2021 Was the Year of the Breakup Album, But 2022 Will Be All About…

In 2021, heartbreak reigned supreme (at least in the world of music). It all started only a week into the year, when an artist by the name of Olivia Rodrigo dropped “Driver’s License.” The piano ballad—which spoke of suburban malaise and first flames—had a certain pull that resonated with everyone from Gen Z teens who had never been behind the wheel to millennials who remembered a time before aux cords. It was a winning formula too—the song shot to number one on the charts and shattered Spotify records, making Rodrigo the youngest artist to ever debut atop the chart. And the trend only picked up steam from there.

Along with Rodrigo’s heartache, last year saw the return of beloved stars like Adele and Kacey Musgraves, who publicly sang about their divorces for the first time, releasing short films and Oprah interviews that telecasted their stories to millions. Taylor Swift released a ten-minute version of one of her most acclaimed breakup songs and sent it to number one. Billie Eilish said she was “happier than ever” without her boyfriend and TikTok users turned it into a trend.

However, while the last twelve months have been defined by breakup songs, 2022 will certainly cause a shift in the music industry. It won't necessarily bring the end of tearful tunes and breakup anthems, but these songs are bound to take a new shape. In a world that is desperate to have some fun again (and one that experts claim will be soon be like a new-age Roaring ’20s), prepare yourself for our 2022 prediction: Artists will be crafting songs for our return to the dance floor (even if we don't actually physically make it there quite yet).

As we were heading into our second year of a global pandemic, it made sense that themes of angst and heartache dominated music in 2021. COVID-19 had been (and still is) putting stress on all types of relationships, especially romantic ones. While it was originally reported that the pandemic had caused a decrease in divorce rates, last year saw those numbers skyrocket. And this doesn’t even account for the number of non-married partners that chose to call it quits.

But, if 2021 was the year of the breakup album, why would we predict a shift to more pop/dance music in 2022?

For our first hint about a possible transition in themes, we can look to an album that dropped within the initial few weeks of this year from Super Bowl performer and global hitmaker, the Weeknd. The “Blinding Lights” crooner kicked off 2022 with Dawn FM, an album that offers many of his usual tropes, including heartbreak and self-destruction. But while promoting the album, the Weeknd made an interesting comment when he said the release was about waiting for “the light at the end of the tunnel.”

And this thesis feels true. Akin to his last album, After Hours, the Weeknd takes his usual dark material and converts it into ’80s-style pop. Reviewers like Pitchfork even claim that the album cobbles “bliss out of the chaos.”

If the Weeknd’s retro-filled dance-pop is any indication, 2022 is likely to be a year where artists turn their desolation into pop escapism. That’s not to say these musicians will veer away from heartbreak, but their feelings will likely emerge as dancefloor-ready jams and pulsing tracks to help keep our spirits afloat.

Some of the most anticipated releases of the year already suggest this club-pop pivot. Lizzo—whose cheeky, self-empowerment anthems were inescapable in 2019—kicked off her new era last August with the slick “Rumors,” and will hopefully be bringing us plenty more in 2022. Charli XCX shrugged her shoulders and claimed she always “lets the good ones go” in the recent synthwave smash “Good Ones,” which precedes her upcoming album Crash, due out in March. Even FKA twigs, who just released the mixtape Caprisongs, sings of her “tears in the club” (with none other than the Weeknd), on a bouncy, chant-filled pop song that feels much lighter than its subject material.

Meanwhile, some of the biggest pop albums of the past few years will finally get their live debut in 2022. COVID-willing, Lady Gaga will take her Chromatica Ball across the globe, while Dua Lipa will finally tour for her hit Future Nostalgia album. Rina Sawayama’s highly-acclaimed Sawayama will get the live treatment, while stars like Doja Cat, Megan Thee Stallion and Tinashe will return for major music festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo.

Of course, it’s impossible to fully predict what 2022 will bring—in life or in music. But, if there’s one thing we definitely need, it’s an escape. And the trends are sure to reflect that. Even if it means dancing in our bedrooms or singing karaoke with our friends to YouTube lyric videos, we’re clearly ready to move on from the heartbreak in our headphones to something more electric and alive. 2021 was a year of incredible music, but now we’re looking to save our tears for another day. And we think artists are too.

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Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Joel is the Associate Editor for News & Entertainment and has been reporting on all things pop culture for over 5 years. Before working at PureWow, he served as a Features...