Source Photos (Clockwise, L-R): YG Entertainment, Edwig Henson, Frank Ockenfels, Pierre-Ange Carlotti
10 Must-Hear New Albums Out This Month: BLACKPINK, Noah Cyrus, Romeo Santos, Santigold & More
With fall just around the corner, GRAMMY.com is highlighting the can't-miss, new albums dropping this month from Marcus Mumford, Christine and The Queens, Sudan Archives, Divino Niño, and many more.
With a too-short summer of hot, new music soon coming to a close, September is here to keep the musical heat burning. A host of new albums across all genres is set for release in the days and weeks ahead, from highly anticipated debuts to triumphant returns.
September sees the much-anticipated return of K-pop queens BLACKPINK with their second album, BORN PINK, while on the musical flipside, Marcus Mumford, of folk rock trio Mumford & Sons, releases his debut solo LP, (self-titled). The rest of the month revs up with a dose of bachata music (Romeo Santos' Formula Vol. 3), emotionally probing pop (Noah Cyrus' The Hardest Part), boundary-pushing Afrofuturism (Sudan Archives Natural Brown Prom Queen), dreamlike electronics (Franc Moody's Into the Ether), rousing country (Maddie & Tae's Through The Madness Vol. 2), and so much more.
Below, check out a stacked lineup of new albums dropping in September 2022, just in time to soundtrack your upcoming fall activities. After all, there's nothing cozier than the company of a brand-new, good album.
Romeo Santos — Formula Vol. 3
Release date: Sept. 1
Who better to grace the first day of the month with a new album than the "King of Bachata" himself, Romeo Santos? Back in February, the Dominican American artist released the sultry "Sus Huellas" as the first single from Formula Vol. 3. True to form, it shot to No. 1 on Billboard's Tropical Airplay chart and has since clocked up 47 million views on YouTube. Formula Vol. 1 (2011) earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best Tropical Latin Album, while Formula Vol. 2 (2014) is certified 27-times multi-platinum and featured the Billboard Hot 100 hit "Odio," featuring Drake. "I'm competitive with myself and my material," Santos told Billboard in 2014, so expect a big splash from Formula Vol. 3.
Franc Moody — Into The Ether
Release date: Sept. 2
London electronic duo Franc Moody made a strong first impression on their debut album, Dream in Colour, released in February 2020. Soon after, the pandemic brought the world — and Franc Moody's tour plans — screeching to a halt. Rather than despair, the duo escaped into music.
"It was during those months our longing to be out on the road with the band playing live shows developed into a dreamlike state, conjuring up imagery of us and the band traveling through the desert on a journey to find whatever it was that we were craving," the band explained in a statement. That yearning, dreamlike state reverberates throughout Into The Ether, with nods to the film scores of Ennio Morricone. Rest assured, though: Franc Moody's latest single, "I'm In A Funk," is still fit for dancing.
Santigold — Spirituals
Release date: Sept. 9
September heralds the return of genre-bending shapeshifter Santigold with Spirituals. Mostly recorded during the 2020 COVID lockdown, a defining theme behind the making of the album, and released independently through her own Little Jerk Records, Spirituals is Santigold's first album in six years.
In a statement, Santigold described "losing touch with the artist [in] me" while caring for her three children during a pandemic. "Recording this album was a way back to myself after being stuck in survival mode," she said. Preceded by the energizing singles "High Priestess" and "Ain't Ready," Spirituals finds Santigold collaborating with producers like Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Boys Noize, Dre Skull, and SBTRKT, all while staying true to her own boundary-pushing vision.
Sudan Archives — Natural Brown Prom Queen
Release date: Sept. 9
Signed to tastemaking label Stones Throw Records, Sudan Archives has been pushing the boundaries of electro and R&B since her self-titled 2017 debut EP. This month, she returns with Natural Brown Prom Queen, which has all the signs of her most out-there project to date. The album's advance singles, "Selfish Soul," "Home Maker" and "NBPQ (Topless)," have already earned widespread praise for their originality and wild flourishes. Sudan Archives heads out on the Homecoming Tour this fall, where she'll bring the futuristic sound of Natural Brown Prom Queen to life.
BLACKPINK — BORN PINK
Release date: Sept. 16
You don't need to be a K-pop expert to know that a new BLACKPINK album is a very big deal: Anyone knows an album is highly anticipated when even its 30-second announcement trailer clocks 23 million YouTube views. BLACKPINK's BORN PINK follows the group's 2020 debut, The Album, which featured several high-gloss hits, including "Bet You Wanna" with Cardi B and "Ice Cream" with Selena Gomez.
