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Looking Back on Pop Music of 2021

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Many pop singers and groups released new music in 2021. Through their music, they were able to show off their creativity, conquer the charts and win awards from both the music industry and mainstream audiences.  This is a recap on four of the most popular artists who released music this year-BTS, Drake, Olivia Rodrigo, and Adele 

BTS

K-pop boy band BTS found much success in 2021, releasing three new English songs: “Butter,” the disco-EDM Song of the Summer, “Permission to Dance,” a teen pop track that many say resembled High School Musical and other Disney Channel properties and “My Universe,” a rock-oriented track that also served as a collaboration with Coldplay. Each of these singles topped the charts, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. To promote their songs, BTS has performed on several late night talk shows, including “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” In addition, they have released music videos for each of their songs, each of which covers a different theme. The “Butter” music video is partially in black and white, with the band in formal wear, while “Permission to Dance” shows the band in the desert wearing cowboy outfits and “My Universe” has BTS and Coldplay participating in a battle-of-the-bands in the distant future.  “Butter” was also nominated for the “Best Duo/Group” award at the 2022 Grammys. Of these, “Butter” was the most successful. It stayed at the top of the charts for 10 weeks, including eight consecutive weeks, only for “Permission to Dance” to replace it at number one. Beyond their music, the group also became UN Global Youth Ambassadors. As Youth Ambassadors, the group speaks out about issues that are important to teenagers and young adults, such as their feelings about the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Olivia Rodrigo

Olivia Rodrigo is a Filipino-American singer-songwriter and star of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” She broke onto the music scene in 2021 with many hit songs about breakups, such as “drivers license,” “good 4 u” and “deja vu,” making her somewhat like an edgier version of Taylor Swift, who is one of her inspirations. All of these songs reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and also went viral on the short-form video application TikTok. She has also performed these songs on several late night talk shows such as “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” perhaps making her the first Disney star to break into the mainstream since Zendaya. With these new songs she was able to score multiple awards, including nominations for “Best New Artist” at both the AMAs and the Grammys.   

Drake

Drake, the Canadian rapper, released a new mixtape, titled “Scary Hours 2,” which had three hit songs, including the number one hit “What’s Next.” He also released a new album entitled “Certified Lover Boy,” notable for tying the Beatles’ record of five songs in the Billboard Hot 100’s top five. In contrast to the Beatles’ methods of unintentionally releasing five singles on three different labels, Drake’s achievement was done through an exploitation in the chart rules established in 1998, allowing for album tracks to enter the charts, even if they are not released as singles. The video for the album’s first single, and his ninth number one hit, “Way 2 Sexy,” featured him parodying various pop culture figures, including Rambo and The Backstreet Boys. The album also released the single: “Girls Want Girls” which peaked at number 2. Perhaps his most important chart achievement of the year was that he was able to keep nine spots on the Hot 100s’ Top 10 the week of Sept.13.  He also won several awards this year, including the “Artist of the Decade” award at the 2021 Billboard Music Awards, and is nominated for the “Best Rap Album” award at the 2022 GRAMMYs.      

Adele  

Adele returned to the music scene for the first time in five years with her new album “30,” which was released on Nov. 19. The album features the hit ballad-oriented song “Easy on Me,” released on Oct 15. Both the album and the single went to number one on their respective Billboard charts. To promote the albums’ release, it was preceded by a series of billboards in various cities reading “30,” provoking speculation that Adele might release a new album. Soon after, Adele’s social media updated to promote the new album. When it was released, “Easy On Me” broke Spotify’s records, with 24 million listens in the first week. The song’s music video, which features black and white footage of the singer leaving a house and going for a drive in a truck on the country roads while lyrics pages fly out of the truck’s trunk, gained 27.8 million views within its first 24 hours on YouTube, making it her fastest video to reach that statistic.   

The music released in 2021 was good because of the wide variety of subjects that it covered.  Through depressing times like the COVID-19 Pandemic, music can serve as a force to heal and unite people.  All of these artists have proven this point, as they all reached #1 on Billboard.  

Bailey Kanthatham is an Entertainment Contributing Writer. He can be reached at bkanthat@uci.edu.