After the tumultuous, pandemic-enwrapped cacophony that was 2020, musicians had to navigate the ever-changing music industry during the long months of quarantine. Summer 2020 saw some of the best works imaginable: “Chromatica” (2020) from Lady Gaga, the Album of the Year-winning “Folklore” (2020) by Taylor Swift and Phoebe Bridgers’ sophomore LP “Punisher” (2020), just to name a few.
Now with the music scene undoubtedly changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, artists pushed their creative boundaries to find ways to uniquely connect with their audiences. With much of the country and world reopening this summer, musicians faced their next question: What now?
It had been years since any music had been released from some artists, such as Lorde and Bleachers, and with a refreshed mindset and wave of quarantine-production fading in the rearview, the music-scape once again returned to form. With that in mind, and in no particular order, here are some of the best efforts artists put forth this summer.
Lorde’s “Solar Power” (2021)
With her first album since the critically acclaimed “Melodrama” (2017), Lorde dropped one of the best bodies of work 2021 has to offer. Co-produced with the ever-present Jack Antonoff, Lorde strings together a narrative of love, healing and, as the title implies, light. With her most mature record, Lorde takes listeners on a journey to the beach and leaves them contemplating existential questions upon their reflective sojourn.
Halsey’s “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power” (2021)
Released to critical acclaim, Halsey puts together one of the best efforts of their career in their fourth studio album. Surviving the disappointment from the last Grammy’s season after garnering no nominations for their powerful “Manic” (2020), Halsey regrouped since the pandemic, gave birth to their first child and pushed onward with the dignified “If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power.”
Billie Eilish’s “Happier Than Ever” (2021)
Following up your Album of the Year-winning debut studio album can be quite difficult, but Billie Eilish stuck the landing with her sophomore record “Happier Than Ever” this summer. Despite a slew of mediocre-performing singles released between 2020 and the album’s debut, Eilish crafted together a piece of anguish, growth and reconciliation due to the pressures of success and criticism at a young age. She stated that the title track was one of her favorite songs to have written, capturing audiences with its progressive build and mature, thematic concept.
Bleachers’ “Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night” (2021)
With Jack Antonoff at the helm, there’s no going down with the ship. Antonoff takes charge with his act Bleachers’ third studio album “Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night.” Despite his pivotal presence in the production of other artists’ magna opera, when Antonoff sits down to craft his own works, the results are no less than stunning. Bleachers strikes well with a summer album sure to hold over into the melancholic autumn for months to follow.
Clairo’s “Sling” (2021)
Viral sensation Clairo returns with her sophomore take “Sling” this summer in a unique fashion. Whereas most of her prior material fits the indie-pop niche well, Clairo explores broader production styles with Antonoff at her side to craft the next LP in her catalogue. Growing in recognition, Clairo is an artist whose internet hits are well known, but needs love toward her album tracks. With the lineup that “Sling” has, Clairo’s only trajectory is upward.
Doja Cat’s “Planet Her” (2021)
With a smash hit like “Hot Pink” (2019), Doja Cat had the work cut out for her when crafting the follow-up. After releasing her third studio album’s lead single “Kiss Me More” with SZA, it was certain that “Planet Her” would be more than sufficient. A love letter to herself, “Planet Her” oozes with confidence, empowerment and sunshine necessary for the first summer out of quarantine.
Orla Gartland’s “Woman on the Internet” (2021)
Orla Gartland, an Irish singer-songwriter, released her debut studio album this summer to notable praise. Gartland, who is a budding talent in the music industry, stitched together her own record reminiscent of 2000s voices such as Sara Bareilles and Colbie Caillat, all with a modernized production style. Her future is looking bright, and “Woman on the Internet” is the spark necessary for Gartland.
Olivia Rodrigo’s “Sour” (2021)
Undeniably the most anticipated album of 2021, after her debut single “Drivers License” took audiences for a spin, Olivia Rodrigo produced one of the best teenage breakup albums of the century. With an entire album of intense emotion, it’s hard to call any of these tracks deep-cuts since audiences fell in love with the entirety of “Sour.” Rodrigo asserts that she is going to be a long-lasting force in the industry with much to bring to the table.
Lady Gaga’s “Dawn of Chromatica” (2021)
Just when 2020 seemed like a year full of complete disappointment and dismay, Lady Gaga stormed in to revive the spirits of those who missed the clubs and were quarantine-jamming in their kitchens. “Chromatica” (2020) revolutionized dance music heading back into the new, quarantine-escaped world, and there were rumors of a remix album on the horizon. When Gaga decided to drop the remix version this summer, audiences were brought back to those few moments of happiness they experienced during the lockdown.