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Culture Choices 2021: Music

Culture Choices 2021 is a series by Roar’s Culture section on their favourite releases of the year in Music, Films and Literature. 

The sound of 2021 has been the product of a strange and normality-deprived year, 2020, and we can all agree that it was truly worth the wait. Artists graced us with their creations constructed in the midst of the pandemic, who knew such works of art could be derived from such a time of uncertainty and, for many, of very lacking inspiration. Some of the very best, in my opinion, works were created this year – soft ballads along with chaotic anthems – and so here is a round-up of some of the greatest and most iconic pieces released in 2021.

“Happier Than Ever” by Billie Eilish

Billie Eilish released her second work of genius in July of this year, delving into, as always, deep and often unnerving subjects, yet this time from a different perspective and sound. With the quirkiness of her music still ever-present within this record, it takes a far calmer and softer approach than the likes of “Bad Guy” and “Bury a Friend” from her previous album. From the title of the album, you would expect a tracklist full of uplifting stories and a narrative of the best period in her life to date, and it is the irony of this that strikes the listener. Covering details of the manipulation of young girls and the superiority complexes of older men within her industry in the song “Your Power,” it’s a moving statement and one that is rarely spoken about in the music industry, specifically within the music as a product itself. However, I think that’s the message of this whole album: breaking taboos, tearing down stigmas. It’s everything that Billie Eilish is about. She almost regains the power control in the track “Therefore I am,” completing the album, reminding the audience of her dominance and of the iconic artist that she is.

“Sour” by Olivia Rodrigo 

Central to Olivia’s debut album, “Sour,” is the theme of crushing heartbreak and the failure and frustration of relationships in the ever-evolving, socially-complicated world that we exist within. The release of her moving and powerful piano ballad “Driver’s Licence” earlier on in the year, soared the charts as a result of its circulation on TikTok, and was the catalyst for her heartfelt storytelling of the gutting heartbreak she experienced. The complete piece of work by Rodrigo perfectly encapsulates the complexities of insecurity, betrayal, jealousy, anger, and even respect that one might experience after a relationship breaks down. It’s relatable, it gives acceptance to concepts such as the passive aggressiveness displayed in the track “good 4 u” that possibly most would keep to themselves in fear of judgement from others. The album truly is a work of art; every piece is so well thought through, a range of sweet and soft melodies to angrier pop-rock anthems, demonstrating the different stages and emotions one might go through after a failing relationship. It’s self-reflective, a sort of enlightenment for the listener, and extremely therapeutic for Rodrigo to write at this time in her life, one could imagine. 

“=“ by Ed Sheeran

Although an extremely private person, from an outsider looking in it seems that a lot has happened in Ed Sheeran’s life in recent years that has led to the creation and release of his new album in 2021. Containing themes such as fatherhood and marriage, this album brings a whole new perspective to his music, observations about the concept of soul mates, being a parent, partying as a thirty-year-old. It seems as though Sheeran has reached a point of contentment within his life, and he really captures this within “=“. We can hear in this album that Sheeran has really found the love of his life, though he is not going about it blindly or naively. He recognises that relationships are full of compromise, ups and downs, disagreements, but also captures the innocence of how those things can be solved by simple efforts. Ever the romantic, Sheeran has his classic love songs that will dominate weddings for years to come, such as the track “First Times” and “2step”. There is, as always, a number of beautifully written songs on the album, in particular one called “Tides” that really sets the tone for the record. It really showcases the new chapter of his life that runs throughout the whole collection of musical genius. 

“30” by Adele

Once again, the lyrical genius that is Adele blessed us with another long-awaited masterpiece this year, delving into her recent, painful divorce from ex-husband Simon Konecki, and the effects that has had on the relationship she has with her son Angelo. She described the album as a way of explaining to her son the complexities of her relationship, and the reasons which led her to making the difficult decision to end it. The album, as a whole, is very ‘Adele,’ including piano ballads such as “Easy on Me,” which is a plea for her son to be patient and understanding with her throughout the struggles she was facing. Although the album is in line with her previous works, it leaves behind with it the bitterness and resentment that feature within songs she has released in the past. This album takes a far calmer and more mature approach to heartbreak, something the listener was anticipating to hear from Adele’s music. She tells heartache from a much more unique angle through this work: what it brings to the family setting, and how to even begin to find love again after such a traumatic experience. Adele took inspiration from Tyler the Creator for her track “My Little Love,” including voice notes between her and Angelo, giving the album a much more personal feel. Through this medium, the listener could really connect to Adele’s anguish on a different level. 

“Red (Taylor’s Version)” by Taylor Swift

Originally released in 2012, nearly a decade ago, “Red” is personally one of my favourite albums ever created, and to know that Taylor now has financial and legal control over her masterpiece in this re-released version is something that one can only feel delighted about. The album features classics, tracks that have been deemed empowering anthems to last a lifetime, such as “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “We Are Never Getting Back Together”. They are concepts that nearly everyone can relate to, scream at the top of their lungs, combining a mixture of lyrical genius, vivid imagery and melodic magic – it’s the perfect creation. Few features have changed on the re-released version of this album – various instruments are slightly louder, melodies have been tweaked – but as a whole, it remains true to the original work. What is so extraordinary about this album is the range of emotions and themes covered throughout. It’s a celebration of the freedom of life whilst detailing heartbreak; it’s about self-reflection, whilst also speaking so radically about previous relationships; it’s chaos and calm all at the same time. It is a true work of pure genius and detail. 

This year has brought such a range of different musical talents, genres and themes, too many to include in one article. Music has been passionate and reflective, soft and boisterous, it’s everything we love to hear and anticipate for 2022. 

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