Will Love’s Music Memo: The best of 2023

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Melanie Martinez at Radio City Music Hall
Melanie Martinez at Radio City Music Hall

The year 2023 was pivotal within the music industry, which witnessed artists from a wide variety of genres accruing success, major artists hitting the road again, and artists who once flew under the radar ascending to new heights.

I had the opportunity to attend many tours, and of the ones I attended, these were my favorites:

Melanie Martinez — Portals Tour. Melanie Martinez put on the most extensive tour of 2023 by far. While it may not have been a stadium show, it was far more entertaining than artists who toured stadiums. Melanie is the definition of the underdog as well as underrated. The tour brought to life her vision for the Portals era. The tour was personified by Melanie performing the entire album from start to finish in the “Cry Baby” reborn character — how she managed to do this was a testament to her commitment to her vision as an artist. Additionally, the tour was highlighted by stunning visual effects, background dancers, and backup singers. Melanie displayed so much emotion during each song performed that it allowed the lyrics to truly resonate with fans. Melanie truly brought her album to life. 10/10

Enrique Iglesias, Pitbull, Ricky Martin — The Trilogy Tour. Enrique Iglesias, Pitbull, and Ricky Martin are three of the most quintessential Latin music acts on the scene today. While two of the three have toured together in the past, this tour felt complete with the three of them together. Music fans also received a major bargain, as the show felt like three concerts in one. Each artist had an impeccable setlist which personified their Latin-American and English hits alike. The tour felt like a party from start to finish. I had the most fun at this concert.

P!nk — Summer Carnival Tour. The Summer Carnival Tour is hands down P!nk’s best concert to date, and has done so well that it has been extended through the rest of the year as The Trustfall Tour. When you have opening acts like KidCutUp, Grouplove, and even Brandi Carlile, you know you are in for a treat. P!nk’ has a huge catalog and did an excellent job at choosing songs for this setlist. From stellar vocals, alluring costumes, amazing backup dancers, and acrobatic tricks that included flying throughout Citi Field while performing “So What,” P!nk’ nailed this.

Ed Sheeran at Met life Stadium in 2023
Ed Sheeran at Met life Stadium in 2023

Ed Sheeran — Mathematics Tour. Ed Sheeran has done it again. Over 89,000 fans attended his local MetLife Stadium performance in East Rutherford, which broke records for the venue. Another tour with solid openers in Dylan and Khalid, the latter who surprised fans when he came out to join Ed Sheeran for “Beautiful People.” This tour set the mood from the beginning with its openers. The 27-track setlist had juxtaposing segments that went from full band to solo back to full band again. Second to Taylor Swift, this was the hottest show in town this year.

Ava Max — On Tour (Finally). Ava Max has been compared to Lady Gaga because her music is reminiscent to when Gaga was at her best musically. Ava’s two albums are easily some of the best pop albums of the decade and this tour did a perfect job of picking ‘em when it came to the setlist. Ava brings a stadium-like energy when performing at venues such as Irving Plaza. Like Dua Lipa, larger shows and continued glow-ups are definitely in her future. The only problem is she could have performed at larger venues, or at minimum, had more tour dates. This was a tough show to get tickets to when the opportunity for either larger or additional shows was there. Fortunately, Ava made up for that when she made her tour after-party a pride-themed celebration at Paradise Club in Times Square with a special performance for the intimate crowd. I will say, that was the best after party I have ever been to, and showed Ava not only cares about her fans but the community as a whole.

Big Time Rush — Can’t Get Enough Tour. The boys are back! Big Time Rush has had an incredible comeback over the past two years. It started in 2022 and has only expanded in 2023. This year they released a new album, Another Life, which is catchier than ever. The boys look just as good as they did ten years ago, if not better a la Carlos and James. The vocals, the dance moves, the lighting, everything was on point for this tour. The only drawback, in some retrospect, was the setlist. last year’s Forever Tour was greatest hits mixed with fan favorites, whereas this new tour featured a majority of new material and lacked homage to their previous work. Then again, it was not necessary, as they are back on top again.

John Mayer — Solo Tour. John Mayer always manages to set the mood for a romantic evening. This setlist was the perfect wind-down. It felt like smoking a blunt without even having to light up. The fact John Mayer is able to sell out Madison Square Garden while performing a show entirely solo is a testament to his talent, showmanship, and ability to connect with his fanbase. I do not think many artists can pull this off today. Another caveat is the fact John is constantly changing his setlist. No one show has the same setlist. Bravo!

T-Pain — On Top of the Covers Tour. T-Pain is one of the most gay-friendly rappers in the game, even going so far as to speak out for Frank Ocean after he came out when rappers avoided working with him. T-Pain is also the innovator of making the vocoder mainstream. T-Pain used the vocoder in his music before every artist thereafter started heavily relying on it within their songs. T-Pain hit the road this year to promote his latest album, On Top of the Covers, and it was pure nostalgia. As the setlist went on, I did not realize how many hits T-Pain has under his belt, and was very impressed. I had memories for almost every song he performed, and with the Brooklyn Bridge as the backdrop, this made for a memorable evening at Pier 17.

