Massive albums by massive artists
… From Drake (due late December) to Foo Fighters (5 February). We may also hear from Adele, Rihanna, Frank Ocean, Cardi B and Kanye West. Plus Beyoncé, that shock album-drop pioneer might join the party, too.
The return of getting lost in a field?
Dig out the sensible footwear: festivals are set to slowly return. End of the Road, Reading & Leeds, Wireless and Download have all announced lineups, and there’s hope for Glastonbury. Others may join them if things improve.
Out with the old …
If 2020 saw us cling to nostalgia, 2021 could see an upswell in breakthroughs, from the atmospherics of rapper Pa Salieu to the pop highs of Griff and Gracey, via the fluorescent hip-hop of Bree Runway. If galloping indie is more your bag there’s Holly Humberstone, while Remi Wolf’s oddball disco offers escapism.
Last year was full of frustration, with its bangers – Romy’s Lifetime, Dua Lipa’s Physical, Róisín Murphy’s We Got Together – wasted on cordoned-off dancefloors. So, 2021 could well see the uncorking of a year’s worth of euphoria, with a raft of new songs aimed at making us forget the past 12 months. MC
Summer nights at the opera
The country-house operas already have seasons in place. Glyndebourne (nr Lewes, 20 May to 29 August) kicks things off with six productions, three of which – including Kát’a Kabanová – are brand new. Garsington, Longborough and The Grange follow. AC
An A-list jazz quartet
Saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Brad Mehldau, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade’s 1994 debut was all too brief – because they were all on the verge of their own starry careers. This year they reunite (Barbican, EC2, 11 July) with their compelling RoundAgain album. JF
Brilliant black history
The black cinema renaissance continues. This month sees Regina King’s One Night in Miami (15 January, Amazon Prime Video), bringing together Cassius Clay, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown, and new doc MLK/FBI (15 January). The theme continues through Lee Daniels’ The United States vs Billie Holiday (12 March), and Judas and the Black Messiah with Daniel Kaluuya as Black Panthers chairman Fred Hampton.
Making a song and dance of it
Stage-tested musicals are coming to a screen near you, including drag-teen smash Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (26 February), Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pre-Hamilton In the Heights (30 July) and Spielberg’s West Side Story (10 December). Miranda also scores the animated Vivo (about a music-loving monkey), while Camila Cabello is a singing Cinderella (5 February), and biopic subjects include Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley.
Super new superheroes
Over the Avengers? Don’t worry: this year promises a cornucopia of fresh comic-book characters to perk up the genre. A new phase of Marvel movies brings kung-fu master Shang-Chi (9 July) and the godlike Eternals (including Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Richard Madden and Kumail Nanjani (5 November). DC has The Suicide Squad (6 August), with Margot Robbie, Idris Elba and Peter Capaldi, and there is Jared Leto’s antihero Morbius (19 March).
Do call it a comeback
We’ve had so many undercooked revivals in recent years, but we refuse to learn. Don’t pretend you’re not excited to see familiar faces such as Keanu Reeves’s Neo, back for a fourth Matrix instalment (22 December). Or 80s survivors such as Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick (2 July) and Eddie Murphy’s Coming 2 America (5 March), or even the goofball Space Jam: A New Legacy (16 July), with LeBron James this time. Also back are the high priests of refusing to grow up: the Jackass crew.
Just going to the cinema
We’ve done the experiment, and can conclude that horrors are scarier, comedies funnier, dramas more dramatic, and movies just better when we’re experiencing them together on a big screen. We’ll be so happy when cinemas properly reopen, even the things that used to annoy us will be gratefully received: aren’t these lava-coated nachos delicious? Feel free to take the arm rest! Forgot to turn off your phone? That’s fine! SR
Art festivals are set to make a comeback
There is real urgency to the cutting-edge arts festivals this year. Set to reignite creative vim in recently emptied urban centres far beyond London are the five-yearly state-of-the-nation survey The British Art Show (6 March to 4 September), visiting Wolverhampton, Plymouth, Aberdeen and Manchester; the Liverpool Biennial (20 March to 6 June); and Glasgow International (11 to 27 June).
This year’s hottest tickets include the father of modern sculpture Auguste Rodin’s works in plaster, which give free rein to his experimental impulses (Tate Modern, SE1, 29 April to 31 October); a major retrospective of Paula Rego’s satirical paintings tackling hard-hitting subjects from fascism to abortion (Tate Britain, SW1, 16 June to 24 October); and Albrecht Dürer’s work, traced through his travels in Europe (The National Gallery, WC1, 6 March to 13 June).
Art responds to Black Lives Matter
Increasingly diverse programming includes Black Arts Movement leading light Lubaina Himid’s witty theatrical tableaux (Tate Modern, SE1, 25 November to 22 May 2022) and Michael Armitage’s subversive east African dreamscapes (Royal Academy of Arts, W1, 13 March to 6 June). The surrealist photographer Eileen Agar (Whitechapel Gallery, E1, 10 February to 23 May) and abstract painter Sophie Taeuber-Arp (Tate Modern, SE1, 15 July to 17 October) are the latest undersung women getting their dues in the reappraised pantheon.
Creativity on south-east shores
Estuary 2021 (22 May to 13 June) will see artists mining the overlooked industrial sites, nature reserves and landmarks that dot the Thames as it winds through Essex and north Kent. Meanwhile, for Creative Coast, south-east art spaces have worked together to devise site-specific works on watersides from Gravesend to Eastbourne (from 14 May).
