Looking back at music in 2022: From Pearl Jam to Justin Bieber, Drake and Brandi Carlile, COVID still loomed
The pandemic has battered musicians for nearly three years, but some national and local artists have embraced a few unexpected benefits.
Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Anthony Davis and Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder are almost never mentioned in the same article, let alone breath. Neither are teen-pop star Justin Bieber and the young San Diego buzz band Thee Sacred Souls.
But all four — like many other artists in San Diego and beyond — were directly or indirectly impacted in 2022 by the now-three-year-old COVID-19 pandemic.
Their experiences could provide a road map of sorts for the year ahead, especially at a time when the number of COVID cases are rising alarmingly yet again in a pandemic-fueled variation of “Groundhog Day” that no one wants to experience another time.
Ditto the experiences of Drake, Willie Nelson, Brandi Carlile, Elton John, Trisha Yearwood, Pink, John Mayer (who this year contracted COVID for the second time) and Elle King, who in a late January Union-Tribune interview said: “Since I am traveling with my baby, for anyone — vaccinated or not — to have a VIP package and get their picture taken with me, and for the very small group of people who attend my (pre-concert) acoustic performances, they have to be COVID-tested that day ...”
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On March 9, 2020, the Vedder-led Pearl Jam became the first major music act to postpone a U.S. tour because of coronavirus concerns. It was a prescient move. Two days later, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and the numbing global shutdown of live events began.
Pearl Jam finally kicked off its Gigaton tour this year on May 3 at San Diego State University’s Viejas Arena, not far from the La Mesa apartment Vedder lived in for part of the 1980s. The band’s SDSU concert came barely two months after he had to postpone dates on his solo tour — including at The Magnolia in El Cajon — after contracting COVID.
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The former San Diegan is on a brief tour that stops Tuesday in El Cajon. His new album features his two teen daughters, plus Stevie Wonder, Ringo Starr and Elton John.
By May, Pearl Jam had to shelve multiple tour dates after its bassist, Jeff Ament, and drummer, San Diego native Matt Cameron, also contracted the disease. In July, Pearl Jam canceled multiple European tour dates after Vedder’s voice was damaged at an outdoor Paris concert by dust, heat and smoke from wildfires then raging across Europe.
Bieber didn’t fare much better after his twice-postponed 2020 world tour opened this February at Pechanga Arena San Diego. The Canadian singer tested positive for COVID the next day and postponed his subsequent Las Vegas concert.
In June, other health issues led Bieber to suspend his tour. He resumed it in July, put the tour on hold again in August, then returned to the stage for seven shows before canceling all his remaining 2022 concerts because of concerns about his physical and mental well-being.
Bieber was not alone.
A growing number of young artists cited mental health issues, anxiety and stress for their decision to curtail or cancel tours altogether. They include Arlo Parks, Shawn Mendes, Charlie Puth, Disclosure’s Howard Lawrence, Wet Leg, Yard Act, Sam Fender and more.
“People are talking about all the physical effects of coronavirus, but not the mental health aspects,” former San Diego troubadour Jewel presciently said in a 2020 Union-Tribune interview. “I’m worried that suicides could outnumber coronavirus deaths.”
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Suicide rates in the U.S. did increase in 2021, with the highest jump of 8 percent being among males 15 to 24. Numbers for this year have not yet been tallied.
But while the pandemic wreaked havoc among nearly all demographics and caused enormous damage to performing arts communities everywhere, for at least some artists it also provided unanticipated benefits.
Witness singing legend Dionne Warwick, who in a Dec. 15 San Union-Tribune interview said: “It will sound completely insane when I say this, but I had the best time. Those two years gave me a chance to get to know me again, to get to know my home again and sleep in my own bed. It was wonderful for me. Fortunately, I stayed healthy and I was not affected by the pandemic at all.”
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The singing legend, who turned 82 on Dec. 10, is on the road again. Our interview includes a bonus Q&A.
And witness composer and University of California San Diego music professor Anthony Davis, who won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for music for his politically charged opera, “The Central Park Five.” And witness Thee Sacred Souls, the three-year-old San Diego band whose debut album was belatedly released in August.
“When all my composing commissions were canceled during the COVID shutdown, I thought: ‘What am I going to do?’ ” Davis recalled in a Union-Tribune interview in May.
The answer: He revived and boldly revamped his first opera, 1986’s groundbreaking “X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X.” A revival production debuted May 14 at Detroit Opera, followed by stops in other cities. In November, a new album of Davis’ “X” by Boston Modern Orchestra Project earned a Grammy nomination in the Best Opera Recording category.
Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Davis revives ‘X,’ his prescient 1986 opera about Malcolm X: ‘A tragic hero’
The daring, genre-leaping work, released as a 1992 double-album, will be recorded anew in June. The Metropolitan Opera’s 2023 performance of ‘X’ is set to be filmed for an HD theatrical release
The pandemic-fueled shutdown of live events also helped Thee Sacred Souls, which in April beat out Grammy winners Switchfoot and Jason Mraz for Song of the Year honors at the 2022 San Diego Music Awards. Sara Petite was the biggest winner of the night with three wins.
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The 31st annual edition saw versatile singer Jesse Davis honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award
“I would say the shutdown actually benefited us in a way,” said Souls drummer Alex Garcia, who contracted COVID once before being vaccinated and once after. “We had more time to write the songs for our record and to kind of build anticipation for it. That time allowed us to get our team together and formulate who we are as a band.”
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“I agree,” said Souls singer Josh Lane. “It was (awful) on the social front, for everyone, with COVID. But it gave us a chance to huddle together and build something important.”
So many music artists, like people in all walks of life, have contracted COVID that it is no longer big news if they test positive.
One of those artists is Puerto Rican reggaeton-music superstar Bad Bunny (real name: Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio).
In September, he became the first performer in any genre to perform two back-to-back full-stadium concerts at Petco Park in the venue’s 22-year history. His “World’s Hottest Tour” concert trek was the top-earning tour of the year, with staggering gross earnings of $393.3 million.
In August, Tijuana’s brassy Grupo Firme became the first Latin music act to headline at Petco Park, which held a record number of concerts this year.
Bad Bunny to make history as first artist to ever do 2 back-to-back full stadium concerts at Petco Park
The Puerto Rican superstar’s ‘Summer’s Hottest Tour’ is also adding second shows in stadiums in Los Angeles, Miami and New York
Bad Bunny’s Petco concert did not include “En Casita,” the 2020 song he recorded on his iPhone about quarantining during the pandemic. Like Harry Styles’ “As It Was,” one of the biggest hits of 2022, “En Casita” exudes a deep sense of melancholy that was born of isolation during a worldwide pandemic. (Styles, incidentally, postponed several November concerts in Los Angeles after coming down with the flu.)
Considering the record number of concerts held in San Diego and many other cities this year, the COVID pandemic may seem like it’s behind us.
But with yet another winter surge of the pandemic underway, the recent past may be an indication of what is still ahead — and a reminder of music’s unique ability to vividly convey feelings of isolation and celebration alike, and nearly everything in between.
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