All the Headaches and Hurdles of 2021


By Dionna Santucci, Staff Writer

Content Warning: This article contains mentions of violence, death, suicide, and racism. 

The events of 2020 left many entering 2021 with hope or skepticism, but mostly uncertainty. We were soon met with the good, the bad, and the absurd. As another long and tiresome year comes to a close, the events of 2021 might have slipped through the cracks or blurred into one cohesive cluster headache. So, here’s a chronological run-down of some of the most memorable and deplorable events of this past year. 

  1. The Jan. 6 Insurrection

As if things couldn’t get any worse than starting a new year in the midst of a pandemic, supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed into the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to block Congress from certifying the 2020 election results––results that would confirm that Joe Biden was to be the next president.

“The rioters pushed past police, broke windows, deployed tear gas, and forced Congress into a recess and lawmakers to take cover in their offices,” Business Insider reported in an article covering the insurrection. The event, resulting in the deaths of seven people (four on the day of the attack, one the day after, and two by suicide in the days following), has been referred to as an act of domestic terrorism by members of Congress in a transcript of a house hearing, according to a report by The Guardian

The event felt like something out of a fever dream. Watching rioters construct makeshift guillotines and effigies in front of the Capitol live from a computer or TV screen was nothing short of apocalyptic.

  1. The End of Daft Punk

French electronic duo Daft Punk announced their break-up on Feb. 22, further proving that nothing was sacred in 2021. After being in the scene for nearly 30 years, the robot-helmeted musicians and connoisseurs of hits like “Around the World” and “Get Lucky” called it quits with a flashy, eight-minute-long video announcement. Following the news of their breakup, Daft Punk streams soared up by 500 percent, according to Rolling Stone Magazine

Though it’s hard to say that the break-up was unexpected, the end of Daft Punk also served as the end of an era and another reminder of the changing times.

  1. Atlanta-Area Spa Shootings

The uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes continued well into 2021, with the night of March 17 bringing these tragedies to light when a gunman went on a shooting spree that led to the deaths of eight people at three separate spas. Delaina Ashley Yaun, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Paul Andre Michels, Hyun Jung Grant, Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim, and Yong Ae Yue were all either patrons or employees at these spas that night.

The shooting propelled the Stop Asian Hate movement, which advocates for the end of anti-Asian sentiments and xenophobia prominent in both society at large and politics. The Rand Corporation found in a recent study that the “recent wave of anti-Asian hate is inspired by negative rhetoric about Asians.” Protests, websites, and calls to action surrounding the Stop Asian Hate movement boomed across the country, with many members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community criticizing the way US politicians have spoken about the pandemic. 

  1. Derek Chauvin’s Trial

After the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 sparked international protests against police brutality, and in favor of criminal justice reform, we waited almost a year for the trial that decided the fate of the officer who killed Floyd, Derek Chauvin. Chauvin was charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. 

After closing statements, the jury went on to deliberate for ten hours before ultimately finding Chauvin guilty of all three charges. A little over two months later, Chauvin was sentenced to 22 and a half years in prison. Outside the courtroom, a crowd erupted in applause and cries of relief as the guilty verdicts were read and many felt a small sense of closure, with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison calling the sentencing a “moment of real accountability” in a press conference

  1. Billionaires and Their Race to Space

A battle of egos among billionaires Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk broke out around July 2021, as the world’s most privileged sent themselves into space. The rest of us were stuck on Earth as the Delta variant led to another surge in coronavirus cases. 

These billionaires got as far away from the pandemic as they could, while simultaneously continuing the one-percent tradition of wreaking havoc on the other 99 percent for their gain—even from hundreds of thousands of miles away. Both Musk and Bezos’ cosmic travels resulted in the release of more carbon emissions than most humans could create in their lifetime, according to the 2022 World Inequality Report

According to Forbes, the race catalyzed a boom in employment across the technology, engineering, and science career spheres. Unifying the country for many different reasons, the so-called “Billionaire Space Race” brought conversations surrounding space tourism into mainstream politics. 

  1. The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020

While the pandemic still raged on, 2021 welcomed us back to in-person events. The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics finally took place after a year-long delay from July 23 to Aug. 8. Despite being a super-spreader event, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) tried, and failed, to carry on with the games as usual. 

