Modern musicians haven’t let the pandemic stop them from creating their latest masterpieces. The last 20 months, give or take, have been a difficult time, but artists took the quarantine as a challenge. This year, as live performances began to open up again, the music industry lifted itself up and stunned us as always. From heartbreaking teenage ballads to electrifying alternative pop, these are my personal top 10 albums released in 2021. (Honorable mentions: 30 by Adele, Harmony House by Dayglow, Montero by Lil Nas X.)
10: Blue Banisters by Lana Del Rey. Lana’s wistful, yearning tunes filled with power have captivated millions of listeners for years. Her second album released this year, Blue Banisters has fifteen carefully written songs. It includes themes of pandemic-induced loneliness, and respect for the Black Lives Matter movement. A fan favorite from the record is the song Dealer, a jazz-influenced track with angry vocals and despairing lyrics. This is the only song on the album featuring a vocalist other than Lana – British songwriter Miles Kane sings the verses. He’s a solo artist and member of the rock supergroup The Last Shadow Puppets. Blue Banisters will make listeners feel understood and reminds us that we’re not alone in hard times.
9: An Evening With Silk Sonic by Silk Sonic. Silk Sonic is an R&B duo consisting of long-time music icon Bruno Mars and rapper Anderson Paak. Even though the group only released their first song this year, they decided to be an unofficial musical duo in 2017. Their first album is upbeat, light-hearted, and all-around loveable. Mars’ vocals are stunning, and Paak’s flow is incredible. Just like the songs, the music videos are retro and visually captivating. The album’s first single Leave the Door Open immediately interested fans, and the following singles Skate and Smokin’ Out the Window did not disappoint. Silk Sonic’s music has an old-fashioned R&B vibe, with a lively twist.
8. Medicine at Midnight by Foo Fighters. The 9-song rock album released in February marks the band’s 10th full length release. Every track is electric, packing energy into the original melodies and lyrics. The band recently released a 7-minute music video for the last track on the album, Love Dies Young. This song brings a modern vibe to classic rock and roll, making the audience feel powerful enough to take on the world. Foo Fighters has been a band since 1994, when it was founded by Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl. We hope the band will continue to release music for years to come.
7. Inside by Bo Burnham. Massachusetts native Bo Burnham has been making audiences laugh for years, but now it’s our turn to cry. Inside was filmed in the summer of 2020, with its star Burnham being at his most vulnerable. The comedy special contains songs about how the world works, the problem with unpaid interns, and Jeffrey Bezos. Despite being a comedy album, the special and its music received 2 Grammy nominations and was Emmy nominated 6 times. The lyrics and Bo’s various odd noises throughout the tracks are mostly hilarious, before getting a little too real with songs like That Funny Feeling and Goodbye. The album is unforgettable, and every track is unique.
6. Happier than Ever by Billie Eilish. The 19-year-old singer’s 2nd full length album brings new energy to her classic vocals. Billie has a reputation for being spooky, vulnerable, and just really cool. Her image changed with her new record: she debuted a blonde hairdo, replacing her classic black with green roots style. Her new album was accentuated by her electrifying performances on Saturday Night Live, where she sang Happier than Ever and Male Fantasy. The first song listed began acoustic and gentle, with her brother Finneas playing guitar. But it transformed into a rocking, moving performance that made every jaw drop. The track Not My Responsibility contains Billie’s soft words with cool music in the background, calling out body shaming and society’s problem with her baggy clothes. This record has fresh instrumentals, exciting and honest lyrics, and is a highly recommended listen by a young artist.
5. SOUR by Olivia Rodrigo. Arguably one of the most discussed and awaited albums of the year, the 18-year-old’s debut record is incredible. Her first single driver’s license was incredibly successful, and for a few months, the world seemed to revolve around it. The breakup pop album beautifully criticizes society, through lyrics like “who am i if not exploited?” Many of the songs are influenced by teenage heartbreak, and Rodrigo reflects on her relationships while holding a respect for the other person. The artist’s vocals are that of an angel. Every lyric is captivating and meaningful. Rodrigo deserves each and every one of her 7 Grammy nominations for her work.
4. Red: Taylor’s Version by Taylor Swift. Not only is Swift an iconic American musician, but her second re-released album carries themes of power. Swift has been celebrated for years due to her neverending records filled with originality and beauty. The original version of Red was released in 2012, with 16 country songs (22 on the Deluxe edition). Back then, Taylor was in her early twenties, with fresh heartbreak due to a painfully ended romance (looking at you, JAKE GYLLENHAAL). Now, Taylor owns the legal rights to her music, and she’s grown as a person and a musician. You can hear how her voice has matured, and she’s making new instrumental choices. But this album was one of my favorites because of what it MEANS. Taylor is reclaiming the power from her heartbreak (i’m not kidding jake gyllenhaal you are the WORST), especially on the fiery 10-minute version of All Too Well. The lyric “i was never good at telling jokes, but the punchline goes, i’ll get older but your lovers stay my age” will go down in HISTORY. Taylor Swift, you are the queen of the world. 100/10.
3. When Facing the Things We Turn Away From by Luke Hemmings. Maybe you know Luke from his role in the Australian pop-rock band 5 Seconds of Summer. Luke has been a heartthrob for 10 years, due to his angelic looks and even better vocals (luke please bring back the lip ring). This year, while still in the band, he became the second member to release his own solo work. The first was Ashton Irwin, who released Superbloom in 2020. Luke’s debut record is nothing short of perfect. The vocals are gentle, the instrumentals new and exciting, and the overall vibe calming and lovable. His first single, Starting Line, reflects on his past, and how he feels like he’s “running out of time”. Track 7, lovingly titled Mum, is a beautiful tearjerker, much like the 4th song called Place in Me. These songs have messages of pure adoration, apology, as well as reassurance. With his iconic role in 5 Seconds of Summer and his brilliant first solo release, Luke Hemmings will be improving the music industry and captivating worldwide hearts for years to come.
2. Planet Her (Deluxe) by Doja Cat. Infused with electricity and creativity, the singer and rapper’s newest record is an absolute joy to listen to. Every track on the album is unique and fun, with several features by other artists such as actor and rapper Eve and Ariana Grande. All of Doja Cat’s songs are funky and a pleasure to hear. Her naturally raspy voice is captivating, and the way she styles the instruments and background is a beautiful addition to the modern R&B industry. The new album has Doja’s classic sly energy, but shows musical maturity. The songs explore themes of yearning and confidence – very true to Doja’s lovable personality. The general public has loved the album as well, with Doja Cat earning 7 Grammy nominations.
1. Nobody is Listening by ZAYN. After charming the world with charisma and talent in One Direction, Zayn Malik found his R&B influenced solo style on his debut record Mind of Mine. He’s been releasing his own music since 2016, and he’s never disappointed his millions of listeners. Now, the iconic star has given us 11 new songs on my FAVORITE album of the year. Nobody is Listening brings Zayn’s trademark chilling vocals. His voice is as smooth as ever, and it accentuates his passionate lyrics. The instrumentals bring originality and honesty – showing Zayn’s classic vibe but musical development as well. The opening track Calamity features Zayn rapping to the audience, telling us, “whatever the calamity, I did this for myself”. The chorus is calming, yet excites the audience deeply, for they know of the musical greatness that’s to follow. Zayn beautifully sings, “nobody is listening to me”. But EVERYONE should be listening to this record. Zayn Malik has never let us down – musically or with his shy, lovable personality. Thank you, Zayn, for choosing to share your talent with the world.