2020...for obvious reasons...was slow in terms of TV shows and particularly movies, but 2021 was the year it all came roaring back. The State News Culture Desk has tirelessly watched countless movies, listened to thousands of newly released songs all to curate a year-end list with our top recommendations for entertainment in 2021.
“WYD Now?” by Sadie Jean
I feel like 2021 was a year of many up-and-coming artists beginning to get their hold on the music industry. With social media being as prevalent to society as it is, many of these artists are getting their start on platforms like TikTok, such as Sadie Jean. When she came out with a short clip of this relatable and extremely catchy song, TikTok users were counting down the days until she released the full version, which she finally did just last week. It’s definitely been on repeat since.
“Happier Than Ever” by Billie Eilish
This one is just a given, to be honest. It was everyone’s jam for at least a solid week back in the summer. The 2 minute and 20 seconds mark is really where the song starts though; it’s where all the built-up anger and emotion breaks through and produces a lyrical and vocal masterpiece.
"good 4 u" by Olivia Rodrigo
In my opinion, this is the best song of the three singles released and also one of my favorites on the album. This is only one of two songs on the album that have a punk-rock feel to it, which is something I really enjoyed listening to and added something different to the album.
"STAY (with Justin Bieber)" by The Kid LAROI
This is one of the many songs that blew up on TikTok, and for good reason. While the lyrics themselves are kind of a red flag, the overall song is really catchy and fun to listen to.
"Renegade (feat. Taylor Swift)" by Big Red Machine
While Taylor is only featured, she is the main focus of the song, making the song twenty times better and much more soulful with her voice as a storyteller. The lyrics are not only beautifully written by this singer-songwriter-focused group but are also produced with perfect harmonies.
"SCOOP (feat. Doja Cat)" by Lil Nas X
This song makes me walk faster to class and immediately gives me the confidence to get my life together. Doja’s verse should be illegal because it is simply too hype.
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When this song originally came out it was definitely on repeat for a while. It was one that was very different from Lorde’s typical sad songs but perfect for the summer.
"INDUSTRY BABY (feat. Jack Harlow)" by Lil Nas X
I think we can all agree that Lil Nas X was a big name throughout 2021. This hit featuring Jack Harlow is one that I still request at every party.
"Skate" by Anderson .Paak, Bruno Mars, and Silk Sonic
From easily the biggest duo of the year, Skate stands out on “An Evening with Silk Sonic” for the great song.
"Too Good" by Arlo Parks
I honestly only heard this song last week, but it instantly became a favorite. Arlo Parks’ silky voice on this track provides a kind of funky and upbeat song about a seemingly depressing topic of love.
"30" by Adele
In all honesty, I have never been much of an Adele girl; I’ve never had anything against the artist, but I never felt as though her music was my cup of tea. Her new album “30” changed that for me. It is complex. It is emotional. It is moving. It is everything someone doing some soul searching needs.
"Seventeen Going Under" by Sam Fender
Recognize the gut-wrenching line “I was far too scared to hit him, but I would hit him in a heartbeat now?” Sam Fender is the one who sings it in his second album, “Seventeen Going Under.” Fender explained that he used writing songs as his therapy before getting therapy, and it allowed him to dig through his childhood and adolescence to produce this 16 track work of art.
"Future Nostalgia (The Moonlight Edition)" by Dua Lipa
While I love the original album, which was released in 2020, this deluxe edition definitely made it better. Included in the album is one of my personal favorites “If It Ain’t Me” and the very popular "Levitating (feat. DaBaby)."
"Planet Her" by Doja Cat
Doja Cat definitely knows what she is doing with her third album. Every song is really good and none of the featured artists feel out of place. Although, despite her talent, I do think TikTok helped this album become really popular, considering it was through TikTok that I discovered her.
"TWOPOINTFIVE" by Aminé
This is a no skip album with every single song encapsulating everything good about the rap industry. Amine is both an insightful poet and comedian with every line he writes on this album.
"Red (Taylor's Version)" by Taylor Swift
We couldn't have a list of this year's best without including Taylor Swift. Swift most recently rerecorded her album Red and had even MSU fans feeling emotional. The album featured 30 songs including nine new ones, the most anticipated one being the ten-minute version of "All Too Well" which was brilliant.
"SOUR" by Olivia Rodrigo
This album took the world by storm, topping charts within days of it coming out. Rodrigo captures, teenage angst, sadness, acceptance and more within one short 34 minute and 46 second album.
"CTV3: Day Tripper's Edition" by Jaden Smith
Although not as popular of an album as others on this list, an expansion of "CTV3: Cool Tape Vol. 3," this version does a great job of incorporating new and old songs. Featuring Justin Bieber, Joey Badass, ¿Téo? and Babe Rainbow this album showcases Jaden’s great vocals in an emotional 19 songs and is worth a listen.
"MONTERO" (Call Me By Your Name) by Lil Nas X
With two Lil Nas X songs already on this list, it's no surprise that this album is on here as well. Talk about a no-skip album. Each record delivers a signature Lil Nas X slight meme attitude and also hard-hitting lyrics.
"Long Lost" by Lord Huron
A concept album for the ages, despite the weird intros and outros for some of the songs. Lord Huron strikes once again with their angelic vocals and Hozier-like lyrics.
