More than any year in recent memory, 2021 in music saw several big names return with projects that left much to be desired. Supergroups were launched, artists we loved in the 2000s made comebacks, and there was certainly no shortage of debut acts that stole the show. Below are the eight albums that came up on top for us this year.
#8 Silk Sonic – An Evening with Silk Sonic
For all the buzz that came with ‘Leave The Door Open’, Silk Sonic’s debut project was dropped to relatively much quieter fanfare. The duo, comprised of Bruno Mars and Anderson.Paak, certainly gave us a year of memorable moments like that ‘Leave The Door Open’ performance. ‘An Evening with Silk Sonic’, released in November, is a capstone to that: an homage to funk records of the past that still manages to skate in its own lane.
#7 Self Esteem – Prioritise Pleasure
The future of pop is self-awareness and deprecation, and Self Esteem is proof of that. In ‘Prioritise Pleasure’, songs like ‘Fucking Wizadry’ and ‘Moody’ package witty, wine-drunk comedic moments into pop songs that make the British artist so immensely endearing. And with “Sexting you at the mental health talk seems counterproductive” for a song opener? We’re sold.
#6 Jon Batiste – WE ARE
With eight nominations at the 2022 Grammys, 35-year-old singer Jon Batiste was a force to be reckoned with this year. In between duties as the Musical Director of Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show, Batiste also released ‘We Are’, a powerful, genreless sign of the times that reflects both the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests.
#5 Jazmine Sullivan – Heaux Tales
While billed as an EP, Jazmine Sullivan’s triumphant ‘Heaux Tales’ plays more like a concept album. Full of fiery moments like the Grammy-nominated ‘Pick Up Your Feelings’, Sullivan explores themes of feminism, body shaming and the male gaze with the same fervour we first got from her all those years ago with ‘Bust Your Windows’. Coming six years after her last album, ‘Heaux Tales’ is both a well-deserved comeback for Sullivan and an important body of work for our time.
#4 Lil Nas X – MONTERO
Between giving satan a lapdance and announcing his pregnancy, Lil Nas X has had no shortage of headline moments this year. Debut project ‘MONTERO’, first announced in 2019, finally arrived this year—a queer chronicle of the artist’s journey and coming-of-age. Drawing from his pop and hip-hop influences, ‘MONTERO’ is eclectic, indulgent and best of all: irreverent. All press is good press, and no one knows that better than Lil Nas X.
#3 Baby Queen – The Yearbook
Few artists have come in swinging with a debut album as polished as Baby Queen’s. This is an artist who’s crystal clear about who she is. Raw, unfiltered lyrics that bring the listener into the perils of youth paired with hooks that you’ll never be able to get out of your head. We’re rooting for her to take over the pop world.
#2 Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams
British newcomer Arlo Parks, one of our up-and-coming artist picks back in 2020, kicked the year off with her highly-anticipated debut work, ‘Collapsed in Sunbeams’. Already one of the most poignant and poetic voices of her generation, ‘Sunbeams’ was proof of Parks as a songwriting tour de force—delicately wrapping topics like mental health and sexuality into dreamy little vignettes.
#1 Aly & AJ – A Touch of the Beat
In a year that so often felt like 2020 (Extended), Aly & AJ’s comeback album truly felt like the breath of fresh air that we needed. A fitting reintroduction of the duo whose discography greatness goes way beyond ‘Potential Breakup Song’ (‘Like Whoa’!, ‘Don’t Go Changing’!). Songs like ‘Pretty Places’ and ‘Don’t Need Nothing’ have a timeless nature that speaks volumes to the sisters’ songwriting prowess. And with a deluxe edition set to drop in 2022, the touch of the beat is far from over.