With 2022 coming to an end, it is fair to say there was a lot of new music that was given to us. Whether that was from pop artists such as Harry Styles or hip-hop legend Kendrick Lamar, the year has given us a lot of new music to engage with.
However, a year ago, it was 2021, which could be argued to be a year filled with recognizable songs and music from both old and new artists. In addition, it could be further believed that in the near future, 2021 may stand as a year of decade-defining music whether for songs, new artists, or interesting storylines about albums* that occurred.
*By interesting storylines about albums, I mean the roll-outs of the albums and/or the themes that the albums talk about.
To begin, 2021 came off the tails of 2020, which was considered to be a very rough year for many individuals due to the COVID-19 epidemic which caused millions of people to die due to this significant disease. Furthermore, many people were forced to stay in their homes to avoid spreading the virus which prevented them from going to other places. Specifically for the music that year, it made it extremely difficult to attach to as people could not create memories with the music they listened to since they were almost always being at home.
Due to the negative emotions and restricted environment of that year, it might have made 2021 a lot more optimistic at the time. Although COVID was still an issue, a fair share of restrictions were lifted and venues were opened up to the public to a degree which eventually led to the opportunity to create more memories with others with the new music they listened to that year. But it wasn’t just the idea of listening to music while being at certain events. It also had to do with a lot of the artists that released music that year.
The first artist to mention: Olivia Rodrigo.
Rodrigo is a young popstar who made waves as a famous artist after appearing in several Disney-related properties including Bizaardvark and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. At the start of that year, she released the song ‘drivers license’ which exploded in popularity on multiple social media platforms such as TikTok. A few months later, she would release her debut album Sour, which was heavily praised by both critics and audiences. The fact she released this at the age of 18, made this feat even more impressive.
The album contains several songs that are considered very popular among music listeners. From the slow, melodic feel of ‘traitor’ to the catchy tune of ‘deja vu’, Sour does not disappoint with providing the emotions and feelings of Olivia’s story to the listener throughout this project. Most notably, the song ‘good 4 u’ is arguably one of the best songs on the album. It’s a song that not only went viral on TikTok but also is an engaging punk-style song that gets the listener pumped with adrenaline. The song succeeds in creating that mid-2000’s environment filled with electric guitar and drums that back up Olivia’s singing.
The album itself would go on to win various awards including “Best Pop Vocal Album” at the 2022 Grammys. As for Rodrigo, she would soon emerge as one of pop’s biggest superstars as she would go on to be recognized as “Songwriter of the Year” by Variety in 2021. Currently, she is one of the most famous celebrities on the planet right now for making catchy music while also being a great role model for today’s youth.
Lil Nas X
Furthermore, another headline in 2021 includes another big name in the music industry: Lil Nas X. Before this year, Nas previously made noise in 2019 with his smash hit “Old Town Road” in which the remix featuring country star Billy Ray Cyrus reached #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 for songs. You couldn’t avoid the song even if you didn’t listen to it. But in 2021, he would take this newfound fame to greater heights whether people enjoyed or disliked the way he was doing it.
Eventually in 2021, there was more speculation that Nas would release new music after he showed a snippet of the song ‘MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)’ in a Super Bowl commercial that year. In March of that year, he finally released the song which was considered a smash hit on the radio. There was also a music video alongside it, which invoked strong emotions from the public. In the video, Nas is portrayed to be sliding down a pole from heaven to hell as he dances with the literal devil. People recognized this as Nas freely expressing his battle with himself being a queer artist while also being brought up as a Christian. To market the song even more, he worked on releasing an altered pair of Nike shoes which would be known as “Satan Shoes” which were filled with a drop of human blood. However, despite the massive marketing, several people were offended by the way Nas portrayed himself involving the entirety of the song and video. Many right-wing conservatives and individuals strongly linked to Christianity bashed the video as they believed it praised the devil and hell itself. Instead of dumbing down his ideas, Nas kept going on with his unique music videos.
On July 19, 2021, he released another hit song “INDUSTRY BABY” featuring rapper Jack Harlow which is an upbeat, fast-paced song that can get anybody pumped up in a crowd. Specifically, Nas continues to show his identity even more through the corresponding music video, where he is at one point seen dancing naked alongside other men in a prison cell who are also not wearing any clothes. Several people criticized him for this decision, but it perfectly shows Nas’ ability to grab anybody’s attention with ease. Regardless of the controversy that he stirred up, Nas stands today as one of the most popular queer icons in the entertainment industry.
Add on top his melodic performance in his love song “That’s What I Want”, and Lil Nas X made strides to become more famous in music than just a one-hit wonder. “Industry Baby” and “Call Me By Your Name” were both, at one point, the top charting song on the Billboard 100. Even with the out of pocket music videos, one could argue that any publicity is good publicity.
