Amid the upheaval of 2020, we looked forward to 2021 as the year that our lives would return to “normal.” But at the end of another topsy-turvy 12 months, 2020 now appears to have been the inaugural year of the new normal.
The immediate future of the music industry – and the live sector, in particular – is hard to predict, but 2021 was still chock-full of high profile releases (from Adele, ABBA, Lorde), new trendsetters (PinkPantheress, Olivia Rodrigo) and industry scandals and tragedies (AstroWorld, disgraced former Sony CEO Denis Handlin).
It was also a generous time for baffling, amusing, and flabbergasting music news. Here are the top ten WTF music news stories of 2021.
Ye (the artist FKA Kanye West) Moves Into a Sports Stadium
Kanye dominated the music news to an often infuriating degree this year. In contrast to previous years, he did at least release a new album in 2021; the much-hyped, much-delayed, ultimately middling, Donda. But before he got there, in July, Kanye (who officially changed his name to Ye) moved into Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The 71,000-capacity sports stadium is the home ground of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and the MLS’ Atlanta United. TMZ broke the news of the stadium’s new resident, citing a source close to Ye as saying “Mr. West will miss his weekend performance at Rolling Loud in Miami because he has literally moved into Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.”
Marilyn Manson Prays With Ye
In February, Marilyn Manson’s ex-fiancé, Evan Rachel Wood, came forward with allegations of abuse and antisemitism against the 52-year-old shock rocker. Several more women have made similar allegations against Manson, including someone known only as “Jane Doe”, who took Manson to court on claims he raped and threatened to kill her.
So how did Kanye respond? By recruiting Manson for Donda’s ‘Jail, Pt. 2’ and inviting him to appear at the record’s pre-release livestream and a follow-up Sunday Service livestream. At the latter event, the famously Satanic Manson – whose second album was called Antichrist Superstar – joined the Christian congregation in prayer and could be seen with a hand on Ye’s shoulder during the prayer.
Nirvana ‘Nevermind’ Baby Sues The Band For Child Sexual Exploitation
2021 marked 30 years since the release of Nirvana’s seminal album, Nevermind. It was also the year that Spencer Elden, the naked baby from the album’s cover art, sued the band for child sexual exploitation.
Surviving Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, as well as Courtney Love and the Estate of Kurt Cobain, are all named in the lawsuit, which seeks damages for “violations of federal criminal child pornography statutes.” Elden claims to have incurred injuries as a result of Nirvana and photographer Kirk Weddle’s “commercial child sexual exploitation” of him.
While the initial response was largely one of bafflement, Elden doubled down a few months later, updating the suit with allegations that Weddle also shot images of him made-up to look like Hugh Hefner and referring to sections of Kurt Cobain’s Journals that “sketch the album cover in a sexual manner, with semen all over it.”
Idris Elba Makes a Record With Lime Cordiale
During an extended stay in Sydney working on the Marvel film, Thor: Love And Thunder, British actor, DJ and heartthrob, Idris Elba, connected with Lime Cordiale to create the mini-album, Cordi Elba. “We invited him into the studio to feature on a track. One track has now turned into many and we’ve got an exciting project in the works,” said Oli Leimbach, one-half of the Sydney indie-pop duo.
The record is due out on Friday, 14th January and showcases Elba’s talents as an MC and lead vocalist. “They encouraged me to put vocals down,” said Elba. “I didn’t expect to be singing. I come from a DJ background, have always rapped, but never considered myself a singer.”
Fans got a preview of the unlikely partnership when Elba joined Lime Cordiale on-stage at the Enmore Theatre in March 2021, adding a rap verse to ‘Unnecessary Things’ from the 2020 album 14 Steps to a Better You (Relapse).
Smash Mouth Singer Exits Band After Drunken Festival Set
Memeable ’90s alt-rock also-rans Smash Mouth were in the news for all the wrong reasons in 2021: footage from the band’s headline set at October’s Big Sip beer festival went viral due to the shambolic behaviour of frontperson, Steve Harwell.
The viral clip shows Harwell slurring his words, threatening and flipping off the audience, and handing the microphone over to sluiced middle-aged punters. At one point, Harwell appears to give a Nazi salute to the crowd.
Suffice to say, it didn’t go over well and Harwell soon handed in his notice to the rest of Smash Mouth, ending a 27 year run as the band’s lead singer.