All shall have top prizes
Recent iterations of the UK’s big art prizes – the international Artes Mundi (various venues, Cardiff, 13 February to 6 June) and the UK-focused Turner prize (Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry, 29 September to 12 January 2022) have been turned on their heads. Winners have either shared the prize money with other contenders, or the judges awarded everyone. With solidarity upstaging competition, expect more reinvention of the format this year. SS
Romeos and Juliets
It is a year of sweet sorrow with three bold new takes on Shakespeare’s star-crossed romance. The National Theatre has converted its Lyttelton stage into a temporary film studio for a TV version, starring Jessie Buckley and Josh O’Connor, which airs in spring. Dear Evan Hansen’s Sam Tutty joins Emily Redpath in a new film shot with isolated actors using green screen. And choreographer Rosie Kay transfers the tragedy to Brum’s black and south-Asian communities (Birmingham Hippodrome, 17 March).
This summer sees a huge street party thrown for a nine-year-old refugee. Her name’s Little Amal, she will have travelled all the way from the Turkish-Syrian border and, oh yes, she’s a 3.5 metre-tall puppet created by the War Horse team. Symbolising millions of displaced children, the puppet will go on an “epic theatrical journey” through Europe en route to Manchester international festival (4 July).
New venues open up
Closures dominated 2020 but a handful of brave venues will open their doors in 2021. Liverpool’s PurpleDoor promises stories about local lives, with all performances free. Reading Rep turns an old Salvation Army building into a theatre. In London, the Arcola hosts a festival in its new outdoor space, and Woolwich Works is a new arts destination by the Thames.
Sing when you’re winning
After all those Covid-safe monologues and pared-back productions, a chorus line of musicals is waiting to explode on to the stage: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella, Broadway hit Frozen, Back to the Future, The Drifters Girl with Beverley Knight, Monsoon Wedding, Strictly Ballroom, Get Up Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical and the return of Hairspray are all worth making a song and dance about.
Lockdown has led to a boom in interactive digital experiences: a hybrid form that is its own thing entirely. The Big Tiny, Exit Productions, Swamp Motel, Coney and Fast Familiar are all making participatory stories that feel distinctly theatrical. Les Enfants Terribles’ Sherlock Holmes adventure The Case of the Hung Parliament (27 January to 17 February) is just one to investigate in 2021. CW
Magic and monsters
Postponed premieres are itching to finally get on stage, and there is a touch of the supernatural afoot. Akram Khan’s Creature (Sadler’s Wells, EC1, 23 September to 2 October), for English National Ballet, is inspired by Shelley’s Frankenstein while, on the lighter side, Drew McOnie brings Merlin back to life for Northern Ballet. Another fairytale show, BalletLorent’s The Lost Happy Endings (Sadler’s Wells, EC1, 2 & 3 April), should at last get its chance to tour.
For a long time, dance on film was seen as a poor relation to stage. But 2020 forced a reconsideration, and choreographers have enjoyed reaching audiences beyond the confines of the theatre. Expect more in 2021 as Sadler’s Wells starts the year with a livestreamed festival, Dancing Nation (14 January, BBC iPlayer), featuring performances from Natalia Osipova, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures and new companies to watch: Matsena Productions and Humanhood. LW
The non-Zoom-based comedy fest is back
One by one, they fell: Melbourne, Brighton, Machynlleth, then – gasp – Edinburgh, too. But if 2020 was an endless winter, the thaw starts from February, when the UK’s second-biggest such event, Leicester comedy festival (3 to 21 February), returns to the stage. Will the fringe follow suit? We can only hope.
The rise and rise of the standup special
We missed live comedy in 2020, but there was no shortage of onscreen standup. There will be more in 2021, as YouTube, NextUp and Amazon Prime Video shake their spoons hungrily at Netflix’s standup pie. The latter has struck a deal with live comedy hotspot Soho Theatre for two series of specials.
2020s heroes finally take to the stage
In a year without live performance, comedy’s brightest new talents had to find other ways to make their name. Enter viral Room Next Door star Michael Spicer, say, or Britain’s Got Talent breakouts Jon Courtenay and Nabil Abdulrashid. Assuming that we return to a degree of normality, all will embark on their maiden UK tours in 2021. BL
The year the PS5 and Series X consoles take off
The new consoles have not yet been tested, but 2021 will bring games that really push those powerful graphical engines. PlayStation 5 gets Gran Turismo 7, the latest title in its acclaimed driving sim series, and sci-fi adventure Horizon Forbidden West, while Xbox boasts shooter epic Halo Infinite and Everwild, the latest genre-defying quest from Sea of Thieves creator Rare.
For such a tech-focused industry, video games sure do love the past. And 2021 will see not one but three nostalgic hardware launches: Intellivision Amico (15 April), which revives the 40-year-old console; Playdate, a handheld games machine with a wind-up handle; and the gorgeous Analogue Pocket, which looks like an iPhone but runs thousands of Game Boy and Game Boy Advance titles.
The year of dark futures
It is not surprising given the state of the world, but this year sees a lot of big new games about dystopian futures. Assassin shooter Deathloop (21 May), spooky apocalypse actioner Ghostwire: Tokyo and the psychological horror Returnal (19 March) are all intriguing games about terrible things to come. Then there’s Gotham Knights, a Batman game set – wait for it – after the death of Batman. Cheer up, it might never happen. KS