The Music News That Defined 2023

BY Alex HudsonPublished Dec 19, 2023

As Hollywood ground to a halt due to actors' and writers' strikes, 2023 was a comparatively smooth time for the music industry. It was a year that produced the highest-grossing tour of all time, signalling that at least certain sectors of the music biz had returned to profitability following a few difficult years.

Yet, despite outward signs of success, a tension bubbled just under the surface. Debates about merch cuts and streaming royalties continued to heat up, while advancements in AI left fans and artists alarmed about what the future could bring for the arts.

From the deaths that rocked the industry to the feuds and triumphs that made headlines, these are the music stories that defined 2023. Read Exclaim!'s lists of the best albums and songs here.

January 10
R.I.P. Jeff Beck

The celebrated guitarist died due to a bacterial meningitis infection at the age of 78.

January 18
R.I.P. David Crosby

The CSNY artist was said to be actively working on tour plans up until the day before his death at 81, which was reportedly caused by COVID-19 complications.

January 28
R.I.P. Tom Verlaine

Television's singer-guitarist passed away at 73 following a battle with prostate cancer.

February 5
Hip-Hop Turns 50

The Grammys hosted a star-studded hip-hop history lesson, which kicked off a year of celebrations of the genre.

February 8
R.I.P. Burt Bacharach

The songwriting legend was 94 when he died at home of natural causes.

February 12
R.I.P. De La Soul's Trugoy the Dove

After not appearing alongside his De La Soul bandmates during the Hip-Hop 50 celebrations earlier in the month, David Jolicoeur died at the age of 54.

March 16
The Cure vs. Ticketmaster

In response to a backlash about ticketing fees, Robert Smith got the company to give fans partial refunds.

Photo: Sharon Steele

April 4
AI Imitates Drake and the Weeknd

An AI-created collab between Drake and the Weeknd, "Heart on My Sleeve," went viral. Even though it was ultimately banned from streaming services, it signalled an alarming new era for AI art.

April 6
Mick Mars Sues Mötley Crüe

Mick Mars retired from touring last year, but the seemingly amicable split turned sour when he sued his former bandmates, saying that they refused to speak to him during their final tour.

April 9
Fyre Fest II Is Happening

Convicted con artist Billy McFarland announced a sequel to his famously disastrous 2017 festival. Honestly, it sounds like a good idea and everyone should buy tickets.

April 16
Frank Ocean Disappoints Coachella

The singer showed up an hour late for a headlining set that was panned by attendees. He dropped out of the second weekend and was replaced by blink-182.

May 1
R.I.P. Gordon Lightfoot

The celebrated Canadian songwriter cancelled his 2023 tour due to his declining health before dying of natural causes at 84.

May 15
The Urban/Kidman/Bridgers/Burnham/Swift Connection

In a dizzying celebrity Mad Lib, Keith Urban accidentally revealed that Phoebe Bridgers and Bo Burnham were dating when he and Nicole Kidman posted a selfie from a Taylor Swift concert.

Photo: Karen K. Tran

May 21
Foo Fighters' New Drummer

Following the tragic death of Taylor Hawkins in 2022, Foo Fighters confirmed Josh Freese as their new drummer.

May 23
R.I.P. Tina Turner

The pop icon passed away peacefully at 83 while at home in Switzerland following a long illness.

May 26
Céline Dion Cancels All Dates

The Quebec belter cancelled all of her tour dates as she dealt with a neurological condition known as stiff-person syndrome.

May 31
Hayley Williams vs. "Incel Ass" Complainers

After Paramore postponed shows due to the singer's lung infection, she called out the "internet bros" criticizing her for needing to rest.

June 10
Joni Mitchell's Headline Set

Following a surprise return to the stage in 2022, the legend made her first official headlining appearance in over two decades at Washington's Gorge Amphitheatre.

June 18
Stop Throwing Things at Performers!

A man was arrested after throwing his phone during a concert, hitting Bebe Rexha in the face. Harry Styles and Morgan Wallen were among the other artists struck by concert projectiles.