Machine Gun Kelly Picks A Fight With Slipknot
The year’s dumbest yet most fascinating celebrity beef involved white boy rapper-come-pop-punker, Machine Gun Kelly, and nu-metal stayers, Slipknot. The two acts were playing overlapping sets at Chicago’s Riot Fest when Kelly asked for the house lights to be turned on so he could “see who chose to be here instead of with all the old weird dudes with masks.”
He went on: “Hey, you wanna know what I’m really happy that I’m not doing? Being 50 years old wearing a fucking weird mask on a fucking stage.”
Slipknot’s Corey Taylor was reportedly due to guest on Kelly’s 2020 album, Tickets to My Downfall, but didn’t agree with the requests of Kelly and producer Travis Barker. Taylor then took a thinly-veiled swipe at Kelly on Cutter’s Rockcast in February. “I hate the artist who failed in one genre and decided to go rock,” he said. “And I think he knows who he is, but that’s another story.
Eric Clapton Outs Himself As Anti-Lockdown, Public Health-Sceptic
In 2021, Eric Clapton reminded the world that he is, at heart, a self-centred toff. First, Clapton joined his craggy libertarian bro Van Morrison on the anti-lockdown songs ‘Stand and Deliver’ and ‘The Rebels’. Then, when the UK government announced proof of vaccination would be required to enter nightclubs and music venues, Clapton labelled the new rules “discriminatory”.
“I will not perform on any stage where there is a discriminated audience present,” he said. “Unless there is provision made for all people to attend, I reserve the right to cancel the show.”
Queen’s Brian May joined the chorus of people criticising Clapton’s stance, saying “He’s my hero, but he has very different views from me in many ways. He’s a person who thinks it’s OK to shoot animals for fun, so we have our disagreements, but I would never stop respecting the man.”
Foo Fighters Tell Homophobic Protestors “You Should Be Dancing”
2021 was a year of typical generosity from Foo Fighters’ head honcho Dave Grohl. The band released its 10th album, Medicine At Midnight, in February; in June, they rebranded as The Dee Gees for the disco album, Hail Satin, featuring four Bee Gees covers (‘You Should Be Dancing’, ‘More Than a Woman’, ‘Tragedy’ and ‘Night Fever’) and one Andy Gibb song (‘Shadow Dancing’).
In August, the band assembled on the back of a truck to perform ‘You Should Be Dancing’ for an audience of homophobic, antisemitic, Islamophobic, and anti-trans protestors representing the Westboro Baptist Church.
The protestors surfaced ahead of Foo Fighters’ show at Kansas City’s Azura Ampitheater, but Grohl and co. were ready with a counter-argument: “I love everybody. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?” said Grohl. “You know what you should be doing? You should be dancing.”
Elton John Brings Metallica’s James Hetfield To Tears
Metallica devoted much of 2021 to honouring the 30th anniversary of their mega-selling fifth album, The Black Album. Along with putting out a remastered box-set, the heavy metal titans oversaw a 53-song compilation album, The Metallica Blacklist, featuring covers from Alessia Cara, Rina Sawayama, Phoebe Bridgers, Weezer, St. Vincent and stacks more.
The album includes 12 versions of ‘Nothing Else Matters’, one of which brings together Miley Cyrus, Sir Elton John, Yo-Yo Ma and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith. On the day of its release, Cyrus performed the song with Metallica on the Howard Stern Show, after which Sir Elton joined them via Zoom to share his thoughts.
“This is one of the best songs ever written to me,” he said. “It’s a song that never gets old. [Metallica’s] songs are beautiful songs and this is such a melodic song. It’s fucking great actually.” Metallica frontperson James Hetfield watched on in disbelief, bringing a hand to his face to wipe the tears away.
Fred Armisen, Mark Hamill, Vanessa Bayer Star In Music Video For George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’
There’s nothing tongue in cheek about George Harrison’s devotional solo single ‘My Sweet Lord’, but the song’s official music video —which arrived this year, more than 50 years after the song’s release—is as goofy as they come.
Directed by Lance Bangs and executive produced by Harrison’s son, Dhani, the video stars comedians Fred Armisen and Vanessa Bayer as special agents for the “Bureau of Certification” sent out on assignment by their superior, played by Mark Hamill.
The clip includes cameos from “Weird Al” Yankovic, Natasha Legerro, Tim & Eric, Taika Waititi, Jon Hamm, Patton Oswalt, Reggie Watts, Rosanna Arquette, Angus Sampson and a belligerent Ringo Starr. It’s curiously light on comedy, but certainly not a waste of your time.