Already, BLACKPINK's latest single, "Pink Venom," excitedly sets the stage for BORN PINK, with a music video that has "Blinks" in raptures.
Noah Cyrus — The Hardest Part
Release date: Sept. 16
One of the most distinctive new voices in pop, Noah Cyrus will release her debut album, The Hardest Part, at long last this month. With music in her family genes (case in point: father Billy Ray and sister Miley), the Nashville-born singer/songwriter has carved out her own path with raw, emotionally honest songs that showcase her distinctively smoky vocals. The Hardest Part follows a run of promising singles, including "Every Beginning Ends," a tender duet with Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab For Cutie. Cyrus, who was nominated for Best New Artist at the 2021 GRAMMYs, is set to showcase the songs this fall on an extensive headlining North American tour.
Marcus Mumford — (self-titled)
Release date: Sept. 16
While folk rock believers already know Marcus Mumford as the lead singer of Mumford & Sons, the artist steps out on his own this month with his first solo album, (self-titled). Mumford has already revealed the singles "Better Off High," "Cannibal" and "Grace," which find the singer/songwriter baring his soul via his signature mix of sensitivity and grit. While the album is very much Mumford's own, (self-titled) also features Brandi Carlile, Phoebe Bridgers and Monica Martin as guests. He's on tour across the U.S. this fall, with a smattering of shows already sold out.
Christine and The Queens — Redcar les adorables étoiles
Release date: Sept. 23
Back in February 2020, Christine and The Queens released the La vita nuova EP, featuring one of his most affecting songs to date, "People, I've been sad." This month, Christine and The Queens returns under the mysterious alias Redcar with Redcar les adorables étoiles, the French artist's first full-length album since 2018's Chris. Lately, Christine and The Queens has kept busy as a featured artist, appearing on Charli XCX's "New Shapes," alongside Caroline Polachek, and 070 Shake ("Body"). As evidenced on lead single, "Je te vois enfin," Redcar les adorables étoiles is a September gift for synth-pop-loving Francophiles.
Divino Niño — Last Spa on Earth
Release date: Sept. 23
Coming out of the fertile Chicago scene, Divino Niño's music is as vibrant and diverse as its five members. You can hear their kaleidoscopic range on "Tu Tonto" — the lead single off Last Spa on Earth, the band's first new album in three years — which channels the energy of neoperreo, a subgenre of reggaeton that's close to their hearts.
Led by Javier Forero and Camilo Medina, who grew up together in Bogotá, Colombia, Divino Niño are now a five-piece band, with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Justin Vittori. After the mellow, blissed-out vibe of Divino Niño's 2019 debut album, Foam, Last Spa on Earth promises to be dancier and more adventurous, with the majority of the album's songs performed in Spanish. You can catch Divino Niño on tour with Mexico's Little Jesus starting this month.
Maddie & Tae — Through The Madness Vol. 2
Release date: Sept. 23
Country-pop singer/songwriters Maddie & Tae are back this month with Through The Madness Vol. 2, a new collection of songs co-written by the duo alongside some of Nashville's most esteemed songwriters. The release is the second installment in the group's beloved Through The Madness series, which debuted at the top of this year.
Maddie & Tae, best known for their country hits like "Die From a Broken Heart" and "Girl In A Country Song," will celebrate their very prolific year by headlining the CMT Next Women of Country Tour Presents: All Song No Static Tour this September and October.
RM of BTS
Photo: The Chosunilbo JNS/Imazins via Getty Images
5 K-Pop Songwriters & Producers Who Defined 2021: SUMIN, Teddy Park, ADORA, RM & SUGA
To close out the year, GRAMMY.com is spotlighting five Korean K-pop songwriters and producers who made their mark worldwide in 2021: SUMIN, Teddy Park, ADORA, RM, and SUGA
Behind every successful K-pop act is a creative team helping compose their hit songs. Though more and more K-pop idols are becoming involved in their music creation, there are some contributors whose work on your favorite tracks simply can't go unrecognized. From R&B ballads to trap beats to electronic party anthems, the sonic possibilities are endless as genres continue to blur and producers get bolder with their choices. Many K-pop songwriters have done notable work abroad as well, collaborating with some of the biggest names in music globally and serving as the think tanks that made your favorite hit songs possible.
Though much of K-pop music mixes genres and languages, the structure of the songs often allows for more experimentation and nuance than we see in the Western pop industry. Taking inspiration worldwide and incorporating cultural markers in the music, the undefinable sound and flare of K-pop creatives has had an enormous impact on music as we know it.