Bruno Mars + Anderson .Paak
Moving on, longtime pop star Bruno Mars collaborated with rapper Anderson .Paak to create their joint album known as An Evening With Silk Sonic. This album became a summer classic when it was released. Listening to the album puts you in the feeling of comfort and relaxation. One can picture themselves lying down at the beach with the sun shining brightly while they take a sip of well-aged wine out of their clear, shiny glass. From the smooth vocals of “Leave The Door Open” to the optimistic, moving feel of ‘Skate’, the album is able to bring people into a non-stop feel of excitement and joy. And it is also a nice return for Bruno in a while.
In terms of the hip-hop albums released, there are a lot to discuss. Most notably, two of the most well-known artists in this genre, Drake and Kanye West, were in conflict with each other involving their previous comments about not just one another but also when they would release their albums. Several fans were awaiting on these projects for the majority of the year, questioning whether they would enjoy them compared to their previous works. It eventually led to the two artists releasing their albums almost a week apart. Kanye released DONDA, his tenth studio album that is meant to be a project connected to his Christian faith and in honour of his late mother, Donda West. Meanwhile, Drake released Certified Lover Boy, an album that was meant to be a romantic-type project filled with a love-based theme.
Although many perceive these projects to not be the best for each respective artist, they do provide unique listening experiences. DONDA is a spiritual listen filled with powerful instrumentals and great performances from not just Kanye but other featured artists such as Canadian R&B artist the Weeknd and Roddy Ricch. Songs such as ‘Come To Life’, ‘Hurricane’, and ‘24’ make you feel like you’re being lifted up in the sky to heaven.
With Certified Lover Boy, it is filled with fast-paced tracks that one could expect from Drake. Although not as praised as his previous music, it still has a lot of enjoyable tracks from listeners. For instance, the intro track ‘Champagne Poetry’ is a strong introduction to the album with great verses from Drake about his current situation at the time. While other songs such as ‘Race My Mind’ use its strong vocals and instrumentals to create a feel of relaxation as if one is vibing to their current situation. Also, people can admit there are some questionable lyrics and/or songs such as ‘Way 2 Sexy’ that some could make fun of and/or question its existence, which could cause the album to be remembered more than expected.
In addition, other notable hip-hop artists such as J Cole and Tyler, the Creator released well-praised albums in The Off-Season and Call Me If You Get Lost. The Off-Season is a furious barrage of banging hip-hop tracks from Cole, discussing his place in rap at the time. ‘95 south’, the opening track, immediately starts talking about Cole’s thoughts on the current state of rap with pure intensity. While other songs such as ‘pride. is. the. devil.’ talks about how pride has been able to influence Cole and others due to being a powerful sin while a very engaging beat plays in the background.
On the contrary, Call Me If You Get Lost is another project by Tyler that expresses his unique style in music. The album cover illustrates an identification card with Tyler’s face under the name “Tyler Baudelaire” which is meant to reference French poet Charles Baudelaire. The project is particularly based on Charles’ most prominent work, Les Fleurs du mal, (‘The Flowers of Evil’ in English) which initially was not allowed to be shown due to being very explicit, leading to the artist getting himself prosecuted. This translates to Tyler’s career changing from an out-of-control teenager speaking random stuff to an individual speaking more about romantic topics with a dash of mischief.
Using a blend of synth-pop, soul, jazz, and reggae, the project tries to address Tyler’s battle with heartbreak and trying to be self-aware through swinging tracks such as ‘Lumberjack’ and ‘WusYaName’. The album was successful where it won “Best Rap Album” at the 2022 Grammy Awards and “Album of the Year” at the 2021 BET Hip Hop Awards. Ultimately, hip-hop produced several eye-popping projects whether it was famous or infamous.
Finally, there seemed to be a lot of fun pop songs that were on the radio which seemed to be missing in past years. For instance, rapper Doja Cat released ‘You Right’ with the Weeknd which makes you feel like one is driving in a lit-up city at night getting ready to head to an enormous party with their friends. Furthermore, there was also ‘Heat Waves’ which became a summer staple that year, filled with its catchy hook and nostalgic feel for the time. It became so popular that it was still listened to a lot in 2022 as well. Not to mention the music from Justin Bieber, Adele, Alessia Cara, SZA, and more. There are so many breath-taking songs to mention, but it would take a very long time to discuss all of them in detail.
To sum up, 2021 released a lot of great music and could be argued to be not just be one of the better years in music but also has the chance to be one of the best years of music in the 2020’s. It was simply a jam-packed year filled with songs from new and old artists with unique styles and feels to their work.
Geffen Records, Olivia Rodrigo. Geffen Records, 2021.
J. Strauss, Lil Nas X arrives at the American Music Awards on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Invision, 2021.
SHUTTERSTOCK, Bruno Mars. SHUTTERSTOCK, 2021.
A. Sussman, Tyler, the Creator. FilmMagic, 2021.