Mark your calendars: Here’s everything to look forward to in music this year
2021 is quickly shaping up to be another brilliant year for music, and - fingers crossed - we might be able to see some of it live.
Somehow, 2020 was one of the best years for music in recent memories, and yet the closest its ever come to a complete industry-wide collapse.
It was a turbulent year full of cancellations and postponements. Every time live music looked promising in Australia, a coronavirus outbreak would whisk it away again, and we’d be back to square one - the potential of moshing with your mates being a fever dream of the past, rather than something to look forward to.
Nevertheless, music constantly looked forward, and we were delivered with some incredible music from all walks of the musical spectrum. Many of the once-dominative, chart-topping pop musicians released records last year, while other emerging chart forces proved themselves with debut or sophomore records of their own. Australian greats released records - Midnight Oil and Powderfinger two expected additions - as its next-generation cemented itself with newcomers from every corner of the country: remote central Queensland and rural Tasmania included.
In 2021, things are already anticipated to be looking up. The gradual roll-out of coronavirus vaccines suggest the potential of international shows towards the year’s end, and Australian acts are already playing gigs - many of them being the first in 12 months, if not more. Then, there are the records written in the free time artists found without touring; the lack of rigorous touring schedules giving an opportunity for artists to actually spend time with their art, providing they had the mental health strength to do so.
Here are a couple of things to look forward to in the year ahead, and speaking of things worth keeping an eye out for, stay tuned for our acts to watch in 2021 feature incoming next week - they’re bound to be some of the real stars of the show
1. The potential of actual live music in 2021.
Before we take a dive into some of the records expected this year, the one most exciting thing any music fan should be looking forward to is the idea of actually seeing their favourite band live - something sorely missed for much of the country in 2020. Some states have already experienced that (Perth and Darwin, for example, have had full-scale festivals, while Adelaide has an ongoing festival series commencing next week), while other have had sprinklings of sit-down shows and socially distanced concerts as coronavirus was kept at bay, towards the year’s end.
We’re not expecting live music to suddenly return to our calendars this month - the recent outbreaks in Sydney and Melbourne show just how sudden and unexpected coronavirus can hit - but there’s a real potential of full-scale shows happening by the year’s end, especially if our international borders remain shut and the vaccine begins its distribution.
Festivals, unfortunately, seem hit or miss. It’s difficult to see events like Splendour In The Grass or Groovin the Moo going ahead in 2021 without a lengthy period without local/community transmission preluding it (we’re remaining hopeful though), but others - smaller events, held in areas away from big, densely populated cities - may be promising if they abide by health regulations. Just look at Perth’s much-loved Factory Summer Festival, which brought some of Australia’s best acts to Queensland over the Christmas/New Years period, or the aforementioned Summer Sounds concert series in Adelaide, which begins this weekend.
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2. Big AU/NZ albums from Gang of Youths, Lorde, Mallrat and more.
There were plenty of album teases sprinkled throughout 2020, emphasised by the lack of touring (which, as mentioned, gave artists a chance to work on their music without the distractions of travelling around for shows).
We’re already beginning to see the fruit laboured in that time, with albums by Amy Shark, Tash Sultana, Illy, Psychedelic Porn Crumpets, Jarryd James, Genesis Owusu, The Rubens and more expected in 2021’s first quarter (that’s January to March, for those unaware). There’s also a tonne unannounced too, with some of the country’s (and our neighbours’) biggest musicians teasing records for release this year.
Gang of Youths’ follow-up to Let Me Down Easy is expected sometime in 2021, for example, with the return of Dave Le'aupepe and co. being one of the year’s most exciting album prospects. Mallrat has also been teasing a debut album of her own - Rockstar being its first taste - as has Running Touch, preluded by a series of singles throughout 2020’s latter half. No doubt, there’s also plenty of forthcoming albums that haven’t commenced their roll-out yet, being finished off in the first part of this year as Australia eyes a return to live music in the year’s second half.
There’s a lot to come from our New Zealand neighbours too, notably Lorde, who back in May announced that she had been working on new material with Melodrama super-producer Jack Antonoff. She’s also said that the record has been influenced by her recent ventures to Antarctica, and promised that it’s “so fucking good” in a newsletter shared last year.
3. New albums maybe from Rihanna (who knows, tbh), but definitely Kendrick Lamar, SZA, Adele, Lana Del Rey and others.
Will 2021 be the year Rihanna finally delivers R9? She teased early on in 2020 that the long-overdue record would come by the year’s end, and as fans joked that she’d drop on New Year’s Eve (a valid prediction, knowing her past behaviour), it never actually arrived - much like it hadn’t in the years it was rumoured prior. Who the fuck knows whether it’s coming at this point, and the steady rumours of collaborations and studio sessions don’t mean too much when they’ve been going around for years now.
Nevertheless, there are still some blockbuster records scheduled for 2021, and they’re only the ones we know of. Adele’s follow-up to 2015’s smash 25 was rumoured for release last year but to no avail, but it’s clear that something is indeed coming - just look at recent website changes or her gig hosting Saturday Night Live, for example.
- Cardi B’s second album looks to be a sure-fire #1 after the success of WAP, which she admittedly didn’t submit to the GRAMMY Awards as she didn’t want it to overshadow the release of her forthcoming Invasion Of Privacy follow-up.
- Drake’s Certified Lover Boy is expected this month, teased by Laugh Now Cry Later last year.
- Frank Ocean may break his five-year post-Blonde drought in 2021, releasing two tracks in late-2019 and two in 2020 - suggesting that he has been busy writing music, of which we will hopefully hear more about this year.
- Lana Del Rey’s Chemtrails Over The Country Club is expected this March according to retailers, and we’re likely to hear more about it next Monday, as she shares the album’s pre-order with its title-track. Norman Fucking Rockwell was one of the best albums of 2019, so a follow-up with Jack Antonoff is incredibly exciting.
- Kendrick Lamar’s sudden addition to festival stages in 2020 pointed towards the release of a DAMN. follow-up midway through 2020, but as those festivals were pushed back so too did the album release (by the sounds of things), but the TDE should deliver in 2021.
- SZA made a return at the end of 2020, teaming up with The Neptunes for Hit Different before releasing a second song, Good Days, on Christmas Day. She’s tweeted about a successor to CTRL a couple of times, and between that and Kendrick’s new record, TDE are going to be rolling in it by year-end.
There’s also a few with release dates, too. Arlo Parks’ Collapsed In Sunbeams will relish in her craft with its January 29th arrival; slowthai’s guest-heavy TYRON will enlist A$AP Rocky, Denzel Curry, James Blake and more on February 5th; Django Django and Clap Your Hands And Say Yeah make nostalgia-ridden returns on Feb 12th; Mogwai and SG Lewis on February 19th; Cloud Nothings and Julien Baker on the 26th and so on.
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Saddle up folks, it's going to be a big year - and this is just the tip of the iceburg.