To celebrate the incredible talent within the Korean music industry and to close out 2021, GRAMMY.com is spotlighting five Korean K-pop songwriters and producers who made their mark worldwide this year. Get to know SUMIN, Teddy Park, ADORA, RM, and SUGA.
Producing is too often dominated by men, but South Korean songwriter and producer SUMIN is a woman doing wondrous work in the space. SUMIN's versatility has found her expertly navigating both the underground and popular music scenes in Korea. Her style isn't bound by genre, often drawing influence from hip-hop, electronic, bass, and other sounds, with some dubbing her sound "Neo K-pop."
In addition to her own music — she released an EP called XX in 2020 — the composer has graced the credits of a diverse roster of Korean artists over the years. Some of the most popular songs she helped pen include "Lie" sung by Jimin on BTS' critically acclaimed 2016 Wings album; "Look" on Red Velvet's 2017 Perfect Velvet: The 2nd Album; "Eyes Locked, Hands Locked" on Red Velvet's 2019 The Reve Festival' Finale; and 2018 R&B single "Pool" by Woodz. Her most recent credits include "Epilogue" on IU's long-anticipated fifth album, Lilac, and "Bother Me" on Chungha's album, Querencia.
From all the amazing work SUMIN has done, K-pop will benefit greatly as she continues to innovate and experiment.
If you're a hardcore Blink, you may be familiar with the name Teddy Park. The in-house YG Entertainment producer is credited for BLACKPINK member Rosé's solo debut songs "On the Ground" and "Gone," and he has a close working relationship with the group as well. He is also credited on major hits, like BLACKPINK's "Ice Cream" featuring Selena Gomez as well as the group's collab with Lady Gaga, "Sour Candy," off her Chromatica album. He also produced most tracks on BLACKPINK's 2020 album, The Album, and the 2018 party staple "Ddu-Du Ddu-Du," which became the highest-charting song by a Korean girl group on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Besides BLACKPINK, Park works with other major K-pop artists and has helped write and compose hits like Big Bang's "Fxxk It" and "Bang Bang Bang," Psy's "Daddy" ft CL, and Sunmi's "Gashina," in addition to working on a huge chunk of 2NE1's discography. The Korean American's production style is influenced by his days as a rapper, but also incorporates contemporary R&B, reggae, house, and EDM.
As Park has had a hand in some of the industry's biggest hits, he rightfully deserves recognition for his success in shaping the sound of K-pop over the years and into the future.
ADORA, or Park Soohyun, has been a longtime interest to the BTS ARMY. Her angelic vocals lace many BTS songs, including "Trivia: Seesaw," "The Truth Untold," "Serendipity," and "Euphoria," which she also helped write. As the only woman on their producing team, ADORA's presence on the tracks provide an extra layer and perspective that helps complete them. Her contributions to BTS' discography are expansive: She's written lyrics for fan favorites like "Spring Day," "Love Maze," and V's "Sweet Night."
More recently, she worked alongside J-Hope on "Blue Side," sang on "Telepathy" on BE, and contributed vocally and lyrically to TXT's minisode1 : Blue Hour. Her other standout work includes GFriend's "Labyrinth" as well as production on the solo projects from BTS members, like "forever rain" on RM's Mono and "Daydream on J-Hope's Hopeworld. She can be heard on multiple songs throughout BTS' Map of the Soul: 7, Map of the Soul: Persona, and the group's other chart-topping albums.
ADORA's unique touch hasn't gone unnoticed to many fans, and it'll be exciting to see how she continues to add to the multifaceted sound of other Big Hit artists.
You may know him as the charming leader of BTS, but RM's talents span boundaries. His songwriting and producing work deserves just as much recognition as his leadership abilities and rap skills. He's credited as a songwriter and composer on the group's GRAMMY-nominated hit "Butter" in addition to a large portion of their overall discography, including Map of the Soul:7, BE, Map of the Soul: Persona, the Love Yourself albums, his own mixtape, Mono, and more.
The list goes on and on, and his hip-hop roots have led him to solo collaborations with artists like Wale on 2017's socially conscious "Change," which the two artists wrote together. RM also wrote his iconic verse on the chart-topping "Old Town Road (Seoul Town Road Remix)" with Lil Nas X and penned TXT's lead single, "0X1=LOVESONG."
RM's expert lyric writing incorporates exceptional wordplay and a deft mastery of multiple languages, which give him a unique edge and which can be heard on his notorious rap lines on "Ddaeng," "Tear," and "UGH!" As RM continues to expand on his production and songwriting work, K-pop fans are truly in for a treat.
