Adele, Ed Sheeran, Abba, Lana Del Rey and Drake all found success in 2021 by delivering more of the same – a result of how our chaotic lives, on and offline, are informing our taste

The biggest album launch of 2021 began with a social media statement tacitly assuring fans that nothing had changed. Adele was once more in a state of heartbreak – “a maze of absolute mess and inner turmoil … consumed by my own grief” – and that the contents of her album 30 would reflect that, as mired in romantic misery as its predecessors, 25 and 21. It was the musical equivalent, she said, of a friend who comes over “with a bottle of wine and a takeaway” to discuss the disastrous state of your love life.

The second-biggest album launch of 2021 was preceded by its creators proudly announcing they had written it “absolutely trend-blind”. Abba had traversed a considerable musical distance over the course of their original career, buffeted by the shifting musical trends of the 70s and early 80s – from the clompy Europop of their debut album to the sophisticated, chilly electronics of The Visitors, by way of glam and sleek disco – but Voyage would offer them preserved in amber, exactly as they were in the late 70s, unspoiled by any musical trends from the 40 years since their split.

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