Next to good friends, cheap eats, and having serious winter attire, music is an important part of McGill student life. Whether helping us concentrate at a ‘quiet’ library, making and sharing our Spotify playlists with friends, or the beloved annual open and close of the term at OAP, music carries many of us through this short but unforgettable chapter of our lives. For those donning caps and pale blue gowns this week, we’ve curated a playlist to celebrate and reminisce over the music enjoyed of the last four to five years in the McGill Arts undergraduate scene – in no particular order.
- Beyoncé – Beyoncé (2013) - Beyoncé caught everyone off guard with the surprise release of this album, which had a life of its own on campus. Tracks like Partition and Drunk in Love entirely took over the McGill soundscape, and fans with good literary taste were especially proud to hear her sampling of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on ***Flawless. Play
- Stromae – Racine Carrée (2013) - Francophone students may sigh at the very commercial non-English choice, but the truth is everyone on campus was digging it, and for good reason. The Belgian musician explored difficult personal and social themes such as discrimination, AIDS, relationships, and difficult family histories, while incorporating Caribbean, afro-beat, and electronic dance-pop inspirations. For those learning French in their classes and/or personal life, Racine Carrée (in English, “square root”) made the process more captivating. Play
- ANTI - Rihanna (2014) - Rihanna represents a hallmark of “Many Undergraduates’ Favourite Things”: she’s heard everywhere and is excelling at everything from fashion to philanthropy, making our inability to multitask with our phones in the same room completely pathetic. Granted, most of the time the inevitable reach for distraction easily leads to some follow-up on the artists’ life, but the long-awaited ANTI was more than that – in perfect undergraduate tastes, ANTI’s success also reminded us the reasons we could look up, even relate to Rihanna: working hard and staying true to herself, she climbed the ranks in a male-dominated industry, to make it her own. Play
- In Colour - Jamie xx (2015) - Depending on the major, Arts students can work up a strong love-hate relationship to the ambiguity academics often make. But Jamie xx’s In Colour is proof that asking “what is this??” after hours of close listening is not a bad thing. In Colour brought us a mix of moody instrumentals, some surprising samples, and room-flipping bangers that scintillated through several semesters, gently inviting us to dance, sing, or simply cool out whenever we wanted to. Play
- To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar (2015) - If there was a hip-hop debate club on campus, they could spend a semester on this question and still fail to reach a resolution: To Pimp a Butterfly, good kid, m A.A.d city, or for the now Pulitzer-winning DAMN? As an Arts student, we would critically break it down the question, looking at Lamar’s different narrative styles, the variety of artists who appear on the albums, its confrontations with historical and still-relevant issues like colourism, institutional racism, and the portrayal of rap. But whatever your personal verdict, the artistic variety and breakthroughs on this album challenged us all. Play
- 25 – Adele (2015) - And after enduring our short-lived grief, to Adele’s 25 we turned for support, guidance, and the reminder of how okay it is to let our emotions show. Adele’s tenderly honest lyrics matched with strong and pure vocals are a sobering lesson in growing up – that we do experience pain, and can come out stronger. Not to mention, all student groups seemed to think that writing in their listserv’s subject lines “Hello, it’s me” was the secret to increasing readership. Admittedly, it had its success for a while. Play
- Blond – Frank Ocean (2016) - If you somehow had time to get your heart broken, then at least Frank Ocean sprang out of his hiatus sometime before, during, or after it happened. If you were luckier, then Blond made you want to feel heartbroken about something. Whatever the case, this album had the effect of giving closure from whatever regrets and mistakes of our young(er) pasts. The anticipation was long, like waiting for grades to appear under the in myCourses. But when the music came, we were ready to listen. Play
- 99.9% - Kaytranada (2016) - Montreal’s Kaytranada is a darling DJ for McGill students. With Igloofest a rite of passage into electro-dance music, a lot of students find his colourful funky-psychedelic groove easier to sit with, or dance to, than the stamina demanded of house music. His performance at Igloofest in 2018, not to mention his periodic guest surprises at different music shows around the city, is why 99.9% has a place in all our hearts. That, and the surprisingly helpful study companion that is electro music. Play
- Telefone – Noname (2016) - This album is easily appreciated by everyone: a lyrical blend of thoughtful and smart rhymes, soothing notes for easy listening with friends, alone, or studying, and a spunky poeticism to her delivery. Everyone was hearing Telefone, though its listening required pulling away for a second of conscious awareness – something students don’t realize how badly they need to do. Play
- Malibu – Anderson .Paak (2016) - An especially important album for McGill students, not only because .Paak is stunningly recreating several genres all at once, but in 2017 he performed an outrageously good (and free?!) outdoor show for the Jazz Festival in 2017, and was opened by the Montreal band Busty and the Bass (that’s made up of McGill alumnus). Tens of thousands were packed into Place des Arts, no doubt with a sizable number of McGill students casually recognizing one other in the crowd. Play
However you experienced it, music had a role to play in the three to four years of your undergraduate life. Montreal is a city that beats to the rhythm of its own drum: the year-round music festivals, a vibrant local music scene, and a tangible sense by all that at every moment, musicians were making sonic magic somewhere in the city.