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2015: The Year in Pop Comebacks

From Missy Elliott and Will Smith to Sleater-Kinney and New Order, here are 10 acts that made splashy returns after long absences

The Year in Comebacks 2015

(clock-wise, starting at the top) Jacob Blickenstaff/The NY Times/Redux, Erika Goldring/Getty, Marina Chavez, Alexander Tamargo/Getty

Adele's return was the pop happening of 2015, but compared to many other acts who reemerged this year, the three-year gap between 2012's "Skyfall" and the seismic impact of "Hello" was a mere blip. The year has been rife with sudden comebacks by bands or solo stars who had been absent from the popular consciousness for much longer stretches. Perhaps most surprising was that the returns were frequently strong — not just attempts to cash in on pass successes, but pushes to match previous highs.

The wave started in 2014, first with Garth Brooks, who reappeared after 13 years, and then with D'Angelo, who hadn't put out an album since 2000. This year, the pace increased as a stream of big-name acts reemerged in a variety of genres, including rock (Sleater-Kinney, Blur), hip-hop (Dr. Dre), and dance music (Chic, Giorgio Moroder). The trend shows no signs of stopping, either — Phil Collins was the latest to announce that he's giving music another go. Here's who we welcomed back in 2015.

Sleater-Kinney

-- PHOTO MOVED IN ADVANCE AND NOT FOR USE - ONLINE OR IN PRINT - BEFORE JAN. 4, 2015. -- Janet Weiss, Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney in New York, Dec. 2, 2014. The all-female band Sleater-Kinney, sorely missed in indie-rock since 2006, is set to release a new album. (Chad Batka/The New York Times)

(Chad Batka/The NY Times/Redux

Sleater-Kinney

Sleater-Kinney's return is every group's fantasy: When No Cities to Love dropped in January, it felt as though no time had elapsed between 2005's The Woods and the follow-up a decade later. Band lineup? Intact. Searing, unpredictable guitar dazzlement? Check. Hooks that land with the force of manifestos? Of course. The group stepped away, but somehow it didn't lose a step.

Blur

Damon Albarn, drummer Dave Rowntree and the band Blur at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in New York, its first performance with its original lineup of personnel in the city in 15 years, May 1, 2015. Tickets were given away for the show, which ran through 11 of the 12 songs on Blur's just released album "The Magic Whip," it's first new studio album since 2003, followed by encores of some of their songs from the 1990s. (Jacob Blickenstaff/The New York Times)

Jacob Blickenstaff/The NY Times/Redux

Blur

Members of Blur have been keeping busy on their own — especially Damon Albarn, between Gorillaz, a solo record and an Alice in Wonderland–inspired musical. But this year, for the first time in 12 years, the Britpop faves managed to regroup for a new studio album, their eighth. The texture of April's The Magic Whip leaned more towards the electronic end of the spectrum than Blur's classic work, which was firmly rooted in guitar rock. But the band made sure to reunite with producer Stephen Street, who sat behind the boards for all of its Nineties high points.

Giorgio Moroder

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 03: Giorgio Moroder performs at HARD Day Of The Dead - Day 2 at Los Angeles Historical Park on November 3, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic)

Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic/Getty

Giorgio Moroder

Moroder was important in pioneering the European disco sound in the Seventies — a style with more heft and less grace than its American counterpart. Big programmed beats and battering-ram synthesizers are ubiquitous in dance music these days, so it made sense for Moroder to stage a full-length follow-up to his spoken-word cameo on Daft Punk's Random Access Memories. The first track on June's Déjà Vu — the title is telling — demonstrated that only small tweaks were required to adapt the producer's Seventies formula to the modern musical landscape. In place of his former muse, Donna Summer, Moroder recruited big-voiced singers from a younger generation like Charli XCX and Sia to assist him on his first solo full-length since 1992.

Chic

Nile Rodgers and the Chic band perform at the Angel Ball, an annual black-tie cancer benefit, at Cipriani Wall Street in New York, Oct. 20, 2014. (Deidre Schoo/The New York Times)

Deidre Schoo/The NY Times/Redux

Chic

Nile Rodgers waited until the sound that he helped create was once again ruling clubs before reviving Chic, which helped define disco's first burst of success in the late Seventies. In recent years, the guitar virtuoso has focused on helping others piggyback off his innovations, playing on songs from Daft Punk, Avicii and Disclosure. In July, Chic finally dropped the assertively named It's About Time, the first Chic LP since 1992. The release showed that Rodgers' sure touch remains intact: The album spawned a Number One hit on Billboard's Dance Club Songs chart.