BTS member Suga originally joined Big Hit as a producer. Most of his work outside of BTS has notably been with women artists. From co-writing and producing IU's "Eight," Heize's "We Don't Talk Together," and Suran's "Wine" — which earned him a Best Soul/R&B award at South Korea's 2017 Melon Music Awards — Suga has been passionate about creating meaningful music with artists he respects. With American artists, he wrote his verse on MAX's "Blueberry Eyes" and "SUGA's Interlude" on Halsey's 2020 album, Manic.
Suga's style has an introspective charm that reflects his own personality well. He's credited for co-producing earlier BTS hits like "Tomorrow" and "Let Me Know," but has since gone on to work on more as their sound continues to evolve. His own solo project, released under the alias Agust D in summer of 2020, gave a full-throttle view of his hard-hitting, diss-track style of rap coupled with more self-reflecting songs.
While the BTS members each have involvement in the behind-the-scenes music-making process, Suga counts more than 100 credits with the Korea Music Copyright Association. Along with BTS bandmate J-Hope, Suga became the first Korean lyricist and composer to take part in a No. 1 song in the Billboard Hot 100 chart with "Savage Love (BTS Remix)".
There's no telling what else Suga has in store for K-pop fans in the years to come, but his past work shows a promising future in production.
Exploring The Latin Field Nominees
Go inside the nominations in the Latin Field categories for the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards
You've seen the list of nominees, now take a closer look at the artists nominated in the Latin Field for the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards.
This year's Latin Field includes first-time nominees such as Campo, Fonseca, Jesse Y Joy, Los Cojolites, Carla Morrison, Quetzal, Romeo Santos, and Sistema Bomb. Previous nominees looking for their GRAMMY include Lila Downs, Kany Garcia, Los Tucanes De Tijuana, Gerardo Ortiz, and Ana Tijoux. Veteran artists looking to add to their GRAMMY collection include Ricardo Arjona and Juanes.
Best Latin Pop Album
Ricardo Arjona, Independiente
Arjona is up for one nomination this year. He has four prior GRAMMY nominations and one win.
Fonseca is up for one nomination this year, marking the first GRAMMY nomination of his career.
Kany Garcia, Kany Garcia
Garcia is up for one nomination this year. She has one prior GRAMMY nomination.
Jesse Y Joy, ¿Con Quién Se Queda El Perro?
Jesse Y Joy are up for one nomination this year, marking the first GRAMMY nomination of their career.
Juanes, MTV Unplugged Deluxe Edition
Juanes is up for one nomination this year. He has four prior GRAMMY nominations and one win.
Best Latin Rock, Urban Or Alternative Album
Campo are up for one nomination this year, marking their first career GRAMMY nomination.
Carla Morrison, Déjenme Llorar
Morrison is up for one nomination this year, marking the first GRAMMY nomination of her career.
Quetzal are up for one nomination this year, marking the first GRAMMY nomination of their career.
Sistema Bomb, Electro-Jarocho
Sistema Bomb are up for one nomination this year, marking the first GRAMMY nomination of their career.
Ana Tijoux, La Bala
Tijoux is up for one nomination this year. She has one prior GRAMMY nomination.
Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano)
Lila Downs, Pecados Y Milagros
Downs is up for one nomination this year. She has one prior GRAMMY nomination.
Los Cojolites, Sembrando Flores
Los Cojolites are up for one nomination this year, marking the first GRAMMY nomination of their career.
Los Tucanes De Tijuana, 365 Días
Mariachi Divas De Cindy Shea, Oye
Mariachi Divas De Cindy Shea are up for one nomination this year. They have three prior nominations and one GRAMMY win.
Gerardo Ortiz, El Primer Ministro
Ortiz is up for one nomination this year. He has one prior GRAMMY nomination.
Best Tropical Latin Album
Raúl Lara Y Sus Soneros, Cubano Soy
Raúl Lara Y Sus Soneros are up for one nomination this year, marking the first GRAMMY nomination of their career.
Eddie Montalvo, Desde Nueva York A Puerto Rico
Montalvo is up for one nomination this year, marking the first GRAMMY nomination of his career.
Marlow Rosado Y La Riqueña, Retro Marlow
Rosado Y La Riqueña are up for one nomination this year, marking the first GRAMMY nomination of their career.
Romeo Santos, Formula Vol. 1
Santos is up for one nomination this year, marking the first GRAMMY nomination of his career.
