Looking Through Time: 2011 Albums
The CommRadio arts & entertainment staff revists some of the best and most influential albums from 2011 in this week's edition of Looking Through Time.
“21” – Adele
It’s hard to talk about pop music in the 2010s without mentioning one of the biggest albums to ever come out.
Adele’s sophomore album, “21,” which turns 10 years old this week, broke numerous records and became one of the best albums of all time.
“21” turned Adele into a global phenomenon, and it has some of the best breakup ballads and kiss-off anthems that still get people everywhere singing their hearts out to every lyric.
From the singer’s first album, “19,” it’s already clear that Adele is on the path of being a powerhouse in the music industry, and she’s very much influenced by Amy Winehouse’s sultry sound and heartbreaking lyrics.
It’s no surprise that “21” would be the album that solidified Adele’s status as a pop titan. Songs like “Rolling in The Deep,” “Someone Like You” and “Set Fire to the Rain” became instant classics with simple but effective productions and Adele’s soulful vocal delivery.
“21” has been on numerous publications’ lists of the greatest albums of all time. It has also been Billboard 200’s longest-charting album by any female artist. The album won seven Grammys, making Adele the first female artist to win all four major categories.
The list goes on, but one thing for sure is that “21” will continue to be an album that people will come back to because of its timelessness. —Jimmy Lu
“Take Care” – Drake
“Take Care” is Toronto rapper Drake’s sophomore studio album released in November 2011. Music critics and fans alike constantly argue over the ranking of his discography, but there is a near-perfect consensus that “Take Care” takes the cake as his greatest record yet.
After Drake hit it big on his 2010 debut “Thank Me Later,” the expectations were high; if he could make a successful follow-up, he would become perhaps the biggest star in music in the new decade.
Fortunately for Drake, he blew everyone’s expectations out of the water with nearly hit after hit throughout the record's 20 tracks. Thanks to high-quality songwriting, awe-inspiring beats, a long list of incredible features and the overall reliability, “Take Care” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
On “Take Care,” Drake raps about his celebrity status, love interests, wealth and relationships between his family and the team behind him. Most of the time, he raps in a very melodic and moody tone but switches it up several times by singing. Drake is so charismatic that it is hard not to immediately start singing along.
It’s difficult to believe that “Headlines,” “Crew Love,” “Take Care” and “Marvin’s Room” go back-to-back-to-back-to-back on the tracklist. “Take Care” is essentially a greatest hits album.
With a backup cast of André 3000, Birdman, Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Rihanna, Tyga and multiple tracks featuring The Weeknd and Lil Wayne, it is impossible to lose.
“Take Care” definitely took care of business. The album is RCAA-certified six times platinum and won Drake his first Grammy for Best Rap Album at the 2013 award show. It made Drake a bigger star than he could ever imagine, and the album as a whole is considered to be one of the best of the decade. —Caelan Chevrier
“Born This Way” – Lady Gaga
An artist who has always toed the line of controversy, Lady Gaga’s second album “Born This Way” was a major flash point in her career.
Attempting to solidify her position as the new “Queen of Pop,” Gaga infused the styles of her inspirations and the sounds of music from all around the globe in order to create the strongest pop release of her career to that point.
Blending in the influence of previous female rock ‘n’ roll legends such as Bonnie Tyler, Pat Benatar and Madonna, Gaga carefully crafted several hit singles, which emulated the sounds of her contemporaries.
The largest hit on the record stemmed from the power anthem “Born This Way.” Accused of attempting to appeal to too many people, Gaga arguably succeeded in creating an inclusive pop track for people of all walks of life. The song jumped to the top of the charts in over 19 countries and was the fastest-selling song in iTunes history at the time.
Receiving major backlash from religious communities, Gaga was accused of religious defamation for the lyrical content of songs like “Judas” and “Bloody Mary.” The mentioning of several religious figures and a focus on sexual empowerment led to Gaga’s album being heavily scrutinized and condemned in certain parts of the world.
Despite the backlash sustained in some countries, Gaga successfully generated a strong following in several foreign countries thanks to her strong push for cultural diversity. For instance, songs such as “Americano” and “Scheiße” possess a distinct Latinx and German flair, respectively, which helped to give the album a wide-ranging appeal outside of America.
Gaga also really pushed her sound to its limits by meshing and clashing different styles and genres up against each other. For instance, the song “Government Hooker'' noticeably blends electro beats and opera: two styles that often do not coincide with one another.
Selling over one million copies in its first week, Gaga’s “Born This Way,” despite its controversy, solidified the artist’s foothold on the pop mainstream and launched her to international stardom. —Scott Perdue
“Watch the Throne” – Kanye West and Jay-Z
By 2011, the rap game had completely reinvented itself from the decade prior. Where the 2000s were dominated by bling and gangster rap, the 2010s were already ushering in a new era of rap music that favored versatility over personality.
This change was ushered in by Kanye West, whose soul-sample-infused “The College Dropout” opened the door for other artists such as Kid Cudi, Drake and The Weeknd, who all had successful releases in and around the time.
“Watch the Throne,” a collaboration between Kanye West and Jay-Z, is a bodacious and maximalist album driven by the two rappers trying to out-flex each other bar after bar.
“Otis” is one of the highlight cuts of the record and remains a favorite among Kanye and Jay-Z fans alike. Built upon a roaring Otis Redding sample, the listener is treated to Jay-Z rapping about all the watches he just purchased while Kanye pulls up in his second Benz to flex all the designer he has.
The energetic “Ni**as in Paris” is elevated by Jay-Z repeating the phrase “ball so hard” throughout almost the entire song. The booming crash near the end of the song also hinted toward the electronic sound Kanye would test on his next release “Yeezus.”
The album isn’t all boasts and brags, though. In “New Day,” we hear Kanye and Jay-Z discuss how they plan to raise their sons, while the Grammy-winning “No Church in the Wild” is a subdued opener that features a discussion of the formation of a new religion.
On top of being one of the best collaborative rap albums of all time, “Watch the Throne” allowed for Kanye to indulge in the flexing and consumerism that his counterparts enjoyed the previous decade. The flexes are monstrous. The beats are booming. What more is there to say? —Paul Martin
Jimmy (Chien-Hsing) Lu is a senior majoring in telecommunications. To contact him, email email@example.com.
Caelan Chevrier is a freshman majoring in journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scott Perdue is a senior majoring in secondary education. To contact him, email email@example.com.
Paul Martin is a junior majoring in telecommunications. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Contributors
Senior / Secondary Education
Scott Perdue is a student studying secondary education at Penn State University. He is passionate about voice and conversation mediums. He believes that music and film are an important form of communication and enjoys constructively criticizing an artist’s work.
Jimmy (Chien-Hsing) Lu
Senior / Telecommunications
Second Year / Journalism