will be going their separate ways after more than two decades together.