Dr. Dre

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 29: Rapper Dr. Dre performs during the Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole, Miguel and SchoolBoyQ concert during the 2013 BET Experience at Staples Center on June 29, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images for BET)

Chelsea Lauren/Getty

Dr. Dre

Compton may have been 2015's most unexpected comeback: Even some of the people working with Dr. Dre on the record didn't expect the music to be heard. But in early August, 16 new tracks from one of hip-hop's true giants dropped out of the sky, making up the first full-length from Dre since 1999's 2001. Compton was surprisingly nostalgia-averse for a comeback album — sonically, it might be less trapped in the past than any other release mentioned on our list. Part of this was due to the stacked roster of collaborators, including Kendrick Lamar and DJ Dahi; part of it stemmed from Dre's ear, which remains finely tuned.

New Order

Nick Wilson

New Order

New Order released Lost Sirens in 2013, but the tunes on that album were actually penned in the early 2000s during sessions for 2005's Waiting for the Sirens' Call. September's Music Complete marked the group's first collection of freshly written material since then. Though the album was made without longtime bassist Peter Hook — who would later sue the group over unpaid royalties— this comeback was a carefully executed return to form. The band mimicked the sound that made them famous in the Eighties: brittle beats, and sprightly synths, guitars and bass, with one foot in disco and the other in post-punk.

Janet Jackson

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 28: Honoree Janet Jackson performs onstage during the 2015 BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on June 28, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/BET/Getty Images for BET)

Christopher Polk/Getty

Janet Jackson

FKA Twigs, Tinashe, Kelela — much of R&B's new crop of leading ladies owes a considerable debt to Jackson. This year, she reunited with the production duo Jam & Lewis, a combination that has created some of the greatest pop of the last three decades, for her first album since 2008's Discipline. Released in October, Unbreakable was slightly less erotic than the singer's past work, but no less affecting. It was also a show of strength: despite her time away, she debuted at Number One on the Billboard album chart, and reached the top Adult R&B spot with lead single "No Sleeep."

Will Smith

Will Smith performs "Fiesta" at the 16th annual Latin Grammy Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, in Las Vegas. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Will Smith

There are probably plenty of Will Smith fans out there who only know him as an actor. Smith's last album, Lost and Found, came out in 2005, but his two biggest hits, "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" and "Wild Wild West," are even older. These days, Smith's children are the ones routinely shooting music onto SoundCloud. But on a recent jaunt to Colombia with Marc Anthony, Smith caught wind of Bomba Estéreo, and he couldn't help himself. Before long, he added a verse to "Fiesta," released in October. His first line in 10 years? "Hola, mamacita/Go get me a beer-a."

Missy Elliott

Rob Loud/WireImage/Getty

Missy Elliott

Missy's return was accelerated by a high-profile TV appearance — sales of her songs went through the roof after she performed "Get Ur Freak On," "Work It," and "Lose Control" at the Super Bowl halftime show — and some behind-the-scenes cajoling from one Pharrell Williams. As she explained it to i-D, "Who turns down Pharrell?" In November, when Missy finally stepped back into the arena with her first solo single in seven years, she did so with vigor. "WTF (Where They From)" pulses with modern energy, and the video — featuring Missy Elliott playing the role of a human disco ball — may be even more impressive.

Enya

29 Oct 2015, Berlin, Germany --- The singer Enya poses in a hotel in Berlin, Germany, 29 October 2015. The Irish singer's new album 'Dark Sky Island' comes out on 20 November 2015. It is her first album in many years. Enya, with 75 million album sales, four Grammy Awards, an ECHO award, and many other awards, ranks among the most successful artists of all time. Photo: BERND VON JUTRCZENKA/dpa --- Image by © Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa/Corbis

Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa/Corbis

Enya

Like Garth Brooks, Enya has sold so many albums that another record is almost irrelevant; and like Garth Brooks, she refuses to phone it in, or show any lessening in her commitment to her signature aesthetic: soothing, tranquil sound baths. November's Dark Sky Island, her first album in seven years, offered echoes of Brian Wilson, choir tunes, touches of Celtic music and nods to Nineties Celine Dion. All in all, there's enough warm reassurance to last for a while, though maybe not seven more years.