The soundtracks of 2021: Looking back on some of the albums released over this past year


Graphic by Lucia Thorne.

By Payton Cavanaugh

As we look back on the past year, let’s take the time to reflect on all that was brought into our lives. Music is a universal language and a unifying art form. It’s a source of happiness and healing, something needed and much appreciated over the past couple of years. Whatever music may be to you, this past year gave us some of the best. So, let’s rewind and reflect, in no particular order, on the albums of 2021. 

Red (Taylor’s Version)

It’s no secret that Taylor Swift has been climbing the charts and breaking records in the music industry for years, and this past year she made significant strides. In order to take back the legal rights to her art, Swift has been rerecording all of her earlier albums. Most notably, Red. Red (Taylor’s Version) was much different than Fearless (Taylor’s Version).

 In this re-recording, she did release new songs “from the vault,” but she also released a new version of one of her hit songs, “All Too Well,” something that fans had requested for years. The new 10 minute version was met with immediate praise, officially becoming the longest number one hit of all time, surpassing Don McLean’s “American Pie.” 

“This song became the fan’s favorite on its own. My favorite song, and their favorite song, aligned,” said Swift on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. 

Alongside the 10 minute version came the release of the “All Too Well” short film, written and directed by Swift, featuring actor Dylan O’Brien and actress Sadie Sink. Both of these releases brought more attention to the new version of the song and album. 

Red (Taylor’s Version) delivered so much nostalgia while putting a unique new spin onto fan favorites, featuring artists such as Phoebe Bridgers, Ed Sheeran, and Chris Stapleton. 


Up and coming artist Olivia Rodrigo made her debut into the pop music world this year, releasing her first album SOUR. The album combined many musical pieces of Rodrigo’s favorite artists’, attributing the inspiration to Alanis Morissette, Kacey Musgraves, and Taylor Swift.

“She’s obviously such a personal songwriter,” Rodrigo said about Swift in an interview with Zane Lowe. “I think I am a really personal songwriter too. I draw a lot of inspiration from my personal life.”

SOUR climbed the charts, winning Rodrigo a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Album, the American Music Award for New Artist of the Year, and Song Of The Year at the MTV Music awards for “Driver’s License.” Rodrigo has been nominated for seven grammys, including album of the year. 

“This has been the most magical year of my life,” said Rodrigo when giving her award’s speech. “I want to dedicate this award to all of the other girls who write songs on their bedroom floor. There are a lot of people who will try to dim your light, but speaking your mind and sharing your heart are the most beautiful things in the world.”


Adele released her first album after a six year break on November 19, 2021, where she explored many new aspects of life and relationships in her music. 

The album, 30, ensured that all four of Adele’s albums have reached number one. One of the songs featured on this album, “Easy on Me,” reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles. All of Adeles’ past albums were titled the age she was when writing them, so the jump from her prior album, 25, to 30, portrayed her comeback. This album differs from her previous works because it explores more mature ideas and dynamics that Adele had come to explore in her personal life.  

“I really think that some of the songs on this album could really help people, really change people’s lives,” said Adele during an interview with Zane Lowe. 


Lil Nas X released Montero in September 2021, which has gone on to win many awards as well as received several other nominations, such as grammy nominations for song of the year, record of the year, and best music video. Montero won the MTV music award for Video of the Year, MTV Europe Music Award for Best Video, among many others. 

The album provided a new layer to the artist, allowing listeners to connect with Lil Nas X on a deeper level than what they are used to and proved a new perspective on his journey of self-discovery. 

“I was able to unleash a lot of feelings I didn’t even know I had pent up in some cases,” said Lil Nas X in an interview with Sirius XM. “Some things I just wanted to say, that I wasn’t able to get across to my fans because I didn’t know how to put it into my music, but I found a way.” 

Lil Nas X went on to depict the ways that isolation from the ongoing pandemic allowed him to really think and dig deeper emotionally, which was reflected in this album. 

Planet Her

Doja Cat released Planet Her in June 2021, winning her the American Music Award for Favorite Album Soul/R&B. Doja Cat is nominated for multiple grammys including, pop vocal album, pop duo performance, and record, among others. 

