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The Best and Worst in Chicago Pop Culture in 2015

The high highs and low lows in Chicago music, film, and TV this year

Empire   Photo: Chuck Hodes/Fox

When I sat down to write this roundup last year, the Bears had been horrid, lots of selfies were getting taken, and Kanye still hadn’t released his follow-up to Yeezus.

Little has changed this time around, and that includes the heft of art, culture, content, and fluff local creators have churned out this year. The high highs and a few unfortunate lows, below.

The Best

Chicago hits #PeakChance

This magazine has already toasted Chance the Rapper’s myriad accomplishments this year. But in case you forgot: He dropped a stellar new album, punctuated Pitchfork Fest with sonic fireworks, performed on SNL, Colbert, and Wait Wait, helmed that amazing “Sunday Candy” video, led an anti-violence campaign, threw a free festival for teenagers, hosted open mike nights for students, chaperoned CPS field trips, and more or less cemented himself as Millennial Jesus in Chicago and beyond.

The Art Institute gets $400 million in pop art

As of December 13 (and for the first time in the Art Institute’s 136-year history), you can see a veritable collection of pop art on display at the museum, courtesy of a $400 million gift from Stefan T. Edlis and Gael Neeson. See previews here and here.

Jeremih drops Late Nights

Sure, Jeremih’s Late Nights: The Album got the worst rollout imaginable from his label, Def Jam (no tour, no media junket, meager distribution, and a three-year delay). But that didn’t keep it from being one of the year’s best releases by a local. Do it up.

Empire is born

Though it’s seemed part of the canon for ages, Lee Daniels’s hip-hop soap premiered less than 12 months ago, at once breaking every record in the book and giving Chicago’s economy a shot in the arm.

Paul McCartney’s set at Lolla

No, he has nothing to do with Chicago, but Paul’s Lollapalooza headliner was probably the best set on local soil this year.

The Worst

Chi-Raq

Spike Lee’s self-described satire about South-Side gang violence wasn’t just a clownish reduction of very real tragedy. It was a wasted opportunity, as my colleague Tomi Obaro wrote about at length after the film’s premiere.

Hideout Block Party and Aahh! Fest take a break

In exchange for three new EDM festivals by the same promoter (React Presents’s Mamby on the Beach, the expanded Freaky Deaky, and a two-night New Year’s Eve festival), Chicago lost a stalwart music fest in Hideout Block Party and a promising newbie in Common’s Aahh! Fest. Both reportedly took time off to prepare for knockout 2016 iterations. Fingers crossed that they still happen.

Second City burns

The extra-alarm fire that tore through Second City’s Old Town office in August thankfully spared its next-door performance space and off-site archives. Still, a fire is a fire, and the company was displaced for weeks.

For-profit festivals close more public spaces

Riot Fest’s troubles were this year’s most publicized—the festival was run out of Humboldt Park for damages and racked up another $180,000 at its new home in Douglas Park, upsetting neighbors and a hospital along the way—but Mamby on the Beach and a noisy Mumford & Sons show at Cricket Hill were among the concerts that co-opted neighborhood parks for profit this year, a burden more communities are facing with the ubiquity of music festivals.

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