What Hits?? The State of Music 2021

Allow me to assuage your fears: there will still be an official post counting down this year’s good music, as unlikely as that sounds. I managed to scrape together enough decent music so I wouldn’t have to stop that feature on its 20th anniversary. However the section at the end in which I opine on the state of the now-deceased music industry is going to be folded out into its very own standalone post.

I am here to document the ongoing decline of music in the public sphere, as I have every year- with all my predictions consistently coming true.

Basically, it’s another piece of writing I can point to and say “I was right”.

The main reason I’ve decided to grump it up this year is because I finally got fed up with major music websites and music journalists glossing over the bad stuff. Yeah, OK, music is subjective, except not really. Bad music is getting a free ride these days and I refuse to let the problem be ignored any longer. I have many complaints about many bands and they all deserve it, because there is no other writer on the internet willing to dive in and methodically examine why certain songs/artists are so bad. Why? Because they’re obligated to.

I remember when I used to write concert reviews I was given a fairly long leash, with the only mandate being that I stay positive about every show – regardless of whether I actually enjoyed it or not. I created a bank of descriptors and phrases I’d come to rely on pretty heavily; towards the end of my reviewing days my write-ups were entirely made up of these generic banked phrases stitched together. I’ve learned to recognize these phrases and patterns in others’ reviews, and notice them everywhere.

I mean, it’s to be expected. There’s no way you can have original thoughts about every single song that gets sent to your inbox. It’s just frustrating to see the lack of honesty from a lot of these internet writers who only cover bands because they have to. There’s a lot of dreck out there that gets undeserved praise, and a lot of good music that gets dismissed due to unacknowledged biases.

I’m beholden to no label or publication, so I have no reservations in criticizing even my absolute favourite bands if they put out a bomb. True, I should have done this continuously over the course of the year so that my points were fresh, and I aim to do that going forward. In the meantime let’s discuss a year’s worth of fails, follies and fumbles.