Who will take home the awards in the Latin Field categories? Tune in to the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards on Feb. 10, 2013, taking place at Staples Center in Los Angeles and airing live on CBS from 8–11:30 p.m. (ET/PT).
(Note: The videos embedded reflect official videos available through official artist and record label channels.)
Photo: YG Entertainment
5 Takeaways From BLACKPINK's New Album, 'Born Pink': New Sounds, Familiar Names On 8-Track Bop
BLACKPINK’s sophomore album stays true to the group’s hip-hop-infused sound while showcasing each member’s range. Here are five insights about their latest release, 'Born Pink.'
After dropping two hit pre-release singles, a record-breaking music video and a red-hot VMA performance, BLACKPINK’s summer takeover culminates with the arrival of their new full-length album, Born Pink.
With their signature black-and-pink lightsticks in hand, the best-selling foursome ushered their latest release into the world with an official countdown party on YouTube. During the party, they previewed their new music video for "Shut Down," displayed photos from the Light Up The Pink Campaign — the promotional campaign lit major landmarks across the globe in the group’s signature pink color — and showed off their newest merch.
As the countdown party drew to a close, Lisa, Rosé, Jisoo and Jennie read letters of gratitude to Blinks — their dedicated fanbase — before wrapping things up with the release of the music video for "Shut Down," which coincided with the arrival of Born Pink on all major streaming platforms.
The long-awaited eight-track LP doubles down on the group’s distinct hip-hop and EDM-infused sound while experimenting with bubblegum pop, disco, and punk elements. "If The Album focused solely on music, we tried to express BLACKPINK’s true nature through [Born Pink]," Rosé told XSportsNews.
From Jisoo’s rap verse to Rosé’s surprise solo, here are five takeaways from BLACKPINK’s new album, Born Pink.
'Born Pink' Doesn’t Feature Any Guest Appearances
BLACKPINK has previously collaborated with pop heavy-hitters like Selena Gomez, Lady Gaga, and Cardi B, so there was rampant speculation about the guest appearances on Born Pink. However, Blinks hoping for a Taylor Swift collab — after her response to the group’s breakout VMA performance — were discouraged when the album’s track list was released, and Swift’s name was nowhere to be found. Although there are no collabs, the quartet more than holds their own and highlight their individual talents.
The melancholy ballad "The Happiest Girl" showcases Lisa’s vocals and vulnerability while Jisoo steps into her rap moment with a blistering verse on "Shut Down." Rosé’s soaring vocals shine on "Hard to Love" and "Yeah Yeah Yeah," while Jennie’s rapid-fire flows on "Pink Venom" and "Shut Down" exhilarate thanks to her braggadocious delivery.
Rosé Takes The Lead On "Hard To Love"
The first few tracks on the album showcase BLACKPINK’s standard hip-hop heavy sound, but halfway through the album, the group flips the script by treating listeners to an unexpected Rosé solo called "Hard to Love," a guitar-pop anthem that channels Taylor Swift. This isn’t Rosé’s first solo outing — in 2021, the singer released her first single album, R, featuring the singles "Gone" and "On The Ground."
"Hard to Love" was well-received on social media, but many Blinks were hoping for a Jisoo solo moment. The singer is the only group member who hasn’t released a single album, and there was heavy speculation that she’d take the lead on one of Born Pink’s tracks. However, she has been on the fence about setting off on her own.
Last May, Jisoo told Rolling Stone that she wasn’t sure which direction to take her sound. "I love songs with lots of instruments. I love different bands and rock music. What do people want from me? There’s a chaos of conflicting questions. So I’m still tilting my head in confusion. I’m not sure what will happen with my solo plans this year."
"Shut Down" Captures The Essence of BLACKPINK’s Sound
BLACKPINK’s signature swagger is on full display in this drippy hip-hop track, which features a familiar classical sample — "La Campanella," by the Italian composer Niccolo Paganini. On the audacious track, the Pinks address their detractors — or antis, as the Blinks call them — with in-your-face lines like, "Praying for my downfall, many have tried, baby" and "Bunch of wannabes that wanna be me, me three if I was you."
After hearing the demo for the first time, the quartet fell in love with the bass-thumping song and decided to make it the album's title track. (In K-pop, a title track refers to a lead single accompanied by a music video.) "We gathered in the recording studio altogether and listened to the demo. When the intro came out, I think all the members were speechless and just looked at each other," Lisa said to XSportsNews. "Through just our eyes, we were telling each other, 'this is the title track!' While listening, I naturally started to imagine the performance. That’s how well BLACKPINK was captured, and I was confident that it was a song BLACKPINK could express well."
