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From Katy Perry to Jackie Chan: My Top Stories Of 2015

As the clock runs out on each year, we in the Mainstream Media tend to get nostalgic–or lazy–and our coverage takes on a retrospective tone. In my case, that involves offering thoughts on the music industry’s big winners, predicting what will happen in 2016 and indulging myself–and hopefully you, too–with some of my own journalistic highlights of the past year. So grab some of that leftover egg nog, kick back, and get ready to open some tabs.

I opened the year in customary fashion with the FORBES 30 Under 30 Music list, where Florida Georgia Line bro-country-rocked their way to a spot as the callout in our Class of 2015, and I went to Nashville to walk along some railroad tracks with them. In February, I reported on an unlikely collaboration between Diddy, Mark Wahlberg and Ron Burkle and interviewed Chris Martin about his plan to save the world, followed by my usual coverage of the Grammys. Next came my annual trip to South By Southwest, which is becoming a lot more like CES, but still yielded highlights including Migos’ thoughts on Emirati gold bar vending machines during an interview for our Hip-Hop Cash Princes special.

For much of the winter, I dug into a piece that became one of my proudest achievements as a journalist: Revenge of the Record Labels, a magazine piece co-written with Nick Messitte. The story, published in April, outlined how the majors have quietly hijacked the streaming revolution by accumulating stakes in the likes of Spotify and others–and how their stakes will turn into a ten-figure windfall in the event of an IPO, with none of that cash going back to the artists on whose backs the services were built.

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“That’s the story of the music business,” Rock & Roll Hall Of Famer John Oates told me. “It goes back to the earliest days–take it back to, ‘Give him a bottle of wine and take all his publishing for the rest of his life.’”

I started the spring with a trip to Anaheim for the world’s largest Star Wars convention, where I learned I wasn’t nearly as big a Star Wars nerd as I thought I was, encountering people dressed up as characters whose names I’d never heard. Next up: a long-awaited interview with Quincy Jones and the latest accounting of Hip-Hop’s Wealthiest Artists, with Diddy holding steady at No. 1.

In May and June, I devoted the better part of my existence to putting out FORBES’ Celebrity 100 issue, taking over as editor of the package for the first time. I penned a feature on how Jackie Chan became the second highest-paid actor in the world (hint: it sort of involves China’s Communist party)–and a piece on his environmental lessons for Jay Z and Will Smith–while also traveling to Los Angeles and Rome to write the cover story on Katy Perry.

The latter explored the Super Bowl star’s journey from a sheltered, religious childhood to a her irreverent, globetrotting career and a position as the world’s highest-paid musician of 2015. Over the course of several hours I spent with Perry, I was pleased to discover a pop star who didn’t try to hide her success, but rather owned it–and wanted to serve as an example for entrepreneurs around the world, particularly other young women.

“I don’t want to shy away from it,” she told me. “I actually want to kind of grab it by its balls.”

July brought stadium shows by Taylor Swift and The Rolling Stones (separated by 24 hours and 350 miles), along with a think piece comparing some of the unexpected similarities between the two. After that came the launch of the Country Cash Kings package, punctuated by profiles of Jason Aldean (and his role as his genre’s only flag-bearer at Tidal) and Trisha Yearwood (and her quest to become the Martha Stewart of country).

The next month meant another Electronic Cash Kings package, thoughts on Dr. Dre’s first album in a decade and the realization that the Clintons earned more than all but three rappers in 2013-2014–a perfect lead-in to the annual FORBES Hip-Hop Cash Kings special in September, which featured an exploration of the unique challenges experienced by hip-hop acts in the Holy Land and my latest thoughts on perennial money muse Jay Z (as well as the release of my latest updated edition of Empire State of Mind).

October brought another exploration of Michael Jackson’s postmortem earnings and some musings on the future of the Sony/ATV catalogue. I spent much of the fall obsessing over the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia, where I led planning efforts for our all-for-charity music festival. Despite the fact that our first headliner canceled a month before the show and our second got hit by a car a week before (he’s ok now), we managed to pull together a show fronted by A$AP Rocky, Shawn Mendes, Lindsey Stirling and Hanson. Rocky called it “f—ing inspirational,” and I had to agree.

Throughout 2015, the saga continued for the Wu-Tang Clan’s secret album, whose existence I broke nearly two years ago. This year’s intrigue began with the selection of Paddle8 to auction the record and continued with the revelation that the eventual buyer wouldn’t be allowed to release the album publicly for 88 years. In November, FORBES once again was first with critical news: that the album had been sold, and that the purchaser was a private American collector. Weeks later, the buyer was revealed to be Martin Shkreli, “the most hated man in America.” Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any stranger, Shkreli was arrested on Madoff-esque charges and the FBI had to officially notify the world via Twitter that it hadn’t seized Once Upon A Time In Shaolin.

I closed out the year with a couple of magazine pieces–one exploring the unlikely recovery of small-town papers like the Hendersonville Lightning, a 2,000-circulation newsweekly based out of a trailer behind a used car lot, another digging into the earnings prospects of Star Wars heroes. That last one sort of inspired me to write up something that happened to me a long time ago in a galaxy not so far away: auditioning, poorly, for the role of Anakin Skywalker.

What’s next for me? My share of the upcoming 30 Under 30 package, due out January 4th. What’s not? A role in Star Wars. And that’s fine by me–I’m happy to just sit back and watch. So happy Life Day to you, and if you still haven’t had your fill of my stories, here’s the full list of my favorite pieces over the past year. Enjoy!

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