  • Of all the people I could find myself agreeing with on a topic, I would not expect it to be Adam Levine of Maroon 5. Earlier this year Levine said “there are no bands anymore“, a statement which he expanded on and although he did so simply, anyone with two brain cells knew what he meant. The world has largely moved on from the rock group format; the last actual “band” to become a household name was Imagine Dragons and that was a decade ago. So the disingenuous pile-on and sneering mockery that Levine was hit with was entirely unwarranted and served only to show what a braindead hivemind the Twitter community is.———-
  • No subset of the Twitter community more braindead of course, than K-Pop fans. They are absolutely insane. Not only do they swarm like mindless drones, but they drop their stupid fancams all over the place and reply to any criticism with disaffected sass.———-
  • It has now been eight years since I first declared that the music industry was dead, music as a valuable commodity was no longer viable, and the only way forward was backward, by using weaponized nostalgia. Every year since then these things have only become more clear, with new hitmakers appearing once every other year, big hits popping up once a year at most, and execs relying solely on big names of the past to sell product. This year Billie Eilish’s documentary flopped hard, but The Beatles “Get Back” became a certified meme factory. Bruce Springsteen sold the rights to his music to Sony, who will now be using it in perpetuity and will inspire other major labels to do the same thing, like Warner and their newly acquired David Bowie catalogue. New talent will be wiped out, and breakthrough stars will become extinct. One of the biggest songs of the year was an interpolation of an Elton John song. The money’s in the past.
  • The above image shows you just how much the industry cares. The “Recent Releases” alternative category features 5 Taylor Swift albums – several repeats – along with three albums from the previous year, and two remasters. A disgraceful mistake that shows how little thought goes into promoting music these days.———-
  • Of all the hyped pop star releases this year, only Adele dropped a song that made even a partial impression on the zeitgeist. “Easy on Me” may not have soared to the same heights as her older hits, but it remains the one and only song from 2021 to have a hook most people will recognize instantly.———-
  • Lorde’s new album sucked so hard. So, so hard. Which is weird because she already had her self-indulgent artsy album 4 years ago with Melodrama– this was supposed to be a comeback record. Instead it’s a breezy island getaway soundtrack with not one good song. And then in an interview she said the quiet part out loud when she admitted she “doesn’t know what a smash hit is anymore”. Is that not literally your job??? You are a millionaire pop star. You should know how to write a solid song. Not mashed-up monstrosities like “Hold No Grudge” which – get this – was meant to be some kind of apology to her fans for dropping such a bad album. Included on the deluxe edition of Solar Power, “Hold No Grudge” was intended to be something remotely similar to her old material and maybe get some radio airplay. Instead it’s a weird blend of two completely disparate tracks that cut back and forth a few times before the song ends. A mess.———-
  • While we’re talking about Lorde- her legacy as the first “breathy goo-goo child prodigy voiced pop star” is still going strong, with landfill pop starlets Nessa Barrett and Jessie Murph taking the annoying affectations to a new level years after the trend peaked.———-
  • Another huge flop this year was Billie Eilish’s Happier Than Ever. Not only did it fail to spawn any hits, it fell victim to two annoying trends: the clipping/peaking audio trend and the analog recording hiss trend. It is unbelievable that in 2021 one of the biggest pop stars on the planet had such a poorly produced album, on purpose.———-
  • Also unbelievable that Jack Antonoff, one of the most sought-after producers of the past decade, did the exact same thing on his latest album as Bleachers. Lead single “Stop Making This Hurt” sounds like it was recorded in a garage, far away from the equipment. My greatest fear is that this will inspire more artists to take on the “faux-live” sound as a trend in 2022.———-
  • Taylor Swift seems to operate from a purely marketing standpoint now. Last year she attempted to position her two folk albums as some sort of cottagecore epiphany, LARPing as Joni Mitchell and saying she wanted to release something “without the expectations of big charting hits”. It was transparently false, a threadbare lie meant to cover up the fact that she hadn’t had a hit in 5 years. In 2021 it became even more apparent as suddenly she pivoted from her newfound introspective phase and rereleased older albums under the guise of assertive girlbossing. Of course, that was also a lie. She simply saw the truth of the matter – nostalgia sells. People don’t want new T-Swift anymore. People want to wallow in her old weepies and post memes about being in high school when her big hits came out.———-
  • She also released a ten-minute reworking of a song which got all the big publications salivating about her boldness – which, OK, every band has at least one ten-minute song. I bring this up however, because Jack Antonoff had the nerve to post a simpering tweet praising Swift, implying she was a rule-breaking goddess for doing so. What a snake. What an absolute snake. He has not only produced but written his own songs which adhered to the new religion of brevity. A trend that only got worse this year with many artists slapping together two verses and two choruses and calling it a complete track. That’s not music. That’s an extended jingle. Songwriting is a dying art, and Antonoff has contributed to that. If ten-minute songs suddenly become the norm – hey, if they’re good, that’s fine – but let’s not pretend that Antonoff has been clamouring for that to happen.———-
  • There is no major publication or outlet online at the moment that covers every genre of popular music. The idiot hipster sites ignore mainstream artists, the more mainstream sites don’t dive deep into underground scenes. I do, and always have done, both. As I’ve always said, I don’t care where the music comes from as long as it’s good. I have zero biases that would make me totally write off any band or genre forever. The idiot hipster sites are different; they love to heap scorn on mainstream rock with no acknowledgement of their strengths. That was the case earlier this year when Italian rock band Maneskin won Eurovision and the knives came out for them. Being absolutely afraid to appear “rockist”, the idiot hipster sites bashed Maneskin as relics reminiscent of – and I quote – “the hard rock of the late 90s”. Despite the singer sounding like a cross between the singer from indie darlings Spoon and the singer from indie darlings The Walkmen, and the guitars never entering distortion territory. The criticism didn’t even make sense, it was just pointless smears meant to invalidate a genre which idiot hipsters now deem to be uncool.———-
  • Charli XCX continues to be one step above Rita Ora in terms of total irrelevance.———-
  • Another year, another massively hyped-up team-up that was DOA. Sad boys The Weeknd and Post Malone got together and put out some completely forgettable song that I don’t even remember the name of. Why are all these superstar team-ups failing? You’d think they’d put a little money into the songwriting if they’ve got these big names together.———-
  • The Weeknd also put out the Giorgio Moroder rip-off “Take My Breath”, which is almost half-decent except it willingly sabotages itself in a way that’s so maliciously bad it has to be intentional. When the chorus hits the synths don’t come in until about a bar later, killing the momentum each and every time it comes around. It’s like they were present, but the Weeknd went in and purposely deleted the first part of them each time. Shameful.———-
  • It still remains to be seen what will happen with Olivia Rodrigo. “Driver’s License” was a kind of, sort of hit that I saw mentioned everywhere but never actually heard. It definitely wasn’t catchy enough to be some sort of smash hit. I will acknowledge her success this year, but whether or not she’s a legitimate “breakout act” will be determined in the next few years. She’s at the same stage Ariana Grande was in 2014. She’s popular by default, but an album or two away from actual stardom.