There Are Some Familiar Names In Born Pink’s Writing Credits, Including Jisoo and Rosé
BLACKPINK typically employ the same stable of writers to craft their tracks. Their frequent collaborators include Teddy Park, who is responsible for producing and writing some of the group’s biggest tracks like "Kill This Love" and "Lovesick Girls," and Bekuh Boom, who penned the high-charting hits "Pretty Savage" and "Ice Cream." On Born Pink, Park’s work can be heard on the hip-hop forward tracks "Pink Venom" and "Shut Down" as well as "Ready For Love," while Boom lent her pen to the sassy track "Typa Girl."
Some new collaborators have entered the mix in the Born Pink era: Teddy Sinclair, formerly known as Natalia Kills, composed and co-wrote "The Happiest Girl" with her husband, Willy Moon. (Sinclair also co-wrote Rihanna’s "Kiss It Better.") Jisoo and Rosé lent their vocals and writing skills to Born Pink — each has a writing credit on "Yeah Yeah Yeah," a standout track on the album.
The Album Is Under 25 Minutes Long
With a runtime of a little over 24 minutes, Born Pink is notably shorter than many standard LPs, much to the chagrin of Blinks, who were hoping for more after waiting nearly two years for new music from the group.
It's likely that their next release will be a live album recorded during one of the stops on their upcoming world tour, though there is a possibility that the group will release a deluxe version of Born Pink featuring additional tracks. (Somewhere in the BLACKPINK vaults are a couple of unreleased collaborations with OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, which fans are eager to hear after the veteran songwriter mentioned working with the Pinks in a recent interview.)
Photo: Will Heath/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
2021 In Review: 8 Trends That Defined Pop
Pop's reach became even wider this year, with newcomers, superstars and global acts all delivering some of the year's biggest hits and memorable moments
It seems there's never a dull moment in pop music. But in 2021, the genre's rising stars and longtime greats all came out swinging, always giving fans something to be excited about.
Taylor Swift and her unofficial protege, Olivia Rodrigo, made for two of the biggest stories of the year: Swift began releasing her rerecorded albums, and Rodrigo had the world listening after she dropped her global phenomenon "driver's license."
Pop expanded its palette this year, too, with K-pop experiencing its biggest year yet and Nigeria proving that its Afropop stars have some serious promise.
On top of all of that, fans finally received some of pop's most-anticipated albums in 2021, making for a year that was truly monumental and memorable. Take a look at eight of the genre's most prominent trends below.
Teenage Angst Took Over
From the moment 2021 began, there was no denying it was going to be the year of Olivia Rodrigo. With the runaway chart and streaming successes of her two biggest hits so far — the teenage heartbreak ballad "driver's license" and the angsty, Paramore-sampling "good 4 u," which both debuted atop the Billboard Hot 100 — the 18-year-old was at the helm of young stars who weren't afraid to get raw and real in 2021.
A sense of vulnerability was the through-line of pop's new wave this year, and it clearly resonated. In addition to Rodrigo's triumphs, Australian breakout The Kid LAROI landed a Top 10 hit with the gut-wrenching acoustic track "Without You" as well as a Hot 100 and pop radio No. 1 with the Justin Bieber-assisted bop "Stay." And if the honest lyrics of his hit singles aren't enough indication, just look at the title of its parent album: F--- Love.
Tate McRae, another 18-year-old, also hit a sweet spot with her peers with her anti-sympathetic breakup song, "you broke me first." The song has amassed more than one billion streams worldwide, also reaching No. 1 on pop radio.
Of course, Gen Z first got in their feelings thanks to Billie Eilish, and she continued to carry her torch in 2021 with the release of her second album, Happier Than Ever. Though the album's jazz-influenced, downtempo nature was a departure from the trap-led sound of her debut, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, it lyrically stayed right in line with the trenchant honesty that made her a star — and, seemingly, opened the floodgates for her teen successors.
"Taylor's Versions" Caused a Frenzy
Nearly two years after Taylor Swift announced that she'd be re-recording her first six albums in order to regain artistic and financial control, the first two albums arrived in 2021. And boy, did Swifties have a field day.
The country starlet turned pop superstar knew exactly what her loyal legion of followers would want, releasing remakes of fan favorites Fearless and Red this year. Upon the April release of Fearless (Taylor's Version), the album had the biggest opening day for an album on Spotify in 2021, garnering 50 million global streams on its first day and subsequently debuting atop the Billboard 200.
