2021: Year in Review


2021 was… interesting, to say the least. Of course, it had its ups and downs, as does any year. Regardless, the social landscape experienced some major milestones over the past year. Let’s take a look at our year in review, pop culture style. 

January – Let’s hit the road! 

The release of “Driver’s License” by seventeen year old Olivia Rodrigo conquered the music landscape in January 2021. The debut single was a simultaneous hit and heartbreaker, and dominated TikTok, Spotify, and the radio. With over 1.1 billion streams on Spotify, it was the most streamed song of 2021. It’s even been nominated for several 2022 Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance.  

February – #FreeBritney 

The fan-led movement to eradicate 2000s pop star Britney Spears’s conservatorship sparked in February 2021. In 2008, Spears was declared to be unable to hold her own counsel, and ever since, her father, Jamie Spears, has had complete control over her legal rights. In 2021, fans and Internet users noticed suspicious activity related to Britney’s social media platforms, and started to protest the conservatorship. Finally, in November 2021, the fourteen year conservatorship was terminated in court. The proceedings in whole brought more attention to disability rights and conservatorship reform across the nation.  

March – 1, 2, 3, 4… Seuss Doesn’t Support Racism Anymore

“One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish,” “The Lorax,” “Green Eggs and Ham”…. These are all instantly recognizable stories. Filled with colorful, goofy illustrations and rhymes galore, Dr. Seuss has long since been a staple of American childhood culture. However, though Dr. Seuss books seem harmless, author Dr. Seuss, aka Theodore Geisel, also published extremely racist content that negatively portrayed Black and Asian caricatures. In March 2021, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced that they will stop publishing six Seuss books with racist content and imagery, including “If I Ran the Zoo,” and “On Beyond Zebra!” 

April – Climbing the Cover of Vogue 

Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in American history, was featured on the April 2021 cover of Vogue magazine. Titled “The Hill We Climb,” her original poem was dedicated to the theme of “America United.” The piece was an emotional recitation, an inspirational message that encouraged Americans to overcome their prejudices and unite for a better future. Gorman was invited to star on the cover of Vogue magazine, and the feature piece honored her immense, moving contributions to American culture. 

May – Sweet, spicy, or…. sour? 

Ms. Olivia Rodrigo is back, with her debut album “Sour” releasing in May 2021. After the success of her single driver’s license, fans were eager to get their hands on the full album, and it did not disappoint. It quickly became Spotify’s most streamed album, with a total of 2.69 billion streams. The album even broke the worldwide Spotify record for the biggest opening week for an album by a female artist. Rodrigo recently announced her first album tour for Sour, to start in April 2022. 

June – Piragua! Piragua! 

Created by Jon M. Chu and Lin Manuel-Miranda, the movie adaptation of the musical “In the Heights” took to theaters in June 2021. Starring Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barrera among the lead roles, the movie was an energetic masterpiece that converted the excitement of Broadway musicals to the big screen. As a joyous celebration of Latin culture and heritage, the movie was an instant success, with an opening weekend box office of 11.5 million. 

July – Tokyo Takeover 

Postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Summer Olympics finally hit Tokyo arenas in July of 2020. The United States athletes took home a stunning 113 medals in total, with 39 golds. Standout performances include Caleb Dressel’s stunning swimming, as he took home five gold medals, and newcomer gymnast Suni Lee’s victory as the all-around women’s champion. As always, gymnast Simone Biles brought her best to the Olympics this year, despite stepping down for health reasons. Biles opened a much-needed conversation regarding the mental health of athletes this year at the games, and hopefully, it’s one that will continue at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. 

August – Dragons, Awkwafina,  and Abs 

Marvel finally stepped up to the plate in terms of Asian diversity with the release of “Shang-Chi: The Legend of the Ten Rings.” Packed with an all-Asian cast and first Asian Marvel superhero, played by Simu Liu, the movie was well received worldwide. The film has been praised for its dramatic action sequences, as well as its exploration of Asian culture. Marvel has long since been criticized for its lack of racial diversity in its movies, but the release of Shang-Chi is the first step in the direction towards inclusivity. Check out Isha’s review on Shang-Chi here

September – Red Light, Green Light… Go, Squid Game, Go!  

2021 was a huge year for Asian representation in media. Squid Game was an instant hit in the United States, defying expectations that foreign television would never succeed in an American audience. 1.65 billion hours of Squid Game were viewed within the first week of its release, and was awarded the most watched show of 2021. The show has since been renewed for a highly anticipated second season. 

October – Go easy on us, Adele! 

Adele returned to the spotlight in October 2021 with her first album in nearly five years. Titled “30,” the album is full of gut-wrenching and poignant lyrics. “30”  is centered around Adele’s experiences with divorce, motherhood, heartbreak, and hope. As the best-selling album of 2021, it allowed Adele to shine in a dramatic comeback. 

November – Sad Girl Autumn (Taylor’s Version) 

Pop legend Taylor Swift also brought her own contributions to the music landscape in November 2021. She released a re-recorded album, titled “Red (Taylor’s Version),” jam-packed with nostalgic favorites like “22,” hidden vault tracks like “Run” featuring Ed Sheeran, and the highly-anticipated ten-minute version of “All Too Well,” which even came with its own short film, starring Sadie Sink and Dylan O’Brian. Following the controversy involving the sale of Swift’s masters to music tycoon Scooter Braun, Swift has endeavored to rerecord and release all her albums again, in order to own the complete rights to her own music. Her pursuit has been strongly supported by all her fans, a fact that’s supported by the immense success of all her albums. One of her tracks, “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” has even become the longest song in history to top the Billboard 100. 

December – Spidey Cubed

Now, the best for last. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the final installment of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man trilogy. Fans were eager to get their eyes on this movie, and it quickly became the highest grossing movie of 2021, and has grossed over 1.6 billion worldwide, smashing through the record for highest-grossing film released by Sony. To read more thoughts about “No Way Home,” check out Shiva’s article here

And…. that’s a wrap on 2021! The past year was overflowing with pop culture milestones, and we can’t wait to see what 2022 will bring.