"You" Season 3
Netflix’s “You” has never been a show to disappoint, and season three most definitely went above and beyond with that. For many thriller series, it is easy to get lost in the plot twists, but “You” season three does a phenomenal job of connecting each and every story point to one another and wraps it all up in a pretty little bow.
This real and raw Netflix series showcases the reality of leaving an emotionally abusive home, which is something that is really needed in today’s day and age. With Margaret Qualley’s stellar acting, viewers are sure to be as invested in the protagonist Alex’s journey as she is.
With its really good critique on capitalism, this became Netflix’s most popular series, and one of my favorite Netflix shows. It is really graphic and gory so it might not be for everyone, but if that's something that doesn't bother you, then I would definitely recommend watching it.
This show is definitely one of my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU, TV shows so far. I loved that it introduced the concept of the multiverse and variants to the MCU, allowing this franchise to do a bunch of new and exciting things. While there were certain parts I didn’t like, Loki and Sylvie’s relationship, for example, I still thought it was a really good story.
One season to get you hooked and present a whole mystery with no need for cliffhangers. The storyline is interwoven through different timelines and keeps you engaged the whole time, making it the perfect binge-watch.
"Ginny and Georgia"
This show has everything: scandal, teen romance, and lots of drama with twists and turns throughout the season. It also follows the story of a family, making it heartfelt even in times of debilitating dramatics.
"Gossip Girl" (2021)
Although this show started out a little slow, the second part of Season 1 was everything and more. Definitely different than the original, the HBO Max version tackles consent, LGBTQ+, mental health and more.
"And Just Like That"
Even though it just started airing, this revival of Sex and the City was highly anticipated. Including a lot of drama and sadness in the first two episodes, I can’t wait to watch the rest of Carrie Bradshaw’s adventures with her friends in their 50s.
This is a show that is still coming out and will not finish until after the start of the new year, but if you loved Teen Titans growing up, this show provides essentially the same team but develops them and the rest of the DC roster of characters far better than TT ever could. It is the best representation of the DC Universe, outside of the comics.
"I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson" Season 2
This show probably will not appeal to you if you are not a fan of cringe comedy. However, if you are, ITYSL provides great moments that maybe seem a little childish but ultimately you laugh at it anyways.
"F9: The Fast Saga"
Family was my personal biggest theme of 2021, and what movie franchise does a better job at depicting the bond between family and friends (who, let’s face it, can be more like family than our real folks at times) than Fast and Furious. The ninth film in this series was no exception, with its twists and turns and 24/7 action.
This film was definitely one of the most anticipated ones of the year, and it did not disappoint. Starring Timothée Chalamet, it is an experience that moves through dimensional confines of space and matter. The audial and visual effects are out of this world (pun intended), and the theme of family love provides some relatability to average viewers–you know, the ones without powers and all that.
"Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings"
This movie is already at the top five of MCU movies for me and it's definitely my favorite solo/introduction MCU movie so far. Every time I rewatch it (which has been 3 times so far), I have just as much fun as the first time around. The action is some of the best I have ever seen, all the actors do an amazing job and the story overall is just really well written.
Released in June, this was Pixar’s only movie for 2021. With every Pixar movie I watch, I expect it to have great writing and messages and this movie did not disappoint. It was a really cute movie about friendship, identity and acceptance.
This was my favorite piece of art created this year by the long-time comedian Bo Burnham, taking us through his last year through a theatrical, comedic, yet deeply emotional special where he shares his deepest thoughts on the internet, cancel, and pop culture. This left me speechless for months, yet I’m still not done talking about it.
This musical is just one large inside joke and ode to every theater kid, but also a story about a tortured genius and creating a vision when no one else has one. After the death of Sondheim, this musical means so much when telling the story of Jonathan Larson, another late genius in musical theater.
"Spider-Man: No Way Home"
Although it just recently came in theaters, this movie is already one of the most talked-about films of 2021. The movie is a culmination of three series of Spider-Man movies, bringing new endings to a variety of old villains and heroes while opening Tom Holland’s Peter Parker to a new and humble beginning.
"West Side Story"
This movie flew pretty under the radar with not a ton of publicity or announcements. However, it is definitely one that needs to be talked about more. With a 92% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, this adaptation of the original 1957 Broadway musical is the first musical directed by Steven Spielberg. It is a refreshing new take from the original and is a must-watch.
"Judas and The Black Messiah"
I was very excited when I saw the trailer for this movie and it did not disappoint. This movie addresses the strengths and the shortcomings of the Black Panther Party, a group maligned by history and the FBI as domestic terrorists while telling the tragic, yet impactful story of Chairman Fred Hampton.
"Don't Look Up"
I was not really looking forward to this movie, but I put it on one night and was pleasantly surprised. I think it does a good job portraying the way businesses and businesspeople take hold of politics, and shape public opinion against science and research (i.e. the scene between Kate and her parents– “We’re for the jobs that the comet would create”)
While it is important to recognize all of the great work that came out of 2021, we also wrote a list of the not-so-great entertainment from this year which you should check out!
As 2022 approaches, we're excited for another year filled with beautiful work and amazing accomplishments.
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