Yet, it was Red (Taylor's Version) that became a phenomenon, becoming the most-streamed album in a day from a female artist on Spotify with nearly 91 million global first-day streams (breaking the record she previously set with 2020's Folklore). The album's immediate draw owed partial thanks to a 10-minute version of her beloved power ballad "All Too Well," which took on a life of its own. Along with becoming a short film that Swift debuted in New York City and earning the singer her eighth No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, it also blew up the Twittersphere with scathing (yet amusing) tweets about the song's supposed subject, actor Jake Gyllenhaal.
Among Red (Taylor's Version)'s many other feats, the 10-minute, 13-second version of "All Too Well" also became the longest song to top the Hot 100. With four re-records still left to release, who knows what kind of records Swift will break next?
Black Women Took The Genre By Storm
While 2021 wasn't necessarily a breakout year for Doja Cat or Normani, it was the year that both stars came into their own — and, ultimately, reinvented the pop star ideal.
After teasing her pop sensibility with her 2020 smash "Say So," Doja Cat struck pop gold again with the SZA-featuring "Kiss Me More." The disco-tinged hit was just one of the many A-list collaborations on Doja's hailed album Planet Her, which has accumulated more than 3 billion streams since its June release and debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200.
On the opposite end, Normani — who got her start in pop girl group Fifth Harmony and saw her first two solo hits (2018's "Love Lies" and 2019's "Dancing With a Stranger") take over pop radio — reminded listeners of her versatility in 2021. Following an empowered team-up with Megan Thee Stallion for the Birds of Prey soundtrack, Normani recruited Cardi B to help bring out her R&B side on the sexy slow jam "Wild Side," which earned the 25-year-old singer her first hit on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart (in the top 5, no less).
Two artists who did have breakout years were Beyoncé protegee Chloë and German singer/songwriter Zoe Wees. Chloë, one half of R&B duo Chloe x Halle, released her debut solo single "Have Mercy" to critical acclaim, putting on showstopping performances of the song at the MTV Video Music Awards and the American Music Awards. Wees closed out the AMAs with a powerful rendition of her poignant song, "Girls Like Us," the follow-up to her viral hit "Control."
Artists Loudly Proclaimed Their Sexuality
As acceptance becomes more prominent within mainstream music, stars are latching on to the new era of being open about however they identify.
Though Lil Nas X came out as gay in 2019, his sonic proclamation came in controversial form with "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)." The video for the flamenco-dripped track — whose title references the 2017 gay romance film Call Me By Your Name — depicted biblical and Satanic scenes in racy fashion. Despite resulting in backlash from religious groups, the song and video's bold statement served as an impactful one for the LGBTQ+ community — as Lil Nas put it himself, pushing for "more acceptance, more open-mindedness amongst humanity as a whole."
Demi Lovato (who announced they are non-binary in May) featured a song about their sexual fluidity on their seventh album, Dancing With the Devil, released in April. The wavy "The Kind of Lover I Am" declares "Doesn't matter, you're a woman or a man/ That's the kind of lover I am" on its rolling chorus.
Bringing back one of pop's first sexual fluidity anthems, Fletcher interpolated Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" for her own single "Girls Girls Girls," which marked "the freedom and the celebration I've been craving my whole life," she said in a press release. One month later, she teamed up with Hayley Kiyoko (who has been dubbed "Lesbian Jesus" by her fans) for "Cherry," a flirty sapphic jam.
K-Pop's English Infusion Blew Up
Thanks to the likes of BTS and BLACKPINK — and now countless other groups — K-pop has made its way into the U.S. pop market in a major way in recent years. As it has continued to boom, more and more artists are releasing songs that are completely in English — and the genre is arguably bigger than ever.
Less than a year after BTS first dabbled in English-language singles with 2020's smash "Dynamite," they delivered the biggest hit of their career with the smooth sensation "Butter." The song debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it stayed for 10 non-consecutive weeks — a streak initially broken up by their third English-language hit, "Permission to Dance."
BLACKPINK saw two of its members go solo in 2021, Lisa and Rosé, who each issued English-language singles of their own. Lisa's "Money" and Rosé's "On The Ground" both landed on the Hot 100, respectively garnering more than 375 million and 255 million YouTube views alone.
Several other acts released notable English-language tracks, with SEVENTEEN and TWICE each putting out their first: "2 MINUS 1" features SEVENTEEN members Joshua and Vernon, and "The Feels" became TWICE's first top 20 hit on the Billboard Global 200, where it reached No. 12.
