2021 Arts Preview: The Year Ahead in Pop

With the future of live concerts still looking uncertain, 2021 at least promises some intriguing album releases, writes Fiona Shepherd

Kanye West
Kanye West

Never has the gig diary looked so bare, or at least so precarious, as it does for 2021, being populated with live dates rescheduled optimistically from 2020 to the early months of the year because surely we’d be out of the woods by now?

Despite the glad tidings of great vaccines, the live music industry, like so many others, continues to be hobbled by uncertainty. It seems only a matter of time before the forthcoming raft of rescheduled shows are pulled or postponed and, moving further into spring, it remains to be seen what happens to tour dates by The Who, Genesis, Stormzy, Celine Dion, Diana Ross, Little Mix and many more.

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At least Celtic Connections was able to make the fairly confident calculation that it could not happen in its usual vibrant form this winter. So instead of curious punters flitting from venue to venue to sample its global smorgasbord, virtual visitors from around the world will be able to access online performances filmed in venues around the host city of Glasgow every night from 15 January.

Lana Del Rey PIC: Neil Krug

As for in-person performances, the resourceful SWG3 venue in Glasgow has already demonstrated that covered, outdoor, seated, distanced events are possible, if an understandably constrained experience. However, in the current system of pandemic management, these remain the preserve of the lower tiered regions of Scotland, with Kathryn Joseph booked to perform a limited capacity show on 5 February at Stornoway’s An Lanntair arts centre as part of the Hebridean Dark Skies Festival.

With goalposts continually shifting by necessity, summer looks like the new frontier. Key to the resumption of audience shows will be the ability to make the most of the lower risk associated with outdoor events in the (hopefully) more clement months, though what this means for mass gatherings such as TRNSMT, Summer Nights at the Bandstand and Gerry Cinnamon’s rescheduled show at Hampden Park as long as social distancing remains in place is still a conundrum.

In the meantime, there is still plentiful recorded music to feast on, with a number of big album releases delayed from 2020 looking hopeful for this year. First out the traps in January is Drake’s Certified Lover Boy; Kanye West may soon follow on his coattails with Donda: With Child, named after his late mother.

Foo Fighters have set a February date for Medicine at Midnight which has been mooted as their Let’s Dance or Purple Rain “party record”. Guitars included.

Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters PIC: Pic Lisa Ferguson / JPI Media

Shirley Manson has mentioned Roxy Music in her dispatches about a new Garbage album, declaring its preparation as “the only thing keeping us sane” in 2020. Lorde and Sinead O’Connor have also both teased 2021 releases but Adele has warned fans not to hold their breath, despite a mooted release for her fourth album back in September 2020.

Lana Del Rey doesn’t delay – she was working on a follow-up to her brilliant 2019 album Norman F**king Rockwell from its day of release. The planned White Hot Forever has now been rechristened Chemtrails from the Country Club, possibly to include a track called If This Is The End…I Want a Boyfriend – if the music is as good as the titles, Del Rey could have another classic on her hands.

The Killers have also been quick off the mark in following up 2020’s Imploding the Mirage, heading straight back in the studio with hopes of a release in spring.

A number of Scottish big beasts are readying new albums for the spring, from Deacon Blue to Del Amitri, Glasvegas to The Fratellis. Teenage Fanclub deliver Endless Arcade, their first album since the departure of founding member Gerry Love and recruitment of ex-Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci man Euros Childs, in early March.

Shirley Manson of Garbage PIC: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images

A quarter of a century on from their debut single, Mogwai release their tenth album in mid-February. As the Love Continues was recorded with the band in Worcestershire and producer Dave Fridmann on Zoom from the Catskills, and features collaborations with composer Atticus Ross and saxophonist Colin Stetson.

Their buddies Arab Strap produce their first post-reformation album As Days Get Dark on 5 March. “It’s about hopelessness and darkness – but in a fun way,” deadpans frontman Aidan Moffat, whose priapic preoccupations remain undimmed: “there is a song on there about w***ing, but it’s done in a romantic way.”

Hoping to prove that poetry is the new rock’n’roll, former Catatonia frontwoman Cerys Matthews has curated and soundtracked performances by ten British poets on We Come from the Sun, for release in January, while Marianne Faithfull has battled through a bout of Covid which attacked her lungs to finish She Walked In Beauty, reciting her favourite poems of the Romantic era to a soundscape composed by Bad Seed Warren Ellis, plus guests Nick Cave and Brian Eno.

Texas have trailed an album to be released later this year with a new single Hi revisiting their bizarre Brit Awards collaboration of 1998 with Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man – this time round, his bandmates RZA and Ghostface Killah provide the rap. And 2021 may also yield albums long in gestation from The Cure, The Rolling Stones and Kendrick Lamar, who is allegedly sitting on six albums of unreleased material, so let’s hope he’s in a sharing mood.

Sharleen Spiteri of Texas PIC: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire.

As for the longed-for resumption of live concerts, let us hope that fortune favours the autumn outings planned by Blondie, Erasure, OMD, Paloma Faith, Wet Wet Wet and Idlewild, who might finally be able to celebrate their 25th birthday a year late.

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