Photo: Rick Clifford

June 18
Doja Cat vs. Her Own Fans

"I love my fans" is one of those things we expect celebrities to say, but Doja Cat took a unique stance against her own followers, insisting that she doesn't care if anyone is excited about her musical direction.

July 14
US Delays Fee Increase on Visas for Musicians

A proposed rate increase for work visas was delayed until at least March 2024, meaning that international bands can continue touring in the US, at least for the time being.

July 21
The 1975 Banned from Malaysia

Good Vibes Festival was cancelled after Matty Healy and Ross MacDonald kissed on stage, violating the country's anti-homosexuality laws.

July 26
R.I.P. Sinéad O'Connor

The Irish icon was found dead in her apartment in London, UK, at the age of 56.

July 26
Tom DeLonge Was Right

Having spent years insisting that aliens are real, the blink-182 singer-guitarist took a victory lap after congressional hearings about UFOs.

July 28
Lana Del Rey's Waffle House Shift

Fans were fascinated when the pop star was photographed wearing a Waffle House, seemingly working a shift at an Alabama eatery. She told The Hollywood Reporter, "I wish my album had gone as viral."

August 1
Lizzo Sued by Dancers

The singer-flautist's famously friendly image was upended by a series of allegations from former dancers, accusing her of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment. 

Photo: Carrie Musgrave

August 9
R.I.P. Robbie Robertson

The legendary songwriter-guitarist of the Band died at 80 following a lengthy illness. His final film score, for Martin Scorcese's Flowers of the Killer Moon, followed a few months later.

September 1
R.I.P. Jimmy Buffett

The famously laid-back tropical rocker cancelled tour dates due to illness before entering hospice care for skin cancer. He died aged 76.

September 1
Jeff Rosenstock vs. Merch Cuts

The punk troubadour revived a hot-button debate from 2022 by calling out venues for taking out merch cuts, prompting discussion around the finances of touring.

September 11
Talking Heads Reunite in Toronto

The four original members of the group appeared on stage together for the first time since 2002, when they spoke with Spike Lee for the reissue of Stop Making Sense.

September 28
Songtradr Acquires Bandcamp

The fall brought big changes for the music marketplace, as Bandcamp laid off 50 percent of its employees as the union accused the new owners of unjust labour practices.

September 29
Tupac Murder Suspect Arrested

Nearly three decades following the rapper's 1996 murder, Duane "Keffe D" Davis was arrested in connection to the shooting.

October 3
Grimes Sues Elon Musk

A month after news of the on-off couple's third child was made public, the artist sued the billionaire for custody.

October 11
The Era of the Concert Film

Taylor Swift and Beyoncé ushered in a new era of blockbuster music docs, with the former's Eras Tour smashing records to become the highest-grossing concert film ever, while a remastered Stop Making Sense celebrated the pinnacle of the format.

Photo: Wendy Wei

October 27
Buffy Sainte-Marie's Heritage Questioned

An investigation by CBC questioned the artist's Indigenous ancestry, uncovering a birth certificate while she maintained, "I am not a piece of paper."

November 2
The Beatles Release Their "Final" Song

"Now and Then" is based on an archival John Lennon demo and features posthumous guitar work from George Harrison. It's fine.

November 16
Hall vs. Oates

Beloved duo Daryl Hall and John Oates entered into a legal battle, as the former sued the latter over contractual and financial disputes, and he also filed a restraining order.

November 19
Spotify's Royalty Model

The streaming giant ruffled feathers by rolling out a new royalty policy, including paying out nothing to any tracks with under 1,000 streams.

November 30
R.I.P. Shane MacGowan

The frontman of the Pogues died at the age of 65. Having spent several months in hospital, he was discharged about a week before dying due to complications from pneumonia.

December 5
Crown Lands' Cody Bowles Addresses Indigenous Identity

After working with a genealogist, the singer-drummer (and outspoken advocate for Indigenous rights) found that, despite having been raised as part Mi'kmaq, their ancestry is largely African. As for how this will affect the future of the band: "At this point, who knows." 

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