2021 was a big year for music. From the return of major festivals and events this summer, to a strong lineup of album releases (thank you, lockdown) it seemed the music industry was finally able to find its feet again. Alongside scheduled superstar releases from the likes of Adele and Billie Eilish, we were treated to a selection of quietly-simmering welcome surprises, like Tyler, the Creator’s sixth studio album ‘Call Me If You Get Lost’.
This all came alongside a good helping of pop-culture moments too – perhaps none of which were as surprising as Drake & Kanye’s continued beef, which seemingly ended in a reconciliation posted on Instagram last month. As well as this, viral sounds on TikTok ended up dominating the charts, and dictating future releases for artists looking to capitalise on the short-form video app’s viral potential. Rising stars from this category included Olivia Rodrigo and Pink Pantheress, but also saw TikTok royalty Addison Rae and Dixie D’amelio move into the music space.
Rounding off our look at the year in music, we’re exploring the most-acclaimed ‘artist of the year’ as well as taking a look back at some of our favourite music features from the year here at CULTED. In the words of Doja Cat, let’s Get into it (Yuh).
Given a category of his own, The Weeknd had a huge 2021. Apple Music named him their ‘Global Artist of the Year’, revealing that his 2020 album After Hours, was the most pre-added album of all time by a male artist on the platform as well as holding the record for the most-streamed R&B/Soul album in its first week. Meanwhile this year, ‘Blinding Lights’ by the singer has been named as Billboard’s ‘Greatest Song of All Time’ in a huge commendation.
BILLIE EILISH – HAPPIER THAN EVER
As mentioned, 2021 was a big one for album releases. Billie Eilish’s second studio album arrived in July, titled ‘Happier Than Ever’ and signalling a new era for the musician. The title track saw her delve into a new, previously unheard territory, too, and shot to the top of the charts upon release.
DAVE – WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER
Since releasing his debut album Psychodrama in 2019, Dave’s stardom has only grown. He’s been the recipient of nearly every accolade available, almost overshadowed Stormzy’s headline slot at Glastonbury 2019 after inviting a young fan on stage to rap with him, and called Boris Johnson a racist on live TV at the Brits. Straddling film, music, politics and art, Dave’s second album released this year continued to address big topics and mark his meteoric ascension.
TYLER, THE CREATOR – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
Tyler returned this year with an understated but brilliant album offering after 2019’s IGOR inspired a whole new era for the musician. Reminiscent of a rap mixtape, this album saw Tyler go back to experimentation and given the freedom to make genre-crossing music upon its release in June.
At this point, anything Doja releases is sure to go TikTok viral. This was proved with the release of Planet Her this year, in which nearly every song on the tracklist has enjoyed success on TikTok. From dances to lipsyncs to clips of her performing, this year propelled Doja to new heights of TikTok and real life fame.
ADDISON RAE & DIXIE D’AMELIO
Whilst the former released her debut single ‘Obsessed’ this summer to a mixed reception, the latter has gone on to become a fully-fledged musician, currently touring America for iHeart Radio’s Jingle Ball. If anything, these two TikTok-ers turned pop princesses exemplify the potential for creators on the app to leverage their success to launch their ‘dream’ career in the music industry.
Loved by everyone from Bella Hadid to Billie Eilish, Pink Pantheress is being hailed as pioneering the UKG renaissance. Releasing seconds-long snippets of unreleased tracks on TikTok, Pink Pantheress’ songs quickly went viral and she was signed to Parlophone records. Since then, she’s released a debut album and started playing sold-out live shows. Oh, and she’s still at uni.
DRAKE & KANYE
Carrying over from the last couple of years, Kanye and Drake fuelled their ongoing beef with a series of targeted social media posts and thinly-veiled diss lyrics this year. That was all until October, when Kanye called for a reconciliation between the pair, which materialised in November, apparently signalling the end of their feud.
NIKE & LIL NAS X
When Lil Nas X teamed up with MSCHF Product Studio on a limited line of ‘Satan Shoes’, he didn’t expect to ignite a war with sportswear giant Nike. Or did he? Said to feature a drop of human blood in the midsole, as well as being printed with Luke 10:18 (a biblical passage detailing Satan’s descent from heaven), the customised Air Max 97s led to Nike filing a lawsuit against MSCHF along with an order to remove them from circulation. Lil Nas X was not happy – tweeting that “freedom of expression has gone out the window”.
Another female navigating the DnB space is Nia Archives, who we caught up with in October. Born in the rave and raised by the riddim, Nia discovered her dogmatic desire to craft downright dirty basslines whilst combing through the Root’s Manuva, Congo Natty and Roni Size CD’s on her Nan’s shelf. After moving to Hackney and immersing herself in the sounds of Boy Better Know and DJ Flight she, alongside her fellow members of the Brighter Days Family, made waves amongst DnB circles after releasing ‘Sober Feels’ at the start of 2020 before performing at Fabric this year.
After making his presence known with the release of his 2019 album ‘Good Time Not A Long Time’, Gardna captured the attention of all those impressed by crafty penmanship paired with feel good DnB rollers. Besides starring on Gentleman’s Dub Club’s recent album ‘Down To Earth’, he has also jumped back on stage alongside Catching Cairo at Lost Horizons to perform the hit of the summer, ‘Back In The Dayz’ by Mungo’s Hi Fi. We caught up with him in August to discuss his career over the last couple of years.
Bringing together a roster of artists spanning multiple genres, Boiler Room threw a four-day festival in London, Barcelona and New York. From sultry jazz sounds to hard-hitting jungle, Boiler Room demonstrated the best in the underground with their day festival offering in September.