It’s a wide-open pop universe at the beginning of 2021 — when after a packed holiday season and now a near-full year of pandemic-induced global shutdown, it seems like there’s a whole lot of empty space just waiting to be filled by returning superstars and exhilirating new talents.
What might that look like when it happens? Well, our staff has some ideas. Here are 25 things we’d like to see happen in the pop world in 2021 — some of which have already been rumored or hinted at, and some of which are sprung entirely from our own imaginations, but all of which could make the year in music as fun and exciting as we hope it will be.
Maluma joins The Weeknd onstage at the Super Bowl
Last year’s Super Bowl gave us a taste of what Latin artists can do on television’s biggest stage. Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Bad Bunny and J Balvin’s show-stopping performances got the whole country dancing along to hits such as “Hips Don’t Lie,” “Mi Gente” and “Let’s Get Loud” — and to keep Latin’s momentum going at the Super Bowl, we’re hoping The Weeknd, this year’s headliner, will bring out Maluma during his halftime show. The pair teamed up for a bilingual version of the Colombian’s global hit “Hawái” that dropped late last year and peaked at No. 12 on Billboard‘s Hot 100. While there haven’t been any clues yet to suggest Maluma will be a guest, it’s safe to say that if he jumps on that stage, it would be an epic first-time performance together for the star duo. — GRISELDA FLORES
Rina Sawayama opens for Lady Gaga on the Chromatica Ball Tour
If U.K. pop breakout Rina Sawayama’s new single “LUCID” sounds a little familiar, that’s probably because the euphoric collaboration with producer BloodPop evokes his recent work on Lady Gaga’s time-traveling dance-pop opus Chromatica. Fans have already mashed up the track with “Rain on Me,” but there’s no reason for the team-up to be hypothetical, public health permitting: With her own world tour slated (at least for now) for fall 2021, Sawayama would be the perfect opening act for Gaga’s Chromatica Ball stadium shows this summer. It could be the first great big gay dance party of 2021 — and an official Gaga “LUCID” remix wouldn’t hurt, either! — NOLAN FEENEY
Ariana Grande returns the favor to Doja Cat
Doja Cat hopped on Ariana Grande’s Positions cut “Motive” in 2020, and tonight she’ll also be appearing on the remix to Grande’s “34+35” remix. It’s time for Ari to return the favor on Doja’s upcoming Planet Her LP — and the rapper/singer has basically already teased a collab leading up to the new set. Such a teamup would hopefully be the sparkling pop/hip-hop bop we so desperately want, if not the one we deserve. “Motive” also didn’t receive a music video, so that’s also on the wishlist. Actually, to be really specific, we’d like to see a video where Doja and Ari unite to pull off a heist. What a dream team! — GAB GINSBERG
P!nk hosts a new Circus of the Stars
The pandemic has caused all of us to recalibrate and find new ways to do the things we used to love doing in public. Take P!nk, who has spent the better part of the past decade flying high above our heads on a wire, performing amazing circus stunts that tap into her pre-fame skills as a competitive gymnast. Unable to hit the road, now would be the perfect time for the singer to reboot the beloved Circus of the Stars franchise and be the ringleader for a limited, socially distanced series where she taps into the hidden skills of her fellow artists. We imagine Lil Wayne busting out crazy kick-flips on a huge ramp on his skateboard, J-Lo applying her Hustler acrobatics training to try her hand at the trapeze, Cody Johnson bringing his rodeo skills to the big top, or newly buff rapper Busta Rhymes indulging in feats of strength. As a bonus, with arenas shuttered and so many crewmembers out of work, the show could give a bunch of beloved road dogs a nice paycheck. — GIL KAUFMAN
Travis Scott drops his Utopia album — and takes the ragers there with a pop-up experience
If 2020 taught us anything about the Houston rapper, it’s that he lives for the thrill of multi-sensory experiences beyond just listening to music. He took fans back to his childhood with his favorite McDonald’s meal, became larger than life as a Fornite video game avatar-turned-headlining performer and captured the smell of space with his own high-end luxury candle and cologne. He’s a franchise in and of himself — and Utopia is shaping up to become one, too. Scott could soon invite his fans to blast off to a pop-up destination helmed by his Midas touch. Cacti, his new agave-spiked seltzer, could be Utopia’s nectar of the rage gods. Flying cars in the form of an amusement park ride, a Travis Scott staple from his Astroworld era, would prove Utopia is light years ahead of the world we currently live in. And Utopia merch could make anyone the highest and the flyest person in the room, including another collaboration with Nike featuring brand new cloudfoam sneakers. — HERAN MAMO
Taylor Swift releases a “Last Great American Dynasty” movie
Back before Evermore emerged, and Taylor Swift fans were riding high on Folklore, one Twitter user suggested making a movie based on that album’s “The Last Great American Dynasty” — starring Blake Lively as Rebekah Harkness, her real-life husband Ryan Reynolds as Bill, the doomed heir to the Standard Oil name, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson as the neighbor whose unfortunate encounter with the song’s main character ends in a key-lime green-dyed dog. Ferguson responded he was game, while Reynolds chimed in “but Bill’s heart?” (Spoiler alert: Bill dies.) Swift herself chimed in to say she loved the idea — and so do we. Imagine the alluringly beautiful Lively filling swimming pools with champagne and playing cards with Salvador Dali? (We suggest Robert Pattinson reprise his portrayal here.) Couple the intriguing subject matter — who doesn’t want to see Lively blowing through the money on the boys and the ballet? — with a Baz-Luhrmann-Gatsby-inspired design, and that’s a film we haven’t seen before, but we’re sure we’d like the ending. — DENISE WARNER
