Janet Jackson at Moda Center, Jan. 12
Whether the result of retroactive poptimism or just collective nostalgia, 2015 felt like a comeback year for Miss Jackson. (I'm not that nasty, really.) Her new album, Unbreakable, is pretty good—slinky and funky like her classic material—but you'll surely be pleased to hear that her recent set lists leave no hit unplayed.
Childbirth at Bunk Bar, Jan. 24
Portland got the soccer championship, but if we're being honest, Seattle had the better year in music, due in large part to its female-driven punk scene. It's not riot-grrrl redux, but rather feminism writ Abbi and Ilana, and Childbirth's crass, catchy Women's Rights LP—which takes swipes at tech bros, Tinder dads, breeders and Best Coast—could've come straight out of the Broad City writers' room.
Vince Staples at Hawthorne Theatre, Feb 28
Staples' Summertime '06 was the second-best-received rap album of 2015, behind To Pimp a Butterfly, though it's no less incisive, sprawling and ambitious—just lighter on the spoken-word interludes. It's gangsta rap that's fully aware of the desperate conditions that breed gangsterism, and offers few assurances that everything's gon' be all right. Off record, Staples seems like a fun guy to watch a basketball game with, provided you can forgive him for being a Clippers fan.
Carly Rae Jepsen at Wonder Ballroom, March 1
Emotion, the "Call Me Maybe" singer's highly anticipated (by critics, anyway) third album, imagines an alternate-reality '80s where Debbie Gibson is as cool and artistically viable as Prince, and does so well enough to make you reassess the actual '80s. It didn't sell, but that's OK—it just means her next album is going to sound like Robyn, which was sort of her destiny, anyway.
Pusha T at Crystal Ballroom, March 6
As half of Virginia rap duo Clipse, Pusha T helped introduce indie-rock bloggers to this thing called hip-hop in the early 2000s, and has remained a critics' darling after going solo. Of course, the same could be said of Dipset, and if you attended Dipset's Portland show this year, you might wonder if the Crystal is too big for Pusha T. Whatever, though: He just dropped a great new album in Darkest Before Dawn, got a new job as the head of Kanye West's GOOD Music imprint and has another record slated for 2016. It's good to be King Push right now, whether he sells out the joint or not.