2016: a year in review

And an exercise in misery, what a time to be alive! Max Dylan Lazarus reports

Words: Max Dylan Lazarus | Collage: Abbey Lardner-Burke

We’ve done it, finally – we’ve reached the end of 2016, the shittest year in recent history. This has been a year in which bad has outweighed good, and where reality took note of fiction, where we saw intrigue, violence, sex and madness, and decided to throw some plot twists and cliffhangers into the narrative. This was the year when the unlikely became the probable, facts became optional, evil ideologies enjoyed edgy rebranding projects, and all of our heroes took their final breaths, generously allowing us a weekly reminisce over a type of quality person that is becoming rarer by the day. 2016: you’re a terrible shit.

But in reality, was this year really all that bad? Is it not possible that perhaps we’ve simply reached a saturation point in modern history, where 24-hour news media, constantly-updating Twitter feeds, and ill-intentioned fake news stories on Facebook are combining with a natural predisposition towards negativity bias to make us feel like everything has been bad, and everyone is dying and why is it all so shit? Perhaps. So let’s try counter this, with a review of the year, with a conscious positivity bias. Surely it can’t have all been that bad? Let’s break it down.


Excitingly, if 2016 is anything to go by, we’re about to enter a glorious golden age of music, art and comedy. Do you remember what popular music was like in the late 2000s? For example, 2009’s most popular songs were 'Poker Face' and 'Boom Boom Pow', while the Grammy for best single went to Coldplay for 'Viva la Vida'. Genuinely awful. Thankfully the arts respond brilliantly to misery, and God knows we’re currently running a surplus of that.

This is the year when Beyoncé got us in formation, while Kanye dropped Pablo and then dropped the ball. Rihanna, Radiohead, Kendrick, Kaytranada, Solange and Frank got us excited again, while Bowie and Cohen released their final albums, knowing full well they were saying farewell. Black Coffee broke borders, Petite Noir broke ground and, Babes Wodumo helped Gqom finally break into the mainstream, and got people dancing nice and proper. In cinema, Disney reigned supreme with Marvel and Pixar projects becoming instant blockbusters (and that’s even before Star Wars: Rogue One hit at Christmas), while Leo finally got his Oscar for rolling in cold mud and actually shivering (it literally isn’t acting if you’re shivering because it’s freezing). However with studios only focusing on their bank balances, it’s TV that’s stepped up in quality, with Stranger Things, Westworld, The Night Of, The People vs OJ Simpson, and The Crown dominating water-cooler conversations, and making people trigger at the whisper of a spoiler.

Oh, and did we mention that David Bowie and Leonard Cohen died? Also Mandoza. And also Prince. And George Michael and Carrie Fisher. 2016 ey.


The internet was a wonderful, terrifying place in 2016, swallowing up our short attention spans with memes that dazzled and delighted. This year was spent placing Drake on top of other things, Damning Daniel and his white Vans with exaggerated praise, and shaking up in shock with images of Krusty Krab from Spongebob. Chad le Clos’ shadow boxing created a meme for the ages in the form of Phelps’ furious face, Evil Kermit got us revealing our inner conflicts, and Joe Biden made us smile with jokes and schemes we’d made up for him. Twitter continued its descent into a cesspit of misery with hateful frog emojis and evil anonymous eggs causing grief all over. Facebook expanded from its genesis – people misrepresenting what they did on weekends – and now is mostly fake news outlets misrepresenting what actually happens in reality.

Between time spent finding a man who can do both, and worrying about the other guy we were told not to worry about, we ran around frantically on our phones this year briefly chasing invisible Pokémon on the streets and in the office toilets, as well as falling in love with Snapchat before dumping its ass as soon as Instagram came round with a half-decent alternative.

Gavin the stylist (and self-proclaimed “cutest guy in the office”) insists that on the whole, 2016 was a good year for fashion, with the athleisure trend continuing in strength from last year, developing brilliantly and organically. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for people to ruin nice things, and some people interpret this by taking everyday wear and marking it up to crazy expensive levels and selling it as fashion.