Tom DeLonge leads “Aliens Exist” fest
Forget First Stream, 2021 is all about First Contact. Fox Mulder-in-Waiting Tom DeLonge should lead an (inter)stellar lineup of musicians to commemorate the impending day government intelligence agencies are forced to fork over what they know about UFOs thanks to a random rider attached to the COVID-19 relief and spending bill. The unclassified report comes out 180 days after the late-December bill was passed. — JOE LYNCH
Big Sean and Jhené Aiko reunite for second TWENTY88 album
The rapper/R&B singer duo and real-life couple spent a lot of time together in the studio last year, recording “None of Your Concern” for her Grammy-nominated Chilombo album, as well as “Body Language” and “Time In” (the latter of which received a proper TWENTY88 credit) on his Billboard 200-topping Detroit 2 album. After dropping the eponymous TWENTY88 LP in 2016, Sean revealed in a Reddit AMA that their sophomore album is “in the works.” Aiko could lace their latest tracks with the healing properties of her sound bowls, while Sean’s intricate lyricism would tell the arousing story of how the two rekindled their flame. And their love for Black cinematography, from the Blaxploitation films that inspired TWENTY88’s mini film to the Black romcoms they paid homage to in the “Body Language” music video, could very well be captured in an old-school romance mini-film to support the new album. — H.M.
A Spanish-language song hits No. 1 on the Hot 100
In November, Bad Bunny’s El Ultimo Tour Del Mundo became the first all-Spanish album in the history of the Billboard 200 to top the chart. That an all-Spanish song could soon top the Billboard Hot 100 would appear to be a forgone conclusion. Already, the seeds have been sowed: Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” of course spent 16 weeks at No. 1 on the chart back in 2017, but it needed help from a Justin Bieber remix and a smattering of English to get major mainstream attention. So did J Balvin and Willy William’s Beyoncé-assisted “Mi Gente,” which peaked at No. 3 on the chart. But last November, Bad Bunny and Jhay Cortez’s “Dákiti” made it to No. 1 on Billboard’s overall global chart. It only peaked at No. 5 domestically on the Hot 100, but the pace of growth had quickened. An all-Spanish hit topping the chart is imminent. — LEILA COBO
Drake, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole all drop new albums
Can you name the last time the three Kings of the 2010s all released a project the same year? Try ten years ago — when Take Care, Section.80 and Sideline Story all ruled the rap stratosphere. Since their early campaigns, Drake, K. Dot, and Cole have become perennial rap juggernauts and are at the joint apex of their careers. A triple-threat match for this year’s best rap honors is a blockbuster event that even Vince McMahon wouldn’t pass up. — CARL LAMARRE
Billie Eilish makes her film debut
The teen superstar has already branched out into the film world, from her appearance in Gucci’s short-film series, Guccifest, to her upcoming Apple documentary — to, of course, entering the esteemed Bond Theme canon with her cinematic title cut to the upcoming No Time to Die. As Darkroom label boss Justin Lubliner told Billboard late last year: “2020 was always thinking about the film side of Billie, the documentary, which we ideated in the beginning of her career, the major synch and original song — and what better opportunity than James Bond?” But now, in 2021, could Eilish be aiming to star on the silver screen in a role other than as herself? Only time will tell, but we certainly think she’d be more than capable. — LYNDSEY HAVENS
Bad Bunny and Rosalía drop an epic “La Noche de Anoche” music video
During the holiday break, Bad Bunny hopped on Instagram Live to share his 10 personal favorite songs from El Ultimo Tour del Mundo. “La Noche de Anoche,” in collaboration with rising star Rosalía, was his No. 5 — but he assured it could easily be his top track. “A lot of people were waiting for this collaboration for a long time, myself included. Thank you to Rosalía for doing this work of art with me,” he expressed. A true fan-favorite, it’s only a matter of time we see both artists bring their in-studio chemistry to the screen in 2021. In true Bad Bunny and Rosalía fashion, we imagine the music video to be colossal, conceptual, nostalgic, and even dreamlike — epic in its totality! — JESSICA ROIZ
Blake Shelton & Gwen Stefani reboot Hee-Haw
With all of us still mostly stuck at home desperate for any new content after streaming every show and movie ever released for the past 10 months, what the world needs now is novelty. Specifically, cutie couple Blake and Gwen’s 2021 reboot of the long-running corny country musical variety show Hee-Haw. He’s a lot country, she’s a little rock and roll, and together they have tons of TV experience on The Voice, which makes them the perfect choice to bring back the show that ran on-and-off from 1969 to 1997 and starred such country staples as Buck Owens, Roy Clark, Roy Acuff and beloved comedian Minnie Pearl. Picture Shelton transforming a barn on his postcard-perfect, sprawling Oklahoma ranch into a COVID-safe mini-studio, employing some of his and Gwen’s unemployed touring crew and inviting friends and admirers to Zoom or fly in (after proper quarantining) for a weekly hour of family-friendly jokes, timely skits, special collaborations and good vibes, shining a little light during the dark winter slog. — G.K.