Pop Became More Global Than Ever Before
South Korea isn't the only far-flung country having a moment. In fact, Nigeria is arguably one of the most fruitful geographical founts of music — particularly thanks to the recent Afropop explosion.
Wizkid — who first saw global success with his Drake collaboration, "One Dance," in 2016 — earned his first Billboard Hot 100 hit as a lead artist with the R&B-tinged single "Essence." The song features fellow Nigerian singer Tems, making history as the first Nigerian song to break the Hot 100 top 10. The sultry track caught the attention of Justin Bieber, who hopped on a remix and declared it the "song of the summer."
Two other rising Nigerian acts, Joeboy and Fireboy DML, saw their Afropop takes resonate this year, too. Joeboy's "Alcohol" inspired a viral TikTok craze, and the success of Fireboy's "Peru" landed a remix with Ed Sheeran in December.
Elsewhere, Latin still proves to have a profound impact in the pop world. Puerto Rican newcomer Rauw Alejandro's irresistibly catchy "Todo De Ti" made its way to mainstream radio, as did Maluma's global hit "Hawái," the latter thanks to a remix with The Weeknd. And Pop queens Christina Aguilera and Selena Gomez also honored their Latin roots: Aguilera dropped two singles, "Pas Mis Muchachas" and "Somos Nada"; Gomez released her first Spanish-language project, Revelación.
In the streaming world, Bad Bunny — Spotify's most-streamed artist for the second year in a row — and BTS (No. 3 on Spotify's year-end tally) proved that Latin and K-pop are equal contenders to pop powerhouses like Taylor Swift and Bieber, who were No. 2 and 5, respectively.
Superstars Joined Forces
Sure, every year sees star-studded collaborations. But with artists having unprecedented downtime in 2020 and into 2021, some iconic pairings were born.
Ariana Grande and The Weeknd — no strangers to working together — scored their first Hot 100 No. 1 with a remix of The Weeknd's "Save Your Tears." Another Grande collaborator, Lizzo, teamed up with Cardi B for her latest single, "Rumors."
One of the most unexpected (and brilliant) partnerships came from Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, who joined forces for the '70s funk-inspired duo Silk Sonic. The pair dropped their silky debut single, "Leave the Door Open," just one week after announcing their joint project in February, and unveiled An Evening With Silk Sonic in November.
Veterans recruited some of pop's newer voices, too. Australian icon Kylie Minogue dueted with British electropop star Years & Years on "A Second to Midnight," a track from her reissue album, Disco: Guest List Edition. She also featured Dua Lipa on the album on a song titled "Real Groove."
Lipa co-starred with another legend, Elton John, on the chart-topping (and "Rocket Man"-sampling) hit "Cold Heart (PNAU Remix)." The single was part of John's jam-packed collaborative album, The Lockdown Sessions, which also featured Charlie Puth, Stevie Nicks and Stevie Wonder, among many others.
Long-Awaited Albums Arrived
Silk Sonic appeased those eagerly waiting for Bruno Mars to follow up his 2016 Album Of The Year-winning LP, 24K Magic, as the duo’s material featured plenty of signature Bruno power hooks and slinky melodies. But those still longing for a solo Bruno Mars record may have at least been satisfied by the other 2021 arrivals.
Six years in the making, Adele’s 30 finally landed in November — and, unsurprisingly, became the top-selling album of the year in just its first three days. The LP has now sold more than 1 million copies, and spawned the singer’s fifth Hot 100 No. 1 with the poignant lead single, “Easy on Me.” Beyond accolades, 30 sees Adele at her most vulnerable — as she's said herself, it centers around her divorce from entrepreneur Simon Konecki — which resulted in her most raw and powerful work yet.
Considering Ed Sheeran’s extensive touring schedule that had the singer/songwriter on the road until the end of August 2019, it was almost hard to believe it had been four years since his last album. Surely some Sheerios felt the agony, but it was worth the wait: =, Sheeran's fourth studio album, offered 14 new tracks that expand on the star's signature talents, from heartfelt falsetto to boot-stomping melodies.
In what felt like the day that may never come, Kanye West delivered his tenth album, Donda, in August. The project had seen multiple postponements since its originally scheduled release of July 2020, but perhaps that's because the final product has a whopping 27 songs. While the album leans more into West's hip-hop roots, its impressive roster of guest stars — from The Weeknd to Watch the Throne cohort JAY-Z — offered any kind of Kanye fan something to enjoy.
After such a whirlwind year, one big question stands out as we enter 2022: what's next?