A Year in Music


Let’s review the biggest hits of the year! Graphic by K. Peechu

2021 has been a big year for music, with countless artists breaking records left and right. 

Olivia Rodrigo reigned the first half of 2021 with her debut album Sour. Her January single “Drivers License” spearheaded the rest of her releases, breaking the record for the most streams for a song in a week on Spotify at the time, followed by her third single “Good 4 U” smashing that previous hold. Sour took charts by storm, breaking records for the biggest opening week for an album by a female artist in global Spotify history and the largest week in terms of units for an act’s debut album in history. Rodrigo is nominated for seven Grammys this year, including the Big Four of Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist.

After the release of Folklore in July of 2020, Taylor Swift has been releasing a new album almost every 5 months. In April of this year, Swift released Fearless (Taylor’s Version), a re-recording of her original album Fearless, which was originally released in 2008, but which Swift, unfortunately, does not own the rights to. Only 2 months after the release of Fearless (Taylor’s Version), Taylor Swift announced the release of the highly anticipated rerecording of Red. Red (Taylor’s Version)” was released on November 12, 2021, and fans were just as excited as they said they were. Red (Taylor’s Version) broke two records the day of its release! One was the record for the most-streamed album in a day by a female in Spotify history. Previously held by Folklore with 78.7 million streams, Red (Taylor’s Version) exceeded expectations with over 90.8 million streams in one day. Swift also broke the record for the most-streamed female in a single day in Spotify history with over 122.9 million streams.

2021 also greeted the long-awaited return of prominent artists. Adele’s lead single “Easy On Me” marked the first new music she dropped since her 2015 album 25, hitting No. 1 on Billboard Hot 100 and breaking the record for the most-added song in radio history. Her studio album 30 totaled 261,000 sales in its opening week, the biggest of the year and the biggest since Ed Sheeran’s ÷ in 2017. Sheeran himself returned to the industry with his album =, with his lead single “Bad Habits” reaching No. 1 on the UK singles chart and No. 1 on the Billboard Global 200 chart. 

Some other albums released by popular artists this year include, 

  • Billie Eilish’s Happier Than Ever
  • Doja Cat’s Planet Her
  • Lil Nas X’s Montero
  • Silk Sonic’s An Evening With Silk Sonic
  • Drake’s Certified Lover Boy
  • Kanye West’s Donda
  • Lorde’s Solar Power
  • Justin Bieber’s Justice 

TikTok, one of the biggest social media platforms, also has had a huge impact on music this year. Viral trends using certain songs have led to an immense rise in popularity for the artist, some even beginning to use it as an advertisement strategy. Artists have also been introduced to a larger audience as a result of their popularity on the app. Many TikTok influencers have released music this year as well such as Dixie D’Amelio, Addison Rae, and Bella Poarch with her debut single. Many of the songs released by these TikTok stars were ridiculed, but a few were welcomed with hesitancy.

TikTok has popularized/repopularized songs such as “Beggin’” by Maneskin, “Heat Waves” by Glass Animals, “California Gurls” by Katy Perry, and even “Castaways” by the Backyardigans. Doja Cat’s album Planet Her boasts several TikTok smashes, such as “Need to Know”, “Woman”, and “Kiss Me More (feat. SZA)”.

With COVID-19 restrictions relaxing, many famous artists made their comeback to the live stage as well. Notably, BTS kicked off their Permission to Dance tour at SoFi stadium, prompting their dedicated fanbase to start forming the line a full day before the concert’s start. Harry Styles also concluded his three-month ‘Love on Tour’ journey with a final concert in New York. His tour was so huge that because of his five sold-out shows in Madison Square Garden, Styles has become the first 21st-century artist to receive the Golden Ticket Award. 

However, some concerts did not go as smoothly, with one, in particular, taking a very dark turn. Travis Scott’s Astroworld left 10 dead and many more injured. Scott’s response to the tragedy was heavily criticized, with relatives of those harmed filing lawsuits against the artist for “negligence and encouragement of violence.”

Whether good or bad, 2021 has marked several significant changes in the music industry, hailing in new popular artists and reestablishing old ones. The year has made us eager to see what awaits us in 2022.