2021’s biggest and best music: Queer bops, cultural resets and everything in between

As 2021 comes to a close, we take a look back at some of the best music that's been released over the last year.

It hasn’t always been an easy year, but in the most difficult moments, music has been there to keep us afloat.

The coronavirus pandemic has continued to rage across the world, but in the midst of that, music has continued to bring us comfort. Over the last 12 months, the world has united behind Lil Nas X, while Taylor Swift continued to re-release her old albums so she can own the songs she wrote.

It’s been a big year for queer artists, but we’ve also seen some of our favourite icons releasing long-awaited albums and deliver a comeback for the ages.

To mark the end of the year and the start of a new one, we look back on some of the biggest and best moments in music over the last 12 months.

1. Lil Nas X – Montero

The cover for Montero, which launches on 17 September

The album artwork for Lil Nas X’s Montero.

It’s been quite the journey from “Old Town Road” to “bottoming for Satan”, and frankly, it’s been a joy to behold. Having made a splash in 2019, and coming out as queer in 2020, 2021 was the year Lil Nas X shrugged off the one-hit-wonder label with astonishing determination. Unfathomably horny and aggressively pushing the queer agenda at every chance he got, he didn’t just dominate the zeitgeist – he left it lying in the wet patch, smoking a cigarette and pleading for more. Most importantly, the music stacked up too: Montero was packed with clever hooks, vulnerable moments and songs crying out for the dancefloor. Lil Nas X left the homophobes and the big pop girls shaking – long may he reign. – Reiss Smith

2. Ladyhawke – Time Flies


Ladyhawke. (Lula Cucchiara)

Speaking to PinkNews ahead of the release of her fourth studio album Time Flies, Ladyhawke revealed that she was told to keep her sexuality a secret by music industry figures over a decade ago when her career was taking off in the UK.

Thankfully, those outdated and offensive attitudes are nowhere to be seen on Time Flies. The album is replete with all of the indie disco influences fans have come to know and love, but it also feels like a step forward for Ladyhawke.

Perhaps the highlight is “Guilty Love”, a song she recorded with Broods which touches on the internalised shame that develops when you grow up Catholic and queer. – Patrick Kelleher

3. Kim Petras – “Coconuts”

Kim Petras performs on stage during the 2021 MTV EMAs

Kim Petras performs on stage during the 2021 MTV EMAs on 14 November, 2021 in Budapest, Hungary. (Getty/ BSR Agency/ Sven Hoogerhuis)

Kim Petras’ career went from strength to strength in 2021. We got glittering, synth-drive singles like “Coconuts” (spoiler alert: it’s not really about coconuts) and “Future Starts Now”, proving that Kim is well and truly here to stay.

Perhaps Kim’s biggest moment came when she performed at the MTV EMAs in November, making her the first trans artist to ever perform at the awards. The ceremony was held in Hungary just months after the country brought in a law that equates homosexuality with paedophilia, making Kim’s performance all the more significant.

She also made waves when she performed at the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) in September, making her the first trans artist to do so. – Patrick Kelleher

4. Taylor Swift – Red (Taylor’s Version)

Taylor Swift sitting in a car in a promotional image for Red (Taylor's Version)

Taylor Swift has finally given the world the 10-minute version of All Too Well. (Twitter)

Red has been held aloft by Taylor Swift fans for years as her best album – it’s also home to one of her best songs, “All Too Well”, which legend has it is about her tumultuous relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal.

Somehow, the album hits even harder all these years later – and it’s made even better by the addition of a number of tracks that were written in the Red sessions but didn’t make the cut on the original record. The standout is, without doubt, the unabridged 10-minute version of “All Too Well”. It left gays everywhere reeling, and brought global anger with Jake Gyllenhaal to a new level. – Patrick Kelleher 

5. Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams

Arlo Parks giving a speech after winning the 2021 Mercury Prize

Arlo Parks gives a speech after winning the Mercury Prize. (Jo Hale/Redferns)

Arlo Parks’ debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams was a much-needed tonic for many of us during lockdown in early 2021.

The emotionally-charged LP sees her explore mental health through vulnerable lyrics on standout tracks like “Black Dog” and “Hurt” and earned her huge recognition, winning the Mercury Music Prize – which was truly deserved. And if you get the chance, make sure you catch her on tour because the songs are even more elevated and stunning in an intimate live setting. – Jonny Yates 

6. Years & Years and Kylie Minogue

Kylie Minogue and Olly Alexander in the music video for A Second to Midnight

Kylie Minogue and Olly Alexander in the music video for A Second to Midnight. (YouTube)

Olly Alexander released some bops from his forthcoming studio album Night Call throughout 2021, but it was his collaboration with the queen, the legend, the icon that is Kylie Minogue that really stood out.

The pair got together for “A Second To Midnight”, a track from Kylie’s Disco re-release, and it’s truly something to behold. It’s a joyous, disco infused pop track that feels like it made specifically for the gays.

Olly and Kylie elevated the song further with an instantly iconic music video, which saw them trading looks. Keen Kylie stans were also quick to notice some visual allusions to some of her past eras. – Patrick Kelleher

7. Adele – 30

Adele on the album artwork for 30.

Adele on the album artwork for 30.

There’s a reason why the world seems to stand still every few years when Adele blesses us with a new album. Her earth-shattering voice and her incisive lyrics about heartbreak transcend boundaries and speak to everyone.

That’s why 30 felt like such a moment. Who can’t help but cry listening to “My Little Love”, where Adele can be heard talking to her son Angelo about her “big feelings”? Then there’s the vocal prowess on display on “To Be Loved” to contend with.

Above all else, 30 felt like an exciting progression for Adele. Yes, the songs are still about heartbreak, but she also proved she’s always growing as a songwriter. – Patrick Kelleher

8. serpentwithfeet- DEACON

The album artwork for Deacon by Serpentwithfeet.

The album artwork for DEACON by serpentwithfeet.

DEACON flew under the radar somewhat when it was released back in March. The second full-length effort from R&B-gospel-pop act serpentwithfeet, it was a glorious celebration of gay, Black love, taking cues from the greats – Janet Jackson and Brandy – as well as contemporaries (and collaborators) like Sampha and NAO. Joyful, warm and expansive, it was the perfect album for lonely lockdowns and beyond. – Reiss Smith