The album explored many different topics and themes; specifically, the empowerment through anthems such as her song, “Woman.” These past few years social media has become a vital piece of our everyday lives, and among these growing platforms TikTok has become arguably one of the most influential. 

Doja Cat’s music gained her an influx of fans and popularity as “Get into It (Yuh)” and “Woman,” among others, became increasingly popular sounds on the app and social media in general. Curating a larger following, many content creators made creative TikTok dances and videos to her songs. Doja Cat left a huge mark in the world of social media this past year.  

“I get a rush and I just feel good that people are listening,” said Doja Cat in an interview with 102.7 KissFM after performing her newly released music. 

Happier Than Ever

Billie Eilish released Happier Than Ever in July 2021. The album portrays the hardships of adulthood, maturing, relationships, and growing up in general. Eilish sheds light on struggles that many young adults are faced with, which adds to this relatability factor and connection to her audience. 

Happier Than Ever has received several Grammy nominations, including best music video and best music film.

“I wanted to make a very timeless record that wasn’t just timeless in terms of what other people thought but really just timeless for myself,” said Eilish in an interview with Vevo. 


Bo Burnham released Inside, a Neflix special inspired by the pandemic, in May 2021. The special as well as the album encompassed many powerful pieces, while remaining quite satirical in nature. One example would be Burnham’s song, “That Funny Feeling,” which explores raw emotions, feelings of anxiety and dread, but does so by incorporating many examples of that funny feeling. Burnham analyzes anxiety in all its forms, the good and the bad, in this piece. 

“That unapparent summer air in early fall, The quiet comprehending of the ending of it all,” wrote Burnham in “That Funny Feeling.”

Inside won three awards at the Creative Arts Emmys: Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special, Outstanding Music Direction, and Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special.

“Thank you to everyone who has watched inside. I am incredibly grateful,” wrote Burham on his Twitter page. 

In These Silent Days

Brandi Carlile released her newest album In These Silent Days, in October 2021, featuring Lucius. Carlile’s album is raw and truly connects to the emotions of listeners, much like many of her past releases such as The Story, By The Way I Forgive You, and her works with The Highwomen. Carlile presents her experiences from these silent days through her music. 

In These Silent Days debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Americana/Folk Albums chart. From songs like, “Right On Time,” that explored love despite frustration amidst these trying times, to the remainder of the album’s tracks, Carlile conveyed the emotional complexities of the past year. 

“It’s me sort of saying with the album, this is what I did in these silent days, and also, what did you do in these silent days,” said Carlile in an interview with Zane Lowe. “I always want to engage the listener in a question instead of an answer.”

Outside Child

Allison Russell released her debut solo album, Outside Child, which explored her life journey. Russell was proclaimed as one of the best new artists this past year by NPR after her release that delved deep into particular moments and pieces of herself that made her feel like an outsider to her own life. 

“I’ve been involved in solo work and band work for many years now, but I have finally made a solo record,” said Russell on Sundance ASCAP Music Café. 

The Lockdown Sessions

Elton John is, without a doubt an icon in the music industry. John released his newest album, The Lockdown Sessions, this past October. 

On this album, John collaborated with many new artists, and a few others with whom he has collaborated before. Among these names, John collaborated with Brandi Carlile and Lil Nas X, and created new and exciting music for younger and older generations alike. John’s lockdown sessions explored classics and new pieces in a way that captured the essence of his performing and art.  

“Because of my years of experience as a session musician you have to know, they want a certain thing, they want a bit of Elton on it, but they also want a certain thing to fit in with the song,” said John in a recent interview. 


Clairo released Sling in July 2021, which in comparison to her past work effectively portrays a newfound maturity in her writing. 

Sling debuted at number 17 on the U.S. Billboard’s Top 200, and officially made this Clairo’s first top 20 album. “Sling is moreso the direction I’ve dreamt of making music in and the kind of headspace I wanna continue down,” said Clairo in an interview with Vogue.