A Year in Review: Music in 2021


Image via Billboard

Another unusual year filled with masks, COVID cases rising, and mandates. At times it feels like 2021 was just a sequel to 2020, but despite all that, music remained one of the only consistent and considerable things about this year. 2021 introduced young artists such as Olivia Rodrigo, Baby Keem, The Kid LAROI, and more. With a year filled with highly anticipated albums from the biggest artists in each genre and records breaking at every corner, it seems like the direction of the music industry has no bounds. If 2021 music could be described in one word, it would be innovative. Now, let’s take a moment to reflect on music as a whole throughout the year. 

2021 had many hits that defined the year. According to Billboard The Hot 100, Dua Lipa’s ‘Levitating’ is the #1 song of 2021. Based on album unit sales, streams, and airplays, ‘Levitating’ is officially declared #1 song of the 2021 Billboard Hot 100. Despite the song only peaking at #2 on the charts in the United States, it was overall very successful and consistently played on platforms. 

The most-streamed song on Spotify in 2021 is Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘drivers license’ racking up over 1.2 billion streams, followed by Lil Nas X’s ‘MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)’ garnering over 1.1 billion streams over the year. 

According to Apple Music, the platform’s most-streamed 2021 song is BTS’ ‘Dynamite,’ accumulating 1.3 billion streams followed by Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘drivers license.’

 Honorable mentions: “Kiss Me More” by Doja Cat ft SZA, “Easy On Me” by  Adele, “Way 2 Sexy” by  Drake ft. Young Thug and Future, “Leave The Door Open” by Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak, “Rockstar” by Polo G,  “Hurricane” by Kanye West ft. Lil Baby/The Weeknd, “Family Ties” by Baby Keem ft. Kendrick Lamar, and “Peaches”  by Justin Bieber ft. Giveon and Daniel Caesar.

Now let’s take a look at some of the most essential albums of the year. Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album SOUR, released on May 21st, is the most-streamed album of 2021. This album went #1 in over 47 different countries. In addition, SOUR was ranked #1 on Rolling Stone’s 50 Best Albums of 2021 list. SOUR sold 295,000 units in the first week. It currently has over 2.6 billion streams and counting. This album at one point held the record for the most streamed album in 24 hours at one point, but it was broken by Kanye West’s Donda three months later. 

After several grand listening parties, Kanye West’s anticipated album Donda was released on August 29th. This was one of the most talked-about albums of the year, gaining millions of views and attraction, especially after the listening parties, allowing fans to get a feel for how the album will be. According to Fader, Donda sold 309,000 copies in the first week, making it at one point the biggest debut of 2021. It went #1 in 11 different countries, gaining over 775 million streams worldwide, making it one of the biggest albums of the year. 

This record was held until Drake released Certified Lover Boy on September 3. CLB became the biggest debut of the year during this time, becoming the biggest debut of 2021. In the first week, CLB sold 613,000 copies worldwide. This album broke Kanye’s record for most-streamed in 24 hours, making it the second-biggest album to release this year. In addition, CLB went #1 in 147 different countries, and it broke Apple Music records. 

Drake’s CLB looked like the most successful album to release this year until Adele dropped her album, 30, on November 19th. Adele’s 30 sold 692,000 copies worldwide, making it the biggest album of 2021. Adele’s lead single, “Easy On Me,” has spent several weeks #1 on the Billboard chart. The album has received praise from critics and fans. Adele’s ‘30’ received the highest score by Rolling Stone, followed by Taylor Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version). Taylor Swift’s Red (Taylor’s Version) became the third biggest album debut of 2021, following its release on November 12th. This album sold 605,000 in the first week. 

Honorable mentions: Call Me If You Get Lost by Tyler the Creator, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert by Little Simz, The Off-Season by J Cole, Happier Than Ever by Billie Eilish, An Evening With Silk Sonic by Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak, The Melodic Blue by Baby Keem, Planet Her by Doja Cat, Punk by Young Thug, Pray For Haiti by Mach-Hommy, Montero by Lil Nas X, King’s Disease by Nas, Still Over It by Summer Walker,  and The Voice of the Heroes by Lil Baby and Lil Durk

What a historic year it’s been for music. We face challenges every year, but music helps be the fuel to get through a stressful year. I can’t wait to see what 2022 has in store for music.