Like most things throughout the year, the 2021 Olympics did not go without its fair share of controversies. Though the U.S. could be seen as the “winner” of the games,—taking home a total of 113 medals, 25 more than runner-up China— important discussions surrounding athletes’ mental health and gender identity in sports drew more attention and coverage than the event itself.  

After performing at the games with an unbearable amount of pressure, Simone Biles, the most accomplished athlete in the history of gymnastics, withdrew from the team finals event after a promising performance throughout the Tokyo Olympics beforehand. The withdrawal came as a shock to both athletes and spectators, but Biles argued that this was a long time coming. 

“I think we’re a little too stressed out—we should be out here having fun and that’s just not the case,” Biles said to ESPN’s Michele Steele

Biles’s prioritization of her mental health and openness regarding her decision not only drew applause from mental health professionals worldwide but also served as a catalyst for fellow  athletes, like skateboarder Nyjah Huston and tennis star Naomi Osaka, to open up about their mental health struggles as well. 

  1. #FreeBritney

Though people have advocated for the termination of Britney Spears’ conservatorship since its inception in 2008, two documentaries and multiple court hearings brought the fight into 2021 with newfound momentum and popularity. 

Various grassroots movements like #FreeBritney prioritized sit-ins and protests in the name of Spears’ liberation. The hashtag was trending on and off on social media sites like Twitter for the better part of 2021, with the activism reaching peak notoriety around September. 

Spears, after being under the conservatorship of her father Jamie Spears for over 13 years, was finally granted her freedom on Nov. 12, 2021, after her father stepped down as her conservator, ultimately resulting in a judge later finding that the conservatorship as a whole was unnecessary and putting an end to it completely. The event sparked international conversations regarding the ethical and moral dilemmas surrounding conservatorships.

After her release from metaphorical chains, Spears is not only in control of her finances but is also free to continue gifting the internet with her iconic Instagram dance videos without anyone holding her back.  

  1. Red (Taylor’s Version)

“Red (Taylor’s Version)” was a masterpiece in the making for three years before its Nov. 12 release. After Taylor Swift moved from her original record label, Big Machine Records (BMR) to Universal Records in 2018, Swift’s former manager Scooter Braun sold the masters of her first six albums. Though Swift offered to buy her masters, she was denied and the rights to the music, music videos, and cover art were sold for $300 million

In 2020, Swift began the process of re-recording each of her six sold albums. The result was Swift releasing two re-recordings in 2021— “Fearless (Taylor’s Version)” and “Red (Taylor’s Version).” Swift’s decision to re-record was commended by many and inspired up-and-coming artists like Olivia Rodrigo to ensure that they owned and had control over their work.

While both albums were a hit with fans new and old, Red TV seemed to break the internet. The album’s Spotify page crashed for a few minutes as fans rushed to stream the album as soon as it dropped. Out of the 26 songs from the 30-song album that charted, the 10-minute version of the “Red” cult classic, “All Too Well,” soared to the number one spot. At 10 minutes and 13 seconds, it’s the longest song to ever reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, according to Pitchfork.

  1. COVID-19 Vaccinations

2021 saw one of the fastest and one of the most efficient vaccine roll-outs of all time, with every single country now having access to and administering the vaccine, according to Reuters. It is important to note that developing nations saw disparities in vaccine distribution compared to more prosperous nations. 

Just two years after the start of the pandemic, over half of America is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. According to Bloomberg’s COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker, more doses have been administered (8.5 billion) than there are people on the planet (7.8 billion). With the number of people fully vaccinated and the rate of vaccinations, the world is set to hit the 75 percent mark in 2022. 

While the vaccine is by no means a get-out-of-jail-free card, the higher the vaccinated population is, the closer we are to achieving herd immunity, making the spread of the virus from person to person less likely. With the much more contagious and easily-spread Omicron variant, the vaccines and boosters have been proven to be helpful in not only preventing infection but reducing the severity of symptoms and how they present, according to NPR

All in all, this past year has been one rollercoaster of a ride—much like any other. Many horrible, unthinkable things occurred in 2021, but so did many wonderful, restore-your-faith-in-humanity type things. 

We’re not going to jinx it and say that 2022 is going to be “our year,” because, really, when has that statement ever aged well? But, remaining cautiously hopeful going into the new year is sure to serve us better in the long run than blind nihilism.