DJ Cassidy’s Pass the Mic Tour. DJ Cassidy pulled out hip-hop and R&B royalty for his Pass the Mic Tour. Icons Ashanti and Alpine resident Lil’ Kim stole the show. Lil‘ Kim, who headlined Pride 2022, was definitely the highlight of the evening while Saddle River’s Ja Rule also made for a memorable moment. Robin Thicke, Fabulous, Ma$e, 112, and Ne-Yo also appeared. Every artist did a great job at choosing their best of the best for their individual setlist.

Top 5 Albums:

In 2023, pop music made a major comeback. The nostalgia for the early 2010s came to an end, and quality pop music became reality again. These are my top five picks of the year:

2023 album cover of "Diamonds Dancefloors" by Ava Max
2023 album cover of “Diamonds Dancefloors” by Ava Max

Ava Max — Diamonds & Dancefloors. Ava Max set the mood for the pop comeback when she released this album at the start of the year. Every song is a bop, every song could be a single, and this is an album that can easily be listened to from start to finish. There is no filler present. Ava’s vocals mixed with the beats make you want to break out in dance. Meanwhile, when you actually stop and listen to the lyrics, they have substance. This is the best of both worlds. “Million Dollar Baby” does an excellent job at setting the tone for the album. “Maybe You’re the Problem” is the perfect breakup anthem to that ex you tried so hard to appease but never could. “Weapons” is a relatable track as it kicks off abruptly with “Stop…using your words as weapons.” On the surface, “In The Dark” is about someone who only comes around at night for sex, but when you re-listen, it is also about someone who only pursues a relationship with you in secret (ex: a closet case). “One of Us” is the best song on the album, one in which Ava did an acoustic rendition of on tour. The song personifies a relationship that once felt like paradise but is starting to fall apart. It also makes reference to one party wanting to make it work while the other is checking out. 10/10

Cover of Melanie Martinez "Portals" album
Cover of Melanie Martinez “Portals” album

Melanie Martinez – Portals. Melanie Martinez is a singer, songwriter, producer, and heavily steps further into the role of director with her latest high-concept album. Melanie Martinez buries the “Cry Baby” character and is reborn as a pink-skinned, four-eyed fairy creature, familiar with life on earth as well as the afterlife. While catchy, everything about this is symbolic, and highly relatable too. This is Melanie at her most vulnerable yet. Sonically, this is a fusion of alt pop and pop rock. “Void” chronicles Melanie’s struggles with mental health. “Light Shower” showcases love at its most vulnerable. “Evil” is about reminiscing your time with a narcissist as well as the cathartic feeling which comes from finally cutting one out of your life. “Womb” is a metaphor for Melanie’s own rebirth in a multitude of ways. This is the most unique body of work released this year. 10/10

2023 release "Guts" by Olivia Rodrigo
Album cover of 2023 release “Guts” by Olivia Rodrigo.

Olivia Rodrigo — Guts. Olivia Rodrigo’s debut, 2021’s Sour, was an even juxtaposition between pop and punk. On her sophomore album, Guts, Olivia leans stronger into her punk side. The album is full of sassy anthems and heart-searching ballads. Themes of dealing with social anxiety, bad boys, and self-image are soothing to listen to. Olivia’s continued growth and maturity as a singer and songwriter is evident. It makes sense why she was tapped as one of the headliners for iHeartRadio’s Jingle Ball 2023.

"Barbie" the album 2023
“Barbie” the album 2023

Barbie: The Album. The fact that Barbie put more money into its marketing than the movie was well worth it. This is one of the best soundtracks released in a long time. Not only does it feature the hottest acts in music today, but everyone gave their all for this one. Dua Lipa’s “Dance the Night” could be described as the theme of the year, followed by Nicki Minaj, Ice Spice, and Aqua’s dream team collaboration for “Barbie World.” Lizzo, Sam Smith, Karol Go, Ava Max, Charli XCX, and even Ryan Gosling delivered on this one-of-a-kind soundtrack. Barbie may have been the movie of the year, but this was surefire the soundtrack of the year.

Taylor Swift "1989" album cover
Taylor Swift “1989” album cover

Taylor Swift — 1989 (Taylor’s Version). What would a 2023 year-end music review be without Taylor Swift? After all, Taylor’s Eras Tour became the highest-grossing concert movie of all time with its $123 million opening weekend, surpassing Justin Bieber. The Eras Tour itself became the second-highest grossing tour of all time, only behind Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road. Thus, it would make sense Taylor’s best album to date (1989) received the Taylor’s Version spin, and in turn, made Taylor Swift the most-streamed artist in a single day in Spotify history. 1989 (Taylor’s Version) sounds far superior to its original. While she keeps the re-records close to the originals, the vocals are unapologetically stronger and smoother. Moreover, the five previously unreleased songs featured here are gems in and of themselves. Likewise, they add further context to the 1989 era as a whole. This is Taylor’s best “version” to date.