2021: the biggest headlines in Canadian music
2021 was the year that felt like it lasted a decade, with plenty of highs and lows along the way.
From the return of live music, sort of, to the Canadian artists who continued to smash records and represent on the international stage, these are the year's biggest headlines in Canadian music.
What's old is new
If there's one thing that TikTok has taught us, it's that what is old can be new again. Although no one could have predicted the return of a trend that was first popular in the 1800s.
That's right — sea shanties. You couldn't swing a cat without hitting someone singing a sea shanty, or another cat for that matter.
Thanks to TikTok, and perhaps a little lockdown fever, people rediscovered the communal power of the sea shanty.
Even the late Canadian legend Stan Rogers was swept up in the shanty wave, with his 1976 song "Barrett's Privateers" seeing a 250% increase in streams thanks to the trend.
Avril's back and angsty as ever
TikTok also saw the return of the Princess of Pop Punk. That's right, Avril Lavigne posted her first TikTok, and used it to commemorate her 2002 hit song "Sk8rboi" with none other than sk8r dad Tony Hawk.
But we would learn this was just the beginning, as Lavigne followed that up with a new single. Called "Bite Me," the song harkens back to her pop punk roots, complete with Blink 182's Travis Barker punishing the drums in the background. From the hair to the jacket to the angst, it's like we're living our teenage years all over again.
Bieber collaborating with everyone
In 2021, our boy Justin Bieber continued to break records and break bread and, well, doughnuts — but more on that below.
That's right, in March, Bieber's eighth album, Justice, led the artist to break a record set by Elvis Presley 59 years ago. With the strength of world-dominating songs like "Peaches," featuring Giveon and Daniel Caesar — a song so good that we named it the No. 1 Canadian song of the year — Bieber became the youngest musician to earn eight No. 1 albums on the Billboard chart.
"Music history was made," Elvis Presley's estate tweeted. "What does the King of Rock 'n' Roll have in common with the 21st century King of Pop? Congratulations on setting a new record @justinbieber."
And what better way to celebrate such an accolade than to design your own doughnuts.
JB teamed up with Tim Hortons to create a line of TimBits, or TimBiebs, which had the internet all shook up.
The Weeknd breaking records
The Weeknd also continued to dominate everything music this year. Well, almost everything.
The Grammys kicked off the year by completely snubbing the Weeknd, failing to give the singer or his record breaking song "Blinding Lights" a single nomination.
That didn't slow Abel Tesfaye down though. In February, he became the first Canadian to play the Super Bowl halftime show solo. His performance of "Blinding Lights" was as mesmerizing, impressive and meme-inducing as we've come to expect from the Toronto singer. But if that wasn't enough, by March, "Blinding Lights" had spent a full 12 months in the Billboard Top 10. This led Billboard to name "Blinding Lights" the No. 1 song of all time.
The Juno Awards
The Juno Awards were held in June, and the Weeknd became the first person to sweep the awards for artist, album, single and songwriter of the year — twice. He did it the first time in 2016, then again this year.
Of course, he wasn't the only artist to shine brightly at the Junos, which celebrated the 30th anniversary of the rap recording of the year category with an action-packed tribute featuring Michie Mee, Maestro Fresh Wes, as well as Kardinal Offishall and Jully Black performing the classic club hit "Ol Time Killin'."
Jessie Reyez also turned in a spellbinding performance with her flawless medley of "Do You Love Her" and "Before Love Came to Kill Us."
Reyez's star was only seeming to get brighter as she was set to open for Billie Eilish on a sold-out world tour, which was unfortunately pushed back to 2022 due to COVID.
Return of live music
But not all live music was cancelled, and if 2021 taught concert organizers anything, it was how to work under new COVID restrictions. In the summer and fall, concerts returned both to the small stage and the big festival set, with events such as Montreal's Osheaga adjusting to the new norms in order to make sure the show would still go on.
Drake's certified hit
Drake finally released his highly anticipated sixth studio album, Certified Lover Boy, which he'd been teasing to fans since 2019. The first single, "Way 2 Sexy," also featured a very choice sample of a 1991 song by U.K. duo Right Said Fred, complete with a music video that you can't unsee. Even Kawhi Leonard didn't know how he got there.
Whether you love it or hate it, the song is a certified hit, landing at No. 1 on the Billboard charts when it was released in September. Eight other songs from Certified Lover Boy also occupied the Top 10 that week, making Drake the first artist to have nine Top 10 hits at the same time.
Prairies love at the Polaris Prize
Edmonton rapper Cadence Weapon won the prestigious Polaris Music Prize for Parallel World, an exploratory and moody rap album that uses references to Black experiences, histories and archives, which you can hear on songs like "Eye to Eye," which deals with racial profiling.
In his acceptance speech, he also said he would use some of the prize money to affect positive change in his community by organizing voter registration events around the Toronto and provincial elections, but ended on a different kind of regional love.
"The real heads are gonna know what I mean when I say this," he said. "The Prairies got something to say!"
Bruce Liu's prodigious piano performance
Canadians also came out on top in the classical world, particularly 24-year-old Bruce Liu from Montreal, who won first prize at the 18th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, arguably the most prestigious piano competition in the world.
His inspired playing earned him a standing ovation, and you can see why. How about a round of applause for the Canadians crushing it in 2021.