2021 Music Year in Review

As we creep closer and closer to the New Year and everything 2022 has in store, it seems like an appropriate time to look back at the musical year that was in 2021…

And it was quite a year indeed for music. As the world started to slowly peek out of various states of lockdown, concert tours began to be rescheduled and album releases that had been shelved (thanks to COVID limiting options for promotion) began rolling out. We heard music from big name artists, brand new artists, and everyone in between!

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost a full year since the world first heard the unstoppable force that is Olivia Rodrigo’s “drivers license”

Younger listeners may have recognized her from her acting roles in various Disney TV series, but even they couldn’t have anticipated how big an impact she would make. After dropping on January 8th, the song would go on to shatter records including the most single-day streams for a song on Spotify and the record for youngest artist to ever debut at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Olivia would go on to release 5 singles from her debut album “Sour”, which was nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy.

Not to be outdone, the Weeknd had his own records to set in 2021, and he started the year off strong with his performance at the Super Bowl Halftime Show. There, we would see more of the red-suited character he portrayed throughout the music videos for the singles from his 2020 album “After Hours”. And why, might you ask, are we still talking about an album that came out all the way back in 2020? In November of this year, his second single from the album, “Blinding Lights” became the number 1 song of all time on the Billboard Hot 100, replacing Chubby Checker’s classic hit “The Twist”.

Other big name pop artists released albums this year as well, to considerably less fanfare than the Weeknd or Olivia Rodrigo experienced. Kanye West released his new album “Donda” in August this year, and although the album was supposed to come out in 2020, Kanye was reportedly working on it up to the very last minute, which meant at one point after a listening party he had moved into a room in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium and stayed there for over a week. Meanwhile, Drake, an artist Kanye had been feuding with also released a highly anticipated new album. “Certified Lover Boy” initially set the Billboard record for most top 10 singles from one album, but ultimately it failed to have a lasting impact.

Outside of the pop music sphere, country music was making its’ own stars in 2021. Walker Hayes produced probably the biggest country hit of the year with “Fancy Like”, a song he came up with while making up fun TikTok dances with his wife and kids.

And that was certainly another trend of the past year. TikTok proved to have a massive impact on music listening and song popularity The app was responsible for breaking new stars, creating viral one-hit wonders, and even reviving the popularity of older songs like Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”

How big an impact TikTok will continue to have on the music industry remains to be seen, but record labels now have staff whose entire jobs are to monitor the latest trending TikTok songs and market accordingly.

For the generation from a time before TikTok even existed, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognized a well deserved group of musicians for their contributions to the industry. 2021’s inductees were the Foo Fighters, the Go-Go’s, JAY-Z, Carole King, Todd Rundgren, and Tina Turner.

One of the other “new” artists to remember from 2021 happens to owe a large debt to the older generation of musicians. Pop superstar Bruno Mars and R&B afficionado Anderson .Paak teamed up to form the super-duo Silk Sonic and release the album “An Evening with Silk Sonic”, a record masterfully inspired by the classic sounds of Motown and Philadelphia soul. The lead single, “Leave the Door Open” made it’s way to #7 on Billboard’s end of the year Hot 100 chart.

And of course, we also lost countless treasured musicians over the course of the past year. Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones and Dusty Hill from ZZ Top both passed away in 2021. The world bid goodbye to reggae legends Bunny Wailer and Lee “Scratch” Perry and mourned hip-hop legends DMX, Shock G of Digital Underground, Black Rob, and Biz Markie. Legendary pop music producer Phil Spector, and singer Mary Wilson of the Supremes also died, among many others.

Who knows what the world of music will sound like in 2022? But as we bid goodbye to 2021, we hope the number 1 song of the year puts a smile on your face, Dua Lipa’s “Levitating”.

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