Bono and U2 had the first shows inside the new, eye-popping Sphere concert venue in Las Vegas.

Bono and U2 had the first shows inside the new, eye-popping Sphere concert venue in Las Vegas. (Rich Fury)

It’s the end of the year. For some, that means lists. Best album. Best song. Best ambient instrumental movement performed by spoons, three oboes and one harp. The rankings game is real this time of year and while it was once big business, it kind of/sort of feels like that bubble has deflated in its own apathetic way (along with, well, pretty much everything else once valued in popular culture).

That in mind, instead of offering up yet another best-of collection that will surely get lost within the echo chamber that dominates reading these days, I thought I’d take a quick look back at 10 things that shaped 2023 in the world of music. More than enough stories permeated their way through the noise that was the last 12 months, so let’s get to some of the highlights as we prepare to ring in 2024.

Taylor Swift performs her song “Cruel Summer” on the opening night of the Chicago Eras Tour on June 2, 2023, at Soldier Field. Swift did and won about everything available in 2023.

Taylor Swift performs her song “Cruel Summer” on the opening night of the Chicago Eras Tour on June 2, 2023, at Soldier Field. Swift did and won about everything available in 2023. (Shanna Madison/TNS)

Taylor’s world

She’s Time’s person of the year. She won every award imaginable. And, for my money, she redefined the touring algorithm for those who want to work smarter and not harder as the live music landscape evolves. Saying it was anyone other than Taylor Swift’s year when it comes to 2023 music is like saying The Beatles didn’t define the British Invasion. The fun won’t stop as the calendar turns, either – Swift isn’t done bringing her Eras tour to every corner of the world and something tells me the “Taylor’s Version” re-releases won’t stop over the next 12 months. We’re living in a time when one of the all-time transcendent pop stars is at her peak. Why fight it? Why be cynical? If anything, 2023 taught us to bask in the glory of Taylor Swift’s dominance. Not even Walter White had this much success being an anti-hero.

A woman’s world

And yet even if you resist the Swift Train, Taylor isn’t the only female act dominating music charts far and wide. 2023 was led by acts like SZA, Boygenius and Beyonce (who, in case you missed it, headlined a world tour of her own that didn’t do all that bad). Shoot, even the biggest country music hit sung by a male this year was originally written by a female artist some 30 years ago. Joni Mitchell won the Gershwin Prize. Rihanna offered up a very pregnant and very boss-like Super Bowl halftime show. The list goes on and on. 2023 was the year of the woman in music. And God bless it for that.

Better than the real thing?

Las Vegas’s shiny new toy, creatively titled “The Sphere,” finally got up and running this year and the results were … well, kind of what we thought they’d be. U2 opened it (sans Larry Mullen, which really makes it U1-and-a-half), and the cellphone videos that ensued were at times scary, always impressive and most often captivating. The thing feels like going to see a movie in IMAX, but instead of seeing Spider-Man, you see Bono sing an Elvis song. How long will it last? Word is that the venue is still operating at a loss, but big plans seem to be on the horizon for 2024. Can Phish save the day? We’ll see.

Goodbye, yellow brick road

As is the case in most years, a fair share of legendary/classic/noteworthy musicians called it a day with respective farewell tours in 2023. Elton John insisted he’s done after a July concert in Sweden. Kiss wrapped things up at Madison Square Garden recently … only to reveal that avatars will replace them from here on out, which is pretty on-brand. And Aerosmith launched what they said would be their final run, but then singer Steven Tyler bailed due to sexual assault allega … er … I mean, he said he had vocal cord problems. Will any of these goodbyes truly stick? It’s rock ‘n’ roll, so never say never.


Another year, another debate about who should go in, who got in, who didn’t get in and who might someday get in when it comes to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This year’s class was no different. Willie Nelson got the nod (absolutely) while Sheryl Crow (it shouldn’t have happened yet), Missy Elliott (if hip-hop is in, she’s gotta be there) and Rage Against The Machine (thanks for not coming, guys!) took their places among popular music’s elite as well. Love it or hate it, just wait until next year: John Mayer and Lil’ Wayne lead the artists eligible for the first time. Let the debate begin.


When taken as a whole, we’ve already established how women dominated the main-mainstream when it comes to popular music. But beyond that … man, for my money, the year’s best music came almost primarily from females. Olivia Rodrigo proved a sophomore slump doesn’t always have to exist (and that hell hath no fury like a scorned pop star who’s not afraid to use swear words). Janelle Monae put out a wildly fun reggae(ish) album that should have received more love than it got. Jenny Lewis released what amounted to one of my two favorite records from front to back all year. And hey: We even got a couple very good new songs from the Chvrches lady. Music is never qualitatively defined by gender, but damn if the girls didn’t outshine the boys in 2023.

Hangin’ around

While their albums celebrate 20-year, 25-year or 30-year anniversaries on what seems like a weekly basis anymore, alt rock bands from the mid-to-late 1990s laid blueprints for how bands long removed from their heydays can still have a prominent space in the music landscape. You don’t need to hear me fail at waxing poetic about Matchbox Twenty yet again (though they did put out a great album, got some “Barbie” love and embarked on a surprisingly successful summer tour), but even with them removed, consider their contemporaries. Counting Crows headlined amphitheaters with Dashboard Confessional. Bush is comfortably touring off little more than their greatest hits. And even bands like Creed and Hootie & The Blowfish announced major tours for 2024. Sure, it’s unsettling to hear what you once thought was contemporary rock be classified as classic rock, but kudos to the bands for seeing it through. Now, speaking of classic rock …

Now and then

… Two of the greatest rock bands ever wound up in the music conversation this year. The Rolling Stones released Hackney Diamonds, which only succeeded on account that it didn’t suck. OK, that’s probably too mean, but really: Check it out. There’s some good stuff in there. Conversely (and sadly), the same can’t be said for The Beatles’ final-ever song (maybe, probably), “Now and Then.” A pedestrian Beatles song at best, the entire operation was ruined once that outrageously campy accompanying video hit the Internet. As someone wisely pointed out after seeing it, “Why couldn’t Paul just ‘let it be’?”

All artificial

From magazine stories to poem-writing to song-crafting? Nothing is safe from AI technology these days, but it sure felt like the conversation surrounding artificial intelligence ramped up in a big way over the past 12 months. Consider the Grammys, who actually had to come out and state that only human creators can win one of the awards -- but a work containing AI is eligible as long as human input is meaningful … whatever that means. Ugh. Settle in, friends. The AI debate is only going to get more murky as the means become more available and the finances make more sense. And thus, it should be said again: Ugh.


And finally, a lot of very noteworthy musical personalities passed away in 2023. That’s not unusual, but this time around, the past year’s deaths felt particularly heavy at times. Just check out this list: Jeff Beck, Gordon Lightfoot, Wayne Shorter, Burt Bacharach, David Crosby, Harry Belafonte, Tina Turner, Tony Bennett, Sinead O’Connor and Jimmy Buffett, among many, many, many others who left an impact. The mark they left with their music shouldn’t soon be forgotten and so as we bid adieu to 2023, maybe pour a drink, spin a few of their records and reflect on what meant the most to you in the past 12 months of music.

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