That you can see in the likes of Yeezy and Vetements, the latter making the biggest splash in this calendar year, diversifying fashion and supposedly making it more accessible. Supposedly. Sadly, 2016 still had its faults, with instances of Crocs on the runway, along with the revival of ugly footwear. Runways were still cast with mostly all-white models at fashion weeks, and although there’s a trend towards inclusivity, it’s still badly skewed.

Also Alan Rickman and Harper Lee died, along with Gary Shandling and Bill Cunningham. Oh, and they shot Harambe.


And then we have sports, our greatest distraction. Leicester broke belief by becoming the reference point for unlikely success, while Sundowns went ahead and casually conquered Africa. The Olympics came and went, and while Bolt and Phelps confirmed their status as the best ever in their fields, and Ledecky and Biles took their spots as the up-and-coming superstars of the fairer sex, it’s our very own Wayde van Niekerk and Caster Semenya who filled us with an often-forgotten sporting pride that South Africans are used to. All of this was achieved thanks to the wonderful work done by Minister Razzmatazz Fleekile*dab dab*, lord of swag and Beyoncé factoids, may he be president in our time.

Oh, we also don’t talk about rugby anymore. Rugby is currently broken and needs to be repaired. Thankfully the Proteas brought us back the winning feeling, along with glorious schadenfreude as the silent News24 commenters struggled with the success of Rabada, Bavuma and Tsotsobe. In other, less important sports, Andrew Murray became a miserable all-time tennis great, while Serena cemented her position further, Danny Willett won the masters, USA won the golfy-golf team challenge, Rosberg won the vroom-vroom, and the Cavs came back to stun the Warriors in bouncy-ball. Actually, why am I doing this? Just go watch SuperSport if you care for this sort of insightless summarising.

Oh wait, did we mention that Muhammed Ali and Johan Cruyff died? As well as Stephen Keshi. And of course there was the Chapecoense Brazilian plane crash. Along with the shadow of the Zika virus haunting the barely-full stadium at the Olympics. Note that all of this occurred despite the wonderful work done by Minister Razzmatazz Fleekile *dab dab*, lord of swag and Beyoncé factoids, may he be president in our time.


Oh FFS, do we have to? Nothing good came of this year, I’m literally having a panic attack just researching this. Between Brexit and Trump, the demolition of Aleppo off the face of the earth, and terrorist attacks in Istanbul, Nice, Brussels, Lahore and more, it’s been a bit of a shit. Iran dismantled their nuclear project, but Donald Trump was given access to his own. Zuma paid back the money, at a fraction of the cost, although state capture continues unabated while weak opposition parties somehow struggle to do anything about it. Universities burned, racists resurfaced, and we exited the International Criminal Court.

I guess we can congratulate Gambia on democratically electing a new president after 22 years under Yahya Jammeh’s regime, and congrats to Austria for not electing far-right Nazis. Oh and the success of the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters (for now). All three deserve to be celebrated. All three happened very recently. See guys, things are getting better!

Oh and Fidel Castro died, along with the King of Thailand and Elie Wiesel. And these are just the famous people. Approximately 56 million people died this year. Everyone’s dying. What’s up with that 2016?


2016 was a horrendous year. It was a year that made people anxious, made people worried for the future, and where everything from politics to race, sex and identity politics became so polarised and divisive that the world has seemingly started splitting into little moralistic echo chambers. All of the above, in the arts, on the internet and on the sports fields, are necessary distractions, preventing us from losing our minds – but to be myopic and to ignore the direction the world is going in is to be culpable in its downwards trajectory. On the flip side, perhaps we’ve reached the bottom of the trough. “It surely can’t get much worse, can it?”, I ask, knowingly jinxing myself. Well, we can only hope not, and we can make a conscious, cognisant effort to have an improved 2017 by improving ourselves.

Now: let’s end this episode immediately. If life is anything like Game of Thrones (and I think it just might be), we’ve just lost our favourite character, but will enjoy some excellent character development as a result of it. Be better, everyone. Happy 2017!