Frank Ocean releases a new album and concert film
For any introverted artist suffering from press and/or stage fright, the ongoing pandemic has offered unexpected respite — and perhaps even an opportunity to release music without being required (or able) to do much else. Now seems as good a time as any (and trust, we could use it) for a new project from Frank Ocean after a long spell of relative quiet, and should he choose to release it within a livestream — as he has done before, with 2016’s visual album Endless — well, then all the better. Considering that his 2017 Panorama audiovisual headlining set leaned heavily on the visual side (Spike Jonze was directing, after all), it might not be a far cry from trying something similar but on a virtual stage — and, perhaps best of all for the somewhat reclusive Ocean, in isolation. — L.H.
Karol G and Rihanna join forces
If Karol G’s Rihanna tattoo on her arm is any indication, she’s a major fan. “I feel like she’s like me,” Karol previously told Billboard. “She presents herself as a real woman, she doesn’t care about the negative comments. I love her lyrics because she sings about love, heartbreak, woman empowerment… I feel that we have similar personalities.” RiRi, who has already collaborated on a bilingual track with Shakira, would fit perfectly on the beat of a “Bichota” remix, or even on a brand new single. — J.R.
Bleachers finally release their third album
Jack Antonoff has been teasing a third Bleachers album for a while, and previously shared that it would be arriving in 2020. While COVID-19 came instead, Antonoff gave us hope for the wretched year in August, when he began repeatedly tweeting, “Take the sadness out of Saturday night.” Now that we know those are lyrics from the Bruce Springsteen-assisted “Chinatown” — which the band released in November along with “45,” — a new Bleachers era, along with the new year, appears to finally be upon us. We don’t know when in 2021 the album is coming, but we’re hoping it will bring the same euphoric choruses and reflections on life that Strange Desire and Gone Now have had us scream-singing along to for years. — RANIA ANIFTOS
Machine Gun Kelly and Avril Lavigne rock out together
In the final days of 2020, Avril Lavigne teased new music on Instagram, showcasing photos of her in the studio alongside Machine Gun Kelly and MOD SUN. The latter released the Lavigne-assisted single “Flames” on Jan. 8, though MGK is neither a featured artist nor listed on the song’s credits. But given the pictures from the post — one of which includes MGK sporting a set of headphones and in front of a microphone — there seems to be more unreleased music in the tank. And after his alt rock pivot led to critical acclaim and his first Billboard 200 no. 1 last fall, why change course? The last time he teamed up with a pop-punk star for a rollicking track worked out pretty damn well. More of that, please. — JOSH GLICKSMAN
Madvillainy II finally sees release
In 2004, underground rap super-villain MF Doom and beat savant Madlib joined forces under the moniker Madvillain to create the full-length team-up Madvillainy, one of the most inventive albums in hip-hop history. In the years since, a follow-up became a source of legend for rap nerds: Tracks were created and referenced in interviews but never shared, and rumors about a reunion swirled before inevitably collapsing. The tragic recent news of Doom’s passing at the age of 49 late last year has had new fans discovering the wonders of Madvillainy, longtime supporters wistfully returning to it, and both groups wondering aloud if the set’s sequel would finally materialize. In a recent interview on the Juan Ep is Dead podcast, Peanut Butter Wolf — head of DOOM’s Stones Throw record label, said that Madvillainy II was “85 percent done” prior to the rapper’s death. Let’s hope one of the most longed-for projects in hip-hop history will finally see daylight, in some form or fashion, in 2021. — JASON LIPSHUTZ
Selena Gomez and Niall Horan finally collab
In June 2020, Niall Horan tweeted that he’s “ready when Sel is” to collaborate, and Twitter immediately exploded in excitement (“I’M SCREAMING I’M SCREAMING I’M SCREAMING” was a typical response from the collective fandoms). Gomez and the One Direction alum have been friends for ages, and it’s not totally out of the question for the two to hop on Zoom for a quarantined session or two. Just imagine them unveiling a perfectly emotional acoustic ballad in the vein of “If the World Was Ending” — and sure, why not let Finneas produce? Make it happen, universe! — G.G.
Beyoncé and Adele team up
The anonymous gossip Instagram account DeuxMoi made waves during 2020 unveiling its trove of user-submitted rumors, sightings, and stories of encounters with celebrities. DeuxMoi even correctly predicted the Shawn Mendes and Justin Bieber collaboration “Monster” before its announcement. Another collab rumor from Deux? None other than pop superheroes Beyonce and Adele. Sure, it might be a long shot — though back in 2019, Ryan Tedder said that a song featuring the two and Chris Martin was in the works, and had to back away from his comments. In any event, the powerhouse singers love each other, and duet between them is a salve we all could use. — D.W.
Reggaetón and Latin trap get their own genre category at the Grammys
Why, why, why hasn’t this happened yet? Reggaetón and Latin trap have single-handedly expanded the reach, visibility and popularity of Latin music at a global and domestic scale. And yet, when the Grammy Awards decided to divvy up the very problematic Latin rock, urban or alternative album category, they left “urban” lumped together with pop and gave the stand alone category to Latin rock or alternative, the least commercially viable subgenre of the three. Media, artists and the industry in general complained. Loudly. We hope the Academy has listened, and that next time changes and rules are announced, a stand-alone urban category will make the list to accommodate the explosion of releases from the likes of Anuel AA, Ozuna, J Balvin, Bad Bunny and Daddy Yankee. — L.C.
The disco revival of 2020 was a bright spot in an otherwise dark year, thanks to new releases from the likes of Dua Lipa, Kylie Minogue, Jessie Ware and Róisín Murphy. And the divas themselves seem to be delighted by the company they’re in: Lipa invited Minogue to her Studio 2054 concert special, then returned the favor by hopping on a remix of Minogue’s “Real Groove.” Meanwhile, Minogue has sworn to hit the studio with Ware, who has a mutual admiration society going on with Murphy over Twitter. So, let’s take these friendships to their natural conclusion in 2021: a one-off Discopalooza festival or mini-residency featuring (at least!) all four club-music queens. They can embark on individual tours right after — following months of being cooped up inside, it’s going to take more than one night of dancing to get our disco ya-yas out. — N.F.
Vinyl becomes an industry focus
Vinyl business continues to grow year over year, yet demand outstrips factories’ ability to deliver product — and last year’s fire at a lacquer manufacturer didn’t help things. It’s time for companies to start seriously investing in the comeback of the best format for experiencing music (that doesn’t involve the artist standing right in front of you). — J. Lynch
Nipsey Hussle’s first posthumous album is released
Last year, we watched Mac Miller, Juice WRLD, and Pop Smoke run the table with their respective posthumous releases. With the spirit of Nipsey Hussle still dominating barbershop banter, rap features, and comment sections, a new album could and should be on the way from the late legend. A close friend and collaborator of Hussle, J. Stone, told The Bootleg Kev Podcast last month that there was “definitely going to be another Nip album.” With posthumous verses given to DJ Khaled, Rick Ross, The Game, and Big Sean, a full LP of raps from Neighborhood Nip would be good for the soul. — C.L.
A Latin pop act performs at the presidential inauguration
An unprecedented number of Latin artists — such as Ricky Martin, Luis Fonsi and Shakira — rallied behind Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the hopes of sending the Democratic ticket to the White House. After Prince Royce performed at the Democratic National Convention in August, Biden even kicked off a full-fledged targeted music campaign to rally the Latino vote — with geo-targeted bilingual spots soundtracked by Marc Anthony, Bad Bunny, Alejandro Fernández and Gaby Moreno, among others. Given Latin artists’ significant role in Biden’s efforts to court the Latin community, it would make sense to see some a Latin artist perform at Biden’s inauguration ceremony on Jan. 20. (Jennifer Lopez was just announced as a performer, though it’s not clear yet if she’ll be pulling from her recent Spanish-language singles or her earlier English-language pop smashes with her performance.). In any event, getting to see Ricky Martin perform his prideful and jubilant “Cántalo” would be particularly perfect. — G.F.